Human Evolution: The History of the Evolution and Natural Selection Processes that Gave Rise to Modern Humans

Written by Charles River Editors
Category: · History

*Includes pictures
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading

“We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities… still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” – Charles Darwin

Ever since the human mind developed the capacity for thought, people have pondered not just the meaning of life, but the genesis of the world, the universe, and all the natural marvels and precious forms of life within it. To this day, all of these intricate subjects continue to be matters of great contention, and they are often best encapsulated in the debate between creationism and evolution.

On the one hand are those who are adamant that it was God, or some other supreme being, that designed and crafted every detail of the universe, as evidenced by the plethora of creation myths from various creeds and traditions. Among one of the most well-known etiological tales is the classic story of the Christian God who constructed the world in 6 days, and man and woman out of clay and man’s rib, respectively. This is a concept that many still cling to today; approximately 38% of Americans believed in creationism in 2017, as reported by a Gallup Poll. Then, there are the more obscure narratives, such as the Japanese creation myth, which recounts how the god and goddess, Izanagi and Izanami, birthed from “elements mixed together with one germ of life,” shaped the Japanese islands with some mud and the aid of a sacred staff. The Mayans preached about Tepeu, the maker of all things, and Gucumatz, the “feathered spirit,” who produced the world with nothing but their thoughts, and placed on Earth the first quartet of humans fashioned out of white and yellow corn.

On the other hand are those who believe (or as they would say, “accept”) evolution and scientific processes as facts. As enthralling as such creation myths may be, insist critics of creationism, who campaign for their retirement, there is not a sound shred of logic behind these time-worn tales. Renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, arguably one of the most brilliant people to have ever lived, stated, “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation.” His sentiments are echoed by famous atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene: “Today the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the earth goes round the sun…” “Some claim that evolution is just a theory, as if it were merely an opinion,” esteemed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, another leading proponent of evolution, adds. “The theory of evolution – like the theory of gravity – is a scientific fact. Evolution really happened. Accepting our kinship with all life on Earth is not only solid science. In my view, it’s also a soaring spiritual experience.”

Most scientists believe the evolution of humans has a history as long as life itself. Anatomically modern humans and all other life that has existed on the planet first came about from the single-celled microorganisms that emerged approximately 4 billion years ago. Through the processes of mutation and natural selection, all forms of life developed, and this continuous lineage of life makes it difficult to say precisely when one species completely separates from another. In other words, scientists still debate when a human became a human rather than the ancestor species that came before.
In order to understand the history of human evolution, an understanding of the mechanisms that essentially “created” modern humans needs to be understood. These processes are natural selection and evolution.

Human Evolution: The History of the Evolution and Natural Selection Processes that Gave Rise to Modern Humans examines how humans evolved from microorganisms, and the evolutionary theories that came about in the 19th century to explain it all.

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