Why I'm No Longer Skeptical Of Darwinian Evolution


Over the past 4 years, I've been reading material from Evolutionary Creationists, from BioLogos blog posts to books like Origins: Christian Perspectives On Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design. I've been open to Evolutionary Creationism for a long time. For a long time, I've believed that Christianity and Evolution were compatible, I was just on the fence as to whether Darwin's theory was actually true. Now, after years of research, I'm no longer on the fence. I am an Evolutionary Creationist. In this blog post, I would like to talk about the evidence that convinced me.

I do not intend on making a defense of macro evolution a regular practice. I don't really care if you accept the theory or not. I only care about whether you acknowledge God as your Creator and Savior. The only reason I'm writing this blog post is that I think I owe an explanation to my readers, friends, and family as to why I've changed my stance on the doctrine of creation. 

1: The Micro-To-Macro Extrapolation

Evolution to some degree has been observed. Small, minor genetic mutations within a species can lead to small changes in said species, such as a change in their appearance or their abilities. If this mutation is beneficial to the animal, natural selection will preserve this change and the change will be passed onto the next generation. For example, a long time ago, in bears, there was a small change in the letter sequencing of DNA that caused one of the mama bears' cubs to have white fur. The brown bears lived in a snowy climate far up north, so the white fur caused the bear with white fur to blend into its surroundings. This resulted in the white bear being better able to catch prey than his brothers because his brothers stuck out like a sore thumb while he was camouflaged against the snow. Eventually, the brown bears died off, but the white bears continued to survive and reproduce. The white fur provided a survival advantage while the brown fur was detrimental (at least in that part of the world). Natural Selection preserved the white fur in that population of bears and eliminated the brown fur.

When Charles Darwin traveled to the Galapagos islands, he observed that the beak sizes of the finches were different. Some had large beaks, others had smaller beaks. When he came back years later, he found that the finches with smaller beaks had died off. This is because the larger beaked finches were better equipped to crack open the nuts of the trees.

Almost everyone agrees that this kind of evolution takes place. Young Earth and Old Earth Creationists refer to it as “Micro Evolution” (change within a species). Evolutionists make an argument that the macro kind is true (I.e one species eventually becoming another). That argument is that if enough time elapses, and enough micro changes occur, eventually very large and drastic changes will occur. If small changes can occur in a short amount of time, then large changes can occur over large amounts of time. Imagine millions and millions of years of tiny genetic variations occurring in a species. Those changes, though inconsequential and hardly noticeable, eventually become very noticeable.

The inference that if a small amount of change can occur in small amounts of time, then large amounts of change will occur over large amounts of time seems like a valid inference. So why are so many YECs and OECs unconvinced by it?

*The Evolution-Is-Only-Cyclical Argument

One of the arguments that persuaded me away was the argument that micro changes aren't permanent and do not in fact accumulate. Instead, they are only cyclical. Consider Phillip Johnsons' argument from an excerpt of The Apologetics Study Bible.

If ‘evolution’ merely refers to a process of cyclical (back and forth) variation in response to changing environmental conditions, then evolution is a fact that can be observed both in nature and in laboratory experiments. For example, when a population of insects is sprayed with a deadly chemical like DDT, the most susceptible insects die but the individuals most resistant to the poi­son survive to breed and leave offspring, which inherit the genes that provide re­sistance. After many generations of insects have been sprayed, the entire surviving population may be comprised of the DDT-resistant variety, and some new form of insect control will have to be applied. SUCH CHANGES ARE NOT PERMANENT, however, because the resistant mosquitoes are more fit than the others only for as long as the insecticide is applied. When the environment becomes free of the toxic chemical, the insect population tends to revert to what it was before.” – Philip Johnson, Apologetics Study Bible (emphasis mine)

Frank Turek and Norman Geisler made the same argument in their book I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist.

