December 20, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

The Evolution of Boxing

A new story is making the rounds: the human hand evolved to punch others’ lights out.

The exquisite dexterity of the human hand, with its marvelous abilities to play a piano, make pizza and a thousand other things, is just a by-product of a more violent purpose, if evolutionists at the University of Utah are right.  Let the news media do the headlines:

  • BBC News: Fighting may have shaped evolution of human hand
  • New Scientist: Human hands evolved so we could punch each other
  • Science Daily: Fine Hands, Fists of Fury: Our Hands Evolved for Punching, Not Just Dexterity
  • Live Science: Human Hands Evolved for Fighting, Study Suggests

The latter includes a link to a “Human Evolution Quiz” complete with the iconic ape-to-man sequence.  None of these sources seem critical of the new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, despite the fact that it appears Lamarckian.  Genes for a well-fisted male would have to make it into the gametes or would end in the grave of the champion prize fighter.  Those genes, furthermore, would have to come from multiple random mutations that did not see a fist coming at the end of the line.

Prof. David Carrier, lead author of the study, left himself an out with a “dual use” notion: “Ultimately, the evolutionary significance of the human hand may lie in its remarkable ability to serve two seemingly incompatible, but intrinsically human, functions” (i.e., fine manipulation and striking). To make the idea look scientific, his team took athletes and measured the force of impact of slaps by an open palm compared to punches with a fist, with thumbs inside and out.

“Human-like hand proportions appear in the fossil record at the same time our ancestors started walking upright 4 million to 5 million years ago. An alternative possible explanation is that we stood up on two legs and evolved these hand proportions to beat each other.”

Studying the current configuration of a boxer’s hand, though, says nothing about its origin or intention.  Sure, the hand can make a fist, but it can also seal a deal with a friendly handshake and make love.  Why should an evolutionist focus on one capability?  Why can women make fists if the men do most of the punching, and fists are an artifact of sexual selection?  If fighting was the evolutionary priority, why didn’t males evolve horns, like bighorn sheep, to free up their hands for other things?

Carrier didn’t think about those questions.  He was more interested in justifying violence as an evolutionary aspect of human nature:

“I think there is a lot of resistance, maybe more so among academics than people in general – resistance to the idea that, at some level humans are by nature aggressive animals. I actually think that attitude, and the people who have tried to make the case that we don’t have a nature – those people have not served us well.

“I think we would be better off if we faced the reality that we have these strong emotions and sometimes they prime us to behave in violent ways. I think if we acknowledged that we’d be better able to prevent violence in future.”

But why should humans go against the nature evolution gave them?  And why don’t chimpanzees make fists, when they are violent in their fights between males?  What does “acknowledge” mean to an evolved ape brain?  None of the news articles thought about these obvious questions, though some considered whether the ability to make a fist was a cause or effect of the evolution of the hand.

Did you catch the latest oxymoron?  “Evolutionary significance”.

Secular reporters are toadies for the latest toads offered them by evolutionary charlatans.  To sense the warts on their offerings, you have to take the gloves (and blindfolds) off.



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