New Science: The Evolution Revolution

About a year ago, I stumbled across a creationist website that listed three arguments against the theory of evolution:

1) There’s no reliable mechanism of how life began. We have uncovered no way in which the primordial soup gives rise to replicating, metabolizing complex molecules. Amino acids, yes. Long chain carbon compounds, no. We don’t know how life began.
2) There aren’t enough missing links to account for the nearly 2 million different species currently hanging about planet Earth.
3) We have no clue of how speciation (creation of a new species) occurs. How does one get from single cells to multicells to human beings? Dunno.

I can’t find the site now, I suppose its lost among the 50,000 other anti-evolution sites. Sorry about that. I could be totally wrong that it even ever existed because all the proof-against-evolution sites are now listing 10 cracks in the theory’s armor. Some even list 50. I guess the anti-evolution meme is evolving.

At any rate, it’s number three of my list above that we’re concerned with here. According to an astonishing story in the February 18th issue of New Scientist, “Evolution’s X factor,” we are on the brink of demystifying this great mystery.

A species is defined as a group of interbreeding somethings (animals, plants, fungus, etc.). “Interbreeding” means genetically compatible. “Genetically compatible” means able to produce viable offspring. “Viable” means not-sterile. “Non-sterile” means able to pass on genetic material to the next generation. In essence, members of a species are able to mate and pass on their genetic material to children who are then also able to pass on their genetic material upon mating (Hopefully non-incestually, but that’s a different blog post because there’s pro and con evolutionary advantages when it comes to incest). The whole thing boils down to the passing on of DNA, keeping it in the game like a hot potato. Passing DNA on down the line is the very definition and purpose of life. We’re all couriers in the big scheme of things. In the big scheme of things, not only is medium the message but so are we.

Compare life to the telephone game. The information is kept alive, even if it changes through time. In life, the information doesn’t change nearly as drastically and quickly as it does in telephone. Or maybe it does. Sometimes in telephone the information is so badly transmitted it just dies. Usually in a heap of laughter, the butt of which is either the recipient or the deliverer or both. In life, the joke for bad transmission can also be on the recipient and deliverer. Depending on how bad it is, the results could be funny or not. And often the whole thing just breaks down, right then or there.

Current evolutionary theory relies on natural selection favoring favorable traits and then passing those on to the aforementioned non-sterile rugrats. That’s not the whole story of course. For evolution to give rise to the fabulous amount of species we enjoy, there has to be a method for one group’s shared traits to be unique and not transferable to another species. How does the sharing of traits, such as bipedalism or opposable thumb, develop into a thing that can no longer pass on those traits with every other copulatable biped that comes hitchhiking along?

The creationists say that because we don’t know what the mechanism is, there is no mechanism. And there is no mechanism because the Intelligent Designer, Jambi, does not need one. Jambi can conjure up any damn organism it wants, thank you very much. It’s done so 2 million, give or take hundred thousand, times.

Which will one day put the creationists in the same position the Catholic Church was in back 2000 AD when they had to apologize for all those years of mistreating scientists, who despite burnings, defamation, and crucifixion at the hands of those out to save them, have buggered on anyway and come up with some really cool stuff. Like how the planet isn’t really flat, the sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth, and women do in fact have a soul.

What I mean is one day the creationists will have to eat crow, just as the Catholic Church has to do whenever something they’ve decreed high holy hell against is eventually proven not only factual but acceptable to everyone except the most inflexible defenders of the dogma. As is happening with this third bullet in the creationists’ tool belt.

That is if the report in New Scientist is any indication. According to the article, there is a gene by the name of Prdm9 that causes sterility in mice. This very same gene, Prdm9, seems to be an extremely rapidly changing one in humans and other animals. What we have is a gene that effects DNA recombination (the exchange of genes between chromosomes during meiosis to create new types of DNA)—an apparently important factor in preserving mutations. And this gene also plays a role in sterility, i.e. it prevents the passing on of genes to the product of matings between two members of a species. The implication being that Prdm9 plays a hand in not only creating two different types of individuals in a species but also ensuring that only members of the same type can produce viable offspring with each other.

This does not stand as proof of a speciation mechanism, but it is a step closer in discovering that mechanism.

Please comment here if I’m getting any of the facts wrong. I’m not an expert in The Theory. If you want an expert, check out Steven Popke’s ongoing evolution posts here at the BVC blog (for instance).

For information on my other pontificating and highly enlightening (i.e. entertaining) work check out my bookshelf here at BVC. Look for my story, “Shadow of Kilimanjaro” in BVC’s latest steampunk anthology, Shadow Conspiracy II and my story “Shark Attack” in BVC’s anthology Breaking Waves, where 100% of the cover price goes to the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund.

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New Science: The Evolution Revolution — 3 Comments

  1. You know, the story of the creation of the earth which is told in Genesis of the Bible is how you would explain the Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution to a five year old. Which is about the educational level of an adult in Biblical times.

  2. There is already plenty of proof for points 1 and 2, as well.

    For 1, there are ribozymes that reproduce autocatalytically. They exist in nature (first discovered in Tetrahymena).

    For 2, there are plenty of missing links — even some that we didn’t know were there, as the recent discovery of the Denisovans shows.

    A simple way to start speciation is a change in chromosome number. This leads to inability to complete meiosis, no offspring between the two branches, and the drift starts and widens. This is what happened to originally separate humans from bonobos and chimpanzees — our chromosome 2 is a fusion of two in our cousins. Prdm9 and its role, coupled with its rapid change, is another way to introduce both variety/variability and speciation boundaries.