Pascal Picq

Lucy and Obscurantism

In this book an agnostic palaeoanthropologist picks up the torch of science and the Enlightenment and carries on the struggle against religion and obscurantism.
Human evolution remains a fraught subject today, nearly 150 years after Darwin published his famous theory. This situation illustrates the extent to which secularism has recently become ambiguous and problematic. The views that underpin our notions of prehistory and of humankind reflect society’s ideological, religious and political conflicts. Yet, argues Pascal Picq, there is only one human evolution and it will be taught all over the world when our world becomes secular. Unfortunately, religious, philosophical and even scientific fundamentalism have compromised the construction of a common narrative of our origins — despite the fact that the theory of human evolution has been carefully and patiently backed by scientific research. Today, perhaps more than ever before, any discussion about human origins is bound to collide head-on with the mythologies and cosmologies that our various belief systems were built on. Could secularism have been no more than a historical parenthesis that is about to close?

Pascal Picq examines the theory of evolution and the findings of palaeoanthropology in the light of recent criticism. Why is there so much resistance to evolution? What are its critics’ main arguments?
Why, for example, has the rejection of social Darwinism led to the rejection of natural evolution? What are the aberrations of creationism? Why do we stubbornly insist on seeing humanity as the ultimate goal of evolution?
All these questions concerning evolution (and the resistance to it in many sectors, even today) are examined here, simply and brilliantly.
“Why is life such a problem?” asks this outstanding scientist, who goes on to tackle the philosophical, social and cultural implications inherent in his speciality — the origins of humankind.

Pascal Picq is a palaeoanthropologist at the Collège de France and the author of, most notably, Au commencement était l’homme (Editions Odile Jacob, 2003).