Cyclical Change —Not only are there genetic limits to change within types, but the change within types appears to be cyclical. In other| words, changes are not directional toward the development of new life forms, as macro evolutionary theory requires, but they simply shift back and forth within a limited range. For example, Darwin's finches had varying beak sizes, which correlated with the weather. Larger beaks helped crack larger, harder seeds during droughts, and smaller beaks worked fine when wetter weather brought an abundance of softer seeds. When the weather became drier, the proportion of finches with larger beaks grew relative to the smaller-beaked finches. The portion reversed itself following a sustained period of wet weather. Notice that no new life forms came into existence (they always remained finches); only the relative proportion of existing large-beaked to small- beaked finches changed."1

It would seem that if Johnson and Geisler are right, then the micro-to-macro extrapolation argument is fallacious. These changes are merely cyclical and don't accumulate over time into major changes. However, I don't find this argument as compelling as I used to. It would seem to me that some micro evolutionary changes are indeed cyclical, such as the examples Johnson and Geisler provided. But is it really the case that all cases of small genetic variations are like this? Surely not! If that were the case, domesticated dogs would have never come into existence. We would still just have wolves. Moreover, we wouldn't even have different variations of wolf, but just one kind of wolf. Now, Johnson and Geisler could say that every single individual breed of dog is a special creation of God, but that seems rather far-fetched. Especially since we know you can get different dogs through breeding for certain traits and preserve those traits (as DeGrasse Tyson put it, “dogs came about when we took evolution into our own hands"). Moreover, remember the polar bear evolution I mentioned above? Someone in the comment section of my article “Why I'm Skeptical Of Darwinian Evolution” pointed this out to me. He said “All compelling, Evan. However, since adaptions within species tend to be cyclical and temporary, can you explain why the wide disparity in breeds of dogs, for instance. It would seem that any changes to the prototypical dog would have to remain longer than a season or two of weather change in order for the adaptions to "stick", and give us the astounding variety of canines we have today.” I didn't respond because I had no response.

Maybe this isn't such a good argument against the micro-to-macro extrapolation. It seems to me like Johnson and Geisler took two examples of micro changes going back and forth, and made a universal judgment that macro evolution does not or cannot occur, and therefore special creation must be true. I would like to know of a lot more examples of this happening. I would also like to know how, if all micro changes are cyclical, how our domestic dogs haven't reverted back to what they evolved from.

2: Similarity and Progression

It would seem to me that if it isn't true that all micro changes are cyclical, and if there are no genetic barriers to prevent macro changes from occurring, then the micro-to-macro extrapolation is a justified inference. Indeed, how could you avoid it?

The inference would be even more justified if the fossil record produced what looked like species changing into new species over eons of time. Is that what we find? Yes. That is what we find.

If micro evolution can occur over a short amount of time, then macro evolution can occur over a long amount of time. This is a justified inference. And if that actually happened, the fossil record should paint that kind of a picture, which in fact, it does.

*The Lack Of Fossils Argument

Now, regarding fossils. YECs and OECs have both made the argument that if Darwin's theory of Evolution were true, then we should expect to find millions of more fossils that we actually do.

This argument was given by Tom Kaine in the film The Case For A Creator based on Lee Strobel's book of the same name. He said:

Perhaps the most damaging blow to Darwin's theory is the fossil record. If all living things descended from the same primitive life form, then the rock strata of the Earth should be filled with the fossilized remains of animals that were once part of a great evolutionary chain. A chain of small, biological modifications ultimately leading to a spectacular diversity of life. Yet, after two centuries of research highlighted by excavations in southern China, the multitude of transitional experiments or missing links that should exist are conspicuous only by their absence.”2

This argument is one I used to think was a strike against macro evolution as well. However, I no longer think so. First of all, the fossil evidence that we do have is extraordinary and gives a big impression that an evolutionary process occurred over billions of years. See the picture above. Jim Stump of BioLogos writes "When we find a specimen that appears to have “transitional” characteristics between two species, like a whale-ish creature with tiny legs, it would be rare if that organism itself led directly to modern whales. But when it is found in the right place and right time period, it is undoubtedly closely related to the truly transitional organism. We might better call these “intermediate” fossils. And there are gobs of these in the fossil record. Together, they make an impressive picture of the transition that occurred between species."3

