The Evolution Of Love

Carl - St. Johnsbury, Vermont
Entered on March 20, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: humanism, love

I believe that human beings exist because of love. I believe that natural selection, the process that gave rise to our species, rewards love without conscious or divine direction. As a middle school science teacher I appreciate the weight of concrete evidence and provide natural selection as a valid explanation of the origins of the diverse life forms of our planet. But I also see something more magical at work and can’t help but believe that a meaningful trend lies hidden in the descent of humans. I gain a sense of meaning in this time of extinction by recognizing that love is perhaps the result of nature’s unconscious unfolding.

In preparing seventh and eighth grade lessons on the classification and adaptations of vertebrates I was struck by a subtle trend. As vertebrates evolved, organisms tended to require a greater investment on the part of parents. Consider fish, the first vertebrates, who as hatchlings mostly know their parents only as another predator. Amphibians also invest very little in the wellbeing of their young, but reptiles, the next vertebrates to evolve, build and sometimes monitor nests for their eggs. Adult birds must care for their young after they hatch and may even teach necessary skills for survival, such as during migrations. Mammals require an even greater investment from parents, and often the biological family unit is a strong part of social organization. Young primates cling to their mothers, a permanent attachment, and from this arrangement evolved humans.

Human babies are born helpless, incapable of even the most rudimentary locomotion for the first half year; human infants can no more move away from fire or flood than they can find their own forage. Raising a human child to the point of independence requires a huge investment of time and resource by the parents. During this time the parent has the opportunity to develop a deep sense of devotion to the child. The arrangement requires unselfishness. The arrangement rewards love.

I am not suggesting that love is the guiding force behind natural selection and evolution. I recognize that nature is brutal, with birds shoving their brothers out of nests, and father bears killing their cubs. I am simply pointing out that the record seems to show that an increase in investment, by the parent is a trend that is rewarded by the success of the offspring, the species, and the species’ evolutionary lineage. With this increased investment parents and offspring form ever deepening bonds, and in humans the bond can be so deep as to be called love. As I’ve said variety, not love, is the driving force of evolution, but where variations have arisen that enhance the opportunity for love, those variations have been rewarded. Love is what humans bring to nature’s table. Love is why we exist. I don’t teach this idea to my students, or use the word love in science class, but I try to share my appreciation for life and its processes. My hope is that my students will recognize and celebrate our natural heritage, the story that brought us here, and that love will save all life yet.