The Hand of God

By Robert Ecksel on December 21, 2012
The Hand of God
The human hand evolved so as to become, among other things, a more effective weapon.

Maybe we don’t need egghead scientists telling us what we already know. Maybe we don’t need scientists at all…

“In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.”—Sir Isaac Newton

Charles Darwin might be the ultimate apostate. When the accursed scientist first published his “Origin of the Species” in 1859, it upended millennia of backward thinking, or so it was believed (by some) at the time. Darwin posited that adaptation to a hostile environment caused different species, of which man is one, to evolve in order to survive. The notion of “survival of the fittest” would seem a perfect fit with the sweet science, but old ideas, like old habits, die hard, if they die at all.

No knock on the Book of Genesis, but from the time man climbed down from the trees and learned to walk upright 4 million years ago, before donning a leisure suit and striding into the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, he underwent a process of evolution. This evolution was gradual and multifaceted and has taken many forms over many years. Man learned to use tools, like the arrowhead and computer. He discovered language, replacing grunts and pointing with grunts and typing. But perhaps man’s greatest transformation was not behavioral, which is an iffy proposition in the best of times and a no-brainer in the worst of times, but physical, and none more so than in the evolution of the human hand.

The Journal of Experimental Biology recently published a research article by David R. Carrier and Michael H. Morgan with the catchy title, “Protective buttressing of the human fist and the evolution of hominin hands.”

Carrier, a biologist from the University of Utah, and Morgan, a student, suggest that the human hand evolved in order to become, among other things, a more effective weapon.

Presupposing that evolution is no more or less mythical, or mystical, than the Holy Scripture, bear with me for the sake of argument. Modern chimpanzees have long palms and fingers with a short thumb. On the other hand, the human palm and fingers are shorter and the thumb both longer and stronger. According to Carrier this arrangement of the five digits of the human hand allows us to form a fist, something which chimpanzees, our kissing cousins on the other side of the DNA divide, cannot.

Carrier, like any good scientist (but not like any good sweet scientist) let his mind wander and wondered whether curling the fingers into a fist would deliver more power than a slap with the open hand.

“Michael had a lot of experience with martial arts,” said Carrier, “and he knew people who were willing to serve as subjects.” He and Morgan asked boxers and other athletes to hit a heavy bag with open-handed slaps and balled fists and measured the force of each impact. Surprisingly, said Carrier, “In terms of the peak forces or the impulse, it did not matter whether the subjects were hitting with a clenched fist or open palm.”

The two men then tested to see whether “buttressing the hand” by curling the fingers and thumb stiffens the fist structure as we know it. It turned out that the knuckle joint was four times more rigid when supported by the thumb, and the amount of force doubled.

“There appears to be a paradox in the evolution of the human hand. It is arguably our most important anatomical weapon, used to threaten, beat and sometimes kill to resolve a conflict. Yet it is also the part of our musculoskeletal system that crafts and uses delicate tools, plays musical instruments, produces art, conveys complex intentions and emotions, and nurtures.”

Maybe we don’t need egghead scientists telling us what we already know. Maybe we don’t need scientists at all.

Perhaps, as it is written, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” It’s a possibility, and no more farfetched than the thought that man descended from the apes.

None of which satisfactorily answers an even more burning question.

When exactly did God create boxing?

(The full research article can be read here.)

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. Big Boss Man 12:03pm, 12/24/2012

    Also, he was GI Joe and Max Cady

  2. Norm Marcus 07:26pm, 12/23/2012

    OK Robert—let me get this straight. I’m trying to GRASP why you are POUNDING away at this. You have definitely put your FINGER on the problem. I have to HAND it to you. I’ll have to KNUCKLE under to your hard HITTING observations. Have to agree with you HANDS down. Don’t want to wind up PUNCHY or SLAP happy. You have the answers in the PALM of your HAND. Your AMBIDEXTROUS approach in this story gives us PAWS!!
    I’m done JABBERING away about this. Your piece was a KNOCKOUT!

  3. peter 06:29pm, 12/23/2012

    Excellent article. Excellent connection with Robert Mitchum!

  4. Mike Silver 08:37pm, 12/22/2012

    OK. So let me get this straight. A boxer has to tape his hands with yards of gauze and tape, cover it with a padded 10 ounce glove filled with foam or whatever all in hopes of not breaking the delicate bone structure that makes up that brilliant masterpiece of engineering—the human hand. Oh yes indeed, the bare fist is a formidable weapon—just don’t try and hit someone full force on his skull with it or you will spend the next six weeks in a cast.

  5. Jack 03:43am, 12/22/2012

    Gorillas have plenty of dexterity.  They climb up a bull elephant’s trunk and twist it off short. That always settles the territorial claim.

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo (aka) Gimpel 04:29pm, 12/21/2012

    I submit that the opposable thumb evolved to facilitate auto-erotic activity!

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saiojo (aka) Gimpel 04:09pm, 12/21/2012

    Still wouldn’t want to be chimp slapped by a critter 5x stronger than me who just might chew my face off while he’s at it! Which reminds me of the two combatants years ago in Soledad Prison who devoured each others noses and ears while engaging in an epic struggle over a “girl friend”....they had to be shotgunned to break it up!

  8. Mike Casey 08:13am, 12/21/2012

    Very good!

  9. the thresher 06:45am, 12/21/2012

    Love that photo of the Reefer Man.

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