Anthropology and The Urantia Book on hominid evolution

Comparison of revelation with discovery and theory.

Footnotes are links to the Urantia Foundation version of the papers, and open in a single separate tab or window.^ Hover over footnote for link information.

Greetings, fellow UB students!

Mindful Drawings
from photos in Coon:
Tiwi and Pathan

I've been slowly plowing through a book I stumbled across in the local library, The Origin of Races, by Carleton S. Coon, Knopf 1971. Obviously, this book doesn't benefit from the last twenty-six years of anthropological research. Studies of the human genome had barely begun when it was written. It also doesn't reflect the last quarter-century of political correctness, much of which denies that humanity has races at all. (One probably couldn't get a book about humans with that title published these days.)

Only a couple of years after this book was published (but unrelatedly!), I first found my way into The Urantia Book via the History of Urantia papers on later human evolution. While I'd never taken an anthropology course, was more into the arts than the sciences, I was interested in evolutionary theory in general and the mysteries of the appearance of humanity specifically. What little I had read of anthropology was confusing to me, anthropologists seeming to have no real substantial answers on the actual evolutionary development of homo erectus. The Urantia Book, although addressing the subject only in sweeping and generalized overview written as a small part of its greater revelatory purposes, nevertheless was the most amazing, complete, and straightforward information I'd ever encountered on evolution in general and human evolution specifically.

The UB's descriptions of sudden appearances of new species seemed wild, yet seemed to me to fit the fossil record better than the then generally accepted theories of gradual progression. Since then, what I believe is called punctuated equilibrium, the "beneficent monster" theory, has come more to the fore, and entirely because theory has to adapt to deal with the fact of the insistent absence of so many anticipated transitional forms. In this general regard, this aspect of the UB has held its own through the decades, but in my haphazard and occasional studies of the subject, I haven't been able to correlate the rapidly-growing and -changing body of discoveries and theories of anthropology with the descriptions in the UB. UB and anthropology even seem to be diverging rather than converging, perhaps more than any other area of science. The revelation's statements about the evolutionary progression of man from our lemur-like ancestors to the first humans occurring in only about a million and a half years1 doesn't fit with the increasingly ancient anthropological discoveries; the UB's progression of hominid ancestors from North American through Southwestern Asian development doesn't correlate with the African genesis upon which anthropology seem to be concentrating.

Despite its anachronism in this fast-growing field, Coon's book has helped me understand a little better about several basics about our appearance, and problems in the field of understanding our appearance. (By the way, when I use those five-dollar words, remember that I'm an amateur who doesn't really know his phylum from his genus. I may now understand what Coon means when he writes that "in the human karyotype, none of the autosomal chromosomes are telocentric," but only because as a writer he's a thorough teacher. So if you see me err in usage, don't laugh — well, laugh if you want, but correct my ignorance gently.)

For one thing, primates are apparently among the most plastic of genotypes. The primates, the order of mammals to which humanity belongs, have adapted readily to a wide range of environments by variance of size, means of locomotion, social systems, and diet and related matters like digestive or dental adaptation. Primates are not only highly adaptive, but adaptive over a relatively short time. While I haven't been able to relate Coon's information to the UB's, the rapid changes described in the UB seem to fit with this high genetic flexibility.

Another factor in the difficulty of tracing hominid evolution is habitat. The fossil record depends on fossil preservation. Animals which lived in areas where they could end up trapped in mudpits and the like gave us excellent fossils. While some primates lived in swamps and similarly fortuitous areas, most of our ancestry is actually missing because the primates' habits and habitats are generally not conducive to fossilization.

The plasticity of the primate order brings up another point of difficulty in tracing our evolution, that traits do not appear in neat sequences. A particular type of apparently human trait might appear, and even disappear, from a line of our distant kin, without having any significant relationship to our immediate ancestry. Parallel evolution of traits can confuse the record; brachiation (tree-swinging locomotion) occurred in New World and Old World primates with the same characteristics (length of forearm, chest shape), but apparently developed completely independently.

The simplistic model of evolution originally suggested was that small random mutations would appear, and those few which were positive for the organism — survival-oriented like protective coloration or dietarily propitious — would endure the contest of life while those which were not would be eliminated through attrition. Now, I'm no expert as I said and not entirely clear on my history, but as I recall even during Darwin's lifetime this simple theory proved insufficient. Such adaptation does play a significant role, of course, but there are far more complex mechanisms involved. Given simple organisms, short breeding times, and multiple offspring, random mutation might be a sufficient explanation for the progress of evolution. With complex higher organisms, extended prepubescence, and smaller broods, the appearance of positive traits through purely random mutation should become increasingly rare. Yet primates, especially our ancestors, with long childhoods and only singletons or twins as a rule, evidence incredible adaptability in just a relatively few generations.

