A Quick Lesson In Evolution

Evolution has been a hot-button topic ever since Charles Darwin had the gall to bring it to everyone’s attention back in the 1800s. It’s a pretty simple idea; over a long time, things change. You can’t deny that simple statement, and yet people hear “evolution” and immediately think “Holy Lord, they’re saying God doesn’t exist! Secular demons! BEGONE! Quick, pass a law saying we can teach the Garden of Eden in schools!”

Okay, so that’s a narrow view of things, but those people do exist, and unfortunately some of them are in positions of power. I won’t get into the whole “Science Vs Religion” thing here; it’s been done to death. I’m just here to focus on science. For starters, I’m not asking anyone to “believe” in evolution, since science is not a belief system. It’s the name we gave to the practice of observing our universe and trying to make sense of it with logical, objective observations that can be repeated/proven by others.

Plus, unless you think absolutely everything always stays the same (In which case you are… how do I put this lightly? Insane.) then you have already accepted on some level that things evolve. Scientists have literally mountains of data that prove that life has changed over millions of years from simple single celled organisms to the highly complex ones we see today. My goal here is not to change any minds, since my experience is that if you are making the decision to ignore the evidence, then you are beyond any proof and I’m not interested in you reading any further. Go ahead, there are likely plenty of sites out there that will stroke your pre-existing ideas that someone crafted everything out of thought or some other goofiness.

If you’re still here, then I’ll assume you are at least open to the idea that given enough time, one species will change enough that it is no longer the original species, but something altogether new. I’m starting small, with something everyone knows, and only the most heartless, evil people don’t love; dogs. They are probably the best proof I can give that over time, a species can (or more to the point, will) change, and that given a long enough timeline, will become something unrecognizable as being from the original. So for starters, somewhere around 100,000 and 33,000 years ago, humans started breeding the more docile of these into pets and companions:

Over the next several thousand years, they wound up with these:

They’re superficially similar, but no one is going to mistake a chihuahua for a wolf. I mean, male wolves average 95 to 100 pounds; that’s more than I weighed when I was a freshman in high school. Chihuahuas? About 6. Genetically, they are almost identical. If aliens landed on Earth tomorrow, they would probably laugh at the idea that the Taco bell dog is descended from the pack hunting predator that ate the kid (Kevin Zegers) from Dawn of the Dead in Frozen.

Domesticated dogs are actually a subspecies of wolf, meaning they are an offshoot, and distinct, but can freely interbreed and produce viable young. Yet from from that one species, Canis lupus, we have the single most varied mammal in the world. Seriously, this:

 Is virtually genetically identical to this:

How freaking amazing is that? Sure, humans intervened in the case of canines, but it’s not like they were practicing gene therapy on wolves back when we still had flint blades for our spears (despite what this idiot may believe), they simply worked with what nature provided them with; the ability to control the outcome of what offspring would continue to reproduce.

That’s all evolution is; some kids die, some kids live. The ones that live and have babies pass their genes on to their babies, and so on and so on. If this was not the case, and the Bible was right about Adam and Eve, everyone would look like Adam and Eve. But we don’t. It only took a few thousand years to turn one of nature’s fiercest predators into a decoration for morons like Paris Hilton, so imagine what a few hundred million can make. In that context, it’s not so hard to conceive that we all come from pond scum.

For a more recent example, the modern concept of a bulldog is actually the cross of a fairly kick-ass English breed that was used to fight, well, bulls (and bears) which was cross bred with pugs for the more flat-faced, fat, slow creature we know these days. It only took a few generations to make a distinct breed. Given it a few tens of thousands of years, it might only be vaguely recognizable as a canine, let alone a glorified wolf-pup.

 And some people have claimed that the sheer diversity of life requires intelligent design, but the truth is quite the opposite. Evolution leads to diversity just as a matter of course. For instance, ants have been around for at least 100 million years, and there are at least 22,000 recognized species. Dogs have been around, at the widest estimate, a tenth of that time, and they don’t breed in the billions for one group, and there are around at least 500 breeds. The point is, nature makes things complicated all on their own.

Now, before anyone gets upset, unless you’re batshit crazy like Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, evolution does not immediately mean there is no God. Hell, even the Vatican (supposedly HUGE fans of God) agrees that evolution is a thing and that it doesn’t conflict with Christianity. It’s a pretty simple concept, and people need to stop losing their shit over it. The evidence says it happened, and the world philosophies are pretty cool with it when they have a micron of education in them.

So chill out. Religious folks, accept that maybe your God is more creative than you gave it credit. Atheists, quit being so godamn sensitive about it.  If you raise evolution on a pedestal of belief, you  dishonor the science and scientists who have worked to prove it as fact, which as Homer Simpson pointed out, can be used to prove anything that is even remotely true.

5 thoughts on “A Quick Lesson In Evolution

  • September 13, 2012 at 3:15 pm
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    Nice. I actually use dogs as an introduction to evolution in my biology classes, too.

    But yeah, one thing I wish people would get is that evolution and God are not mutually exclusive. Believing in one doesn’t mean you have to give up your belief in the other.

    Reply
    • September 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm
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      Precisely. It’s nothing to get bent out of shape over, unless you just hate it when people don’t outright agree with you.

      Funny story; I was going to PM you and ask you to weigh in on how accurate I was with this. Coincidence?! (probably)

      Reply
      • September 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm
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        Well, you know I’m always happy to toss in my twenty cents when it comes to evolution.

        But yeah, I like this. The only thing I might point out for clarification is that, technically, the domestication — and hence, evolution — of wolves into dogs started before humans made the conscious decision to breed them for specific traits. You sort of hint at this, but basically, the friendlier wolves were the ones who started hanging out around human camps, and of those, the less aggressive ones were the ones who got the most food and had the most puppies and passed on their less aggressive genes to their puppies. This process therefore selected for wolves to become friendly and docile, and it wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision on the part of humans (at first).

        I think it’s important to point this out because it illustrates how pervasive selection (even artificial selection) is and how it can happen without people even realizing it.

        But that’s just me injecting my two dimes. I think you have a pretty good summary of what happened.

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        • September 14, 2012 at 2:39 am
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          I would update it, but I think having it in the comments works. Then it’s straight from the horse’s mouth. 😉

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          • September 14, 2012 at 3:10 am
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            Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that you need to fix anything. I think it’s fine as is. I was just saying what *I*, being my pedantic self, would’ve put. 😉

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