10 Big Questions

INTRODUCTION

Big Bang Theory

Time Travel

Meaning of Life

Creation vs. Evolution

Artificial Intelligence

Life After Death

Extraterrestrial Life

Cultural Relativism

Ethical Dilemmas

     Ethical Dilemmas by Geoffrey Klempner
     Ethical Dilemmas on Amazon

Social Justice

Further Study

Philosophy and Sci-Fi

THE TEN BIG QUESTIONS

Creation vs. Evolution


Erica asked:

What should I believe: Darwin or Genesis?

I take "believe" to mean something close to "accept without questioning" or "accept as an assumption". In that case, my position is that one should believe neither Darwin nor Genesis. What one should do is look at the logic behind the position, and at the evidence for (or against) it.

What is the logic and evidence for the Judeo-Christian creation myth being true? Is there more reason for that particular creation myth to be the case than for, say, the Hindu creation myth? The Buddhist? What about the creation myths of the American Indians? If you want, you can probably find literally dozens of creation myths... just because you have been raised in the tradition of one doesn't give that one particular priority, does it?

Thus, one of the (many!) problems with what is termed the "creationist" position is that it takes the Judeo-Christian myth as the truth, neglecting all the others. "Intelligent design" (which is thinly disguised creationism) neglects the many myths that have a god which creates the world fairly spontaneously and then pretty much sits back and lets it run — like Buddhism or Hinduism (if I understand them correctly). In fact, in at least some forms of Buddhism (a more widespread religion than Christianity, by the way), the universe just is a kind of universal mind which just sort of thinks us up for no particular reason. A nice idea, in my opinion, if you must have a religion.

So, then, how do you choose? On what basis? Well, how about the strange, radical, recent idea of looking at evidence? Bizarre, right?

Now, there are lots of people around right now who are trashing Darwinism, for one reason or another... mostly religious. Let's look at the basic logic of the evolutionary thesis.

1) It has been established that the basis for cellular functioning and structures in both individual cells and in organisms is their DNA.

That's the "master code", so to speak (of course there's other stuff, RNA, various cellular structures, mitochondria... but DNA is the necessary basis.). When DNA is changed, the organism changes (although there are some changes to DNA that are insignificant for the organism... but when there is a permanent change, it's ultimately due to a change in DNA — I mean, car accidents will change our bodies too, but clearly that's not the kind of change I'm talking about.). Ok... DNA is what maintains and can change our body shapes and functions. Us and virtually all life on earth (there are some viruses which might be minor exceptions — they rely on RNA). I don't think anyone except the most fanatic (and ignorant) religious bigots will deny the above.

2) DNA is what passes those physical characteristics to offspring (I don't need to justify this also, do I?).

3) DNA is a chemical, a big complex molecule, and like any chemical, it can be changed accidentally through a variety of random factors, including radiation, chemicals, even physical force.

4) by 1), above, at least some of those changes will result in changes in the organism, at some level. Just totally randomly; we're not talking anything profound here, just garbage getting into the system.

5) Meanwhile, we're living in a dangerous, rather chaotic world. All sorts of things going on outside: we need food, there are accidents, animals and bacteria and whatever out to kill us, etc., etc.

6) So those garbage changes in 3) are probably going to screw something up and kill us.

7) But what if we get lucky, and one of them makes us stronger, faster, just a little warmer at night, because our hair is longer; our beak is a little longer so we can get further into a seed pod, or something like that, which, just by chance, helps? Well, we do a little better than anyone else who wants that same seed (etc.), right? Or the opposite might happen: we get unlucky and do a little worse. (What if some big change happens as a result of a little change in DNA? Like growing an extra foot taller, or becoming severely retarded? The logic is the same.)

8) So if we have a little better chance at coping, we'll also have a little better chance at having offspring, right? If we have less chance of coping, we'll have worse chance at having offspring, or maybe we just move somewhere where the extra height (or whatever) actually helps.

9) And since it's the DNA which has changed, and which is what passes on those changes to offspring, those latter will have, if they get that change passed to them, the same teeny (or whatever) advantage.

10) Then we just go back to step 4, and repeat the process. Over and over (and over and over and...). And maybe you think that it's difficult to get changes into DNA? No way, it's just the opposite, there are mutations happening all the time; we've got very elaborate repair mechanisms that fix most of them. But not all.

And there you are. The horror of Darwinism, in 10 easy steps.

