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The Tasteful Ape: Darwinism and the Arts

by Mark Signorelli (October 2009)

Robert Fagan begins his course for the Teaching Company on “Human Evolution and Prehistory” in precisely the manner which would be expected of any good scientist nowadays – with an expression of contempt for religion, and an insistence that his account of man's origins will be untainted by “mythology” and claims of the “supernatural.” True to his word, the immensely intriguing narrative he unfolds throughout the first dozen or so lectures, beginning from man's primate ancestors, and continuing through the Australopithecines – robust and otherwise – to the various hominid migrations out of Africa, progresses with nary a hint of theology. But when he arrives at the topic of the cave paintings of Lascaux and Altamira, those beguiling phenomena, Dr. Fagan's wonted empiricism fails him, and he can employ only the most unscientific terminology to express himself; he pronounces those works “a miracle."