Genesis vs. Evolution–with Edward Feser to Religion’s Rescue!

The cake God bakes. In Genesis, to get a community with souls, God has a simple recipe. He:

  • spends six days making heaven and earth
  • takes inorganic matter–dust–from the newly created ground
  • forms the dust into a man and places him in a garden
  • fashions the woman from one of the man’s ribs
  • pulls her, as if from an oven, out of the body of the man and places her in the same garden
  • breathes into both of them the breath of life

Whoomp! There it is! A man, a woman, two souls–and a Mesopotamian garden to get chucked out of for sin. Human beings cool and ready to serve–and with the sexual equipment for making more offspring with the soul mutation. From the first couple, you get the ensouled human community we see today.

That’s Occam’s razor, baby.

But then science comes along.

God’s cake collapses. Scientists have discovered that God didn’t bake up humans the way the author of Genesis imagined. They tell us that humans came from organic matter (flesh), not inorganic matter (dust). They say that the very carbon atoms of which humans are made required the birth and death of stars to produce, and that took a long time. And once Earth had organic matter, it took even more time for the organic matter to organize itself into hominid forms (roughly three billion years). And when those hominids finally appeared, they didn’t exist in Mesopotamia along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, but in Africa.

So that’s three strikes against Genesis. The amount of time to create a human is wrong, there was no direct creation of the first man from inorganic matter, and the first man and woman didn’t get their start out of Mesopotamia.

Oh, and our first ancestors, according to scientists, were black Africans, not lighter-colored Mesopotamians or Europeans (as routinely depicted in racist religious art).

But although that’s now more than three strikes against the author of Genesis, let’s keep the batter up there for a bit longer.

Here comes the next pitch.

Our species has never bottlenecked down to two individuals. Geneticists tell us that the human genetic diversity on planet Earth today is not derived from a single couple that had sex together, say, 200,000 years ago. They derive instead from mitochondrial Eve and genetic Adam–two Africans who never actually lived at the same time, and therefore never met. The human population responsible for the diversity among humans that we see today has never bottlenecked down to two parents.

Now that’s yet another pretty dramatic strike for Genesis. Retire the story? Are we done? Well, we can’t be done, because now we’re talking about Jesus.

Jesus.

That last strike threatens the whole infrastructure of Christianity. Judaism can endure that last strike, but Christianity can’t because, if there is no first couple in a garden somewhere, there can be no first act of disobedience–no original sin. If you don’t have Adam, Eve, and original sin, you don’t need the second Adam to pay the debt for that original sin.

The second Adam being Jesus.

Jesus.

Enter the Thomist philosopher Edward Feser to pinch hit for the faltering writer of Genesis.

The thesis Feser endorses for saving Adam and Eve. Writing at his blog, Feser offers up an idea that he thinks just might save the day for Adam and Eve. Here it is: Maybe, just maybe, Homo sapiens came about exactly as geneticists tell us, via evolution, but the God of history–Jesus–hopped directly into the evolutionary process at the last crucial moment, marking our species’ beginning by inserting souls into two non-humans!

Non-humans.

I kid you not. That’s the proposal that Feser takes seriously. The African hominids who were ancestral to our species didn’t have souls, but two of their offspring did–the first humans, which we call Adam and Eve. They were the first ensouled hominids, courtesy of the direct intervention of God into history.

That’s how Feser saves Genesis and original sin. In other words, the very, very last step in the evolution of our species from soulless hominids entailed a deus ex machina–God arriving out of the blue, from the rafters of the cosmic stage, to do something surprising and magical: put souls into two naked, upright walking apes, one male, the other female.

But this still doesn’t account for the genetic diversity of our species according to geneticists (once again, our species, in its evolution, never bottlenecked down to two organisms), so how does Feser solve that part of the equation?

Bestiality. Feser posits–hold your seat here–that the new, soul-filled couple’s children fucked the soulless upright apes living in their midst, bearing offspring with them. This is how the soul mutation spread. One act of bestiality at a time.

Now, hybridity is not unknown to evolutionary anthropologists, but not to spread souls. Feser proposes a thoroughly new twist on human origins.

The human soul mutation spread until there were no longer any soulless naked apes left–only ensouled naked apes–which would be us.

I’m not making this up.

