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Evolution

Righty: The theory of evolution (emphasis on theory) is incompatible with the account of creation handed down to us via God’s own Word in the book of Genesis. The Bible clearly states that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. That hardly leaves time for the vast parade of prehistoric creatures that supposedly romped around the Earth a hundred million years ago, according to the mythology of evolutionists and nonbelievers. Those fossils may have been deposited at the time of the Flood, or they might have been fudged by overambitious paleontologists. (Amazing, the way they can recreate an entire creature from a single neck bone!) We don’t necessarily believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old (the Bible doesn’t provide us with specific dates, after all), and it could be that a “day” at the dawn of time was considerably longer than a day is today. But we do believe in the Bible, and the Bible makes it clear that God created the fishes, the beasts, the “fowls of the air,” and “every thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Finally, He created man. How could anything so mindbogglingly complex as man — or even a housefly — be the result of mere accident? Evolutionists are asking us to take an awful lot on faith.

Lefty: Mythology has no place in science. In fact, it has been the mission of science since its ancient beginnings to lift the veil of the supernatural from the inner workings of life and matter. As hard as this may be for Righty to accept, the Book of Genesis is just one of the many creation myths fabricated by primitive tribes to explain the mysteries of the universe. The evidence for evolution is so overwhelming that only the most ignorant Bible thumpers continue to reject it. (Unfortunately, those Bible thumpers continue to hold sway in the vast hinterland between the East and West coasts… Jesusland, as one inspired cartoonist dubbed it.) How can these imbecilic rubes continue to deny what paleontologists have uncovered in layers of rock dating back hundreds of millions of years? How can they fail to notice the striking similarities between man and chimp? Righty and his obstinate brethren are in serious denial. If they still can’t admit that we’re descended from apes, the rest of the world can clearly see that they are — and that they haven’t evolved very far from their simian origins.

The New Moderate:

Nobody with any sense still believes that the great parade of creation marched from nothingness to Adam and Eve in six days. We can give the Bible some latitude here and there; we can interpret the “days” as epochs that correspond roughly to the geological ages, or we can wonder if the Genesis account of creation was meant to be viewed as a myth all along. But the evidence for evolution is impressive. We can look at a fossilized archaeopteryx and immediately see the missing link between dinosaurs and birds. With a little imagination, we can understand how the modern horse developed from a cat-sized critter known as eohippus.

So how did primitive life diversify into the millions of astonishing forms we see around us today, all without divine assistance? Darwin’s theory of natural selection offers a brilliant (and brilliantly simple) explanation: mutations that popped up in our genes conferred advantages that enabled the lucky mutants to attract desirable mates, prosper in their native habitats, or exploit new niches that no comparable creature had exploited before. A small dinosaur born with membranes that enabled it to glide through the air might be able to evade predators (and find prey) more easily than its earthbound cousins. It would live longer and presumably raise more offspring, several of whom would share its ability to glide. Those gliding offspring would prosper, and so on down the line. Eventually some of them would produce descendants that could flap their wings and stay aloft for hours at a time. That’s progress. That’s evolution.

Natural selection is essentially free-market capitalism as practiced by plants and animals. Individuals, species and businesses that develop useful new widgets will be more likely to perpetuate themselves through time. Those that fail to adapt are destined for the compost heap. Like business, natural selection is totally amoral: it favors the opportunists.

It all makes sense, but I’ve noticed a few loose ends. How do you account for the development of new traits that don’t seem to confer any evolutionary advantages? (Wouldn’t we have survived and reproduced just as readily without eyebrows, for example?) And how do you explain the evolution of something as complex as a circulatory system? A partial circulatory system would be of no use at all; blood vessels have to reach every living cell, or clumps of tissue would start sloughing off in a disgusting and probably fatal manner. How could any creature have developed even a primitive circulatory system as the result of a single mutation? Correct me if I’m wrong, but evolution alone seems powerless to explain it.

