Ask an Atheist Day! The Answers Edition.

18 04 2012

Welcome back folks. Here is another edition of Ask an Atheist. I started early and have compiled my answers. Let’s get started.

Ask an Atheist.

“If we evolved from apes, then why are there still apes? And why didn’t said apes also evolve?” – From the user Synaptic Cohesion

This question was covered last year, but I’ll add on to it this year since I didn’t get many questions. Well SC, I don’t want to bore you too much but I have to cover a basic understanding of evolution first. Evolution works through a process known as natural selection where an animal will live it’s life generation by generation passing along its genes to its offspring. Natural selection doesn’t happen overnight, or within a single generation, in most cases it can take as many as 100 or 10,000 generations to really make any large variations that are noticeable. The process works because the individual animals that are best suited to live in the current environment live to pass on their genes. So for example, if said animal lives in an area that is mostly covered with a dark brown moss and other plants, and also happens to be dark brown, it will live longer than it’s fellows that may be a shade lighter in color. The offspring from that animal would likely be darker as well, and likely live to pass along those genes, and so on. If there was a point where the lineage became too dark, it would be cut off as well, and the best shade to be would be left to pass along its genes. Basically, the saying survival of the fittest, where fittest just means, best suited to survive in their current environment. You can replace colors, with almost anything like size, speed, fur coverage, tolerance to food types, etc.

The Ensatina salamander that lives in the California coastal mountains is an example of a species that has evolved and left living ancestors behind due to it migrating to new environments that changed the best suited requirements. The thing I should mention here is that the animals are not trying to change, or looking for the changes, it just simply happens slowly because the ones that are best suited tend to be the ones to actually survive to the age of mating and pass along their best suited genes. At one end of the mountain range, the salamanders are more solid in color with a slightly colored blotchy look, and as you proceed along one side of the mountains, they will continue to get more and more blotchy until you get to the other end of the range where they are spotted. Then if you were to travel along the other side of the range, you will find them more and more solid in color with less spots and blotchiness until you get to the end again where you now have 2 different salamander species that came from the same. But all around the range you will still find the ancestors left behind that did not migrate.

Again, you can apply this idea to our ancestor apes who were similar to the great apes we see today. We came from an ape that was very similar to the Chimpanzees or Bonobos of today. The Chimps and Bonobos are actually a split that happened after we split from our common ancestor. Our ancestor ape had similar habits to the Chimps and mostly lived in the trees and wooded areas. Our ancestors however began to migrate out of the trees and woods. This change in habitat allowed natural selection to really take hold of those ancestors features that best suited their new way of life. Features like less fur over the body to allow heat to escape so we wouldn’t over heat, darker skin, upright posture, and stronger muscles to allow long distance traveling. These are a few things that slowly became the best suited.

Meanwhile some ancestors stayed in the trees and never left the woods. So they began to evolve in a different direction and kept their fur, and stuck with their knuckle walking habits. This is known as a split. If you’ve ever seen a family tree, where the branches split, and each lineage goes in their own direction, it’s the same idea, but with bigger eventual differences because of the different ways of life. All it takes for a split to happen in a species is for a barrier to form between the population, such as the mountain range that split the salamanders, or even a lake overflowing and forming a river between a population that cannot cross the river, they over a long period of time will possibly adapt to new ways of life and become two species.

So why are there still apes? Because our ancestors simply made a decision to leave the forrest and didn’t turn back, while other ancestors stayed behind forming a split in our lineage. The apes that were left behind, did in fact evolve, but they did not evolve into a separate race of humans because they didn’t follow our same path in history, they stuck to the forrest way of life.

This is not to say they will never evolve further and become another species, evolution just takes a very long period of time. It’s something that people just don’t understand it seems. People think that a monkey gave birth to a human, but that’s just not how it happened. That would be a truly strange event. That would bypass millions of years of of evolution that needed to come first.

One last example before I move to another topic is something you will be able to look at first hand. I’m sure you either have or know someone who has a dog as a pet. Dogs are all descendants of wolves. Somewhere around 30,000 to 50,000 years ago, humans were settling in groups and the wolves in the area were still their enemies. As the settled groups threw out scraps of food, and left food laying around wolves would do what they do best, and scavenge for free food. If the wolf was found the passive ones would run off, while the aggressive ones would try to attack a group of people who were quite familiar with hunting practices and likely those aggressive wolves would be killed. Over the generations, as the passive wolves bred more and more and kept doing the same, the people would realize that they could harness these passive wolves as almost an ally. They would leave out scraps and know that if other groups of people tried to come attack their settlement, the wolves would likely deter them from the area, or at least cause a bit of a disturbance and alert them to the fact that someone was coming. So from there on, the passive wolves began to become what is likely the origin of the term “mans best friend”. Over more generations and by around 15,000 years ago, the domesticated dog of the time was a common occurrence. Dogs that made noise as intruders approached were likely kept as the better of the group, and the ones that didn’t do much other than eat, were likely let loose, killed off, or didn’t get to breed as it was likely cared for less by it’s owners.

