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- Earliest Speculations
- Age of Enlightenment
- Influential Scientists and Provocative Philosophers
- Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck
- Charles Darwin
- Herbert Spencer
- Ernst Haeckel
- Peter Kropotkin
- Friedrich Nietzsche
- Henri Bergson
- John Dewey
- Bozidar Knezevic
- Alfred North Whitehead
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
- Marvin Farber
- Research and Speculation
- The Neo-Darwinian Synthesis
- Sociobiology: Nature and/or Nurture
- Anthropology: Facts, Concepts, and Perspectives
- Religious Creationism or Scientific Evolutionism
- Evolutionary Humanism, Transhumanism, and Posthumanism
- Exobiology and Exoevolution
The fact of evolution pervades modern thought from astronomy to psychology. It is safe to assume that no academic discipline has escaped the influence of an evolutionary framework. Our present worldview is grounded in a serious consideration of time, change, and evolution; it is a remarkably different explanation for this universe, life-forms on earth, and our own emerging species than was given by natural philosophers only 2 centuries ago.
Rocks, fossils, artifacts, and genes offer compelling and sufficient evidence for a dynamic view of this planet and those organisms that have existed before and do now live on it (Coyne, 2009; Dawkins, 2009; Fortey, 1998; Mayr, 2001; Ridley, 2004). Yet facts do not interpret themselves. Consequently, interpretations of evolution vary greatly from materialism through vitalism and spiritualism to mysticism (Birx, 1984). In this arc of evolution (Birx, 2006a), there is a glaring difference between the materialist stance of Charles Darwin and the mystical outlook of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Birx, 1991). Each interpreter of evolution comes to the theory with a different set of ideas, issues, and values within a specific orientation. Perspectives range from a planetary focus to a cosmic approach.
Modern anthropology embraces the fact of evolution, viewing the recent appearance of humankind within a sweeping geological framework. Our biological structures and functions, as well as societies and cultures (Harris, 1968; Morgan, 1877/1963; Tylor, 1871/1958; White, 1949, 1959), have changed throughout time and will continue to do so. One fascinating prospect for our species is its future adaptation to and survival in outer space, whether for living on neighboring planets or elsewhere in this expanding universe.
The idea of evolution did not originate with the thoughts of Charles Darwin in the middle of the 19th century. Nor did this naturalist have the last word on his own theory of “descent with modification” (as he put it). Yet in terms of science and reason, the conceptual revolution of organic evolution received its factual foundation with Darwin’s pivotal writings on the history and diversity of life-forms on this planet.
In fact, the idea of evolution had been glimpsed by several natural philosophers in ancient Greece during the pre-Socratic Age (Whitlock, 2009): Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus, Xenophanes, and Empedocles. They recognized the biological similarities between the human being and other animals and held to the dynamic history of this universe. One is tempted to refer to them as protoevolutionists, since they anticipated (to varying degrees) the thoughts of Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace more than 2,000 years later.
The emerging concept of organic evolution received an unfortunate intellectual impediment with the philosophical writings of the ancient Greek thinker Aristotle (384–322 BCE), who taught that species are eternally fixed in the natural world. However, he did acknowledge the biological similarities among groups of animals thereby fathering both comparative biology and a natural taxonomy. Even so, he ignored the biohistorical significance of fossils, referring to them as being merely chance aberrations in rock strata. Aristotle’s interpretation of life-forms as representing a static hierarchy of fixed species (his comprehensive concept of the great chain of being, or so-called ladder of nature) had an enormous influence on later naturalists, philosophers, and theologians; subsequently, these thinkers were not predisposed to accepting the mutability of species throughout earth history.
The Roman philosopher Lucretius (96–55 BCE) wrote that this planet itself, over time, had produced plants and animals. He also claimed that organisms, including intelligent beings, inhabit other worlds in this universe. But his anti-Aristotelian worldview was not taken seriously by those thinkers who dogmatically clung to the traditional interpretation of life-forms as fixed species.
During the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) did recognize both the biological and historical significance of fossils as the remains of once living organisms. He had discovered marine fossils embedded in the top rock strata of the Alps; three centuries later, Darwin would have a similar experience in the Andes. Unfortunately, Leonardo never recorded his own thoughts on the history of changing life-forms throughout the thousands of years of geological time; he thought our earth to be at least 200,000 years old. His genius may have imagined the mutability of species but, if so, he never wrote about this idea in his notebooks.
Age of Enlightenment
Following the so-called Dark Ages and Middle Ages, the Enlightenment represented an exciting time for academic scholars during which serious thinkers criticized the dogmatic church and oppressive state in favor of science and reason (Cassirer, 1955). The courageous French philosophers of this time called for open inquiry and the extension of the scientific method from the natural sciences to the emerging social sciences. By taking a historical perspective, emphasizing the value of freedom and individualism, and anticipating ongoing progress in the special sciences (both natural and social), these enlightened thinkers established an intellectual atmosphere that paved the way for the coming of anthropology as a distinct discipline.
With the natural philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–1784) as its major editor, the Encyclopédie (1751–1772) represented a practical outcome in the devotion to both scientific research and critical thinking, and it was a project exemplary of this age. In fact, achieving the completion of this unique project was Diderot’s supreme accomplishment. With the publication of this multivolume work, extensive knowledge was now accessible for both academic scholars and general readers.
The nature-oriented thoughts of the Enlightenment gave a major impetus to the growth of several earth sciences: historical geology, comparative paleontology, and prehistoric archaeology (as well as ongoing advances in biology). Rocks, fossils, and artifacts were revealing an incredible explanation for life-forms on earth that was far different from the biblical story of Creation in Genesis. Furthermore, extensive travels by naturalists led to the discovery of other societies with different cultures subsequently contributing to the need for a specific science of humankind itself.
Representative of the optimistic outlook during the Enlightenment is the future vision presented by Marquis de Condorcet (1743–1794), who is remembered primarily for his extraordinary book titled Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind (1795/1980). As a result of astonishing advances in science and technology throughout the forthcoming centuries, Condorcet held that one practical consequence would be that human beings will eventually achieve and enjoy an indefinite life span.
Influential Scientists and Provocative Philosophers
Once the fact of evolution was established, it had an overwhelming influence on several major thinkers in science, philosophy, and theology. The pivotal writings of Charles Darwin represented a scientific revolution that seriously challenged those ideas, beliefs, and values that were embedded in the traditional, static worldview, an outlook that had stymied both creative and critical thought for centuries. A dynamic interpretation of nature now replaced the old conceptual framework grounded in fixity and permanence. Some naturalists were eager to consider the farreaching implications of evolution for understanding life, our species, and this universe. Some philosophers and theologians were courageous enough to consider the startling consequences of evolution for appreciating reality itself.
Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck
In 1809, following the Enlightenment, the French natural philosopher Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck wrote the first serious work on organic evolution, titled ZoologicalPhilosophy (1809/1984). This book appeared exactly 50 years before the publication of Charles Darwin’s major work, On the Origin of Species (1859). However, Lamarck’s interpretation of evolution was essentially conceptual and speculative, lacking the sufficient empirical evidence and a testable explanatory mechanism that Darwin would later offer to convince other biologists of the fact that species are mutable and have evolved throughout natural history.
To his lasting credit, Lamarck had studied the fossil record in rock strata. He correctly concluded that the sequence of remains in the geological column clearly demonstrated that life-forms have evolved during earth history. His idea that plants and animals are mutable and change over time challenged the entrenched concept of fixed species. Unfortunately, Lamarck was unable to persuade his contemporary naturalists that species have evolved throughout planetary time. His explanation for organic evolution in terms of the inheritance of acquired characteristics through use and disuse was not convincing; for example, his own idea that the long neck of a giraffe is directly due to the accumulated results of stretching, over countless generations, to reach the leaves of ever-higher trees remains a preposterous explanation in the history of biology. In addition, Lamarck’s vitalist orientation was not in step with the naturalism espoused by most biologists. Likewise, his ludicrous claim that complex animals, such as our human species, can actually will those biological changes that are needed by them to adapt and survive in changing environments has been verified neither by evidence nor by experience since his time.
In fact, at first, Darwin was reluctant to acknowledge the influence that Lamarck had had on the early development of his own evolution framework. Nevertheless, Lamarck had been brave enough to maintain the heretical idea that species change through time.
Charles Darwin (1809–1882) is referred to as “the father of evolution,” a designation he richly deserves for his lifelong dedication to science to substantiate the mutability of species (Birx, 2009a). With focused energies, he was able to amass overwhelming empirical evidence from various fields, thereby documenting the fact of evolution for other naturalists. His scientific theory of organic evolution and explanatory mechanism of natural selection represented a conceptual revolution in both science and philosophy, with devastating consequences for traditional theology.
As a young naturalist in England, Darwin was primarily interested in rocks and beetles; over the years, his research shifted from geology to biology. After university studies in medicine and theology, his comfortable life was altered dramatically when captain Robert FitzRoy accepted him for the position of a naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle; this survey ship would sail for 5 years (1831–1836) in the Southern Hemisphere, with its primary purpose being the mapping of the coastlines of South America. This extensive trip would prove to be a voyage of discovery for the emerging scientist (Darwin, 1839/2000; McCalman, 2009).
When Darwin boarded the Beagle, he was an amateur geologist who accepted both the then-taught fixity of species and the beliefs of Christianity. But his own worldview would change radically as a result of three fortuitous events: his critical study of Charles Lyell’s three-volume Principles of Geology (1830–1833), his unique experiences as an astute observer of nature in the Southern Hemisphere (especially during his 5-week visit to the Galapagos Islands), and his beneficial reading of Thomas Robert Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798/1803).
Questioning and then rejecting the story of Creation as presented in Genesis, Darwin began to envision a dynamic web of life-forms changing over space and throughout time. Lyell’s sweeping geological framework offered an immense period of planetary history within which Darwin could imagine the slow and continuous mutability of species. Furthermore, not only the fossil record in rock strata but also the geographical distribution of different organisms argued for the evolution of life-forms throughout biological time. In short, the earth is a massive graveyard of past species and a changing stage for the emergence of new ones, as well as a global museum of previous cultures and human activities. Finally, in 1838, Darwin’s reflections on Malthus’s vivid description of the living world as a “struggle for existence” gave to him his explanatory mechanism of natural selection. Thus, in merely 7 years, Darwin the geobiologist had become convinced that species either evolve or become extinct within changing environments throughout organic history. He referred to his evolution theory as “descent with modification,” but he had no immediate plan to get his disturbing interpretation of life into print.
With the luxury of time, Darwin’s ongoing scientific research in biology and critical reflection on dynamic nature included the rigorous study of worms, pigeons, orchids, and barnacles as well as numerous other species (Boulter, 2009). Suddenly, in 1858, his scientific life of isolated contentment was abruptly disrupted when he learned that the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, while living in Indonesia, had come forth with both a theory of evolution and the same explanatory mechanism of natural selection to account for the history of life on earth.
Consequently, in 1859, Darwin quickly published his major work, On the Origin of Species (Darwin, 1859), which saved his priority as being the father of evolution. He was also fortunate to have three major naturalists defend his counterintuitive and most controversial theory: Thomas Huxley in England, Ernst Haeckel in Germany, and Asa Gray in the United States. Even so, Darwin had deliberately left out any consideration of the human animal. However, 12 years later, his The Descent of Man (1871) actually focused on our own species (Darwin, 1871).
Darwin’s materialist theory of organic evolution held incredible, if not disquieting, ramifications for viewing the place of our human species within earth history. As had Huxley and Haeckel, Darwin himself now wrote that our species is closest to the three great apes (orangutan, gorilla, and chimpanzee), with which the human animal shares a common ancestral origin. And he thought that the remains of this shared group would be found in the fossil record of Africa. Also, Darwin maintained that the human being differs merely in degree rather than in kind from these three great apes. This was not a claim that endeared him to those who believed that our species is unique and therefore occupies a special position in this universe. Nevertheless, Darwin’s evolution theory gave to the emerging discipline of anthropology a scientific foundation that is quintessential for understanding and appreciating the origin and history of humankind.
With dynamic integrity, Darwin clung to his materialist outlook, thereby giving an atheistic interpretation of organic evolution, while his cosmological perspective remained agnostic at best. He even reflected on the evolution of the human brain with its mental activity, as well as pondering the emergence of moral conduct from earlier ape behavior.
Following the pervasive and overwhelming influence of Darwin’s writings, the early anthropologists speculated on and searched for fossils and artifacts to document the biological and sociocultural evolution of the human animal, respectively. Other anthropologists wrote about the evolution of languages, kinship systems, political organizations, and magical-religious belief systems. Evolution research continues to enlighten and inspire the science of anthropology, with remarkable evidence discovered each year. One may eagerly anticipate new findings in genetics, paleontology (Brasier, 2009), primatology, and evolutionary psychology.
