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Author Topic: Regarding "human evolution"
potemkyn
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I've been recently running afoul of people who like to talk about "human evolution." For the most part I don't mention this when they say it, but I think the idea is absurd crock. The reason is, is that no can give me a satisfactory answer to what it means.

So if you do believe in such a concept, I would like to know what you think would happen if a newborn from 2005 AD was taken back in time and raised in 5000 BC? Would he/she be a more likely leader? Would he/she be more likely to survive? What would seperate him/her from their current compatriots? Now reverse the situation. A baby from 5000 BC is brought foward in time to 2005 AD, would there be any different between him/her and other babies? Would he/she be dumber or more incompetent than the children of our age?

And lets do this throught the history of mankind. When would our kids get smarter and when would then become "more evolved." What sort of evolution would have taken place that could be seen from newly born babies?

Can someone explain reasoning which would state that there would be a difference? And if not, and you still feel that "human evolution" is true, can you explain to me what that difference is?

I've yet to hear a satisfactory answer, and I'm hoping someone here at Ornery can give me a good one to put me in my place [Smile] .

I'd like to focus this away from the cultural "evolution" if possible beacuse that's not what human "evolution" means, but if that's really how everyone is intending it these days, well, I guess there's no avoiding it.

Potemkyn

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TomDavidson
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quote:

So if you do believe in such a concept, I would like to know what you think would happen if a newborn from 2005 AD was taken back in time and raised in 5000 BC? Would he/she be a more likely leader? Would he/she be more likely to survive? What would seperate him/her from their current compatriots? Now reverse the situation. A baby from 5000 BC is brought foward in time to 2005 AD, would there be any different between him/her and other babies? Would he/she be dumber or more incompetent than the children of our age?

Leaving aside the obvious physical changes -- from height and muscle mass to brain size -- I think this is a question we can't answer. Moreover, I think most people who use the term "human evolution" in this sense are talking about a combination of physical and cultural evolution, so I'm not sure that ruling out the second half of the equation will help you understand their point any better.
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potemkyn
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I was afraid that was the case, but let me press you on the physical aspects. Is that a product of genetics or more of an environment which allows us more oppurtunities to grow. Would a baby from 5000 BC be naturally shorter if he/she was raised in 3005, naturally dumber? And if that is the case, could it be argued that if the American obesity trend continues and expands, that humanity will shortly decrease in muscle mass and increase in chubbiness?

How can we seperate "evolution" from our environment with respect to differences in people now and then?

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Funean
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Isn't less than 10K years kinda short to see real evolutionary changes in a widely distributed yet intermingling species?
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The Drake
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quote:
Originally posted by potemkyn:
How can we seperate "evolution" from our environment with respect to differences in people now and then?

Why would we want to?

You're interested, it sounds like, in genetic improvement. If so, the biggest natural selection is that revealed by disease over a time period of only 7000 years. There's one ongoing right now with respect to the Hiv. Some people are undoubtedly resistant, and in some areas of the world those will be the only ones not to pass on the disease to their children during childbirth.

"Bigness" of humans has more to do with nutrition than genetic fitness.

"Smartness" of humans - same thing. Our ability to record and pass on knowledge is additionally helpful.

Most transhumanists believe that the next step will be taken through technology, not rude natural selection.

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pickled shuttlecock
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"Rude?" [Big Grin] We who use the principles to design genetic algorithms for optimization tasks generally regard it as elegant, if not terribly efficient. (It's particularly good at finding nominal coefficients in an objective function, though it doesn't do it quickly.)

Now, when this technology is "evolving" us, isn't it likely that some people will be better served by it than others? Wouldn't we expect alleles that control for those traits to increase in frequency?

You just can't escape it.

Potemkyn, I agree with Funean, fundamentally. It's just too short a time. Some little things can change - I have a fuzzy recollection of some gene that made people immune to the Black Plague, and people with it were naturally selected - but I wouldn't expect huge differences.

