Where did we come from and how did we get here? They seem like such simple questions. The social controversy that exists in our country pits the scientific answer of evolution as accepted in modern paleontology and evolutionary biology against the religious assertion of creatio ex nihilo which is Latin for "creation out of nothing". The scientific position holds that we are the evolutionary product of abiogenesis while the religious position holds that a divine being literally created everything we see from nothing generally by speaking, breathing, or simply willing everything into existence. To a Christian, men were created from dirt and a breath from God. Women were created from the rib of the first man. To Muslims, men were created from a clot of blood (Sura 96:1-2), water (Sura 25:54), clay (Sura 15:26), dust (Sura 30:20), or simply out of nothing (Sura 3:47). There are many stories of creation which are often classified as myths. Divine word, Earth divers, and cosmic eggs are all examples. The truth is that we don't really know for sure how life began on Earth. We have not been able to recreate life in our labs and the religious accounts vary so dramatically. The topic of creation is something that science hasn't been able to answer definitively and religion arrogantly believes it has.
While we may not be able to answer definitively how life began, we can explain a great deal about how life evolved to what we see today. The debate between evolution and creationism is a scientific one, and as such, the evidence put forth from both should be subject to intense scrutiny. The vast majority of our scientists have concluded that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming while creation myths lack the supporting evidence for their claims. This is applicable to all religions. The difficult side to the religious argument comes from determining which religion's evidence is conclusive. For virtually every religion, the evidence usually consists of a holy book and unsupported inferences. In certain Hindu traditions, we are given Manu (who it should be noted saved mankind from a great flood much the same as Noah in the Bible). The Abrahamic faiths give us Adam and Eve. Not a single religion provides the type and sheer amount of evidence that science does. Science is the only unbiased source we have which is precisely why the scientific account of evolution is taught in our school classrooms. It seems fairly straightforward to me - any science curriculum that rejects the scientific process doesn't deserve to be taught in a science class. When religious people push science aside for religious theories by advocating for the teaching of creationism in our classrooms, those acts require a response. Evolution, and the evidence supporting it, cannot be dismissed by a few sentences in an ancient text translated into English from fragments of manuscripts written in dead languages.
Religious doctrine has not put forth sufficient evidence to discard scientific consensus on this topic and the tremendous efforts undertaken over a great many years to reach it. If you remember nothing else about this topic, please remember this. We as a society may argue about evolution, but scientists aren't having the same debate. Unlike such items as string theory which genuinely have scientists divided, the overwhelming majority of our global scientific community supports evolution. Evolution has been debated, dissected, and extrapolated over the course of many, many years by hundreds of thousands of scientists. The biggest differences between those who support evolution versus those who support creationism can be found in the methods used, consensus achieved, and transparency of peer review. The scientific process works and it works reliably well because it has a significant focus on transparency. Before a consensus is reached, vigorous debate occurs. Based upon challenges from other scientists, hypotheses are modified and refined to take into account a wide array of viewpoints and other data sources. A scientific hypothesis is open to debate, criticism, and, in some cases, even ridicule. The end result of this process is a consensus that is fact driven, reasoned, and logical. The mere fact that there is consensus is not enough by itself to warrant belief however. If consensus were the only criteria for believing something to be true, a billion Muslims, Christians, and Hindus could all lay claim to the truth. The reason why the scientific consensus is worthy of mentioning is because it is a scientific consensus reached using the scientific method. Unlike religion, science is not biased to any metaphysical claims. For example, scientists who practice Islam have the same understanding of gravity that scientists practicing Christianity have. An astrophysicist who believes in Shiva can agree on the development of stars with another astrophysicist who believes in Xenu. Scientific facts are factual regardless of and in spite of any metaphysical beliefs. Evolution has already undergone such discussions and debates using the same scientific methods by which we determine other facts about our world.
In 1922, Woodrow Wilson, in a letter to Winterton C. Curtis, said "Of course, like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised." Nearly a century later, we're still talking about this topic; however, evolution is not being debated among scientists. So what is the real reason why evolution continues to be such a hotly-debated topic among non-scientists? After all, nothing about our daily lives is dependent upon our acceptance or dismissal of our ancestral link to chimps and apes. We are still going to go to work. We will continue to have bills that have to be paid. Acceptance of evolutionary theory will not change any of these things. The problem for religious people lies within the consequences of acceptance. For example, once a Christian accepts evolution as true, it renders the Genesis account of creation false and thus casts doubt on the rest of the Bible.
