Doubting Evolution

In Note 47, sent to Kelly Letter subscribers on Sunday, Oct. 17, I ended as I usually do with a non-financial life observation, here in its entirety:

That’ll do it for this week.

I like keeping perspective on the relatively small part of our lives that financial management should comprise, despite its filling up a large portion of my days. It helps that I love it. Even I, however, step away from time to time and come back stronger for having done so.

In such a mood I caught up on non-financial reading, part of which included back issues of the inestimable National Geographic. If a publication can be a testament to the better angels of human progress, it must be Nat Geo. No celebrity gossip. No dieting tips. No fashion updates. No romance reports. For me, the magazine is a supply of information I can’t believe anybody is willing to live without.

The July 2010 issue’s cover story, “4 Million Year Old Woman,” is a fabulous update on humanity’s evolutionary road. The author, Jamie Shreeve, walked with paleoanthropologists over the Middle Awash area of Ethiopia where “members of our lineage have lived, died, and been buried for almost six million years” and from which their bones are “eroding out of the ground.”

Shreeve traipsed millions of years of fossil history and discussed with scientists the recently announced discovery of a skeleton 4.4 million years old belonging to the species Ardipithecus ramidus, or “Ardi” for short. Ardi is more than a million years older than the famous Lucy skeleton, “and much more informative about one of evolution’s holy grails: the nature of the common ancestor we share with chimpanzees.”

The detailed rundown of what we know so far about our biological origins impressed upon me how hard nature worked to enable us to walk the way we walk, live the way we live, and especially think the way we think. Just powering our big brains is challenging, and represents an evolutionary leap of faith, a big bet, really, that paid off handsomely. It’s humbling to realize that we had nothing to do with our brain’s development. We were just born with it because our nameless ancestors struggled on our behalf for millions of years to deliver it anonymously to our craniums. Somebody sacrificed a lot to give us these brains.

Toward the end of the piece, University of California, Berkeley paleoanthropologist Tim White says, “A car assembly line is an apt analogy. Bipedality is the frame. Technology is the body. Language is the engine, dropped in toward the end of the assembly; iPhones are the hood ornaments.”

Appreciate that. Enjoy your bipedality and big brain today.

Yours very truly,
Jason Kelly

I was surprised to receive in response a barrage of emails from readers upset that I assumed evolution to be a fact. All of my readers communicate in a respectful manner, no ranting or personal attacks, but the messages they sent were pointed. The following from Dan encapsulates what most of the others thought as well:

I need to bring one point to your attention concerning this week’s end notes. I did not evolve from an ape but was created in the image of God Almighty as He clearly states in His written Word (Bible). Many scientists fall on both sides of the evolution/creation debate and the arguments can be quite convincing if you don’t have a solid baseline by which to measure their findings. I would recommend you read the book of Genesis (1st book of the Bible) to learn of your true origin. There are also several other scientific works written by creation scientists that I have found helpful.

I say this respectfully as I’m concerned you may have wiggled God out of your thinking and logic — I pray that isn’t the case.

Please keep an open mind, challenge their research but most importantly know that God created us in His image and our Lord Jesus Christ didn’t manifest Himself as an ape but as a man. Evolution and the Bible cannot co-exist. We obviously can get into a much deeper debate over these issues but that isn’t my intent at this point.

I replied thusly:

Thank you, Dan.

I grew up Catholic and as such am familiar with the Bible. I remember studying this issue as a student in public school in my town and in religious studies at the church, and I never understood the conflict between evolution and religion. You wrote that “evolution and the Bible cannot co-exist,” but it seems that God could well have used the Garden of Eden as a parable to show His wonderful biology at work over time.

I may be overstaying my welcome here, but to add one more perspective of mine: I find the idea that this universe sprang from nothing to be almost more miraculous than the idea that God created it in six days. So, a nice middle ground would be evolution, wouldn’t it? By that token, God did create the universe and us in His image, and He did so through a dazzlingly complex and magical process that we’re now privileged to study and understand.

