Beliefs and belief systems evolved into existence out of circumstance and ignorance in the nature of the physical world -a matter of the absence of scientific knowledge invalidating such conjuration during that evolution. Why then would anyone understanding this (inset) want to discuss such conjured-into-existence substance? Where is Occam's Razor when we need it?
October 23, 2010|10:33 p.m. Los Angeles Times
Conversations in Science
Author of 'Am I a Monkey?' explores questions of life
Francisco Ayala of UC Irvine discusses six main topics of evolution, including the tension between science and religion.
By Lori Kozlowski, Los Angeles Times
On the cover of his new book, Francisco Ayala is sticking a banana on a fork and asking: Am I a monkey? He asks five other straightforward questions about evolution — laying out for the general public the most commonly discussed topics surrounding how
human life came to be.
We are very closely related to the chimpanzees; less so to other apes and monkeys. It depends on how you choose to measure the relationship. In time, our closest ancestor with the chimps lived 7 or 8 million years ago, which is tiny compared to how long life has existed on Earth, which is 3.7 billion years.
We are genetically and evolutionarily very close. But we are extremely different when it comes to intelligence. Consider cultural evolution, how humans live — our technology, our literature and art, our morality and religion; our politics and government institutions. It not only creates a new world for us, it affects the way we adapt to the environment.
We adapt not by waiting for our genes to change, but rather we've reversed the process — we adapt by changing the environment according to the needs of our genes. We live in cold regions by using clothing and housing. We fly and navigate not because we have evolved wings or gills, but by using airplanes and boats.
The rate of biological adaption versus the rate of culture evolution — it is not comparable. Biological evolution happens very slowly. Cultural evolution can happen over years or even months. In cultural evolution, we invent the things we want. In biological evolution, we wait for gene mutations.
You write that evolution is a theory but that it is also a fact. Explain.
First, it is a theory. But the word "theory" in science means something different than in general usage, where it commonly means "a hunch." That's not the way we use the word in science. A theory in science is a body of knowledge and the evidence that supports that knowledge.
Evolution is also a fact — the evidence is so strong. All the experts accept it. We have more evidence for evolution than we have for the existence of atoms and molecules. And you don't see people going around doubting atoms and molecules.
You discuss "What is life?" Can you talk about this?
We have hypotheses of how life began, but we definitely don't have the final answer.
The two essential components of life are DNA (heredity) and metabolism (life processes). They are like the software and the hardware of a computer; we need both. The difficulty is that DNA (the software) has the information about metabolism, about how to make the computer. But that information cannot be read without the computer.
Scientists have now discovered ribozymes, RNA molecules that function also as enzymes. They can function both as software and as hardware.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity from a longer discussion.
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