I Am Evolution Listener Holly Dunsworth says she doesn't need faith or hope to believe evolution. The Penn State paleoanthropologist says evolution "just is" — and helps her understand how she came to be and how humans are connected to all living things.
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I Am Evolution

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I Am Evolution

I Am Evolution

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From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of This I Believe Intro)

HANSEN: For our series This I Believe, some people write essays about philosophies based on faith. Others, such as today's contributor, write about more concrete beliefs. Public radio listener Holly Dunsworth is a paleoanthropologist from State College, Pennsylvania. To introduce her, here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

Mr. JAY ALLISON (Series Curator, Independent Producer, This I Believe): When Holly Dunsworth made her first trip to Africa for anthropological field work, it was a life changing moment for her. She uncovered more than fossils; she found her life's mission, and confirmed her belief.

Here is Holly Dunsworth with her essay for This I Believe.

Ms. HOLLY DUNSWORTH (Contributor, This I Believe): I believe evolution. It's easy. It's my life. I'm a paleoanthropologist. I study fossils of humans, apes and monkeys, and I teach college students about their place in nature.

Of course I believe evolution. But that is different from believing in evolution.

To believe in something takes faith, trust, effort, strength. I need none of these things to believe evolution. It just is. My health is better because of medical research based on evolution. My genetic code is practically the same as a chimpanzee's. My bipedal feet walk on an earth full of fossil missing links. And when my feet tire, those fossils fuel my car.

To believe in something also implies hope. Hope of happiness, reward, forgiveness, eternal life. There is no hope wrapped up in my belief. Unless you count the hope that one day I'll discover the most beautifully complete fossil human skeleton ever found, with a label attached saying exactly what species it belonged to, what food it ate, how much it hunted, if it could speak, if it could laugh, if it could love and if it could throw a curveball. But this fantasy is not why I believe evolution - as if evolution is something I hope comes true.

After all the backyard bone collecting I did as a child, I managed to carve out a career where I get to ask the ultimate question on a daily basis: where did I come from and how?

If our beliefs are important enough, we live our lives in service to them. That's how I feel about evolution. My role as a female Homo sapiens is to return each summer to Kenya, dig up fossils, and piece together our evolutionary history. Scanning the ground for weeks, hoping to find a single molar, or gouging out the side of a hill, one bucket of dirt at a time, I'm always in search of answers to questions shared by the whole human species. The experience deepens my understanding not just about what drives my life, but all our lives, where we came from. And the deeper I go, the more I understand that everything is connected. A bullfrog to a gorilla, a hummingbird to me, to you.

My belief is not immutable. It is constantly evolving with accumulating evidence, new knowledge and breakthrough discoveries. For example, within my lifetime, our history has expanded from being rooted 3 million years ago with the famous Lucy skeleton, to actually beginning over 6 million years ago with a cranium from Chad. The metamorphic nature of my belief is not at all like a traditional religious one; it's more like seeing is believing.

So I believe evolution.

I feel it. I breathe it. I listen to evolution, I observe it and I do evolution. I write, study, analyze, scrutinize and collect evolution. I am evolution.

Mr. ALLISON: Holly Dunsworth with her essay for This I Believe. Dunsworth co-directs survey and excavations on an island in the Kenyan waters of Lake Victoria, where she says the fossils stayed back about 18 million years.

We'll hope you'll visit our Web site at NPR.org/ThisIBelieve to find out about submitting your own essay to our series. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

HANSEN: Jay Allison is co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick of the book "This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women."

(Soundbite of music)

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