Thoughts on Evolution

As I start this essay, the 150th birthday of Charles Darwin is only a few weeks past. The science media is full of talk about evolution, and about the evolutionism/creationism controversy, so I am going to try to summarize my thoughts on the subject.

I've thought about it for a long time. I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, and they are creationists. (I am now more of a generic Protestant, but some things stick.) On the other hand, I've had a lifelong interest in science and have three science-related degrees. So evolution and creation relate to how I put the two sides of my head together.

On the first cut, at least, I'm going to write several little items about different topics within this whole issue. If they can link up later, great.

Ad Hominem Sapiens

One thing about this controversy that strikes me is the surprising vitriol of it, especially on the evolutionist side. There is just as much anger on the creationist side, but you expect it: these people are having their faith challenged. Why so much anger on the evolution side?

Look at embryonic stem cell research vs. the right-to-life movement. Of course the right-to-life people are often very emotional since, in their view, every time an embryo is destroyed, a baby is killed. But the stem cell researchers don't display a symmetrical anger, that I ever heard, even though they are being accused of infanticide, may have their safety threatened, and see promising avenues of medical research being blocked; they just sigh and petition government agencies or look for alternative branches of research. Maybe I just haven't read the right news reports.

I think evolutionists get more whipped up because, just like the creationists, they are defending their faith—that is, not just a proposition that they give assent to, but a world-view that means a lot to them.

That, at least, would explain why they don't want a word said against evolution in schools. Naturally, they don't want creationism taught as any kind of "alternative theory," because they think it is plain wrong. But they don't even want students and teachers to look for weak spots in the theory of evolution, as was recently demonstrated in a case in Texas:

Scientific American
Evolution News

I don't think astronomers would object to critiques of the Big Bang theory. But you can bet that lots of people would object very loudly to high school lectures critiquing the bases of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam (though believers are used to that sort of thing at the college level, by now). The loud objections to criticism of evolution have the same motive

Richard Dawkins once said that evolutionary theory allowed one to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. It is by no means true that everyone who believes in evolution is an atheist, but, for all atheists, evolution occupies the mental place of a creation account.

So, when evolutionists reject letting Intelligent Design theory be discussed on the grounds that it's a way of sneaking in arguments for theism, I get impatient. Of course that's what ID is.* And equally of course, evolution is a way of sneaking in arguments for atheism.

* (More exactly, Intelligent Design is (1) a critique of mainstream evolutionary theory and (2) an effort to prepare the ground for theism, to show that theism can have a place in the world.)

Creationist Motives

Let's look a little more closely at the creationist motives. They are defending their faith, but in what particulars?

The most obvious particular is that the evolutionary account contradicts the creation account given in the first chapter of Genesis. At least, it contradicts a literal reading of that account. Why is literalism important?

In general, Biblical literalists disapprove of non-literal interpretation because they fear that, once your allow it, symbolism and metaphor can be used to argue away any article of faith.

But not all creationists are literalists—only the ones that get the most media coverage. Many Christian creationists don't care about a literal reading of Genesis 1 (and may, for instance, accept a "day-age theory" interpretation) but still want to retain belief in an historical Adam and Eve, and the Fall of Man.

This is because the apostle Paul speaks of Christ as removing or breaking the curse of death on the human race that was brought on us by Adam. Christ's death and resurrection are historical events altering the consequences of other historical events. Nor does Paul give any indication of being figurative when he writes this way.

There is also the matter of theodicy, the old Problem of Evil. Not all of our problems are produced by human evil, but a lot of them are, probably the bulk. Why are people so prone to evil? If God made us that way (or evolved us that way, or let us evolve that way), then the fault is His. But if we made ourselves that way, the fault is ours.

Finally, Christianity hinges on a miracle, the Resurrection. If you are going to believe in that miracle, you believe in a God Who deals with His world, interacts with it. Miracles are rare, of course, but if you already believe in one, done for the human race, it seems odd to picture a world history in which there were no others at all through all the pre-human ages.

Imperialistic Weltanschauungen

(Isn't "Weltanschauung" a great word? It's the German original of "world-view," and sounds even more impressive. Also, it's broader than "ideology.")

Evolution as a theory in biology is one thing. It goes approximately: "In a population of organisms, the differential survival of some inheritable random variations in that population causes common features of organisms in the population to change over generations." This has been observed in the laboratory and in nature, and only the most frothingly conservative theists have any trouble with it.

