Evolution vs Creationism

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Partial summary of "Evolution vs Creationism" by Eugenie C. Scott

Introduction

The author identifies three “Pillars of Creationism”: (1) Evolution is a “Theory in Crisis”, (2) Religion and Evolution are incompatible, (3) and since banning teaching of evolution in school has failed, evolution must be balanced by teaching creation science and/or evidence against evolution (identical to creation science).

Darwin made two major points in “On the Origin of Species”: (1) that living things had evolved, or descended with modification, from common ancestors and (2) that the mechanism of natural selection was evolution’s major cause.

If living things have descended with modification from common ancestors, the Bible would be untrue.

If Earth is ancient and was populated by creatures that lived before humans, death must have preceded Adam’s fall – which has obvious implications for the Christian doctrine of original sin.

Chapter 1 – Science: Truth Without Certainty

We live in a universe made up of matter and energy, a material universe. The goal of science is to understand this and explain this material universe.

WAYS OF KNOWING

Science requires the testing of explanations of the natural world against nature itself, and discarding those explanations that do not work.

Science has less to say about the humanities such as whether the music of Madonna or Mozart is superior, but if one wishes to know about the natural world and how it works, science is superior to all other ways of knowing.

Authority

Often, when we seek and answer, we look to an Authority on the topic rather than spend the time to do our own research. An authority will typically have solid credentials in a field of study such as formal education and/or vast amounts of personal experience. However, we should take what an authority says with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Revelation

Knowledge reveled to an individual by a God, or the gods, or some other supernatural power is revelation. Seekers of advice from the Greek oracle at Delphi believed it because the oracle supposedly received information directly from Apollo. Christians believe the New Testament is true because the authors were directly inspired by God. Information obtained through revelation is difficult or impossible to verify because there is not an outside referent that all parties are likely to agree upon.

Logic

A way of knowing that is highly reliable is logic, which is the foundation for mathematics. However, logic in and of itself, with no reference to the “real world,” is not complete. To know that a logical proposition is empirically (by observation or experimentation) false, yet logically true, requires reference to the real world outside the logical structure.

Science

Science does include logic – statements that are not logically true are not scientifically true – but what distinguishes the scientific way of knowing is the requirement of going to the natural world, the final arbiter, to verify claims. This approach is not perfect because we must depend on our limited senses, augmented by instruments, which can be faulty. Thus, this way of knowing is tentative in its proclamations and subject to change due to new or better data that may alter or falsify an explanation. This method has proven to be the best approach, thus far, to filter out fact from fiction about the natural world.

The anthropologist Ashley Montagu summarized science rather nicely when he wrote, “The scientist believes in proof without certainty, the bigot in certainty without proof”

Direct experimentation: one can directly observe the elements of the experiment and have substantial control of the variables.

Indirect experimentation: the phenomenon or elements of the experiment cannot be directly observed. Planets that are too far away to be directly observed can still be discovered and studied due to their gravitation effects on the star they orbit.

Proof: Scientific explanations can’t be proved. Confidence in them can be strong, moderate or weak based on the quality and completeness of the experiments/tests. They can also be arranged in three concentric circles as (1) core knowledge, (2) frontier knowledge, and (3) fringe knowledge with core knowledge at the center. Those claims that have the best support, work best to explain the natural world and survived the test of time are considered core knowledge (heliocentrism, gravitation, atomic theory and evolution would be examples). The next area would be frontier knowledge where research and debate are actively taking place on new theories or modifications to existing theories. The fringe area is where very little work is currently going on such as UFOs, telepathy, perpetual motion machines, etc.

Disproof: Scientific claims must be stated in a way that can be tested. Others may come along and conceive of a test than may weaken the confidence in a claim or clearly disprove the claim. This is the scientific process and what makes it so powerful. Both disproof of hypotheses and failure to confirm are critical means by which we eliminate explanations and therefore increase out understanding of the natural world.

FACTS, HYPOTHESES, LAWS, AND THEORIES

The significance of facts, hypotheses, laws and theories are often misunderstood by the non-scientific community. Scientists order these from most important to least important in this sequence: (1) theories, (2) laws, (3) hypotheses, (4) facts.

Facts

A fact is a confirmed observation. After the same result is obtained after numerous observations, scientists will accept it as fact and no longer continue to test it. Facts are important but are not immutable. Mistakes can be made and facts can be disproved. However, facts don’t tell you very much about how something works. It’s a first step toward knowledge, which is why scientists put it at the bottom of the hierarchy of explanation.

