1.1 A Glimpse of Evolution
The legacy of modern historical research is an ambiguous one: the conductor’s baton of the Universal Historian taps the podium, in a concert of art, science and philosophy, the theme of evolution rising aggressively to the fore, soon becoming the basis of all further secular generalization about human origins. Although evolutionary research has proved a success as a project of empirical discovery, beside its cousin, the archaeological uncovering of man’s entry into civilization, the claims of evolutionary theory are much less certain than we might expect. Critics of Darwinism often point to the fossil record, upon which Darwin issued a claim of evidence to come, in favor of his thesis. This evidence would now seem less than clear.
But it is important to consider the ambiguity at the heart of evolutionary theory itself, where this pursues the timeless ‘laws of nature’ onto nature’s stage of life where time is of the essence, and the timely arrival of an abundance of creatures finds no reckoning in the orbits of mass and force. As if by a new law, the era of life finds refuge in a global moment, hideaway to beasts of a small planet, making engines of machines to consume mass and force. At last we find man whose claim is to cut history from evolution, graduate from all laws into a domain of freedom, as a law unto himself, in the court of small kingdoms and the self-realization of his individuality. In this ambiguity of chance and necessity we might search for the deeper meaning behind our use of the term ‘evolution’.
In parallel with the nineteenth century emergence of evolutionary research, the rise of archaeology has wrought a similar transformation of man’s record of his past. This chronicle has often seemed a disparate sequence of cultures and civilizations without overall meaning or coherence. And the enigma of this history has always been the misplaced origin, in classical times, of so much that we see as the content of man’s higher culture. This middle clustering of several civilizations in parallel is an entire mystery in itself, and it is no accident the heritage of the western field preserves its riddle in the haunting echoes of the Hebraic epic. One of the consequences of the archaeological revolution has been to suggest why this intermediate phasing is the case, for we had missed a similar generative period in the earlier interval. It is a phenomenon in sequence.
Now Gilgamesh speaks to us from the land of Ur and the chieftains of Upper and Lower Egypt are seen before their crowns are made one as the first Pharaohs. An age in itself has come and gone, glimpsed at its passing by the Prophets of Israel, witnesses to the vanishing Assyrians. A significant piece of a greater puzzle is joined to the form of perceived history, and the indirect signs of macrohistorical context suddenly show their presence. The elegant, yet fearsome, evolutionary unfolding of higher civilization in a cycling cone of ratchet progression all at once comes into view. As this veil is drawn, we get a glimpse, only that, of ‘evolution in action’, as if seen for the first time.