Wednesday, September 17, 2008

That Evolution Thingy

I suppose trying to conclude that God doesn't exist because of evolution is unfair. After all, one can still argue that God exists and simply accept that evolution is really how God created life. However, evolution imposes a great discredit upon the biblical text. You just can't take the bible literally if you accept the implications of evolution.

As the bible becomes discredited, what do you use to uphold your religious beliefs? Religion then, becomes subjective and personal. That's why I think the founding fathers elected to keep State and Church separate – regardless of how religious or non-religious any of the founding fathers might have been. But . . . that's a future blog.

I had lots of doubts about evolution most of my life. Okay, okay, I just simply never accepted evolution; it just sounded stupid. “Geeze”, I thought, “isn't it obvious that we don't come from apes and monkeys”? I was convinced that scientist were taking fragments of fossils and erroneously building up these crazy skeletons straight from their wild and desperate imaginations.

But during my gradual descent (assent, perhaps?) into apostasy, I visited various religious message boards in an attempt to hold fast to my faith. As I was soul searching, I read an exchange on a message board that stuck with me:

Person one: I still want to believe in God and keep my faith, but that evolution thingy is kind of convincing”

Person two: Well, remember, it's called the theory of evolution. Theories are supported by evidence and their ideas have made predictions that are verifiable and proven. You have to disprove a theory before people turn from it. So in the case of evolution, it's a fact – not something people are still trying to prove.

(this is a paraphrase, but you get the point . . .)

I didn't quite agree with Person Two.

That is . . . until I met Sue. Sue totally changed my outlook.

You know Sue. That menacing T-Rex that you can visit at the Chicago Field Museum. Scientists excavated every bone of Sue and rebuilt her skeleton. The end result is a menacing eating machine staring down at you.

She's mean looking, too.

I had a little more respect for what scientist would dig up out of the dirt.

Then, I would start to pay attention to primate findings. These findings were not as incomplete as I had once thought. Forensics can revel a lot of reliable information even on bones hundreds of thousands of years old.

At the Field Museum, I did notice hominid bones were on display, too. Unfortunately at the time, I didn't pay too much attention to them. I still wasn't too convinced about that "evolution thingy". But, my interest in archaeological finds grew by leaps and bounds and I came to trust what scientists say about the bones they find and examine. Granted, you can't trust every thing you hear. And one can forget that scientist are making suggestions much of the time. Not everything scientists conclude is ready to be labeled a fact.

But some conclusions have been proven for a long time now.

Sorry to say -- but I really, really think that evolution thingy is actually real.

On top of all the other evidences of evolution, this point sealed the deal for me:

Scientists have found a way to extract DNA from Neanderthal bones. You know, just like they do to find out if that person really committed that awful crime.

Or, when they find out who your baby's daddy really is.

That is the same type of DNA evidence that lets us see how and why a tiger and a lion are so similar, yet different. Yes, this was extracted from Neanderthal bones. That same information that illustrates the way a lion is genetically different enough to be another species, yet is still a cat like a tiger, was extracted and examined from Neanderthals!

And what do the DNA results say?

Neanderthals don't seem to be major contributors to the homo sapien's DNA. We are not decedents of Neanderthals -- but rather -- we are cousins! DNA extracted from Neanderthal remains are too different from homo sapiens found during that same era to be the same species. Again, it's like finding the bones of a tiger and a lion! They're both cats – but different! Well, we've found that Neanderthals and homo sapiens were both human – just different!


Wait. Did you say two species of human?

Well, what makes us human, exactly? Well, according to Joseph Campbell, the capacity to look into the metaphysical and to use reason makes us human. To look out into the universe and attempt to explain it with mythology, religion, or reason (ironically) is a unique human trait. None of the other animals seem to do this. Neanderthals most likely had this capacity. They drew on the cave walls and expressed mythological symbols. So, Neanderthals displayed human qualities no different from the earliest appearance of modern man hundreds of thousands of years ago. And this is all based upon archaeological information.

Being human isn't the same as being a hominid. Hominids are an order of primates that include the human ancestry as well as man's primate cousins like chimps, gorillas and orangutans.

Neanderthals are also hominids and are our closest DNA relatives that we've found to date. They are such close relatives that they are a separate species of human. Chimps are our closest living relatives based on DNA – since Neanderthals are now extinct. We don't consider chimps to be human despite how much they remind us of ourselves. Nonetheless, chimps are hominids of the primate family and can at times act strikingly human.

Archaeological finds show that Neanderthals and modern man (homo sapiens) shared artifacts like jewelry, pottery and tools – as if they traded or bartered goods together. This indicates that Neanderthals were just as human as the homo sapiens.

Below are some articles that spell out the DNA findings. I find the placement of their excitement interesting. The articles express that the real break-through is the reliable extraction of DNA from a specimen tens of thousands of years old. The fact that the Neanderthals' DNA confirmed a different species of human causes a stir mostly because so many hypothesized that homo sapiens were direct descendants of Neanderthals.

But you know what really stood out to me? I noticed no excitement about how this finding further confirms evolution. The lack of excitement concerning the notion that this “evolution thingy” is true is old news.

I think the excitement in the scientific community happened after they all finished reading Origins of the Species back in the 1800s.

Just so you know I'm not pulling everything I'm saying out of the air -- check out these links when you have time:

DNA Abstracts
National Geographic: Last of the Neanderthals
Meet 'Wilma'
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