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We will come back to the "evolution-or-God" argument and to uncertainties in evolution later on this page. The "I'm not a monkey" statement is pure emotion and does not deserve a response - except perhaps to say that those who stand by it seem to have the same reasoning powers as monkeys.
How about the watchmaker argument? It's true that watches don't come into existence by chance, but the analogy is false. No-one is suggesting that humanity or any other lifeform evolved by chance alone. Chance does play a small part in evolution but other factors are also important.
So let us set aside misconceptions and prejudices and ask ourselves what evolution really is. It is true that the topic is complicated and we will only be able scratch the surface, but the basic principles are simple and easy to understand.
3.5b Then there was life
The appearance of life was not a miracle; scientists expect to be able to replicate it in the laboratory within the next generation. (For a more detailed overview of the origins of life, consult this Wikipedia article.)
3.5c Reproduction and mutation
It needs several years of study to fully understand the specifics of RNA, its successor DNA and how they underpin every lifeform from viruses to human beings. But it is easy to understand the basic principles of evolution – reproduction, mutation and environment. These principles the origins of all living things, no matter how simple or complex.
Mutations are both rare and frequent. Rare, in that most reproduction does not lead to any change. Frequent, in that there are so many reproductions that mutations are always occuring - even if mutation occurs only once in a million reproductions, that still means that billions of billions of billions of mutations have occurred since life began.
A mutation can take any form. It may be so gross that the organism does not survive (for example, the heart malforms), or so minor that it is not noticed (for example, slightly longer ears). But
A mutation that leads a bird to develop less efficient wings makes it less likely that the bird will survive and have descendants. Such a mutation can be described as negative. Mutations which make survival easier – such as more efficient wings or a stronger sense of smell to seek out food – enable a life-form to live longer and pass on the mutation to its descendants. Such mutations can be described as positive - and because they help the lifeform to survive, positive mutations are likely to be passed on generation after generation.
In evolutionary terms, the only important mutations are those which affect the organism’s ability to survive.
We know that mutations which make survival easier are more likely to be passed to a lifeform's descendants. To that knowledge we must add the observation that survival is a function of environment - that means that mutations have a positive or negative impact depending on the lifeform's environment. For example the mutation that led to the development of dorsal fins was positive for fish, but it would severely reduce a cheetah’s or ape’s mobility.
Every life-form is part of the environment for other life-forms, which means that a mutation in one affects many others. For example, mutations in bone structure and muscular tissue have led to antelopes developing the ability to run fast enough to escape from lions most of the time, while other mutations in bone structure and muscular tissue have enabled lions to evolve to sometimes run fast enough to catch antelopes to eat.
This combination of reproduction, mutation and environment can also be described as natural selection. (This is, however, an unfortunate term, because "selection" implies a consciousness which selects and the process takes place without any consciousness.)
3.5e Complexity and sex
So far, so good. We have covered the general principles of evolution, but we haven't directly answered the point frequently raised by creationists - how did complex structures such as the human form evolve from much simpler structures such as single-celled organisms without the intervention of a designer?
The answer is simple. Single-celled organisms reproduce by dividing. Mutation means that every so often a division failed. Most times, the mutated double-celled organism would die, unable to survive in its environment, but at least once - and perhaps many times - a new double-celled life form survived, taking the first critical step towards complexity.
These new organisms reproduced and at some point double-celled organisms become multi-celled and ever more complex.
Perhaps another billion years passed before a bacterium, which was hosted by one single-cell organism, moved to another single-celled organism, bringing their original host’s genes with them. This was not sex in the modern sense of the word, where one body injects genetic material into another - but it was the frist time that an offspring combined the genes of two parents. (The fact that
As the opportunities for new mutations grew, cells began to specialize in different skills such as mobility and digestion. The cumulative impact of different mutations in different environments allowed species as different and complex as spiders, duck-billed platypuses and human beings to emerge.
3.5f It takes time
This long, complex, hit-and-miss process that we call evolution depends on one key factor: time. Human history stretches back only five thousand years and only in the last three hundred years has science developed to any great extent. Compared to the planet’s history, our experience adds up to less than an inch in a one-mile race. We are watching a film that appears to have paused but in reality the image is changing at a pace that would take us thousands of generations to notice.
That means we have seen very little evolution in action. We can observe the wings of moths lightening or darkening depending on pollution in the atmosphere. We can see and influence genetic changes in fruit-flies or fish in different environments, but we can't directly observe long-term changes such as those which led birds to evolve from reptiles or the slow evolution of today's humanity, homo sapiens, from our predecessors homo ergaster two million years ago.
That does not mean that these changes did not occur. We cannot observe evolution directly but we can look at the evidence around us. From fossils to genes we are beginning to piece together the development of life-forms on this planet. The record is incomplete and not every detail is clearly understood. Nevertheless it is clear that evolution is the only explanation that fits all the available facts.
3.5g Uncertainties and problems
Does evolution tell us everything we know about the origins and development of life on this planet? No. Just as astronomy still gives us an incomplete picture of the cosmos and physics cannot yet explain how different phenomena such as gravity and general relativity interact, our knowledge of evolution is incomplete.
Does that mean that evolution is false? No, uncertainties in evolution, like uncertainties in astronomy or physics, do not undermine the overall principle; they only point us towards areas where we need more research. We may not know, for example, exactly how life or sex began - but our ignorance is proof only of how much we still have to learn, it is not proof of God's existence.
3.5h Evolution and God
Are God and evolution mutually exclusive? Many believers accept evolution and some evolutionary scientists believe in God - they argue that God triggered evolution but otherwise let it progress exactly as scientists have defined.
But the "evolution-and-God" theory suffers from an intrinsic flaw. If God created the human soul, at some point in our prehistory he "inserted" the soul into one or more individuals. Those individuals became immortal, but their parents did not. While alive, did those with souls become aware of their intrinsic difference from their parents? After death, did they wonder why their parents did not join them in Heaven or Hell - and if so, what did God tell them?
This point is irrelevant for non-believers but is important for those who want both God and evolution in their lives. The ultimate absurdity of the question, however, which implies that at one point in prehistory a primate-with-no-soul gave birth to a human-with-a-soul, leads many people to the conclusion that God and evolution are incompatible.
3.5i The best there is
When we compare the relative merits of creationism, intelligent design and evolution, it is clear that only evolution, supported by overwhelming evidence from biology, chemistry and geology, offers a credible explanation for the development of life.
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If God existed, he would...
admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create
recognize that eternity is meaningless
deny both heaven and hell
disown all men and women who speak in his name
denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"
help the human race to thrive without him
If God existed, he would be an atheist.
What is the difference between science and faith?
science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything
faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing
Which do you trust?
"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"
Check the answer