Pro-Evolution II: What evolution DOES mean

EVOLUTION II: THE MODERN SYNTHESIS

Here are some of the things evolution DOES mean:

  • In its most advanced form, the modern evolutionary synthesis has been accepted by all mainstream scientists.  This modern evolutionary synthesis, briefly, contends that life on earth was not created all at once.  It developed by a series of minute changes
    over a long time.  For a long time, scientists, including Charles Darwin himself, couldn’t figure out how those changes could keep from being swamped by a larger population.  For instance, if one fish was born with fins that helped it climb up on land to eat plants that other fishes couldn’t reach, it would have an evolutionary advantage over those other fish.  It could eat more and get stronger.  It could have more offspring that would also be likely to have those leg-like fins.
    The problem for early evolution scientists was the idea that the tendency to have leg-like fins would be watered down by mating with fish that had fin-like fins.  Even if a fish had an evolutionary advantage with leg-like fins, its offspring would blend the
    characteristic of leg-like fins with the characteristic of fin-like fins.  Over time, the tendency to have advantageous leg-like fins would be swamped by the majority of fishes’ fin-like fins.  The solution to this dilemma came to scientists by the 1930s.  Scientists realized that life on earth doesn’t work that way.  Instead, the offspring of a fish with leg-like fins with a fish with fin-like fins would carry the genetic tendency to be born with leg-like fins, even if the fish itself had fin-like fins.  You may remember something like this from high-school biology. The idea was a little older, discovered in the 1800s by a monk named Gregor Mendel.  Mendel observed pea plants and noticed that there was a regularity to their characteristics.  About one in every four
    tall pea plants, for instance, was short.
    Mendel realized that the short characteristic was carried recessively even in the tall pea plants.  When two tall pea plants with that recessive characteristic produced new pea plants, every fourth offspring would end up short.  How would this work with our fish with leg-like fins?  The genetic tendency to have leg-like fins would be latent in fish even with fin-like fins.  That is, they would have the genes to grow leg-like fins, but most of their offspring would have fin-like fins.  Every once in a while, a fish with leg-like fins would be born.  When the circumstances changed and these leg-like fins became an advantage, fish with leg-like fins would have more offspring more often.  Their offspring would carry the genetic tendency to be born with leg-like fins.
    Over time, if there was more food accessible out of the water, and if food became scarcer and scarcer below water, those fish born with leg-like fins would prosper, and find more mates also with that characteristic.  Not soon, but over time, a new species of
    fish with leg-like fins would evolve.
  • Some of the most convincing biological arguments for evolution come from what scientists call ontogeny and homology.  Ontogeny means roughly the way animals develop.  Some steps of that development only make sense in an evolutionary framework.
    For instance, embryonic whales grow legs for a stage.  Why?  Especially vital for our argument here, why would whales go through a developmental stage with proto-legs if God had simply created them in their current form?  It makes no sense.  It would be an example of the kind of evidence that God would have had to have left behind in order to fool humans
    into thinking life evolved.  Because those embryonic legs make perfect sense in evolutionary perspective.  For a time, whales had been land-dwelling mammals.  They developed their ability to survive and thrive in water as an evolutionary niche developed for them.  Their embryonic history demonstrates that path.  Although early evolutionists such as Ernst Haeckel overstated their case for the importance of ontogeny as a path of evolutionary development in all animals, in some cases it still points to an
    evolutionary origin for different forms of life.
  • Scientists also note powerful homologies among very different kinds of animals.  By this they mean the underlying structure of many different forms reveals the same basic structure.  For instance, bats’ wings, human hands, and seals’ flippers share a basic bone structure.  Each of the organisms uses the form for very different purposes: flying, grabbing, and swimming.  But the similarity of the underlying bone structure makes sense if all the forms evolved from a common ancestor.  As each species developed and specialized over the millennia, the basic bone structure developed in markedly different ways to help the species take advantage of evolutionary niches.  Bats developed the ability to fly, humans to grab, and seals to swim.  But such underlying similarity is utterly confusing if we assume that each species was created as is.  Why would a designer use the same underlying bone structure for each instead of coming up with more efficient ones for each ultimate use?
    That is, if the bat was made to fly, why wouldn’t its bone structure be markedly different from the bone structure of a seal flipper?  Just as with the embryonic evidence, the only way it makes sense is if the designer deliberately set out to obscure its
    (His?  Her?) role in the design.  It only makes sense, in other words, if God not only designed the vast variety of life, but then made it look as if that variety had evolved from common ancestors.
    Which explanation makes more sense?
  • There are other specific examples that flesh out the argument.  One that Darwin used was that of the ichneumon wasp.  This is a
    type of wasp that lays its eggs directly into or on the body of a host, something like a caterpillar.  The mother wasp then paralyzes the prey.  When the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae eat the living but powerless body of the host.  They first eat the non-vital organs such as fat cells.  That ensures that the host will stay alive as they feed.  Only after they have eaten the still living flesh do they finally eat the vital organs and kill the unhappy host.  Why, Darwin asked, would a benevolent God create such implacable suffering?  If the panoply of living things were created, why create such cruelty?  It makes no sense.  Of course, Darwin could have taken refuge in the traditional answer to such questions: God’s ways cannot be known to us.  He may have reasons beyond
    our knowing.  But for Darwin and evolutionists that followed him, there was a much more obvious answer.  The reason animal life could be so cruel was because it had not been designed in such detail.  God did not create the vampiric wasp as such.  Rather, the wasp evolved to take advantage of the flesh of its prey.  It evolved in its ability to feed its young in this peculiar and revolting
    way.  In other words, if God created the wasp this way, we are presented with a moral dilemma that we can only overcome
    with a series of difficult mental gymnastics.
    But if life forms evolved to take advantage of evolutionary niches, the process makes entire sense.
  • The idea of evolution is repeatedly confirmed by new evidence.  For instance, the basic idea of species changing by a long slow process of natural selection came from Darwin and Wallace in 1859.  They had no idea about a lot of how it might work.
    But as scientists today find out more and more about the nature of life, each new piece of information confirms the basic notion of evolution.  For instance, scientists have had great success in recent years in decoding the genomes of humans and other species.  They have charted the genes that make up the recipe of the human species.  And they have found that those genes are almost identical to genes from similar species.  They are even very similar to the genes of very different species.
    Sharing so much of the same genetic make up confirms the notion that life on earth descended from a single source.
    Darwin and Wallace had no notion that this evidence would ever exist.  But it fits perfectly with their predictions of how such genes should look.  It confirms their suggestions.  There was no way that Darwin could have understood the evidence from the human genome.  Yet it confirms the idea of evolution in vivid ways.  Even during Darwin’s lifetime, he doubted the feasibility of his evolutionary scheme.  Based on the best scientific understandings of his time, there was no way that the earth could be ancient enough for evolution to have occurred.  Later scientific discoveries established a far more ancient age of life on Earth than Darwin realized.  Thus, even when his own faith was shaken in the feasibility of his notion, he was still proven correct.
  • When evidence piles up this way, the only way around it is to imagine that God created a trail of evidence meant to fool humans.  He created a universe that pointed in a false direction, to test whether humanity could overcome the evidence of reason to cling to faith.  Why would He do that?  Why would He want to fool people?  And, if He wanted to give humans a test about whether they would hold fast to His revealed truth in the face of overwhelming rational evidence, why would He give the majority of humans a non-Christian tradition to cling to?  It would mean that God wanted people to cling to a lifeboat of revealed religion instead of walking on the land that was only a few feet below them, then provided them with a lifeboat that wouldn’t float.  That does not seem consistent with a God of infinite love.
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5 Comments

