Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Evolution Redux

I got a response to an older post, Transitional Life Forms, and I figured I post my response here. You can read the response in the comments, but the essence is that it takes more faith to believe in evolution than creation and that there is no evidence for evolution. Here's my response.

Aw, but MonkeyMom, the evidence is plentiful. Over the 4.5 billion years of its existence the fossil record clearly records the emergence, extinction, and continuation of all of the kingdoms. It just happens over extremely long periods of time. So if you expect to see it over the period of your lifetime or even during the period of recorded human history then you'll probably miss it. People easily misjudge probabilities because they can't easily fathom the magnitudes of the involved numbers. But to state that there is no evidence is simply wrong. It's there even if it is just fragmentary snapshots.

What's completely lacking is any evidence that supports a single creation event where all of the world's species were created with no new ones emerging since that creation.

The beautiful thing about science is that it's not afraid to say when it doesn't know something. Regardless, what we do know is that the earth is significantly older than 6000 years and that life has existed on it for a very, very long time, and that the types of life have changed radically over those long periods and that they have changed from simple life forms to increasingly complex life forms and that the life forms have changed to match the conditions.

If you know what fossils are, you probably know how rare they are and that they are only formed under very special circumstances. The result is that the fossil record is incredibly incomplete. This makes it very unlikely that we'll ever see a complete fossil record showing transitions. However, it does show the appearance of increasingly complex organisms over very large time periods.

Evolution is a theory that tries to explain the known facts. So far, it is the most plausible although like all theories it will be modified and perhaps discarded as new evidence is found that either supports it or undermines it.

That's the beauty of science.

I was, of course, joking about dogs being evidence of transitional life forms. I'm not sure that I buy the theory of evolution either. I'm willing to say I don't know. I think that it's quite likely that there are processes that we don't or can't understand because they happen over millions, billions, or trillions of years. Also, by the very nature of the question, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to know the answer.

What I am 100% certain of, is that the Biblical creation account is not how it happened. The evidence on the ground completely contradicts the account unless you read it as a purely metaphorical story whose details are essentially meaningless.

Since you've studied this so much, I'm sure you're also aware of the problems with postulating an all powerful creator. On the other hand, if you had you'd probably understand why that is an even more improbable theory than evolution.

I'm sure it is comforting to believe in a simple answer: God did it. But if I concede that, then you still have to explain what God is and how he did it. Which kind of brings us back to square one. In the end, "God did it" is just a comforting way of saying, "I don't know." And I'm okay with that answer.

In the end our existence is miraculous, amazing, and astounding. Whether or not we believe in God doesn't change that one bit.


Nathan said...

Evolution's problem (or rather, the Big Bang's problem) is that it is not so much a theory based on science than it is a theory held and propped up by the belief that God doesn't exist. Science shouldn't stand unless falsifiability exists, and the theories surrounding the Big Bang and following macroevolution do not hold up to the standard of falsifiability. It's just not science. It takes faith.

Bull said...

Really? I never ran across the anti-God thing in any of my science classes. As far as I know nothing in science depends on the existence or non-existence of God.

You make a good point about falsifiability, but I only partially accept your point here. The science about both cosmic origins and evolution make predictions about what we should observe in the world around us either via astronomical observations or via digging in the ground. If what is found contradicts what the theory predicts then the theory is falsified.

So, the theories have been modified and changed and improved over time as new facts have been uncovered that contradicted previous beliefs.

This is the difference between faith and science: the ability to falsify and reject incorrect beliefs or theories and in doing so, come closer to the truth.

That said, I agree that having an absolutely certain answer is not feasible and also that it's not terribly important unless you're religious.

BTW, I really enjoy it when religious beliefs are put to the test. For most of my life I hoped to see them vindicated, unfortunately it never seems to pan out.

Nathan said...

Religion isn't scientific--without faith it is impossible to please God. But what claims to be science must be tested scientifically, and macroevolution simply does not hold up. Scientists must become comfortable with saying "we don't know" for so long as they do not have falsifiability in their theories. Science and logic will only take you so far. Our own logic breaks quite quickly. What is the beginning? What is the beginning of the beginning? What is the beginning of that beginning?

The Misanthropic Mormon said...

dear nathan,

"we don't know" and "i think god did it" are two separate and distinct arguments. i think scientists say "we can't say for sure, but the evidence sure makes it seem like X."

and sometimes they are pretty damn sure.

sorry to intrude on the conversation.