Hypotheses

Hypotheses are statements of the relationship among things, often taking the form of “if…then…” statements. Each hypothesis can be tested and can be either disconfirmed or confirmed (note: confirmed rather than proved). Whether disconfirmed or confirmed, tested hypotheses help to build explanations by removing incorrect approaches and encouraging further testing of fruitful ones.

Laws

There are many laws in science (e.g. laws of thermodynamics, Mendal’s laws of heredity, Newton’s inverse square law, gravitational law). Laws are extremely useful empirical generalizations: they state what, under certain conditions, will happen. For example, under certain conditions found in most places on the Earth’s surface, masses will attract one another in inverse proportion to the square of the distance between them. However, scientific laws can change or not hold under some conditions. Newtons’ law of gravitation had to be modified under the conditions of a vacuum. Laws are important, but as descriptive generalizations, they are too narrowly focused to explain complex natural phenomenon. That is the role a theory.

Theory

The word theory is perhaps the most misunderstood word in science. In everyday usage, the synonym of theory is “guess” or “hunch.” Yet according to the National Academy of Sciences, a theory is defined as “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences and tested hypotheses.” To explain something scientifically requires the interconnected combination of laws, facts, tested hypotheses, and other theories. A theory can be used to explain observations as well as make predictions about phenomena. Thus, in the scientific community, a theory represents the synthesis of facts, tested hypotheses and natural laws and is the best known explanation for a given natural phenomenon - in other words, the complete opposite of a guess.

EVOLUTOIN AND TESTING

What about the theory of evolution? Is it scientific? Some have claimed that since no one was there to see evolution occur, studying it cannot be scientific. However, as we have learned, a theory can be scientific even if the phenomena are not directly observable (i.e. indirect experimentation). Evolutionary theory is built in the same way as particle physics theory or any other field that uses indirect testing. Is evolution testable and falsifiable?

Testing the Big Idea

Hypotheses about patterns, process and descent of living things can be tested. The “big idea” of evolution is “descent with modification.” Evolution is a statement about history and refers to something that happened (and is still happening), to the branching of species through time from common ancestors. Can descent with modification be tested? Can the pattern of evolution be tested? Can the mechanisms of evolution be tested?

The big idea of evolution can be tested using the “if … then …” approach. The biologist John A Moore suggested a number of these statements.

(1) If living things descended with modification from common ancestors, then we would expect that “species that lived in the remote past must be different from species alive today.” When we look at the geological record, this is indeed what we see. (2) If evolution occurred, we “would expect to find only the simplest organisms in the very oldest fossiliferous strata and the more complex ones to appear in the more recent strata.” Again, the geologic record confirms this statement. (3) If evolution occurred, then “there should have been connecting forms between the major groups.” Although not uniformly the case due to variations in the probability of being preserved, this is also confirmed by the geologic record.

In addition to “if … then …” statements predicting what one would find if evolution occurred, one can also make predictions about what one would not find. If evolution occurred and living things have branched off the tree of life as lineages split from common ancestors, one would not find a major branch of the tree totally out of place. For example, paleontologists would not find mammals in the Devonian age of fishes, or seed bearing plants back in the Cambrian. In fact, one of the strongest sources of evidence for evolution is the consistency of the fossil record around the world.

There is a naturally occurring hierarchy of organisms that has been recognized since the seventeenth century: species can be grouped into genera, genera grouped into families and on into higher categories. The splitting process of evolution generates hierarchy; the fact that animals and plants can be arranged in a “tree of life” is predicted by and explained by the inference of common descent.

Pattern

There is still much debate about the details of where to place certain organisms in the tree of life and is gradually being refined as new evidence is discovered. For example, the Neanderthal’s physical traits can be placed in the range of variability of living humans, but there are tests on fossil mitochondrial DNA that suggest modern humans and Neanderthals shared a common ancestor very, very long ago. So are Neanderthals ancestral to modern humans or not?

Fortunately, we can test hypotheses about evolution using not only the fossil record but also anatomical, embryological, or biochemical (RNA, DNA, etc.) evidence from living creatures. One reason why evolution is such a robust scientific idea is that so many different sources of information lead to the same conclusions. Ideas about the pattern of evolution can be and are being tested.