So here we are. Every human being living today has an eternal soul (according to Feser). Our soulless hominid ancestors, as with the fate of all soulless beasts, are long gone. They will never be resurrected–but we will because we have the soul mutation; we go on after death. But, of course, this is a double-edged sword: we’ll either end up living forever in heaven with Jesus, or burning forever in hell with Satan.

Aren’t we lucky to have inherited the soul mutation?

And isn’t Jesus lucky as well–lucky to have Feser, that is? Jesus, after all, not only saves us, but Feser saves him. With Adam and Eve saved (intellectually), original sin can be saved (intellectually), and Jesus–the Second Adam–can be saved (intellectually).

What a happy ending! A home run in the bottom of the 9th for Professor Feser! It’s logically possible, after all. Geneticists can’t disprove the bestiality thesis for spreading souls, nor the insertion of souls in two hominids by God. Souls, after all, can’t be measured. And that’s all the religious believer–determined to believe absent evidence–really needs to declare a win–and carry on with business as usual.

But my question is: why would anyone want to win in this way? Why not just abandon a convoluted thesis? Once you have to take such a torturous route to maintain a thesis, isn’t that the moment you at least start thinking about letting it go?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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21 Responses to Genesis vs. Evolution–with Edward Feser to Religion’s Rescue!

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think only some Protestant Fundamentalists believe in a literal translation of Genesis, but Catholics don’t. It seems you’re confused.

    You’re also confused about the Catholic Church’s teaching on what a soul is and where it came from:
    This from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
    “366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.235″

    This is one reason why it is not in conflict with evolution. The rational human soul is a direct creation by God in each person, not produced by the parents. It was not a one time thing for only 2 beings, but a new event at each human conception.

    So talk about “soul migration” is something you made up.

    Here you say:
    “They tell us that humans came from organic matter (flesh), not inorganic matter (dust). They say that the very carbon atoms of which humans are made required the birth and death of stars to produce,”

    Which scientist says that stars produce flesh? Also which scientist says that dust does not contain organic matter?

  2. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    This isn’t just a fundamentalist Protestant problem, for why then does Feser, as a Thomist intellectual steeped in Catholicism, go to such elaborate lengths to reconcile a literal Adam and Eve with what geneticists are telling us (that our species never bottlenecked down to two persons)?

    Obviously it is to save the ur moment of original sin (that moment in history when the shit hit the fan).

    Feser thus posits a first couple whose ensoulment came directly from God. This event occurred in two hominids born of souless hominid parents.

    Feser then also posits that the first ensouled couples’ children engaged in bestiality until all of the soulless hominids were no longer present in the genetic line. What remained, after a while, were exclusively the descendants of Adam and Eve.

    I provided the link to Feser’s blog post on this in the above essay. I’m not making it up. You can read it for yourself.

    Nobody takes such extreme steps if there isn’t a problem.

    And think about the Catholic tradition. Augustine, for instance, posited that infants were tainted with the hereditary guilt of original sin.

    And reflect on medieval art, with those creepy baby Jesuses on Mary’s lap, always depicted as fully formed men, even sometimes with male pattern baldness.

    Why did artists do this? Because the medieval theory of heredity was that in Adam’s ball sack–yes, his ball sack!–was the whole human race in miniature! (This is known as preformationism or the theory of the homonculus). When Adam and Eve sinned, all of their descendants were present in miniature, waiting to be born, partaking therefore in the family curse of original sin.

    Jesus, having been conceived as the second Adam into the womb of a virgin (who was a direct descendant of Eve), and with God as his father, would have, unlike other humans, experienced no actual developmental stages at all (because God, unlike humans, is unchanging). Jesus would start as a homonculus in Mary’s womb, tiny but fully formed, and would get bigger, but without his form ever changing.

    So the soul may be miraculously linked, according to Catholicism, to each human being at conception by God himself–exactly as God did with Adam and Eve on Feser’s account–BUT this privilege of having an eternal soul is only conferred on the direct biological descendants of Adam and Eve–a first couple that genetic scientists cannot trace empirically, but God can.

    On Feser’s account, we are all descendants of that first ensouled couple, though it can never be proven scientifically. At least that’s the theory.

    Why anybody would believe so fanciful a theory absent evidence is beyond me.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, I read the blog post.

    First, I commented to make sure that you understood what the actual teaching of the Catholic Church was. I hope you can see the distinction. Do you?

    Next, I wanted to point out that the Catholic Church does not support the Young Earth Creationist theory.

