Creation / Evolution 3: Why evolution?

This is the third instalment of my mini-series, “Creation, Evolution and Evangelicalism”. In this post, I intend to explain some of the evidence for us believing in evolution.

Now, this will probably be the second most contentious post in the series (the most contentious one being the theological post I intend to follow up with): I appreciate that many Creationists see the evidence I will present differently. After I posted up the first part of this series, someone on Twitter sent me a link to a book called “Should Christians Embrace Evolution?”, which is a response to the Denis Alexander book I mentioned I was reading. If you want a Creationist response to the arguments I have presented thus far, and here, I suggest reading that book. (Note that I haven’t read it as yet, I am planning to, but from the reviews I’ve read it seems that is a fair assessment.)

Part of the problem with scientific data is that I don’t have the expertise needed to evaluate it fairly. If on the one hand many scientists are saying “evolution is true because…” and on the other hand Creationists are saying “evolution is not true because…”, arguing over the science, because I don’t have the knowledge of biology I can’t determine which are necessarily true. All I can do is present some of the arguments, as explained by Denis Alexander, and claim this is the current ‘scientific consensus’.

Why look at the evidence?

Now I’m sure some people may be wondering why do we need to even look at the evidence for evolution? Surely the most important thing is the Bible: if the Bible says that we were created in six literal days, several thousand years ago, surely that’s enough for us! Why would we even need to look at the evidence?

Well, I believe it’s right to look at the evidence for evolution for a number of reasons:

  • I believe that the Bible and nature were both written with the same hand. In other words, when all is fully known, there can be no conflict between them. Therefore, we have little to lose but much to gain by studying nature and how it works, including any evidence for evolution;
  • I believe that some of it is relevant to Creationism (more on that later);
  • It seems that our understanding of evolution has moved on a fair amount over the past few years. What I learnt in school was very basic – I remember hearing at the time that the evidence for evolution could fit on a pool table! But these days I think – especially in the field of genetics – this has evidence is much more conclusive.

So, all that said, let’s look at one or two examples. All I’m going to do here is to present a few of the examples from Denis Alexander’s book which I found particularly interesting – if you want a longer introduction read the book yourself, or I’m sure there are much better introductions to the evidence for evolution available! (If someone can recommend one, I’d be happy to link to it.)

Missing Links

One of the common criticisms of evolution I remember from my time as a Creationist was that of ‘missing links’. How can we know what evolved into what, given that there are no fossilised creatures discovered which can prove the evolution of one species into another? Well, in the last few decades it seems that there have been a number of discoveries which show more of these ‘missing links’ in the fossil record.

One such example is the Tiktaalik, found in Northern Canada in 2006 and dated at around 365 million years ago. This fossil fitted a gap in the tetrapod evolutionary sequence which would have been expected at around that time.

By the looks of it, the gaps in our knowledge fossil-wise are gradually being filled in.

Genetic Mutations

One thing I didn’t realise about our DNA is that our genes are not just similar to other creatures. A common fact is that we share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees (not sure if the percentage is correct, but it’s a pretty high number). However, what seems to be the case is that our DNA is not just the same for the most part, but actually contains traces of genes which are inactive in us but active in other animals.

So, to illustrate that, human beings do not naturally produce Vitamin C (hence lots of old sailors suffering from scurvy on long voyages!). However, lots of other mammals do produce Vitamin C. Why is that? Apparently this is because of the gene gulo, which is present in rats but mutated and therefore disabled in humans.

I will shamelessly steal a table from Denis Alexander’s book to demonstrate:

80 90 100
Rat GAGGTGCGCT TCACCCGAGG CGATCGACA
Human GGGGTACGCT TCACCTG_GA CGATCGACA
Chimpanzee GGGGTACGCT TCACCTG_GA CGATCGACA
Orangutan GGGGTGCGCT TCACCCA_GA CGATCGACA
Macaque GGGGTGCGCT TCACCCA_AG CGATCGACA

This shows the nucleotide sequence in the part of the gene that has been mutated. As you can see, the primates all seem to be missing an “A” at position 97. The chances of this happening in all the primates are vanishingly small.

