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Author Topic: what is evolution anyway?  (Read 8043 times)
zippelk
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« on: April 01, 2012, 02:04:24 PM »


This thread is a tangent from another coffee house conversation about climate change (http://forum.beemaster.com/index.php/topic,36708.0.html).

What is evolution? Evolution is nothing more than a change in the genetics of a population over time. That’s it. Here are some examples that are easy to wrap your head around:

- When beeks talk about selecting for hygienic behavior to control varroa, they are talking about evolution. Essentially, those colonies that don’t show hygienic behavior die or are not selected for splits, while those that are hygienic survive and get picked for splits. As a result, over time, the genes controlling hygienic behavior become more common in the region’s bee population, and that change in the genetics of the population over time is evolution. As I understand it, a similar thing happened with tracheal mites: no effective treatment was found, those colonies without any resistance died off, those with some resistance survived and reproduced, the genetic makeup of the population was changed, and the bees evolved.

- Even if you believe that god created the earth and all species in their current form, you have to admit that most breeds of dog were derived recently (in the last few thousand years) through selective breeding by man. We started with wolves and kept the offspring with the traits we liked, including lack of aggression and pup-like anatomical features. After thousands of years of selective breeding by man, various populations were selectively bred for different behaviors and forms, resulting today in all the different breeds. The characteristics of each breed are genetic, and so the genetics of the population has changed over time…evolution. This same thing happened to countless other species domesticated by man.

- Many of the commercial crops grown in the US (and around the world) today are ‘genetically modified’ for herbicide resistance. Originally, the process started by selection; companies like Monsanto would expose large numbers of crop plants to low levels of herbicide, look for survivors, and selectively breed those as new strains of ‘Round-up Ready’ crops. Change in population genetics over time. Now they simply insert the genes directly into new species! But still, it is a change in population genetics over time. Since Monsanto bought Beelogics, there has been speculation that they are going to derive a new strain of pesticide-resistant bees, but that remains to be seen.

Those are all cases of artificial selection by humans, but of course selection happens in nature too. Usually it is a very slow process that is difficult to observe, but here are a couple easy examples.

- Ever wonder why you get a mumps shot once (maybe 1 booster) but have to get a flu shot every year? It’s because the flu mutates with a very high frequency rate, so much that it is SO  different from one year to the next that your body’s immune system doesn’t recognize it as the same flu you had last year. Mutations are genetic, and the changes in the flu’s gene frequencies from year to year are…evolution.

- When industrialization turned the bark of English trees from light to dark, predators easily picked off the light-colored peppered moths that used to predominate because they were camouflaged. The genes for dark coloration, previously rare in the population, suddenly became favored and more common.

That’s it. Evolution is just a change in the frequency of genes in a population over time. I don’t think anyone would debate that this can and does happen; you can directly observe this, you can do it yourself in the lab or on the farm, it is pretty straightforward. Given that gene frequencies DO change, it is not a big leap to think that over time the changes can become SO BIG that a population could become different enough from others to be a NEW SPECIES. I say it’s not a big leap, but I think that’s where most people struggle with evolution. But making a new species can also be recreated by anyone in the lab, a conversation for another time…
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bee-nuts
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« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2012, 02:22:50 PM »

if only people still evolved for the better.
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« Reply #2 on: April 01, 2012, 03:55:13 PM »

Zippelk, you make some good sound points.  I’m not refuting anything you’ve said, but let me ask you this:  When is the last time you powered up your computer and it automatically booted up with Windows 8, or 9, or 10?  A computer is a binary machine; much less complex in code than the code of DNA (4 base options).  It should be MUCH easier for a binary machine to evolve than a quaternary machine.  Yet your operating system does not evolve from Windows 7 to Windows 8 without a whole lot of work from intelligent folks in Redmond, WA.  Same thing with your car, it is controlled by a 32 bit microcontroller with hundreds of thousands of lines of code.  A 2010 Vette does not become a 2011 Vette without a lot of intelligence added in Detroit.   None of that stuff develops without a lot of human intelligence behind it. 

How do you account for the extreme complexity of DNA code coming into existence in the first place? 
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kathyp
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« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2012, 06:06:20 PM »

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How do you account for the extreme complexity of DNA code coming into existence in the first place? 


which i believe is at least part of the point being made by geneticists.

and...i said evolution as we were taught it.

when i was a kid, we were taught slime to man.  this is seems quite unlikely as we have learned more about how species change and adapt.  we know now that various types of "man" existed at the same time and perhaps even together.  this is not what we were taught back in the day...

evolution remains a theory, and an evolving one, as we learn more.  it is more likely that aliens seeded the earth than that we evolved from ooze.
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.....The greatest changes occur in their country without their cooperation. They are not even aware of precisely what has taken place. They suspect it; they have heard of the event by chance. More than that, they are unconcerned with the fortunes of their village, the safety of their streets, the fate of their church and its vestry. They think that such things have nothing to do with them, that they belong to a powerful stranger called “the government.” They enjoy these goods as tenants, without a sense of ownership, and never give a thought to how they might be improved.....