Is there evidence that the above has happened? Well, there are libraries full of it; museums full of it; laboratories busy observing evolution in bacteria, in flies... in thingies that grow and multiply fast, so we can see it happening. How about much more detailed theory than the general outline above? Yes, there's evidence, by the truckload. I'm not even going to begin to give you references, there are too many. Just go on the web to pretty much anywhere studying evolution of any sort, and you'll get sick of all the evidence. And the next time someone says that some piece of "crucial" evidence is missing... just remember, first, that there will never be proof of any theory in science. Newton's "laws" of gravity are not proven, and indeed were shown to be approximations. Science deals (at base) in induction not deduction... you never know for certain; certainty is for people who want religion. Second, remember the logic above. Where's the flaw? You find it; I can't.

Steven Ravett Brown

back


The simple answer to the question is BOTH!! But then you might also want to believe contemporary cosmologists, and cosmogonists. It is not a question of science seeking to destroy faith, or faith seeking to assert its superiority over science. It is rather that both are legitimate visions of the world.

It is unfair to assume that all scientists are not without faith or that they seek to destroy it through rational explanations of the origins of the world, witness, for example, the work of Teilhard de Chardin. Genesis does not claim to be a scientific explanation of the origins but a religio-mythopoetic explanation. For the authors of Genesis it was as real as the 'Big Bang' is for those who propose it. But then so to were the myths of Babylon, Sumeria, Egypt, Greece and the East. Darwin sought to offer a thesis for origins based on the phenomena he observed, but, as with the Genesis authors, he was bound by the confines of his time, culture, language and available scientific knowledge. Darwin is a theory, as is the 'Big Bang', it may be the most plausible theory, but one is not unreasonable in accepting Darwin, the Big Bang, or Genesis. A faith position is as much a reasonable position as the sceptically scientific, or the philosophically rational. Believe both, or believe neither — each position is plausibly acceptable.

Fr Seamus Mulholland OFM

back


Generally Darwin and Genesis are considered as personifications of two contradictory views of the Universe. Darwin symbolises an evolutionary and naturalistic view of the universe from which God is (or at least can be) excluded. Genesis symbolises a world-view where everything is created by the direct creative act of God, from which science is excluded, or at least is not necessary.

If Darwin is taken seriously then Genesis is ignored and God is squeezed out of existence. Some do just that, the Oxford Zoologist Richard Dawkins, for example.

If Genesis is taken seriously, then Darwin and all his works are seen to be fundamentally flawed, and a Creationist position is adopted, in which not only Evolution is rejected, but so are the findings of Geology and Astronomy, and the age of earth is held to be a mere 10,000 years. Darwinists and Creationists behave like cats and dogs and there seems no way out of this dilemma.

Why not try a smoother decision?Rather than to force a choice of EITHER Darwin OR Genesis, let's try to say that Darwin and Genesis are a case of BOTH/AND, which means being complimentary because they (try to) answer totally different questions.

Darwinism holds, that biological species evolve primarily by means of chance variation and natural selection. This is at first sight contradictory to the Gen 1, 20-25. But only if read literally and assuming that scientifically spoken, God created the different kinds of animals just as the mood took Him. But didn't we apply double standards?

First: Genesis 1 and 2 concentrate in praise on Who did the Creation ("And God said" occurs nine times as an introductory formula for God's creativity!) while Darwin concentrates empirically on How it was done.

Even if the Theory of Evolution has answered the puzzling questions of how life began, and also how we arrived at this point in time, it must be noted that it does not explain the beginning of the universe. It also does not explain: Why all that?

Second, I cannot see why the arguments in favour Evolution:

  1. The Evidence of the Fossil Record
  2. "Mutual Affinities"
  3. Geographical Distribution

should contradict the Bible, for the same reason. By the way, in Genesis God creates living beings roughly one after another, which is in essence the idea of evolution.

Third: People having had a divine vision, are very unlikely to write their exceptional experience in scientific "protocol statements", rather they will try to come up to their experience in a stylistic appropriate way, and one is simply praise.

If expressions in sentences differ, then contents will as well. Therefore it's impossible to simply translate sentences of the Bible in scientific sentences. Perhaps it's possible to transform them.

Attempting to tie the Genesis in to scientific discovery fails for another reason, as the Bible was "written" 3000 years before the rise of Geology.

As a conclusion I would suggest, taking Creation seriously as a mature Christian is an affirmation that God is the Creator of all that is, with a realisation that the Bible gives no scientific explanation. Science will enlarge our understanding of Creation, but not overthrow it.

