The Evolution of Belief

Disclaimer: This post is from the archives, and may not represent the current views of the author. It also may not be at all interesting to read. Continue at your own peril!

In the 1600s, a man named Galileo attempted to revolutionize the way we view astronomy. He did this by promoting and defending the work of a man named Copernicus, who had produced a theory of heliocentrism – the idea that the planets revolve around the sun. Up until that point, everyone believed in geocentrism – that the sun and all the planets revolved around the earth. Galileo’s actions resulted in several trials and clashes with the Church, who complained that such a view directly contradicted Scripture. Galileo himself, however, advocated that such a view did not contradict Scripture as long as Scripture was interpreted correctly – the writers of the Bible were obviously writing from the viewpoint of earth, so they saw the sun revolve around the earth. At any rate, the theory was banned for a while, then just declared false, but we all know which side eventually won out. While the Catholic Church had the Bible, which they revered as inspired, Galileo, and those who took up his cause after his death, had the evidence on their side. Now all science textbooks (obviously) present a heliocentric model of the solar system.

Today we have a new debate on our hands. Is evolution a fact? Or did God create the world in six days? Science claims that evolution is, indeed, a fact. Many churches, pastors, and theologians, as well as other organizations such as Answers in Genesis, however, believe in a literal, six-day creation event such as described in Genesis. But in such a case, one side must be right, and the other wrong. There is no way to believe in both – evolution requires millions and billions of years in order to function, and that just doesn’t fit within a week-long event. So, over the course of about four or five months, I attempted to examine this issue to determine the truth. Somewhere, in amongst this mess of a situation, there has to be some truth…

Essentially, I decided to do this after realizing that throughout the years, I had never really examined the evolutionist’s point of view. Growing up in a Christian home and a Christian school, I had only ever been exposed to creationism. Of course, evolution was mentioned, but only as a theory which we, of course, knew was false. From then on, if I heard anything about evolution, it was from the mouth of a creationist. It was either the interpretation of evolution, or else the words of an evolutionist interpreted and analyzed by a creationist. It never occurred to me for many years that perhaps I should be looking at the evolutionist’s point of view as well. After all, even Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” Things always sound right when we’ve only heard one side of the story.

So, for the first time, I began to read what evolutionists said about evolution – and creation, for that matter. And instead of relying on one side to tell me what was right, I began to examine the evidence for myself. Creationists often point out that fossils never come with tags on them mentioning their age – in other words, science must interpret the evidence. However, it makes sense that creationists must also interpret it, then, so in order to accurately examine the evidence, we must look at all the possible biases. Looking at what a creationist has to say about an issue, then looking at what an evolutionist has to say about that same issue should shed more light on the true nature of the issue itself. So for the first time in a very long time, I ventured forth to see the world on my own – with my own eyes, if you will. And what I found was very different than what I expected.

As I began to examine the evidence, I realized that evolution was not as shaky as creationists paint it to be. “It’s only a theory” could likely be the official motto of creationism. It’s what they love to say about evolution. But yet, science builds on theories. That is how science progresses, and without theories, we would have nothing. But the more I examined the evidence, the more I saw the strength of evolution, and the more evidence I examined, the more I became sure of that. It was not easy for me, but as I truly looked at the evidence as it stood, I realized that the position on which I stood – creationism – was simply not tenable. At least, not from a scientific point of view. It is fine to believe that God created the world in six days, but to do so, you must accept that God created it in a way that made it appear to be much, much older than about 6,000-10,000 years old (the general age of the earth according to young-earth creationists). I, personally, cannot accept this, because it makes God appear deceitful – if God created the world in six days and yet made it appear to be older, then He is trying to trick us into thinking that the world is old. And this, to me, is simply unacceptable if I take the position that the God of the Bible created the universe (which I do). Thus, if the Creator is evident in His creation, we should be able to look at creation and use that evidence to determine what happened.