 Alexis de Tocqueville
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« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2012, 08:31:13 PM »

OK.....then where did the DNA in the slime come from?   

We’re still talking about DNA code that is far more complex than anything we’ve ever written, and we know how buggy our code is.  One little bit error and the whole thing crashes. 

Some Amoeba supposedly have 200 times more base pairs in their DNA than humans.  Could the Amoeba have actually evolved from some pre-historic right wing Bee Keepers?
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bee-nuts
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« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2012, 09:10:22 PM »

I think the point is that simply evolution exists and that no matter what your beliefs are you cant deny it exists and is a part of life on earth.  You dont need to get into deep detail to understand that evolution exists and how it basically works and functions.

Things mutate, mutations that have a benifit find exeptance and over time can dominate the scenery.  We can help evolution move faster, manipulate it for the betnifit of mankind but at the same time we can create disasters or even the end of man if we are not careful.

I prefer natural evolution pushed along or speed up over acutall manipulating it by inserting genes from other plants or animals exept in medicine.

thats my million cents worth!

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kathyp
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« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2012, 09:39:51 PM »

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I think the point is that simply evolution exists and that no matter what your beliefs are you cant deny it exists and is a part of life on earth.  You dont need to get into deep detail to understand that evolution exists and how it basically works and functions.

some people might call that faith...  Wink

Quote
Some Amoeba supposedly have 200 times more base pairs in their DNA than humans.  Could the Amoeba have actually evolved from some pre-historic right wing Bee Keepers?

they probably had a melt down from trying to talk to left wing bee keepers.
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.....The greatest changes occur in their country without their cooperation. They are not even aware of precisely what has taken place. They suspect it; they have heard of the event by chance. More than that, they are unconcerned with the fortunes of their village, the safety of their streets, the fate of their church and its vestry. They think that such things have nothing to do with them, that they belong to a powerful stranger called “the government.” They enjoy these goods as tenants, without a sense of ownership, and never give a thought to how they might be improved.....

 Alexis de Tocqueville
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« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2012, 09:53:12 PM »

Oh, KathyP,  Smiley  you know there’s probably a reason why James Carville doesn’t have any more hair left!


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indypartridge
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« Reply #8 on: April 02, 2012, 07:35:01 AM »

...most breeds of dog were derived recently through selective breeding by man. .... The characteristics of each breed are genetic, and so the genetics of the population has changed over time…evolution.
I would argue that selecting for certain traits doesn't change the base genetics, we are only manipulating genetic traits that are pre-existent. A chihuahua and a great dane are still both dogs. Let some purebred dogs loose in the wild, and in only a few generations they inevitably return to a recognizeable type as seen in feral dogs worldwide.

Likewise, beekeepers selecting for hygienic behavior or mite resistance are not changing the genetics of bees, only trying to create populations of bees were certain traits are more prevalent.

As a side note, the idea of "species" is often very arbitrary. For example, looking at Darwin's finches in the Galapagos: two finches with only difference beak sizes are considered two different species, but, in your dog example, a chihuahua and a great dane are still considered one species.
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Grieth
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« Reply #9 on: April 02, 2012, 08:54:42 AM »

Evolution remains a powerful theory as it best fits the known evidence.   It isn't  competing for followers like Christianity,  Hinduism,  etc.
Science seeks to explain  the functioning  of the natural  world,  whilst religions offer an explanation  for  why we exist at all and any higher purpose  we may have.

One can see  that science and religion are different things when  we see how  hypotheses are dealt with:
in science the theory is changed each time an inconsistent fact comes along,  so that the only surviving theories are those that explain all known evidence;
In religion,  inconsistent  facts  can't be tolerated  and must be debunked with rhetoric, personal attacks,  or the like.

Just as science doesn't  seek to fill a spiritual  void,  religion shouldn't try to be science (it has failed since before Copernicus ).  If it's stories are seen as allegory they give moral guidance, but as science they are just plain misleading at best.

