Posted by: terrapraeta | June 30, 2009

The Theory of No-Duh


Don’t these talking monkeys know that Eden has enough to go around?
Plenty in this holy garden, silly monkeys
Where there’s one you’re bound to divide it right in two.

Angels on the sideline,
Baffled and confused.
Father blessed them all with reason,
And this is what they choose?

Monkey killing monkey killing monkey over pieces of the ground.
Silly monkeys.
Give them thumbs, they forge a blade,
And where there’s one they’re bound to divide it right in two.

Tool, Right in Two

I have, over the years, spent a lot of time discussing evolutionary theory with people all over the ‘net. Over and over I have had long forum discussions that very slowly establish a real understanding of how evolution works, why it works and how, really, fundamentally inarguable it is.

Now I know I just put somebody out there up in arms. I hope you will keep reading if you are one of them.

Evolution is a very political issue. We all know this and we have heard the lengths some people will go to disprove, to cast aspersions, to create doubt on all levels of the theory. What everyone may not realize is that the political-religious factions opposing evolution have consistently (and, I believe intentionally) misrepresented the theory, and done so in an incredibly effective way. So effective that the language of doubt can now be heard in college classrooms and in books on evolution (including those by some of the most respected evolutionary biologists of the last fifty years).

I’m gonna fix all that right here and now.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit overconfident, but let me start by telling you all a secret that (to my knowledge) no biologist or evolutionary theorist has let out before now (perhaps because they don’t realize it ): Evolutionary Theory isn’t really a theory at all – its simple common sense. In much the same way that Newton’s Theory of Gravity is not a theory, but simply obvious. I’m not talking about the math, here, nor the speed of acceleration, but the simply question “does an apple fall?”

So back to evolution. We know, as a scientific fact that our genes carry all of the information required to build “us.” We also know that that genetic information is unique to each individual and a mix of the genetic information carried by our parents (assuming, obviously, sexual reproduction. We’ll leave asexual reproduction alone for the moment.) Finally, we know that our genetic code is also subject to random mutation under a variety of circumstances. I have never heard these facts disputed by even the most extreme religious fundamentalists. (If anyone else has, I’d love to hear that story, but for now, I’m going to take all those facts as accepted.)

In fact, there are only two places I have ever heard evolutionary theory questioned. The first is the actual, theoretical part of evolution: how did we get from primordial soup to here-now? As far as I’m concerned, they can go on debating that until the end of time. We will likely never know all of it for certain, but really, how much does that effect our lives or our image of the world around us? I suspect very little. The second point of contention, the one that Creation Scientists have latched onto and preachers attack fervently over and over, is Natural Selection. This is also the point where even our most brilliant evolutionists trip and occasionally fall.

So what, you say. Well, let me pose a scenario. Let’s say every day you drink two cups of coffee to get yourself started for the day. Gives you a nice balance and gets you up and moving each morning. One day, you drink a third cup and as a result, you are all kinds of wired and energetic. You get to work and find your office in an uproar over some crisis situation. You’re already jazzed up so you jump in, pour massive energy into solving the crisis, you’re light on your feet and operating at peak efficiency and by noon you’ve solved the problem and everyone can relax. The boss notices, maybe even pushes you to the front of the line for promotion and you have had a great day.

With me so far?

Now, imagine the same situation, you’re jazzed up and ready to go and you get to work to find that the boss has brought in some kind of motivational therapist to work with your department. Its going to be deep meditation exercises, visualizing goals, all sorts of new age mumbo jumbo all morning(no offense to the mumbo jumbo crowd – I use some of it myself). You start going through these exercises but you just cannot focus. Your body is all revved up, you can’t sit still so you fidget… you get the picture. Again, the boss notices and calls you in at the end of the session because he’s “disappointed” that you didn’t take this special opportunity more seriously and so on and so forth.

One more time. The same situation, you get to work and its just a normal day. For a couple hours you are a little hyped up, but nothing special happens, so that extra cup has no consequential effect on your work performance.

Still with me? Obviously, in all three situations, you have changed your routine, your standard operating parameters and this has had some effect on your performance at work. Right? So how does this relate to evolution?

That extra cup of coffee represents a mutation in your genetic code: a change to your operating parameters as an organism. The situation you find when you get to work represents the environment you live in. In one case, that “mutation” caused you to excel, in another the exact same mutation caused you to fail, while in the third it had no exceptional effect whatsoever.

This is natural selection. That’s all that Natural Selection represents. Period.

So if we know that we are defined by our genetic code, that this code is subject to mutation, and that natural selection is nothing but the potential effect of those changes in our current environment, then what is left to debate about?

Absolutely Nothing.

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