Tuesday, December 7, 2010

MORE ON MR. DARWIN

If you scroll on down to last Thursday’s blog, you’ll find Steve Jenkins’ lively rant about the pseudo-scientific gibberish and censorship surrounding the Theory of Evolution. Since 5 (yes, five!!!) of our INK bloggers have written books about Charles Darwin, and since I’m one of the perps my own self, I cannot help but chime in.

Ladies and gentlemen, the evidence is overwhelming. Now that DNA has vindicated just about everything Darwin ever wrote, evolution is a proven fact—you can take that message straight to the bank. And as the unifying underlying principle of all biology, evolution should be taught in schools just as surely as we teach kids about gravity or the fact that the earth revolves around the sun (another maligned “theory” that got a scientist in trouble).

To put it very simply, Darwin showed us how all living things are shaped over time by Natural Selection; if any random change in a plant or animal made it more likely to survive in a given environment, its offspring might end up with the same trait and would therefore be more likely to survive too. And any plants or animals that randomly developed unhelpful traits would be likely to die out.

For example, Darwin discovered that the most spectacular birds of paradise and the most colorful butterflies were likely to lure the best mates and therefore have the most offspring. He saw how pumas that ran too slowly couldn’t catch enough game to eat, while their faster, stronger brothers would capture the most prey and live to reproduce in the bargain. He noted that mammals like bats which had gradually developed wings over a long period of time could catch prey—and escape from predators—better than their wingless ancestors. And anteaters with the longest snouts could reach deeper into an anthill to eat the most ants. And the strongest alligators or rams or stag beetles could win a battle for the best mates and pass their great strength along to their children too. And certain drought-resistant plants would survive to reproduce when the rains disappeared. And so on.

The world continues to evolve right before our eyes every single day. Are there any examples kids can see today? I’m sure that the young contestants Steve blogged about who are writing and drawing their thoughts on evolution have thought of plenty. I've been gleaning a few more:

Hi kids. Did you ever have a horrible earache, but when the doctor gave you an antibiotic, it didn’t work? Whoops. That’s because the kind of bacteria that caused your pain has evolved; back when your medicine was first invented, it used to kill almost every trace of bacteria and kids got well again right away. But a tiny number of bacterium were resistant to the drug and refused to drop dead. They multiplied over and over instead, and by now, millions of their evil offspring aren’t affected by the medicine one bit. And guess what? The ten most dangerous microbes on the planet are now resistant to everything we can throw in their direction. Watch your head.

Hi kids. Did you happen to watch yesterday’s TV show about African elephants, and did you notice their teeny little tusks? Well guess what. Male elephants used to have gigantic tusks so that they could fight each other to win the best looking girlfriend. But poachers killed all the elephants with the biggest tusks and made a bundle selling the ivory. The only elephants that survived to breed had teeny little tusks. They had evolved.

Hi again. Remember how global warming has been killing off our coral reefs and all of the astonishing undersea creatures that live there? Well guess what. There’s actually a small glimmer of hope because some scientists have figured out that certain reefs in the Western Pacific Ocean and near Australia evolved in warm water and might be protected from global warming. Hmmm...if you ever become a scientist, maybe one of these pretty days you can visit these paradises, figure out the reefs' tricks, and use their secrets to protect the dying ones.

Hi. Want dinner? Sorry, kids, but lots of the plants you eat already got eaten by bugs instead. Seems that the pesticides we always used to kill them off don't work any more. The pests have evolved a resistance to such poisons. And is there a bird feeder in your yard? Then guess what else? A certain species of European songbirds that visit bird feeders in the UK have evolved rounded wings and long narrow bills and are busy turning into a new species as we speak. Scientist are trying to figure out why. Any ideas?

I’ve got a million more evolutionary examples concerning fossils of extinct giant mammals and fossils of extinct human beings. I've got stories about invisible guppies that used to be gaudy and mice that have most of the same genes as men and more...much more. They're fun to learn about, and they offer important keys that can link us to our past and our future. Not to preach or anything, but….oh, never mind. Even though there are entire school systems that refuse to mention the “E” word, we shouldn’t short-change our budding scientists and leaders by leaving such key information about the planet out of their curriculum. Let’s not censor or ignore the massive amount of solid science behind Darwin’s “theory.” We do so at our own peril.

3 comments:

Jim Murphy said...

Unfortunately, many (too many) of the folk who dispute evolution haven't evolved enough to understand it.

rebeccahirsch said...

Thanks for keeping up the Darwin cheering section, Rosalyn!

I was a molecular biology researcher (studying genes and DNA) for many years before I became a writer. In all my years in research labs, no scientist I knew ever disagreed with evolution. We all accepted evolution as fact, and not because we were deaf to alternate theories, but because we could see the fingerprints of evolution all over our DNA and on the DNA of every other living thing we studied. Want evidence for evolution? It is written right in the DNA.

Rosalyn Schanzer said...

Thanks Jim - you made me laugh out loud. As Darwin said, "It is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

And to back up your comment, Rebecca, I think it's interesting that Francis Collins, the scientist who led the Human Genome Project and discovered disease genes, is an Evangelical Christian. He believes in both God and science and says that evolution is not just a theory and that he has no patience with people who think that way. The literal interpretation of scripture that implies that the world was created as-is in 6 days just a few thousand years ago has nothing to do with the reality we can read in DNA with our own 2 eyes.