Many Americans think of the theory of evolution as an abstraction about early life that has been colliding with biblical creationism. But several interesting projects around the country are pushing to get beyond the debate and to apply an understanding of evolution to everyday life. Here are three.
1. Binghamton University in New York State may be unique in having a full-blown evolutionary studies program. Part of that program is its Binghamton Neighborhood Project. Faculty, students, and residents apply evolutionary theory as they explore ways to make life better for individuals and for the struggling city as a whole. Examples include studying the uses of time banking and social lending to encourage neighborhood economies and cooperation, fostering both individual achievement and group sociality in schools, and investigating why some churches gather larger, more communal congregations than others. Professor David Sloan Wilson is the prime mover behind the Neighborhood Project as well as the University program, in addition to a think tank on public policy that integrates evolutionary theory, Evolution Institute. He is the author of the book The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time.
2. The “great story,” referring to the evolution of the universe and not just earthly life, is the basis for the teachings of a number of spiritual non-theists. But the intermingling of evangelism and evolutionary theory is especially down-to-earth in the work of Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow. Their self-help program, “Evolutionize Your Life,” promises a happier life by teaching participants to recognize how “Stone Age instincts run your life and how science can change that.” Endorsements on the Web page proclaim the unification of religion and science achieved in this program. The evangelical thrust puts me off not so much because of its theistic overtones but because of its easy promises. But I like the theme that our long evolutionary past is something to feel good about and to apply to one’s own life. That is a theme of this blog too.
3. Check out this on-line magazine: Evolution: This View of Life: Anything and Everything from an Evolutionary Perspective.* With the above-mentioned David Sloan Wilson as editor-in-chief, the magazine brings together published evolution-related news and scholarship in fourteen fields, including such seemingly unlikely ones as technology, business, arts, politics, and the economy. An example under business is a report on people’s concern with appearance and reputation as a factor in encouraging ethical business practice. The magazine is thought-provoking material for anyone skeptical about the breadth of application of the evolutionary perspective.
I think that in time, after the furor over evolution and creationism tapers off, we’ll see more projects using evolution as a framework for dealing with individual and social issues. For now, if you know of projects, organizations, or publications that integrate evolutionary theory in the here and now, please pass them along here.
*The phrase “This view of life” is from the stunning passage at the end of The Origin of Species. “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”