Since I grew up believing in creationism, I have heard the arguments for it. I have even used them to try and argue against evolutionists in the past. So I know the strongest arguments for creation (and against evolution), and I would like to show them to you and show how evolution adequately explains, and in some cases better explains, the evidence. I will outline three of what I feel to be the strongest arguments for creation: that mutations do not add information, that transitional fossils have never been observed, and that radioisotope dating methods are flawed. I’ll try to keep the terminology simple for those who don’t have the greatest grasp of science; however, a quick Google search on any of the terms I use will probably be able to shed more light if you are still confused. And, at the end, I’ll give you a few resources for further investigation. But without further ado, let’s begin.

1. The first claim is that mutations are never seen to add information. This is simply not true. Mutations often do not increase or decrease the amount of information, but they sometimes do. You see, there are certain enzymes in our body which are responsible for looking at our DNA code and then translating it. Sometimes these enzymes make errors, however – they read the code wrong. And that is a mutation. Most times, this doesn’t really matter. It only makes a difference when you are dealing with sex cells – sperm and ova. If there are errors in these cells, then you can end up with mutant children or death of the child, in extreme cases. Often nothing happens, though. But at any rate, sometimes the error is simply an error in reading the code. It’s similar to a typo. However, there are also addition or deletion errors, where entire chunks of DNA are either added or deleted in the translation. And these addition errors are our increases in information. One very convenient example is Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21. Basically, we normally have pairs of each chromosome – one from each parent. However, with Down syndrome, one of the pairs of the 21st chromosome gets duplicated, resulting in three copies of the chromosome instead of two. Of course, this has some negative effects on people with this condition, but nevertheless it is an increase in information – a whole chromosome, in this case. It is certainly more than conceivable that the same thing could happen, but ending up with different characteristics that are beneficial for the organism.

There is also a term called “gene duplication,” which is pretty straightforward – a long stretch of DNA, known as a gene, gets duplicated. Once the information is added, further mutations down the road can easily change the duplicated information to result in other features being presented in the organism. One experiment on yeast put into a medium with very little sugar resulted in a certain gene duplicating several times, and some of these duplicated versions mutated further beyond that. This happened in 450 generations, which I am assuming is fairly quick for yeast. Maybe a matter of hours. At any rate, it is more than possible for mutations to add information, and for that information to then be used to increase functionality of the organism. Case closed on this one, it seems.

2. The second claim is that transitional fossils have never been observed. This is true only in a certain light. Certainly, in the fossil record, we do not see chickens with scales, for example. But this sort of “transitional fossil” is based on some impossible definition that we see a direct line between one animal to another – like snakes with half a leg or something. This has not been observed, but it’s not really required to prove evolution. What scientists should be looking for – and are looking for – is a transition between a bunch of traits. To give a hypothetical example, if we are looking for the transition between one animal which has A, B, and C, and another animal which has D, E, and F, then we don’t need to find animals with A, B, and half-C/half-F or anything. But we might find animals with A, B, and F, or perhaps D, E, C. It becomes a gradual transition where the one population of animals begins to take on more characteristics of the descendant animal.

To give a few examples, mososaurs show a transition between snakes and lizards. They have flexible lower jaws like snakes, but do not have flexible upper jaws, like lizards. This is among other feature which they appear intermediate between the two groups. As well, the fact that even modern whales have small remnants of leg bones connected to their pelvis suggests that at one point, they had legs. There is quite good evidence for the transitions from land mammals to whales, most of which has been found more recently (thus, before a lot of the out-dated creationist arguments).