  1. Donald Byrne

     /  September 7, 2011

    The universe: fundamentally amoral and predatory. Cold. Humans (and all? species) are usually like this too. One unusual thing about Christianity is that it goes against the grain. Looking out for your fellow man and such. Will Christianity and other religions be like an oxbow lake on the Mississippi — a backwater pool — that persists for a while but eventually dries up? Or will it be a permanent deep channel in the way the universe experiences itself? Could go either way…

    Reply
  2. It’s actually frightening how many people, when faced with overwhelming evidence of evolutionary principles, will choose the “God is testing our faith” path. It’s frightening how many of them reside in Texas. Why do I care about Texas? Largest provider of textbooks in the United States.

    The new battle of Creationism vs. evolution will be waged in the classrooms of our youth, who will have no choice but to believe what is in their textbook and what their teachers are mandated to tell them. This phenomenon is not limited to science, but is also extended to American history through omission (labor movement) revision (all Founding Fathers believed our government was founded on religious principles) and faux balance (teach the Black Panther movement as equal to Dr. King).

    I was a lousy student. I didn’t feel challenged by many teachers. Those who made me sit up and take notice were the ones who challenged me to think for myself. One of my favorite college professors was in an advanced Shakespeare class. She told the entire class that I had written a paper that she totally disagreed with, that my conclusions were nowhere near hers, and that because I cited my sources and passages intelligently and in a consistent manner, I got an A. She seldom made it a point to share the conclusions of a student by name, but I understood her point: Do your homework, hear other points of view, and think for yourself. Another favorite professor was in a Religion in Western Literature course. He was a Christian, I wasn’t, yet he loved my work. I even came to a conclusion once–I don’t recall the subject–that made him rethink his position on a particular piece.

