Monthly Archives: September 2017

Simple answers to what some people think are science-stumping questions

My partner has recently developed a taste for watching people with a very different worldview to his talk at length on Youtube. This tends to get him quite fired up and even though I am on his side on the science, I always seem to get yelled at. This is not because he is angry at me – I know that – but it’s hard to tell him to go yell at a computer screen.


I understand why the videos make him angry. Anyone listening to what they perceive as utter bullshit will likely get a bit angry, doubly so if they think they know the answers to the questions being posed.


As a student of science, I do know quite a lot about evolution and biology, and in particular he likes to show me creationist videos that challenge the concept of evolution by natural selection. These don’t really make me angry; they make me sad. Mostly, they are so off base they’re sort of amusing. Like the Three Stooges; it’s definitely not ‘intellectual’ comedy.


Some of the beautifully crafted arguments the vloggers come up with argue how ridiculous evolution sounds just as a premise; things just happen. Well, they do. If people can’t deal with the concept of there being no sentient being controlling everything, and there being no external ‘purpose’ for their lives, then that’a something they have to live with.


Recently, a video cited that there are very few ‘transitional fossils’ around and therefore that proves… something. I don’t remember what he thought it proved, but he was wrong.


I think a lot of the problem is about the science to english translation process. I will try and break it down.


First there were iggly wiggly slimy amphibian-like creatures that managed to waddle out of the ocean. Some of them didn’t survive, for whatever reason, and therefore didn’t reproduce. Thousands of generations go by, with behaviours changing subtly and geographic separation meaning that different groups of the iggly wigglies had different traits that were favoured, depending on their environment.


This continued for a VERY long time. Slowly, the iggly wigglies became less amphibian-like and more reptile-like. Now, it’s worth pointing out that this happened at different rates in different places and in some places the iggly wigglies kept their amphibian lifestyle.


The changes that occurred in the populations were very incremental; often tiny little physiological or chemical changes that slightly affected their ability to breed or their behaviours when it came to eating.


Fast forward a little and those iggly wigglies are twenty tonne sauropods. A bit of a stretch but I don’t want to walk through this step by step. Now, the asteroid strikes and several other factors later, and all the big iggly wigglies die. Those other factors aren’t complicated but I’m not going to go through them step by step. A lot of things died in the years following the impact and the only iggly wigglies that survived were small and generally, mammalian. Mammals came from the iggly wigglies as dinosaurs, but the dinosaurs’ immense size meant mammals didn’t get very big. Once the big dinosaurs were gone though, mammals could get bigger. There were of course small dinosaurs that managed to survive, as well as reptiles (not the same thing as dinosaurs).


Let’s focus on humans now.


So a small iggly wiggle with hair, a small snouty face and a tail liked to jump through the trees. Some of these iggly wigglies got a bit bigger (let’s call them just Igglies) and some remained the tree hopping delights they started out as (Wigglies). Now the Wigglies were small, and their lifestyle suited being fast, powerful and tree hugging. The Igglies were a little bigger, and while trees were still a big part of their life, they weren’t so good at climbing anymore. Over time the traits that Igglies successful began to flourish; being taller meant when you were on the ground you could see predators. Some began to stand up because their pelvis shape was slightly different to the rest; this made running away easier, and was favourable. The Igglies slowly developed even further from their furry iggly wiggly origins, ranging far and wide and eventually looking more or less like a hairy version of what you see today every time you strip your clothes off in the shower.


What happened to the Wigglies? I bet you’re dying to know.


Well, they went a slightly different way. For the most part they stayed small, though some lost their tails and developed pronounced snouts and fangs. Old World and New World Monkeys fall into this category (Baboons, Langurs, etc). I can hear you asking about the Apes and the Great Apes. Theoretically, while they also evolved from iggly wigglies, they branched off during the development of the Igglies.


Are you with me?


The whole concept of transitional species or individuals, the so called MISSING LINK, is grossly misunderstood. Random chance altered some of the genetic material that controlled some aspect of the individual when they were conceived. These changes were noticeable at some point and were either favourable, gaining popularity through mating privilege, or they were not favourable, which usually resulted in them dying out.


Imagine, if you will, a world without blonde hair and blue eyes. Now, the genes that control pigment in terms of eyes and hair are relatively simple (in genetic terms). One day, someone was born with pale hair and/or blue eyes. As far as scientists can tell, this was a single mutation in the human genome that made such a colouring possible. This single mutation produced a unique individual and this could have gone one of two ways; that individual could have been shunned OR, as was the case, they could have been hailed as a wonder. This made them desirable, and meant that young born with those traits became desirable because they were new and exciting and exotic. This may seem a fairly mundane explanation but as far as scientists are aware, it’s the right one. Now, humans with blue eyes and blonde hair are relatively common. Like with the addition of any new trait, it is likely this was a spontaneous change in a gene that led to a single individual having markedly different characteristics and for whatever reason, those characteristics meant the individual could reproduce freely and easily.