Note to readers: As you can probably by now tell, my little blog is not a specialist blog. While I mostly write about current affairs, particularly concerning the worlds of economics and finance, I limit neither my thoughts nor my writing to just those things about which I have particular expertise. I like to believe that my only real expertise lies in understanding a bit about how to reason and think. Please read the following in that spirit. When my son was first diagnosed with leukemia almost nine years ago (relapsed a little over a year ago), it sent me on an intellectual journey of discovery, trying to make sense of the world and of the life within it. The journey ranged far and wide, from philosophy and theology (why would God afflict innocent children with such a dreadful disease?) to physics and biology and everything in between. Resolving the questions I had in philosophy, theology and biology always seemed to point in one direction—evolution theory. I had to understand it. I’ve used the vehicle of reviewing Dawkin’s book to relate some of the answers I’ve found. I hope it’s worth reading to anyone with similar questions or an interest in the field. Your comments—good, bad or indifferent—are, as always, welcome.
Richard Dawkins is a masterful scientist and writer. He has a gift bestowed on very few scientists—the ability to communicate complex ideas with such gracious ease until they seem simple and elegant, yet commonplace. Only two chapters in, the breadth of his gift is apparent when he explains, in prose understandable by any reasonably intelligent eighth-grader, the fundamental tenets of atomic (quantum) theory in about three pages along the way of showing how the decay rate of radioactive isotopes can be extremely capable measures of evolutionary time. Those three pages should be required reading for anyone embarking on a study of the physics of the very small.
In my estimation, only the deceased Stephen Jay Gould rivaled Dawkins in the ability to elegantly convey complex ideas for consumption by the masses. Perhaps it’s just an accident that both writers happened to be intimately concerned with evolutionary theory. Or maybe, there is something about the theory of evolution that drives the best communicators to want to explain its tenets and extol its virtues. Perhaps the same natural selection that works on ideas as well as genes has driven the idea of evolution to the minds most capable of its elucidation precisely because it has been “naturally selected” to survive as the fittest of all possible theories about the nature of life on earth.
I came to this book after having read a couple of Dawkins’ prior novels: The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene. The Greatest Show on Earth is far and away the best of the three. The book essentially constitutes a lengthy, impassioned and supremely logical argument that evolution is real. Before reading, I had some doubts around the margins of the theory as to how evolution by natural selection could always explain everything. No longer. What few doubts I had have been resolved.
I do have some questions on specifics. For instance, a basic tenet of neo-Darwinism is that the environment cannot alter the genome. But there is gathering evidence that in some cases, adaptations are indeed passed along to progeny through some mechanism, perhaps the genome or other heritable information (mitochondrial DNA?). From helmeted fleas (an article in the Wall Street Journal’s Science column several years ago), to socially-abandoned mice (Discover magazine), to E.coli bacteria that developed a tolerance to lactose (also Discover magazine), it seems that nurture can sometimes impact nature in such a way that it impacts the progeny. Some limited Lamarckism, such as these experiments may stand as testament, would in no way weaken evolution theory. In fact, the proposition that a selfish genome, concerned only with achieving eternal life through propagation, would not eventually discover a mechanism for altering its own recipes in order to equip its vessel to better survive according to the environment in which it found itself, is truthfully a bit fanciful. It seems to me that some limited Lamarckism could arise through natural selection as an advantageous strategy for survival. Think of B-cell mediated immunity in human infants acquired from the mother. Dawkins doesn’t delve too deeply on the subject, but it is an area which, at least for me, bears more investigation.
More so than a curmudgeon, I am a skeptic. I never accept scientific theories that seem to offer “just so” explanations of natural phenomenon at face value, no matter the credentials of those espousing them, or perhaps, especially when the credentials of those espousing them are unassailable. As I’ve said many times before, causation is not correlation, and a great many scientific explanations of natural phenomenon stand on correlative evidence alone, and even then, on sketchy correlations at best. Medical science is perhaps the worst in that regard, when its researchers (doctors) routinely confuse correlation with causation, claiming that this or that everyday product increases or decreases the chances of this or that illness or disease, when a myriad of variables outside the parameters of the study (or of any study of human behaviors) might have caused the dependent variables to appear together. I can’t tell you how many times during the course of my son’s treatment that I encountered medical professionals that just didn’t understand the basics of causation. If my son’s bladder gets better and worse no matter the level of a particular virus, then the virus can’t be causing the bleeding.
