In writing on other topics of late, the issues of epistemology, logic, pragmatism, truth, and fairness have all led me back to the issue of evolution. After reading that only 22% of Mormons believe in evolution, and then after watching the terrible movie Expelled, I thought I’d try and tackle the topic of evolution before the New Year (when Darwin’s anniversary year ends).
Evolution is the scientific principle that populations of living things adapt and change in response to their environments. Over time, adaptive changes and mutations lead to populations that are measurably different, both from the previous, ancestor population and from the other sibling populations that adapted differently.
As I’ve grown up, I’ve posited any number of theories about how I could square my own beliefs in a creator (and literal interpretations of the Bible) with what I knew and was studying about science. I’ve toyed with the ideas that God planted fossils in the Earth to test our faith; that fossils are remnants from other planets, put here when God organized matter from other places into Earth; or that all other creatures were evolving whilst Adam and Eve waited in a post-fall Eden until God kicked them out. These theories were useful thought experiments, and are all equally likely today as they were when I first posited them, but I have since learned enough about evolution to realize that it is a much more likely explanation for biological diversity than a literal interpretation of the Bible.
Not every evolutionary pathway and claim is equally compelling. There are still many unanswered questions, many fossils we’d like to find, and the possibility that simple life was transplanted to Earth from a meteor, rather than forming here de novo. That being said, there are two critiques of evolution that I hear often that are not, in fact, weaknesses of evolution.
First: ALL fossils are transitional fossils. Even you and I are part of a transitioning species. Even if we have not found every point on every evolutionary branch, it does not mean that a link does not exist. The argument that evolutionary theory has millions of “gaps” is simply misleading and ignorant.
Second: A weakness in one theory is not proof FOR a second theory. Ben Stein tries to point to what he sees as weak links in evolutionary theory and then tries to claim that those weaknesses lend proof to I.D. Even if I were to accept such a false dichotomy, I.D. simply does not answer any of the questions it proposes to answer any better than evolutionary theory does. If Darwin is wrong, Ben Stein can be too.
I’d love to answer any questions any of you have about what evolution means, or how we can still square it with a belief in a creator. If you’ve had the unfortunate experience of watching Ben Stein’s travesty of a film, please go to expelledexposed.com, trove Wikipedia, or write me to fact check any of the manifold lies in that film.