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On evolution and the Catholic faith

On evolution and the Catholic faith August 23, 2018

When I agreed to write for Patheos, I didn’t think I would have to dive into the evolution debate. But, a couple weeks in, I’ve come to admit I was wrong. The compatibility of evolution and the Catholic faith is more contested than I had ever imagined.

In this post, I will provide an overview of a few reasons that the theory of evolution does not contradict the Catholic faith. In it, I link to works by a range of theologians and scientists (who are much smarter than I am). Though I do not agree with everything they say, I find these works quite valuable and recommend them highly.

Okay, here we go:

Evolution is not in contradiction with the Catholic understanding of God.

Here are a few (overlapping, mutually reinforcing) reasons why this is the case.

  1. Noncompetitive transcendence.

God does not compete with causes in the natural order. God created all being and sustains all being. He is not a being among many, but being itself. He is not on the same ontological playing field as evolution. God transcends, and does not compete with, the natural order. Bishop Robert Barron gives an excellent explanation in the second part of his work, The Priority of Christ.

Saying evolution is the physical cause of the human person does not mean God didn’t create us. Rather, it means that God chose to use the natural mechanism of evolution to bring us into being.

2. Allegory in the Genesis.

The biblical creation account is not meant to be read as a literal, chronological, historical creation account. This is not a recent idea in the Church – look at St. Augustine or Origen if you are skeptical.

3. Ultimate vs. proximate questions.

Evolution may tell us how the human person came about through time. It does not tell us why the human person came about through time. Therefore, there can be an end to evolution that is chosen by God. This is not in competition with the mechanism of evolution. See Cardinal Schönborn’s article in the New York Times for some interesting thoughts about this distinction.

4. Chance vs. providence.

The fact that evolution occurred through natural selection does not mean that it wasn’t crafted by God. There can be a guiding purpose to an event that makes use of chance or randomness. Furthermore, as Christopher T. Baglow points out in his (very accessible) book “Faith, Science and Reason,” a world without chance would be a world without freedom.

5. Material and formal cause of the person.

We must distinguish between the level of material and efficient causality and the level of formal causality. The human person is composed of a unity of the physical body and spiritual soul. In order to make sense of this composite, we must not leave behind the soul (or formal cause) of the organism. It is the form that gives the body its human character. It is useless, unintelligible, to try to define human beings in terms of their body alone. Read Etienne Gilson’s book From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again.

6. The infusion of the soul.

Similar to point 5. There is an ontological difference between body and soul. There is something about the human person that is of a different ontological order. Because of this, some say that the God brought about the body through evolution but created and infused the soul in the human person. See John Paul II’s 1996 message to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences.

When does evolution present a challenge to Christianity?

Evolution does challenge faith that relies on a reductive or false understanding of God.

The irreducible complexity argument shrinks the domain of the divine. It reduces God’s power to fit down in the gaps of scientific explanation. But God is not a “God of the gaps.” He is over and above all of reality, sustaining all of reality.

The intelligent design argument implicitly rejects God’s power to operate in and through natural causes. It makes God a mere “watchmaker” who designed and set things in motion, but has no immanent presence in His creation. At the same time, it does not allow for a God who is outside of time.

In these cases, evolution can challenge faith. If you’re struggling with these arguments, read Finding Darwin’s God, in which Kenneth Miller critically investigates the common ground between God and evolution.

I also have an upcoming post on the role of science in the search for truth. In the mean time, read Stephen Barr’s “Retelling the Story of Science,” from First Things.

Why should we think about this?

For some people, it can be hard to understand how evolutionary theory fits in with Divine Creation. But it’s worth it! Evolutionary theory can be such a source of wonder and awe at God’s loving providence. Evolution is the mechanism through which He chose — in love — to bring us into being. As Pope Benedict XVI explains:

“We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

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Before you attack me or the Catholic Church or evolution, please do read the works linked in this post.


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49 responses to “On evolution and the Catholic faith”

  1. I’ll just be here in my bunker with my popcorn. I really appreciate this article.

  2. I didn’t think the denial of evolution or science in general, was a thing among Catholics.

    I mean, sure, you have Republican Catholic US politicians who sometimes know better, play along with the anti-science crowd to pander to their Evangelical base, and Catholic conservatives who get swept up in a position that is neither Catholic or conservative, but I figured they were the exception.

