It should be noted that this post was spurred from a Facebook discussion and will not follow the brevity clause of blogdom. I opted to share a term paper with fellow brothers in Christ and any others who were part of that discussion. Though my views may be different on this matter, it is important to recognize that this is in no means meant to downplay their faith, convictions, spirituality, or devotion to Christ. Nor is it in any respect intended to downplay the seriousness with which those who do not believe the gospel approach this subject. This paper was partially completed for my undergraduate studies; I say partially because two days before it was due, my father passed away and I was in no frame of mind to continue. If there are grammatical mistakes, poor sentence construction, and the like – please forgive me. It is a long read, as it was a term paper – so don’t say the warning was not presented.
In 1859, the already well-reputed scientist, Charles Darwin, released his extensive work known as “On the Origin of Species” for publication. Since this time, few topics have been so hotly debated among secularists and the church. The initial response by many within the church was to ignore the scientific validity of any evolutionary theory, claiming ignorantly, that God and science are separate entities and the two should not be co-mingled or interpreted in light of one another. Due to this, many within the church remained naïve to the claims of evolutionary theory and were slowly indoctrinated to many of them. Some within the church wholly embraced this new teaching, seeing that it posed no threat to the Christian faith. However, many others vehemently opposed evolution and the study of science in general, feeling that the two were mutually exclusive and could not be related.
In response to this and many other scientific advances, the Christian Science Journal was conceived in 1875, teaching proponent’s views to a Christian audience. However, the major challenge against this was that doctrine was seen subsidiary to scientific advances. Rather than engaging the conflicting interests in the pursuit of truth in both science and religion, the scriptures often took a second seat. They did not meet direct attack from this magazine, but conflicting theories in the realm of science greatly influenced editorial thought, resulting in liberalized approach and steady abandonment of conservative theology. At this same time period, many existentialist philosophers and liberal Western theologians came on the scene.
As a result of both liberal and existential thought, scientific theories contradicting the scriptures received little notable push back; the church moved toward a progressive approach to biblical theology. However, some did not see this purely as a Christian debate, and to be sure, Darwin was not the only notable scholar proposing evolutionary theory. The hot bedded debate would rage more silently though in these early years because of the lack of legitimately founded reason in approach to the sciences. Most arguments against evolutionary theory were simply met with hostility, rarely even involving an in depth study of the science behind Darwin’s thought. In more recent times (from the 1940’s on) we have seen a more balanced approach to the fundamental science behind the theory of evolution and its flaws.
The most notable work done in recent years, and considerably, the most criticized by the scientific community, has been through the study of Intelligent Design. Largely, it is ridiculed for its overly “religious” approach to science and is often labeled as pursuing a rock-ribbed fundamentalist Christian approach to the sciences. Furthermore, many of the brightest intellectuals on the side of Darwinian thought meet the proponents of I.D. with great hostility, often resorting to blatant disrespect in regard to the intellectual ability of the persons involved. However, many within this same field of thought are not taking this approach; they view the study of science as a pursuit of truth. There are meritorious arguments from both sides, and some evolutionary scientists are not ruling out the holes within evolutionary theory. In large, an integrated approach to science is being re-evaluated academically and theologically, yet there is much groundwork left to accomplish in order to reach any sort of consensus.
Though most of the attention is accredited to Darwin, other notable scientists before, during, and after his time contributed to evolutionary theory. Georges-Louis Leclerc Buffon (1707-1788) proposed a non-biblical approach to the Earth’s history, accounting for the creation of earth based on Newtonian Physics (Berkley, The History of Evolutionary Thought).
In this, Buffon argued that over the time period of 70,000 years, debris from the sun broke off to form planets after a collision with a massive comet. Over time, the Earth being one of these large pieces of debris, eventually cooled from the scorching hot molten rock, and rain came down from clouds to inevitably form oceans. He also argued that under the ideal conditions (i.e. a hot ocean and the right organic materials) that life could form spontaneously. Through a series of events, these organisms and large animals would migrate across the land and eventually adapt to their surroundings, thus losing or gaining certain qualities that would identify it as a new subspecies.
Though largely, almost all of Buffon’s ideas were inevitably disputed and shut down – he contributed much to the field of study and has underscored some of the most important ground work that evolutionary theorists have built off of (Berkley, The History of Evolutionary Thought). There are many other notable contributors to evolutionary theory, yet for the sake of expediency, we will address the more pertinent issues concerning modern evolutionary thought.
In evolutionary theory, there are many approaches that define the main basis for evolutionary thought – yet we will consider three of the main articles in debate currently, the first of which being vestigial organs. Vestigial organs are features that serve no useful function whatsoever within the species. The second issue we will address is biochemical evidence remnant within DNA structures of a species. This plays a rather large role in evolutionary thought due to the complexity of each species, yet the remarkably similar DNA structure they resemble among what would be considered common ancestry. The final issue we will call into question will be fossil records. Again, this ties in with the notion of common ancestry and even greater evidence of the sequence of gradual changes in a given species. In each of these evidences, we will consider the strengths and weaknesses, as well as the counterarguments against them.
