Friday, November 23, 2012

A Question About Origins from H. G. Wells

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on August 16, 2008 ]

A battered, old, two-volume set of H. G. Wells's The Outline of History (1920, and subsequent editions up to 1949) is among one of the few books which I still own from more than 50 years ago.   Back then is when I read The Outline of History, and I am just beginning now to read portions of it for a second time.   Wells is today condemned by those on the right because he was a Fabian socialist (which was something quite other than being a Marxist) and condemned by those on the left because he favored eugenics and recognized inherent racial differences.   He remains, despite these foes, in my opinion, the Voltaire of the 20th century.   He was, though not infallible, a clear thinker as well as a freethinker.  Consider, for example, the following question which he raises at the beginning of The Outline of History:

    "  The idea that life appeared on the earth as a natural and necessary chemical and physical process, without the intervention of any miraculous factor, seems to be very repugnant to many religious minds.   But that repugnance is due, perhaps, rather to a confusion of thought in these minds than to any essential irreligiosity in the conception itself.   They think of 'life' as being in a way already 'soul,' they ascribe all sorts of moral qualities to it; they side with it against 'dead matter.'   But it is difficult to see why a slug or a toadstool, a louse or a cancerous parasite growth upon the bark of a tree, should be treated as though it and the processes of its existence were in some mysterious way 'higher' than, for example, the beautifully marshalled elements in a crystalline group, or in a gem, or in a slab of patterned marble, or the lovely patternings of rippled water in the sunlight, or the undulations of wind-blown sand.   Why should the maker of the universe take sides between the almost inanimate and the altogether inanimate?  "

Similarly, here in the Bible Belt, one often hears the objection that Darwin taught that we are descended from the apes.   The fact is that Darwin maintained only that apes and humans have a common ancestor.   Far from being ancestors of humans, the apes might be considered to be a regression from that common ancestor.   At best, apes might be in a kind of evolutionary cul de sac, but one might suspect that such is also the situation of humans.


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