Secondly, when you realize the precise conditions that must occur in order for fossilization to take place, it's actually surprising that archaeologists have found as many fossils as they have. The question we should be asking isn't “Why aren't there more fossils?” but “Why aren't there fewer fossils?” This article states “ The term 'fossilization' refers to a variety of often complex processes that enable the preservation of organic remains within the geological record. It frequently includes the following conditions: rapid and permanent burial/entombment - protecting the specimen from environmental or biological disturbance; oxygen deprivation - limiting the extent of decay and also biological activity/scavenging; continued sediment accumulation as opposed to an eroding surface - ensuring the organism remains buried in the long-term; and the absence of excessive heating or compression which might otherwise destroy it.”4

Moreover, as Greg Neyman pointed out on Old Earth Ministries' website, how many fossils would be enough to conclude that common descent is true? How many fossils are required to conclude "Yep, there's an evolutionary lineage alright."? Neyman is skeptical that the special creationists would ever be satisfied with the fossil record. He wrote "If we had a clear fossil record, showing progression every 10,000 years for millions of years, they will not believe it, and will want the "transitional" fossils for the missing 10,000 year period.  No amount of evidence will convict them that their belief is wrong."I'm inclined to think he's right.

"For those who still imagine that fossilization is such a common occurrence that we should find more transitional forms, consider the passenger pigeon. Not much more than a hundred years ago, passenger pigeons numbered around three billion birds (yes, billion with a “b”). However, they were hunted to extinction, with the last one dying in captivity in 1914. Now, how many have been unearthed since that time? If fossilization were as common as creationists would have us believe, why isn't anyone digging up any of the billions of easier to find, unfossilized passenger pigeons? Yet, creationists and ID'ers demand fossils of much rarer creatures. If fossilization were such an ordinary event, then wouldn't we expect to see fossils from all the animals leaving Noah's Ark in the Near East, dispersing around the globe? But we find nothing of the sort." - Yilmaz, Aaron R. Deliver Us From Evolution?: A Christian Biologist's In-Depth Look at the Evidence Reveals a Surprising Harmony Between Science and God (Page 169). Sehnsucht Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

The fact of the matter is, the number of fossils we do have provides striking examples of what appears to be an evolutionary process. Kirk MacGregor, in his paper "The Impossibility Of Evolution Apart From A God With Middle Knowledge", wrote: "Series of fossils (e.g., the horse series, the elephant series, the camel series, the mammal-like reptile series, the early birds, the early whales) and stratomorphic intermediates, or fossils that stand both in the fossil record and structurally between the group from which they descend and the group to which they are ancestral, are accounted for as distinctly preserved steps in the evolutionary process"

*Comparing Pots and Pans to Evolution is Like Comparing Apples To Oranges

In the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist", Frank Turek had a picture of a pots and pans lined up next to one another and said that saying the fossil record proved that an evolutionary lineage occurred was like saying the tea spoon evolved into the kettle. This would seem to make evolution look ridiculous as we would never say that a teaspoon could become a kettle and all of these similar pots and pans in between were transitional forms. So why would we do that with hominid fossils or other fossils? Why not say they were all special creations like we would with the pots and pans.6 

Well, if kitchenware were known to undergo mutations so that their appearance would be slightly different than before, and if we made the inference that such minor changes could accumulate to major changes if given enough time, then the conclusion that the teaspoon evolved into the kettle would be justified. But unlike living organisms, kitchenware is static. It cannot change at all overtime. So, that's one reason we know the kettle couldn't have evolved from the teaspoon. Living organisms are different. They can undergo mutations. They can undergo change. And if a small amount of change can occur in a short amount of time, then a large amount of change can occur in a large amount of time. The fossil record only serves to strengthen that inference. 