More than simple random mutation and survival of the fittest, there seems to be a genuine chromosomal-characteristic response over just a few generations to the demands placed upon the organism by changes in habit or environment. Here I'm going well beyond Coon's book, but as I've read his tracing of primate and other animal adaptations it seems to confirm this adaptive response. The secret of this phenomenal genetic response isn't fully understood, that I know of, and there are theories which postulate elaborate almost metaphysical means for such response — a kind of genetic ether theory — but I think common biological mechanical and electrochemical techniques will, eventually, provide mostly sufficient explanation. (The UB speaks of this characteristic of life as superphysical but not supernatural.)2 There are solid physical reasons why trees grow as they do, to take maximum advantage of the elements, earth, water, air, and sun. As the forests grow, so do the arboreal animals brachiate and their adaptive physiology will therefore be parallel whether in the forests of South America, Asia, or on another planet of material life forms, purely for physical reasons. The impetus for elongated forearms is such brachiating locomotion, and there is more at work than just the superior survivability of the long-armed; the genetic material seemingly responds directly to the demands on the organism to produce longer forearms on demand. This is all theoretical and I don't know of anything proven in this area. But the appearance of sudden new forms when the time and tides are suitable would seem to be (as the UB says3 an entirely natural development of the same type as the less dramatic mutations induced by habit or habitat changes.

Consider this list of complications. Genetic plasticity — rapid and wide adaptation. Traits, even as distinctive as semi-erect posture and partial bipedal locomotion, may appear and disappear rather than appearing in tidy linear sequences (as with the several attempts of evolution at producing birds.4 Parallel evolution — traits may appear at different places and times in different groups without any connection of direct descent (remember where the UB says that had something happened to Andon and Fonta, others would have independently evolve to human-will status5—and perhaps, although the UB doesn't say, did). The already-difficult incompleteness of the fossil record is especially complicated by our ancestors who didn't live in areas and ways which favored fossilization. Relatively rapid-fire changes and sudden speciation deprive us of easily-traced intermediate forms. And although we like to classify and categorize by genus, nature is not so neat and tidy; atypical traits may appear in any group and, beyond the level of the individual organism, taxonomy is always a game of generalization of the average which fails to account for the huge number of overlapping fringe groups (remember how some of Andon and Fonta's less-brilliant descendants could intermate with genetic inferiors).6 Broad-ranging and highly adaptive primates aren't as easily segregated and classified as orders which are more environmentally range-limited (recall that our ancestors which evolved from North American prosimians — lemur-like creatures — which are not in direct ancestry with the modern Madagascar lemurs7 — met and mated with related species when they arrived in the area of India8), and this is increasingly true as greater brain-power made our ancestors even more adaptive and far-ranging. Altogether, these difficulties mean our anthropologists can bark up the wrong trees, in the wrong places, over-segregate closely related groups, infer a sequentiality which is invalid, and otherwise completely misconstrue the taxonomy and phylogeny.

I can't guess to what extent the anthropological information in the UB was restricted by the revelators' limitations on anticipating scientific discoveries.9 I've found little so far to directly substantiate the UB's information on this subject, yet nothing to refute it. I don't know, but I don't think their statements represent human knowledge of the time of the revelation. I suspect their statements may fall into the area of information which we would never be able to recover from the geologic record and which we are therefore entitled to have revealed to us. We may find along the way (or already have) bits and pieces which will, in due time, better substantiate the theories one may derive from the UB's anthropological information, but without the UB's overview, we might never put it together on our own — just as is true with the theological revelations.

Anyone out there with a real anthropological background who can help me out on this, chime in. I don't expect to make a lifetime career of this — I hope to finish Coon's book, and its sequel, by the end of the millennium, but I'm a student of many fields, master of none, and certainly not anthropology. But especially if you can sift and sort for me the information of the anthropological and genetic research of the last few decades, especially as relates (or doesn't) to the UB, I'd enjoy reading about it. Meanwhile, I guess I'll go on plodding through the next two-thirds of this book and then I'll be roughly caught up to at least a quarter-century ago. :)

Yours in study of the wonders of Urantia.

Footnotes refer to The Urantia Book by Paper (P#), section (§#), sometimes by paragraph (¶#), and by page (p#).

1. "The Early Lemur Types" [UP62 §1 pg703]
2. "Evolutionary Techniques of Life" [UP65 §6 pg737]
3. "The sudden appearance of new species...." [UP58 §6 ¶4-5 pg669]
4. "The wading & swimming prebirds...." [UP60 §3 ¶21-22 pg691]
5. "Even the loss of Anton and Fonta...." [UP65 §3 ¶4 pg734]
6. "The groups going west...." [UP64 §1 ¶7-8 pg719]
7. "Neither were they the offspring...." [UP62 §1 ¶1 pg703]
8. "In these lands to the west of India...." [UP62 §1 ¶2 pg703]
9. "The Limitations of Revelation" [UP101 §4 pg1109]