Nisi Evolution Frustra

Claude Levi-Strauss, the most celebrated anthropologist of his time, once said:

I see no reason why mankind should have waited until recent times to produce a Plato or an Einstein. Already over two or three hundred thousand years ago, there were probably men of a similar capacity

I see a reason why: it is this thing called evolution.

Without evolutionary thinking, Levi-Strauss remains trapped in the primitive, mythic, prescientific thought of creationism, for there is no other way for his just-so story to be true than that some cognitive genesis 300k years ago suddenly took us from hominid brains to genius-level Platonic-Einsteinian cognitive ability in one miraculous creation. After that, uniformitarianism must have ruled.

It is depressing that creationism and uniformitarianism were refuted all the way back in the 19th century, yet mid-20th century cutting edge intellectuals continued the faith.

Moral of the story: except in light of evolution, not much makes sense.

(nisi dominus frustra means “without the lord, all is in vain”.)


Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1968. The concept of primitiveness. In R.B. Lee and I. DeVore (eds.), Man the Hunter. Chicago: Aldine p. 351.


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