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Updated 22 Jan 2013

Beginning as bacteria, life in the "cool" deep-sea vents around hydrothermal vents deep beneath the sea evolved some billion or so years after the earth first formed. Its spores evidently migrated to the "hot" smoker vents, also of hydrothermal origin. Although they shared the same physical organization, DNA, their genes were mostly different. This second branch of life is comprised of archaea. Then, through some process not yet entirely clear in detail, the bacteria and archaea combined their genes to form yet a third branch of life called eukaria. Evolution then took over with a vengeance, creating all the "visible" life forms was see today. By 530 million years ago most of the major phyla already existed. The so-called Cambrian explosion come suddenly, in geologic time. The eukaryotes, having learned how to incorporate calcium into their structures, began leaving skeletal remains for us to find and wonder over. It was simple life at first, worms, crustaceans and the like. But it was really well endowed; it was multi-cellular, able to sense and move out of danger or search for food. These critical features of life were apparent early on in most of the animal kingdom. True fish appeared about 40 million years later. Another 80 million years found plants moving out of the sea to invade the land and adapt to fresh water. Amphibious animals followed plants after another 50 million years with reptiles appearing in due course in yet another 50 million years.

Reptiles and birds appeared some 320 million years ago. Mammals, leading eventually to us, appeared 180 million years ago.

How do we know these dates? By finding fossils in rock strata laid down in the sea or on land and equating the lowest strata to the earliest times with the top layers being most recent. Confusing at first, the fossil sequences began to fit a pattern. The most primitive were always in the lowest, earliest strata of rock. Fossils the world over exhibited the same main sequence. Time of fossil deposition was estimated at first by calculating backwards in time at the rates at which things occur today, like sea floor depositions, lake deposits, and formations of volcanic lava and ash. A number of more precise methods came into play with time. These had the effect of pushing things even further back in time, about 10% compared with estimates of 50 years ago.

And much more astonishing, with the ability to read and analyze DNA sequences, a biological clock came into being that verifies the consistency and constancy of evolution. Richard Dawkins, in his "The Ancestor's Tale" explains how in a very readable fashion.

Iridium cast a time marker when a bolide (small asteroid) impacted the earth to end the Cretaceous Period and the reign of the most successful animals ever to roam the earth, the dinosaurs. The bolide happened to contain an extraordinary amount of iridium which was spread to all far corners of the earth by the stupendous collision some 65 million years ago. The geologic boundary between the Cretaceous and later times is everywhere marked by a thin layer of iridium. Most scientists believe that the bolide impacted in what is now the Yucatan peninsula. Its outline is still evident from satellite imagery.

That impact not only spread iridium around the world, it extinguished about 90% of all life on the land masses, in the oceans, and numerous archipelagoes that made up the earth.

A small tree dwelling primate, the lemur, was among the ten percent of species to survive. Rodents and rabbits were also among the survivors.

The lemur, however, had certain human-like features:
  • eye sockets that provided better vision forward than rearward;
  • fingernails instead of claws;
  • a rudimentary thumb that allowed grasping;
  • a short snout because in its habitat vision was more important than smell.

In view of its advanced development, there is reason to think its lineage predates the bolide impact by perhaps 25 million years.

Aegyptopithecus with yet a shorter snout, ape-like teeth, and larger in size came later in our family tree. This tree dweller dates from 30 million years ago. This was the branch of the animal kingdom that evolved eventually into the gibbons, orangutangs, gorillas and an animal from which chimpanzees and humans split about six million years ago. Gorillas, chimpanzees and humans all belong in the genus homo.

Diversity and complexity are the fruits of evolution. Early in that time span, the primates inhabited a land mass that split in two. Part of it, India, migrated North only to collide with Asia, leaving Madagascar behind. In a sense, India became an ark for our primate lineage.

From there, gibbons eventually split from the rest about 18 million years ago. Evolution began moving very quickly as the brain case developed. The next steps toward human development came in the forms of Proconsul and Dryopithecus. The latter had an enlarged brain and the full stereoscopic vision we enjoy today.

