September 17, 2007
By Fred Brown
A lecture given at UCSD
by Fred Brown
If you ask the man in the street the meaning of the word evolution you will probably get a response something like: "Yes, I know what that is, it means man came from the monkeys."
Which, of course is not what it means. The word evolution means a gradual and progressive change, whether it be applied to galaxies, stars, geology, human culture, or biology.
It has been said that it is impossible to understand God without understanding evolution because evolution is a very fundamental part of creation. In any event the world we now have is the result of billions of years of evolution. And with regard to biology, contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as the theory of evolution. Biological evolution is not a theory but an established scientific fact, and there is no controversy about this amongst biologists.
There are different theories (plural, not singular) to explain evolution, but evolution itself is a scientific fact. And the different theories do not conflict with each other but are mutually complimentary and supportive.
I notice that recently even the Catholic church, after opposing Darwinism for a century, has come to acknowledge the fact of evolution, and I would think this would create enormous doctrinal problems for them.
Actually, biological evolution is an old idea, going back to ancient Greece. The Greeks had a lot of ideas, so it is not surprising that some of them turned out to be right.
But no one explained how one life form could evolve into another until 1809 when a Frenchman named Jean Lamarck provided a mechanism by which organic evolution could take place.
His hypothesis very neatly explained many things, but there was one trouble: it happened to be wrong. Lamarck's hypothesis depended on the inheritance of acquired characteristics which we now know does not happen.
The big name in evolution, of course, is Charles Darwin who was born on the same day in 1809 as Abraham Lincoln. (I suppose astrologers could make something of that fact; and perhaps there is a parallel: Lincoln freed the slaves and Darwin freed the world of its ignorance.)
Darwin's momentous book was titled On the Origin of Species and was published in 1859.
This was one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in history, and in biology I would say the greatest breakthrough, even including the recent breaking of the genetic code.
The elements of Darwinism are as follows:
(3) Excess Replication
(4) Natural Selection
(1) Heredity: Darwin knew that characteristics tend to be inherited but he did not know the laws of genetics. These laws were not discovered until 1865 by Gregor Mendel. And because Mendel published his discovery in an obscure journal his findings were ignored until 1900 when they were rediscovered by other people.
(2) Variation: This simply means that two individuals of the same species are never exactly alike except in the case of identical twins. There is always variation. Any characteristic that you can measure, whether it be blood pressure in alligators or the length of puppy tails, will follow the classic bell-shaped probability distribution, where the farther away you move from the average, the less likely that value will occur.
(3) Excess Replication: Every species of plant or animal will reproduce excessively, and only a small percentage of offspring will live to pass on their genes to the next generation. The others must perish. Darwin was familiar with the work of Thomas Malthus who pointed out that an unchecked population will grow geometrically. Geometric growth is what we now call exponential.
For instance, if population doubles every generation, in only 20 generations a mating pair can have a million descendants. This does not happen in nature because of natural checks such as predators. Unfortunately, there is one species that has learned to defeat these natural checks, and that, of course, is the human species. That is why the world is so over-populated with people now: we have death control without birth control.
Thomas Malthus was a political economist and it is because of him that economics is called the dismal science. He predicted starvation for England in the nineteenth century. This did not occur because of the industrial revolution. Of course, today England cannot feed itself, instead it gets by with food imports, which works alright for England but if every country tries to be a food-importing country, you can understand there is going to be problems. Today there is large-scale hunger in the world but I think the worst consequence of the population explosion is the enormous and irreversible environmental damage to the planet.
(4) Natural Selection: This was Darwin's great contribution. And I would say that unless you understand natural selection you are not an educated person, no matter what else you know.
Because of excess replication, most plants and animals are doomed to perish without producing progeny. And there is a difference between the individuals that survive and those that do not survive. The ones that survive may just be lucky, but the probability is that they are more fit to survive in some way. And that's natural selection: nature is constantly weeding out those individuals who are less fit for survival. A classic example is the giraffe; why is it so tall ?
Tallness is an obvious advantage in reaching leaves higher up on a tree. And so over many generations the taller animals had a better chance to survive and were therefore selected by nature to pass on their tallness genes to future generations.
