Re: Re: Re: Imagine God Evolving.

It is my opinion that the more accurate our collective understanding of the universe and planet we inhabit, the more able we are to face the myriad of problems that seem to plague our society.
The claim that "God is an almost knowable idea. An idea that can make your life, and the lives around you, better" is misleading at best. What, exactly, makes someone's life better? Happiness, love, money? A person's quality of life is very difficult to quantify. A newfound love of God will certainly make you happier. This is one of the main attractions of every religion on the planet. The community formed by a church can be a powerful force for good in the average parishioner's life. No ecclesiast believes himself to be harmful to his flock. Still, I would argue that while the influence of God may be beneficial to an individual's happiness, it is harmful to our society as a whole. So, is God a knowable idea? Sure, but it is knowable in the same way we all understand the concept of perfection. Yet, perfection does not exist. In my opinion, the quests for God, perfection, and knowledge are one and the same. The closest human endeavor has come to understanding perfection is found in the formula E=mc^2/sqrt(1-v^2/c^2). It is so elegantly simply yet profoundly significant. The fact that so few in our society even attempt to understand relativity is a demonstration of the flaws of mankind.
Instead of looking for truth in an understanding of the universe around us, most people search for a personal understanding of God. They assume that their own frame of reference is enough to understand perfection. This means that their perception of perfection is inherently based on their own cultural upbringing. Their God is based on their own society's inherently flawed understanding of perfection.
The only universal truths I have ever encountered have come by way of science and mathematics. All other truth is subjective. When we base an understanding of God on subjective truths, mankind as a whole will never come to a collective agreement.
If we cannot agree about our understanding of God, the natural impulse is to fight about it. Religion is easily the most prominent cause for warfare on the planet. When an individual believes himself or herself to understand the ultimate truth of this world, it is only natural to believe that all the problems of this world stem from the fact that most people have not yet discovered it. The next logical step is that when everyone inevitably does understand this truth, we will somehow enter into a messianic age of peace and prosperity.
Unfortunately, this runs counter to almost all of human experience. From the Middle Ages in Europe to the communism in the U.S.S.R. and China to the dominance of Islam in the Middle East, the more prominent a single unifying ideology is in a society, the less productive it seems to be. Human society is at its most productive and prosperous when we argue, but do not fight. The better we are at questioning and debating our beliefs, the more likely we are to make progress and find truth. This is what led to America's quick rise to prominence in this world. The conclusion I draw from this is that if there is a God, it does not want us to believe in it.
In my life, I have met many people who are devoutly religious and few atheists. I find it very telling that atheists seem to congregate at a website like this. As a whole, atheists have been by far the most prosperous and happiest people I have had the opportunity of interacting with. 

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.