I’m not trying to change your point of view, but rather share my own. Maybe more than anything else, it’s important for you to know that I’m not hostile toward spirituality. I think faith is beautiful.

The discussion grew. Dan suggested that I spend time at the Institute for Creation Research, and other readers pointed me to Clarifying Christianity. I paid them the courtesy of visiting the sites they suggested, and came back with ideas like this:

Evolutionary anthropologists now say that Homo sapiens existed for at least 185,000 years before agriculture began, during which time the world population of humans was roughly constant, between one and ten million. All that time they were burying their dead, often with artifacts. By that scenario, they would have buried at least eight billion bodies. If the evolutionary time scale is correct, buried bones should be able to last for much longer than 200,000 years, so many of the supposed eight billion stone age skeletons should still be around (and certainly the buried artifacts). Yet only a few thousand have been found. This implies that the Stone Age was much shorter than evolutionists think, perhaps only a few hundred years in many areas.

– Full article at ICR.org

And this:

Charles Darwin studied wildlife while on a voyage and he noticed the variation in the appearance of the individual animals. He guessed that this variation, given enough time, would allow these animals to change to the point that they looked different. This was not a surprising discovery, by the way. Anyone can examine different varieties of roses or cats to see this. This process of changing an organism’s appearance through a series of small changes is correctly called “microevolution” (with an “i”) and is not what we are referring to when we write “the theory of evolution” on this page. After a series of microevolutionary changes, a frog may be larger or changed in color, but it is still a frog — not a fish or a lizard.

– Full overview at Clarifying Christianity

Most of my readers do not share the viewpoints above, and consider it generous to call them “viewpoints” at all. Having an opinion on whether evolution happened or the Earth is 4.5 billion years old is to them like having an opinion on whether two plus two equals four. “Why must we exchange opinions when we can just look at the facts?” they ask.

One of them, Dr. Terry Sandbek, graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, wrote the following, presented outside of blockquote due to its length:

______________________________

Here are thoughts on some of Dan’s points, directed to him:

“I did not evolve from an ape.”
That is absolutely correct. Not a single working biologist would ever believe this. Unfortunately, many people hold this belief who have never made any serious attempt to understand evolution. Many prestigious devout, evangelical Christians who are serious scientists accept the totality of evolution: Dr. Francis Collins (Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research and currently Director of the National Institutes of Health), Dr. Kenneth Miller (biology professor at Brown University), Dr. Alister McGrath (professor of molecular biophysics at King’s College in London) and Dr. LeeAnn Chaney (professor of biology at Whitworth College — a Christian institution), to name a few. To expand your reading on the subject you may want to read books written by these scientists who believe in theistic evolution. Here is a sampling:

Additionally, there are prominent Christian organizations composed of working scientists that maintain an acceptance of both evolution and their Christian faith. Again, a few examples:

“Many scientists fall on both sides of the evolution/creation debate.”
First of all, there are very few scientists that do not accept evolution. It must be remembered that not all scientists are biologists and speak with less authority when they discuss evolution and other scientific matters outside their area of expertise. I would be interested in the names of working biologists (engaged in ongoing research that is published in prestigious biological journals) who reject evolution. I suspect the list will be quite short or even non-existent. For a biologist to reject evolution would be like a physicist rejecting relativity.

“The arguments can be quite convincing if you don’t have a solid baseline by which to measure their findings.”
The problem here is that scientists and Christians use a different baseline to measure their findings. Scientists use data that is replicable, while religious people use dogma. There are also other differences. Scientists try to disprove their understandings of nature, while religious people are averse to trying to disprove their beliefs of nature. Scientists are overjoyed to find out their research has been overturned because it means they now know more than they did before, while religious people get upset to discover what they believed is no longer true. They believe their whole faith structure seems in jeopardy.

