Saturday, February 7, 2009


I've been writing a paper for my Writing Fellows class about how I learned to write. An absurd topic to be sure. Essentially the narrative goes like this: I learned to write. The end. I'll be sure to insert amusing anecdotes about the first "adult" book I read (Congo) and the crooked finger of the infamous Nona. The overall theme of the paper will parallel my own writing discovery process with the evolution of man. A neanderthal desires creative expression, invents tools, learns to control fire, and develops agriculture. Lost? Well the paper will be awesome.

This raises some interesting questions for me. I recently subscribed to Scientific American, which is a pretty dang good collection of recent scientific breakthroughs and cutting-edge discoveries. As the upcoming week is the celebration of Darwin's 200th birthday, this month's issue is all about evolution, and is aptly named the "Evolution of Evolution." It features several articles about the science behind evolution, the ramifications of Darwin's theory, and of course, a little snippet about the Human pedigree. It was the latter article that gave me the idea for my writing assignment. Flipping through the timeline of man, as supposed by science, is very fascinating. The article itself declares the facts as if little doubt exists, and to be honest, in the scientific community, there is no doubt. We evolved from apes, end of story. This can be supported by countless DNA analyses, which reveal that our DNA is essentially the same as a chimpanzee's except where they have two chromosomes, we have one, likely the result of a chromosome fusion. The only real difference between our genes and those of our charming animal counterpart is the timing in which they are expressed. But when it comes down to the A's, T's, C's and G's, we're practically identical.

As a biologist, I'm very tempted to accept this. Clearly there are some major connections between humans and apes. But to accept that we descended from them, as Darwin later published, would be to deny that God himself created man and placed him on the earth. It's a difficult concept to reconcile, and requires a degree of faith, or blindness, as scientists would call it. Is it possible that God allowed man to naturally evolve, using the laws of science to bring about His plan? This would fall in more closely with the idea of Intelligent Design, which suggests that there is a higher being at the helm, a Creator who is also the Supreme Scientist. I'm more inclined to this latter theory, but it still doesn't jive completely with LDS doctrine.

In high school I was converted to the idea that evolution is real. It's really undeniable. Natural selection really does motivate the development of divergent species. You can see it everywhere in the world around us, and to reject this clear occurence is not only blind, it's just plain ignorant. The fact that DNA mutates and some mutations result in favorable traits propels the engine of life. But how do I understand where the creation of Man comes in? I've always assumed that the rest of the life on earth did evolve, gradually, but that Man, the crowning achievement in creation, was placed on the earth last, in the midst of the evolving animal kingdom.

Once in the biology lab I was discussing with my lab supervisor various evolutionary biology projects going on at BYU. There are several professors engaged in the Tree of Life project, which is trying to sequence the genomes of all animals to create a super phylogenetic tree which shows how life evolved on earth. This struck me as a bit odd, that BYU professors would be involved in this kind of project, and I asked him, "How do they reconcile that with the Gospel? Do they really believe that we evolved from primordial soup, from a one-celled organism?" He responded, with a hint of disdain in his voice, "Well I'm not LDS, so I don't have to worry about that." He said, with a little bit of incredulity, that of course he believed we evolved from prokaryotes; he's an evolutionary biologist, for crying out loud! I felt truly defeated and more than a little embarrassed for assuming that everyone thinks like I do.

This upcoming week at BYU several renowned professors from around the country are coming to speak about Evolution. I'd really like to attend some lectures to gather more perspective and information about the subject, to formulate my own opinion. My lab mentor, a distinguished evolutionary biologist, regularly suggests that the ideas of evolution can be reconciled with the gospel, but he never elaborates on the idea. I'm hoping this next week will shed some light on the idea and close the gap of confusion for me.

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