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Blupete's Weekly Commentary

February 6th, 2000.


Apart from this very general argument for the mechanism of evolution, there is much direct empirical evidence for man's common ancestry with other animals. Comparative anatomy shows the human body to have the same general plan as other vertebrates - four limbs with five digits on each, etc. The human embryo goes through stages of development in which it resembles those of the various lower forms of life. In the adult human body there are remnants of such lower forms - e.g. a vestigial tail. The basic chemistry of our bodies - e.g. digestion, blood, genes - is similar to those of other mammals. Finally there are the fossil remains of creatures which were ape-like but resembled humans more than any existing apes. So our animal ancestry is overwhelmingly confirmed by the evidence. Some questions may remain about the detailed mechanism of evolution, but that we have evolved is now an established fact, which no true theory of human nature can contradict.

An Austrian ethologist (one who studies the instinctive behaviour of animals), Konrod Lorenz (1903- ) was a proponent of Darwin's theories. Lorenz was a joint recipient of the 1973 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine. Lorenz held that there are many such patterns of animal behaviour which are "hereditary co-ordinations" or "instinct movements." These patterns, according to Lorenz, are innate rather than learned, and for each there is a "drive" which causes the behaviour to appear spontaneously. But he also suggests, somewhat vaguely and tentatively, that such fixed action patterns are often at the disposal of one or more of the "four big drives" - feeding, reproduction, flight and aggression.

Lorenz sees man, not as a noble being with free will (see Spinoza), but rather as an animal governed by instincts. For example, in his work, On Aggression (1966), Lorenz claimed aggression is innate; it evolved because it has "survival value." It established a "pecking order," thus, giving some organization to the group; it spaces out individuals; it assures the strongest offspring, needed for the defence of the family. "Mob psychology" is recognized by Lorenz, or as he says "militant enthusiasm;" it is a group communal response which evolved in our pre-human ancestors whereby a human crowd can become excitedly aggressive and lose all rationality and moral inhibitions. Understanding the theories of Lorenz can make one better understand the role of sports in modern society.

"All the great dangers threatening humanity with extinction are direct consequences of conceptual thought and verbal speech. Thus our greatest gifts are very mixed blessings. Men are omnivorous creatures, physically quite weak with no great claws, beak, or teeth, so it is quite difficult for one man to kill another in unarmed combat. Accordingly there was no evolutionary need for strong inhibition mechanisms to stop fighting between ape-men. The heavily armed carnivores have such mechanisms, but other animals do not; this explains why the dove - the very symbol of peace - can uninhibitedly peck to death a second dove which is enclosed in the same cage and cannot escape. But cultural and technological development puts artificial weapons in our hands - from the sticks and stones of pre-human ancestors, through the arrows and swords of history, to the bullets and bombs of today. The equilibrium between killing potential and inhibition is upset. Thus Lorenz explains how it is that human beings are the only animals to indulge in mass slaughter of their own species."1



1 As quoted by Leslie Stevenson in his work, Seven Theories of Human Nature (1974) (Oxford University Press, 1987) pp. 126-7.

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Peter Landry

February, 2000 (2011)