Process

Scientist studying evolution want to know not only the pattern of evolution but also the processes behind it: the mechanisms that cause the cumulative biological changes through time. The most important is natural selection, but there are other mechanisms (i.e. genetic drift and other genetic factors) that are thought to bring about change. One debate is on the rate and pace of evolution: Do changes in most lineages proceed slowly and gradually, or do most lineages remain much the same for long periods that, once in a while, are “punctuated” with periods of rapid evolution? This issue and many more constitute the process of evolution. Researchers are attempting to understand these processes by testing statements against the fossil and geological records as well as other sources of information.

Natural selection and other genetically based mechanisms are regularly tested and are regularly confirmed. By now there are copious examples of natural selection operating in our modern world, and it is not unreasonable to extend their operation into the past.

The operation of natural selection is not disputed in the creation/evolution controversy: both supporters and detractors of evolution accept that natural selection works. Creationists, however, claim that natural selection cannot bring about differences from one “kind” to another.

CREATIONISM AND TESTING

The topic of religion constitutes chapter 3, and creationism is a religious concept. Religion will be defined as a set of ideas concerning a nonmaterial reality; thus it would appear that science and creationism have little in common. Yet, some claim that creationism is scientific, or can be made scientific, or has scientific elements. The question naturally arises, then, “Is creationism testable?”

The ultimate statement of creationism – that the present universe came about as the result of the action or actions of a divine Creator – is, thus, outside the abilities of science to test. The question of whether God created cannot be evaluated by science.

Most believers conceive of God as omnipotent, so He can create everything all at once, a theological position known as “special creation”; or He an create through the process of natural law, a theological position known as “theistic evolution.”

Science is, thus, powerless to test the ultimate claim of creationism, and must be agnostic about whether God did or did not create the material world. However, some types of creationism go beyond the basic statement “God created” to make claims of fact about the natural world. Many times these fact claims, such as those concerning the age of the Earth, are greatly at variance with observations of science, and creationist sometimes evoke scientific support to support these fact claims.

One creationist claim, for example, is that the Grand Canyon was laid down by the receding waters of Noah’s flood. In cases like this, scientific methods can be used to test creationist claims, because the claims are claims of fact. Of course it is always possible to claim that the Creator performed miracles (that the Grand Canyon stratigraphy – which virtually all geologists consider to be impossible to have been laid down during a year’s time – was created through the special actions of an omnipotent Creator), but at this point one passes from science to some other way of knowing.

CONCLUSION/SUMMARY (CHAPTER 1)

The three elements of biological evolution – descent with modification, the pattern of evolution, and the process or mechanisms of evolution – can all be tested through the methods of science. The heart of creationism – that an omnipotent being created – is not testable by science, but the fact claims about the natural world made by the creationists can be.

Chapter 2 - Evolution

EVOLUTION BROAD AND NARROW

The broad definition of evolution is “a cumulative change through time,” and refers to the fact that the universe has had a history – that if we were able to go back into time, we would find different stars, galaxies, planets, and different forms of life on Earth. Thus, there is astronomical evolution, geological evolution and biological evolution. The processes and mechanisms of each are different.

ORIGIN OF LIFE

Although some people confuse the origin of life itself with evolution, the two are conceptually separate. Biological evolution is defined as the descent of living thins from ancestors from which they differ. Life had to precede evolution! Regardless of how the first replicating molecule appeared, we see in the subsequent historical record the gradual appearance of more complex living things, and many variations on the many themes of life. We know much more about evolution than about the origin of life.

BIOLIGICAL EVOLUTION

Biological evolution is a subset of the general idea that the universe has changed through time. In the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin spoke of “descent with modification,” and that phrase still nicely communicates the essence of biological evolution. “Descent denotes heredity, and indeed, members of species pass genes from generation to generation. “Modification” denotes change, and indeed, the composition of species may change through time.

The distinction between the patterns of evolution and processes of evolution is relevant to the evolution of some of the criticisms of evolution that will emerge later in this book.

The History of Life

Deep Time: The story of life unfurls against a backdrop of time – deep time: the length of time the universe has existed, the length of time the Earth has been a planet, the length of time that life has been on Earth. We are better at understanding things that we can have some experience of, but we have, and can have, no experience of deep time.

The solar system formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago; Earth formed around 4.5 billion years ago, and life may have begun appearing relatively soon after that. The first evidence of bacteria-like fossils dates from around 3.5 billion years ago.

This clock representation shows some of the major units of geological time and definitive events of Earth history. The Hadean eon represents the time before fossil record of life on Earth; its upper boundary is now regarded as 4.0 Ga (billion years ago). Other subdivisions reflect the evolution of life; the Archean and Proterozoic are both eons, the Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic are eras of the Phanerozoic eon. The two million year Quaternary period, the time of recognizable humans, is too small to be visible at this scale.