After further evolution, Ramapithecus had near human teeth, a flatter face, and lacked the canines characteristic of the great apes. This guy was not quite a hominid (our genus), but he was almost there.

Fast forward now; Australopithecus came in light and heavy varieties, and still more like modern man. Their diet changed from fruits and vegetables to include meat, a feature also characteristic of lines leading to us. These animals flourished some 3-4 million years ago but, unable to compete, died out in an evolutionary dead end. Only distant cousins survived.

One of them, Australopithecus africanus, walked fully erect with a brain moving toward human in size. He and his descendants began fashioning crude stone chisels, which were the technology of the day, for perhaps two million years down to some 400,000 years go. Africanus almost certainly marks the beginning of modern social orders in that these folks must have focused on the protection and education of their young as a group responsibility. Like us and the great apes, africanus likely possessed advanced communication skills, perhaps even the rudiments of spoken language.

Although research is still in an early stage, recent discoveries in Croatia indicate the Neanderthals split from africanus only a little sooner than Homo erectus did. Although erectus was the first to migrate out of Africa a million years ago, he almost certainly is not ancestral to sapiens, us. Homo ergaster, also originating in Africa, is a much more likely candidate. A descendant of ergaster through maurianicus, hiedelbergensis sported a big brain. Near the end of his line, he gave rise to Neandethalensis and humans. Brain size is not the only denominator, its organization counted as wellm since it leads to the high cognitive awareness of the modern Hominids.

Not surprisingly, early studies of the neanderthal genome show it to be about 99.5% identical to that of humans. Some scientists have suggested that neanderthals and sapiens might have interbred. Continuing study of the neanderthal genome will shed light on this and other questions.

Tool technology leapt forward with the demise of africanus, probably victimized by superior co-evolving tool and weapon makers. Seemingly in a flash, crudeness of fashion yielded to the steady appearances of ever more sophisticated and specialized tools in the fossil record. The harbinger of modern man came with Homo erectus who flourished relatively briefly, but long enough to populate the Old World, Asia, and Java. Not only did their weaponry improve, they tamed fire. Meat, with its high protein, became a staple of diet although they did not evolve as natural meat eaters. All of these features gave erectus increased power over nature--a hallmark of modern man. These features also enabled their quick expansion, indeed, their mere success and population growth may have made expansion necessary just to escape conflict with neighbors as the hunting grounds became crowded. Sound familiar? Erectus is undeniably a member of the Hominid genus to which we belong.

Erectus was contemporary with Neanderthal, the latter with an essentially human-sized brain but a stouter body. Speciation was now moving in a rush. Homo sapiens arose in Africa, and, like erectus, spread to the rest of the accessible world. Homo sapiens coexisted with the Neanderthals for over 100 millennia, until about 20,000 years ago when the Neanderthals disappeared. Subtle differences between these two species undoubtedly gave strength and endurance advantages to the neanderthals, and probably an edge in intelligence, problem solving, communication, and life expectancy to sapiens. The neanderthal demise occurred about the time the sapiens conquest of the earth became decisive with the occupation of the new world.

By 600,000 years ago, all hominids had big brains; by 200,000 yeas ago, our ancestor looked decidedly human in appearance. Something happened with "sapiens" about 60,000 years ago; representational art, jewelry and figurines appeared. Recent DNA studies of three genes that play roles in human speech and language began to appear, beginning about 60,000 years ago, followed by two others some 37,000 and 5,800 years ago. Soon after that last event, people began establishing cities. The Neanderthals disappeared between the last two events. Human evolution, not only progressed by fits and starts, in the long view, it is still going on. And DNA is fast becoming a decisive indicator of events with amazing correlations with both the fossil and archeological records.

Other important species (domestic animals for example) evolved along the way, but our purpose here is to illustrate our roots and the vast time scale that it took for us to evolve.

The period from Aegyptopithecus to us was less than one percent of the age of Earth. The features that most separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom, advanced tool making, language, and control over nature came gradually, mostly over the last million years. But many features also show we are essentially identical to many animals. In terms of biological and chemical processes, the bacteria are the winners hands down. Except for our large brain, there is nothing at all to distinguish us from the lowliest of animals. Humanity is indeed part of nature -- even in personality.