“Vestigial organs have demonstrated remarkably how species are related to one another, and has given solid ground for the idea of common descent to stand on. From common descent, it is predicted that organisms should retain these vestigial organs as structural remnants of lost functions. It is only because of macro-evolutionary theory, or evolution that takes place over very long periods of time, that these vestiges appear” (Miller, 1).
Vestigial organs have played an important role among scientists both for and against evolutionary theory. Though Darwin received the large amount of public attention for his views on vestigial organs, Jean Baptiste Lamarck proposed this notion through his theory on “change through use and disuse” in 1793 (Berkley, The History of Evolutionary Thought). Lamarck argued that as a species will stretch its limitations further and further, the offspring of said species would continue to adapt and evolve in its abilities.
Furthermore, he argued that as a species no longer uses certain organs or traits, these would inevitably either disappear, or lose their original function. In his proposition, Lamarck noted that flightless birds, though retaining their wings, had no vital function or role for them. In this, they were counted as vestigial organs that supplied no function whatsoever to the bird, yet were retained as a result of previous necessity. Though Lamarck was ostracized from the scientific community before his death because of his views, his ideas did not die with him.
Currently, the vestigial organs are simply regarded in the same notion that Lamarck originally proposed, and Darwin built off of; they are organs that once served a function in our common evolutionary ancestry, though currently, they provide no real reason for known existence. In humans alone, such things as the appendix, wisdom teeth, the coccyx (tailbone), Goosebumps, Darwin’s point, and the Vomeronasal organ are listed as vestigial organs. The problem with much of the study behind vestigial organs in regard to evolutionary theory is that often, the study stops there.
Once an organ or reaction is deemed to have no function within the body, evolution is often seen as the science stopper that proves the lack of functionality. Creationists and proponents of intelligent design do not disavow the evidence showing an organ to be vestigial, rather, they refute that these are as a result from the evolutionary process (DeWitt, Vestigial Organs). Furthermore, in evolutionary theory, is it assumed that these vestigial organs are a result of the evolutionary process, rather than scientifically revealed; in other words, the presupposition of evolution must be made to account for the lack of functionality within vestigial organs. The major split within this realm of thought between evolutionists and creationists would seem to be in terminology and semantics, which indeed, does make all the difference in the interpretation of evidence.
In the process of adaptation, an organism will undergo what is called microevolution. In this, gene mutation, or gene loss, takes place and the species or organism in question undergoes a process of change to adapt to its surrounding environment and needs. This differs greatly from macroevolution, which is the process we can put flesh to in respect to the origin of man (ape to man). The evolutionist would argue that vestigial organs (and the respective evidence shown in biological change and fossil records) indicate change into a new subspecies. This would be attributed mainly to differences in common ancestry, such as the link between man and ape. However, creationists would propose that this is evidence of simple microevolution (i.e. small change over a small amount of time) rather than macroevolution. This process is shown evidently in the retention of these organisms, yet the loss of their respective function. For this simple reason, the terminology used can greatly affect the presupposition behind it.
As DeWitt notes in his article, “At best, evidence of vestigial organs in man demonstrates deterioration and loss of information since the Fall. They are evolutionary relics of common ancestors with animals only if you begin with evolutionary presuppositions.”
However, another great mass of influence to evolutionary theory is built upon biochemical evidence, that is, the structural basis of a species’ DNA and how it correlates to corresponding species’ and common ancestors. The surge of thought from Darwin and the like has produced voluminous works completely devoted to this study, and inherently, it is developed systematically in organizing DNA structures that are most similar. For example, in Darwin’s studies, he devotes considerable time to expounding upon the structural relations between differing species of finches in the Galapagos, zebras in Africa, honeycreepers in Hawaii, and other species as well. Darwin noted that despite their differences in climate choices, food sources, or geographical conditions, these species all spawned from the same common ancestor.
“Why should ‘closely allied’ species inhabit neighboring patches of habitat? And why should similar habitat on different continents be occupied by species that aren’t so closely allied? ‘We see in these facts some deep organic bond, prevailing throughout space and time,’ Darwin wrote. ‘This bond, on my theory, is simply inheritance.’ Similar species occur nearby in space because they have descended from common ancestors” (Quammen, Nat. Geo. Online Extra Nov. 2004).