I’m not proposing that God or even some nameless Intelligent Designer engineered the first circulatory system, though I refuse to shut the door on those possibilities. It’s just that the visible world doesn’t always fit neatly into prepackaged theories — even one as beautiful and widely accepted as the theory of evolution. Religious skeptics probably shouldn’t take so much of their science on faith.

Summary: The theory of evolution explains most (but not all) developments in the history of life. We should be willing and able to question science as readily as we question religion.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. Shiroi permalink
    November 24, 2009 8:49 pm

    Hey, Rick, on the useless traits problem, my guess is that there are two possible explanations: first, some traits are there not only to confer physical advantages, but also to cater to certain aesthetic standards among species.

    A primitive man without eyebrows would have been considered quite ugly by his kin, not to mention that the genes determining the presence of brows could be related to those that determine the presence of bodily hair in general – further supporting such a theory.

    The second explanation, in my opinion somewhat weaker, is that such useless features – the appendix, for instance – could be vestigial, having had another function in the past. The koala and several other primates have a large appendix – humans, on the other hand, have a small and virtually useless one.

    An explanation for this is that the food that koalas eat has substantially more cellulose than human nourishment – cellulose is a difficult protein to break and requires more time for hydrolysis as well as more enzymes.

    On the circulatory system. . .I’ll speak more later. Cheers.

  2. November 25, 2009 12:06 am

    Shiroi: Perceptive comments, as I’d expect from you. After I wrote this discussion (about two years ago), I thought some more about eyebrows. Granted, we don’t need them for survival. And yes, a human without eyebrows might be considered ugly (but only because of cultural norms we’ve developed.) But then I realized that eyebrows are the most expressive visual signs of our emotions; they help others in our group “read” us (and bond with us) more easily. So maybe they do confer an evolutionary advantage. I’ll be curious to see what you have to say about the evolution of circulatory systems. (I still like to think that somewhere in the depths of the body we’ll find a complicated anatomical feature that can’t be explained through natural selection.)

  3. Taliesin Knol permalink
    January 6, 2010 3:33 am

    No! you can’t “give the Bible some lattitude” when a supposedly perfect thing is proven wrong, ALL is suspect. If you sanctimoniously claim you can’t be wring about everything, but OBVIOUSLY are, you loose your credibilty. If you believe in the tooth fairy, you’re an idiot, dito for Santa, Athena, and God. The willful ignorance and hatred of rationality is a symptom of the averall madness of religion. And don’t call me arrogant for claiming I’m right and a billion odd people are wrong on the basis that I can’t possibly know this, because of I can’t, then neither do they. The difference, I know I’m fallible, they deny that simple truth. (Don’t get started on original sin either, waste of my ONE life) Science is probably right is far less arrogant than “I’m right because I belive that, and you go to Hell if you don’t agree with how I see it”

  4. January 8, 2010 7:22 pm

    TK: It’s just as wrong to be certain about atheism as it is to be certain about the Bible. The simple answer is WE DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER. There might or might not be a God. (Chances are he’s not the God described in the Bible.) Parts of the Bible are obviously wrong, but it’s a logical fallacy to assume that because parts of it are wrong, the entire Bible is wrong.

    Anyway, we’re talking about evolution here. All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t put blind faith in evolutionary theory any more than we should put blind faith in Genesis. Yes, evolution explains most biological developments, but I’m still not convinced that it explains everything. (Example: Where did life gain the urge to reproduce in the first place?)

    • Taliesin Knol permalink
      January 8, 2010 9:09 pm

      There is no God, but there might be a god. (Note the capitalization) But no evidence suggests that there could be either. Atheism might not be correct, but it definetly is the sanest. You can’t have “faith” in evolutionary theory, because faith is believing something wothout proof. You can trust in the logical arguments and evidence for evolution, but faith is vestigal when you have facts. You still need an understanding that you also might have the facts wrong. To the last argument, life gained the urge to reproduce because it’s a base instinct, and all creatures that lacked that gene, died out. Plus, it’s a fun way to pass the time…

  5. Taliesin Knol permalink
    March 8, 2010 11:41 am

    Hey Rick, how about a discussion about the “merits” of Intelligent Design, that’d be a fun argument. :)

  6. valdobiade permalink
    March 9, 2010 4:47 pm

    What is funny about these kind of discussions (theistic vs. atheistic) is that parities that participate end their arguments somehow with these words:

    ” No, no. You don’t understand. There aren’t debatable arguments here. See, on one side there’s me being right, and on the other side there’s you being an idiot.”