The scientific evidence is now too strong to ignore. Personality is a product of evolution, not just another anthropomorphic idea. For example, selective animal breeding experiments have shown that human-like aggressiveness and shyness are two traits that can be isolated in birds in as little as four generations. In scientific terms, about half of the variation in avian personality is genetic in origin. That this separation can be achieved in just four generations means that there is only a small number of genes involved, perhaps as few as eight. One has likely been identified, DRD4. Dogs, hyenas, baboons, chimpanzees, elephants and squid have all been studied with results similar to those from birds.

Behavior consistencies among the many species are now such that it simply cannot be accidental. Neuroses and agreeableness are additional traits being recognized in animals. And they seem to remain stable for years, just as they are in people. Both elephants and rhesus monkeys have been shown to exhibit personality disorders related to childhood trauma, just as people do. Harlow, Harlow and Suomi went even further. They not only induced psychopathology in monkeys, but demonstrated that monkeys can rehabilitate neurotic monkeys! We share emotional responses with our animal friends.

People may well be more complex and easier to study, however. Just as fierceness has an obvious evolutionary edge in people, so also for extroversion. Dr Daniel Nettle at the University of Newcastle found that extroverts (in a cohort of 545 people) tend to have more sex partners than their more reserved counterparts--with an obvious evolutionary edge.

Early on, memory between generations was oral. Memory improved as written records developed on cave walls and mountain boulders, then on stone tablets, papyrus, and finally on paper. These accelerated technical and social progress by passing wisdom gained by one generation on to the next.

Superstition bedeviled the ancient tribes and lack of written records compounded the problem each new generation met in trying to leave its own mark. Cave paintings and petroglyphs attest to the constant struggles to find food. Events of nature could only be ascribed to the gods of lightning, earthquakes, pestilence, fire, the sea and so on. The mechanics of hunting, gathering, agriculture, and the things required to master nature were refined gradually toward greater efficiencies.

Having high intelligence led humans to question events: what made them occur? Not knowing any better, it was easy and fashionable to ascribe lightning to a God of Thunder, to blame the God of Pestilence for disease in like manner. It was an easy conceptual leap from there to envision a single omnipotent God responsible for everything. At about this time, humanity diverged in belief systems such that the Middle East and Europe gradually adopted the three main monotheisms, while Asians developed Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. Of these only Hinduism is classifiable as a pure religion. The other three are as much or more about philosophy than about religion.

What they all share is an origin early in the evolution of record keeping. Much of mythology found its way into later religions. And the scribes of Abraham's time founded monotheism by their pens. Their descendents diverged in their belief systems, just as species diverge in form or function.

Some ten millennia ago agriculture begn in earnest with farmers domesticating the crops that come down to us today. Some time around 4000 BCE and continuing for two millennia, humankind ("mankind" back then) was able to grow enough crops not only to trade but to provide leisure time.

The advent of imagery systematized records of events, history, and how to do things. Records became recipes to be used and improved upon. Recipes can last a long time, and dominate thinking long after they cease to be useful. The earliest written words, from about 5000 years ago, have come down to us today.

The key point here is that knowledge begets knowledge and once recorded, knowledge grows exponentially, characterized by characteristic periods of time. Each characteristic time period essentially doubled the amount of knowledge that it began with.

Mining the earth for ores began and after much trial and error, metal separations began in the fourth and third millennia BCE. With mining, came the copper and bronze ages, the discovery of Damascus steel and finally the industrial revolution.

Systematic development of the arts and society began in earnest. With the ability to record history, traditions stabilized even as they diverged from region to region. Monotheism branched away from polytheism. The market place and trade routes became local systems of governance not fully controlled by the local priests or kings. Ideas were traded as they were fought over. By 1000 CE, the religious landscape began to look much like it does today.

