THE PHILOSOPHIES BEHIND THE VARIOUS THEORIES OF ORIGINS
What is the theory of evolution?
The term evolution basically means alterations through time - typically
very slow changes over a very long time interval. Strictly speaking, the theory
of evolution refers to the development of all of the species of plant and animal
life on earth, in the past and present. However, a leading evolutionary biologist,
Douglas J. Futuyma, in his book "Evolutionary Biology" (Sinauer
Associates 1986) gives a much wider definition:
"In the broadest sense, evolution is merely change, and so is
all-pervasive; galaxies, languages, and political systems all evolve. Biological evolution
... is change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of
a single individual."
Both the narrow and broad definitions of the term "evolution" are in
Evolution is often casually used to refer to a person's change during their
lifetime; e.g. "Her feelings have gradually evolved...." However, when
used in a scientific sense, it often relates to changes that often extend beyond a lifetime,
sometimes involving millions or even billions of years.
Some people confuse Darwinism with Evolution. Darwinism is simply Charles
Darwin's proposal for the methods by which natural processes cause the
evolution of the species. Stephen J Gould stated:
"Darwin continually emphasized the difference between his two great
accomplishments: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory--natural
selection--to explain the mechanism of evolution."
Many scientists, before and since, have supported evolution while proposing alternative
mechanisms that drive it. Evolution of galaxies, of the earth, of plant and animal life on
the earth are accepted by essentially all scientists, except those who are conservative
Christians - those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible.
Evolution, when interpreted in its broadest sense of "change through time",
impacts many sciences:
||astronomers view galaxies of stars that appear to be in different stages of development
in their lifetime which extends over many thousands of millions of years
||astronomers observe stars (including our own sun) which seem to be at different points
in their evolution, again having lifetimes of many thousands of millions of years
||astronomers view stars that are so far away from earth that it has taken billions of
years for their light to reach us.
||the twin planets of earth and Venus are similar in terms of distance from the sun,
diameter, internal makeup, etc. But Venus seems to have developed over billions of years
into a very hot, cloud-covered planet that is incapable of supporting life as we know it,
whereas the earth has evolved into a planet rich in many forms of life.
||paleontologists studying the fossil record have found evidence for the evolution of life
forms. The earliest fossilized life forms are simple, single-celled organisms found in
deeply buried rocks. They are dated as many hundreds of millions of years old. More recent
fossil lineages show evidence of species with increasing complexity. Most have died out,
but others have been traced to present day species, including humans.
||plant biologists see the same process in the fossil records of plants.
||geologists study the evolution of the continents and their present arrangement on the
earth's surface through continental drift. They have also analyzed the development of land
forms (e.g. mountain ranges), the rates of deposition for many types of sedimentary rock
and the cooling rates of many types of igneous rock. These and other earth processes
appear to have occurred over very long periods of time.
How Scientists Study Nature
Scientists have followed the scientific method of
inquiry for centuries in hundreds of different areas of specialty. This method involves:
||making observations and collecting data, while holding (as much as possible) no
||forming a hypothesis (an informed guess) of how things happen the way they do
||testing that hypothesis
||using the test results either to tentatively accept it or reject it.
||over time, if other scientists are able to replicate the testing, the hypothesis may
become a generally accepted theory.
Implicit in the scientific method is the assumption that there is a natural, logical
explanation for how things evolve. God is not invoked in the minute-by-minute operation of
the universe. If they can, scientists explain a phenomenon in terms of basic laws;
otherwise they simply admit that their knowledge is currently incomplete.
Whether this evolution was originally set in motion by a deity, or is guided by a deity
are philosophical and religious concerns outside the realm of scientific inquiry. Efforts
to deduce theological principles from nature are similarly outside the pale of scientific
endeavor, and are regarded with suspicion by many philosophers and scientists.
The precise mechanisms which drive the evolution of species are still hotly debated.
