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A Godless Philosophy - Contents
Preface (What's this all about?)
The Story of Evolution
14,000,000,000 y.a. -- The Big Bang
4,600,000,000 y.a. -- Our Sun and Earth
Stars evolve, producing the complex elements of organic life
2,500,000,000 y.a. -- First life forms on Earth
A bacteria reproduces itself, and the race is on
220,000,000 y.a. -- First mammals
A tiny shrew survives among the dinosaurs
30,000,000 y.a. -- The great apes of Africa
Chimps achieve sociability, planned combat, and use of natural objects as tools
5,000,000 y.a. -- Earliest human ancestors
It looks like a chimp but walks upright
3,000,000 y.a. -- Earliest toolmakers
Still chimp-like, this larger-brained ape makes the first stone tools
1,800,000 y.a. -- Later pre-humans
More human-looking without fur, this naked ape conquers fire and reaches Eurasia
300,000 y.a. -- Neanderthals
Evolved in Europe's Ice Age, they hunt and kill 7-ton mammoths
50,000 y.a. -- Modern humans (Homo sapiens)
Fully human now, we narrowly escape extinction to follow our destiny
45,000 y.a. -- Spread of modern humans throughout Eurasia
Out of Africa, we encounter the pre-humans and fight our way north
30,000 y.a. -- Extinction of the last pre-humans
Neanderthals, the tough guys, hold out the longest
15,000 y.a. -- First settlements, city-states and empires
It takes us 35,000 years to create the first small city
600 y.a. -- Racial differences and European conquests
Guns, germs and steel
Now -- Human evolution in modern times
Where are we, and what lies ahead?
Theory or Science? Sources and References
Warning: If you delve into these pages, your journey may be a solitary one. Evolution is not a favored topic for party conversations.
Even with educated people, evolution's acceptance is less than an warm embrace. Evolution sits in most people's minds like an acknowledged but undigested mass, still wrapped in mystery and atheistic overtones.
Compare this with our adoption of, say, Isaac Newton's first law: "An object in motion continues in motion..." Every kid who hits a baseball toward a neighbor's house can tell, by watching its trajectory, that he's in trouble before the ball breaks the window. That's also science, but it's become part of our intuitive understanding of how the world works.
Evolution resists such natural assimilation. The idea that "we used to be monkeys" is inherently distasteful to many people. And of course, it's rejected out of hand by religious fundamentalists.
Evolution has other obstacles to being tweetable. Once a curious person gets past the monkey block, they immediately hit a wall of impenetrable jargon: the Pliocene Epoch, the Pleistocene era; Glottochronology and Alleles, calibrated vs. uncalibrated radiocarbon dates.
Finally, for anyone but Stephen Hawking, evolution's time scale is daunting. To jump ahead a little, our minds evolved to work well with time frames ranging from dodging a spear, to keeping track of a menstrual cycle, to seasonal growth of plants and migrations of animals. However, when someone says "a million years," we nod our heads, knowing that's a one with six zeros, but we really can't wrap our minds around it. Another reason for discomfort.
So why are we talking about evolution? Because evolution explains who we are, why we act the way we do, and suggests where we are headed. It explains our warlike tendencies, gives insights into man/woman relationships and how we function in society.
Perhaps most important, it offers perspective on humans in the cosmos. I believe it is the most important discovery science has ever given humans.
But wait! Why am I the one trying to explain it?
I certainly never intended to volunteer. But I've spent a few years looking for some source that tells the amazing story of evolution, the overall arc of its history, the drama and unexpected twists, the humanity struggling to emerge amidst the brutality of day-to-day life, the desperation of a part-human female scheming to protect her new baby from being killed and eaten by a jealous senior female. Such a source may be out there, but I haven't found it.
So I decided to put together my own jargon-free account of the story, basically as a gift to my grandchildren. Think of it as "Evolution for non-anthropologists." It's drawn very carefully from scientific articles and books you probably don't have the time to go through (See "Theory or Science? Sources and References").
This presentation of evolution was designed to be readable in an hour or two, so I urge you not to study it or try to memorize dates. Read it for the flow, as continuously as possible, and to get to the end. You can always go back and dig into a specific event with a click of your mouse.