In evolutionary biology, as in other sciences, theory building depends on cross-checking ideas against different types of data. There are three basic types of data used to investigate the evolutionary relationships among the invertebrate groups.: size and shape (morphological) comparisons among modern representatives of these groups, biochemical comparisons among modern descendants, and the fossil record.

One particularly interesting area of research has to do with understanding the evolution and developmental biology (embryology) of organisms, a new field referred to as “evo-devo.” It is apparent that very small changes in genes affecting early, basic structural development can cause major changes in body plans.

PRINCIPLES OF BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION

These are natural selection, adaptation, adaptive radiation, and speciation.

Natural Selection and Adaptation

Natural selection is the term given by Charles Darwin to what he – and almost all modern evolutionary biologists – considered to be the most powerful force of evolutionary change. Natural selection is not the same as evolution. There is a conceptual difference between a phenomenon (evolution) and the mechanisms or processes that bring it about.

The principle (natural selection) is simple: generate a variety of possible solutions, and then pick the one that works best for the problem at hand. The “variety of possible solutions” consists of genetically based variations which allow the organism to solve the problem. In living things, the “problem at hand,” most broadly conceived, is survival and reproduction – passing on genes to the next generation.

So the essence of natural selection is genetic variation within a population, and environmental condition that favors some of these variations more than others, and differential reproduction of the individuals who happen to have the favored variations.

Natural selection involves adaptation: having characteristics that allow an organism to survive and reproduce in its environment. Which characteristics increase or decrease in the population through time depends on the value of the characteristic, and that depends on the particular environment.

As a result, natural selection is sometimes defined at adaptive differential reproduction. It is differential reproduction because some individuals reproduce more or less than others. It is adaptive because the reason for the differential in reproduction has to do with a value that a trait or set of traits has in a particular environment.

Natural Selection and Chance

Two important aspects of natural selection is dependence on the genetic variation present in the population (i.e. some rabbits are immune to a virus and others are not) and on the “value” of some of the genes in the population (i.e. virus immunity can be very valuable).

It is a matter of chance which particular rabbits were lucky enough to have the set of genes conferring resistance. So is it correct to say that natural selection is a chance process? Quite the contrary: Natural selection is the opposite of chance. It is adaptive differential reproduction: the individuals that survive to pass on their genes do so because they have the genes that are helpful (or at least not negative) in a particular environment (i.e. the surviving and reproducing organisms are a function of the local environment rather than chance).

Evolution and Tinkering

Some builders are engineers and some are tinkerers, and the way they go about constructing something differs quite a lot. The tinkering situation, where a structural problem is solved by taking something extant that can be bent, cut, hammered, twisted, or manipulated into something that more or less works, however, crudely, mirrors the process of evolution much more than do the procedures of an engineer. Nature is full of structures that work quite well – but it also is full of structures that just barely work, or that, if one were to imagine designing from scratch, one would certainly not have chosen the particular modification that natural section did.

Adaptive Radiation

To be fruitful and multiply, all living things have to acquire energy (through photosynthesis, or from consuming other living things), they have to avoid predation and illness, and they have to reproduce. As is clear from the study of natural history, there are many different ways that organisms manage to perform these tasks, reflecting both the variety of environments on Earth and variety of living things. Any environment – marine, terrestrial, arboreal, aerial, subterranean – contains many ecological niches that provide means that living things use to make a living. The principal of adaptive radiation helps to explain how niches get filled.

Honeycreepers (group of approximately 23 species of birds living in Hawaii) are, in fact, a good example of the principle of adaptive radiation, where one or a few individual animals arrive in a new environment that has empty ecological niches, and their descendants are selected to quickly evolve the characteristics need to exploit these niches.

Most primates locomote using four limbs; we human primates have taken the quadrupedal pattern and tipped it back so that all our weight is borne on the hind limbs (and not too successfully, as witnessed by hernias and the knee and lower back problems that plague our species). Being bipedal, though, meant we did not have to use our hands fro locomotion, and they were freed for other purposes, like carrying things and making tools.

Speciation

A species is composed of all the individuals that can exchange genes with one another. Some species are composed of very few individuals located in a restricted area, and others have millions of members spread out over large areas of the world.

New species form when members of a population or subdivision of a species no longer are able to exchange genes with the rest of the species. This is more likely to happen at the edges of the species range than in the center. WE can say that speciation has occurred when a population becomes reproductively isolated from the rest of the species.