The anthropogenic global warming theory is another good example of the tortured use of correlations to determine causation. The main idea of anthropogenic global warming theory—that atmospheric carbon dioxide is causing the earth’s climate to warm (never mind where the CO2 came from)—is not even correlated to the evidence we have of temperature fluctuations. Our temperature records (what little there are of them) range all over the place. Yet atmospheric CO2 has continually climbed since we began measuring it about fifty years ago. Global warming theories are nothing more than idle speculations that shouldn’t even rise to the level of hypothesis. Indeed, the earth seems to have lately gotten warmer. To immediately jump to the conclusion that mankind and his activities have caused the same phenomenon of warming that has cycled through history time and again is the essence of science gone bad, becoming instead of science, a political, or even theological, enterprise.
But evolutionary theory is not at all like the theory of anthropogenic global warming. It is not idle speculation that rises to the status of theory or hypothesis by dint of the people doing the speculating. If anything, it should by now be an accepted fact that life evolves to adapt to its circumstances, and that these evolutionary adaptations are the source of life’s many and wondrous variations that are, as Dawkins puts it, “the greatest show on earth”.
That life must adapt to survive is almost tautological. Imagine a maladaptive lion that favored wildebeest to such an extent that it refused to hunt zebras when the wildebeest herds departed. Very clearly, such a lion would not long inhabit the earth. Whatever quirk in its genes that made it favor wildebeest so strongly that it would hunt nothing else would be forever lost to posterity because it would substantially impair, rather than improve, the lion’s chances of survival and reproduction.
However it was that life—which at its most basic level is simply a self-replicating collection of matter and energy—arose, it unquestionably had to engage with and adapt to the environment in which it existed, else it plainly would not have long been around. Dawkins humbly admits (an improvement over his silicon theories in The Blind Watchmaker) that we don’t know how life began. But we have all but irrefutable proof of how it became what it is today, from whatever were its origins. It came to its present forms through a gradual process of environmental adaptation, as the earth’s environment, particularly through plate tectonics and volcanism, gradually changed over time to isolate pockets of living and replicating creatures that in turn slowly developed traits that were chosen by their new environments as advantageous, eventually then developing into new species, unable to mate any longer–should they still be around– with the prototypes from which they evolved. The process is naturally slow and gradual, dependent as it is on the slow progression of environmental changes and the genomic response to them. It is evolution by slow adaptation to a slowly changing environment. The organism gradually changes to fit its environment as the individuals in its species are selected by nature as the best fit in the circumstances, worthy of survival and genetic propagation.
It is not so hard to see evidence of this sort of evolutionary adaptation to the environment today. The species, Homo sapiens, i.e., mankind, is generally agreed (amongst scientists that study such things) to have originated in Africa, thence spreading out to colonize the various other continents about 200,000 or so years ago. Presumably, 200,000 years ago and before the outward migration, all humans looked pretty much alike. But imagine today a native African standing next to a native Norwegian standing next to a native Vietnamese. The differing shapes and sizes represent the evolutionary adaptation of reproductively isolated populations to the various environments in which they found themselves, all of which happened in nothing more than a blink of evolutionary time. Had humans not wrested themselves free (through technological advancements) from the bondage of geography and its unique environments, our evolutionary paths would surely be still diverging, ultimately giving rise to several new post-sapien species. Instead, as human technologies have rendered local environments impotent so far as natural selection is concerned, the gene pool is again converging. Dawkins uses the example of dogs as evidence of how powerful artificial selection (in this case, man’s efforts to breed the wolves to suit their purposes) can be—capable of changing a wolf into a dachshund or Great Dane in the span of just 10,000 or so years. Natural selection works slower, but is still powerful enough and fast enough to create the variety of human races we see (or saw) in the span of less than 1/10,000 of the time that life on earth has existed.
