Friday, January 15, 2010

Genesis 1:1 and Evolution/Creation

Genesis 1:1 says "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

It's interesting and important to note, first of all, that many aspects of ancient cosmology line up and even preceded more modern forms of cosmology and science: the cosmos is not eternal; the sun is not divine; the universe was not produced through sexual generation (as pagan myths); and we don't know what came before this beginning.

The Bible was also quicker on the draw than science on the number of stars, diet and cleanliness, the water cycle (Job 36:27-28), "life in the blood" (vs. "bleeding" people to heal them); and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and entropy.

But let's get more specific and relevant about science and religion in Genesis 1:1. Why do people believe (so much) in Evolution—as a comprehensive (or primary/exaggerated) explanation for the development of life?

1.) biases—they want (or assume the) theory to be true:
a.) a bias toward naturalism and "science" vs. “supernatural” and miracles-- often people assume that faith is confined to the metaphysical realm, but we have faith in all sorts of things and assuming away the supernatural is itself an assumption
b.) a bias against God-- often from a bad experience with Christianity/religion; rarely about objective evidences...

2.) reasons to suspect "creation theories" in general:
a.) all leave questions with the Biblical account (Gen 1-6)
b.) the church's spotty record with science-- most notably with Copernicus & Galileo (but note the urban legend of a pre-modern belief in a flat earth)

3.) evidences—the theory seems to look pretty good
a.) surface intuition of natural selection
b.) considerable evidence for so-called "micro-evolution"—defined as "adaptation within the boundaries of a species" (There is some evidence of transitional forms, but mostly in professional wrestling.)

4.) BUT....
a.) Biblically: must be limited at least somewhat; creation by God—and special creation of man—asserted throughout the Bible
b.) Scientifically over-estimated: evidences of micro-E as fact vs. macro-E as largely unsubstantiated and fanciful.

When Grimm tells us a frog turned to a prince in two seconds, we're told it's fable; when it takes two million years, it's "science". Evolution-- as a comprehensive theory for the development of life-- relies on "hand-waving" that rivals those of a miracle-wielding theist. It reduces to a science-flavored story/narrative rather than a Scientific explanation.
To me, the most painful gaps for the Evolution narrative and potential explanation are the innumerable stages of evolution through vital and reproductive organs—and the development of language, intelligence, soul, and art.

To the extent that the process is random, Robert Wilensky notes: "We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true."

More time? That'd help, but it's not enough. Interestingly, we've seen a 100-fold increase in estimates of earth's age in the last century.

Can mutations improve a species?!

What about jumps in process? This is the debate between gradualism and punctuated equilibrium. The latter is more consistent with the fossil evidence but engages in hand-waving.

--> Some people worry about evolution and education. I say teach your kids a whole lot more about it!

c.) the logic of the complete materialist position?! must explain/believe…
1.) complete development of life (biology)
2.) origins of life (bio-chemistry); and
3.) origins of all (physics)

d.) arguments for the existence of God?! must ignore/explain away...
-axiological—from moral law and conscience (Rom 2:14-15);
-ontological (purpose)—from our being and almost all have believed in a god
-cosmological—from Creation (1:1; Col 1:16; see: anthropic principle)
-teleological—from “intelligent” Design (Ps 19:1-4; Rom 1:20)
-the historical Christ

--> It requires far too much faith to believe that Evolution explains most everything-- let alone everything. Embracing God and Creation is not a blind leap of faith into darkness, but a step of faith into Light...

That said, God may have used Micro-E as part of the creation story. BUT conflicts if it assumes away the Creator OR assumes that man is evolved from something. The debate here is origins, not the process of Creation. The Bible asserts Who with some on Why and very little on How or the relevant science.

Despite huge gaps in the scientific theories/evidence, God may have created a universe that could unfold naturally without requiring later miracles (equally miraculous!)

John Walton: “God controls history, but we do not object when historians talk about a natural cause-and-effect process. We believe that God creates each human in the womb, but we not object when embryologists…We believe that God controls the weather, yet we do not denounce meteorologists…It is unacceptable to adopt an evolutionary view as a process without God. But it would likewise be unacceptable to adopt history, embryology, or meteorology as processes without God.”

