Another Perspective

Evolution Needs to Evolve

Of monkeys, moons and Professor Dawkins.

By 9.16.11

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Professor of Atheism Richard Dawkins grows increasingly shrill. His outbursts include the following, not very recent, but typical:

It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that).

You can, of course, make any point you like providing you don't care about first premises. One thing which evidently fails to enter Professor Dawkins' mental universe is the idea -- accepted by many scientists -- that the theory of evolution is broadly correct, but as an explanation of life and the human condition it is incomplete.

We know life exists. We also know it had to be created by some process. Biology tells us that that process was evolution. It tells us nothing about what set that process in notion, created the Earth we stand on, or created the universe from some unimaginable pre-Creation state without space or time. The idea that the Universe created itself out of nothing seems somehow unsatisfactory.

Whether the Heaven and the Earth, and human life, was created over 13.2 billion years following the Big Bang, or over six days as a literal reading of Genesis is interpreted as saying, actually does not matter.

Of course I accept evolution. I find the Biblical literalists who claim the Earth was created in six days, and who believe that we are all descended from a couple called Adam and Eve Fell who because they were tempted by a walking, talking snake, tiresome. I am more-or-less aware of the historical reasons why these fundamentalist beliefs took root and persist in some communities.

But this does not mean that evolution explains everything, or that it ought to explain everything.

It is not an explanation, for example, of why human beings (I am tempted to say some human beings) have brains that are not only far larger than those of any comparable animals, and far larger than is needed for mere species' survival, but are also qualitatively different. I have, of course, seen various theories advanced to account for the growth in size of the human brain, such as that it grew bigger as a result of having to cope with successive Ice-Ages, but these are not really satisfactory explanations.

Further, they suffer from the great scientific disadvantage that they can be neither proved not disproved. Other animals coped with the Ice-Ages by growing to giant sizes and saving body heat thereby, such as the mastodon, or did not cope at all and died out. The succession of Ice-Ages did not produce intelligent bears or tigers, only somewhat bigger ones. Why did the ancestors of Homo sapiens adopt such a radically different solution?

Monkeys and men appear to have a common ancestor. Monkeys, like men, have hands. But, as Chesterton said, the significant point is not that monkeys have hands, but that, compared to Man, monkeys do almost nothing with them. A five-year old child can paint a crude picture of a monkey. But not the wisest monkey ever painted a picture of a child. Years of experiments trying to teach apes language show they cannot form even the simplest sentences.

If a monkey was born capable not only of gathering nuts and bananas but also of building cathedrals, writing Hamlet or flying to the moon, we would see it as a major objection to the pure theory of evolution. We might even be tempted to believe that a God had intervened somewhere along the line.

But Man is born capable of doing these things and has done them. The fact speaks for itself. Further, as far as paleontology can tell us, Cro-Magnon Man, the earliest form of Homo sapiens, had brains as good as modern men -- Cro-Magnon Man simply knew less. We know from cave paintings that 16,000 years ago at least Man had highly developed art.

Why? Art is useless for survival. There is no reason why evolution should have produced it. It is possible to be reminded of Gandalf's cryptic comment in The Lord of the Rings: "Something else is at work." (About Neanderthal Man we can only make guesses from a few ambiguous hints -- in at least one Neanderthal burial, for example, a dead body was found to have been buried bedecked with flowers. Why did the dead Neanderthal's fellow-tribesmen take time off from hunting and gathering food to do that? Further, there were different types of Neanderthal Man and the more we discover about them the more complex the picture becomes.)

The unique quality of the human brain is one of the things which evolution, and Professor Dawkins, fails to explain. Humanity is special, and evolution can give no reason for it. Shall we perhaps be so unkind as to paraphrase Professor Dawkins, and call anyone who believes these things to be fully explained -- with that explanation being perhaps that they are the result of blind chance -- "ignorant, stupid or insane"?

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About the Author

Hal G.P. Colebatch, a lawyer and author, has lectured in International Law and International Relations at Notre Dame University and Edith Cowan University in Western Australia and worked on the staff of two Australian Federal Ministers.