No doubt, during his frequent strolls down the Sandwalk behind Down House, the aging Charles Darwin reflected on his incredible experiences during his voyage on the HMS Beagle (especially his visit to the primeval-like Galapagos Archipelago). Yet one may argue that it was Lyell’s geological perspective that had had the greatest lasting influence on the young naturalist. It gave to Darwin in particular, and to anthropologists in general, a vast framework of time and change within which one could comprehend organic evolution and the recent appearance of humankind on planet earth.
Today, the English thinker Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) is primarily remembered for coining the famous expression “the survival of the fittest,” a phrase that Darwin himself later used in his own writings on organic evolution. But Spencer’s greatest achievement was authoring a 10-volume work titled Synthetic Philosophy (1862–1893), a comprehensive interpretation of reality that dealt with cosmology and biology as well as sociology, psychology, and ethics. This worldview is grounded in a universal force and a crucial distinction between the now knowable world of human experience and the forever unknowable realm of ultimate reality.
Taking time and change seriously, Spencer presented his cosmic perspective in First Principles (1862/1958), Volume 1 of the 10-volume grand synthesis (Spencer, 1862–1893). In it, he offers his evolutionary view of this dynamic universe. He speculates that the cosmos evolves from maximum simplicity (homogeneity) to maximum complexity (heterogeneity), as does the history of life on earth. Then, the cosmos and life devolute back to ultimate simplicity. He further speculated that there is an endless series of cosmic cycles, each finite cycle identical in structure but different in content.
Spencer likened the evolution of a society to the evolution of an organism, referring to a human society as the superorganic, which is distinct from nature itself but follows the same progressive process from simplicity to complexity and then devolutes back to simplicity. Thus, planetary evolution is from the inorganic through the organic to the superorganic. Spencer rejected religious creationism in favor of scientific evolutionism. In anthropology, he called for the empirical description and comparative study of societies and their cultures within an evolution framework. Ultimately, his ruthless individualism became the foundation for social Darwinism. Nevertheless, his ideas paved the way for the sociocultural evolutionists of the 20th century, for example, V. Gordon Childe, Marvin Harris, Julian H. Steward, and Leslie A. White (among others). No doubt, ongoing research in anthropology will provide an even clearer view of human evolution in all of its aspects.
Referred to as “Darwin’s bulldog” in England because of his enthusiastic support for the fact of evolution, Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895) contributed to science through his own comparative research in anatomy and paleontology. He accepted the evolution framework, with its vast geologic perspective and compelling paleontological record. His scientific imagination could even see earth history represented in a piece of chalk, even though our present knowledge of rocks, fossils, and genes was not available to him. At a time when most naturalists still held to the fixity of species, Huxley boldly argued that organisms either evolved throughout earth history, or they became extinct. His writings and lectures greatly helped to spread the scientific theory of biological evolution to both academic specialists and the general public.
Huxley is best remembered for defending the scientific theory of biological evolution at the University of Oxford’s Museum of Natural History in the summer of 1860 (Darwin was ostentatiously absent). The heated confrontation between biblical fundamentalist Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, and materialist evolutionist Thomas Huxley ended with a victory for science and reason over religious shortsightedness and myopic beliefs. Nevertheless, the “battle” between religious creationists and scientific evolutionists continues, and it is as contentious today as it was during Darwin’s time.
In 1863, concerning our own species, Huxley presented his pithecometra hypothesis (1863/1959): The human animal differs merely in degree rather than in kind from the two African great apes (gorilla and chimpanzee), and, in turn, our species is closer to these great apes than they are to the two lesser apes (gibbon and siamang). This position was also maintained by Ernst Haeckel and several years later by Charles Darwin himself. No doubt, the disturbing claim that the human animal is closely related to the living apes through organic evolution has contributed significantly to the continuing outrage against evolutionary biology and biological anthropology.
To represent his own position of scientific naturalism, Huxley coined the term agnosticism, as he was not certain whether a personal God exists or not. Even so, Huxley never believed that the process of evolution represented a divine plan or intelligent design. The philosophical scientist Ernst Haeckel was a pantheist (God is nature), while Charles Darwin kept his atheism to himself.
Huxley’s interpretation of evolution differed from Darwin’s view. Influenced by Charles Lyell’s theory of uniformitarianism in historical geology, which held that geological structures change slowly over immense periods of time due to natural forces, Darwin’s support of gradualism in organic evolution held that species change slowly over vast periods of time due to biological variation and natural selection. However, doubting that natural selection alone could account for the transformation of species, Huxley thought that new species could have “suddenly” appeared as a result of periodic rapid changes in biological evolution. Considering the enormous age of this planet and the awesome number of species that have existed on it (almost all of them having become extinct), it seems reasonable to assume that different rates of evolutionary change are represented in the fossil record.
Known as “Germany’s Darwin” for daringly advocating and rigorously defending organic evolution, Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) dedicated his research activities to many scientific areas, especially comparative embryology and marine biology. He not only contributed to the empirical evidence that supported organic evolution, but also seriously considered the far-reaching consequences of the evolutionary sciences for both philosophy and theology. His most successful book was The Riddle of the Universe (1899), in which he presented an evolutionary worldview that courageously challenged those traditional ideas and embedded beliefs that had pervaded Western thought for centuries (Haeckel, 1899).
Haeckel’s evolutionary philosophy is grounded in a process monism (his law of substance); this position claims that dynamic reality is essentially a cosmic unity. Therefore, he held that human existence is a product of and totally within material nature. Moreover, for him, the evolving universe itself is eternal in time and infinite in space.
Haeckel had no patience for those thinkers who ignored the fact of evolution and its atheistic consequences. He rejected the common earth-bound and human-centered view of reality, which had taught that our species holds a special place in cosmic immensity. Moreover, by extending the fact of evolution beyond earth, Haeckel speculated that life-forms, including intelligent beings, exist on other planets elsewhere in this universe. As such, he anticipated the new research area of exobiology.
Inspired by Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), Haeckel expanded the evolution theory to include the emergence and history of the human animal. He claimed that the evolution of our species could be traced back to a “missing link” represented by an ape-man without speech, Pithecanthropus alalus, whose fossil remains he thought would be found somewhere in Asia. (Darwin held Africa to be the cradle of humankind.) For Haeckel, this ape-man once existed between the earlier prehistoric apes of the alleged Asian landmass Lemuria (now vanished) and our own species of today. In the early 1890s, the naturalist Eugene Dubois discovered the hominid specimen Pithecanthropus erectus at the Trinil site on the island of Java in Indonesia. This remarkable find inspired other naturalists to search for similar fossil evidence in Africa and Asia. Haeckel also claimed that the human animal and the two African great apes (gorilla and chimpanzee) differ merely in degree rather than in kind.