What exactly are you looking for? Proof? Impossible. Evidence? Unlikely. Lots of hand-waving and guessing and making unfounded assumptions because they happen to fit the proponent's belief systems? You betchya.

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potemkyn
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shhh!! pickled, you'll blow my cover!

Seriously though. This seems to be something that a lot of people take for granted, and if this thread causes even one person to reconsider his/her assumptions about humanity, I'll be satisfied.

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Gaoics79
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Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't changes in height due to improved nutrition, rather than evolution? I was under the impression that if you fed a person from the 19th century (or for that matter, the 1st century) a modern diet, they'd be just as tall as their contemporary counterparts.

As for increases in intelligence, I have never heard of this. People have gotten smarter in the past 5000 years? I didn't think such evolution could occur in such a small amount of time. Is this true?

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The Drake
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Ask my third frontal lobe, jason. It's the one that's pulsating in my forehead.

[Big Grin]

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Gaoics79
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Are you one of those guys from "The Cage"?
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The Drake
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No, you are!
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LetterRip
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potemkyn,

there isn't too much selection going on over the past 7000 years or so. In some ways modern humans are probably likely to be physically 'weaker' (higher incidence of poor eyesight, higher incidence of food intollerances and likelihood of alergies - stuff that in primitive society are selected against since they are very likely to affect success.)

Lots of our modern 'superiority' is due to better total nutrition (much though not all of height advantages) or culture (iq advantages).

LetterRip

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halfhaggis
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Athletes continue to break time and distance records.
I suppose that ties into better nutrition and training (and anabolic steroids??). They also don't constitute the average population, which probably hasn't improved (although that's just speculation).

Physical evolution seems unlikely in such a short time. But then, maybe it just isn't dramatic evolution. My wife was born with no tonsils - is she more evolved? Will my children have tonsils? Is that just a genetic abberation? Hang on - isn't that what evolution is?

Also, technology plays a role in human evolution. Perhaps our bodies are physically evolving and so strictly speaking, neither are we. But improvements in technology are doing something for us, whether you call it by evolution or some other name (technolution?)

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javelin
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Let's not forget that evolution isn't about something getting "better" - its about something adapting to its environment. Yes, we've "evolved" since cave-man days (or whatever) - in lots of bad ways, and a few good ways. Life is EASIER now, and we save a lot of our culls through our advanced medicine, etc. - technology allows us to be WEAKER than we've ever been, and that is effecting us, as a race.
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Mabus
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An appropriate quote from The Time Machine...

quote:
Under the new conditions of perfect comfort and security, that restless energy, that with us is strength, would become weakness. Even in our own time certain tendencies and desires, once necessary to survival, are a constant source of failure. Physical courage and the love of battle, for instance, are no great help - may even be hindrances - to a civilized man. And in a state of physical balance and security, power, intellectual as well as physical, would be out of place. For countless years I judged there had been no danger of war or solitary violence, no danger from wild beasts, no wasting disease to require strength of constitution, no need of toil. For such a life, what we should call the weak are as well equipped as the strong, are indeed no longer weak. Better equipped indeed they are, for the strong would be fretted by an energy for which there was no outlet.
(The reasons this is believed to happen have changed, but Wells' description of the effect remains accurate enough.)
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TomDavidson
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quote:

if this thread causes even one person to reconsider his/her assumptions about humanity, I'll be satisfied

Which assumptions? That humans are smarter, stronger, faster, and in almost all ways better than they were ten thousand years ago? There's not even a debate about that; it's essentially a given.

The difference is that most of these changes are not likely to be genetic (although some undoubtedly are). When people speak of humanity having "evolved," I'm confident that they're talking about the combined effect of genetic selection and our increasingly beneficial environment.

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Jesse
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And if that is the case, could it be argued that if the American obesity trend continues and expands, that humanity will shortly decrease in muscle mass and increase in chubbiness?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lemark was debunked a LONG time ago.

