The Fact Of Evolution

Creationists love to blather on about how evolution is just a theory. It’s a great little sound byte that crops up almost everywhere evolution is doubted, tainted or otherwise misunderstood. The problem is how it undermines and misrepresents the meaning of a scientific theory, a testable (and well tested) explanation of the facts that also makes specific falsifiable scientific predictions.

In truth, evolution is both a fact and a theory. Let me explain this using gravity as an example.

There is the observable fact we call ‘gravity’ – Things fall when you drop them. Then we have an ever-changing theory of gravity we use to explain those observed facts. Our current theory started with Newton and was later added to by Einstein. Regardless of what theory we use or where that theory stands, it doesn’t change the fact that things fall when you drop them.¬†

Now let’s change ‘gravity’ to ‘evolution’.

There is the observable fact we call ‘evolution’ – Species evolve over time. Then we have an ever-changing theory of evolution we use to explain those observed facts. Our current theory started with Darwin’s theory of Evolution by Natural Selection and has since been added to and changed by thousands of scientists over the years. Regardless of what theory we use or where that theory stands, it doesn’t change the fact that species evolve over time.

This is one of the reasons I loved it when Carl Sagan noted in his Cosmos series, “Evolution is a fact. It really happened.” Evolution did really happen. Species evolved over time. It’s observable. It’s a fact. And the best theory we have to date to explain these observed facts is evolution by natural selection.

Micro-evolution vs. Macro-evolution.

Now, a lot of creationists like to meet halfway by saying they accept micro-evolution but not macro-evolution. I don’t differentiate between the two, but just to explain – Micro-evolution is used when talking about small changes within a single species. Macro-evolution is used when talking about a single species becoming two separate species. In truth, there is only one kind of evolution. Accepting micro-evolution but not macro-evolution (indeed, even acknowledging a difference between the two) is usually employed as a method for religious people to make room for God in their otherwise purely scientific and reasonable view of nature. This is the God of the Gaps¬†dilemma many religious people face. As evidence from various areas of science fills in the remaining gaps, God (or the need for a god) gets smaller and smaller until there are no gaps left for him to inhabit.

This is when many religious people fall back on what Stephen Jay Gould called NOMA or Non-Overlapping Magisterium that says;

The net, or magisterium, of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magesteria do not overlap…

As Richard Dawkins points out in his book The God Delusion, “This sounds terrific – right up until you give it a moment’s thought.” After all, by what means does religion gain insight into life’s ultimate meanings and moral values? But that’s a question for another post.

Recommended Reading:
An Evolution Primer for Creationists by Skeptoid
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

8 thoughts on “The Fact Of Evolution

  1. drew terry

    Evolution of Consciousness has nothing to do with religion.

    Darwin believed in a god; so did Einstein.

    The Big Bang is at least as far-fetched as Creationism.

    What is wrong with intelligence expressed in what we perceive as design? Should we prefer to be intelligent by fluke?

    If we are truly the product evolutionary random mutations and novelty conservation with nothing intelligent except for what we see in retrospect, then what reason do we have to suggest that we can plan to create from now on by intelligent design? To be that sure of ourselves is kind of . . . god-like, to me. To be clear, I am spiritual, but not religious.

    There may be a time when people say they agree with Evolution of Consciousness but do not believe in the science of evolution.

    One thing is for sure, someday we will know more about less than we do now. We will never know what we cannot know, until we need to know, then we will know.

    “Not everything that can be counted, counts;
    Not everything that counts, can be counted.” (A.E.)

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  2. Randy Ruggles

    Hmmmmm . . . your definition of evolution as fact is very slippery. You say, “Species evolve over time” which no one disputes. But what I suspect you REALLY mean is “every living organism is derived from a common ancestor.”

    And that’s where the problem comes in because there is not one SHRED of evidence for that. And the distinction between MICRO- and MACRO-evolution began with evolutionists, not creationists. Creationists would prefer to use the term “variations” because that’s all evolution really has evidence for. But you try to prove MACRO by providing evidence for MICRO, then claim it just takes billions of years.

    That, my friend, is faith.

    If evolutionists would stick to the facts and the evidence (like they do in every other field of science) they would realize that MACRO-evolution is unobserved and impossible according to the data. Their unwillingness to do so proves there is something else going on here – namely their theological and philosophical biases prevent them from following the evidence where it leads.

