Thumbs up to the evolutionists

thumbs-up-orangutanIf you’re just joining us, this past Friday I published True or False: Dinosaurs Lived with People. In response to that post a creationist sent me a letter, which in part read:

I believe in Creation. I did the research 10+ years ago, when I was in my teens, and after several months of looking seriously at both sides, I came down onto the side of Creation. …I am not going to justify Creationism to you. I don’t have to. Quoting facts and figures at you won’t change your mind any more than quoting facts and figures at me will change my mind. It’s a belief, neither one of us will be able to adequately prove to the other that we are right.

She also wrote of her disappointment in me for disrespecting her belief in creationism. On Sunday (and with her permission, of course) I published her entire letter in  A creationist fights back.

In one of the many superb comments to that post, reader Carolyn Horne Amrhein wrote this sparkling gem:

My problem with the letter writer is her attitude that people owe her belief in a “theory” of creation (theory here is used as an unsubstantiated guess that meshes with a religious text) the same respect owed to the theory of evolution (theory in this case means “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of knowledge that has been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.”).

She’s free to believe whatever she wants; but her beliefs don’t necessarily deserve respect or freedom from mockery. In the context of discussing the mechanics of the physical world around us, some “beliefs” have more merit than others. They just do, and if that’s offensive to creationists then sorry, but you deserve that discomfort for attempting to use religion (which is about things metaphysical and inherently unknowable) to explain the physical world of empirical evidence and observable phenomena.

I also take issue with the idea that a teenager’s “research”—just reading things from both sides—earns her beliefs any credibility. Just because you read some articles that use academic language to justify a pre-existing set of beliefs does not mean that those writings have any value whatsoever in discussing the literal, physical truth of the matter. The scientific method requires that we begin from a place of open-mindedness and follow the facts where they lead, rather than starting from a point of religious “knowledge” and cherrypicking / misinterpreting / misrepresenting empirical evidence to fit that preexisting notion.

With that said, believe what you want. Teach your kids what you want (no matter how sad that makes me for your kids). But don’t enter a discussion of the physical world around us with ancient poetry and expect us to give it the same respect we give fossils and carbon dating. It’s really not that hard. Science helps us understand what we can touch and taste and see. Religion helps us understand the ineffable—how should we treat each other, what is love, what is beauty, what is truth. Reducing spiritual texts to literal science/history books is a disservice to both science and religion.

A couple of the other many highlights from the comments to that post include this Category-A brain-bomb, submitted by reader Tami Scroggins (but not, as she wrote to tell me, original to her; attributed online to “Dr. J.”, it’s a synopsis of science well-documented and respected by people in the field):

Chromosome 2 proves that we do in fact share a common ancestor with the Great Apes. All of the Great Apes have 48 chromosomes (24 pairs), we have 46 chromosomes (23 pairs). Where did that pair go? We believed that a chromosome had gotten fused, but we weren’t sure. If there was no fused chromosome, then evolution had a huge problem. Then we found Chromosome 2. Chromosomes have a telomere on each end and a centromere in the middle. Each chromosome has two telomeres and one centromere. So if a chromosome had been fused, it would have three telomeres (one on each end and one in the middle) and two centromeres (one should be inactive). Guess what…we found it. Chromosome 2 has three telomeres and two centromeres (unlike any other chromosome). Somewhere along the line, we broke off and took our own evolutionary route, although we still belong in the family of Great Apes.

On a side note, Endogenous Retroviruses (ERVs) exist in DNA. They are essentially viruses that are “good,” and they exchange information. If they land on a body cell of an organism, their information is forever lost. However if they land on a sperm or an egg, their information will be passed to that organism’s offspring. Chimpanzees and humans have over 60 ERVs in the exact same places in our genome. The chances of even one ERV landing in the same spot in our genomes (if we weren’t related) is .00000000016% (since our genome is about 3 billion base pairs long). Think of the likelihood that over 60 ERVs would land in the exact same spots.

And this home-run,  from reader Mae:

As a Christian and a scientist, I just don’t believe religious theories on the origins of the species belong in a science classroom. If you want to teach that in a religious education course in the same school, fine by me. But don’t clutter science up with religious beliefs please. Also, there are a lot of different religious stories throughout America. None of them belong in the science classroom.

