Some years ago I wrote four articles on evolution and religion for US writing site Helium now gone. Here’s the second one (link to first one at bottom) …
The debate over creation and evolution has been going on for more than 2,000 years. Creationists have held sway for most of that time. Indeed, it wasn’t always good for one’s health to have a different viewpoint. Evolutionists, hiding in the closet for centuries, suddenly got a boost in the mid 19th century with the work of Charles Darwin. But creationists were having none of that, and initiated a resurgence in creationism around the 1920s. Today, the debate rages, especially in the United States, and I hope I can make some small contribution to it.
We should remember that when the creation story was written, the earth was thought to be flat and at the centre of the universe, with other components being just a few lights in the sky. Scholars and ordinary people wanted answers, even back then. When the Old Testament was written, nothing was known of evolution, and creation seemed like a logical explanation of how we got here. We now know how huge the universe is, and that our planet, solar system and galaxy are just an infinitesimal part of it. The creation of trillions of stars, maybe half of them with their own planets and moons, would perhaps be beyond any god. And if there is a creator, who or what created him, her, or it? And who or what created the thing that created the creator? And who or what created the thing that created the thing that created the creator?
Integral to creation is the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. We don’t know its location, with various hypotheses having been put forward over the years. Even some theologians feel it never existed on earth but was an adjunct to heaven. Some scholars regard Adam and Eve as metaphorical, a story made up by early leaders to teach people about truth, sin, and so on.
Also relevant to creation is the story of Noah’s Ark and the flood. The ark has never been found despite its location being reasonably well identified in Genesis. Given the creation model doesn’t allow macroevolution, the number of species that turned up at the ark at the time of the flood would have to be at least the number today that would be in need of saving from such an event. The number of species has been estimated at anything from 2 to 100 million. Allowing for sea dwellers, insects and any others that allegedly didn’t need saving, that’s still a lot of animals, especially when a pair (or was it seven pairs?) of each animal went onto the boat. It might have been millions. Even using the biblical “kinds” (baraminology is regarded as a pseudoscience like other creation sciences), this would still be a very large number of animals. On this basis, estimates range from 2,000 to 35,000 animals.
The alleged boat was an unlikely 450 feet in length, the size of a modern ship. Theoretically, it would have been large enough to accommodate many thousands of animals. However, it is far larger than other ancient boats. How did Noah acquire the skills to build such a huge vessel, one that would have been way too large for one man and his family to operate in any case? How would you get all these animals onto a boat? Old paintings have them, quite unrealistically, marching in an orderly fashion up a ramp, and onto a vessel far smaller than 450 feet. How would you round them up in the first place? What if the elephants, lions and other formidable beasts refused to cooperate? What about those native to Africa, the Americas and Australia – how would they be expected to find their way around the world to a boat that was allegedly going to save them? And how would you prevent the animals fighting and trying to eat one another as they stood in queue to board the boat?
Assuming all this is possible and did happen, let’s consider how much rain is required in 40 days to flood the earth to a level 20 feet above the highest mountain. Mount Everest is about five and a half miles above sea level. Coastal plains would be under this amount of water, and the seas and oceans would be this much deeper. Five and a half miles is 348,480 inches. This would require daily average rainfall of 8,712 inches for 40 days, or 363 inches an hour, or 6.05 inches a minute, worldwide. Rainfall intensity records are given as 73.62 inches in a day at Reunion Island in 1952, 15.78 inches in an hour at Shangdi, China in 1975, and 1.50 inches in one minute at Guadeloupe in 1970. Rain resulting in the biblical flood would have been four times the intensity of the heaviest rainfall ever recorded over one minute and this had to last 40 days across the whole planet. Noah’s family, the animals and the ark would have been obliterated by rain like sheets of concrete. Nothing would have survived the rain, let alone the flood. Apart from all this, the rain has to come from somewhere. You can’t have this much evaporation and condensation in a short period. Even subscribing to the biblical view that mountains were much lower at the time of the flood, for all the land to be covered with water would be physically impossible.
