Monday, December 19, 2011

On Evolution

I had an engaging discussion with some good friends last night regarding evolution. I have written in the past on evolution and science, and while I recommend you read all of the posts there, I thought I might share some more thoughts on this specific subject in a more easy-to-read, edited post.

When a Christian approaches the subject of evolution, he must do so with great caution. There is absolutely no theory of science which is so divisive between Christians and non-Christians than that of evolution. I think it is absolutely critical (as I have stated before) for Christians to understand at least the basics of why they believe what they believe. They do not have to be an expert, but certainly any college graduate who is a Christian has had at least two or three semesters of science and biology, and should be able to reasonably explain what parts of evolutionary theory they accept, what parts they deny, and why.

So let us understand evolution briefly.

When I look at evolution, I find it useful to break it into three sub-component concepts:

(1) Microevolution/Natural Selection. Microevolution says that, when a genetic mutation occurs in an individual, sometimes that mutation is beneficial—that is, the individual will have a higher likelihood of survival than his peers. So, as long as some other factor does not come into play (natural disaster, plague, predator, etc.), this individual is likely to live longer than his peers and father more children. Thus, his mutation will spread. Given a long enough period of generations, this mutation can become the dominant feature within a breeding population. This process is called ‘natural selection’—which is a bit of a misnomer, since nature is inanimate and does not ‘select’ anything; it would be better termed, “probabilistic dominance’ of a trait.

There is quite a bit of experimental evidence for this—Darwin’s finches, the Galapagos tortoises, numerous experiments done with e coli and other fast-breeding populations. In addition, there is nothing at all in the concept of microevolution which disagrees with the Biblical record. Indeed, speaking as an engineer—it is a wise Designer who creates flexibility in His designs! In engineering we call that modularity, and it is completely conceivable that God could have designed His creatures with modularity so that they could respond to changing environments over the ages. Indeed, there is really no other concept that readily springs to mind for how He could guarantee His creatures a long lifetime on earth.

(2) Macroevolution. Macroevolution is the extrapolation of microevolution—assuming that if this happens on the sub-species level, perhaps it happens on the species level as well. So macroevolution takes all of the evidences in microevolution and assumes that they also apply to species generation (and assumption which I do not find to be warranted). The macroevolutionist looks back at the fossil record and commonality of body styles, and says that microevolution to a grander scale creates the descent of creatures from single-celled organism to our modern man.

It probably goes without saying that macroevolution is the thing which is most against Christian thought. Evolutionists see the fossil record and conclude a common ancestry; creationists see the fossil record and conclude a common Designer. The Bible is quite clear about God’s active role in creating at least families of animals (the “kinds” of Genesis 1 and 2), and is very specific about the creation of man. So macroevolution and the Bible are at significant odds.

(3) Randomness in the descent of man. The third key principle is, ultimately, whether all of these changes have a guiding purpose. Christian scripture seems to completely exclude the possibility that God would allow true randomness—unguided change—to create new species and mankind. Yet evolution is completely based upon the concept of random mutations—no end goal or purpose in mind.

Needless to say, the randomness debate is mutually exclusive between evolutionists and Christian.

Now that we have all had our biological refresher, what does that mean for the Christian?

This statement will no doubt shock some of my readers, but--There is absolutely no good reason for the Christian to reject microevolution (#1 above). This component of evolution is well demonstrated, does not disagree with the Bible in any way, and can also be a great “conversation starter” for the Christian and atheist. Indeed, I see it as a great example of how the Creator-God allowed His creations to continue to thrive in environmental changes that He knew would be coming. So I have no problem with this concept. (Heck, every good engineer knows that a key component of design is giving enough modularity/flexibility that your machine can be adjusted as needed to match future needs!)

However, problems become manifold with #2 and #3 above. In these aspects, Christians are well-justified to reject them. The scientific evidence is unconvincing: you will find that virtually every bit of evolutionary evidence falls into two categories—either it is (A) proof of #1, microevolution, which we do not (or rather, should not) oppose, or (B) it is indirect ‘evidence’ of interpreting the fossil record, rather than a true scientific experimental result.

I will not spend space here going through each of these, but suffice it to say that the evolutionist will struggle mightily to provide evidence of #2 and #3. A few example discussions on #2 and #3 are useful:
• We have purposefully—not randomly—cross-bred dogs for thousands of years, and have yet to create a new species. If we cannot do it with intelligent purpose, how can randomness do it?
• We do not have experimentally demonstrated a method that one species can, through random (or purposeful, for that matter!) mutation, create multiple chromosomes…and yet, different species have different numbers of chromosomes. How? Why? Please demonstrate it.
• Please provide an experimental plan that we can use to predict development of a new species. For example: if I take a breeding population of 10,000 e coli bacteria, place one with such-and-such mutation and let them breed, then in 50,000 generations we will have a new species created, because of X, Y, and Z. (I have yet to see macroevolution take even a baby-step toward grown-up, experimental science such as this.)

But please, dear Christian, before you go into this debate, do me a favor—know your own belief system.

So you want to reject macroevolution? Great—so do I. Now you need to know what you believe. The choices are as follows:

Theistic Evolution: the belief that macroevolution did happen, but that God “weighted the dice” at the beginning of time so that it would happen according to his guided plan. In my opinion, this is philosophical nonsense. If God controls the mutations, then this falls into “intelligent design”; if not, then it is random, and God by definition can have no impact. So to me, this is not an intellectually achievable position. Please reject it.

