History and prehistory

The textbook assigned for my history classes occasionally made references to groups of people who had lived in various places for many thousands of years or of people who arrived in certain places many thousands of years ago. I promised my students that they would not be required to learn those time spans, and I assured them they would not be tested on those numbers.

Right after explaining to the class what the textbook means by “BCE and “CE,” I gave them that assurance. “This class is a class about history,” I told them. Those few sentences in the book are about prehistory. We are not studying prehistory in this class; if it comes up in other classes, you can learn about it there. I used the opportunity to teach the students that, when it comes to prehistory, more than two theories are available. The reduction of debates and disagreements to two choices can be a problem in many areas—particularly in the study of history. I reminded the students that often prehistory is approached as if there are only two positions: Evolution, in which the world has changed and developed over millions of years, and Creation, in which the world was made by an Almighty God less than ten thousand years ago. I pointed out that there are other theories. Some people believe that an Almighty God created over millions of years, gradually shaping the world and life in it into what we know today. Others see God as a Spirit of the Universe, evolving with the worlds and with the life living on those worlds. Still others view the universe as passing through stages, gradually building to a high point, then crashing into destruction and beginning again the process of building. Some versions of Hinduism regard the physical world as a place in which building and destruction and rebuilding has been the pattern, repeated many times through the long course of history.

Evolution did not begin with Charles Darwin. When we reach the nineteenth century and talk about Darwin, I point out that his writings were heavily footnoted. None of his ideas were new; he was merely a successful writer who brought those ideas together and expressed them in a popular fashion. One might say that Darwin had a better press agent than other scientists of his generation—just as one might say that Guttenberg had a better press agent than other inventers of his time. Guttenberg was selected as the most influential man of the millennium (1000-2000) because of his printing invention; but printing was invented in China centuries before Guttenberg was born. Even movable type had been devised before Guttenberg came along. His printing business was more successful than those of his competitors, and he ended up taking credit for the new technology, but he scarcely deserves credit for changing the world by inventing printing or any facet of printing technology.

And don’t let me even start talking about Thomas Edison….

But I digress. I also tell my students that if Charles Darwin were transported into a biology class taking place in our time and were given an examination on evolution, Darwin would fail the test. The theory of evolution has changed (some would say it has evolved) since Darwin wrote his famous books. Darwin believed in slow, gradual change continually occurring in nature. Scientists today teach about long periods of stability and sudden changes—often climate change brought about by meteorite strikes or other cataclysmic events. Darwin believed that all surviving adaptations were improvements—“survival of the fittest”—but scientists today insist that many surviving adaptations are not the best possible results of change—“survival of the survivors.”

In any case, human beings at the beginning of recorded history were essentially like human beings today. They had the same intellectual capability, the same ability to learn, and the same ability to remember that people have today. They had less to learn and less to remember—not only history, but science and literature and other classes would also have been greatly abbreviated from what students learn today. Their bodies were smaller, on the average, and their lives were shorter, but that was due more to nutrition and other health-related issues than to any evolutionary change over the past few thousand years. No, when we think of the earliest people who lived at the beginning of history, those people were very much like ourselves.

Poor people. J.

9 thoughts on “History and prehistory

  1. Very right.Past speculation was not based on modern parpoganda and rating.Modern propoganda and rating tools totally based on lies imagine what kind history themes of History given to next generations.In our seventy years we seen all event by own eyes but in our life seen the lies stories in our life seen books which in marketing bases of lies event.Because now book of History and lies float in five star hotels too much money invested so truth and lies hide in our own life and these type hand over to next generations.Although Globel village but history remain thirsty need too much truth water.Olden period this type of modern tactics of lies not born.Historien depend on true study up to 80% but now historians too much earning and use it side bussiness

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  2. History or prehistory it is all quite speculative. Nevertheless, we at least have some sort of written record for history. Prehistory is the product of forensic science, and when we use that sort of science to discern what happened thousands, millions, and billions of years ago, we are just guessing that our projections back into the past are accurate.

    How much better is the written record? Can you imagine what historians will make of our time? Because our news media is so filled with bias and outright propaganda, how much of the truth will these future historians be able to discern? How much do we know of our own time even now? How do we eliminate the bias, including our own?

    The main purpose of the scientific method is to eliminate bias. Yet scientists who should know better and laymen who want to believe what they want to believe proclaim as scientific fact theoties that cannot be tested via the scientific method. So, these so-called facts remain untested hypotheses. Almo

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    • I was trying to add — darn phone — almost all we think we know about prehistory is based upon untested hypotheses, and almost all we know of history is from biased human beings. Still, we think we know so much.

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    • You have a good point about biased human history. I know some great examples from ancient times when we have good reason to doubt the accuracy of published histories. We must use other sources for history to supplement those written records… and sometimes just good, practical, common sense and learning how to “read between the lines.” J.

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    • Thank you. I haven’t written any comparison of Edison and Tesla, although that is a very interesting topic for research. Beyond comparing the two of them, though, we must remember that both utilized a number of researchers in their laboratories and took credit for what those researchers discovered. Most useful scientific and industrial discoveries are team efforts. J.

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  3. Let’s not forget the differences between Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal… and I believe there’s some other human variety being discussed. All humans on the evolutionary tree… all structurally different to varying degrees. I recall having watched some series about human origins on History Channel, narrated by Morgan Freeman, and one particular note was him saying that it takes about 25,000 years for man’s skin to adapt to a different color. But as for man from recorded history, or contemporary man, I would agree… evolution would have been minimal to not at all. Likely any change would be more related to environment.. the advent of air quality that might change certain physiological adaptations, etc. I recall reading in college that the ancient Egyptians had the math capability to launch spacecraft into orbit.. they simply lacked the technology to make it happen.

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