    I don’t necessarily agree with Feser’s hypothesis and I’m pretty sure he is not attached to it. I haven’t studied evolution but it looks like you did, so I have some background questions.

    I learned in high school that an animal species was defined as a group of animals that produce fertile offspring. Is that still the working definition especially for apes and humans?

  4. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    With regard to fertile offspring, no. It’s now known that, genetically, primates from different species can have fertile offspring with one another even if they’ve been separated by as much as 2,000,000 years!

    Hybridity is the new black in evolution studies. Populations diverge, take on their own evolutionary trajectories, and then when they encounter one another again–perhaps a million years later–they swap evolutionary traits through interbreeding.

    Here’s a link to a recent 2015 series of documentaries from PBS that reviews the new science of hybridity.

    http://www.amazon.com/First-Peoples/dp/B00VNQWUB2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1437490738&sr=8-1&keywords=first+peoples

    As for what DOES demarcate a new species, this is a judgment call for scientists. Think, spatially, in terms of a continuum. A species is characterized by a RANGE of irreducible variations. For example, human beings have a characteristic range of irreducible variations in height. It’s one of our species characteristics to be under ten feet tall, but the variation from there runs the gamut down to two feet tall. Likewise with sexual behaviors. Taxonomists are not proscriptive, they’re descriptive. Along a continuum, humans have a range of sexual behaviors, but the range is not infinite.

    There is no golden mean for the ideal human, only a range of variation on which selection is made from generation to generation.

    Also think of evolutionary continuums in terms of each individual animal’s lineage in TIME. Species boundaries looked at in this way reveal that there are, in fact, no species boundaries that are not arbitrary.

    The below PBS YouTube explains why, for example, there was no “first” human–or human couple (unless you buy Feser’s claim that God miraculously hopped into history and put a soul in the first couple, radically and fundamentally demarcating them from all that came before. Science, of course, could never decide the truth of such a claim. Perhaps that’s the point. Remove the religious claim from any possibility for scientific disconfirmation).

  5. Anonymous says:

    “With regard to fertile offspring, no. It’s now known that, genetically, primates from different species can have fertile offspring with one another even if they’ve been separated by as much as 2,000,000 years!”

    But doesn’t this just mean that they are really the same species? For instance, what Darwin thought were different species of finch because they looked so different actually turned out to be the same species with inter-species variation.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hmm. Seems you have posted something else related to this topic. Must be one of you favorites.

    Should I keep posting here? Or should I move to the other?

  7. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    You can post where you please. As for species, the criteria for a species is something taxonomists determine. For example, Neanderthals and Homo sapiens split a million years ago, going along divergent evolutionary paths, then they encountered one another about 100,000 years ago, sharing genes via mating. Simply because they can still reproduce does not mean that they do not have characteristics distinctive to their species that the other does not share.

    Example: Neanderthals have distinctive brow ridges characteristic of their species that no humans share. And in the mixing of genes between the two species, the ones that appear to have been preserved in existing humans, providing an evolutionary benefit, have to do with improved immune system function and adaptations to cold. Every European and Asian carries around about 2-3% Neanderthal genes, and cumulatively about one third of the Neanderthal genome survives somewhere within the contemporary human gene pool.

  8. Anonymous says:

    From what I’ve read, it is still a matter of controversy that the genetic similarity was just due to a common ancestor or not. But regardless, if 2 apparently dissimilar specimens can mate and product fertile offspring, then by that definition, they must be of the same species.

    I found this definition from the dictionary, referencing the biological definition:

    “a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. The species is the principal natural taxonomic unit, ranking below a genus and denoted by a Latin binomial, e.g., Homo sapiens.”

    “Every European and Asian carries around about 2-3% Neanderthal genes, and cumulatively about one third of the Neanderthal genome survives somewhere within the contemporary human gene pool.”

    But it seems that Indigenous sub-Saharan Africans have 0% Neanderthal genes. So humans can either have that set of genes or not. Isn’t it like someone having the genetics for producing red hair? Isn’t it in fact racist to conclude that those who look different than us are an inferior species?

  9. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anon:

    You’re putting a bit too much emphasis on the latter half of the definition of a species that you found in a dictionary. Only taxonomists are trained to debate, within the taxonomic community, when, exactly, it makes good scientific sense to distinguish one species from another.