How can we seperate "evolution" from our environment with respect to differences in people now and then?
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

You can't, which is why we use the term "Bio-Cultural" evolution when discussing the evolution of human beings.

Stone tools=smaller teeth=greater dependance on stone tools.

Genetically, Bog People, mummys, and the Ice Man are all within the standard deviation of modern humans, which is exactly what a proponent of evolution would expect. 5-8 thousand years isn't even an eyeblink.

There isn't any reason to believe that humans are, on average, smarter than they were 10,000 years ago. Do you really believe it takes more intelligence to un-wrap a hot pocket and throw it in the microwave than to remember which 200 of the 3,500 plants in your enviornment are edible?

We reap the benefit today of billions of interconnected human minds informing each other, that doesn't mean people are any more intelligent than they were only 10,000 years ago.

Evolution doesn't always mean stronger, faster, or smarter. Think, tiny mammoths that once roamed the islands off the coast of CA, smaller and weaker than their mainland cousins...and therefore better adapted to their habitat.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

And if that is the case, could it be argued that if the American obesity trend continues and expands, that humanity will shortly decrease in muscle mass and increase in chubbiness?

Sure. Although this would not necessarily indicate a genetic propensity towards chubbiness, unless changes in mating behavior stopped discriminating against naturally chubby people.

quote:

There isn't any reason to believe that humans are, on average, smarter than they were 10,000 years ago.

This is actually false, for a given definition of the word "smarter." Of course, quibbling over that definition could become its own sport. [Smile]
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Rallan
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As other people have pointed out, genetically there's no difference between the human race now and the human race in 5000 BC. Ever since about ten thousand years ago when we figured out agriculture and the human population started to explode, natural selection has stopped being a major shaping force in human development. It's no longer a case of only the fittes having a good chance of surviving and reproducing, it's gotten to the stage where all but the most eminently unfit and highly unusual are virtually guarunteed to live to adulthood and sire at least a couple of kids. So basically Potemkin, your whole "people today aren't automatically better than people 5000 years ago" argument is a strawman. You're looking at a population where there's no natural or artificial selection having a major impact on the gene pool, so therefore that population proves nothing one way or the other about evolution.

Oh and for the record, a baby from 5000BC brought into the present day will probably underperform in most fields compared to a child born in the modern era. Not because of any genetic difference, but because the 5000BC baby's mother was probably unhealthy and had a crappy diet, so the baby's development will have been impaired compared to that of most modern kids. End result? The kid will grow up physically and intellectually below average even if its given all the advantages of modern living.

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Jesse
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All depends on where our 7,000 year old child lived. In many places, diets then would have been even more nutritious than the way many modern humans CHOOSE to fuel their bodies.

Yes, a healthier and more balanced diet is available to us today than was available to our ancestors, but most of us don't eat as well.

There is still natural selection, but it's mostly
selection for immune systems.

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ender wiggin
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If we brought that baby into the present it would probably die in short order from chicken pox or the flu. People from 10000 years ago simply didn't have to deal with the level of epidemic disease we have now. When the native indians came into contact with "western" culture, some sources state there was a 99% death rate. I can't see how our hypothetical 5000 BC child from a hunter gatherer society would do any better.

However, this doesn't mean that the human race is evolving into something "better". We are simply adapting to our changed environment (civilization, living together in cities, increased number of humans on planet) Adaptation to a disease (malaria) might make someone weaker (malaria).

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Pelegius
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"Darwin was wrong, man is still a monkey." From Inherit the Wind.
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Animist
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Agriculture essentially ended natural selection for humans (and for all our domesticates). Right now we're basically built for the Pleistocene. There are some relatively minor exceptions, like the mostly-Caucasian tolerance for lactos, and resistance to diseases which are the result of domesticated animals and high population densities.

Technology limits natural selection. If you think about it for a moment it's intuitive and pretty obvious.

