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The origin and development of living species

Naturalistic evolution: one of three origin models

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This essay describes naturalistic evolution. This is one of three main belief systems about the origin of the species.

Other essays in this section describe the other two main systems: creation science and theistic evolution.

Two naturalistic evolution models:

These models accept that biological evolution happened, and that it was caused by purely natural forces, without a specific goal in mind, and without any input from a supernatural being:

bullet Naturalistic evolution (a.k.a. "atheistic evolution" "naturalistic evolution," "the theory of evolution," or simply "evolution"): This is a belief that attempts to explain development of all living species from the first living cell to the present diversity of plant and animal species. Evolution proceeded in response to natural processes, without intervention from God or other deities. Evolution happened blindly without a goal.

Belief in evolution directly interfaces with other branches of science:
bullet Cosmology, the study of the development of the universe. This includes the "big bang" concept of the first few seconds of the universe's existence.
bullet Abiogenesis, the study of the development of the first living cell from non-living matter. This field of study is still in its infancy.

The theory of evolution is coupled with cosmology and abiogenesis and other "ologys" leads to a comprehensive model the origin of the species, the earth itself, the solar system, and the rest of the universe.

The universe started in a "big bang," -- a natural phenomenon, not involving God in any way. The coalescence of the earth, the development of its crust, the appearance of life in the form of a single-celled life form and the development of new species through evolution are all viewed as having proceeded strictly by blind natural processes. A minority of scientists believe that species evolved more or less at a regular rate over the past few billions of years. Most believe, on the basis of the fossil record, that species evolved through a process of "punctuated equilibrium". A given species continued to live for long periods of time with few changes. A small group became isolated from the main group and was subjected to different environmental pressures. A new species evolved from the old very quickly in evolutionary time. Scientists assume that there was no intervention by a God in any of these processes.

If one were to go back to the age of the dinosaurs, many tens of millions of years ago, there were no humans. There were small mammals which were our distant ancestors. Most scientists believe that the dinosaurs were wiped out by the environmental changes brought about by an asteroid impact. If that collision did not happen, then the evolution of the species may well have taken an entirely different path. Intelligent species might have evolved by now -- tens of millions of years later -- looking very different from human beings. Perhaps they would have green scales in place of skin. Alternately, intelligent species might not have evolved by now at all.

The term "atheistic evolution" is really a misnomer, because belief in evolution is not limited to Atheists. Agnostics, Deists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others can and do believe in the existence of both a supreme being (or beings) and naturalistic evolution. That is, an individual may believe in God, and simultaneously hold the belief that one or more supreme beings had no involvement in either driving or guiding evolution.

The philosophical foundation of naturalistic evolution is not Atheism, as many conservative Christians assert. Rather, it is the belief that the most productive scientific research results when scientists assume that all events in the universe happen as a result of perfectly natural forces. Another way of expressing this is that scientists assume that the events that they are studying did not occur as a result of miracles created by God. This is a sensible approach, because if God regularly interfered with natural processes and performed many miracles, then there would be no processes that could be studied scientifically.

Philosophers and theologians have been attempting to prove the existence of God for thousands of years and have come up with many "proofs." None have been totally convincing. If at any time in the future, it becomes possible to prove the existence of one or more creator Gods, then scientists would have to acknowledge the presence of an supreme deity and be on the lookout for her/his/their/its direct involvement in nature.

bullet Deistic evolution: This is a hybrid belief system combining belief in a deity who created the universe, and in the evolution of the species as a result of natural forces. In the belief, God created the universe, perhaps using the "big bang" about 14 billion years ago as his method. He set up basic laws to govern the running of the universe, and then left the scene entirely. God has not been seen or heard from since. The earth coalesced about 4 or 5 thousand million years ago without any input from God. Later, elementary life forms formed, which evolved into the animals and plant life that we see today through purely natural forces. It is essentially identical to naturalistic evolution, excepts that it reserves one action for God: that of initially creating the universe and its laws. This belief is common among Deists. A sizeable minority of North Americans believe in Deism, although most have never heard of the religion.

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Copyright 1995 to 2013, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on 1995-NOV-3
Most recent update: 2013-OCT-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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