Creation Versus EvolutionCreation Versus Evolution: Part IA Balanced Perspective”Creation Versus Evolution.” What’s wrong with this title? Read it to yourself a few times, and then answer that question.We’ve all heard of the argument.
Creationism, the idea that God created all the species as they appear today, versus Evolutionism, the idea that all life evolved from simple bacteria to all the species that appear today, is a familiar controversy. Ever since Darwin first published the Theory of Evolution in his controversial 1859 book The Origin of Species, the debate has raged between religion and science.But this debate is something that has always puzzled me. From the time I first understood what the Theory of Evolution was really saying, I found it difficult to reject.
Scientifically, every shred of evidence in biology and genetics I have ever seen points to it, directly or indirectly. And religiously – Evolutionism does not contradict Creationism.Evolution is based on two underlying principles that themselves are not at all controversial: heredity and natural selection. Heredity is the principle that organisms pass on different combinations of their traits to their offspring. If an organism has strong traits that help it to survive, then its offspring are likely to possess some of those same strong traits and themselves be more likely to survive.
The second principle is natural selection, better known as “survival of the fittest.” According to natural selection, the organisms with strong, “fit” traits are more likely to survive long enough to reproduce than are the organisms with weak, “unfit” traits; thus over time, the strong organisms (as a species, or subspecies) will survive and the weak ones will die out. In this way, only the strong traits that help organisms to survive will be preserved over long periods of time.
For instance, all the long-necked giraffes that were able to reach food in tall trees were able to survive, while all the short-necked ones weren’t able to compete and died out.These two principles, taken alone, are not controversial. Most people seem to intuitively accept them as being true, because they make so much sense and because there is so much scientific evidence to back them up. However, when they are combined together in the Theory of Evolution, something happens. The assertion is made that, over time, species engaging in natural selection and passing on their genetic material through heredity will change their characteristics to adapt to their environment.
For instance, giraffes’ necks will grow longer so as to better enable them to reach food. Given enough time, one species may develop such different characteristics as its ancestors possessed that it becomes considered as another species. This assertion follows logically from the two principles of heredity and natural selection.Yet when this assertion is made, religious people start to object to it. Notably within Christianity, only conservative Protestants seem to take issue with Evolution; the more open-minded liberal Protestants find nothing wrong with the Theory, and the Catholic church officially recognizes Evolution as scientific fact.This is something I have always had difficulty in understanding.
I suppose that these fundamentalist Protestants believe that the idea that species change over time takes away from the meaningfulness of life. Particularly when you throw humans into the mix and make the claim that we evolve, just like the animals, they object that classifying us as “just animals” somehow dehumanizes us or makes us seem less special as God’s creation.Yet I’ve read Genesis, the first book of the Christian Bible, and there seems to be nothing in it which contradicts with the idea that species – even humans – change over time.
The Bible describes how life was created, but it does not specify what happened after that. Thus it is consistent with Biblical dogma to believe that after God created life, it evolved – either on its own or under the guiding hand of God – into the forms we see now. As I have stated in debate before, “The Bible says that God created life. Evolution explains how.”Thus Evolution does not contradict Creationism at all. People can easily believe both without contradicting themselves.
Creation Versus Evolution: Part II Examining the EvidenceThings that at first may appear contradictory can in the end mesh well together. For instance, when I first heard that some football players were taking ballet, I thought that the idea was absurd. Those two recreational activities were quite different from each other, I thought, and a big football player would surely not do well in dance as a light-footed ballerina – or vice versa when it came to the field. However, I soon learned that the two did go together; ballet helped the football players with their flexibility and grace on the football field and was an excellent way to keep in shape during the off-season.Such is also the case with the Theory of Evolution and the philosophy of Creationism. They are typically construed as opponent beliefs – hence the title of this series.
However, after studying both the science of Evolution and the theology of Creation, I found that the two ideas were not necessarily contradictory, and that they could fit together well. When viewed as an elaboration of Creationism, Evolution doesn’t contradict the Biblical conception of the origins of the Universe.Before the past 100 years or so, people generally believed that living species never changed – that they had appeared on the Earth in exactly the same form millions of years ago as they are found in today.
With Darwin, however, a new view came to dominate – the idea that organisms do change over time as they adapt to their environment. In other words, life evolves. As more and more evidence amasses, it has become clear that the latter view, Evolution, is the better representation of reality.From a scientific point of view, Evolution is nearly impossible to dismiss because of the sheer number of facts that support it. There are numerous examples of different species that bear remarkable similarities to one another and have adapted to fit with their various environments.
