Are humans going to keep evolving? And will they evolve in a way that we see to be desirable? Evolution is often seen as the changes over time leading an organism to become more complex and more worthwhile, as is seen in Darwin's survival of the fittest evolution argument where the strong survive to breed and the weak die? But in a society where we protect our weak with welfare, can this occur? The previous assumption was that humans had stopped evolving due to increased traveling and breeding, however recent evidence has shown that micro evolution has sped up in recent years due in part to the increased availability of healthier partners; providing people are born and people die there will be varying degrees of reproductive success among people, differential survival of offspring, different degrees of access to food and other resources for life, and a range of variation in the human population. But where will this lead us?
===The Panglossian view===
For those of you who like me big words tend to confuse, Panglossian means overly optimistic, someone who will believe the best no matter what the circumstances. This view basically says that evolution has led us in desirable ways so far, and so why would it do anything different in the future? We started from primitive life-forms and yet biological evolution has led us to where we are today, with consciousness, language and reason. The technological advances more recently have allowed the human species to evolve at an extremely accelerated rate with life-span, labor productivity, scientific knowledge, and social and political organization, which enable billions of people to enjoy unprecedented opportunities for enjoyment and personal development. And with this record for human evolution, what could go wrong?
But there's a problem; yes, you knew there would be. How do we know that this pattern of evolution was inevitable and not just luck, and even if it was inevitable, is there any proof to say that it will continue being inevitable? Focusing on the second point, it wouldn't take much for that trend to be broken, in nature's terms some kind of catastrophic event could wipe out all of human kind, and from human kind, our own technological evolution could easily take us into the realms of trouble. Examples of this would be molecular nanotechnology, future nuclear arms races and self advancing artificial intelligence with an ill conceived goal system. But these would all make human kind end with a bang, and there are also easily conceived ways in which it could end with a whimper, although leading us to more complex forms also following undesirable pathways.
Everyone knows of Darwin's survival of the fittest theory, which does fit in very well with animal evolution. However, this is more difficult with humans, because due to the way our society has progressed we protect the weakest of our society, such as the mentally unstable, and so they won't die as they would in the wild. This leads to some problems with predicting future human evolution, as you cannot say that the strongest humans will survive and breed thereby creating a stronger human race.
We have to a certain point already domesticated ourselves like we have domesticated our pet and farm animals, and this could have leading implications for the future of the human races evolution. I will however explain my point with what seems like the very simple example of ear muscles. Our ear muscles are pretty much useless, much like the floppy ears of cows, sheep, and domesticated dogs. Whereas those animals when wild had the ability to prick up their ears at the smallest sound of danger, they have lost that now because humans protect them, and become their primary selective agents in breeding terms. OK, I hear you say, how the heck does this fit in with human evolution, well fairly easily. Darwin thought that humans resembled domesticated animals because people had essentially domesticated themselves-by removing the usual forces of natural selection and replacing them with the forces of artificial selection. Will this continue until we have domesticated ourselves to the point where we cannot respond to a proper threat? We must consider that whereas animals and primitive' human societies adapt to their environment and live with it, modern humans adapt their environment to suit their needs. So, it is reasonable to assume that soon humans will evolve to suit the needs of their new environment, and be born sofa shaped!
===Should humans control our own Evolution?===
This is one question to which speculation is necessary. Sir Francis Galton, inspired by the book The Origin of the Species by his cousin, Charles Darwin, suggested a method of selectively breeding humans. He supposed that, seeing as human societies were protecting the weak, the natural selection process was being ignored; causing a "progression towards the weak" in modern society. He subsequently wrote the infamous theory of Eugenics.
Because what is considered desirable is subjective depending on the society, various attempts at Eugenics have existed across the world; from the sterilization of the mentally ill in Britain and America in the 1920s to the attempted elimination of an entire race of people in the 1940s; the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe. A full example is below.
The Vermont Eugenics Movement was started by Henry F. Perkins in 1921, which integrated concepts of human heredity with discussions of eugenics and attributed the complex social problems of crime, dependency, and immorality to specific genes for feeble mindedness, mental illness, or personality disorders. Now this idea, on its own although not proven sounds like a reasonable assumption to make in 1920, but he also believed that through research, public education and support for legislation, the growing population of Vermont's most problematic citizens could be reduced. This led to Vermont's Sterilization Law in 1931.
They were controlling their own evolution by ridding the gene pool of those disordered' people who would have equally disordered children, picking in particular on the feeble-minded, gypsies and the criminals. And to quote straight from the American Eugenics Society, A Eugenics Catechism, 1926:
Q: Why sterilize?
A: To rid he race of those likely to transmit the dysgenic tendencies to which they are subject. To decrease the need for charity of a certain form. To reduce taxes. To help alleviate misery and suffering. To do what Nature would do under natural conditions, only more humanely. Sterilization is not a punitive measure. It is strictly protective.'
Anyone can see the problem here, this is people changing the course of evolution to get rid of those who they do not believe fit in with their view of a perfect world' and that is why it makes me uncomfortable simply to speculate.
The risk of predicting, or attempting to predict, the future of human evolution is only one step away from implementing it in the same way that that the Vermont Eugenics Society, Hitler, and Slobodan Milosevic all tried to control evolution by attempting to create their own version of a master race'.