This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
Final Web Papers
On Serendip

The differences in the Stories We Tell

Liz Paterek

We began the semester with the story of creation. I figured I would try to make things come full circle. We talked about the differences between story-telling styles. I decided to bring myself back to the beginning and tell the story of creation in two different ways. I thought that doing this rather than simple analysis, would allow me to contrast them to the reader while understanding them better myself. The first half of the story of creation is written in the way I read the Bible. The second is written in the way I feel that science texts often read. Both take the modern observations and theories that are scientific in origin.

Day 1: The Beginning
Before the beginning there was nothingness. Then God called for all of space to explode within itself in order to create all that we see around us. This is called the beginning and everything moves out from this place. Matter and anti-matter collided to form pure energy. However, in infinite wisdom, God create more matter than anti-matter, in such amounts that life would form.

God told this matter to contract and under its own gravity it heated until it generated a thermonuclear reaction, forming a star. One of these stars became the sun. Its size generated gravity that attracted matter. These particles and gases condensed and planets were created. God saw to it that one of these planets would have conditions on which life could form. God was pleased (4,5).

Day 2: The Early Atmosphere and formation of oceans
God knew that the molten earth would form a livable environment for His creations. He watched patiently as a patchwork of plates formed on the surface of the molten core creating rocky layers on which He could place life.

Volcanoes exploded on the young planet and created an atmosphere of N2, CO2, CO, H2O. God knew that these gases would form his building blocks to life. God waited for the planet to be ready for life. God knew that he had placed the young planet the perfect distance from the sun in order to support life because water existed in the liquid, gas and solid state. God knew that this liquid state would be beneficial for life. God saw this and was pleased (4, 1, 6).

Day 3: Origin of Life
Finally God saw that the planet was ready and began to fuse the inorganic molecules on early earth and generate organic compounds. He watched as the organic molecules reacted with one another to form more complicated forms. He globed them together forming aggregates that were even capable of some functions of life; knowing that this would form the building blocks of His great plan. When the first single celled organisms showed themselves capable of metabolism and reproduction, God decreed that life had begun and was pleased (4, 1, 6).

Day 4: The Atmosphere is formed
All organisms affect their environment and are affected by it. What organisms metabolize and release affects their survival and that of other species. If there is high CO2 production, organisms that use it in respiration will have an advantage and will be more likely to reproduce. Therefore in order to pave a path for Oxygen breathing organisms, which are now some of the most abundant species on the planet, something had to alter the atmosphere of early earth. Under what are believed to be the conditions of early earth, cyanobacteria's metabolism allowed them to generate oxygen. Because there was nothing to consume Oxygen, the atmosphere became Oxygen-rich (6).
Day 5: The Dominance of Birds and Reptiles

DNA offers many different possibly outcomes to an organism based on minor changes. These minor changes occur naturally as a result of radiation and mistakes during replication. When these minor mistakes occur in the gametes (or reproductive genetic material) of the parents, they are passed along to offspring. Often these mistakes are detrimental to the survival of the organism, sometimes directly killing the organism or simply making it less able to survive. However, when they are beneficial the organism is able to breed more often than its counterparts, yielding more offspring and causing its mutation to be passed on to the future generations. A number of these mutation compounded over time generates a new species.

Evolution is the process by which slow change occurs over time to the genetic material. Organisms that survive better are more capable of reproduction. Organisms generally require a stabile environment in order to survive. Large bodies of water tend to resist temperature change and are capable of resisting change in nutrient concentrations and pH. Water also lends itself to easy locomotion. Because of this, it is likely that life began in the sea. Groups of cells congregated in unspecialized units, which benefited survival. A mutation in the genome of one of the cells caused it to become specialized. Because this specialization was beneficial to both the cell and the group of cells, more specialized cells were produced. This process generated multi-cellular organisms.

In the evolution of vertebrates, it is believed that protists created sponges. When a mutation caused both tissue formation and radial symmetry, these sponges created Cnideria and Ctenophora. Eventually bilateral symmetry was evolved and created Bilateri, which then generated protostomes and deuterostomes. Deuterostomes created vertebrates.

The conditions of earth 250 million years ago were conducive to the evolution of large reptiles referred to as dinosaurs, as they were the dominant species. At the time, the land on earth was concentrated into a super continent called Pangea. In the earliest time, this permitted dinosaurs to move around the continent completely and dominate the landscape. Early earth contained a large amount of land near the equator, which meant that it was warm. This was important as dinosaurs were cold-blooded creatures. Food was also abundant which allowed dinosaurs in the Jurassic age to grow to enormous sizes.