    I guess you’d know better, being an actual Catholic and all. Or at least it seems to be enough of an issue to warrant this article.

  3. I’ve been unpleasantly surprised by how many Catholics (mostly older folks) just plain reject evolution.

    Much more numerous, though, are those Catholics who don’t know how to answer *other people’s* claims that evolution disproves God – a notion that’s quite common in the intellectual and public spheres. This often leads them into both bad science and bad philosophy & theology. This post is mainly for them!

  4. It is probably heard the famous question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s a real dilemma for an evolutionist to answer. An egg comes from a chicken, yet the chicken comes from an egg. If chicken first, then, it is male or female, the question will arise. How can there be one without the other?

  5. I agree with the idea that belief in God does not require disbelief in evolution of the human species. However, the title of this article is misleading. Modern apes and humans both evolved from a common primate ancestor, but to call this ancestor an “ape” is misleading because it is a word we use for the animal extant today–which humans did not evolve from. It is misleading also because the article is not about the evolution of humans. It is about faith.

  6. I am Catholic and I have a limited understanding of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Mostly because the idea seems to have evolved since I was taught about it some 35 years ago. I believe in something more of adaptation being possible. But the premise, of Darwin’s theory as I understand it, seems very flawed. The premise that the environment or accidental mutations have the effect to change the animals that live there. Rather than, the animals move to places that support their needs. If I am to believe the climate change people, the climate changes far too fast and evolution takes far too long for the environment to have that effect on animals. Darwin’s theory was developed from observations of birds who have the ability to fly thousands of miles to more appropriate habitats, as we recognize many species do now. Mutations would only happen randomly and animals survive by learning and using the sameness they share with their parents. An animal would very likely starve long before it could take advantage of any measurable difference of phisical trait. To say nothing of the extreme odds against finding a mate with a genetic makeup to help perpetuate the mutation, in the same area of a breeding age, and the chances they also then pair. It would seem the overwhelming majority of genetic mutations would be bred back out of offspring. What am I missing and why am I looked at as stupid for not buying into such a theory? Do I think the creation story happened as written, probably not. There is definitely a lot of symbolism in the text, the symbolism seems to be as important as the story itself. I am not interested in trying to marry a theory with my faith. I think science does well to observe and teach what it can prove through study, but it has limits and boundaries that it does not seem to recognize. Due to the fact that it does not know what is yet undiscovered.

  7. A few points that might address your concerns:
    1. Evolution didn’t take place over the course of a single generation (or two, or ten, or 100). Evolution took place over billions of years. The large time scale allows tiny trial-and-error changes to accumulate over time through natural selection.
    2. Evolution took place through tiny steps. A single point mutation in an organism’s DNA usually doesn’t cause dramatic changes in the organism, ones that would make it so different from its parents that it would be unable to thrive. Dramatic changes often aren’t inherited because the parent fails to flourish and reproduce.
    3. Evolution takes place in populations, NOT individuals. This is really important. A species evolves when traits get spread through that population, through a change in the ratio of genetic types. NOT through an changes in a single individual.

  8. I’ve heard that too, that populations evolve, not individuals. How is that possible? What is the scientific evidence, have any changes been tracked?
    If this is true, it means that we would need fossils that are billions of years old to see any measurable changes to the human species. And what if carbon dating tests prove that not the case, is science humble enough to admit when they get it wrong?

  9. As I suspected, several people here don’t know what evolution is or what it claims, so it helps to keep facts and labels accurate. That evolution and Christian faith are compatible with each other has long been apparent to me and to most Christians around the planet. It’s mostly in American fundamentalist groups that this problem exists.

  10. “Populations evolve, not individuals”
    This basically means that there’s generally no noticeable change from parent to offspring. Even if there is, one individual with a new beneficial trait doesn’t matter. What matters is a change that spreads to affect a sizable proportion of the population as a whole. Say there’s one giraffe that’s slightly taller than the others and can reach more food. He doesn’t matter in an evolutionary sense. What matters is whether giraffes as a group eventually become slightly taller. One individual might trip and break their neck before reproducing. A population is more likely to live and reproduce.

