Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tasmanian Devils Are Evolving?

It is often said that you’re either a man of faith or a man of science. I happen to be both.

I’m a metrologist and that means when carrying out my vocation I get to deal with the measurement of mass and volume. Metrology is considered an exact and precise science. However, there are always uncertainties in measuring mass and it is my job to make uncertainties quantifiable and for the most part recordable. When my customers require it, I am capable of listing for them nearly every variable that will effect their measurements and recording it in a way that will keep their quality control departments confident that required standards are being met. Measurement uncertainty calculations can go on endlessly and are only limited to the amount of money a customer wishes to spend for me to measure and list things that can affect the final readings.

I’ve always been a man of science. I like knowing how and why things work the way they do. I like tangible and concrete realities. I am analytical to a fault and that is probably why I first worked in aviation and then ended up in the metrology field. Absolutes are always good and uncertainties absolutely drive a person like me crazy.

Even during my fifteen year stint as an atheist, I had problems with scientists laying claim to the both the age of the earth and evolution as fact. To my analytical mind, complex life forms evolving from nothing was an uncertainty that couldn’t be quantified. I wasn’t going to say that some god created everything but I certainly wasn’t going to say we had evolved from nothing either. What I always maintained as an atheist was that we were incapable as humans of ever finding out about our origins.

When I was down in Florida earlier this month I listened to a story on the news about a contagious form of cancer killing off the Tasmania Devil. This relatively new disease has researchers thinking that the Tasmanian Devils could be extinct in as few as twenty five years. Sounds pretty bad eh?

As it turns out the Devils have adapted to their impending demise by breeding as many as two years earlier than they had previously been observed in the wild or in captivity. From the AP:

In the past devils would live five to six years, breeding at ages two, three and four, but with the new disease, even females who breed at two may not live long enough to rear their first litter.

Jones, who has been studying the animals' life cycles since before the disease outbreak, noted that there has been a 16-fold increase in breeding at age one.

Says zoologist Menna Jones later in the article:

"We could be seeing evolution occurring before our eyes.”

We’re seeing evolution? Really? If I remember my science courses correctly, evolution takes place over huge periods of time, millennium even. For the current theory of evolution to work, the earth has to be billions of years old so that all the various species have time to adapt or evolve into their current form. Imagine the chaos that the Tasmanian Devil throws into the equation by evolving in a ten year span.

For years people of faith have been told to sit down and shut up when it came time to explain how things came to be. Men of science have told men of faith that the idea of creation was mere superstition refuted by science. Men of science have told men of faith that evolution completely disproves the idea of God creating everything in six days and animals in one.

So I wonder what explanation do the men of science have for the men of faith when evolution occurs within a ten year span? If I were only a man of science, I’d go get some help with my uncertainty budget from those faith people; they might be able to fill in some of the gaps causing havoc and uncertainty with my equations.


Anonymous said...

I think a scientist would just observe what happened with the T-Devil and adjust his theory. After all, evolution has to be true, so this is how it must work. If they are married to the theory first, then anything that happens HAS to fit in that theory.

So since it is clear that the earth isn't as old as the scientists once thought, many of them have already adjusted their theory of how evolution works. Instead of many years and small changes, scientists now think of large changes in a short amount of time. I kid you not. It's called "punctuated equilibrium", and can be read about here (among other places):

If your mindset only allows for evolution, then everything will fit into evolution. Now, instead of the theory of evolution, we have theories of how evolution works. The overall idea of evolution has already been accepted, so it's really no longer considered a theory (by many). Therefore, anything that happens has to happen by evolution, they just need to figure out how.

Scott Adle

Frank Gillespie said...

Ha! So, the punctuated equilibrium theory is so convoluted and confusing that it needs Richard Dawkins to explain it? Ha! I wouldn’t want that uncertainty either.

It’s been so long since I dealt with the biological sciences that I’ve never even heard about that one. If I had, it flew right past me.