Another vital argument based from biochemical evidence is the notion of gene mutation that shows the proposal for biochemical advancement. Most notably, evolutionary theory proposes this on the basis of species change; one particular example we will use again will be the evolutionary process from ape to man. In this, through both migration and simple bio molecular mutation, the species changed from one to the next. The common ancestor is a primitive ape-like species, yet the organic representation of that change is man. However, most evidence shown from this species change is not shown to be literal macroevolution of the given species, but microevolution. Other evidences of this simple adaptation of the species has been shown in moths in Eastern Europe that lost certain genetic traits to better camouflage with their changing environment.
The simple, yet profound flaw in identifying the adaptation as an evolutionary process is that this concept involves one of change outside of a given family of a species rather than that particular family. In respect to this, one could argue that dogs evolved from another distinctly differing mammal. The major issue with this is that though we share the same chemical breakdown as an ape and have remarkably similar genetics as them, they are still distinct. The DNA found in humans, the amount of chromosomes, and the genetic adaptations are all still different than that of apes. One may validly argue for the adaptation of a species, such as the genome differences found in Europeans when compared to Africans in the ability to process milk, yet this doesn’t necessarily indicate a change of species.
Converse to evolution, one can argue that through dietary restrictions, climate changes, and geographical conditions, the species has simply adapted, rather than form a distinctly new species of human. Scientists would agree with this sentiment, yet still indicate that the larger change over time, i.e. the distinct ramifications of diet, climate, and geography, led to a large-scale change rather than a minor genetic difference. Yet in this same token, the adaptation of a given species is seen to be the footprint to the evolutionary process. Inherently, the flaw comes in assuming that since the genetic composition is made from the same fundamental elements to sustain life, the cell structure and function of mammals to other mammals (and plant life, arthropods, & etc. respectively), and the general composition of chromosomes, life itself is based from a single, common ancestry.
The overarching argument against this is that each individual organism, even a single celled organism, is so remarkably complex and different in nature, function, and genetic makeup, that it seems irrational to assume that they are based from a common ancestor. Furthermore, the rationality that life as we know it formed from a chaotic series of evolutionary processes just doesn’t add up, as we will see now in the fossil evidence.
Darwin originally proposed that fossil records show a gradual process of evolution of a given species – and due to this, further resulting paleontology should reveal this same process between other, intermediary steps in the evolution of any given species. In some distinct cases, there have been documented fossil records displaying the “evolutionary process” of one species into another. Yet in retrospect to the evidence, there are two huge problems in respect to the fossil record.
“It must be noted that this argument is often dismissed through two lines of reasoning: 1) the lack of a complete fossil record and 2) the problems inherent in identifying what is transitional. However, this does not diminish the problem, as some evolutionists suppose, since the types of changes evolution requires to give rise to the various animal kinds over millions of years would be expected to provide ample examples in virtually every layer of the geologic record. This is not the case” (Unknown, Answers in Genesis).
It would seem that corollary evidence shown in the fossil records is at best, inadequate to create a dogmatic approach to the sciences. Many times, the fossils found by paleontologists are incomplete skeletal systems and cannot represent a distinct change in the species if found in this manner. Even down on a cellular level, fossil records will only bear so much evidence for the simple reason of the given species being extinct, the adaptation of the species, or it being an unrefined specimen. Further evidence of the vast incompleteness of the fossil record we do have, is contained within the beginning of the Cambrian Period, when many separate organisms appeared without clear precursors (Meyer, CNN.com).
The remarkable nature of this sudden burst of new species doesn’t necessarily hint toward creation without the preconceived notion, yet it certainly doesn’t support an evolutionary stance either. The problem with having an incomplete fossil record and proposing evolutionary evidence off of it is that there is a great lack of intermediary steps of these species-to-species evolutions. If one species were to develop into another completely different species (let’s entertain the notion of a single celled organism into a multicellular based sea dwelling creature) there ought to be at least partial representations of this somewhere. While debate has circulated in this issue as well, it largely still remains a major point of contention for people on either side.
Another large problem with the fossil record is found distinctly in how we find fossils. Often, fossils are not found in the singularly defined sedimentary levels as broken down per period, but in two to three differing periods. In this, the hard evidence would show that this fossil record would not belong in a distinctly differing evolutionary time period. In this, the distinct possibility remains that within a short period of time, each sedimentary level was formed and compacted to produce this fossil record, thus showing it was not necessarily a process over the span of millions of years.
The fossilization process could very well take much less time than is widely proposed (and has even been evidenced by some leading scientists using carbon-14 dating or radiometric dating [though this is also under considerable debate]), and for this reason, could differentiate between distinct time periods in which these evolutionary processes would have occurred. As to why this would pose such a large problem to the theory of evolution, again, is that the grand species-to-species change advocates a positional process that takes millions of years to happen. In this, if there are found two distinct species in the same sedimentary levels that are believed to be part of the same evolutionary process, and we do not find a complete fossil record indicating the intermediate processes, we can rule this possibility out. Furthermore, if a given fossil is excavated in multiple layers of sediment presumably spanning millions of years, this too can be ruled out.