But there is a more extreme position—call it evolutionism. Its version of evolutionary theory goes, "In a population of organisms, all features of the individual organisms arise from nothing but the differential survival of inheritable random variations in that population." This causes much more conflict with theists. (Not total conflict. Theism includes some very adroit philosophers. But even in those cases, they are likely not giving exactly the same meaning to the word "random" that evolutionism would.)

The conflict arises because evolutionism is imperialistic. For it, evolution has to be the only origin of biological features. And it has to be The Only Way because the main alternative is some form of theism, which is antithetical to materialism—the doctrine that the material world is the only reality. Materialism is the Weltanshauung of the angriest evolution-defenders.

If there was another naturalistic theory—for instance, if we had some evidence that Hoyle and Wickramasinghe were right and eons-old aliens might had been doing deliberate panspermia all over the galaxy for ages—I bet there would be considerably less objection to the idea that evolution is inadequate to explain all biological features. As long as we don't have to bring God into it.

Religions, of course, are also imperialistic, because all of them are Weltanschauungen. Science doesn't have to be imperialistic, but evolutionism does, in its capacity as part of the materialism Weltanschauungen.

Well, but...

There is a sense in which science is driven to be imperialistic. It will try to use a hypothesis to cover as many phenomena as possible, partly to test the hypothesis—see how far it can stretch—partly because it is simpler, more elegant, to cover the phenomena with as few hypotheses as possible.

But if you already believe in God (or the gods, or the elan vital, or panspermatic aliens, or morphogenic fields), then there is no decrease in elegance in using them to explain some biological features when a purely evolutionary explanation looks unlikely.

This raises the question of whether supernatural agents are legitimate scientific hypotheses.

God as a Scientific Hypothesis

I do not think the real problem of introducing God as a scientific hypotheis arises in the way it's usually said to. Usually, I read that God shouldn't be brought in because He's supernatural and scientific theories should deal only with nature.

Oh? Who says? The scientific method is to explain something with a hypothesis and then test that hypothesis to see if it holds up. Nothing there about "natural" or "supernatural," which are actually pretty tricky words to define.

The catch is in the testing. How do you test whether some phenomenon is due to God or not? God is omnipotent, so you can never rule Him out by saying this phenomenon is something He can't do. Even worse, He is omniscient, therefore He is much smarter than you and knows all about any scheme you may come up with to make tests on Him. Worst of all, because He is infinitely smarter and more knowledgable than you, how can you be sure what evidence of His activity would look like?

So using God as a scientific hypothesis is indeed difficult. I do not know that it is impossible, though.

Also, even if we agree that we ought not to bring in God when doing science, it does not follow that we should never bring God into our thinking at all, that He has no place in philosophy, either public or personal. That would follow if all thought ought to be scientific thought, but who says it ought to be? Science itself does not say that; the scientific method says nothing about "ought" in any sense except what you "ought" to do with a hypothesis—test it, and accept it the more tests and the more stringent tests it passes.

Another reason often given for excluding God from science is that belief in God is a matter of faith, which has no place in science. I have given what I think are the reasons for being cautious about bringing God into science, but faith is not one of them.

(The best reason for not involving God in science, I think, is to let scientists of different religious persuasions work together.)

Faith within Science

When people oppose science and religion, they often put it as an opposition between science and faith. Faith sits there and believes what it's told; science goes out and sees for itself. But this opposition has very little reality.

First of all, scientists and science fans do a great deal of believing what they're told, too. If you are a biologist, you almost certainly rely on astronomers to look through the telescopes, do the math, and tell you about cosmology; you don't do it yourself. You let physicists tell you about the quantum mechanical basis for the properties of the organic molecules you work with. You count on other people to make the observations and tell the truth.

That's not utterly different from the religious faithful tracing their beliefs back to the reported experiences of prophets and apostles.

Well, but in theory a layman could go to the observatory, make the same observations, do the same math, and come to the same conclusions as the astronomers. (In part. At any given time, scientists using the same data are still arguing several issues about what the data means.)

