Questions Regarding Evolution

rynner2

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#31
Evolution – it’s not over yet
By Tom Chivers Science
Last updated: September 10th, 2013

From Wednesday's Daily Telegraph: Sir David Attenborough has claimed that the process of natural selection has stopped. Tom Chivers suggests otherwise

Like every other species on Earth, Homo sapiens is the product of more than three billion years of evolution: random, blind changes put through the filter of natural selection, leading from one simple original form to all the startling variety of life we see around us. Humanity’s lineage split with that of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, six million years ago, and our ancestors have been evolving separately ever since. In that time we have gone from short, robust, hairy apes – perhaps partly tree-dwelling and knuckle-walking, like chimps – to tall, gracile, naked humans. It has been quite a journey.

But is that journey over? It might be, according to Sir David Attenborough, who said in an interview with the Radio Times: “I think that we’ve stopped evolving. Because if natural selection, as proposed by Darwin, is the main mechanism of evolution – there may be other things, but it does look as though that’s the case – then we’ve stopped natural selection.”

To support his case, he points out that, unlike any other species, we can use technology to keep ourselves alive until breeding age, when otherwise we would have died. Specifically, he points towards the vast improvement in infant mortality rates: “We stopped natural selection as soon as we started being able to rear 95-99 per cent of our babies that are born. We are the only species to have put a halt to natural selection, of its own free will, as it were.”

Human evolution has fascinated us since Darwin pointed out that we evolved: Darwin himself spent a long time with an orang-utan in London Zoo, examining its facial expressions, and wrote The Descent of Man, applying evolutionary theory to human history and discussing how humans are related to the rest of the apes. It’s a subject of extraordinary controversy – and not just with stubborn creationists.

Suggestions that differences in human behaviour might be evolved – for instance, that women and men have innately different approaches to sex or child-rearing – led to uproar. One evolutionary biologist, E.O. Wilson, had a cup of water hurled on him during a lecture, to chants of “racist Wilson you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide”, for suggesting that human social behaviour and morality are the products of natural selection, of our genes.

And what will happen next fascinates us even more. The “next stage” of human evolution has been a staple of science fiction since the genre’s earliest days – think of H.G. Wells’s Morlocks and Eloi. Arthur C Clarke, in Childhood’s End, pictured us leaving behind our physical beings and becoming creatures of pure energy. Modern superhero movies imagine “mutants” with psychic powers or wings.

Attenborough, though, is suggesting something at once prosaic and startling: that human evolution ends here, that we are the final stop on the journey. You can understand his reasoning. After all, if we (at least in the affluent, technologically advanced West) can take even the most vulnerable babies, babies who would have died within hours of birth a hundred years ago, and keep them alive – essentially repair them so that they can live into adulthood and breed – have we not ended the cruel process of natural selection?

It’s not that simple, says Dr Adam Rutherford, a geneticist, author of Creation and a BBC colleague of Sir David. “He is absolutely right that the selection pressures on humans have radically changed,” says Dr Rutherford. “And he’s right that one of the most profound changes to those pressures is infant mortality rates. But that’s not really, in a pure scientific sense, how evolution works.

The fact that certain evolutionary pressures have been reduced – for example, the requirement for a baby’s lungs to be fully developed and functional by birth, now that we can keep that baby alive on a respirator until its lungs are grown – does not mean that all of them have gone. “The robust answer to the question 'are humans evolving?’ is: we don’t know, because the timespans are too short to make a judgment,” says Dr Rutherford.

While we can watch evolution happen in viruses and bacteria – or fruit flies, or mice – human generations are just too slow; even the longest-lived of us can only reasonably hope to see great-grandchildren. Our split with the chimps takes us back to our great times-250,000 grandparents.

We can look at our own recent history, though, and at our genes. Several studies have suggested that human evolution has actually speeded up, not slowed down, since the advent of agriculture in the last 10,000 years – an eyeblink in evolutionary terms. In the past few thousand years some humans have evolved the ability to digest milk, unlike any other adult mammals.

“Another example is the Arya Vaishya caste, in India,” says Dr Rutherford. “It was noticed in the Nineties that this caste, a merchant class, responded differently to a particular anaesthetic. Everyone else was unconscious for about 10 minutes, but members of this caste stayed unconscious for five hours. A genetic analysis was carried out, and it was found that it came from a single mutation in an individual several thousand years ago, and has spread to every Vaishya.”

That is, he points out, an example of a genetic mutation arising and spreading throughout an entire population of millions of people, thanks to the behaviour of that population. That is a clear example of rapid human evolution – and what’s more, it happened without any noticeable physical change at all. It wasn’t until the invention of a particular class of anaesthetic, thousands of years later, that it had an effect.