    In the end, even if some people may change their views, practically there is no change. At most they can change from atheist SOB to theist SOB and vice-versa. SOB being a permanent trait. :)

    • March 9, 2010 9:52 pm

      And both sides end up angrier/dumber! ;)

  7. valdobiade permalink
    March 10, 2010 3:48 pm

    Yyyyep! Cuz I am agnostic :)
    Agnostics have no SOB trait :)

    • March 10, 2010 7:09 pm

      The general consensus (by which I mean Wikipedia) is that agnosticism is a “weak” form of atheism, because you still don’t technically believe 100% in god(s)/God. ;) While you might not have the (a)theist SOB trait, you have the “can’t make up my mind” trait, which, of course, infuriates us SOBs. :0

  8. March 10, 2010 6:00 pm

    What do you call someone who sort of believes in God, but isn’t sure… but more or less rejects the primitive ancient manmade God depicted in the Bible? (That would be me — the sort-of believer, not the ancient manmade God — just to clarify.) Maybe you’d call me an agnostic Deist. It gets complicated.

    • March 10, 2010 7:32 pm

      Agnostic Deist sounds about right. How about; Jack of some beliefs, slave to none? (so does complicated) Not a theist, but doesn’t wholly disbelieve in god(s). Open minded? Reasonable, more polite? Uncertain? Humble?

      I got tired of constantly going over; do I/don’t I/should I, and just went with NO. It worked for me, can’t say that about everyone. Going over the Human history, particularly religions and their arguments*, as well as a growing understanding of scientific Law and Theory helped me reach my decision. I decided I’d discount things that couldn’t make sense or ever be proved/disproved. I respect Deists (Founding Fathers!) far more than theists because of the lack of organized religions. (“Your Personal relationship with God**”) The idea of a god(s) is kinda nice, or least uncorrupted.

      *http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2FskTKrx40&feature=related

      **If you abandon individuality, hate what we hate/like what we like, or you can go to Hell.

    • June 12, 2013 6:50 pm

      What do you call someone who “sort of” believe in God? Fickle. Believe is required to open the spiritual sense. As long as you are on the edge, your faith and relationship with God can never grow.

  9. valdobiade permalink
    March 10, 2010 9:31 pm

    Well, agnosticism comes in many flavors like religions and scientific theories, and as Rick says :”It gets complicated”.
    My kind of agnosticism consist mostly in my stance of not participating in hot discussions about theist or atheist views. When I say “I don’t know” or “I am not sure”, I may look “weak” but at least I am “strongly sure” that I don’t know for sure :)

    I used to be atheist until there was this idea that atheists *believe* that there is no god. I don’t believe that there is or not a god.
    I was also a defender of my view on Christianism until I said :” If god cannot defend itself, why should I?”

    Sometime I use :”Oh my f—-g god”, but somebody told me that if I use this kind of swear is because I believe there is a god. So… I don’t swear on any kind of name of god or gods.
    It’s good to be agnostic :)

    • March 11, 2010 4:47 am

      The real “higher road” not getting involved. I “got involved” because I honestly find somethings about religion alarming, like kicking people out of paradise for learning, and that killing people who don’t agree with you is honorable.

      The term “weak” isn’t meant to be disrespectful, it’s just another foot-in-mouth phrase. (check out the Wiki on atheism, it’s much clearer than I am.) It simply refers to the fact that you aren’t actively deny anything. The idea that atheists _believe_ there is no god is not accepted by most atheists, it’s a theist statement trying to superimpose how they “think” on atheists. Most atheists would not say they believe something doesn’t exist, they’d probably say, like I do, that they don’t believe something exists. theism=belief, atheism=lack thereof (like light and dark, one indicates the presence of something, the other indicates its absence.) Damn English is vague.

