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Descent with imaginationIllustration by Colin Purrington

While updating the Web site for this week’s program about Charles Darwin, I remembered the above image, which I had come across on Flickr a while ago. It’s intended to show the evolutionary development of world religions; it seems that the author, an evolutionary biology professor, was unable to find a similar graphic anywhere and decided to draft his own.

If you click through to the Flickr page, you’ll see that the various symbols in the diagram are labeled to indicate which religion they refer to. You’ll also see an interesting discussion in the comments section — ranging from the placement of the relatively young Bahá’í faith, to whether Yoga should be included as a religion, to what the point of this diagram might be in the first place. As one commenter notes: “the world of ideas, ideologies and religions is a bit more complex than a genealogical tree.”

Darwin's "Tree of Life"

So what is the point of attempting to represent the complexity of world religions such a simplified way? The author writes:

I was thinking the above exercise might be a great way for young kids to learn about the diversity of religions, and how new religions are created all the time.

Looking at the image now, it seems even more interesting when placed next to Darwin’s sketch of the “tree of life” (seen at right). Some consider Darwin’s theory of evolution, represented in his illustration, to be an assault on religion. But as we learn in this week’s program, it’s not quite that simple — at least it wasn’t for Darwin. And here’s an example of the same model being used to map out world religions, perhaps with the hope of increasing religious tolerance.

What do you think, are religion and evolution mutually exclusive? Is approaching religion from an evolutionary perspective helpful?

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61 Comments

In my opinion, the main part of any "sacred" book's interpretation is the silent meaning that all scriptures offer to us. We are supposed to follow our hearts: my heart says to listen to others and treasure it in meditation.

I decided to go to the churches, mosques, synagogues, and worship places to listen what they belief, think, and live what they practice, as an ongoing process to teach ethics in trans-religious settings. The dialogue is already open with the Christian community (Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Mormon, and non-denominational, by now). The project is focus on the ethical evolution of religion, under the assumption that ethics leads to God.

Although I believe we teach ethics with actions rather than with words, my first inclination is to decline to teach ethics. “Declining to teach is itself a very effective way of teaching” (Budziszewski, 2003). Moral education (ethics) confronts us about what we know (natural law), even though not everyone obeys that knowledge. “Ethics does not inform us moral truths to do; but it motivates us to behave. Ethics is our conscience. It is therefore teacher, judge, and motivator” (Budziszewski, 2003). Thus, ethics makes its own case in this proposal.

After all, my intention to teach sounds like a contradiction to avoid the pretension that I know better what everyone knows. “Are you going to teach us how we ought to live our lives?” No, not at all. This is a personal reflection. I am going to listen to you, thinking about what you say, and make any final judgment.

I just learned this week that the final judgment I read in the book of Revelation in the Biblical scriptures is already between us: Depression. Are you, people, ready to deal with that?

are you related to marie currie?

LIBERTY

2. Freedom to Choose or Free Will

Once we decide to accept liberty with ethical responsibility and free attitude, when we expected less, help comes to guide us from within. A multiple of serendipity facts appear and disappear in our life showing the way through doubt, the understanding in the confusion, the light in the darkness, and that feasible reality throughout many kinds of symbols which mean that we are not alone anymore, we are all one spirit connected to survive for eternity, if we want to accept it.

This is my eulogy to human beings.

We are a dynamic immortal spirit which is connected with the future throughout our human resources such as intellect, imagination, sensitivity, and free will; hence, we need a different vision of this world that expresses our real motivation to prosper and live in a state of satisfaction and sincerity that permits collaboration and help among one another. We are not going to the destruction or any other kind of catastrophic general breakdown of civilization; to the contrary, we are going to the expanding future that is better. There are no eternal cycles of repetition over and over in the same level or same phenomena named stagnation. No, we are supposed to continue with this ongoing process of being humans towards its end, which is an eternal journey to discover plenitude and transcendence without limit.

“We cannot solve the problems of the world from the same level of consciousness that created them” (Albert Einstein)

LIBERTY

1. Free Attitude and Responsibility

It is all about attitude; a free attitude that empowers our decisions in being responsible with our beliefs, thoughts, words, and behaviors. A free attitude in us that develops a sense of responsibility towards others, then, we share the social load or ethical responsibilities without being obligated, because we are free to make those human proper decisions.

It must be a personal choice borne from our mental/spiritual lucidity and specific availabilities to do something important and significant in our lives, depicting our real interest in this world and its population by itself more than zealot beliefs of receiving something in exchange in other life, golden rules of treating others as we want to be treated, or the despicable behavior of making business through humanitarian help profiting from human suffering and needs. At this point of degradation, we are condemned to live in slavery forever.

And, yes, "gullibilism" is a real word.

I've made an attempt at the same (a tree of religions), except with start and end dates and navigation. It's located at www.religionstree.com. Putting religions into a tree form is an over-simplification (Judaism took ideas from Zoroastrianism as well as the ancient polytheism of Palestine) but I still think the exercise is worthwhile.

"Tree of Life" metaphors, in words and images, have been around for eons, and bound up with many varied mythologies. It is interesting how Darwin choose such an image, deeply tied as it is to religious myths. Or rather, as the story goes, the image choose him. His first sketch of it, seen above, came in his journals aboard the Beagle, and the conceptual metaphor became ingrained in his head for how to imagine adaptation and survival. It was redrawn and became the only image to accompany the Origin of Species.

But I think both religion and science have evolved in the past 150 years, so that the visual metaphor no longer works with our current understanding. A more provocative way to think about the adaptation of religious traditions looks like a version of this info-chart on "How Music Travels" [http://infosthetics.com/archives/2011/11/how_music_travels_the_evolution_of_western_dance_music.html] With religious genera and species, there are ebbs and flows, movements in and across time and space, that never branch off completely. They continually intersect.

Since this 2009 show, Terrence Malick created his own version of the religion-science mix in his "Tree of Life." [See http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/content/80/2/527.full ]

this graphic's logic shows the Muslim religion splitting off from early Christianity.
so much for preDNA darwin-based simplicity
J

What a fascinating concept and image. I love what is represents, life and spirit is constantly evolving as much as we want to make everything constant and unchanging. Religion offers an experience of tradition, ritual and hopefully a portal to transcendence. It can only point a way and there are many paths.

"Evolution is a myth."

I've heard this said disdainfully, but the other day it occurred to me that myths and fairy tales have much to offer. Who is to say that a thousand years from now we won't be considered foolish and childish for believing in evolution, but why is that something to be ashamed of? Maybe it's just something to keep in mind. Our myths are something that we gain from, which inform our lives, and that serve us well. I think we ask ourselves- how do these ideas serve us? Sometimes I think that the Christian who believes in seven days of Creation is further from standing in awe of God than the atheist who contemplates the origin of the universe.

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