I do have to be honest with you. I am a Christian but believe, as the pope and many other Christians believe, that science and faith can coexist. Unfortunately, the scientific side seems to not share that tolerance. Nonetheless, if you don’t mind spending a little time with me, I will explain to you my very simplistic understanding of Darwinism for your comments and clarification.
I absolutely cannot understand how the earliest proteins, amino acids, and other material formed into the earliest single celled life. So I won’t go there. I’ll just accept early life began according to the most accepted research available. I am also not sure what the earliest evolved life forms were but I am guessing fish who probably the first recognizable creatures.
As I understand Evolution, these fish mate and have offspring. Let’s assume they have three offspring and one of their offspring inherited a genetic composition that was not favorable to its survival, another offspring had no genetic changes and the third developed a favorable attribute that aided its survival. So, as these three offspring take up their positions in the world, and the more likely the favorably changed offspring would survive to propagate and the less favorably changed offspring would not statistically speaking.
It is then more likely that the favorably changed offspring will live to maturity and procreate. Through this procreation, it’s favorably changed genetic composition natural selection will favor this creature and is more likely that it’s more suitable genetic composition will be passed on to its offspring and, for lack of a better word, enhance the overall survivability and presence of that species.
I assume various species were the result of genetic changes that started to differentiate one organism from the other and from there the basic cycle of genetic changes and more favorable survivability took them in a different biological direction while maintaining their common genetic composition.
This makes a great deal of sense in explaining why there is such a large and diverse population of animal and plant life on our planet.
If we just ignore the amount of time that was required to just get the earliest organisms into existence and start further up the food chain as I did before, it seems like the number of favorable mutations that resulted in increased survivability required to move from the earliest organisms to man would be astronomical and exceed the time estimates of the total existence of the current universe.
I believe the more enlightened of the Christians could go with Darwin up to that point but it seems that a theory of how the evolutionary process was somehow accelerated is needed and may already be developed.
In fact, you’re right, mutations *do* happen at a defined rate, and scientists *do* use that rate to help determine time periods, for example, when one species branched off another. The so-called “genetic clock” has been used to confirm the estimated points at which humans and chimps diverged from the other apes, for example, as well as may other applications.
However, we cannot use the genetic clock to estimate how long the initial evolution of life took since we cannot estimate how often a “favorable” mutation happens. Mutations usually happen in the form of single-point modifications to the genetic code. If a code is ATTAGC, it might change to ATTAGG instead. Depending on where these simple changes occur, there might not be any result at all, or the result could be enormous. There’s just no way to predict it. Since most DNA is “junk” DNA which doesn’t code for anything, a species can accumulate lots and lots of mutations without seeing any real results, negative or positive.
Also, consider that evolution doesn’t require just mutations, but also a threat to a species’ survival or reproduction. Only then would favorable adaptations be “selected” for. And these threats to survival are usually brought on in the form of environmental changes to a species’ niche, and therefor, again, aren’t something which can be easily quantified.
This is a great blog and I really enjoy reading it. I do have a question. It seems that the chances of evolution happening relate to estimates of raw probability. Isn’t there a time factor involved? For instance; if the mutations in a species happen at a defined rate (say, one per hour) and one out of three of those mutations are favorable. It seems if we could estimate the total number of mutations and associated natural selections had to occur to get from protozoa to man. Wouldn’t it give us a better estimate of the time factor since we are working against the clock. I am new to this so please be tolerant of any of my erroneous assumptions.