Who’s up for a little autobiography tied into an age-old debate?
I’ve always been something of an engineer. My Dad enjoys telling the story of when I was barely able to walk: I fixed a loose bicycle wheel by tightening a loose screw while my Dad was busy talking to a neighbor. When my family set up our first household computer (early 90s…oh, 386 IBM Compatible, how I miss thee), I took a few lessons from my Dad to get me going. Within weeks, I was the one handing out pointers.
So I suppose it would come as no surprise, then, that I think evolution is the best explanation we have for how life as we know it today came about. The longtime followers of this blog may remember to point out, though: “But you’re Catholic! And a practicing one at that! What about the creation story?”
Well, dear readers, I have this to say about that:
Yes, I believe in the creation story. I also believe in evolution. And I think Texas’ recent attempt to include creation in science textbooks, were it to eventually succeed, would be a truly awful mistake. I’ve heard two key phrases repeated (ad nauseum) to justify this move, and I will address both of them separately, though they tend to refer back to each other.
“It will encourage critical thinking”
I don’t think “critical thinking” means what you think it means. “Critical thinking” does not mean placing two seemingly conflicting ideologies side by side and forcing young impressionable minds to choose (as an aside, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell the two ideologies will be presented coherently or equally, so an inherent bias is most certainly going to pressure said students one way or the other). “Critical thinking” involves making coherent arguments based on verifiable evidence (or lack thereof), and considering, based on the parameters of the system, whether or not a given conclusion is viable.
Let me first say that evolution and creationism are not equivalent. They cannot be compared side by side in such a fashion. Creationism deals exclusively with how life came into existence; evolution, on the other hand, deals strictly with how life in its current state came to be. There is some overlap, yes, but it’s not necessarily a question of one versus the other; they may not be mutually exclusive. Evolution makes no attempt to explain how life initially appeared (this remains one of the unsolved mysteries of biology), and should not be construed as such.
I once had a fellow Catholic tell me he believed in microevolution (fur changing color, fins becoming more sweptback, beaks elongating, etc), but didn’t believe in macroevolution (fish sprouting legs, apes turning into humans, etc). This would make sense if the world was only ~5,000 years old, as strict interpreters of the Bible argue. But just for now, let’s assume that the Earth is, in fact, ~4.5 billion years old, just for the sake of argument. Let’s also assume, then, that a microevolutionary event occurs once in a species every 2,000 years (it’s a proven fact that humans are, on average, several inches taller now than in the time of Christ).
Doing the math, that equates to well over two million microevolution events. Two million (2,250,000 to be exact)! I would put forth that a species would probably be utterly unrecognizeable after just a handful of such events, to say nothing of two million. But we already know through other experiments that our DNA can mutate much more rapidly than that. If you’ve done any studying on DNA replication, RNA transcription, and protein synthesis, you know just how significant an impact a single mutation/deletion/insertion in the DNA sequence can make.
This is certainly not proof of evolution. But it is evidence, and a coherent argument. And that, dear readers, is critical thinking.
“Evolution is just a theory”
Frankly, this argument screams of ignorance. Everything is “just a theory”. Ever heard of Hidden Markov Models? Our entire universe is like the example of a casino that alternates between using a fair die (equal probability of any number) and a loaded die (one side is much more likely than the other five), and trying to determine what die is being used based only on the observed sequence of rolls.
We can’t possibly know the rules that govern our universe. But we can observe that there is definitely some order and structure to how our universe operates, and try to infer rules from there based on further experimentation. The Earth doesn’t sit still; the ocean doesn’t swap places with the sky; humans can’t flap their arms and fly.
But we do know that the Earth follows a very regular path around the sun, and turns very regularly as well (while each day is technically a couple nanoseconds longer than the previous one, we will never see a day change from 24 hours in our lifetimes, nor see a year drop below 365 days); the sky is simply a collection of light gases which possess a much smaller density than the water of our oceans, hence they float above it; human physiology prevents us from properly channeling the air to create lift.
Gravity is also “just a theory”, which you can also test anytime you want by opening your window and taking a running leap out.
Here’s the upshot:
Stop framing the debate as one or the other. Recognize that science involves the explanation of phenomena through physical observation, experimentation, and quantifiable analysis. Within those parameters, evolution is the best fitting theory we have to explain how humans came to be. Also recognize that this does not implicitly disprove creationism; it simply states that science is not equipped – nor was designed – to prove or disprove creationism. Religion espouses beliefs based on no physical evidence; hence, faith. Science does not, cannot, and will never operate on faith, and as such will never condone the creation story. Not because it’s not true, but simply because creationism cannot be tested or analyzed.
So teach both creationism and evolution, but teach the former in religion class, and the latter in science class, where they respectively belong.
I will, however, also point out that literally every scrap of physical evidence we have on the age of the Earth indicates a ~4.5 billion year age. As such, I put forth the following question: would an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God quite literally deceive us by planting misleading evidence?
And yes, I am one of those pesky individuals who believes both in the story of creation, and that evolution occurs, and hence interpret the Bible not-so-literally. What can I say, I’m an integrationist. I think there are some things that are simply beyond humans’ ability to comprehend. How life truly came to be may or may not be one of them, but for the time being, we simply don’t know.
I think a lolcat is in order.