Food Notes & Tousim 06/06/2011

Come on! Why don’t we accept our inner ape?

We allow improbable virtual relationships to charm us, rather than fully enjoying the real ones; we eat the products of the Earth taken from the cylinders of the wizards of chemistry, rather than by the sweat of the farmers. It seems incredible that we still need to discuss to show that the Darwinian theory of evolution is correct


Jerry Coyne

To the readers which are not afraid to accept the ape that is in all of us, to whomever wants to raise some doubts on their origins, or who simply wants to make a nice scientific review, I suggest a fine book by Jerry Coyne, professor of biology at the University of Chicago.

The book is titled Why evolution is true (Viking Adult Publisher) and I think it is a little jewel of culture, science and literature, because - as is often the case - when a scientist, keen and passionate about his work, is set in the writing, he manages to be equally exciting and communicative of a professional writer.

It seems incredible that we still need to discuss to show that the Darwinian theory of evolution is correct. We accept the evidence of extraordinary events, in a universe analyzed in its most hidden aspects: from the most invisible, microscopic molecules, to the boundless horizons of the stars. Let us move from improbable virtual relationships, rather than fully enjoy the real ones; we eat the products of the Earth taken from the cylinders of the wizards of chemistry, rather than by the sweat of farmers. We give birth to animals and humans, results of genetic assemblages and not of the desire of two creatures. All this, and much more, horrifies some and exalt others but, in any case, it is a fact, an unstoppable progress that belongs to our time, our reality. On the contrary, the idea that human beings - the same people who invent, discover and make miracles like small or great Gods - may indeed be descended from hairy beings, without the gift of speech and perhaps even of thought, it seems not to be acceptable to many.

So, in his book, Coyne summarizes the results of recent research in genetics, paleontology, geology, molecular biology, anatomy and developmental biology, demonstrating the infallibility of the theory of evolution, and confirming its superiority to the pseudoscience of creationism and intelligent design. But above all, Coyne calms those who are afraid of being atheists or immoral by accepting the Darwinian Theory. He calms theologians, philosophers, skeptics and laymen thinkers, explaining how, in reality, the evolution simply allows to better understand the living world, to admire and to understand it without fear and to be aware of the place that we human beings occupy in the universe.

The truth - the fact that we, like lions, redwoods or frogs, are all the result of the slow replacement of a gene with another, a process in which each step leads to a slight advantage in terms of reproduction - is certainly more satisfactory than a tale or myth that tells us as appeared from nowhere!

Instead of scaring, the theory of evolution should, therefore, fascinate us! It is neither moral nor immoral, it is simply wonderful; it doesn’t limit in any way our actions, but the understanding of it can free our minds. I’m convinced, such as Coyne, that humans are only a small branch that belongs to a huge and infinitely branching tree of evolution. A small but very, very special twig, indeed. This is because by expanding the potential of our brain, natural selection has revealed us new worlds. We have been able to improve the quality of our lives over our ancestors; we have learned to climb high mountains, to swim in the ocean depths, and to travel to other planets within our own body. We can write books, compose poems and play symphonies to give voice to our emotions; we can solve mathematical formulas, logic puzzles and chemical laws to satisfy our reason. All this is a miracle, indeed!

No other species on our planet reached similar results. No other species has inherited by natural selection a so complex brain, which allows us to understand the laws that govern the universe, the human psyche and who knows, even to intuit God! So we should be proud to have become what we are, and we should think like Charles Darwin that: " When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Cambrian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled. "