      It does kinda suck not having anything to swear to… “science damn you” doesn’t cut it. :)

  10. valdobiade permalink
    March 11, 2010 2:28 pm

    TK, I am also alarmed by the religious extremism and I won’t say:”I don’t know if you’re right in your extremism”. I know for sure that extremism is no good.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t mark scientifically theories as hard facts. They are still theories somehow akin to beliefs.Being agnostic, by my own definition, is something like Rick is explaining his moderate stance.

    I believe that there is something beyond materialism, something that transcend our material brain: our “beyond” physical reaction we get through our senses. I feel that there is something “spiritual” that can be hijacked by religion or “explained” by evolution, but as an agnostic I feel like I am going with a natural “wave”.

    Don’t take the above as a way to recruit people to agnosticism.

  11. March 11, 2010 6:15 pm

    I agree, you _believe_ in theories, because they don’t have enough evidence to be irrefutable. (yet) It’s perfectly acceptable to accept bits and pieces of science theories, as long a sit doesn’t contradict anything. The only thing that you can be (relatively) certain about, is scientific _law_, I too like Rick’s definition of agnosticism, and I would actually commend anything that tries to convert people to agnosticism. It makes people think, so it’s good thing. :)

  12. valdobiade permalink
    March 18, 2010 3:37 pm

    It makes people think, so it’s good thing. :)

    It’s better to think than to be sure that a wizard did it :)

  13. Dianne permalink
    November 28, 2010 1:03 pm

    OK guys… I am a Christian. No denomination. No church affiliation. But a daily Bible reading, believing Christian. I used to be agnostic. One of my daughters is agnostic. One of them used to be a witch (I studied wiccan with her to see what she was getting into). I looked into Scientology and had 5 “regression sessions” with them. I have read the book of Mormon and talked to those well-meaning young people. I went through adult Catholic Catechism. I have attended Babtist, Assembly of God, Methodist, Mennonite, Lutheran, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Christian Science, and many other churches. My complaint on Christianity is why the hell are there so many different churches! I have found reading the Bible and keeping the Sabbath on my own works for me. I don’t want to belong to one church because I feel we should all belong to “one faith in Jesus Christ”. I do believe in the Bible. There is room among Moderates for us Christians. As to Creation…the Bible says that a day to God is “as a thousand years” to us. So Creation really took place in a little over 7,000 years. Does that sound more reasonable? While I see the similarity between eohippus and a horse where is the creature in-between? The same with dinosaur and birds? It is the missing links that bother me about evolution. There are no progressive, changing, creatures to support the change from one creature to the other. I loved studying anthropology in college, the prof was big on evolution and Lucy proving it and I kept poking holes in his hypothesis. By the way, evolution is still a theory, not a proven fact. Just as Creationism is a “theory.”

  14. Ami permalink
    December 12, 2011 2:02 pm

    People who don’t believe in evolution at all are MORONS. There is no conflict between religion and evolution. All creation can be explained scientifically if you are an athest. But even if you are a Bible-thumper, God still created everything scientifically.

  15. Andy permalink
    January 17, 2012 12:46 pm

    In regards to your loose ends, evolution explains most things if you take it as a cumulative effect spread over the millions-and-millions of years long time-frame that life has existed on Earth. Most arguments for ‘irreducible complexity’ are only irreducible if you believe your own species’ biological requirements to be the furthest allowable reduction.