“I would recommend you read the book of Genesis (1st book of the bible) to learn of your true origin.”
To take Genesis literally is a disservice to understanding it. If one reads the first two chapters with deep understanding they quickly recognize that there are two creation stories, both of which contradict each other. If you read Hebrew writing, you would understand these two stories were also written by two different sources. In the first account man is created after the animals; in the second story, man was created first and was lonely so God created the animals as a “help meet.” Many evangelical Christians today find much deeper meaning in Genesis by taking these stories metaphorically. Remember back to your literature classes in school. You were taught that to read a classic story literally was to miss much of what was imbedded in the story. It seems to me that God would be insulting the intelligence he gave us if he expected us to read Genesis literally. What kind of a God would treat his creation as stupid and unthinking?

“There are also several other scientific works written by creation scientists that I have found helpful.”
There is much to be said about this comment that must go unsaid because of space restraints. First, there is really no such thing as creation science. Calling something science does not make it science. It would be accurate to call it creation philosophy. Scientists do not debate each other because of their different beliefs but rather based on the data at hand. I have read the works of these “creation scientists” (mathematicians, engineers, lawyers — not biologists) and they are not doing science but merely talking about it as if science were a debate. Not a single “creation scientist” has ever performed a single piece of scientific research that supports their view. All they do is criticize evolution and they do so disingenuously by taking information out of context and arguing against outdated science. As you say, the Bible speaks for itself. Well, science says the data speaks for itself. When scientists disagree it is because the data is incomplete. Once all the data is in, they all come together to accept the proposed theory.

“I’m concerned you may have wiggled God out of your thinking and logic.”
God has nothing to do with the thinking and logic of science. Science deals with what can be known by evidence and the tools of science. I’m always chagrined that some Christians think they can “prove” God’s existence. This approach contradicts the Bible. Hebrews 1:11 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In other words, the Bible clearly says that faith and evidence are totally different. If we could “prove” God’s existence, then there would be no need for faith, would there? Faith is believing in something for which there is no evidence. This is the heartbeat of Christianity — believing in things for which there is no proof. If there were scientific evidence for God’s existence, every scientist on the planet would believe in God. Science and religious belief are two separate domains (read Dr. Collins and Dr. Miller). The problem is that “creation science” wants to blend in with the scientific community while masking its refusal to use the scientific method. Additionally, these folks refuse to extend their version of “objectivity” to their own belief system.

“Evolution and the Bible cannot co-exist.”
Christian theistic evolutionists (see above) would disagree with you. Speaking of being open-minded, please be careful that you don’t fall into the well of hubris because open-mindedness cuts both ways. Remember that every battle the Bible has had in the last 2500 years has been a losing one. Here are only a few examples of beliefs that religious people have based on the Bible:

  • The earth is flat — wrong.
  • The earth is the center of the universe — wrong.
  • The stars are openings in a celestial shell (firmament) — wrong.
  • The earth is only 6,000 years old — wrong.
  • Slavery is a good idea — wrong.
  • Genocide in God’s name is okay — wrong.
  • Women are inferior — wrong.

There are hundreds of more examples. Remember, we are not living at the end of history. Hundreds of years from now religion will continue to lose battles it need not and should not fight. There are many versions of Christianity and all of them claim to be true. This is impossible, so you are free to choose the version of the losing side or the side of Dr. Collins and other theistic evolutionists.

______________________________

Another reader, Jerry, weighed in on Dan’s side: “The faith it takes to assume the universe began, as a random expansion of all matter from a point the size of a pinhead, to its current dark-energy-driven, ever expanding unexplainable state, far exceeds the faith it takes to embrace a creator.”

To which Chris replied:

It’s simply incorrect to say an atheist must have faith to believe the universe was created from a “pinpoint.” Religious people love to use the notion that atheists and scientists must have “faith” in something. A lack of faith does not imply a faith in nothing.

Instead we use reason, mathematics, physics, science, experiments, and observable facts to gather knowledge and make informed, reasoned decisions about the Earth and the universe around us.

Just because scientists don’t have the answer to everything doesn’t mean we default to the ridiculous notion that a magical being must be the answer.

