978-0-7382-0003-3 / 0738200034

Children Of Prometheus: The Accelerating Pace Of Human Evolution (Helix Book)

by Wills, Christopher

Publisher:Basic Books



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About the book:

Ever since Darwinian evolution first became the common currency of discussion, scientists and lay people have worried that the human race has ceased to evolve, has stagnated and will degenerate; the standard response to these worries has been to point to the atrocities committed in their name in the shape of the Holocaust and various eugenic programmes of sterilisation which ended up defining unfit as meaning poor and black:

"Galton, like most of his contemporaries, was what one might term a genteel racist. He took it for granted that some races were superior and some were inferior. Yet if he is able, from his vantage in heaven, to observe what has happened to his ideas in the ninety years since his death, I feel sure that he must be truly horrified. Even today, racists and supremacists of every stripe (the stripes are usually but not always pale ones) continue to cite Galton to support their belief in the intellectual degeneration of people unlike themselves. They persist even in the face of strong evidence that our species seems, if anything, to be getting smarter over time."

In Children of Prometheus, Christopher Wills goes considerably further and argues vehemently that, in terms of geological time, human beings have developed at a super-charged level; our invention of culture means that there is a process of feedback at work which ensures that we are evolving continually. In particular, twentieth century technologies of mobility and speed are shuffling the human gene pool as it has never been shuffled before. The presence in the human genome of a variety of two- edged adaptations that have some positive aspects, but manifest most often as genetic disorders, is evidence of this rather than of any degeneration. We have only to look at the range of variations among human beings and compare it to the far smaller range of variation in the other great apes to see natural selection continually at work. --Roz Kaveney

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