From early times, various ideas about man's animal origin have existed. Many ancient beliefs such as animalism and animism hold that man indeed rose from several animal ancestors. In developed civilizations, where a certain level of systematic knowledge based on empirical experience has been reached, these primitive ideas have died out. Interestingly enough, these ideas were resurrected by humanistic ideology which grew from the Enlightenment. The spreading of humanistic ideals required that man be separated from his internal sense of responsibility which comes from an acknowledgment of God as Creator. Apparently, this demanded the rejection of the stabilizing effect of moral principles (which are expressed in the ideas of Christian virtue) on society. Man's escape from personal responsibility was impossible as long as these principles were considered to be absolute, because of their origin being from an absolute Source. The concept of evolution, as a euphemism of pagan animal ancestry, seemed to fulfill the requirement of man's "independence" and even gave the appearance of being scientific.
Nevertheless, the term itself never answers the main questions which must be explained to prove a scientific fact:
1. Why primitive forms of life should develop into man?
2. How is (or was) this transformation occurring?
3. Where is the evidence of such evolutionary transformations in our day or in the past?
The representatives of various trends in secular-humanistic philosophy - F.
Engels, P.T. de Chardin, V.I. Vernadsky and others tried to answer the first question in terms of different materialistic, liberal-theistic and pantheistic ideas, based on the presupposition of natural progress in the world. Though their ideas were very attractive, all speculative constructions suffer from the same defect ¾ they don't match actually observed facts, phenomena and natural laws. All the praises for natural progress which we hear from their protagonists inevitably are concluded with complaints about the sorrowful condition of nature - the result of this "progress." So this question is still open.
In the past, it was said that the answer to the second question was given by an amateur naturalist, theologian by education, Charles Darwin, in his fondational book Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. But his formula, suggested as a species generating mechanism - survival of the fittest - has one interesting feature. It sounds very respectable, but on the one hand, it does not contain any information; and on the other hand, it is quite self-sufficient. Some assertions may or may not match reality, but this one needs no reality at all. It is tautological: it is circular with one of its terms being defined by means of another. It can neither be proved nor disproved. Who will survive? ¾ the fittest. But who is the fittest? - the one who will survive.
Darwin himself wrote: "For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived."1 In the foreword to the third edition he underlined that what was being suggested for discussion was nothing more than a hypothesis, as yet unproved but already compromised by some of its adherents.2 The book contained a great amount of collected facts about both artificial and natural selection of "favoured features" which originally belonged to species, but nevertheless it contained no serious scientific conclusions about one important thing - origin of species itself. The greater part of the book were the chapters: "Difficulties met by theory," "Arguments against the theory," "About deficiency of fossil records."
In this book Darwin didn't touch upon the main issue - the origin of man. He just hinted that due to this work the light will be poured onto the origin of man and his history. Twelve years later (having seen that many scientists fully accept the ideas of the evolution of species), he decided to publish the lacking chapter as a separate book. But unlike many other contemporary liberal theologians and religious philosophers, Darwin understood quite clearly what ideas served as a primary source of his inspiration:
I can hardly understand how someone could wish that the Christian doctrine is true... It's teaching is disgusting.3
Contemporary protagonists of Darwin (neodarwinists), as a matter of fact, deny Darwin's ideas on the second question. Nevertheless we can see their desire to protect the main principle (everything happened all by itself) beyond their efforts to find alternative mechanisms of evolution. If everything happened all by itself, there are no absolute virtues, because man can decide for himself what is good and what is evil.
One of the most interesting social phenomena is the history of humankind's search for the answer to the third question and how they assured themselves of their own ape-man ancestry. This story will be given a special place in this presentation.
In search of the ancestor
Despite a current common opinion, the theory of man's evolution is not a scientific theory in the exact meaning of this term. It didn't appear as a generalization of observed facts but as an attempt to give their desired idea the appearance of reality. Not a single fact which can be correlated to this theory today existed at Two arguments to support this point of view were originally suggested: vestigial organs and the theory of recapitulation. Certain organs with purposes unknown in Darwin times were declared to be vestigial, i.e. quite useless. To prove this idea it was said that a man having these organs removed (amputated) could remain alive. A list of 180 (sic!) organs was made, all said to be leftovers from our evolutionary ancestors. But in further investigations it was found that the human body has no organs without some particular function. For example, the first item in this list, the human appendix - unlike that of the rabbit or the horse - turned out to be part not of the digestive, but of the immune system. Also, it was found that monkeys - who are considered to be human relatives - do not have most of these organs (and certainly not the appendix). As for the amputation of vestigial organs, this "proof" of their "uselessness" could be applied to most of our organs, including our extremities! In the hundred years that have passed, scientists have discovered functions for each organ thought to be vestigial.
The theory of embryonic recapitulation was suggested by German zoologist Ernest Haeckel. This "theory" was based on pictures of four-week-old human and dog embryos. From the pictures the similarities were not obvious, so Haeckel fabricated his own picture which was published in his work Natural History
(1868). Special attention was paid to human embryo's tail and gill slits. The theory immediately became socially popular though it was clear to every expert in embryology that the human embryo never had any tail - in all stages of development its spine has the same thirty-three vertebrae. In it's early stages it protrudes backward a little but only because of the different speed of growth. The same is true with creases of the ear-jaw area - they have nothing common with gill slits. The very idea about embryo's receiving oxygen from surrounding liquid with the help of gills could only be the fruit of unlimited imagination and absolute ignorance.