DID MAN EVOLVE FROM MONKEYS?

No. The concept of biological evolution, that living things shared common ancestry, implies that human beings did not descent from monkeys, but shared a common ancestor with them, and shared a common ancestor farther back in time with other mammals, and farther back in time with reptiles, and further back in time with fish, and further back in time with worms, and further back in time with petunias.

Indeed, the theory of evolution, as one famous geneticist put it, is what “makes sense” of biology. “Seen in the light of evolution, biology is, perhaps, the most satisfying science. Without that light it becomes a pile of sundry facts, some of them more or less interesting, but making no comprehensible whole” (Dobzhansky 1973; 129).

Chapter 3 Beliefs: Religion, Creationism, and Naturalism

Science is recognized internationally as the best way to find out about the natural world. But the natural world is not the thing that human beings ask questions about. In fact, in every known human society, most people believe that there is a universe or world or something beyond or other than this material one, which is populated by gods, spirits, ancestors, or other nonmaterial beings. Science doesn’t tell us anything about this world; this transcendent world is the provenance of religion.

RELIGION

All human societies have some belief system that can be called “religion.” Some of these are believed in by hundreds of millions people, such as Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, and Hinduism, whereas others are believed in by tribal groups whose numbers are reckoned in the thousands or even fewer. With such a disparity of beliefs, can we find any commonalties?

Most religions, but not all, have the following in common:

  • Something beyond the material world – an Ultimate or Absolute or transcendent reality
  • A sense of sacredness, awe, or mystery about this Beyond
  • Spiritual beings such as gods, witches, powerful spirits, and the like inhabit this Beyond
  • Belief in a life after death
  • Worship or ritual behavior associated with these spiritual beliefs
  • Intermediaries (such as priests and shamans) between people and the spiritual world
  • Special places for worship (churches, temples, holy sites)
  • Knowledge is obtained partly by revelation from supernatural sources

Human societies could not function without ethical systems – rules for behavior toward other people – and usually, though not universally, these systems are determined or at least strongly influenced by religion.

RELIGION AND EXPLANATION

In many human societies, natural phenomena are frequently explained be reference to supernatural causation. Sickness, death, meteorological phenomena such as rain or tornadoes, the existence and location of mountains and other landforms, earthquakes, volcanoes, the passage of seasons, and the positions of the sun, stars, and planets also frequently have religiously based explanations.

In earlier times in Western society, it was common for biblical statements about the natural world to be accepted as authoritative and for God to be viewed as the direct cause of natural events. If a plaque struck a community, or if a comet blazed across the sky, the event was attributed to the direct action of God, specially intervening in His creation. Gradually, though, some of these statements in the Bible were discarded as they were found to be inaccurate – for example, that Earth is a circle (reflecting early civilization’s belief that the world was disk-shaped rather than spherical).

Livestock breeders found that coat color in goats would not be affected by watering them at troughs in which peeled sticks had been placed (as claimed in Genesis 30), and thus the Bible came to be taken less as a source of information about the natural world, and more as a guide to understanding the relationship of man to God.

St. Augustine, among other early church leaders, argued in the fourth and fifth centuries that it was bad theology to accept biblical statements about the natural world uncritically if such statements contradicted experience. He felt that too strict adherence to biblical literalism regarding statements about the natural world would diminish the credibility of proselytizers.

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of he sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, while presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics…. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well, and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about the Scriptures, how then are they going to believe those Scriptures in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven? How indeed, when they think that their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? (Saint Augustine 1982: 42-43)

By the mid-nineteenth century, the success of science as a way of understanding the natural world was clear.

Twentieth and twenty-first-century scientists limit themselves to explaining natural phenomena using only natural causes for another practical reason: if a scientist is “allowed” to refer to God as a direct causal force, then there is no reason to continue looking for a natural explanation. Scientific explanation screeches to a halt. If there were a natural explanation, perhaps unknown or not yet able to be studied given technological limits or inadequate theory, then it would never be discovered if scientists, giving up in despair, invoked the supernatural. Scientists are quite used to saying “I don’t know yet.”

Methodological naturalism uses the rule of science that requires that scientific explanations use only material (matter, energy, and their interaction) cause. To go beyond methodological naturalism to claim that only natural causes exist – that is, that there is no God or, more generally, no supernatural entities – is philosophical naturalism,. The two views are logically distinct because one can be a methodological naturalist but not accept naturalism as a philosophy. Many scientists who are theists are examples.

