Faith and Doubt / My Two Cents

Mankind Rising

thinking apeI watched the lasted episode of Discovery Channel’s Curiosity series, Mankind Rising. I tend to watch these series with an open mind and willingness to contemplate all possibilities as to the origins of man and the universe. This one left me contemplating science fiction. I mean, I am willing to suspend disbelief and stretch the boundaries of imagination but for me this got a little too far out there to be considered plausible theory.

The show is about man’s origins from originating cell to the complex social, physical and conscious being that we are today. The introduction begins by informing the listener that about 4 billion years ago a frozen ball of spinning dust appeared in the vacuum of space. Next, I suppose to prepare us for a fantastic narrative, the narrator informs us that generating life from this frozen dust ball will take a chain of events that defies the laws of probabilities. It’s quite the journey….

(Narrative Paraphrased):

Experts believe that water from asteroids or comets is delivered to earth churning with organic compounds. Lightning strikes the chemical soup at the right place and the right time and trigger a chain of improbable coincidences. The chemical atoms join up in a precise sequence creating a bundle of genetic material. Against all probabilities, a blob of oily material engulfs a single chain of genetic material to create the first ever cell. The genes send out chemical instructions and copy themselves and create a perfect clone becoming the first living thing, the basis for all life. This continues for two billion years until a random accident causes two genes to combine, the first act of sex from two parents which combines the genes of two cells into one merged cell with variations. The cell then clones itself. As the cells reproduce genes are deleted, duplicated and become mutants. As they pile up differences increase and they become different species.

Okay, so far. I can consider this possible.

One of these mutated cells floating around in the ocean becomes the beginning of the human species. We begin to exist as a 3 inch long water worm. Mutations create distinct male and female sexes which pass on more genes. Because we need eyes to see in order to mate in the ocean darkness a handful of skin cells mutate to allow our water worm ancestor to see and mate. Through the onset of natural selection our water worm self develops eyes and we can see.

30 million years forward we have mutated into a fish like creature with a brain that can make simple decisions. But there is a bigger species that preys upon us. Luckily with a row of the genetic dice millions of years later we become a foot long armored fish with jaws and teeth. But still we are the prey of a larger predator and being forced into stagnated water where oxygen is diminished we must find a way to survive. Natural selection once again throws us a life line and our body adapts so that we can breathe air and our bodies create a lung. We also create legs and a tail and can breathe air and water. We venture onto the land where our bodies are subject to intense sun and hard terrain. In order to not perish, natural selection once again rescues us by giving us claws and armored skin.

Now we are a lizard looking creature and live entirely on land. We breathe air and because we are bombarded with information from this new environment our brains begin to evolve. But other species have migrated to the land and we must compete for the food so we develop stronger jaw muscles which allow us to eat faster. Thus, we become a meat eating supersized lizard that can prey on our competitors.

Hmm. A worm to a fish to a land walking lizard. Getting Stranger. But wait, where is the monkey part?

As fortune would have it (because I would hate to have remained an overgrown lizard), a magma plume surges up from the core in Siberia. It continues to trap the sun’s heat inside the atmosphere under a blanket of noxious fumes for half a million years. Temperatures soar to over a hundred degrees causing plants and 95% of all species to die. But we survive along with the species that will develop into the dinosaurs. Now we have a real problem. We are not a match for the dinosaurs. Luckily, once again, nature’s lucky dice rolls in our favor. Natural selection morphs us from a large lizard to a cat sized creature covered with fur. But since we are still chow for hungry dinosaurs our survival depends on natural selection to morph us even smaller and we become a small 2 inch long scurrying rodent surviving in Montana. We develop acute senses and brilliant brains thanks to the dinosaurs. While in our rodent bodies we evolve into the precursor for all mammals by forgoing the laying of eggs and giving birth to live offspring.

Am I following this right? A worm, then a fish, then a lizard, then a cat, now a rat?

We are happy-go-lucky little rats until an asteroid strikes in the Gulf of Mexico. The only way we can survive is to dig into the ground. Temperatures plummet and vegetation dies. The dinosaurs die. Bugs feasting on dead dinosaurs become the perfect food and we evolve into a six inch squirrel looking creature. With no dinosaurs and a feast of bugs we spread out across the earth. Plants revive and trees begin bearing fruit. We leave the ground and live in the trees and eventually become a primate that looks like a raccoonish squirrel. But unlucky for us temperatures shift and natural selection must intervene again because food has become scarce and hard to reach. We lose our tail and evolve into a newer primate version that now begins to resemble our monkey ancestors.

