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The Fact and Theory of Evolution

Evolution is both a theory and a fact.

My books, and those I have published for others, consistently maintain 4-star and better ratings despite the occasional 1- and 2-star ratings from people angry about my kicking over sacred cows.

The Fact of Evolution

The deeper you dig in the ground, the more different the fossils are from life today. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are exceptions, and they are all explainable. In the past, life was different than it is today. The deeper into the ground we go, the more different the fossils are from life today. This is the fact of evolution. The theory of evolution addresses ow this pattern came to be.

To illustrate, there is also a fact and theory of gravity. Yes, we all the theory of gravity the "law of gravity," which just means that the theory of gravity is well established. The fact of gravity is that if you let go of your pencil, it was fall to the ground, not float or fly upwards. The well-established theory of gravity is that this is caused by the attraction of the earth. It is further theorized, and well established, that all objects in the universe have gravity (i.e., attract one another). The earth is much more massive than you, so the pencil rushes to the earth when you let go of it. Your tiny gravitational influence on the pencil is unnoticeable.

Pencils fall to the ground when we let go of them. That is a fact. Why they do is is the subject of theory. In the same way, life has changed over time. That is the fact of evolution. How it changed and how long it took is the subject of the theory of evolution.

The Theory of Evolution

One theory of evolution, proposed by Dr. Hugh Ross, is that life has changed over time because God created all current species in a series of creations rather than all at once. The changes we see in the layer of the earth are the result of this series of creations.

Dr. Ross bases his theory primarily on the Bible, which scientific theory does not take into account. The change in life forms that we see in the layers of the earth looks more like gradual change over time, so Dr. Ross's theory is not well accepted.

Charles Darwin was the first to propose a theory of transformation over time that gained wide acceptance. He proposed this, of course, in his famous On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection in 1959 (henceforth, "Origin of Species." He had to rush his book because Alfred Wallace was about to publish a similar theory. Wallace based his theory more on geographical dispersion than Darwin did.

Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution

Almost no one ever mention this, but it was the difficulty of sorting living flora and fauna into distinct species that led Darwin to his "dangerous idea." He did not come up with his theory based on fossil evidence, as some suppose, nor based on the difference between finches in the Galapagos, as others suppose. It was determining the difference between varieties, species, and genera that led Charles Darwin to his controversial conclusions.

Species and Varieties

Darwin was a "naturalist." In the early 1800s, apparently, a naturalist's job included what we now call "taxonomy," classifying living things into kingdoms, phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, and species. I have heard it said that life falls neatly into groups that are easily classified, but Darwin, given the task of classification, did not find it so easy. In fact, near the beginning of Origin of Species, he points out large differences between the classifications of several prominent naturalists.

Reading between the lines, it seemed that the idea current in the early nineteenth century was that species were individually created by God, but those species changed enough over time to produce "varieties." Darwin, and other naturalists, were having a tough time distinguishing varieties from species. Early on, he writes:

Look at the common oak, how closely it has been studied; yet a German author makes more than a dozen species out of forms, which are almost universally considered by other botanists to be varieties; and in this country the highest botanical authorities and practical men can be quoted to show that the sessile and pedunculated oaks are either good and distinct species or mere varieties.

He then specifically quotes "A. de Candolle":

They are mistaken, who repeat that the greater part of our species are clearly limited, and that the doubtful species are in a feeble minority. This seemed to be true, so long as a genus was imperfectly known, and its species were founded upon a few specimens, that is to say, were provisional. Just as we come to know them better, intermediate forms flow in, and doubts as to specific limits augment.

So Darwin, and others who did not draw the conclusions he did, were seeing gradual variety, not in the fossil record, but in life around us. This, then, led Darwin to propose:

Hence I look at individual differences, though of small interest to the systematist, as of the highest importance for us, as being the first step towards such slight varieties as are barely thought worth recording in works on natural history. And I look at varieties which are in any degree more distinct and permanent, as steps toward more strongly marked and permanent varieties; and at the latter, as leading to sub-species, and then to species. The passage from one stage of difference to another may, in many cases, be the simple result of the nature of the organism and of the different physical conditions to which it has long been exposed; but with respect to the more important and adaptive characters, the passage from one stage of difference to another may be safely attributed to the cumulative action of natural selection, hereafter to be explained, and to the effects of the increased use or disuse of parts. A well-marked variety may therefore be called an incipient species; but whether this belief is justifiable must be judged by the weight of the various facts and considerations to be given throughout this work.

From this Charles Darwin would go on to propose his theory of evolution, that these accumulated "individual differences" that made classification so difficult, could be traced back through time to the very beginning, with one or a few specimens of life being the parents of all current life.

Natural and Artificial Selection

In England, the breeding of doves is a much a passion as the breeding of dogs and horses are in the United States. Darwin pointed out that if he were tasked with classifying the doves of his day, he would put them in at least six distinct genera (plural of genus) with multiple species in each. No one classified doves that way because it was commonly understood that all doves descended from the wild rock pigeon.

If man, he suggested, could breed such differences in a creature in a thousand years or less, what could nature do with much more time? In other words, if planned breeding provided breeders with many choices from which they could select their preferences, what could nature do with variations in descent using survivability ("survival of the fittest") as a selection tool. (Later, Darwin would also suggest success in finding a mate as a method of natural selection.)

