THE EVOLUTION-CREATION THING
Evolutionary ideas make some people nervous, for their supposed religious or ethical or moral implications. This is a scientific geology site, but below is a little scientific and sociopolitical commentary that tries to explain why evolutionary ideas shouldn’t make one uneasy or nervous when talking about fossils, the fossil record, and biologic change through time.
What is evolution? It means change. That’s it. A more complicated definition is change through time. Geologists can talk about the evolution of nonliving systems, such as the oceans, the atmosphere, the continents, mountain ranges, etc. Earth’s atmosphere has evolved through time. Earth’s oceans have evolved through time. One can also talk about the evolution of life. Life has changed through time. A genetic definition of evolution would be change in allele frequency. A mathematical definition would be (dDNA/dt) (change in DNA through time).
Evolution is a fact. Change has happened. That’s a fact. Change is happening now - change is observable, recordable, demonstrable. That’s a fact. Evolution is a fact. Life has changed in the past and is changing now.
Evolution is also a theory (a theory in science is a rigorously tested hypothesis or set of hypotheses; a theory in science is one small step below absolute certainty; a theory in science is well beyond a reasonable doubt). The theory of evolution is a set of ideas that explains how and why evolution has occurred and is occurring, at the genetic level, the organism level, and the ecological community level. That doesn't change the fact of evolution, however (change has happened & is happening now).
Well, doesn’t the fact of evolution have inherent religious, moral, and ethical implications? Not necessarily. Don’t be nervous. Don’t be uneasy. Evolutionary ideas, and science in general, say nothing about the existence or nonexistence of God. Evolutionary ideas, and science in general, are not inherently anti-religion or anti-Christianity.
Well, aren’t there two sides to the issue of evolution? The evolutionism side and the creationism side? [creationism = anti-evolutionism]
First of all, evolution is not an “issue”. Many consider there to be two sides to every issue. Journalists are forced to think this. Well, not everything has two sides to it. Some issues have more than two sides. Even if evolution was an “issue” (it isn’t, however), there are more than two sides to it. How many viewpoints are there when it comes to evolution?
Off the top of my head, we’ve got the following:
- Flat-Earth creationism
- Geocentric creationism
- Young-Earth creationism (YEC)
- Old-Earth creationism (OEC) (there are several varieties of this)
- Intelligent Design creationism (IDC) (a false category)
- Evolutionary creationism
- Theistic evolutionism
- Agnostic evolutionism (there are two varieties of this)
- Atheistic evolutionism
This is definitely not a “two sides issue”.
Flat-Earth creationism holds that God created the Earth several thousands of years ago, and that the Earth is flat, not ~spherical. Clearly nonsense. Commentary isn’t needed.
Geocentric creationism holds that God created the Earth several thousands of years ago, and that the Sun goes around the Earth, not vice-versa. Clearly nonsense. Demonstrated to be wrong 500 years ago. Longer ago than that by some ancient civilizations.
Young-Earth creationism holds that God created an Earth that is round and goes around the Sun, but it’s only several thousand years old, not 4.55 billion years old as scientists have determined.
Old-Earth creationism holds that God created Earth long, long ago. Different OEC views claim different ages for Earth, but some include the 4.55 billion year age. Some OEC views hold that Earth is infinitely old.
There’s quite a bit of discussion out there about intelligent design creationism. First of all, IDC advocates refer to their ideas as “theory”. Wrong wrong wrong. IDC is anything but a theory. The misuse of the word “theory” is widespread in society, unfortunately. Journalists, politicians, and Hollywood chronically misuse the word. I’ve noticed many scientists misusing it as well. What it actually means is discussed above (see 4th paragraph). Evolution is a theory (it’s also a fact). IDC is not a theory. It’s an hypothesis that includes testable and nontestable aspects. The testable aspects have been shown to be wrong. The nontestable aspects are not part of science, by definition. IDC is not a theory. That’s not my opinion. That’s the way it is. (IDC advocates and some politicians and some legal people want to change the definition of science to get around all of this - they’re not allowed to do that.)
Secondly, I look at IDC a bit differently than most folks. I would suggest that IDC is a false category on the spectrum of views listed above. For one thing, not all IDC advocates say the same thing - there is no single, consistent message coming out of the IDC camp. If one just picks one IDC advocate, one usually finds different things being said to different audiences (it turns out that they engage in this dishonesty on purpose, for sociopolitical reasons - I’ve personally observed this with Jonathan Wells, for example). Some IDCs talk as if they are YECs. Some sound like OECs. Some sound like they’re evolutionary creationists or theistic evolutionists. The easiest way to deal with this confusion is to declare IDC a false category. That's what I do and that's what I would encourage others to do.
Apparently, evolutionary creationists believe that God created the Earth 4.55 billion years ago, accept that Earth is round, that Earth goes around the Sun, and that life has evolved on Earth just as the fossil record indicates. But, through geologic time, God has “tinkered” (in terms of miraculous or supernatural intervention) with the evolution of life on Earth along the way so that humans would appear as they are here & now.