As the pseudoscientist Ken Ham accurately states:
Ham hits it right on the head. This is precisely why so many, either consciously or subconsciously, refuse to acknowledge that the Book of Genesis simply can't be true. If God didn't create the universe and everything in it over the course of six days exactly as the Book of Genesis states, then we would be forced to not only question the Bible but everything that the Bible purports to explain. If evolution is true and God didn't create man exactly as we are today, then the story of Adam and Eve could be false. If the story of Adam and Eve did not actually happen, why should we believe in Original Sin? If Original Sin isn't real, then why should we believe in Jesus and his ability to take away our sins? We can follow this line of questioning all the way down the line. To reject the Book of Genesis and instead believe in evolution dilutes the very core of the Christian faith. For believers in the Abrahamic faiths, there is a very real danger in accepting evolution.
The acceptance of evolution is being granted due to the abundance of scientific evidence supporting such a conclusion and not from a primitive, unscientific account asserted thousands of years ago. Science completely contradicts the Bible on this topic. If someone is unwilling to even consider that the story of Genesis is not a historically accurate representation of the creation of man and universe, then no amount of evidence could possibly convince them otherwise. As Thomas Paine once said, "Attempting to debate with a person who has abandoned reason is like giving medicine to the dead." This is why the debate rages on.
Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian with impeccable scientific and medical credentials, finds himself walking a fine line between scientific consensus and his faith. As the man who helped decode the human genome, he takes a more nuanced approach to faith. For example, he is not a "young earth creationist" nor does he advocate for "intelligent design", but he does interpret the Bible in a convenient manner crediting God for creating the universe 13.7 billion years ago and implementing evolution as the mechanism by which life diversified. He charges creationists with an over literal misreading of Scripture. "I don't think God intended Genesis to teach science," he says, arguing that "the evidence in favor of evolution is utterly compelling."63 Collins has on multiple occasions stated that even if there were no transitional fossils, DNA evidence would be enough to prove evolution. He has perhaps as much knowledge regarding DNA as any other man on the planet so his words on this topic should carry significant weight. If only he applied the same standards to his faith. In his book The Language of God, he follows in the footsteps of Immanuel Kant in trying to reconcile the spiritual and material worlds however he approaches each very differently. His approach to sequencing the human genome was very methodical and rational while his approach to faith was based on emotion. As he "rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, (He) knew the search was over. The next morning, (He) knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ."64 He would later claim that the frozen waterfall was in fact three streams which convinced him of the Holy Trinity. That a man could be so scientifically elegant in his analysis of DNA and evolution while abandoning that elegance in favor of determining religious conclusions based upon emotion demonstrates the double standards by which religion operates. Imagine if Collins or any member of his team had used emotion or inferences to map the human genome in the same manner that three frozen streams of water can be used to infer the Holy Trinity.
Whether we're talking about DNA, evolution, intelligent design, or creationism, it should become plainly obvious that religion, as I've stated, continues to operate by a double standard. It is not only common for our general society to be emphatically critical regarding any scientific claim, it is an expectation, yet we are implored to respect religious belief even when the evidence for such belief is either flimsy or completely vacuous. It seems a rather obvious question, but what is respectable about that? Transparency is one of the biggest reasons why the scientific method has produced so much progress. Creationists on the other hand do not subject themselves to even a fraction of the transparency that science depends upon. Creationism is conceptually based upon faith which renders it unfalsifiable meaning that it isn't testable by empirical experiments. We cannot scientifically test and verify creationism which is why it remains a matter of faith. Whether we read the opinions from Answers in Genesis, Christian Answers, The Institute for Creation Research, or Creation Ministries International, we are not reading peer-reviewed scientific opinions. Each of these organizations presents itself as science-based, but there's just one problem: scientists overwhelmingly disagree. I've touched on pseudoscience in multiple areas of this book, but it bears repeating. When folks like Ken Ham, Kirk Cameron, and Lee Strobel peddle their false science, there are legitimately harmful implications. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy65:
"From a practical point of view, the distinction is important for decision guidance in both private and public life. Since science is our most reliable source of knowledge in a wide variety of areas, we need to distinguish scientific knowledge from its look-alikes. Due to the high status of science in present-day society, attempts to exaggerate the scientific status of various claims, teachings, and products are common enough to make the demarcation issue pressing in many areas."
