If I Can't See It, It's Not Happening

Myth #2. If I Can't See It, It's Not Happening

I would be willing to bet that nobody has ever seen a real talking snake, and yet billions of people readily accept that premise as true. Evolution cannot be boiled down to a single fossil. Evolution is proven through the comparison of the convergence of fossils along with the genetic comparisons between species. For example, scientists have sequenced both the genome of humans as well as the genome of chimpanzees and have found that humans are 98.6% similar to our distant evolutionary cousins. To put this into perspective, the differences between chimps and humans is smaller than the differences found between mice and rats. Whereas religion points to a holy book as its source of authority, evolution points to a wide combination of scientific practices such as genome sequencing, molecular biology, paleontology, zoology, botany, and geology to reach the conclusion that life on Earth has evolved and will continue to do so.

Most people are familiar with the term "missing link". It's one of the most common terms used to describe a transitional fossil. If evolution is true, we should be able to find evidence of animals (including humans) in most cases that have features from both an ancestor as well as its descendants. Considering the conditions that need to be met just to create a fossil, it truly is remarkable how many of them we have been able to study. We have many transitional fossils for virtually every species. If we include microfossils, there are literally trillions. We have even found fossils showing the transition of fish to amphibians. In 2004, Neil Shubin and Ted Daeschler found well-preserved fossils of the Tiktaalik, a fish that could crawl. Research on specimens of Archaeopteryx suggests that the earliest birds had four wings instead of two making them an ideal transitional fossil between four-limbed dinosaurs and two-winged birds. The Heteronectes chaneti, with its partially migrated left eye, is a transitional fossil of flatfish. The list of transitional fossils is pretty incredible. Every time we find a new one, it's like finding another piece to the puzzle. We can look at the changes from Apidium all the way to Homo erectus and Archaic Homo sapiens. Every time we find a transitional human fossil, it makes it more difficult to believe the Biblical account of God creating man from dirt and literally blowing the breath of life into him - a concept that we have yet to see an equivalent amount of proof for.

The most famous human ancestor is the 3.2 million year old hominin affectionately nicknamed "Lucy". Lucy was found in 1974 by paleontologist Donald C. Johanson in Hadar, Ethiopia, and she had a mixture of both human and ape features. Lucy had the long dangling arms similar to apes but the pelvis, spine, and legs similar to humans which made her better suited to walking upright. Twenty years later, scientists announced the discovery of "Ardi", a fossil skeleton from a human ancestor that walked the planet more than a million years before Lucy. The older Ardi showed us that our lineage included an ancestor that was a biped on the ground but was a quadruped when moving around in the trees. Ardi was unique in that it demonstrated an unexpected mix of traits and showed us what our last common ancestor may have been like. While neither Lucy nor Ardi are the common ancestor between humans and chimps, they are the closest that we have been able to find...so far.

We don't have to look at evolution purely through the lens of time. Evolution through natural selection can be seen every day through viruses and bacteria. Microevolution has become vitally important to medicine. Published August 4, 2010, R. Craig MacLean, a Royal Society University Research Fellow from the University of Oxford, said quite explicitly in Discovery Medicine:

"The evolution of antibiotic resistance is an amazingly simple example of adaptation by natural selection, and there is growing interest among evolutionary biologists in using evolutionary principles to help understand and combat the spread of resistance in pathogen populations."

When discussing antibiotics specifically, he says "resistant cells have higher Darwinian fitness relative to sensitive cells, and natural selection therefore results in an increase in the frequency of resistance in the population." Evolution is why we see antibiotic resistance today. A person doesn't have to believe in evolution, but they should be thankful that enough scientists do so that they can help keep us healthy.

The following is my favorite example of rapid evolution. In February 1988, biologist Richard Lenski began the E. coli long-term evolution experiment. Bacteria reproduce quickly which makes them great test subjects. The experiment is currently tracking the genetic changes in 12 initially identical communities of asexual E. coli bacteria. In February 2010, they surpassed 50,000 generations which is simply remarkable! To put this into perspective, consider the fact that as of 2008, the average generation length for an American was 25 years. If E. coli were humans, this would be like watching evolution occur over the course of 1,250,000 years! Lenski and his team have painstakingly detailed and reported all of the genetic changes including evolutionary adaptations that have occurred in each of the communities. Each community saw the individual cells become larger than their ancestors over time. Each became more efficient at using the glucose that they were given. One lineage diverged and evolved to gain the ability to consume citrate (citric acid) which was also available. Leski and the researchers found that evolution occurs in three stages. The second stage involves a mutation at the genome level. "It wasn't a typical mutation at all, where just one base-pair, one letter, in the genome is changed." Leski added, "Instead, part of the genome was copied so that two chunks of DNA were stitched together in a new way. One chunk encoded a protein to get citrate into the cell, and the other chunk caused that protein to be expressed. That is a new trick for E. coli." That's not something that today's E. coli can do, but it becomes possible 50,000 generations later. Just as remarkable are the similarities between evolutionary theory and the results in Lenski's lab. As we would expect with evolutionary theory, there have been hundreds of millions of mutations in these populations but not every mutation survives. In fact, less than 100 reached fixation69. This would absolutely be in line with Darwinian evolution.

