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Archive for Monday, October 17, 2005

Timelines

Humans are a mere 19 seconds in the “Hand of Time.”

October 17, 2005

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A recent analysis in the Washington Post projected a "Hand of Time," which showed that if the history of the Earth was represented as one 12-hour revolution of a clock, human existence would represent only the last 19 seconds.

That is almost certain to ruffle the advocates of creationism or intelligent design in their opposition to teaching of evolution in science classes. But Rick Weiss and David Brown of the Post staff who did an accompanying story make a convincing case for the evolution advocates.

Without offering here all the details of Earth's history on the 12-hour scale, it is interesting to note the range of events that filled the clock's last hour. On the Washington Post chart, insects appeared at 11:00, or 380 million years ago. At 11:03 came seed plants and amphibians, 360 million years ago. Those were followed by:

11:07 - Reptiles, 340 million years ago.

11:27 - Mammals, 213 million years ago.

11:36 - Birds, 150 million years ago.

11:38 - Flowering plants, 140 million years ago.

11:59:41 - Humans, from 2 million years ago to now.

Indications are the formation of the earth occurred between 4.6 billion and 3.5 billion years ago when "life" began in a form similar to bacteria. That occurrence is two hours and 52 minutes into the "Hand of Time" clock on which humans are included for only the final 19 seconds.

All this entails a long, long, long time for some creative force to plan and oversee and direct what was going on, and most scientists agree that the study of evolution will always be a work in progress. Many reasonable people see no conflict with believing in a creative force as well as studying the science of evolution.

"The controversy that has periodically erupted around evolution can be attributed at least in part to the fact that is both simple to understand and hard to believe," say Weiss and Brown in the Washington Post piece. They further explain:

Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace, working independently in the early to mid-1800s, each came up with the concept of "natural selection." Each sought to explain the astounding diversity of life found in exotic places, Darwin in the Galapagos Islands and Wallace in Brazil.

By some accident of nature whose workings neither man could explain, an organization may exhibit a variation in shape, color or body function new to the species. Although most of these new traits are damaging - probably lethal - a small fraction may actually help. They may make it easier to hide from predators (like a moth's coloration), exploit a food source (an anteater's long tongue), or make seeds more durable (the coconut's buoyant husk).

"If the trait does help an organism to survive," Weiss and Brown add, "that individual will be more likely to reproduce. Its offspring will then inherit the change. They, in turn, will have an advantage over organisms that are identical except for that one beneficial change. Over time, the descendants that inherited what might be termed the 'happy accident' will outnumber the descendants of its less fit, but initially far more numerous, brethren."

Imagine how and why all this was happening so many billions of years before humans' 19 seconds on the time clock. We have come ever so late to the fair.

Conclude Weiss and Brown in the Washington Post:

"Although the central tenets of evolution have done nothing but grow stronger with every experimental challenge, the story is still evolving. : Some details are sure to be refined over time. The question to be answered : is whether intelligent design has anything scientific to add for now or whether it belongs instead in a philosophy class."

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