If you ever find yourself unfortunate enough to be reading an article by Ken Ham at Answers in Genesis, and he's providing a "scientific account" for the creation of the universe, the plausibility of Noah's Ark, or the geological age of our planet, please keep in mind that the "science" that he is presenting to you as fact has never been offered up to scientists at large for the same type of scrutiny and objective analysis as is common in the actual scientific community. He bears no burden of proof and is only offering it up to a biased audience already predisposed to his outcome. The reason he and others like him will never open their scientific theories up for official scientific peer-review is because 1) they already know the scientific consensus reached on these subjects, and 2) they are not able to scientifically support their "scientific" claims. It's one thing to present pseudoscience to the religious faithful who don't have an adequate level of scientific knowledge to fully understand what's being presented to them. It's something entirely different to present the same pseudoscience to a group of people who possess the scientific background to not only question the assertions and methods, but systematically negate each of them. When a pseudoscientist attempts to make a scientific claim where only a faith-based claim is appropriate, they are truly the ones guilty of blasphemy.
When 38 Nobel laureates issue a statement saying "Intelligent design is fundamentally unscientific; it cannot be tested as scientific theory because its central conclusion is based on belief in the intervention of a supernatural agent", it becomes difficult to take pseudoscientific "evidence" seriously. I assure you that if Ken Ham, Kirk Cameron, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, or any other Christian apologetic had sufficient, overwhelming evidence to support their claims, they would be embraced by the scientific community because their work would fundamentally alter the way in which we view our world and our place within it. Think about that for a moment. If these men had enough evidence to even create "reasonable doubt" in evolution and elevate creationism, wouldn't it be logical to conclude that there would be a greater divide among the elite scientific community? 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences and 97% of the UK's Royal Society are either atheist or agnostic and overwhelmingly disagree with people like Ken Ham and Lee Strobel on their creationist views. If sufficient evidence existed to support the creationist view, imagine the cheering section they could obtain from the scientific community! There's a reason why creationists are laughed at. If evolution could be proven false, pseudoscientists and creationists should take the time to write it down, get it peer reviewed, and prepare to collect their Nobel Prize. We could then stop using the word "faith" and instead refer to it as the science of Christianity.
Apologetics like Ken Ham and Lee Strobel don't even need to have physical proof to gain scientific support. For example, we don't know with absolute certainty what happens beyond the event horizon inside a black hole, but we have enough observed evidence to support the conclusion that black holes exist and that they are very powerful. Ham, Strobel, and other creationists don't even have what I would call "black hole support". They have offered up next to nothing of any substance that hasn't already been refuted elsewhere. Scientists from around the world would readily endorse them if their theories and conjectures had any hint of real science to them. That, of course, is not the case and that's why the scientific community shuns them.
We don't have to be particularly scientific to appreciate and embrace evolution. We can find support, even if it's tacit support, from religious leaders. When Pope John Paul II gave a speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on October 23, 1996, he very clearly stated "Today, almost half a century after publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis." In July 2004, then Cardinal Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, was serving as the President of the International Theological Commission. The Commission said "Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution." While neither Pope John Paul II nor Pope Benedict XVI have obviously budged on their belief in the divine for the initial creation of life, both have concluded that the evolutionary process of natural selection is responsible for the diversity of life that we see around us. The caveat is that this process is believed to be guided by the hand of God. It's laughable that many creationists have now modified their views in light of this progress by announcing that evolution by natural selection was actually part of God's plan all along. What a convenient discovery! What remains inconvenient however is when someone embraces the literal story of Genesis. When someone does this, they are essentially saying to theoretical physicists like Stephen Hawking that their knowledge of cosmology is far greater than his. This is of course an absurd proposition. Not a single person throughout the course of human history has ever been able to adequately make the connection and dependency between physics and God. In fact, nobody has even tried.
As I will do several times in this book, I'd like to present you with a statement or condition. Once we agree on the validity of the statement or condition, we'll apply it to a scenario and see how well it holds up. I'd like to present the following statement from Richard Dawkins:
"The power of a scientific theory may be measured as a ratio: the number of facts that it explains divided by the number of assumptions it needs to postulate in order to do the explaining. A theory that assumes most of what it is trying to explain is a bad theory."
