Friday, February 04, 2005

Pre-Darwinian and Post-Darwinian 

Courtesy of Zemblan patriot J.D.: "Evolution is so 20th Century," says Maureen Dowd in her column on the $25 million "Creation Museum" now under construction in Kentucky -- an enterprise that is sure to flourish under an adminstration noted for its rejection of Darwinism in every form, except, of course, the social. Male nipples, in case you were wondering, are no more evidence of evolution than, say, whale legs. They exist for the simple reason that God happens to dig male nipples:
Nipples may be biologically de trop for men, an "expert" on the site notes, but that doesn't mean they resulted from natural selection. They could just as well be a decorating feature of the Creator's (like a hood ornament). Who are we to question His designs, since we cannot presume to comprehend His mind?

virtual tour of the museum, to be built in rural Kentucky, says its exhibits will explain many such mysteries, like the claim that T. rex lurked around Adam and Eve - "That's the terror that Adam's sin unleashed!" - and how "Noah and his family survive 371 days alone on an animal-filled boat" ("a real 'Survivor' story").

The philosophy of the Creation Museum, part of the "Answers in Genesis" ministry, is summed up this way: "The imprint of the Creator is all around us. And the Bible's clear - heaven and earth in six 24-hour days, earth before sun, birds before lizards. Other surprises are just around the corner. Adam and apes share the same birthday. The first man walked with dinosaurs and named them all! God's Word is true, or evolution is true. No millions of years. There's no room for compromise" . . . .

Seeing the powerful role of evangelicals in getting Mr. Bush re-elected, teachers across the country are quietly ignoring evolution, even when the subject is in their curriculums.

Many teachers take the hint on evolution even without overt pressure, Cornelia Dean wrote this week in Science Times: "Teachers themselves avoid the topic, fearing protests" . . . .

[Bush] doesn't just want to dismantle the 60's. He wants to dismantle the whole century - from the Scopes trial to Social Security.
Freeman Dyson might agree that Evolution Is So 20th Century, but of course he approaches the issue from a slightly different perspective. Nevertheless, like President Bush and his fundamentalist brethren, Dyson seems to long for a happier, less complicated time:
Carl Woese published a provocative and illuminating article, “A New Biology for a New Century,” in the June 2004 issue of Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews . . . . He presents evidence that Darwinian evolution did not go back to the beginning of life. In early times, the process that he calls “horizontal gene transfer,” the sharing of genes between unrelated species, was prevalent. It becomes more prevalent the further back you go in time. Carl Woese is the world’s greatest expert in the field of microbial taxonomy. Whatever he writes, even in a speculative vein, is to be taken seriously.

Woese is postulating a golden age of pre-Darwinian life, during which horizontal gene transfer was universal and separate species did not exist. Life was then a community of cells of various kinds, sharing their genetic information so that clever chemical tricks and catalytic processes invented by one creature could be inherited by all of them. Evolution was a communal affair, the whole community advancing in metabolic and reproductive efficiency as the genes of the most efficient cells were shared. But then, one evil day, a cell resembling a primitive bacterium happened to find itself one jump ahead of its neighbors in efficiency. That cell separated itself from the community and refused to share. Its offspring became the first species. With its superior efficiency, it continued to prosper and to evolve separately. Some millions of years later, another cell separated itself from the community and became another species. And so it went on, until all life was divided into species . . . .

And now, in the last 30 years, Homo sapiens has revived the ancient pre-Darwinian practice of horizontal gene transfer, moving genes easily from microbes to plants and animals, blurring the boundaries between species. We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species will no longer exist, and the evolution of life will again be communal.

In the post-Darwinian era, biotechnology will be domesticated. There will be do-it-yourself kits for gardeners, who will use gene transfer to breed new varieties of roses and orchids. Also, biotech games for children, played with real eggs and seeds rather than with images on a screen. Genetic engineering, once it gets into the hands of the general public, will give us an explosion of biodiversity. Designing genomes will be a new art form, as creative as painting or sculpture.

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