Evolution

Theory or Science?  Sources and References




M.C. Whitfield Web Site Home Page


A Godless Philosophy - Contents

Preface  (What's this all about?)

The Story of Evolution

14,000,000,000 y.a. -- The Big Bang
Evolution begins

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


Evolution's Implications  (Summary)


Miscellaneous Musings



My personal thanks to the paleontologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, geneticists and other scientists who have dedicated lifetimes of work to the understanding of human origins. Should any of them come across this private web site, however, it's unlikely that they would reciprocate my admiration. Instead, I would expect nothing but annoyance at me for skimming some of the cream off the top of their most fascinating findings. And my "Readers' Digest" version of their work, I'm sure, would satisfy none of them.

But they would hopefully respect my efforts to be accurate. I've tried to compensate for my dilettante status by having at least two sources for every fact. And although the scientific expertise of these sources far exceeds my own, I was able to draw on my engineering background to (hopefully) avoid any gross errors in understanding and reporting their findings. I apologize in advance for my inevitable mistakes.

Wherever my interpretations go beyond my source material, I have tried to identify those interpretations as my own.

Genetics deserves a special mention, for lucky timing if nothing else. Thanks in part to the amazing growth of computing power, this field has exploded in the last ten to fifteen years. The human genome was first sequenced just a few years ago, in 2003. The ability to precisely analyze the DNA of an ancient bone fragment has given paleontology something akin to x-ray vision, yielding startling new findings and resolving many longstanding arguments.

Nicholas Wade's "Before the Dawn," published in 2006, provides a masterful summary of this recent research. It is backed up by "Born in Africa" by Martin Meredith, published in 2011. Many of the new findings have not yet found their way into other sources such as encyclopedias. Wherever Wade's or Meredith's information differs with, or goes beyond, older references, I have used the newer, genetics-supported information.

But what if all this science is wrong? Scientists have been wrong before. Some people still claim that evolution is "just a theory."

It's true that science has different levels of certainty. The fact that the earth is spherical and revolves around the sun is generally considered "settled science." In contrast, the science of global warming is still a work in progress.

The science of evolution is close enough to a "settled science" to rely on for the general conclusions reported here. While scientists will be debating details for years to come, that's where the science is today -- debating details.

Finally, re "Theory or Science," I suppose something must be said about "creationism" and "intelligent design." I decided, at the outset of this project, that any effort spent debating the evolution-deniers would be an insult to your intelligence and a waste of my time. They have already been ably refuted by well-known biologist Richard Dawkins, in his book "The Greatest Show on Earth."

Regarding the pictures scattered throughout this site, you may recognize the gorgeous, high-quality images of the stars as Hubble Telescope shots. The Hubble Telescope, one of mankind's great achievements, is part of NASA, which was funded in 1958. All Americans can be rightfully proud of this far-sighted investment by the Eisenhower administration. (The other images are mostly "thumbnails" from Bing.com and other sources; all are public domain.)

I've left the best for last: the original source of what we know about evolution. This writing falls on the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species," and I bow before the towering but still underappreciated genius of Charles Darwin. Darwin was not alone in discovering evolution; one of his contemporaries, Alfred Russel Wallace, had very similar ideas. But it was Darwin who first connected all the dots and first published what is now recognized as "the unifying explanation for the diversity of life on Earth."

References:
About.com
Archaeologyinfo.com
Before The Dawn by Nicholas Wade published 2006
Born in Africa by Martin Meredith published 2011
Brittanica.com
Encyclopedia.com
Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond published 1997
National Geographic Almanac of World History
National Geographic News Web Site
National Geographic's Concise History of the World
Smithsonian website
The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond published 1992
Wikipedia.org
Wright Center for Science Education.com





Copyright © 2011 Marshall C. Whitfield