Similarity In Anatomy and DNA

The fact that humans and chimps are so much like anatomically hints at common ancestry. We're also similar genetically. Scientists say that humans and chimps share 98% of the same DNA. In fact, all living things on Earth have DNA. Homology has been used as an argument for common ancestry among living things for a long time. However, special creationists point out that while common ancestry is one way to account for the homologous features, it isn't the only way. Perhaps the reason why humans and apes are so similar looking is that God used similar design plans in creating us. God took a pre-existing blue print and modified it when He created Adam and Eve. So, the explanation for homology isn't common ancestry, but common design.

This explanation does seem rational at first since things that are designed by human agents often share common, similar features. For example, an RV has great similarities between a pickup truck and a house, but no one claims they both evolved from the RV. All 3 were designed by intelligent agents.

Computers and cell phones have keyboards on them, but they’re not linked through a common ancestor, say, the windows 98 desktop. All of these things were designed and share common features. If creatures were designed by an intelligent Creator we should expect to see similar designs among living organisms just as we see similar designs among electronic devices and transportation vehicles.

I find two problems with the common design explanation.

First, the common design hypothesis could equally be used to show that you and your brother are not related to your mother, nor to each other. Perhaps you just had a common designer. God specially created Mom, then He specially created your brother and you. After all, designers often re-use the same blueprints when designing new things. So the fact that you and your brother look so much alike, and DNA tests say that you're related, we can just explain this as being the result of God's common design plan, not ancestry.

If your wife gave birth to a child and you wanted to know if the child was really yours, you would have a DNA Test done on it. I'm betting you would trust the results, wouldn't you? Why do we trust DNA to tell us if a baby is ours, but not whether we're related to apes? Why would you trust DNA to tell you if a man was your brother, but not if a chimp was your “cousin” (so to speak)? The reductio ad absurdum here is strong!

Secondly, discoveries in DNA go a little deeper than that. Among what scientists label the “great apes,” there is actually a divergence betwixt humans and the others. We have 46 chromosomes (one from each parent) while the others have 48. As Ken Miller pointed out in this video, this discovery had the potential to show that evolution is false (at least the ape man march part of it), because one has to explain where the extra pair of chromosomes went. Scientists speculated that maybe a fusion of two primate chromosomes occurred. Ken Miller said in the video that if the chromosome is truly missing, human evolution is false. However, scientists found the missing chromosome. What this means is that evolution emerged even stronger than it was before!

Thirdly, pseudogenes make absolutely no sense on the common design explanation. A pseudogene is a defunct gene sequence that has been inactivated through mutation. It was once a functioning gene sequence but a mutation occurred which inactivated it so it is now defunct. Organisms which are thought to be closely related are found to have the same non-functioning pseudogenes even in the same order even though these defunct genes do nothing in either organism. For example, both chimpanzees and humans have a gene that, in others animals, produces Vitamin C. In chimps and humans (as well as other apes), it doesn't. It's a Vitamin C gene, but it's broken. It doesn't work. This is why pirates and other people who spent long periods of time out at sea would come down with scurvy. They weren't getting enough Vitamin C. We get our Vitamin C from external sources, as do chimps, gorillas, monkeys, and orangutans because we cannot produce it on our own.

I think pseudogenes are pretty good evidence for common ancestry. It's kind of bizarre that God would create the same broken Vitamin C gene in both chimps and apes. That'd be like an automobile maker making two unrelated vehicles with the same broken handle in the same place. While it is certainly possible that God could have separately created chimps and humans in spite of the broken gene, it isn't as plausible as the common ancestry interpretation. The Common Designer explanation works if you're only looking at similar anatomical features (e.g my hand looks a lot like a monkey's hand), but the pseudogene situation is a bit different. To apply the common design explanation to this would be to assert that God miraculous created chimps and humans, and created them with a gene **already broken**. Again, as I said, this would be like a man creating two pick up trucks with the same broken lever in the same place. If God didn't want chimps and man to make their own vitamin C, fine, but why did he give us a gene geared towards making the gene, except for the fact that it's broken? That doesn't make sense. 

