September 16, 2012 by raconteurmagazine
by Nate Bradley
Charles Darwin is unarguably the father of modern biology. His theory of Natural Selection has become the cornerstone of rational discussion about the origins of the human race. First published in 1859, Darwin’s book caused uproar with the then religion-focused world. Thankfully as mankind’s scientific understanding has increased so too has our acceptance of this theory.
The Origin of Species should be on everybody’s ‘To Read’ list. It gives a good understanding of the theory; all backed with and supported by evidence, and is remarkably well written. The book progresses from Darwin giving examples of human selection, notably in pigeon breeding, moving to applying the same principles to flora, moving on to how flora and fauna can be proven to change/have changed without human interference, all presented in a clear, concise and easy-to-read style.
So why is it that people still don’t seem to be able to come to terms with it?
Now, there are two main groups of people who I am referring to here. The first is the group of people who I like to call ‘repeaters’. Repeaters are, in a nutshell, people who accept the theory as fact (fine) and haven’t read the publication (not too bad) but simply love to tell everyone about it (hmm) and give ridiculous examples (stop). The second group of people are creationists (stop two hundred years ago). Creationists need no introduction, as everyone has at least a passable knowledge of Genesis. These people, specifically Young Earth Creationists, genuinely believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old and was created by a supernatural being.
We’ll start with the Repeaters. The title of this article is a theoretical situation which I always seem to hear someone bring up. If the world was flooded, when would humanity develop gills? Short answer: we wouldn’t. If the world flooded, humanity would become extinct. Obviously humanity would become extinct; evolution takes thousands, millions of years to result in a noticeable change. How then would people survive for that long underwater without gills? THEY WOULDN’T. Humanity would become extinct and, as the paradigm has changed, animals who already have the basic features necessary to survive in the new environment (namely, sea life) would become the dominant form of life on the planet and the evolutionary traits which led to the existence of such creatures would simply continue.
This article is, admittedly, not aimed at changing the opinions of creationists. Why should I try and change their beliefs when more (and better written) arguments with scientific facts have already been readily ignored by religious leaders worldwide? I would, however, pose a question to them: do you believe in the tooth fairy? Father Christmas? No, you do not. This is called ‘hypocrisy’. How can you be willing to accept (and aggressively defend) the existence of a being for whom no evidence whatsoever has been found (in the interest of balance, I will begrudgingly add the word ‘yet’) and yet dismiss other beings, founded on the same lack of evidence, as fantasy? It is very easy to slip into the new popular sport of Christian baiting here, so I will stop arguing this point.
I genuinely believe that all of this lack of understanding can be avoided if people simply read the book. It is an excellent work, not only because of the ground breaking theory that it represented but also as a historical document. It is a remarkable window into a world where the idea of evolution was not a commonly (or even rarely) held idea.
Ultimately, what people seem to generally misunderstand about evolution is the idea that it has an aim. When a species develops a feature which makes them perfectly suited to their environment, there is no thought of: ‘Well, they deserve to survive so we’ll give them that longer neck’. That was simply the genetic mutation which happened to work, meaning that the gene pool carrying the mutation survived thus allowing the mutation to continue and possibly mutate further. The main point which people need to understand is that for every one successful evolutionary trait which helps a species to survive there will be billions of unrelated mutations which didn’t work with the environment and so did not continue. It was sheer chance that the mutation which worked happened at all, but the reason for it continuing is that it did work. That’s all.