Of course Dawkins, like his predecessor, Darwin, and their cohorts today and yesterday, is loath to apply the principles of natural selection in explanation of racial variations amongst humans, though Dawkins minds not at all in using it to explain that humans, indeed all of life, evolved without need of God’s help. All Darwin would initially say on the matter, in On the Origin of Species, is that “[Much] Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history”. Dawkins points out that it wasn’t until the sixth and last edition of the book that Darwin indulged himself the luxury of adding ‘Much”. The idea that racial differences are (or at least were) real and were caused by the local environment acting to select the most fit amongst the breeding populations of humans within it smacks a bit too robustly of genetic determinism. Yet genetic determinism is exactly the guiding principle of evolution by natural selection. Without genetic differences that cause changes in phenotype expression, there can be no raw material through which differing environments can select those most fit for survival and reproduction. Tall, lean, chiseled black Africans could not have become pale, squat, blubbered Inuit without trading the blazing sun of the African savannah for the cold winters, cool summers and sparse sunshine of the Arctic tundra. But the Arctic cold alone wasn’t enough. Differing phenotypes due to mutating genotypes had to have been available for selection to work its magic. Racial differences are indeed genetic, and any biologist that would like to claim otherwise may as well sidle up to the bar at the creationist café. No matter. There are no longer any truly isolated populations of breeding humans, so whatever genetic differences may have arisen in the past due to isolated breeding in unique environments will soon enough be smoothed to a bland average.
Dawkins is best, which is very, very good, when elucidating the tenets of evolution science. (Isn’t it time to just dispense with the ambiguity that arises when we refer to it as evolution “theory”? Dawkins spends three pages explaining the different meanings of theory, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Though I’m sure others will appreciate his efforts, his time was wasted on me). He offers a cornucopia of examples and analogies that really anyone that tries ought to be able to understand. He is weakest though, when his theology pokes through, and sends him scolding at those among us (roughly 40% of Americans, according to polls he cites) that don’t “believe” in evolution. Dawkins is an atheist. Which is a belief system not qualitatively different than believing in Christ or Allah. Atheists believe that there is no God. They can no more prove their beliefs through science than Christians or Muslims can. Dawkins thinks that evolution science shows the creation story in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, to be, at best, an allegorical myth. So it does, but so too, do a great many believers in the Judeo-Christian God think the story is an allegory. Evolution science does not prove that God doesn’t exist anymore than archaeological evidence showing that a great flood immersed areas close to Palestine (specifically, when the land bridge separating the Baltic from the Mediterranean finally gave way due to rising sea levels) proves that the Bible is true. But Dawkins too often lets his theology creep into his scientific explications. Which is unfortunate. A scientist’s theology (but not necessarily a blogger’s, as you will see) should never be apparent when he is discussing his science. But that’s not the only problem with theology poking its head into the discussion.
Intellectuals very often lose the argument even when their facts are unassailable because they believe their mastery of the subject makes their views on extraneous matters as indisputable as the matters on which they gained recognition as experts. They often indulge their theology or politics when making their scientific explications because they believe their competence in reasoned thought pertinent to their field gives them license to propound their views on matters of the heart, such as theology and politics. This is a temptation that should always be avoided. Theology and politics arise from a much different place in the human soul than does the rational objectivity required of understanding natural phenomenon. To provide a poignant example from an unrelated (but see below) field, among practicing economists (if their profession could be considered at all “scientific”) Paul Krugman routinely and brazenly justifies his political beliefs through the vehicle of his science, turning the practice of economics, to him at least, into nothing more than a grand rationalization scheme. Dawkins is not nearly as guilty as Krugman in contorting science to fit his beliefs—if anything he simply allows his beliefs to tag along with his science—but he should restrict his worship, like any good Presbyterian might, to only those times and places specifically set aside for the purpose. He’s already written The God Delusion. Leave it at that.
Even worse, though, is using science to specifically attack the deeply-held beliefs of others, no matter how ignorant or bone-headed. A great deal of deference and respect should always be accorded the religious beliefs of others. Attacking religious beliefs puts people on the defensive, and people on the defensive close their minds to the opinions, and even facts, of the one doing the attacking. Attacking one’s religion is tantamount to attacking one’s person, i.e., attacking the imperfect vessels in which our genes are poured (not literally, of course, genes actually operate more like a clam building a shell, creating their vessel for propagation around them). Dawkins should be smart enough to understand this, and certainly is, but apparently chooses to lose the argument (in the minds of the believers) for the sake of being right.