    So it’s not enough for a species simply to have the power to generate fertile offspring. It’s whether, after two groups separate ecologically for a million years (for example), adapting to starkly different environments and challenges, they have acquired starkly different traits. If so, then taxonomists declare new species designations. They don’t have just one criterion: can they still breed?

    In the case of Neanderthals and humans, the differences are dramatic. There’s no controversy, within the taxonomic community, as to whether these are two species–and that they bred when encountering one another again after a million years of separation–and that one of those species is now extinct.

    Same with Denisovans, who also branched away from our human line as cousins a million years ago, and then were encountered again in Asia recently–and mated with. No whites or blacks have Denisovan genes in them, apparently, but Asians do.

    In Africa as well there is at least one African cousin from 800,000 years ago that stayed in Africa and shows up in modern human DNA. Scientists generally think that the hybridities they’ve discovered so far are not the end of the story; that other surprises are in store as they mine the DNA further for anomalies. The way the African cousin was discovered was by chance: an African American in the South had a sequence in his DNA that had 40 specific mutations that could not possibly have appeared in the last 40,000 years. As a result, the mutations were tracked to a very specific community in central Africa–where, sure enough, everyone had the same set of surprising mutations.

    As for the issue of racism, for many years hybridity was a toxic subject for that reason, but geneticists have clearly established that all humans share a common ancestor out of Africa within the past 50-100 thousand years, so we are all brothers and sisters.

    The fact that humans have only encountered these cousins recently (within the past 40,000 years or so), and picked up some beneficial mutations in the encounters, shouldn’t entail the idea that one of these cousins (Neanderthals, say) profoundly and fundamentally altered the humans that encountered them; that those whites with Neanderthal in them are now “superior” to those humans of other races whose most immediate ancestors did not encounter them–but encountered other cousins. You would have to assume that one of these million year old cousins was vastly “superior” to the other cousins. But if that was the case, why are we still here, and they’re extinct?

    Given our shared African ancestors of 50-100 thousand years ago, leaving Africa together, conquering the territories where distant cousins had found a niche, contemporary scientific explorations of hybridity shouldn’t lead to racist ideology and politics. Contemporary humans are simply too recently and closely interwoven for racists to gain headway here from this new science. The Book of Nature is like reading the Bible: violent and racist people will read permission to engage in violent and racist things out of it, and good people will read cooperative and non-racist things out of it. Think Hee Haw here. A little cousin fucking over the past 40,000 years shouldn’t come between brothers and sisters. : )

  10. Anonymous says:

    I did a google search and found the same definition from wikipedia:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species

    It seems the article agrees with the dictionary definition, but goes on to mention that the is a “species problem”. But after reading about the “species problem” it seems the debate is more about asexual organisms than those that reproduce sexually.

    “So it’s not enough for a species simply to have the power to generate fertile offspring. It’s whether, after two groups separate ecologically for a million years (for example), adapting to starkly different environments and challenges, they have acquired starkly different traits. If so, then taxonomists declare new species designations. They don’t have just one criterion: can they still breed?”

    I’d like to read your original sources. Could you please provide a link?

  11. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anon:

    Here’s the link to the First Peoples website at PBS.

    http://www.pbs.org/first-peoples/home/

    It looks like all the episodes can be viewed online at PBS. Three of the five videos discuss in some length hybrid evolution, in which different species of Homo mated throughout history. There is one episode devoted exclusively to hybridity among different Homo species.

    Please note that evolutionary biologists and geneticists demarcate our species (Homo sapiens) as starting just 200,000 years ago. The non-Homo sapien ancestors of our species in Africa split from what became the Homo neanderthalensis population 1,000,000 years ago. If the ongoing ability to breed is the criterion for NOT yet identifying the demarcation of species, then scientists would not have given different species names to Devosonians, Neanderthals, and Homo sapiens.

    Here’s an article at the NOVA website that discusses how contemporary scientists grapple with species demarcation: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/are-neanderthals-human.html

    And here’s a quote from the article: “With the advent of gene sequencing, scientists have found that many animal species regularly interbreed. It’s easy for any safari tourist to tell the difference between olive baboons and yellow baboons that live in Kenya, for example. And yet the two species regularly produce hybrids in the places where their species overlap, and they’ve been doing it for a long time.”

