Tuesday, April 13, 2010

evolution or a creator?

Scientists claim that Intelligent Design theory is a theological argument without scientific basis. Evolutionists seem to think that ID proponents are only out to villainize the scientific community and those who believe in Intelligent Design claim that the unsubstantiated imperfections in neo-darwinist evolutionary theory provide enough basis to refute it as 'potentially unvalid'. To those of you who have identified yourselves as theistic evolutionists (or who would simply like to comment) - how is it that we can reconcile religion/creationism with evolutionary theory (assuming macroevolution)? Are they really compatible, and if so in what way? What aspects of evolutionary theory make room for a creator and is there room for the theory of evolution in religion?


  1. In recent times, many religious institutions accept the fact that micro-evolution (due to the overwhelming evidence: E. Coli, Drosophia, and many other quickly reproducing organisms) may occur, but they still deny the fact of macro evolution and speciation. These people claim that species are set within "kinds" and cannot change into other "kinds" of animals. However, these "Kinds" are not clearly defined, and the gray areas between amphibians and lizards, dinosaurs and birds, and apes and humans are hard to discern. Fortunately, a growing size of fossil evidence shows many transitional fossils like titaalik rosea, archeopteryx, and many fossil ancestors of modern whale disproves this fact, and creationism/ID cannot explain the presence of these transitional fossils locked in time.

    With the growing support for the addition of ID into the modern public high school curriculum, the scientific viability of ID must be inspected. Intelligent design does not explain HOW life or the species on earth were created, it does not explain what created them, nor is there observable evidence (such as fossils in the same time period) and does not allow logical scientific inquiry.

    With Theistic Evolution however, since evolution only explains the origin of species, it doesn't cover the origin of original life. Many theistic evolutionists believe in that a divine creator made original life and set out the physical laws of nature to allow evolution to proceed. many Neo-Darwinists either admit that they don't fully understand the concepts of how life began, or choose to accept the theory of abiogenesis, despite its shortcomings.

    Some Theistic evolution supporters also believe that some parts of cells, such as cilia, or the flagellum, are too complex to have been created via evolution. However, these peoples claims that "evolution cannot explain it" is simply due to a lack of research and understanding in this area, and divine intervention is an even less scientific and logical viewpoint of the situation. One particular aspect of theistic evolution is the belief that an intelligent being "influences" evolution on a molecular level via mutations. They say that they do it in the same way that humans cultivate plants or breed dogs. However, when we breed dogs or cultivate fruit, we purposefully select what we perceive as a positive trait, and keep that in the population via breeding. Humans are not creating random mutations in these things.

    There are still many things not understood about evolution, but a lack of understanding does not correlate to the positive evidence for Creationism or Intelligent Design.

    biology book
    Why evolution is true

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  5. In response to Tianyu, I have mentioned this before in the blog, but I'll say it again: The theory of evolution does not necessitate the separate theory of chemical evolution as an explanation for its beginning, and neither does Coyne claim it does. On page 3 of Why Evolution is True, he says: "[The modern theory of evolution] can be summarized in a single (albeit slightly long) sentence: Life on earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive species--perhaps a self-replicating molecule--that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time, throwing off many new and diverse species; and the mechanism for most (but not all) of evolutionary change is natural selection." The key word here is "perhaps." Thus, the lack of a mechanism for the origin of the first life form in Intelligent Design is not a drawback. I do realize that the theory of evolution DOES provide a proposal for the mechanism of creating life--chemical evolution--but it is not considered fact and therefore shows that a theory about our coming to be does not have to expand to every single point along the way, or else the theory of evolution is inadequate. A theory only needs to explain what it claims to explain, and does not need to explain more. Even if chemical evolution as the mechanism of creating the first life form SHOULD be considered fact, I would still argue that the theory of Intelligent Design does not need a scientific mechanism to explain the origin of the first life form, because the whole point is that this "mechanism" (creation) is beyond our scope of comprehension, and that, once already established that evolution could not be true, we should assume that whatever this "mechanism" was did take place. Basically, the only requirement we should look for in order to teach a theory in schools is the extent to which it may be true.

