Scientist: Evolution debate will soon be history
Mon, 28 May 2012 9:21a.m.
By Frank Eltman
Richard Leakey predicts scepticism over evolution will soon be history.
Not that the avowed atheist has any doubts himself.
Sometime in the next 15 to 30 years, the Kenyan-born paleoanthropologist expects scientific discoveries will have accelerated to the point that "even the sceptics can accept it".
"If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it's solid, that we are all African, that colour is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive," Leakey says, "then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges".
Leakey, a professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island, recently spent several weeks in New York promoting the Turkana Basin Institute in Kenya. The institute, where Leakey spends most of his time, welcomes researchers and scientists from around the world dedicated to unearthing the origins of mankind in an area rich with fossils.
His friend, Paul Simon, performed at a May 2 fundraiser for the institute in Manhattan that collected more than $2 million. A National Geographic documentary on his work at Turkana aired this month on public television.
Now 67, Leakey is the son of the late Louis and Mary Leakey and conducts research with his wife, Meave, and daughter, Louise. The family claims to have unearthed "much of the existing fossil evidence for human evolution".
On the eve of his return to Africa earlier this week, Leakey spoke to The Associated Press in New York City about the past and the future.
"If you look back, the thing that strikes you, if you've got any sensitivity, is that extinction is the most common phenomena," Leakey says. "Extinction is always driven by environmental change. Environmental change is always driven by climate change. Man accelerated, if not created, planet change phenomena; I think we have to recognise that the future is by no means a very rosy one."
Any hope for mankind's future, he insists, rests on accepting existing scientific evidence of its past.
"If we're spreading out across the world from centres like Europe and America that evolution is nonsense and science is nonsense, how do you combat new pathogens, how do you combat new strains of disease that are evolving in the environment?" he asked.
"If you don't like the word evolution, I don't care what you call it, but life has changed. You can lay out all the fossils that have been collected and establish lineages that even a fool could work up. So the question is why, how does this happen? It's not covered by Genesis. There's no explanation for this change going back 500 million years in any book I've read from the lips of any God."
Leakey insists he has no animosity toward religion.
"If you tell me, well, people really need a faith ... I understand that," he said.
"I see no reason why you shouldn't go through your life thinking if you're a good citizen, you'll get a better future in the afterlife ...."
Leakey began his work searching for fossils in the mid-1960s. His team unearthed a nearly complete 1.6-million-year-old skeleton in 1984 that became known as "Turkana Boy" - the first known early human with long legs, short arms and a tall stature.
In the late 1980s, Leakey began a career in government service in Kenya, heading the Kenya Wildlife Service. He led the quest to protect elephants from poachers who were killing the animals at an alarming rate in order to harvest their valuable ivory tusks. He gathered 12 tons of confiscated ivory in Nairobi National Park and set it afire in a 1989 demonstration that attracted worldwide headlines.
In 1993, Leakey crashed a small propeller-driven plane; his lower legs were later amputated and he now gets around on artificial limbs. There were suspicions the plane had been sabotaged by his political enemies, but it was never proven.
About a decade ago, he visited Stony Brook University on eastern Long Island, a part of the State University of New York, as a guest lecturer. Then-President Shirley Strum Kenny began lobbying Leakey to join the faculty. It was a process that took about two years; he relented after returning to the campus to accept an honorary degree.
Kenny convinced him that he could remain in Kenya most of the time, where Stony Brook anthropology students could visit and learn about his work. And the college founded in 1957 would benefit from the gravitas of such a noted professor on its faculty.
"It was much easier to work with a new university that didn't have a 200-year-old image where it was so set in its ways like some of the Ivy League schools that you couldn't really change what they did and what they thought," he said.
Earlier this month, Paul Simon performed at a benefit dinner for the Turkana Basin Institute. IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond and his wife, Peggy Bonapace Gelfond, and billionaire hedge fund investor Jim Simons and his wife, Marilyn, were among those attending the exclusive show in Manhattan's Chelsea neighbourhood.
Simon agreed to allow his music to be performed on the National Geographic documentary airing on PBS and donated an autographed guitar at the fundraiser that sold for nearly $20,000.
Leakey, who clearly cherishes investigating the past, is less optimistic about the future.
"We may be on the cusp of some very real disasters that have nothing to do with whether the elephant survives, or a cheetah survives, but if we survive."
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4/06/2012 9:46:21 a.m.
@ AJ. so what its ether religous belief or evolution? Wheres the give and take? what about completely new understandings or a better understanding of all the forces that influence evolution? The world isnt black and white AJ, you need open your mind and think outside the box! Theres alot you dont know, theres alot we all dont know and your the only 1 disregarding facts and saying you know the truth without a doubt? Those who laugh at new ideas are just ashamed that they are to dumb to understand! "burn the witch!" right AJ?
28/05/2012 10:44:36 p.m.
