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Evolution & Stories #1

kapelian's picture
Origin of Species written by Sir Charles Darwin was a book that reshaped the thoughts of a generation, giving a completely new story as to how life on earth as we know it came to be. Darwin mainly uses examples of flowers, bees, and pigeons in his writing to support his theory, but he implies that all species, including humans undergo this process.  Pope Benedict XVI has outright stated that the thought of humans changing in a pattern that is completely random, that our species came to be by chance, is the most disturbing thing about this story.  Not that Darwin implies all species come from one common ancestor, but  that becoming human and our continuous evolution is unplanned.  Why is the fact that human evolution random disturbing? It's the same randomness that has allowed for there to be lions and tigers, and for the massive varieties of species across our planet.
When I think of human evolution, I imagine what humans will look like in a thousand years.  For the first thousand years that human beings have walked on the earth, our ancestors walked on all fours, were extremely hairy, and had very dark skin.  Then they started walking on their own two feet, invented fire, tools to allow them to become successful hunters and farmers, and migrated from Africa, where scientists believe humans came from, and travel across the globe.  By moving, humans gained new and different facial structures and skin tone that people now use to classify race.  Humans brains have grown to come up with hundreds of complex languages, alphabets, and new technologies to help them make their world a better place for themselves.  But in the next thousand years, how will people change?  If the process really is, as Darwin asserts, totally random, what will become of our predecessors?  Many science fiction writers can imagine our world in the future to be a planet almost entirely of water with the polar ice caps completely melted away.  Humans would have to evolve in order to becoming more physically adapt to their surroundings, perhaps turning into what we would consider mermen.   Or perhaps, humans will become more adept to living under higher pressures deep underwater.  It's impossible to say for certain, however the possibilities are endless.  The randomness of evolution allows for humans to change in so many ways, and yet according to some this is disturbing.  But what about a change in humans that people have proven – skin color.  According to scientists and their experiments, the change in our ancestor's skin tone is the most recent change for the human species.  Our ancestors started in Africa, but eventually moved across the globe.  The humans that moved northward to Europe became lighter and lighter because they weren't outside nearly as much because of the colder temperatures.  So, their skin had to get lighter so for the little amount of time they were outside their bodies could collect as much sunlight as possible.  This change in our race allowed for humans to better survive in their habitat.  This is a less drastic change then humans becoming near mermen to deal with living underwater, but its the same basic principle that comes from the idea that we change to allow us to better survive.  This story is claimed to be a random process, one must remember that evolution is a story.  Evolution has never been decisively proven as fact, though many believe in Darwin's idea, that doesn't mean it is fact.
Darwin was a empiricist to a T – looking very closely at others findings as well as his own and from there drawing conclusions.  He was very good at picking out all the details and  using them to his advantage when writing his story.  To many, the deep look at the details and the many examples get dry and boring after the first 10 pages.  But his without his attention, not nearly as many people would have bought into Origin of Species.  And if Darwin wasn't who noticed all these things, someone would have eventually.  It's the goal of scientists to understand the world around them as best they can.  The writing of all new stories happens all the time, and so it was only a matter of time before a story like this was written. It was only a matter of time before something that we would consider 'disturbing' about our ancestors and our past would surface.  If people really think evolution is too disturbing, they do not have to believe in it, however they should not try to tell those that do believe in the story that they are wrong.
It has been about 150 years since Darwin's Origin of Species was published, and yet it still causes controversy.  Many people do not want to believe in evolution or do not want the story to be taught. The main issue many people have with the story is not only that Darwin suggests that all species come from the same common ancestors as all other organisms, that the process for different species coming to be and where humans are going is completely random, but that these ideas apply the same for humans as well as a cat or a dog.  Humans naturally see themselves as something completely different from most animals, so when a story comes out that teaches says to them that humans coming to be is the same as any other animal or plant is upsetting.  However, it is the story that Darwin proposed and we as people will have to accept it for what it is, even if we do not want to believe in it.


Paul Grobstein's picture

What's upsetting about the story of evolution?

Is it only our connectedness to other organisms, past and present, that causes people trouble with the story of evolution, or is there something more/deeper? How do you feel about the idea that no matter how much you know, you won't be able to predict the future of humanity, or perhaps even yourself?