An Elaboration on Evolution

My previous post elicited a thoughtful response from a Facebook friend. He started off by referring to a Wikipedia article I linked to in the post.

One of the comments on your link to “the evidence” for evolution says:
“One of the strongest evidences for common descent comes from the study of gene sequences.”

The genetic evidence is pretty compelling, but this wouldn’t mean much if it were the only strong evidence for common descent. This evidence is corroborated overwhelmingly by fossil records and biochemistry (to name just two of the many branches of science). To me, this is more compelling than the evidence presented by any individual scientific field.

Behold, Dr. Francis Collins, former atheist, world-renowned geneticist, physician, and Former Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health, and the scientist most directly responsible for overseeing the mapping of the Human genome:

I watched the whole video listened to the whole video in traffic and was actually impressed with how articulate he is, which was made even more impressive during the Q&A session at the end. He demonstrates somewhat effectively that a belief in the Christian god does not have to be tantamount to denying science. I’ll also add, for what it’s worth, that he is the first Christian speaker I’ve listened to who didn’t horribly misrepresent science. His wit kept the discussion entertaining even during the driest parts. But I was disappointed in his inability to necessitate his god.

From the 19-minute mark to about the 25-minute mark, Collins uses classic argumentum ad ignorantiam lines to defend “Einstein’s [deist] god” as a starting point. I was let down by the fact that from the beginning, Collins is predisposed to the god of the gaps (which he later denies).

He even goes on to discuss morality as evidence for his god, asserting that Mother Theresa and Schindler are exceptions to the secular and evolutionary explanations for morality because they were altruistic to people who weren’t in their “groups.” Of course, all of the examples of altruism he provides are examples of humans being altruistic towards humans… which is exactly what is predicted by evolutionary morality. To discredit the evolutionary explanation, he would need to offer examples of humans sacrificing themselves for the good of another species (particularly a species with which humans were directly competing for natural resources), not just someone from another culture.

This guy is no joke. He’s a very successful scientist. I disagree with Collins on the theory of evolution and some points he makes on the Bible to support evolution, but I certainly agree with him on the obvious existence of God.

I did some background research and I will admit, his qualifications are impressive. I’d like to add that Collins did not misrepresent evolution in any way of which I am aware. I’m not sure what my friend means by “points he makes on the Bible to support evolution,” so I’ll respond to the two possible meanings I see here.

  • I see no scientific or theological problem with the creation narrative that he uses to reconcile scientific knowledge with the Biblical texts, but
  • I disagree with the mindset that allows him to reinterpret the Bible every time a new scientific discovery challenges the accepted interpretation.

To call the existence of your god “obvious” is mildly offensive and alienating to non-believers. I think I recognized this a couple of years ago while I still maintained my old Christian blog. On this topic, in a post I never published, I had written a list that included the sun, human life, trees, clouds, God, and breakfast burritos (don’t ask). If we had to rank these in the order of the universal obviousness of their existence, where would God fall? Even as a Christian, I would have ranked God next to last—just ahead of breakfast burritos—only because there are unfortunate cultures which have not been introduced to breakfast burritos.

I would ask you to remember exactly what you are saying when you say you are an atheist as you watch this, or as you read the following books I’ve linked for you as further food for thought:

I’ve never forgotten exactly what I am saying when I say I am an atheist. I am not saying I find your god to be scientifically impossible, or that science has answered every question there is. I am only saying that I have not been presented with sufficient evidence to call for belief in any supernatural creator.

I don’t think I would characterize Collins as dangerous at all. Nor would I characterize early scientists that way who were Christian and regarded science as a way to better understand God’s grand design.

Here we find ourselves in agreement. The scientific mindset is “I have no idea why it’s like this; I want to find an explanation.” This is wholly incompatible with the mindset that says “God did it; no further explanation necessary.” This fundamentalist mindset inhibits—and has, at times, attempted to reverse—scientific discovery. I have no problem with people like Francis Collins who would say “God did it, but I want to know how.” Unfortunately, it’s not the prevailing mindset among many influential Christians… including Todd Friel, who prompted my angry post in the first place.

