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Even Rocks Evolve!
All too often I hear evolution being dismissed by scriptural literalists as "Darwin's theory," or "just a theory." For them, understanding of the natural processes of evolution seems to be stuck at the scientific evidence available during the famous Scopes Trial in the 1920s. That is, for them the evolutionary paradigm pertains only to biology - specifically, how the vast diversity of species emerged out of less complex, less diverse forms.
But today, the term 'evolution' applies to far, far more. Consider this historical sequence:
• In the 1930s, the decade that followed the Scopes Trial, scientists began to reckon how stars evolve (young stars aging into Red Giants or explosive supernovas). In the 1950s, scientists discovered where (inside stars) and precisely how (stellar nucleosynthesis) all the chemical elements on Earth and elsewhere in the Universe came to be. 1957 was the precise year in which scientists announced to the world that we are, in fact, made of stardust.
• In the 1960s, conclusive evidence turned the theory of continental drift into the fact of plate tectonics. Now, even school children who venture into natural history museums watch simulations of Earth's continents assembling and breaking apart over hundreds of millions of years. Yes, continents evolve!
• In the 1960s, as well, evidential discovery of the energy remnants of the "Big Bang" settled out most of the theoretical disputes about the history of the cosmos. Thenceforth, scientists would turn their attention to precisely how energy and matter transformed over 14 billion years of cosmic evolution. That the Universe as a whole has been evolving for billions of years is a now a widely accepted fact. How it has been doing so, at each and every nested level of reality, is where our various theories come into play.
• Thanks to new technologies, the 1990s ushered in a new era of scientific excitement in which we would finally learn our brain's creation story. Scientists could link precise psychological capacities to already-known layers of brain development (from the reptilian brainstem to the early mammalian emotional system to more advanced thinking and reasoning).
• And now, in November of 2008, a landmark scientific paper has propelled the geological sciences even farther into the evolutionary paradigm. Eight geologists announced to the world that even rocks evolve! (One newspaper announced the story under the banner: Survival of the firmest. :-) More specifically, these geologists delineated a precise sequence in which the number of mineral types diversified and complexified over the course of billions of years, in distinct habitats ranging from stellar ovens to cometary iceboxes to volcanic infernos, and finally to the chemical wizardry of living organisms. Specifically,
- 60 mineral types in primordial meteorites
- 190 mineral types in altered meteorites (running total of 250)
- 1250 mineral types by volcanism, plate tectonics prior to life (total of 1500)
- 2,800 mineral types attributable to living processes (total of 4,300)
What a Great Story this is! Viva the scientific endeavor! And may there come a day when clergy proclaim from the pulpit the good news of our cosmic, planetary, geological, chemical, biological, neurobiological, and cultural evolutionary heritage!