Monday, 13 June 2011

What Lay People Should Know about Evolution – General (non-technical)

by Zad Datu

Charles Richard Darwin did not come up with a theory called evolution. Evolution is a well known fact long before Darwin's birth. What Darwin did come up with was a theory about evolution which he called Natural Selection, and published this idea in the year 1859 in his book titled On The Origin of Species, just as another evolution theorist did before him did. French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck's theory of evolution states that an organism can pass down characteristics it acquired during its lifetime to its offspring. According to Lamarck, an ancestral giraffe may initially have had a short neck but stretched out to reach leaves high up in the trees. This stretched neck was passed on to the next generation who in turned have stretched their necks even further, hence evolving and producing the long necked giraffes that we now know of. Coincidentally, this Lamarckism theory was published in his book titled Philosophie Zoologique in the year of Darwin was born – 1809.

So what is evolution? Evolution is the phenomenon or process of changes which occurs in a species over generations. How do we know that this phenomenon a fact? – Artificial selection, also called selective breeding. Mankind have been breeding animals and plants for many generations long before Darwin. All the different breeds of domestic dogs we know of, the Chihuahua, the bulldog, Rottweiler, greyhound just to name a few, were bred by men to posses the features that they do – where certain individuals of the dog population were deliberately and intelligently selected for particular preferred characteristics that they posses, allowing them to mate and reproduce while ignoring the others, in order to pass on the selected characteristics to the next generation resulting in a higher percentage of dogs with the characteristics in the population, and repeating the process generation after generation would exaggerate the characteristics further resulting in a population of dogs very different from their ancestor. Just as what was done to wolves to produce all the various breeds of dogs. This is evolution.

Artificial selection does cause problems, though – survival problems. For example, the bulldog have been bred to have such a large head, that without Caesarean section pregnant females and her unborn will die in labour when it is ready to conceive. The English short-face tumbler pigeon have been bred to have such a short beak that they are not able to feed their own young. The survivals of these two species are entirely dependent on the survival of men.

Wild Banana

Fruits and vegetables too were bred to accommodate ourselves. The famous elongated yellow and easy-to-eat banana that we are so familiar with does not exist naturally but was instead bred selectively. Bananas have been one of men's favourite fruit since the prehistoric times, but those were the wild bananas. Wild bananas are mostly red or green, short and stout, have large seeds, hard to peel and cannot be eaten raw. The bright common bananas that we are so familiar with were discovered as a mutation of a plaintain banana by Jamaican, Francois Poujot in 1836. The fluffy ordinary cabbage that we know of also exists for the same reason. They were selectively bred to have the features they do from a flowering plant brassica olerace, also known as the wild cabbage. So too are cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts and kohlrabi.

Darwin himself was a pigeon breeder, but for the research purposes. Pigeon breeding was very common at the time and still is now, so the ordinary people can easily relate to artificial selection through pigeon breeding, hence Darwin used this as an analogy to his theory of evolution via Natural Selection and that is why the first chapter of On the Origin of Species is about pigeons. Pigeon breeding, or in fact any form of breeding shows that given enough time any creature can be transformed into something very different from its ancestor – into an entirely new species. Darwin states that in nature the environment favours some characteristics over others – not in the sense of conscious intelligent favouritism, but in the sense that these features are advantageous for survival and reproduction. In essence, just as in selective breeding, features too are selected naturally causing the species to evolve into new species, and he called this process Natural Selection.

common pigeon

some of the various breeds of pigeons

Dutch botanist Hugo Marie de Vries on the other hand had his own theory of evolution. De Vries discovered that a type of evening primrose, the Oenothera lamarckiana on occasionally naturally produces variations of prodigies that looked very different from themselves were stable as new species. He called this phenomenon – this natural occurring discontinuous variation – mutation, hence coined the term. Another theory of evolution called Mutationism arose. It is a theory which emphasises on mutation as a creative principle and source of discontinuity in evolutionary change. Mutationism, which began in the 1980s, was popular in the first few decades of the 20th century and was, alongside Lamarkism, considered to be competing ideas of evolution challenging Natural Selection. But we now know that this particular phenomenon of radical mutation was a case of a genetic freak, not many other organisms mutated so radically hence Mutationism is no longer seriously considered. Similarly, due to the lack of evidence for heritability of acquired characteristics and the development of modern evolutionary synthesis, which was a union of ideas from several biological specialties providing a widely accepted account of evolution that began in the 1930s, Lamarkism died out too. Hence Natural Selection triumphed over Lamarkism and Mutationism.