Yes, and anyone can, in theory, devote themselves to complete holiness and the service of the divine, and get quite a spiritual eye-opener. There are several invitations to just that in the Bible. The prerequisites for first-hand religious experience and first-hand scientific experience are different, but in both cases the first-hand experience is available. (And in both cases, people disagree about the conclusions to be drawn.)

Second, on a more abstract level, science is based on some articles of faith.

The most fundamental article of faith in science is belief in inductive reasoning. This is the principle that, if something is true in all the cases you've examined, it is probably true in the cases you have not examined, too. Note "probably." Unlike deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning does not give you certainty.

The relationship between inductive and deductive reasoning, whether you can derive the one from the other, whether inductive reasoning is really necessary to science, and whether induction can provide real knowledge, are foundational issues in philosophy of science. The general position is that the inductive principle simply has to be taken as a basic premise even though it cannot be proved. In other words, it's taken on faith.

Behind the inductive principle are other articles of faith: that there is a real environment out there, and that our sense perceptions give some reasonably reliable information about it.

It may be objected that these don't take a lot of faith to believe, rather it takes extraordinary faith to disbelieve them. But that is not the point. The point is that these fundamental ideas cannot be proved, nor are they logical axioms. Yet we all believe them (except for some rigorously idealistic philosophers and mystics, when they are not relapsing into ordinary life), and science presupposes them.

If belief in unproved things is faith, then there is faith in the structure of science, so faith and science cannot be a sheer opposition.

Belief in evolutionism (as distinct from evolution or evolutionary theory) has its own specific articles of faith, which we will get to next.

Equal Ignorance

The origin of life.

A favorite exercise in creationist literature is to take some simple protein or gene and calculate the odds on it forming at random. Typically, the author makes outrageously generous concessions for the number of combinations per second, or for the fidelity to the exact model, but they always find that the chances are ten-to-the-something-horrid to one against hitting the mark. They then point out that several thousand such molecules would be needed to form a single primordial cell.

Evolutionists retort that we have no way of knowing how many possible configurations there are for a successful primoridal cell. If there are enough, then there is no problem.

This is quite correct, but the catch is that the evolutionist doesn't know for sure that there are plenty of possibilities, any more than the creationist knows for sure that there aren't enough.

Recently, the RNA World hypothesis has reduced the size of the primordial organism to a single RNA molecule, which helps the evolutionist, but I'm sure the same game can still be played, with the same ignorance on both sides. (For that matter, the RNA World may be currently popular, but it has difficulties, and such origin theories have come and gone many times in the past. It would be rash to count on the RNA World theory becoming permanent. It might, or it might not.)

Furthermore, such calculations are irrelevant until we know how common life is in the universe. If we discover alien life elsewhere in the Solar System—in Martian dirt, or in the ice-capped ocean of some frozen moon—we will have a good indication that life appears readily and is common. But if we don't, we will only know that life isn't that common. Life might appear in most habitable star systems, or Earthly life might be unique in all the visible universe and (for all we can tell) a great way beyond, or its frequency might be anywhere in between.

The only scrap of empirical evidence we have on this issue is that life seems to have appeared on Earth just about as soon as it could physically survive. That suggests life appears readily. But it still doesn't tell you if it appears readily because it's physically easy for it to appear spontaneously, or because God or something is eager to make it appear. For that, you must compare the actual incidence of life with the a priori chances for it, and we don't know how to calculate those chances nor do we know the actual incidence of life in the universe.

Intermediate forms.

A common tactic for creationists is to claim there is no way of evolving from one given form to another in a smooth series of small steps, and to point out that the fossil record bears this out. For example, what use is a wing when it is only halfway evolved from a foreleg?

Unfortunately for creationists, this tactic has backfired several times, when more fossils or organisms are discovered, exhibiting the missing intermediate step.

On the other hand, it is an act of faith for evolutionists to confidently believe that you can go from some sub-bacterial first organism to all fossil and living forms in a series of small steps. There are still a lot of holes. Mavericks among evolutionary theorists point to the lack of intermediate forms as evidence for their own non-standard evolutionary theories:

Creationism's Strategic Problems

There are some features of scientific discovery that are strategic problems for creationists—features that are most likely only going to get worse over time.

Discoveries of intermediate forms.

