This would change everything

Edge asked its readers what would change everything. Richard Dawkins has responded.

But such ‘essentialism’ is deeply un-evolutionary. If there were a heaven in which all the animals who ever lived could frolic, we would find an interbreeding continuum between every species and every other. For example I could interbreed with a female who could interbreed with a male who could … fill in a few gaps, probably not very many in this case … who could interbreed with a chimpanzee.

We could construct longer, but still unbroken chains of interbreeding individuals to connect a human with a warthog, a kangaroo, a catfish. This is not a matter of speculative conjecture; it necessarily follows from the fact of evolution.

People often fail to realize this. Of course, humans were magically given souls at some point, so there’s no need to worry about this continuum. A god simply decided, at some arbitrary point, that a mother and father were not human but their offspring were. While the mother and father were clearly underserving of such a gift, the children, being full-fledged humans, were given a pass into an afterlife.

1. The discovery of relict populations of extinct hominins such Homo erectus and Australopithecus. Yeti enthusiasts notwithstanding, I don’t think this is going to happen. The world is now too well explored for us to have overlooked a large, savannah-dwelling primate. Even Homo floresiensis has been extinct 17,000 years. But if it did happen, it would change everything.

But I thought dinosaurs still existed? Oh, wait. He means the real world, not Ken Ham’s world. Indeed, this discovery would be wonderful. How would humans treat this new species? We’ve grown out of the old world notion of slavery, so would grant the species some rights, at least insofar as freedom is concerned. But would we allow them a part of our society? Would they not meet our arbitrary cut for being granted human rights?

4. The human genome and the chimpanzee genome are now known in full. Intermediate genomes of varying proportions can be interpolated on paper. Moving from paper to flesh and blood would require embryological technologies that will probably come on stream during the lifetime of some of my readers. I think it will be done, and an approximate reconstruction of the common ancestor of ourselves and chimpanzees will be brought to life. The intermediate genome between this reconstituted ‘ancestor’ and modern humans would, if implanted in an embryo, grow into something like a reborn Australopithecus: Lucy the Second. And that would (dare I say will?) change everything.

Between this, the discovery of how molecules can replicate and evolve new information on their own, and the discovery of exolife, the future is very exciting, indeed. It’ll hopefully also be very damning to religious zealots who base their lives on prose and poetry rather than reality. No longer will they be able to hide behind the veil of special privilege