Evolution, Entropy, and Human Beings 1 (RJS)

I recently received, compliments of the publisher, a copy of a new book by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions. This book has its origins in the avalanche of questions unleashed on Collins following the publication of his earlier book The Language of God. But this new book is not an encyclopedia of frequently asked questions – it is a readable book walking through many of the frequently asked questions and the important issues in a narrative form. It is written for the non-scientist and will make a good resource for those with questions, for discussion groups, and for church leaders.

Chapters six, seven, and eight of The Language of Science and Faith address questions related to arguments against Darwin’s theory of evolution, the fine-tuning of the universe and  finally evolution and human beings. Darwin’s On the Origin Of Species was first published over 150 years ago. (By the way some Kindle versions are free: On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection.) This book did not appear out of the blue, it built on Darwin’s experience and observation in the context of observations and theories of many others. In the years that have followed the response has been varied, the theory has been expanded, refined, and placed on firm physical, chemical, and biological foundations. The history of the development of the theory of evolution and the acceptance of evolution is discussed briefly in chapter six of The Language of Science and Faith, but of more significance for the post today are questions relating to the arguments against the theory of biological evolution and common descent.

According to Giberson and Collins arguments against evolution fall into three categories (p. 161):

  1. Scientific problems that have been fully resolved but continue to circulate because their supporters are not current with the scientific literature or do not respect that literature.
  2. Scientific problems that are not really problems but are based on enduring misunderstandings that seem resistant to clarification.
  3. Scientific problems that are recognized by the scientific community, which expects to resolve them using tools of science.

What arguments against evolution have you heard? If you find them convincing, why?

Which category would you place them in?

In the book Giberson and Collins single out three examples for discussion. These serve as illustrations, not an exhaustive rebuttal to all objections.

The need for too much time. One of the early arguments against evolution was based on the available time for evolution. Even the most optimistic estimates for the age of the earth placed it in the range of 100 million years, insufficient for the evolution of the diversity of life observed. The estimate for age was based on the assumption that the earth formed as a molten glob of matter and had been cooling since – the earth was currently too hot to be older than ca. 100 million years. The discovery of radioactivity changed the estimates dramatically. Radioactive decay provides both an energy source account for the current temperature of the earth and an internal clock to measure age. Many lines of investigation and argument now point to an age of ca. 4.5 billion years with a globe cool enough for life ca. 4 billion years ago.

This challenge to evolution reflected a genuine scientific disagreement, one that was eventually resolved. If the age of the earth had been irrefutably determined to be only 100 million years, scientists would have begun to focus on the question of the origin of species differently. But the age is sufficient for evolution. There are still questions of mechanism, evolution and the physical/chemical mechanisms of evolution are still subject of ongoing research. But these questions do not disprove the theory, only refine our understanding of the science.

Evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics, ∆Suniverse > 0. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the second law of thermodynamics reflects the general idea that things progress toward the state of maximum disorder. Cars rust and fall apart, they do not spontaneously assemble.  The measure of disorder is entropy, represented by the symbol “S”. The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system will increase or stay constant, and it can only stay constant under unrealizable conditions.  The change in entropy (∆S) must be positive (i.e. >0). As the only truly isolated system is the universe as a whole the law basically states that the entropy of the universe will always increase. Thus every spontaneous process reflects an increase in entropy (∆Suniverse > 0).  This does not rule out localized decreases in entropy – but any such localized decrease must be accompanied by other larger increases in entropy.

A very simple demonstration – one I enjoy doing in class (did this term in fact)- is shown in the video below.

YouTube Preview Image

The entropy of the water decreases, the entropy of the reaction increases, and the net result is an increase in the entropy of the universe. The spontaneous freezing of water does not violate the laws of thermodynamics because it is part of a larger processes or system. This principle underlies all of chemistry and all of biology. Spontaneous process are those processes where the total entropy increases, not just the part we are interested in or are looking at.

The second law of thermodynamics says nothing at all about the origin and evolution of life – except that the total overall process in the universe involves an increase in entropy. The sun supplies energy to the earth, thus the sun must be considered as part of the equation. The entropy of molecular systems on earth may decrease, but the burning of the fuel in the sun reflects an increase in entropy that more than counters any decrease on earth.

The argument that the evolution of life is counter to the second law of thermodynamics reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of thermodynamics.

The Origin of Life. The final question considered by Giberson and Collins is the scientific explanation for the origin of life. The bottom line is that there is none … yet. And that “yet” is the key factor. There is no dead end in research, no impossibility for the origin of life. But life is complex, we don’t know what the original terrestrial environment was, we do not know what building blocks were available, and we do not know enough of the possible chemical mechanism. This is an area of active research.

There are two important points here. First – the origin of life and the adequacy of the evolutionary explanation for the diversity of life and the origin of species are two completely separate questions. Evolution follows well established, although not completely worked out, mechanisms. There remain active questions, but they do not challenge the overall process.

Second – arguments from ignorance seldom, if ever, make constructive arguments for direct divine action. God is responsible for the features we understand as well as those we do not understand and those we may never understand. It is quite likely all one unified whole, not separable into categories of divine action and natural process.

The study of life’s origins is an exciting area of research. The jury is still out – way out – on how life first emerged. A simple response would be to give an old-fashioned god-of-the-gaps explanation: some supernatural force, namely God, must have intervened to bring life into being. We do not categorically exclude this, but would encourage our readers not to jump to this all-too-easy solution.

Although the origin of life is certainly a genuine scientific mystery – as opposed to a pseudo-scientific problem, like how evolution overcomes the second law of thermodynamics – we suggest that this is not the place for thoughtful people to wager their faith. This kind of logic would mean that God worked in some special way at this stage only to allow the evolutionary process to move through later development that did not require divine intervention. In contrast, the perspective we are advancing maintains that God’s original and elegant plan for the universe may well have included the potential for life to arise without necessarily requiring later “supernatural” engineering to jumpstart the process. In this view, God’s sustaining creative presence under-girds all of life’s history from the beginning to the present. (p. 174-175)

Fine-Tuning of the Universe. We have discussed the fine-tuning arguments at length in a number of posts (see the science and faith archive for more information), and I am not going to repeat them here. The discussion given by Giberson and Collins in chapter seven of this book is a good lay-level introduction.