Christianity and many other religions rely at least in part upon truth revealed from God. What should a believer do when revelation conflicts with knowledge gained from science and experience?

A classic example of revealed truth’s conflicting with scientific interpretation is the debate that took place in the seventeenth century regarding the relationship of Earth to other planets and the sun. Traditionally, the Bible was interpreted as reflecting a geocentric, or Earth-centered, model of the universe. The sun and other planets revolved around the Earth. Early astronomers such as Copernicus and Galileo challenged the geocentric view, based on their empirical observations, inferences, and mathematical calculations, hold instead to the heliocentric view that Earth and other planets revolved around the sun. The Catholic church rejected these conclusions partly on scientific grounds, but primarily because heliocentrism contradicted the accepted interpretation of the Bible. Bible passages such as Joshua 10:12-13 reinforced this view. Joshua requests God to lengthen the day so his soldiers might win on the battlefield; God lengthens the day by stopping the sun, reflecting the geocentric model of the universe extant when the book of Joshua was set down.

CREATIONISM

The term “creationism” to many people connotes the theological doctrine of special creationism: that God created the universe essentially as we see it today, and that the universe has not changed appreciably since that creation event. Special creationism includes the idea that God created living things in their present forms, and it reflects a literalist view of the Bible. It is associated with an endeavor called “creation science,” which includes the view that the universe is only 10,000 years old.

ORIGIN MYTHS

All people try to make sense of the world around them, and that includes speculating about the course of events that brought the world and its inhabitants to their present state. Stories of how things came to be are known as origin myths. They are tied to the broad definition of creationism.

The common connotation of myth is something that is untrue, primitive, or superstitious – something that should be discounted. Yet when anthropologists talk of myths, it is to describe stories within a culture that symbolize what members of the culture hold to be most important. Rather than being dismissible untruths, myths express some of the most powerful and important ideas in a society.

Some myths are secular, others are religious, but all involve a symbolic representation of some societal or human truth. So myths become a form of literature as well as a means to promote the continuity of a culture: stories are more meaningful and much easier to remember than lectures – a principle doubtlessly recognizable to anyone who has been a student.

Just as do tools and language, myths spread from people to people in a process anthropologists call diffusion. Flood stories are prominent in the Fertile Crescent area of the Middle East and into the Indus River area of India. So it is not surprising to find that the early agricultural societies of the Middle East all possessed versions of the flood myth and a hero that survived it on a raft or boat: the Babylonians (Utnaptishtim), Sumerians (Ziusudra), Indians (Manu), Greeks (Deucalion and Pyrrha), and the Hebrews (Noah).

Sometimes as cultures come into contact with one another, new ideas and practices replace old ones, but more frequently cultural elements are borrowed and recombined. When Christian versions of creation from Genesis were encountered by the African Efe people, what eventually emerged was a combination origin myth incorporating a traditional female moon figure who helps the high god create human beings. He commands the people not to eat the fruit of the tahu tree, but one of the women disobeys. The moon sees her a reports her to the high god, who punishes human beings with death. If you are familiar with the biblical Adam and Eve story, you can see how elements were adapted by the Efe.

Types of Origin Myths

(not a complete list)

  • World has always existed – Colombian Cuebo Indians
  • Cosmic egg that hatches to let forth a creator god – Chinese Phan Ku, Polynesian Taaroa, Hindu Prajapati
  • Deity lays egg that hatches into elements of universe – Pelasgians of ancient Greece
  • Beginning period with time of chaos, usually watery and dark, with supernatural beings emerging from the void
  • Humans originally lived underground and emerged to the upper world when led there by a spirit figure or god – Hopi Indians
  • Creation of Earth as resulting from the dismembering of a god or previous spirit – Norse and Babylonian myths
  • “Earth diver” where a god or messenger is commanded to dive into the formless waters and bring up mud or silt which is made into dry land – North American Indians, Eastern Europe throughout Asia and some Melanesian tribes of the Pacific.

Genesis Symbolism

The story of creation in the biblical book of Genesis symbolizes many things to people of Abrahamic faiths. Because they were migratory, and because they were located at a geographical crossroads, ancient Hebrews encountered many other Middle Eastern groups; as is typical in culture contact, they borrowed from neighbors as well as sharing their heritage. Origin myths of most Middle Eastern cultures, for example, included the motif of the creation of humans from clay. The primordial, chaotic state was one of water. The Genesis creation story derives in port from earlier Middle Eastern traditions from Babylonia and Persia, but with important differences.