5.) That God created also teaches us that:
-God is purposeful in creating order with freedom out of chaos (vs. capricious)
-He is gracious and lavish in His blessings (benevolent vs. deism or malevolent)
-He is creative (personality, including joy), intricate (detailed vs. deistic), and extravagant vs. mere function (see:
Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)
-He is distinct from his Creation (vs. New Age and pantheism) and Lord over all Creation (vs. polytheism)
-He is eternal, powerful, and sovereign over nature and man (Ps 33:6-11)
-He is God (Rom 1:20)


At January 15, 2010 at 8:06 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

When Grimm tells us a frog turned to a prince in two seconds, we're told it's fable; when it takes two million years, it's "science".

Actually, the common ancestor of amphibians and mammals lived in the Carboniferous era, 300-350 million years ago.

Interestingly, we've seen a 100-fold increase in estimates of earth's age in the last century.

In the late 1800s, Lord Kelvin estimated the age of the Earth to be 20 to 40 million years, based on the idea that the Earth was originally molten, and it would take that long to cool to its present state. However, geologists and biologists believed that the Earth had to be much older, and this was viewed as a major scientific problem. The discovery of radioactivity at the end of the 1800s indicated the solution to the problem—radioactive decay has kept the Earth's interior warm. Modern radiometric dating methods (discovered in the 1950s) now give a precise age of the Earth of 4.54 billion years, with an error of 1%).

There is some evidence of transitional forms, but mostly in professional wrestling.

Not at all true. A few examples: Archeopteryx, which links dinosaurs and birds; species such as Pakicetus and Ambulocetus [=walking whale] that link hippopotamus-like animals with whales; species such as Tiktaalik that link lobed-finned fishes and amphibians; synapsids such as Dimetrodon, which link reptiles and mammals; various species of hominids, such as Homo erectus, which show increasing brain sizes and closer resemblance to ourselves, over the last several million years.

Scientifically over-estimated: evidences of micro-E as fact vs. macro-E as largely unsubstantiated and fanciful.

Anti-evolutionists often assert that 'evolution is a theory in crisis' or that the evidence for evolution is weak. Nothing can be further from the truth. The evidence for evolution includes the fossil evidence mentioned above, and the modern revolution in molecular biology and genetics has provided much more evidence for evolution. Evolution is not a matter of "hand-waving" or "story-telling," it's a testable theory that has passed its many tests.

a bias toward naturalism and "science" vs. “supernatural” and miracles

There are of course prominent evolutionists who are Christian. These include Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller.

At January 15, 2010 at 8:51 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Thanks for filling in the details on #1 and 2.

My joke on #3 allowed for a few transitional forms; again, thanks for providing examples.

On #4, I wouldn't say Evolution is in crisis at this point. That said, Evolution (the comprehensive explanation) requires tremendous "hand-waving" ("uhhh...Evolution did it)", is in essence "story" or narrative AND is a testable theory that has passed many tests (so far-- and to the extent that it is truly falsifiable).

On #5, absolutely. I was trying to explain why some people might be over-excited about Evolution-- for reasons aside from the evidence of Evolution per se. As I noted later in the post, believing in a significantly (but not fully) powerful Evolution can be completely consistent with Biblical Christianity.

I have reviewed Collins' most famous book at length on this blog for those who might be interested.

At January 15, 2010 at 9:45 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Despite huge gaps in the scientific theories/evidence, God may have created a universe that could unfold naturally without requiring later miracles (equally miraculous!)

I missed that comment! That's a reasonable position, and essentially what I believe (theistic evolution).

Evolution (the comprehensive explanation) requires tremendous "hand-waving" ("uhhh...Evolution did it)", is in essence "story" or narrative

I suspect a lot of people think evolution is hand-waving or just-so stories because there are always stories in the media where scientists try to explain one human behavior or the other via evolution. Often, this is not much more than speculation on scientists' part; the relatively new discipline of 'evolutionary psychology' is still somewhat controversial.

At January 15, 2010 at 10:23 PM , Blogger Janet P said...

Excellent write-up, Eric. Well-balanced. Wish I could come to your study.

The new developments in the evolution/creation debate are especially exciting, mostly because they allow for the complete compatibility of Faith and Science. About 15 years ago, this topic was somewhat of a stumbling block to me as a new graduate of a heavy biology/chemistry secular university degree program who was investigating God and Faith. With today's science, it's never been easier to believe in God.

