I’ve just read a fascinating article in New Scientist.
Anatomist Frank Rühli is investigating how much the human body has changed over the last few thousand years. In essence, Rühli’s embarked on a mission to chart how civilisation has, and still is, resculpting our bodies. So far, he’s come to the conclusion that the modern western lifestyle is continually changing our height, muscles, bones, blood vessels and hormones.
Rühli postulates, not unreasonably, that some of those transformations could be genetic in origin; in other words, they’re the outworkings of microevolution. But – and here’s where it gets interesting – there is also ample evidence to suspect that others are just temporary changes fashioned by the environment in which we live. And as such, these changes would disappear if we returned to a ‘Stone Age environment’. But, as the author of the article points out:
the complex interplay of nature and nurture is hard to disentangle, but the sheer breadth and scale of the changes show the ease with which the human body can adapt to new habitats over short timescales.
You can read the article for yourself: Modern bodies: Our 10,000-year makeover – life – 21 March 2011 – New Scientist.
Presumably our ‘minds’ are able to be resculpted in a similar manner? Or maybe the discovery of a biological basis for physical changes cannot be translated into mental functioning and ‘moral behaviour’. Avoiding crude determinism and reductionism is important here, especially as humanity seems no closer to being able to live in peace and harmony now than it ever has. Our collective inability to learn from past events and to construct a better way of living based on the precepts of love, compassion and empathy haven’t been all that successful have they?
Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, in an interview given some time ago now argues that: ‘the world is not learning anything’. Here are his thoughts, courtesy of youtube:
Wiesel makes some very valid points.
It is easy to become disheartened, frustrated and disillusioned when we look around us and the evidence of disharmony and hatred are all too evident. But look to the future. The words of Isaiah 11:1-9 are a powerful reminder that the future is in God’s hands. In his presence, there is harmony, love, compassion and empathy in abundance:
1A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.
6The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.