In the next and final post we will conclude our discussion of The Language of Science and Faith with consideration of chapter eight Evolution and Human Beings. For today I would like to consider evolution at a more general  level.

What arguments against evolution do you find convincing? Why?

What arguments would you like to see discussed on this blog (in future posts)?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • Glenn Sunshine

    As I understand it, so far we don’t have any examples of one species developing into a different species except from the basis of theory. We have huge variation within species, but always within limits. Are there examples I am unaware of?

    Also, why is “we don’t have an answer yet” not a Darwin of the Gaps argument?

  • http://ninure.tk Ninure

    I just don’t understand why people find the idea of evolution incompatible with their faith that Gd is the Creator.

    Since I was a little child, I have always believed that the Bible tells us “Who”, science tells us “How”. So what is the problem?

    Do people believe that the sun literally rises and sets, since the Bible says so?

  • http://homekettle.wordpress.com David N.

    The biggest arguments against evolution I hear from conservative Christians are all theological rather than scientific. Does the book address any of these?

  • rjs

    David N.,

    I agree that the biggest problems are theological rather than scientific. The book does discuss these somewhat, and we will turn more in that direction in the next post.

    But the scientific and theological arguments are often intertwined – and there are plenty of places where I hear or read arguments that follow roughly the line:

    (1) evolution is theologically troublesome
    (2) evolution has many scientific problems

    Therefore

    (3) evolution is inherently an atheistic construct to eliminate the need for God and/or Christian faith.

    In order to move people out of this construct one of the necessary steps is to try to put forth the case that (2) is simply wrong. There are very strong reasons why the vast majority of Christians in the sciences, including me, find an old earth and evolutionary creation to be supported by the evidence beyond any reasonable doubt.

    Frankly I’d rather spend most of my time thinking and writing about the theological issues, but this is putting the cart before the horse for many.

  • J Williams

    A question I have always had, and this validates the post above, is more theological in nature.

    If death was a part of the evolutionary process from the very beginning, how do Xians reconcile the biblical account that death (at least as it relates to homosapiens) is a result of the choose against God and not for Him.

    I’ve heard responses that the consequence of the fall was a spiritual death and separation and nowhere in the creation narrative is there necessarily any promise of eternal physical human life. But that seems purely theoretical.

    Any suggestions?

  • http://www.evangelicalmonk.com/apps/blog/entries/show/4795706-a-new-sheriff-in-town-part-1 Bill H

    RJS

    I see your 3 points, though I do not see the issue as resting on the 2nd point. It would seem foolish to debate this issue on scientific grounds – as having a non-scientist raise such issues is nonsensical and my general understanding is that a scientist will rarely raise such claims in light of the expected backlash academically. I also do not see number 3 as following – science is what science is, and there must be a means of reconciling faith and science. I am not convinced or persuaded theistic evolution, in its current state, supplies a satisfying resolution – so my concern rests on the first point. All of this strikes me as an effort to “contain” God within the rigid confines of logic and reason. I have long held the belief that to remove the mystery puts me in control, and that seems to be the opposite of where we need to be. Rather than posit a strictly logical/scientific timeline of the world, from the beginning to the current time, and inserting here and there divine activity seems to render the faith into one where we need to perform the so-called leap of faith. I think this all rests on Paul’s admonition to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling and the tenor of much of the discussion from the harsh condemnation of more conservative thinkers to the also harsh response that intelligibility and relevancy is on the side of theistic evolution hardly seems to be that working out our salvation.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Warning: non-scientist, lawyer comment coming.

    I think the argument that often lingers in my brain is a big-picture one, similar to what Glenn mentioned in the first comment, but it has more to do with complex, interdependent systems that don’t function well or at all unless all the parts more or less spring into being and well-coordinated action all at once. If the parts come in pieces over time, they would be wasted space and energy, at best, which doesn’t bode well in a “survival of the fittest” world. (I’ll mention here, too, that my question is not so much with evolution per se, but with evo-combo’d with the naturalistic assumption that everything worth knowing can be explained via natural causes.)

    The easiest concept to use as an example is probably flight. The whole physiology of most birds is coordinated around the function of flight. The physical material of the feathers and even bones, the shape of the skeleton and muscle arrangement, etc. Just the wing alone is an engineering marvel, yet, the wing alone can’t produce flight. How does such an integrated system spring into being when the mutations required for functionality would have to be systematic and harmonious with each other and with each separate part/mutation seemingly “knowing” where the whole organism is headed (toward flight)? Then, how does such new-species/new-functionality survive sexually (finding a mate that won’t destroy the new flying ability?) Or did all the same, happy coincidences happen in two or more, proximately located, opposite sexed creatures, at the same time? You get the idea. The idea that such coordinated advances happened “blindfolded” so to speak, and happened by chance, and happened by chance repeatedly for systems that require more coordination than flight . . . well, it gives me more than just pause. The suggestion is so unreal as look at just a fraction of the necessary steps that the whole theory becomes deeply ironic to me. Ironic because of the great faith that is seemingly required. In a nutshell, I have a hard time buying that new species, and the complex functional systems that often distinguish them from prior species, just “happen.” When scientists summarize how every complex biological system came into being from a evolutionary/naturalist perspective, I walk away being impressed with their great faith.

  • JohnnyM

    The problem I have with evolution is that it depends on the illusion of time. If you posit billions and billions of years then you have an explanation for evolutionary development. But regardless of the amount of time that is posited, there has to be a moment in time when that which was inanimate was animated. At some point, some kind of gas, dirt, and/or rock became alive. And then, at some other point in all of these billions and billions of years, something that was alive, but non-human, gave birth to something human; or else, something non-human (within its life span) became (in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye) human. Evolution may be true–but the idea that it is more likely to be true the more time you give it, seems to me to be special pleading.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    (As for category, my questions are likely in all 3, but some of you may be able to better sort that than I.)