Intelligent Design: this position accepts the fossil record, and may even accept #1 and #2 both above. It declines to accept #3—it says that some outside intelligent agent (God, a god, hyper-intelligent alien forces, etc.) designed life on earth rather than randomness. Intelligent Design does not actually point to a Christian God at all; it is more broad than that, the kind of approach that, say, a Deist, Christian, Muslim, and Jew can all agree with.

Old Earth Creationism: this position accepts evolutionary principle #1 but rejects #2 and #3. It also accepts an old earth. This can happen in a number of ways. Some versions of old earth creationism (such as the Day-Age Theory or Relativistic creationism) say that the earth aged several billion years in the six days of Genesis 1—this also has the support of ancient Jewish scholars, who said that many eras were included within the days of Genesis. Other Old Earth Creationists use the Gap Theory—that there is a Gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, allowing the earth to be formed before God began working on it. In either case, these Christians tend to accept the findings of geology and astrophysics and microevolutionary biology, but reject macroevolution or the belief in random evolution.

Cosmic Time Creationism: this position uses the findings of Relativity to argue that the six days of creation were literal 24 hour days...during which the clock on earth aged billions of years. Relativity allows this and in fact the logic is strong. The argument is also made using ancient Hebrew commentaries (to eliminate any chance of modern science affecting our understandings of the Bible. Jewish physicist Gerald Schroeder is the originator and the theory seems quite brilliant and biblically sound to boot. This position generally accepts evolutionary principle 1 but most adherents reject principles 2 and 3.

Young Earth Creationism: this position rejects all aspects of evolution (#1, 2, or 3), and asserts a literal six, twenty-four hour days creation. Thus it also rejects the findings of astrophysics and geology. This has long been the primary belief of Fundamentalist, Charismatic, and even some more mainstream Baptist churches.

(Full disclosure: I am a Cosmic Time Creationist, who wholeheartedly accepts microevolution/adaptability and completely—and loudly—rejects macroevolution or randomness in the descent of man. God designed us and actively and individually created every species--or at least, every 'kind', as per Genesis 1 & 2--of creature on earth. There was no randomness above the species level.)

In conclusion, if I am to give you advice before you begin a discussion with evolutionists regarding why you believe what you believe, I give the following advice:

1. Know what you believe. Are you an Old Earth Creationist, a Theistic Evolutionist, etc.? Do you reject all three tenants of evolution, or just #2 and #3?

2. If you are philosophically okay with tenant #1, stipulate that to them early. Let them know that you believe in an old earth, and microevolutionary processes. This will help keep them from seeing your position as irreconcilable to their own. Otherwise they will see themselves as too ‘superior’ to you for your discussion to be of any value.

3. Keep it calm, and to the facts. Let them talk about the evidence—and ask them about specifics: demonstrated experimental evidence, as any good scientist should have. If they have it, ask them if that is evidence for micro or macroevolution. You and they will both be surprised when all evidence falls into the “micro” category, which is completely reconcilable with Scripture.

In the end, I give the same advice I always give on this blog—whether discussing theology or science: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.”

In your discussion, are you exhibiting Christian love (calmness, non-judgmentalism, but a desire to demonstrate God’s truth)?

In your discussion, are you staying firm on the “essentials” of our faith—that God was an active Creator, that He made man in His image (mind-body-soul), that we fell from our relationship with Him, that He became incarnate in the flesh to redeem us from our sins, that He was truly dead and truly rose from the grave, and that He will return to judge the living and the dead?

In your discussion, are you granting the “non-essentials” in liberty—feel free to believe the earth is as old or young as you want, as long as you agree that God made it; feel free to believe in microevolution or not, as long as you believe it was guided and not random; etc?


  1. Nice writeups lately, however, I disagree that a YEC would reject 1, 2, and 3.

  2. Interesting - you may have a point. I suppose I did rather jump to a conclusion--most YECs I know reject all three, but you do not have to for any particular philosophical reason. I suppose what I should have said was: a Young Earth Creationist would have to reject all three UNLESS they expected a higher-than usual mutation spread rate. YEC does not leave enough time for variation within a species (such as canines) to happen by microevolution. But you are right--if God is creating the change, then why could it not go at the highest possible breeding rates? Of course it could. In fact, it almost certainly would.

    So I amend my statement. Most YEC's I have met, as a matter of practicality, reject 1, 2, and 3. However, this is not a necessity of the theory. :)

    By the way...I'm liking your blog!

  3. Archbishop Usher determined the Earth was created in 4004 BC, based on his interpretation of the bible. It appeared in print as a footnote in the King James bible. At the time this was a remarkable feat, considering nobody had given much thought to the actual date of creation. With 400 or so years of geology, astronomy, chemistry, physics, etc. it now seems the age of the Earth is more along the line of 4 billion years. My question is, do YEC's base their belief on Archbishop Usher's research or have they run their own "begat" test? And why is it necessary to hang on to the young Earth concept anyway other than to protect a 400 year old estimate by an Archbishop of the Church of England? The date never appears in the bible except as a footnote added after Usher's writings.

  4. Evolution is a "conceptual framework" not a "truth". Science, by definition, may not use supernatural explanations. So evolution theory will never prove or disprove God or creation. It will only offer a possible non supernatural explanation for the observed fossil record. Atheists will accept it because it fits well with their belief system, true fundamentalists will reject it because it brings into question too many of their beliefs and non fundamentalist Christians will carry on as always, being offended when Atheists question their belief in God, and when fundamentalists suggest they should not accept evolution theory because it rejects God.