September 1, 2012

The Sad Truth about Creationism

The Controversy

You've probably seen Bill Nye's YouTube video where he pleads with parents to stop preventing their children from learning about evolution.
"I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, that's completely inconsistent with the world we observe, that's fine.  But don't make your kids do it.  Because we need them.  We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.  We need engineers that can build stuff and solve problems."
-- Bill Nye
What is the Theory of Evolution?

The Theory of Evolution is the basis of all our biological sciences; drugs work because we understand the biological processes that developed and continue to shape our internal chemistry.  New surgical procedures have been developed because we understand how our organs developed to work with each other, and we're even able to graft organs (or parts of organs) from other species because we understand how we're related to them.

Consider vaccines; every vaccine ever developed sprang from the application of the Theory of Evolution. And when some vaccines stopped working, scientists weren't stumped because Evolution predicted that viruses would adapt to the vaccines.  Similarly, bacteria have adapted to many of the original crop of anti-biotics, so new drugs are developed - and they work, because Evolution explains how the bacteria they fight have adapted.

That's because "theory" does not mean "we don't know so we made something up."  A scientific theory has to account for every variable of what it's trying to explain, it has to be proven through experimentation, AND we have to be able to make predictions with it. 

To follow this discussion, you need to understand the basic concepts of science:
  • Hypothesis: A hypothesis is an educated guess, based on observation. Usually, a hypothesis can be supported or refuted through experimentation or more observation. A hypothesis can be disproven, but not proven to be true. In other words, you may find the hypothesis to be untrue in many circumstances, but there may be circumstances you haven't tested yet.
  • Theory: A scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing. A theory is valid as long as there is no evidence to dispute it.
  • Law: A law generalizes a body of observations. At the time it is made, no exceptions have been found to a law. Scientific laws explain things, but they do not describe them. One way to tell a law and a theory apart is to ask if the description gives you a means to explain 'why'.
One line of reasoning used by Creationists is that "evolution isn't true, because if it were, it would be a law."  But now that we have the definitions handy, we can see that theories and laws do different things.  Newton's Law of Gravity doesn't explain why the apple falls, it only says that it will.  Einstein's Theory of Gravity explains why the apple falls - and predicts how it will fall under other circumstances.

Contrary to what rabid fundamentalists keep claiming, Evolution has proven itself time and time again, and at no time has it been dis-proven. 

But what, actually, is the theory of evolution?  The most clear definition I've found is the one on
  • Biological evolution is defined as any genetic change in a population that is inherited over several generations. These changes may be small or large, noticeable or not so noticeable.  In order for an event to be considered an instance of evolution, changes have to occur on the genetic level of a population and be passed on from one generation to the next. It also includes the idea that all of life is connected and can be traced back to one common ancestor. This is called macroevolution.
In other words, all species today evolved from earlier species.  And it's actually quite easy to illustrate the fact of it.

All dogs were once wolves; in fact, every species of domestic dogs are descendents of the Gray Wolf.  We find the truth of this in their DNA. 

Each breed of dog breeds true; a mating of collies produces more collies, and not terriers, and not gray wolves.  That's proof of the change on a genetic level.

We even know the origins of many breeds of dogs, because mankind has developed them.  Same with most other livestock.  Even plants have been purposefully evolved through careful breeding.

Creationist will argue that these examples "aren't evolution."  But when we look at the definition, we see that evolution is "ANY change.." not just accidental or random change.  Evolution does not say that newer species cannot breed with older versions.  But eventually, the original species and the later evolved species will be so different that they won't be able to inter-breed.

The Truth about Creationism

So that's a bunch of stuff on Evolution, but the title of the post is about Creationism, and the sad truth about it.

First, let's have a working definition of the term:
  • creationism: a doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis
CNN's Belief Blog reports that Creationists are rebutting Nye's plea for reason:
"At AiG and the Creation Museum, we teach children and adults the truth concerning who they are in the Creator’s eyes — and where they came from," Ham writes. "We tell people that they do have purpose and meaning in life and that they were created for a purpose. "No, we are not just evolved animals as Nye believes; we are all made in the image of God."
--Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis
This goes straight to the Creation story in Genesis, the first book of the old testament in the Christian Bible.
1:25  And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
1:26  And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
1:27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
-- Book of Genesis, King James Bible
Here's the sad truth; nothing in the biblical narrative disproves the theory of evolution.  In fact, it's a parable of creation that accurately describes the mechanics of evolution.

Read the entire passage, if you like. And notice the order of creation; first, the universe.  Then the earth. Then oceans.  Then dry land.  Then simple organisms - plants.  Then more complex organisms - animals.  And finally, after everything else, only does Man come on the scene.  And man evolves; at first, there was only Adam, a male.  And then there was Eve, a female, derived from the older original human, Adam.  And from that point on, every human being is derived from two genders, and has children both male and female.

This is exactly as predicted by the Theory of Evolution.

There is nothing in the biblical narrative that states that God did not use evolution to accomplish His creation.  Nowhere in the bible is the mechanism of creation described.  All it states is "God did it."  Perhaps God created evolution as a tool to aid in his creation.

Evolution is something we can see in action today, and God's creation, humankind, made in His image, has used evolution to create new species - exercising the dominion described in Genesis.

The sad truth is that the Theory of Evolution is not remotely inconsistent with Christian teachings.  You don't have exclude Evolution to follow the basic precepts of the faith.

Origin of Confusion

A common cause of misunderstanding is a fundamentalist claim that the Earth and the Universe is only a few thousand years old.  Science shows that the earth is about 4 billion years old, and that the universe is at least 12 billion years old.

Here's the thing about the age of the universe; it's not in the Bible.

The Bible says absolutely nothing about the age of the universe, or how old the earth is. 

It's not in there.

Around the time that Darwin was comparing finches from different islands of the Galapagos, a minister decided to determine the age of the universe by examining the Bible.  He made the assumption that all the begats in Genesis made a reliable measurement of the number of generations from Adam and Eve until, well, until a date that he believed they stopped counting. 

There is no way to verify when the begats actually started, or that every generation was actually included, or when they actually stopped.  Ask any modern genealogist how far back they can trace ancestry; most family histories go no further than a couple hundred years, a few trace back to the 12th century, and no credible genealogist has faith in anything going back farther than that.  And we're to believe that sheep farmers in the desert on the run from every major civilization did better?

If you believe that, you're likely to believe anything.  So call me about this bridge I can sell you.


Does creationism belong in a science class alongside of evolution?  Of course not.  It's not a theory derived from science, it's an article of religious conviction.  It doesn't contribute anything to the study of science.  It's not even an "alternative theory," because it isn't a theory.  It wasn't assembled through the scientific process that a theory goes through, and it doesn't function in the manner of a scientific theory; that is, you can't design experiments using it, and you can't make predictions with it.

I wouldn't go as far as Nye to say "don't teach your children the story of creation."  I say to Christian parents "teach Creationism as the parable it is, and teach that there is a difference between parable and science, and that the two are not exclusive, but neither do they serve the same purpose."

And then teach them about the Theory of Evolution.

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