It seems that in certain parts of the world, the theory of evolution is taught openly and freely in schools, colleges and universities. It has been noted that in many of these places it goes unchallenged and is allowed to proliferate freely, and to be entertained by many. It seems that this scientific theory is taught as openly and soundly as the theory of thermodynamics.
Is this right?
The simple answer is yes. The more complicated answer is; what a stupid question to ask, the theory of evolution should be allowed to continue its reign as one of the greatest scientific discoveries ever made and not to be taught as a fallacy, but told as it really is, an amazing discovery which gives us the real answer to some of the most profound questions.
However, this amazing fact of nature has been challenged by new wave creationists, who hide their agenda under a new, more ‘scientific’ name. The intelligent designers. These creationists argue that all life is as it is, static, unchanging and forever as it is as given by a supreme supernatural deity. It is not just Creationists or I.D.’s but also other anti-evolutionary people who challenge evolutions existence.
So lets start with one point which a lot of people, who tend to be ignorant not just to science but also language it appears, argue that evolution is JUST a THEORY. Well where do i begin with this one. It seems to me that the argument is just a play on words, as if the I.D’s know their argument is going to fail, or haven’t the vaguest of clues about evolutionary theory or the real meaning of scientific theory. And heres why the just a theory argument is not only a facetious, but undoubtedly narrow-minded, ignorant and shows a great aptitude for fatuousness.
The just a theory argument states that since it is ‘just a theory’ it has no credible standing, and lacks the basis on which to make its claims. They argue that since its a theory, it can be proven wrong, and that it is shallow on facts. Since it is just a theory it is easily fallible, and has no true scientific background. Well, all of that is mindless drivel. Arguing from the point of semantics of language is sincerely and incredibly flawed. this can be demonstrated with one sentence. The theory of Gravity. No one person today would argue that gravity is a ‘theory,’ well i should hope not or they will find cliffs an interesting problem. So if gravity is a theory, and we agree it exists, like the theories that determine the rules of thermodynamics, nuclear fusion and fission, cell division etc. then why is the theory of evolution different.
Perhaps people don’t know what theory means. Theory means, as defined by countless dictionaries and online resources, a hypothesis that is proven or verified by the gathering of evidence, can be verified by experiments or can make accurate predictions. And thankfully evolution does all three. So theory means something quite particular, it is not just a stab in the dark guessing, it is a substantiated, tested and verifiable answer to a question in simple terms. It is the manner of thinking which informs us how things happen to be. How life is as complex as it is, can be answered by evolution with the substantial evidence that demonstrates it. So it is a theory, but not ‘just a theory.’
Now after that simple ordeal has been overcome, it is the question of why they still resist, religious followers or not. This is not an enquiry into the philosophical and neurological understanding of why we attach ourselves to deities, or why we resist to accept the beautiful fact of evolution. This is to answer some anti-evolutionists doubts.
One common argument is the problem of intermediaries or the argument of gaps. This is a topic I shall endeavour to cover in a more in-depth analysis in another post, demonstrating the wonderful intermediate animals that we have unearthed, which are unlocking and providing great detail into our past.
One argument is that there aren’t any intermediaries, linking one species to another, or one branch of the animal kingdom to another, like mammals to reptiles. However, such a statement is founded on unsteady ground, and has completely no knowledge of the archaeological discoveries made in the past 50 years. As i have said, i will go into this in another post, about how many new species we have found that are the bridge between species and the trunk between branches.
However, the main ‘missing link’ I would like to point to is the most famous of all intermediaries, Archaeopteryx. This creature which is neither all bird, nor all reptile is the potential ancestor to all modern birds. We can’t say for sure if it is the direct ancestor of modern birds, as this species may be a cousin of the species which created birds. There may be many species of reptile/bird creatures that were evolving at the same time, but it takes only one to create the new bird family. This isn’t the only example of intermediaries, there are now hundreds, demonstrating links between one ancient species, to potentially two or more modern species today. A well documented example of this is the ancestor of the whale, giving rise not only to whales, but also dolphins porpoises and hippos.
So as we can see, the fossil record is not totally incomplete. there are gaps, of course, but what on earth were you expecting? You are demanding that soft fleshy bodies, which in recent human graves rapidly deteriorate, stay almost exactly preserved, and that every single living one must survive. This is completely impossible, for the process of fossilisation is difficult and very rare, due to the fact that the body must be covered relatively quickly
(that’s why water creatures fossilise better due to sifting sea beds), must be forced under the correct pressure and temperature, the body can’t be eaten by another animal, it can’t be moved by geological movement etc. its extraordinarily difficult, but the fact we have any is a stroke of good fortune for us.