Also, try the following exercise – Ask yourself – is (macro)evolution real? If you’re being intellectually honest you will probably have to say “I can’t definitively prove it but the scientific evidence is quite compelling.” Now, ask yourself the same question regarding God, and see where that exploration leads. Happy exploring!

Making a distinction between “microevolution” and “macroevolution” usually reflects a poor understanding of evolution. Biologists (including, notably, Francis Collins) generally don’t use either term; the two terms are used almost exclusively for the purpose of making it easier to pick and choose which scientific facts to believe*. The principles you refer to as “microevolution” necessarily and inescapably imply the principles you refer to as “macroevolution,” so to save time, we just call all of it “evolution.”
https://twitter.com/rytril/status/353204771550793728
To answer the question, because evolution is real, “(macro)evolution” is real as well. I don’t “believe” that evolution is true; I understand why it is true. I can confidently call it true because of overwhelming empirical evidence in the fields of biology, paleontology, psychology, and more. I have to take issue with the line “I can’t definitively prove it” because it’s already been proven as definitively as anything in science. I trust science because, unlike religion, it allows people working independently to reach the same verifiable conclusions. Scientists aren’t divided on the issues of evolution, heliocentricity, or plate tectonic theory. On the other hand, educated theologians can have wide-ranging opinions on the extremely important issues of eschatology, salvation, and the nature of their god.

Re-reading everything I’ve said about evolution (and science in general), how much of it can be said about your religion? If you could prove that there is a god, how much closer would you be to proving that your god is the one?

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2 thoughts on “An Elaboration on Evolution

  1. I’m not quite sure why you seem so determined to try to shake someone’s faith. You are indeed an incredibly bright young man, but I own my faith (and my science knowledge) wholeheartedly. If you are right about there being no god, then I will die having lived a wonderfully happy life and will never know the difference. When Christians eagerly encourage others to think about things the way they see them, I understand that because they think it has eternal consequences. I am just wondering what your end goal is with these articles.
    To the “microevolution” vs. “macroevolution” point: this distinction was brought about by the arguments of scientists trying, much like you, to show that all Christians that believe in “traditional” creation are morons that ignore science. When someone would say they don’t believe in evolution, people would bring up observed adaptations in species as evidence of evolution. This, however, does not necessarily point to big bang evolution. (For example, some animals grow thicker fur over years as the temperatures drop in the area, etc. I never have, though, seen direct evidence that something that used to be a fish is now living in the woods.) I agree that organisms can adapt to new environmental changes over time. I’m not sure, however, how I feel about the fact that we all came from tiny organisms that evolved into more complex things over billions of years. Big difference. Thus arose the distinction of “micro” versus “macro.” In a way, it is really “adaptation” versus “evolution.”
    To the part about changing the Bible to fit the science: There are parts of the Bible that are written in a semi-poetic style. As I’m sure you’ll remember from class discussions over poetry in school, the meaning of poetry can be interpreted differently by different people or interpreted differently by the same person at different times. The majority of the Bible, though, is not poetic. It is written as a history or as a letter. The birth, life, and death, and resurrection of Christ are not up for interpretation when it comes to the basic facts. These things and the understanding that we were placed on Earth by God (6 day creation or otherwise) are what makes a Christian, not how they read Genesis 1.

    • I’m not really sure why you think I’m trying to shake anyone’s faith. I spend most of my time on the defensive, explaining why I’m not compelled by other people’s assertions of their beliefs. I understand why you would see this as a pointless effort coming from someone who doesn’t believe in heaven and hell. But just because I don’t see eternal consequences doesn’t mean I don’t see consequences.

      As for evolution… let’s just agree to disagree. If you actually want evidence for an evolutionary link between fish and woodland animals, type “ancient amphibians” into Google (not like anything can convince someone who has already chosen not to believe in common descent, but I’m not one to let a good question go unanswered).

      And I agree that some parts of the Bible are not meant to be taken literally. In fact, Genesis was widely accepted as allegorical long before Darwin came around. What I disagreed with was the way Collins tried to make Genesis 1 sound like it was describing evolution rather than special creation.

      It is not my intent to offend, and I’m sorry if you took any of this personally.

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