Posts Tagged ‘western lowland gorilla’

SERMON: “The Evolution Dialog Continues” by the not so reverend bob

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Recently, the friend I’d been carrying on the “Evolution Dialogue” with posted a video of this Western Lowland Gorilla (at an English animal park) that likes to walk upright.  He posted it along with this comment:

“Gorilla FINALLY figures out how to walk upright… this ought to mess with the evolutionist :)”

To which I responded:

“Mess with us, hell, it gives a great example of how WE started walking upright!”

And with that, the second “Evolution Dialogue” commenced.  Once again, I’ll call my friend “Joe” in the following electronic conversation:

Joe: We just believe differently Bob, that is all. I guess in the end we will see who is right :)

I noticed how our discussion stopped when I asked about what power holds the galactics in it’s perfect position. Does evelotion do that too?
If you are hanging onto a branch after falling from a cliff, who would an evolutionist call out to …to save him? Or would he just be willing to die?

Why are people born and still not evolving from apes? And at what point did birthing from human conception change from the evolution process?

The theory of evolution only deals with the development of life once it got started, so it doesn’t address the “soup” you’re talking about. That’s another field (and another can of worms

Bob the above is the response to a question i asked when we were in dialog about evolution. I enjoy this dialog by the way, and I like you as a friend and that won’t change no matter how this goes or where it ends. BUT, you say that you spe…ak to evolution AFTER life begins. My question is where did life begin. In any form? If, as you say evolution deals with life once it began, then what caused life to begin, in any form? If i understand you, there was not a soup per se’ that mutations began from. Then what was the origin of life? Did it come from nothing? Also how did the various types of species derive from a general nothing substance. It had to start from some type of substance- didn’t it? The bible says that God made man from the dust of the Earth and to dust we will return upon death. So God used the dust of the Earth to create man. What did he use to create the other life forms we know exist? I am referring to before evolution as it is spoken of today. Where was the substance life began – and what atmosphere was able to sustain itself perfectly during the millions of years evolutionist say was necessary for life to develop from? The bible also states that there was a flood that destroyed all life forms. It says that Noah and his family repopulated the Earth of the form of man after the flood. If this is not true then we are back to square one as it pertains to the existence of mankind after the flood.
Thanks Bob!

Bob: Sorry — the way it was worded I wasn’t clear on what your last question was in our discussion — but now I get it.

You keep using terms like “perfect” to describe, in this case, the galaxy’s position.  It’s not perfect, it just is what it is as everything moves around.  Things are quiet out there compared to when the galaxies formed, so not as many things are flying around to bump into other things. (The larger objects out there were gradually drawn together into planets, such as earth, and then were struck by other space debris for billions of years as the earth continued to form.  It is from this space debris that we got our elements and our core of iron).

And people are still evolving.  Everything is.  You and I are, quite frankly, “transitional forms” between our ancestors and what we will become (well, at least until we go extinct!).

And the question of who I would call out to is meaningless.  You could call out to God and I could call out in the hopes of another person hearing who could actually help.  If a person showed up, you’d say it was God answering your prayer.  I’d say I was damn lucky.  But the reality much more likely would be that God did not reach out his hand and pluck you off the cliff, but you would rationalize a very human helper as being guided by your God.  (There has never been a miracle that does not have a natural explanation, even if that explanation is that someone made the miracle up!)

And there was something that we would call a “primordial soup” (the most important component to life is thought to be liquid water, which we have a lot of).  The oddest thing is that creationist’s love to claim that evolutionists say that life came from “nothing”.  We don’t.  Life formed from very natural chemical reactions.  It’s the creationist that is actually claiming that God made life “out of nothing” (and all of the species and bacteria, etc., all at once!).

Life clearly began as crude, single-celled organisms, and took a LONG TIME to move beyond that, but once things got started, life really took off in a big way.  But you have to understand that life most likely began a million times, and then failed (just as we’ve had multiple major extinction events in earth’s history — such as the dinosaurs).  But life only had to succeed ONCE for you and I to be here now.

And our atmosphere has developed slowly over the years as well.  The evidence shows that an explosion of early sea life (plankton, I believe) began to generate a great deal of oxygen, which actually made the air toxic to many forms of life that had already evolved under different atmospheric conditions (so the air certainly wasn’t “perfect” for those poor critters!).  You and I evolved from animals that adapted to breathing the mix of oxygen that we know today.  (In the times of the Dinosaurs, oxygen levels were even higher, for example).  The reality is that oxygen is toxic to us in higher concentrations.

So, once again, there is no “perfect”, there is only that which we have had milennia to adapt to, so that today you and I feel “perfectly” at home in this gravity, this air, with the foods that we have to eat.  And we live such short lives compared to evolutionary time, and have only had science to help us understand it all for a very short time.  Religion, on the other hand, has been with us a long, long time.  And we seem to really like it!

Joe: Hey Bob thanks for replying,
The above raises a question, I…f we as humans are evolving still, then why is there death? Doesn’t death stop all life in a being? All life forms die. What then determines what life forms become extinct and others do not?
How then can life still be evolving? Is there someone somewhere that is very very old and still evolving that I am unaware of? And where is the life form of man going? Has any form of life changed to some other form of a different type of being?
Wasn’t Darwin’s information about life forms referring to “The ORIGIN of SPECIES”? Would that not refer to the substance that all life forms began with rather than evolution after a life form began?

