Like it or not

Wouldn’t it be great?

I suppose it would be nice to find conclusive scientific evidence that the earth was created in the space of six 24-hour days some 6,000-10,000 years ago, that there was an actual garden of Eden in which there lived the first man and woman named Adam and Eve who could have lived forever except that they spoke to a snake who convinced them to eat the fruit of a tree that God told them not to eat of, that this disobedience to God’s actual spoken command caused the death of their physical bodies and the entrance of death and decay into the physical universe.

Wouldn’t that be reassuring? Imagine how much more effective our evangelism would be if we could find such evidence. It would prove beyond all rational doubt that the bible really is the inspired word of God and that the Judeo-Christian God is the one true God. Surely, with all the skills of forensic medicine and instruments of measurement available to us today, we ought to be able to find that the recorded history of all time-contigent physical processes and laws of physics converge on a single point consistent with this traditional view of the biblical account.

Sorry to disappoint

Well, like it or not, it just ain’t so. As comforting as it may be for Christians to hold to this literal interpretation of the origin of the universe, earth, life and physical death as a foundation for belief, it’s a complete fiction. Not only is there a complete lack of positive evidence for this view of earth and biological history, all the evidence that does exist (i.e., every physical record that has been measured) reveals that the physical origination and development of creation occured in a much different way.

So let me come straight to the point: evolution is a fact. The diversity of all known life on earth is the result of over 3 billion years of descent-with-modification and speciation from essentially a single common ancestor. Like it or not, that’s just the plain truth. There’s just no way around it. (For the sake of brevity, I’m only discussing biological evolution in this post, although the same factual status applies to cosmological and geological “evolution”.)

I don’t have the time or energy to summarize and explain the essential evidence for biological evolution. To me, such an endeavor would be about as interesting as trying to describe the evidence or “proofs” for the earth being spherical rather than flat or for our solar system being heliocentric rather than geocentric. This “Becoming Creation” blog is about understanding how realities known through science should be properly understood in relation to truths known through the testimony of scripture and conscience. It’s not about willfully and stubbornly holding on to falsified notions of reality as a basis for faith in God. We can’t expect to grow in wisdom if we fail to acknowledge plainly revealed aspects of reality.

Truth illuminates

The famous evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1973; a believer in God, by the way) once wrote that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” What he meant, of course, is that every living creature and all living creatures together have the fingerprints of evolution all over them. As products of a real evolutionary history, we creatures bear the marks of that history in our morphology, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, genetics and DNA sequence. We also bear the marks of evolutionary history in behavior, ecology and geographic distribution.

Only in the light of the fact of evolution can we understand…

  • Why we humans don’t have tails and don’t need our tail bone (coccyx) for structural support or balance yet we can’t do without our tail bones developmentally (Theobald, 2004).
  • Why humans and other higher primates can’t synthesize their own ascorbic acid (vitamin C) even though our genome contains a remnant of the gene necessary for this function. (Finlay et al., 2006)
  • Why different types of eyes exist among different creatures yet all have their basis in the same genetic structure. (Fernald, 1997)
  • Why chimpanzees and humans have nearly identical sets of chromosomes except that chromosome 2 in humans corresponds exactly in size, structure and gene arrangement to the end-to-end fusion of two smaller chimp chromosomes. (Finlay et al., 2006; Collins, 2006).
  • Why different species of birds or lizards in one isolated geographical area (e.g., island) are clearly part of the same genus yet are specialized with the same array of features for different ecological niches as other genera in other such locations (Losos lab home page)  (Losos & Ricklefs, 2009)

It’s not that one can’t study and describe any important aspects of biology without referring to evolution, but some very interesting and fundamental questions about any given subject cannot be answered except by considering the evolutionary context. We can’t begin to understand why a particular mechanism or biological entity is constructed one way instead of another unless we appreciate that it is the product of a contingent process of inheritance and change. A given biological system may be fine-tuned (i.e., well adapted for its function), but none is actually perfect (optimal). And why every system is suboptimal can only be explained in light of evolution.

Moving on to more meaningful things

So, if you’ve come to this blog in hopes of finding specific information about the “evolution vs. creation” controversy, you’ll be disappointed. That’s a fruitless debate based on a false dichotomy. In other words, the fact that evolution is real and “true” doesn’t mean that creation is false. Although some incorrect and inappropriate methods of biblical interpretation have to be abandoned, sound Christian theology and belief don’t have to suffer for it. In fact, the real world (it’s God’s creation, after all) can and must be allowed to act as a corrective to keep our systems of theology true and “honest”.

