More fairly random, half-formed thoughts on Evolution

Flintstones42

(Note to self: check the captions to this and last time’s pictures are the right way round.)

 

3. On God in Nature

God is revealed in nature! The bible says so (Romans 1.20) and you don’t even have to be a Creationist to see it – the evidence is there in plain sight.

But to suggest that, because aspects of nature are beautiful (or stunning or endearing) from a human perspective, the natural world can only have come from the hand of a loving Creator is merely to argue from a position of incredulity: “I can’t conceive how such beauty came to be; it must have been God.”

I live close to the countryside and although there is much that is impressively beautiful, the mercilessly cruel working of nature is also apparent: ruthless competition, even between plants and certainly among animal wildlife; waste on a vast scale; predation – young blue-tit (chickadee) chicks in my garden eaten a few weeks ago by magpies – death and sex.

The incredulous believer who refuses to see these aspects of nature and sees only beauty – and much of it is undeniably beautiful – is being disingenuous in their selection of evidence (confirmation bias in action). If God reveals himself in nature, then just as it is, he has to be callous, cruel and indifferent to suffering too.

“Ah, yes,” says the Christian, “but that’s because we live in a fallen world,” which is having it both ways: God is apparent in nature, except when he isn’t… because then it’s a fallen world.

Speaking of which –


4. On This Being a Fallen World

Creationists, such as those at Answers In Genesis, like to argue that genetic mutations in humans and animals fail to ‘increase the information’ and, further, that such errors would only lead to malfunction and the death of the organism. They’re right about the latter; significant mutation is almost always detrimental. However, according to Nature, ‘others have little or no detrimental effect. And sometimes, although very rarely, the change in DNA sequence may even turn out to be beneficial to the organism.’ A mutation that increases the chances an animal will survive and reproduce ensures that the particular mutation is passed on to its offspring.

The constant shuffling and recombining of genes in sexual reproduction also changes and ‘increases the information’ within the genome with the consequent effect on the phenotype (the genome’s physical expression). This is analogous with the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet producing new, unique sentences, paragraphs and texts every time they are recombined.

Creationists are wrong therefore to insist that mechanisms do not exist to change or add to genetic ‘information’. They are wrong too that variations caused by mutation cannot contribute to the evolution of an organism; while most born with such variance are likely to die before they can reproduce (natural selection in action) a minority are able to pass on the changes. Mutation and sexual recombination of genes are integral to evolution and the development of the organism.

I mention this because the bible presents quite a different scenario. In Genesis, the world and everything in it is created in a state of perfection. Then, because of human disobedience and sin, God feels compelled to curse his entire creation and the sudden or gradual – Christians are none to clear about which it is – transition to degradation, entropy and death begins.

It’s here that creationists’ objection to the role of mutation in evolution proves a stumbling block for their own scenario: a system designed to function in a particular way cannot continue to operate effectively after undergoing such a radical, brutal overhaul. We know of no other system that, having undergone such demolition, can continue to work in the way it was intended to, and certainly not as effectively as the ecosystem has for millennia. Look, for example, at how human activity has contributed recently to radical changes in climate.

Nature relies on those things that Christians say arose because of God’s curse on it: death, disease, waste, competition, cruelty. A system with such inherent ‘faults’, so far removed from how it was ‘designed’ to operate, would have failed long ago.

From this we can conclude that:

Nature/ecosystems/life were not ‘designed’ at all.

     They were never part of a ‘perfect’ creation.

         They were not cursed and are not now faulty components of a fallen,     malfunctioning world – nor could they be.

                       They could not operate any differently from the way they do.

                             They will not, despite what the bible says (Romans 8.20-21), be restored one day to a state of perfection they didn’t have in the first place.

 

Some fairly random, half-formed thoughts on Evolution

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1. On Sex

‘Evolution is a Lie’ read the placard in the town centre the other day as Christian preachers took to ranting, again, about how everyone’s a sinner in need of Jesus.

I thought, if evolution is a lie then why is there sex? What would be the point of it in a world created by God?

While sex makes abundant sense in the context of evolution, it is difficult to explain in terms of Creationism. Why? Because sexual reproduction (as opposed of any other sort) exists specifically to ensure the shuffling and recombining of genes to produce variation in offspring. Why would a Creator (say the God of the bible, so beloved of Ken Ham and many other Christians) create the very mechanism that makes natural selection, and therefore evolution, possible? Why would he introduce a process that has no purpose but to serve as the engine of evolution? There wouldn’t be any need to, unless this deity specifically planned to develop life through evolution, or a process very like it.

But Christians like those street preachers and Answers in Genesis and its sycophants, reject the Darwinian model of evolution. So how do they explain sexual reproduction when it’s not only incongruous in a creationist scenario, but completely unnecessary? If not to drive evolution, why does sexual reproduction exist at all? It’s not, if I might pre-empt one possible response, because God thought we’d enjoy it; most living creatures reproduce sexually and ‘enjoyment’ is not part of their perfunctory copulation. Not to mention the fact that the Creator God of the bible spends most of his time objecting to and condemning sex.


2. On Life from Non-life

I’ve been told many times by Christians that, without God, life could not have got underway and subsequently evolved. Their argument goes like this: ‘inanimate chemicals are incapable of organising themselves into complex, self-replicating organisms,’ which makes me think, not of sex, but of viruses; non-living groups of chemicals that are highly organised self-replicators.

