|Evolution and the argument from design|
|In this essay I’m going to try to tackle the subject of evolution. This topic is so much discussed and covers so much territory that I’m a little reluctant to get into it. But here we go.
First of all when we talk about the evolution/creation debate we should note that there are a wide range of opinions. This site outlines some of them:
I would describe the typical creationist positions in three categories.
1) Young earth creationists, who believe the earth is only a few thousand years old.
2) “Strong” old earth creationists who believe species do not change and were each individually created.
3) “Weak” old earth creationists that believe intervention took place at key moments, including the creation of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of man.
We will also look at the idea of "Theistic evolution".
I don’t expect to be able to talk anyone out of any position on this page. However, I would ask a creationist reading this site to stop and complete the phrase, “I do not believe evolution is true, because…” and then go search this site for that topic. http://www.talkorigins.org/
Another interesting exercise is to take a look at the course listing for a major graduate biology program, like university of Chicago.
These courses are not asking, “Did evolution happen?” They are studying the details. The consensus in the scientific community that evolution did happen is near complete. There is debate about the details, but no debate that evolution happened.
More useful pages:
Young earth creationism
I mostly cover my response to this idea on another page. http://www.davegentile.com/philosophy/inerrancy.html
It will always be possible to defend any believe if one is willing to make any and every needed assumption. The final fall back of the young-earth creationist position is just that God simply made earth have the appearance of “oldness”. Light was created in transit from the stars. The bones were created in the earth, etc. Of course one could also argue that the universe was crated 5 minutes ago, with everyone’s memories intact. Some of the actual explanations given by young earth creationists stop only a few steps short of this, in my opinion.
It is often claimed by YE creationists that scientists make certain assumption, and they just make different ones. This is true. But the assumptions are not about things like "radioactive decay has always had a constant rate" or "light has always had the same speed". There is observational evidence to support these ideas, so they are not assumption. Rather, the assumptions are of an epistemological nature. That is, they are assumptions about how we know things. My first essay covers this in detail. I would contend that once the assumptions made on that page are accepted, and the evidence is examined, YE creationism must be rejected.
One interesting question is what motivates people that work for the ICR, and other young earth creationists groups. One factor may be that they have a very lucrative market in textbooks for the home-school market. They may also be true believers, who, even if they know their arguments are very flawed, consider in to be all for the good if they keep more Christians in the fold.
Interestingly, there are old-earth creationists with real science credentials, that are very critical of the approach taken by the young-earth creationists.
Also see this article on radioactive dating by a Christian with a Ph.D. physics.
In short, the young-earth creationists do not do anything near science. They start with an assumed position, and make whatever assumptions are needed in order to make the evidence fit the assumed position. They engage in rhetoric with no true substance, and do not represent an intellectually honest position.
“Weak” old earth creationism
This position is similar to the “god of the gaps” idea. That is religion is invoked in places where science does not have answers. One problem with this is that historically, science has closed many gaps. The origin of life is currently not understood. There are theories, but no detailed account. Personally, when I see a pattern like 1,2,3…10,11,12 I tend to think there were more numbers in between, but I can’t prove it. There is no way to prove, or even offer direct evidence against the idea that God said poof and created the first living things. But the evidence for evolution shows us a pattern, and leads us to evolution as the most probable explanation for what we see.
We know that complex things can produce more complex things given time and energy. Both living and non-living systems do this. This pattern allows any level of complexity to be formed, if enough time and energy is available, just by following the pattern of increasing complexity.
Similarly, we don’t know for sure what if anything came before the big bang.
The origin of man is a bit different. The fossil record has become more complete in recent years. There are many homo-erectus finds covering the time period from 1,000,000 to 100,000 years ago, with brain size increases over the time span, and stone tool use through-out the period. The teaching company has a good course on this topic. http://www.teach12.com/ttc/assets/coursedescriptions/1573.asp
In addition we can now compare DNA to offer additional evidence that men and apes evolved from a common ancestor. So, this is a question where science can offer direct evidence. On the other hand, its impossible to prove a divine being did not intervene here, since it is never really possible to prove anything with absolute certainty. See http://www.davegentile.com/philosophy/knowledge.html
While I do not agree with this position, it is an honest intellectual position that can be arrived at by an individual concerned both with the evidence from nature and from the Christian church and the bible.
