Sideways Evolution: God’s Toolbox Just Keeps Getting More And More Interesting…

Republibot 3.0
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I recognize that a lot of our readers don’t believe in Evolution for a variety of reasons - religious, political, or simply because it’s never been explained to them in an understandable form (Science education in our country generally being rather pathetic) - but I think it is important for us to keep abreast of the latest theories just the same. Why? Well first and foremost, because Science is Cool. Even if you *don’t* accept the theory, it’s a cool story. I don’t accept the idea that Ymir created the world, and then got his skull staved in by Odin, but it’s still an enjoyable story. (For the record, I *do* believe in evolution) Secondly, if you lived in, say, India, or a Buddhist country, it would behoove you to learn what the locals believe the origin of the world was, right? You don’t have to believe it, but It would help you navigate their society more easily, help you pick up cultural reference points, basically help you understand the people you live alongside, right? Well, the ‘Creation Story’ of our society is evolution, and it behooves us to know it for the same practical reasons. Finally, if it turns out that a long-cherished scientific theory is wrong, you’re going to find out about it in Science Journals loooooooooooong before the subject comes up in The Christian Standard, or Focus, or Southern Living, for that matter. It’s simply not in their purview to cover such things.

Which brings us to a fascinating new theory of evolution that our own esteemed Republibot 2.0 (Who doesn’t believe in Evolution) has recently brought to my attention.

A quick recap is in order: Evolution - as formulated by Darwin - states that all organisms adapt over time to better suit their environment. The idea is that you’ve got one particular kind of bird that moves into new environments. One moves to a very arid climate, and adapts to drink blood, another moves to a very wet climate and develops very oily feathers, yet another moves to a lush climate with lots of food and no predators, so its offspring get fatter and fatter and eventually lose the ability to fly. Another group move to an island with no animals, so they eventually adapt by learning to swim and catch fish. All these adaptations stem from common ancestors, but projected forwards over long periods of time, this one original species becomes several *different* species. This process is called “Speciation.” It is assumed that all life on earth began as a single cell that divided and divided and divided and divided again a zillion times, and then its offspring speciated into all the various forms of life on earth we see today, from lowly hippies on up to modern humans like you and me.

This is all logical, and appears to make sense, but there’s an aspect of it that’s always been nagging at me (And remember, I believe in Evolution): our organization of evolution is largely superficial - how things look - and not genetic, though we have the capability to do that, genetic organization frequently produces weird results. "Bats are related to monkey AND rodents? What the fudge?"

The answer, it now appears, is that there’s more than one kind of evolution.

Instead of the ‘hierarchical’ evolution that we generally hear about - like I described above - it turns out that in relatively simple organisms - bacteria, protozoans, eukaryotes, etc - as much as 10% of their genetic code may have come from species that they, themselves, are not directly related to. The theory is new, and the mechanism by which genetic exchange may have taken place is not understood, but for our purposes we can think of it as something similar to how avian flu comes about: You’ve got a massive nexus of human and animal life living in each other’s filth. The Birds get some kind of disease - a virus - that passes to humans, and is then spread throughout our species. That’s not the same thing, of course, but there is some genetic interchange going on there (Though it’s not direct chicken DNA to humans), and I’m just using that to illustrate the point.

The new theory suggests that at a very early, primitive stage of evolution on earth, simple organisms were able to exchange genetic material ‘horizontally’, or to put it another way: early life could give DNA to their friends and neighbors, and not just their offspring. At some point, life hit a level of complexity where this was no longer possible, and from that point on we’ve been in basically Darwin country, but in the early days, different rules applied. It is thought that this threshold happened at different times in the different biological kingdoms.

This, in turn, implies an even earlier, even sketchier stage of life on earth, during which there were several different kinds of biological life, with (presumably) several different strategies for transmitting biological information and parameters to their offspring, which did *not* involve DNA. DNA itself was perhaps initiated by biological exchanges between these unrelated organisms, and became one of the things that eventually passed between organisms, even into organisms that used some other method of replication, and became standardized. As wonky as this sounds - and for those of you uninitiated in such things, trust me: it sounds wonky - it explains a number of things that Biologists tend to overlook, such as “How did DNA get standardized?” and “How did DNA come about in the first place?”

Of course none of this explains how life came about in the first place, but I’m saying “God did it.”

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