Science isn’t a religion, it’s a way to think about solving practical problems around us (check out the scientific method: it applies to life problems all around us). Science transcends religion. It’s a language I can speak to my Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Catholic, Protestant, etc. colleagues at conferences. We meet together as we work in the labs and at conferences and we come from a variety of religions and cultures and we all talk science with each other! We talk about the latest development in Mass Spec, how to most efficiently create biochemical selective coatings for micro-electrodes, and column packing in HPLC. We don’t run around comparing our religious beliefs pertaining to the origin of light. We simply compare our research, what we love about it, and how to improve it.

So. There we have it. Evolutionists for the win. (But remember, creationists: just because people evolved from apes doesn’t mean God didn’t want people to evolve from apes. And who’s to say that He’s done with us yet, eh? Who knows what we might evolve into next? Stay tuned! Except … you know, you can’t, since you’ll be dead. Maybe! But you know what? Let’s not right now open up that can of corpse munchers.)

"The whole thing about wives submitting to husbands opens the door for these kind of ..."

Why Pastors Struggle With Confronting Domestic ..."
"I have a stupid question for you:If you are asking someone else what to say ..."

What should I tell my child ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Tim Northrup

    stay tuned!? lol.

    One day some more advanced race will have bigots telling their children that people of their enlightened/sophisticated species lived with humans, and then all of us will see the comedy, or something, from whatever divine vantage point God has us at.

  • Tim Northrup

    ok, bigot isn’t the right word there, somehow. I’m not sure what I meant, actually, although the word carries part of the force I was trying to use, I think it could be WILDLY misread in this context.

  • Well ,t hat or a comet will wipe out .most of humanity while at the same time giving sentience to alligators and geckos. Theyll rise to dominance for a few years giving fire ants just like long enough to complete their mission to create a global mega-tropilis.

  • Jill

    Night of the Comet! Sweet ’80’s b-movie reference, sd!

  • Lymis

    I actually have a problem with the idea of calling us “evolutionists” – as though we had some sort of allegiance specifically to the concept of evolution, like it was a sports team or a religion, and in a way, as though it was in opposition to creationism as a specific principle.

    I think that buys into the framing that this is a contest between two equally valid dogmatic principles, rather than two entirely distinct ways of looking at the way the universe is ordered.

    I don’t believe evil spirits cause illness, but that doesn’t make me a microorganist.

    I don’t believe that Earth is flat, but that doesn’t make me a terrooblatespheroidist.

    I find the scientific method to be a compelling idea for examining and explaining the world around us. At the moment, the evidence points to some form of evolution, and pretty much completely discounts the Biblical creation story as anything relating to history or science, while leaving it untouched with regards poetry, symbolism, or metaphor.

    If some entirely new idea gains scientific evidence, as quantum theory did, largely supplanting Newtonian views of physics as the basis for things, then I don’t see an issue adopting that.

    Creation didn’t lose because our team is bigger. It loses because it doesn’t adequately explain the world we see around us. Creationism isn’t an enemy, it’s a failed hypothesis.

  • I started to write a completed short story on that foundation..I got stuck and gave up. Maybe it needs another go.

  • ^^^^what Lymis said!!!

  • charles

    ^^^indeed^^^^ very well spoken.

  • Lynne

    “And who’s to say that He’s done with us yet, eh? Who knows what we might evolve into next? Stay tuned! Except … you know, you can’t, since you’ll be dead. ”


  • Elizabeth

    Thumbs up. Language alert.

  • Andy

    I’ve created a monster.

  • mike moore

    I’ve always wondered if the real problem – the heart of the matter, if you will – some Christians have with evolution is: how does one reconcile evolution with the doctrine of Original Sin?

    For someone looking for a nice, simplistic, black and white world, the story of Adam and Eve (which I despise and could go on about at length) is excellent: two humans rebel against God, and boom, we are all born into sin. Which means, of course, that now a divine saviour is required, and I, your pastor, can make the introduction and give the rulebook! You then tie it all up with bow, put on your ‘born-in-sin-saved-by-the-blood’ face, and viola, you have a religion .

    But evolution really fucks that up.

    When discussing human evolution, one must ask, “at what precise moment did our genetic ancestors become capable of sin?” And that’s a big messy question, not easily distilled by a religion or by any lover of the simplistic.

