Evolution of the Best

I’m sitting at the computer, reading blogs, when the dog comes up to me. “Hey, can I ask a question?” she says.

“Sure, go ahead.”

“What’s the deal with evolution?”

i-5c9a20442580a95de7a596ca1a962f7e-sm_down_tongue.jpg

“Evolution, huh? Well, I’m not a biologist, you understand, but the basic idea is that every creature we see today originated from simple creatures of the past, through a process of small changes over millions of years. Every individual of a species has slightly different traits, and if those traits happen to make them more likely to survive, then they are more likely to reproduce, and have offspring who will share those traits. Over time, each generation of offspring becomes better adapted to their particular environment, until eventually they’re a separate species. It’s pretty much the central idea of modern biology. Everything we know about nature, we know in an evolutionary context.”

“I know that, silly,” she says. “What I’m asking is why are people talking about it all the time? I mean, you don’t spend all your free time talking about the Standard Model of physics.”

“Oh. Well, it turns out, there are some people who for various reasons don’t believe in evolution. And for political reasons, they have access to a great deal of money and influence, so scientists spend a lot of time having to fight them off.”

“Well, that’s just stupid,” she says, indignantly.

“Most scientists would agree with you.”

“I mean, evolution is obviously true. Just look at me.”

“Look at you?” I ask, apprehensively. I think I know where this is headed.

“Yeah. I mean, I am obviously the result of millions of years of evolution. I’m clearly descended from other dogs, but I’m also superior to them.”

I sigh. I knew that’s where this was going.

“I mean, take that German Shepherd up the block. I’ve got the same kind of fur as that dog, and the same shape of head, so we’re clearly related. But his ears stick up all pointy-like, where mine are cute and floppy. Also, he barks too much. I’m way better than that dog.”

“OK, fine, but I think you’re misunderstanding how evolution works.”

“No I’m not. I’m the best. I’m highly evolved!”

“Look, biological evolution is not a directed process leading to a specific goal. It’s a random process of mutation, selection, and reproduction. Over time, it leads to adaptation, but it’s not a steady progression to better and better organisms. The base process is as likely to produce flaws as it is to make things better. Take your bad paw, for example.” Her right rear paw is just a single pad, with no toes or claws.

“What about it? That’s an adaptation, not a flaw.”

“How is your bad paw an adaptation?”

“It’s a sympathy generator. Whenever you’re neglecting me, I just go ‘owie, owie, owie,’ and hop on three legs for a bit. Then you pet me, and give me treats.”

I shake my head in defeat. “All right, you got me. You are superbly adapted to your environment.” I scratch behind her ears.

“Thank you. I’m the best.”

“You’re still wrong about evolution, though. It’s a process, not a specific path. It’s always going on, and your adaptation really doesn’t mean much unless you pass your genes on to the next generation.”

“What?!?” she says, alarmed. “I am certainly not going to mate with any of those inferior dogs.”

“Also, we had you fixed,” I mutter.

“What?”

“Nothing. The point is, while you may be the best, unless you reproduce, you’re kind of an evolutionary dead end.”

“Oh.” She looks dejected for a second.

“You’re my favorite evolutionary dead end, though.”

“I guess that’s ok…,” she says. Then she perks up. “Hey, wait! I heard about these guys in Korea. They cloned a dog. You could clone me! Lots of me!”

“Ah… yeah. Well, I’m not a biologist, remember?”

“You know biologists, though, right? You could ask them.”

“I’ll get right on that.” She’s not so good with sarcasm.

“Yay!”

“In the meantime, how would you like to go outside?”

“Oooh! That’s where I keep my critters!” She charges off toward the back door, where chasing squirrels will make her forget about cloning. I hope.

Comments

  1. #1 Dave Gill
    February 11, 2008

    Emmy must be related to our dogs.

    Our puppy has redefined cosmology as being about the Shania-centric universe. Not merely the apex of millions of years of evolution.

  2. #2 Larry Ayers
    February 11, 2008

    Great dialog! My dog will be glad to hear that other dogs make guest blog appearances.

  3. #3 Kieran
    February 11, 2008

    Nice pooch! Pretty verbose for a canine.

  4. #4 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 11, 2008

    ============================
    Canine: the Crown of Creation
    with apologies to Jefferson Airplane
    by Jonathan Vos Post
    Copyright (c) 2008 by Emerald City Publishing
    ============================

    Vamp:

    “Heaven goes by favor.
    If it went by merit,
    you would stay out and
    your dog would go in.”
    — Mark Twain

    Verse and Chorus:

    You are the Crown of Creation
    You are the Crown of Creation
    and you’ve got no place to go.
    Want to go out? For a walk?

