Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Evolution Theory Evolves

Well, here we are. And here we were. Knuckle-dragging poop flingers morphed into upright poopers with indoor plumbing. We've advanced over the millenia.

The problem with the photo at left is that it's wrong. It misrepresents evolution and yet it's how evolution is presented in schools and everywhere else--disgruntled scientists protesting that the linear theory went out with poodle skirts, notwithstanding.

So Gina Cobb gets raked over the coals by two experts who purport that true evolutionary theory is more like a bush with branches. OK, then, show me one visual representation of that idea. One good one. The best I could find was this:

Essentially, it's a mess. Not exactly a tree, not linear, more a splatter effect of evolution. We think maybe this guy lived when this guy did and this guy ate this guy and then this guy survived and mated with this gal and we think maybe that's how we got Britney Spears, but we're not sure. But we're absolutely sure we evolved.

Well, it is a theory. And it is tested and changes.

One problem is that evolution has not been treated as a theory in schools. That iconic picture of man as former monkey is still rooted in the minds of public school graduates everywhere. Has the nuanced view of evolution evolved in curriculum? Not that I know of.

In medicine, a discarded procedure (ineffective, no scientific support) usually takes ten to twenty years to leave standard practice: think blood letting, frontal lobotomies, episiotomies (still in use), HRT (still in use), back surgery (still in use), arthroscopic knee surgery (still in use) and tonsillectomies (mostly gone.) And there are doctors who cling to harmful procedures because they are convinced it's the best way, because it's always been done this way.

Now, scientists refine and finesse the Theory of Evolution:

The old theory is that the first and oldest species in our family tree, Homo habilis, evolved into Homo erectus, which then became human, Homo sapiens. But Leakey's find suggests those two earlier species lived side-by-side about 1.5 million years ago in parts of Kenya for at least half a million years. She and her research colleagues report the discovery in a paper published in Thursday's journal Nature.
Fine. Great. Represent evolution as a working theory that is continually evolving. And try to refrain from making snide comments about people who openly profess their faith rather than hide behind the scientific theory to justify theirs:
"This is not questioning the idea at all of evolution; it is refining some of the specific points," Anton said. "This is a great example of what science does and religion doesn't do. It's a continous self-testing process."
How snarky! How positively emotional! Where is the cool, scientific detachment? And how, pray tell, does one "prove" their faith? This is an impossibility. I have as much faith in the scientific method as I do in the people performing the science. That is, humans are fallible and doing their best to explain the world in which we live. More power to them! I wish them well on their quest, and I observe their research with keen interest.

If scientists eventually explain how we got here from there with no million year gaping holes, no absurd jumps, no missing links, I might consider evolutionary theory closer to evolutionary fact and view it with less skepticism. Skepticism and observation are scientific stances, no?

Science may eventually explain the how, but it will never explain the why. The "why" is a mystery. It requires faith. And until evolution is proven, it's a working theory. Don't expect me to embrace it with all the enthusiasm and blind adoration of religion. Last I checked, science wasn't a cult.


Anonymous said...

David Hawkins,M.D.,Ph.D. has a facinating chapter on the evolution theory and evolution of consciousness. (Truth vs. Falshood - how to tell the difference.)

Anonymous said...

arthroscopic knee surgery (still in use)

What? You equate this with bloodletting? Say it isn't so!

Anonymous said...

arthroscopy: I think the point is, there are doctors out there that continue to use arthroscopic knee surgery when it has no more beneficial affect than placebo. Check out this article:

Melissa Clouthier said...

Anon 11:28,

It is so. It's no more helpful than sham surgeries. It's an utter waste of time and money and actually can harm.

And yet, orthopedic surgeons everywhere are building their McMansions on knee surgeries.