Can we necessarily believe what we read in the Bible about creation (or much else)? We don’t really know who wrote the Gospels or when. Numerous changes have been made to the Bible over time, especially in the early centuries. There was much bickering among early Christians as to what was scripture, and various christological issues were hotly debated. Many of the writings were chopped and changed amid followers accusing one another of corrupting text. Second century philosopher Celsus said that some of them “changed the original text of the gospels three or four times or even more, with the intention of thus being able to destroy the arguments of their critics”. Tatian’s Diatessaron was one of a number of works that aimed to rewrite the gospels as a narrative, fixing conflicting passages and eliminating duplication. In the third century, Christian scholar Origen admitted that “there is much diversity among the manuscripts, due either to the carelessness of the scribes, or to the perverse audacity of some people in correcting the text, or again to the fact that there are those who add or delete as they please, setting themselves up as correctors”. Many other early church leaders, such as Jerome and Augustine, were concerned about the extent of changes to biblical documents. Then there is the curious absence of Jesus’ birth and death dates (which of course are unknown) and of his life between infancy and the age of about 30. A lack of evidence for Jesus’ historicity in non-biblical sources (e.g. Josephus’ paragraph on Jesus turns out to be a later addition) brings doubt to the Bible’s story of Jesus, let alone the creation story.
When science was still recovering from something like 1,500 years of suppression at the hands of religious leaders, one Charles Darwin made a number of observations relating to fossils and the distribution of wildlife that led him to propose that life evolved from common ancestors, including humans. He coined the term “natural selection” to describe how animals passed on their traits from one generation to the next. His ground-breaking book, On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, shook the establishment to its core. But this wasn’t Darwin’s intention. Indeed, he had studied theology at Cambridge. He simply recorded what he saw and aimed to draw logical conclusions from it.
Evolution soon became accepted by scientists and the general public. In the second half of the 19th century, few scientists or religious people had a problem with the earth being very old indeed. Few accepted the literal description of the flood and few felt it was geologically significant. By 1900, even the Catholic Church accepted that humans evolved from animals, but that humans’ souls were God’s domain. A return to fundamentalist Christianity occurred after World War I, at least in the US. The opposing views of creationists and evolutionists diverged ever wider after this, despite more and more evidence for evolution and its general acceptance by scientists, and little evidence for creation, or Christianity in general for that matter. Today, evolution is accepted by at least 95 per cent of biological and earth scientists, with one survey suggesting a figure as high as 99.8 per cent. Neither the Church of England nor the Catholic Church accepts a literal interpretation of Genesis. Evangelists and Protestants in the US appear to be the chief supporters of a literal view.
Creationists come up with all sorts of ways to try and discredit evolution. Let’s start with thermodynamics. Its second law says that entropy or disorder will always increase over time. Creationists jump on this as proof that evolution can’t happen as it requires an increase in order. But entropy only increases in closed systems and there are none of these in nature. An organism maintains its internal order as it takes from free energy sources such as nutrients and sunlight, returning the same quantity of energy to its environment in the form of heat and entropy. There is no reason for animal and plant life to deteriorate over a period of time. Individual species may deteriorate, and may become extinct, while other species will strengthen, depending on their environment and how well they adapt to it and to changes in it. With extra nutrition and sunlight, humans are taller and stronger than in the 19th century when many people struggled to find enough food and worked long hours in dingy factories. Our liking for junk food may see a weakening in the human species as it adversely affects our health and reduces our life expectancy.
Another favourite argument among creationists for evolution not being possible is an alleged lack of transitional forms or fossils. Christian websites often quote from works by scientists saying no transitional forms have been proven. But note that the references are always old, usually from the 1960s through to about 1980. Research into transitional forms is difficult, time consuming and costly, and virtually none was carried out before the mid 1970s, a major reason being the lack of commercial possibilities. An early researcher, Phillip Gingerich, took 10 years to document two lineages, completing this work in the late 1970s. In the last few decades, there has been a steady increase in this research and in findings from it. Numerous transitional forms have now been identified. For a list of some of these forms, see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-transitional.html. For a detailed discussion of transitional forms, with references to numerous books and journal articles on the subject, see http://www.gcssepm.org/special/cuffey_04.htm. Sure there are many missing links, and probably always will be.
The creationist model doesn’t allow for transitional forms, with every species regarded as separate and having no link to any other species. That’s all Genesis allows for, and thus there can’t be any grey areas under this model. It won’t matter what is found or how many gaps are closed, creationists will regard any two fossils as separate species with no links between them if they feel the difference is great enough. If the difference is small, then it’s regarded as the same species. In other words, the model allows microevolution but not macroevolution. However, the two terms describe the same process. Any division is arbitrary and, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has no scientific basis.
If these fossils are less common than other forms of fossils, this might be because the evolutionary process is usually one of gradual change and a transitional form might not always show up. However, the equilibrium might be punctuated when a species experiences a sudden change in its environment, such as an ice age. At this time, many species might become extinct. Those that survive often have to adapt quickly to their new environment, and a transitional species might not be around for as long and therefore leave less evidence.