  • AHH

    Glenn #1:

    The idea that speciation has not been observed is in RJS’ category #1, a falsehood that keeps circulating for whatever reason. There is a FAQ:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html

    Now if you are talking about higher-level branching, say between fish and amphibians, there are no direct observations because the timescale is so long. At those levels, common ancestry is inferred mainly from the fossil record and from genetics.

    The 2nd Law of Thermo bit is close to my own heart, as my Ph.D. is basically in chemical thermodynamics. I often say that if anybody uses the Second Law as an anti-evolution argument, that is a clear sign that they don’t know what they are talking about and are not worth listening to on the subject.

  • Ron Spross

    “What arguments against evolution do you find convincing? Why?”

    Answer: So far, after decades of sympathetic consideration of them on my part, none. Even the best arguments from ID “theorists” rely, as nearly as I can tell, on the assumption that whatever problem(s) they have identified with evolution are or will be impossible to solve without invoking divine action. As you have often pointed out, that is merely the God of the Gaps argument in a fancier suit. In practice the unexplained keeps receding into the distance as one after another of the problems is addressed by further research and understanding. And, independent of one’s theological predispositions, ID — if it is defined in that God-of-the-Gaps fashion — is at best scientifically useless.

    I am a physicist, and not a biology expert, but I think there are clear analogies in the stories of how our understanding of cosmic evolution and the biologic evolution of life have progressed. And there are also parallels in how “theology” has dealt with the two. In both cosmic and biologic evolution, scientists first see the patterns in nature which indicate or imply the evolution has occurred (the patterns for cosmic evolution were the recession of the galaxies, detection of the cosmic microwave background, etc.). Subsequent discoveries in applicable areas of science (e.g., nuclear physics, quantum mechanics, etc.) provided an amazingly clear picture of the mechanism by which cosmic evolution has occurred. Once the mechanism was understood, it not only was consistent with the pattern observed in nature, but also explained how it occurred the way it did and not another. Furthermore, the fine tuning arguments for the universe that are beloved now by some IDers, come out of the fundamental physics that drives cosmic evolution and they make little sense in the absence of it.

    There is no reason, I think, NOT to believe that the scientific understanding of evolution is, at worst, just further back on the trajectory of understanding than cosmic evolution is currently. In the case of cosmic evolution, new data and evidence was consistent and coherent with the old when evaluated from the point of view of evolution. Similarly, studies in population genetics that have occurred over the last decades are thoroughly consistent with the evolutionary picture that has been derived from fossils and other observational evidence. There is no serious scientific reason to believe that evolution has not occurred. We thus suppose that the fact that we don’t yet understand in a particular case HOW evolution could have happened should not be taken as evidence that it did not happen. So far every other such problem can accurately be described as stemming from our ignorance, rather than from our knowledge — and presuppositions about evolution, particularly those that derive from theological presuppositions, are not knowledge.

    The psalmist said that the heavens declared the glory of God, but we have found that, as our understanding of the cosmos has gone beyond merely counting the stars to understanding in a fundamental way how they came to be, nature becomes more allusive to the existence of God rather than less. Thus, understanding cosmic evolution has led a number of individuals to believe in, or at least to speculate more than they otherwise might have about the existence of God or a Creator.

    Why should we not suppose that when/if we ever figure out the mechanisms behind biologic evolution, the allusiveness of nature to a Mind behind it all will be even greater, rather than less, than it is now? Another lesson might be that any objections to evolution based on theological assumptions or interpretations, while they are useless to science, are in the end likely to be useless for theology as well.

  • normbv

    Generally it requirs one have a deep understanding of science and theology to work these issues out properly. By and large most people are not inclined to invest huge amounts of time in both arenas of discussion to get up to speed. Knowledge helps solve the problems but people choose where to spend their time investments. That doesn’t preclude the less than knowledgable from having an “expert” opinion though. ;-)

  • Linda

    The argument against evolution that I find convincing is that mutations overwhelmingly cause a loss of information, not a net gain, as evolution requires.

  • Daniel

    AHH @10, you say, “if anybody uses the Second Law as an anti-evolution argument, that is a clear sign that they don’t know what they are talking about and are not worth listening to on the subject.”

    With respect, this is not a way forward in dialog. As one with a PhD in theology and trained in historical theology I could say something similar about mischaracterizations about Calvin or Yoder or Bonhoeffer. It seems better to correct the errors instead of saying, “Pfff, you don’t know what you’re talking about” and walking away.

    The other day a well-known responder at this blog in essence said that when he skims the responses he already knows what their point of view is and, if he doesn’t agree, he just moves on. Not much chance for a conversation there.

    That is one of the things I like about this blog, namely, that there is generally some communication over issues that we all don’t agree on. Sometimes the disagreement comes from ignorance, sometimes from a blind-spot we have or our political affiliation.

    I appreciate that rjs opened the question up without necessarily feeling a point-by-point defense needs to be mounted. Maybe the points raised can be addressed in the future.

    Btw, I agree with the issues JohnnyM and T raise. There seems a direction the processes move toward. A neat coincidence. But by so saying, it does not mean I am denying, at least, micro-evolution. Clearly it happens. I grew up on a farm and we selectively bred our cattle. We bred them toward an end, namely to produce more milk of (hopefully) a higher butter-fat content. We worked toward a goal and achieved what we intended.

  • http://hebrewservant.blogspot.com/ David

    for what is worth, I think it takes more blind faith to believe in evolution. God does not want to be figured out, we know that.

  • Linda

    Another argument against evolution that I find convincing is the lack of fossil evidence of the millions of transitional forms that should be evident if evolution had happened.

  • rjs

    Linda,

    The fossil record doesn’t prove evolution, but there is nothing in the fossil record that is counter to evolution. We have not found every transitional form and never will, but many transitional forms have been found. The timing of each follows appropriate trends.

