2.1: The Descent
of Man part One
The world we live in is a crazy place.
It is divided into roughly 224 of the entities we call ‘countries.’ Each of these ‘countries’ organizes its wealth and population to compete in a massive global game. The goal of this game appears to be to get prizes that include the rights to territory, resources, more ‘activity’ that the rulers of the country can extract something they call ‘taxes’ from, and to put more of the things we call ‘jobs’ into the territory.
The ‘teams’ (‘countries’) have no limits to the tactics they can use for this. They have weapons that can destroy the world. The leaders of the countries have deployed the weapons and made them ready for use. If the game demands it, the people who control these weapons assure us that they will use them. They can kill millions or even billions of people if they want.
To gain advantages in these contests, the countries encourage and subsidize the rape of the world; during active periods of game play, all matters other than the ongoing conflict are pout on hold: inequity, corruption, poverty, disease, and risks the health of the planet are pushed to the bottom of a long, long list of military related priorities.
This arrangement does not exist by consent of the people of the world: The members of the human race have never been asked what we want. Do we want the ‘countries?’ Do we want this crazy game to happen? No one knows what the human race wants because there has never been any attempt to find out.
How did this situation come to exist?
What forces in our past made things work this way?
If we don’t understand this, we can only sit and stare at the events in utter confusion. We will never be in a position to do anything about them. If we do know, we have a starting place. We can understand why the planet we call ‘earth’ works this way. (There may be other worlds with intelligent life. It is very unlikely they all work this way. The book Possible Societies, a part of this series, explores this issue.)
We actually have a great many incredible tools that can help us understand these things. Most of these tools are brand new and have never been available to researchers before. This chapter deals with a very important part of the puzzle, the ‘descent’ of man.’ It shows that there is abundant evidence that modern humans are the descendents of animals without the same intellectual capabilities we have. Evolutionary forces pushed these animals to organize their modes of existence or ‘societies’ in certain specific ways. Humans evolved from these animals and our societies evolved from the societies they had. If we want to understand why our societies work as they do, we need to understand the forces that caused their societies to work as they did.
Evolution is a controversial topic. I want to go over the controversy a little here to show why new evidence that has only become available since the pandemic has made it impossible to deny that we evolved and still accept the basic principles of mathematics and the things we can see with our own eyes.
The Final Stage in Evolution
Darwin’s book ‘The Descent of Man’ was published in 1871. The book made a case that humans are descendents of non-human animals in the ‘ape’ family. The term ‘ape’ was loosely defined at the time because almost no research had been done on the category of beings. They looked similar to humans in many ways, but people didn’t really know much about them.
Many people objected to the ideas the book presented. In most cases, the critics didn’t even bother to consider the arguments themselves. They wanted people to reject the very possibility that humans may have descended from apes, without even the evidence. (The evidence is very solid and it is hard to reject the connection if you understand it, but if people can be convinced to not read the book, they can easily reject it based on the premise that we just don’t want to believe it.)
The people in governments and other organizations associated with what is commonly called ‘the establishment’ tried very hard to keep people from reading the book. This makes sense: they need the people to think a certain way for the people to keep listening to them. If Darwin’s arguments were right, the established ideas about how humans came to exist and the reasons we are here are clearly wrong. If people accept that we were created by a supernatural being (or beings for polytheists) then they will accept that everything around them works as it because this is the way things are supposed to work. There is intention behind it, and we are powerless compared with the intention of one able to create universes with a few incantations. We must do what the leaders of the system want us to do without question. To even question the system is to insult an all-powerful being who can smite us in an instant for our arrogance.
Authorities banned Darwin’s book in many places. In places where the leaders had the power to do so, they went even farther than this, passing laws that allowed them to arrest and imprison people who even told others (particularly children, whose minds had not yet been fully trained to accept the system) this book existed.
Before Darin’s book was published, many people in professional, scientific, and academic circles knew about the premise. Scientific articles had been published and read by a few scholarly people. But ordinary people had not seen the ideas and didn’t have any simple ways to understand them if they did. Darwin’s book was designed for ordinary people. He used simple and intuitive examples, backed by evidence that was easy for people to verify and understand to make its point. It was a lot like Galileo’s books in this regard: It allowed ordinary people to understand that the people in charge of the systems around them really weren’t as smart as they wanted people to believe and didn’t actually understand now the world worked. This made it dangerous.
When I went to school, the laws against teachers telling children the book existed had been repealed. Teachers couldn’t be arrested for this, but school boards could still make rules against discussing the topic and, in the United States at least (where I went to middle school), most school boards wouldn’t allow this. Teachers weren’t happy with these decisions. They wanted to be able to present these ideas to their students and let students make up their own minds.
One of my teachers was in this category. He told us about the controversy. Some of the students talked to their parents about it. Some of the parents complained to the school board. A short time later, the teacher who talked about it was gone and we had a replacement teacher. I asked what had happened to the former teacher. She said she wasn’t allowed to discuss it.
Some people asked questions about evolution.
She told us about the policy. There were things she was allowed to say and things she wasn’t allowed to say. She was allowed to tell us there was a new and highly controversial theory that conflicted with established views about how we got here. The school board had determined that it was not appropriate for students to get involved in controversy, so we couldn’t discuss the details of the theory.