So you can see that given the above 4 elements, evolution must inevitably occur because nature is constantly doing just what breeders do when they selectively breed a desired characteristic into a plant or animal. As Thomas Huxley said, "How extremely stupid not to have thought of it." Like many great ideas, it seems almost obvious after someone points it out.
But it's worth noting that it took 3000 years of civilization before someone did point it out.
Darwin's work is sometimes called the Darwinian Revolution because it revolutionized
human thinking more than any other scientific discovery. Understanding Darwinism gives
you an understanding of nature and also an understanding of man who is a part of nature.
Darwin also contributed the idea of sexual selection. This was introduced in Origin of Species and amplified in a later book, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, published in 1871.
Sexual selection is an important evolutionary concept because it explains so many things that cannot be explained with natural selection. Here, the selecting element is success in mating.
Obviously, mere survival does not insure that your genes are going to be transmitted to the next generation. You must also be successful at mating. Sexual selection explains such phenomena as the peacock's tail, which certainly has no survival value, quite the contrary, but it is important to attracting a peahen. And so over many generations peacocks with the more attractive tails were more successful at mating, and peacock tails became more and more elaborate. It's worth noting that in bird species where the female does the selecting, it is the male that is colorful, whereas in the human species where the male has done the selecting (this may not be true currently), it is the female that is the "fair sex."
Another way sexual selection works is through combat between rivals. With regard to mammals Darwin says, "The male appears to win the female much more through
the law of battle than through the display of his charms. This explains why the males are often larger and equipped with special weapons such as antlers, horns, or tusks, which are absent or diminished in females." This tendency of hostility toward a rival appears in human consciousness in the form of what we call jealousy.
Another example of sexual selection in humans is skin color. People come in different colors. The human race originated in Africa and I'm sure that at the beginning everyone was about the same color which was probably quite dark. But now we have fair-skinned people who are deficient in melanin. There is no survival value to the loss of this pigmentation. In fact, quite the opposite, fair skinned people are susceptible to ultra-violet skin damage which causes sunburn and skin cancer. But in Europe especially, people have fair skins because of sexual selection which has discriminated against darker skins over the millennia. (This analysis agrees with Darwin's view but is contrary to the current convention. However, I believe that Darwin and not current thinking is correct for reasons that I will not go into here.)
Much has been added to organic evolution since Darwin's day. For instance, the importance of mutations. These have a number of causes, one such is nuclear radiation. Mutations can produce sudden changes in only one generation. Of course 99% of mutations are unfavourable, but every ten thousand years or so a mutation will occur which is actually beneficial and the mutant will have a better chance of survival and pass on the favourable change to its offspring.
Evolution through mutation can explain changes that cannot be explained through variation such as the transition from a 3 chambered heart to a 4 chambered heart. The 4 chambered heart evolved independently in both birds and mammals. This is called parallel evolution.
As I indicated, Darwin did not hesitate to apply his ideas to the descent of man. The human species had already been placed in the primate family 50 years before Darwin was even born. Darwin, along with other naturalists, concluded from the anatomical evidence that the apes and man had had a common ancestry. Naturally this created problems for those people who wanted to believe in the biblical account of creation. And even today there are people, known as creationists, who oppose the whole idea of evolution. These people have a problem with the steady progression of life from the simplest life-form to man. For instance, you can draw a line like this:
At the left end of this line you have the simplest form of life which is little more than a complicated molecule. Then there is a steady progression in complexity along this evolutionary line until you come to the more advanced forms of life at the right end, and to man who regards himself as the highest form of life and who has assigned to himself an immortal soul.
So then, the theological question arises as to just what point on this line of gradual change does this soul appear. Of course, you can pick some point and say this is it; but that raises the question why that point and not some other.
And so, evolution has dethroned man from the high pedestal on which he had placed himself.
Unfortunately, the creationists have been quite successful at times in imposing their ignorance on our children. For instance, in Alabama textbooks are pasted with warnings saying that evolution is a controversial theory, not a fact. The creationists have a psychological problem, resulting from a conflict between belief and actuality.
Unfortunately few people in this world understand the psychology of belief. And it is something that is very important to understand. Most of the human race have beliefs: religious beliefs, political beliefs, superstitious beliefs, etc. And because of belief millions of people all over the world have been killed, and are still being killed today.