    The more convincing evidence is in the genetic evidence. Again nothing contradicts evolution, and many otherwise random observations make sense in the context of evolution.

    On top of this we have comparative anatomy – and again nothing contradicts, and many otherwise rather inscrutable phenomena make sense.

    As we’ve moved forward in all fields the case becomes stronger.

  • rjs

    Daniel,

    I agree that is is not helpful to blow-off questions. But we also need to learn to ask appropriate questions. If we were conversing in an area of your expertise – say historical theology – I wouldn’t take your word for it, but would ask questions to see if you could explain why you hold a particular position and if you could convince me you are right (but then I am a perpetual student).

    I agree with AHH that people who use the second law of thermodynamics to argue against evolution don’t understand thermodynamics. The point of my middle section of the post was and is to try to explain why, at least slightly – something I (or AHH most likely) would be happy to elaborate on given questions.

    Direction comes up a bit in the next post so we can discuss it more then.

  • Linda

    RJS, I find it strange that the article states:

    “In the years that have followed the response has been varied, the theory has been expanded, refined, and placed on firm PHYSICAL, chemical, and biological foundations.”

    Then you admit in your last comment “the fossil record doesn’t prove evolution…”

    How can evolution have firm foundations when you admit that the fossil record doesn’t prove evolution? You seem to contradict yourself.

  • rjs

    Linda,

    Physical in that sentence refers to physics (like chemical refers to chemistry and biological refers to biology).

    But there is nothing in the fossil record that contradicts evolution and much that corroborates evolution. Thus one could add to the list that evolution is on strong paleontological foundations as well.

  • Linda

    RJS, thanks for clarifying I thought “physical” was referred to fossils. But I disagree that that there is much fossil evidence because it is not CREDIBLE evidence. The so called fossils have eventually been shown to be not credible.

    I disagree that genetics prove evolution, because genetic mutations cause a loss of information, evolution requires a gain of information. So the science of genetics has actually proven evolution to be not true.

  • Linda

    RJS, if evolution actually occurred in the past, there would be plenty of CREDIBLE transitional fossils as evidence. Since this is clearly not the case then any logical and practical person would give up their belief in such an unfounded belief such as evolution.

    To believe in evolution is to have blind faith.

  • http://www.conversationinfaith.wordpress.com Nancy Janisch

    What arguments against evolution do I find convincing?
    None of them.

    Part of the difficulty is that many people have a poor grasp of what science is and how science works. I am grateful to Giberson and Collins for their repeated,patient explanations of how science works.

    I have always been amazed when people act as if they must “protect” God from science- as if God might be surprised or disturbed by what scientists find. Science discovers plenty that is a surprise to humans. Science won’t find anything that surprises God.

  • Linda

    RJS, are you going to answer what I had to say about gene mutations? About how gene mutation cause a loss of information, whereas evolution requires an increase of information.

    I am not a scientist, but the understanding that gene mutations need to cause an increase of information in order for evolution to be true, and that gene mutations actually cause a loss of information surely shows that evolution CANNOT be true.

    It seems to be that science is proving more and more that evolution is not true.

  • rjs

    Linda,

    If mutations always caused a loss in information (whatever information is) and if information was required for life then mutations would disprove evolution.

    But mutations don’t always cause a loss in information and the evolutionary process is in essence a search algorithm that looks for “optimal” ways to achieve a desired fitness. In this way the cumulative effect of many mutations results in an increase in fitness and an increase in “information” (if information is defined as specification of the features required for that specific function or “fitness”).

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    I question the all or nothing way of framing the question. I think “evolution” explains some things well (bacterial resistance) and some things very poorly (the Cambrian Explosion). To have a profitable discussion, I think you need to break out the various meanings of the word “evolution” and discuss each separately. The various meanings are discussed here:

    http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/stephen-meyer-on-the-meanings-of-evolution/

  • Ethan Magness

    Wow,

    You just made my day. rjs is taking requests. I raise this not as objections to debate in this thread, but as questions for further posts.

    I would echo the question about time that JohnnyM asked and i would love for you to teach us about that. I have always felt the same way. The mental move from billions of years,to the one moment that it happened is hard for me to fathom.

    I also would love more thought on self-organizing phenomena. I don’t have trouble with the 2nd law in teh grand sense. I get the local vs global thing. However I could use more teaching on the locally self-organizing phenomena. I took a few college level physics courses (quantum, chaos, etc) and so I should understand this more than I do but it is easy to forget a lot of physics in 15 years as a pastor. I do remember some work in chaos theory that seemed cool by finding points of apparent order in this midst of chaos, but it is pretty foggy. Anyway I would love some teaching that moves a step beyond saying “Evolution does not defy the 2nd Law.” And moves toward, here are some places that we see self-organization happen.

    I’ll limit myself to one more. I remember in quantum physics in college that one of the big points was that not only did this theory explain what we had seen, it could predict outcomes of future experiments. And then we even did a few. This really helped me get over the mind warp of leaving a Newtonian world view, to see that this theory had predictive as well as explanatory power. Are there similar things for evolution. Things that evolution has predicted and then verified and not just explained after the fact.

    I could probably give a dozen if I let myself but three is enough for now.

    By the way, I want to thank you RJS for your investment in my education. If I remember correctly you are a prof somewhere. Your students are blessed to have you.

    Thanks,

    Ethan

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I don’t find any of the arguments against evolution compelling since the trend is to find naturalistic explanations for all existing natures.

    The part of the debate I have a difficult time with is understanding how folks can feel good about missing out on the sheer wonder and spectacle of exploring our universe from a scientific view point. My wife (non-scientist) used to get annoyed when I watched the science and nature shows on TV. Now my kids only watch shows like that and they would bug her to do math problems with her for fun! She does not know what fun she is missing!

    Examining the scientific explanations for our world is an exercise in God appreciation for me. We have God’s creation right in front of our faces! He wants us to understand it, love it, appreciate it. Why would he want us to stay in a bronze age view? That makes no sense at all, to me.