Evolution is occurring around us all the time and on a massive scale. Macroevolution and microevolution differ in the time scales involved, but evidence exists for both of them. We can and have demonstrated microevolution in our labs. As Professor Lenski pointed out to Andrew Schlafly, a conservative creationist who tried and failed to discredit his work, "In other words, it's not that we claim to have glimpsed 'a unicorn in the garden' - we have a whole population of them living in my lab!"

The argument is persuasive, but just like our arch example; this complex design is merely an illusion once we understand the processes that gave rise to it. What Darwin showed us was how the process of replication makes such an illusion possible. Replicators make copies of themselves and these copies will make copies of themselves until we have a long lineage of copies. Since each of these copies has to compete for resources and the copying process itself is prone to error, replicators that can reproduce more efficiently will succeed where less efficient ones fail. These dominant replicators will continue through subsequent generations, and after enough generations have passed, we get the illusion of intelligent design.

Our bodies are so fantastic and complex that it's easy to see how folks can believe in intelligent design, however there's one more item I want to add. If man was created in the image of God and God is perfect, then we should be able to say with certainty that our bodies are perfect - or at least perfectly designed. I'll argue that nothing could be further from the truth. If we look at the human eyeball for example, it is one of our more structurally and functionally-complex organs. It's far from perfect however. We have photoreceptor cells in our retina that sense light and pass that information to other cells that eventually send that to the optic nerve and on up to the brain. If God was an engineer, we should question the wisdom of putting the neural connections in front of the photoreception cells where they can filter and scatter the light. This light also needs to pass through a network of vessels before it ever reaches the light-collecting cells in the back of the eye and the image the brain eventually receives from this process is upside down. If all of the sensory wiring of the eye were located behind the photoreceptors, we wouldn't have a blind spot in our retina and yet every human being has this blind spot. If we were created in His image, would it be safe to assume that God has this blind spot as well? Is there anything that God cannot see? Additionally, our eyes can only see a minute fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum. If we likened the electromagnetic spectrum to a football field, human beings would only see the equivalent of a hash mark. When viewed from this perspective, we are actually quite blind.

I question the intelligence of an intelligent being that would design nipples for men, wisdom teeth, the male uterus (prostatic utricle), the tailbone, and the appendix. These are hardly perfect designs. As embryos, each one of us has gill supports, a yolk sac, and a tail that will eventually be absorbed by the body72. Our bodies require water to survive and we live on a planet that has three quarters of its surface covered in water, yet our perfectly designed bodies can't process that water because it contains salt. I question this designer's intelligence in creating a creature that has to eat plants or other animals every few hours to survive. Of course the animals must be cooked or else we risk getting sick. We can eat grass which is the most abundant plant and easiest to find but we couldn't survive on it. The plants and animals that we do eat are swallowed through the same hole that we use to breath, effectively guaranteeing that a certain percentage of us will choke to death each year. Our skin protects our internal organs, but every time we get overheated, we sweat out the very water that we need to survive. The sun that our God put into the sky can turn this same skin cancerous just by being exposed to it. If you were designing a product where its most valuable assets were under the skin, wouldn't it make sense to make it difficult to cut or puncture that skin? Something so important wasn't designed to even withstand a cut from a piece of paper. Finally, with the exception of the brain, we can find an example of at least one animal in nature with more advanced body parts than us. The eyes of an owl allows it to see better than we can. A dog's nose allows it to smell better than we can. A dolphin breathes and eats out of different openings. A cheetah can run faster than we can. The common household cat can hear better than we can. Kangaroos jump higher and farther than human beings. All of this would seem to be in line with the notion that we and the rest of the animal kingdom are the products of evolution. If we were perfectly designed and created by God in His image, then all of this would appear to be less like intelligent design and more like incompetent design. After all, why would he forsake His most perfect creation in virtually every facet of design? We are supposed to be His masterpiece.