    Soon you’ll attain the stability you strive for
    because the locations of the poles of the transfer function
    are in the left half-plane of the complex frequency plot
    as we cut through this parking lot
    with telephone poles
    theory of controls
    and move more briskly, start to trot
    in the only way that it’s granted
    I’m enchanted
    now that you’ve panted
    all excited, never docile
    lesser dogs you gladly jostle
    your fidelity’s colossal
    among all canines, you’re apostle,
    in a place among the fossils of our time.

    In loyalty to their kind
    with ratio undefined
    double helix intertwined
    they’d better get resigned
    we’re ascending, they’ve declined
    they cannot tolerate our minds.
    Acceptance is hard,
    but heed Saint Bernard:
    “Qui me amat, et canem moum” *
    Who loves me, will love my dog
    got to be cruel to be kind
    with the Dog Star we’re aligned
    supervisor call instruction
    Darwinian fitness
    sexual reproduction
    as dog’s my witness
    it’s mutual induction
    In loyalty to our kind
    we cannot tolerate their obstruction.

    Mash-up:
    “It’s been a hard day’s night,
    and I’ve been working like a dog.”
    – John Lennon, A Hard Days’ Night, 1964

    Verse and Chorus:

    Life is Change
    the rocket range
    Life is Change
    derivative’s directory
    Life is Change
    integrating the trajectory
    Life is Change
    How it differs from the rocks
    the rocks with fossil bone
    one way ticket to the Twilight Zone
    I’ve seen their ways too often for my liking
    your wagging tail
    so very striking
    let’s go running
    let’s go hiking
    New worlds to gain
    your noble heart’s internal drive
    My life is to survive
    and be alive
    for you
    only for you
    because
    You are the Crown of Creation
    You are the Crown of Creation
    and you’ve got no place to go.
    Want to go out? For a walk?
    Good dog!

    * St. Bernard, In Festo Soneti Michaelis: Seermo Primus, 1150

    1630-1715
    11 Feb 2008

    ============================

  5. #5 JT
    February 12, 2008

    Do I smell a second book offer coming?

  6. #6 Stacy
    February 12, 2008

    This is the most flattering picture of your dog that you have ever posted.

  7. #7 Rystefn
    February 12, 2008

    What a cute dog. I agree with her.

  8. #8 Joanne Crowe
    February 12, 2008

    Hmm, how does the theory of evolution jive with the assertion (from Karl Pilkington, on the Ricky Gervais radio Show), that a seal is a cross between a dog and a fish? Could a fish and a dog have met at a bar and the fish thought, “I would love to be able to bark and lay in the sun”, while the dog thought, “Cool, I could dive and swim, hang out with friends all day,” so they decided to mate and create a new and better species? I lay awake at night wondering…

  9. #9 William
    February 12, 2008

    Now that we’ve had the Dog/Evolution post, one hopes you don’t feel compelled to offer the inverse/opposite post of God/Creationism.

  10. #10 mosey
    February 13, 2008

    Im glad I don’t live in America where they will soon have all gods law written into their statutes!

  11. #11 Chad Orzel
    February 13, 2008

    Now that we’ve had the Dog/Evolution post, one hopes you don’t feel compelled to offer the inverse/opposite post of God/Creationism.

    The dog is an agnostic. She doesn’t think there’s a God (He never rubs her belly, for example), but things do sometimes appear in her bowl as if by magic…

    I don’t think you have to worry about a future post in which I talk to God and he convinces me that evolution is all a bunch of crap. Not a serious one, anyway.

  12. #12 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 13, 2008

    “I am his majesty’s dog at Kew.
    Pray tell me sir: whose dog are you?”

    – Alexander Pope’s lines for the [jewelled silver] collar of the King’s [Charles's] spaniel were written some years hence, but no less apt.

    Cf.
    The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 25 May 1660
    http://www.pepysdiary.com/archive/1660/05/25/
    [wherein, in comments, the Pope couplet is misquoted]

  13. #13 CCPhysicist
    February 13, 2008

    Excellent post.

    By the way, don’t tell Emmy that a beagle won Best in Show last night.

  14. #14 erin
    February 13, 2008

    It’s such a shame that the creationists who are constantly confusing Social Darwinism with evolution by natural selection probably do not read your blog.

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