    Francis Collins' book entitled The Language of God explains his version of theistic evolution: "God, who is not limited in space or time, created the universe and established natural laws that govern it. Seeking to populate this otherwise sterile universe with living creatures, God chose the elegant mechanism of evolution to create microbes, plants, and animals of all sorts. Most remarkably, God intentionally chose the same mechanism to give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with Him. He also knew these creatures would ultimately choose to disobey the Moral Law" (200-201). There are many arguments people might have against theistic evolution, but I see this belief as more flexible than many others. For example, some might say that religious texts just don’t add up in the shadow of some geological or evolutionary evidence they provide, but, depending on your belief, this may not be such an obstacle, because, as Collins says, “The real dilemma for the believer comes down to whether Genesis is describing a special act of miraculous creation that applied to a historic couple, making them biologically different from all other creatures that had walked the earth, or whether this is a poetic and powerful allegory of God’s plan for the entrance of the spiritual nature (the soul) and the Moral Law into humanity” (207). Collins also provides a quote from C. S. Lewis on his perspective (I apologize for how long this post will end up being):

  6. (continued)
    “For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed in this state for ages before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, and new kind of consciousness which could say ‘I’ and ‘me,’ which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God which could make judgments of truth, beauty and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past…. We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods…. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, ‘This is our business, not yours.’ But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives. We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence” (209).

    The reason I have given all these citations is that everyone can see the flexible attitude in the belief of theistic evolution. When one person gives his or her own personal interpretation of TE, and this interpretation is unsatisfactory to an audience, the audience may then form a new interpretation. This is, of course, true of many beliefs, but I believe it is more so in this case, as it only requires that one believe in both a God and that life evolved. Any more details are specific to the individual believer.

  7. (continued)
    On the issue of support for TE, there really is no scientific support, only abstract thinking. For example, Collins says, “Despite massive improbabilities, the properties of the universe appear to have been precisely tuned for life” (200). There is no way to calculate the actual probability of the laws of the universe turning out the way they are, seeing the vast majority of humans cannot understand anything beyond Newtonian physics, and those few who understand more than this still certainly cannot imagine anything involving what could be outside our universe, or what could have existed before the universe was here, in order to lead to these laws. There is no mathematical proof, but you can probably see how a logical person could come up with the conclusion that, of all the different ways the universe could operate, the chances of having one in which life could form are very low. I personally will not take a stand on whether this is true; I am simply providing information. However, I will provide an alternate possibility of my own imagining: Maybe the universe we believe began at the Big Bang is only a small part of an even larger “megaverse,” in which, outside of our universe, there are properties of either matter and energy or something other than what we know of, and these properties may or may not be similar to what we are familiar with. Universes like ours are a commonplace thing, appearing with Big Bangs and dissipating due to whatever these properties may entail, and these appearances are somehow not contradictory to the statement “out of nothing can arise nothing,” as many ID proponents say the Big Bang is, because there is other STUFF of some kind in the megaverse. The megaverse itself must also not contradict the statement. (Technically, since we are entering the realm of the unimaginable, we must accept the possibility that maybe it CAN contradict this statement because our brains simply do not function on the level that these occurrences would have happened, but since that just defeats the purpose of even THINKING, let’s just avoid that idea.)

    There is also the idea that, if chemical evolution is impossible (see Murad’s prompt entitled “Is it Mathematically Possible?”), then there must have been another way to create life, which for some would imply evidence for a creator. Since we are sticking to how the evidence for evolution is undeniable, this means a belief in TE would be fairly logical.

  8. (continued)
    The first of the two most logical reasons to believe in TE in my opinion is that you may find yourself actually connecting with God in a spiritual way. If you are true to yourself and don’t jump to conclusions, and yet this connection is still undeniably real (especially not imagined due to drug use), then you can have certainty in God’s existence. Unfortunately, this does not extend to those who have not connected with God, as you cannot induce the same feeling in them (unless it was due to drugs) in order to prove it. Hence the lack of what we would call “science.” It is only science to the individual. Also keep in mind that just having a really good feeling (not due to drugs) does not count as connecting with God, because hormones do this. Our minds are capable of being altered by substances both foreign and native to our bodies. The only thing that can really count as a spiritual connection is one that involves very specific thoughts, feelings, or messages, in some kind of recognizable, interpretable pattern (whether or not you are able to later put these into words) that has a low probability of randomly occurring because of dreams or hormones or anything like that.

    The other reason is the simple fact that we have a consciousness. Even if “free will” is only an illusion to us, there is something there to be tricked by this illusion. We cannot say whether other animals also have this consciousness in them; perhaps even bacteria have a tiny speck of it in them. Maybe even random arrangements of atoms or even smaller particles have a strange form of it, in such a vague way that no sense is made out of it at any time. Maybe only humans have this, or maybe only I do. (For whoever is reading this, maybe only YOU do, and every other life form, including all other humans, are simply biological robots .) No matter what the case, there is something there other than just physical processes, and unless there is some unfathomable reason that natural processes without a creator would create an observing mind that can perceive the world as good and bad (through the use of hormones and electrical signals which would be neutral processes if not for additional nonphysical value from our minds to perceive good and bad), it makes sense to assume the existence of a creator. But again, this is the realm of the unimaginable and the intangible, so maybe there is some way for this observer to come about through purely natural processes.

