Love for the Bible Led Me to Evolution [Part 3: Science]

This is the third in a four part series on evolution and Christianity.
Part 1: Fundamentals

Part 2: Scripture 
Part 3: Science
Part 4: Consequences

Science.

I don’t have ”faith in science.” I have made a conscious, intellectual decision to accept the overwhelming consensus of demonstrably knowledgeable and trained scientists across the world and for several generations.

-Peter Enns

Wooden Sculpture of Science Genetics

photo credit: epSos.de

The earth is old and life evolved from single-celled organisms.

At least that’s what it looks like to nearly every scientist on this planet.  Including Christian ones.

To disagree with such a huge consensus of professionals, in the fields that they work in on a daily basis, requires very good reasons; and most of the “good reasons” come from religious commitments that people feel they need to defend, like the scientific applicability of Genesis 1-3.  Without these, I doubt anyone would disagree with evolution.  To put it another way, scientists aren’t seeing so many inconsistencies in the evolutionary model that they feel the need to question the whole thing… a few scientists, rather, feel the need to question the whole thing, because it simply can’t be right.

In part 2 of this series, I gave reasons for believing Genesis 1-3 is not a scientific account of life’s origins. So I’m not committed to proving that it is.

And where does that leave me?  With the scientific consensus, because I don’t have compelling reasons to overhaul the whole thing (and I’m not a scientist).

The consensus points to an old earth and to evolution.

Though I’m not advocating for the blind acceptance of anything - that’s actually the point of this – I think the evidence for evolution is solid.  Here’s just a few bits of it, because this post is long enough as it is and you’ll want to have something left to learn in your overly-priced university biology class, or the Discovery Channel, or whatever it is that you do.

The Earth is Old: Polar Ice Cores, Radiometric Dating, and Exploding Stars

Not all (evolution-rejecting) creationists believe that the earth is young; some are Old Earth Creationists, but many are not. Young Earth Creationists believe that God created the world recently, with most agreeing to a date less than 10,000 years ago. This section is for them.

No substantial scientific arguments point to a 10,000 year old earth. Almost all of the work of Creation Science is about providing alternative ways of reading the data. Their proposals, more often than not, require enormous amounts of speculative scenarios that seem to beg for a good Occam-style shanking.

Because the science is far simpler.

Polar Ice Cores

Inside the ice core storage area at the National Ice Core Laboratory.

Drills have pulled up ice cores from Antarctica that testify to over 740,000 years of existence, adding to a collection of samples from various places across the planet.

Rings in the ice tell us how many seasons have passed.  Layers of pollen and layers of snowfall testify to a history that goes back much farther than 10,000 years.

Michael Oard, M.S., at the Institute for Creation Research has met this claim with one of his own.  You can read it here if you’d like, but suffice it to say that he proposes a rapid accumulation of snow during a post-flood storm that successfully deposited layers of “dust” (pollen) in such a way that mimics the passing of seasons.  This seems to me, a non-scientist, to be too novel of an idea, with an extremely small likelihood of occurrence, to be true.

He also points out that the scientists involved on one of these collections made an error and found 25,000 more years in their ice core sample than was initially proposed.  He then concludes that ice core scientists can’t be trusted.

Which is the type of thing you have to do if you’re going to overturn the vast majority of scientific opinion. Appealing as the “gotcha” rhetoric might be, working toward greater precision does not mean that a scientist’s overall premises are wrong.

The fact is that ice cores show a long history.  To read them differently requires the creation of beyond-fanciful hypotheses.

Radiometric Dating

The ice cores can take us back only so far, but several different types of evidence (like radiometric dating) place the age of the earth at around 4.54 billion years.

Google agrees. Literally.

age of earth

A quick explanation of radiometric dating goes something like this:

Some atoms of an element exist in irregular forms (isotopes) and through the process of radioactivity they slowly turn into the atoms of a different element.  This happens over time at an exact rate.  So when scientists measure how much of a certain element in a rock has converted to another, they use the rate to figure out how long this conversion has been taking place.

The most obvious objection is that we don’t know how much of the original element was there to begin with.  The answer to this question is somewhat complicated, but it involves much higher levels of produced elements that normally wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for conversion.  They, in scientific terms, look produced.

Radiometric dating involves many different types of elements (not just carbon), but evidence from the wide variety points to the same general time-frame for the age of the earth.  And it isn’t 10,000 years.

Many creationists will claim that decay rates of radioactive elements have changed, and that chunks of them in the Earth’s crust only appear to be billions of years old, citing disasters like a global flood (or the fall from grace) as causes. Even the harshest of environmental conditions, however, don’t affect the inner-workings of atomic nucleoli… not to mention that such a change would require decay rates of all these elements to change together at the same time, and to similar degrees, across the entire globe.

