Genesis of Human Life and Civilization
By: Ayatullah Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari
The very advance in scientific research into the origins of life on this planet pushes the date of its first appearance further back into remoter ages while increasing the riddles to unravel and the puzzles to solve.
Despite the comparatively recent appearance of human life proper—an infinitesimal fraction of the period for which the planet has nourished living matter —much uncertainty obscures the etiology of its production.
Nonetheless, scientists and paleontologists have, by excavations and the discovery of artifacts, corn and other relics of human handicraft, been able to trace the course of man's upward progress through a series of stages in history thus:
1. Paleolithic: marked by the use of simple weapons to kill animals in self-defense or for food: stones, sticks and similar hunting tools: savagery and brutishness in constant fear of the beasts: use of caves and holes in the earth as shelter from voracious carnivores and from the dark. Primacy went to the most capable hunter: all human effort was bent to the conquest of foes— whether hostile nature or animals or humans.
2. The Later Paleolithic: man's first step up from the use of existing objects as tools was to fabricate for himself, e.g. by binding a stick to a stone to make a hammer, or manufacturing a sharp edge by percussion of flints; from which he was led on to the discovery of the art of kindling a fire; and so to the cooking of food; and the overcoming of night and dark. Long centuries were spent on this series of developments until the Paleolithic stage was finally surmounted, and:
3. The Neolithic Age: saw manifold and varied changes in human living. Artifacts were still made of stone and wood, but the crude clumsy devices of the Paleolithic were replaced by beautifully regular, exact and polished tools. Huts were made to live in, woven wood plastered with mud. Mud was molded into crocks and pots, dried first in the sun and later on the fire.
Crops were grown and the soil cultivated in primitive fashion; certain animals were domesticated. Man learnt which grains to sow for food, which trees to protect for fruit and timber. He invented the bow and arrow and so rid himself of some types of dangerous beast; and spears to catch fish. Arrowheads, spears and axes were still of sharpened stone. But skill increased over the centuries (which have left their relics for us to find and so reconstruct their life) and finally led them out of the stone Ages into:
4. The Bronze Age: with the use of metals, came the birth of civilization justly so-called. For Civilization is from the same root as "City" and connotes "social living". So does also "Tamaddun" the Arabic, from the root M-D-N — city or community life: so do also "policy" and "police" from the Greek "polis": "urbane" from "urbs" and so on. For with it human life assumed a novel aspect and entered a new phase.
Man was no longer a mere hungry animal always busied with the quest for food. From concentration on his belly and its needs he emerged to dreams and visions and an objective consciousness of the world around him. The more victories he gained in his struggle with nature, the more his desires and needs increased. Emerging from barbarism he found the final road toward civilization: freed from the trammels of ignorance and dullness imposed by his conditions, he set out on the pursuit of learning and science.
The human animal's progress was distinguished from other species' stagnation by a spiritual factor. An internal quality we call intellect or reason, the most amazing of all phenomena, gave man hindsight and foresight, to assess the past and improve on it, to be alert to fresh methods and to innovations. Every forward step he took imprinted itself on the memory banks of the race.
A sense of dissatisfaction over imperfections spurred him on to correct them. Thus unfolded the effects of this invisible, indescribable, marvelous phenomenon called "mind". Its light causes him to observe objects and events, reflect on them, learn from experience and store the information for future use in that astounding computer called "the brain" as "memory", where it is available for the construction of new hypotheses, visions, experiments and advances.
Two other revolutionary products of human ingenuity arose in the mists of prehistoric antiquity:
1. The invention of the Wheel for transport — at first mere rolling of heavy objects on logs— to the axle-tree between two roundels—to the developed cart, set between true wheels with axle, hub, spokes, felloes and tire: and
2. Language: noises accepted as means of conveying the impulses arising in one human mind to another—mutual agreement to interpret certain sounds each time uttered as of the same significance the grunt of fear or warning—the roar of rage—the coo of love—and so to the names of objects—to phrases— to orders like "come", "go", "fetch", "run" and finally to abstractions, concepts, ideas, projects, worship of the forces controlling capricious nature.
With language, social living and so true civilization came to birth. When signs were accepted as representing the arbitrary sounds that represented ideas, prehistory emerged into written history.
Prehistory is traced from vestiges and evidences dug up and interpreted. History starts when there are written records to consult. This invention of writing was the most revolutionary stroke of genius. It started with inventories of property, bills of exchange, composed by drawing pictures of the objects (sheep, cattle, vessels, grain-measures) then with a series of dashes to indicate number; then with symbols to indicate the nature of the transaction—the names and addresses of parties to it— and so gradually to symbols for every observed phenomenon, for relationships between them, and, finally, for abstractions like color, shape and concept.
Some races like the Chinese stayed in the pictographic stage, like the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic. Other races moved on to analyses the sounds which composed words and to adopt signs to represent always the same sound regardless of its meaning. It is these which carry all we know of the past 6 millennia of humanity's history.
Meantime masonry also made great advances. Exact measurement became possible. Men learnt to extract ores from rocks by smelting, and then to mound and temper them — at first the softer metals like tin and copper and their alloy bronze. When the same arts were applied to the harder iron, the Bronze gave way to the "Iron Age" — the true start of modern times.
Four thousand years ago true religion dawned through the obedience of the Patriarch Abraham to the call of Almighty God in Babylonian territory. The world's Creator charged Abraham with the task of leading Babylon's society out of darkness. His was the first apostolate as God's spokesman to rally mankind out of superstition and wrongdoing.
Naturally he met with opposition and resistance from those with vested interests in falsehood and evil. But Abraham's prophetic proclamation of Monotheism and ethical worship raised a force of followers far superior to the united front of his adversaries, the advocates of Ahriman and the would-be despotic tyrants on the spirit of man. Abraham obeyed the call to leave his ancestral home, and finally after many thousand miles of nomad travel found haven in the Hejaz where with his son Isma'il he set up Monotheism's central shrine.
Seven and a quarter centuries before Christ, Rome was founded; and in the succeeding centuries extended her rule far and wide. Not long after Rome's foundation, Zoroaster (Zardusht) arose in Iran and substituted for the magic of Magianism a rational and moral relationship between man and the God of Good in the eternal battle against Evil.
In almost the same century Confucius and Lao-Tze in China and Gautama the Buddha in Hind laid the basis of the philosophy which was developed by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in Greece during the succeeding century. All this found consummation in the Birth and Life of Jesus Christ, who proclaimed the call to reform human society, to rescue mankind from the pollutions of Judaistic materialism, to extirpate corruption and internecine combat, and raise humanity towards ethical and spiritual purification. This age was marked by the growth of intercommunication, of industries, and of building and medical skills.
AD 476 launched the Mediaeval period in Europe. The Church added temporal power to its spiritual leadership and became ruler of the thinking and living of society, while Europe fell into the dark ages of barbarian invasion, ignorance, bloodshed, nationalistic and tribal rivalries.
Meantime in the East, Islamic civilization established its sway (see Part 2). In AD 1453 Sultan Muhammad Fateh captured Istanbul and a new age began. In Europe the new independent nations— England, France, Germany, Austria—vied with each other for expansion. The magnetic compass enabled ships to cross the Atlantic Ocean and find America.
A Renaissance of thought and science swept over Europe and established more orderly international relations, until the French Revolution of AD 1789 ended the Age; and the Industrial Age took over the 19th century and changed the face of Europe. Invention followed invention. Discovery pressed on the heels of discovery. European history entered its newest and modern phase.