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Vexen Crabtree (vexen) wrote,
@ 2008-06-20 11:18:00
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    Current mood:blank

    Artificial Evolution: Human achievements prove the principals of evolution
    Added to "Evolution and Unintelligent Design" by Vexen Crabtree (2007, edit) (reference removed):

    If for half a dozen generations, no-one in the world had children with a blond mate, before long there would be no blond human beings. This is how strong the forces of sexual selection can be. If everyone in the world thought cats cute and bred the fluffiest, most child-like and domicile ones, Humans could create a whole new species. In fact, that is exactly how the Egyptians created the domesticated cat from the wild one. Nature did not produce our feline friends; we did. It took them hundreds of years to accomplish what nature does over tens and hundreds of thousands of years. How was it was possible for Egyptians to turn wild cats into a new species of domestic cats? Because they commandeered natural selection for their own ends. The result is artificial selection. It is the same process that exists in nature, but with the intelligence and willpower of humankind behind the driving wheel, instead of blind mother nature. Carl Sagan furnishes us with more examples of artificial selection:

    Ten thousand years ago, there were no dairy cows or ferret hounds or large ears of corn. When we domesticated the ancestors of these plants and animals - sometimes creatures who looked quite different - we controlled their breeding. We made sure that certain varieties, having properties we consider desirable, preferentially reproduced. [...] Our corn, or maize, has been bred for ten thousand generations to be more tasty and nutritious than its scrawny ancestors; indeed, it is so changed that it cannot even reproduce without human intervention. [...]

    In less than ten thousand years, domestication has increased the weight of wood grown by sheep from less than one kilogram of rough hairs to ten or twenty kilograms of uniform, fine down; or the volume of milk given by cattle during a lactation period from a few hundred to a million cubic centimetres. If artificial selection can make such major changes in so short a period of time, what must natural selection, working over billions of years, be capable of? [...] If humans can make new varieties of plants and animals, must not nature do so also? [...] The answer is all the beauty and diversity of the biological world. Evolution is a fact, not a theory.

    "Cosmos" by Carl Sagan (1995)

    Our growing understanding of genetics results from our understanding of evolution. When we have mapped out genetic trees through history, tracing changes and predicting what fossils we have yet to find, we have frequently found those very intermediary species. Thousands of such missing links have been found, proving our knowledge of nearly every lineage. But all this knowledge is not just a bed-mate for paleontologists; our understanding of rapidly-evolving bacteria and viruses results in the development of new cures. Take SARS in 2002/3, for example. When several hundred people in China developed severe acute respiratory syndrome, genetic tests based on evolutionary theory led researchers in the right direction:

    The disease soon spread to Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Canada and led to hundreds of deaths. In March 2003, a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, received samples of a virus isolated from the tissues of a SARS patient. Using a new technology known as a DNA microarray, the researchers compared the genetic material of the unknown virus with that of known viruses. Within 24 hours, they assigned the virus to a particular family based on its evolutionary relationship to other viruses -- a result confirmed by other researchers using different techniques. Immediately, work began on a blood test to identify people with the disease (so they could be quarantined), on treatments for the disease, and on vaccines to prevent infection with the virus.

    "Science, Evolution and Creationism"
    National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine (2008)

    Fossil-record predictions and genetic kung-fu are two of the most exciting confirmations of evolutionary theory. Another is the record of what we have achieved so far. Our creation of cats, maize, the green carrot, cattle and sheep, and our deepening understanding of genetics is not to be feared. Nature has shown us how to combine genes to produce children; we have shown nature how much better, more nutritious, and safer, the animal and plant kingdom can be if only it is guided intelligently. Between nature and nurture, we have already created a genetically engineered world. We merely done it so slowly that no particular generation of humans was particularly shocked by the process.

    Now things have changed.

    From factories and research laboratories to medical clinics, we are entering the era of directed human evolution. [...] For most of our history, we have been the passive subjects of change. In this new era we will take the direction of our evolution into our own hands.

    "Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice" by Ronald M. Green (2007)

    We used our minds to domesticate animals and produce plants with unnatural yields. The method we used was to control the spread of genes in the chosen species, continually improving it. In this millennium, the method is the same but our tools are being updated. Instead of manipulating the spread of genes through sexual selection, we can change them from inception using genetic engineering. We can take genes that produce Vitamin C from one plant and import them into another; we can eliminate hereditary disease through genetic screening. We have made the present, and we will make the future. To say that we shouldn't is to say that we should no longer have cats and dogs, nutritious corn, or wool. None of these things have heralded the end of the world, and neither will the things to come!


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