In fact, as an artist in science, Haeckel drew the first tree of life diagram and, subsequently, many other illustrations that showed the evolutionary relationships among organisms as naturalists understood the historical web of life at that time. In general, Haeckel’s basic ideas remain in step with modern thought. Today, his rigorous evolutionism may be seen in the writings of Richard Dawkins and Daniel C. Dennett (among others).
In Russia, Prince Peter Alekeyevich Kropotkin (1842–1921) became known for his original research in geography, zoology, anthropology, and sociology. He spent time in Siberia, where he studied the influence of past glaciers on its environment. He also carefully observed the group behavior of tribal communities and wild animals, deriving an important generalization about the adaptation and survival of societies, that generalization being his concept of mutual aid (social cooperation).
Although an evolutionist, Kropotkin differed from Darwin in maintaining that the natural selection of individuals was necessary but not sufficient to account for the survival and therefore successful evolution of social animals, including our own species. Kropotkin stressed that mutual aid is also crucial for the adaptation and reproduction of species (Kropotkin, 1902/1914; Montagu, 1952). In fact, for him, mutual aid is the key to understanding and appreciating the evolution of the human being; in human social evolution, from bands and tribes to chiefdoms and states, mutual aid has played a crucial role in both protecting individuals and ensuring the survival of groups.
Kropotkin (1922/1968) even held that the biological origin of mutual aid was the foundation of a universal ethics for our own species. Therefore, he saw a sound anthropology resulting from the convergence of evolutionary science and a community ethics grounded in mutual aid. For him, collective thought and social action enhances the life, harmony, unity, and evolution of human communities. Extending his naturalism and humanism into politics, Kropotkin advocated communist anarchism.
In the 20th century, evolutionary biology in Russia received a devastating setback due to the politically motivated ideas concerning heredity defended by Trofim D. Lysenko (1898–1976), who sided with the philosophical views of Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck and Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin rather than the scientific discoveries of Gregor Johann Mendel and Hugo DeVries.
Yet it was the Russian biochemist A. I. Oparin who proposed a scientific explanation for the material appearance of life on this planet. In his groundbreaking book The Origin of Life (1923), he extended Darwin’s naturalist theory by arguing that inorganic development had paved the way for the emergence of organic evolution in terms of biochemical advances in the waters of a primordial earth billions of years ago. Oparin had rejected all nonmaterialist explanations for the origin and evolution of life on this planet, as well as the assumption that life on earth is unique in this dynamic universe.
One may argue that the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) is the most influential thinker of the recent past. Yet it is not often realized that he was greatly influenced by the evolution theory of Charles Darwin (Birx, 2006c). Reminiscent of Heraclitus in ancient Greece, Nietzsche took time and change seriously, seeing our species as being totally within the flux of reality. And like the scientist Darwin, the philosopher Nietzsche presented a strictly naturalist worldview. Nevertheless, Nietzsche’s vitalistic interpretation of organic evolution is far removed from Darwin’s materialist explanation for life-forms on earth (including the human animal).
Nietzsche was deeply concerned with the cosmological implications, ethical ramifications, and religious consequences embedded in the fact of evolution (as he saw them). For him, “God is dead!” and, therefore, this dynamic world has no meaning or purpose other than those values that humankind creates for its existence (Nietzsche, 1883–1885/1993). Likewise, if everything changes, then ideas and beliefs and values also change throughout time. In fact, Nietzsche called for a rigorous reevaluation of all values to overcome the complacency and mediocrity that he held to be pervasive in modern civilization.
Darwin neither concerned himself with questions about the beginning of this universe and the origin of life nor speculated on the future of our species and the end of this cosmos. Instead, he focused his time and effort on demonstrating (as best he could) the fact of evolution in terms of empirical evidence and logical argumentation. In sharp contrast, however, Nietzsche was always eager to grapple with those metaphysical issues that the evolution framework posed for both philosophy and theology.
Nietzsche’s philosophical anthropology gives priority to no particular society or specific culture. His own position emphasizes the value of human creativity within the history of a creative universe in general and the process of creative evolution in particular.
Nietzsche’s worldview stresses three essential ideas that are compatible with the evolution theory as he interpreted it: The dynamic universe is ultimately a will to power; the further evolution of the human animal will bring about a superior form, the overbeing, which will be as intellectually advanced beyond our species of today as the human being is now biologically advanced beyond the lowly worm, and the eternal recurrence of this same universe as his all-encompassing conception of reality itself.
In his sweeping vision of the eternal recurrence, Nietzsche maintains that this finite cyclical universe will repeat itself forever. He argued that space and the amount of matter or energy in reality is finite, but time is eternal. Therefore, only a finite cosmic series of objects and events and relationships is possible. Consequently, this identical sequence repeats itself an infinite number of times; there was no first sequence and there will be no last sequence. Since each cosmic cycle is absolutely identical, there is no evolution from universe to universe within this endless repetition. As a result, Nietzsche himself and everything else in reality has a form of natural immortality.
The eternal recurrence remains an engaging idea in modern cosmology, especially in terms of an oscillating model for this dynamic universe.
Critical of Charles Darwin’s mechanistic and materialistic interpretation of organic evolution, the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859–1941) offered a vitalistic explanation for biological history in his major work, Creative Evolution (1907/1998). Unlike the early scientists who defended Darwin’s naturalism, for example, Huxley and Haeckel, Bergson argued that it was only a philosophical interpretation of organic evolution that would disclose the essential aspect of diverging lifeforms on earth over countless millions of years and, furthermore, would reveal the unique value of the human being in terms of its immediate awareness of real time and creative evolution.
Bergson set forth his essential philosophical stance in his book An Introduction to Metaphysics (1903). To grasp the significance of his conceptual orientation, it is necessary to understand Bergson’s crucial distinction between science and metaphysics: Science is interested in a rational (mathematical and logical) analysis of the appearance of diverse and fixed material objects in external space; in sharp contrast, metaphysics is concerned with intuitively grasping the creative flux of events in the unity of reality as evolving consciousness in internal time or duration. Bergson gave preference to intuition over reason, that is, metaphysical insights over scientific information. He argued that it was only through intuition that a human being could appreciate both the flux of time and the creativity in evolution.