Comment: You might be interested in reading books by Ken Wilber, who is one of the authors who pleads for reintegration of science, religion and philosophy. Integral Philosophy holds that there are three complimentary ways of knowledge each of them gaining knowledge using appropriate methods:

  • empirical knowledge using scientific methods and instruments
  • rational knowledge using logical instruments
  • mystical knowledge using meditative techniques

Claims or Theories in each of these epistemological "modes" can be examined, confirmed or refuted only by using the same method it was established.

Simone Klein

back


What or who you believe is entirely up to you. You have to ask yourself which idea/ notion/ theory has for yourself the greatest appeal. You will, of course, have to consider the evidence available for each case. After some deliberation you may come to the conclusion, like many thinkers, that there is not much going for either concept and set out to seek a third option.

The problem with both these theories is that neither can be put to a scientific test. Karl Popper's view is that a true science is one in which experiments can be derived which could refute the theory under consideration. In a pseudo-science, no experiment which would finally refute a theory can be made. For example, a theory regarding the relationship between heat and temperature can be tested in any laboratory at any time and can, therefore, be classed as scientific. On the other hand, no experiment on evolution or biblical creation can be carried out, these must then be classed as pseudo-science. All that can be done, so far as evolution is concerned, is to study such subjects as paleontology and geology and offer an interpretation.

Unfortunately the geological record is not very supportive of evolution; it never shows one species changing into another. What it does reveal are progressive changes in some organisms to adapt to changing environmental conditions, this is called 'adaptation' not evolution. If the organism has not been able to adapt owing to environmental changes coming too rapidly, it has been overwhelmed and become extinct, it does not escape environmental pressures by changing into something else. Throughout the geological column we find extinction after extinction, never do we find one species changing into another. Darwin himself was aware of this and perceived it as a problem in his theory: where are the missing links, the intermediates, he asked himself. This may sound rather naive, but the objective of a beetle is to become a good, well adapted, beetle, not to become a mouse.

Progress in genetics has not helped the evolution notion, the accidental progression claimed in evolution is thought to be brought about by chance mutations in the genome. Unfortunately we find that mutations are usually detrimental to the organism or lethal, and rather than 'selecting' the mutant as the 'fittest' usually wipes it out. (The fittest, by the way, means the best reproducers not the physically strongest, that is where Adolf Hitler got it wrong.) Also a complex organ like an eye is controlled by several genes, to produce an eye accidentally several very fortuitous accidental events in the genome would be necessary: this defies mathematical credulity, and compared to this you would stand a much better chance of winning the lottery.

The evidence for the evolution of man is very tenuous and very unreliable. For over one hundred years enormous efforts have been made to discover the missing links between man and the apes. The results, however, are a small collection of unconvincing fossil bones. Science should try to fit the theory to the facts, sadly, in the case of evolution the desperation to prove the theory has resulted in the reverse taking place. Reconstructions from the fragments of bone discovered seem to have been manipulated to indicate a progressive sequence from ape to man. Artists have been inspired by the inferred evidence to allow their imaginations to run riot, hence the drawings of hairy half-wits running around with clubs threatening each other, and where the women in particular seem to be in constant danger of being knocked unconscious for sexual gratification. It is interesting to see that some of the hairy creations are inclined to an ape-like appearance, whilst others seem to incline to a more human aspect, to indicate the, so far, unproven succession. Over the years the attempt to press home the theory as fact is found to be contaminated by hoaxes and, worse still, alleged suppressed evidence which would go some way to disproving the theory.

Creationists fair little better, although, unlike evolutionists, they do attempt to go back to the origin of the world and the origin of man. Evolutionists start half-way up the ladder. Creationists are favoured by the fact that life seemed to burst upon the scene at the beginning of the Cambrian Period some five hundred million years ago. Pprior to this, in the Precambrian, very little, if any, even basic life is in evidence. The fascinating thing about this Cambrian life explosion is the incredible diversity of life forms which suddenly appear, seemingly from nowhere. Old fashioned creationists, by the way, would not accept the geological time scale, to them the world is only a few hundred years old. For any other support the creationist depends on ancient writings which are a confusion of myth, allegory, and alleged historical facts. However, they read into this hotch potch of literature a genuine attempt by the ancients to solve the mystery of origins.