A quickening of the evolutionary process seems to have happened during the Cambrian explosion. Before this, there are few fossil records as the soft bodies of pre-Cambrian animals left few traces. Various causes of the explosion have been put forward, for example an increase in oxygen in the atmosphere, changes in ocean chemistry, gene development, climatic change or a large meteorite, or some or all of these to a varying extent. Whatever happened, it seems that conditions were right for a rapid increase in the evolutionary process. But 10 million years is still a long time, and considerable change would be possible in this timeframe if there are major changes in the overall environment.
Interestingly, fossil records don’t support creationism. As we’ve seen, the story of Noah’s Ark had all remaining animals at a single place at the same time. Yet, all around the world, there are fossils of numerous species that are only found in the vicinity of their current location. There are no trails of various American or Australian animals in Europe or Asia. How would a creature such as the slow, awkward, tree-dwelling koala travel from the Middle East to Australia and not leave behind a considerable trail of fossils over a long period? And how would it cross oceans and seas? The so-called land bridge between Asia and Australia thousands of years ago had at least one water channel. This could be negotiated by humans in canoes but not by koalas, which at any rate have been in Australia for millions of years.
The impossibility of virtually all aspects of the biblical flood story hasn’t stopped the likes of Tom Vail coming up with a non-fiction (sic) book, Grand Canyon: A Different View, and running canyon tours. The book is about the canyon being carved out by the flood, rather than erosion over millions of years. The American Geological Institute and other bodies want the book removed from national park shops. The idea that a single flood caused all geological strata was rejected as early as 1837 by Reverend William Buckland, professor of geology, Oxford University. The scientific community regards flood geology as pseudoscience. Through the principle of uniformitarianism, geologists have found that the earth has been shaped mainly by slow acting forces rather than one or more massive catastrophic events. Geochronology has determined that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, rather than 6,000-10,000 years under creation. So speeding up the camera, if science says the earth has been here 24 hours, creation says it’s been here around 0.1 or 0.2 of a second. The ancients could not have envisaged an earth and a universe as old as what they actually are.
Unlike creationism and the Bible, evolution isn’t contradictory. Biochemistry backs it up, including DNA and protein sequences. The genetic code is nearly the same for all species. There are new fossils and more evidence all the time. The UK Natural Environment Research Council states: “It is almost certain that all life developed from the same single source, as all life discovered has the same complex molecule – DNA.” (http://www.nerc.ac.uk/research/issues/biodiversity/life.asp). American professor of ecology and evolution Douglas Futuyma believes there are enough similarities in species to show that all species are related. This is generally accepted in biology.
Just a note on the use of the word “theory”: In scientific terms, a theory has to include evidence for it to be called a theory, for example Newton’s theory of gravitation, or the theory of evolution with its vast evidence base. However, in common usage, people tend to think of a theory as a hypothetical proposition that isn’t backed up by any evidence. People will often say: “In theory …; however, in practice …” about different issues. Creationists often criticize evolution as a theory, saying: “It’s only a theory”, knowing that many people will then think of evolution as something that some bunch of scientists dreamed up, perhaps to get under the skin of creationists (!), and that it doesn’t or can’t work in practice. The definition of “theory” from the US National Academy of Science is: “Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” (http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8178). Scientists don’t spend their time and money and careers trying to stir up creationists. They wouldn’t be doing this work if they thought evolution was nonsense.
Those who accept evolution have done their research and have concluded that evolution makes more sense to them than creationism. They have found answers that, to them, they don’t get from religion and creationism. But there are gaps in evolution, and many people really must have answers to everything, without any gaps. These people become or remain Christians or belong to some other religion that supports creation as they feel this gives them all the answers. Creationism and Christianity will give these people an answer to everything they seek. This is one of the features of these things that attract people to them. It’s a pity that many of the answers, so often promoted as fact or truth, are actually void of evidence.
If you could find, and bring to earth, an intelligent alien who knew nothing about creation or evolution and explained both to him, her, or it, I think I know which one the alien would find more believable. My bet would be on evolution.
See also: https://chrispearce52.wordpress.com/2018/07/15/what-is-evolution/
[I have discovered the above article of mine here, http://scotdir.com/religion-and-spirituality-2/thoughts-on-god/the-debate-over-creation-and-evolution-2, posted by someone called Hailstone. I have emailed scotdir.com to try and get it removed. When it’s done, I’ll remove this endnote.]