June 8, 2009


I Cook, Therefore I Am: How dropping food in fire made us human. (Christine Kenneally, June 3, 2009, Slate)

It all comes down to those wild hunting men and foraging females, tearing at flesh and gnawing on tubers: By now we're used to evolutionary biologists, psychologists, and anthropologists invoking our prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestry to explain our behavior today. But what if the roots of who and what we are lie not in this restless and raw state of nature but in our discovery of the secret to a more sedentary life: the home-cooked meal? That is the bewildering, but brilliant, idea proposed by Richard Wrangham, a Harvard-based biological anthropologist. In Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, he proposes that the big breakthrough of almost 2 million years ago that generated another 1,000 ideas and changed who we are forever was this: Drop food in fire, eat it. We are because we cook.

Historians of the deep human past generally consider cooking to be a recent activity. A significant number of hearths have been unearthed around the 76,000 year mark, and there is diminishing archeological evidence of controlled fire the further back you go. The assumption is that once we became modern, we worked out how to cook. Wrangham, by contrast, thinks we were cooking 1.8 million years ago—and that the activity was not an outcome of being human but that being human was an outcome of cooking. Cooking physically transformed a creature that was more ape into the earliest version of us, Homo erectus (perhaps more Conan the Barbarian than Jamie Oliver but still fundamentally human).

This is a fantastically weird way of looking at evolutionary change. Basic evolutionary theory teaches us that our physical selves are shaped by a genetic lottery in a cruel world. Random mutations in DNA change our biology, affecting anything from what we look like to how our immune systems work. The environment then selects who will go on to live and reproduce. But if cooking pushed us across a species threshold, it means that our biology is also shaped in completely unintended ways by cultural innovations

You really have to hope that Darwinism has all been an elaborate hoax and that they realize what they say is utter nonsense. Because if they aren't in on the joke they're pitiable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 8, 2009 1:39 PM
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