Does Darwinian evolution affect our lives?
If evolution takes millions of years to occur and most of us won't even live to be 100, then how could it affect our lives in the slightest? Should we be more concerned about how things evolve within the time frame of our own lives rather than worry about things that are so far from us?
This question will probably bring out a few creationists! But here's my take.
Evolution may be important to us in a few ways. First, it needn't take quite as long as you state in your question. Modern humans, for instance, are less than a million years old as a species (according to most anthropologists). But even slow evolution may be important to understand in that it can give context to the present.
So, for example, if we consider the evolutionary effects of conflict between small groups, we may be led to consider the (disproportionately masculine) propensity to violence in a particular way--one that is different than if we consider that propensity to be purely a cultural thing.
Second, evolution--in the sense of adaptation within a species--can occur much more rapidly. The classic example is the English moth that was observed to change from a light coloration to a dark one for better camouflage as the Industrial Revolution deposited soot on trees. (I haven't heard whether it is now changing back with controls to fight air pollution!)
However, many species today are observed to be changing their habits, and even their body size, in apparent response to the warming climate we are now observing virtually worldwide. These changes may have very important ecological effects as warming proceeds--for instance, certain insects now hatch earlier than before, and the birds who depend on that hatch are now "out of sync" with their food source. Can they "catch up" in their adaptation? And if not, are they at risk for extinction?
Lastly, the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance is a growing public health problem--more and more of our antibiotic drugs are becoming ineffective as the bugs they are meant to fight develop immunity to their effects with long exposure. That's Darwinian adaptation, too--and it poses a policy problem that humans haven't solved too effectively for the most part. (Partly that's because the routine use of antibiotics in livestock production is just too profitable.)
Evolution doesn't work in years, it works in generations. So organisms with a short generation time (small mammals, bacteria, plankton etc) can show huge evolutionary changes within our lifetimes.
From day to day, evolution does affect us insofar as the evolution of drug resistant bacteria (so called superbugs) and pesticide resistant pests etc.
Overall however, I have met many people who have no understanding, appreciation or knowledge of evolution for one reason or another; they lead happy and fulfilled lives.
By that logic, we should not concern ourselves with fossils because learning about long extinct species has nothing to do with modern beings. However, we are inherently compelled to study fossils because there is nothing more human than learning as much as we can about the world we live in as it was, is, and will be.
As far as concerns evolution, I would assert that there is hardly a topic more fascinating than the process by which humans and every other life form came to be. Furthermore, evolutionary theory is very relevant to modern humans as it helps us to learn much more about our relationship to other apes, and groups of animals closely related to one another. In this way, we can gain a better understanding of all living life forms on the planet by comparing and contrasting more closely related species.
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