The Beginning -- Up From the Primordial Soup
Its been a long journey for all of us. The voyage across the seas of evolution have left upon our psyches indelible impressions of long-ago struggles for survival. Every behavior and emotion that we feel today is attached to the animal flesh that controls our being. We did not like the journey that nature made us endure, but we adapted as best as we could. And how do I know that we did not like the journey? Because everyday I see attempts of my fellow humans to change the behavior of the animal within as they attempt to replace the bad with the good.
Yes, while we Homo sapiens are magnificent beasts when we want to be, we are also, too often, beasts. Sometimes the ugliness that dwells deep down inside our spirit rises to scar the Earth and foul the air with our ambitions, displays of might, our physical or intellectual "successes." This book is an attempt to give us new tools in the 21st century with which to mold our behaviors.
It's a Fact Jack...
Let's get something straight. We evolved from the primates who emigrated north from the African plains more than 50,000 years ago. To creationists, who denigrate evolutionists at every opportunity, I suggest that they look inward and truly tell the world why they oppose the evolutionary template. Many believe that they oppose it because they fear the loss of the established hierarchical structures of authoritarian patriarchal control. These structures have been declared the foundations of social enlightenment and have endured these many years solely from the resource accumulation advantages and comfort derived from their success. The major religions of world -- Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – have histories dominated by males, and have therefore assured us that our God is male and that only through males and the women who support them can their respective societies function properly. If only, of course, we follow their established guidelines with unswerving faith. That faith must not allow any deviation from the words written by male elders and established in biblical history, for to allow deviation, the believers tell us, would mean the ultimate collapse of our moral world. We must obey the male, in whose gender God passed his laws. The male, like God, is the family head, the giver of life and creativity, and all flows through him; progeny are his property -- just as we are property of a male God. Before the knowledge of the equal amounts contributed to their children by males and females through DNA was known, women were thought merely as the receptacle of man's seed, the soil in which to grow God's glory. There is no doubt in my mind that religions evolved to establish human origins, to establish behavioral laws that benefit those who dominate the culture, and to maintain that control in the face of all dissent.
The challenge of overturning creationist objections to evolution is compounded by our polite views of religious freedoms. Only when we begin to view the religious creationist as a threat to our individual freedoms and the continued existence of our species will we be successful in reaching equality along our evolutionary path.
Can You Find the Pea Under the Shell?
E. O. Wilson, in his book Consilience, tells us that, yes, God could have created man in his image some 6,000 years ago but, if he did so, he left thousands of solid, verifiable examples of evidence behind in which to mislead us into thinking that a natural order of evolution has taken place. Could it be that God has also led us astray by giving us emotions and social behavior patterns that resemble the primates?
Evolution is a fact, and we must no longer think of the process in terms of a theory. To quote Wilson,
Evolution by natural selection is not an idle hypothesis. The genetic
variation on which selection acts is well understood in principle all the way
down to the molecular level. 'Evolution watchers' among field biologists
have monitored evolution by natural selection, generation by generation, in
natural populations of animals and plants. The result can often be
reproduced in the laboratory, even up to the creation of a new species, for
example by hybridization and the breeding of reproductively isolated
strains. The manner in which traits of anatomy, physiology, and behavior adapt organisms to their environment has been massively documented.
The fossil hominid record, from man-apes to modern humans, while still lacking many details, is solid in main outline, with a well established chronology. p. 128.
Physical evidence found of our ancestors' deep history (as Wilson calls it) presence include: Ardipithecus ramidus, Australopithecus anamensis, A. afarensis, A. africanus, A. aethiopicus, A. garhi, A. boisei, A. robustus, Homo rudolfensis, H. habilis, H. ergaster, H. erectus, H. anteccessor, H. neanderthalensis, and at last, our species: Homo sapiens. "All in the Family," Time magazine, August 24, 1999, p.54
The work of Peter and Rosemary Grant of Princeton University provides irrefutable evidence of evolution. Following in the footsteps of Darwin, the husband and wife team patiently measured the beaks of their subjects and constructed the documentation needed to give us solid proof of evolution in actuality. The couple followed several different variants of the species from generation to generation as the finches adapted to the local environments on the isolated Galapagos Islands. Their book, The Beak of the Finch, won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1996.
