Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Essay on Darwin's Theory of Evolution

Essay on Darwin's Theory of Evolution

Why are we here? How are we here? What can account for the broad diversity of life we see around us every day? These are the questions man has been asking for thousands of years. It has only been recently, however, that science was sophisticated enough for us to be able to approach the real answer. Anyone can tell you that the currently accepted explanation is the Theory of Evolution.

In the early to mid 1800s, the Theory of Evolution was being formed in the minds of many scientists, but it was first given voice by Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species. He proposed that a process called natural selection acts on random variation within a species to cause only the most fit of that species to survive and leave fertile offspring. Natural Selection is a process that "chooses" specific individuals based on their characteristics, by allowing them to survive and multiply, whereas less suited individuals die out. Thus, over time, only those organisms most suited to their particular environment survive, and organisms become more and more specialized and sophisticated.

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Darwin's theory was widely hailed at the time of its publication as being an excellent explanation for the diversity of living things on our planet, and as time has passed, it has only gained more acceptance. Generally, the only opposition to the theory came from religious circles, who insisted that the world was created in six days and all the animals and plants were created exactly as we see them. While many in the public clung to their beliefs, this obviously did not have much support from the scientific community. After all, there is very little evidence for such a creation, and there is plentiful evidence for evolution. However, in more recent times, other, more legitimate challenges to the Theory of Evolution have surfaced.

This, then, is the goal of my paper: To outline the principle problems with the theory of evolution, the answers presented by the scientific community, and to evaluate the validity of the Theory based on these questions and answers.

During Darwin's lifetime, there was a great deal that science did not know, could not know, about the inner workings and mechanisms of life. Cells themselves had been discovered, but that was about the most anyone could find out about until the invention of the electron microscope, followed by even more advanced devices for detecting things on a microscopic level.

The discoveries that have surfaced as a result of this technology has both helped and hindered Darwin?s Theory. On the one hand, we know much about DNA, the all-important molecule that is the blueprint for the body, and is passed down from generation to generation. It is this inheritance, and the variability of the genetic sequences, that allows for how natural selection acting on variation could actually work. Further, once you allow for the all too frequent advent of mutations in genes, Darwin?s theory becomes very plausible indeed.

On the other hand, this wealth of new information makes us privy to so many complex mechanisms of such an unbelievably fine, elegant construction, many that would have had to exist before that actual origin of life in itself, that one finds it hard to fully believe the Theory of Evolution can have a place today. The Darwinian concept is not one of large jumps, such as, say, having nothing one day and a perfectly functioning eyeball the next, but rather of small steps. If there is a gene that codes for a finger, slight alterations to this gene should allow for a somewhat longer finger. Forelimbs that are flatter and therefore more suited to swimming in a marine creature can become more flat with successive generations. In the billions of years during which life has existed, surely there would be enough time for the development of all the various features we see around us.

There are two large problems with this way of seeing things. The first is that for so many different variations of life to have developed, there would have to be a lot more intermediary life-forms. Granted the less suitable organisms would have eventually died off, but certainly there should at least be some sort of fossil record of all these intermediate creatures.

There is a large and extensive fossil record, but the gaps between more primitive and more advanced forms are very large, and few, if any, intermediates have been found. This is a great puzzle to science. Drs Elliot and Gould theorized one possible answer, now known as the theory of Punctuated Equilibrium. This theory states that evolution takes place in a cycle consisting of a long period of little evolution followed by a relatively short period of much change and evolution, probably caused by large changes in an environment, such as the onset of an ice age or the death of a very large amount of organisms and species, thus clearing much evolutionary space.

By this theory, since the intermediate periods would be so relatively short, the chances of an adequate fossil being preserved are very small, which explains why we don?t have any. The problems with this theory abound. What reason is there for such evolution to occur at this time more than at any other? Richard Dawkins suggests that perhaps there is a gene that causes an increase in mutation rates, but since as a whole this sort of mechanism would tend to be detrimental rather than helpful to most organisms, and it as yet has not been discovered in any case, this would certainly be a very weak foundation upon which to rest a theory.

The other large problem modern science has with evolution is that the simple process of elongating an already existing organ structure would require more than just a simple change in one gene. Take, for example, the lengthening of a finger: bones, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, skin, and more would have to be altered significantly. Further, such a change would alter the delicate balance of the structure in question. A new balance would have to be achieved. All of these problems would largely been taken care of on a microscopic scale, by a multiplicity of proteins and enzymes. True, proteins and enzymes are what is coded by the genes in DNA, but to create all these proteins, more than one or two genes would need to be changed. At the very least, several dozen simultaneous cooperating mutations would have to take place, and no one needs to be told how unlikely that is.

To elaborate on mutations for a minute, no one argues with the fact that they are almost always detrimental to the organism in question. Even when, by some twist of fate, the mutation happens to be helpful, it is more often because of the malfunction of a particular enzyme that interferes with a process that in the current environment happens to no longer be the preferable way of doing things.

More basic than all of these problems, however, is the simple logical problem. For an organism to benefit from natural selection, it has to develop features that will help it survive and reproduce before the environmental condition that makes it so comes into existence. A gene would have to predict what sort of changes would be beneficial ahead of time.

Evolutionists maintain that this is not in the slightest bit what actually occurs. Mutations occur constantly, most detrimental, as we said, and the rare few that are beneficial just waiting around until they are called for. This argument is very weak for the simple reason that it is very easy to picture life dying out hundreds of times, simply because it never developed the right genes in advance.

The Theory of Evolution is long-standing and widely supported. Questions are just being asked, and there is certainly a good probability that many of them will be answered. This sort of questioning is precisely the sort of approach the that leads to further understanding and discovery in all the fields of science.

I feel that there are clearly some fundamental problems in the current theory of Evolution. There is not question that it at least works on a relatively small scale, within a species. This has been proven without a doubt. It is only with regard to the great diversity of life all around us, the efficiency and intelligence of their mechanisms, and of course their origination?s, that problems arise. In that light, science is doing all it can to find answers. For now, however, the Theory of Evolution is in serious question, and our origins remain unknown.

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