    There’s a really interesting study you might be interested in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._coli_long-term_evolution_experiment
    Richard Lenski started with 12 identical populations of e coli in 1988 and he’s been tracking genetic changes in them ever since. They’re not given quite enough “food” which forces the bacteria to compete for limited resources. Every so often he freezes a portion of each population so now he has 30 year frozen record of how the bacteria populations have changed over time.

    “we would need fossils that are billions of years old”
    We have those. Here’s a paper that looks fun: http://www-eve.ucdavis.edu/grosberg/Grosberg%20pdf%20papers/2007%20Grosberg%20%26%20Strathmann.AREES.pdf

    “to see any measurable changes to the human species.”
    Nope, billions of years aren’t needed to see changes. For organisms like bacteria, measurable changes can happen in months to years, for humans, thousands of years. For example, it’s well-known that Europeans are taller now than they were previously. It all has to do with how robust the reproduction of the organism is and how fast it occurs, as well as how much selection pressure there is, as well as what “counts” as a significant enough measurable change.

    “what if carbon dating tests prove that not the case,”
    My hunch is you’re thinking of something specific, mind sharing? 🙂

    “is science humble enough to admit when they get it wrong?”
    Lol science changes all the time. All the freaking time. You say in your first comment that “the idea seems to have evolved since I was taught about it some 35 years ago.” That’s largely because there’s been a lot that’s been learned in the last 35 years! 35 years ago, scientists were just starting to really, really study DNA and map it. We didn’t even finish mapping the human genome until 2003 (?)

    Obligatory disclaimer: My background’s in physics, not biology. All I know is from what I’ve read, my high school education, and conversations with biologist friends. I have lots of examples of science having to change from new discoveries in physics 😀 but not so many for biology. Google could probably help.

  11. And in American mainstream Christian groups. It’s not just the fundies over here 🙁

  12. Thank you for the lengthy and thoughtful response. But the fact that science is continually learning, which is the very nature of science, seems to indicate that what scientists claim as ‘settled’ seems to simply mean that they will no longer spend any more time learning new things on that subject, let alone debate it. Because the unknown remains such until it is discovered.
    You mentioned that Europeans are taller now than 1000 years ago, what would cause that and what is the increased height an adaptation to?
    I guess my biggest question is, how does believing or not believing in evolution effect anyone’s life?
    I think it was Hawking who claimed if a group of monkeys were locked in a room with a typewriter long enough, they could produce something like a Shakespearian sonnet. The mathematical probabilty of that is impossible, and I’m sure people who heard or read that statement , believed it because of who made the statement.

  13. Generally if the science is considered “settled” there’s a really, really good reason. My favorite example is what happened with Newton’s Laws. Newton published in the late 1600s and his work was generally seen as the foundation for how motion and gravity worked for hundreds of years. You did not mess with Newton because his work explained the world so well. Except for things like the orbits of Mercury and Uranus. Neptune was actually discovered by astronomers looking for a mass that could mess with Uranus’s orbit. Mercury’s orbit however is not due to an undiscovered planet but rather because Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation does not work the same way that close to the sun.

    Turns out, Newton’s wrong. He’s a pretty good approximation for most cases, but that’s all he is: an approximation. It wasn’t until Einstein figured out how Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity would work with gravity and published his theory of General Relativity that we were able to accurately model Mercury’s orbit. More than 200 years of established mechanics was shown to be not good enough just like that.

    Human height has varied wildly thoughout history:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_height#History_of_human_height

    “how does believing or not believing in evolution effect anyone’s life?”
    For most people, it doesn’t. For kids in school districts where there are legislative battles over science curricula, it can matter a whole lot.

