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A Monkey’s Uncle Speaks Out

by BEN TRIPP

Popular wisdom, which is a euphemism for crushing stupidity, states that the jury is still out on the subject of evolution. This is bunkum, an attempt to muddy the issue for the benefit of creationists who prefer a tenth-hand account of God’s word over a first-hand look at His work. Evolution is just a less dirty-sounding term for phylogeny, or how genetic composition changes over the course of generations. The idea is that little variations among individuals in a species, such as coloration, size, or a slight lisp, are acted upon by natural selection, and thus new species gradually arise. Natural selection is commonly known as ‘survival of the fittest’, and refers to the process whereby the most successful specimens of a species pass their genes on to the next generation. This is commonly known as ‘getting lucky’. Add to that how hard it is to meet girls, and you can see why a lot of people reject the whole notion.

Yet the evidence of evolution is all around us. Isolated populations of finches have been discovered that share common ancestors, and yet are now distinct species with specialized beaks for cracking nuts, eating seeds, picking the strings out of pastrami, and so forth. Some people say they must have had different ancestors, but you go to their nesting grounds and you see the same grandparents in the pictures on the piano. Also, study of the finches’ Deoxyribonucleic Acid, or DNA, (which can get pretty bad if they’ve been eating highly seasoned food) has proved they are descended from the same individuals. Exactly why the individuals switched neighborhoods is unclear, and to look at some of these finches you would wonder if natural selection is even working. But there is plenty of concrete evidence that evolution is the genuine article, and no evidence that it isn’t, except certain individuals in high government office.

What offends creationists most may be that the process of evolution is hit-or-miss. Things aren’t always getting better. Sometimes a population can become debased and inbred, as happened to cheetahs. At one time in the distant past, certainly before 1970 but maybe as early as 10,000 years ago, the genetic evidence suggests this species of big cat was down to a single pregnant female. This makes all cheetahs cousins in a very real way that makes a lot of people uncomfortable inviting them to parties. This low genetic diversity also means cheetahs are highly susceptible to feline diseases that a lion wouldn’t miss a day’s work over. Just because we’re this far down the line doesn’t make us superior to our ancestors, which sticks in the Biblical fundamentalist craw, despite highly specialized beaks. It’s the suggestion that God is merely doodling and doesn’t have a real plan for how things should come out. He’s swapping parts like we were made of Lego bricks.

But what’s so awful about sharing genetic material with a gorilla? Gentle-natured creatures with great parenting skills and an innate tendency to get enough roughage in their diets, who could ask for more? Yet this makes the serious creationists crazy in the head. Gorillas have a lot of back hair, but so do many humans. Once scientists finished mapping the human genome, which involved separating all of our strands of DNA and pasting them up on big pieces of posterboard with labels, it was discovered that humans share most genes with the lower orders of life. According to the folks at the Sanger Institute, we share 98% of our genetic material with mice, 74% with roundworms, and 50% with a banana. Whether it was an above-average banana, they don’t say. But the jury isn’t still out on this stuff. If you have a really nice microscope that plugs into the wall, a benchtop centrifuge, and a couple quarts of a good, stiff reagent, you can find out for yourself that the verdict is delivered: we evolved, with the possible exception of my uncle Steve, from the same hairy little fellows that chimps did. And those hairy little fellows evolved from the same squidgy little organisms that mollusks, juniper bushes, and penguins came from, too.

The Bible doesn’t mention DNA or natural selection, it is true. But it doesn’t mention pipe tobacco or Sanforization, either. Creationists have had to give up some ground and admit dinosaurs existed, but to save face they say it was 6500 years ago and they were around at the same time as Moses. This kind of hokum is gaining ground in America today. Intellectual evolution, like biological evolution, obviously cuts both ways.

BEN TRIPP can be reached at credel@earthlink.net.

His book, ‘Square In The Nuts’, has been held up at the printers by thugs but will be released as soon as hostage negotiations conclude.

See also www.cafeshops.com/tarantulabros.

 

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