Values may define progress but values take a hit when we consider the actualities of the world we live in. I have always found it helpful for us to admit that what we do not know is much more than what we do know. I am generous in attributing knowledge to us. Most of us see our world in Darwinian terms. We look at ourselves and assume that our history is roughly identified with our evolution from elementary to the complex form of existence that we occupy.

There were at least four stages of development that precede the Darwinian sweep.

A five-stage view

Before animals became the basis of things, there were, over billions of years, four progressive developments.

There was a bacterial stage. There was a protist stage – where life was literally taking shape. There was a fungal stage – involving the movement of emerging forms to land. And before Animal Life emerged there were plants.


The biologist Lynn Margulis says the dominant view that evolution is mainly animal and human beings is “grossly uninformed”.

That is a challenging statement but it is no less forceful than the dominant Darwinian views that have colored our sense of reality. The survival of the fittest and natural selection have implications that have fed a bias against inclusion and, frankly, racial prejudice.

I would extend this suggestion to say that our thinking about progress will benefit immensely from attention to the world prior to animal life.

The years prior to the emergence of animals are in the billions and what occurred did not get swept away. We are in the midst of a new era of discovery as we understand our origin in ways that depend on how we parse bacteria, cell development, fungal realities, and the history of plant life.


The sliver of time we have occupied in the entire timeline of creation is just that – a sliver.

The growth within that time seems incredibly progressive. Yesterday we were somewhere between ape and human. Now we are talking about connecting our brains to the cloud.

Values and progress

I have suggested in several articles that this is the century when we must evolve ethically. My suspicion is that when all is said and done when we have a better picture of all of past life, we will see that consciousness and even freedom have not been absent. We will see that decisions have indeed been made.

The notion that we cannot change our values and choose ways that will make life better for all is an insult.

We cannot have progress without more tolerance, more helpfulness, and more democracy. We may well find that these qualities were hardly absent as the globe moved from then to now.

Whatever we find we are free to choose now. And we live at a time of decision.