Saturday, 29 March 2014

If Only Noah Had Known About Evolution!

Noah's ark on the Mount Ararat, Simone de Myle 1570
Tree of bird life could solve Noah's Ark problem - life - 27 March 2014 - New Scientist

One of the many absurdities in the Noah's Ark myth, several more of which can be found in No Way Noah!, is the sheer impossibility of providing an ocean-going sea-worthy wooden boat large enough to house something like 19 million animals of all shapes and sizes, many of which require highly specialised environments, together with enough food, to last something over a year.

Creationist pseudo-scientists who make their living trying to explain away these absurdities have no option but to fall back on an almost equally absurd version of warp-speed evolution so they can reduce the numbers to mere few thousand from which all the species have evolved in the last few thousand years, apparently with no one noticing all the new species popping into existence every generation. We're expected not to notice that they also tell their credulous followers that evolution is impossible but holding two diametrically opposite views simultaneously has never been a problem for creationists.

Now scientists have suggested a way we could, should the need ever arise in the future to take the world's species into protective custody to prevent the extinction of life on Earth, whilst not needing to take a pair of every single species. What we would need to safeguard is the DNA of all different species, not in test-tubes but in living members of those species which are the most evolutionarily distinct. From these, we could, theoretically reconstruct other related species.

You could increase the amount of evolutionary diversity that is currently protected by 25 per cent by expanding the reserve system by 5 per cent.

Laura Pollock, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
For example, we would not need to save a pair of every wild cat but nor would it work to save, say, lions, or tigers because these have close relatives, so most of their DNA would survive their extinction. What we need to do is to preserve the main limbs and major branches of the evolutionary tree of life rather than the terminal twigs. Losing a species which is closely related to several others, such as the lion, would merely remove a twig from the tree. Conserving an evolutionary distinct species with few living relatives however will conserve more of the DNA from further down the branch for the same effort.

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has been running the Edge of Existence Project since 2007. This seeks to identify key endangered and evolutionary unique species and to rank them into an order of priority for conservation. At the moment, effort tends to be concentrated on a few high-profile species, often at the expense of a higher priority species according to this ranking.

Now, Walter Jetz of Yale University has ranked the world's birds in terms of evolutionary distinctness using genetic data from 6500 of the 10,000 species combined with data on threats and population size to produce a list of just 100 priority species. He has also shown that concentrating on just 113 sites could conserve 60 percent of the most endangered evolutionary unique species.

Jetz has used the ranking to point to species that should be protected. For example, the highly distinct shore plover (Thinornis novaeseelandiae) lives only on the tiny Chatham Islands, near New Zealand. Just 250 are left. Focusing on plover habitat would preserve 14.46 million years of evolution for each 10,000 square kilometres conserved. In contrast, the ostrich is the 10th most distinct species, but as it has a large range only 0.05 million years would be preserved per unit area.

Andy Coghlan, Tree of bird life could solve Noah's Ark problem, New Scientist, 27 March 2014.

It's a beautiful irony that, had the Bible's authors had the least inkling of evolution or DNA and how it allows species to be arranged in a tree of life, they could have made their absurd tale just a little more plausible by explaining that Noah had reduced the number of species to conserve by doing just what conservationists are now doing. They would have had to explain how Noah had then reconstructed all the other species by careful bioengineering of course but at least their daft notion would have been just slightly less implausible.

Unfortunately, they had to try to force-fit the story into what little they knew and understood, and the prevailing superstition of the orthodoxy they were selling, and so ended up with a story so implausible that only children and scientifically illiterate, gullible adults could believe it.

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  1. Reminds me of a Kurt Vonnegut tale where human sperm (only sperm, called "jizzum") was sent to the Andromeda Galaxy to save the race :D

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