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Richard Leakey says its time to stop wasting time debating something most scientists agree upon

Richard Leakey, son of Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey, is perhaps the best-known name in paleoanthropology today.  The much-respected researcher has spent much of his life digging up fossilized primate remains in Africa, slowly piecing together mankind's evolutionary tree.

The painstaking process has not been without its flaws.  There are still many gaps in the understanding of how mankind descended from tree-dwelling critters to become an upright hunter, master of his domain.  But according to Richard Leakey, the debate about whether this process actually occurred, versus an alternative theological alternative is almost over.

I. Top Paleoanthropologist -- Evolution Critics Will Soon be Convinced

At an institute in Manhattan he spoke to reporters at a charity dinner that raised $2M USD for National Geographic conservation efforts.  He claimed that within 15 to 30 years the evidence proving evolution would be so overwhelming that "even the skeptics can accept it."

He adds, "If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it's solid, that we are all African, that color is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges."

Turkana Boy
Professor Richard Leakey says that fossil evidence like the "Turkana Boy" will eventually convince evolution's skeptics. [Image Source: Flickr/Leonardo Bonanni]

Creation stories are as old as mankind itself.  The ancient Incan civilization believed the deity Viracoccha created mankind by breathing life into stones, after first botching the job and creating a pack of unruly giants.  Despite its long history, Mr. Leakey calls the notion of teaching Islamic, Christian, Judaic, or any other form of creationism in schools deadly anti-scientific rhetoric.  

He comments, "If we're spreading out across the world from centers like Europe and America that evolution is nonsense and science is nonsense, how do you combat new pathogens, how do you combat new strains of disease that are evolving in the environment?"

He says faith alone has no explanation for the wealth of scientific evidence, commenting, "If you don't like the word evolution, I don't care what you call it, but life has changed. You can lay out all the fossils that have been collected and establish lineages that even a fool could work up. So the question is why, how does this happen? It's not covered by Genesis. There's no explanation for this change going back 500 million years in any book I've read from the lips of any God."

But does his criticism mean that he hates religion?  He insists that quite to the contrary he views religion in general as a beneficial force, commenting, "If you tell me, well, people really need a faith ... I understand that.  I see no reason why you shouldn't go through your life thinking if you're a good citizen, you'll get a better future in the afterlife ...."

Turkana Boy
Prof. Leakey discovered the "Turkana Boy" a remarkably preserved Homo erectus specimen depicted here in an artist's sculpture. [Image Source: Museon (Netherlands)]

National Geographic will be airing a public television documentary on the Turkana boy, the most complete early human (species Homo erectus) skeleton ever found.  Professor Leakey's team unearthed the 1.5 million year old skeleton in 1984.  The lanky ancestor had short arms and long legs.

II. Professor Leakey Turns His Talents to Fighting Poaching

While he still remains a staunch critic of creationism and proponent of evolutionary theory, Professor Leakey's work and passion has turned from paleoanthropology to conservationism.  In the 1980s he took charge of the Kenya Wildlife Service and led a strong campaign against poachers, culminated by his seizure of 12 tons of ivory in 1989.  In a demonstration of how pathetic it was to kill majestic rhinos and elephants for their tusks he burned the seized stockpile, in a highly effective publicity stunt.

A 1993 plan crash left him a double-amputee.  Pro-poaching political enemies were suspected to be involved.  But Professor Leakey remained undeterred staying active on artificial limbs.  But despite his tireless work, he remains less than optimistic about the future of Earth's ecosystem, commenting, "We may be on the cusp of some very real disasters that have nothing to do with whether the elephant survives, or a cheetah survives, but if we survive."

Richard Leakey
Prof. Leakey, seen here in 1989 lost his legs in a plane crash, suspected to be caused by poacher sabotage. [Image Source: Tom Stoddart Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

Professor Leakey is often assisted in his conservationist fundraisers by Paul Simon the musician, a close friend of his.  An iconic half of the song-writting duo Simon and Garfunkel, the music legend played at the charity event and also contributed music for the upcoming PBS special on "Turkana Boy".

Professor Leakey currently spends most of his time at the new Turkana Basin Institute in Kenya.  He also is a professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

Source: RD Magazine





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