    – Many, if not most, traits aren’t ‘new’ traits. They are holdover traits which previously served some other function. Depending on the given trait(s) and the species, it could go back a long way. In other words, it’s far more common for evolution to modify an existing feature than it is for it to ‘invent’ a new one. Human beings didn’t ‘evolve’ eyebrows onto a formerly hairless face; humans retained brow hair in spite of losing facial fur.
    Put in context: One aspect of homo sapiens’ differentiation was learning to walk and run upright. This allowed us to hunt for food better, as we switched from speed (quadrupedal) to distance (bipedal) running and could out-stamina our prey. This made cooling the body significantly more important. Humans with less fur/hair and more sweat glands could run farther, eat more food, die less from overheating, etc., so as a species we eventually stopped being quite so hairy. Why did eyebrows make the evolutionary cut? My vote is that they keep sweat and detritus from dripping into your eyes when you run. The other suggestion, that cavewomen don’t want cavemen without eyebrows, is also feasible, though I’d be skeptical of the idea that evolution as a process generally rewards form over function.
    It is more likely that a given woman would find a given man without eyebrows unattractive because millions of years of evolution are telling her that that man is likely unathletic (nobody can keep their eye on the ball when those eyes are constantly soaking in a deluge of sweat,) or that he owns too diverse a collection of headbands for her tastes. It seems less likely to suggest that people have eyebrows simply because other people like how they look.

  16. Andy permalink
    January 17, 2012 12:46 pm

    - There aren’t complex systems that sprout from the mutation of a single gene. You have hundreds, if not thousands, of genes that dictate the myriad of components that make up your circulatory system. Humans gained/mutated those genes relatively slowly.
    Part two to this, bear in mind that the primary goal of circulation/respiration is gas exchange. Not every living cell needs to touch your circulatory system. This is less true of humans than it is of other animals, but still. You have no blood vessels in your corneas; they get what they need from tears and the goop that fills your eyes. To accomplish gas exchange, you don’t necessarily need much If you’re a single cell, all you need is a cell membrane. If you’re slightly more complex, like a jellyfish, you don’t need anything particularly more complicated. If you’re most arthropods, a bunch of psuedo-blood called hemolymph filling your insides and touching your organs is good enough, and you won’t even slough off at random.
    Even just taking creatures that have gills and lungs, what we think of collectively as ‘gills and lungs’ are enormously different in many cases and generally not evolved from the same pieces/parts in different animals. Fishes’ gills are organs more closely resembling skin, gills of crustaceans are organs which appear to have evolved from legs/appendages. Human lungs and blood vessels took millions of years of change to get where they are. As you pointed out, this is also an area where small mistakes have big consequences. Genetic defects of the heart and lungs are of the more serious flavors of defects. The life-or-death nature of having functional organ systems means that traits which affect those systems evolve much more homogenously than say, traits that affect eye color. This probably gives the impression that those given traits evolved ‘all of a sudden’ because people have had them ‘forever’ and if they didn’t then they wouldn’t be people. Realistically, there was a period of several thousand years where some people had Homo Heidelbergensis lungs, and some people were getting newer, fancier lung versions. And most of those lucky winners probably died really quickly, maliciously betrayed by their fancy new lungs. Eventually, someone won the genetic dice roll, and those sexy, sexy new lungs of his caught on fast.

  17. Paul Williams permalink
    February 17, 2012 2:33 pm

    Hi Rick,

    Many of the points you wrote were fairly accurate and show some insight, however there is nothing so annoying as the partially informed opinion. I suggest you go out and get yourself educated by studing some real science and not just science opinion.
    Science is engaged in a constant search for new information, observations, data, principles; digesting, analysing, interpreting; self-correcting, forever struggling to understand the mysteries of nature.
    Science is one of the few human endevors where practioners fail 99.9% of the time. Unless you basic understanding of the basic methods and aims of science you will continue to misinterpret the discoveries made by scientists.
    Nature and science, humanities attempt to decipher nature, exist regadless of whatever political winds are blowing. Nature is immune to the whims of Parts, PAC, BLOG, or any other political machinations, and science will continue to try and tease out its secrets.
    Evolution is a broad princile in biology which provides a framework with which to explain the funtioning of life on Earth. Nothing in biology makes sence without evolution. Scientists do not claim to know everything about evolution, quite the contrary, science is about constantly seeking the unknown, the mysterious. Science is trying to build a framework of knowledge in an infinite space of possiblities.
    So do not go trying to contain evolutionary principles into a political box because it cannot be done.

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