Man’s association with dogs goes back to some 10,000 to 30,000 years ago. It is generally believed that “all dogs, from low-slung corgis to towering mastiffs, are the tame descendants of wild ancestral wolves.”12 Wolves, living in and around human surroundings, grew tamer with each generation until they became domesticated permanent companions. Dogs have cross-bred so often with wolves and each other that we have a great variety of them. The process itself indicates that dog domestication may have happened several times spread over different geographies and times. Some day, molecular biologists may tell us how ancient canines relate to each other and to modern pooches. The domestication of the grey wolf into dogs, man’s reputed best friend, happened long before the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840), before literature and mathematics, and before bronze, iron, and agriculture. This ancient partnership between man and animal entwined the fate of the two species. “The wolves changed in body and temperament. Their skulls, teeth, and paws shrank. Their ears flopped. They gained a docile disposition, becoming both less frightening and less fearful. They learned to read the complex expressions that ripple across human faces. They turned into dogs.”13
The domesticated dog is an outstanding example that man is the important factor on Earth in changing the environment. It is he who could domesticate a wild species through genetic breeding in a very small fraction of the time that Nature would have required. And now that man has learnt the secret of creating new species in a lab, the time is not too far when he would be doing it on a mass scale.
Interestingly, no religion talks about either the bacteria or the dinosaur or the evolution of man from the great apes. The dog does get a mention. Till an explosion in scientific knowledge occurred and directly began to affect the structure of human societies through new schemes of division of labor and its institutions, religion had a stranglehold on man that transcended the powers of human rulers. Since the 20th century, religion’s power over educated man has begun to erode with increasing momentum. The simple dilemma of the millennials is: Should they enjoy and explore life on Earth or secure a place in heaven by servilely appeasing an unseen, undescribable God who communicates with men through messengers claiming to carry revealed messages whose contents are increasingly at variance from science. Science is progressive and open to correction, religion is regressive and dogmatic.
Religions are oblivious of millions of species that once existed on Earth and have since vanished and millions that will emerge on Earth in the future.14 Indeed, we have no idea how and to what Homo sapiens will become ancestors to. For example, geology tells us how plate tectonics has changed the location of continents through movements of plates on the Earth’s surface. This has helped scientists correlate in spatial-temporal terms the geographical distribution of animals and plants, both living and fossil, with plate movements. This is amazing evidence for evolution by shared descent. It is generally estimated that there were about fifty thousand species of vertebrates just 65-70 million years ago, to the end of the Cretaceous. Of those, fewer than twenty gave rise to some one hundred thousand species of vertebrates that exist now. The rest became extinct.15 One wonders why God let them all die instead of letting them live in harmony.
Life on earth began nearly four billion years ago. In another billion years life will become extinct because the Sun’s brightness is increasing nearly 10 percent per billion years, enough to extinguish life on Earth by incineration.16 In another 10 billion years from now, the Sun too will die in a spectacular display of fireworks. It does not matter if we devoutly and religiously believe the Sun to be a god or not.17 As William Provine says,
Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear – and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.18
This is quite the opposite of what religions preach us, namely, God created life and humans He created separately. Humans and chimpanzees do not share a common ancestor. God gives life after death and He gives us absolute foundation for ethics. He also gives us the ultimate meaning for life and gives us free will to go astray or seek genuine understanding of Him and shoulder responsibility. No reason was ever provided for not creating the perfect man and the perfect universe in the first place. Also, free will gives man the opportunity to act as nastily and irresponsibly as God does, like putting people in hell-like prisons and fanning vindictiveness. There is no Earthly reward for praising God and suffering while doing so. The biologically evolving Homo sapiens are indeed a small part of a complex, process; they are not the final goal of evolution. “Think of us all as young leaves on this ancient and gigantic tree of life – connected by invisible branches not just to each other but to our extinct relatives and
our evolutionary ancestors.”19
3 The evolving Homo sapiens
We, the Homo sapiens, have been around for about 300,000 years.20 Records of our civilization date back approximately 6000 years. About 12,000 years ago, after more than 99% of mankind’s life on Earth, man transitioned from being the nomadic hunter-gatherer to a pastoral-agricultural life of rearing animals and sowing seeds. This lasted till about 1500 AD. During this period society structured itself into families; women took care of the household, men earned a livelihood. From about 1500 AD to the later-half of 20th century, an industrial economy developed with increasing growth of industrial activity and mechanization of agriculture. Within five centuries, the economy graduated from using animal power to steam power to fossil fuel power to electrical power. Along with changing sources of power, society too restructured itself into increasingly complex communities–extended families, cities, nations, alliances, institutions, modes of governance, dominions, etc.–and economies that ranged from family businesses run locally to multinational corporations operating globally and employing millions of men and women. Women were gradually weaned away from the hearth to the power corridors of corporations, competing with men for power and success in all spheres of life–business, politics, arts, science, etc. Since the late 20th century the world began to transform rapidly into a post-industrial economy which expects to power its way to another future using wind, solar, and information power. This, in brief, is the progress of human civilization.