Being curious, humans began investigating nature for means to improve their lot. Prayers could not stop pestilence, maybe something else would. Prophet after prophet in this endeavor was discredited because their particular superstition or hunch failed the same test prayer did. Prayer had and still has a social value, it just never systematically diverted lightning nor eased child birth, pain, or the high death rates.

The better armed warriors survived to raise their children, others did not. Very gradually, secular accomplishments began affecting humankind in both good and not-so-good ways. And so it was that by about 1000 CE, a modicum of core knowledge had come into being that the kings and emperors could not rescind.

Meanwhile, the Greeks had come and gone, leaving very important legacies in mathematics, science, philosophy and governance. The geometry of Euclid comes down to us as Euclid's Book, The Elements. It is considered by many to be the most important scientific book ever written. It was some 13 centuries before a similar text on medicine appeared in the 11th Century, written by Avicenna, an Arab follower of Aristotle. Avicenna taught a rationalistic philosophy which bordered on Sufi mysticism. As a physician, Avicenna discovered that disease can be spread through the contamination of water and that tuberculosis is contagious. His book was the physician's reference until 1527 when a maverick alchemist by the name of Paracelsus in Basel showed a better way to treat infection.

In the next century, gun powder came into its own and escalated the art of war accordingly. Alchemy arose slowly, paving the way for chemistry. Another watershed occurred in the 15th Century with the development of the printing press to spread knowledge far and wide, and a new world to spread it to. The roots of formal scientific inquiry can be traced back to the Greeks, but science and its product, technology, properly began only some 500 years ago as travel and the printing press made communications easier.

Human curiosity and ability to figure things out came on with a rush, leaving the monotheist's explanations for it all behind. Galileo and Newton, while not atheists, nevertheless threatened religious leaders of their times. Their deepened insights into nature belied much that was in the good books, and for that Galileo was imprisoned by the pope--what was his name? As for Newton, he tripped over the fact that the Christian concept of the Trinity was not in the Latin bibles from which the King James version was translated, supposedly with accuracy. Newton's discovery of action and reaction led him to a new concept of what God could be.

In this sense, religion arose in the first place as an attempt to light the darkness. And it held sway for six or seven millennia until science and technology began in actual fact to light the darkness. Since the study of nature reveals no hereafter, no heaven, no salvation, no purpose, and has not yet been penetrated to the point where we see the mind of God as Hawking puts it, religion has held onto the faithful.

Conservative adherence to tradition set back medicine as it set back physical science and continues to bedevil social development to this day. Conservative adherence to religious, absolutist dogmas that claim to have all the answers has similarly set back our belief systems. Whereas philosophy deals with all of the same questions that religion does, philosophers eagerly embrace new discoveries about the universe and move on to new questions. The religious right in America especially has slowed the progress of biotechnology, the next frontier. America is ceding leadership in this important science-of-the-future to others. Notably, Europeans and South Koreans have established an understanding of nature that eluded American scientists with limited funding in the face of social criticism from a vocal minority.

While all the monotheisms have produced great thinkers, such as Avicenna, Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein, history is replete with stories of their persecution. Dogma dies hard, and nowhere is this more apparent than in monotheism.

Islam, the fourth revelation, after Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity, has the most recent set of moral directives. In scope, it is perhaps more complete and self-consistent than its ancestors. Its "moral directives" address most ordinary human activities in daily living, some in great detail.

Each of these great religions established sets of values that are absolute and static in the sense that they are to be handed down as-is from one generation to the next. All had the original intent of correcting the numerous sins exhibited by the societies from which they sprang while providing a reason for being as well as comfort to those who feared death. While times and needs change; dogmas do not. And this is a most serious failing. Some churches in our times recognize this and have modernized their services to maintain brotherhood in their flocks.

Islam followed the Christian example and was integrated into the governance of the Islamic people by Mohammed. It remains very much so embedded to this day. Because Islam historically has been both more conservative and exclusionary it has failed to keep pace with the Western-world advances in science, technology, business, and governance. Nevertheless, Islam has a legitimate place among the world's great religious dogmas.