Extending the point to more current news, do you know about Dolly, the cloned sheep from Ireland? Have you read anything about genetic engineering? The Human Genome Project? Well, all of those experiments have to do with genes, reproduction, and evolution -- with the assistance of humankind (that's us) and not the biblical God of yore. Don't misinterpret my words. I strongly believe in a higher source of guidance, but my God is not a Caucasian male of European extraction who stands over six feet tall and wears a long flowing white beard and white robes. My God's being has no solid form and flows though every object on our planet and in the universe. If you reduce an atom to its smallest size you will find that there is more space than "solid" matter within the smallest of the structures, which naturally brings the question: "What's holding everything together?" The answer, to me, is my God. My God is both masculine and feminine and reacts to the various ebbs and flows of our physical lives. My God is both revengeful and compassionate and does things in our physical world to teach us lessons to lead us along the path of righteousness. To my God, we are children, but our destiny is to evolve into the mystical realm of our parents, but before we do, we must know the truth.
As Easy as 1,2,3
To further complicate matters for the creationists, we know that there at least three stages of human evolution, and that we are presently in the second, which will be short-lived. Soon, we will find ourselves entering the third and most critical stage. The first stage is natural selection, or stabilizing selection, in which Homo sapiens were unaware of the invisible hereditary secrets that influenced their lives, and populations were stabilized though the whims of nature. Our species has trudged along unknowingly, using the biological hardware that we all still carry from our long evolutionary journey, and through which we react to the local environment and to others of our species. As we advanced, we slowly began to grasp the beginnings of consciousness and, instead of relying only on biological instinct, we "thought," and quickly honed our survival skills to a fine point within a few hundred thousand years. (To put the physical history of Homo sapiens in perspective, here's a favorite demonstration from the mind of Steven Jay Gould that I learned at one of his lectures. Place your index finger [left or right] on your nose, and then stretch it out as far as you can to the right or left. Now return the finger and place the fingertip in your mouth and chew off the tip of the fingernail. The tip of the fingernail that you have just chewed off and spit out on the floor represents the timeline that Homo sapiens have been on the planet since its formation of the planet some four billion years ago). The lesson to be learned here is, don't sweat the small stuff, because it really is small stuff. Hmmmm...Take you finger out of your mouth now. We have work to do.
Mendel's work on pea plants (which the Austrian monk finished in 1900) was not dragged out of the closet until 1915 -- just 85 years ago -- a mere micro-click on the evolutionary clock. Gould, -- in his book Full House, writes that if Homo sapiens could go back in time and restart the evolutionary process over again, we humans would not be able to recognize ourselves. According to Gould, we humans are lucky to be here at all. But another factor that caused the disappearance of traits is the coming together of two negative recessive genes, that in combination, have disastrous effect for the species. In genetics, two wrongs don't make a right.
This leads us to the second phase of evolution: The identity and control of recessive gene disorders. Cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia, and Tay-Sachs are examples of recessive gene disorders that have serious consequences to anyone who carries these defective alleles. In our evolutionary past, the carriers of these disorders would be eliminated in the race of life, (the polite word here is "stabilized"), and the defective gene culled from the population. The second phase of evolution does not alter or eliminate the recessive genes, but identifies them and controls their effects through medication or diet.
This places us at the doorway to the third phase of evolution, what Wilson calls "volitional evolution." According the Wilson, the second phase will not last long because humankind in it's wisdom (or lack there of) will decide that progress can be made much faster with this third stage. It has only been 25 years since the first experiments with gene splicing, which inserted a gene isolated from one organism into another. Experiments since then have yielded human insulin in bacteria and an endless parade of industrial applications that have benefited humankind. The first rough sketch of the Human Genome Project was just completed in June of 2000, in which the first human blueprint is now laid out before our eyes. My fear is that the wrong people, without knowing the full complexity of genes and cultural influences on our human behavior (from an evolutionary perspective), will dominate the social debate and misdirect the public into making grave errors about genetic engineering. We all need to be part of the debate regarding genetic engineering since we are all part of the genome.
What is sad about the current situation for the creationists is that as these new genetic sciences continue to advance, their insistence that only their God created man some 6,000 years ago will paint them into a corner. They will not be allowed to participate in any future debate on cloning, genetic engineering, or restructuring of human DNA. It’s really too bad because all of us could use their support on the sanctity of all life and their strong belief in a higher intelligence. But most of all, we will miss their arguments on the harmony and stability that the family has on the development of the young human brain, especially within the first three years of life. The worst part of their continued resistance to accept solid, empirical evidence about these genetic advances is that it only supports increasing skepticism to all of their beliefs.
Just Five Easy Steps
To Wilson, science is truth, and I applaud his attempts to seek the same in our world. In Consilience, Wilson teaches us that science is the organized, systematic enterprise that gathers knowledge about the world and condenses the knowledge into testable laws and principles. In their attempt to counter what they consider the Godless world of analytical science, creationists have successfully convinced small, local public school systems where influence is strongest into putting their pseudoscience on the teaching agenda. Its main job is to counter evolutionary theory and present "scientific" evidence to the contrary, and to gain public funding for more of the same. The reason that creation "science" fails is because it does not piece together their theories with evidence into an interlocking base of biological behavior and norms of modern civilized socialization. Wilson points out that there are five reasons that creation science and other pseudosciences such as astrology, ufology fail to be equal to the natural sciences.
