A reader, Cathy Wells, believes I may have overstated the case for evolution in my previous post, “The top 10 signs that you don’t understand evolution at all.”
She made a number of criticisms, most of which I’ve addressed elsewhere on this blog, so I won’t include her full comments here (though you are, of course, welcome to click over and see all of what she had to say). But one of her complaints, a suggestion really, is not something that’s been discussed in depth in this forum, so I wanted to share it with you, along with a few of my own thoughts in response.
I appreciate your comment about a lack of understanding not sinking the theory. But I think that we might diverge as to what “evolutionary theory” really is or at least the way it is presented to creationists. Origin of life as a “change combination” of non-living chemicals is a common definition. So, the mechanisms or at least the initial occurrence/mechanism is presented as essential doctrine, if you will, to evolutionary theory. Thus, we must outright reject the theory altogether because it has no plausible explanation for either the origins of life or the particular explanation of the manner in which species evolved.
A creationist will just as easily reply that God simply created new species at will when He so choose, which covers both the presence of the difference species AND the mechanism by which they occurred. Which is one step farther than evolution goes, in my opinion. In short, it is not enough to simply say, “We know it happened, we know not how.” If we know not how, we do not know WHAT happened. We know that something happened, sure. But evolution appears to admit knowing the “how” along with the “what.” That is my main problem.
Rest assured, I informed her that the “origin of life as a ‘change combination’ of non-living chemicals” is not a very good definition of evolution. But that wasn’t the main point I wished to address. Rather, it is the idea that the gradual appearance of new species we see illustrated in the fossil record may have been the direct work of God — continually bringing forth separate and new creatures at his command — rather than the results of naturalistic evolution.
This view, a variant of what’s popularly known as progressive creationism, is not an uncommon one. It allows a believer to accommodate the vast geological and astronomical evidence for an old earth, while still holding to a largely literal view of Genesis 1 and 2. Progressive creationists may marry these two ideas in various ways, such as inferring a large “gap” in the narrative between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2; interpreting the “days” of the Genesis 1 account as “long periods of time”; inferring that the “seventh day” (which does not include with a “morning and evening clause” like the other “days”) may have lasted an extremely long time; and so on.
As a Christian and a theist, I am willing to entertain the possibility that new species are special creations of God, rather than the products of evolution (though I fully understand that such an idea would normally outside the bounds of scientific inquiry — which concerns the investigation of the material world and its material processes). However, we must think of the implications of such an idea, and see if they really fit the observed evidence. The one that comes most readily to my mind is what the fossil record should look like, if progressive creationism were correct. (Hint: PC doesn’t fit the bill any better than the YEC perspective.)
Another prediction we might make if each species is a special creation, we would reasonably expect their genetic codes to be distinct and unique. We would expect similarities, of course, if the species are similar. For example, if they both have fur, we would probably expect the genes that code for the the production of fur to be similar.
But we would not expect their genetic codes to be similar — let alone identical — in arbitrary ways, or in noncoding segments. We would certainly not expect two distinct species — who were supposedly not related to each other in any way — to show identical marks of genetic viruses that an ancestor had borne.
However, that is exactly what we see in humans and chimpanzees, in many ways — not the least of which is in the form of endogenous retroviruses (ERVs). These are molecular remnants of a past parasitic viral infection. We have found more than 30,000 ERVs in the human genome, meaning that these are the marks of ancient viruses that our ancestors contracted and passed on to us. Guess what? In at least seven cases, chimpanzees have these exact same marks, in the exactly analogous locations of their own genomes.
The theory of evolution explains this finding simply and elegantly: Both humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor. We both inherited these ERV sequences from that same ancestor.
The theory of special creation can offer only one explanation: God just did it that way. That’s not a very satisfying explanation, raising the question of why, of which the only possible answer could be: to deceive us. And that doesn’t fit the description of the God the Bible reveals, who “is not a man, that he should lie.” What’s so ironic about Christian anti-evolutionists is that they oppose science precisely because of their insistence that God “didn’t lie” in the Genesis creation accounts, but in so doing, they make him into a liar in what’s revealed in his other book, the book of nature.
And this is not even the only theological problem this view creates. If most of the species we see in the fossil record were direct creations of God, one is left to wonder why he went to all the trouble, since most of these species are now extinct. Indeed, most of them died out long before we ever came around. It paints the picture of a God who is either too inept (or too apathetic and uncaring) to ensure the species he makes are able to stay alive in the world he also made. Neither view is in line with the perfect, loving God that the Bible describes.