DEMOTION

The shock produced by the publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species in 1859 was not so much the theory of evolution itself, which had been around in one form or another for many ages. Rather, it was the implications of this view for human origins, something that Darwin himself hesitated to openly present until the publication of his second great work, The Descent of Man a dozen years later in 1871.

The reason for this shock was, of course, the apparent demotion of the human species implied by the word "Descent". One can only wonder if the shocked reaction might not have been lessened if Darwin had used the word "ascent" instead.

Either way, however, the implications were clear. There is not all that much that separates us, physiologically speaking, from the ape. Instead of being seen as altogether special, created in God's "image and likeness", humanity was now reduced to being one rather curious species within the family of primates, somewhat the reverse of the view long taken by humans, who once saw these other creatures as strange and amusing mirrors of ourselves. Where one comedian used to say "Monkeys are the funniest people", now people were seen as the strangest variety of apes.

Even today this residue of shock remains. Although the Catholic Church finally admitted in 1950 that evolution could account for the physical origins of the human race, it still stubbornly holds on to the ideal that human "souls", each and every one of them, are a special creation of God -- even though the present pope admits that exact moment at which this event takes place cannot be established either from philosophical argument or from divine revelation. And if that ignorance be admitted, then how do we know for sure? Perhaps we might say that we feel it "in our guts". But is that really a valid argument or is it simply a futile effort to save face?

On the other hand, if we compare the accomplishments of the human race to those of the rest of the primates, the differences, for good or bad, are obvious enough. Apes, like many other animals, may display a certain "language", but none of them, to our knowledge, have produced a Shakespeare. They may even fashion primitive tools, but again, none, as far as we know, have ever discovered how to use, much less make a fire. Nor do they, except in some rare cases, seem to have any reflective awareness of themselves as individuals, even when they see themselves in a mirror -- a beginning, but perhaps only the feeblest sign of what we humans are capable of, which is not only to know things, but even more "know that we know" and to make decisions according to that knowledge.

Some will say that all this is only to point out differences in quantity but not in quality -- for example, in the amount of "gray matter" matter in the brain. But even so, as the philosopher Engels pointed out, does not a significant increase in the former effect a change in the latter? Accumulate sufficient amounts of gas, and the force of gravity alone produces stars. Assemble increasingly complex molecules, and eventually life is born. Bring together millions upon millions of neurons, and human thought occurs. In other words, while evolutionary "leaps" may indeed take place, they are more like steps over certain "thresholds", the significance of which may be more apparent to us than to the scheme of nature as such, for which all is of a single whole.

But if this be so, why should we assume that all thresholds have been crossed? For if science has long pictured evolution as a tree ascending upward, then logically, the next great step forward may be not just more life, or even more intelligence (quantitative advances), but an even greater qualitative leap forward -- the eternal life that religion has promised all along.

R.W.Kropf 2/12/03 Demotion.doc 03-02-12.html