That was the theory of evolution, "descent with modification by natural selection," proposed in the first five chapters of the sixteen-chapter Origin of Species. In chapters six and seven, he lists the difficulties of his theory and objections that had been posed by others. He then spends eight chapters giving evidence for the theory.

Confirmations of Darwin's Theory

When Darwin proposed his theory of evolution, no one understood the variation in descent. It was apparent that offspring were not copies of their parents, neither in humans, nor in animals, nor in plants, though the differences in plants might take longer to notice. Why differences existed was unknown.

Around the time Darwin published Origin of Species, Georg Mendel was discovering "genes" by running reproductive tests on pea plants. His work was lost to history for more than 30 years, however, until rediscovered around 1900. Even then the operation of genes was not understood until DNA was discovered in the 1950s.

DNA provided a mechanism for Darwin's "dangerous idea." Every cell in nature reads DNA and reads it the same way. Change the DNA of a stem cell and, theoretically, it can become anything. (Practically, things are not so simple. Theoretically, you can put a bunch of computer parts together and have a working computer, but anyone who has done so can tell you that much can go wrong. It is far more complicated with a living cell.)

While the fossil record was meager in Darwin's time, it has expanded exponentially. A century ago, science longed for "the" missing link between apes and humans. Now, there are so many potential common ancestors to apes and humans that human evolution looks like a bush rather than a lineage. There are so many "transitional fossils" that it is impossible to list them, though Wikipedia and others have given it a whirl.

Proof of Evolution

It is worth saying again that none of this is "proof" that Darwin's theory of evolution is correct. It is true, however, that the forms of life inhabiting the earth has changed drastically over the earth's history. Most of the life that existed during the Cambrian era no longer exists. In fact, most of the species that lived during the time of the dinosaurs no longer exist. Thus, evolution has happened. Perhaps the change was not gradual modification with descent like Charles Darwin's theory of evolution proposes, but the evidence strongly supports his theory.

I don't know if this is the right place to handle objections, but let's cover at least a couple.


Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution Disagrees with the Bible

Millions, probably hundreds of millions, of professing Christians believe that there are other ways to interpret Genesis without questioning the divine inspiration of the Bible. Many thousands of godly, devoted Christians who obey the Scriptures have no problem with Darwin's theory of evolution nor with current theories that modify Darwin's theory. If that is not satisfactory to you personally, I recommend biologos.org.

The Global Flood Laid the Layers of the Geologic Column

No, it did not. There are 15,000 layers of alternating shale and sand in the middle of the geologic column in Texas. The shale layers have been tunneled by animals. The sand layers have filled in and preserved the burrows. Each shale layer had to sit long enough for new colonies of animals to tunnel and settle. This is called the Haymond Formation, and it makes it impossible that a global flood laid the strata of the earth. Besides this, neither the arrangement of the fossils nor the material of the layers justify the global flood theory.

Hugh Ross's Theory of a Series of Creations Fits the Bible Better

I do not agree. I am surprised that so many people are happy to embrace his theory while being offended by Charles Darwin's. Genesis chapter one certainly proposes a series of creations, but it does not propose a massive extinction prior to each creation. All the animals are presented to Adam, and God proposes saving all the animals to Noah. Ross's theory is no more biblical than Darwin's.

The Bible Teaches There Was No Death Before Adam

If you believe that chapters one through eleven of Genesis are accurate history, then yes, it does teach, or at least strongly imply, that there was no death before Adam. Psalm 119 and Romans 1 teach that nature reveals God and his nature. The creation reveals that there was not just death, but the extinction of most of the species that have ever lived prior to the firt human.

If the early chapters of Genesis were meant to be accurate history, then there is a contradiction between God's two revelations, the Bible and creation. There are two ways to reconcile this. I believe that it is obvious that the story of Adam and Eve does not claim to be history. It has a man named "Man" and a woman named "Life." It has a talking, walking snake, and it has a fruit that will impart eternal life to Man even if God does not want him to have eternal life. In other words, it has all the makings of a cultural myth, a parable that explains how we got here and why humanity in general is proud, defensive, intemperate, and often evil.

This does not mean it is inuninspired. The inspired reader, for we know that the Bible is an open book only to those who have the Spirit of Christ, can unlock the spiritual guidance of the inspired myth. Even those who believe it to be accurate history find deep spiritual lessons in it. I propose that those lessons would be impossible to find in other creation myths.

I would argue that the Bible is not about physical life, nor does it try to make natural man better. It is a book about futility and temporal nature of physical life and the fickle, untrustworthy, and brutal nature of uncontrolled natural man. It is about the beautiful, righteous, and eternal nature of heavenly life, and it offers a way, through Jesus Christ, God's Son, to receive life from heaven in order to overcome this world and eventually inherit it eternally when Heaven comes to make its home on earth, replacing all that was before. I propose that in that context, a God-inspired cultural myth at the beginning of Genesis is preferable to a scientific dissertation that would have been incomprehensible to the ancient world.

This answer is already too long for an addendum to a work on the difference between the fact of evolution and the theory behind it, so I will stop there.

Where to Go Next