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  3. Christopher Sisk Post author

    @drew terry: I’m not quite sure where you’re going with your comments. My post had nothing to do with consciousness or the evolution of consciousness. You’re argument from admired religious scientists is both a moot argument and utterly wrong. Darwin believed in a god only until the evidence showed him otherwise. And Einstein did not believe in a personal god.

    I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounding admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. – Albert Einstein

    The Big Bang theory has absolutely nothing to do with evolution. I’m also not sure what you mean by being ‘spiritual’. Regardless of what it feels like to you or myself, things are the way they are. The universe is indifferent. I seriously doubt we will ever stop accepeting the ‘science of evolution’ as it is so well grounded in every discipline. And the evolution of our consciousness is a part of that science.

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  4. Christopher Sisk Post author

    @Randy Ruggles: I’m not sure where you get your information from but there are massive mountains of evidence to support species evolving from a common ancestor in almost every branch of science, but most importantly in genetics. Also, who cares who started using a term? That’s really irrelivant.

    Evolutionary scientists do stick to facts and evidence, unlike creationists who have no evidence in the first place. What data do you present that proves species cannot change into different species? What data shows this is impossible? For that matter, what criteria do you employ to define a ‘species’ in your studies? At what point do ‘variations’ become so severe that you can’t differentiate between the two?

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  5. Randy Ruggles

    No, I’m sorry but you are mistaken. You have been led to believe there are “mountains” of evidence to support MACRO-evolution. But in reality, there are mountains of evidence for MICRO-evolution and virtually none for MACRO.

    And all the supposed evidence for MACRO could equally support intelligent design. If you could look critically at the evidence, you would see that.

    My point about who started using the term “MICRO-evolution” was that many evolutionists claim that only creationists make the distinction between MICRO and MACRO, when in fact the term was already in use by evolutionists long before.

    You say it is “creationists who have no evidence.” That’s ironic since you can watch any debate between a creationist and an evolutionist and you will see that it is the creationist who sticks to science that we can prove. The evolutionist invariably must resort to ad hominem attacks and philosophical and religious discussions. That’s why evolutionists are now advised not to debate with creationists – they know they will lose (see Eugenie Scott).

    My evidence for the genetic barrier between MICRO- and MACRO-evolution are the millions of fruit-fly experiments conducted over the past 100 years where not even a new enzyme was produced. There is much more that I don’t have time to get into here.

    My evidence against MACRO-evolution are the dozens of so-called examples that have long been discredited (homology, embryology, the fossil record, vestigial structures, peppered moths, finch beaks, etc.) yet continue to be taught in high-school and college textbooks. (Why teach faked and fraudulent evidence if there are truly “mountains” of REAL evidence?)

    Of course, the definition of “species” is any two organisms which can interbreed and produce fertile off-spring. Thus, a horse, a donkey and a mule are classified as different species. Please don’t mistake this as any kind of MACRO-evolution. (It actually speaks strongly against evolution for it is a dead end.)

    But as I’m sure you are aware, wolves and domestic dogs can interbreed and produce fertile off-spring yet are not considered the same species. So obviously this man-made classification system means very little.

    I get my information from other evolutionists via peer-reviewed, science journals. But having no preconceptions, I am able to critically analyze the data. If you could bring yourself to put aside your humanistic beliefs for a moment and do the same, you would see that the evidence for MACRO-evolution is sorely lacking.

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  6. Christopher Sisk Post author

    @Randy Ruggles: Well, you’ve blathered on enough about Macro and Micro evolution to show my point very clearly. You accept changes within a species but fail to take that concept to its logical end. If changes continue to occur, then a species will continue to become more different than it’s ancestors. You mention horses, donkeys and mules. Interestingly enough, the evolution of horses and horse-like mammals is one of the most well-studied areas in mammalian evolution. Genetic similarities and timing of variations show that many ungulates (hoofed animals) descended from a common ancestor, Hyracotherium. This is not to say that ‘hoofs’ haven’t independently evolved in other species.

    You’ve also failed to address any of my questions regarding your evidence that species evolving into different species is “impossible”.

    My evidence against MACRO-evolution are the dozens of so-called examples that have long been discredited (homology, embryology, the fossil record, vestigial structures, peppered moths, finch beaks, etc.) yet continue to be taught in high-school and college textbooks.

