Evolution, Part I

Evolution

Logic & Light has touched on the issue of evolution in several posts.  But since this topic is of such importance, a more in-depth, multi-part analysis is warranted.

Evolution is a pivotal issue for several reasons.  First, it is the very foundation of the naturalistic worldview.  According to Richard Dawkins, Darwin’s philosophy made “it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist1.”  If evolution is not true, naturalism is unquestionably false.

Secondly, evolution has been used by many as a “wedge issue” that seeks to force people into a false choice between science or religion, as if they are opposites.  This tactic is increasingly used in colleges and universities by activist professors that intentionally seek to destroy students’ faith and free them from their supposedly childish fairy tales.

Finally, the assertion that evolution is supposedly a proven fact has had significant impact on society.  A greater acceptance of evolution has contributed to the decline of Christianity, the rise of moral relativism, and a weakened view of humanity and its uniqueness2.

Given these factors, it is important for Christians to be well-versed in evolutionary arguments and evidence, and to know how science actually supports creation.  However, it is also important for naturalists to take a closer look at evolution.  If you are currently an evolutionist, Logic & Light invites you to take this journey with us and honestly ask yourself a few questions.  What if Darwinian evolution is not true?  What evidence would be required for you to reject evolution?  Is there any evidence that will convince you or are you philosophically and emotionally committed to evolution?

In this six-part series, we will cover:

  1. The basic arguments for evolution
  2. What genetics really tells us
  3. The fossil record
  4. Ape to Man evolution
  5. Other challenges facing evolution
  6. Other challenges, continued

As we explore this issue, we’ll begin by summarizing the evidence that supports evolution.   It may surprise you to read on a Christian apologetics website that there is a lot of evidence consistent with the theory of evolution.  But since there are a lot of intelligent, well-educated people that firmly believe it, we should not be surprised by this fact.

It is important to note that biological change does occur.  Creationists (of both “young earth” and “old earth” varieties) agree on this point3.  Some mistakenly assume that change within or even between species over time is proof of evolution.  This is simply not the case.  For evolution to be true, it must account for observable biological change over time (which it can, to a degree), as well as the development of new and unique morphologies (body plans and parts) and the creation of new, functional genetic information (both of which it cannot).  The central issue of how new biological information and structures are created is paramount to any explanation of life and its development.  But before we go further into that issue, let’s address the evidence used to support evolution.

The Arguments for Evolution

Most of the evidence for evolution falls broadly into the areas of genetics and the fossil record.  As we review this evidence, we must keep a few things in mind.  First, while the evidence may be consistent with evolution, that only makes evolution theoretically possible, not definitely true.  For instance, there are cases where the evidence for evolution is also consistent with creationist models.  For evolution to be true, it is not enough for it to be consistent with some of the evidence.  To be true, evolution must be consistent with all the evidence.  This point is key and is what ultimately proves the falsity of the theory as there are several gaping holes that cannot be filled.

Genetic Evidence

The foundation of Darwinian evolution is that random genetic mutations, combined with natural selection, readily account for the creation and diversity of life given a vast geological timescale of ~4 billion years.  The high-level assertion that mutation plus natural selection creates biological diversity is philosophically sound.  Mutations, and therefore biological change, clearly occur.  The process of natural selection is common sense.  It is without question that organisms that are better suited to their environment are more likely to survive, leading to the proliferation of their genes.  Interestingly, creationists do not refute either of these propositions.

Beyond these two well-established facts, there is powerful new knowledge scientists have discovered through the study of DNA.  Geneticists have mapped multiple genomes, including humans, Neanderthals, chimpanzees, and other animals.  Scientists have noticed that there is a striking similarity in the DNA of many animals.  And the more closely related different species, genera, etc. appear (e.g. humans and chimpanzees, horses and zebras, etc.), the more similar their DNA is.  For instance, humans and chimpanzees seem to share about 98% of the same genes4!  Such genetic similarity is strongly consistent with the idea of common descent from a shared ancestor.

Most human DNA (~95%) does not code for proteins and much of these non-coding regions seem to have little or no function5.  Accordingly, many scientists theorize that these portions of the genome are simply “junk DNA” that is left over from millions of years of evolution.  As organisms evolve and experience mutation, certain portions of the genome go inactive.  Consequently, junk DNA is consistent with evolutionary theory and inconsistent with creation.  After all, why would an intelligent, omnipotent creator make a genome that is 95% “junk?”