Most forms of creationism maintain that, contrary to evolutionism, evolution is not the only source of new biological features and could not be. One line of argument for this is the lack of intermediate forms and, in many cases, their alleged impossibility. "What use is half a wing?" might be their slogan. The problem is that, over the years, a number of surprising intermediate forms (including some candidates for "half-wings") have shown up. As time goes on, even more are likely to show up.

Evidences of age.

Young Earth Creationists (lovingly called YECs in some circles) are not the only kind of creationists, but they are the ones everyone hears about. They insist that the Earth is only 6,000 years old or thereabouts. When the age of the Earth was determined mainly from stratigraphy and studies of erosion, this was off-mainstream but not as hard to maintain as it is now.

In the intervening couple of centuries, we have developed radiometric dating, which is much more straightforward and makes the Earth many millions of years old.

More recently, we have discovered continental drift and observed it; so, for instance, we can see that South America and Africa drift apart by about an inch a year. Run the film backward and some millions of years and inches ago, the two were up against each other, with coastlines and stratigraphy lining up in a way even more straightforward than radiation dating. And modern geology is full of many similar examples.

It's even harder to maintain a young universe. Very reliable techniques, extrapolations of ordinary surveying, locate many stars thousands of light-years away. Extrapolations from those techniques, i.e. the use of "standard candles," shows us a universe billions of light-years in size. That distance divided by the speed of light requires ages in the billions of years simply for us to be able to see these things.

The only way out of these evidences is either a blend of truly daft geology with what amounts to conspiracy theory or the contention that the universe was created recently looking old. More of that option later.

No evidences of flood.

Flood geology is really a different topic, but people who believe in a global Noah's Flood and Young Earth Creationists are almost always the same people.

Unfortunately for flood geology, there's no evidence for it, and things that used to be taken as evidence for it have been reinterpreted. There are also basic difficulties like where the water came from and went to, how the animals got to their present habitats, and how they were removed from all the habitats between the current ones and Ararat. The longer mainstream geology stands and is successfully elaborated, without any sign of veering off in the direction of a universal flood, the worse it gets for flood geology.

(Now, there has been a revival of catastrophism in modern geology, which offers some scope for non-fundamentalist interpretations of Noah's Flood, but that's a different story.)

Evolutionism's Strategic Problems

There are some features of scientific discovery that are strategic problems for evolutionists—features that are most likely only going to get worse over time:

The complexity of life.

The more we study life, the more complexity we find in it—complexity that has to be wholly evolved by natural selection and mutation, on evolutionist grounds. Once, we talked about cells as blobs of undifferentiated "protoplasm." No one talks about protoplasm any more. We've discovered systems of organelles, and DNA coded like software, and lately we have found that the DNA is read by a system of different RNAs that we still don't understand completely. It's natural nanotech. And we are not going to look again and see it's any simpler—quite the reverse.

The age of life.

Paleontology never finds that life is younger than we thought; instead, every now and then, it finds that life is older than we thought. Which means that there is less and less time in which it could have arisen by random physical processes.

The precocity of life.

Paleontology never finds that features of life were younger than we thought; instead, every now and then, it finds that eukaryoty, or multicellularity, or feathers, or brains, or whatnot, are older than we thought. Which means that there is less and less time in which those features could have evolved.

Punctuated equilibrium.

Punctuated equilibrium crowds the time for evolution still further. It used to be a maverick idea, sometimes denounced—significantly, for giving aid and comfort to creationism—but is now more and more accepted. That means that, for most of a species' life, there is no evolution going on at all, or very little. Orthodox punctuated-equilibrium theorists say, of course, that the rapid shifts take place over many millenia, but that is a matter of faith; many millenia and an instant of miracle look the same in the fossil record.

Possible Positions on Genesis

Classic young-earth creationism.

This is the version everyone hears about. Using the dates of history, the genealogies of the Bible, and the six days of Creation in Genesis 1, taken as consecutive 24-hour periods, you add them all up and arrive at a date for creation about 6,000 years ago. Most famously, Bishop Ussher reckoned the beginning of time to be Sunday, 23 October 4004 BC. The Jewish calendar puts creation at 3760 BC.

This position poses no internal problems to Judeo-Christian theology; all the problems are famously with science. Still, it is worth noting that, even before the Scientific Revolution, it was not the only position taken on creation in Christendom. Some medieval philosophers felt that six days was too long for an omnipotent God to take, creating a finite world. Surely, the creation must have been instantaneous, and the six days were just a poetic way of describing it.

