Physical Anthropology

What is Evolution

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"What is Evolution"
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On What is Evolution

It seems almost paradoxical, that we should find ourselves here in the twenty first century trying to define what Evolution is. It is certainly not a new concept, some recently coined bit of technical jargon; its connotation yet to be picked up in contemporary dictionaries. Perhaps it is only fitting that the word "Evolution" has undergone a bit of evolution it self, as is the case with almost all words in the English language.

The root of the word evolution is "evoke," which in the simplest terms means, to take from, and/or pass on, from one entity to another. The suffix "tion" is a modifier that suggests that the preceding element is active, taking place, happening or happened. Thus the word Evolution conveys the meaning of a process that takes some part of an existing entity, - progenitor or ancestor - and makes some new entity from it the genus - "Genus" Latin from from older Greek "genos" meaning: offspring.[1] Many folks when hearing the word evolution relate to it within the context of the biological sense, and to the "Theory of Evolution." In a broader scope, the process of evolution can apply in almost any situation where something in existence, is morphing or becoming something new. Even intangible things like ideas, thoughts, feelings and so on, evolve over time. You can look almost anywhere in the universe, and see evolution taking place. Stars, like our Sun, fuse hydrogen atoms together to form heavier elements with unique and different properties. Stars therefore, are representative of evolution. The status of human cognizance and intellect are also obviously evolving. Even the religious beliefs of those today who so vehemently disavow evolution, have evolved over centuries.

There are possibly few other words in the contemporary vernacular so inflammatory to some, as the word evolution. Recently I asked a friend to Review my book "Forbidden Fruit - The Evolution of Human Intelligence."[2] At first, she was ecstatic about doing the review. I had sent her part of the manuscript, and she read the first couple of chapters. She liked and was intrigued by the material, but suggested that I change the title, or at least drop the word evolution from it. At first I found it difficult to understand why someone could be so incensed over a word, but nevertheless I gained from the experience a sense of just how profound the implications of this word are, and have been, since 1859, when Charles Darwin's first edition of "Origin of Species" was released in print.[3]

Charles Darwin, of course, is a name linked to evolution and the "Theory of Evolution," although he personally never used the word nor does the word evolution appear in his most famous literary accomplishment, Origin of Species; as I mentioned in my review of it. Ironically, as I also pointed out in the review, Darwin never proposed any "Theory of Evolution," although he did propose theories encompassing "Variation" and "Natural Selection," the former being a process by which evolution is carried out in biological organisms, and the latter, a method through which the effectiveness of such variants contributes to the survival of the species. Creationists hold that God created man in his own image, and as he exists today. Darwin suggested that Man and Ape alike were both descendants of a distant ancestor. Unfortunately, Darwin did not live long enough to see the evidence that would prove him right; the strands of Ribonucleic acid (RNA) and Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) found in the cells of every living organism. At the symbiotic union of sperm and egg the 23 chromosomes contributed by each of the parents becomes a new being represented by a single cell, with its complement of 46 chromosomes, identifying the traits unique to an individual. This nascent cell then divides and during its mitosis, probable instances of variation and mutation result in slight modifications to the DNA and RNA nucleotide sequencing. This then is the process of biological evolution.

If not for evolution, every woman would be a clone of Eve and every man a clone of Adam. We would all look exactly alike, and resemble each other in every physical characteristic you can mention. Thus we need look no farther then our own brothers and sisters, they being most genetically similar to us, to see first hand the results of genetic variation which underpin human evolution. There are many people today who have been able to accommodate evolution within the context of there religious belief, presumably concluding that evolution must have been just a tool that God used to carry out His greater universal plan. Realities like evolution have become cognitively apparent to humans over the past 500 years, and such have revealed new dimensions of the cosmic existence and nano-universe as well, that continue to redefine the human knowledge base. That there are those who choose to forgo such sagacious enlightenment and instead cling to a belief founded in ancient mythology, full of superstitions and mystical apparitions, is a tragedy. That these folks should attempt to deprive others of an education which includes a scientific curriculum which teaches evolution, is no less than an atrocity, committed against the human species as a whole.

As we have seen here, the word evolution has become a code word which to some radical elements of religious fundamentalism conjures up some visions of pagan belief and heathen conduct. But there is nothing about this word or any connotation of it which substantiates the voracity of debate that has enshrined it in the minds of devout creationists. Once, not so long ago, people believed that the earth was flat and put at the center of the universe by God. When evidence to the contrary was finally absorbed, religious dogma was brought into conformance with the new heliocentric reality. Perhaps, as the torch of enlightenment passes, to yet another generation of humans, the superstitions and pseudoscience of creationism will go the way of the flat earth doctrine, and all humans can finally accept evolution for what it is.

1] Genos(Gr) or Genus(L), "Offspring," New World Dictionary second College Edition, Simon and Schuster Inc., New York (1986)

2] David L. Hildebrandt, FORBIDDEN FRUIT -The Evolution of Human Intelligence, QM Publishing, Hat Creek, CA (2008)

3] Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, Barnes and Noble Classics, New York (2004)

More about this author: John Traveler

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