It’s deja vu all over again
"... and as far as hypotheses, let no one expect anything in the way of certainty
from [the subject], since [the subject] can offer nothing certain..."
The subject was not evolution, but astronomy. This famous quote, excerpted from Osiander’s
preface to Copernicus’ book "On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres", was an early publication proposing
the "heretical" concept that the earth is not the center of the universe, but revolves around the sun, as do
the other planets of the solar system. Several famous thinkers and scientists of the day (including Galileo the
astronomer) were threatened with excommunication from the church, or even death, if they refused to renounce this new
heliocentric (sun in the center) theory. Christian leaders of the day interpreted Genesis to mean that the
earth must be in the center, possibly thinking that the sun, moon, stars and planets were sprinkled around the sky like
Christmas ornaments decorating the earth which sits unmoving at the center. Any claims to the contrary were considered
a direct attack on their religious beliefs. Eventually the Christian church accepted that it could render unto science
what is science’s, and let religion get on with the business of salvation and spiritual development. After all, Genesis
is rather vague about the details, so there isn’t really a contradiction.
Attacks on evolution often fall into one of three categories
Attempts to conjure God from an equation
A perceived contradiction between evolution and a particular interpretation of Genesis
Confusion or doubt due to limited information or misinformation
Many attempts to "prove" God’s existence have been made throughout history, and
all have fatal flaws in their logic or premises. Attacking evolution is yet another. After all, if evolution is false,
one might be tempted to take that as "proof" of creation and a creator.
If we consider all possible options, we also need to consider the possibility that they are all wrong. The basis of religion is faith, not
logic. If one doesn’t have sufficient faith to sustain religious beliefs, how much logic might be needed to
strengthen that faith?
Other arguments are based on certain, limited interpretations of Genesis. Who can say with
any certainty what "... Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life..." really
means, or what the details of the process were. Going back to the earth/sun/stars controversy of Copernicus’ day, the
assumption was that the universe was static, with the sun, moon and stars dangling in the sky around the earth. Now
direct observations and photographs show that that the universe is a
beautiful, dynamic system. Stars fizzle out, new ones take
their place, and new planetary systems form in a universe of black holes, dark matter and gas clouds which is so much
more interesting than the "dangling, twinkling lights" scenario. The famous
exchange between Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr seems especially relevant here.
People sometimes like to believe that they already know everything that really matters,
which may lead to: "If I don’t know how to do it, it can’t be done". The real concern is often whether humans
evolved from apes and an effort to
shake the monkeys out of our family tree (much like disavowing that loud, heavy-drinking, human in-law). Issues such as how evolution produced the first eye like ours, or a particularly intricate symbiotic
relationship, are quite interesting (and in many cases well-researched and documented). Compelling
evidence for evolution, ranging from pre-Darwin taxonomy to the latest human genome research, is available to anyone
willing to visit a good museum of anthropology or look it up (preferably original, peer-reviewed research, not a selective
"summary" from a self-proclaimed "expert").
Okum Taylor wonders why there’s so much fuss. Either way we’re here. Does rejecting
evolution really enhance ones spiritual development or guarantee salvation? Accepting evolution doesn’t turn us into
monkeys - it gives us an opportunity to appreciate an extraordinarily intricate system, ultimately much more wonderful
than a static menagerie of cookie-cutter creatures.
Creationists make various specific claims in their attempts to disprove evolution, and we’ll
examine some of those claims next.
Evolution violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics.
The 2nd law basically states that in certain situations, energy moves from regions of high
concentration to regions of low concentration until all the energy is evenly distributed and no more energy is
available for useful work. This only applies in "closed systems" in which energy never escapes, and never
comes in from outside. The earth constantly receives new energy from the sun, and radiates energy into space, so it’s
hardly a closed system. Creationists ignore the "closed system" stipulation, and creatively expand the 2nd
law, claiming that it prohibits simple things from evolving or transforming into something more complex. If this
interpretation were correct, refrigerators wouldn’t work, and simple eggs couldn’t develop into complex chickens. While
creationists focus on the 2nd law, somehow they avoid possible
implications of the 1st law of thermodynamics, which states that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed.
Mutations are inevitably bad, and can’t possibly be beneficial.
Bad mutations do happen. People and animals can be born with severe defects such as two
heads or missing limbs, and these defects are generally fatal to animals in a harshly competitive environment, but
beneficial mutations also happen. Bacteria and insects can and have mutated in just a few generations to become immune
to toxins that previously would have killed them.
The odds against evolution are impossibly high
Probability is very tricky to apply here. Remember Benjamin Disraeli’s famous
statement about lies and statistics. Consider any specific individual (such
as yourself), who, out of all the billions of possible parents, had 2 specific parents. Out of all the possible birth
dates and times, this individual was born on a specific day at a specific time. This individual has a specific hair and
eye color, a specific height, and other specific physical and mental characteristics. What are the odds of all these
things occurring together to make this unique individual? Impossibly small? Does this individual therefore not exist?
Probability doesn’t apply "backwards". We could look forward and ask "what is the probability of another
identical individual", but looking backwards, we can only observe that those particular parents wanted a child and
got one who happened to be like that.
It’s also important to fully understand the field of possibilities. If you would flip a coin
1000 times, you would probably conclude that the odds of getting 1000 heads is impossibly small. Suppose you flip the
coin 100,000,000 times. The odds of 1000 consecutive heads get better. Now imagine 100,000,000 people each flipping a
coin 100,000,000 times. The odds get better still. What about 100,000,000 planets,
each with 100,000,000 people flipping a coin 100,000,000 times. Now would you bet for or against 1000 consecutive
With evolution, we don’t really know how many trials occurred before a specific critter
turned out the way that it is today.