August 6, 2003 -- August 7, 2003, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great anthropologist Dr. Louis S. B. Leakey (1903-1973). This day deserves commemoration not just because of Leakey's achievements but also because of the political and cultural implications of his lifelong enterprise.
Leakey spent his career with his wife Mary and son Richard in Kenya and in the Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, seeking fossils of man's prehistoric ancestors. Truly finding needles in haystacks, the Leakeys discovered bones of the 20-million-year-old Proconsul man, a possible link between apes and humans; the 1.75-million-year-old Zinjanthropus; and Homo habilis, which Dr. Leakey considered the first true member of the human genus and the first toolmaker.
As Leakey was beginning his career, a Tennessee law that banned any teaching that conflicted with the Biblical story of man's origin was being challenged. The Scopes monkey trial in 1925 pitted the science of evolution against the myth of creation, and pitted free inquiry against censorship. And it is truly sad that today, over 75 years later, and with mountains of evidence supplied by men like Dr. Leakey, "creationists" still confuse belief based on faith with knowledge based on reason, and neo-conservatives like Irving Kristol and Robert Bork have declared Darwin dead because they seem to need the "creation myth" to keep the masses in line.
Yet many individuals genuinely fear that evolution implies that man is nothing more than a lower animal, that his free will is at best an illusion, and that individuals are not morally responsible for their actions. After all, Clarence Darrow, who defended Scopes and evolution, made this very argument when he defended the thrill-killers Leopold and Loeb. Another worry is that many of evolution's most vocal proponents have a decidedly leftward leaning. Many American secular humanists who correctly defend freedom to think also tend to be socialists who would limit most other freedoms. Anthropologist and essayist Stephen Jay Gould was a Marxist. And what is the animal rights silliness but a failure to distinguish men from beasts?
Those who are concerned about these implications of evolution need not worry. Humans are the only animals for whom history has any meaning. Only humans can know their past and learn from ancient and bygone ancestors. Only humans can ask, "Where did we come from?" And only humans—like the superlative Dr. Leakey—can actually use their minds to answer such questions. The laws of evolution do not negate our free will or moral nature. Rather, our ability to discover those laws displays the true ascent of man.