February 24, 2016

“Man is descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped.”

The publication of Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species in 1859 helped launch the modern science of evolution.

It also created a firestorm of controversy, by suggesting that all species — including homo sapiens — evolved from “lower” life forms.

However, Darwin did not explicitly state that humans evolved from ape and monkey-like precursors in On the Origin of Species.

He saved that bombshell for his next major work, The Descent of Man, which was first published in London on February 24, 1871.

The final chapter of that book, Chapter XXI, contains Darwin’s famous (and infamous) statement:

       “We thus learn that man is descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped, probably arboreal in its habits, and an inhabitant of the Old World.”

Of course, there are some people who are unwilling to accept the theory of evolution because it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

However, from a scientific perspective, Darwin’s basic conclusions have withstood the test of time.

That’s not to say he got everything right.

Over the past 140 years, other scientists have determined that some things Darwin postulated were wrong.

Thus, like every science, the science of evolution has evolved.

Darwin himself predicted this would happen.

In the preface to the Second Edition of The Descent of Man, published in 1874, he noted:

       “it is probable, or almost certain, that several of my conclusions will hereafter be found erroneous; this can hardly fail to be the case in the first treatment of a subject.”

One of Darwin’s conclusions that’s still accepted as a basic fact by scientists is that “man is descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped.”

That’s also one of the things that is most vehemently rejected by Darwin’s religious critics.

They believe God created humans and everything else and that “Darwinism is atheism.”

As explained on the excellent AboutDarwin.com website, Darwin called himself an agnostic, not an atheist.

He felt that God’s existence was outside the realm of scientific research.

Near the end of his life, Darwin put it this way:

       “I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us.”

One thing is clear.

Darwin’s Descent of Man both shed lasting light on — and generated lasting heat over — the topic of human evolution.

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