The shared pseudogene is exactly what one would expect if evolution is true. And by the way, it isn't just that humans and chimps share the same kind of broken gene. But the broken gene is in the same place in the genome of humans and chimps.

There are other pieces of genetic evidence that make the Common Design Plan explanation untenable, such as Avatisms and Endogenous Retroviruses, but for brevity's sake, I won't go into those. All I'll say is that avatisms and endogenous retroviruses make no sense on special creation, but they are exactly what one would expect to find were the Darwinian paradigm true. 

Evolution Provides Explanations That Are Anomalies On Special Creation

The Evolutionary Creationist can provide explanations for things in biology that the special Creationist cannot. Pseudogenes is one example, but another example is this: why do humans have hair on their arms, legs, feet, etc. but only in minor amounts? The Special Creationist just has to say “Well, that's just the way God decided to make us”. But the Evolutionary Creationist would say something like "Our ancestor, Australopithecus was covered in fur all over, but as it evolved into Paranthropus, and into homo erectus, and so on, the genes to produce body hair decreased over time. Man lost his hair over time." The presence of a minor amount of body hair is an anomaly on special creationism. 

Objection: But Isn't Evolution Too Improbable To Occur? 

One of the arguments often given against Evolution is its enormous improbability. Physicists John Barrow, Brandon Carter, and Frank Tipler listed 16 steps that had to occur within evolutionary history in order for intelligent life like ours to have arisen. They calculated the probability of all 16 steps coming about to be 1 chance in 10^24,000,000. In order to get an idea of how extreme this improbability is, let me give you an analogy. The odds of all 16 steps occurring is equivalent to some dude winning the California lottery 3,000,000 consecutive times where that dude buys only one lottery ticket each and every time. 

The probability determination of 1 chance in 10^24,000,000 shows that Darwinian Macro Evolution from a single celled organism to the human race cannot possibly occur by chance. It's too improbable. 

But what follows from this fact? Does it follow that evolution did not occur? Special Creationists would say yes. However, what about all of the evidence I just talked about above? What do we do with all of that if evolution is false? Evolution is too improbable to have occurred, and yet we have powerful scientific evidence that it did in fact occur. What is the answer to this mystery? 

While each of the 16 steps is statistically impossible, none of them are naturally impossible. Therefore, nature allows for macro evolution to occur, even if chance doesn't. 

In his article "The Impossibility Of Evolution Apart From A God Endowed With Middle Knowledge", Kirk MacGregor made an argument for (1) God's Existence, and (2) Molinism using the evidence in this very blog post. First, he made the case that evolution is too improbable to have occurred by chance, and that in order for evolution to have occurred, a God endowed with middle knowledge would have needed to guide the process with His middle knowledge. But then he gives a list of the scientific evidence validating it (like what I did in the previous sub-headers). From these, he concludes that God exists and has middle knowledge. 

MacGregor's argument can be syllogized as follows

1: If A God Endowed With Middle Knowledge Does Not Exist, Evolution Could Not Have Occurred. 
2: Evolution Has Occurred. 
3: Therefore, A God Endowed With Middle Knowledge Exists. 

So, improbability isn't a strike against Darwin's theory at all. All the improbability does is allow the theist to weaponize Darwin's theory (so to speak) and use it against the atheist. Ironically, although evolution is used by many as an argument against God's existence, in reality, it's actually an argument for God's existence. All the improbability does is rule out atheistic evolution and forms of theistic evolution that deny Molinism. 

You cannot find "Darwin's God" unless you find Molina's God.

Why Do You Find The Case For Evolution So Strong Now? What Changed? 

One may wonder why I find the scientific case for evolution stronger than I used to. This is due to two factors:

(1) I typically viewed each evidence for evolution in isolation (e.g homology). This is wrongheaded. A single fossil doesn't prove evolution on its own, nor does the fact that there's the remarkable similarity between my hand and a chimp's hand prove common ancestry on its own. The case for evolution is cumulative. Once I looked at the arguments as a cumulative case, I went from "A person must be crazy to accept evolution" to "I can understand why this is so widely accepted" to "This is true". My analysis of the evidence for evolution and concluding that the case for it wasn't strong enough to conclude that it's true would be analogous to an atheist only considering the evidence for the empty tomb of Jesus and saying "Ha! That can easily be explained without appeal to a miraculous resurrection." rather than taking all 5 of the minimal facts into consideration.

