Believing in Evolution

There is a substantial difference between knowing something and believing it. Belief is much more powerful as it goes beyond logic and connects with peoples sense of self.

This idea helps make  clear why there is a stigma about mental illness. The anxious person or the depressed person can know that they are ill, that it is possible to not be ill, often the problem is that they don’t believe that they can be well. I suffered from anxiety, there were brief times when I wasn’t anxious, instead of knowing I was well, I believed it was merely a temporary respite. It was when I believed that there was nothing wrong with me, when I believed what I already knew rationally, did I become well. so the mental illness stigma is perhaps because healthy people don’t recognise the difference between knowing something to be true and believing it. Perhaps for the healthy, they believe they are well before they have developed an explanation for why they are well, belief comes before knowledge in this instance.

As a scientist I both know and believe in the theory of evolution. I know, because I have studied, read and observed the evidence and accept evolution as a rational, empirically produced explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. I believe,  because I also accept the scientific process for discovering the laws of the physical universe, I accept the process as a valid way of generating truth.

Many scientists have difficulty understanding why those of religious faith lack a belief in evolution, indeed some of faith have difficulty believing in evolutionary theory. Religious faith is different to simple belief. Belief in God is different to beliefs about the physical universe, because belief perhaps comes before knowledge, rather than coming after knowledge. Religious belief connects to the self, before any empirical process of gathering knowledge. Faith concerns something beyond understanding of relationships in the physical observable universe. As a scientist I believe that it is possible for science to explain what God is, but that humanity may never establish a theory of everything. Sometimes, it is perhaps dangerous or less open to truth if belief comes before knowledge.

It is accepted that such theories as evolution or gravity are true. such truths can be established from raw data acquired from the physical universe. I believed these truths before I became a Christian and I know that there is no conflict between holding these beliefs in addition to religious beliefs, such as God having a role in the creation of the universe. The issue is perhaps that for some people the religious belief is more powerful to themselves than a mere rational piece of knowledge. To the atheist scientist, belief in scientific theory is more powerful than mere knowledge or understanding of religion, often atheists struggle looking beyond mere empirical understanding of the physical universe. To someone of faith, these powerful ideas can make the concept of evolution seem less important and hence less true. Yet people are not robots, they all harbour non-rational thoughts and ideas, the belief of humanists that there is perhaps, simply, that there is a physical explanation for these mental phenomena, but their belief may not be as strong as these less easy to break down logically ideas are not as fully explored, perhaps mentally acknowledged or as strongly believed. No individual person has a fully coherent explanation of themselves or the wider universe, yet every individual is on a journey to discovering truths.

I think I should point out, that I am in no way declaring any superiority for religious faith over atheism. What I am saying is that faith is worthwhile exploring. It is a question of balance, people choose what to invest our mental energies upon, there should be space for rational scientific inquiry as well as reflection on the question of faith.

Anxiety and Understanding

Generally, there is much misunderstanding of mental illness in the world. Mental illness doesn’t receive the same support and sympathy as other ailments. I suffered from severe anxiety for most of my life, as did my mother and my maternal grandmother. for which, we as a family received little support or understanding. It is partly that I grew up surrounded by anxiety, that it seemed normal, that anxiety seemed to be a part of me. It was wonderful to discover that anxiety wasn’t a part of me, that it was simply an illness and it wasn’t something I had genetically inherited.

I fortunately managed to to self diagnose and work through a solution to this chronic anxiety. I still get anxious from time to time, because anxiety is a natural part of existence. It is perhaps for this reason that people don’t understand anxiety or such conditions as depression, because there is a perception that people are simply wallowing in it or using it as an excuse. Most of the time people with such conditions aren’t behaving that way out of choice, they fervently wish that they were healthy.

One of the issues that I struggled with in overcoming anxiety, is that often people don’t understand what it is like to recover from such a condition, to become ‘normal’ [by normal I mean mentally healthy]. It’s like being re-born and you realise that there is this whole world of social interaction that you can now participate in fully. That the people who like you and you share positive experiences with are no longer confined to people who suffer from debilitating conditions themselves. you no longer find the need to seek out the vulnerable to find people to be open and honest with. The issue has been for me, one of being more open with ‘normal’ people. Being open with ‘normal’ people is great, it’s only a problem if you open up about your past anxiety, because ‘normal’ people don’t understand it.

It took me quite a while to appreciate the difficulty of discussing anxiety, an issue the other people have scant understanding of. It’s kind of a taboo subject, something people don’t want to think about. I can completely understand this taboo, as it’s like the fear of trying to understand the motivations of a terrorist or a serial killer, the fear that this mental condition could happen to you, the fear that you may contract anxiety and not have the skills and knowledge to get out of it easily.