    Because of this, I understand the argument that you need to present both sides, but do both sides of the evolutionary “debate” need to be presented in a science class? When do we expand that concept to mathematics (“B=C2 because God wants it that way) or physical education (you can only bench press 400 lbs. if you have the Holy Spirit in you)?

    It’s distinctly possible that my worldview on this is tainted by my lack of faith, but I still think facts are facts and ignoring them actually puts Christians at a disadvantage. As an outsider, I often wonder why so many Christians can’t allow faith and science to live side-by-side. Can’t more Christians believe evolution was God’s plan, and then acknowledge its existence? The pragmatist in me thinks so, but I’m seeing too much evidence to the contrary.

    Reply
  3. Concerned Parent

     /  February 24, 2016

    As a Christian who formerly believed the Bible and random chance and natural selection accounting for all life could coexist side by side happily, I take umbrage at some of the “factual” beliefs of the average evolutionist and their insistence that my child be taught that evolutionary theory is beyond doubt. Many well-regarded scientists have seen and pointed out gaping holes in the evolution theory. Setting aside evolution for a moment, the introduction of information alone is a problem for anyone who looks to the beginnings of life (anywhere, not just on this planet). The age of our planet and moon are a problem if things have always been as they are today. Soft dinosaur tissues that are supposedly millions of years old? Having a world view is one thing, ignoring glaring problems in verifiable science is another.

    As Christians, we should not throw out evolution out of hand because of the implications to our religion. But, the same should be said for those who have evolution as theirs. My faith being challenged by a scientific finding should not stop me from using science to continue to search for answers. Neither should a non-material implication stop science in its tracks because the scientist finding it has a different world view. What is being foisted on my children in secular school is not science, it is a belief system that cannot ever be backed up by empirical evidence until a time machine can be invented and used.

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  4. Dear Concerned Parent – I would recommend not accepting the unsubstantiated claims and arguments [sans data] of the Discovery Institute and spend time reading the work of BioLogos. The discoverer of the soft tissues from dinosaurs is a devoted Christian, and yes, the tissues discovered are millions of years old. I also believe that Matthew 25 is much more central to the gospel than Genesis 1

    Reply
  5. Concerned Parent

     /  May 8, 2016

    @Douglas E – “The discoverer of the soft tissues from dinosaurs is a devoted Christian”? Really? Mary Schweitzer is a Christian? That’s supposed to mean what? Christians can’t do good science? Only a Christian would look where others would not? She has no problem with millions of years for the age of the Earth as a Christian, but whole, well-preserved red blood cells and the tissue they flow in sustained for millions of years? I seriously doubt it from my limited knowledge. Search for “Red Blood Cells In 75-Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Fossil” for poorly-preserved specimens with same problem the “Christian scientist” had. While Mary tried hard to prove that the abundance of iron had preserved the tissue (but no where near millions of years), this latest discovery is a real problem…

    “Models proposed to account for such preservation indicate that it should be the exception rather than the rule. In particular, it has long been accepted that protein molecules decay in relatively short periods of time and cannot be preserved for longer than 4 million years. Therefore, even in cases where organic material is preserved, it is generally accepted that only parts of original proteins are preserved and that the full tertiary or quaternary structure has been lost.”

    As far as “accepting the unsubstantiated claims and arguments [sans data] of the Discovery Institute”; My knowledge gained about evolution, Christianity, or anything else you can think of, however limited, is not from any single source, but from years of searching for what interests and makes sense to me. I grew up in a home with a Christian mother and an atheist father, went to a Methodist church with its own den of wife-swapping, and made it through college with all the overbearing self–assertive anti-Christian sentiment.

    It confounds me that anyone who has “thought” can “think” that the non-material does not exist. If science is seeking organized facts about our world around us, those facts are intertwined with our explicable codified non-material thoughts. If we can do that, why insist that there cannot be more out there to learn? I believe the Bible because of my life experience with it, others, and the world around me. I believe in science because it has the ability to digest reproducible observations that I can read about and test for myself. And once again, I come to realize that the belief systems (there are many) of evolution is fractured by other evidences, while not being personally discernable to any of us (no matter how ardently argued) today. The __same facts__ lead the human collective to extremely divergent conclusions.

    “Matthew 25”; Good, good stuff there! But, why do you believe that part and not Matthew 24:37. Was Jesus a crazy believer in the Noah epic, or can His reference be counted as authoritative to the veracity of not only Noah’s existence, but validating the truth of Genesis 6? Or, further back in Genesis; Matthew 19:4-5 referring back to Genesis 1:26-28, 2:7-24? Either Jesus was a raving lunatic for believing in some words written about how life began long before He was born, or He, in-fact, validated those Holy Words of God as He did in Matthew 5:18.

    Reply

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