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Saturday
Jul132013

Evolution Didn't Happen. It Is Happening.

Editorial

Recently I have become embroiled in some heated debates on Twitter about the subject of evolution. These recent discussions have brought home to me the fact that many people still cannot or will not accept the concept. Two thousand plus years since Xenophanes became one of the first known people to have used fossils as evidence for a theory of the development of the Earth the debate still rages on.

The debate, or argument in many cases, about evolution typically degrades into the two sides posturing to defend their long held beliefs and perceptions. Typically on one side there are evolution proponents, such as myself, against its detractors who are usually some form of creationist.  

The point I try to make at large is that as a whole there is plenty of evidence that the process of evolution works. The exact history of the ancestry of human beings is a work in progress. The process involves finding agreement as to what exactly the first human being was physiologically, intellectually, and culturally. One of the next and possibly more daunting tasks would be determining the precise linkage of various ancestral creatures that directly lead to the development of that human being. So far the proverbial missing link that would be an undeniable smoking gun to champion the human evolutionary tree has been illusive. By the same token the more we question the more we learn. That is how the process of science works. We never really accept a given concept indefinitely without building upon or possibly modifying it as new information becomes available. The study of aerodynamics did not end with the biplane. New discoveries are being made all the time and are taking us into new and exciting directions.

The evolutional development of new species is a complicated process and takes place over enormous periods of time. This makes the process hard to document and frankly difficult to defend against detractors. My strategy is to illustrate the more recent history of evolution. Evolution after all is not just something that happened in the past. It is an ongoing part of life.

Charles Darwin, when he published “On the Origin of Species” in 1859, ushered in a new era of debate about life history that continues to this day. The book presented the notion that populations evolve over the course of generations through the process of natural selection. Simply put the creatures with the best traits for survival in a given environment are the most likely to continually reproduce. Over time these traits become more refined and specialized.

To me there is no question that Darwin understood the progression of evolution. What he didn’t know, however, is why it worked. We now understand the underlying function of genetics and DNA. This activity occurs in all living organisms and is the basis for biological inheritance.

Human beings have manipulated this process many times albeit a bit unknowingly at first.

Although we cannot be sure exactly how the relationship started, it is likely that about 10,000 years ago as humans established settlements wolves may very well have started hanging around. There were most certainly food scraps and other tasty critters scavenging for the leftovers around the presence of human beings. As time went on it is certainly reasonable to presume that certain wolves became very friendly with their human neighbors.

Let’s imagine that some wolves simply did not have the disposition to live along side human beings, but some did. The more friendly wolves started to be nurtured by man. Over time new generations of wolves started to develop around human beings. The ones best suited for coexistence with man became the most likely to reproduce in this new nurturing environment. It wasn’t long before man probably started taking a liking to the smaller wolves, or the faster wolves, or maybe even the wolves that were cuter. Yes, there is little doubt that dogs descended from wolves and were likely the first animal to be domesticated.

I find it ironic that since cavemen became civilized human beings we have done more to take the wolf out of the dog than we have done to take the caveman out of the man.This is why I get frustrated with people who pluck wild animals out of their environment and claim to have tamed them as pets. As animal companions go there is no competing with domesticated animals that are genetically predisposed for coexistence with man. Some people claim to love their dogs and that the dogs love them back. I believe this is not as crazy as it sounds.  Over thousands of years man has encouraged human traits in the evolution of the modern domestic dog.

In the wild natural selection makes the choices for the development of a species. As the saying goes it is the survival of the fittest. Although as a whole the long-term survival of a species depends largely on its ability to adapt to change. In the case of individual domestic animals it is human selection influencing the development of the animal from one generation to the next. Whether it is from influences in the wild or under the guidance of human intervention ecological forces such as these impacts the genetic process and affects change in the animal. If all types of life had been created in some absolute manner on a very recently formed Earth, as some creationists assert, then these recent types of evolutionary progressions would not work.

We are the first species to recognize the process of evolution. This means that we are also the first species able to determine or guide our own evolutionary destiny.  How are we doing so far?  I find it ironic that since cavemen became civilized human beings we have done more to take the wolf out of the dog than we have done to take the caveman out of the man.  We have smart phones and other fancy gadgets but when it comes right down to it we are still perfectly willing to club each other over the head because we want a certain area of land, appear differently to one another, or have something the other one wants.

Knowing what we know now more than ever we really are whom we choose to be. Are we going to continue to divide up territories and fight over resources or will future generations of human beings take the same care to encourage the best traits and evolve into the same kind of loving and loyal creatures as we most desire from our pets? 

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