People believe, but no one asks the question: why do I believe? You see, that involves self-knowledge, the knowledge that no one wants. Belief has been going on for thousands of years, probably millions, and in every part of the world. Something like that doesn't just happen, there is a reason for belief. There are powerful psychological forces which cause belief.
Now is it necessary to have any belief about anything ? And what is the relationship between belief and truth ? If I believe the earth is flat it's not likely I will find out the true shape of the earth.
Because I already know the shape: the earth is flat -- Finis ! So belief fosters ignorance. And yet in many circles the man of faith is revered.
Man is a unique species in 3 significant ways:
1) Man is the only species in the homo genus.
2) Man is the only species that engages in premeditated warfare.
3) Man possesses a brain much larger than is needed for survival.
I suspect these three facts are not unrelated. Warfare has been going on for a long time and is still going on. It has played an important part in the evolution of homo sapiens. Obviously defeated peoples are not going to pass on their genes to future generations, as the victors do. And it's not the more peaceful tribes who come out on top. The more ruthless and violent side is often the winning side. Mental cunning is going to render and advantage in any war, both for strategy and
for the invention of superior weapons.
So you can see that natural selection is going to favour the tribes with superior intelligence.
Or maybe you would call it unnatural selection. And this has been going on for probably at least
a million years.
There is only one species now in the human genus. It wasn't always that way. In the past there were other species such as Homo Neanderthalensis. What happened to the other species ?
The most likely answer is that they were done in by our murderous ancestors. Louis Leakey was struck by the number of early Hominid skulls he found that had holes in them. He attributes the holes to homicide and warfare.
And we are the product of all those hundreds of millennia of violence. As a result there is in man a powerful homocidal instinct. Most of us at one time or other have experienced the urge to kill.
Now you know where that comes from.
In civilized people this instinct is usually sublimated into something mild like character assassination. That word assassination is the right word, it is a psychological murder. And warfare in civilized societies is sublimated into battles on the playing field, what is called sports.
Genocide is not something new; the word is new, but not the practice. You can see the psychological residue of genocide in modern man. Things like racism and xenophobia.
The mind of man, you see, is millions of years old the day we are born. This is something the psychologists have only recently found out. They could have found it out long ago through meditation. But, like most people, psychologists do not meditate. I am reluctant to use that word because there is now all kinds of nonsense called meditation which is not meditation at all. For instance, 30 years ago there was a form of mantra yoga that was popular. It was called Transcendental Meditation. Trouble is, it's not transcendental and it's not meditation.
True meditation means looking at your own consciousness, and looking is the wrong word.
There really is no word for it because no one is doing it. We have words for things like walking and eating because everyone does those things. Of course, I don't mean looking visually; the word awareness probably comes closest.
Meditation leads to self-knowledge which is far more important than any other kind of knowledge and it is also the last thing on earth that anyone wants. This is the tragedy of the human race: the most important thing is life is also the last thing anyone wants to know. The great Chinese philosopher Lao Tse said, "The sage is concerned with the inner and not with the outer world."
On the temple to Apollo in Delphi are engraved the words "Know Thyself."
My conjecture is that the reason the ancient Greeks accomplished so much was that some of them actually did follow that edict. Bertrand Russell said, "In all history nothing is so surprising or difficult to account for as the sudden rise of civilization in Greece." These extraordinary people invented mathematics, science, philosophy, drama, democracy, athletics, and arts and architecture that have never been surpassed. And ancient Athens was a population of only about fifty thousand.
Today no one tells you to know yourself; over the ages that wisdom was lost. You are told to control yourself, but the problem is the controller is the controlled. And the controller has been conditioned by the insanity and immorality of the world. Most people do not even know they are conditioned. I think the reason Sigmund Freud had such great insights was that he was one of the few people in history who looked at his own consciousness. Which is to his credit. Benjamin Franklin said, "There are three things extremely hard: steel, diamond, and to know oneself."
The only thing you get from self-knowledge is sanity and clarity. There is no gratification to it. Which is why so few people pursue it.
Authors Bio: Fred Brown has been a population activist since 1963. He has lectured at Universities and High Schools and has supported population NGO's. He has a strong background in science and degrees from Cal Poly and the University of Illinois.
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The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.