As a vitalist, Bergson (1907/1998) held that an invisible life force, or élan vital, causes the awesome creativity throughout organic evolution on our planet. He maintained that this metaphysical principal is needed to account for the emergence of an enormous diversity of species that has appeared over countless millions of years on earth. For him, the diverging evolution of life-forms has taken three major directions: plants with torpor, insects with instinct, and animals with consciousness. Bergson focused on the evolution of animals, which demonstrated (for him) a direction toward ever-increasing complexity and everincreasing consciousness. So far, this direction has reached its peak in the human animal with its self-consciousness. In fact, in our own species, Bergson maintained that selfconsciousness is the élan vital conscious of itself. He even envisioned, as human evolution continues, the emergence of a community of mystics.
Vitalism is not taken seriously by most modern evolutionists, who give priority to science and reason rather than to metaphysical speculations and mystical beliefs. Thus, neo-Darwinists interpret organic evolution within a strictly naturalistic framework.
Greatly influenced by the Darwinian theory in science, the American philosopher John Dewey (1859–1952) presented his own dynamic outlook as “instrumentalism,” a version of pragmatism. Having abandoned his early interest in Hegelian idealism, he wholeheartedly embraced the evolutionary paradigm with its far-reaching naturalistic implications for comprehending the place of humankind within this universe. Therefore, he saw our species within the organic history of this planet and earth within the cosmic history of this universe. His mature position gave no credence to idealism or spiritualism.
In his essay, “The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy” (1910), Dewey had called for philosophers to take the fact of evolution seriously (Dewey, 1965). In doing so, the entrenched two-world interpretation of reality as matter and spirit is discredited, as is a dualistic view of the human being as mortal body and immortal soul. Dewey best presented his own philosophy in Experience and Nature (1925/1958), a book that rigorously advocates the value of human experience and scientific inquiry.
Dewey understood the human animal as the recent product of biological evolution, a natural process within which there is always an interaction between organisms and their environments. He saw the discoveries in anthropology as being crucial for any sound interpretation of humankind within nature. Additionally, Dewey appreciated both the scientific method and the use of human concepts as means for solving problems in the natural and social worlds. For this philosopher, knowledge and wisdom come from experiencing nature itself; facts and concepts and values are derived from reflecting on experiences within nature. For Dewey, ideas and beliefs and hypotheses have adaptive value, as do critical thinking and social action. He claimed that advances in science and philosophy are only possible when there is an active community of free inquirers in a democratic society. Not surprisingly, Dewey completely rejected both Spencer’s social Darwinism and Nietzsche’s ruthless individualism.
John Dewey remains an inspiration for all naturalists and humanists, particularly those dedicated to education. For the scientific philosopher as active pragmatist, the evolutionary perspective allows for the ongoing transformation of our species in terms of adapting to and surviving in an endlessly changing universe. Thus, the enlightenment and fulfillment of humankind requires taking seriously both philosophical reflection and scientific research.
In Serbia, the historian Božidar Kneževic´ (1862–1905) developed a unique interpretation of evolution that grew out of the ideas of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer (among others). Although he adopted a cosmic vision, his bold speculations focused on the history and future of life on earth. Within the ascent and then descent of this immense universe, Kneževic´ saw our species as being only a part of the evolution and then the devolution of organisms on this planet. As such, the naturalist taught that neither the planet earth nor the human animal is at the center of cosmic reality; consequently, he held that each is an ephemeral event in the material universe.
Kneževic´ (1901/1980) saw both cosmic and planetary history as a semicircle of evolutionary ascent from an initial chaos followed by a devolutionary descent back to an ultimate chaos. He held that this universe is utterly indifferent to the fleeting incident of human existence, and in time, everything will disappear in the endless flux of cosmic reality.
Even so, Kneževic´ was convinced that other planets, stars, galaxies, and universes exist and undergo this pervasive semicircular history within the infinity of superspace and the eternity of supertime. On earth, after the appearance of vertebrates from invertebrates, the fossil record shows the sequential emergence of these groups: fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Most recently, one sees the appearance of the human animal. Subsequently, when planetary devolution sets in, our species will be the first organism to vanish, followed by this series of extinctions in the remaining groups: mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and lastly all of the invertebrates. This semicircular process will occur on other planets with life-forms, including intelligent beings superior to our species (in each case, the last form to appear is the first form to disappear).
Božidar Kneževic´ was a brave spokesperson for science, reason, evolution, and open inquiry. He was a futurist who courageously advocated naturalism and humanism. His acknowledgement of the inevitable extinction of our own species and, in fact, of all that exists is a sobering but relevant reminder of the finitude of life-forms, which needs to be taken seriously in our modern worldview (particularly with the present growing concern for the environment).
Alfred North Whitehead
With its emphasis on time and change, the evolution framework had a significant influence on 20th-century thought. This outlook inspired serious thinkers to see creativity in this world in terms of an expanding universe and emerging species; it also resulted in a deep concern for dynamic philosophy and process theology. This focus on pervasive change throughout cosmic time is exemplified in the impressive writings of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), who was interested in not only scientific discoveries but also metaphysical speculations. He sought to include the recent findings of both relativity physics and evolutionary biology in his comprehensive worldview that reflects their implications for understanding and appreciating the value of human experiences and feelings within an ever-changing universe. Whitehead taught first in England and then in the United States, distinguishing himself at the University of Cambridge and later at Harvard University. His academic life passed through three distinct stages; it moved from mathematics and logic, through a concern for education and the history of science, to natural philosophy and metaphysics (Whitehead, 1920/1964, 1925/1967, 1929/1969).
Whitehead’s major work is Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (1929/1969). It is a systematic interpretation of change that aims to incorporate both the being of eternal objects and the becoming of actual occasions. This ongoing interaction between being and becoming results in the all-encompassing creativity of endless reality. In terms of pervasive experiences and feelings, all objects and events continuously interact in the evolutionary advance of this eternal and infinite universe. As such, there is an integrated and essential unity (through experiencing and feeling) of human perception and reality itself, that is, a unity of internal mental activity with external physical activity throughout the extensive continuum of this cosmic epoch.