That’s what Becoming Creation is really all about: studying and personalizing the whole of what God has revealed about himself and our (my) purpose. The journey involves some questions, some ambiguity, some humble searching, and complete trust in the faithfulness and goodness of God. The false assurance of some pat answers will have to be acknowledged and abandoned. But I’d rather know the truth and be set free than to willfully deny it and live without faith.

P.S. Actually, I do plan on occasionally writing posts that point to available resources for learning about evolution. And I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t still some unresolved and controversial issues about how evolution works. Those areas are certainly open for discussion here.

References

  • Collins, F.S. 2006. The language of God: a scientist presents evidence for belief. Free Press, New York. p.137-138.
  • Dobzhansky, T. 1973. Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. American Biology Teacher, 35: 125-129.
  • Fernald, R.D. 1997. The evolution of eyes. Brain Behav. Evol. 50:253-259.
  • Fernald, R.D. 2006. Casting a genetic light on the evolution of eyes. Science 313: 1914-1918.
  • Losos, J.B., and R.E. Ricklefs. 2009. Adaptation and diversification on islands. Nature 457: 830-836.
  • Theobald, D. 2004. 29+ evidences for macroevolution, part 2: past history. www.talkorigins.org

Note (June 10, 2009):  In the original version of this post, I had referred to Dobzhanski as “a devout Catholic, by the way”. While I was correct in remembering that he was a Christian of some sort, I was wrong to call him a Catholic and probably too strident to claim he was devout. Thanks to Ted Davis, historian of science extraordinaire, for providing the correction (see comments).

4 comments to Like it or not

  • [...] Becoming Creation Exploring and promoting the scientific and theological meaning of creation. « Like it or not [...]

  • Ted Davis

    Doug,

    Theodosius Dobzhansky was not a Roman Catholic; he was a Russian Orthodox believer, though his theology as far as I can tell was probably not orthodox and thus not Orthodox. There is an interesting study of his religious views in “Eminent Lives in Twentieth-Century Science and Religion,” ed. Nicolaas Rupke. http://www.peterlang.com/index.cfm?vID=56803&vLang=F&vHR=1&vUR=2&vUUR=3

    Most (nearly all) leading Christian scientists of his generation who accepted evolution were not orthodox, IMO. They mostly did not believe in the divinity of Jesus or the bodily resurrection, e.g. This is one of those things that has changed markedly in the past 30 years. Today we have numerous prominent Christian scientists who accept both evolution and the Nicene Creed, without crossing their fingers. This phenomenon has been hard for some to accept — Dawkins finds this as hard to accept as Phil Johnson.

  • James Patterson

    (drops gauntlet)
    Evolution is no more a fact than abiogenesis is. If natural selection does all that science says that it did…then it’s miraculous. :) Just to misquote you: I don’t have the time or energy to summarize and explain the essential evidence AGAINST biological evolution. But there’s tons of it. Here’s an article (draft, unpublished) I wrote about Common Descent:
    http://www.byrdbiblestudy.net/Common_Descent.doc
    Kind regards!
    JP

  • Douglas

    James,

    Thanks for your comments. Sorry it took several days for me to approve them; I didn’t take a computer with me to the ASA meeting, so I wasn’t checking comments for several days.

    As a fellow believer, I fully agree with you that the fruitfulness of evolutionary processes are miraculous; only a supremely intelligent agent (our Creator God) could conceive, implement and sustain such a wondrous universe. On this blog, it’s not my intention to debate the evidence for or against evolution; there are other forums for that. For me personally, the fact of common descent (and evolution in general) is completely “settled” and the purpose of my blog is to discuss the implications of that fact. This is the reason why I don’t feel compelled to explain or defend the evidence; I simply stated it in this post to explain this prior assumption for my explorations.

    I am not saying that I am 100% impervious to a change of understanding about the scientific evidence; new scientific discoveries may require changes in the current paradigm. However, for me, the implications of scientific understanding for belief and faith in God are far more important. In other words, my purpose currently is to “test” the scientific understanding against Christian theology. Unless I come to discover and sense (in my own mind and heart, by God’s grace and peace) that core faith issues cannot be reconciled to that current scientific understanding, I am not likely to re-evaluate the scientific conclusion about the basic fact of evolution. So far in my meditation and study, I have not encountered any theological issues that are any more difficult to comprehend or trust in an evolutionary creationist perspective than in the non-evolutionary ones. I would hope that you also would be continually doing the same exercise from your scientific understanding.

    Peace of Christ to you!
    Doug