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Evolution with the Help of Technology

On Easter Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI caused a bit of a stir when he insisted in his Easter Vigil homily that humanity is not a random product of evolution. "If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature," the Pope said. "But no, reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine reason." Now, we at The Study were unsurprisingly unable to find scientific studies of evolution at the time of Big Bang. However, though paleoanthropologists can't go back to the beginning of time, they can tell us about human evolution going back millions of years. These discoveries are not just limited to physical evolution: Some of the most interesting concern technology's role in the evolution of humans.

"The earliest direct evidence of hominid technology," writes Stanley Ambrose in an article from the March 2001 issue of Science, "dates to 2.5 Ma in the Ethiopian Rift Valley, comprising sharp-edged slivers and lumps of stone, hammer stones and anvils, and bones with hammer marks and cut marks from butchery and marrow extraction." Around the same time, the first members of the Homo genus (of which humans are the latest evolution) began to appear; because homo's brain was "significantly" larger than contemporary apes and other related animals, Ambrose suggests a "relation between tool use...and intelligence." Technological innovation "accelerated" around 300,000 years ago, as "composite," or multi-part tools began to appear. Ambrose points out that constructing a composite tool would have required complex, multi-sentence speech, and compares the increase in technological complexity of these tools to the difference between primate vocalizations and human speech. Not surprisingly, then, fossil records suggest that homo heidelbergensis, the human ancestor just preceding this technological boom, was the first human ancestor to vocalize. Furthermore, the complexity required may have helped the evolution of the human brain's frontal lobe, which is used in higher mental functions. Ambrose, unfortunately, does not assess the probability of whether Planet of the Apes could ever come true.