For instance, in his The Origin of Species, Darwin described a number of finches. Each species he observed was remarkably similar to the other species he saw, with the notable exception of their beaks. The finches that lived in the trees had long, thin, skinny beaks for fishing insects out of the trees. Those that ate nuts had big fat beaks for cracking open the nutshells. Those that drank nectar from flowers had narrow curved beaks to better allow them to reach the interior of the flowers. Those that ate fruits and vegetables had specially adapted beaks for that. In many cases, the only anatomical difference between these birds was their beaks.
Darwin believed that these birds, rather than each being created individually to be suited to its environment, had descended from a common ancestor, evolving differently over time in order to survive in their different environments. Thus Darwin’s finches pointed to the possibility of Evolution having occurred.An even more compelling argument in favor of Evolution stems from anatomical evidence. Though there are billions of different species that exist, each of them different and unique, each of those species from humans to bacteria is made of and depends upon the same four basic building blocks of life – amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, and the nucleic acids DNA and RNA. That DNA always contains the same four base-pairs adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine, no matter which organism’s cellular nuclei that DNA is found in. These striking similarities can best be explained by evolution from a common origin.
Also, found in many organisms are vestigial structures – organs that do not seem to be needed for any purpose. For instance, in our own bodies, the appendix does not serve any purpose. If species do not change over time, such structures seem like unnecessary ornamentations – pointless additions just taking up space. However, Evolution proposes the explanation that such vestigial organs once served a purpose in humans, but since then we evolved to the point that we no longer need them.Fossil evidence in the geological record is also strongly suggestive of Evolution.
As Kimball’s (1983) Biology, 5th edition textbook observed,”With rare exceptions, fossils are not the remains of organisms still found living on the earth. How, then, can we explain their existence and the existence of all the species today, which do not show up in the fossil record? A series of special creations followed by worldwide catastrophic extinctions has sometimes been given as the explanation. The theory of evolution provides a more satisfying answer, however.
The idea that all organisms alive today share a common ancestry at some period in history implies that there were fewer kinds of living things in the past and that these were less complex. This describes the fossil record very well.”One of the most direct indications that Evolution does occur is industrial melanism, the gradual darkening that has taken place over the past 100 years in 10% of the 700 species of moths in British Isles. Since the Industrial Revolution and the advent of significant widespread air pollution, these moths have been getting darker. This allows them to blend in against the bark of tree trunks in these industrialized areas, which have been blackened by the soot from this industrial air pollution. This is perhaps the most direct evidence we have that Evolution does occur.
Despite this evidence, Evolution is heavily contested. One argument that has been levied against Evolution is that humans did not descend from apes. Contrary to popular opinion, Evolution does not maintain that we are descended from apes.
Instead, it asserts that we and apes are both descended from a common ancestor, which would make us somewhat akin to distant cousins.Still, an informed Creationist might argue that humans are distinctly different from apes and other primates and therefore we are not related to them. Through examination of the fossil record, this is easily disproved.
As the website www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/cre_args.html observes,”Ifcreationism was true and there was a large gap in the fossil record between humans and apes, it should be easy to separate hominid fossils into humans and apes. This is not the case.
As will be shown, creationists themselves cannot agree which fossils are humans and which are apes. It would not matter even if creationists could decide where to put the dividing line between humans and apes. No matter where it is placed, the humans just above the line and the apes just below it will be more similar to one another than they will be to other humans or other apes.”From the chart shown, can you tell which is human and which is ape? There is no clear dividing line, indicating that a slow, steady change from apelike primates to more sophisticated hominids like homo sapiens is far more likely than the existence of an immutable distinction between “us” and “them” which has always existed from the beginning of time.
Another argument against Evolution is a terminological one that comes unraveled once the terms are clarified. When comparing Evolution with Creationism, the ignorant often say, “Evolution is just a theory,” thinking that this is somehow a valid argument against Evolution. In technical terms, evolution is a theory, in that it has not been “proven” directly by observational evidence and has not been advanced to the status of a law. However, being the status of a theory does not mean that an idea is somehow doubtful or lacking in evidence.
In fact, to construe Evolution as “just a theory” can backfire on Creationists, since an opponent could then turn back on them and accuse Creationism as being “just a belief.” In terms of theoretical constructs, there are three levels: Laws, Theories, and Beliefs. First are the certainly true Laws like the Law of Gravity. Below them, hierarchically speaking, are the possibly true Theories like the Theory of Evolution.