It was especially problematic for me as I didn’t know anyone else who had overcome anxiety, to ‘compare notes’ and to realise that I wasn’t the only person in the world who this had happened to. I kind of needed some reassurance that not being anxious was really a good, healthy way of being, that I could just stay not being continually worried. Also the people who had encouraged me to be more confident and less paranoid, were people I couldn’t thank properly, as they didn’t understand, that what happened to em was more profound that simply building up confidence and experience of situations; even as an anxious person I still built up confidence with experience of situations.

Food, Family and Fun

Last night I watched “How to live to a hundred” on the television. The argument put forth is that a traditionally based lifestyle helps keep people happy and healthy, that Food + Family + Fun [community] = Happiness. Whilst the ‘modern’  post-industrial economy of Western Europe is actually causing a range of modern diseases such as diabetes, cancer, food allergies and social diseases leading to mental health problems. I tend to agree, it backs my long held view that much of how modern society operates is really unhealthy and just seems loopy. It is why i have struggled to find my place in society. It is simply better to work with nature, rather than against it, the answer I believe lies in evolutionary biology.

Food

The modern western diet differs from the traditional diet in a number of ways: It consists of high quantities of meat,  often meat of poor quality produced industrially and intensively. Food is often processed and contains artificial compounds such as preservatives. This industrialisation of food means food is nutritionally poorer and lacks flavour, so often processed food contains high levels of salt and sugar to compensate for this lack of flavour, these high levels are beyond what the human body can cope with.

Family

I have wittered on previously about the importance of acceptance for humans in society, family provides that. I’m living with my father at the moment and it is simply nice to share meals together at the kitchen table. One of the reasons I was unhappy in Surrey was because I had to eat meals by myself in the bedroom, which is simply wrong, but many people are thrust into this position by the economy. Due to economic diversification, people often have to move away from their family to take on jobs and one person abodes are expensive. This modern way of working detracts from humans ability to take pleasure from eating and sharing food as part of the enjoyment of eating.

It does annoy me sometimes that i took decisions at quite a young age that led me to be ‘mostly vegetarian’, rather than conform to the mainstream diet, as sometimes my father and I have to cook separately to stick to our dietary choices. This phenomena is compounded by food allergies and different diets, I don’t think most people know how to provide a meal that will satisfy everyone at the table, yet I feel it is important that everyone should know how to put on a collective meal. Having a collective meal is fun

Fun / Community

Cooking together and sharing food at the dinner table is an enjoyable social event. When I was working in the forests of Madagascar, the whole team would sit together for dinner, the conversation flowed and it was a hugely enjoyable experience, even if only to see what those on cooking duty had managed to produce from our limited resources (rice and beans, supplemented with mangoes or breadfruit that had been gathered during the day, we had zebu (type of cow) once in two months and that was a real celebration). Human beings are social animals and interactions between the local community are fun. There is a special something about an event that draws the whole community in, which offers something to everyone, this has value in ensuring communication between generations and social groups. The example is of  summer fayres, where everyone comes to together to eat, play games, sing and dance together (and provide talking points about performances in the ladies over 40 sack race!), Fun and Community, where everyone is free and encouraged to make a fool of themselves is important. Sadly such community events are dying out as people retreat into only socialising in there own social circle.

Happiness

It isn’t possible to go back to a time when people physically lived off the land with their family, socialised in the village and the wider world was the ‘here be dragons’ of faerie tales. However human beings lived for millenia in such societies, it is what our species evolved to cope with. I think the problem is partly that we are living lifestyles that genetically we are unsuited for. It’s only a few generations since many people no longer had physical labour jobs, a few generations since we began eating industrialised processed food and very recently since we now spend parts of our lives not in family units.

Many of the elements of a traditional lifestyle are possible, but often difficult. People claim not to have time to cook properly as they have to work long hours and may spend hours every day simply traveling to and from their place of work. People often don’t have the time or space to maintain a kitchen garden or a similar physical project. People sometimes don’t put the time and effort into maintaining family units and consequently that may fall apart.

Processed foods are I believe to blame for the rise in food allergies. Humans tend to like salty food as humans lived for millenia with low Sodium diets and more Sodium was required for health. Now our diets contain too much Sodium salt, this has health consequences as the body struggled to metabolise  so much salt. Hence, processed foods are putting pressure on out metabolisms they haven’t had a chance to evolve with.

There is much talk of a establishing a work/life balance. In a traditional society, such an idea is absurd, as work involved your family and community, the family and community contributed to your work too. Post-industrial work is largely not like this so generating time for family, for social activities is paramount, however, the modern economy makes it harder and harder for people to find this time and hence people become unhealthy and less productive, it’s the crisis of the Western world in the 21st century.