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  Ishmael Community: Human evolution stopping? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Human evolution stopping? Wrong, wrong, wrong.
An essay Daniel wrote relating some content in Ishmael to information
in this headlined article by another author.
(5/8/2012)

Paleoanthropologist John Hawks has plenty of qualifications for his statement that human evolution is not stopping–or has stopped (as I asserted in Ishmael). He is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is also Associate Chair of Anthropology, a Faculty Fellow of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and an associate member of both the Department of Zoology and the J. F. Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution. Read what he has to say here: Human Evolution Stopping?

Jonathan Pritchard, a population geneticist at the University of Chicago, would agree with Hawks: "There is ample evidence that selection has been a major driving point in our evolution during the last 10,000 years, and there is no reason to suppose that it has stopped," he has said. Still Evolving, Human Genes Tell New Story

In Ishmael I wrote:

(Alan:) How did man become man? I don't know. He just did it. He did it the way birds became birds and the way that horses became horses.”

(Ishmael:) “Exactly so.”

“Don't do that to me,” I told him.

“Evidently you don't understand what you just said.”

“Probably not.”

“I'll try to clarify it for you. Before you were Homo you were what?”

“Australopithecus.”

“Good. And how did Australopithecus become Homo?”

“By waiting.”

“Please. You're here to think.”

“Sorry.”

“Did Australopithecus become Homo by saying, 'We know good and evil as well as the gods, so there's no need for us to live in their hands the way rabbits and lizards do. From now on we will decide who lives and who dies on this planet, not the gods.'”

“No.”

“Could they have become man by saying that?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because they would have ceased to be subject to the conditions under which evolution takes place.”

“Exactly. Now you can answer the question: What happens to people—to creatures in general—who live in the hands of the gods?”

“Ah. Yes, I see. They evolve.”

“And now you can answer the question I posed this morning: How did man become man?”

“Man became man by living in the hands of the gods.”

“By living the way the Bushmen of Africa live.”

“That's right.”

“By living the way the Kreen-Akrore of Brazil live.”

“Right again.”

“Not the way Chicagoans live?”

“No.”

“Or Londoners?”

“No.”

“So now you know what happens to people who live in the hands of the gods.”

“Yes. They evolve.”

“Why do they evolve?”

“Because they're in a position to evolve. Because that's where evolution takes place. Pre-man evolved into early man because he was out there competing with all the rest. Pre-man evolved into early man because he didn't take himself out of the competition, because he was still in the place where natural selection is going on.”

“You mean he was still a part of the general community of life.”

“That's right.”

“And that's why it all happened—why Australopithecus became Homo habilis and why Homo habilis became Homo erectus and why Homo erectus became Homo sapiens and why Homo sapiens became Homo sapiens sapiens.”

“Yes.”

“And then what happened?”

“And then the Takers said, 'We've had enough of living in the hands of the gods. No more natural selection for us, thanks very much.'”

“And that was that.”

“And that was that.”

“You remember I said that to enact a story is to live so as to make it come true.”

“Yes.”

“According to the Taker story, creation came to an end with man.”

“Yes. So?”

“How would you live so as to make that come true? How would you live so as to make creation come to an end with man?”

“Oof. I see what you mean. You would live the way the Takers live. We're definitely living in a way that's going to put an end to creation. If we go on, there will be no successor to man, no successor to chimpanzees, no successor to orangutans, no successor to gorillas—no successor to anything alive now. The whole thing is going to come to an end with us. In order to make their story come true, the Takers have to put an end to creation itself—and they're doing a damned good job of it.”

Where Dr. Hawks and I differ is in our definition of evolution. It's clear from the selection above that I equate it with speciation–strictly speaking an error, I'm sure. To take an example that I believe Dr. Hawks would agree with: the branch of Homo sapiens that settled the circumpolar region from eastern Siberia (Russia), across Alaska (United States), Canada, and Greenland most certainly evolved in ways that facilitated life in that region, but they did not become a new species. All people today are classified as Homo sapiens, which made its appearance some 200,000 years ago. I believe neither Dr. Hawks nor Dr. Pritchard would disagree with the statement that (even if we grant that evolution has continued (in the sense that it continued with the inhabitants of the circumpolar region), it has not produced a new species of Homo. (In the selection from Ishmael above, Ishmael says that "Homo sapiens became Homo sapiens sapiens." If I were writing it today, I would not make this assertion. It is sometimes said that "fully modern" Homo sapiens made their appearance about 50,000 years ago; but I see no reference that suggests that "fully modern" Homo sapiens constitutes a separate species.)

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