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Brush up on your Darwin

By Pauly Danyl --

We've all encountered the argument that those who believe in evolution are without wonder at the natural world. Have we ever considered that in truth it is the polar opposite?

darwinImage by latvian via Flickr

If God truly exists, why should we wonder at, why should we consider or study, Hell, why should we even be surprised that an all powerful being created the full contents of the Earth? If God were in fact real, wouldn't it just be EXPECTED that he would make some awesome (to us at least) stuff?

Have you ever discussed with a religious person the concept of evolution? "Well, if we evolved from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?" There's a simple concept in the theory of evolution called common ancestry, we are not direct descendants of monkeys, we are simply descendants of the same ancestor as monkeys.

"Well, it's statistically impossible that a single cell could just turn into a human being, it's like a tornado hitting a junk yard and making a 747." Let's ignore the fact that statistically speaking it is just as impossible that some benevolent and all powerful being pulled a planet out of nothingness to sit down and play in the mud making human beings from dirt and then for some reason meddling with their lives and caring whether or not they believe he exists. Ever heard of a concept called cumulative selection? It says that that one cell never turned into a human being, it turned into a slightly different cell, which turned into another different cell and so on for millions of years. At some point a couple of the cells would work together and they would survive better, and so produce more small groups to work together. After three billion years of small successive changes, (with non beneficial changes dying out of course) we have arrived at a complex being. So in your analogy, how about two guys in a bike shop try to make something that flies, and then for close to a century the greatest human minds keep tweaking stuff, throwing away the changes that don't work and building on those that do and you have...wait for it...a 747.

Statistically speaking it is just as impossible that some benevolent and all powerful being pulled a planet out of nothingness to sit down and play in the mud making human beings from dirt and then for some reason meddling with their lives and caring whether or not they believe he exists. "Well, if creatures can just turn into other creatures, why don't we see it happen in nature, surely for there to be so many kinds of plants and animals this has to happen all the time." I won't even bother with trying to point out that Darwin developed his theory by observing creatures adapt differently to isolated environments in the Galapagos Islands, because I know the first thing you'll argue is that those creatures were still the same species, so they didn't really change. The fact is that we'll never directly observe speciation in evolution because our lifespan is at best a hundred years, and these events take thousands of generations over tens of thousands of years. We're pretty close to creating species in recorded history though if you define species as things that cannot interbreed. I don't know if anyone's tried it, but I bet that a pug couldn't breed with a wolf, and if it can then it shouldn't be too much longer before they can't. It can't have been more than a couple thousand years since humans started a codependent relationship with wolves, and merely by breeding for traits we valued we've created a staggeringly broad range from Chinese Cresteds all the way to English Mastiffs.

I could keep going but instead I will share what triggered this rant. I was baptized a Methodist, attended occasional Lutheran, Baptist, and Catholic services as a child, worked at a Presbyterian church in college, and spent a lot of my life considering God. I was about nine when I asked my mom what religion I was, and she told me "Your grandpa had you baptized Methodist, but I can't tell you what religion you are, that's something for you to choose." I didn't understand much about it at the time other than the Sunday school stories, but I knew that picking your religion was serious business.

I spent the next ten years of my life learning all I could about God and my spiritual side. I read the Bible, the Qur'an, the Talmud (all English translations of course). I read about Buddhism, Wicca, Hindu, Confucianism, Taoism, naturism, humanism, and more isms than I care to recall. It all just seemed like stories to me. I found my answers in a high school biology class and a battered copy of The Blind Watchmaker loaned to me by my teacher because the PTA wouldn't allow it in the school library. Now I find myself drawn often into debates with people of many faiths. Mostly because I'm too passionate about what I've learned to keep my fool mouth shut when people say things like "The only evolution I worry about is the one in Genesis where man was made in God's image and Eve evolved from Adam's rib." I know there's little hope of defeating such determined ignorance, but it just infuriates me when those people come out with such determined "evidence" that evolution is a lie that turns out to be merely manifestations of the fact that they don't understand what Darwin actually states in The Origin of Species. I have studied enough in my life that I feel confident in playing devil's advocate and debating scripture with friends who have attended seminary. If I hadn't studied it I would never approach the topic, but is it too much to ask for someone to have at least a basic understanding of a concept before they attempt to debate it?