I was a rebellious teenager. I saw the world being destroyed around me. I saw my friends older brothers coming home from the war in body bags. I blamed the older generation. I blamed the ones who trying to keep me from learning about things they didn’t want me to know about. If someone tells me I am not supposed to read a book, I want to read it. I went to the school library. They didn’t have it. The county library had a copy, but it was off limits for any who were under 21 (along with dangerous magazines like National Geographic that showed people who were not clothed to the standards of western religions). One day I found a copy of Darwin’s book, along with Desmond Morris’s ‘The Naked Ape’ at a community flea market.
I was surprised that there was any controversy at all over this book, because Darwin didn’t appear to be taking any position on anything. He didn’t say the standard ideas were wrong. He just said ‘we have evidence that tells us something interesting.’ His evidence was compelling. I tried to talk to others about it, but found this quite difficult. Most people said they didn’t want to talk about things the man who thinks we are monkeys was saying. It was a ‘highly controversial theory,’ by someone who was obviously a troublemaker and should not be taken seriously.
In college, I met a few who were a little more open minded. They seemed willing to accept that it should be accepted as one of the many creation stories accepted around the world. We should weigh it against the Hindu creation theory, the Buddhist creation theory, and the American Indian creation theories to see if it could displace the ‘known facts’ that had been accepted for all of history. But it shouldn’t be a preferred theory. It went against the grain. We should not accept it until we have absolute proof.
In 1961, Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins, won the Nobel prize for discovering something they called the ‘genetic code.’ They said there is a coded message in a molecule in the nucleus of our cells. This molecule was called ‘DNA’ or ‘deoxyribonucleic acid,’ This molecule has links, each of which may be one of four amino acids. These links are arranged on a sugar frame (called deoxyribose) in sets of three. Each links are called a ‘codon.’ There are exactly 64 different possible ways to arrange 4 amino acids in sets of three, so there are exactly 64 ‘codons.’ You could say, therefore, information is written on the DNA molecule using an alphabet with exactly 64 letters.
These scientists discovered that the codes are not just random letters that spell out nonsense. They mean something. They found that each codon (each of the 64 letters) represented one of the amino acids that go together to make up life. The message (at least a part of it) was a kind of parts list and assembly instructions for proteins. A special organic structure called a ‘ribosome’ was able to ‘read’ these letters. It would then use this information to create complex proteins. The ‘genetic code’ they discovered shows how the list of letters became proteins.
The information they got didn’t come from analysis of DNA itself. They only had one very grainy photograph of an actual DNA molecule
The information about the code came from models they had built. These were Styrofoam balls connected with sticks. They got the information about the size of the balls and the directions of the links from Linus Pauling’s book ‘The Nature Of The Chemical Bond.’ No tools existed, at the time, to sequence DNA itself.
In the 1980, scientists found a process that they could use to sequence DNA itself. If they had a piece of DNA with less than about 150 links, they could determine the exact ‘letters’ (in the 64 character alphabet, described above) of these links.
At the time, this was basically a novelty with no real practical use: the DNA message in humans is more than a billion characters long. They couldn’t sequence a chromosome. They could chop it up into tiny pieces, then sequence the pieces. But they didn’t have any way to tell which piece was first, second, and so on. They could read up to 150 of these characters, equivalent to reading a random 2 line piece of text in a series of volumes that is more than 330 feet thick. (This is how much space would be required to write the billion character code in human DNA on paper.)
In the 1990s, researchers found ways to fit the sequences together. They could chop up the long DNA molecule into 150 character pieces. They could then feed these pieces into super computers to look for places where there were overlaps. They could figure out where the lines fit into the entire book.
This research was incredibly hard to do. It took massive computers running at lighting speeds to sequence pieces of chromosomes. (To verify the overlaps are consistent, scientists need to run tests millions of times over with new samples.) A group of scientists around the world created an organization called the Human Genome Project that would allow them to work together try to sequence the entire genome of humans.
There is a reason I am stressing the dates and going through the process in detail. I want you to realize that the information we have about DNA, including the information that provides mathematical proof of the link between apes and humans, is brand new. A full human genome was only published, for the first time, in 2022, only two years before the writing of this document. Evolution may have been called a ‘theory’ before this, but now it is not possible to consider it anything other than a scientific principle without rejecting both the basic principles of mathematics and evidence we can all see with our own eyes. This matters because if we accept that we evolved as a scientific principle, we must accept relationships between the way we live and the way our evolutionary ancestors lived as something other than mere coincidence.
On April 14, 2003, this organization announced it had general outline of the way the entire human genome fit together. They didn’t have the genome itself. But they had a framework that would allow them to begin to fit the hundreds of millions of different bits of information onto and this would eventually give them the genome.
By the end of 2019, they had 98% of the genome sequenced and assembled on this framework. They were still missing vital pieces of the puzzle. But they knew exactly what they were missing and could begin putting the puzzle together.
