Three billion eight hundred million years is the length of time that life has existed on our planet. The posts here explore aspects of that history, including evolution, the nature of plants and animals, and the experience of being human. I ask in each post, what can our picture of the history of living things offer in response to our questions about purpose, death, morality and other aspects of the human condition?
Such questions overlap with current studies of humanism and spiritual naturalism, but only partly. Humanism focuses on human reason, our ethics, our societies, and our responsibility for our lives. Naturalism embraces the universe, “nature” in its awesome, non-supernatural, not-fully-understood totality. But the area of interest that resonates most for me is less vast than the cosmos of naturalism and more species-diverse than humanism. When I wonder about the course of my life, when I fear my death, when I wonder about good and evil, I turn to the living things around me and preceding me over billions of years, and it is this focus that best helps me manage my questions.
Three themes—purpose, death, morality—appear often here. The first is the question of our purpose in being alive. I argue that our searches for meaning and purpose are rooted in our biological drive to survive and thrive and that the offspring we produce include not only our children but the social and creative projects that can outlive us.
The second theme is the search for consolation in facing death, our own and others’. I suggest that we might ease our fear of dying through a reminder that we are part of the chain of 3.8 billion years of countless organisms living and dying, a chain that will extend into a future.
Finally, traditional believers look to their religions for guidance about right and wrong. Non-theists will not find blunt commandments written in the evolution of life beyond the directives to survive and reproduce, but they will find behaviors that have fostered survival and well-being, including not only competition but also cooperation, self-sacrifice, and, when necessary, aggression and retreat.
This blog, then, explores connections between our experience of being alive, our questions about life, and our 3.8-billion-year organic history. A fuller introduction can be found under the tab Finding spirituality in biology at the top of this page.