As can be expected I will have to disagree with William. But I will limit it to one point for now and it will be this: that Evolution is a testable theory and that it has passed every test. This is simply false.
William, I gather from previous posts that you are a mathematician of sorts. Have you ever looked into the probability data/studies of life developing randomly at the cellular level?
Amino acid chains must be in a particular order to be biologically functional. The theory of Evolution can be tested at this level and assigned probability of occurrence.
Anyone interested in this topic should order a book (available on Amazon) called Probability's Nature and Nature's Probability by Donald Johnson. He wrote a highly technical version for scientists and a "Lite" version for non-scientists. My background is heavy in life and physical sciences and I utilize mathematics only as it relates to these areas, so I purchased the "Lite" version and have just started to get into it. Completely Fascinating. I can report details as I move through the book if the topic should arise again.

I also recently picked up Stephen Meyer's Signature of the Cell. He discusses this on pp 209-213.

The assumption that life could have sprung up by random processes in the prebiotic soup is a ridiculously improbable. This is one absolute test that Evolution flunks!!

At January 16, 2010 at 6:25 AM , Blogger Jerry McHugh said...

I think the best explanation I ever heard for the existence of God, a Creator, Intelligent Design - was by Kirk Cameron (Mike Seaver from Growing Pains). He describes the human eye, only one small part of the human body. That an eye has more intricate moving parts than a car. No one would ever believe that a car came together by random chance (natural selection). Someone had to design the car, much less "create" it. If you cannot imagine a car being created without a designer and creator, much less building it, how could one ever believe the same could be true for a human body - a billion times more complex and intricate than a car?

I have also opined for a long time, that even if there is some merit to the theory of evolution, that evolution itself can be part of God, the Creator's, original design. As your blog states, how powerful and imaginative is that Creator's concept?

At January 16, 2010 at 9:51 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Good stuff, Jerry!

Janet, I'd be happy to let you do a guest post here (edited to our mutual agreement)-- a review of the Johnson book as you go along.

At January 16, 2010 at 4:35 PM , Blogger Janet P said...

Appreciate that offer, Eric.
I'll let you know how it goes.

At January 16, 2010 at 5:13 PM , Blogger PianoMom said...

Jerry's comment makes me think of a wonderful and very well-written children's book called "Yellow and Pink", by William Steig, an award winning author. (Any of you 30ish people remeber Sylvester and the Magic Pebble? - he wrote that too.)
This is a children's book but people of all ages will enjoy it.

A few words from the back cover and a few excerpts:

A yellow and a pink wooden puppet lie in the sun, waiting for their paint to dry. They ponder their origin. They speculate. They debate...

...Pink looked Yellow over. He found Yellow's color, his well-chiseled head, his whole form, admirable. "Someone must have made us," he said.

Yellow disagrees. They go back and forth some, then Yellow postulates -

..."With enough time, a thousand, a million, maybe two and a half million years, lots of unusual things could happen...Suppose a branch broke off a tree and fell on a sharp rock in just the right way so that one end split open and made legs. So there you have legs. Then winter came and this piece of wood froze and split the mouth open. There's your mouth..." etc, etc

It is hilarious. My kids laugh their heads off every time we read it!! Highly Recommended

At January 16, 2010 at 6:27 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Janet, you are right, there is no adequate theory yet for the origin of life itself. After the point where life exists, the theory of evolution is extremely robust in terms of evidence and testability. I should have qualified my claim about evolution to say something about the origin of life.

Yes, I am a mathematician (I'm a colleague of Eric's at IU Southeast). I haven't seen the books by Johnson. But I have read the book Not a Chance by Lee Spetner, who is a mathematician who argues that evolution is not compatible with mathematics. The usual mistake made by people who advance arguments based on probability is they do not realize that while the probability of a specified peptide chain forming by chance is vanishingly small, the probability that an existing protein can be modified in a minor way to produce a protein with an entirely different function is not so small. In fact, this is exactly what we see in evolution: new proteins appear with novel functions which are clearly closely related to other proteins. Evolution frequently presses old structures into new uses.

At January 16, 2010 at 9:08 PM , Blogger Janet P said...

On origins, fair enough. We agree on the most important point.
I'd also like to apologize for misquoting you in saying you said evolution had passed "every" test when you said it has passed "many" tests.

I strongly disagree with the characterization of evolutionary theory as "extremely robust" but I think we've been through some of this before

It seems to me you present an extreme oversimplification of the problem of probability and amino acid sequencing. These types of studies turn out to be a huge problem for "macro" evolutionary theory.