A Pandemic Creates New Tools to Sequence DNA Quickly and Efficiently
Then something important happened:
On December 10, 2019, several people in Wuhan China were hospitalized with a disease that was eventually called ‘severe acute respiratory syndrome 2’ (or ‘SARS2.’) The disease was very similar to a disease that broken out several years earlier, was highly contagious, and appeared to be extremely serious with the potential for a very high mortality rate. It was a very dangerous disease.
Wuhan had one of the most advanced genetic research labs in the world. The hospitals sent samples of body fluids to this lab. Researchers found a virus in all infected samples that was not present in samples of people without the disease. They concluded the virus was the cause of the disease. They sequenced the DNA of the virus and published their findings.
The earlier outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome 1 had caused the Chinese government to create a response plan, in the event another similarly dangerous disease was detected. It was a draconian plan that basically locked down any area where the disease was detected to prevent transmission. People wouldn’t be able to leave their homes, not even to work, get food, or get medical care. The health authorities in Wuhan considered the evidence and decided to activate this emergency plan.
On the fifth of February, 2020, several people on the Diamond Princess, a luxury cruise ship, came down with a disease that resembled the Wuhan disease. The ship was docked in Japan at the time and the Japanese Authorities were very worried about it spreading from the ship to the shore. (The Olympics was scheduled for just a few months later.) They issued a draconian quarantine edict. The news media covered it all.
People on the ship started dying. The media found they could hold people’s interest 24 hours a day by covering the event. I remember watching the news and seeing the bodies being wheeled out of the ship by people in full protective gear.
The genetic sequence of the virus was so similar to the sequence of other common viruses, that only a few labs had equipment capable of telling them apart. There was a global panic. People didn’t know if they had it and, at the time, there was no way to tell who had it: only a few labs globally had the equipment needed to tell the sequences apart, and this equipment was incredibly slow. (At first, the samples were run one at a time and it took about 72 hours to do a test.)
Global governments tapped the industry to make as many of the machines as possible as rapidly as possible. Entire industries that had been devoted to manufacture of consumer goods or war materials were retrofitted to make more machines. Governments offered incredible financial incentives to people who could find ways to automate the process, speed it up, and increase the number of tests that could be done at the same time. Factories began to stamp out sequencing machines by the millions.
At the end of the pandemic, these machines were available everywhere. As recently as 2020, you would have needed a multi-million dollar grant at a university to do even the most basic genetic testing. Now, you can buy a fully-automated machine that can turn out results in less than an hour for less than the price of a broken-down used car. You can sequence either DNA or RNA (the machines can do both) in your own garage if you want to do this.
The first peer-reviewed and verified study that contained a compete human genome was published in the March 31, 2022 edition of Nature Magazine. But thousands of other articles, not peer-reviewed or verified to be scientific, were published that contained genetic information about animals, plants, viruses, bacteria, molds, and other life forms.
New genetic information is now everywhere and new discoveries are published each day. The peer-review and verification process takes a lot of time. There just isn’t time for this process to run its course before new information is public. We are now in a time of ‘free-for-all’ genetic information, where new findings go on the internet before we really know what they mean
It is important to understand, however, that the new information is incredibly easy to verify. The machines are cheap and available everywhere. You can buy one and test your own DNA if you want. If you have artifacts from your ancestors (say a lock of hair from a great grandmother) you can test their DNA and tell things about them that their own doctors didn’t know in their time. Scientists can use these same processes to test ancient artifacts, including some that are hundreds of thousands of years old.
Are We Related to Apes?
The members of our closest evolutionary ancestors that are still living (the chimp/bonobo species, discussed below) have DNA that is almost identical to that of modern humans. Both the codes and locations of the ‘genes’ (coding sequences) on the chromosomes are the same for 98.7% of the codes n the DNA. Another 0.7% has nearly identical code sequences, with tiny differences either in the codes or in the locations of the otherwise identical genes on the chromosomes.
This means that only 0.6% of human DNA is unique to humans and not shared by members of the chimp/bonobo species.
Any introductory book in statistics will explain tools that people use to determine the likelihood that this correspondence would exist in animals that are not related. Douglas Thobold’s research (discussed in Chapter One) shows that the odds of the genetic relationships we see in DNA existing without us being related are more than 102,860 to one against.
We are related.
What about the intermediate links? There are links between humans and members of the chimp/bonobo species. New information comes out every day about these links. However, no one who is publishing this research (at least none that I saw) are claiming it does not support Darwin’s claim. People may disagree about the number of links, the names of the beings at each link, the genetic code differences, or other details. But no one that I have read have claimed that the chain itself does not exist.
Darwin didn’t have any DNA evidence at all.
His evidence came from other places. He used intuitive examples and logical arguments. His arguments were very compelling, but they weren’t really what we call ‘proof.’ It seemed very likely we descended from apes. But people who wanted to claim this didn’t happen could still find ways to make it appear that they were right. But the genetic evidence is subject to mathematical analysis.
You can buy a sequencing machine and sequence your own DNA. You can then go to a zoo and get a sample of DNA from a chimp or bonobo, sequence that. You can see the resemblance. You can do the standard statistical tests to determine the likelihood that a relationship exists. You will find the same thing others have found: the relationship exists.