Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Top 10 Misconceptions About Evolution

Recently, I listened to an interview with Jerry Coyne, who is a prominent professor of Biology.  He was being interviewed about the subject of evolution and the interviewer asked him to answer 10 misunderstandings people have about Evolution.  I'm not a scientist, nor do I claim to be an expert on the subject.  But, to understand Evolution and to be able to accept it you don't have to have complete knowledge of the subject, nor do you have to have all the answers; it's really that simple .  Yet, I believe we struggle with it because it is counterintuitive, due to the incomprehensible amount of time it took to evolve in to what human's are today.

As a conservative Bible believing Christian, I was taught that evolution was wrong and it was an expression of man's attempt to be his own god.  I agreed, based on Romans 1:18-23.  I was also convinced that it was in direct conflict with Original Sin, which is the basis for the atonement of Jesus (Romans 5).  If there is no Adam and Eve to originate from, then where does sin come from?  However, I no longer believe that evolution is in contradiction to Christianity or faith in God.  But, that is a discussion for another post.
Here are the ten misconceptions that Coyne answered in his interview.  The answers are a combination of my thoughts and Coyne's answers:

1.  Evolution is only a Theory.  The term, "theory" in science refers to a framework and a concept that is open to continued input.  It does not mean that it is an issue of faith or that it is in question.  In science gravity is a "theory" and so is bacteria.  No one questions the reality of gravity or bacteria.  Evolution is a well established concept just like gravity.  It works and is the basis for modern medicine and biology.  It is well established as factual, though not completely understood.  But neither is gravity or bacteria.

2.  Evolution is not observable and therefore not scientific.  It is observable and testable.  We are transitional forms, but change within our species is not so noticeable because we live long lives.  But, in fruit flies, bacteria, and insects, whose life span is very brief, evolution is very noticeable.  These creatures adapt to their environments though mutations and natural selection which changes DNA in subsequent generations.  And, it is not just microevolution, but macroevolution.  It is observable in DNA codes, which can be traced back to previous species.  So, technically, you don't have to observe it in a creature historically, or see fossilized transitional forms.  All that is needed is tracing DNA back to previous life forms.

3.  Dating methods are not trustworthy.  Yes they are... Google it for yourself.  But, what about the clams that were tested and found to be 20,000 years old?  Therefore, it is argued, dating methods must be unreliable!  The answer to this anomaly is that clams and snails ingest carbon off rocks that are 20,000 years old, or how ever many years the carbon has been on the rocks.  Plus, testing processes are getting better all the time with new technology.

4.  Mutations are not beneficial.  Mutations are "one-offs" in the DNA code.  Whether beneficial or not, they will either adapt to their surroundings, die off, or get turned off.  If the mutation works to help a living organism, then the mutation will pass on.  That new characteristic in the code will become normative for it's off spring.

5.  The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics cannot support evolution.  This is the idea of entropy.  Everything is wearing down, deteriorating, winding down, etc.  This is true, but energy was introduced to this planet in the form of the Sun's heat, mixed with water and other elements that have allowed life to generate and evolve.  It does not effect evolution presently.  Some day the Sun will burn out or die and then this world as we know it will end.  But, until then life is drawing from a mix of energy sources.

6.  There are no transitional forms.  Yes there are.  There are many forms.  There are primate skulls and some skeletal remains that indicate progressive change in primates.  There is clear progression of at least one primate species to human, just as Darwin predicted before bones were even found in Africa.  There will never be a half man, half ape creature, as Creationists often caricaturize with fabricated cartoon pictures.  Evolution does not work that way, because it is a slow and progressive change.  There are many other transitional forms found that you can look up on line.  Of course, there are still other primates because they took a different track on the tree of life than humans. 

7.  The eye is too complex to have evolved.  I can't explain here in any detail, but it has been shown how eyes developed.  While it is complex, it is easy to see how it could happen over time, starting with light sensitive skin.  Those creatures that could identify shapes to begin with had an advantage and so the rest of the creatures that could not see anything died off and creatures that could see became dominant and it developed in a progressive fashion from there.  Lots of good explanations for this in the literature. 

8.  There is no proof that life evolved from nothing.  Abiogenesis is the study of the origin of life.  Evolution is the study of the progress of life.  Evolution does not concern itself with origin of life, but only with the origin of species.  No one knows how life began, but many scientists think that they will be able to create life in a lab within the next 50 years.  To date, all efforts have failed.  So, perhaps this is where God can be interjected into the equation.  Even if a natural explanation is found, God can still be seen as the author and sustainer of life.

9.  Morals cannot come from evolution.  Animals have the capacity for altruism (Ie. Read, "The Emotional Lives Of Animals") and that characteristic was selected in creatures for communal survival.  Thus, many animals have a form of altruism or care for their own due to it's survival requirement.  As humans we have refined this in to morals. 

10.  Evolution is chance and chance cannot make life as we know it today.  It is too complex.  This is one of the greatest caricatures of Evolution.  What I hear from skeptics goes something like this, "believing in evolution is the same as believing that it is possible for all the separate parts of a 747 whipping together in a whirlwind to form a jet plane by chance."  The critical claim being that it takes more faith to believe evolution can result in humans than to believe in creation.  First of all, in evolution we are talking about an organic process.  Second, it does not happen suddenly, but over a very long process of one thing building on another.  Third, it is partly random chance and partly natural selection.  Chance is when DNA mutates, which would be expected.  It's organic, so it will have glitches and changes in the code on a regular basis as the code is passed on from one generation to the next.  But, if those changes or glitches are advantageous to the environment in which that being exists, then it will become a normal feature of that being's DNA code (natural selection) and will become part of the DNA in successive living beings.  The fact is, humans have a huge quantity of DNA code that is mutated and then "turned off" due to natural selection.  It "didn't make the cut," so to speak.  The vestiges of characteristics are there, but not working, since they were selected by nature not to continue on.  This is partly how scientists know we are related to other creatures with similar DNA.  We can trace our DNA back to previous species. 

Evolution is not a faith, but it is hard to accept.  Though it is complex, like nature, it is a simple organic process.  Personally, I don't see that it is in contradiction to faith in God, though it would be in conflict with a literal understanding of the Bible.  One possible solution for those who believe in an inerrant and infallible Bible is that evolution of humans can be seen leading up to Adam and Eve as the beginning of human life.  It would require that part of the story is figurative, however.

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