    For example, when a shark takes a big bite out of your surfboard and your LEG, the shark is not sinning, it’s dining.

    Now when a man takes a chomp out of you, you can usually mark that in the “sin” category. And sentience is what makes the difference.

    When one concurs with the theory of evolution, one must consider that, perhaps, sentience is another step in the evolutionary process. And damn! We now another huge grey area to wrap our heads around: is sentience an all-or-nothing deal, or does it, omg, evolve?

    Think about it. Most of us are not comfortable eating animals that are highly intelligent .. is it because we are picking up on early stages of sentience? Shrimp good, dolphin bad. Pork good, dog bad. Cows good, horses bad. (Cats? always yummy.)

    If sentience is a gradated process, then the doctrine of original sin seems obsolete.

  • To me original sin has some serious loopholes, as well as exactly what constitutes sin…which has its own loopholes.

    I also try to imaging Adam naming ALL the animals. Its hard enough naming your own kids, with months before their birth….but all animals???

  • (It’s Andy who emailed me the link about the creationist school test. Hi, Andy!)

  • rawr!

  • Elizabeth

    Please don’t tell anyone, sd, but as a child I kept a notebook with the best names for every possible permutation of cat. White with black stripes. White with black spots. White with black splotches. Black with white stripes. Etc.

  • mike moore

    I’m with you all the way.

  • mike moore

    you’re such a tease … please, just a couple of the best names?

  • Don Rappe

    I think the great part about Adam naming the animals is that he did it in the process of looking for a wife.

  • Elizabeth

    A tease? Is that a gender-based slur? Honestly, it’s been lost to the sands of time. The person I wrote to in my diary then was named Estelle, though.

  • I once had a cat named Mr. Science.

  • mike moore

    def not gender-based … back in my days of a 30w and full head of hair, I had a great tease vibe going on. God, sometimes I really miss the 20th C.

  • mike moore

    of course you did.

  • Joan K Laws

    “Reducing spiritual texts to literal science/history books is a disservice to both science and religion.”

    I have been saying this for years. As a Christian, and as a scientist, I hate to see either religion or science twisted to suit someone’s agenda. Faith and science are two different things. They use different vocabularies because they seek to answer different questions, but that doesn’t mean I can’t speak both languages.

  • Andy

    Hi, John!

  • Andy

    Minor tangent: if you believe Wikipedia, “creationism” encompasses most theistic beliefs, including theistic evolution, which I think a lot of us believe in. Specifically, we’re talking about Young Earth creationism.

    Hope this doesn’t derail this thread. That’s not my intent here.

  • Elizabeth

    Me too. Especially the 90s when it seemed like we were making a difference.

  • Andy
  • Elizabeth


  • Don Rappe

    Am I the only one who thinks the Tree of Life is an incarnation of the goddess Ashteroth? Just asking? I have heard that all other Biblical references to Ashteroth get transliterated to Abomination in the same way that references to Jahweh get transliterated to Lord.

  • Elizabeth

    Did you use all those syllables every time? My dad shortens my name to Elizab.

  • Don Rappe

    I suppose Adam could do that before his multitasking rib was removed.

  • Elizabeth

    Behind every man is a woman telling him to screw his courage to the sticking place. Nice one, Don.

  • Don Rappe

    I’m pretty sure the cat in this joke is called Mr. Science.

  • Jill

    Interesting point, thanks Andy!

  • Don Rappe

    I’m pretty sure the addition of ism or ist to a word changes its meaning radically.

  • Jill

    And why exactly don’t you have a blog yet? This is brilliant stuff here. I wanna be someone who knew you before you became wildly famous.

    I’m ignoring the cat blasphemy.

  • Jill

    🙂 Don will be on stage all weekend, folks. Don’t forget to tip your wait staff.

  • Jill

    Ooooh… you’re going to be LOTS of fun ’round here…

  • Jill

    As long as everyone in your story wears the same big hair, headbands and tapered pants, I’m in!

  • mike moore


  • Ah the things I’ve named my cats. Pouncinator, Chernobyll, Lunatic. Cheesepuff…all have answered to the standard..all emcompasing of all cat names….dammitcat.

  • a gecko in a big assed blonde afro….I can so do this.

