This I Believe

Judith - New York, New York
Entered on September 2, 2007
Age Group: 65+
Themes: humanism, science

This I Believe

My belief system has been built up over more than 65 years, an amalgam of values handed down in my family and my own search for understanding the world in which I live. There are consistent themes, such as an emphasis on social justice, and more personal finds, such as the day I stood in a college biology lab holding a small plastic test tube in the bottom of which sat a single transparent bead of DNA. It was a rolled up strand that had taken my lab partner and me two weeks of heating and cooling, stirring and precipitating, to isolate. The lab curriculum had been designed to follow the discoveries of the second half of the 20th century in cell and molecular biology. At the time in my 50’s and back to school to fill in some science courses I had skipped years before, I was breathless with the wonder of what we marvelous animals had come to know in my lifetime.

Today if someone asks me what I believe in, I am likely to use words like “evolution” or “natural selection,” as well as “social construction.” For our marvelous ability to make sense out of our experiences, to construe meaning from observation, is part of our wonderful species-specific bag of biological capacities, just as much as the ability to bond and to create culture are. And all those human capacities are transmitted down the generations through the DNA in our genes,. They either had adaptive value for our ancestral groups or were carried forward because they were neutral to the forces of selection at the time. And they allow us to know so much!

That term, species-specific, puts us right up there in the animal kingdom, not apart from it. We have many qualities that belong just to our species, and many more that we share with the entire family of primates. A science writer once called us “fancy primates.” And that is exactly how I see us. As you can see, there is no mention of any sort of a god in this. I find no place for the supernatural in these qualities. It is natural processes that I wonder and marvel at.

I said that some of my values came from my own family. Appreciation of all kinds of people, and of people in all walks of life, was a central tenet when I was growing up. But the wonders of modern biology came to me from the outside, mostly from paying attention to what was going on in science as it was described for the lay public. So I guess another quality that I believe in is life-long learning. As humans, we all retain the ability to learn more, although some of us utilize it less as we get older. But learning is my joy. It’s an intensely human activity that gives me a continuing sense of discovery, just as isolating that bit of DNA did.