I’m not saying life necessarily developed from viruses, but they are evidence that inanimate chemicals are capable of acting as if alive, organising themselves to serve a collective purpose, namely self-perpetuation. The earliest viruses would not of course have been as complex as those today (viruses evolve too), but next time you have a viral infection, consider whether the difference between non-life and life is as great as it might seem. From what we do know, it wouldn’t need much, and certainly not a god, to turn one into the other.


More random thoughts on Evolution next time.

 

 

Primordial Soup for the Soul

CellsA commenter on this here blog thingie, Mike, has challenged me to present him with the evidence for evolution. Mike evidently sees me as something of an expert on the theory because I’m convinced of its validity. I’m no expert, of course – I’m not even a scientist – but having read widely about evolution over the years, I’ve attempted a response. Having spent time creating and evolving it, I thought I’d add it as a post rather than tuck it away in the comments.

Mike wrote: When it comes to the hoax of Darwin’s evolution, I’ve read and observed his tree of evolution. It is TOTALLY and complete without evidence. It is a false theory that humanist ” scientist ” have brainwashed the public with.
If you think it’s hoax then you won’t, I take it, have shots that immunise you against the latest strains of viruses? And you’re not concerned that some microbes have evolved to become resistant to antibiotics? Modern medicine is predicated on the fact that organisms evolve but at least, Mike, you’re consistent and avoid it all, knowing as you do that evolution is a hoax. God keeps you well and heals you when he doesn’t. Doesn’t he?

I have debated and studied how his theory is genetically impossible. DNA cannot gain nor contain information necessary for Darwin to be true.
You’ve studied this have you? On Answers in Genesis? How about what real scientists actually say? Try this New Scientist article which explains how mutations in DNA produce new information and new species. As it concludes, ‘the claim that mutations destroy information but cannot create it not only defies the evidence, it also defies logic.’

I suggest YOU… who claim Darwin is true, produce some evidence to confirm his theory. It should be easy. Certainly the truth would be in the fossils. That is why I requested some transitional fossils that would back up his theory. Why is it up to me to provide you with the evidence you so resolutely refuse to look up yourself? Your original comments were a response to my post about Jesus and Paul’s gospels, so I can’t see why I’m under obligation to enlighten you about evolution. However, I have attempted to do so by directing you to material you might read. Of course I’m betting that even if you do, you’ll conclude it’s wrong, because… you know, God and stuff.

There should be millions (of transitional fossils). Should there be? Why? Because you say so? You do realise that not every creature who ever lived became a fossil? Very few did, only where the conditions were right, and of all the fossils we have, only 1% are of land animals. However, this still leaves us with plenty of examples of transitional forms. Take a look here, here and here.

There is however a problem with presenting the fossil record to creationists: say, for example, there are two related creatures, which we’ll call A and C, that lived a few million year apart. There appears to be a gap between them – a missing link if you like. One day a fossil is discovered which provides the link between A and C – let’s call it B – and the link is missing no longer. ‘Ah, but hold on,’ says the creationist, ‘where previously we had one gap, now we have two; the one between A and B and the one between B and C. Darwin disproved!’ The scientist cannot win when the more gaps the fossil record fills the more gaps the creationist thinks he can see.

Certainly if every living creature came from ONE swamp of micro organisms billions of years ago…. we should have SOME evidence that a single cell can eventually divide into ALL and every creature on earth. Overlooking your strange idea that it was just ‘a single cell’ that ‘divided’, we do know that all life evolved from those original formations, as presented in the article above as well as here and here.

I’m sure science can take a swamp of micro organisms, and produce… Yes, it can. It did so first in1953! And it didn’t even begin with micro-organisms, just chemicals and electricity.

…and show us different creatures coming out of the slop. As I’ve already explained, this is not how it works. Giraffes, peacocks and lizards did not clamber out of primordial soup fully formed. Millions of years were needed for very elementary lifeforms to evolve in the ‘slop’. These eventually migrated to the oceans and eventually onto land. Millions of years and still no giraffes or peacocks and certainly no humans. Billions more years were need before those appeared. To look at it another way, today’s life forms did not come directly from the single-celled creatures that first emerged in the chemical mix. They evolved from creatures not too dissimilar from themselves, which in turn evolved from creatures not too dissimilar from themselves, ad infinitum back through billions of years. Try Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale for a clearer picture of the long, painstaking process.

But first explain how life can come from nothing? I’ve already explained life didn’t come from nothing. It’s likely it emerged from groups of organised chemicals, which eventually evolved into RNA, then DNA, then, as this video explains, amino acids – the building blocks of organic life. A number of other scientific possibilities are explored here. Just because we don’t yet know precisely how the process worked, doesn’t mean everything we do know about the origin of life is rendered invalid. And it certainly doesn’t mean that a god must’ve done it.

Let’s say though that evolution is completely wrong. Does that make creationism – God creating life as we know it in six days, 6,000 years ago – the only alternative explanation? Of course not. The writers of the two creation myths in Genesis had no idea how life appeared on the Earth, suggesting as they do that humans had been around since a few days after its start. They may not even have regarded their stories as factual when what they were trying to explain was man’s apparent isolation from God. Science was as alien to them as the modern medicine I mentioned at the start of this post. I regret to tell you, but Genesis is not a scientific treatise.

You’re right about one thing – there’s no evidence for evolution as you perceive it. You condemn your own very limited understanding, not the theory itself. There is far more evidence for evolution than there is for a supernatural creator. There is no anti-God agenda to science or the theory of evolution. There is instead an attempt to discover how everything works, to get at the truth wherever the pursuit leads. That this has led away from gods and God is because of the nature of that truth, not to mention the nature of gods themselves.