Just plain primitive and wrong.

This is the other version everyone hears about, the one voiced by those indifferent or hostile to biblical religions. Against this charge, I point out that, even if you don't buy the chronology, the Genesis account has many important things to say:

The day-age theory.

This is, I think, the most popular middle position. This is the view that the "days" of Genesis 1 are ages long, as long as you like. Day-age people point out that the Hebrew word yom ("day") is used elastically in the Bible, just as "day" is in English, when we say things like "in Abraham's day" or "in the day of the dinosaurs."

The young-earth response to this, and to all other middle positions, is that this makes one's interpretation of the Bible subject to external, non-biblical authorities, and leads off in directions I am not going to follow now.

One problem with the day-age theory is that the Genesis days don't map cleanly onto a geological timeline. Most notably, plant life appears on the third day, but the sun and moon appear on the fourth. However, there are workarounds.

The proclamation day theory.

This theory says that the days of Genesis are not consecutive, but are seven days, spaced out over the ages, on which God proclaimed the beginning of a new phase of creation. That phase could then go on for millions or billions of years, until the next proclamation day.

This theory is a lot like the day-age theory. It has the same problems matching the days to the geological timeline but can use the same workarounds. Its main problem is that, while it's demonstrable that yom is used elastically in the Bible, there's no real indication that proclamations followed by long ages are what is intended in Genesis 1.

The gap theory.

This theory reads Genesis 1:1 as "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth became without form and void." In short, God created the universe in some unspecified way, which can match modern science exactly if you like, and then, 6,000 years ago, there was some catastrophe that plunged earth into chaos. The six days of Genesis 1 describe God re-creating the earth and erasing all trace of the catastrophe.

The big advantage to this theory is that it is completely bullet-proof on science. The disadvantage, of course, is that it posits this huge catastrophe that is never referred to again, in any unambiguous way, anywhere in the Bible.

The visionary day theory.

This theory says that the days of Genesis 1 are not days in the chronology of creation, but days on which God revealed the creation to Moses—the first day, God showed Moses the creation of light and the separation of light and darkness, and so on.

Clearly, this eliminates any problems with chronology. But, like the proclamation-day theory and the gap theory, there is no real evidence in the text that this is what is going on.

The rhetorical day theory.

This theory says Genesis is not really interested in chronology at all. The days are a literary ("rhetorical") device for organizing the creation account. This chimes nicely with an old observation about the Genesis account—the first three days separate and define great, general elements (light and dark, height and depth, land and sea), and the next three days furnish or populate those elements (sun and moon, birds and fish, land life).

Like the visionary theory, it eliminates chronology problems, but like it and the proclomation and gap theories, it seems unmotivated. I will, however, suggest a couple of clues that Genesis 1 is not interested in chronology and not, here, talking about literal days:

Possible Positions on Evolution

Just plain self-delusion.

This is the position of Young Earth Creationists. Anyone else grants evolution some degree of legitimacy, however slight.

The problem with this position is that it is hard to square with scientific activity, if you actually look at the evidence, read the arguments, and look at how scientists work. If evolution were a complete fiction, I would expect there to be several widely divergent schools of misinterpretation of the evidence. There are divisions among evolutionary theorists, but they are nowhere near that big. And we know that some evolution happens. We can make it happen in the lab, and see it happen in the field, e.g. every time a strain of bacteria develops resistance to antibiotics.

Classic materialism.

This is the polar opposite. It and the previous position are the ones you heard about in the media. It, of course, takes purely natural evolution as a completely sufficient explanation for all features of living things, and confidently hopes for a good natural explanation for the origin of life. Any day now.

The scientific problem with this position was presented above: the sheer faith in evolution's undemonstrated ability to explain everything about life.

The "appearance of age" theory.

This is the idea that the world was created 6,000 years ago, but looking old. It is sometimes called the "omphalos" theory, from the Greek word for "navel" or "bellybutton," referring to the idea that Adam and Eve were created with navels, even though they were never attached to umbilical cords.

Clearly, there is no conflict between this theory and the scientific evidence. There can't be. But it makes the universe ... fake, and it makes God look deceptive. All these fossil bones were never really inside living things. All that starlight from more than 6,000 light-years away was never given off by any star -- there might not be any real stars out there.