Dale, however, agreed with Dr. Sandbek that evolution can be seen as God-driven and therefore acceptable to both religious and non-religious people, but says random evolution is unsupported by evidence:

______________________________

Any discussion about evolution falls mainly into two possibilities — random evolution and God-driven evolution. Therefore, neither side of the argument can use it because it just becomes a matter of opinion. If anyone wants to claim the random evolution theory to be true, though, it brings forth a serious problem that, as far as I know, is overlooked: Where are all the mistakes?

In order for random evolution to occur, there has to a certain sequence of events that has to have happened in a particular order. When you deal with sequences, the possibility of one sequence occurring can be determined by using the factorial of the length of the sequence. Therefore, if 10 conditions have to be met in the same place at the same time in a particular order, the desired sequence would occur once in 3,628,800 times, on average. Therefore, there would be 3,628,799 mistakes each time the desired sequence occurs.

If we look only at DNA, we find a blueprint of the organism in each cell of the organism. DNA may be made up of simple substances by some standards, but those substances are organized in a particular order to produce the desired result. The number of conditions that must be in a certain order are quite large. Consider the following from The Physics Factbook discussion on DNA:

The DNA molecule is threaded so fine that it is only possible to see it under high powerful electron microscopes. To get a sense of exactly how long an uncoiled DNA molecule is compared to a typical cell, a cell is magnified 1000 times. At this scale, the total length of all the DNA in the cell’s nucleus would be 3 km — the equivalent distance of the Lincoln Memorial to the capital in Washington, DC.

The human genome comprises the information contained in one set of human chromosomes which themselves contain about 3 billion base pairs (bp) of DNA in 46 chromosomes (22 autosome pairs + 2 sex chromosomes). The total length of DNA present in one adult human is calculated by the multiplication of

(length of 1 bp) (number of bp per cell) (number of cells in the body)

(0.34 × 10-9 m) (6 × 109) (1013)

2.0 × 1013 meters

That is the equivalent of nearly 70 trips from the Earth to the sun and back.

2.0 × 1013 meters = 133.691627 astronomical units
133.691627 / 2 = 66.8458135 round trips to the sun

On the average, a single human chromosome consists of a DNA molecule that is almost 5 centimeters.

Our universe has been estimated to be less than 14 billion years old with the Earth around 4.5 billion years. If a sequence of conditions is met every micro second, it would take only 24 conditions over 19 billion years to produce the one correct result among all the errors. Just imagine how many errors that would be. The errors would probably be many more than a googol in number during that period. Where is the evidence for all those errors today? If you are going to believe in any scientific theory, there must be some evidence to support it.

Every form of life on this planet is evidence of intelligent design. A few examples might be how a giraffe can drink water without blowing its brains out from the normal blood pressure it has when its head is raised, how all the conditions could occur randomly to allow a woodpecker to do what it can do, how could random selection produce a bombardier beetle, how about the spookfish that has mirrors for eyes, how does a monarch butterfly in Canada and a few generations from its ancestor know it must travel to a certain place in Mexico — extending its normal lifespan a few times in the process, etc.

If anyone unfamiliar with buildings walked into one and found plans for the complete building in each room, they would say this was intelligently designed. Yet, when many consider the plans for the total living organism in each cell of most living organisms, they claim they can say this happen through some form of random evolution. Unfortunately, for them, this can easily be countered with God-driven evolution.

Fossils don’t support random evolution because they don’t show unaccountable mistakes. There are large gaps (jumps) in the “evolutionary” chain. Even without the gaps, God-driven evolution can be claimed, which makes much more sense — few, if any, mistakes; and that is what we see: few, if any, mistakes. What man may call mistakes can actually be caused or incorrectly interpreted by man through ignorance, greed, and/or the lack of understanding of God’s purpose.

I challenge anyone to provide me with one scientific piece of evidence that refutes what we see as not being from intelligent design.

Naturally, this is only a scientific refutation of random evolution on the physical plane we sense. When you take random evolution away from atheists, their entire belief system falls apart. If they had any other scientific evidence to support their beliefs, they could accept my challenge. So far that has not happened. Since there may be some evidence in support of evolution, the only other answer is intelligent design — pointing to a designer, creator, God. It must also be pointed out that any form of natural selection cannot take place until the selection pool actually exists.