As a panentheist, Whitehead merely distinguished between God and Nature (for him, they are neither separate nor identical entities); both are interacting forever, as there is no ultimate end or final goal to the creative process of an endless reality. However, there have been and will be other finite cosmic epochs, each with its own physical laws and unique creativity. In short, Whitehead’s dynamic cosmology clearly illustrates how extremely abstract an interpretation of evolving nature may become. Within this philosophy of organism, the experiencing human being is the concrescence of all its actual occasions within a continuously flowing space-time continuum.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
There is a crucial distinction between the fact of evolution in science and those interpretations of evolution that exist in the philosophical literature. Evolutionary viewpoints range from materialism through vitalism and spiritualism to mysticism. Furthermore, for some thinkers, there is a serious need to synthesize science and theology into a comprehensive philosophical system that will embrace both established facts and personal beliefs. Such an audacious attempt had been made by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), an eminent French geopaleontologist and devout Jesuit priest, who accepted both the truth and challenge of evolution, despite the inevitable problems and tragic consequences his unique vision would cause him from some myopic religionists and his intolerant superiors (Birx, 2006d).
Because of his interest in both science and theology in terms of evolution, Teilhard was eventually silenced by the Roman Catholic Church for his unorthodox views on original sin. He was then exiled from France to China, where his geological research at Zhoukoudian, the significant fossil hominid site near Peking (now Beijing), and his subsequent scientific writings made him world famous (Aczel, 2007). Teilhard’s involvement as a geologist with this Sinanthropus pekinensis discovery resulted in his intense reflections on the meaning and purpose of human evolution within dynamic reality. Consequently, he authored his major but controversial philosophical book, The Phenomenon of Man (1975; written in 1938–1940, 1947–1948, and first published in 1955 in French). Unfortunately, the Vatican denied him permission to have it published. Quintessentially, the book argued for a teleological and mystical interpretation of human existence on earth based on theistic evolution (what today is referred to as an appeal to an intelligent design within the historical process of the natural world).
Teilhard worked with those geologists, paleontologists, and anthropologists who were dedicated to unearthing the remains of fossil hominids in the Eastern Hemisphere, from Africa to Indonesia. He himself spoke of an anthropogenesis, that is, the emergence and ongoing evolution of our species. He also called for an ultra-anthropology, that is, a rigorously comprehensive view of humankind within this evolving world. Of course, for many, evolution was a devastating challenge to traditional theologies and religious beliefs. It required a reinterpretation of God, personal immortality, human free will, and the divine destiny for our species. In their dynamic worldview of reality, both Teilhard and Whitehead were panentheists, seeing God and Nature as continuously interacting in an ongoing process of creative evolution.
Teilhard’s unique synthesis (1975) is based on four fundamental conceptual assumptions: (1) The unity of this process universe is ultimately grounded in spiritual energy; (2) cosmic evolution reveals the design of ever-increasing complexity and ever-centralizing consciousness; (3) organic evolution on the finite, spherical earth reveals three consecutive and essential layers (matter or the geosphere, life or the biosphere [Vernadsky, 1926/1998], and thought or the noosphere); and (4) the end goal of human evolution will occur on this planet with the formation of a theosphere. For this Jesuit scientist, converging and involuting human evolution will eventually form a collective consciousness at the Omega Point, which is the ultimate destiny for our species on the earth. Then, this collective consciousness will detach itself from this planet, transcend space and time, and unite itself with a personal God as a result of a final mystical synthesis.
In the last analysis, Teilhard’s cosmology (Heller, 2009) is actually a planetology. Incredible as his vision may seem, it is nevertheless to Teilhard’s lasting credit that he accepted the fact of evolution at a time when the worldwide religious community was either skeptical of it or rejected it outright. Actually, by foreseeing the future unity of our human world through converging advances in science and technology, Teilhard had glimpsed our age of the Internet.
In the history of philosophy, there has been a contentious debate between the objectivists who gave preference to the natural world and the subjectivists who gave preference to the human mind. This clash in metaphysics continues today; some philosophers claim that the material universe is the starting point for any sound cosmology, while others ground their worldview in the reflective ego as the alleged center of any true ontology. However, if philosophy takes the factual theory of organic evolution seriously, then any metaphysical framework must embrace both a dynamic universe independent of human thought and the recent emergence of our species within the sweeping history of life-forms on this planet.
As a distinguished American philosopher, Marvin Farber (1901–1980) devoted his academic activities to the intellectual defense of a cosmic naturalism over a myopic subjectivism (Farber, 1968a, 1968b). Although he studied and contributed to phenomenology as a method of inquiry, his own refreshing naturalist standpoint recognized the severe limitations of restricting philosophical investigations to merely the content of a human mind. Farber accepted the fact of evolution, realizing the far-reaching implications that this scientific theory holds for philosophical ideas and religious beliefs. Consequently, his unabashed atheism and pervasive naturalism were in stark contrast to all idealist positions in the philosophical literature and all theistic interpretations in religious thought.
Farber had been greatly influenced by the writings of Ludwig Feuerbach and Karl Marx (among others). He was indebted to the cosmic perspective of Giordano Bruno and the evolutionary framework of Ernst Haeckel. His inquiring mind was always open to crucial findings in the natural and social sciences, as well as advances in logic. He was particularly receptive to the ongoing discoveries in anthropology, a discipline he thought to be especially important to any sound understanding of and proper appreciation for human existence in terms of both science and philosophy. To him, the facts and concepts of scientific anthropology are indispensible for modern philosophy.
Incorporating the evolutionary perspective, Farber held that humankind is merely a newcomer in earth history, and its vulnerable existence is a fleeting event within the flux of cosmic reality. Therefore, one must come to grips with the ephemeral status of mental activity in this universe. Moreover, for him, the ongoing discoveries in paleoanthropology, as well as research in primatology and genetics, offer a striking confirmation of human evolution and the close relationship between our own species and the great apes.
Because of his commitment to the special sciences, uncompromising materialism, and sobering interpretation of human evolution, the wise Marvin Farber stood almost alone in modern philosophy. Nevertheless, his enlightened stance against ignorance and superstition would gladly welcome all forthcoming findings in scientific anthropology and evolutionary science. As Farber saw it, the goal of human research is to increase freedom, happiness, and longevity (with the issues in ethics taking priority over those themes that still surround epistemology and metaphysics).
One may anticipate a neo-Enlightenment with a renewed emphasis on science, reason, and humanism. For now, however, and with prudent courage, our species must have the will to evolve and fulfill itself on earth and later elsewhere in a godless universe.
Research and Speculation
The ramifications of evolution open up new areas for scientific research, especially in anthropology with its focus on humankind. Although opposition to the fact of evolution continues, it does not stifle rational speculations on the awesome possibilities that evolution holds for both the future of our species and the probable existence of lifeforms on other worlds.