In general, though, taking it from a concrete, observation-based mode to a more theoretical mode, if creationism is accurate, then we should see fairly distinct animal species in categories, correct? But the more species that we discover (and scientists are constantly discovering new species, especially in places like the Amazon rainforest), the more we find that it is tough to distinguish exactly in which category animals should be placed in. Is a small dinosaur with the beginnings of a beak and primitive feathers classified as a “dinosaur” or a “bird”? And at which point do these two categories start and end? If scientists have discovered so many human ancestors that creationists themselves are divided about whether something is a “man” or an “ape,” what does that tell you? If, as we look at the transitions in that area, we see an increasing skull size (which corresponds to an increasing brain size, as the frontal lobe of the brain – the portion that deals with higher-level thoughts and reasoning – rapidly expanded), and the teeth and bone structure of these ancestors changes gradually as well, then what does that imply? On top of all that, humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, while apes have 24. Of these, 22 are very similar, while the remaining two ape chromosomes are similar to each half of the remaining human chromosome – which highly suggests that at some point, they fused together. This sort of evidence you will never hear coming from a creationist, but I would rather trust a scientist with credentials and with extensive research under his belt.

3. The third claim is that radioisotope dating methods are flawed. This, to me, had always been one of the arguments that I enjoyed the most as a creationist. You’ve probably heard of carbon dating – it is one of the radioisotope methods, among others, of dating an object. Creationists often claim, however, that these methods are based on unprovable assumptions. Let me outline for you the very basics of the method. Basically, some atoms are radioactive – these are usually unstable, and through a process called “decay” they (in some cases, anyway) lose protons or neutrons to become more stable. The mechanics of it are complex and not really important here, but basically, scientists have discovered that each of these radioactive atoms has a “half-life.” This half-life is the amount of time it takes for half of the atoms in a given sample to decay. So if an atom has a half-life of 30 minutes, after that time, half of the atoms will have decayed, and we can measure this. After another 30 minutes, half of the remaining radioactive atoms will have decayed (so, 1/4 of the original sample). And after another 30 minutes, another half (1/8 of the original). So, if we know the half-life of an atom, and we measure the amount of the daughter atom (the atom after it has decayed), then we can figure out how old the sample is, within a given margin of error, of course.

Evolutionists will agree that this process relies on certain assumptions. It assumes that the original sample didn’t have any of the daughter substance in it already – contamination, in other words. And it assumes that the half-life has always remained constant over time. However, there are ways of accounting for these possible errors. First off, no process that scientists have ever tried has been able to influence the half-life of an atom, and in some cases astronomers have been able to “look back in time” through incoming starlight and find that the half-life of the chemicals in the star have remained constant. Since it sometimes takes millions of years for light from a star to get to earth, we know that the half-life for that element has been stable for at least that long. As for the possibility of contamination of the sample, that is a risk – however, scientists try to correct for this by taking multiple samples from different areas, by looking for possible ways in which they could be contaminated. (For instance, mollusks are unreliable because often they live in water that has been contaminated by “old carbon” from very old rocks. But once scientists know this, they can simply avoid dating mollusks.) And if certain dates don’t seem to fit right with other dates from the same area, the strange one is discarded on the basis of possible error. In other words, scientists have ways of reducing the amount that they are assuming. They don’t just blindly date things and then take it as ultimate truth.

However, the most important thing to remember about radioisotope dating (and something that I had never heard before) is that radioisotope dating does not just stand on its own. There are other completely independent methods of dating which back up radioisotope dating to make it more credible. For instance, tree ring dating (on either live or dead trees) gives us dates going back at least 8,000 years, and carbon dating the inside rings reveals that the two methods match up very closely – obviously there is some degree of variability, but it is within reason. In addition to this, glaciers produce annual layers which are detailed enough to show climate conditions of the environment during the year, etc. Glacial layers from Greenland have been dated back more than 40,000 years by counting layers, and can also be dated to reinforce radioisotope dating.

One more dating method is using coral reefs. Coral reefs do not grow quickly, by any standard. Individual corals grow no more than 0.5-1.0 inch per year, even under excellent conditions. The actual reefs, which grow from coral sand, grow even slower than that. However, one scientist studying coral reefs was measuring the thickness of the reefs, and he had to drill down 1,380 meters, almost nine-tenths of a mile, in order to reach the bottom. That is 54,330 inches (4,527 feet) thick. Even under optimal circumstances the entire time, it would have taken over 50,000 years for that coral reef to grow. Another reef was measured at 4,610 feet thick – these thicknesses alone certainly disprove a young earth. But at any rate, dating corals can also achieve reliable dating that corresponds with radioisotope dating.

