Theory of Evolution — Steve Jones / Serious Science
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Theory of Evolution — Steve Jones / Serious Science

I once wrote a book that’s called ‘The Language
of the Genes’. It’s a fairly obvious parallel between language,
the transmission of information through words, and the transmission of information through
DNA. DNA is a kind of language: it is a series
of instructions which tell cells of the body what to do. If you learn a language you can’t speak it
unless you know and understand the grammar, so it’s all very well and good having words
but unless you know the way these put together you can’t speak the language. Evolution is the grammar of biology. Charles Darwin who came up with the theory
of evolution in 1859 in ‘The Origin of Species’ actually more or less invented biology as
a science. Before him there were plenty of people doing
good biological research: for example, finding new fossils, discovering new kinds of plants
and animals, looking at the migration of birds, breeding better plants and crops, breeding
better farm animals… All these people were doing biology and they’re
all doing the same thing. But they didn’t realize they were doing the
same thing. Once ‘The Origin Species’ came out suddenly
everything fell into place, so if I’m teaching biology, evolution now I could take examples
from plants, from humans, from bacteria and just weave them together into a single narrative. That’s what evolution does. It’s very strange to me that so many people
across the world are determined to deny the fact of evolution: they somehow think that
it drags them down to the level of the animals. In my view it does exactly the opposite: we
do so many things which are unique to us that we set ourselves apart from the animal kingdom. But many people have a false idea about what
evolution actually is. They see it as a kind of faith or doctrine
but it’s not: it’s only a science. You can summarize what evolution is in Darwin’s
phrase: he called it ‘descent with modification’. Descent is the passage of information from
one generation to the next, and modification is the fact that this passage is imperfect,
that there are mistakes, errors, mutations as we call them now. We can rephrase Darwin’s three words today:
evolution is genetics plus time. If you’ve got genetics (DNA, genes) and you’ve
got time (and we know that we have thousands of millions of years since the origin of life)
and if you’ve got mistakes, mutations – and they happen all the time – then evolution
is bound to happen. Nothing magical about it at all: it’s got
to happen, it’s like taking a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. Mistakes are made every time and so the image
changes. But then Darwin came up with the central part
of that mechanism which is what he called natural selection. One of the standard complaints about evolution
is that it can’t be true, how could a simple mechanism, a biological mechanism design or
produce something like the human eye which is fantastically complicated? Many people say that you can’t have design
without a designer, but natural selection does that, natural selection is a series of
successful mistakes. There are mutations, errors, and some of those
mutations actually increase the chance that those who inherit them will survive and will
reproduce and pass on their genes. So natural selection consists simply of inherited
differences in reproductive success. It’s a two-part exam, you need to do two things:
you have to stay alive (and of course most people now stay alive in the developed world
until they’re old enough to reproduce) and then you have to find a mate and have children. There are differences among people, like among
fruit flies and among dogs, in the ability to do that. That’s natural selection. Very quickly you can generate these amazingly
complicated objects like the human eye, or the human knee, or the bacterial cell wall
– by this simple mechanism. So that’s what evolution is. The question is what kinds of evidence are
there for evolution? Darwin wrote his book ‘On the Origin of
Species’ in a great rush because he got a letter from the Far East, by Alfred Russel
Wallace who independently had had the same idea. Darwin have been thinking about nutrition
for 30 years and he never really put anything on the paper. He got this letter in 1857 which completely
shattered him: he said ‘All my originality has been smashed’ and then immediately sat
down and started writing ‘The Origin of Species’. He called it ‘a sketch’. This building here, the Darwin building, is
on the site of Darwin’s house in London, so we feel really very close to Charles Darwin. He called his book a sketch, and if you read
it, which I have many times, you know it’s a hundred twenty-seven thousand words long. Not exactly a sketch. But he wrote it in less than a year with a
pen, not with a word processor. In the beginning he says that this book is
one long argument, and it’s very-very clever in laying out the evidence for evolution. It starts off with something which is completely
familiar: farming. The first chapter is called ‘Variation Under
Domestication’. He points out that’s if you go to a farm you’ll
find some cattle that produce beef and some cattle that produce milk; you’ll find some
plant that produce seeds, some plants that produce big tubers. And yet they’re obviously related to wild
animals like wild cattle, or grasses for the plants which don’t do this at all. So why should this be? Well, obviously farmers in the past have been
choosing, selecting the cows that produce most milk or weeds that produce most seeds,
and if you do that long enough you’ll have changes, you’ll have evolution. That’s obvious, everyone can see that. The next chapter is called ‘Variation Under
Nature’: in other words, this could happen in the wild as well. Darwin talks about examples where that might
happen. Of course, now in the modern world there are
hundreds of them, some of them are very familiar like the evolution of resistance to drugs,
to antibiotics by bacteria. Bacteria have evolved by natural selection
resistance to almost all known antibiotics, there is only one left now and that too would
probably become useless in the next ten years. That’s Darwin’s mechanism happening in front
of your eyes. Then he goes on through the various points;
he has a lot about fossils (of course he knew very little about fossils but he has a lot
about them), he has a lot about geography and islands in particular. Famously Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos
Islands in the Pacific. It didn’t form his ideas at all, he only spent
there five weeks of his journey around the world on the Galapagos, and he collected the
birds which are now called Darwin’s finches: he collected them but he didn’t take any notice
of them, he just jumbled them all together. But one thing he did notice which really set
the idea of change in his mind was that if you looked at the plants and the animals of
the Galapagos Islands which are a couple of hundred kilometres out in the ocean from South
America, volcanoes that come up from the bottom of the sea, they were remarkably similar to
the animals and plants in South America. But before getting to the Galapagos Darwin
had come south from Britain and had visited in the Atlantic the Cape Verde Islands. They too are volcanic islands out in the ocean
about three or four hundred kilometres from the African coast. If you show a picture of the Cape Verde Islands
and the Galapagos Islands, they look almost exactly the same. But the Cape Verde Islands animals and plants
were like those on Africa, not like those on the Galapagos. Of course, in those days before the evolution,
many people believed in a god or something and creating plants and animals to fit the
environments in which they live. Now, because the Cape Verde and the Galapagos
are so similar, if it was a creator or some magical scheme, you would expect the plants
and animals of these two islands to be the same, but they’re not. They’re similar to – but different from
– the nearest mainland. That gave Darwin the idea of change, and once
you have the idea of change then suddenly you need to have a mechanism, and at the very
end of his ‘The Origin of Species’, two pages from the end, he dares to say ‘Light
will be cast upon man and his origins’. That’s what really scared people – the idea
that humans had emerged from this apparently simple mechanism. Well, it may scare them but it’s true. It’s clearly true. The evidence of human evolution is now overwhelming
and, in fact, obvious. Queen Victoria went to London Zoo in the 1830s
before ‘The Origin of Species’ was published. She was a highly intelligent woman. She wrote in her diary that she visited the
orangutan which was called Jenny, and she writes in her diary that the orangutan is
‘painfully and obviously human in appearance’. So she could see the obvious similarity between
Apes and ourselves but she couldn’t believe that it was there because, of course, she
believed in Creationism as did many people. But later in her life she actually used to
read ‘The Origin of Species’ to her children in bed: I’m sure that set them to sleep straightaway. So that’s the history of evolution. Now, of course, it’s in a new phase because
now we’re in a situation where we can study the evolution and change of anything we like
with modern technology. This has answered many-many problems: it’s
shown absolutely directly that we are, of course, closely related to chimpanzees. The fossils and genes combined told us that
our common ancestor with chimpanzees existed only about 7 million years which in terms
of evolution is yesterday. It tells us that there’s much more variation
than we ever thought. It tells us that there are large numbers of
genes – not as many as we expected, there are only about 23,000 genes that go to make
a human being. To put into context of human complexity (and
we are complex creatures), there are about the same number of genes that make a human
being as there are parts in a London transport double-decker bus. There are 23,000 parts in a double-decker
bus and there are 23,000 genes that go to make humans. But what that tells us is we don’t understand
the way the genes are put together, so we have a lot more to learn. The evolution will tell us much more about
it. Most important perhaps, evolution is beginning
to tell us something about the origin of species: strangely, that is the one question which
is not really approached in Darwin’s book. Darwin’s book is called ‘On the Origin of
Species by the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’, that’s its full
title. But when you look at it there’s very little
about the origin of species in it. The reason is that you can’t do genetics with
different species, you can’t take cats and dogs and cross them together to see what comes
out because nothing comes out. Species in some ways are like republics: each
one is a republic of genes, sometimes with a bit of leakage between two adjacent species,
but not very much. But with modern technology we can look at
the genes for species and we can see which ones are involved in making species distinct. So really, as always happens in science, new
technology has answered lots of evolution questions but it’s posed an awful lot more.