On the bottom are Beliefs like the belief of Creationism, which by definition are as likely to be false as they are to be true since they do not necessarily have any evidence or reasoning to support them.Thus, when the evidence is examined, it becomes difficult for a scientist to dismiss the theory of Evolution.However, there is also Biblical evidence that is consistent with the theory of Evolution.Creation Versus Evolution: Part III A Biblical PerspectiveWe’ve all heard of the argument as this debate has raged between religion and science. Creationism and Evolutionism are typically construed as opponent beliefs – hence the title of this series.
However, this is puzzling, because the two ideas are not necessarily contradictory. When viewed as an elaboration of Creationism, Evolution doesn’t contradict the Biblical conception of the origins of the Universe. As I have stated in debate before, “The Bible says that God created life.
Evolution explains how” (see Creation Versus Evolution: Part I).From a scientific point of view, Evolution is nearly impossible to dismiss because of the sheer number of facts that support it. Darwin’s finches; anatomical evidence found in the building blocks of life, the base-pair sequences of DNA, and vestigial structures; fossil evidence in the geological record, and industrial melanism all provide compelling evidence for the theory of Evolution.
Despite this evidence, though Evolution is heavily contested. One argument that has been levied against Evolution is that humans are distinctly different from apes and other primates and therefore we are not related to them. Yet the fossil record shows no clear dividing line between “us” and “them.” Another argument, that “Evolution is just a theory,” doesn’t hold up to logical scrutiny, either.
Thus, when the evidence is examined, it becomes difficult for a scientist to dismiss the theory of Evolution (see Creation Versus Evolution: Part II).However, there is also Biblical evidence that is consistent with the theory of Evolution. Additionally, there is evidence in other religious texts than can be construed to support the theory on religious grounds, but since the majority of Creationists in this region of the country are Christians, I will use Christianity’s religious text, the Bible, to demonstrate this point.
This is an argument that has not been explored to a great deal because of the controversy surrounding the theory in religious spheres. Usually, the arguments put forward in favor of Evolution are scientific ones. Unfortunately, with scientists scientifically arguing for Evolution, and theologians theologically arguing for Creationism, they often just end up talking past one another, without ever directly addressing one another on common ground. As a result, they can end up arguing about different things when in fact they don’t necessarily disagree with one another.
The first book of the Bible, “Genesis,” is usually cited as the origin of – and evidence for – the Creationist argument. In the Creation story, God created the Universe in six days. As the first chapter of “Genesis” states:On the fifth day of Creation, God commanded, “Let the water be filled with many kinds of living beings, and let the air be filled with birds.” So God created the great sea monsters, all kinds of creatures that live in the water, and all kinds of birdsThen on the sixth day of Creation, God commanded, “Let the earth produce all kinds of animal life: domestic and wild, large and small” – and it was done. So God made them all, and he was pleased with what he saw. Then God said, “And now we will make human beings.
” (“Genesis” 1:20-21, 24-26)There are two important points brought out in the Creation story which are directly relevant to Evolution. First, the Creation story maintains that all life on Earth came from a common source – God. Second, it establishes an order in which living things were created – first water creatures, then birds, after that animal life (in scientific terms, mammals), and finally humans. Later in the next chapter, “Genesis” gives more detail about how living things were created:And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the groundAnd out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every treeAnd out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air.
(“Genesis” 2:7, 9, 19)The Bible specifies that man – and conceivably all life – originated out of the elements of the earth.Now put these assertions in the context of the theory of Evolution. The Bible says that all life comes from a common source – God. Evolution also maintains that all life comes from a common source – the first life (which a Creationist would argue came from God).
The Bible says that less advanced creatures such as fish were created before more advanced creatures such as humans. Evolution maintains this exact premise, proposing that these less advanced creatures evolved into the more advanced (more evolved) creatures. The Bible also says that life originated from the elements of the earth. Once again, Evolution agrees, specifying that those elements are ammonia, methane, hydrogen, water, and the organic components like carbon and lipids that they form.Put into this perspective, it becomes apparent that someone can simultaneously believe in both Creationism and Evolutionism without being logically contradictory.Two points bear mentioning here.
First of all, this argument presented here does not address the Big Bang theory – another point of contention with Creationists, and an argument that Creationists frequently bring into play when arguing against Evolutionism even though the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution are two distinct scientific theories. This is another indication that Creationists are often arguing past rather than against Evolutionists, contending against their misconception of Evolution rather than against what Evolution is really saying. Here, to avoid opening up a whole new issue, I will not attempt to address Creationists’ objections to the Big Bang theory, but will limit myself to discussing the Creation/Evolution issue. Secondly, the above argument assumes a figurative interpretation of the Bible. Taken literally, the Biblical conception of Creationism does conflict with the Theory of Evolution.However, the Bible is not meant to be taken literally. A literal interpretation of the Bible makes the text rigid, narrow in scope, outdated, and in some cases ludicrous.