Height changes from 5,000 years ago are entirely the result of environmental factors. One often finds that when a foraging population adopts agriculture, their height plummets. Today's Greeks still aren't as tall as their 5'9'' hunter-gatherer ancestors.

See, for example, Jared Diamond's essay.

quote:
That humans are smarter, stronger, faster, and in almost all ways better than they were ten thousand years ago? There's not even a debate about that; it's essentially a given.
What the hell are you talking about?
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Animist
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quote:
Do you really believe it takes more intelligence to un-wrap a hot pocket and throw it in the microwave than to remember which 200 of the 3,500 plants in your enviornment are edible?
Ha!
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TomDavidson
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quote:

That humans are smarter, stronger, faster, and in almost all ways better than they were ten thousand years ago? There's not even a debate about that; it's essentially a given.

In practically all measurable ways, the modern human is superior to his ancestor. Whether or not that is genetic or environment -- or a combination of both -- is up for grabs, but the fact that it is is pretty much undisputed.
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Jesse
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In which ways? We (meaning the median of the entire human population) don't have a larger cranial capacity than people living 10,000 years ago. We're on average far less physicaly robust no matter what records our athletes break.

You offer no evidence to support this claim except to say that it is undisputed.

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Rallan
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quote:
Originally posted by Jesse:
All depends on where our 7,000 year old child lived. In many places, diets then would have been even more nutritious than the way many modern humans CHOOSE to fuel their bodies.

Actually no. America and the west today might not be eating the most nutritious stuff in the world, but so far we're still _generally_ better off than our ancestors (as shown by the fact that our average height - a good indicator of our mother's health during pregnancy and our own health during childhood and adolescence - is still bigger than previous generations).

Still, the times they are a-changing. While average height of young'uns in Europe is still getting a teensy bit bigger, and the happy people of Japan are rocketing up with each new generation, Americans are actually getting just a teensy bit shorter thanks to a diet of big macs and diet soda.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

In which ways? We (meaning the median of the entire human population) don't have a larger cranial capacity than people living 10,000 years ago. We're on average far less physicaly robust no matter what records our athletes break.

Actually, no. We have, as I understand it, a slightly larger cranial capacity than people living 10,000 years ago. IQs have been steadily increasing since they were first measured, although I'm not sure if this is really the best measure of intelligence in general. And on average we are considerably more robust, although of course it's hard to measure that without also factoring in the numerous ways we augment our natural abilities nowadays.

[ August 07, 2005, 10:41 PM: Message edited by: TomDavidson ]

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philnotfil
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I was just thinking about this last night when I was at the hardware store and saw a basketball player with her football player boyfriend. She was 6'4" (or at the very least taller than me and I'm between 6'2" and 6'3") and he was probably about 6'5" and huge. Their kids are going to be bigger than my kids. (and my kids are going to be pretty big, my wife is taller than my dad)

It would be interesting to track the height and weight increase in the general population and compare them to the height and weight increases in the professional athlete population. Especially since title whatever helped get more girls into sports there has been an increased opportunity for athletic men to meet athletic women and have athletic kids. Today a significant percentage of professional athletes have at least one parent who was a professional athlete, it could be that in another couple of generations it will be exceptional that they won't have an athlete as a parent.

[ August 08, 2005, 07:20 AM: Message edited by: philnotfil ]

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ender wiggin
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We are, demonstratably, healthier than our farming ancestors. It is not certain if we are healthier than our hunter/gatherer ancestors. We do, however, have longer lives. We can't measure things like intellegence or happyness in any meaningfull way.

Ever tried to start a fire with a bow drill? Or made a knife out of a rock? I sure can't do those things. Knowing who the prime minister of Britian is wouldn't have been that important to a hunter gatherer.

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Jesse
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Average American male as of 2000? 5'9"

Average American male soldier in the Revolutionary war? 5'5".

Not a massive difference, but a slight one, which also contributes to a very slight increase in cranial capacity. (Caucasians, on average, have slightly bigger brains than Asiatics....they are also slightly larger on average).