Some scientists accused Haeckel of falsification of the pictures, and he had to formally confess that "he had changed the pictures a bit, because everybody did the same."
(Comparing Haeckel's pictures with the original illustrations you can see the extent of alteration quite clearly.) The Scientific Council of Jena University officially announced Haeckel's idea groundless and the author was accused of scientific fraud. That meant the end of Haeckel's scientific career; he spent the rest of his life giving popular lectures by hiring halls in industrial regions. Such activity prepared the ground for social-Darwinism to become the national policy of Germany.4
It was Haeckel to whom we owe the term pithecanthropus.
Twenty five years before the first fossilized fragment that had slight resemblance with human evolution was found, Haeckel created a portrait of some creature which he called Pithecanthropus alalus
(ape-man speechless). This picture, based on pure imagination, was for a long time considered to be the only evidence for evolutionary anthropogenesis. But nevertheless it made clear the appearance of the creature which was to be searched for.
Years passed, many years, but no facts proving "the theory" had been found. Only in 1893 the young Dutch physician Eugene Dubois, who moved to Indonesia especially in search for pithecanthropus,
announced he found the missing link on Java. After certain tests and examinations the "missing link" was found to be a fossilized human femur, the brain case of a giant gibbon and a couple of teeth. It also was found out that there was a distance of 15 meters between those fossils. The find was given the name Homo erectus
, though Dubois insisted that it was the pithecanthropus. And only in 1920 when professor Smith announced that he found in Australia fossil remains of the most ancient representatives of Homo Sapiens, Dubois indignantly produced for the public two ordinary human skulls and later - some more femurs which were found in the same strata as "pithecanthropus." It so happened that Dubois deluded scientific circles, concealing the most significant finds. If he had revealed all his finds simultaneously, nobody would have imagined that there was any link between the human femur and the fragment of an ape's skull. It was hard to conclude this, while having real human skulls among the finds.5
Another creature that for a long time decorated the human family tree as the main (in actuality - the only) proof of evolutionary anthropogenesis, was eoanthropus (early man). This name was given to a badly damaged human skull and the matching stained lower jaw of an orangutang with skillfully filed teeth. It entered into historical records for many years. The "discovery" was made in 1912-13 near the village Piltdown (Sussex, Great Britain) by local solicitor Charles Dawson and with the friendly support of Sir Arthur Smith Woodword - keeper of the Geological Department in the British Museum of Natural History, and by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin - a student in the Jesuit college in Hastings, a famous author of a religious-philosophical system which tends to blend Darwinism and evangelical concepts. The creature constructed from a combination of fragments had obvious features of both man and the ape. The find was quickly hidden in the depths of the British Museum, and all experts who wanted to examine it were given only gypsum casts. The fraud was not exposed until 1953 when the new generation of Museum staff decided to use modern methods of analysis. Though the skull was in reality ancient, the jaw turned out to be almost contemporary. The investigation of the fraud continues up to the present, but the very fact that experts in anthropology throughout the whole world were extremely glad to have this fake and sincerely believed in it for forty years, causes one to wonder.
Also amusing is the history of hesperopithecus
- of one tooth found in Nebraska (USA). It was quite obvious that the tooth belonged neither to man nor to ape, so the tooth was given the noble name of "transitive form." The portrait of an ape-like man published on two pages of the Illustrated London News
(24th July, 1922) which was based on the single tooth, was quite seriously accepted by the public. The picture was even taken to the Court as evidence during the Monkey trial in 1925, in Dayton (Tennessee). But soon - in 1927 - the entire carcass of the owner of the tooth was found. To everyone's surprise hesperopithecus was ... nothing more then a wild pig - Catagonus ameghino,
currently extant in Paraguay.
Among a great deal of fakes, frauds, mistakes, and delusions connected with the search of a human animal ancestor, the only missing link found that escaped the disgrace of official exposition was Sinanthropus
, Pekin man. Research of sinanthropus was conducted in total disorder in Red China between the two world wars. In cooperation with Chinese scientists, Teilhard de Chardin and Davidson Black headed the excavations. Both were involved in the Piltdown man "discovery." No finds that officially belonged to the Chinese government were ever shown to the European experts so they had to satisfy their interest with publications from China only. But the time came when new information appeared: fossil bones of sinanthropus were the remains of apes - human prey, but the excavations were made in a cultural layer which is full of artifacts, remains and traces of Homo sapiens
activity, furnaces in particular. So it was clear that sinanthropus was a contemporary modern man, and despite all hopes, he cannot be an evolutionary human ancestor. The time came when it was impossible to ignore demands from experts about the finds in Peking, and at that moment, everything found in Peking during the past dozens of years disappeared under very strange circumstances. More than 50 years have passed since that miracle, but no one has been able to trace the lost finds.