On the other hand, a figurative or metaphorical interpretation of the text leads to a vibrant, versatile, widely applicable manual, rich with hidden nuances of meaning, true on many levels, and which can be applied to a wide variety of situations, even nearly two thousand years after the last of its books were written. Therefore, to a logical person who believes in the Bible, it only makes sense to interpret it figuratively.Most modern Christians, in fact, seem to do this. For example, Genesis maintains that the earth was created in six days.
We know through scientific evidence that this is not true, and few Creationists would argue that it is literally true that God created the earth in 144 hours (6 days x 24 hours/day), or the time it took the earth to rotate on its axis six times. Yet Creationists do not believe that the Bible erred in this statement, either, but instead believe that the reference to “one day” referred to a heavenly day, or a day for God, the duration of which is believed to vary widely. This figurative interpretation has led to a reconceptualization of that aspect of the Creation story – something that is enriched by, rather than opposed to, scientific evidence.Such is also the case with the theory of Evolution.
Taken in conjunction with scientific evidence, the Creation story is enriched by – not threatened by – the Theory of Evolution.At the dawn of a new millennium, science, because of its methodical and logical approach to the world, is an established presence that is accepted almost as a religion itself. On the ideological battlefield of beliefs, science is a vast army. In this context, members of established religions such as Christianity are army members who have a critical “tactical” decision to make.
If they decide to oppose what science teaches, then they have a formidable opponent – one they are not likely to overcome, if history is any indication. On the other hand, if they embrace science and use it to shore up their own teachings, then they have a powerful ally, and are more likely to survive for millennia to come.Creation and Evolution: Part IVYour PerspectivesSeveral weeks ago, the IUK Correspondent published a four-part article series on Creation Versus Evolution. It was a controversial series, but it was one of the most popular and commented-upon segments the Correspondent has presented. Unfortunately, due to a small oversight, Part IV, “Your Perspectives,” was cut off halfway through the article, and about half of the article was omitted.
Some of IUK’s response to the article series was never heard. We apologize for having kept you in suspense for so long. Now, though, for the first time, the Correspondent is publishing the entire article, “Creation and Evolution: Part IV: Your Perspectives.
” Read it for yourself, and then decide: can Creationism and Evolutionism really coexist?* * * *In writing the article series “Creation Versus Evolution,” I tried to cover as many different relevant perspectives as I could in such a short amount of space. In order to cover this topic more completely, a book would be a much better medium. However, because I was confined to the spaces of a few newspaper articles, there were many aspects of the debate I was unable to cover, or was only able to cover in the most superficial depth. Many of you that E-mailed me pointed this out and had good comments. Where appropriate, I tried to work these issues into my discussion, and I made it a point to at least respond personally to each E-mail sent to me.
Reaction to the series varied widely from enthusiastic approval to strongly opinionated disapproval. Several people stopped me to say they liked the articles. Several people mentioned that they enjoyed the Correspondent’s tackling of a difficult issue and the balanced perspective I (tried to) give. One even went so far as to say that my “arguments and presentation are as good as any I have ever heard/read in a similar amount of time/space.
” On the other hand, the series was cause of concern for others; some individuals even offered to pray for me, apparently thinking me in some danger. “You’re wrong” was the strongest sentiment levied against the articles. This was not surprising; though I did my best to present a balanced perspective that both Creationists and Evolutionists could seemingly accept, my arguments did ultimately support the Theory of Evolution.
The responses I received brought out an interesting distinction within Creationism – a distinction between Pro-Evolution Creationists and Anti-Evolution Creationists. The Pro-Evolution Creationists tended to express approval of the series and of the merger between scientific fact and spiritual faith. As one respondent put it, “I believe in the total truth of God’s Word, AND I cannot deny my observation of the adaptation of organisms via genetic variance/mutation and natural selection evolution – the two beliefs are NOT mutually exclusive and do NOT tend to contradict.” Such people seemed to enjoy my middle-of-the-road approach, proposing a compromise between the two opponent viewpoints of Creationism and Evolutionism. The Anti-Evolution Creationists, on the other hand, did not even like this moderate approach. These people were my toughest audience, and try as I might to reason with them, they could not bring themselves to see another viewpoint different from their original, extreme Creationist (and Anti-Evolutionist) position. For them, compromise was not an option.