Also, if God has created the perfect illusion of an ancient universe, you can hardly object to people doing science about it. True, the science becomes something like literary analysis of a work of fiction, but there are still answers to be got out of it. Presumably, in the fictitious prehistory, there is a (fictionally) true account of human evolution to be extracted from the (fake) evidence. Some people might regard this as an advantage rather than a fault. But lots don't like the air of deception and illusion that hangs over this position.

Scripturally, if this is the way reality works, it would be nice to have a hint or two. Such a hint isn't hard to imagine. For example, Genesis 1:12 reads, "The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds." If it read, "The land immediately produced full-grown vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds," we'd have such a hint.

Virtual history

There is a variations on the "appearance of age" idea, put forward by biblical scholar Gerald Aardsma. (Interestingly, a very similar idea was put forward by Dorothy L. Sayers, author of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, in her book on human and divine creativity, The Mind of the Maker.) Aardsma gives the universe a real age of about 7000 years, but proposes a virtual history as a necessary groundwork for the creation:

The virtual history view goes to the analogy of human creations to try to show what "creation" means. It takes the creation of a story by a human author as (probably its best) analogy. It observes that in all such stories one always has a virtual history present—grown characters wearing sewn garments and living in already built houses—right from page one of the story. What is implied from page one of the story is a cause-and-effect virtual history to the story, stretching back into the indefinite past. This virtual history in no way contradicts the actual date (in the story characters' time) of creation of the story. (That "date" we would fix at page one of the book, since that is when, in the story frame of reference, the story world comes into existence.) We find by such analogies that an "appearance of age" is inherent in what "creation" means. [...]

But this "appearance of age" is not an add-on and is not arbitrary. Try to imagine writing a story which does not have an "appearance of age". After you have completed that exercise, try to imagine writing a fiction story which has a false "appearance of age". I find that it is intrinsically impossible to create such stories. I.e., you cannot have a "creation with an appearance of age" if you mean by that anything other than a creation with its inherent virtual history. To ask for a creation with a false appearance of age (which includes the case of a creation having no appearance of age), is to ask for the impossible/ridiculous. [...]

We are living in a "story" God created. God is both author and reader of this story (e.g., "For in Him we both live and move and have our being." Acts 17:28.) (Note how this works. A story-world has no existence in the book; its existence is in the mind of the author and readers.) Page one opens about 7000 years ago our time, (the only time frame we have access to). This "story" has a virtual history stretching back billions of years. We find this to be the case by computing the time it would take light to travel from remote galaxies we see in the sky, or by computing the time it would take radioactive elements, such as uranium dug from the earth in natural ores, to decay as much as they have.

These great ages in no way negate the fact that page one opens 7000 years ago.

Aardsma even proposes that we are living with an altered virutal history, not the original one:

The virtual history paradigm recognizes simply that all creation type miracles entail a virtual history, so the Fall, with its creation type miracles (by which the nature of the creation was changed— "subjected to futility") carried with it its own (fallen) virtual history, which is the virtual history we now see. We do not see the original utopian pre-Fall creation with its (presumably utopian) virtual history.

This is very ingenious, and of course it is designed to avoid any conflict with mainstream science, just like standard "appearance of age" theory. Indeed, the "virtual history" theory is really a more sophisticated understanding of the same idea as "appearance of age."

Of course, this means that, just as I said above, you can hardly blame people for treating the virtual history as real and doing science on it. (Nor do I think Aardsma does object.)

But this virtual history idea just underscores another aspect of "appearance of age"—this fictitious past, the virtual history, is obviously a mighty piece of divine creativity. Those vast imaginary ages certainly add to the grandure of the creation. But wouldn't they add even more if they were real?


This position agrees that evolutionary theory cannot account for the development of life, nor can biochemical theory account for its origin. Panspermia says life came from off Earth, from another planet. In some versions, microbes are still raining down on Earth, bringing new genes with them.

This is at least a scientific theory. It could be tested. So far, there is no evidence for it. Also, it just pushes the question of life's origin back without answering it: where do the space-germs come from? In some versions, the space-germs were tossed off of other planets by natural processes. (So how did life arise on those other planets?) In other versions, the space-germs are deliberately spread around by advanced aliens. (So where did the aliens come from?)

Theistic evolution.

