The 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, spawned theatrics inside the courtroom and out. Ministers preached on street corners, vendors sold souvenirs, girls carried monkey dolls, and a chimpanzee named Joe Mendi sipped a Coca-Cola in the drugstore wearing a plaid suit, a brown fedora and white spats.
The trial inspired several popular songs, including this catchy hit (be sure to play the audio – you’ll be humming it all day!)
Thus was set the adversarial context that defines the debate to this day: do you believe a bunch of unproven so-called scientists, or do you believe the truth in the Bible? Few theological discussions among Christians incur the level of heart-racing blood-pressure-spiking defensiveness as a discussion of evolution.
Opinions usually cluster around one of two poles:
- An energetic denial of all evidence of evolution accompanied by a literal interpretation of Genesis OR
- A passive stance – “It doesn’t really matter to me how God did it, I just believe he did it. I don’t want to think about it.”
Regardless of which pole you most nearly orbit, when there is near universal agreement by scientists that evolution is true, it is worth seriously considering.
What does the theory of evolution say?
Evolution is often dismissed because it is “just” a theory. It is important to understand what scientists mean when they use the term theory. A science theory does not have the same meaning as the word “theory” used in casual, non-technical language. For example:
I have a theory that the Rangers will be in the world series again. (casual and hopeful)
Because of the theory of gravity, jumpers use a parachute when they jump out of a plane. (science)
When scientists use the word “theory”, they are not talking about a best guess, or even an educated guess. When scientists use the word “theory”, they are not implying speculation.
A science theory is a statement of the facts, laws, and principals of something known or observed.
Surgeons scrub before surgery because of germ theory. Jumpers use parachutes because of gravitational theory.
Would anyone suggest surgeons do not need to scrub because germ theory is “just” a theory?
Concisely, evolution theory states that all life on earth evolved from one primitive species that branched out over time, throwing off many new and diverse species. The mechanism that drives most of evolution is natural selection (Why Evolution is True, J. Coyne, p. 3).
It is also important to note what the theory of evolution does NOT say:
- Evolution theory says nothing about the origin of life.
- Evolution theory says nothing about the purpose of life.
This is the theory of evolution in a nutshell – the BioLogos worldview – and the grand story of the creative world God brought into existence (The Language of Science and Faith, p. 37).
Why do we often hear that there is not a consensus regarding evolution?
It is important to understand that tweaking a theory or refining details of a theory is not the same as rejecting the theory. Scientists may have differing ideas about details within a theory, but that is not the same as repudiating an entire theory. This is the process of science – constant tweaking, refining, adding to the body of knowledge.
While there are scientists that reject evolution, these are not premier scientists. Looking at the actual names of individuals, we rarely find a contemporary biologist currently working and researching in the field. The names are primarily academics outside of the field of biology and emeritus (retired) faculty, no longer active in research (pp.30-34).
The scientific community is not abandoning evolution – not even close. Theodosis Dobzhansky’s 1973 observation still stands strong:
Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.
The basic units of heredity are called genes and are passed from parents to offspring. Genes are made of a substance called DNA.
Molecules in DNA have flexibility to change and move around on a long chain. These “changes and movings” are called mutations. When genes change, a change occurs in the plant or animal. Sometimes the plant or animal is changed in an important way, but most of the time, these changes are minuscule and irrelevant.
If a certain animal group undergoes a substantial number of changes, then the group can eventually turn into a new type of animal – a new species.
But here is a key point: species change very slowly.
We can’t watch a species change.
The term for the unimaginable past is deep time. The inability to imagine this change process and the vastness of the time required often makes people doubt its validity. However, our limitations are not nature’s limitations:
We have to distinguish between challenges to our imaginations, which have trouble conceptualizing slow process that take millions of years, and challenges to nature, which have no such limitations (p. 46).
Sometimes these changes are useful or beneficial. The change might result in an animal being more attractive to a mate.
The change might result in an animal laying eggs that are better camouflaged or that are less fragile than before. In the cases of an attractive mate or hardier eggs, the changes are likely to result in more offspring for the new species. More offspring means more animals with the new trait. If the change happens to be harmful (weaker eggs, for example), then less offspring will result.
Interestingly, changes can be beneficial in one circumstance and harmful in another. The mutation that causes sickle-cell anemia also protects against malaria.
What is the best proof that evolution has occurred?
Even before Darwin, many scientists believed that life had changed over time. Others had previously proposed the idea of evolution. Darwin is considered the originator of evolution because his copious discoveries contributed concrete evidence that change had indeed occurred.
The Human Genome Project (headed by Dr. Collins) finished mapping the human genome in 2003. We now know the DNA code of humans and many other vertebrates. Genetic data from these studies conclusively fit the model that all life evolved from a common ancestor.
Take your vitamins. Most mammals do not need to have vitamin C in their diets because they have a gene that allows them to produce their own vitamin C. However, primates (including humans) need vitamin C in their diets because they cannot produce their own vitamin C. Without vitamin C, primates (including humans) will develop scurvy.
Genetic mapping revealed that primates (including humans) actually have the vitamin C-making gene, but it is “broken” – it has degenerated.
Did God create humans independently and insert a broken gene into our genomes? Giberson and Collins do not find this scenario plausible (Language of Science and Faith, p.43) – and I have to agree.
Over and over again, we find that the genomes of different organisms have the same genes. Some have suggested that God might have “reused” the same DNA pattern for similar creatures. But consider:
The genomes of organisms do not merely share common genes that successfully perform their intended functions. Genomes also share genes that are broken (Language of Science and Faith, p.49).
Did God specially and individually create animals and plants that show evidence of being related… but really aren’t related at all? Is this explanation consistent with your concept of God?
“You may have come from a monkey but I didn’t.”
Did we come from monkeys?
Short answer: NO.
All life on our planet evolved from an original common ancestor, but we did not “come from” a monkey or any other species currently alive on earth. Humans share a common ancestor with primates, but the human part of the family split off an unimaginably long time ago.
This series is a chapter by chapter discussion of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins with my observations and commentary.
I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.
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