(2) Some of the evidence for evolution was unknown to me until a few months ago. I've read a lot of ID literature, but it wasn't until I read Aron Yilmaz' book "Deliver Us From Evolution?" just months ago that I found out about the existence of pseudogenes, atavisms, endoscopic retroviruses, and what appears to be the fusion of two telomeres and centromeres. I'm honestly shocked that none of the material I've read from anti-evolutionists addressed these. In my opinion, these are pretty powerful pieces of evidence for common ancestry. In fact, they're the strongest supporting evidence for the theory in my personal opinion. Reading Evolution For Dummies only further cemented the conclusion. 

Conclusion 

The evidence for Darwinian Evolution is strong. Strong enough to make me adopt evolution among the set of things I think are true. However, The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Fine Tuning Argument, The Local Fine Tuning Argument, The Moral Argument, The Ontological Argument, (and The Divine Identity Argument which incorporates all of the former), The Argument From Science, The Transcendental Argument, The Contingency Argument, The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, The FreeThinking Argument, The Argument From Desire, and The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus' Resurrection all give me powerful reasons to be a Christian Theist. If the evidence for evolution is strong and the evidence for God is strong, what should I do? Become an Evolutionary Creationist. 

This blog post is an overview of the reasons to be a theistic evolutionist. I couldn't get into exhaustive details why I think the theory of macro evolution is true. There are many things I wanted to say but left out for brevity's sake. If you want to go in depth into the scientific data, check out Dennis Venema's series "Evolution Basics" on The BioLogos Website. I'll provide the link below. 

http://biologos.org/blogs/dennis-venema-letters-to-the-duchess/series/evolution-basics m

Bookwise, I suggest Aron Yilmaz' "Deliver Us From Evolution? A Christian Biologist's In Depth Look At The Evidence Reveals A Surprising Harmony Between Science and God". This book was ultimately what pushed me off the fence onto the side of Evolutionary Creationism. It not only made a powerful case for evolution, but it refuted virtually every scientific objection to evolution that I had.

"And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so." - Genesis 1:24 (KJV)

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NOTES 

1:

2: Lee Strobel, "The Case For A Creator", Illustra Media

3: Jim Stump, 10 Misconceptions About Evolution", June 26th 2018, https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/10-misconceptions-about-evolution

4: Roy Shepherd, "What Is A Fossil?", http://www.discoveringfossils.co.uk/what-is-a-fossil/

5: Grey Neyman, "Creation Science Rebuttals: Transitional Fossils", http://www.oldearth.org/transitional_fossils.htm

 6: See Frank Turek and Norman Geisler's "I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist", page 149, Crossway

Comments

  1. This is interesting Evan, thanks for sharing. I personally haven't done much studying in the ID vs. evolution area, as I've mainly been concerned with studying natrual theology. I noticed though that you said you've read some ID literature. Given that, I'm curious how you overcame the so called 'irreducible complexity' problem that ID propents claim make evolution very improbable. What exactly did you read that convinced you that evolution could overcome the claimed irreducible complexity problem?

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    1. I think irreducible complexity exists at the level of the cell. I think Intelligent Design is at its strongest when its arguing for direct divine action at the level of the origin of life. Where there arguments get flimsy is at the level of advanced life (trying to show God created animals through separate miracles). So, I think God probably created the first life through direct intervention and then worked through natural processes to have that first life self-replicate until it eventually diversified into the whole animal kingdom.

      Of course, it has been argued that irreducible complexity exists at higher levels as well, such as in blood clotting and the eye. I think the IC argument for the eye has been thoroughly debunked, but I'm not quite sure about blood clotting.

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