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Episode 13: Unafraid of the Dark, Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey
So my cousin is in school to be a chef. Tonight she worked the Emmys and took a picture with one of the most influential scientists alive and didn’t know it because she’s vastly religious.
This makes me sad.
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“It’s not easy being an atheist in a theistic world. One time I went to an atheist meeting and there was a guy from Pakistan—big, jovial guy, might have had a Ph.D. in biochemistry—who was an atheist. And as he was talking, I asked him what is it like when he goes back to Pakistan—is he an atheist then? He said, ‘No, no! No, no! I’m a Muslim when I go back to Pakistan.’ I get it, even though I don’t think that America is particularly free. There are certain consequences for being an atheist here as well.
“I’m an African-American, and almost all African-Americans believe in some sort of God—women more so. So, trying to affiliate with an African-American woman and telling her that I’m an atheist is hard. She goes, ‘What is that?’—she doesn’t get it. It’s true even of well-educated women because they were raised in a church. These were people who were enslaved in Africa, brought to the shores of America as slaves, and indoctrinated into the church. So America is not that free, either.”
My favorite misconception about evolution.
If you are going to deny the fact of evolution you need to understand how evolution actually works first.
The quick answer is that humans didn’t actually evolve from monkeys. But we did both evolve from a common ancestor who happened to look more like an ape than a human.
So where did the ape-like ancestor go? Why did this ancestor evolve into humans and modern apes?
This is where evolution comes in. Evolution is a natural process that changes all living things over many generations.
Evolution requires at least two things. First, we all have differences in our DNA, the instructions for making every living creature. These DNA differences lead to various eye colors, skin colors, blood types, and all of the other variation that exists between each of us.
Some of these DNA differences don’t matter. Others can be bad and cause diseases and even death. And some of these differences in DNA can help a person to live longer or stay healthier. For example, one DNA difference seems to make people more resistant to HIV and maybe also smallpox and the plague.
Second, evolution requires that DNA be passed from one generation to the next. This way, any survival advantage can be passed from parent to child.
Combining these, evolution works because animals (or other living things) with beneficial DNA differences usually survive longer and are able to have more kids. And those with bad DNA changes often die before they can have kids. Over time, more and more animals have the good DNA, and fewer have the bad DNA. This is called natural selection.
So now that we understand evolution and natural selection, how can this explain why we have humans and apes?
One way natural selection can work to evolve new species is if the old species gets split into two groups. The two groups have to be separated in different environments for a long time. This is what might have happened to cause modern apes and humans to appear. The story probably went something like this.
Sometime between eight million and five million years ago, Africa had more rain and was covered by forests. During this time, an ape-like species (our common ancestor) lived in these forests. They were quite successful and spread all over the continent.
Then the climate began to change, the land began to dry out, and the forests began to disappear. Some of these ape-like creatures continued to live successfully in the woods. But others were forced to leave the woods and go into the open fields of grass.
What works best for survival in the grasslands is different than what works best in the forest. Once our ancestors found themselves out of the woods, they couldn’t hide from predators as well, and food was not as plentiful. Many of these ape-like creatures living in the grasslands could not survive.
But some of these creatures did survive- those that could walk on two feet, for example. Walking on two feet may have helped them to run for longer distances to get away from predators. It also may have helped them to find food from further away and have free hands to carry it back home. Whatever the reason, those that could walk on two feet were surviving more often.
The ape-like creatures that could walk on two feet had kids that were also more able to walk on two feet (this is controlled by one’s DNA). So every generation, more and more of the surviving population could walk on two feet. The others got killed off by predators and/or starved to death.
Over many generations (and a few million years) living in separate places, we ended up with two different species. The ones in the grasslands walked on two feet, learned to make tools and work in groups, and eventually evolved into us. Those that stayed in the forest evolved into modern apes. Of course, those in the forest also changed after many years to survive better in the forest.
So there you have it. We didn’t evolve from apes; rather, apes and humans evolved from a common ancestor. Natural selection doesn’t care about whether a species is smarter or more progressive. It only cares about whether a species can survive long enough to find a mate and have kids.
Thus, the reason that modern apes are still around is that they have been successful at surviving in their environment. And we are still around because we have also been successful at living in our environment. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that after 5-8 million years, we still share 98% of the same DNA with our distant cousins, the modern apes!
Sources: Dr. Kim Matulef, Stanford University, PBS.org, Berkley.edu, me:)
maybe Jesus was gay the whole time and was actually saying “ah, men”
"Ten-year-old girls want to believe in fairy tales. Take this pledge and God will love you so much and be so proud of you, they told me. If you wait to have sex until marriage, God will bring you a wonderful Christian husband and you’ll get married and live happily ever after, they said. Waiting didn’t give me a happily ever after. Instead, it controlled my identity for over a decade, landed me in therapy, and left me a stranger in my own skin. I was so completely ashamed of my body and my sexuality that it made having sex a demoralizing experience."