Humans are amazing animals. But animals none the less.

A long time ago, and by that I mean several years ago now, I started an essay on whether humans had stopped evolving. I never quite finished it and due to its length, every time I sat down to finish it, I needed to re-read what I had written so far and then thought better of it.

Well, that has been dragging on for far too long now, since 2008 in fact, so I’ve patched it up with the few final notes I had left myself and decided to publish as is.

I’m sure if I sat down and wrote something from scratch today, it would be better. But never the less, I have some confidence in what I wrote back then, so here it is in its full glory.

Humans are amazing animals. But animals none the less.

One issue which has come up quite a lot recently is the idea that humans have evolved beyond the idea of being an animal into something higher.

Many people make this claim without meaning to or without really considering its implications. I am not talking about the people that claim that animals are merely automatons while humans alone can think intelligently. These people are wide spread, obviously within the religious community but also within the non-religious community to an extent as well but any such argument, at least from an atheist perspective, is clearly rubbish.

However what I am getting at here is people who make claims such as “humans have now evolved to control their own evolution”, “humans are no longer subject to the laws of evolution” and “humans are no longer subject to the wrath of mother nature.”

These claims may seem apparent [to be true] with some thought on the subject but when examined deeper actually come up along the same line of thinking as believing that humans are the only creatures which can think and are self-aware, it grants us a special place in creation which is a perfectly acceptable view within religious communities but one which does not fit with the atheist world view. This would be accepted by all but I suspect the people that make the sample arguments I have supplied would disagree this is the claim they are making.

However, when examined it does in fact come down to this point of view. So it is important I think that I address the points made on this line of thinking to explain why I do not believe this to be the case. Humans are still animals, we are still subject to the laws of evolution and we still play within the framework that all life does.

I believe one of the problems which lead to this line of reasoning is that we assume the same metrics used to measure what we would consider a successful person within society are equally good metrics for measuring how successful someone is in terms of evolution. In this case it is a far more simple equation – who is likely to survive and breed the most.

Take for example, the chav. In today’s society they are considered the bottom of the pile. They are uneducated, unmannered, annoying and often regarded as a group we would be better off without. It therefore seems perplexing to many people that chavs are breeding faster that well mannered well educated individuals because this suggests they are the next stage of human evolution.

The mistake here is, as stated above, that we use the same metrics to measure value in society as to value from an evolutionary perspective. Considering the problem from an evolutionary perspective, the chav is indeed the next stage of human evolution. Why? Because they are better at surviving and breeding than the smart highly educated yet less sexually promiscuous individuals (probably such as you and me if I am so bold as to make a judgment about my readership). A lot of people would at first laugh when it would be suggested chavs were the next stage of evolution but why should it not be true? How self righteous is it to presume that you must be the next stage in evolution?

As it happens in this case chavs probably aren’t the next stage of evolution. The reason for this is that there are questions raised as to how an entire society of chavs would fair and I shall return to this later but for the moment I would like to move on as this is somewhat of a side track, it does not illustrate my argument in the best way but more stands alone as an important point.

Returning to my original argument, humans are in fact in no special way in control of their evolution or protected from mother nature. Every year millions of people around the world perish in natural disasters. Of course many do not because of the efforts of mankind but this is no different than to the animal race. They too are fighting for survival and they too have a degree of success with this. Our degree of success is generally regarded as higher – but it is all on the same scale.

For example humans build themselves tools and shelter to protect against the wrath of mother nature. We have flood barriers, shelters from hurricanes, etc. But of course animals build themselves shelter too. Take a look at the humble ant, building mightly ant hills to protect themselves. These are not always successful, just as man’s efforts are often unsuccessful when mother nature claims lives in floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Both are “artificial structures” created by animals to live and shelter in.

Secondly I believe the idea that humans are now in control of their own evolutionary path is equally flawed. One of the prevailing arguments for this is that people within our society who would not survive in the animal world now survive in our society such as people born with severe disabilities.

However much like the uneducated chavs, severely disabled people rely on the infrastructure created by society in order to support them. It is a fantastic feat of human advancement and kindness that we are now able to keep alive and care for the severely disabled. But they no more form the next step in human evolution than they ever did. A society consisting purely of severely disabled people would be unable to survive effectively. Similarly a society solely consisting of uneducated chavs would be without the medical, engineering and logistical knowledge required to make modern society function effectively. Therefore the idea that human evolution will not continue along the natural path is simply unsubstantiated. Society is not about to devolve into chavs or people unable to look after themselves – the bulk of the population will remain fit, able and evolutionarily advancing individuals.

Further along this line of thought, it is worth noting that society’s apparent lack of potential to evolve further is also false. Take for example a change in the climate. Let us say it becomes colder, there is a global drop in temperature. Many people would claim this shows that human evolution has stopped because while animals (a term taken to mean non-human animals of course) would evolve thicker fur or a similar evolutionary trait, humans would simply manufacturer themselves thicker coats.

This at first glance seems to make sense but on closer examination does not in fact stand up as an argument. The main reason for this is that evolution covers the adaptation of a species – it does not state how this adaptation has to occur. Therefore, humans manufacturing themselves thicker coats to survive the cold is the human race adapting to better survive in it’s environment. It is not a case of us “breaking” evolution, it is a case of evolution happening right in front of our eyes.

This is often disregarded as it is seen as something external to us ourselves as evolving but when some thought is put into such arguments it does not seem to hold much water. Furthermore this is likely to be less true in the future as the “artificial” or “external” advancements we make become far less external as we begin to alter our own genetics and breeding ourselves fitter, healthier and better able to survive.

As we’ve already established, you have to accept humans as just part of nature, and once you do, it’s very difficult so say, “oh, that isn’t part of nature” when we do something. Animals make nests to live in and sometimes use basic tools – how is that any different to the more advanced tools we use?

Evolution seems to be continuing on humans unabated. Take, for example, height. We’re definitely getting taller as a species. If you compare the average height of someone a thousand years ago, they were shorter than we are today – and that is entirely natural if you will.

Mutations also occur at just the same rate as they ever have. Just because we’re moving faster with our own technology and improvements to life, doesn’t mean that the classic methods of evolution have stopped – mutations occur at just the same rate as they ever have. The reason it seems to be happening could perhaps be to do with the fact that it’s a very slow process and as humans we’re used to things advancing increasingly quickly.

Our basic desires also still drive us. Deep down we all still want to find a mate and have babies. It’s wired into us and the majority of people over the age of fifty will be happy to tell you that at a certain point, you just get the urge to procreate. We might be master of many things as a species, but we haven’t wiped out our basic emotions yet (and probably never will, unless people start seeing Vulcan as the ultimate utopia).

Therefore to summarise, my points are as follows. Most of us will agree on the premise that humans are animals and have no divine special place in the universe, we’re just doing pretty well. Once we agree on this there is no reason to believe that we are not subject to the laws of evolution, that we have somehow stopped evolving or that we now control mother nature.



Don't have time to check my blog? Get a weekly email with all the new posts. This is my personal blog, so obviously it is 100% spam free.


Tags: , , , ,

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 16th, 2011 at 12:38 pm and is filed under Science, Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.