Thursday, October 21, 2010

Monkey and man

This common image that suggests that man directly evolved from the monkeys and apes that are exactly like those that exist today is misinformative. 
Recently, a friend of mine from the mission tried to press a point that I couldn’t understand. He said that he just didn’t see how we evolved from monkeys. He felt that the very idea was absurd. We are God’s complex creatures, uniquely made in His image, he said. The fact of our being here, on earth, is proof of God and proof of Creationism.

As we discussed the issue, I came to understand how he understood the late steps in the evolution of man: that homo sapien had emerged from what were, essentially, modern monkeys, becoming man as we know us, today.

Thus, in how he envisioned things, monkeys were static, and, somehow, we are to believe that humans emerged out of that. A vast silliness, he thought.

Well, that’s not how our evolution is understood to have happened. Here’s the matter, pithily explained, quoting from the “evolution” webpage at PBS:
Humans did not evolve from monkeys. Humans are more closely related to modern apes than to monkeys, but we didn't evolve from apes, either. Humans share a common ancestor with modern African apes, like gorillas and chimpanzees. Scientists believe this common ancestor existed 5 to 8 million years ago. Shortly thereafter, the species diverged into two separate lineages. One of these lineages ultimately evolved into gorillas and chimps, and the other evolved into early human ancestors called hominids.
I do believe, and say often, that Evolution is the most proved and certain thing other than 1 + 1 = 2. I am always taken aback to see polling that shows how few Americans are as certain as I am that Evolution is The route by which humans got here, on earth. [Was my schooling that different than the majority of Americans!? How can it be!?]

The idea of Evolution pre-existed Charles Darwin’s 1859 book “On the Origin of the Species” and has been rigorously proved in a dozen different disciplines since, yet Darwin takes the brunt of the glory and blame for the “theory.” People were breeding dogs for many millennia before Darwin’s book. We knew that traits could be “selected for” in that species and others. We certainly have known since before written history began that family traits can get carried down from generation to generation. The evidence was piled high already before Darwin collected his own evidence to produce his controversial book.

Recent science has shown the great similarity between us and monkeys, even though our bloodlines diverged five- to eight-million years ago. Not only is our DNA 95% in synch with chimps, but our brains are, too, despite our supposing our human selfs to be so very vastly more complex and superior [or, as many Christians think, on a different order of being than that of (non-human) animals].

Frans de Waal, Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta, wrote recently in an essay in the New York Times:
If we consider our species without letting ourselves be blinded by the technical advances of the last few millennia, we see a creature of flesh and blood with a brain that, albeit three times larger than a chimpanzee’s, doesn’t contain any new parts. Even our vaunted prefrontal cortex turns out to be of typical size: recent neuron-counting techniques classify the human brain as a linearly scaled-up monkey brain. No one doubts the superiority of our intellect, but we have no basic wants or needs that are not also present in our close relatives. I interact on a daily basis with monkeys and apes, which just like us strive for power, enjoy sex, want security and affection, kill over territory, and value trust and cooperation. Yes, we use cell phones and fly airplanes, but our psychological make-up remains that of a social primate. Even the posturing and deal-making among the alpha males in Washington is nothing out of the ordinary.
The Evolution of Man doesn’t disprove the existence of God, nor undermine the Book of Genesis. It does, however, require us to understand Genesis’ Creation Story as being metaphorical — which is a good thing! Metaphorically, the story of Adam and Eve is layered and rich in symbolism and meaning. Taken only as literally true, the story is an assault on our experience of life and sense of justice. Indeed, even most who believe the Adam and Eve story to be literally true, understand it metaphorically, whether they admit that or not. It is only from delving into its meaning that the Garden, temptation, knowledge of good and evil, suffering and the challenges after the fall become keenly interesting.

Besides, no person was there at the time Adam and Eve were, supposedly, in the Garden, to take notes and report on the interactions between the first man, first woman, God and the serpent. I maintain that what happened is what is rather obvious: A very clever guy, in the year 1000 BC — give or take 500 years — ‘created’ the best storyline he could conger up to explain human existence and our suffering. And that story, changed and enhanced a dozen times on its way to us, 3000 years later, is what we have (and are stuck with, for good or ill), today.

Recommended reading re Evolution:

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins
Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne
"Tom's First Sermon at Union Gospel Mission" written by me, from my other active blog, Homeless Tom

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Blogger Terry Yarborough said...

Good Piece T, good piece

October 22, 2010 at 9:26 AM  
Blogger Tom Armstrong said...

Thanks, T. I added some recommended reading just in case some readers of this post need further evidence of the truth of Evolution.

October 22, 2010 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Terry Yarborough said...

I already read the Dawkins book on my Kindle. It actually clarified some stuff I didn't know, like how genes switch off and on during embryonic development, thus the difference in length of leg bones, jaw bones, etc, etc, even though the embryos start out almost identical among vertibrates.

October 22, 2010 at 10:03 AM  

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