The current consensus is that primitive life evolved on earth about 3.5 billion years ago
in the form of bacteria; they left behind traces of fossilized remains. Primitive plants
subsequently evolved from the bacteria. A little over 1 billion years ago, small primitive
animals emerged. They are absent from the fossil record because they lacked hard bodies
and were not preserved in rock. The Cambrian period, (sometimes called the Cambrian
explosion), began about 550 million years ago. Newly evolved species had developed hard
bodies by this time, were preserved as fossils, and appear abundantly in the fossil
record. Dinosaurs first appeared about 200 million years ago and died off at the end of
the Cretaceous period, 64 million years ago. Mammals evolved from little four legged
creatures during the end of the dinosaur era into about 4,000 species today, including
A minority of scientists who are theistic evolutionists follow the "old
earth" theory of creation, in which species evolved under God's guidance during a
period of billions of years. They are primarily mainline and liberal Christians. They
believe in the fact of evolution, but believe that it was guided by God.
What is Creation Science?
There are probably hundreds of creation stories and myths among the religions of the
world. Some North American examples are:
||The account starting in Genesis 1:1 of the Hebrew Scriptures
(Old Testament). This describes an involved deity - a God who intervened in history a few
thousands of years ago and created the world and the rest of the universe by an act of
will or by uttering a phrase.
||The belief shared by many Native tribes that humans fell out of the sky into water, and
that sea animals brought up earth from the bottom of the sea to support the humans and
build "turtle island" (North America)
||The belief shared by other Native tribes that their ancestors once lived under the
surface of the earth, and emerged into this world through a small hole.
Most Creation scientists follow the "new earth" theory of creation.
They are typically Fundamentalist or other Evangelical Christians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. i.e. that the Bible is without error.
These are the individuals often seen in public debates with supporters of evolution. They
use the creation story (Genesis 1:1) and the
great flood (Genesis 6:1) as the foundations
for their beliefs. Many look upon evolution as denying their Gods' rightful role(s) as
creator. If they abandoned their faith in the precise accuracy of their sacred text's
creation stories, then they feel that many other traditional beliefs might be threatened,
including the story of the Garden of Eden, the "fall" of Adam and Eve, the
concept of original sin, and, ultimately, the need for a savior.
Studies by creation scientists:
The Institute for Creation Research and two similar organizations are tackling a
thorny problem which has plagued creation scientists for some time: how can a rock be
dated as being billions of years old by the use of radioisotope analysis, if the world
(and the rock) was created less than ten thousand years ago? Since creation scientists
regard the Bible as inerrant, they can only conclude that
various scientific analysis methods are in error by a factor of perhaps a million times. A
group of "young-earth creationists" met on 1997-JUL-5 to "discuss plans
for research and publication on radioisotopes and the age of the earth." Their
goal was to publish a single authoritative document that will prove to everyone that
radioisotope dating is hopelessly inaccurate and cannot be relied upon.
Their project is doomed to failure. The team is made up of 10 individuals who hold
identical opinions about the dating method. All being young-earth creationists, they start
their research with the belief that the measuring technique is worthless. Persons holding
alternative beliefs are not allowed to contribute to the study. Such a document will have
little credibility among other scientists. A similar investigation into the
accuracy of radioisotope dating, which was conducted by scientists who all
believe in evolution, would be rejected by creation scientists. The only type of
study that would stand a chance of being accepted by both regular scientists and
creation scientists would be one in which both sides were represented.
There is much fuzzy thinking in the Creation/Evolution debate:
||Sometimes, the debate is whether evolution actually happened or not. At other times, the
debate involves the detailed physical mechanisms which drove evolution (physical processes
or God). These two topics are often confused; they are often called by the same name:
||Some courts and scientists have concluded that creation science is not really a science.
Generally speaking, creation scientists are not willing to accept the possibility that
some future investigation or experiment will prove their beliefs are wrong. And a
long-held scientific standard is that true scientists must be open to falsification of
even established theories.
||Although they are often viewed as having a single, consistent belief system,
creationists hold many differing interpretations of the
||Contrary to common belief, the theory of evolution does not state that humans are
descendants of monkeys; scientists generally believe that the fossil record shows that
humans and monkeys have a common ancestor.
Other related essays dealing with evolution & creation science:
Copyright © 1998 to 2005 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-AUG-30
Author: B.A. Robinson