So,  stay in your own realms guys and we can all get along much better.
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« Reply #10 on: April 02, 2012, 09:24:41 AM »

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Just as science doesn't  seek to fill a spiritual  void,  religion shouldn't try to be science (it has failed since before Copernicus ). 


there's truth to that.  don't know if you have been following the global warming...oops, climate change debate here, but sometimes the adherents to certain scientific theories are impossible to separate, based on behavior, from religious zealots!
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.....The greatest changes occur in their country without their cooperation. They are not even aware of precisely what has taken place. They suspect it; they have heard of the event by chance. More than that, they are unconcerned with the fortunes of their village, the safety of their streets, the fate of their church and its vestry. They think that such things have nothing to do with them, that they belong to a powerful stranger called “the government.” They enjoy these goods as tenants, without a sense of ownership, and never give a thought to how they might be improved.....

 Alexis de Tocqueville
zippelk
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« Reply #11 on: April 02, 2012, 12:05:54 PM »

It should be MUCH easier for a binary machine to evolve than a quaternary machine.  

You raise a good point BlueBee, a place where people often get confused when talking about evolution. And that is, individuals do not evolve, populations do. If you look back at my original post, I always phrased evolution in terms of the population. As copies of DNA are passed from one generation to the next, the frequency of various genes changes. Genes that helped an individual to survive and reproduce are passed along in greater numbers, those that were less helpful don't get passed along as much, and there are mutations and other changes introduced in the copying process. It is those changes in gene frequency over time that is evolution. Your computer does not replicate itself across generations. If it did, sooner or later there would be an error in the code of a copy, a mutation that is passed on the next generation! not exactly evolution, but the same principle. In the same sense, you as an individual don't evolve, individuals do not evolve--populations do as their genetic makeup changes across generations. Thanks for helping to emphasize that point!

How do you account for the extreme complexity of DNA code coming into existence in the first place? 

I guess it is a matter of perspective. What you see as extreme complexity, I see incredible simplicity. Imagine all of the diversity in form and function of life on earth, and that it is all coded in just FOUR base pairs!
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zippelk
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« Reply #12 on: April 02, 2012, 12:07:43 PM »

when i was a kid, we were taught slime to man.  this is seems quite unlikely as we have learned more about how species change and adapt.  we know now that various types of "man" existed at the same time and perhaps even together.  this is not what we were taught back in the day...

Kathy, sorry that whoever taught you about this clearly oversimplified things. The history of evolution is not a single line of ever-increasing complexity leading from slime to man. There have been millions of lines or branches, some of them amazingly successful, most ending in extinction, but always a few persisting. Sure, there were different species of human co-existing. Some went extinct, some might have been subsumed genetically, and at least one gave rise to modern people.

evolution remains a theory, and an evolving one, as we learn more.  it is more likely that aliens seeded the earth than that we evolved from ooze.

Again, the word theory means fact, so although I agree with you that evolution is a theory, I don't think that's what you mean to say. And yes, it is possible that life on earth was seeded from life elsewhere in the universe, but (a) that explanation is not necessary to explain the origin of life here, and (b) all that does is move the need for explanation of origin to another point in the universe.
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zippelk
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« Reply #13 on: April 02, 2012, 12:09:19 PM »

OK.....then where did the DNA in the slime come from?   


Good question. The organization of organic molecules from base inorganic components seems hard to imagine, but this one you can do in the lab and watch for yourself. Read about the experiments of Stanley Miller, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_Miller. We haven't been able to get those organic molecules to replicate yet, but that doesn't mean it's not possible, just that we haven't done it yet. It took the earth a billion years to get it right!

We’re still talking about DNA code that is far more complex than anything we’ve ever written, and we know how buggy our code is.  One little bit error and the whole thing crashes. 


Again, it really isn't complex, to me, it is almost unbelievably simple. Yes, the code is buggy: most random changes to the code are deleterious. But many are neutral and some are beneficial. And remember, evolution isn't just about mutations, it is differential survival and reproduction, a change in the frequency of genes that help (or don't help) organisms survive and reproduce. No changes in the code there, just changes in the frequency of certain bits of code that are successful.
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zippelk
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« Reply #14 on: April 02, 2012, 12:10:41 PM »

some people might call that faith...  Wink

I understand what you mean, as individuals we do accept a lot of science without actually seeing it for ourselves. There is just so much of it! Too much for any one person to know it all, for sure. But in reality, if you so wish and choose, you can recreate any of these experiments and observe the results for yourself. You simply don't have that option in a faith-based system.
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zippelk
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« Reply #15 on: April 02, 2012, 12:12:21 PM »

I would argue that selecting for certain traits doesn't change the base genetics, we are only manipulating genetic traits that are pre-existent.

Actually, we do both. But even just changing the frequency of existing traits, without creating any new ones, is evolution by definition.

As a side note, the idea of "species" is often very arbitrary. For example, looking at Darwin's finches in the Galapagos: two finches with only difference beak sizes are considered two different species, but, in your dog example, a chihuahua and a great dane are still considered one species.