    If you can’t watch the videos on the PBS site for some reason, I notice that YouTube has them as well:

    Please also note that Homo erectus is within the designation of Homo, but that this species of Homo left Africa 1.6 million years ago and had a brain only 2/3 the size of modern humans. So the loose use of the word “human” and “people” in referring to these different species should not elide their often stark differences from us (and the good reasons they’re classified as different species from us).

    Could we have reproduced with Homo erectus? Geneticists say the answer is most likely yes (they’re within the 2,000,000 year range of our own DNA).

  12. Anonymous says:

    This is from the Wiki article on Species:

    “Most modern textbooks follow Ernst Mayr’s definition, known as the Biological Species Concept (BSC) of a species as “groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations, which are reproductively isolated from other such groups”.[15]”

    I’ve found that more than a couple of folks reviewing the pbs series who liked it also complained about the equivocal use of the term “species” in the series. It can confuse people to think that humans can mate with chimps and bonobos and have children.

    Meanwhile, science is still studying how different species arose.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speciation

    I think you would agree that Wikipedia, although certainly not the last word, at least keeps their articles current.

  13. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anon:

    Is your response your way of saying you won’t be watching the videos and articles I shared with you? That Wikipedia is enough on the matter (since it lazily and casually conforms to your already existing, and uninformed, opinion)?

    No, I don’t agree that Wikipedia is always up to date. It’s accurate with dates, etc., but uneven in terms of emphasis, expert nuance, level of detail, etc. It’s a work in progress–and if it’s not being attended to by experts in the subject, it’s going to be a bit shabby around the edges.

    And that some lay people in a thread have “problems” with the way TAXONOMISTS grapple with the issue of what constitutes a species from an evolutionary perspective is IRRELEVANT.

    As for mating with living great apes, etc., you’re very, very confused. Our most recent living cousins (chimps and bonobos) branched from our lineage something like six million years ago, far beyond the two million year demarcation that geneticists believe represents the plausible limit for two species of primates to generate fertile offspring.

    So the key here is hybridity in the broadest sense (not just biologically, but culturally). Hybridity is modernity. And geneticists have discovered that evolution accelerates via hybridity, so evolution too is modernity. And hybridity, of course, is an anxiety producing phenomenon (as any perusal of conservative websites responding to gender bending, evolution, and multiculturalism will attest. They didn’t “come from no monkeys”; they don’t like all the gender bending, etc.).

    For if things can be thrown together to make new things, who’s in control of history? Who sets the rules? Where have we come from? Where are we going? It’s all anxiety producing and disorienting to contemplate our variations (biological and cultural); our present hybridities (Caitlyn Jenner); our future hybridities (gene splicing future animals together; recovering Neanderthals and Mastodons via genetic reconstruction, etc.). T.S. Eliot’s, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins,” is the conservative’s lament looking backward at a civilization lost (medieval, classical, the Islamic caliphate, whatever), but it’s also how evolution works; how historical contingency works; how culture works; where the future is going.

    None of this fits very well with a tidy religious narrative–Thomistic or otherwise–for putting the children down to sleep (reading them the story of Noah’s ark; of Adam and Eve; of their exclusion from a pretty garden because they followed the advice of a talking snake, etc.).

    And no secular person living today can be thrilled with the awareness that all of our modernist utopian ambitions can be turned to shit by contingent accidents of history (the Antarctic starts melting faster than we anticipated; terrorists blow up a major city with a nuclear weapon; computer intelligence proves to get beyond our control by 2050).

    Our old frames (traditional or modern, such as Marxism) simply aren’t holding the new pictures very well. Transgender people want an audience with Pope Francis. The random chaos of markets actually seems to work in key ways, bringing greater prosperity in general, but without giving liberals a manageable five year plan on which to hitch their utopian visions. And religionists hate the pace of change, for it renders difficult any stable verites. Nobody knows where history is going from here. It’s a hybrid; a monster. A Frankenstein.

    We hide from the bigger picture by narrowing our focus to a manageable thing. We become Thomists and lose ourselves in the simplicities of that; we buy an iPhone and use design as a substitute for meaning. (Ah, but it has such a beautiful and comprehensible form! It’s self contained. It gives the illusion of control! You can put it in a pretty little case!) You’re not cool if you don’t have the iPhone, or you’re not saved if you’re out of the intellectual loop concerning the superiority of Thomism or Islam over all other systems of thought. We’re all burrowing down into our narrow clubs and private fantasies as the civilizational Titanic heads for the next big contingent thing we can barely imagine; mating with it; becoming some new hybrid Thing, or plunging to the bottom of dragon seas.