Theistic evolutionists believe that God created the Earth 4.55 billion years ago, accept that Earth is round, that Earth goes around the Sun, and that life has evolved on Earth just as the fossil record indicates. But, through geologic time, God has not “tinkered” with evolution of life as it goes along. Rather, God set up physicochemical and biochemical laws at the creation of the Universe so that life would evolve on Earth the way it did, without having to “interfere” or “tinker” along the way (in terms of miraculous or supernatural intervention).
Agnostic evolutionists either know that there is no way to determine the existence or nonexistence of God, or aren’t sure if there’s a way to determine the existence or nonexistence of God. As such, there’s no way to know (it’s a “known unknown”), or it’s not known if there’s a way to know (it’s an “unknown unknown”), if God played a role with the evolution of life on Earth or not.
Atheistic evolutionists point out that there is no physical evidence for the existence of the supernatural. Many people incorrectly perceive that atheism is required in order to comfortably accept evolution. NOPE. As an example, the Catholic Church publicly acknowledges the excellent scientific evidence for evolution and has declared that the reality of evolution does not interfere with belief in God. You don’t have to be an atheist to accept evolution.
Evolutionism ≠ Atheism
Christianity ≠ Creationism
The point here is - there’s no such thing as two sides to the “issue” of evolution. Evolution isn’t an issue anyway. There’s abundant evidence for evolution (e.g., molecular chemistry, genetics, soft part morphology, hard part morphology, embryology, homologous parts, atavisms, vestigial organs, breeding/artificial selection, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, body-plan convergence, genome comparisons, and the fossil record). There’s NO evidence inconsistent with evolutionary theory. None whatsoever. But this doesn’t have inherent implications regarding belief in God - many theists accept the reality of evolution.
Some creationists or theists claim that various scientific findings (e.g., the “fine-tuning” of the universal constants [sic]) have demonstrated the existence of God. Nope. What does science say about religious beliefs? “No comment”. Science is based on facts & observations from nature. It's not based on beliefs. Never has been. Never will be. Whether you like it or not.
Some consider “belief” in evolution to be equivalent to a religious belief. It is not. The question “Do you believe in evolution?” is based on a false premise. Evolution is not something one “believes” in or not. This question has the same level of nonsense as the question “Do you believe that the sky is blue?” Well, the sky is blue whether you believe it or not. Evolution is real and is factual, whether you like it or not. No one “believes” or “doesn’t believe” in evolution - those aren’t options. One either accepts the reality of evolution or doesn't.
Some consider evolution to be a “belief” because it is not falsifiable (one of the criteria for ideas to be part of science). Well, that’s not so. If one found australopithecine fossils in the same sedimentary rock beds as Isotelus maximus trilobite fossils, then evolution is falsified. If one found Tyrannosaurus rex theropod dinosaur fossils in the same sedimentary rock beds as Dickinsonia costata Ediacaran fossils, then evolution is falsified. If one found one fossil bunny rabbit in the Precambrian, then evolution is falsified. There’s a nearly infinite number of ways to potentially falsify evolution. However, no one has yet found a single piece of evidence that falsifies evolution. Evolution is not a belief. Evolution is falsifiable.
Some don’t accept or like evolution because the concept is perceived to have inspired atheistic evil doers in history, for example Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler. Well, Hitler was Catholic and German soldiers were required to have references to God on their uniform. Several celebrities in history have “used” evolutionary ideas to promote everything from capitalism to pacifism to anarchy to socialism - that’s a wide-ranging spectrum. There is obviously NO trend there. Saying evolutionism inspires evil is as ridiculous as saying vegetarianism inspires evil.
Evolutionary concepts don’t have to make one nervous or uneasy. Just relax. Calm down. Appreciate evolutionary ideas for what they are - explanations for some of the most wondrously complex systems in the Universe.
Some suggested readings:
Benjamini, C. 1999. Religious faith and the geological sciences. in Evolution, investigating the evidence. Paleontological Society Special Publication 9: 381-391.
Dodson, P. 1999. Faith of a paleontologist. in The evolution-creation controversy II: perspectives on science, religion, and geological education. Paleontological Society Papers 5: 183-195.
Hyers, C. 1999. Common mistakes in comparing Biblical and scientific maps of origins. in The evolution-creation controversy II: perspectives on science, religion, and geological education. Paleontological Society Papers 5: 197-206.
Scott, E.C. 1999. Problem concepts in evolution: cause, purpose, design, and chance. in The evolution-creation controversy II: perspectives on science, religion, and geological education. Paleontological Society Papers 5: 169-181.
Scott, E.C. 1999. Science, religion, and evolution. in Evolution, investigating the evidence. Paleontological Society Special Publication 9: 361-380.