It's not arbitrary, but it is not exactly crystal clear either. The most popular and logical definition of a species is the Biological Species Concept from Ernst Mayr. The BSC states that true species are reproductively isolated from each other, i.e., populations of different species don't share genes. All dog breeds can share DNA and produce viable offspring (some size-challenges aside). Historically most species have been described based on differences in size and shape (like those finches) because it is easy (you don't have to stick around and study who is breeding with whom!) and very often correct. But the BSC is the way to go.
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zippelk
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« Reply #16 on: April 02, 2012, 12:13:40 PM »

sometimes the adherents to certain scientific theories are impossible to separate, based on behavior, from religious zealots!

It's very easy Kathy: scientists can be very passionate/zealous about our studies, but we always deal with facts that can be directly observed or measured and are happy to change our ideas when new/better information challenges the status quo. Scientists question everything. I would not say that a tendency to question the fundamentals of their belief system and adapt beliefs based on new tangible evidence are characteristics of the religious, zealous or not. Although admittedly I have been surprised and impressed: even the Vatican came out in favor of evolution (albeit as a product of divine action...and that's OK by me). Hard to believe that >50% of Americans are more conservative than the pope on any issue, but there it is. Anyway, it's a complete unwillingness to consider facts that don't seem to support one's belief system that concerns me. I am always eager to learn, as I assume you are too, or you wouldn't be here in this forum exchanging ideas.
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zippelk
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« Reply #17 on: April 04, 2012, 12:05:05 PM »

While TN politicians are attempting to stymie science by promoting the teaching of certain established theories as controversial (http://news.yahoo.com/tenn-governor-probably-sign-evolution-bill-205851280.html), consider this:

How do the beliefs of the average American Joe compare to those of our most trusted, educated, analytical minds?
- 40-49% of average Americans believe in evolution
- 78% of American physicians believe in evolution
- 95% of American scientists believe in evolution
- In other industrialized countries, 80% or more of average citizens typically accept evolution
- In Japan, something like 96% accept evolution
- Even in socially conservative, predominantly Catholic countries like Poland, perhaps 75% of people surveyed accept evolution

And what do we hear from the Vatican, the historical epicenter of blind faith?
1996 Pope John Paul II:
- evolution “more than a hypothesis”
11/4/2005 Vatican Cardinal Paul Poupard:
- the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into "fundamentalism" if it ignores scientific reason
11/18/2005 Vatican chief astronomer Rev. George Coyne:
- “intelligent design isn’t science and doesn’t belong in science classrooms. If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science. If they respect the results of modern science, and indeed the best of modern biblical research, religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God or a designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly."
7/25/2007 Pope Benedict XVI
- “[evolution and faith] are presented as alternatives that exclude each other. This clash is an absurdity because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such.”
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« Reply #18 on: April 04, 2012, 01:27:17 PM »

"the word theory means fact"

Sorry, but I have to disagree.  Theory definitely does NOT mean fact.

"a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena:"

"a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact."

I, personally, have no problem with evolution.  I see it in the suits of armour in old European castles that I love to visit.  Those dudes were the large folks of their time and tiny to us.  I only have a problem with the theory that we evolved from a primordial soup, through evolution, to our current state being accepted, taught and whose proponents religiously persecute all detractors as if it were a fact.  True science should always be open to new ideas, never prosecuting ruin to those with whom one doesn't agree.  It definitely has no place in politics IMO.  Science, evolving itself, has been proved wrong for ages.
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kathyp
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« Reply #19 on: April 04, 2012, 01:35:39 PM »

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but we always deal with facts that can be directly observed or measured and are happy to change our ideas when new/better information challenges the status quo

the problem is that to many of your so called scientists, take those observable facts and develop theories that they cling to, and rabidly promote, as if the theory were fact.

i think the reason this happens is that to many of them start with what they wish to be true, and work facts backward to prove what they already want to believe.  darwins observations had much more to do with adaptation, the evolution.  they also came at a time when people were questioning the church and breaking away from it.  fair enough....but the result was 'slime to man' without facts to back it.  slime to man became a new truth, and to this day many cling to it, even though we know now that this is very unlikely.

global whatever is the same.  start with the premise that man is evil and destructive.  whatever is happening to the planet is because man is evil and destructive.  the premise is more important that the facts because it fits the agenda.
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.....The greatest changes occur in their country without their cooperation. They are not even aware of precisely what has taken place. They suspect it; they have heard of the event by chance. More than that, they are unconcerned with the fortunes of their village, the safety of their streets, the fate of their church and its vestry. They think that such things have nothing to do with them, that they belong to a powerful stranger called “the government.” They enjoy these goods as tenants, without a sense of ownership, and never give a thought to how they might be improved.....

 Alexis de Tocqueville
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