According to Hyers, the religious meaning of Genesis is largely to make a statement to both Hebrews and the surrounding tribes that the one God of Abraham was superior to the false gods of their neighbors: sky gods, earth gods, light and darkness, rivers, animals (Hyers 1983). As Hyers put it:

Each day of creation takes on two principal categories of divinity in the pantheons of the day, and declares that these are not gods at all, but … creations of the one true God who is the only one … Each day dismisses an additional cluster of deities, arranged in a cosmological and symmetrical order. (Hyers 1983: 101)

Genesis also described the nature of the Hebrew God. Unlike the gods of other Middle Eastern groups, the Hebrew God was ever present. Genesis also tells of the nature of humankind, “a God-like creature, uniquely endowed with dignity, honor, and infinite worth, into whose hands God has entrusted mastery over His creation” (Sarna 1983: 137).

Thus Genesis reflects the character of a classic origin myth: it presents in symbolic form the values ancient Hebrews felt were most important: the nature of God, the nature of human beings, and the relationship of God to humankind.

As will be discussed below, there are vast differences among believers as to specifics of faith, such as how literally the Bible should be read. Some demand the Bible be read literally and other demand it be read symbolically.

AMERICAN RELIGIONS

According to several polls, upward of 85 percent of Americans describe themselves as Christian (Kosmin and Lachman 1993).

Christians can be further broken down into conservative or born-again Christians on the one hand, and mainstream Christians on the other. Conservative Christians are those who believe they have a personal relationship with Jesus, and who tie salvation to this belief. A higher percentage of conservative Christians than mainstream Christians regard the Bible as being literally true, according to a poll conducted by the Barna organization (Barna 2001). Most conservative Christians are Protestants, but some Catholics hold the same beliefs, especially those embracing charismatic Catholicism.

Antievolutionism in North America is rooted in the religiously conservative Christianity; there are few if any activist Jews or Muslims opposing evolution in North America, and only small antievolution movements in Islamic countries such at Turkey and in the Jewish state of Israel. Because of their numbers and their prominence in the antievolution movement, the rest of this chapter will concentrate on Christians.

Many people are under the impression that there is a dichotomy between evolution and Christianity, a line in the sand between two incompatible belief systems. In reality, Christians hold many views about evolution, and Christian views actually range along a continuum, rather than being separated into a dichotomy.

THE CREATION/EVOLUTION CONTINUUM

Creation evolution continuum.png
  • Flat Eartherism, as the name suggests, see as many as 76 scriptural references, indicating that the earth is flatish (not roughly spherical).
  • Geocentrism reject virtually all modern physics and astronomy (like the flat earthers) on scriptural grounds
  • Young Earth Creationism accept heliocentrism, but rejects much of modern physics, astronomy, chemistry and geology concerning the age of the earth (on scriptural grounds put it between about 4000 and 6000 years old)
  • Old Earth Creationism accepts that the Earth is ancient. It comes in several varieties
    • Gap Creationism—gap between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 1.
    • Day Age Creation –―days of the Bible are not 24 hour days, but long periods of time
    • Progressive Creationism—God created simple organisms, then later created others, thereby creating the ―fossil record
    • Evolutionary Creationism—similar to Theistic evolutionism, but with a more active role allocated to God

Intelligent Design Creationism

Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) is the newest form of creationism, and yet it resembles a much earlier idea. In some ways, IDC is a descendent of William Paley’s Argument from Design (Paley 1803), which argued that God’s existence could be proved by examining His works. Paley used a metaphor: if one found a watch, it was obvious that such a complex object could not have come together by chance; the existence of a watch implied a watchmaker who had designed the watch with a purpose in mind. By analogy, the finding of order, purpose, and design in the world was proof of an omniscient designer.

The vertebrate eye was Paley’s classic example of design in nature, well known to educated people of the nineteenth century. Because of its familiarity, Darwin deliberately used the vertebrate eye in On the Origin of Species to demonstrate how complexity and intricate design could come about through natural selection and did not require intervention.

In IDC one is less likely to find references to the vertebrate eye and more likely to find molecular phenomena such as DNA structure to cellular mechanisms held up as too complex to have evolved “by chance.” The IDC high school biology supplemental textbook, Of Pandas and People (Davis and Kenyon 1993), weaves allusions to information theory into an exposition of the “linguistics” of the DNA code in an attempt to prove DNA is too complex to explain using natural causes.

