1902 Encyclopedia > Anthropology > Origin of Man

(Part 2)

II. Origin of Man. -- Available information on this great problem has been multiplied tenfold during the present generation, and the positive dicta of the older authorities are now more and more supplanted by hypotheses based on biological evidence. Opinions as to the genesis of man is divided between the theories of the two great schools of biology, that of creation and that of evolution. In both schools the ancient doctrine of the contemporaneous appearance on earth of all species of animals having been abandoned under the positive evidence of geology, it is admitted that the animal kingdom, past and present, includes a vast series of successive forms, whose appearances and disappearances have taken place at intervals during an immense lapse of ages. The line of inquiry has thus been directed to ascertaining what formative relations subsists among these species and genera, the last link of the argument reaching to the relation between man and the lower creatures preceding him in time. Pn both the theories here concerned to would be admitted, in the words of Agassiz (Principles of Zoology, pp. 205-6), that "there is a manifest progress in the succession of beings on the surface of the earth. This progress consists in an increasing similarity of the living fauna, and, among the vertebrates especially, in their increasing resemblance to man." Agassiz continues, however, in terms characteristic of the creationist school: "But this connection is not the consequence of a direct lineage between the faunas of different ages. There is nothing like parental descent connecting them. The fishes of the Palaeozoic age are in no respect the ancestors of the reptiles of the Secondary age, nor does man descend from the mammals which preceded him in the Tertiary age. The link by which they are connected is of a higher and immaterial nature; and their connection is to be sought in the view of the Creator himself, whose aim in forming the earth, in allowing it to undergo the successive changes which geology has pointed out, and in creating successively all the different types of animals which have passed away, was to introduce man upon the surface of our globe. Man is the end towards which all the animal creation has tended from the first appearance of the first Palaeozoic fishes." The evolutionist school, on the contrary, maintains that different successive species of animals are in fact connected by parental descent, having become modified in the course of successive generations. Mr. Darwin, with whose name and that of Mr. Wallace the modern development theory is especially associated in the preface to his Descent of Man (1871), gives precedence among naturalists to Lamark, as having long ago come to the conclusion "that man is the to descendant with other species of some ancient, lower, and extinct form." Professor Huxley, remarking (Man's Place in Nature, 1863, p. 106) on the crudeness and even absurdity of some of Lamark's views, dates from Darwin the scientific existence of the development theory. The result of Darwin's application of this theory to man may be given in his own words (Descent of Man, part i. ch. 6): -

"The Catarhine and Platyrhine monkeys agree in a multitude of characters, as is shown by the unquestionably belonging to one and the same Order. The many characters which they possess in common can hardly have been independently acquired by so many distinct species; so that these characters must have been inherited. But an ancient form which possessed many characters common to the Catarhine and Platyrhine monkeys, and others in an intermediate condition, and some few perhaps distinct from those now present in either group, would undoubtedly have been ranked, if seen by a naturalist, as an ape or a monkey. And as man under a genealogical point of view belongs to the Catarhine or Old World stock, we must conclude, however much the conclusion may revolt our pride, that our early progenitors would have been properly thus designated. But we must not fall into the error of supposing that the early progenitor of the whole Simian stock, including man, was identical with, or even closely resembled, any existing ape or monkey."

The problem of the origin of man cannot be properly discussed apart from the full problem of the origin of species. The homologies between man and other animals which both schools try to account for; the explanation of the intervals, with apparent want of intermediate forms, which seem to the creationists so absolute a separation between species; the evidence of useless "rudimentary organs,: such as in man the external shell of the ear, and the muscle which enables some individuals to twitch their ears, which rudimentary parts the evolutionists claim to be only explicable as relics of an earlier specific condition,- these, which are the main points of the argument on the origin of man, belong to general biology. The philosophical principles which underlie the two theories stand for the most part in strong contrast, the theory of evolution tending toward the supposition of ordinary causes, such as "natural selection," producing modifications in species, whether by gradual accumulation or more sudden leaps, while the theory of creation is prone to have recourse to acts of supernatural intervention (see the Duke of Argyll, Reign of Law, ch. V.) A theory has been propounded by Mr. Mivart (Genesis of Species, 1871) of a natural evolution of man as to his body, combined with a supernatural creation as to his soul; but this attempt to meet the difficulties on both sides seems at present not to have satisfied either. Anthropology waits to see whether the discovery of intermediate forms, which has of late years reduced so many asserted species to mere varieties, will go on till it produces a disbelief in any real separation between neighbouring species, and especially whether geology can furnish traces of the hypothetical animal, man's near ancestor, but not as yet man. In the present state of the argument it may here suffice to have briefly indicated the positions held on either side. (Among other works relating to the development theory as applied to man, see Vogt, Lectures on Man; Haeckel, Naturliche Schopfungsgeschicte, 2d ed., 1871.)

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