Evolution, now there's a thing. Discovering evolution must in itself mark the beginning of a new stage in our development as a species, since, having discovered the principle, we must soon be in a position to begin manipulating and exploiting it. How many generations it would take to breed humans with enough fingers on each hand and sufficient co-ordination of those fingers to play instruments with a 53-note octave, is admittedly a subject unlikely ever to attract serious research, but there are other avenues for exploration that might well attract the attention of someone in a position to offer a lucrative grant.
There is an interesting argument here between nakedcelt and members of his family about the evolution/creation debate, or at least, about the design/non-design aspect of the thing. And it’s an argument that you would think could easily be settled—possibly within the space of a human lifetime. (Incidentally, why does a naked Celt look so much like a naked Jewish rabbi in a bowling hat? Definitely Semitic—perhaps not necessarily Hebraic—cast of countenance there.)
The possibilities of extreme (but still functional) human polydactyly may not presently be open to investigation, but it should be possible to develop, say, flying animals out of animals currently earthbound, or aquatic ones out of relative landlubbers. After that we can look at improving ourselves and our distant descendants.
Cats are probably a good place to start. Easy to obtain, friendly to humans, more or less controllable, and breed at the rate of one new generation a year. If you intend to breed flying cats, it's probably a good idea to breed them blunt-clawed first. A cat that can inflict damage with the added impunity that wings would give it, will infallibly do so, unless you breed conscience into it as well.
It must be possible. If evolution is as random and undirected as it is claimed, it should be possible to speed it up hugely with intelligent planning. A co-ordinated research program would start with, say, 1000 cats and breed them. As the numbers grow, cats over a year old, and not currently pregnant or feeding kittens, would be frequently tested for their ability to jump a given slightly downward space. The 500 best jumpers of each gender would be kept in the programme, keeping the numbers of breeding animals constant. The rest can be neutered and given away to good homes. Females would be removed from the programme once they ceased having kittens. This culling represents an artificialisation of natural selection. Having the attributes conducive to eventual flight, such as light bones and convenient flaps of skin behind the front legs, raises an animal's chances of continued participation in the breeding programme. Initially, the aim would be to produce animals that can glide downwards over ever-increasing distances for a given height above ground. The next step would be controlled use of “wings” to change direction, swoop upwards, and take advantage of wind currents. The eventual goal would be full flight, with the capacity to take off from the ground.
How long would it take? If a female has an average 3.5 kittens a year (i.e. 1.75 for every cat, male and female), then it would take rather less than 5 years for cat numbers to multiply by 100, if they were unculled. This figure assumes that breeding animals continue producing annually during this whole period. If the population is kept constant, then those in the programme at this time represent the top 1% aerodynamically of number of cats that would otherwise have been born. 14 years would narrow this to .0001% (i.e. one in a million) of potential descendants. After 50 years, you would have a population representing one in about 10 ^ 22 of potential descendants (10 ^ 25 in all) of the original 1000.
If natural selection works over long periods of time, then artificial selection must work, even over a period as short as this, and even if you are obliged to select a significant proportion of animals in each generation on non-aerodynamic grounds to ensure the continuation of a viable, healthy, trouble-free population of animals. At the same time, we can be breeding marine mammals out of dogs in a similar way.
Two advantages can be expected from this sort of experimentation. First, once we work out how many generations of breeding it takes to breed an unlikely characteristic deliberately, we are in a far better position to gain a rough idea of how much time it would have taken to develop naturally, and whether this falls within the timescale indicated by the geological record.
Second, once we have run a few such projects, we can sort out the pitfalls, apply our discoveries to human development, and create the Übermensch.