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Ask An Atheist: Where did human beings come from?

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Ask An Atheist: Where did human beings come from?

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By Jim Downard

Where did human beings come from?

This is a question that exists independently of any religion/atheism particulars, since it is a matter of paleontological and biological evidence. The science end of it is clear enough: our species appeared several hundred thousand years ago in Africa, one of several hominid species of that period, including our ancestral branch Homo erectus, the first of our genus to venture outside Africa.

We encountered another cousin in Eurasia, the Neanderthals, which we directly bred with on occasion (whether consensual or otherwise cannot be known these tens of thousands of years later) as several percentage of our genome stems from them, varying regionally today.

There were other branches back in the time before H. erectus, but these appear not to have contributed noticeably to our genome.

Now how religious explanations deal with those data varies among the many faiths known currently on earth, all of which developed long after our species originated, and our rival cousins had all gone extinct.

They derive mainly from the stories we told as we settled down in agricultural communities and eventually developed writing to record those tales. None of the various religions tell a narrative that matches up well with the scientific data we’ve accumulated over the last century or so, though they do tend to favor the gods taking a special hand in our origin.

Our species has continued to evolve, though our culture of artifacts (from clothing and heating to wearing glasses and getting hip replacements) changes the dynamics of that.

Some of our species have developed a resistance to bad reactions from lactose and so slurps down cow’s milk without a problem, while about half of us (including yours truly apparently) carry the allele that shuts down some of the primate bitter receptor system and so allows us to munch down green veggies like broccoli without making a pace.

What mutations occur among us in the millennia to come, and whether any of these achieve fixation in our genome, is something only time (and the science that studies it) can tell.

Jim Downard
Jim Downard
Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose. He's always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor's in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).

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