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The Human Assumption

ewashburn's picture

During Tuesday's class, Prof. Grobstein asked for positive retellings of the story of evolution. It struck me as interesting that, when asked to justify our retellings, many members of the class described the positive aspects from an entirely human perspective; it also struck me as interesting that, in denouncing these retellings, many members of the class continued to react from an entirely human perspective. As far as we had read in "On the Origin of Species," Darwin had not directly discussed the consequences of the theory of evolution on our species' development. Yet there we were, squabbling about the morality of selective evolution, about the vestigial characteristics of the human body, about the destructive progress of mankind.

This isn't the most academic of concerns, I suppose, but the ability of this text to shake our species' sense of itself strikes me as astounding. If we, who were familiar enough with the theory of evolution that we had redefined evolution as all perpetual changing everywhere, couldn't get out of this human perspective as we examined every side of Darwin's story, imagine how people in Darwin's day would have reacted as the theory was introduced for the first time. I wonder just how many blocked the idea that this text could have anything to do with the development of man. I wonder how many extrapolated and were terrified, awestruck. How shocking, how mind-boggling, to think that the habits of pigeons could apply to the creation of man, that the reproductive abilities of a flower could somehow be analogous to the development of the human race. It must have been devastating for some, to go from thinking they were destined by God to dominate all creatures to realizing that, in fact, they might have developed just like everything else.

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