The tour guide stood at the base of the structure and waited for people to catch up and shut up. This was a twice a day activity and it was hot. The structure was a tower 100 stories tall built more than a thousand years ago by an unknown civilization in the heart of the Amazon. The tour guide was a human about 160 cm tall built not quite 30 years ago by Ted and Irene Clark in the heart of Minnesota. An overly elongate sign stood to the tour guide’s left with a cartoonish representation of the tower and a note next to each level. It was slightly moldy. Modern exploration by way of mountain climbing gear, cranes, and helicopters had determined that people once inhabited, or at least occasionally used, the very tip top 100th floor.

The tour guide began his speech- rote memorized and painstakingly worded so as to not overly offend anyone within the motley crush of tourists gathered below. He first described the physical dimensions of the structure; height, width, depth, estimated weight, then went on to the social dimensions; how long it took to build, how many people were required to erect such a massive structure, how much each one carried and how many trips each person took. The last part was always carefully worded. Never could he say, “It took the work of 200 people over 15 years…” but always, “Today, it would take the work of 200 people over 15 years…”

The interior of the first three floors was well preserved, with a plain stone staircase leading from the first to the second floor. On the second floor a husky wooden ladder, riddled with pin holes from exiting beetles, was enclosed within a glass case. The once square rungs were worn through and bowed on the upper front surface of each step. The ladder, although still fully functional, had been set aside and replaced by a new one of fiberglass and metal. A long curved ramp of stone slithered around the third floor. It joined with or retreated from the side walls of the room growing taller and taller (or shorter and shorter depending on your initial starting point) until it breached the plane of the ceiling and lead to the fourth floor. This was where the tour ended.

And this was where the questions began. But not just questions there was proselytizing, denials, rebuttals, sometimes crying, shouting, fisticuffs, and once a brief act of copulation (turns out it was on a dare). The major controversy had to do with the methods through which people would travel from one level to the next. Sometimes practical, sometimes preposterous, but seemingly always controversial there were many ideas concerning human elevation.

Floors four through fifteen were utterly devoid of any immediately interpretable evidence of elevation. There were several very reasonable ideas, but none had a preponderance of evidence to back it up. Beyond floor fifteen there were minor but no major gaps of more than two or three floors where a means of elevation were not immediately recognizable. Some were more preserved than others and some more open to broad interpretations, but after floor fifteen the general flow of elevation through the tower was intact. Piles of wood fragments and coiled plant fibers were found below holes in some ceilings and careful reconstruction showed these to be the remains of rope ladders. Artifacts that could only be interpreted as an elaborate counterweight and pulley system were found between floors 67 and 68.

The 99th floor was the most scrutinized. It housed no immediately recognizable single means of elevation, but was riddled with bits and pieces of what could have been a dozen different means of elevating up that one last story. This was largely felt to be the most important floor, because it led to the very top of the tower. Many ideas abound. There was some ruble in the corner, perhaps there had been stairs. A long curved piece of wood, sinew, and bits of tanned tapir hide were seen by some to represent a crude trampoline. Maybe there was evidence of some sort of water wheel, but how they got the water to run it no one knew.

The tour guide had been here for more than three months, had given the tour nearly 100 times and was by now bored and angry. There was real beauty to this structure. Not just in its design and construction, in the engineering that went into such a marvelous feat, but especially in the artwork and carvings that adorned the walls, floors, ceilings, and the outside of the tower. One could spend a lifetime studying this artwork and never see it all. It seemed to have been created by a thousand different artistes, yet seemed to flow and fit together into a puzzle, a masterpiece, and single mural stretching over tens of thousands of square feet complete with every known style of art and many unknown. Stories, novels, the complete histories of regions and peoples long past were scattered throughout. All seemed to be independent, but were somehow related; all the languages, no matter how different in character and cadence, followed the same underlying rules.

But almost never did any of the tourists look at this. Some blatantly said it was ugly, or refused to believe that it was art at all. Most were not interested in the beauty of the tower or what could be learned from it, but only in the question of human elevation. People tended to find this subject very emotionally charged, and could become very offended if their own personal views, or at least the views they had been taught as children, were disagreed with. Feelings on the subject tended to run along a spectrum and the tour guide had encountered people at both ends and everywhere in the middle.

On the one end there were people who flatly denied that there had ever been, or was any evidence of, human elevation. Several people had proclaimed the idea preposterous, had denounced the stairs and ladders as fakes and forgeries placed there by malevolent people or perhaps even demons, and had gone on to proclaim that to believe such a thing was damaging to the soul. When pressed further they proudly proclaimed that elevation was flatly impossible, that the only way to get to the 100th floor was to be placed there instantly by an all powerful Elevator. Additionally, the building and all the lower floors had been created instantly by the Elevator. It was also felt (although didn’t always follow) that only through belief in an all powerful Elevator could humans have any sense of Comedy or Tragedy. “Think of the theater, think of the children’s shows, and the movies,” they would say. How could Shakespeare have written his plays, or Adams his books unless they had been granted a sense of comedy and tragedy from… above? No, they concluded, human elevation was a lie, and a dangerous one at that.