  • mike moore

    too late, lover. I’ve already been boycotted by the Southern Baptist Convention (and that was long before me and Pastor Bruce and Biltmore Baptist became such good friends.) Really, it would be greedy to seek more fame … (ok, twist my arm, I would like an Oscar.)

    As to the blog-writing … sounds like a lot of work. I mean, John makes it look easy, but we all know he must have to hole up for hours in his man-cave, with Big Gulps and Hot Pockets, to make this magic happen.

  • So the naming of animals was a process of elimination? I can so see this.

    Lets see. too long a neck. no way can I gaze longingly into those giraffe it is.

    too round, and only four teeth in that enormous mouth? ….I dub thee hippototomous .

    Wait, this one might do..right size, cute little eyes, a bit on the hairy side..Hey! Stop throwing your feces at me you damned monkey!

    It must have taken him forever….

  • mike moore

    gosh, just realized I haven’t passed-out in a pre-fab garden shed in years … I’m really losing my edge.

    (and didn’t the young blonde spend most of the film in her cheerleading uniform? loved her. and her Mercedes.)

  • David S

    Precisely Mike Moore! The reality of the evolution of man makes a literal Adam and Eve impossible. Then what follows for the inerrantist…” if the Bible is lying to me about Adam and Eve, what else is it lying to me about?” Voila – crisis of faith.

    Faith seems to be fragile for those who would view the Bible as an iron-clad answer-book. The reality of life – not just the reality of evolution – contests the legitimacy of “inerrant” scripture daily. Thus is the folly of inerrancy.

  • You mean did I always call the cat, “Mr. Science”? If so, yes, I did.

  • Elizabeth

    Amazing. Another reason to be a shameless heathen in your den of iniquity.

  • DR

    That is the cutest thing ever. Share the names!

  • DR

    I LOVE you.

  • Tim Northrup

    to get to your point, Mike, yes, it makes the doctrine harder. The view I ascribe to (and I have heard it attributed to CS Lewis, even if I can’t find anything he wrote on the subject) is that God used evolution to create a viable (and ideal) physical organism, he then blessed them with some of his Spirit (however you define that) and thus with some modicum of free will (although I’m not sure we have absolute free will). This initial community of humanity (presumably in Africa) being diverse and unique individuals as well as a community, eventually broke apart.

    As the years and generations went by, people using their free will to do what is wrong, immoral, etc. deadened themselves to God to varying degrees and thus enabled themselves and others to do more wrong and thus fall farther from God. In this “original sin” is kind of endemic to humanity because of free will–in that it is each of our faults and none of ours. The whole point of redemption is so that God doesn’t then have to be the Police-chief-of-the-universe in every case–payment for our deliberate or inadvertent dumb decisions is already made, so let’s stop making more.

    It takes some reworking, and I probably didn’t express it eloquently, but there it is.

  • Matt

    We could always use one more Dr. Frankenstein around here.

  • Elizabeth

    Or a Dr. Jekyll.

  • Matt

    Yes. Although I wouldn’t mind unleashing Mr. Hyde on some our more…distasteful trolls.

  • Lymis

    Cool! What have you named your monster?

  • Dan Wilkinson

    I think it’s useful to make a distinction between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism. Science studies the natural, physical world, and virtually all of the physical evidence points clearly towards evolution. But this conclusion doesn’t necessarily entail a broader metaphysical conclusion about God. Creationists all too often take their metaphysical and theological conclusions as the starting point for understanding the physical world … but such an approach denies the reality around us and, for me at least, does a disservice to God and his creation.

  • Her point stood, though, that being a creationists does not mean anti-gay or anti-women. While she speak for the minority, it does mean that we need to be more kind before we jump to conclusions about a creationists other beliefs.

  • Andy

    I was going to call it “Mr. Science” until I found out that was the name of John’s cat.

  • vj

    Makes a lot of sense. And, speaking of CS Lewis, he had a nice take on the ‘water into wine’ miracle. He posited that, in the normal course of events, water (rain) fell on the vineyard, which grew the grapes, which were turned into wine – simply a longer version of the miracle at the wedding, but not necessarily any less miraculous (= organized by God). Similarly, we could see the Genesis creation story of God making Adam from mud as a shorthand for the time taken for the God-organized/directed/initiated evolutionary process to turn a bunch of carbon atoms into a humanoid organism, and the moment when God breathes life into Adam as some sort of shift in the evolutionary chain of events that endowed that organism with spirit/sentience/free will…

  • Lymis

    Laba, I think it really depends what you mean.