    The best explanation I have heard for not believing evolution is when a friend of mine told me that he could not believe it because it disgusted him to think he came from animals. That actually is a good reason to not be able to believe since one cannot dispute taste.

  • Brian Considine

    RJS says: “But there is nothing in the fossil record that contradicts evolution and much that corroborates evolution.”

    Likewise, there is nothing in the known universe that contradicts the existence of God and much that corroborates that God is. However, no unbeliever would express that opinion because they would consider it a logical fallacy. The arguments for evolition seem to be nothing more tha proof by assertion (the fossil record corroborates evolution but…) and circular reasoning (…because the fossil record doesn’t contradict it). When are we going to be intelligent enough to say “we just don’t know” – remember, we see as through a glass darkly. Or, we could just take the word of those who claim special insight – evolutionists. Sorry, just too many holes in the theory for me to buy it as a settled issue.

  • http://blogginoutloud.blogspot.com Lyn

    I’m open to an evolutionary theory of species origins, but a few theological issues arise for me: the fall of humankind (who actually set the stage for us to be born in sin?) and the subsequent “groaning” of creation (I was taught growing up that human sin affected this world causing earthquakes, etc.). So this would be my vote for an added discussion for the future. Thanks for broaching the subject. Lyn

  • rjs

    Brian,

    I also said that the strongest evidence wasn’t the fossil record itself.

    Evolution isn’t proof by assertion. It could be disproved. If we found complex fossils dated to the earliest times, that would disprove evolution.

    If the DNA had been perfect and distinct between animals and humans, that would have disproved evolution although it would not have proved special creation, it would be consistent with the idea.

    We could give more such examples. But every new piece of data is consistent with the overall process of evolution. Some of the data refines our ideas about mechanism.

    The unbeliever who ignores the fact that nothing in the universe contradicts the existence of God and that much corroborates the existence of God should consider the evidence seriously.

    Likewise the believer who ignores the fact that nothing in the evidence contradicts evolution and much corroborates evolution should consider the evidence seriously.

    Simply put – God is the author of all, and this is his creation. Take the evidence and go with it.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    RJS #31,

    “But every new piece of data is consistent with the overall process of evolution.”

    That statement only works if you stay really, really vague about what you mean by “the overall process of evolution.”

    I saw a passage in the book where Collins kind of says that natural selection is not really an important part of the theory any more. Isn’t he sort of giving away the store?

  • Matt

    RJS – I’m interested in what you are going to say about the theological implications. I am not studied enough in the science arena to debate any of the things mentioned above. I just have a problem reconciling the creation account itself (even though I know some of it is poetic in nature, but the poetry still represents real events) not to mention theological implications of sin, death, etc. with certain theories of evolution.

  • rjs

    pds,

    I am not sure what you are referring to from the book. I don’t remember anything about natural selection as unimportant.

  • Michael

    For me the questions do tend towards the theological, rather than the scientific – not as a reason to oppose evolution, but because it raises a series of questions that are fascinating to explore.

    The scientific question is perhaps similar to T #7 which seems to be a version of the Irreducible Complexity argument. I know that evolutionary scientists consider this argument flawed, but I haven’t heard a good explanation of why. Without repeating the point, it does seem to me that at some level, some systems only function as a whole, and not beneficially as parts in themselves… So how does evolution deal with this?

  • AHH

    Daniel #14 commented on my comment #10 …

    I probably did word that “not worth listening to” in too dismissive a way, but I think you may have misunderstood the context (maybe my hurried writing’s fault).

    I was NOT talking about my own response, as someone with expertise, to such wrong claims. I’m sure my response often leaves much to be desired, although I try to educate constructively and even have a page up for such a purpose (those really interested can Google “Second Law of Thermodynamics in the Context of the Christian Faith”).

    But when I wrote that part of comment #10, what I had in mind was the advice I give to non-experts I know for discerning the credibility of presumed teachers they might hear. So that if somebody gives a seminar at their church and invokes the 2nd law as an anti-evolution argument, they know the speaker isn’t credible on that topic.
    I expect similar things happen for others on this list; for example many here would be qualified to advise “If you hear somebody making claims about church history using The DaVinci Code as an authoritative source, that’s a sign they don’t know what they are talking about.”

  • rjs

    Thanks for the suggestions for future directions. I’ve noted some by Glenn, T, J. Williams, JohnnyM, Ethan, Lyn, and more. I’ll plan to come back to many of these – although not for a couple of weeks at least.

  • Jeff

    Regarding genetic mutations: Mutations are not always losses of information (in fact, that is probably a minor case). Mutation is any change to the genetic material (take Down’s syndrome (Trisomy 21), as it is the result of an extra copy of the 21st chromosome (thus, a massive gain of a lot of genetic material-though deleterious in effect). In general, major losses of genetic material would usually result in death (thus not preserving the genetic material at all for future generations) and selected against. Many mutations would be in the “silent category,” meaning they might not have any apparent benefit (or detriment) at the time they occur, though at some point this could change in the future.

    An interesting scenario is the sickle cell gene. When a child inherits two sickle cell genes from their parents, the child will likely succumb to sickle cell anemia. However, if a child inherits one sickle cell gene and one normal gene, the child has an increased chance of surviving the most deadly forms of Malaria. The sickle cell gene is a missense mutation where a DNA triplet codon in the Beta-Hemoglobin gene, GAG, has been mutated to GUG (where each letter, or nucleotide, is the smallest “mutatable” unit of DNA, and three units form a codon which codes for an amino acid whereby a string of codons codes for a protein, as is the case for every protein in our body). GAG codes for the amino acid Glutamic acid, but the GUG codon codes for valine. Thus, a single DNA base pair substitution in hemoglobin confers some Malaria resistance (or at least a survival benefit) if one parent passes on the gene (note that a fully functional copy from the other parent prevents disease), but a devastating disease if two parents pass on the gene.

    One can see how this mutation may have occurred in a single individual and yet been preserved in the genome. Personally, I much prefer evolutionary models as an explanation for this condition then a literal 6-day creation because 1) the evolutionary models work quite nicely and 2) there are some ethical implications that I would prefer to not “assign” to God in this scenario.