Even Galileo knew better than launch a frontal assault on the Catholic Church. When he conclusively deduced that we live in a heliocentric solar system, he didn’t smack the Pope broadside with his discovery. He coaxed the Pope into commissioning a book on the matter, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Galileo’s strategy of humbly explicating truths as he knew them had worked for many years, but he lost political support for his ideas when his book was perceived as casting the Pope, already himself quite weak politically, in an unfavorable light. Heliocentrism and evolution science occupy roughly the same place relative to the reigning theologies of their day. The Catholic Church eventually realized that fighting heliocentrism was foolish because it was painstakingly, obviously true; just as today’s recalcitrant creationists will one day finally give up their foolish beliefs about the age of the earth and how life upon it arose. Perhaps, just as the Catholic Church ultimately realized that acknowledging “it [the earth] moves” did not destroy the basis of their faith, today’s creationists will discover that their beliefs about the earth’s age and the life upon it are not central to their understanding of God. It should be even easier for the Creationists to abandon creationism than it was for Renaissance Catholics to abandon geocentrism. The holiness of the Catholic’s geocentric solar system was contrived, cut from the whole cloth of Aristotle’s metaphysics, with very little scriptural, i.e., doctrinal, foundation. The creation story of Judeo-Christianity, read only as allegory, is a pretty fair summation of events as we now know them to have happened, including enough play in the joints to account for evolution, which is quite remarkable considering it really is nothing more than an inspired explanation for how the world came to be that was devised by a Semitic tribe of nomads some four thousand or so years ago.
Evolution science does not depend on theology. Like all good science, it is not a belief system. It is necessarily materialistic, since it depends solely on evidence that can be seen and felt, either through direct sensory inputs, or through sensory-extending instruments (such as microscopes and Geiger counters). In that regard, it is even more robust than the Theory of Relativity, which has, through the twists and contortions of trying to fit new evidence to the original theory, become almost an exercise in mysticism, with fully 96% of the universe the theory attempts to explain not in any way detectable by sensory, or sensory-extending means. Evolution science is better. There is no need to imagine undetectable entities like dark matter and energy. All that is required is a mind open to the explicatory powers of its evidence.
Dawkins is undeniably a polymath in the traditional sense of the word. He exhibits his vast and eclectic intellect throughout The Greatest Show on Earth, employing examples and ideas in subjects ranging from philosophy to mathematics to physics to economics to theology, and of course, biology. Even so, I doubt that he fully grasped the profundity of an example he used of trees growing in a forest, intending to show how wasteful natural selection can sometimes be. His example bears more explanation.
Trees in a forest (or anywhere) don’t grow to the sky. Why? Partly because they can’t, but more importantly, because at some point it becomes unprofitable to do so. As Dawkins put it, they stop growing when the marginal cost of further growth exceeds the expected marginal benefits. What are the expected marginal benefits to a tree of growing taller in the forest? Additional sunshine–the force powering virtually all of earth’s life, either directly (in the case of a trees and other vegetation) or indirectly (in the case of herbivores and carnivores). What are the costs? A huge investment in a trunk that becomes increasingly spindly and unstable the further up it goes, risking the tree’s annihilation if it becomes too unstable.
Why do trees nonetheless try to grow to the sky? Because the sky is where sunshine comes from, and the other trees in the forest are competing for the same stream of photons from the sun. All other things equal, the trees closest to the sun get the most sunshine, and therefore, have the best chance at survival and the propagation of their genes.
But is this resource-consuming race to the sun in the tree’s best interest? From any individual tree’s perspective, so long as every other tree is also racing to the sun, it not only is in its best interest, engaging the race is compulsory to survival. But what if there were a planner of forest resources concerned to make maximum use of limited resources such that the most trees could survive? From his perspective, the building of trunks and the elaborate support mechanisms allowing them to reach as high as physically possible is extremely wasteful, pointing to the reality that natural selection has no intrinsic concern for economy. Dawkins points out that all trees would be better off if they could somehow reach an armistice, agreeing to grow to a fixed height (maybe 20 feet?) that was well below the height of growth to which they are able. There would always, of course, be a problem with trees that wish to cheat, and since trees, so far as we know, don’t have the capacity for foresight or agreement-making, the armistice could never come about.
Dawkins proposes in his example that trees do what Hobbes and Locke believed (if from differing perspectives) humans did when they left the state of nature to associate with one another through societal mechanisms, beginning with government, and continuing to all manner of organizations. At its most basic level, human society is nothing more or less than an armistice amongst competitors for resources. It works only if and when the individual competitors consider themselves better off (i.e., have enhanced survival probabilities) by having entered the armistice. It fails when the costs, from the perspective of the individuals entering the treaty, exceed its benefits.