I will quote you here --
"the probability that an existing protein can be modified in a minor way to produce a protein with an entirely different function is not so small"

Actually, it turns out to be unbelievaly small. Have you read Stephen Meyer's Signature of the Cell?
I'm pretty sure he tackles this very debate on p.209-211 citing the work of Douglas Axe. To summarize, Axe "estimated the ratio of (a) the number of 150-amino-acid sequences that produce any functional protein whatsoever to (b) the whole set of possible amino-acid sequences of that length. Estimated ratio is
1 to 10 to 74th power. The number of atoms in our galaxy is
10 to 65th. The simplest extant cell, Mycoplasma genitalium, requires 482 proteins.

Given this research, even if God produced the first fully functional protein, there is no way evolution can explain the transition from bacterium to human being. It is in fact, a theory in crisis.

At January 16, 2010 at 10:17 PM , Blogger Janet P said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At January 16, 2010 at 10:22 PM , Blogger Janet P said...

I wondered what actual numbers indicate that the odds of transition of one functional protein to another are "not so small"? Has any research been done? What proteins are involved? What are the probabilities?


At January 18, 2010 at 9:15 AM , Blogger William Lang said...

Janet, the conclusion that new proteins can form from old proteins, to have entirely new functions, isn't a theoretical possibility—it is actually observed fact. Every time a bacteria species evolves resistance to an antibiotic, or an insect evolves resistance to a pesticide, this is what happens: a protein has changed in such a way that the bacterium or insect is able to disable the molecule targeting it. Biologists now have the ability to identify the precise protein and exactly how it was modified, to see how the resistance evolved.

One thing to bear in mind is it is now known that the genes that control animal body plans are relatively small in number. (These are referred to as 'homeobox' genes, and appear to originated in segmented worms ancestral to all higher animals.) So small changes in them are capable of major changes in a species.

At January 18, 2010 at 8:23 PM , Blogger Janet P said...

"So small changes... are capable of major changes"

This is the fairytale assumption of evolutionary theory. How can this possibly be proved? It cannot be proved or tested; it actually flunks Math.

Of course genetic mutations occur here and there such as beta-lactamase resistance to penicillin, but the research noted above indicates that it is utterly impossible on the scale and sequence required to build a fully functioning bacterium (much less a higher life form) from a single protein molecule. It is an absolute impossibility, no matter how much time goes by.

I think once again, we will simply have to agree to disagree.

The Signature of the Cell by Stephen Meyer is a must-have book for anyone interested in this topic - high school and up.

At January 19, 2010 at 8:20 AM , Blogger William Lang said...

This is the fairytale assumption of evolutionary theory. How can this possibly be proved? It cannot be proved or tested; it actually flunks Math.

Nonsense! It does not flunk math! Fisher, Haldane, Mayr and others worked out the math, in the 1930s, in constructing the modern evolutionary synthesis (the neo-Darwinian synthesis) reconciling modern genetics with Darwinism. And the proof is clear: in the observed fact that all life has descended via small modifications from a common ancestor. (One telling little example: humans and chimps share the exact same mutation in the exact same gene that renders both species unable to make their own vitamin C. Apparently, a common ancestor had that mutation but it didn't matter because its diet was high in fruit.)

In reading reviews of the Meyer book, it sounds like a rehash of earlier ID books I have read. As I think I have mentioned earlier, I have read more than my fair share of pro-ID books—Johnson, Behe, Dembski, Spetner, Hunter, Wells—and I've read anti-ID books: Forrest and Gross, Young and Edis, Miller. Through my reading, I've gone from pro-evolution to sympathetic to ID back to pro-evolution, but with a much greater understanding of the issues involved. So we will indeed have to agree to disagree.

At January 19, 2010 at 10:22 AM , Blogger Janet P said... numbers, just philosophy.

At January 19, 2010 at 10:49 AM , Blogger William Lang said... numbers, just philosophy.

Find a text on population genetics; you'll see the math behind evolution.

One last thought—don't stake your Christian faith on evolution not being true.

At January 19, 2010 at 1:14 PM , Blogger Janet P said...

"One last thought—don't stake your Christian faith on evolution not being true"

Good point. Faith is not ultimately based on whether or not evolution is fact.

I would also add this - don't give your life over to atheism/agnosticism because Evolution tells you there is no God.

At January 19, 2010 at 3:25 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Janet's concern is a larger and clearer problem at present.

William's concern is a matter of degree (as evolution-- if not Evolution-- explains incrementally more and more) AND is more hypothetical for the future (the idea that Evolution could someday explain enough to trouble a lot of people's faith in Evolution or theism).


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