    Also note that a majority of the DNA in our body (~3 billion nucleotides) does not even code for protein (about 100,000 actual genes). Some of it probably serves no function at all (or the function has been lost), but suffice it to say this is still an emerging field and I’m not qualified to speak as to what the consequences of mutations are in these areas.

    Regarding Irreducible complexity, those examples are slowly being whittled away. I think one example is the Flagella. I believe that it was originally theorized to be “irreducibly complex.” However, fairly recent studies demonstrated otherwise. Generally, irreducible complexity seems a dangerous game to me, as one’s case is only made on the absence of data, and future data may demonstrate that it isn’t irreducible after all (this is similar to the transitional fossils arguments, in the same way that transitional fossils have been clearly established, transitional mechanisms in these molecular “machines” are also being elucidated).

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    RJS #34,

    pp. 32-33 in the book.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    And I would love to see a serious discussion of the overall patterns in the fossil record, and a discussion of the best explanations for the Cambrian Explosion.

    Also, what philosophy of science, philosophy of knowledge and philosophy of history should a Christian adopt in addressing these questions?

  • Val

    Linda #21 – “I am not a scientist, but the understanding that gene mutations need to cause an increase of information in order for evolution to be true, and that gene mutations actually cause a loss of information surely shows that evolution CANNOT be true.”

    Linda, I am curious where you are getting your information. Let me point to a well known mutation – Down Syndrome. It’s scientific name is Trisomy 21. The reason for the “tri” is that Down’s kids have THREE Chromosomes on the 21st pair of chromosomes. We have TWO Chromosomes on the 21st pair, but Downs kids either have three (or two plus a portion of a third) chromosomes – therefor mutations often cause an INCREASE in genetic information, not a decrease. You can also google Trisomy 13 (usually fatal) and Trisomy 18 – a fatal mutation that is due to extra genetic info. These are examples of mutations adding Genetic information.

  • Val

    RJS – I would love a post on what I/Christians are to do with Neanderthal’s apparent religion. I am fine with Evolution, but I hadn’t researched human/Neanderthal/Homo Erectus relationships fully. Then I read that H.Erectus and us shared the earth until 23,000 ya and Neanderthal also had religion, buried their dead and interbred with Humans – they just sequenced the Neanderthal genome – as a Neanderthal and the courtesy to die in a glacier – so as not to decompose beyond DNA gathering recognition.

    Anyways, I always assumed it was Homo Sapiens alone who showed evidence of religion (with the more developed pre-frontal cortex that allowed conscience and conceptualization of the after-life).

    If it is true – and Homo Erectus also had religion – although I don’t think they did – it would make the question of original sin interesting – was it humans or Neanderthals or Homo Erectus who committed the first sin (one can’t commit sin without a conscience, in my understanding, so less brain-developed primates are off the hook)?

    Anyways, these similar-to-human creatures turn my theology into knots.

  • Jeff

    Regarding natural selection, and unless I’m misunderstanding some of the above comments, nowhere does Collins/Gib. call into question the role of natural selection (pages 32-34). He mentions a few hundred scientists who call it into question (they are basically creationists), and then proceeds to explain why their opinions are a vast minority and not the best qualified to speak on the manner. On page 33 they also acknowledge that scientists acknowledge other mechanisms in addition to random mutation and natural selection, however, that does not preclude an important or even central role for random mutation/nat. selection (my words).

    On page 34 they also suggest that the opposition to evolution is overstated. That is absolutely 100% correct. Except for the annoyance factor (and the irreparable harm to educating our kids with false notions on how to ask and answer scientific questions!), creationism is a blip that has fallen off the radar. All it can do is try to isolate a few holes in evolutionary theory (usually out of context) and then give a bunch of misleading information (also out of context) to support their own theories. Note, it’s not to say everything about evolution is known, if there are holes to plug in the theory their are scientists working to plug them in a properly investigated manner. Suggesting the whole theory is trumped by such an incidence is ridiculous. Plenty of questions left to ask, but all converging lines of evidence over a diverse range of scientific fields point to evolution as having occurred and occuring.

    Regarding the cambrian explosion, I am far from an expert, but we should keep in mind it is still a ~50 million year period (explosion a bit of a misnomer), and that there is evidence for well established species prior to the “explosion” (see reference below).

    Rev Biol Trop. 2000 Jun-Sep;48(2-3):333-51.
    Disparity, decimation and the Cambrian “explosion”: comparison of early Cambrian and present faunal communities with emphasis on velvet worms (Onychophora).

    Additionally, the fossil record is likely a very small minority of the life that existed in any era, but the further back one goes the more problematic this might become (and many of the soft bodies critters may have left no trace at all).

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    T-

    I think the argument that often lingers in my brain… has more to do with complex, interdependent systems that don’t function well or at all unless all the parts more or less spring into being and well-coordinated action all at once.

    Usually that’s a case of an interdependent system now arising from a different system before. I can point to an example you can partially check on your own body.

    Lay your fingers on the side of your jaw. Now, trace along the edge up to the very top of the jawbone. Wiggle your jaw a bit to find the very upper tip.

    Notice how close your fingers are to your ear canal. Inside the inner ear are three bones, the ossicles: malleus, incus, and stapes. They are carefully arranged to transfer sound energy from the eardrum to the cochlea as efficiently as possible. How could such an amazing mechanism arise? (One that’s been cited, even, as ‘irreducibly complex’ – just Google around a bit.)

    It turns out that relatives of dinosaurs called the therapsids had two jaw joints. The therapsids are known (by several independent lines of evidence) to be ancestral to modern mammals… and we have a basically complete fossil record of the gradual transition of one of those jaw joints into the modern bones of the inner ear. Fossils representing over 11 separate stages have been found. Note that intermediate steps were all advantageous, though not as efficient or optimized. Some transitional forms did help amplify sound energy but didn’t work while the animal was chewing. We still have problems with that under some circumstances (try to listen to someone while eating celery) but the separation is far more developed now.