“If you look at changes in the frequency of genes in a population, which is the true measure of evolution, then I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest that we’re not evolving,” says Dr Rutherford. The question, of course, is how we’re evolving. There have been various suggestions, of varying stupidity, up to and including the suggestion that we’ll evolve fatter thumbs to help us text. (“That’s called Lamarckism, and it’s just wrong. The Jewish people have been cutting foreskins off their boys for 5,000 years and one hasn’t been born without a foreskin yet,” snorts Dr Rutherford.) :twisted: More obviously plausible hypotheses include the idea that our tendency to have children later in life will select against people who are unable to do so.

What won’t necessarily happen is that we’ll become cleverer, or in any arbitrary way “better”, than we are now. Evolution doesn’t work that way. The 2006 film Idiocracy suggested that clever people are having fewer and fewer children, while stupid people are having more, so the future of humanity is one of everyone being thick. That was a joke, but it illustrates quite neatly that evolution is not a stairway to a glorious pinnacle called “humanity”; intelligence is not the culmination of evolution, it’s just one tool that works for one species at the moment, just as sonar works for bats. If powerful brains become less useful in future, then we can expect them to dwindle away, like the eyes of cave fish – they’re expensive, energy-draining things, and natural selection is a brutal accountant.

Pace Sir David, then, because it seems human evolution isn’t over. From the evidence of our genes, it’s ticking along, perhaps faster than before. Whether it will change the way we look, or the way we think – and if so, how – is a harder question, simply because it takes too long for results to appear.

“The only real way we can determine whether we are physically evolving,” Dr Rutherford says, “is to come back in 10,000 years and see if we’re different.” 8)

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomch ... -over-yet/
 

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#32
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EnolaGaia

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#37
I suspect Xanatic was alluding to the fact that the notion of any proactive or goal-seeking "engineering" is antithetical to natural selection.
 

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#38
I suspect Xanatic was alluding to the fact that the notion of any proactive or goal-seeking "engineering" is antithetical to natural selection.
Thanks... might I please enquire what your own conclusions are?

Essentially, I suppose, the elemental question is, 'what is behind these resolutions'?

One further example comes to mind... a symbiotic relationship between ants and plants, e.g.:

"Another great symbiotic mutualism from Costa Rica. The acacia tree (actually several species of Acacia) we saw at Santa Rosa National Park have a very close association with ants of the genus Pseudomyrmex. The plant provides the ants with nest sites, carbohydrates and protein in return for defense by the ants".

What was the procedure... how did this mutually beneficial relationship evolve?

It would be insightful to understand at which point the plant decided it was a smart move.
 

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#40
Thanks... might I please enquire what your own conclusions are?
Essentially, I suppose, the elemental question is, 'what is behind these resolutions'?
The ascription of a "resolution" implies a tacit presumption there's a goal or end state that's preferred, if not actively pursued. In other words, it projects teleology onto the situation.

There is no teleological "invisible hand" guiding natural selection. It's not a matter of pursuing any abstract optimum or end state. It's a matter of "that which does not fail to live" (for survival until reproduction can occur) combined with "whatever it can get away with" (in terms of the features any organism or species exhibits).

As such, there is no overarching "resolution" involved.

One further example comes to mind... a symbiotic relationship between ants and plants, e.g.:
"Another great symbiotic mutualism from Costa Rica. The acacia tree (actually several species of Acacia) we saw at Santa Rosa National Park have a very close association with ants of the genus Pseudomyrmex. The plant provides the ants with nest sites, carbohydrates and protein in return for defense by the ants".
What was the procedure... how did this mutually beneficial relationship evolve?
It would be insightful to understand at which point the plant decided it was a smart move.
The short answer is this ... It is the species (both plant and animal) that evolve via natural selection, not the relationship(s) among them. The ongoing emergence of characteristics facilitating the outcomes onto which we project willful mutual profiteering affects the co-incidence of the species involved (i.e., who lives / survives in close proximity with whom), not some abstract collaborative pact to which the species have somehow committed themselves.

Acacias and ants didn't negotiate any contractual arrangement. The acacias that survive most comfortably are those protected by ants. Conversely, the ants who survive most comfortably are those whose nests are located so as to exploit a nearby acacia.

It's a win-win scenario, but not one either party entered in the course of seeking to win.
 

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#41
The ascription of a "resolution" implies a tacit presumption there's a goal or end state that's preferred, if not actively pursued. In other words, it projects teleology onto the situation.