By the Jurassic age, Pangea had begun to split causing warm, mild and moist climates, which meant that plants which required moist environments, like ferns and mosses were able to grow. The first birds may have existed during this period having evolved during the Triassic period. It is believed that they evolved from an archosaurian reptile. They appeared similar to bipedal dinosaurs due to this lineage and the selection pressures of bipedal locomotion; in other words the result of coevolution. The earliest bird fossil was dated to have been from this period. Early mammals also evolved during this time; however, their numbers were likely small based on their presence in the fossil record.

Barriers to reproduction and a smaller genetic pool mean that one mutation will have a larger impact on the population. It also means that there may have been unequal representation of traits of the earlier population by simple chance so even if those traits are not selected for; the greater allele frequency will affect the appearance and evolution of the species. After the continents finally split and a greater amount of diversity began to exist between dinosaur species in the final period.

One of the best theories explaining the end of the dominance of dinosaurs is that of the meteor. A large crater exists in the Gulf of Mexico and a thin layer of concentrated iridium in the fossil record at the time that dinosaur fossils disappear both prove to be strong evidence. Iridium is rarely found on earth, however, it is commonly found in meteors. This explosion would have blocked out the sun creating an "impact winter". Since plants generate energy from photosynthesis, many plant species were killed. Dinosaurs were large creatures requiring large amount of food. When the plants died, it caused a chain reaction. Smaller animals were more capable of subsisting. The presence of smaller reptiles like crocodiles suggests this. Also dinosaurs required the heat of the sun to maintain stable internal body temperature; with this gone the cold could have killed them (2, 6).

Day 6: The Creation of Animals and Man
Without major predators, mammals were able to become a dominant species on earth. They had the traits best suited to surviving this type of situation and as such were able to reproduce better than others. They were smaller meaning that they required less food. They were capable of maintaining internal body temperature, which meant that they could survive in cold climates.

Chimpanzee-like ancestors led to the evolution of humans. It is supported by the study of differences and similarities in DNA, and it is thought that humans' and chimpanzees' evolutionary branch split around 5-8 million years ago. Since the earliest hominid fossils have been found in Africa, it is believed to be the "cradle of man-kind".

It should be noted that much of the fossil record of this evolution is incomplete and at least somewhat contested. It is believed that the link between hominid and chimpanzee is in the australopithecine stage. Since these animals would have represented immigrants to tree savannas, free of many predators, there was little selection pressure. This meant that they retained the long arms, short legs, small brain and sexual dimorphism of their ancestors, which is seen in their fossils. However, they did show a shift to bipedal locomotion, which may have allowed them to better survive in an area not as rich with vegetation as the rain forest, where they would have to move on the ground from tree to tree.

Changes in the environment placed selection pressure on the australopithecines. Around 2.5 million years ago, tropical Africa began to become more arid as a result of the ice age in the Northern Hemisphere. Trees in the savanna died as a result and bushes, which require less water, began to dominate the landscape. This made the animals defenseless against predators like wild dogs and hyenas. At this point huge genetic changes began to occur in populations although the scenarios are highly controversial. It is believed some populations survived using wits, throwing stones and sleeping near fires, as the trees that used to provide safety during rest had disappeared. Records show that the first flaked stone tools were invented at this time.

At this point brain size quickly grew and doubled in the Homo erectrus, as larger brains allowed for more of the creative problem solving that is believed to have allowed for their survival. Shorter arms and longer legs were selected for because the animals because better bipedal locomotion proved important without the safety of trees. This species was incredibly successful and spread around Africa and into Asia. It is known for making simple stone tools and the taming of fire. Its increased brain size placed selection pressure on the offspring to be born premature and defenseless in order that they fit through the narrow birth canal without killing the mother. Evidence of this is that the brain of a human infant almost doubles in size during its first year of life. This also placed selection pressure for females to larger, decreasing sexual dimorphism, in order to carry the infant for extended time periods. Brain size did not change much during their period 1.5 million years of existence.

Homo sapiens are believed to have originated in sub-Saharan Africa around 150,000-200,000 years ago. They spread throughout the world and are known for their highly developed culture. They have a larger brain than the homo erectus and has shown little change though out their 100,000 years of dominance. This larger brain must have had a large reproductive advantage because once again the increase in size was rather rapid suggesting large amount of selection pressure (2,6).