    In the case of flight – consider the ‘flying’ squirrel. It doesn’t really ‘fly’ so much as glide from tree to tree – it falls a lot slower than other squirrels, and can move from tree to tree without risking getting near predators on the ground. We could imagine a squirrel with smaller skin flaps – it couldn’t glide as far, but it could make longer leaps than a ‘flapless’ cousin.

    A continuum of longer and longer ‘gliding time’ can lead to full flight. (There are other considerations; in the case of feathers, note that they have other purposes besides flight. They are excellent waterproofing, and much better thermal insulation than mammalian hair.)

  • Carl Franzon

    I would second T’ (#7)question as a question I still have.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Jeff #43,

    The Cambrian Explosion lasted 5 to 10 million years. Not 50.

    There are plenty of animals prior to the Cambrian, but the biota is very different from the Cambrian biota. There are no clear ancestor relationships between them. And the Ediacara biota had its own explosion:

    http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/the-ediacara-explosion/

    This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the problems and mysteries involved.

  • John I.

    Anybody that simply describes ID thinking as “god-of-the-gaps” doesn’t understand it on its own terms. Similarly, one cannot talk of ID as some sort of monolith.

    I see evolution using faith and gap arguments, as well as speculation or assumption in the place of actual explanation. The failure of multiple predictions, as well as the use of ad hoc explanations and the complete lack of any explanation for the origin of life, inclines me against evolution. Furthermore, evolution seems to have closed off useful avenues of research for a long time, such research into the (former) junk DNA. To top it off, evolution has not provided useful frameworks for advancing our understanding in how things actually work; what’s turned out best is to actually study how things work. Oh, and then there’s the bastard child of evolutionary psychology.

    Not that I’m ID, though I’m friendly to it (it’s pretty minimalist). I approach evolution the way I approach millenialism. I’m pan-millenial and pan-trib because I believe it will all pan out in the end. I’m pan-evolution because whatever we find out in science (that is akin to hard science discoveries, which evolution is not), will be compatible with God (assuming, of course, that he exists).

    John I.

  • John I.

    “A continuum of longer and longer ‘gliding time’ can lead to full flight.” – an example of unsupported speculation and assumption and ad hoc reasoning. Rather like the stuff one reads in evolutionary psychology.

    The disappearance of the evolutionary tree also inclines me against evolution. So much of the theory is in flux that one can pretty much come up with support for whatever one wants to argue–and then be faced with detractors who do the same thing, but for another position.

    All I see is: Point A – little life and not as many forms of it, and then Point B – the current world with abundant life and many more forms of it. Evolution tells one story of getting from A to B, but it’s not extremely convincing.

  • Jeff

    pds,

    I missed the relevance of your link, but maybe I read it to fast. Regardless, I still see a span of 540-490 million years for the lower, middle, and upper cambrian periods.

    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/294/5549/2047.full

    Suffice it to say that I’ll grant a lot of wiggle room in these numbers (although Science is the premier science publication in the US). Regardless, one would expect a lot of mysteries when we are talking about 1/2 a billion years ago, wouldn’t we? This says nothing of evolutionary theory, however.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Jeff #49,

    Looks like you are talking about the entire Cambrian period. I am talking about the Cambrian Explosion as Gould defines it, which was 5 to 10 million years, 20 max.

    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/naturalhistory_cambrian.html

    You said,

    “Regardless, one would expect a lot of mysteries when we are talking about 1/2 a billion years ago, wouldn’t we?”

    We would not expect a pattern of sudden appearance and stasis in the fossil record. We would not expect to see 30 to 50 phyla appear in a geological moment, and then no new phyla for the next 500 million years. I could go on, but this topic deserves its own post.

  • Jeff

    pds,

    Honestly, I’m admittedly way outside my field of expertise (Gould may insist on 20, I still see up to 30). So I can’t say whether or not we should expect 30 to 50 phyla to appear in a “geological” moment. If there were a “sudden” change conducive to new forms of “life” (e.g. alterations in atmospheric O2, etc. (not saying there was one, just giving it as an example), I could see life evolving very rapidly to fill the various niches that were now available (actually, I would expect it).

    Why expect new phyla to evolve if conditions don’t merit new body plans (again, we’re talking about a very imperfect fossil record, but if a punctuated period had come to an end, if the biological niches had “filled” out, why expect a whole bunch of phyla to develop rapidly until the environmental conditions triggered these evolutionary events?

    Regardless, I’m wondering where you’re headed with this? We’re still talking about the unknowns within an evolutionary paradigm.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    “A continuum of longer and longer ‘gliding time’ can lead to full flight.” – an example of unsupported speculation and assumption and ad hoc reasoning.

    So, uh… what would you count as ‘support’ for this ‘speculation’? What would lead you to think it was well-supported, or at least reasonable?

    Rather like the stuff one reads in evolutionary psychology.

    One can be, ahem, passionate in support of evolution but not be a fan of ‘evolutionary psychology’: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/01/the_evolution_of_rape.php

    The disappearance of the evolutionary tree also inclines me against evolution.

    Reports of the death of the evolutionary tree have been, to use Twain’s words, “greatly exaggerated”.

    It turns out that single-celled organisms are rather more ‘promiscuous’ than had been previously thought. “Horizontal gene transfer” where genes jump between species happens more frequently than had been expected.

    However, such ‘horizontal gene transfer’ is vastly less common when it comes to multicellular life. Not completely absent, of course – endogenous retroviruses are a good example – but very rare. When it comes to multicellular life, a ‘tree’ is still a very good metaphor. (Indeed, you get two differently-constituted but mutually-supporting trees.)

    So, the ‘tree of life’ might have tangled roots, but it’s still a tree.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Jeff #51,

    You said,

    “Regardless, I’m wondering where you’re headed with this? We’re still talking about the unknowns within an evolutionary paradigm.”