However, the main fact that we can see primitive creatures fossils and intermediaries of one or another means that the theory of evolution must be true, regardless of any gaps. A simple analogy is a detective. we have arrived on the scene some 4 billion years later. we see only the result of something that has happened. like a detective we have to piece the parts we have together. Ce can’t just point into a crowd and say that man, we have to know for sure, and find evidence that incriminates, or in this case, solves the problem of why so different and why so many species. As Darwin noticed, the biggest clue is fossils. the fact we don’t see man 3 billion years ago, or a rabbit in the Cambrian period is a clear indication that they weren’t there. Actually, no mammals were in the Cambrian period, so they must have come from somewhere, but where? well we must keep looking. as we go through the stages of the rocks we see creatures of extraordinary complexity coming to form, but only slightly more complex than before. each layer building on the past. we can assume then, that things are progressed on top of older forms.
But, is it only fossils that recount this to us? without the fossil record would be lost? the answer is no. It is not just fossils, but also our DNA, Mitochondria, and also our pets that enlighten us to evolution. Even if there were gaps in the fossil record, or no fossils at all, these observable factors would tell us of evolution. First is our DNA. since all life is related, we must to some extent share our DNA, right across the entire history of life. And we find that we do. you can get any species DNA, compare it, and you will see how related they are, by how much of their DNA is related. Not only that, but we find that in all life, we share the same chemical structure for life, the DNA structure. WE can see that as we follow the tree upwards, the DNA uses different alleles and genes in a different expressive way. we say mutations and selection of certain traits as we climb the tree. we can see that all life shares the same DNA in essence.
additionally, as Darwin noted, our domestic pets are prime examples of evolution. I shall take the dog, Darwin preferred pigeons, but i like dogs. i don’t know how many breeds there are, but I know there are about 200 or there about. How are there so many? WE know that dogs all have one ancestor, and that all dogs today come from one species. The wolf. How is it then, that we have such diversity from the dachshund to the boxer dog or Great Dane. why such variety from essentially one species? well the answer is in essence, evolution. Although they have been modified by artificial selection, ie man kind breeding traits he likes, it is still dependent on the facts that drive evolution.
We see that one dog breed is very closely related to another, but with some small changes in its DNA. Also, we see grand changes in the dogs characteristics compared with each other, and also compared to the wolf. Why is it difficult to understand that the very things that happen in dog breeds happen in nature, under the forces of natural selection, sexual selection and genetic drift etc.? What we can understand is that selection pressures, in the case of the dog a mans preferences, are capable of creating massive differences in appearance, attitude, health and other characteristics. Have this played out over millions of years, you end up with such a wide variety of species, that it is comparable to todays amount. We have been breeding dogs for only a few hundred years (by breeding i mean actively selective traits that arose in the early Victorian middle class). If we can create such variety in a few hundred years, how much can evolution do in the billions of years it has had? Well, all the species that are around us now, before now and beyond now.
With this in hand, we can understand other mysteries, which also give bolstering to evolution. One key point, is vestigial structures. We didn’t know why we had a coccyx or an appendix, but thanks to evolution, it gives an answer, and at the same time, also tells us that evolution is a fact. Why would a species like us have a potentially lethal time bomb in our lower abdomen, if we were designed? What nonsense would it be to have in a species a lethal organ that could kill most people in their early adolescence? the only reason is that they are a vestigial structure, a remnant of a once useful organ in our ancestors. This goes for wisdom teeth, which try and squeeze themselves into our much smaller jaws. The tiny tail at the base of our spine, the coccyx. All can be explained, and give evidence for, evolution. these structures serve as no purpose, or original need in us, but were vital in our ancestors, and linger in us as punctuation from an old history book of our ancestry.
Another key argument is the problem of half an eye. Or half a wing. I.D.’s argue that evolution can’t be right, because what of complex organs like an eye, a wing or other structure. Well the point is this. If we look at man today, half an eye would be useless for us. That’s obvious. But we have never had half an eye! Our eye is the product of refinement over billions of years. Why must they insist that half an eye is useless. In fact half an eye is better than no eye! in humans it wouldn’t be helpful, but in snails, or bottom feeding fish, half an eye would be fine. the problem is that they neglect to understand that evolution is a building process. a means of taking tiny improvements, and making them better and better, till that they look impossible or useless if they were more simple.
