By Liam Brophy, Ph.D. -- American Anti Vivisection Society
(The AV Magazine, January 1994)
We have it on the highest authority that evolution is still an on-going process. Here, in elegant prose, are the final words of Darwin's masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, first published in 1859: "There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved." Fearing that some of his views would shock the religious feelings of some, he waited until 1871 to publish his conclusions concerning our species in The Descent of Man.
The thought that evolution is still at work prompted a contemporary naturalist to pose the question: if evolution produced offshoots of Super Man, would they be justified in using us lesser mortals as laboratory animals? Left to the normal and leisurely processes of nature it has taken our species some two million years to get where we are. But now, for the first time in our long history, humankind is able, with the help of science, to take evolution into its own hands, and decide its direction and rate of development. It is a dizzying and daunting prospect.
The earliest traces we have of our species were found in the savanna country of North Kenya and in southwest Ethiopia near Lake Turkana. Other human remains of two million years vintage have been found at Taung, just south of the equator. They are distinguished from the remains of other hominids by the position of the foramen magnum, the hole in the skull through which the spinal cord contacts the brain. This is positioned in an upright position in humans, while in apes and monkeys the aperture is positioned to allow the head to hang forward. There were other clues to distinguish humans from other hominids -- small square teeth unlike those of fighting canines such as apes and the proximity of the remains of primitive flint tools to those distant members of our kind to whom was given the formidable name, Zinjanthropus Homo Habilis.
It is believed that humankind lived up in the trees with other swinging hominids until a serious drought crossed Africa. Lakes shrank and forests were compelled to retreat, and humans were forced from their perch to drop down on the savannas.
From the time that our very remote ancestors parted company with the lemurs and other tree-faring companions, they spread out from the open plains of East Africa, increased and multiplied, and filled all the earth.
W hen the Romans invented the census of population at the very beginning of the Christian era, as we know from the Bethlehem story, the world population registered between 300 and 400 million people. By the year 1700 it had risen to some 500 million. It accelerated to reach some two billion in our time according to World Health Organization statistics. By the year 2000 it is estimated the number will reach five billion. The rapid increase from near constancy for almost two thousand years to a multiplication by ten in three centuries shows an astounding increase in our species unmatched by our fellow creatures, thereby steadily diminishing their living space and food resources. Meanwhile evolution has been -- is still -- at work, and it is strange that we speak so persistently of past evolution, and so little of what is going on all the while.
This is perhaps understandable seeing that humankind's span and field of observation is so brief in comparison with the hundreds of million years during which evolution has been at work. Humankind must be considered in the light of evolution as the outcome of an age-long process since it is in humans that nature finds its chief significance. "He is the agent of the evolutionary process on this planet," says Sir Julian Huxley. "This is so whether he knows it or not, whether he wants it or not; but will he do the job better if he does know it and does consciously want to do it?"
In writing of biology and human progress another eminent naturalist, Arthur Thomas, writes: "Part of the momentum of Organic Evolution works in Man today, and while we always hope that the ape and tiger may die within us, we are in line with our best endeavors." Maybe this is what the poet had in mind when he wrote of man toiling upward, working out the beast.
A less pejorative meaning can be attached to the term "speciesism" if we take it to mean that the human is the dominant species of our world, still evolving through the constant development of his or her superior brain and mind. Humans can improve the lot of all living things, and stave off the catastrophe which their active brains have devised. We are the clever keepers of our brothers and sisters through land, sea and sky. So while pessimists talk of the dethronement of our species, and refer to it as a random twig on the tree of life, "an item of history, not an embodiment of general principles," the more intelligent teachers of our time are urging us to take up humankind's burden through the maximum use of mind and brain. Thinkers like Koestler and Attenborough are not quite so optimistic, but we prefer to believe the scientists who hold that:
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who said "A whole I planned..."
T hat eminent French naturalist and palaeontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, shared with Julian Huxley an enthusiasm for evolutionary studies, and an intuitive sense of direction toward a higher vision of our species -- the welfare of all creation. They agree with Nietzsche's view that humankind is unfinished and must be surpassed or completed. The French thinker showed what steps he considered necessary in order for us to take our evolution into our own hands. These are set forth with Gallic clarity in his fine study, The Phenomenon of Man (Fontana Books), to which Huxley contributed an enthusiastic introduction. In is not an easy book to peruse because of the vastness of the world prospect it opens before us, and because the author had to coin words and phrases at times to describe the new world to be brought about by intensified human awareness, heightened intelligence and love for all life. It should be read along with the author's kindred book, The Future of man, and Bergson's Evolution Creatrice.
We are convinced that the inspiring evolutionary process in humankind will progress in proportion to the diminishment of cruelty in mind and heart, and believe that all who promote the cause of kindness to animals are helping human evolution. We are invited to participate in this, the highest form of Speciesism.
Whatever living beings there may be without exception, weak or strong, long, large, middling, short, subtle, or gross, visible or invisible, living near or far, born or coming to birth -- May all beings have happy minds! Let no one deceive another nor despise anyone anywhere. Neither in anger nor ill will should anyone wish harm to another. As a mother would risk her own life to protect her only child, even so towards all living beings one should cultivate aboundless heart. One should cultivate for all the world a heart of boundless kindness, above, below, and across, unobstructed, without hate or enmity. Whether standing, walking, or sitting, lying down or whenever awake, he should develop this mindfulness; this is called divinely dwelling here.