Did Radical Behaviorism Start Human Evolution?

How did we become human? Many say, God. Others say it was “fire” that started human evolution. No, it’s not a satanic ritual believed to be responsible, rather a book review by New Scientist puts it like this…

“Anthropologist Frances Burton suggests that taming fire led to the evolution of modern humans.  Millions of years ago, our ape-like ancestors may have overcome their fear of fire to pick at found delicacies – maybe an animal accidentally cooked in a forest fire.”

“Over time, they learned how to keep a flame going by feeding it twigs, how to use fire to thwart predators and how to harness it for heat and light.  This familiarity with fire, Burton argues, changed the hormonal cycles that depend on light and darkness: light from nightly bonfires may have caused a change in the nocturnal flow of melatonin.”

“Over time, this changed the rates and patterns of our ancestors’ growth, and the regulation and activation of genes, leading ultimately to us.”

Anthropologist Frances Burton obviously is a disciple of B.K. Skinner’s “Radical Behaviorism”  which “embraces the genetic and biological endowment and ultimately evolved nature of the organism, while simply asserting that behavior is a distinct field of study with its own value.” The environment shapes us and animals in other words and in Frances Burton case, it was working with the evolutionary process to improve a creature’s complexity.

The hypothesis fails on various points, one of which very plain, there is no biological connection between experience and one’s off spring to trigger any sort of change. For example, if I loose an arm, my future son or daughter will not be born with one arm, under normal circumstances, they will have two arms. The idea, that some how controlling a fire started the process of human evolution is a good story around a campfire, but not in the realm of science.

We should not understand evolutionary anthropology as following the scientific method to achieve conclusions that are observable, testable, repeatable, or falsifiable. Rather it’s just a fictional story.

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2 thoughts on “Did Radical Behaviorism Start Human Evolution?

  1. Please remember that New Scientist is the National Enquirer of technology, and you should give them not much credence. Are creationists really unable to read Science or Nature or Cell for themselves?

    Second, you have to stop thinking of evolution as being “directed” toward some goal. It’s not. Fire may have allowed variations in the proto-human genome that would otherwise not be adaptive, but it did not “lead” to human evolution.

    Third, the scientists who think fire was a significant development have a quite different reason for thinking so. Fire allows cooking of food. Cooked food is a much more concentrated source of energy. The next steps are more speculative: Cooked food requires less chewing, and does not need such evolutionarily expensive large jaw muscles and heavy bones. Smaller jaws allow larger brains in the same size head, and the size of the head is limited by the birth canal.

  2. “We should not understand evolutionary anthropology as following the scientific method to achieve conclusions that are observable, testable, repeatable, or falsifiable. Rather it’s just a fictional story,”

    For the same reason that we should never convict a criminal that we have not actually observed committing the crime. The crime is not repeatable or testable or falsifiable. The prosecutor is just spinning a fictional story.

    I hope I’m never on a jury with you.

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