    On the one hand, I agree that civility, for the most part, should prevail, and that whenever possible we should be open to the possibility that someone doesn’t fit a stereotype.

    I also think that in situations like this, where the issue is a specific sort of belief or philosophy, when we judge, we need to be careful not to let a sweeping condemnation slop over into unrelated areas and paint with too broad a brush.

    On the other hand, people who say things like this seem to be saying that it’s unreasonable to be aware of the fact that in a case like this, the vast majority of people who publicly identify this way do in fact not only claim to believe a similar range of other things, but in many cases, they publicly identify this way to support a specific and aggressive set of social and legislative policies.

    I’ll agree that, especially with younger people who were raised with the belief, we need to be open to allowing them as individuals to tell us that they are pro-gay, pro-choice, feminist, or whatever, as that letter writer dd. But I won’t agree that it’s unreasonable, irresponsible, or immoral to assume otherwise until they do so.

    I’ve had plenty of times in my life where I held a belief that didn’t fit neatly into someone else’s boxes. At the same time, if you hold a minority view, you really can’t express too much outrage when someone assumes you mean what everyone else who uses the term means. And in this case, the vast majority of people speaking publicly as Creationists hold some pretty vile views.

  • Elizabeth

    This graphic is too cool not to share.

  • Jill

    That speaks to a great point, being that it’s worthwhile to remain open to redefine and review our held beliefs. That ultimately there are precious few givens or sacred cows, so to speak, that remain under glass. Truth may well be Truth (and I believe less in any Absolute Truth with every passing year of life), but our understanding of such changes all the time.

    For the record, the only absolute truths I can come up with are God is Love and change is constant. And even that’s surrounded by grey!

  • Nicole

    I luff Lymis. 🙂

  • Elizabeth

    Lymis is the poster child/man of everything good on this blog.

  • Michael McKelvey

    Kind 0f–“Ashteroth” is actually a scrambled spelling combining the name “Astarte” and the Hebrew word “boseth” which is hard to translate but means something like abomination or shame. The Ancient Hebrew text includes the consonantal spelling of Astarte, but when a rabbi reading aloud in synagogue came to that name, rather than speak the name of an idol they would substitute “boseth”. When vowels were added to the scripture text in the early Middle Ages, the scribes combined the vowels of boseth with the consonants of Astarte, and the result was transliterated into the Latin alphabet as Ashteroth.

    By the way, the same thing happened with the God’s name. The text includes the consonants for Yahweh (the first letter is yod, which corresponds to J in Latin and German but to Y in English), but rather than speak the name of God aloud the rabbis would say “adonai”, which means lord or master. The combination of Yahweh’s consonants with the vowels of adonai resulted in “Jehovah”.

    The King James Version translators, knowing the Jewish tradition/taboo about speaking or writing the name of God, used the word “LORD” in all capitals to translate Yahweh. The RSV and NRSV follow that convention, while other translations like the American Standard use “Jehovah”.

    And there’s your philology lesson for the day, kids. There will be a quiz on Friday.

  • Jill

    You’re not famous enough then. You outta be John Shore/Grumpy Cat famous. Get working on that, lover.

  • Elizabeth

    Holy wow. Can I marry you, Michael?

  • Elizabeth

    I’m especially fond of Astarte.

  • What a hoot. Posted to my FB.

  • My evangelical type siblings are among those who are very “conservative” in their religious approach to abortion, gays, the general evils of liberal thought. They seem to believe it is enuf that they don’t personally condemn me or speak in nasty bigoted ways or appear to agree that I should maybe, like, be killed or something. They are among those “lovely” christians we’ve seen alluded to here. But they don’t speak out against the bigotry within their own social circles either, that I know of. They don’t make waves. Their silence in the face of bigotry gives it permission whether they want to believe that or not. I can’t quite tell if the Creationist letter writer is like that or not, but I have the suspicion that she is.

