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12.19.2011

Common Ancestors

My dad handed off his copy of Richard Dawkins' "The Greatest Show On Earth" to me yesterday. Naturally, I busted into it right away.

When you think about evolution (but first you need to know about it), you realize that any God worthy of the moniker would create and fully endorse a process like natural selection. It is so wonderfully simple and elegant and powerful.

One of the greatest points of confusion for unscientific and religiously deceived people is the idea that we evolved FROM chimpanzees. The fact is, we didn't.

Creationists try to use this argument to refute evolution, but it's a moot point, because no evolutionist claims we evolved from chimpanzees. Chimpanzees and humans exist today, so they could not have evolved from each other.

They evolved from a common ancestor that resembled a human and a chimp, but was actually neither. There was some point in time, millions of years ago, when a chimpy humanish looking beast branched into two lines of descent. One descendant population gradually changed over time, little by little, to become today's chimps. The other population of descendants gradually changed in a different way over time, to become today's humans. Today, the most human looking chimp and the most chimp looking human do not resemble each other very closely, but for some period of time after the point at which the populations branched from the common ancestor, the two evolving populations had a proportion of individuals that looked quite a lot alike (and a proportion that didn't).

Once you understand mathematical proportions and the idea of forks in the evolutionary road over long periods of time, evolution becomes almost common sense. At least I think so.

If you are a creationist or some other kind of non-believer in (or misunderstander of) evolution, I'd like to know what you think and what, if anything, still confuses you.

There's the false notion of random chance leading to the complexity of life, again largely used erroneously by creationists to refute evolution, but I think this is a non-issue. Natural selection is not a random process (although mutation can be). Natural selection is very non-random and biased. It "selects" for advantageous traits and kills off disadvantageous traits. That's not random. If it were, trait A would have no advantage over trait B, and evolution would not occur.

But since natural selection is "selective" by definition as a process, it is not random. So I really hope you are not one of those people who has been mislead into thinking evolution is a random process. If so, think about what I just said for 30 seconds and completely dispel the idea.

Better yet, read a Dawkins book (anathema!). He's quite knowledgeable on the subject, even if you don't care for his patronizing attitude toward creationists.

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