So, as you see, radioisotope dating does not stand alone. Even with unprovable assumptions, it still can be proven accurate by several other dating methods (as well as others which I did not mention, such as dating scrolls and objects where we know the dates for them already), so it is reinforced by these methods. Even knocking down one dating method still leaves all the others untouched.

These, and more, are what my investigations uncovered. The evidence for evolution far, far outweighs the evidence for creation. The more I saw the true nature of the debate, the more I realized that creation does not even have a foot to stand on. But what does that mean for my beliefs? Well, along with the attempts at proving creation, most creationist organizations are adamant that if you do not believe in a literal, six-day creation, you are watering down the Bible and, in effect, nullifying the entire Gospel. This is simply not true. The way they show this is by doing an investigation of the word “day” in Genesis, showing that it is meant to be taken as a literal, 24-hour day. But I have at least found enough of an argument to show that may not be the case. Faced with the evidence for evolution, I do not want to be like the Catholic church back in Galileo’s day, frantically holding onto the literally-interpreted Bible to keep themselves blind to the factual evidence in front of them. I am not trying to say that evolution means that Christianity is wrong or that evolution leads to atheism. Not at all. I am still a Christian and a theist, but I saw the need to re-examine what I assumed to be true. The day-age view of Genesis allows for a long period of time and for evolution, but still allows for a fairly literal interpretation of events. At the very least, it’s workable. No, if the Bible disagrees with the evidence in front of our noses, it is our interpretation of the Bible that is wrong, that is all. It just means taking a closer look at what the account says and asking, “Well, I know this is what I’ve always thought it meant, but is that really what it says?”

At the same time, coming to this conclusion was incredibly hard. It goes against all I have ever been brought up to believe, and all I have ever known. It took several weeks of hard thinking to really, conclusively decide that I had to live up to where the weight of the evidence lay. I could not bring myself to consciously decide against the evidence – it would be dishonest to myself, simply believing what I want to believe or am comfortable with believing instead of pursuing the truth. Does doing this have its complications? Certainly. I still feel like I have betrayed my family and my upbringing. And I haven’t told my parents yet (although the plan is to do that this weekend). But at the same time, my parents also taught me to stand up for what is right and to search for and hold onto truth. And so, in a way, I am holding fast to what they taught me. I hope that in time, I will feel a little better about my decision – and a month and a half after deciding this, I know that I do, indeed, feel a bit better about it. I just wish the process would hurry up.

I’d like to leave you with a few links to give you more information on the topic. I realize that this is an enormous post, but the evidence is greater still. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment here – I’ll try to answer them as best as I can – or ask an expert on the subject. TalkOrigins.org is one of the most comprehensive resources about evolution that I have ever found, and the source of most of the information I have shared with you here. I’d like to draw particular attention to their index of creationist claims, a gigantic list of pretty much every creationist argument you could ever think of, with at least two or three evidences for each showing why it is false. If you still have any doubts after reading all of that, I commend you for your incredible steadfastness, if nothing else. And of course, I wouldn’t want to deny the other side their fair representation – Answers in Genesis is one of the most respected creationist organizations that I know. In addition, here and here are a couple good sites for investigating the day-age theory. I haven’t done as much research on that yet, but I’m looking into it.

I wish you the best in this search for truth. I hope that after an honest examination of the evidence, you find the truth – even if it means that I am mistaken. I don’t want you just to take my word for it. Certainly not. I highly discourage that, actually. But do examine it for yourself. And if you find that after all of it, you still believe what you believe, then fine. At least you can say you gave it an honest inspection. Because ultimately, the truth will speak for itself against all the evidence you can throw against it. The truth always remains, because, well, it’s true. The problem sometimes, though, is finding it in the first place.

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