    So kudos to Lymis for his patience in continuing to get back to the nub of this controversy, that even the “good” Creationists like we might label the letter writer kinda do deserve to be lumped in with the nasty ones until they prove otherwise. And it isn’t enuf to look at us and say apologetically that “I’m not one of them”. They need to look at THEM and shout very publicly that “I’m not one of you.”

    Dear letter writer, until you do that, until my siblings do that, you are not credible.

  • Michael McKelvey

    Sure — I’m up for it if you are, Liz (can I call you Liz?). But I have to warn you, as evidenced by the post above, I am a deeply boring person.

  • All right, you two. Get a chatroom.

  • Jill

    Elizab, you best not be ditching your spinster sisters up in here…

  • Elizabeth

    Never. Plenty of me to go around.

  • Lymis

    Mike, I’d love to think that the problem that Christians have with evolution is the issue of original sin – but I’ve never actually met one who said so.

    In my experience, the knee-jerk Creationist doesn’t go deeply enough into the question to get to something that complicated – most of them don’t realize that they can’t reconcile Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 – you can’t get to page 2 of something they feel is “literally true in every word” without having it bite its tail.

    On the other hand, I’ve never met a Christian who did believe in evolution who felt that it was evolution that threw Original Sin into question. Either, “well, it happened somehow” or they tend to have issues with the Original Sin idea for some other reason. I’ve met plenty of people who simply say, “Somehow, humanity was out of the right relation to God, and Jesus’s death and resurrection put that right.”

  • Christian and a Scientist

    Why do people cast science at odds with Christianity over evolution and such?

    I believe that God created the universe.

    Science shows us how mind-blowingly complex and yet elegant the universe is.

    If you’re a Christian, what’s the problem with trying to understand better what God’s creation is and how it works and how it unfolded over time?

    I mean, what is with this premise that the Bible would hold all of the answers? Heck, my bookshelf of introductory science textbook doesn’t even come close to all the answers. A university full of scholars and books doesn’t hold the all the answers. Not even close.

    Plus, if you were God, how could explain DNA and quantum theory to a bunch of desert nomads? All that biochemistry and higher math? Forget it. You’d have to tell them a simplified narrative and use lots of metaphors.

    So, why not interpret the Bible in those terms? The Bible wins, since it can regain some dignity by not being held to an unreasonable standard. Humanity wins, for using their God-given powers of reason to understand the world and improve their lot in life. God wins, for humanity gaining another, deeper understanding of just how awesome He is.

    Seriously, how can you lose?

  • vj

    “how could explain DNA and quantum theory to a bunch of desert nomads?”

    Lovely! I used to tell my kids a version of this – ‘how could God explain dinosaurs to Moses?’…

  • Puts things in a very cool perspective

  • A quiz?? Damn. What I get for laying out of class.

  • Mike Bruno

    OK. If we buy into the theory of Evolution, then that means that humanity has been around some hundreds of thousands of years. Why did God only reveal himself through Christ only 2000 years ago and let most of humanity live (and die) in the absence of knowing Him and His glory?

    99% of all species that existed are extinct and most of humanity’s existence would have been lived in the most brutal of circumstances. I refuse to believe that God would have used such an inefficient and barbaric process to arrive at humanity. If Evolution was His plan, then I couldn’t assign the attributes of “loving” and “compassionate” to Him.

  • mike moore

    why’d He deny people living in the first couple of thousand years of human existence?

    why didn’t He bother to reveal Himself to the entire world? what are the Americas, Asia and Western Europe, chopped livuh?

    Your God sounds like a capricious, narrow-minded, racist Ding-Dong.

    Really, dude, go back to grade school.

  • Mike Bruno

    While your tone is off-putting Mr. Moore, you make a fair point that many struggle with. Why did He reveal himself to a largely illiterate, isolated tribal population with little ability to communicate. The [what would now be] Chinese would have been far better equipped to spread His word.

  • mike moore

    Sorry to be off-putting. Was trying for condescending and smug.

    Science is, all by itself, an amoral Divine gift. As a discipline, science is not an attack on the Divine. Yes, some people use science to attack the Divine, just as some people use God to attack science.

    Historically, for millennia, religion has thwarted science – poor old Galileo – and has almost, without exception, always been on the wrong side of reality. I’ll err in favor of science.