All living organisms—no matter what type or kind—share this simple truth. The benefits of association must outweigh the costs or there will be no association. It’s not hard to imagine an organism such as a tree or a human being as nothing more or less than several trillion individual cells that have reached an armistice in order to enhance their survival prospects (unwittingly, of course, through the blind hand of natural selection). If these individual cells, each of which is concerned only with the propagation of the genetic code within it, agree to cooperate instead of compete, then they have a better chance at survival, because the vessel in which they have cooperated to create can survive. Even death for the individual cell can enhance its chances of genetic propagation, if it enhances the survival prospects of the vessel (the soma) in which it is carried. Cells that fail to abide the armistice risk destroying the organism completely. Rogue cells, like the trees that cheat in Dawkin’s example, could destroy the rest of the organism and thereby themselves, if they become too “selfish” and consume so many resources that their host vessel dies. Cancer cells, having quirks in their genetics making them immortal, are a perfect example of rogue cells. Cells that don’t voluntarily die (apoptosis), such as cancer cells, eventually kill the host, and depending on when in the life cycle of the host it happens, greatly impair the chances of reproductive success.
It’s also not hard to imagine that the rule the applies as well to larger organisms, things not commonly considered living beings in themselves, but that are organizations of living beings. Organizations such as governments and economic systems are, as Locke and Hobbes proposed, associations comprising an armistice—an agreement—amongst individuals for the purpose of enhancing individual survival prospects. So long as the cost of entering the agreement, i.e., so long as the restriction on freedom of action to secure resources for survival operates as a net benefit to the individuals embarking upon it, the agreement can survive–but not because of natural selection, which only selects genetically-favored individuals, and is completely indifferent to the manner in which aggregate resource utilization might impact group survival prospects. The agreement will survive only, as both Hobbes and Locke explained, if the parties to it understand and act upon their enlightened self-interest. It is this enlightened self-interest that only humans, so far as we know, are capable of grasping.
Of course, there is the problem of enforcement. There will always be individuals that seek to take advantage of the self-induced limits of resource-seeking activity of armistice members to gain an advantage. Rogue individuals will be common, as Dawkin’s cheating trees example makes clear, without a powerful entity to trim their ambitions–to cut them at the knees so that they don’t grow past the accepted limits. Hobbes understood that the incentive for cheating would be high, and proposed that a strong government (a Leviathan) was imperative if the armistice was to survive. Locke felt reason would guide the individuals of the organism to deal appropriately with cheaters and renegades.
Through his example of trees wastefully attempting to grow to the sky, Dawkins, perhaps unwittingly, illustrates the depth with which the principles of evolution science pervade all of life. Evolution science—the basic premise of which is the idea that all living creatures necessarily evolve or adapt to optimally fit their environment through natural selection of survival-enhancing traits—should hardly be confined to biology textbooks (if it in fact even makes it to them). It should be the grounding principle for all the life sciences and humanities, just as quantum theory and relativity comprise the grounding principles for physics and the hard sciences. Anything in sociology, anthropology, history, politics, economics, psychology, theology, philosophy, etc., and, of course, biology that fails to account for evolution science must today be considered suspect. Evolution science should guide our understanding of the behavior and motivations of all of life, including all human beings, and every organization or association entered into or created by them. Dawkin’s tree example could be the starting point for another book, or several more books, on any of the social sciences just listed, particularly economics, but it is enough for now to understand how powerful is evolution science in providing explanations for natural phenomenon.
Dawkins points out that natural selection can’t always select the optimal of all solutions—it can only select from those that are available to it, which explains some anomalies, like the rearward-facing human retina, that has the nerve fibers conveying information about light to the brain in between the light receptor cells and the light source, forcing a huge blind spot in the middle of the light-gathering rods and cones. Had someone, or some being, designed the eyeball, it surely would have flipped the retina around, and had the nerve fibers connected to the rods and cones exit the back of the eyeball, without any void in light-gathering necessary in order for the optic nerve to pass through. But the eyeball wasn’t designed by an architect. It was shaped and molded in gradual stages through the differential selection of advantageous traits. Flipping the retina, even gradually, apparently never presented itself as a possibility.
Another example is offered of the recurrent laryngeal nerve. The laryngeal nerve is a cranial nerve, meaning it leads directly from the brain rather than the spinal cord. In humans, and giraffes, one branch of it takes such a circuitous route to its destination (the larynx) that it might make a cartoonist blush. It goes down into the chest and then loops around one of the main arteries leaving the heart, and then heads back up the neck to its destination. It only does so because of its evolutionary history, when our fish ancestors had a physique that made the route it now travels much more direct.