If this is indeed true, and we have interpreted the data correctly, I believe our only options are to believe that: 1. God created all the different species with that disabling mutation in some of them; 2. We evolved from a common ancestor and at some point that mutation occurred.

And apparently there is plenty more of this kind of evidence in our Pseudogenes – genes which we have which – as I understand it – are no longer active but serve merely to illustrate our genetic history. (As you can probably see, I am no biologist!) Such examples include Alu Insertion and Retroviral insertions (if you want to Google it; I’m not going to provide more info here).

Conclusion

This is probably the shortest (mostly stolen) overview of evolutionary science ever given. However, as I mentioned before, the reason I give it is because I was unaware before reading the book as to what the current state of evolutionary science was. It really seems like much work has been done, and it looks a whole lot more convincing to my eyes than it did in previous years.

The idea that our genetic code contains information which is no longer in use but simply shows remnants of our evolutionary past I find pretty mind-blowing. And, if it is indeed true, I believe causes more problems for Creationists: why would God create us with that code embedded within us?

Of course, there are counter-arguments you could make to that, and hopefully I will be able to get hold of the book I mentioned above and check those out. But for now I will leave it that the scientific consensus seems to be pointing in this direction; make of that what you will!

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Posted on November 21, 2011, in Religion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. As I mentioned in an earlier reply, the DNA evidence is showing a real connection to early hominids (we carry Neanderthal genes) and those early hominids are our ancestors.
    Neanderthals and us humans were evolved from a common progenitor…this has tremendous consequences for Biblical stories

    • So far I’ve said *nothing* different to you, except for your last bit about having consequences for Biblical stories.

      It still remains for you to prove that there is any kind of negative impact on Biblical stories whatsoever. Making assertions without providing any evidence like you did here and in your previous comments will not do.

  2. Hello Phill,

    You write:
    “It still remains for you to prove that there is any kind of negative impact on Biblical stories whatsoever. Making assertions without providing any evidence like you did here and in your previous comments will not do.”

    The archaeological evidence has been around for many many years that man has evolved from earlier hominid. Now DNA science is confirming what archaeology said. We are the last remaining ‘Homo’ species left. Following are some links to show you what has been going on.

    Regarding the modern man and Neanderthal gene swapping (sex and reproduction) go here: Time magazine ‘Study: Neanderthal DNA Lives on in Modern Humans’

    Humans and other hominids: Denisovans Mated With Humans, Study Says And here: First Known Europeans Identified Links to sources in the articles. Emergence of modern humans Much information on early Humans (Homo-sapiens) and their relationship to other hominids/pre-humans can be found HERE. The first true humans come from around the Ethiopia/Kenya area (Omo site), and into Southern Africa, Namibia/Angola …none of these areas are near the Euphrates or Tigris Rivers…the mention of these rivers in the Bible confirms that the Hebrews modeled their Genesis and ‘Flood’ myths on the Babylonians who wrote their myths 500 to 1000 years earlier. (many scholars believe that the Pentateuch was written around 500 to 600 BC)

    This also impacts the ‘Tower of Babel myth, as from archaeological and DNA evidence we know that humans were scattered all over the earth at the time that the Bible implies for the ‘Tower’ myth…I really doubt that they were just grunting at each other.

    To sum up what is going on: science is dis-proving Adam and Eve and that’s a very big problem for the Christian church…no Adam and Eve equals no ‘original sin’. No ‘original sin’ equals no need for Jesus.

    In my humble opinion the science that we know today is totally incompatible with the Christian Bible and believers interpretation of said book. I truly don’t see how anyone can know and understand what the science has found out and still believe the Bible stories are true.

    • OK, let me respond to your points:

      • You say that evolution is true. I am completely agreeing with you. Just in case you didn’t get that, let me emphasise: I AM COMPLETELY AGREEING WITH YOU. The only difference between us is that I believe science is totally compatible with the Bible.
      • You said: “Many scholars believe that the Pentateuch was written about 500-600 BC.” Many scholars also believe it was written earlier. You have to look at the assumptions people start with. There is evidence to back up the earlier dating of the Pentateuch.
      • The rest of your points about the Tower of Babel and Adam and Eve / original sin rest on an invalid premise – the premise that we have to take the entire of Genesis 1-11 entirely literally. This is why I said in a previous post that you’re worse than some fundamentalist Christians: you build up a straw man argument on an invalid premise and then knock it down.