So why are the Evolutionist vs. Creationist debates still going on? Or rather, how did it come about in the first place if evolution was a well known fact and natural selection is just a natural form of selective breeding? According to Darwin, all species must have evolved from a simpler or less complex species over time, and this was heresy to the Christians, who were the creationists apposing evolution at that time in Britain. The Christians believe that all the species on the planet was created by god exactly the way they are now and never changed one bit. The idea that all species must have evolved from a simpler species also suggests that men must have evolved from a lower being; Apes? Monkeys? – Another heresy.

So what did Darwin actually write about human evolution? In the final chapter of On the Origin of Species, Chapter 15 - Recapitulation and Conclusion, Darwin wrote “Much light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history. And that is the only direct literary contribution Darwin made to human evolution.

All the other theories and facts on the evolution of modern man were made long after Darwin's death. The discovery of and scientific advancement in DNA which supports the theories of human evolution and the evolution of other species too were made long after Darwin's death. Coming back to the first question; why are the Evolutionist vs. Creationist debates still going on? The answer is simply because creationists choose to remain ignorant about evolution and the theories of evolution hence having their own versions of false understanding of evolution whilst trying to prove it wrong and debate against it. They choose to remain ignorant that evolution is a well known fact long before Darwin and that Darwin did not at all theorise about the evolution of man from ape or other lesser beings. They choose to remain ignorant towards the scientific advances, findings and evidence of evolution as well the evolution of mankind.

Some even question, attempting to point out a flaw in human evolution, why there still are apes existing if men came from apes – questioning why the apes today did not evolve into humans. Asking this is like asking why there still are Europeans if American came from Europeans - or about the dogs from wolves; or about the cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts and kohlrabi from wild cabbage. Another flaw in the question is the misinformation – the choice “to remain ignorant about evolution and the theories of evolution hence having their own versions of false understanding of evolution whilst trying to prove it wrong and debate against it”. None of the surviving species of apes today were ever said to be the species that we evolve from. They too evolved from ancient species of apes in the past.

Many creationists think that evolutionists merely believe in evolution as a theory just as creationists believe in creationism. To think that, is to think that evolutionists are merely speculating about evolution and the ancestry of modern humans as well as other species. To think that these are mere speculations, is to think that after years and years, and generations after generations, of studies, researches and experiments by hundreds and hundreds of naturalists, biologists, genetic engineers, archaeologists, palaeontologists and professionals of other fields confirming evolution and the theories did not end up with a conclusive evidence about their claims but merely speculating, that they are working together, conspiring and committing a fraud, by faking evidence that fits well with other fake evidence by independent professionals from different fields, that it was a concerted effort on staging contradicting evidence and disagreements between themselves which is supposedly resolved, while implying that independent journalists, filmmakers and the media too are part of this fraud presenting these speculations and fake evidence as factual findings.

One: the natural occurring phenomenon of changes in a species over generations, that is evolution, is a well known fact long before Darwin. Two: Darwin did not come up with a theory called evolution or a theory about the evolution of modern humans, but rather about how evolution occurs, called Natural Selection, which was proven correct by modern science by confirmed evidence. Three: the evolution of modern humans is not a mere speculation but an established fact supported by evidence from fields such as biology, genetic engineering, archaeology, palaeontology and others. Four: evolutionists do not merely believe in evolution, they know of evolution as a fact. One can’t believe in facts, but rather know of facts with the support of evidence. On the other hand, one can't know in beliefs, but rather believe in beliefs with the support of faith.

Related post:
Evolution – Natural Selection (video)
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