    This is a common logical fallacy. Evidence against one concept does not constitute evidence for another. Also, if we don’t teach science’s past errors (and that is the only context in which some of the things you mention are taught), then how are we supposed to learn from those mistakes? Why teach history at all?

    I’m currently reading Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale and would highly recommend it to you to help you understanding exactly how evolution works within the context of the open systems of genetic information.

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  7. Randy Ruggles

    The evolution of the modern horse has been discredited for over 50 years.

    I HAVE addressed your questions regarding species evolution. And I agree with your assertion about the logical fallacy. “Evidence against one concept does not constitute evidence for another.” I am not attempting to provide evidence for God’s existence or any such thing. That is clearly outside the realm of science. But a hard look at the evidence reveals that it does not support MACRO-evolution.

    I will take you up on your recommendation of reading Ancestor’s Tale. Thank you. I would gladly believe in evolution again if I could be shown the evidence.

    Someone once said that you can never completely understand an issue until you can argue the opposite side to your opponent’s satisfaction. I’m quite confident that I could argue in favor of evolution and you could never tell my true position. (I’ve actually done this many times with knowledgeable professors and scientists.)

    So tell me – what evidence have YOU researched for the other side? You won’t get a complete understanding by only reading Dawkins (whom I could argue is religiously motivated and therefore his opinion doesn’t count.)

    I’m enjoying our banter and I’m not trying to piss you off. If you know of evidence I haven’t uncovered, I’d be pleased to hear it.

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  8. Christopher Sisk Post author

    The evolution of the modern horse has been discredited for over 50 years.

    I’d love to see the research are you referring to here?

    I’ve also seen no reference to any research that provides evidence that speciation is “impossible”.

    Speciation, or what you refer to as Macro-evolution, is the logical end to variation. Given enough time (and there has been plenty of time), those variations become so different that one no longer resembles it’s ancestors enough to be called the same species and it can be considered a new species via scientific criteria. The evidence I ask you most to consider is the genetic variations and similarities among species. Animals within a species have similar genetic sequences throughout their genome. An animal from a different species that shares ancestry with the first will have many of the same sequences except for variations at different points. Respectively, the points at which the two species separated from the common line. Rabbits, squirels and mice all look different enough, never mind the fact that they can’t interbreed, that we clearly consider them to be different animals. They all came from the same ancestors and share genetic sequences respecitvely until each one separates from the common line. The same with horses. Reading The Ancestor’s Tale is a difficult but good primer. I would also recommend Skeptoid’s An Evolution Primer for Creationists to help with many of the misconceptions about evolutionary theory that get thrown around the religious and creationist circles.

    I also disagree with you that God’s existence is ‘outside the realm of science’. The existence of a supernatural entity that possesses the ability to change the laws of physics is clearly a scientific question in origin. If such an entity exists, then it profoundly changes how we can assume to understand the laws that govern our universe. Things either work the same way naturally every time or they can be interfered with by an unseen agent. That is definitely a proposition that is not only within the realm of but also worthy of scientific inquiry.

    Regarding any knowledge of the ‘other side’ – I was raised Roman Catholic and remained so well throughout high school. I was an alter boy, bible studier and, at one time, thought of joining the priesthood. I attended Good Shephard Catholic school for most of my elementary schooling, leaving only briefly to attend a public school to save on family finances. Does that count as ‘research’ on the other point of view? I lived a god/jesus-centered lifestyle for most of my life. After high school I began researching world religions and cultures with a christian-centered, naive idea that all the world’s religions were really just worshipping the one true god. Only recently have I truly looked into the tested and verified scientific explanations for life, the universe and everything.

    You can argue that Dawkins is ‘religious’ but that also goes against his own views on the ambiguity of the word ‘religious’ … There is the Einsteinian form of religion, where ‘god’ is a word representing the awe and mystery of the universe as science reveals it. Then there’s the traditional form of religion, where ‘god’ is the end-all supernatural creator/owner entity of the universe. Dawkins could easily, and says so himself in The God Delusion, be classified as a ‘deeply religious non-believer’ using the Einsteinian sense of religion. But he and I both steer clear of using ‘religion’ in the Einsteinian sense because it’s confusing, to say the least.

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