    In summary, it is possible to combine evolution and religion, but the only way to know for certain that there is a God is through undeniably spiritual connections.

  9. To begin with, theistic evolutionists believe that evolution is true (macroevolution and microevolution). They also believe that God, or some sort of divine being, is responsible for the creation of the universe and all life within the universe (1). That is where the religious part comes in. However, religion and evolutionary theory DO NOT have to be mutually exclusive. The basis for believing that a creator is responsible for all life stems from 2 different ideas: the impossibility for the universe to come into existence without the power of G-d, and the impossibility that life evolved on its own.

    To understand how evolution and religion can co-exist, we must examine the roots of theistic evolution. First, it is necessary to understand that the universe HAS NOT always existed. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity has been examined, and it is found that the 4 components that make up the universe, matter, space, time and energy, did NOT always exist (2). Therefore, if the 4 components of the universe did not exist, the universe came into existence with the big bang (More information here: 3). Another proposed theory was developed, since the theory of an infinite universe was false: the oscillating universe theory. However, this theory has been dis-proven as well because, "The most recent measurements of the CMBR or cosmic microwave background radiation shows that the Universe will continue on expanding and will most likely end in what is known as a Big Freeze or Heat Death" (4). In addition, studies have found that there is not enough matter in the universe to reverse the expansion of the universe back into the singularity (More information here: 5), in a process known as the big crunch (More information here: 6). Given that the universe has not always been infinite, energy which caused the big bang has not always existed. However, this violates the Law of Conservation of Energy (7). The question raised by theistic evolutionists, ID proponents, and creationists is: if the universe has natural laws that govern it, how can those laws have been violated, if even for a fraction of a second? Since there is currently no logical theory for the beginning of the universe, theistic evolutionists, ID proponents, and creationists claim that it was G-d who created the universe, since a divine entity is beyond the rules that govern the natural world. However, it is at this point that theistic evolution and ID/creationism deviate.
    Theistic evolutionists believe that along with creating the universe, G-d created all the natural mechanisms of the universe, and therefore, evolution. ID/creationists think that G-d is constantly intervening in the natural world (8,9), and is guiding the development of organisms (among other things).

  10. But before clashing in the belief of the truth of evolution, theistic evolutionists and ID/Creationists still believe the same thing: the possibility that life occurred on Earth, by its own means is virtually nothing. "A recent finding by scientists [...] [suggests] that [chances of] all 100 proteins [necessary for the simplest, self-replicating cell] are created in the proper way at the proper time is around 1/10^40,000" (10). Essentially, given the conditions present on Earth around the time life first appeared, abiogenesis is invalid. Since chance collisions between particles could not have formed self replicating life, it only reasons to believe that life was first started by divine intervention. At this point, according to theistic evolution, the mechanism of evolution and natural selection took hold and began to mold life, AFTER its Genesis. B/w theistic evolution and evolutionary theory, there are no discrepancies. In fact, evolution is adopted by these people, and the holes in evolutionary theory are filled. In a sense, if evolution is an arms race, then this was the spark (much like the Cold War) that started it. Evolution explains life as we know it, and divine intervention delineates on the origin of life. In this sense, religion and evolution do not conflict, because neither theory suggests that the other is false.

    On the question of is there room for evolutionary theory in religion, the response is simple (albeit a frustrating one): it depends on the religion and the degree to which this religion is believed. For example, let's examine Christianity. The more contemporary forms of Christianity evolve along with the times. In the original manuscript, homosexuality is implied to be a sin against G-d. However, some sects of Christianity, such as Lutherans, are considering to not see homosexuality as a sin (11). Clearly, the doctrine governing Christianity is changing, so it would not be such a stretch to imagine these sects advocating evolutionary theory as part of their belief system (since it does not conflict with G-d). On the other hand, fundamentalists would view the introduction of evolution into the Christian religion as blasphemy (12). Such people, generally creationists, strictly adhere to the Bible as absolute truth. In these cases, there is no room for evolution in religious beliefs.

    1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theistic_evolution
    2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_relativity
    3: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_bang
    4: http://www.universetoday.com/guide-to-space/the-universe/oscillating-universe-theory/
    5: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravitational_singularity
    6: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_crunch
    7: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_of_energy
    8: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligent_design
    9: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creationism
    10: http://erdmannevolution.blogspot.com/2010/04/is-it-mathematically-possible.html
    11: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/21/us/21lutheran.html
    12: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalist_Christianity