Christianity retarded progress and went to the extreme of imposing the Inquisition upon all believers or nonbelievers as the case may be. This came in response to the Renassancea French word for renewal in intellectual and economic thinking that occurred in Europe from the 14th through the 16th centuries. Witch hunting became a popular pastime, and unfortunately, is still alive today.

The Church underwent reformations in several places in Europe. Martin Luther was the leader in pointing out the deficiencies of governance by the popes of his time. The Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment eventually freed political governance from the yokes of the royalty, popes, and Catholic dogma. For more on this general topic see Monotheism and Violence.

The Eastern world, with Buddha, Confucius and Tao, paralleled the development of early middle eastern polytheism. Their teachings covered the bases for moral lives as well as how to get along with others in the here and now, things the monotheisms do not often do as well. These philosophies gave people purpose each day; no need to worry about the next world. This day is the one that counts. Peaceful living is an express aim of their teaching.

While Europe fought internecine wars and established empires the Chinese built a great wall to keep the Mongols out. Of course the Chinese fought among themselves; they were never imperialistic in the European and now American mold.

Asian culture, dominated as it is by Buddha and Confucius, was never monolithic, and only very rarely expansionistic. Twentieth Century Japan is a rare Eastern example of imperialism.

Korea is also somewhat unusual. The origin of the Korean people can be inferred from linguistics. The Korean language belongs to the Altaic language root, which has three language subgroups - Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic. The Korean language belongs to the Tungusic subgroup. The Tungusic subgroup branches out further into Han and Puyo dialects. The Altaic tribes began to migrate to Manchuria and Korea about 6,000-7,000 years ago.

The Koreans embraced Buddhism and Confucianism, but took Christianity more seriously when it was introduced than did their neighbors. For that history, see Korean Moral Philosophy. In the early 20th Century, Korea fell victim to the Japanese imperialism. Genetically, the Japanese are more Korean than Chinese.

We in the West will compromise the future of humankind if we neglect to understand these many features, especially how the teachings of Buddha and Confucius correlate positively with peaceful living while the monotheisms tend to breed extreme Fundamentalism and Violence.

Historians use two terms, mythos and logos, that simplify the above issue. Mythos has to do with meaning, not practical matters. Mythos directs attention to the eternal and universal; it cannot provide rational proof. It lives in ceremony, music and rituals. It is belief, not reason. Logos is quite different; it is rational, pragmatic and scientific. Logos enabled humans to function well in the world and find ways to survive natural dangers. Logos is the basis of our modern societies and in many cases our governance. Logos must relate to facts and reality. It is practical and oriented to reality. It looks forward, not back to beginnings.

Mythos is not dead, but perhaps we in America no longer appreciate its place, even as we exploit it as fundamentalism. In the old world, both mythos and logos were essential. Now that is no longer true, except to the mythologists, and there are plenty of them. It is and has always been dangerous to confuse either mythos or logos for the other. Yet we now do it to excess, witness the long-standing debate over Creationism vs Evolution. In fact, mythos and logos are separate concepts and must not be confused. Neither even speaks to the other.

Homo sapiens created, discovered really, science (and its implementer, technology) as a product of the Renaissance and Reformation. The essential feature was the liberation of thinking. Instead of invoking biblical dogma, Homo in Europe became free to question, experiment, discover, to fight wars, develop seafaring, and establish empires using ever more effective tools and weapons.

Islam, by comparison, is still in the inquisition stage of its evolution. Miscreants and apostates may be summarily killed in many places. Not having a caliph (roughly analogous to a pope), and consisting of two main branches, each with its many sects, the Islamic inquisition is diffuse. Attempts at reformation are similarly diffuse though usually dealt with harshly.

At the same time, Islam occupies a central part of the lives of its believers. This is manifest in Muslim submission to Allah, daily prayers and other rituals that bind Muslims together. Behavior is everything in Islam. The Christian concept of creed has no meaning in Islam, or in Judaism for that matter. The very concept of nationhood is similarly alien to Muslim teachings and cultures arising therefrom.

