Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Darwin says No to the idea of inevitable progress

One of the biggest evolutionary myths is that evolution is a march of advancement from “lower” forms up to humans, the highest animal. This idea misses the whole point of evolution. Insects are less intelligent than we are, but they are really good at things we cannot do such as laying millions of eggs, hiding in little holes, etc. Intelligence is our human adaptation, and we do it pretty well; but other species are just as “advanced” as we are, with different adaptations. (The original paperback cover of my Encyclopedia of Evolution had a staircase with monkeys at the bottom and humans at the top. The publisher respected my rejection of this image. To read more about my encyclopedia, see my website.)

As shown in the picture, the early amphibian Tiktaalik roseae, discovered a couple of years ago by Neil Shubin (author of Your Inner Fish), was not trying to evolve into something loftier. It was just getting away from predators by living in shallow water and, later, on land. Natural selection favored those Tiktaalik individuals who were adapted to shallow water conditions. While the water was full of dangerous predators, the land had nothing more dangerous than large insects.

Incidentally, the cartoonists have “had a field day” with Tiktaalik. In one cartoon, the male amphibian said to his wife, who was still in the water, “Come on, Arlene, be reasonable. I’m not trying to change your religious convictions. All I said was, can we take a little walk?” One scientist (Robert A. Martin) has suggested that legs evolved to help males clasp onto females while mating. Cartoonists have also latched upon sex as a factor in the evolution of Tiktaalik. In one cartoon, a young male amphibian crawls out of the water and thinks to himself, “I am so going to get laid now.” In another cartoon, the male amphibian crawls out, while his mate stays in the water and says, “It may be evolution to you, but I call it ‘avoidance of intimacy issues.’” (I keep up with the cartoons by subscribing to my favorite scientific journal, Funny Times.

The need to crawl out of the water, towards glorious humanity, is a strong evolutionary myth, but is completely wrong.

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