PEARL

ONCE UPON A TIME: THE HUMAN STORY TOLD

When one ponders on the tremendous journey of evolution over the past three billion years or so, the prodigious wealth of structures it has engendered, and the extraordinarily effective teleonomic performances of living beings from bacteria to man, one may well find oneself beginning to doubt again whether all this could conceivably be the product of an enormous lottery presided over by natural selection, blindly picking the rare winners from among numbers drawn at random.
Jacques Monod

Dulled by familiarity

WE CONTEMPORARIES OF THE 21ST CENTURY like to think that we are living in an enlightened age, in an unprecedented new era of defiant acceleration in knowledge that, for example, in the case of human self-knowledge, has advanced more than all of our predecessors and drawn nearer to a virtually complete and logical account of how we human beings came into existence on earth. Creation stories have surfaced from time immemorial in various nations and cultures as mythical sagas and legends of varying complexity. Today, these metaphor-strewn myths form part of the diverse narrative of the spiritual odyssey of mankind. However, they are now being re-interpreted or even dismissed as the classic ongoing struggle to explain our origins and place in the world tends to give credence more and more to intriguing explanations offered by science, thus to an intellectual world-view.

Where do we come from? Is man merely a highly intelligent animal or is he much more? Is the Cosmos together with all that exists the work of a Divine Creator with a privileged place accorded to the human soul, or did everything simply ‘evolve’ without guidance or direction from primitive beginnings right up to the richly textured tapestry of living creatures that weave the fabric of the planet and beyond in impressive grandeur and resplendent beauty? The latter seems preposterous even to many scientifically trained people, so the struggle to understand who we are continues on unabatedly, leaving little justification for the smugness we feel towards our predecessors in this respect.

This clash of world-views has intensified ever since Charles Darwin, after a five-year voyage around the world aboard the research naval vessel, the Beagle, from 1831 to 1836, was spurred to thoughts about the evolution of species. He marvelled at the disappearance of many species, commenting in his journal of the voyage that surely ‘no fact in the long history of the world is so startling as the wide and repeated exterminations of its inhabitants’. The 22-year-old theologian participated as a naturalist on this voyage, a young man with a passionate curiosity and thirst for knowledge. The journey, which he acclaimed later in his autobiography as ‘by far the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career’ offered him ample opportunities to observe on many continents the enormous variation in living plants and animals, with studied impressions on the route between South America, the Galapagos Islands, Australia and Europe. He returned with an enormous bounty of preserved plant and animal specimens, also thousands of hides, feathers, bones, fossils and stones. The study of the finds and the formulation of his observations during the landings on the voyage underpinned his radical theory of the adaptation of the species to their habitat by natural selection.

For Charles Darwin, the suggestion of Africa as the continent on which the evolution of human beings originated was not based on individual fossil findings but on comparative anatomy.

Darwin devoted much study to the

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