3.1 The hunter-gatherer stage
In the hunter-gatherer stage, humans and their socio-economic organizations and skills developed at an ultraslow pace consistent with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.21 In the subtitle of his book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), Darwin aptly saw it as the “Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”. The struggle continues. The core hypothesis of the theory is that species with traits that help in adaptation are more likely to survive and reproduce than its peers in a given environment. The role of the human mind would have been negligible in such an evolutionary process. Human population was sparse; space required for survival per inhabitant was about a square mile and demanded a nomadic life involving extraordinary land-intensive activity.22 Its advanced technology was built around stone to make implements with a sharp edge, a point, or a percussion surface.
3.2 The agricultural stage
In comparison, in a span of mere 12,000 years, in the agricultural stage, the human brain-mind began to flex its neural network and mentally awakened humans began to organize into families and communities with progressively more sophisticated systems of division of labor according to the size of the community and its contextual function. An adaptive civilization emerged from an evolutionary process that took survival of the fittest to the community level:
One of the earliest defining human traits, bipedalism – the ability to walk on two legs – evolved over 4 million years ago. Other important human characteristics – such as a large and complex brain, the ability to make and use tools, and the capacity for language – developed more recently. Many advanced traits – including complex symbolic expression, art, and elaborate cultural diversity – emerged mainly during the past 100,000 years.23
Biological evolution is not about individuals, it is about inherited means of growth and development that enhances the survivability of a population of a given species evolving in a given habitat. The most important characteristic feature of the agriculture stage of human evolution was the emergence of an adaptive brain-brawn feedback system that would continuously monitor and tweak the environment to improve conditions for human survival. Within its limited geographical perimeter, a community freed itself from the terrors of the animal kingdom where Nature is “red in tooth and claw”.24 For the first time, humans evolved not purely by physical adaptation in an environment but by also mentally adapting to and changing the environment by putting his mind to work in coordination with the rest of his body.
[ 12 ] Yong (2016).
[ 13 ] Yong (2016).
[ 14 ] See, e.g., Han (2013). See also: CBD (), WWF Global (2017), Pearce (2015).
[ 15 ] Provine & Johnson (1995).
[ 16 ] Starr (2018).
[ 17 ] With the death of the Sun, Hinduism, allegedly the oldest of religions, will lose one of its most important gods. Of course, his worshippers would have died long ago by then.
[ 18 ] Provine & Johnson (1995).
[ 19 ] Chakrabarty (2018).
[ 20 ] SNMNH (2018b). See also the original papers announcing the discovery in Nature: Hublin, et al. (2017), and Richter, et al. (2017). Prior to these papers, Homo sapiens were said to have been around for about 200,000 years.
[ 21 ] Darwin (1859). It carries the apt subtitle “On the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”
[ 22 ] Bernstein (2004).
[ 23 ] SNMNH (2018a).