The Neo-Darwinian Synthesis
At the beginning of the 20th century, scientists were divided into two distinct groups concerning the primary force behind organic evolution: One group argued that the explanatory mechanism of natural selection accounted for the emergence of new species over vast periods of time, while the other group maintained that genetic variation held the key to understanding and appreciating biological evolution. However, before 1959, it became obvious that genetic variation and natural selection, taken together, explained the appearance of new species throughout the history of life-forms on earth. As a result, populations (or gene pools) became the focus of evolutionary research, particularly in terms of probability and statistics. As such, neo-Darwinism, or the so-called synthetic theory of organic evolution, now represents the scientific foundation for modern biology.
The writings of several scientists helped to popularize the emerging synthesis in evolution theory: Theodosius Dobzhansky, Sir Julian Huxley, Ernst Mayr, and George Gaylord Simpson (among others). Their informed books spread the facts and concepts of evolution theory, as well as defended evolutionary biology from the uninformed positions of dogmatic biblical fundamentalists and myopic religious creationists. Ongoing discoveries in paleoanthropology and human genetics, as well as improved dating techniques, gave greater empirical evidence to support the fact of human evolution (despite those attacks that still challenge the enormous age of this earth, the mutability of species, and the great antiquity of our own species). The recent completion of the Human Genome Project opens up new areas of research for the genetic engineering of species, including our own.
Sociobiology: Nature and/or Nurture
In 1975, the appearance of a groundbreaking book titled Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, from the American naturalist Edward O. Wilson, caused a major debate among anthropologists, including other scientists and philosophers (Wilson, 1975). A specialist in entomology who focused on the biology and behavior of ants, Wilson boldly extended organic evolution in order to include our own species in terms of seeing human behavior influenced by the inherited genetic makeup of the human animal. His position intensified the nature versus nurture controversy in the academic world, with Wilson himself giving priority to genetic inheritance over sociocultural influences. He has also rigorously advocated protecting and preserving the diversity of life-forms on earth (Wilson, 1992).
Since 1975, and especially with the mapping of the human genome, it is becoming clearer that genes play a substantial role in providing the propensity for causing favorable and unfavorable variations, for example, illness and disease, as well as both desirable and undesirable behavior in species (including in our own). Not surprisingly, some thinkers vehemently object to manipulating the human genome, despite those incredible advantages that this scientific breakthrough will offer for human existence and evolution. Admittedly, sociobiology holds great promises and serious perils. Of course, determining the biological characteristics and behavior patterns of the human being through genetic engineering necessitates that sociobiological research follow stringent ethical guidelines.
As with the origin of any science, there are those people who are at first skeptical of the value of a new field of inquiry and protest the emerging science. However, as time passes and the overwhelming benefits become obvious, the new science is accepted and eventually praised. One may assume that this change of attitude will be true for the emerging science of sociobiology, as well as evolutionary psychology and genetic engineering.
The human being is a complex product of both biology and culture. For the anthropologist, as well as the scientist and philosopher, the fact of biocultural evolution makes it clear that inherited and learned mental activity are grounded in the material brain and that the material organism (no matter how complex) is grounded in the DNA molecule. Consequently, all aspects of the human being are the result of evolution and, therefore, they are subject to scientific inquiry within a naturalist framework.
Anthropology: Facts, Concepts, and Perspectives
As the comprehensive study of evolving humankind, anthropology is that discipline that is devoted to research in those areas that are relevant to understanding and appreciating Homo sapiens sapiens within the natural world (Bollt, 2009; Hublin, 2006). These areas range from genetics, paleontology, and archaeology to sociology, psychology, and linguistics. The more anthropologists search, the more fossils and artifacts they find that shed light on the emergence of our species over several million years. Each discovery helps to complete the developing picture of hominid evolution (Birx, 1988; Shubin, 2009; Tattersall & Schwartz, 2000). Of particular significance are those discoveries in primatology that clearly show the undeniable similarities between our human species and the four great apes in terms of genetics and psychology. Research in cross-cultural studies reveals the astonishing diversity of human thought and behavior from society to society throughout history.
In paleoanthropology, three discoveries have been especially important: Ardipithecus ramidus (“Ardi”), Astralopithecus afarensis (“Lucy”), and Homo florensiensis (“Hobbit”). Although interpretations of these three hominid species vary among anthropologists, who debate specific conclusions from the fossil specimens, there is no denying the empirical evidence itself. Today, it is exciting to speculate on what remarkable fossil specimens are still in the earth waiting to be discovered by future anthropologists.
A perplexing question still haunts some anthropologists: What is the uniqueness of our species? One answer offered was that the human animal is the only toolmaker— until it was discovered that chimpanzees make and use simple tools (as do a few other animals). A second reply was that only our species has self-consciousness that allows it to communicate through language—until ape studies showed that the pongids have self-awareness and are capable of learning symbolic communication. More recently, it has been argued that only humans stand erect and walk upright with a bipedal gait; that is, only humans are capable of sustained bipedality. However, chimpanzees and bonobos are able to walk erect for short distances. It seems that the only uniqueness of our species that separates us from the other living hominoids is about 6 million years of biological evolution (Rachels, 1999). Huxley, Haeckel, and Darwin himself got it correctly back in the 19th century: Man differs merely in degree rather than in kind from the great apes.
Religious Creationism or Scientific Evolutionism
During the 19th century, two fundamental questions remained to be answered: What is the age of this planet? Have species always been fixed throughout earth history? As evidence accumulated in geology and paleontology, it became increasingly obvious to naturalists that our planet is millions (actually billions) of years old and that species have changed over time (with most species eventually becoming extinct). This emerging evolution framework held devastating consequences for all orthodox conceptions of earth, life-forms, and our species. In 1860 at the University of Oxford, England, the infamous Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce confrontation exemplified the intense conflict between the new evolution paradigm in science and an outmoded static worldview in religion.
The fact of evolution challenged not only traditional science and philosophy but also natural theology. Darwin himself was disturbed by the materialist implications of his own evolution theory for religious beliefs. In fact, his wife, Emma, even felt compelled to delete all of her husband’s views on theology and religion from his Autobiography, which was published posthumously in 1887; not until 1958 did an unexpurgated edition of Darwin’s life, written by himself in 1876, appear in print (Darwin, 1969).
