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Elephants, Evolution, and The Epitome of Existence

Elephants, Evolution, and The Epitome of Existence October 28, 2021

In Mozambique African elephants are quickly evolving without tusks. It’s a prime example of evolution happening in real time. What does this tell us about human evolution?

Scientists have linked heavy ivory poaching to an increase of tuskless African female elephants in Mozambique at the Gorangosa National Park . . . The East African country underwent a nearly two decade civil war that decimated 90 percent of the Gorangosa elephant population because both sides engaged in animal poaching. This activity may have set off an evolutionary response that favored tuskless elephants as population numbers recovered.”

Which is good news for the female elephants, but bad news for male elephants, because . . .

“While no longer having ivory tusks may save elephants from poaching, the genetic mutation responsible for eliminating tusks is lethal to male elephants, reports Elizabeth Preston for the New York Times.”

Survival of the fittest?

In Mozambique African elephants are quickly evolving without tusks. It’s a prime example of evolution happening in real time. What does this tell us about human evolution? / Image by Sammy-Sander from Pixabay

It was Herbert Spencer who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest.” However, this is not what’s happening with this elephant population. Since it’s lethal for male elephants to be born without tusks, what we are witnessing here is survival by luck for the female elephants; death by bad luck for the male elephants; and possibly extinction by misfortune for the entire species.

Tradition has it that humanity represents the most evolved species on our planet, and that we are at the pinnacle of our evolutionary development. I say “tradition,” because this truism has more to do with an ingrained belief rather than facts.

For Christians and the followers of other Abrahamic religions, tradition holds that we “are created in the image of God.” The assumption is that we were created perfectly, but through successive generations of sin we have digressed into the pitiful creatures we look at in the mirror each day.

In terms of our intellectual abilities we are the most advanced creature on earth. As far as our physical abilities go, however, this is far from true. Many animal and insect species possess far superior physical abilities than we do.

To a certain extent, many philosophies also regard our species with high regard and teach similar traditions about human nature. That humans are essentially just a few steps from—or just a few levels below—achieving full enlightenment; the highest stage of human development.

Toss out these traditional theories and what truth remains? Just this harsh reality: We don’t have a clue where we fall along the continuum of human existence. Although we started evolving millions of years ago after our departure from the likes of apes, Homo sapiens have only been around for about 200,000 years.  An infantile species really, when you think about it. We could easily be wiped out of existence tomorrow. Or we could continue to evolve for hundreds of millions of years.

Some may bemoan the fragility of our existence with grave concern. Yet, understanding how incredibly lucky we are to even be around, that we could be gone in the blink of an eye, or that we could evolve for millions of years is exhilarating! And each one of these potentials offers good reason to be eternally grateful and filled with optimism.

How lucky we are to be alive . . .

Simply put, there is nothing that compares to having the opportunity to experience life. That said, to be a member of the human species is one thing, but when a person comprehends the significance of being a living entity this is another thing altogether. Setting the notion of being created from a biblical perspective aside, there are literally billions of circumstances that needed to fall into place for each one of us to be born and enjoy an ample amount of time on this planet.

We could be gone in the blink of an eye . . .

—And so, what if this happens? If a meteor plows into earth tomorrow and we all die so what? First off, knowing this might happen doesn’t change the thrill of being born and experiencing life in the first place. But appreciating that our species could die off tomorrow teaches us how to mentally straddle that fine line between understanding the finiteness of death and the fulness of life. It invites us to engage and experience life in the deepest possible ways.

Humanity could keep evolving for tens of millions of years . . .

This is where the spade meets the dirt. For however grand we think our species is today, the lifeforms we evolve into and the intellectual abilities we develop tomorrow, may resemble nothing like the creatures we are today. This is a truly humbling realization. It means that in the continuum of the human experience we are not perfect, nor have we even begun to reach the pinnacle of our potential.

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About Scott R Stahlecker
Scott Stahlecker is a former minister, a member of the Clergy Project, and writes for Thinkadelics about the joys and benefits of living as a freethinker. He is the author of the novel Blind Guides, Picking Wings Off Butterflies and How to Escape Religion Guilt Free. You can read more about the author here.

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7 responses to “Elephants, Evolution, and The Epitome of Existence”

  1. I think that whatever follows us 1,000,000 years from now will look at our fossils and relics and wonder how such a primitive species survived over 250,000 years after first showing up as homo sapiens. They will find a withered red MAGA hat and understand what destroyed the species’ brains. They will find symbols like crosses and crescents, stars and OMs and ask what those mean. And they will also find scores for the B-minor Mass and think how tragic it was that our species destroyed itself and its enviroment.

  2. Evolution is not progressive and improving as the example of tuskless bull elephants and blind fish and spiders trapped in caves may indicate.
    The very recently evolved species of ape we call “human” vcan. Degenerate as is confirmed by the extreme and stubborn ignorance of many members of our species in recent times.
    The cull by the SARS-COV-2 virus of the most ignorant members of the current generation who reject life saving vaccination can be observed as evolution in action but it’s too early to tell if our species will split into higher and lower intellect species or be subsumed into the lower intellectually equiped future species?

  3. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the cull that you speak about isn’t going to happen globally in a way that might positively effect our species. The world is still a melting pot, and the unvaccinated as well as the vaccinated will continue to procreate.

    Another factor to consider . . . some of us would like to assume that anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers in America are stupid and irrational. By and large, many of them seem to be religious and thus prone to believing in ideas and myths that defy science. So, in the most general of terms, if we could isolate the anti-vaxxers from the vaxxers, in time we could observe how these two groups might evolve differently. But in poorer countries the spread of the virus is related more to not having vaccines and other factors, and not necessarily because people are not bright enough to differentiate between truth and lies.

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