Christmas: a time for family; visiting and just hanging out. I enjoyed having time to chat with my 20 year old son. He can banter with the best of them and his interests are broad and his opinions provocative. I enjoy tossing out nuggets of humor and insight and seeing where the conversation will go.
Here’s one I served up on a 45 minute ferry ride–I think we’re evolving INTO monkeys, not the other way around. As evidence I offered him the opposeable toe. As a busy, working, suburban parent, I can’t possibly imagine how the evolutionary process could ever lead us away from opposeable toes and to what we now regard as a normal arrangement of foot appendages. Think how much more you could get done if you literally had four hands instead of two. The possibilities are endless. Yet evolutionary scientists would have us believe that at some point in the past, those without opposeable toes were better adapted than their predecessors. Sorry. Not buying it. In fact, I think today’s monkeys are swinging in their trees laughing at us: the perfectly evolved being—just smart enough to know how good they have it. No work pressures; just eat, sleep and have sex. Now THAT sounds fully evolved to me.
Evolution always makes for fun talk because my son and I share a faith in God that demands a place in our thinking for intentional design if not outright creationism. With that in mind, I threw him this pearl of wisdom next: it’s worth noting that every evolutionary development started as a birth defect. Imagine the first fish with feet. Was he ridiculed at school and shamed into leaving the water in search of friends who would accept him as he was?
Thinking (rightly) of evolutionary steps as birth defects is fun. It’s accurate but it’s also thought provoking. In fact, it was several days later that I was still recalling our talks on the ferry when I wondered if (and let’s grant evolutions veracity for the sake of argument) our success as human beings has put an end to the evolutionary process for our species.
Society doesn’t like birth defects. If a child were born today with opposeable toes his parents would have them removed (if for no other reason than shoes would be hard to find) and any evolutionary benefits the child might have received would be negated. If he would have been more efficient and could have earned more thus making him more attractive or valuable to females, the world would never know. If women, for some reason, found six toes of interest by reason of function, aesthetics, or simply erotica, the child’s parents efforts towards physical norming would render us all unaware.
If your daughter was born with gills below her ears, would you see this as the perfect adaptation to a warming planet with rising sea levels or would you see this as a freakish birth defect requiring a seriously kick ass collection of scarves?
Perhaps autism (and I have an autistic son so don’t send me hate mail saying I don’t understand) is an evolutionary attempt to adapt to environmental changes our species has yet to detect, and yet parents and physicians are desperate for a “cure.”
Not only does social norming compel us to seek the top of the bell curve, advances in medicine make it possible to get there. We will continue to uncover new and effective ways to perfect normalcy. Yet it is deviation from the norm that is at the heart of evolution.
Progress ending progress? Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.
(And if I’m right, I could be. But my brother would just end up shaving him, making him PB and banana sandwiches and send him off to kindergarten.)