Evolution Everyone Can Agree On
The controversy over Darwinian evolution concerns one core question: Can an unplanned, undirected process generate new functions and complex organs of irreducible complexity without design? No one really doubts that organisms vary in horizontal or downward ways – either by modifications of existing genetic information, or by deleterious mutations that somehow allow animals to continue to survive. Here are some recent examples.
- Churkey lurkey: The Transylvanian naked neck chicken is an ungainly bird with a long red neck (see picture in a BBC News) article). “The ‘churkey’ owes its distinctive look to a complex genetic mutation, according to scientists.” A vitamin A derived substance apparently gives the strong red color to the neck. Fortuitously, the lack of feathers on the neck helps the bird withstand heat – an advantage in hot regions. This is an example of loss of function that inadvertently helps these birds survive in specific environments.
- Plant doubling: “Evolution in the act” was announced by an article on Science Daily. The story concerned a hybrid plant introduced to America that underwent a spontaneous doubling of its genes. Before, the hybrid experienced relaxed gene expression, but after the doubling, expression was regained, the plants became vigorous again, and started to spread.
“No one had extended this to natural populations and the rapidity at which this can occur, and that’s pretty astonishing,” a researcher from Iowa State University remarked. Another considered this like nature hitting a “reset button” after gene expression had been disturbed by hybridization. This is an example of down-and-back-up evolution; even so, the hybrid was introduced on purpose by breeders and does not represent a natural state.
- Human evolution: The BBC News published a story about cleaner fish that pick the parasites out of sharks’ mouths, without the sharks taking advantage of the free food (see 01/13/2003, 06/22/2004, 11/23/2009, 01/13/2010, bullet 4). Divers interested in watching the phenomenon have flocked to an observing site at a seamount off the Philippines, where the sharks come in gently for their dental treatment. The article quipped, “A huge dive tourism site has evolved around them.”
Seen on birthday party napkins: “I’m not aging; I’m evolving.”
Evolution is a word with many meanings. The root of the word just means unfolding – nothing controversial about that. It can mean change over time of any kind, like the evolution of technology or the change from a landscape from a meadow to a forest. In the debates over Darwinism, it is important to specify the meaning at issue.
At seminars by the most ardent Biblical creationists, it is common to see presentations showing the variations in human skin color, horse size and traits, and dog breeds arising from either artificial selection or the kind of natural selection best described as stabilizing selection. Biblical creationists accept a broad degree of horizontal variation from original created kinds.
That kind of “evolution” is a far cry from what Darwin promoted: the common ancestry of all life from a single cell accidentally produced in some warm little pond, producing the vast array of plants and animals by a purposeless, unguided process. Jokes about humans evolving instead of aging, or evolving a tourism site are just that: figures of speech not to be confused with Darwinism. Beware of equivocation.