A few weeks ago, major newspapers around the country gave front-page coverage to the recent find of a 3.5 million-year-old skull by Dr. Meave G. Leakey. The New York Times reported that Dr. Leakey's find "threatens to overturn the prevailing view that a single line of descent stretched through the early stages of human ancestry." It continues, "Indeed the family tree, once drawn with a trunk straight and true, is beginning to look more like a bush, with a tangle of branches of uncertain relationship leading in many directions" (March 22). The Monitor's report quoted Dr. Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York as saying, "What this is doing is opening a whole new set of possibilities that we weren't able to consider before.... People are more prepared to accept diversity" (March 22).
As I read these articles, I couldn't help think of the lively discussion we would have had in the anthropology class on Race and Evolution I took last year about this time. I was finishing an undergraduate degree in anthropology at The University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Though most of the research for the class involved heavy reading, I appreciated the professor's open-minded approach and willingness to guide us through the plethora of theories on how humans evolved and on the concept of race. Of course, we discussed the accepted theory that present-day humans have evolved through a linear line from chimpanzees by supposed right of evolutionary default. And we also learned that since the late 1800's, some scientists have measured skulls, brains, and other body parts, often in an effort to affirm the inferiority of certain races and women, and the superiority of white males. While these theories have been widely debated, some have contributed to a collective consciousness that supports racial discrimination and stereotyping.
But there was a shining exception, and I read about him in this class.
In 1911, Franz Boas, considered the father of anthropology, presented a paper to the First Universal Races Congress at the University of London stating his observations regarding the plasticity of the human body and its ability to adapt to its surrounding environment. He wrote, "The old idea of absolute stability of human types must, however, evidently be given up, and with it the belief of the hereditary superiority of certain types over others."
In a paper for the class, I observed how interesting it was that just prior to Mr. Boas' presentation of his revolutionary theory, Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor and a writer on spiritual evolution, also noted the plasticity of the human body in her book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." "The elements and functions of the physical body and of the physical world will change as mortal mind changes its beliefs. What is now considered the best condition for organic and functional health in the human body may no longer be found indispensable to health" (pgs. 124-125).
In the margin of my paper next to Mrs. Eddy's quote, the professor wrote, "Ha! Great."
So, when I read of Leakey's recent skull find and the implications it may have in challenging many theories about human development, my thought returned to Boas' prophecy that "the old idea of absolute stability of human types" must be given up. And I also thought of how Eddy had discovered a divine Science that would reveal "the eternal chain of existence as uninterrupted and wholly spiritual" (Science and Health, pg. 172).
Are people more prepared to accept diversity as Dr. Tattersall suggested? That remains to be seen. But the growing interest in exploring the spiritual dimension of life is an encouraging sign that humanity is on the verge of discovering a whole new set of possibilities.
The spirit of God
hath made me, and the
breath of the Almighty
hath given me life.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor