Saturday, September 29, 2007

Where does sex come from?

Why is sex important and where did it come from? I'll let you know right off the bat, that I'm not going to be talking about the sexual act. What I want to talk about is what preceded it and what comes afterwards, in evolutionary terms.

Scientists tell us that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old. And life is 3.4 billion years old. But sexual reproduction originated about 600 million years ago . That means that life was around for three billion years before sex came along. Before sexual reproduction, life consisted of bacteria and single-celled algae, which both reproduce by splitting in two.

When a bacterium reproduces it makes an identical copy of itself and then it divides into two. So, for asexual reproduction all that is needed are the basic ingredients of life: air, water, nutrients, energy, and DNA. What's interesting is what you don't need. When a bacterium reproduces asexually it doesn't need to relate to other bacteria, and it doesn't need to take care of the copy of itself.

Bacteria don't mature and they don't die either -- they just keep on dividing. No wonder it took three billion years for sex to develop: eternal life, no commitments, and at the first sign of responsibility bacteria can always say: "I'm splittin’."

For the purposes of this talk I'm going to define sexual reproduction as the production of offspring from two parents. Going from one to two changes the whole world. All of a sudden sex makes reproduction very complicated because it doesn't just require the elements of life that I mentioned previously. Now we're talking about a relationship between two parents, and a relationship between parents and their offspring, and the maturation of the offspring so that it too can become a parent, and then the inevitability of death. That's right -- the price of being able to reproduce sexually is death because once you start to mature you can't stop.

But where did sex come from? Somehow bacteria started relating to each other. They started to communicate -- they exchanged genetic material. And when they did that they were able to change their own genetic makeup. That's why bacteria can develop immunity to antibiotics so quickly -- because they can transfer the genetic material that confers immunity amongst themselves.... Smart little critters....

OK, but that's not real sex, so where did sex come from? I believe that sex is inherent in all life, from the very beginning, even though it was not always manifest. But I can't explain it in scientific terms, so instead, let me tell you a story:

When the solar system was created, at first there was no life on Mother Earth. She has had a long-standing relationship with Father Sun -- there has always been an attraction between them. But at first nothing came of it. We know that for sexual reproduction to work the prospective parents need to be in just the right relationship. Mother Earth and Father Sun had maintained just the right distance from each other. If Mother Earth had been any closer she wouldn't have been able to protect their offspring from the heat of Father Sun's rays. And if she had been any further away she wouldn't have been able to capture enough of Father Sun's heat to keep their offspring warm.

But in sexual reproduction the relationship isn't everything. You also need to reach a certain level of maturity. And here is where Mother Earth had to take the initiative. We know that females mature faster than males and I propose that this is because women bear more of the responsibility for raising children so they need to be ready sooner. It was just so with Mother Earth and Father Sun.

You just have to look at the way Father Sun treats everyone else to realize why this is. You see, Father Sun shines his light on everyone without fail. He can't help it. For all the light that he radiates he has no way to discriminate, no way to choose who to shine on and who not to shine on. Talk about ironic -- his light may be the origin of consciousness but he himself is blind and couldn't care less.

On the other hand, Mother Earth grew and physically matured. From out of her body arose the oceans and the atmosphere and these interacted to form perhaps her most beautiful feature -- the ever-changing patterns of weather. For she never appears the same from one day to the next.

Just as sexual reproduction requires two adults, the creation of life required both Earth and Sun. For without the continued outpouring of Father Sun's energy life could not flourish. The Sun is a dependable but a harsh father because he shines on everyone without mercy. His rays of ultraviolet light would kill all life without the protective blanket of Mother Earth's atmosphere. And just as a blanket keeps us warm by keeping the heat from our bodies from escaping, Mother Earth's atmosphere holds Father Sun's heat even when she has turned her back on him, which she does every night.

Thus, out of the enduring relationship between Earth and Sun, life came forth to clothe and transform the Earth into a being unlike any that the universe has ever known before. So different from either parent, the living Earth creates its own chemical, physical, and biological environments in a single evolutionary process called the web of life.

To answer the question, "Why is sex important?",
I bring your attention to three vital factors whose evolutionary development was only made possible by sex and whose qualities help to define both our humanity and our unity with all life. These three are: biodiversity, consciousness, and love.

Sexual reproduction first occurred roughly at the boundary between the Pre-Cambrian and the Cambrian eras from 500 to 600 million years ago. Before sex we have three billion years, during which single-celled creatures replicated asexually. After sexual reproduction becomes possible there is an explosion in the variety of life forms: from single-celled, to multi-celled, fungi, plants, animals: crustaceans, echinoderms, fish, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. All because when two parents reproduce sexually they create offspring that's different from either parent. This magical increase in genetic variety accelerates evolutionary change which, in turn, accelerates biodiversity.

It's obvious that asexual reproduction, which creates copies of the same creatures, (which is what happens in cloning) does not produce biodiversity except via mutations over fantastically vast spans of time. Sex changed all that, it made complex forms of life possible, it made human beings possible, and it made possible the wonderfully intricate interplay between the myriad of species which we call an ecosystem.

As we all know, there's logistics in sex, which we mostly take for granted but, when you think about it can be quite challenging. First you must be able to find and distinguish members of your own species. Then you must distinguish those of your own species who are members of the opposite sex from those who are of the same sex. Then you must choose a member of the opposite sex and communicate to them who you are such that they in turn can recognize you as a member of the opposite sex and make the appropriate choice.

Asexual creatures, on the other hand, don't have to go to all that trouble. They only need to recognize food or danger and they have no need to be recognized. But sex requires cooperation and communication and reciprocal recognition. These needs seem to point evolution in the direction of increasing powers of awareness and consciousness and to the development of love in humans and higher animals.

From the point of view of asexual reproducers these powers of consciousness, cooperation, communication, and love are unnecessary expenditures of energy. But the most wasteful of all is the goal of sexual reproduction, the production of offspring. Instead of simply making an identical copy of yourself you gotta nurture and take care of a baby. Pre-Cambrian critters must have been scandalized. Why make that kind of sacrifice when you could be immortal -- busy churning out copies of yourself forever and ever? A baby has half it's genetic material from somebody else. You're gonna grow old and die for that?

Whenever we see a baby we can't help but smile. We often feel joy. Sometimes a lot of joy. We can't help being interested in a baby, wanting to care for it. Babies grow up to be so different from either their mother or father. Maybe from the point of view of an asexual reproducer this is a scandal, but from the human point of view it's always a miracle.

Babies need to be protected, loved, and nurtured. Mothers do this naturally because they can't help loving their babies. Caring by it's very nature, spills over into caring for others and other kinds. We care about our children and our grandchildren and even about everyone else's children. We develop complex networks of cooperation between peoples who are not just our kin, to further the goals of caring. Indeed, we are here today because countless generations of people loved and cared for their children and families and fellow humans. Without sexual reproduction this would not be so.

We see a direction in evolutionary development which originates with sexual reproduction, such that sexual attraction which initially guides animals towards prospective mates leads to more enduring forms of love via the birth and nurturing of babies. We hardly ever see fish and amphibians caring for their young. Among reptiles, only alligators and crocodiles do this. But when we get to the higher animals such as birds we see them feeding their young and helping them to fly, and we see mammals caring for their young for extended periods of time. Only a handful of animals form enduring bonds of love: geese, who mate for life, elephants, killer whales, the great apes, and humans.

A mother bear will fiercely defend her cubs. She will stand her ground against bigger and more powerful males. But a father bear has no love for his cubs and will just as soon kill them as look at them. But something beautiful happens when humans arrive on the scene because not only does a mother love her child but a father does too. And unlike most other animals, children are capable of loving their parents even into their adulthood.

In humans affection and caring comes to transcend procreation as we develop deep relationships amongst family and friends. These relationships add to a web of social cooperation that makes up human societies. Our caring for others has come to transcend caring for ourselves and our offspring because our survival depends on cooperation with many others. But our consciousness is evolving even further as we come to realize that caring for our kind requires that we care about the entire web of life of which we are a part.

For, just as the evolution of sex was contained in the relationship between Earth and Sun, the evolution of consciousness is contained in the relationship between humankind and the entire web of life on Earth. The Sun shines on, indifferent to whether we live or die. But we are conscious. We can choose whether to create or destroy, whether to love or to hate. We have that power and that responsibility. Just as all life depends on the Earth and the Sun, our future depends on what we do with our consciousness.

7 comments:

  1. Sex was given to Adam and Eve by God as a wonderful way to show love and affection and to reproduce.

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  2. The evolutionary theory has gained wide acceptance as the scientific statement of the case, while the Biblical relevation of creation has been shrugged off as blind religious faith.
    However, by the concrete findings of modern physics, the theory of evolution is determined to be most unscientific. Physics teaches us that everything is energy in one form or another and that as time goes on, the amount of energy available to do useful work is becoming less and less. This is devolution, the opposite of evolution.
    While evolutions basic propositions are continuous creation and increasing levels of organization and complexity, the most basic laws of all physical science - the laws of thermodynamics - make it clear that energy is no longer being created and that there is a decreasing level of organization and complexity throughout creation. Therefore, on scientific evidence, the opposite to evolution is taking place.
    The only way we can really know anything about the origin of things is by divine revelation in Genesis. No human was there to record the event for us. Science, can only deal with what is observable and repeatable and so cannot make any statements on the subject of origins, a subject that is outside its province.
    Regarding the time it took for creation, "in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is (Exodus 20:11).
    So how do we answer the claims of geologists that fossils are millions of years old and predate Adam? According to Exodus 20:11, the oldest created thing can only be a maximum of five days older than Adam. Therefore the claims of geologists, their dates, are wrong.
    They have adopted wrong premises and they have made their calculations on a set of wrong (and totally unsupported)presuppositions. Every dating method of evolutionists is an exercise in circular reasoning. It says in effect, "We assume that evolution is true, and we produce this assumption as proof that evolution is true.
    In addition, often used dating methods, radiocarbon and potassium-argon methods, are based on assumptions regarding radioactive decay which has not been constant through time. Both of these methods have huge error factors and the dates produced can easily be altered by contamination.
    The crown of God's earthly creation was human beings. The immediate creation of God, not the last link in a billion year evolutionary chain. "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:27). From this one pair - Adam and Eve - and the wonder of sexual reproduction, the entire human race is descended.
    (Comment based on Dictionary of Theological Terms by Alan Cairns).

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  3. My problem with Creationism, besides the fact that it is completely preposterous, is that it stifles inquiry and intelligent thought. Instead of natural explanations for phenomena we get "God created it" or God gave (fill in the blank) to humans. That doesn't tell me anything. It doesn't further my knowledge. To believe in the literal truth of Biblical mythology is to keep yourself in ignorance. You can count me out. Cretinism is too high a price to pay for certainty

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  4. davidef said...

    "However, by the concrete findings of modern physics, the theory of evolution is determined to be most unscientific. Physics teaches us that everything is energy in one form or another and that as time goes on, the amount of energy available to do useful work is becoming less and less..."

    Actually, that's not true. There is (supposedly) a finite amount of energy in the universe, that transfers around the universe by means of gamma rays and solar wind and conversion of certain elements into another. It is never “lost”, but can move around – as the transfer of solar energy to our planet Earth from the Sun.

    And yes - the law of thermodynamics basically says matter and forms of energy are interchangeable, but some energy is "lost" through the process of change. That “loss” is usually pegged as inefficiencies between transfer of states of energy or matter. The energy is really not "lost", but some small portion is left unchanged in the previous form.

    Thus much fuel energy is transferred as heat (gas expansion and friction) in an internal combustion engine - and is therefore “lost” to perform kinetic work, by pushing pistons that rotate the drive train.

    In reality, the energy is not really “lost” – it’s just not an efficient transfer. Heat is the unwanted energy byproduct. Again, matter and energy (as a whole sum) is nether lost nor destroyed.

    davidef goes on further and states: “the most basic laws of all physical science - the laws of thermodynamics - make it clear that energy is no longer being created and that there is a decreasing level of organization and complexity throughout creation. Therefore, on scientific evidence, the opposite to evolution is taking place.”

    Since the “Big Bang”, technically - no “new” energy is being created or inputted into the universe, as a whole. However, on Planet Earth – we are constantly irradiated with “new” energy from the Sun. It is “new” to our planetary ecosystems (not to the Universe, as a whole). Whole new organisms have arisen throughout the fossil record, and many have since expired.

    I really don’t understand how this means that evolution is not functioning. Seems to indicate the opposite – evolution is an ongoing process.

    davidef goes on further, stating: “According to Exodus 20:11, the oldest created thing can only be a maximum of five days older than Adam. Therefore the claims of geologists, their dates, are wrong.”

    Hmm, well think about this:

    What was a “day” 6 Billion years ago? We typically define a “day” in planetary time as the revolution of 360 degrees about and axis for a planetary body. What was the earth doing then? Rotating at the same rate? How do we know? Since, as davidef correctly states: “No human was there to record the event for us”, even the concept of what a day is – is open for interpretation.

    In addition, time is relative to both the observed and the observer. The faster you approach the speed of light, the more time slows down for the observer traveling at near-light speed. If humans ever developed near light speed craft, only minutes would pass to those observers on the spacecraft, yet thousands of years would pass to those traveling at our current speed.

    What was the speed of the expansion of the universe at the time of the big bang? How fast were the planets traveling? What was time for the universe then as compared to now? What was a “day”?

    What was the original translation of the word “Day” from the Greek texts that commonly were the precursor to today’s King James Version of the Bible? Was it actually mistranslated as “day”, but should have been more correctly translated as an “eon”?

    Here’s one example of such a translation error: the Jewish texts state as one of the 10 commandments “Thy shall not murder” – not the commonly accepted Christian word “kill”. There is a subtle, but important difference in the 2 terms.

    That’s what I am getting at here – the commonly accepted Christian definition of the word “Days” in Genesis is a very littoral and narrow definition – that might be wrong.

    That’s why I find it very frustrating to have this kind of open discussion with people maintaining hard-core “creationist” views. I can’t help but wonder if they are afraid of being wrong in their interpretation of the bible.

    Yet, davidef continues and states that the large segment of society that depends upon science to develop answers about evolution are: “ They have adopted wrong premises and they have made their calculations on a set of wrong (and totally unsupported)presuppositions”.

    The only unsupported ones that I see - are those holding on tightly to their creationist views, irrespective of what science or common sense dictates. The Bible is full or parables (Jesus used this form of communication extensively) that indicate not necessarily an actual true story about a theme; but described a truth in a manner that the people of the time could easily understand and absorb.

    Did the people at the time know that the earth was not the centre of the universe? That the world was round and not flat? That time changes as you approach the speed of light? That a day might actually mean hundreds of thousand of years? I think not.

    So why are we even having this creationist/evolution argument today, given the very real and provable science?

    I really am at a loss to understand why – except to say that old beliefs can be hard to die – especially when a segment of the people who believe these things are more comfortable not questioning, but accepting beliefs handed-down to them. It’s a continuity of comfort, like handing down prayer beads from generation to generation.

    It’s safer not to question, but accept.

    I think the real argument creationists have with the theory of evolution is about the passage in the Bible: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:27)”. I think Creationists have their own view of what God should look like, and they think Darwin was stating that God was a monkey.

    I say - firstly it’s very presumptuous of anyone to assume they know what God should or should not look like; and secondarily, maybe this passage means that God gave humans the ability for compassion, forethought, and stewardship – a “Godly” view or image for sure.

    In addition, Darwin did not state that man evolved from monkeys. There are common ancestors of both types of organisms, which have been found and proven in the fossil record of some 4 million years ago. This is all provable and documented science and well accepted by most of the rest of the world – except for only the creationists.

    I think this suggestion that evolution (monkeys to man) was a political ploy used by high-up church officials to enrage and motivate the Christian public to reject any dogma not directly under church control – including the suggestion of a theory of evolution. Even in the time of Jesus, there was much of this kind of tomfoolery around the control of the institution of the Christian church. Not much has unfortunately changed there at times.

    I think it is time for Christians to throw off the dark cloak of the inquisition days and to accept that there are other views that are not wrong – in fact close agreement, dependent upon how one interprets passages from the Bible.

    I, for one, repudiate the old boys club of church control and doctrine where only their own narrow views control the masses from enlightenment and the pursuit of the truth. I think Jesus saw fit to encourage this approach during his time, as well.

    Dave R.

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  5. Hi Charles,

    I just had time to read this article with patient and found that it is quite interesting.

    It seems to me that those people who do not care about the future generations are still in the stage of “asexual reproduction”.

    I don’t mind if people believe that God gave the Nature to humans as long as they agree not to destroy the Nature. I would like to remind them that “humans” means “humans of all generations”. It is a crime against God if they try to screw around with the nature. Cutting down too much trees and burning too much fossil fuels are equivalent of killing the people of future generations.

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  6. Sorry, I forgot to say one more thing.

    Luckily, most people do care about their children, just as you have said in your article. That is why I believe that we still have a chance to win this battle. What we need to do is to get those people on board.

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  7. I'm glad you enjoyed the article Steven. It's definitely my favorite piece. I had a lot of fun writing it

    Charles

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