Again, as generations go by, and as people learn more about breeding of animals, people begin to breed dogs for specific purposes, such as herding, hunting, or just plain old companionship. Fast forward to today, and we have thousands of dogs ranging from the giant St. Bernard’s, to the tiny Chihuahua’s, all the while, we still have wild wolves all over the globe in their natural habitat still being wild and aggressive, since it was the more passive ones that had split from their ancestors to become our best friend.

I hope this answers your question. I don’t expect you to become an atheist, if it doesn’t fit your beliefs then it doesn’t fit your beliefs. All I ask is that you understand that all of this information is well documented by biologists, archeologists, paleontologists, and many other specialists in various areas of science. I’m not trying to pull a fast one, I’m not trying to bullshit you, these are simply the facts being relayed to you. I appreciate you taking the time to ask me, and I hope you took the time to read through. Any further questions about anything here, and I’d be glad to answer. Next question…

What do you think about Darwin’s theory on black people? Does his views harm his credibility as a “Scientist?” – From user Synaptic Cohesion.

First problem I have with this question is which claim you are referring to? I’ve read and heard a few different ideas on what people think Darwin thought about black people. But in general they all kind of revolve around the idea that he thought blacks and other races were not from the same origins as the whites. Or that he thought blacks and other races were not equal to whites etc. Basically trying to say Darwin was a racist person, and that somehow him being racist would make any work he had done less credible. I guess I could say one thing before I continue. If his statements were to lead to this result, and his opinion was as listed above, his work would still not be any less credible other than the fact that he was slightly wrong about origins because of his views. For example, if the horrible monster Hitler was the person to figure out the theory of gravity, it wouldn’t make the theory of gravity any less credible. A person’s character has nothing to do with their work. I’m sure there have been many horrible people to discover great things that have changed our world. So with that said, I’ll continue to clear up a bit of the issue at hand.

The whole issue stems from Darwin’s comments about the differences between the negroes and caucasians and the other great apes. Some have taken his words to mean that he is calling negroes apes, or that they are from a different ape and couldn’t possibly be from the same ape. He refers to the blacks as less civil and other races as savages simply because of the lifestyle they lived. The African bushmen, and natives of the Galapagos Islands did live in a less civil way when compared to the caucasians in Europe who lived in large houses with markets and agriculture. In the same way a homeless white man today lives a less civil way than most of us do who have homes or apartments to call our own and often buy our food and clothes at the local market or mall, while the homeless man scavenges for food and clothing that has been discarded. That doesn’t mean they are less of a person, they just live a life that is determined less civil by the standards of the time and local people. An even further example could be if you yourself were to live in the big hollywood hills in a regular apartment or home, the celebrities would view your life as less civil because you buy your own food and clothing and don’t have a hired person to do it for you etc.

He also mentions that future generations will likely wipe out the blacks and other great apes. Some feel this is his way of saying he wants it to happen. This is merely his opinion based on the fact that the people of the time treated them so horribly as if they were a lesser person. Darwin himself was completely and 100% against slavery and the terrible treatment of another human being because of their race. He often got into fights with the captain of the ship he sailed on while traveling the Galapagos Islands because the captain had slaves, and would treat them in a horrible manner. At one point Darwin was actually told not to return to the dinner table because of his outrage toward the treatment he witnessed. In a sad way he was almost right about this speculation. Look at the way we start wars with other nations. Almost no caucasian nation is ever the target of the attacks of other caucasian nations. Often it is the nations of blacks, or other races that end up the targets.

So what do I think about Darwin’s theory on black people? As a person who is from Black and White parents, I have no problem with his views towards black people, especially considering the time he lived in. He was against the violent treatment he saw being used and protected by the people of the time. His words have been misinterpreted and smeared in an attempt to somehow discredit evolutionary theory. But like I said above, even a purely evil person can be right about other things. But fortunately for us, this is not one of those situations.

Hopefully this answered your question. If not, as always you can comment below and I’ll try to address your question better, but be specific with regards to what you are stuck on, or where I may have missed something.

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10 responses

18 04 2012
synapticcohesion

Hey thanks–I appreciate your taking time to answer my questions.

19 04 2012
A Dumb Ape

No worries man. Do my answers make sense for you? I’m not really sure where you stand on the whole issue, I’m guessing you’re not an evolution believer at all. Just a wild hunch LOL. Either way, I hope I gave you something to think about. If you’ve got any other questions, or comments in general feel free to put them on here. I’m always looking for a reason to write things on my blog.

