Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Researchers at Arizona State University have narrowed the window in which humans diverged from Chimpanzees-- our closest relatives in the animal world, to between 5 and 7 million years ago, a more precise number than previous estimates of between 3 and 13 million years.

[Sudhir] Kumar’s team used a recently developed method in genetic sequencing to make the most comprehensive comparison to date of genes from humans, chimps, macaque monkeys and rats. They examined the number of mutations in the DNA sequence of each species to estimate its rate of evolutionary change...

"We can conclude that humans and chimpanzees probably last shared a common ancestor between five and seven million years ago," said research team member Blair Hedges, an astrobiologist at Penn State. “Knowing the timescale of human evolution, and how we changed through time in relation to our environment, could provide valuable clues for understanding—in a more general sense—the evolution of intelligent life."

Of course, there are those who don't believe in evolution at all. Now, it isn't a matter of universal religious dogma, as there are certainly many religious people (myself included) who believe in evolution, but the fact is, have you ever seen any Creationist who does not simultaneously belong to a church which denies Darwin?

Of course, we also now have to fight, 'creationism lite,' i.e. the so-called 'theory of Intelligent Design,' which posits that the world and its creatures are part of such a complex and interconnected system that its evolution, if it did evolve, must have been directed by an 'intelligent designer,' (i.e. God). Of course, I am sure that even those who claim to push this theory don't really believe it-- they are really old fashioned creationists, because if they really believed that this was such a perfect inter-connected system that God designed, wouldn't they all be environmentalists? Just wondering, because I can't imagine why a sincere advocate of 'Intelligent Design' WOULDN'T be an environmentalist; if they honestly believe that God made such a perfect creation, wouldn't they believe we should tread lightly upon it?)

Later today, we will see a decision handed down by Judge John E. Jones III in the case, 'Kitzmiller vs. Dover school board,' involving a lawsuit by parents against a local school board which had sought to force Biology teachers to teach I.D. I updated that case on Deep Thought while arguments were being made in Pennsylvania earlier this fall. Then last month, the entire set of eight Republican school board members who had pushed the idea was defeated for re-election in favor of eight Democrats who opposed introducing I.D. into the curriculum. Jones' decision is important, however, in that it will either help put this issue to rest, or set the stage for more school boards forcing their teachers to teach dogma which has no scientific backing.

Now, as a matter of fact, I myself do believe in what might be called, 'Intelligent Design' that is, that God (since I believe He exists) had a hand in evolution. However, that is an opinion (and yes, I'm an environmentalist). It is my own belief. It is not science. Science is what this team did: collected hard data, analyzed it, and came to a conclusion based not on any personal beliefs or pre-conceived notions, but rather only based on the evidence in front of them.

Besides, if you are religious and secure in your beliefs, then why wouldn't you push for scientific inquiry? Science is a method of seeking the truth, which sooner or later gets it right. Therefore, a truly religious person, convinced that their religion holds the key to the truth, should not fear what science might find, but embrace it, and do everything to push it forward. To try and push back science is the hallmark of someone experiencing a nagging fear that their dogma will be proven wrong, and afraid of having to face up to that.

UPDATE: The Kitzmiller decision is in. Good news all the way around. I already went over it at Deep Thought.

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