    Whatever the next hybrid is–the next iteration of civilization–we all know it’s not going to be in our control; it’s not going to be a human-scale object. It’s going to be a hyperobject. It’s not going to be a comprehensible human thing or a God thing. Neither utopia nor Jesus will be coming soon. What’s next will be a post-human thing, a post-God thing. And all of our political and religious debates and anxieties are sublimating that. Will we surf that or resist that when we don’t really know what we’re contemplating surfing or resisting?

  14. Anonymous says:

    I actually I did see 1 or 2 of the episodes on PBS and I already had read the Nova article. From what I saw, I thought it was pretty well done. But I noticed it talked a lot about “species” and how modern humans mated with archaic humans but did not mention they were separate species. It did however it emphasize that Neanderthals were a different species.

    Where can I read about the 2 million year demarcation point for different species to interbreed and have fertile offspring?

    I haven’t read nor thought too much on this subject in a long time and it appears you have. I still remember when I had to take classes in biology in school the taxonomical classification was Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species and the definition of species was the same I found on Wikipedia. If things have changed, I’m interested…..that’s why I’m asking questions. You seem to have strong opinions on this matter, so when I find something published on Wikipedia, I want to know what your take is on it is.

    I agree that the future is going to be a surprise. If you’re interested in tech, just look at the the predictions of the first TED conference. Some things worked out, but hey, I’m still waiting for my jet-pack. Sorry you’re so fearful of the future.

  15. Alan says:

    With the discovery of traces of Neanderthal DNA among modern humans hailing from former Neanderthal habitat, the species question has been rekindled. This discovery was anticipated in the 1997 publication of Milford Wolpoff, Rachel Caspari: ‘Race and Human Evolution: A Fatal Attraction’, which argues for a multiregional model for human evolution. Reissued in a 2007 paperback which may include some updates discussing DNA discoveries since the original.

    This book is represented as a challenge to the ‘Out of Africa’ theory that was getting a lot of attention at that time. While the claim is made in this book that this theory would refute the ‘Eve’ theory (all humanity descends from a common female), the actual arguments and supporting data presented support a more nuanced evolution consistent with the more recent DNA evidence: Modern humans came out of Africa, and once out, there was a little, but not much interbreeding. The ‘Eve’ theory is not challenged, but the strict replacement model – which posited no interbreeding – would be refuted.

    Two books which could be argued to support the ‘Feser Hypothesis’ are Jared Diamond’s ‘The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal’, and Christopher Boehm : ‘Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior’.

    Both authors differentiate the ‘Upper Paleolithic’ period of human development as marked by a distinct change in human behavior while the skeletons remained the same. I am not aware of any DNA analysis yet available to address the question of genetically the same, but the bones look the same. Both authors suggest a development in language ‘could’ explain the improved (a significant competitive advance) behavior. Feser could argue providence sparked this change. I reiterate: The Upper Paleolithic Revolution appears to be a knowledge development rather than a genetic change.

  16. Santi Tafarella says:

    Alan:

    One thing that may have accelerated recent human evolution is agriculture itself. In domesticating animals and plants, we may have placed certain domestication pressures on our own species as well. Anthropologists call this “self domestication,” and is probably not just a phenomenon of our species, but bonobos as well. (Bonobos achieve self domestication and selection with regard to their social groupings.)

    As for the out-of-Africa hypothesis, hybridity is an adjunct to that widely accepted hypothesis (and rests upon it). It’s not a replacement hypothesis. Every human living today can trace their ancestry to Africa within the past 200,000 years, but many humans living today can also trace their ancestry over the past 40,000 years or so to a small percentage of hybrid encounters with archaic human species that split from our lineage about one million years ago and encountered us again only recently. In any individual human, this hybrid DNA represents a small percentage of the whole (perhaps 2-5%).

    If we could get in a time machine to 75,000 years ago, say, we would find, not one species of Homo, but numerous (perhaps Homo habilis on some isolated islands, such as the little people, Homo florensiensis; at least one isolated species in Africa, one in Europe, and one in Asia).