What I am trying to get from you is this,
At what point did anything that exist, start? And by what power did it begin from? You speak of evolution after life began, I am asking where and how did life forms begin prior to evolution?

Remember Bob I am a bone head so it is taking me awhile it seems to get my point across :)

Bob: I’ve said that we don’t yet know how life began, but that does not automatically mean that “god” created it.  It began some billions of year ago, so no-one was around to see it, and what evidence there is is going to be sketchy and hard to find.  Still, at least there is evidence for the evolutionary view.

Your other question reveals a basic (and very common) misunderstanding of evolution: individuals DON’T evolve, POPULATIONS do.  Meaning, evolution occurs through random genetic mutations that are passed on (or even, sometimes, occur) during REPRODUCTION.  So, if you are born with a “beneficial” mutation, you will likely pass it on to your children.  If it’s a trait that means you live while others around you die, then it will quickly become a DOMINANT trait in a POPULATION.  (This is a process that has been observed in the laboratory and in living animal populations, so in that respect we do see it happening in real time).  But once you’re past reproducing age, life doesn’t really “care” about you.  That’s why diseases that kill us off in old age don’t get weeded out by evolution, because they affect people who have already passed on their genes.  Conversely, were there to be a common disease that wiped out young people, the POPULATION would quickly be naturally selected for those that were resistant to that disease (because they would be the only ones living long enough to reproduce).

In Darwin’s time, some scientists still theorized that evolution worked by adults passing on traits they had acquired in life (such as skills, or knowledge) directly to their offspring.  We now know that the method of passing on traits is genetic.  The rest is cultural (and has to be re-learned by each generation).

So no-one knows definitively how life began, but we know FROM THE EVIDENCE that it did.  Therefore, it is possible (whether we’ve figured out the exact “how” or not).  Otherwise, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

That evolution and natural selection are the mechanisms for the development of the variety of life on earth is proven beyond any reasonable doubt.  No other explanation has any claim to validity.  Now you can hold on to any belief you want to, of course.  But it will always only be belief, it will never be science.

And as to one life form turning into another kind of life form, that is another misunderstanding of the process.  For instance, you and I evolved from a sort of fish at one point, and our bodies still bear the marks of that evolution.  You could say we changed from one animal into another, but that’s not correct: we evolved, mutated, adapted, yes, but everything we are had to be built upon the building blocks we started with.  (Everything that lives came from earlier living things — complex multi-cellular organisms like humans or tigers don’t just assemble themselves out of “the dust of the ground” in one step!)  That is why you and I share 99% of our DNA with Chimpanzees, 80% with mice, and 40% with a head of lettuce.  Because we ALL evolved from the same basic life forms!  (So the favorite protest of “I didn’t evolve from a monkey” is wrong because evolution never said that — only creationist’s say that — what evolution says is that modern primates share a common ancestor with us humans at a pretty recent point on our family tree!)


Final thoughts: I guess I’m a bit mystified as to why the sight of a modern gorilla walking upright could be seen as a disproof of evolution.  I assume that this gorilla might turn out to be a bit more anatomically suited to walking upright (though that may not be critical to this gorilla’s bipedal efforts)  The “keeper” in the interview does say that this seems to be a “family” trait in this bunch of related gorillas, which also demonstrates it is also a learned behavior (these sorts of unusual, localized practices are often observed in different animal populations).  But the greater point is that this sort of adaptation is, as I said at the beginning, much more an indicator of how you and I may have started walking upright.  In the case of humans, the ability and habit of walking upright was clearly, at some point, a critical adaptation in our evolutionary toolkit that allowed our upright ancestors survive and thrive while our less ambitious cousins passed into history.

In my friend’s questions, I can get a sense of the misunderstandings of the theory of evolution that he (and, it is likely, many more like him) holds, as he clearly is expecting individual human beings to show physical evidence of evolutionary change within their lifetimes, and is likewise expecting that there should be monkeys all over the world regularly turning into more human-like primates (or fish turning into quadrupeds, etc.).  On one level, of course, such a thing is happening all the time, but at the genetic level and on an evolutionary time-scale (and, as I point out, among populations, not individuals).  But it is a bit of a stunner that people know so little about what the theory of evolution actually states and are, therefore, so willing to oppose it on what seems (to them) to be rational grounds.

But, to be frank, I don’t think that a lot of the hullabaloo that is this seemingly endless struggle with evolution is really about the evidence.  It’s about belief.  And I would only be the latest of the gazillion before me who have said that belief and evidence are two species that rarely share the same ecosystem.  There is the minority of humans that accept the reality of whatever the best evidence suggests, and then there are the believers who, in many case, are probably not clear on the difference between evidence and conjecture.

To take a big step back, just imagine that we grew up in a world that had never believed in God (or Gods).  In that world, what would we think of someone who, observing a phenomenon that we had not yet studied through science, made the pronouncement that since it was such an elegant (or interesting or mature) phenomenon (and that science had not yet described it) that it must have been created by an invisible entity with supernatural powers and intention?  What would we think?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only reason that the raft of irrational ideas that we humans carry around are so widely supported is purely due the longevity of their residence in our collective consciousnesses.  That people capable of otherwise rational thought and action believe in fairy tales is really quite a stunning fact to consider.  But yet again, this thought is not original to me, as Bertand Russell put it: “It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.”

t.n.s.r. bob