The concept is simple and straightforward. If we say something is true, but it takes a lot of assuming to get to that conclusion, it probably isn't a very good conclusion. If we say something is true, and we don't have to make a lot of assumptions to get to that conclusion, it is most likely a much better and more plausible conclusion. If we apply this concept to evolution and creationism. Darwin's theory explains a tremendous amount (the current and past state of every living thing we see) through one simple, yet powerful idea: natural selection. A species gradually evolves over a long period of time with adaptations that help ensure its future survival. Using the agreed-upon concept of what constitutes a good theory, Darwin's Theory of Evolution is great because of the ratio of what it concludes (all the complexity of life) to what it has to assume to get that conclusion (simply the nonrandom survival of hereditary information through many generations)66. The creationist idea that a supernatural being (an intelligent designer) instantly created all living things exactly as they are today requires a tremendous amount of assumptions. We'll need to assume that the creator is more complex than we are to accomplish all of that in the given timeframe. We also need to deal with the assumptions and logical difficulties in who designed the designer? Who created God, and if we can figure out who created God, who created the God that created that God? We can follow that to an infinite regression. If someone believes that their God is the only one ever created, what assumptions did they have to make to arrive at that conclusion? How many other gods did they have to eliminate from the equation and on what basis were those gods eliminated? How do we conclusively know? We have to assume that God knew or planned trillions and trillions of details to account for every living thing. Creationism is statistically improbable while evolution can still be observed today.
The term "extinction" refers to the end of a species. For example, the dinosaurs are extinct. The Dodo of Mauritius is extinct. The Passenger Pigeon is extinct. In fact, 99.9% of all the species that have ever lived on our planet are extinct6768. Extinctions occur all the time and our planet has even seen a few mass extinctions. Species can become extinct for a number of reasons including habitat destruction, genetic pollution, predators, competition, dwindling food sources, disease, and climate change. Extinctions are remarkable, but perhaps not as remarkable as the question that I'm going to pose next. If God created all living things, what does it say about His "engineering" and "design" capabilities when 99.9% of His creatures are now extinct? If you designed 1,000 houses and 999 of them crumbled to the ground while only 1 remained standing, would you consider yourself to be an intelligent designer? If God is an architect, He is incredibly inept, inefficient, and incompetent. If He simply willed everything into existence as the Book of Genesis claims, God is a pathetically terrible architect. Perhaps He shouldn't have rested on the 7th day...
If every animal and human were designed perfectly, then what need would there be for the animal or human to change? If we were designed perfectly in God's image, how could we possibly be improved? We can find changes in every single species that has ever existed on our planet. For example, if we look at Neanderthals and assume that intelligent design is a superior answer to evolution, what are we to make of the differences between the craniums, muscularity, and other physical distinctions between them and us? If Homo neanderthalensis (one of many subspecies never mentioned by the world's great religions) did not share a common evolutionary ancestor with Homo sapiens (modern man) and was instead intelligently designed, what would be the purpose in changing an already "perfect" design? Why wouldn't modern man have the larger cranium? There is a saying in paleontology that states "fossils do not reproduce." I think we can all agree that two fossils are not going to procreate and make little baby fossils in the same way that we can all agree that fossils clearly show the differences between Neanderthals and modern humans. The genetic makeup of human beings is not particularly special in relation to other animals. In fact we have the exact same types of genes as a mouse, a horse, or a rabbit. Our building blocks are the same. We simply use the genes differently. Our genetic makeup is 99.5% similar to Homo neanderthalensis, and yet that tiny difference is noticeable. Either God was an incredibly inept designer as I've stated, or we must give honest consideration to the theory of evolution based upon the weight of the actual evidence.
The sad fact is that most people do not fully understand the principles put forth by evolution. The time factor that most evolution occurs in makes it a difficult concept for many to comprehend. I could look at a photo of George W. Bush when he was 10 years old and another when he was inaugurated as President of the United States. While I don't have a picture of every single day between those two photos, I can be reasonably certain that he changed gradually during that time. Now, I'm not using the growth of a child into a man as an example of evolution, but rather highlighting the concept that just because changes are gradual doesn't negate the fact that change has occurred.
One of the more popular complaints offered by creationists regarding the validity of evolution deals with replication. If something can't be replicated, then it can't be observed and therefore doesn't qualify as part of the scientific method. It's a silly premise. A scientific theory is a deduction based on evidence, not just the premise of replication. In a court of law, the prosecution doesn't have to replicate a murder to prove that a murder happened. A scientific theory is consistent with all observable evidence. This is one of the more repeated myths; however there are a lot of myths surrounding evolution and I'd like to highlight some of them. Even if someone refuses to believe in evolution, at least they'll become a little more familiar with what it is that they don't agree with.