20 04 2012
synapticcohesion

You’re correct; I’m not an evolutionist. Though I don’t necessarily agree with your point of view, I understand your position. I’m always curious to see what others have to say about these issues because everyone seems to have a differing opinion; not unlike issues pertaining to religion.

20 04 2012
A Dumb Ape

Differing opinion eh? I’ve talked to a lot of people who agree that evolution has happened and is happening and we all seem to agree on this stuff. I know there are always those people who don’t really understand the facts well, and are possibly just an atheist for personal vendetta type reasons. Kinda like how there are lots of people who love space but still think the sun goes around the earth and not the other way around. Sometimes people just don’t bother looking into these things. Some people don’t see or know the difference between apes and monkeys but believe evolution means a monkey gave birth to a human. Which again is horribly wrong LOL. But I’m not one of those people. I’m also not a person who goes by the evolutionist name. LOL. Just doesn’t sound right to me. LOL.

But I’m glad you’re involved here on my blog. If I may ask, what about evolution do you not agree with? Is It the whole thing, or just parts of it involving humans? Do you not see the examples like dogs and cats and other pets and farm animals who are bred through a forced evolution like process all the time? We basically pick and choose what features we want in them and force it through as opposed to natural selection doing it. Features like more milk production, fluffy fur, bigger size, smaller size, shorter tail, etc. Think dog show, and you will see TONS of selective breeding examples.

20 04 2012
synapticcohesion

Yes, you can breed different types of dogs and cats (and still that’s within limits)–but they will still be dogs and cats. Always.

Microevolution is a misnomer because it’s not demonstrating evolution at all–it’s simply demonstrating the limited variations that are possible within the gene pool.

21 04 2012
A Dumb Ape

But it’s through that same type of process is what I’m saying. It just takes a much long period of time. If we had the time to continue breeding for thousands of generations or even millions which usually would be enough time to make much larger changes we could take a species from point A to point B where B would be the new species. We are only forcing the features we want in the dogs and cats, and obviously we don’t want to change them into a new species, because our end goal would still be a dog or cat.

There was a soviet man named Dmitri Belyaev who did a study where he started out with a group of wild Fox, and would breed the more tame and approachable individuals in hopes to basically have an end product that was much like a dog. He did this and noticed not only did they become much tamer, but started exhibiting other features like floppy ears, change in their coat like spots and color, and curly tails, all which are features you find commonly in dogs. So again, given enough time, he could potentially have essentially created a new species.

And again, the example of the Ensatina salamanders in California, or any ring species for that matter that still exist today. You can see their path of migration but also see the left behind groups that haven’t migrated to a new area and have kept their original features, but in the end creating two new species due to the mountain barrier between them.

My last example. There is a strain of bacteria that is commonly called the ‘Nylon Eating Bacteria’ that has spawned all kinds of studies. Basically the ability of bacteria to feed on nylon is a mutation that occurs when the bacteria have no other form of food to survive on, they adapt and a new enzyme was made by the bacteria in order to eat the nylon.

I guess my point with this is that evolution isn’t just species to species jumps. That’s a larger scale picture of things, evolution can be small tiny one step mutations in genes that changes the species in small or drastic measures, which over long periods of time can end up with a new species once you look at where they are at that time and where they were in the past. Humans live such short lives that we don’t really grasp the tie span part of it well, and I think that may be the biggest reason people have a hard time agreeing on the topic.

Anyhow, I’m sure you’ve heard this all before. And again, I’m glad to have you participating, I don’t have many people commenting on here yet.

23 04 2012
synapticcohesion

Being that we probably got today’s dog breeds from wolves and foxes, I’m not surprised that we can still do the same to today’s wolves and foxes. Yeah, wolves and dogs can look very different and have very different dispositions, but they can breed together because they’re essential the same type of animal. An example is to compare an aborigine tribesman to a white albino dwarf. They both look very different and a pseudoscientist could classify them as different species (as they do with wolves and dogs) because how drastically different they look and behave–but we both know that they are both simply human beings. And will always be human beings.

25 04 2012
A Dumb Ape

An interesting comparison to say the least. I see we obviously are just talking in circles here. Glad to finally meet a not so nutty person with an interesting take on things. I usually find the oddest in the bunch LOL. Look forward to seeing more from you in future posts.

25 04 2012
synapticcohesion

As I do yours.

26 04 2012
A Dumb Ape

I feel greedy. Just realized I never asked what your ideas or beliefs were in regards to life and how it arrived and changed etc. Are you a creationism or ID follower? Or do you have a completely different take that is not as popularized? We don’t really need to discuss it afterwards since it will likely result in the same conversation, just felt curious where your head lies.

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