Evolution, Genetics, and Man

By Theodosius Dobzhansky | Go to book overview

13
Human Evolution

Darwin's discovery that man is a descendant of non-human ancestors seemed repugnant to some of his contemporaries. The story goes that, on hearing about Darwin's theory, a lady cried: "Descended from the apes! My dear, we will hope that it is not true. But if it is, let us pray that it may not become generally known." To her, it was terribly degrading to be related, however distantly, to an ape. But the news became rather generally known, and most people grew reconciled to the strange relative.

At present the dust has settled sufficiently to see things more clearly. Man is a biological species, subject to the action of biological forces, and a product of a long evolutionary development. It does not matter whether the evolutionary origin of man is called an "hypothesis" or a "fact." Events which occurred before there were observers capable of recording and of transmitting their observations must of necessity be inferred from evidence now available for study. But the evidence shows conclusively that man arose from forebears who were not men, although we have only the most fragmentary information concerning the stages through which the process has passed. Nobody has seen that the earth is a sphere or that it revolves around the sun, rather than vice versa; nobody has caught a glimpse of atoms or of things within atoms. Are atoms, then, factual or hypothetical? The least that can be said is that in our activities we take the earth to be a sphere and treat atoms as though they were facts. For similar reasons, it is not a matter of personal taste whether or not we "believe in" evolution. The evidence for evolution is compelling. Moreover, human evolution is going on at present, and, what is more, biology is

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