As Christians, we can safely wrap up our own beliefs in the sufficiency of scripture and it’s revelation to us, yet this does an injustice to the field of science. Ultimately, God is Lord over all things and the author of all true wisdom; He has revealed Himself in all of life and shows this truth to be evident. The matter at hand is not simply one in which we can ignore the sciences and simply discuss the scriptures. To be sure, scripture should always form our first precedent in how we study any field of science. Naturally, we will always be met with opposition in how we approach most things – however; it would damnable if we left it at that. There is an inherent responsibility not only for Christians to take a deeper look at the science behind creation, but unbelieving scientists as well. For each side of this debate, these evidences (among many others) respectively build off of and hinge upon each other. Largely, the reason based approach to each respective stance yields to the other proposed notions they believe the science leads it to.
Some evolutionists will admit the flaws within the theory itself, yet the large consensus in those with a soapbox, ultimately squash this in favor of an approach without the possibility of God, using Occam’s Razor to substantiate this reasoning. Considerable attention needs to be devoted to this field of study by Christians. This debate has been met with vehement outrage or the ignorant embrace of one side or the other since it began. The science is not fully conclusive on either side; though the Christian should know with certitude based from the scriptures that science can be approached rationally.
Largely, evolution is meeting criticism for its weaknesses – and though intelligent design meets its fair share of flak for its own, general science is being forced to grow. As intellectual beings, we must decide whether or not we will give due study where it needs to be afforded – or if we will remain painfully ignorant and unbalanced in our apologetics and understanding of God, or respectively, our understanding of science. Furthermore, if the quest is for the truth (here we recognize the term “truth” not in a subjective, relativistic sense – but in an objective, qualitative and substantive truth from the lens of scripture), how could one be construed as prudent if the individual does not devote time to develop a rationalized and informed approach to such a growing issue?
For the one claiming to be Christian, one cannot hold to a literal rendering of Genesis in order to defend evolution – yet it should also be noted that theistic evolution is generally seen as an equally laughable notion to the scientific community as creationism. Evolution is a completely unassisted, naturalistic process. Remember the reference above to Occam’s Razor? In favor of a complex philosophical issue, such as the existence of God, adherents accommodate through utilizing the simplest answer: there is no God.
In the scriptures, readers don’t necessarily find the prescription to treat this text so freely. In other words, persons reading the text don’t assume literary command over narrative style as they would with prose or proverbial texts. If one takes these same literary rules and apply them to narrative, they will quickly find that the rules do not appropriately engage the text. Narrative is simply meant to employ the task of story telling; thus, the story is either true and in accordance to how an omnipotent God created the earth, or it is a fable meant to employ concepts of His nature. But if this is true – can narrative exposing His attributes be representing of His true nature – or are such things subjective to interpretation? In more clear language, does this positional narrative develop and reveal actual characteristics of God, or simply ascribe to Him something similar to what He is like?
To what end though do we apply this rule within the stylistic boundaries of literature to scripture? Are all points of narrative simply meant to engender patriarchal sentiments for God, though they don’t account for what literally took place in time and space? Do we account for most of the Old Testament narrative in this same manner (i.e. Jonah, Noah, Job, or any of the incredibly long life spans found in Genesis)? Are the synoptic gospels and the book of Acts in this same rule? Can we dismiss the healings and miracles of Christ and the Apostles? Do we dismiss demonology? Can we dismiss Christ’s death on the cross (as the Gnostics did), His deity (as Arius did), or his bodily resurrection or ascension?
Surely, these are seen as more problematic doctrines to deny for the Christian, but it must be asked: to what end do we decide what to do with biblical narrative? Can one legitimately substantiate dealing with one piece of narrative in a loose manner without presupposing the remaining articles of narrative to that same framework – and if so, what is the criteria?
There are more substantial things at risk here then simply the origin of man. For example, one could easily adopt the view that Adam was not the first man, but a figurative representation of man; therefore, the sin imputed to man because of him would not necessarily be literal, but metaphorical, representing a figurative fall of man. While the slippery-slope argument is not necessarily the most winsome, it is used on either side of this debate. Interpretation of the scriptures, and specifically in this case, the data, makes a radical difference. We find in either case a presupposition based ideologically within the convictions of those divided on this topic. Though the aim is to be objective, this does not necessarily take place.
A further understanding of God’s character should yield a greater sense of awe of His divine attributes, His raw power, and His ability to create and sustain. Yet a further understanding of how He has exercised His attributes, demonstrated that power, and how He has wrought the cosmos and all within it – and sustains it, should respectively increase our awe and reverence toward Him. Surely, science is an organism that continues to evolve. It is only when one remains stagnant and willfully unlearned (especially in regard to the scriptures) that they fail to grow in respect to salvation and glorify the Lord.