Being most likely of Scottish or Irish ancestry, and thereby having the same bad teeth that seemingly all the populations hailing from the British Isles suffer, I have often wondered at the point behind having teeth that get painful when they get rotten. What, exactly, is the point of having nerve endings in the teeth? They seem to serve no purpose other than to make tooth infections excruciatingly painful. My guess is that the answer is something similar to the explanation for the eyeball and the laryngeal nerve—it is “unintelligent design” that occurred because natural selection had nothing better with which to work.
Dawkins ends on a somewhat morose note, reiterating the remarkable statistics showing a goodly portion of the public in both the US and Great Britain unwilling to accept the tenets of evolution science. There are two reasons to be bit more cheerful. First is that the general public has probably done little investigation into the science, and simply conflate evolution with atheism, which automatically means it attacks their beliefs. Ironically and sadly, conflating atheism with evolution science is something Dawkins eagerly endorses, helping push the ill-informed into a corner from which they have no choice but to defend. The second follows from the first. Acceptance of evolution science does not preclude belief in God, a message that more theologians would be wise to actively promote. Evolution science is here to stay because it is true. Our ideas of God will have to change to accommodate it.
Which shouldn’t be as difficult as it sounds. The Judeo-Christian God, as first recognized by that tribe of Semitic nomads living in the Palestinian desert, is an entity that is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. Once all the self-serving claims of the Jews to have been chosen as special and favored in the eyes of this entity whose name they considered too holy to pronounce is discarded; once all the anthropomorphizing of God as created in our own image is rejected, there stands the truth that an infinite being, all-powerful, all-present and all-knowing very possibly exists, and modern science maybe even has sketched the contours of its attributes. Gravity, which we only are just beginning to understand, no matter that Einstein seemed to have it all figured out a century ago, is irrefutable evidence of the interconnectedness of the universe. It is present in every corner of the universe; it always knows exactly how much mass (and thereby energy) is fused together in every little corner, and it has the power to mold and shape everything from solar systems, stars and galaxies to the flight of a bee to its hive. It is seems to be a substance of infinite attributes, as my favorite heretic Jew philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, described of God roughly four centuries ago. Better still, it drives evolution on earth. It makes the continents move and keeps the atmosphere close. It regulates the rhythm of the tides and the spinning of the earth on its axis. God might not be gravity, but if it (not “He”) isn’t, the two share a great many attributes. The point is, that if we can ever begin to throw off the theological shackles of that ancient tribe of Semitic nomads, enlightened though they were, we might then begin to understand that all they gave us was a glimpse of the magnificence of God and its (not his) universe, just as Aristotle did nothing more for the Catholics than give them a common point of departure for their explorations.
Baruch Spinoza was accused of atheism because he believed that God is the immanent, not transitive, cause of everything in the universe. Which means he probably would have said that evolution by natural selection is nothing more or less than God’s will at work in the world of living creatures. Allow me to end this lengthy exposition with a quote from Spinoza’s Ethics, published after his death in 1677, that Dawkins could have written today:
[People] find—both in themselves and outside themselves—many means that are very helpful in seeking their own advantage, e.g., eyes for seeing, teeth for chewing, plants and animals for food, the sun for light, the sea for supporting fish … Hence, they consider all natural things as means to their own advantage. And knowing that they had found these means, not provided them for themselves, they had reason to believe that there was someone else who had prepared those means for their use. For after they considered things as means, they could not believe that the things had made themselves; but from the means they were accustomed to prepare for themselves, they had to infer that there was a ruler, or a number of rulers of nature, endowed with human freedom, who had taken care of all things for them, and made all things for their use.
And since they had never heard anything about the temperament of these rulers, they had to judge it from their own. Hence, they maintained that the Gods direct all things for the use of men in order to bind men to them and be held by men in the highest honor. So it has happened that each of them has thought up from his own temperament different ways of worshipping God, so that God might love them above all the rest, and direct the whole of Nature according to the needs of their blind desire and insatiable greed. Thus this prejudice was changed into superstition, and struck deep roots in their minds. (I, Appendix)
The theological and philosophical foundation for evolution science has been around for quite a while. It took Darwin’s rejection of superstition for reason to reveal to us its contours, and it takes people like Richard Dawkins today to keep the light of objectivity shining.
Spinoza believed that the greatest virtue–the greatest blessedness–man could achieve was gaining, through reason and understanding, an intellectual love of God. Contrary to the superstitious and anthropomorphic beliefs of the creationists, understanding and embracing evolution science offers a clear path towards the blessedness we all naturally seek.