Exploding Stars

A far simpler obstacle to a “young earth” is the fact that we’ve seen stars explode.

That we see stars at all makes the universe look billions of years old, because it takes light from the furthest stars that much time to reach us.

Young Earth Creationists, however, claim that God made the light of stars en route to earth, so that it only appears to have been traveling for a long time.  The problem is that we’re just now witnessing what looks like the light that left star-explosions millions of years ago.  If God created this light only a few thousands years ago, that would mean God created the light of exploding stars, but not the stars themselves.

So the age of the earth looks old.  4.54 billion years old.  But what about life?  Couldn’t the earth be old, but life come into existence 10,000 years ago?

Not if the biologists have their say.

Life has Evolved: Evolutionary Process and Genetics

First definitions, then everything else.  Every Creationist (that I’m aware of) accepts micro-evolution; the idea that life adapts to its environment by passing on mutations in its DNA to successive generations.  What they reject, however, is macro-evolution; the idea that an animal can evolve into another species.

Biologists, however, know that this distinction isn’t so clean;  every step in the evolution of a species is micro.  The small changes just build up over time to the extent that they appear in macro terms.

It works like this.

Evolutionary Process

 "A Venerable Orang-outang"

Biological evolution is the process by which life has branched out from simple organisms to the complex variety that we see today.  It does not suggest that we evolved from monkeys - it suggests that both monkeys and humans came from a very distant common ancestor.

This ancestor passed along small genetic mutations to its offspring.  The mutations that helped its offspring survive and have more babies had a better chance of being passed on and, in this way, all animals changed from one generation to the next.

Certain animals separated from the original group and they continued to change as generations passed in a different environment (with different mutations).  Many years of small changes led up to a point where they could no longer have offspring with the original group, even if they wanted to.  So they kept having babies with this branch group and it became even further removed.

The original group became two different species.

This story was played over and over in the billions of years that life has existed and it is the reason that there are so many different forms of life on the earth today.  Evidence of transitional lifeforms permeates the fossil record, with examples too numerous to recount here, and new discoveries constantly endorsing the overall picture.

Genetics

DNA was discovered after biologists first developed evolutionary theory, but it has only confirmed their findings.  Extensive DNA testing has done everything to support evolution’s claim that all life on earth is related.  Some Creationists might say that “of course the DNA of all life is similar, we all have the same God,” but that explanation doesn’t account for genes that really look evolved.

For instance, we’ve inherited broken genes.

Many animals make their own Vitamin C within their bodies, so that they don’t have to resort to creating terribly idiotic things like Orange Tang just to stay alive, but primates (such as humans) can’t.  We have a portion of the gene that tells our bodies to make this vitamin, but some of the coding has been lost.  Either this part of the code was “lost in translation” on the way to modern humans, or God created us with a broken Vitamin C gene.  Which would be messed up.  For a lot of reasons.  Not least of which is the fact that it tricks us into thinking we’re evolved.

img-thing

In the end, we’re left with three possibilities:

1. God doesn’t exist.  I’m a Christian, and another post will have to spell out the amazingly persuasive reasons I have for believing that God does exist.

2. God created an old-looking universe and an evolved-looking biosphere, then gave humans a different and scientifically correct account of creation in Genesis.  I don’t think that God would give two massive, contradictory sources of knowledge to humanity… and again, Genesis wasn’t intended to be scientific.

3. God created all things, with evolution playing a huge role. Obviously, I’m going with this one.

Because most of the Christians I know object to evolution on theological grounds, the last post in this series will explore some of the ramifications of accepting evolution as a Christian and *Spoiler Alert* I think they’re quite alright.

—–

Information in this article comes from multiple resources, but much of it is presented in depth by The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions.

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5 responses to “Love for the Bible Led Me to Evolution [Part 3: Science]

  1. Pingback: 5 Ways Creationism Is Bad For Christianity | an irenicon·

  2. Pingback: Love for the Bible Led Me to Evolution [Part 4: Consequences] | an irenicon·

  3. Very interesting points. I don’t accept your actual final conclusions since I’m a non-theist, but I’ve worked with a question closely related to the uncertainty you mention early on–what are we to do with science as the knowledge we accept? How does it address our human questions about meaning, purpose, death? For me the “answers” of sorts have arisen slowly out of looking at the history of life itself over 3.8 billion years. An imaginative vision of life past can tell us much about our lives today.

    Like this

  4. Pingback: Love for the Bible Led Me to Evolution [Part 2: Scripture] | an irenicon·

  5. Pingback: Love for the Bible Led Me to Evolution [Part 1: Fundamentals] | an irenicon·

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