This is the position that God creates and life evolves. Both are true. How they fit together varies.

In some versions, purely natural evolutionary processes arising from natural law are the means by which God creates. This, of course, offers no conflict with mainstream science, but it dismisses the accounts of Eden and the Fall as folklore, and so poses problems about human fallenness and the nature of redemption, as mentioned above.

In other versions, the universe is ancient and evolution happens, but that is not enough by itself to explain the variety of life; God has taken a hand, introducing miraculous "mutations" from time to time. This offers only chronological conflicts with Genesis (under conservative interpretation). It conflicts with classic materialism, of course.

There is a middle position, in which humans evolved naturally, so far as their bodies are concerned, but became fully, spiritually human when God breathed human-caliber souls into them. This is scientifically safe, but introduces a certain amount of metaphor into interpretation of Genesis, though it is specifically designed to preserve ideas of human fallenness and redemption.

Historical Note

Charles Darwin did not invent the idea of evolution. The idea that Earth had had different lifeforms at different times crept upon people gradually over the 18th and 19th centuries, as geologists found more and more fossils.

What Darwin produced was a new explanation for the changes of life over time. It was not the first or the only explanation. The main positions on evolution are, and for more than 150 years have been:

Saltation: (from the Latin saltus, "jump") Occasionally, creatures are born with striking new features—"hopeful monsters" T. H. Huxley called them. Some of them work, though most don't. Supporters included T. H. Huxley and Hugo de Vries. It is interesting that even so staunch an ally of Darwin as Huxley did not fully accept Darwin's own position.

Acquired characteristics: Features developed by the parents are passed on to the children. The famous example is the giraffe, which, on this theory, developed a long neck by stretching it to reach high leaves, then passed the long neck on to its children. This does not appear to be the case. Supporters for the theory included Lamark and Lysenko.

Orthogenesis: On this theory, there is a natural law of some sort, according to which organisms evolve over time into more and more advanced forms. Hyatt, Cope, and Osborne, and the philosophers Henri Bergson and Georg Hegel held various forms of this position.

Gradualism: This is the position Darwin invented, now the leading, orthodox one. Organisms have small differences among them, inheritable by their offspring. If these small differences give the organism a better chance of survival, it is more likely to have more offspring and these characteristics will become common in the population. This, according to Darwin and the other gradualists, is sufficient to explain the appearance of new species and, eventually, to explain all features of all organisms. The "all" is the catch.

Even though gradualism is in the ascendant now, it was not always so, and the other positions have come back from time to time in new forms. Punctuated equilibrium, symbiogenesis, and panspermia are new versions of saltation, of varying degrees of respectability. Biologists sometimes play with chaos theory and complexity theory to come up with new forms of orthogenesis. And epigenetics is a new field of biology describing how genes are turned on and off by other systems of molecules in the organisms; it sometimes amounts to acquired characteristics.

Edenic Genetics

Just recently (July, 2011), a new objection has surfaced to the Genesis account. Geneticists who are themselves evangelical Christians have objected to the historical existence of Adam and Eve on the grounds that genetic evidence indicates modern humans originated as a population of about 10,000 around 100,000 years ago.

As the article linked above remarks, there are several approaches to resolving this. Here are the ones I can think of:

Given that there are so many possible solutions, I don't see genetics as a big hurdle to believing in Genesis.

Where I Stand

I am a Christian. And, although I am not professional scientist, I have degrees in science, a career that uses them, and a lifelong appreciation of science. Where I stand is that both creation and evolution happen. How much of each and how they relate is an open question for me, and although I have preferences about the answers, they are just preferences, not opinions or beliefs.

So I reject pure materialism, of course, and I also reject Young Earth Creationism, the Appearance of Age theory, and the Gap theory, as all being too disconnected from the world science discovers.

I conclude that, in some way, we were made out of pre-human primates. I don't know in what way, but I am already committed to the belief that humanity has been spiritually re-made and destined for physical resurrection by the deeds of one man, so it is reasonable to me to imagine that miracles attended the making of our race in the beginning.

By extension, it is reasonable to me to suppose God performed occasional miracles throughout the eons of Earth's history. I would not be surprised if micro-evolution turned out to be natural but macro-evolution turned out to be miraculous. But I would be even less surprised if that's an over-simplification.

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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2011