Man, Time, and Fossils: The Story of Evolution

By Ruth Moore | Go to book overview

XX
WASHBURN EVOLUTION AND EXPERIMENT

THE DILEMMA was acute. Could modern man have evolved from the stage of the South African ape-men in the brief period of one million years? Could the last-lap transition from the heavy jaw and beetling brow of Neanderthal man have been made in the last fifty thousand years?

The answer seemed to be no, if each difference between these ancestors and the men of today had to be accounted for by natural selection working in the way and at the pace Darwin had assumed. Then no million years could possibly have sufficed.

Evolution as it had been understood would have been impossible within the new time scheme. Or, if the changes had come about as science had thought, then there must be some error in the new timing.

Thus evolution in 1950 again was confronted with a serious time problem.

A young associate professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, Dr. Sherwood L. Washburn, proposed a way out of the impasse. But first of all he acknowledged the difficulty: "This new situation has been called a statistical and mathematical absurdity. If each one of the differences between the ape- men and ourselves is based upon a separate element of genetic construction of the individual, it is true it becomes mathematically impossible to change the ape men into modern men in the time that seems to be implied in the actual record."

-403-

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