    I’m not. I think the best approach for the historical sciences is to ask “What is the best explanation for these facts?” When it comes to the fossils of the Cambrian Explosion, evolution defined as “common descent by random mutation and natural selection” is definitely not a very good explanation. So I see no reason to shoehorn these fossils into an evolutionary paradigm. That would be very bad science, in my opinion.

  • Jeff

    Thanks for the explanation, pds. What is a better explanation? One can assume spontaneous creation, etc., occurred (if one wants to bring God into it), but then we are no longer talking about science as we’ve left the realm of the falsifiable(thus, even if that were really the case, science has nothing to say about it). That said, the fossil record is fragmentary enough that I personally would not feel comfortable assuming a “creation” event occurred considering the limited amount of information we have, but that is just my take on the matter.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Jeff,

    I would say “design” is a better explanation. I would suggest design is a reasonable inference, but you have to hold it tentatively. How do you falsify it? You show a better natural explanation that does not involve design.

    Here is what I think is the most important point: Evolution defined as “common descent by random mutation and natural selection” is not a good scientific explanation for the origin of life, the origin of DNA or the origin of the Cambrian Animals. This is not very well communicated to the general public, including the Christian public.

  • Jeff

    On a large level, I’m willing to grant the design argument. Although if one grants natural selection is occuring today, then we would expect things to have an appearance of design (although upon closer look there are structures where a better design could be contemplated). Regardless, in the whole scheme of the universe I see a pattern of design. However, I believe the mechanisms of evolution are the only available explanations available for investigation. Additionally, regarding the origin of life, the advances in molecular evolution over the last couple of decades have been amazing (catalytic RNA/DNA, etc.) that it is not a big stretch for me to imagine life arising from these processes given a billion years (+/- a billion here and there). Personally, I don’t mind saying it happened because of God (as I generally believe that myself), I just think it is unlikely that God had to “poof” a cell (or whatever) out of thin air when He already created the molecular mechanisms and time available for it to happen (nor do I see any Scriptural reason to argue for this either). That said, I admittedly see evolution through a molecular/cellular biology lens.

  • Ken Litwak

    I have a few items that for me are big barriers to believing in macro-biological evolution. I’m not a trained scientist but the following are things I think are unresolved issues.

    First, I find it statistically impossible. I’ve read statistics on the likelihood of all the proteins and such forming in just the right order to make the very first cell. The number is like 1 in 10 raised to the 65th. I wouldn’t get surgery at those odds or buy a lottery ticket because such odds are equivalent to “impossible.” Yes, I know that the answer to this is that given enough time and random chance, anything is possible. First, that sounds to me like the equivalent of a “God of the Gaps” argument, only now it is the Time and Randomness Fairy Godmother. It does not matter how long you have if something is virtually impossible.

    Second, RJS has said that there examples of increasing information through mutation. The real issue, if I may put it in different terms, is what evidence there are for beneficial mutations that produce new species? Or even, beneficial mutations at all? True, bacteria become more resistant to anti-biotics. How about at the big level produced by genes, however? Which of the many mutations that have occurred in what must be hundreds of thousands of fruit flies in the lab in a controlled environment could really be classified as beneficial mutations? Which has led to a brand-new species with additional characteristics emerging? How about human mutations? Which of the many mutations that we see, Spina Bifida, Muscular Dystrophy, babies born with their organs on the outside of their skin instead of inside, mental retardation, and the list goes on? None of these mutations increase the chances of survivability–none of them. If we can’t see it at all happening in front of our eyes, why should I believe the claim that it has happened literally millions of times, even though that can’t be proven because it was not observed?

    Third, there’s a basic logic problem here. It is true that many species are similar to each other, e.g., dogs and wolves. It is a leap to say that this similarity comes from genetic mutation into new species. We don’t know that. That is a guess based not least upon the _need_ of scientists to find a purely materialistic explanation for the variety of species. Similarity of anatomy, genes, etc., does not per se prove descent. It proves similarity. The rest is a leap of faith, perhaps a plausible one, but a leap nevertheless, especially when we don’t have the millions of transitional forms in the fossil record that Darwin said must have existed for evolution to be true. You can claim we haven’t found them. Fine. When you do, call us. Until then, it is nothing more than a hopeful leap that they did in fact exist. I want empirical proof, not assertions that are required for the theory to work but are facts not in evidence.

    Finally, if we are going to consider science infallible, then the Bible must be very fallible. It’s simple. Either God created the cosmos, including specifically making humans in his own image, or he did not. My Ph.D. is in New Testament studies, and it’s amazing all the gymnastics I see interpreters go through to get away from what seem to be fairly plain statements in the Bible, e.g., “You created humans a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8). God made Eve from taking something (the Hebrew does not say “rib”) from Adam’s side. You can say both of those texts are “symbolic” but you have two problems. What controls do you have for determining what they are symbols of? Second, you must assume the original audience never figured out the symbolism. There’s no evidence, extra-biblical or biblical, that Israelites did not think these texts meant that God made the heavens and the earth, God made the stars, God made the plants, God made animals, and God made humans in his own image. If we change Genesis 1-3 into symbol or myth or whatever, we’ve basically said, “I know science is right, so I am going to do whatever it takes to force the Bible to agree.” I don’t find that intellectually honest.

    Furthermore, if Collins and company are correct, then we don’t need God at all. If all we need to do is more research to figure out everything, then we can dismiss God. Since the author of Genesis presented a picture of origins that never happened, why would I possibly trust Genesis or any other biblical text? I’m not saying that Genesis 1-3 need to be read exactly literally but if they don’t mean what they say, then it doesn’t matter what they do mean because the bottom line is God did not make humans in his image. Two Neanderthals made humans in their image and there is absolutely no reason to believe there’s anything else to say. We’re just genetic accidents, sin isn’t real because it’s just a product of evolution. So we sure don’t need a redeemer. It’s contradictory to say that science needs time to research and explain it all, but then say that there’s a place for God. Where? Dawkins doesn’t think so. Dennett doesn’t think so. Hawkings doesn’t think so, and they are scientists. If that’s what science says, I’d be dumb to accept what the Bible says because it paints an incompatible picture. Why believe it?


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