    The monkey typewriter thing is…..not super accurate for reasons i really don’t have time to get into right now. I’ll try to come back to this later tonight 🙂

  14. One of the issues that I have with some catholic’s conceptions of evolution is the idea that parts of our bodies have specific primary purposes, like thinking that the purpose of our sexual organs is for sexual intercourse in a specific mode that happens to produce children, and, as a result, producing a great hostility to those of us who are not heterosexual or cisgender, who do not happen to fit those primary purposes, making us feel as if we are somehow machines that have become “broken” and require “fixing”.

    One of the things that I like about evolution as a scientific theory is that it does not require the assignment of teleology to people’s bodies: populations happen to express a variety of features that may or may not make them fitter or less fit, but there is no specific “goal” that species must approach, only the illusion of ephemeral local maxima.

  15. “Therefore, there can be an end to evolution that is chosen by God” Yeah, that’s not how it works. There is no end to evolution. Google can help you with that. Which raises an interesting question for those trying hard to marry scientific facts with some religious narrative like Carozza. If we manage to avoid armageddon, there are obviously going to be “post-humans” and “post-post-humans” and so on, however they are going to be called. What does that say about us from a catholic perspective?

  16. Excellent argument! Well thought out, strongly put, remarkable marshaling of facts. You sir or ma’m, are a credit to your religion, as well as your parents and educators.

  17. You have misunderstood me.

    By “end,” I don’t mean conclusion/termination/result. I’m not defending intelligent design, as my article makes clear. I mean purpose, or why it happened. God created us for love.

    Continuing evolution is not in contradiction with this explanation of why God created the world and us. Catholic doctrine makes clear that God is *continually* creating the world, always bringing it into being.

  18. Yes the changes have been tracked. Pick any plant or animal. Google “evolution of ___ “. The fact that you are unaware of information does not mean everyone else is.

  19. No. This is absolutely not a dilemma for anyone who understands evolution.

    The evolution of sexual reproduction is well understood.

    The fact that some people revel in ignorance does not mean the rest of us are content to be ignorant.

  20. Human language is a reasonable analogy.

    Latin speaking Romans lived in what is now Italy. And some moved to what is now France and Spain. In each place, the language evolved in different ways. In each place, every person spoke the same language as their parents and their children. There is no last Latin speaker or first Old French speaker. Yet modem French is not Latin and Italian is not Spanish. Language evolves via tiny, imperceptible changes. Only with hindsight can we can differentiate Latin, Old French and Modern French. But we can differentiate them.

    Evolution is not random. The 1000 monkeys in a room analogy is simply silly.

    Variations are random. Except for clones, each individual of any species is slightly different than its parents, its siblings and its offspring.

    However, natural selection is not random. Some individuals survive to reproduce, most do not. If no individuals survive to reproduce, the species goes extinct like about 99.99% of every species that ever existed on earth. And each generation carries the traits of those individuals that survived the previous generation.

    So add natural selection to your 1000 monkeys with typewriters. Generation 1 – Each monkey creates 1000 manuscripts. The 2% with the most intelligible english words/grammar survive, all others are eaten by predators. Generation 2 – beginning with the survivors of generation 1 1000 copies of each manuscript are made, each with slight variations. Again, the 2% with the most intelligible english words/grammar do not get eaten. Generation 3, rinse and repeat. Etc. This continues for 10 thousand, 100 thousand, a million generations. By the end, the combination of reproduction, genetic variation and natural selection will produce intelligible english language documents.

    Likewise, the combination of reproduction, genetic variation and natural selection drive changes in populations over hundreds of thousands or millions years.

  21. If an egg was laid then from the egg the chick is male or female,then another egg has to be laid for opposite sex.

  22. The attorneys are to defend murderers and other accused only as a client to save them. Accordingly, the attorneys are formulating a defence within the parameters of the existing law to get him escaped from the clutches of law. Likewise, Darwin is defending the theory in which he is having a belief by collecting the evidence in the biological and historical events in connection the evolution of a human being.

  23. Darwin isn’t defending a theory.
    He’s dead. And he has been dead for quite some time.

    Darwin was just a person. Evolution was already accepted before he wrote On the Origin of Species. Darwin is honored because he was the first to define the roll of natural selection. He got a lot right. But, he got some things wrong. And there were some things like DNA he simply did not know about.

    Nobody believes anything simply because Darwin said it.

    Science, unlike religion, is true no matter who talks about it or believes it. If Darwin and Wallace had not figured out natural selection, sooner or later somebody else would have.. Because it is true.

    Over the last 150+ years, thousands upon thousands of scientists have researched various aspects of evolution. Some research broad areas, like the role of DNA or genetic drift. Some research small questions like the evolution of teeth. Others research everything in between, like the evolution of reptiles, horses or flowering plants. A great number of scientists have researched the evolution of sexual reproduction. Avian eggs are just one small aspect of this. The evolution of chicken eggs simply is not a mystery to the thousands of scientists who study the evolution of sexual reproduction and the evolution of birds.

    I get the sense that you heard some preacher use that line in a sermon. “What came first? Huh? Huh?” He looked smug and everyone cheered. You didn’t realize how this question is based on and displays a complete lack of understanding.

    You’ve been misled about the state and nature of science.

    The best, clear overview of evolution is Why Evolution is True by Coyne. I challenge you to read this book.

    If you have intellectual curiosity, goodle “evolution of birds” and “evolution of eggs.” Read Introduction to Evolution on Wikipedia, which also provides a good overview.

    Cheers

  24. You are asking good questions. Scientists also ask these questions.
    And answer them.

    Where you break down is assuming you know the “limits and boundaries” of science when you haven’t taken the time to understand it.

    You may not yet understand how mutations influence evolution, but that doesn’t mean others haven’t asked and solved that question. Spoiler (oversimplified) – To start with, evolution happens in populations not individuals. Each generation produces individuals that are all slightly genetically different and most individuals do not live to reproduce. The genetic differences are random, but survival is not, thanks to natural selection. The average genetic makeup of each subsequent generation is slightly different than the previous. Rinse and repeat several hundred thousand times.

    Read “Why Evolution is True” by Coyne. Read “Your Inner Fish” by Shubin. (PBS turned this into a 3 video series.) Read “Introduction to Evolution” on Wikipedia and follow the links. The Univ of California Berkeley has an excellent evolution website.

    The University of Alberta has a free class on Coursera.org about the Evolution of Vertebrates. They also have a class on the Evolution of Ancient Marine Reptiles which is surprisingly interesting.

    Information about what scientists know and how they know it is readily available.

  25. Also, an important thing to remember as science changes is that it moves forward, not backwards.

    Existing evidence doesn’t vanish.

    As new information is learned, it is added to existing knowledge. Ideas that have been debunked don’t get resurrected.

    When Pluto was discovered, this added to our understanding of the solar system. But nobody went back to believing the planets orbited the earth not the sun. When 100s of additional objects were discovered in the Kuiper Belt, we updated our understanding of Pluto’s place in the solar system and called it a “dwarf planet,” but nobody proposed we go back to believing Apollo pulls the sun across the sky with a chariot.

    Assume there are a million pieces of evidence regarding the evolution of flowering plants. When a new piece of evidence is found, the updated theory must account for 1 million and one pieces of evidence. Everything learned to date doesn’t – poof – vanish.

    There is so much evidence supporting evolution that new data simply does not result in huge shifts.

  26. Given that we’ve learned that each of us has DNA that is different from one another, to the degree that an individual can be identified apart from another, seems odd to think that traits of populations would not change. Is that evolution? Still trying to understand the survival element.
    I wonder if anyone disbelieves in evolution as origin and also disbelieves in any sort of creator? In other words, why are humans the only ones who pursue this question, and how would pursuing that question be necessary to survival? I do appreciate your patience with my questions. 🙂

  27. Those are good questions. First a disclaimer. I’m not a scientist. But I find science and evolution fascinating and read a lot. I will give you my understanding, but definitively recommend you go to real sources.

    Yes. Change in a population is evolution. That is actually one of the definitions.

    In one sense every living thing is a transitional species. Humans like categories, so we like to divide up the world into nice distinct groups but real life doesn’t work that way. Say a bunch of related animals were separated into two groups by a new river. They no longer interbreed. At what point do these two populations stop being one species and become two species? There isn’t an identifiable point. But there will come a point, probably after hundreds of thousands of years, where enough genetic changes have accumulated that the two populations can clearly no longer interbreed.

    I can’t tell you which day I stopped being a toddler or which day I became middle aged. But I am not a toddler and I may be a bit past middle aged.

    On the east and west sides of the isthmus of Panama there are several species of shrimp. Seven on each side if I remember it right. The populations mirror each other, but the east coast shrimp now differ genetically too much from the west coast shrimp to interbreed. There are two sets of shrimp species that evolved after the isthmus of Panama was formed.

    Horses and donkeys are closely related enough that they can produce live offspring. But the offspring are always sterile because there are too many genetic differences. These can be considered two species now, because the offspring are sterile. In another few hundred thousand years, it is likely that they won’t be able to breed with each other at all. This is evolution.

    Some humans, whose ancestors raised cows, sheep and goats, have a mutation that allows them to digest milk into adulthood. Having this additional food source aided survival and the mutation was passed on to offspring. This mutation is common in Europe, the middle east and some parts of Africa. People whose
    ancestors did not raise dairy animals tend not to have this mutation and are lactose intolerant as adults. About 98% of Chinese people will be lactose intolerant as adults. Who knows what would happen if populations of humans were separated for several hundred thousand years.

    We are surrounded by examples of evolution at every stage of the process.

    We are not the only species with awareness. Elephants, whales and other mammals grieve. Dogs and horses and other mammals can recognize people or animals after years of separation. Monkeys and apes have complex social structures with rudimentary morality. I don’t know how our brains evolved, but I see no reason to attribute it to divine intervention.

    I don’t believe in a deity. But many people are able to reconcile religious faith with scientific reality.

  28. There was never a specific moment when chickens evolved. There were populations of birds, one group of which was ancestral to the birds we call “chickens”. If you were able to look at the population generation by generation going back in time, you would never see a definite “first chicken”, just a very gradual change, imperceptible between one generation and the next. “Chicken” is a label that humans invented; the birds don’t care what we call them. Egg-laying was a trait of all birds, their reptile ancestors, their amphibian ancestors, and their fish ancestors.

  29. Maybe, but not necessarily. Interbreeding between closely related species happens all the time.

  30. Evolution doesn’t have to take a long time; it often happens quickly, when conditions change.
    Many in the species die off and are replaced by the beneficial mutation. And of course, most mutations are not beneficial, so those individuals don’t go on to breed.

    The Galopogous Islands are a good example of evolution, because the animals had no where to go, and could not leave to find a better environment.

    I suggest you go and take a class or two on the subject at your local community college.
    You are missing building blocks in your understanding, and then taking science to task for your own ignorance.

  31. Humans can pursue this question because we have the language to express the concepts, and the ability to pass on knowledge thru writing.

    Of course this question isn’t necessary for survival—but evolution itself certainly is.

  32. So sometimes it takes centuries or millenia for changes to happen, and sometimes it can happen quickly? Has anyone ever asked their professor or teacher what the mathematical odds are for the survival of these organisms in these different circumstances? I don’t deny that there are changes that happen, but to admit that changes happen and then also attribute this same process to explain the cause of existence is a collosal step that I think scores of people accept wholesale, without looking at the actual probabilities. Evolution does not affect me or anyone else’s life enough to make a difference. Unless you are a student that is required to make a grade on the subject. In which case, the lessons they learn in 2018 will have evolved to something similar but not entirely the same by 2038. Whats the point? The basis of the theory was a group of finches… what if Darwin was wrong, what if they weren’t even finches but another type of bird that he mistook for a finch? People have evolved to be taller in the past 100 years or so, what was the reason we got taller and not shorter? Why is taller better? Answers will all be speculative at best.

  33. Why is evolution necessary for survival? If it gets too cold, or hot or wet or dry, animals can migrate to more habitable locations far faster than they could evolve to the new climate. Couldn’t they?

  34. People have not “evolved” to be taller in the last 100 years.
    They are eating more protein, which gives them several inches.
    Populations evolve—aren’t you listening?

    Many reasons the TRUTH of evolution is important, but one big one is so that ignorant people don’t keep trying to attribute every event to a “magical” cause.

    I have a niece who is a new age “conspiracy theorist” and does that.
    She was waiting for a package in the mail impatiently.
    It finally came; she credited that event with the fact that she changed her shirt from red to blue, thereby increasing her “receptive vibration”, as blue is a “receptive color”.

    You follow the same magical thinking patterns—just a different icon.
    Again—GET EDUCATED.
    You are trying to argue biology when you don’t know what you are talking about.

    And it SHOWS.

  35. IF we had a decent educational system, we wouldn’t have to be dealing with these elementary questions.
    Heck, I went to Catholic Schools, and back in the Sixties, evolution was accepted and taught.
    It is only ignorant and/or brainwashed people who question its role.

  36. “Many reasons the TRUTH of evolution is important, but one big one is so that ignorant people don’t keep trying to attribute every event to a “magical” cause.”
    Have you ever heard of the ‘God of the gaps’? I assume you have.
    This notion that populations evolve, seems to relieve scientists from having to show any proof of change in any one individual, yet there is still the claim that mutations occur, which would indicate that changes do occur in individuals, even slight ones. The mixed signals and answers appear to me as the same type of argument as god of the gaps. I have not heard good reason to bother seeking to learn this ‘truth’. And very seldom does anyone try to answer any of the questions I’ve posed directly. I’ve admitted that I don’t understand what is being taught these days and rather than answer my questions I am being called offensive names (not here). The only reasonable conclusion I can come to from this reaction is the questions I ask are also above those attempting to respond. What I learned 35 years ago about evolution does not seem to hold up nowadays. I was too young and trusting to question any of it back then. And I’m too old to see how this could ever effect any one person’s life. If believing in this ‘truth’ would cause me to treat others in the way I’ve been treated by some, keep your ‘truth’.

  37. In which case, the lessons they learn in 2018 will have evolved to something similar but not entirely the same by 2038. Whats the point?

    Hodgkin’s lymphoma now has a 98% cure rate. I am sure you sincerely do not understand the point in the biological research that got us there. WhHy should people in the 60s have bothered to learn anything, when some of what they were learning was going to be proven wrong?

    The basis of the theory was a group of finches..

    No one honest could look at Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species and think that it was only based on finches. Darwin studied many many different types or organisms. And you have to be stupendously dishonest to think that all of our understanding of evolutionary biology is based on finches.

  38. In other words:

    I AM A STUBBORN OLD COOT WHO WON’T LISTEN TO LOGIC OR SEEK THE TRUTH.
    Sweetie, no one is going to give you a semester’s worth of biology on a comment board. Some science is a bit more complex than a “git ‘er done” cliche.
    In this information age, you could EASILY get all the answers about evolution you need—if you weren’t so stubborn and rigid.

    But you are and you are proud of it.
    I am sure you are someone’s “nutty Uncle Ralph” that must be invited to Thanksgiving dinner, and then makes everyone bored or irritated with insanely stupid opinions.

  39. Hi, I know this is an older post but I felt like I could help a bit. Adaptation doesn’t exactly mean that the environment will change the animals that live there, or rather, that statement is a bit too vague to make clear how adaptation works. An individual animal has limited ability to change to suit its environment. Each animal has its own tolerance to environmental variation, determined by its genes and its behavior and so on. But if a population of animals suffers a change in environmental conditions, then those individuals (within that population) that have genetic variations are better suited to those environmental conditions, will survive better than individuals with other genetic variations. Likewise, their offspring are more likely to survive better than the offspring of the individuals with less-suited variations. If just one individual has a helpful variation, then that individual must have surviving offspring in order for that genetic variation to continue in the population. And those offspring must have surviving offspring and so on. Over the course of many many generations, assuming that at least SOME offspring survive in each generation (otherwise that population goes extinct), then the helpful mutations will “spread” throughout most of the population, which doesn’t mean that some individuals can “catch” mutations from other individuals, but more like the population will come to be composed primarily (or exclusively) of the offspring of a subset of the original individuals.