“Strong” old earth creationism
While I believe the evidence from modern biology, against this position is extremely solid and persuasive, I have found it one of the more interesting positions to debate since it involves an exploration of the genetic mechanisms for evolution.
A good textbook on the subject is:
"Evolution" – Strickberger
I was particularly interested in the mathematics of a mutation moving through the population discussed in the later chapters of the book.
Often the arguments here revolve around complexity, and if DNA can add information content, and if this has actually been observed. Creationists have also come up with the term “irreducible complexity”.
Irreducible complexity involves the idea that certain structures could not have evolved, because they are multi-part, and the parts are useless alone. The answer to this involves scaffolding. In human constructions scaffolding may be used to assist in construction, and removed later. This same sort of process can lead to “irreducible complexity” in living things. http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/behe.html
Society can produce things that appear to be irreducibly complex too. There would be no need to build a gasoline refinery without cars, but no one would build cars without gasoline. If we don't think that both could come into being at the same time, then which came first and why? In this case gasoline was first produced as a by-product of kerosene for lamps. Anyone who has seen the show "Connections" knows that society can develop something for one purpose, and later use it for something else. The evidence of its original purpose may then disappear. There is no reason evolution can not do the same thing.
The simplest way to look at this is just to say that we have to remember that evolution can remove parts as well as add them. "Irreducible complexity" tries to argue that the structures could not be built one piece at a time. But even if that is true, it does not eliminate the possibility that something larger could have been built one step at a time, and afterwards pieces were removed.
Of more interest to me, is how general complexity increases. It appears that the process often involves a bit of DNA that gets copied into more than one location. The cell now has redundant copies. One copy may be vital, and can not change, but now the second copy is free to drift over time, and can produce a related structures. It appears that human hemoglobin and myoglobin proteins arose by a process like this.
The simple act of making an extra copy of the bit of DNA does not increase the information content. It increases the size of the DNA molecule, but not what it can do. But a copy, followed by subsequent mutations, can increase information content.
Again see the text on evolution. Also, see this page on transposons.
We can now observe the tree of life found in the fossile record, and the tree of life that we can map by looking at genetic difference in DNA. These trees match up rather well. That would be quite a coincidence if evolution were not true.
I'll say more about Theistic views on subsequest pages, particularly related to process Theology. However, here I just want to cover the most basic idea. Evolution requires both natural selection and random mutation. For "random" the Theist could read "non-deterministic" and then see at least some non-deterministic events as choices made by God. According to science, evolution has the capacity to produce the observed changes over time we see in the fossil and DNA record. According to the Theist, God also has the capacity to cause these changes. Thus the Theist can attribute the evolution of humans on earth to choices made by God, or to some combination of choices and random events. Conflict eliminated.
The argument from design
One of the traditional arguments for God was that the complexity of the natural world needed a designer. Obviously by providing a naturalistic mechanism for arriving at this complexity, evolution seriously challenged that argument. However, in another essay, we look at how the materialistic picture painted by evolution, and one involving freewill and thought, could both simultaneously be true. Also see this page on "Intelligent Design"
The argument from design also suffers somewhat from selective perception. It looks around at the beautiful things in the world, and says, “There must be a God”, while it ignores natural evil in the world. This is the theodicy problem. I describe one possible answer to that problem here:
One can also find arguments made that say the universe is “finely tuned” to produce humans. The problem is that we do not understand the underlying physics enough to know why certain quantities are what they are. In some cases, it may be the case that they could not have been any other way. Sometimes it is also suggested that this may just be one of many universes that have various different properties and we live, obviously, in the one compatible with us. One problem with this is that it is not possible (and probably never will be possible) to obtain evidence of a universe outside of this one.
While I’m not sure the current “fine tuning” arguments have much merit, there is an underlying point. Science will never be able to say, “The universe could not have been any other way”. Pure deductive logic can not arrive at real world truths, without observation. See my first essay http://www.davegentile.com/philosophy/knowledge.html
We will always need some observation, that we call fundamental, and then derive other things from that. We could make our fundamental observations things like particles and natural laws, or we could start from the other perspective, and make the fundamental observation that we exist.
Either way our existence, and the existence of a universe compatible with us, is ultimately an observation, not something that could be arrived at as a logical necessity. We can not argue things had to be the way they are. But then again, a single observation of what IS tells us nothing of WHY?
We could define God as the answer to this "WHY?" question,
and then in ansewer to the question "Why God?", we could point to:
Exodus 3:14 "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM:"
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