Day 7: The Human Mind: A Cultural Lens
The human mind is an amazing creation. The part of the brain humans use to think and analyze has no direct connection to the outside world. Information is relayed and processed, but one will never know what is "real" and what is not. The mind builds stories to explain the signals it is relayed. These stories build larger mosaics that allow humans the capacity to analyze the external world. However, the human lens is limited. We can only see what our experiences allow us. By this I mean that humans can only gather so much evidence to analyze at time and some evidence, especially of the past, may be gone. Therefore perhaps the difference in belief is not actually a difference in human desires but rather a different viewing lens.

Are these styles of story-telling really that different? Both are born only exist because of the way the human mind views the world. The first style uses intent; events serve a greater purpose but are not predictable except perhaps to the causative agent. Little explanation is given as to the reasons why things happen except to relate it back to something that is beyond human understanding. It is often presented as truth without room for questioning. The second makes an observation and tests that observation with more observations. It is always theoretical and highly revisable. It is simply meant to explain patterns in world in a way that can serve to benefit humans' interaction with their surroundings.

Looking at the stories more closely, both have the element of predictability; although science lends it self to constant revision for a more predictable pattern. When humans commit evil acts, God will punish them. When the plates of the earth move in a certain way, it will cause a flood. The movements of the plates can be measured and we can predict where the flood will occur slightly before it happens. However, neither story provides long term knowledge. At a distance science primarily consists of probabilities. In other words, if this happens then it will cause something else.

In the end these stories currently serve a similar purpose, to provide safety through their predictability. They provide explanation for events; which gives humans an element of control. Religion provides an all knowing God that will give each human their due in an after-life. Science provides ways that we can "know" and predict when danger is approaching; hopefully allowing people to escape. However, each is a story and neither can ever be proven true.

Science is fast becoming the new religion because of this feeling of safety is no longer as strong from religion. Humans feel unsafe without a truth to turn to. They are told that gravity, forces and evolution are all known facts. Even science texts like What Evolution Is enforce the idea that science is an ultimate truth (6). When there was even larger religious sentiment and fewer individuals being taught science, perhaps it was viewed differently.

This change in belief leads in a change of the lens. Humans will build a story based on their life experience around observations. Many creationists who exist now do not dispute the fossil record; however, their experiences in life make them desire that God be involved in everything. Therefore they take observations and make intelligent design (7). Humans with different experiences want a more detached and revisable theory. There is no evidence to them that God exists. There is evidence that things that may seem planned may only be following a simple natural protocol that has little to do with their actions. Examples of this include the termite game we viewed in class. They would prefer not to include god because there is not sufficient supportive evidence and because their theories are still valid without a creator. Also the presence of a creator is not a revisable element in the religious construction of a story, which makes it non-scientific.

Another difference in the story-telling style is the acceptance of chance. The goal of the scientific story is to eliminate as much chance as possible. Science attempts to realize that human perspectives will always impact the story that is generated by the mind. Therefore they want to leave themselves up to the chance that a more useful story will be made. It refuses to leave things up to fate or ideas of a time past. The religious story is more catastrophic in construction and leaving things up to wills that are beyond humans. It has a tendency to be concrete and not subject to argument or revision.

While both styles are similar in the fact that they provide safety through predictability they are different in that no element of science is ever true; however, there is likely some pattern that flows through the universe. Science gives humans more control over the earth because there is no causative agent that cannot be understood in the story. However, science is changing and losing objectivity. The story that forms is more akin to religion when this occurs.

An interesting point although perhaps unrelated is that this final section was simply another way to tell a story. It takes elements from both like science's capacity for dispute and change coupled with religion's use of a more abstract story that connects evidence. All these stories have been my lens but they are all so different in my eyes. Perhaps if I can tell each story, then they are not as different as I once thought. Perhaps I failed in my mission of contrasting the stories. If I did not, then is it only that we need to change our intent when writing in order to see the world from a different lens? The thing is that I really do not think that I can know the answer to that question yet it is the one that stands out in my mind as I think back on the course.

Works Cited
1) Carter, J. Formation of Earth, Conditions on Early Earth, Origins of Life. 1999. 29 March 2005. Accessed 11 May 2005
2) Freeman, Scott. Biological Science. Pretence Hall 2002 New Jersey
3) The Age of Dinosaurs. Accessed 12 May 2005.
4) King James Bible. Genesis Networks
5) LaRocco, C., Rothstein, B. The Big Bang. Accessed 12 May 2005
6)Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. Basic Books 2001. New York
7) Seeking Objectivity in Origins Science. Intelligent Design Network Inc. 2005. Accessed 11 May 2005

| Course Home Page | Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:48 CDT