When encountering such people the tour guide, and more often than not some of the other people on the tour, would gently point out that many people had stairs in their own homes. Some people had trampolines and slides in their back yards and every public building, at least in the United States, had a ramp to facilitate wheelchairs. This worried the deniers not one whit. Of course these things were available and in use NOW, but they were far different and represent something much removed from the ancient tower.

There were others who didn’t have any problem with elevation from the ground floor to the third floor. They could see and understand this very clearly. Nor did they have any qualms with natural elevation from the sixteenth to the 100th floor. This too was accepted without many reservations. But it was the gap from the fourth to the fifteenth floor in which they could find no reasonable explanation and they too resorted to a belief in a supernatural Elevator that instantly transported people from the fourth to the sixteenth floor.

Some people felt it was perfectly alright for elevation to happen between any two floors (microelevation), but not alright for it to happen over three or more floors (macroelevation). Any elevation over more than two floors required the help of the Elevator.

Some people though that, while elevation may look like it occurred naturally, such as a flight of stairs, there was actually intervention by the Elevator all along the way. On some floors there was more influence and on some floors less, but always there was guided elevation.

Recently many had come with questions concerning the construction of the tower and the various mechanisms used to elevate people from level to level. Were any a little too prefect? Might some represent some construction techniques that were far beyond the capabilities of the builders of the tower? Was there any evidence of “escalated design”?

And still others felt differently. They had no problem with any of the gaps or any lack of evidence. They felt that human elevation had occurred naturally and unaided from the bottom all the way up to the 99th floor. However, it was very important to them that natural human elevation did not happen between the 99th and 100th floors. Again, they asserted that an Elevator must have instantly moved humans from the floor of the 99th level to the floor of the 100th level. Natural human elevation was not to have happened in the space between; otherwise this would deprive humans of essential comedic and dramatic elements in their personalities. All jokes, theater, TV shows, poems, plays, musicals, etc. would be lost, or more accurately impossible without the help of the Elevator in that last jump. These people even went so far as to proclaim that if someone didn’t believe in the Elevator, or didn’t write or perform in the name of the Elevator, then their performances or writing wasn’t really funny or dramatic at all, no matter how many people through it was.

These views accounted for about 80% of the tourists. Another 5% had other wildly varying ideas. Perhaps it was space aliens that built the tower and helped in human elevation. Or maybe something called de-elevation was occurring. Others felt that humans had always instantly been at the 100th level, but the tower had been created by the Elevator to look like people had elevated through 99 levels below. There was some debate as to whether this was to represent a stupid practical joke or a cruel trap on the part of the Elevator.

Sadly, all of these beliefs had one thing in common. Each and every one proclaimed that somewhere in that great tower of human elevation there was an utterly, incomprehensibly, absolutely unknowable step. Each and every one proclaimed that for all eternity, for the rest of the history of mankind, no one, no matter how much they knew, no matter how much evidence was allotted to them, would ever be able to offer a natural explanation of human elevation from the bottom of the tower to the top. Always there would be a mystery, one level that couldn’t explained, whether it be the 4th or the 99th.

But there was a final group of tourists, a small minority, often quieter and perhaps more polite than the rest. To these people there was no need to resort an all powerful Elevator to fill the gaps in human elevation. There didn’t seem to be any special need to call forth a poorly defined, untestable, unfalsifiable supernatural being to explain how humans got from the ground floor to the top of the tower. After all, the people on the tour had themselves walked up the stairs from the first to the second level. Contractors had built many means of elevation, and architects had even imported on the designs of some found in the tower. The evidence of natural elevation was all around and people regularly used, even depended on, artificial elevation in their daily lives.

More importantly it seemed preposterous to think that talent in, or understanding of, comedic and dramatic elements is absolutely dependant on the question of human elevation. It simply didn’t follow that if humans elevated naturally all the way to the top of the tower, then they couldn’t tell a joke or take part in a Shakespearian tragedy.

Over lunch one day, our tour guide waxed poetically on these very points to a fellow employee. The burly man patted the dejected youth on the shoulder and said, “There, there young man it could be worse. When I was a guide on Broad Street in London, people would refill their water bottles from the pump when I wasn’t looking and then die before the end of the tour with a handkerchief over their nose.”

Author’s Notes

1. The tower represents only a passage through time, and should not be thought of as some sort of “scala naturæ.”

2. The tower analogy is meant to illustrate that, just like walking up steps, or down the street, evolution is a purely mechanical natural process. We do not invoke any supernatural steps in travel, manufacturing processes, modern medicine, education, agriculture, the movement of the stars and planets, etc. There is no evidence or need to invoke the supernatural when explaining evolution either.