Thursday, June 12, 2008

Uh, a minor correction...

Ahem.
Evolution is a belief that the Origin of Man was initiated by genetic copying errors in single-celled creatures. These random events purportedly were mostly harmful, usually killing the hapless recipient. But they occasionally conferred a minor benefit to the offspring. "Mother Nature," red with tooth and claw, aided the "most fit" of each generation to kill off the less fit (or the less fit were simply more likely to perish). This process, long continued, we are confidently assured, resulted in the initial one-celled critters being transformed into creatures that design and build airplanes and computers, of course, requiring millions of years.The story is quite amusing, and many seem to actually believe it.
Correction:

Genetic copying errors (including but not limited to single-"letter" changes, reversals, and duplications) happen in your cells. They are happening all the time. They happen in pretty much all life that uses DNA - which is all life on earth. I can show you evidence for this.

When these copying errors happen in the cells you use to reproduce (sperms and eggs), it can either have effects or not have effects. Most genetic copying errors kill an embryo before you even know it's there. I can show you evidence for this.

Some copying errors have no effect. This could be because it either affects a stretch of DNA that we don't really use (junk DNA) or it fully duplicates a gene, and having an extra gene for most things isn't anything exceptional. Some copying errors have an effect, but it isn't a big deal at the time. These copying errors sometimes stick around just due to chance. I can show you evidence for this.

Very few copying errors have a beneficial effect, in that particular environment. I can show you evidence for this.

Any one organism (collection of genes that use the same vehicle of reproduction, that is) must survive under a set of conditions imposed by its environment. Organisms that have many healthy offspring (genes that promote the copies of that gene) will increase in relative population. Organisms that have few or ailing offspring will decrease in relative population. I hope I don't need to show you evidence for this, but I can if you need me to.

Evolution is the understanding that
  1. Groups of living things vary in a heritable way.
  2. There are too many living things and not enough resources for all of them to have offspring (or even survive, a lot of the time).
  3. The organisms whose genes equip them with the means to acquire and use resources will have more offspring, and thus their genes will proliferate.
  4. Thus, any change in a living thing's genes that leads to better acquisition or use of resources, or healthier offspring, or more numerous offspring will improve the likelihood of their genes surviving, while any change that hinders such will decrease the same likelihood.
And, yes, I can show you evidence for all that.

Humans are primates. We are animals. We are made of flesh and meat and organs and blood and connective tissue. We think with our brains. We, like many other animals, have learned how to communicate and use tools. We, unlike any other animals, have such a capacity for learning and applying knowledge that we can write sonnets, and yes, build airplanes and computers. And we, like all other forms of life on this planet, exist now due solely because of evolution by natural selection. I can show you evidence for this.

Life has in fact been on the planet Earth for the majority of its history - about 4 billion years, give or take. And yes, I can show you evidence for this, too.

The story you told is indeed amusing, because it's a complete straw man of what evolutionary theory actually involves. I know the things I summarized above are a bit more complicated than the fairy tale you wrote. It takes a little thought to understand. And you also have to respect evidence more than The One True Holy Book Written By God.

Oh, you want to know what the above writer's point was? Well here it is:
We are interested here in two ideas.
1. Would an informed (not necessarily highly credentialed, or even "well read," just modest grammar school education or above), and truly sane person, believe this story?
2. Should a person capable of believing it be adjudged competent to vote?
I'd say that no one would believe the silly little story you concocted, and anyone who believes that it represents evolution shouldn't be adjudged competent for anything. Sheesh.

(BTW, thanks PZ for sharing this... lovely..... thing.)

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