There is no teleological "invisible hand" guiding natural selection. It's not a matter of pursuing any abstract optimum or end state. It's a matter of "that which does not fail to live" (for survival until reproduction can occur) combined with "whatever it can get away with" (in terms of the features any organism or species exhibits).

As such, there is no overarching "resolution" involved.



The short answer is this ... It is the species (both plant and animal) that evolve via natural selection, not the relationship(s) among them. The ongoing emergence of characteristics facilitating the outcomes onto which we project willful mutual profiteering affects the co-incidence of the species involved (i.e., who lives / survives in close proximity with whom), not some abstract collaborative pact to which the species have somehow committed themselves.

Acacias and ants didn't negotiate any contractual arrangement. The acacias that survive most comfortably are those protected by ants. Conversely, the ants who survive most comfortably are those whose nests are located so as to exploit a nearby acacia.

It's a win-win scenario, but not one either party entered in the course of seeking to win.
Thank you so much for taking the time to reply with such a fascinating perspective.

My response, for the moment, is quite straightforward...

:btime:

:popc:

Quoting Sherlock Holmes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's, 'The Red Headed League':

"It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won't speak to me for fifty minutes".

:sherlock:



:joint: :rasta:
 

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#42
There is no teleological "invisible hand" guiding natural selection.
The genesis of my interest in this facet, stems from a TV documentary I watched some 30-40 years ago.

In essence, it happened to mention that as a result of forest fires in a certain part of America, pine trees were now prone to release their cones directly afterwards - which would intrinsically improve their seed's prospect of germinating - the forest floor having now been cleared.

How did the pine trees realise this?
 

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#45
I suspect Xanatic was alluding to the fact that the notion of any proactive or goal-seeking "engineering" is antithetical to natural selection.
We were just sayin'earlier, 'Aye, that's the nights fair drawin' in again'. Definite turn of proceedings here this morning.... autumn is upon us. Thought occureth... what engineered the seasons so precisely? .... and to which purpose?
 

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#49
The genesis of my interest in this facet, stems from a TV documentary I watched some 30-40 years ago.

In essence, it happened to mention that as a result of forest fires in a certain part of America, pine trees were now prone to release their cones directly afterwards - which would intrinsically improve their seed's prospect of germinating - the forest floor having now been cleared.

How did the pine trees realise this?
They don't realise this. What happens is that the ones whose cones drop at the best time reproduce efficiently whereas the less timely cone-droppers have fewer offspring. Over several hundred or thousand generations the less efficiently reproducing/untimely cone-droppers are replaced by the other lot.
 

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#50
They don't realise this. What happens is that the ones whose cones drop at the best time reproduce efficiently whereas the less timely cone-droppers have fewer offspring. Over several hundred or thousand generations the less efficiently reproducing/untimely cone-droppers are replaced by the other lot.
So... if no pine cone realised this, then what did? Surely along the journey, would there not elemenally have to be an originator... and the rest of the pine cones follow that lead?
 

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#51
So... if no pine cone realised this, then what did? Surely along the journey, would there not elemenally have to be an originator... and the rest of the pine cones follow that lead?
Nope, it's all total chance. There would be more offspring from the timely cone-dropper (timely) trees than from the untimely cone-dropping (untimely) trees.
So over, say, a millennium the offspring of the TCD trees would outnumber the UCD through the advantage of dropping the cones at the most opportune time. No tree-consciousness involved.
 

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#52
Nope, it's all total chance. There would be more offspring from the timely cone-dropper (timely) trees than from the untimely cone-dropping (untimely) trees.
So over, say, a millennium the offspring of the TCD trees would outnumber the UCD through the advantage of dropping the cones at the most opportune time. No tree-consciousness involved.
See what you mean here... hmmm... So, how would we equate, say, symbiotic relationships between ants and plants. Obviously, at some point, the plant has to reliase this could be mutually beneficial - how does it decide that? Do all the plants just get it at the same time - how is that possible? If they were vines, would they have heard it through the grapevine? :popc::fbunny:
 

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#53
See what you mean here... hmmm... So, how would we equate, say, symbiotic relationships between ants and plants.
The answer is implied in your phrasing. Symbiotic relationships are projected ("equated") by us humans onto situations and scenarios within which multiple organisms collectively survive more effectively together. Symbiosis represents our distorted interpretation of natural circumstances in terms of proactive accomplishment.

Both ants and plants do what they do, without any strategic thinking or decision making involved. The ones we see surviving and even thriving do so as a result of their circumstances. The ones we don't see don't survive - much less thrive - as a result of their circumstances as well.

The situations we see are the ones that represent what works sufficiently well to allow for reproduction and hence persistence. Natural selection is not a process of optimization - it's a matter of continuation on the basis of "getting away with it."
 