    Surprising and contingent mixings constitute life. I find it rather fascinating to contemplate hybridity as an idea, not just in in terms of biology, but in cultural evolution. And within the next century, of course, we’ll be taking over the evolution of every species, perhaps generating all sorts of hybrids. We might revive extinct species. We’ll manage every habitat because basically we’ll have to. From this point forward, humans are pretty much responsible for how things are going to go for the planet as a whole.

    • Alan says:

      Santi

      As originally presented, the ‘Out of Africa’ was a full replacement theory, Wolpoff among the early challengers. DNA vindicates the hybrid model. I know little about the bonobos, but I think their ‘self domestication’ a product of geographical isolation within a habitat with few threats or predators.

      Lawrence H. Keeley (War Before Civilization) reports the same phenomenon (low levels of violence) with small, geographically isolated ‘traditional’ tribes. I do not see ‘domestication’, but rather people playing nice when they are not threatened. For the bonobos, many generations without many threats could have led to low genetic aggression. Endless atrocities across human history tells me that has not happened with humans.
      I think that there are two significant factors that have developed with the agricultural revolution that have slowed the evolutionary process among humans: More food means a lot more people get to survive leaving more to reproduce and fewer killed off without reproducing.
      And (most significantly) the development of socialization techniques to train children to play nice under most conditions despite their aggressive dispositions. With traditional hunter gatherers, behavior outside the norm would lead to being thrown out of the tribe and out of the gene pool. Neolithic to modern societies developed ever more effective ways to train and re-train individuals, ostracizing far fewer and keeping a far higher percentage reproducing.

  17. Santi Tafarella says:

    I don’t disagree with much of what you say in the post immediately above, but I don’t think the out-of-Africa hypothesis won exactly. It would be more accurate to say that the out-of-Africa hypothesis has mated with the multi-region hypothesis and generated a now thoroughly accurate hybrid hypothesis, drawing insights from both hypotheses. The outlines of our origins has been vastly clarified by genetic science. There’s no doubt Homo sapiens left Africa within the last 50-100 thousand years–and encountered proto-humans that they mated with, drawing some rapid regional evolutionary benefits into Homo sapien DNA from the encounters (endurance for cold, immunity enhancements, etc.).

  18. Anonymous says:

    Alan,

    Since you have read quite a bit on the topic of hybrids, I hope you can help me out.

    I’ve read this wiki article on hybrids, and it just seems to confirm my original understanding of taxonomy and definition species. It mentions that most hybrids in the higher animal kingdom are sterile (at least one gender is at least), so there is no non-controversial evidence of a branch into a completely different species.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_(biology)

    While not very common, a few animal species have been recognized as being the result of hybridization. The Lonicera fly is an example of a novel animal species that resulted from natural hybridization. The American red wolf appears to be a hybrid species between gray wolf and coyote,[14] although its taxonomic status has been a subject of controversy.[15][16][17] The European edible frog appears to be a species, but is actually a semi-permanent hybrid between pool frogs and marsh frogs. The edible frog population is dependent on the presence of at least one of the parents species to be maintained.[18]
    Hybrid species of plants are much more common than animals. Many of the crop species are hybrids, and hybridization appear to be an important factor in speciation in some plant groups.

    So how do we get from “hybrids are sterile” to modern humans are hybrids of different species?

    • Alan says:

      Anon: You are leaping into turbid waters. This is a developing science and you are doing a good job of rounding up information. In terms of humans, it is not a settled argument as to Neanderthals being a truly separate species. Some suggest that Neanderthals were a separate race within a greater human species.
      Rachel Caspari in ‘Race and Human Evolution’ suggested that there may have been a very low rate of fertile offspring from modern human/Neanderthal mating. Skeletally modern humans shared habitat (and thus mating opportunities) with Neanderthals for roughly fifteen thousand years. With just a small sample of Neanderthal DNA making its way into the modern Eurasian mix (with 15,000 years of trying), Rachel appears to be correct.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Alan,

    Thanks. I read some reviews of the book that support your opinion, but not the book itself.

    I’m having a hard time seeing why this is a controversy. Yes we’ve never interviewed a Neanderthal to see if they pass the “human” oral exam, but if we “humans” produce a fertile offspring with the “Neanderthal” then why on earth would we consider them a different species.

    It sounds like a bias some folks still have from Darwinian times that consider “negros” less than human and therefore there needs to be a controversy regarding whether mulattos are human or not.

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