This is the old problem of the watch. It was argued that if you came across a watch, you’d have to see it as designed, as what purpose would it fulfil if it wasn’t that way? well quite right, a watch without a battery, or hands would be useless. But that is because a watch IS designed, it serves only one purpose. It has been engineered for only one thing in mind. Evolution has no foresight, no idea of want. it just carefully builds improvements. A watch as a cog is useless, but a light sensing cell is not useless, it can distinguish light from dark. Or more importantly, predator from no predator. so a 1/100th eye is good, for it can help distinguish certain light intensities. It is only needed that this light sensitivity helps survival that evolution selects for it. Once selected, it can be refined and refined until you have an O.K. eye like ours. For the simple fact of the matter is, the human eye is incredibly flawed, and any camera engineer would be appalled with it.
So a half organ can be helpful. even a 16th organ etc. as long as it gives some improvement, it will be built upon and refined. So the watch analogy is incredibly pointless, and a monstrous over simplification of the matter. That is like what is the point of a wheel without a car. Clearly the wheel has an original advantage before the car. now the point of the car without the wheel is very different. But that is not what evolution is, evolution is the wheel before the car.( or bike if your green). THIs can also be understood quit interestingly with butterflies, who have light sensitive cells on their rear. This makes no sense to us at the moment, but there may be some evolutionary advantage to have light sensing on ones behind.
Regardless, we can see eye evolution today. Take for instance, single celled creatures who have light sensitive spots, to certain molluscs who have poor blurry vision. To snails who have a slightly more refined eyesight. Then to humans who have relatively clear vision. Right the way up to the birds of prey who’s eyesight out performs ours. So we can see eyes that seem incomplete, or like half eyes. Yet animals survive with them. They provide an advantage over a lesser eye or no eye at all. The human eye for instance has nerves and blood vessels which actually creep over the light sensors (cones and rods) to transfer their signal to the optic nerve. So instead of going backwards from the sensors, and then to a large nerve to carry the signal, all the cells are backwards, and send he data across the sensing surface, reducing clarity to some degree. This is not mentioning the large hole in the sensors where the optic nerve is. A logical idea would be to have all the nerves go from each cell and collect at the back, behind the sensors and then form a larger nerve. This is how cameras are built. But alas, not for the eye. So we have a really poor eye ‘design’. This is not to mention the laryngeal nerve. But i shall let you search and discover more on this awkward journey from brain to vocal box, which shows our evolution form fish.
So i hope now, from the above facts, that i have highlighted the fallacy of arguments against evolution. The fossil record shows changes from oldest rock to youngest rock. with the most complex towards to newer layers. I hope i have shown that the fossil record isn’t completely empty, and that instead, it is full of wondrous and fascinating discoveries that have hinted at evolution in action. I hope i have shown that we have not, and shall never find animals in an earlier place than its ancestor, like finding a rabbit in the Cambrian. I have demonstrated how DNA shows us, and quite blindingly, evolutions typewriter marks throughout all the species of life on the planet. I have shown how vestigial structures and domesticated pets have shown us evolution in actual action, with evolutionary heritage left in us, and new ‘species’ being made in dogs. i have shown the use of half eyes and following rom that other organs like wings. I have shown how some structures like the eye are actually quite flawed in their structure, clear evidence that it is evolution acting in its blind fashion, of making the best of a bad situation.
This isn’t a complete list, or set of facts. This was a ‘short’ essay on how evolution is true, and how it should be taught and held as one of the greatest scientific discoveries, along with Einstein’s theory of relativity(both kinds), the big bang, hereditary, the speed of light, the universe is expanding. Evolution is as credible, is as well founded, as tested and as proven as any scientific theory. This article is only a glimpse at the wonder of evolution and the elegant and beautiful beings it creates. From the most humbled of human to the most exotic of bird, the thorny cactus to the colours of chameleons, all have been and are being evolved.
For more information please see the experiments on bacteria showing their evolution towards being able to break down and use citrus and other chemicals.
Also see Jerry A Coyne’s book- why evolution is True
Richard Dawkins- the greatest show on earth
Richard Dawkins- Climbing Mount improbable