      I’m hoping to write a subsequent post on how I believe it is possible to believe in the creation narrative in a theological way without believing in a literal way. Hopefully that will answer some of your points in a little more detail.

  3. Hmmmm….kinda’ hard to provide links when reply panel will not accept them. The short paragraph that begins ‘Regarding the modern man and Neanderthal’ and the long one that begins with ‘Humans and other hominids’ have links.

  4. So we both agree that evolution is true. That’s great. :-) As it stands now evolution is saying that mankind evolved from ape-like hominids over a period of roughly 4-5 million years. That ‘modern’ man (Homo-sapiens) first showed up in Africa about 200,000 years ago and that we ARE related to Neanderthal’s, and most likely Homo-Heidelbergensis is the common ancestor to both us and the Neanderthals.

    We know that humans were spread ALL over the globe (except Antarctica) by about 15,000 years ago. We know that humans and Neanderthals were spread all over Asia and Europe by roughly 35,000 years ago (much earlier in the Middle East) and in Australia by roughly 40,000 years ago.

    So where do we place Adam and Eve…are they real or myth? The evidence says myth.
    We know there is no evidence of a world-wide flood…so we know that is myth.
    We know humans were spread out all over earth by 15,000 years ago…so there’s no room for a ‘Tower of Babel’ — that’s myth.
    Archaeologists have been searching for evidence of the hundreds of thousands of Hebrews crossing the Sinai desert under leadership of Moses for over a hundred years and they have found nothing. The Exodus is myth it seems.

    I am not setting up ‘straw man’ arguments here. I am taking Biblical stories that have been advanced as true for over two thousand years and applying the scientific knowledge we have gained over the last hundred years and showing that the Bible stories are nothing but myths.

    The science is flat-out showing the Bible and the foundational stories it tells as just made up man-made stories. Science did not start out to disprove the Bible, and thereby Christianity, it just kind of happened along the way.

    Science and Christianity are not compatible…science directly contradicts much of the Bible.

    I am enjoying our conversation, I hope you are too. :-)

    • Hi

      I heard some interesting evidence on the Exodus thing a couple of months ago. It seems that the route historians thought the Israelites took out of Egypt was actually wrong, I think they managed to find some evidence away from the spot which they’d previously thought.

      When you say you are taking stories which have been advanced as true for two thousand years, what does that mean? Have people always taken them as literally true? It remains for you to demonstrate that the Bible teaches them as literally true and as events that must have happened exactly as described.

      Personally I believing demanding a reading of the Bible, as you do, is undermining the point of the Biblical creation narratives which is to teach us theological truth and not to give us a scientific history lesson.

      I will explain further about this in a future post, as I’ve said several times.

      The reason I say that you are setting up straw man arguments is that you are saying “The Bible is understood like this…” and then go on to destroy your own personal version of what the Bible says. There are many people – probably the majority of Christians – who don’t believe what you believe the Bible is saying, therefore there is no conflict between science and Christianity.

  5. I’m a bit surprised you didn’t publish my comment. Is it because I didn’t suck up to your dead Jeebus? Apparently even pro-science Christians love censorship.

    Maybe some day you cowardly Christians will grow up and let your idiotic death cult go extinct, but I doubt it. The Christian disease is usually incurable.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment here.

      As you can see from the other comments, I don’t shy away from having other views expressed in the comments on this blog.

      However, I did feel that the comments you made were made in a way which was disrespectful, discourteous, and generally not conducive to discussion.

      If you would care to go back and edit your original comment to make the same points in a way which is courteous and polite I would be happy to engage with it.

      This is my own personal blog, and I have no obligation to publish any comments here.

  6. french guy passing by. Saw you were asking for a good reference on evolutionary biology … well, I must enjoyed “Why evolution is true” by Jerry Coyne, so if you want to give it a try … if you do, I’ll be happy to know if it is readable by a non-biologist !

    Thanks for the series,
    God bless,

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