People continue to do better on IQ tests largely because they become more and more familiar with taking standardized tests. Less text anxiety, more training for rapid responses to questions, better performance.

Imagine a 40 year old man who attended a one room school house taking an IQ test in 1950. The entire concept would have been foriegn. Today, most children have taken dozens of standardized tests by the 6th grade.

As far as the issue of nutrition, many americans are borderline malnurished while still vastly exceeding their caloric needs.

The density of our leg bones, as well as the diameter of our femur, has declined markedly in the last 100 years. This isn't genetic, just a result of how little we actually walk compared to our ancestors.

As far as the height issue goes...I recall the story of an anthropologist who found the skeleton of an adolescent Homo Erectus male with an estimated height of 6' and tried to call it a new species. By all other standards, the kid was a sterotypical Home Erectus specimen and the guys reputation was pretty well ruined.

Larger population = a greater raw number of oddities.

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KnightEnder
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Smart how you made it a "newborn", potemkyn. That makes it a much more level playing field.

KE

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potemkyn
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heh, thanks KE, I try to be smart when I can afford it.

And just for the record, I've got no problem with evolution per se, just that I get rather annoyed when people begin spouting off about the benefits of human evolution and such. Adaptation is one thing. "Evolution" implies something completely different.

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RickyB
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Potemkyn, somethign tells me you know this, but 10,000 years, as has been pointed out, is rather meaningless. I believe it's customary among biologists to talk about 150K years ago being the watershed mark of the last evolutionary transition. I could be wrong though.
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potemkyn
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Exactly, RickyB, and that's why I get so angry when people discuss human evolution like its something that's tangible, that it's self-evident that we've "evolved" since the age of Babylon and Rome.

For all the scientific backing that evolution has, it has really produced a very nasty set of social doctrines.

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OpsanusTau
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quote:
that it's self-evident that we've "evolved" since the age of Babylon and Rome.
In fact...
Anatomically modern H. sapiens date back a hundred thousand years. Skeletal characteristics for Cro-Magnon folks fall within the bounds of normal variation.

Potemkyn, you know that Darwin intensely disliked the term "evolution", right? He preferred "descent with modification."

I'm not sure if it makes sense to draw a line between "adapation" and "evolution" in the way I think you mean; but it IS true that human evolution in the last hundred thousand years or so has been largely uneventful, and limited to microevolutionary things like more efficient oxygen use among populations at high altitudes, the classic malaria/sickle cell thing, skin color to compensate for decreased sun exposure, etc. All really minor things, such that when placed in a principal component analysis, by and large the statistical difference among anatomically modern human populations (both across space and across time) are greater than the differences between them. (Which is to say, given thirty Europeans and thirty Asians, the differences between the thirty Europeans are likely to be more significant than the differences between the group of Europeans and the group of Asians, if that makes any sense)

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Godot
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quote:
Originally posted by potemkyn:
For all the scientific backing that evolution has, it has really produced a very nasty set of social doctrines.

Sorry if I'm late to the party, but how has the theory of man's physical evolution over time produced ANY social doctrine?
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javelin
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quote:
Originally posted by Godot:
quote:
Originally posted by potemkyn:
For all the scientific backing that evolution has, it has really produced a very nasty set of social doctrines.

Sorry if I'm late to the party, but how has the theory of man's physical evolution over time produced ANY social doctrine?
Survival of the fittest, anyone?
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Everard
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Which, of course, was a social doctrine before evolution. Social darwinism just codified it.
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potemkyn
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Godot,

Social darwinism in its early form can be directly linked to the aggressive imperialism of Europe and hence the First World War. Darwin's notion of evolution of the species was played off of by nationalists in almost every major European player to promte expansion abroad and military expansion at home. In Germany, this eventually led to the creation of Nazisms werid racial doctrines and the need for living space for the German people to develop.

I can expound further if you want, but darwinian theory applied to humanity has helped produce some of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.

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