One thought on “Theory of Evolution — Steve Jones / Serious Science

  1. dissentfromdarwin. org
    ibtimes. co uk/decade-evolution-research-got-its-math-all-wrong-1588628
    amzn. to/2zqhVYG
    newgeology. us/presentation32.html
    i am by no means a bible literalist, i have absolutely no interest in religious text
    but it is very obvious using empirical observations that there is no geometric drop.

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    shape uknown in 1948

    george carlin

    debunked by PHD'S
    aulis. om/investigation.htm

    debunked by common sense


    more fails

    newsweek. om/undersea-cables-transport-99-percent-international-communications-319072

    fecore. rg/final-results-fecore-measurements-disprove-the-wgs84-model-by-proving-flat-lake-surface/

    You can use basic euclidean geometry to triangulate the lights in the sky as small objects only a couple of thousand miles away.
    There is ZERO empirical evidence that ANY L.i.t.s have mass / are actually Terra Firma you can land on.

    All the best to the NPC drones who will absorb this, present a hand wave dismissal while simultaneously experiencing monumental internal cognitive dissonance,

    You should use this info to empower yourself not become terrified of some boogie man this is just modern wizardry,
    think about this i'm sure your not upset when you return from a Daivd Copperfield concert as a child and claim you have video evidence that an elephant and a plane disappeared ,
    Hopefully a parent or good friend would informs you that, it was only a magik trick.

    i am that parent, space is a fairy tail for adults no one has been, no one there now, no one is going.
    Conceptual sky vacuums violate the second law of thermodynamics therefore cannot exist,
    as advertised.


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