Oh, there is the monkey part. A worm to a fish, to a lizard, to a cat, to a rat, to a squirrel to a monkey. That’s quite a change I think.

The earth changes and the African rift valley forms and mountains rise up blocking the path of the Indian Ocean which once watered all of Africa. The trees become further apart and harder to reach. But the will to survive which has driven us from a single cell in the ocean to a complex primate in Africa causes us for the first time to walk. Walking is passed from parent to child as our bodies grow stronger and walking becomes easier.  We develop a bigger brain and begin our entrance into the species of man. We scavenge food and by chance develop tools. We learn how to work with other members of our species, learn to hunt and harness the benefits of fire. And finally we learn to speak and as our brains grow we become smarter and more dominate. The episode ends with a satellite orbiting the earth, a testament to our brilliant minds and dominion through evolution and the process of natural selection. The narrator informs us, “But wind the clock back to the beginning and the chance of us evolving again are practically zero. Change one thing, one predator, one lucky mutation and we would not be here to tell the tale of our remarkable four million year journey”.

So, to recap:

During a chain of the most unlikely events which defy the laws of probabilities, we were once a worm, a fish, a bigger fish, a lizard, a bigger lizard, a cat, a rat, a squirrel, a bigger tree-flying squirrel, a squirrel-monkey hybrid, a monkey, an ape, a smarter ape, a social ape, and finally a human.

Woe, but for the days when we simply evolved from monkeys. Who says scientific minds are not creative and are devoid of humor?

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6 thoughts on “Mankind Rising

  1. I can’t say I’ve ever heard it told this way hah, but perhaps I’m not up to date on recent….err, findings. It’s important to note though that there are much less crude ways of putting it all, and it can indeed seem a fair bit more convincing. It’s quaint really though, as there really is a lot of evidence that will point in a very strong darwinian direction and at the same time a lot of thought that can make you feel a facepalm coming while trying that same logic. That’s our world for you though.

    • As an after thought I realized that this post may be perceived by some as anti-evolution theory which I did not intend it to be. I was really expressing my dissappointment on the presentation of this episode. Worms to apes is a bit much for me to say, “yeah I buy that.”
      As for my personal perspective on evolution theory I neither discount it or embrace it. It remains for me feasible speculation.
      This episode though was much deserving of a facepalm. 🙂

      • That’s a rare perspective then, at least among any outspoken, though I’m not sure why we’re all so inclined towards polarity. I’d say I’m in that same boat with you.

  2. It’s sad that you would ‘facepalm’ something that has been proven over and over again, just because you have no understanding of it and have taken no time at all to research it. As a Science teacher with a degree in Anthropology, I’ve actually been studying this for 20 years. The evidence is overwhelming. I’m sorry you did not comprehend the key is that this has all occurred over the last 4 billion(that’s Billion, with a B) years, and that small changes over hundreds of millions of generations can absolutely create the changes we’ve seen in the fossil record, as demonstrated in ‘Mankind Rising’. I’m assuming you’re familiar with dogs and how in just a few dozen generations, we’ve created distinct breeds who often don’t even look the same species.

    • You make many generalized assumptions about me in your comment, i.e. “you have no understanding of it and have taken no time at all to research it” and “I’m sorry you did not comprehend the key is that this has all occurred over the last 4 billion years…..”, I suppose because you are offended that I found this documentary lacking in educational promotion. Perhaps you think I am a creationist?

      The mutations that have occurred with the interbreeding of dogs are observable, measurable and repeatable, which I do not consider as predictability that the evolving of mammals through random accidents occurred as it is presented in the documentary. I also consider a distinction between theories and proofs. While genetic similarities between species may offer strong evidence of plausibility for evolutionary theory, it remains unfalsifiable as there is not means for validation through repeatable experimentation and direct observation. If it was a proof we would have no need to debate it, or attempt to tweak it as some now offer through Evo-Devo positions. As proponents increase, pursuits in Evo-Devo biology may determine that common genes possessing different developmental traits is a more viable hypothesis than Darwin’s Natural Selection premise and in time changing the overall consensus of thought in evolution theory. Whichever model you choose, it is based on compelling evidence which currently amounts to acceptable speculation. The documentary’s content of varying life forms resulting from unpredictable catastrophes seemed to me simply fanciful storytelling but I have no quarrel with those who choose to believe it.

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