Before anyone tries to convince the religious nut-jobs about evolution, remember this: you can not have a rational discussion with someone who has an irrational viewpoint. Don't waste your efforts. They are not interested in listening.
28/05/2012 6:41:55 p.m.
@Josh : oh the irony in your post - if only you could see it!
28/05/2012 6:00:48 p.m.
Evolution...please, still a theory my fellow primates. Mr Leakey is right about one thing though...disasters like we've never seen before are coming alright. God, forgive us because we still don't know what we do.
28/05/2012 5:49:31 p.m.
@Josh, your quote from Albert Einstein is fascinating as Einstein used those lines as an attack against religious faith, for which you seem to be defending. Charles Darwin at no time denounced his theory of evolution. Evangelist and Temperance Campaigner, Lady Elizabeth Hope. Claimed she visited Darwin at his deathbed, and witnessed the renunciation. Later her claim was printed in a Boston Newspaper. Darwin’s daughter, Henrietta refuted Lady Hopes claim by stating:
“I was present at his deathbed. He never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier.” as for your claim of human like fossils dating back 120 million years. That put death of this apparent human like species smack in the middle of the cretaceous mass extinction event, which saw the end of the reign of the dinosaur. making your claim. The stuff of fantasy.. in other words.. NOT possible. The first human like creatures evolved on earth about 65 million years ago. another quick note. Darwin was NOT the first in history to realise evolution. The Roman philosopher Lucretius (99-55 B.C.) was the first to realise that all living things were related and that they had changed over time.
In his book, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). At the time of Darwin. evolution was a popular belief.
28/05/2012 3:14:51 p.m.
One major stumbling block to eliminating the sceptics of evolution is the false impression they have of the existence of a "Missing Link". The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. But most sceptics do not understand the science of evolution. so refuse to believe in the concept. That non understanding leads to their ignorance. The evidence is there. it is indisputable. Religious indoctrination around mythology is another stumbling block, as. Its easier to believe in a creator when understanding is lacking. That way, there is nothing to understand. It just simply happens.
28/05/2012 2:57:15 p.m.
In regards to darwin, the propounder of the "Theory of Evolution", he actually rejected his work while on his death bed. So that in itself displays that fact that Darwin himself had doubts. Unfortunately his followers are still bewildered by his ideas and are just speculating about fossil findings, declaring that to be the all-in all evidence. What our naive world does not realise, due to blind faith in scientific dogma, is that there are many occurrences of excavations revealing findings that contradict the established scientific paradigm. These findings, due to their anomalous nature are simply ignored and remain undisclosed to the public and even the scientific community itself. An example of such a finding is of a complete human skeleton (as in homo sapiens sapiens), has been unearthed and dated to be 65 million years old. Now get your head around that one!! There is also another fossil found, dated 120 million years old! These are well described in a fantastic publication that is available to all, titled "Forbidden Archeology" Authored by M Cremo. Another book, which is related to this is called "Rethinking Darwin" by Leif A. Jensen.
Unfortunately, people are always quick to back anything that rejects or disproves religious dogma by blindly siding with another religious dogma, science. But we have to understand that we are actually bereft of knowledge, hence the very reason we seek it. People of today can easily challenge the bible, but big deal. There are far more in-depth and complete philosophies around, just waiting to be explored by the seriously inquisitive individual. A good book to explore on this topic is "Searching for Vedic India" by Devamrita Swami.
So in conclusion, I think its time we get our heads of the sand. Stop being arrogant and admit we know very little. We should not just believe in science as the all-in-all. The very laws of science are assumptions, therefore faith is automatically implied here. Explore the alternatives, which are very well described in these three books mentioned. Its is time to wake up.
"A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth" - Albert Einstein
28/05/2012 11:54:15 a.m.
A hard pill to swallow but man created religion to create control over the masses. Whatever the scientists discover god created it. But who's god. over 3000 different religions in the world and everywhere people are blowing things (themselves) up and waring over their beliefs. If you read the 20 plus versions of the bible an the many versions of the Koran i.e. the mainstream religions - Christian and The Holy Qur'an apart from turning you into an "atheist" there is nothing that supports any kind killing or making screeds of money. Almost all of us need a "club" to belong to. But who is the one that gets angry and defensive when you say you are not religious? Who is the one that before even thinking spits out you are going to hell? No problem with anyones point of view or belief and many need comfort in knowing there is something after death. And before anyone gives science "hell" there are many theories supporting all aspects of different levels of conscious and parallel existence. There are many theories (religions) of the existence of a god. There are mediums that believe in contacting the afterlife. All theories with no supporting facts and if it it is all rubbish it is hard to comprehend nothing after you "pop your clogs". Better love thy neighbor (And don't get caught!)
28/05/2012 10:46:22 a.m.
Rob Edward wrote:
It would be nice to think the debate will be over soon. So long as there are religious groups and schools habitually lying to the young in order to continue the cycle of ignorance we will have an ongoing denial of the obvious facts of evolution via natural selection.
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