As science tamed the airways, microbes, and atoms in the 20th Century, and as economic empires replaced geographic ones, Islam could only do what it knew best: Enforce the dogma through the Sharia. Religion logically replaced ideology as the prime motivator of terror in the second half of the 20th Century. This feature is not restricted to Islam, many Hindus, Christians, and Jews want to return to religious law and governance, and are willing to do so violently. The mere fact that the mullahs can and do entice devout but susceptible young Muslims to become suicidal terrorists (counter to Qur'anic teaching) speaks to the desperation that Islam must feel.

Extremist Christians showed their true colors in Bosnia and Northern Ireland as well as in the bombings of legal abortion clinics and a government building in Oklahoma City. Terrorizing fellow citizens illustrates what may be an intractable feature of extremism. By putting their personal belief systems above the laws of any secular or religious governance, these people declare war on humanity itself. Of course, there are mitigating circumstances. See Alienation and Humiliation for two prominent triggers of our times.

Jews have their share of problems as well. In Palestine, Zionism has dispossessed Muslims from their homes and homeland. Humiliated in the extreme and having nothing to lose, the Palestinians had no option but to fight back as best they could, even suicidally. Add to these the economic, social and military imperialism of America and Europe and you have the seeds underlying current events in the Middle East.

This page is meant to illustrate why a reformation in all three monotheisms must happen before planet earth can comprise a peaceful family of nations. As long as warrior religions (read Religion and Violence) support fundamentalist sects, there will be terrors and wars. Reformations can only happen from within by those involved. In theory, a reformation can be imposed, but history does not support that probability. Even the most successful of empires, the British, never reformed, much less converted, Islam. That is not to say they did not bring systems of governance to their empire. They did. Although Elizabeth I established the Church of England, it remains to this day largely a British expression.

America and the European powers must recognize the psycho-religious nature of the conflict or go badly astray. (Palestine is a rough analogue of the Thirty Years War which left its participants exhausted.) But no solution is in sight. Every move toward peace is met with more extremist terror and retaliation in kind, from one side or the other. With the recent rapprochement, one can hope. But we remember well how a Jewish extremist torpedoed the Oslo Accord.

This trend is all the more frightening in that the 20th Century also gave humankind control of the massive power in atoms. The confluence of religion-driven terrorism and atomic weapons is the Imminent Threat facing humankind today. Religious zealots can not be restrained by ordinary means--the Patriot Act, in this view, is even less than ordinary, looks more like an invitation to continued terrorism.

More slowly and yet more certainly, population growth in the third world, Islam in particular, will demand its fair share of this biosphere and its resources.

In these contexts, taking out Iraq, is a mere, but very expensive, Band-Aid. It is not a cure. The war in Iraq has killed more Muslims than Hussein would have. It has tied down our most elite armed forces; it overburdened our national ability to even translate Arabic and Persian. The war in Iraq has put us so far in debt that a national financial meltdown may become unavoidable. We are helpless in facing Iran and North Korea. Our small mobile and elite volunteer armed forces are being stymied by lack of equipment, procurement and enlistments, as well as by disenchantment of active reservists and National Guardsmen.

Our presence in Iraq has poured fuel on a holy war, where suicide bombers make headlines daily. Our presence in Iraq has not staunched the bloodshed that Hussein visited upon his people. What have we gained except a heavier load of debt, a larger gap in real wealth between rich and poor, alienation of allies, and the illusion that "Iraq" is synonymous with "terror"?

Quoting from the New York Times International: "When you have troops in the field in a dynamic environment, where the tactics of the opposition are changing on a regular basis, you have to be nimble and quick," said Representative Rob Simmons, a Connecticut Republican on the Armed Services Committee. "If you're not nimble and quick and adaptable, people will die." If this is not evolution in action, we do not know what is. The problem is that more and more people are dying as this is written. Terrorists adapt more quickly than we can adopt new tactics and weapons.

See Nuclear Terror for more. Meanwhile, given the course of current world events, we can only watch with hope that the "Arab Spring" heralds the beginning of reformation from within Islam. That reformation will likely progress by fits and starts and require a century or more. See Peace Sites for links to peace movements.


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