    Obviously for this to happen, there must be more than just a couple of individuals in the population (more than one mating pair, and really populations need a lot of individuals for this to happen effectively) and those individuals must not be genetically identical to each other. If they were all identical, then if the genetic code of one individual was insufficiently robust to support survival in the new environment, then the same would go for all the other individuals and the whole population would die out. In animals, there is a fair amount of genetic variation and sexual reproduction (which relies on meiosis) allows genetic variation to be maintained and shuffled through the population (one mating event at a time, of course).

    Usually this works out ok because each population generally has evolved from whatever population previously inhabited that particular part of the environment (called the ecological niche, (eg ecological niche for fish might be ocean, a particular depth of the ocean, particular need for sunlight or warmth or food source etc, tuna need smaller fish to feed on, salmon need, I dunno, to swim upstream to spawn, etc etc) which was already adapted to the local environment. So mostly likely, if the population is large enough, there’ll be individuals with mutations that allow some to survive if the usual year-to-year variations in environment happen.

    Now, if the population suffers a sudden and dramatic change in the environment, is it possible that there will not be genetic variations within the population that allow ANY of the individuals to survive? Yes! That is Why Climate Change is Bad. The tolerance of any population to environmental variation is not unlimited. eg Birds may be able to fly to a new place if their former home becomes inhospitable, but if the new home is also inhospitable then the population may die out altogether. Another example might be orangutans, which are adapted to forested environments. If those forests are ploughed to create fields of palm crops, then there is no habitat for the orangutans to live in, and they aren’t adapted in such a way as to migrate on their own to other countries with forests.

    I just said climate change is bad, but really what we are talking about is manmade climate change, with the assumption that manmade climate change is much faster than naturally occurring climate change, and therefore not something to which the populations of most complex animals on Earth would be able to adapt.

  40. Yes, changes actually do occur in individuals, you are correct! These changes (mutations) usually occur because of imperfect replication and maintenance of the DNA sequences in our cells (simplifying a bit), some caused by radiation from the sun, some caused by just random slipups, and so on. Most of such mutations occur in what are called “somatic” cells of the body: the cells you use every day for living: liver, lung, pancreas, etc. The body has evolved a mechanism for fixing these mutations and this mechanism is called “DNA repair.” DNA repair in humans is imperfect. It’s one of the reasons why we get cancer. These mutations do not get passed on to our children, and most are “deleterious” (ie not to our advantage). If the mutations occur in the germline (the stem cells that give rise to our sperm or ova) then they can be passed on to our offspring.

  41. What’s interesting about climate change is how indirect some of the effects will be. For example, look at the effect on corals: The very, very rapid change in ocean temperature is already killing off HUGE populations of corals that will take a very long time to regrow if they manage to at all. How will this impact the tourism of various countries? How will that impact to tourism impact the ability of the population to stay alive?

    There are dozens of these sorts of small effects that will all pile up and impact the human population. Personally, I think humans are smart enough and adaptive enough to survive, as a species, whatever we do to the climate. The bigger question is will any of our current civilizations and major social structure survive, and how many individuals will suffer more and die faster as a result of whatever fallout there is from the climate changing?

  42. Hello fractal, I know I’m a bit late to the conversation, but I like your attempts at explaining evolution to Peccatori. I studied biology & evolution nearly 40 years ago at catholic school & find evolution, based on the evidence obtained to date, far more compelling than any explanation a biblical narrative or religious doctrine could provide, so please don’t be frustrated by Peccatori’s attitude. Not all older people are so resistant to learning, because THIS old coot is FAR from stubborn when it comes to such things! 🙂
    Keep on giving good explanations. Those who genuinely want to learn, will – & wherever you are in the world, I hope you enjoy your day! 🙂

  43. Thanks Marie!

    I am also an old coot, and it makes me angry when people say:

    “I’VE ADMITTED I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT IS BEING TAUGHT THESE DAYS…”

    But won’t bother educating themselves, and instead assume that the other person in the conversation doesn’t understand their own comment!

    With the internet and Community Colleges everywhere, it is grotesque to be proud of your ignorance.

  44. It’s encouraging to know there are SOME old coots who are open to different, evidence based ideas & not so fixated on religious dogma!