______________________________

I told Dale that another reader is likely to accept his challenge and provide scientific evidence that we are the result of random evolution, not God-driven evolution. If that reader is you, then by all means take advantage of the comments section at the end of this article.

Another reader, Kent, wondered what all the fuss is about. He wrote:

As far as the question of men and monkeys, I thought that was solved decades ago. I am willing to accept that the answer is whatever anyone wants to believe. I don’t care if people believe or don’t believe… it changes nothing. Sort of like don’t ask, don’t tell. Who cares? We humans are what we are no matter where we came from… the question is not important. But the reaction to your statement speaks volumes about us humans, and human beliefs, behavior, and emotional overload. Now we know why investing is so difficult… it is conducted by humans with their emotional baggage, beliefs, and predjudices. And that is what makes life so interesting.

While it may be true that nobody’s opinion changes the facts, it’s a weight on human progress to continue debating solved puzzles rather than moving on to new ones. Discussing whether two plus two equals four is not as valuable as using the knowledge to design space ships and medicines and smartphones. Those who accept the evidence for evolution as sufficient to declare it a fact of our biological heritage consider it tiresome and a waste of energy to continue explaining to skeptics why their skepticism is unfounded.

Speaking of such people, Charles Belser, author of Larry the Penguin Searches for the Meaning of Life, sent the following to me in response to Dan’s note:

______________________________

The late scientist, Carl Sagan, said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” In the last issue of your newsletter, your subscriber Dan made some rather extraordinary claims that deserve to be addressed.

He starts by saying he didn’t evolve from an ape, and on that point he is almost correct. The scientific evidence shows that hominids split off from a common ancestor of modern apes. Homo sapiens (that’s us) evolved from hominids. Why did I say Dan was almost correct? Human beings are apes. We’re not the same as those you see in the jungles or the zoo and we didn’t evolve from them, but we are cousins (no other two species on this planet are as closely related to each other as humans and chimpanzees. There’s only a 2 percent difference in our DNA). We’re just a different kind of ape.

Dan says humans were created in the image of “God Almighty.” How does he know that? Does he have a photograph of God? He says he knows this is true because God “clearly states (it) in His written Word (Bible).” Unfortunately, Dan fails to specify which of the hundreds of different and often conflicting Bibles he claims God wrote and, sadly, there is no original to compare any of them to for accuracy. He also does not mention why he believes God wrote “The Bible.” Nobody yet has been able to quote anything from that tome that only a God could write or inspire. Not one word.

Dan makes the claim that, “Many scientists fall on both sides of the evolution/creation debate,” but fails to tell us why he thinks this is true. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming as is its support by the worldwide scientific community and it is not up for debate. On the other hand, there is zero evidence that any “god” created anything. Creationism, also known as “Intelligent Design,” is not a “competitive theory” as its proponents insist — it is an unfounded belief based solely on wishful fantasy and it is unsupported by credible evidence. As for the existence of a “god,” the scientific evidence is clear. As Richard Dawkins explains, “Nothing we know of requires the existence of a god to be explained.” There doesn’t even appear to be any need for such an entity, nor is there a definition that makes any sense. (For example, the contradictory attributes of the Judea-Christian-Islamic God render His existence impossible.)

But as the saying goes, “Absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.” My mother was a devout evangelical Christian. Her parents, brothers and sisters were Bible-banging, hellfire-preaching, born-again Christians, praise Jesus! Yet she accepted evolution as an indisputable scientific fact. So did her church and her family. None of them saw any conflict with their deeply held Christian belief.

Dan might want to give this some thought: I don’t believe in any “god” only because I’ve seen no rational reason to do so. Although I think it highly unlikely, there could be a god of some sort. So let’s say, Dan, that God exists and that He created everything. If that is so, and since evolution is a solid, unwavering, scientific fact, then evolution must be the way God chose to create living things. That’s what my mother believed. In fact, that’s what the very institution responsible for Christianity — the Catholic Church — believes.