Even more convincing than the existence of junk DNA is what scientists observed when they studied it.  It seems that humans and chimpanzees often share the same mutations (e.g. “broken genes”) in the same locations within their junk DNA6.  Evolutionarily speaking, this is most likely the case only if the mutations occurred prior to the split from a common ancestor so they are shared by two subsequent descendants7.  Consequently, similarities in junk DNA mutations between humans and chimpanzees provide convincing evidence for their common descent from a shared ancestor, and therefore, for evolution.

Fossil Record

Beyond the genetic evidence, there is further support for evolution in the fossil record.  From a high-level perspective, scientists see a clear progression from simpler to more complex life forms throughout time.  This overall pattern is completely consistent with what evolution predicts.

More importantly, archeologists have also discovered many “transitional” fossils that document the evolutionary steps between major species and other taxa.  For instance, the famous Archaeopteryx appears to be a clear step in the evolution of birds from reptiles.  The extinct Pakicetus, Ambullocetus, and others seem to illustrate a clear path for how land mammals evolved into whales8.

Beyond these simple transitional forms, scientists have a clear picture of the potential evolution of mankind.  Scientists have long suspected that humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor five to ten million years ago9.  Through many fossil discoveries over the past few decades, archeologists have proposed a relatively complete evolutionary path to modern man that includes Australopithecus ramidus, Australopithecus africanus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, and finally, Homo sapiens.  According to many, the evidence for the evolution of mankind is overwhelming and beyond debate.

Other Evidences

Evolutionists point to other evidences that support their theory such as atavisms.  An atavism is when apparently “dormant” DNA or genetic features from a past ancestor is reactivated today.  A textbook example is the supposed instances of humans born with tails.  These genetic mistakes, while rare, indicate descent from ancient, morphologically distinct ancestors.

Similar to atavisms are vestigial organs.  Vestigial organs are those features on an animal that no longer have specific functions.  While they certainly did in the ancient past, the function has been lost over time due to evolution.  Examples include the human appendix.

Evolutionists also point to “homologies” as evidence for common descent.  Homologies are instances of shared structures within biological organisms that demonstrate a common ancestor.  For example, similarities in the design of whale fins and human hands show that we evolved (very long ago) from a common mammal ancestor.

Examples of “bad design” in biology also argue against any form of intelligent plan behind life.  After all, an omnipotent, omniscient being would never design something as clumsy as the human eye with its inverted retina, nerves in front of the light sensitive parts that can block light, and inherent blind spot.  The fact that our air and food passages interconnect, thus creating the real possibility of choking to death from simply eating, is another instance of poor execution.  These and other examples of “bad design” are completely inconsistent with the idea of an intelligent agent, but are exactly what you’d expect if there was no actual plan behind evolution.  Since evolution only requires “good enough” design versus perfection, suboptimal structures can abound as long as they are better than the competition.  Since we see clear evidences of such poor designs, evolution must be true.

Conclusion

Part one of this series provides a high-level overview of the evidence that seems to support evolution.  It should be clear even from this summary, that scientists have numerous compelling reasons for believing evolution.  But do these facts close the argument?  Are all of these “facts” actually true or do they not tell the whole story?  Has the evidence been interpreted as proof of evolution simply because evolution was assumed by the scientists studying it?  Are they subject to other explanations?  Are there any facts that evolution cannot explain?  If so, is there a competing theory that can explain all of the issues?  For answers to these questions, you’ll have to move on to parts 2-6.

Notes:

  1. Dawkins, Dr. Richard. The Blind Watchmaker.  London: Penguin 1991.  6
  2. West, Dr. John G. Darwin’s Corrosive Idea.  Discovery Institute 2016.
  3. Sarfatti, Dr. Jonathan. Refuting Evolution 2.  Green Forest, AR: Master Books, Inc. 2005.  77-79
  4. http://whoami.sciencemuseum.org.uk/whoami/findoutmore/yourgenes/wheredidwecomefrom/whatareourclosestanimalrelatives
  5. Rana, Dr. Fazale and Ross, Dr. Hugh. Who Was Adam?  RTB Press 2015.  214.
  6. Pgs. 232-247
  7. Pgs. 232-247
  8. Sarfatti, Op. Cit. Pgs. 135-142
  9. Sanford, Dr. John and Rupe, Chris. Contested Bones.  FMS Publications 2017.  11
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