The main conclusion arrived at in this work, namely, that man is de scended from some lowly organised form, will, I regret to think, be highly distasteful to many. But there can hardly be a doubt that we are descended from barbarians. The astonishment which I felt on first seeing a party of Fuegians on a wild and broken shore will never be forgotten by me, for the reflection at once rushed into my mind—such were our ancestors. These men were absolutely naked and bedaubed with paint, their long hair was tangled, their mouths frothed with excitement, and their expression was wild, startled, and distrustful.
They possessed hardly any arts, and like wild animals lived on what they could catch; they had no government, and were merciless to every one not of their own small tribe. . . . Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future. But we are not here concerned with hopes or fears, only with the truth as far as our reason permits us to discover it; and I have given the evidence to the best of my ability. We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has pen etrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system—with all these exalted powers—Man still bears in his bodily frame the in delible stamp of his lowly origin.
CHARLES DARWIN, THE DESCENT OF MAN
LOOK BACK at the 5 million years since the human line split from that of apes. With the power of genetics, that story can now be told at a far deeper level of detail, abundantly confirming the extraordinary insight that Darwin first hinted at in his On the Origin of Species of 1859 and made more explicit in The Descent of Man in 1871. Humans are just one of the myriad branches of the tree of life, sharing the same fundamental genetic mechanisms as all other living species, and shaped by the same evolutionary forces. This is the truth, as far as our reason permits us to discover it. All differing accounts of human origin, though a matter of religious dogma for most of recorded history and widely believed to the present day, are myth. Darwin's insight was the more remarkable because he had no concept of genes, let alone of DNA, the chemical script in which the genetic instructions are inscribed. Not until 1953 was DNA recognized to be the hereditary material and only since 2003 has the fully decoded script of the human genome been available for interpretation.
With this script in hand, we can begin to trace the finest workings of the grand process that Darwin could see only in outline. The picture is still far from complete. But as the previous chapters have recorded, a wealth of information has already been retrieved from the darkness. We can see how the human form was shaped, step by step, from the anatomy of an apelike fore-bear, losing its body hair and developing darker skin as recorded in the gene for skin color. Human behavior, whether in the search for reproductive advantage or the defense of territory, shows clear continuity with that of apes. But it also developed its own characteristic pattern with two pivotal steps: the emergence of long lasting bonds between men and women some 1.7 million years ago, and at 50,000 years ago the evolution of language. Language, a novel evolutionary faculty enabling individuals to share a sequence of precise thoughts symbolically, opened the door to a new level of social interaction. Early human groups developed the institutions that shape even the largest and most sophisticated of today's urban societies. These included organized warfare; reciprocity and altruism; exchange and trade; and religion. All were present in embryo in the hunter-gatherer societies of the Upper Paleolithic. But it required another development, a diminution of human aggression and probably the evolution of new cognitive faculties, for the first settlements to emerge, beginning 15,000 years ago, and it was in the context of settled societies that warfare, trade and religion attained new degrees of complexity and refinement. Human nature is the set of adaptive behaviors that have evolved in the human genome for living in today's societies. We have developed, and can execute instinctively, the behaviors necessary for warfare, for trade and exchange, for helping others as if they were kin, for detecting outsiders and cheaters, and for immersing our independence in the religion of our community. The narrative of the human genome explains our origins, our history, and our nature, but many of its implications are far from welcome to one group or another. "The human mind evolved to believe in the gods. It did not evolve to believe in biology,"
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