Dan recommends reading from the Bible to learn of our “true origin.” He also claims “There are also several other scientific works written by creation scientists,” but the Bible is not a scientific work and “creation science” is an oxymoron. True, there are a few people who claim to be scientists who promote creationism, but they are on the extreme fringes of the scientific community, have no credibility and can be easily dismissed as crackpots or scam
artists.

Jason, you were asked by Dan to keep an open mind. I am asking Dan to do the same, and to consider the fact that, like my mother, many millions of devout Christians have accepted the coexistence of evolution and the Bible. The Bible claims a day to God is like a thousand years to man (I don’t know if all 600 plus versions make that claim, but at least one or more do). A thousand years to the ignorant, primitive nomadic goat herders who began the tales which became the Bible may have seemed like an infinite period of time. I don’t know if they even had a word for “billions” or “millions,” but perhaps the Bible’s six days of creation actually meant 4.5 billion years? Did God form Adam from the dust of the earth? I don’t think so, but for the sake of this discussion, maybe. There is evidence the first protocells formed in clay.

Evolution should not frighten Christians and other believers. We know it is a fact, so if God exists, evolution must be God’s way. Thank Him for it, Dan.

______________________________

I hope you enjoyed this discussion as much as I did. Many will wonder why I hosted it on my financial site: Because it was my writing at the end of an issue of my financial newsletter that aroused passions among my readers. Out of respect to the people who took time to share their viewpoints on a subject that’s obviously important to them, I provided a platform. Further, the comments section below opens the forum to whomever would like to join in.

In closing, I still feel as I always have that a belief in God and an acceptance of evolution are not incompatible. Members of my family believe in both. I’m not among those who look down their noses at people who profess a personal relationship with God, either. I find the most reasonable spiritual viewpoint to be agnosticism because it notes the lack of evidence behind any religion’s god while leaving open the possibility that something greater than our daily lives exists. An angel appearing in one’s bedroom might alter one’s viewpoint in a hurry, don’t you think? The agnostic recognizes that no angels have yet appeared and sees no reason to expect that they will, but is open to the possibility that they might.

We could go so far as to hope that they do. Those who don’t share the faith that religious people feel are not necessarily cold, hateful people. They raise families, take care of their communities, and otherwise participate in life. They are not a threat to anybody’s spirituality. The difference between them and religious people is that they refuse to believe anything unsupported by evidence, while religious people are drawn to beliefs unsupported by evidence. As Dr. Sandbek wrote above, belief without evidence is called faith.

Even people who don’t share faith can find it beautiful. Even when we don’t find a person’s faith beautiful, we can hold dear the one who believes it.

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46 Comments

  1. dean thomas
    Posted November 15, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I just finished reading a book titled The Shack. While being a good story, I don’t believe that woman was taken from the rib of man. I also have a hard time with the garden of eden and other bible stories. I like to think that the spiritual concepts outlined in all discussions and stories need to be lived, and free from the countless hours of time spent figuring out fact or fiction. The quote faith without works is dead is what I attempt to strive for on a daily basis. I think that this is extremely important as we search for tips gaining wealth on financial web sites. I think time and research is better spent not so much in evolution verses the bible, but what we do with spirtual principals and what is gained from that knowledge.

  2. Mathew G
    Posted November 18, 2010 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    I’m a bit late to this discussion. I invite anyone interested in the history of the universe and evolution to read the works of the integral theorist Ervin Laszlo. He provides mathematical evidence of an information field that exists throughout the universe and all matter. This leads to the theory that evolution both in astronomical and biological terms is an informed process and not a random one.

    • Posted November 19, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the idea, Mathew. As long as you’ve raised the subject of books worth a look, here are a few links for people interested in pursuing further research on their own:

      Works by Ervin Laszlo.

      The Greatest Show On Earth by Richard Dawkins, described by the San Francisco Chronicle as being like “a detective reconstructing a crime.”

      Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne, described by Booklist as “more presentational than disputatious.”

  3. Larry Fowler
    Posted January 3, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I would like to know that if the universe was formed from matter the size of a pinhead, where did that matter come from? How do you get something from nothing?

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