As I was writing the series, it was brought to my attention that this is not the first time the IUK Correspondent has dealt with the issue of Creation and Evolution. In April of 1996, an article entitled “Evolution: A New Explanation” was published by IUK graduate Maureen McCarthy, in which McCarthy asserts, “There is no need to choose between believing in scientific evidence and believing in God. True religion and true science are in harmony, because they have as their objective the investigation of different aspects of the same Reality. One truth cannot contradict another truth.” I couldn’t agree more with McCarthy’s conclusion. However, in that article, McCarthy presents another viewpoint which seems to misrepresent Evolution:I’ll begin with a question: Why is it that although a human embryo at first resembles a fish, and later on a pig, no one waits anxiously to see if a pregnant woman is going to give birth to a fish, a pig or some other nonhuman life form? The answer is that everyone knows that from the beginning a fertilized human egg is pre-programmed to develop into a human infantMan’s development as a species reflects his development as an embryoThough man clearly has changed over the millennia, he has always been a distinct speciesTherefore, man is not and has never been merely an animal, and chimpanzees and gorillas will never “evolve” into the condition of “humanness.” (IUK Correspondent, April 29, 1996)McCarthy is correct in her assertion that embryos are predetermined to become whatever species they are a member of, and that an individual gorilla will never evolve into a human being.
However, Evolution does not assert anything to the contrary of this. Take an immortal monkey and watch him for a few million years. He may learn some pretty neat tricks, but he will never evolve; he will always be a monkey.
If you think that Evolution predicts that this monkey will evolve eventually, then you do not understand the Theory of Evolution. Evolution does not occur on the individual level, but only on the species level. Offspring are always a little different from their parents, and over time, these differences may focus in a particular direction (for instance, humans have been getting taller over the past several hundred years). Given enough time, these differences may become so great that what was once Species A has now changed so much as to be able to be classified as a completely different species, Species B.
However, this only occurs on the species level; not on the level of an individual. In other words, we as a species are evolving (at an imperceptibly slow rate), but you (or I) as individuals are not evolving. Our genes have been determined since we were embryos, so though we may gain or lose weight, or grow taller or shrink shorter, or our hair color may change, we will always be human beings, even if we were to live for ten million years. (In McCarthy’s defense, after speaking with her, I do not think she was asserting what she seemed to be asserting in her article; however, that point bears clarification.)An even more important point bears mentioning as well. Dr. Michael S.
Finkler, Assistant Professor of Biology at IUK, brought up a salient point in one of his E-mails to me – one that I had not yet mentioned in the series:People do not believe in creationism because they find it the most logical, plausible explanation for their existence. Rather, they believe in it because they BELIEVE in it – it is part of a mindset, a perspective on life derived from their cultural and upbringing that gives them meaning and purpose in their worldly existence. The reason they become so reactionary and feel so threatened by the concept of evolution is because it calls into question one aspect of their belief system, which in turn can lead to doubt about other, more fundamental aspects of their worldview (“if I am mistaken about this, what else am I mistaken about?”). Questioning your own fundamental beliefs in this way can be quite traumatic, disastrous in some circumstances. Thus, people react in such negative ways because they feel threatened.This touches on one of the things I find most enigmatic about the Creation/Evolution debate – the puzzling Anti-Evolutionism of many Creationists. Evolution can support Creationism, if viewed as I have described it in this article series. It is a scientifically valid, factually based theory which proposes a logical mechanism by which the Creation of life occurred. When viewed in this light, Evolution gives mechanism and meaning to God’s Creation. It gives factual support to an otherwise very dubious theory, and it gives a reason to believe in Creationism – a logical reason, other than faith, but one which in no way displaces or precludes that same faith.To react with such fear and narrow-mindedness to this “new-fangled” idea of Evolution, then, belies a fundamental problem with the Anti-Evolution Creationist viewpoint. These Creationists react with fear to this different way of thinking about the origin of life not because this different way is wrong, but because these Creationists are afraid that they are wrong in their beliefs. Secure Creationists who are confident in their faith have no reason to feel at all threatened by the Theory of Evolution; they are free to embrace it as just another argument for their faith. I believe that it is only the insecure Creationists who are Anti-Evolutionists, because on some level they realize that their faith is weak – that maybe their narrow view of things isn’t the only “right way” to look at the world.But, as Comedian Dennis Miller (and any scientist concerned with the truth) would say, “That’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.”