Theistic Evolutionism

Theistic Evolution (TE) is a theological view in which God creates through the laws of nature. TEs accept all the results of modern science, in anthropology and biology as well as astronomy, physics, and geology. In particular, it is acceptable to TEs that one species can give rise to another; they accept descent with modification. TEs vary in whether and how much God is allowed to intervene. In one form or another, TE is the view of creation taught at the majority of mainline Protestant seminaries, and is the position of the Catholic Church. In 1996, Pope John Paul II reiterated the Catholic version of the TE position, in which God created, evolution happened, humans may indeed be descended from more primitive forms, but the Hand of God was required for the production of the human soul (John Paul II 1996).

Agnostic Evolutionism

Just at there are variations in worldview among believers, so also are there differences among those who do not believe in God. The term “agnostic” was coined by “Darwin’s Bulldog,” the nineteenth-century scientist Thomas Henry Huxley, to refer to someone who suspended judgment about the existence of God (i.e. neither belief in nor the rejection of the existence of God is warranted). Huxley felt is was more honest not to categorically reject an ultimate force or power beyond the material world (Huxley [2002] 1884).

Agnostics believe that in this life, it is impossible truly to know whether there is a God, and although they believe that it is not probable that God exists, they tend not to be dogmatic about the conclusion.

Materialist Evolutionism

Materialist Evolutionists (ME) go beyond the methodological naturalism of science to propose not only that natural causes are sufficient to explain natural phenomena, but also that the supernatural does not exist. This is a form of philosophical naturalism. To a philosophical naturalist, there is no God. The philosophy of humanism is a materialistic philosophy as is atheism. As discussed earlier in this chapter, philosophical naturalism is distinct from the practical rules of how to do science.

This is an important distinction to the subject of this book because some antievolutionists criticize evolution and science in general for being not only methodologically naturalistic but also philosophically naturalistic. This is a logical error, for there are many scientists who accept methodological naturalism in their work, but who are theists and therefore not philosophical naturalists.

In summary, there are three categories of materialists (1) agnostic, (2) humanist, and (3) atheist. Agnostics don’t consider that the question of whether God created can be answered. Humanists believe that “Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity” (American Humanist Association 2002). Atheists reject the existence of God but tend to be more actively antireligious than the other two.

RELIGION, SCIENCE, AND PHILISOPHICAL NATURALISM

What are the relationships among religion, science, and philosophical naturalism? All three of these terms refer to ways of knowing: a field of study that philosophers call “epistemology.” The epistemology we call science is primarily a methodology that attempts to explain the natural world using natural causes. The methodology of testing natural explanations against the natural world will not tell us whether it is immoral for coyotes to kill rabbits, or whether members of one sex or another should keep their heads covered in public. Science is actually a quite limited way of knowing, with limited goals and a limited set of tools to use to accomplish those goals.

Philosophical naturalism relies upon science and is inspired by science, but it differs from science in being concerned with rules of conduct, ethics, and morals. As anthropologist Matt Cartmill has observed, “Many scientists are atheists or agnostics who want to believe that the natural world they study is all there is, and being only human, they try to persuade themselves that science gives them grounds for that belief. It’s an honorable belief, but it isn’t a research finding” (Cartmill 1998: 83).

Religion concerns the relationship of people with the divine, but it also may include explanations of the natural world and the origin of natural phenomena. Religious views almost universally derive from revelation, but this does not rule out the empirical and logical approaches to theology. But an ultimate reliance on revelation can place religion into conflict with science.

Different religious traditions provide different interpretations of revealed truth – all held with equal fervor – and within the same religious tradition the documents which are considered authoritative can be, and usually are, interpreted differently by different adherents. Reform and Hasidic Jews interpret the Torah differently, Muslims of the Shiite and Sunni traditions have some different interpretations of the Koran, and Catholics and Protestants use Bibles with different books.

In science, on the other hand, there is no revealed truth. Although some explanations are believed to be very solidly grounded, it is understood that even well supported theories can be modified and, in rare circumstances, might even be replaced by other explanations. For the limited purpose of explaining the natural world, science has a major advantage over religion in that individuals of different philosophical, religious, cultural, and/or ideological orientations, using the methodology of science, can debate their differences based on repeatable – and repeated – empirical investigations.

To some, though, the open-endedness of science is a weakness: they seek definite answers that will never change. For them, Ashley Montagu’s definition of science as “truth without certainty” is insufficient; for others, it is science’s greatest strength (Montagu 1994: 9).