1. Repeatability. Have the facts presented been repeated and confirmed by others?
Dem Bones, Dem Bones
As for the evidence of hominid fossils that Wilson discusses, first of all, let's try to understand why do we have such a passion to find out where we came from? Why do we dig up the bones of our ancestors from the forest floors, mountain slopes, and isolated plains? The very idea that highly educated people spend their entire productive lives digging in one large sandbox seems a bit odd, does it not? What is the logic behind the passion? Ian Tattersall, in his book The Fossil Trail: How we know what we think we know about Human Evolution, compares ancestral bone diggers to mountain climbers: they dig bones because they are there. I can understand the analogy, but as an amateur evolutionary psychologist, I prefer my own interpretation: We dig our ancestral bones because we seek closure to unanswered questions that we perceive as "problems" before we advance to the next. Our brain wants things to fit, and ideas to make sense, or else we keep trying. After all, is that not what evolution is all about? Finding an adaptive solution to a problem that has arisen before us, or else -- in our earliest environment-- could have meant death? The very essence of evolutionary psychology is confirming the isolation of problem-solving "modules" in our brains which have evolved through natural selection that help us survival in harse environments. Throughout most of our species' existence, Homo sapiens had to solve extremely urgent problems, i.e., food and shelter, but once those problems were solved, we advanced to the next set of problems, such as mate selection, bonding through alliance formation, hierarchy positioning, child protection, and hunting and gathering. Now fast forward to the tenured professor digging bones, and you find a human who has "solved" the above problems and is merely seeking closure to more advanced questions.
This need to want things fit or make sense in solving a problem before us is the basis for evolutionary psychology on which most of this book is based. Evolutionary psychology seeks to reconstruct problems that our ancestors evolved to meet particular challenges; each particular challenge faced created a behavior that survived the passage of time. Part of the explanation in understanding these mechanisms is by identifying these behaviors as modules, or specific algorithmic (step by step) instructions set off within the brain.
Modularity thinking may very well have had its first emergence with the work of Franz Joseph Gall, (1758 – 1828) who reasoned that the brain was divided into dozens of distinct capabilities. It is from his work that some universities today are divided into different "faculties," such as physics, math, psychology, etc. But the credit for the modern revival of the modularity of the mind approach can be given to American philosopher and psychologist Jerry Fodor (b. 1925) through his book, The Modularity of Mind, 1971. After Fodor, we owe much of the more recent interest in evolutionary psychology to psychologist Leda Cosmides, and the anthropologist John Tooby. In their brilliant essay entitled: "The psychological foundations of culture," (Barkow, J. H., Cosmides, L., and Tooby, J. (eds.) 1992, The Adapted Mind, New York, Oxford University Press, the husband and wife team forged the science into the stature that it deserves today. Their essay fought back the concept of the tabula rosa mind, which held sway in the 60s and 70s which basically taught us that evolution only produced a "general-purpose" mind that needed to be filled with nurturing and culture. Debate still swirls around whether E.O. Wilson and his concept of sociobiology should be credited with the today’s major interest in evolutionary psychology. At the time of his book in 1975, the acceptance of these theories were so ill-accepted that the scientist was unceremoniously dumped with a bucket of ice water while giving a lecture. Many feel that that evolutionary psychology and human sociobiology are one and the same; as for me, I credit E.O. Wilson with first dips, but I credit Tooby and Cosmides for brushing off the science, renaming it, and thrusting it forward onto the front burner of public awareness with a common sense moniker. We owe all three of these people much for their hard work and courage.
I Will Now Saw This Women in Half.
The analogy continues that each module must conclude with an answer to a problem. When we humans can not provide solid, empirical evidence to solve the problem, we create suitable solutions to those problems in order to reach closure, even if the answer is a wrong one regarding the safety of the individual. There must be a beginning, an analysis, and finally an answer to the problem or question. Thoughout our existence, myths, folklore, legend, morals, criticisms, and social structures are all creations of "problem-solving" attempts to provide answers to problems faced in our local environments. Fortunately, and unfortunately, members of our species knowingly take advantage of this known phenomenon and create whole industries out of illusionary solutions to our problems Optical illusions by the pen and ink artist, M. C. Escher and the magic shows of magicians are perfect examples of our brains creating "answers" to the object being viewed and analyzed Don't even get me started on televised prescription medication commercials or political ads.
Man in the Mist: The Evolutionary Musings of a Blue-Collar Worker©
Copyright, Evolution's Voyage, 1995 - 2009