In England, to reconcile evolutionary science with Christian faith, religious naturalist Philip Gosse argued that God had placed fossils in the earth in order to merely suggest that organic evolution had taken place, although in reality (so thought Gosse) species are fixed and earth had been suddenly created only about 6,000 years ago. Not surprisingly, his bizarre but provocative book Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot (1857) convinced neither scientists nor theologians.
During the 20th century, reacting to the materialist ramifications of organic evolution, some religionists argued against the new dynamic outlook by first defending biblical fundamentalism and then advocating so-called scientific creationism (Isaak, 2007). Both viewpoints gave priority to beliefs rather than to facts. In 1925 at Dayton, Tennessee, the infamous John Scopes “Monkey Trial” had best represented this ongoing clash between science and religion over the factual theory of organic evolution.
In an attempt to reconcile modern science with traditional theology, some religionists now maintain that the universe in general and evolution in particular manifest an intelligent design (Petto & Godfrey, 2007). Ultimately, this is a religious position not supported by scientific evidence. Despite all the ongoing attacks, continuing research in all areas of science (from genetics to paleontology) confirms the fact of evolution and the close biological relationship between our species and the great apes. In fact, an honest examination of human history clearly shows that even complex religious beliefs and theological systems have evolved, over thousands of years, from simplistic explanations for interpreting the natural world. No doubt, exciting discoveries in the future will further strengthen the evolution framework. Finally, in light of ongoing changes in human societies and their cultures, one wonders what the religious beliefs and theological systems of human beings will look like 2,000 years from now.
Evolutionary Humanism, Transhumanism, and Posthumanism
Grounded in science, reason, and an open-ended perspective, evolutionary humanism emphasizes the ongoing development of human beings within a strictly naturalistic framework. It maintains the unity of mental activity and the organic brain, and places our species totally within biological evolution. With optimism, evolutionary humanism argues for the improvement of our species in order to increase its health, happiness, and longevity (overcoming illness, disease, and physical disability). With the advances in science and technology since the middle of the 20th century, especially in genetics, the innovative ideas and pragmatic values of this movement for human enhancement would seem increasingly plausible for guiding our evolving species.
Extending the evolutionary framework, some scientists and philosophers see the human being as an unfinished species that will continue to change as a result of implementing nanotechnology and genetic engineering (Harris, 2007; Savulescu & Bostrom, 2009; Sorgner, 2006; Young, 2006). Both the ideas and values of transhumanism (going beyond the human of today) have been put forward by several visionary thinkers: Nick Bostrom, Fereidoun M. Esfandiary, Sir Julian S. Huxley, Michel Houellebecq, and Julian Savulescu (among others). Through human intervention, these thinkers argue, our species will be improved in its biological and psychological makeup, just as Homo sapiens of today is a biopsychological advance over Homo erectus of the distant past.
Reminiscent of Friedrich Nietzsche’s conception of the overbeing, some thinkers even speculate that the transhuman will be the “missing link” between the human of today and the posthuman of the remote future. In fact, the posthuman may even be a new species far beyond both humans and the following transhumans. Of course, one cannot imagine the nature of the posthumans. It is likely that these cosmic overbeings will travel to and live among the stars.
Exobiology and Exoevolution
In 1836, during the end of his 5-year voyage on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin revisited the tropical Brazilian rainforest. He admired this lush environment and thought how great it would be, if it were ever possible, to experience the scenery on another planet. Therefore, at least once, the young naturalist glimpsed the forthcoming science of exobiology or astrobiology as the search for life-forms on other worlds (and if they are found, their study).
In the history of philosophy, major thinkers like Giordano Bruno (1548–1600) and Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) envisioned living beings inhabiting other planets. Today, with advances in technology, scientists are seriously scanning the heavens in hopes of detecting indisputable evidence that organisms exist elsewhere in sidereal reality (Boss, 2009; Lamb, 2001). The size and age of this material universe, with its billions of galaxies each having billions of stars, argues for the existence of countless planets. If the same physical laws and chemical elements pervade this cosmos, then it seems reasonable to assume that earthlike worlds harbor life-forms among the stars, perhaps even sentient beings similar to or even advanced beyond ourselves.
In our own solar system, the earth has those necessary natural conditions that have allowed for the origin and evolution of biological forms over the past 4 billion years. Beyond this solar system, extrasolar planets may have similar life zones that permit the existence of organisms. Thus, planetology becomes cosmology as the probability of and interest in biological evolution are extended to include this entire universe. Likewise, exobiology implies exoevolution, that is, the evolution of life-forms on different worlds, where organisms are adapting to changing habitats far different from those environments on earth (Birx, 2006b). In the distant future, both exobiology and exoevolution may offer intriguing areas for scientific research.
Even if forms of life are never found elsewhere in this universe, it does not mean that they do not exist on worlds that will remain beyond the detection of our human species (Webb, 2002). Moreover, organisms may have existed in the remote past before the formation of the present galaxies or will emerge in the distant future in new galaxies. And there may have been, are, or will be other universes with life-forms very similar to or far different from those organisms that have inhabited or are now inhabiting earth. One can only speculate on what the consequences might be if our human species ever encounters superior intelligent beings evolving among the stars.
Since the convincing writings of Charles Darwin, interpretations of organic evolution have evolved from the narrow materialism of early evolutionists to the comprehensive naturalism of modern neo-Darwinists. Advances in those special sciences that support biological evolution include ongoing discoveries in paleontology, comparative biology, anthropology, and population genetics, as well as more accurate dating techniques in geology and biochemistry. Progress in these special sciences is an increasing challenge to vitalistic, spiritualistic, and mystical interpretations of our species and organic evolution.
Two exciting and promising but controversial areas in modern evolution research are transhumanism and exoevolution. With the rapid advances in nanotechnology and genetic engineering, an increasing ability to design the DNA molecule will allow humans to alter and improve species, including our own, and to design new organisms for specific purposes both on earth and in outer space; as such, one may speak of emerging teleology in terms of human intervention and technological manipulation. The successful journey of human beings into outer space will require our species to adapt to and survive in different environments, both artificial and natural. If life-forms are discovered elsewhere in this universe, then scientists and philosophers will be able to study the evolution of organisms on other worlds.
Quo vadis, Homo sapiens? In those countless centuries to come, the human being may even transform itself into a new species, Homo futurensis. Of course, designer evolution will require establishing ethical guidelines while promoting open inquiry. For now, the primary focus must be on those steps that need to be taken to ensure the continued biodiversity of life-forms on this planet, including the ongoing fulfillment of humans on this earth before they venture to the stars.
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