The theory of evolution was developed by Thomas Huxley not Darwin himself. Huxley was an anatomist who was trying to reach a position of power in the English scientific establishment. After reading Darwin he saw his chance to leap onto the bandwagon. Unfortunately for posterity his effort to use evolution to discredit the view of the church regarding creation was premature, and has left evolutionists still struggling to find the evidence he himself failed to produce over one hundred years ago.

We shall always be hampered in discovering the origin of the world/ universe whilst we are bogged down with the 'matter' myth. Starting with a complete vacuum where did the first atom come from? To reduce it further, where did the first atomic particle come from? A further reduction would compel us to ask where light came from. I have always been of the opinion that philosophy can get nearer to the truth than science, with its necessary attachment to the fundamental concept of matter as a solid substance. Get rid of the matter myth and we might find a way through by a revival of idealism. Berkeley could be nearer to the truth than science! Even physicists themselves have been surprised to discover the tenuousness of matter and have noted the reduction from molecule to atom to atomic particle to light. This has compelled them to refer to matter as rest mass energy. It seems as though light is the basic constituent of the universe. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." I wonder if he was a better physicist than we give him credit for! Or, then again, did he know something we don' t?

I would recommend you read Origin of Species Abridged and introduced by Richard E Leakey, Faber and Faber, and The Rise of the Evolution Fraud, M Bowden, Sovereign Publications.

John Brandon

back


Matthew asked:

The evolution thing

Well, I don't really know all that much about evolutionary theory but something just occurred to me. For example, of what possible advantage is it to an organism to have a slightly opposable thumb? Surely it is no advantage, and if so then how could even more opposable thumbed creatures hope to evolve given that the slightly opposable thumbed creature will be no more successful than its counterparts?

So surely at least some of the developments we see in organisms must be due to sudden radical change rather than a gradual process as envisaged by evolution? And this will have the character more of luck than adaptation. i.e. an organism luckily develops something (through mutation or whatever) that just happens to be beneficial to it.

Is this at all right?

I'm afraid the idea that radical, evolutionarily advantageous changes might develop 'by luck' is extremely weak. As a solution to the problem you have posed, it is a desperate last resort. If there is going to be any useful explanation, we have to stick with small changes brought about by genetic mutation. So the challenge is to demonstrate how these small changes — for example, a slightly opposable thumb — might confer some evolutionary advantage.

Actually, the example you have chosen is not that difficult. The stock examples are the evolution of the eye, or a bird's wing. We shall come to those in a moment. Let's look at your case. The first point to make is that an evolutionary advantage can be measured in very small percentages. If a 'slightly opposed thumb' gives just one tenth of one per cent increase in the chance of successfully performing a given task, then given the scale that we are working on — thousands of generations, millions of individuals — that will work its way through. The proportion of individuals with that trait will increase slowly but inexorably. Then we can run the some process through again, with a further slight modification, and so on.

Richard Dawkins, in a Royal Academy lecture series for children a few years ago, brilliantly took up the challenge of the wing and the eye. What good is a tiny fluffy protuberance that might develop into a wing? Well, an animal that lived in trees might have a fraction of a per cent less chance of dying as a result of falling out of the tree because the protuberance slightly breaks its fall, or because it slightly increases the animal's wind resistance. An eye might first start of as a few slightly light sensitive cells. The chance mutation of a narrow ridge of skin around the patch would cast a slight shadow, which would give the ability to distinguish very crudely between different positions of the light source. You can work out the rest from there.

As Dawkins graphically described in his lectures, evolutionary theorists have not been content to sit in armchairs and speculate. The power of computers allows the possibility of constructing detailed, testable hypotheses. How would a given variation work out after a thousand generations? or ten thousand? or a hundred thousand? The test can be run through in a few seconds.

When we try to apply these theoretical ideas to the massive complexity of the world of living things, with or without the aid of computer models, the imagination balks. We are only able to see, to understand, a very small part of the picture. From that we infer to the whole. It follows that we cannot prove that the inference is correct. But no theory in science is ever proved once and for all. The only claim made is that the theory of evolution by natural selection is, all things considered, the best explanation.

Geoffrey Klempner

back


Pathways to Philosophy    PhiloSophos.org

This site is brought to you by Pathways to Philosophy the world leading distance learning program run by the International Society for Philosophers. More answers to philosophical questions can be found at Ask a Philosopher and the PhiloSophos Knowledge Base. The latest questions and answers are posted at askaphilosopher.wordpress.com.

Webmaster Geoffrey Klempner

Window photograph © Geoffrey Klempner 1999