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#54
The answer is implied in your phrasing. Symbiotic relationships are projected ("equated") by us humans onto situations and scenarios within which multiple organisms collectively survive more effectively together. Symbiosis represents our distorted interpretation of natural circumstances in terms of proactive accomplishment.

Both ants and plants do what they do, without any strategic thinking or decision making involved...
Another fascinating perspective. With no agenda - just trying to make some sense of it all!... So, how can plants duly evolve in our ant case, when you maybe suggesting they are intrinsically incapable of same? Not capable of... essentially, thought? Yet, still can achieve a momentous, evolutionary, adaption to their benefit, plus liase with ants in reaching that agreement.
 

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#55
Another fascinating perspective. With no agenda - just trying to make some sense of it all!... So, how can plants duly evolve in our ant case, when you maybe suggesting they are intrinsically incapable of same? Not capable of... essentially, thought? Yet, still can achieve a momentous, evolutionary, adaption to their benefit, plus liase with ants in reaching that agreement.
They continue surviving and reproducing themselves - sometimes imperfectly via mutations - to produce versions of themselves which (in certain circumstances) happen to thrive in co-location with certain ants. The "certain ants" will have arrived at that time and place via the same process of reproduction / mutation.

The plants and ants that aren't blessed with such beneficial circumstances either survive as best they can or die.
 

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#56
I've come back because there is an interesting point - although don't please read in to it any conspiracy theories

If one attempts to grasp the absolutely enormous timescales that evolutionists put forward, then the 'reinforcement of random mutation' makes some kind of sense.

If one imposes the much shorter periods insisted on by creationists - in more than one religion, - then only design by a God (or gods) makes sense.

I'm not totally convinced we understand all the mechanisms in evolution, but I accept the long timescale Earth. For me (Libran again) that doesn't preclude God putting in the basic programming. After all, one of God's days might be several million years for us.
 
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...I'm not totally convinced we understand all the mechanisms in evolution, but I accept the long timescale Earth. For me (Libran again) that doesn't preclude God putting in the basic programming. After all, one of God's days might be several million years for us.
Was just thinkng about big cats and camoflague. Was, say, the first leopard born with such wonderous camoflague, or did it evolve over time. Either way, is the elemental question still how this was possible - what engineering was responsible?
 

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#58
... If one attempts to grasp the absolutely enormous timescales that evolutionists put forward, then the 'reinforcement of random mutation' makes some kind of sense.
Just a comment for clarification ...

The vast timescales involved in earth's history weren't something "evolutionists" developed to support their concepts - they were recognized and demonstrated by geologists based on the physical evidence of landforms, stratigraphy, etc.

It was the geologists' expansion of the past's timescale that fostered the development of theories requiring vast amounts of time for progressive processes, not the other way around.


If one imposes the much shorter periods insisted on by creationists - in more than one religion, - then only design by a God (or gods) makes sense.

I'm not totally convinced we understand all the mechanisms in evolution, but I accept the long timescale Earth. For me (Libran again) that doesn't preclude God putting in the basic programming. After all, one of God's days might be several million years for us.
There's no necessary conflict between the notion of an initial divine creation event and the notion of progressive evolutionary process thereafter. There's nothing inherently wrong with choosing to believe God did a basic setup and kicked the mechanisms into motion for millennia rather than building everything in a single week that (if literally interpreted from canonical texts) had to have occurred later than the timeframes we can now verify for worldwide human activities.

Here's the bit that I find curious ...

When debating evolution / creation 50+ years ago as a teenager (in both formal and informal settings) this juxtaposition of divine creation and ongoing evolutionary progress was an interpretive middle ground that both sides could easily concede without resorting to fisticuffs.

Since then the evolution side hasn't changed its basic stance, but the creationist side has increasingly devolved into hardcore literalist dogmatism. I find it odd that the supposedly better educated / informed current population is less amenable to compromise than the extremely conservative and lesser educated population with whom I had to grapple back when.
 

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#59
Was just thinkng about big cats and camoflague. Was, say, the first leopard born with such wonderous camoflague, or did it evolve over time. Either way, is the elemental question still how this was possible - what engineering was responsible?
Already asked and answered: no proactive engineering required. The answer doesn't change by inserting different examples.

If you cannot conceive or accept such seemingly sophisticated outcomes without their being pursued via deliberate agency - so be it.
 

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Already asked and answered: no proactive engineering required. The answer doesn't change by inserting different examples.

If you cannot conceive or accept such seemingly sophisticated outcomes without their being pursued via deliberate agency - so be it.
So...essentially.... there is no debate, your statement is so evidently indisputable??
 
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