Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Creation vs Evolution: An introduction

Creationists say a lot of things about evolution. As a former creationist myself I know that sometimes it can seem like evolution is so unbelievable and so obviously wrong that anyone who "believes in it" must have some other motive, or something they are hiding. Surely no intelligent person would accept evolution, right?

If you have ever had thoughts like this, then it is far more likely that your understanding and comprehension of evolution is deficient, than that the vast majority of the world's scientists know less about the world we live in than you. Just consider for a moment whether your understanding of what evolution claims, is actually just a straw-man of your own making, built for the purpose of being easily knocked down...

Let's be honest. You cannot truly disprove evolution unless you fully understand it. And you will not fully understand it until you learn about it from those who do understand it. So let's get started...

When approaching a subject such as creation vs evolution, if you really want to know the truth, then you need to be objective enough that you could accept either answer as being true. If you cannot tolerate even the thought of evolution being true, then your bias will destroy any chance of an objective analysis. You may as well not even bother. The scientific method is specifically intended to rule out our own subjective biases, and that's one of the many reasons why it has been so successful at discovering truths about our reality.

Ask yourself this. Is it more important that you discover what is true? or is it more important that you defend the beliefs you already hold? We'd all like these to be one and the same thing, but as adults we sometimes have to realise the sober fact that sometimes they are not the same thing. And sometimes we also need to accept that there are things we don't know, and may never know. It is part of growing up to accept a degree of uncertainty in our life. Harbouring a "need for certainty" is a recipe for disaster for any truth-seeker. It is another way of saying that you would rather blindly believe a lie than be honest and admit you don't know something. There is no shame in being honest. You will never know everything. You should never stop learning.

So how do we determine what is true? I refer you to a previous blog post, under that very title.

I do not intend to cover creationist arguments here. However I will look at just one.

Just a theory...

So evolution is "just a theory" right? You may have heard this claim before.

Well, yes it is a scientific theory, just like the theory of gravity, and the theory that disease is caused by germs (germ theory), and the theory that we are made of atoms (atomic theory), quantum theory, and the list goes on...

What is a "theory" in science?
A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method, and repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation. As with most (if not all) forms of scientific knowledge, scientific theories are inductive in nature and aim for predictive power and explanatory force.

So a theory in science is quite a bit more solid than what we might refer to as theory in our daily lives. Basically the theory of evolution is the best explanation we have for the observed data in nature.

Through observations such as the study of fossils, genetics, and the many areas of biology, and also experiments done involving natural selection and genetic mutation, evolution has been repeatedly confirmed and not one piece of data has ever contradicted the theory of evolution, even though scientists have been clear and upfront to state the sorts of evidence that might disprove the theory.

Even though every new discovery has had the potential to completely overthrow the theory of evolution, it hasn't happened. Certainly the theory has been refined over the years as new data comes to light, as any good scientific theory should. This is simply the honest thing to do. The theory doesn't just need to explain the new data, but also all of the existing data as well. So you can see that as we accumulate more and more evidence, our scientific theory that explains it all becomes more and more accurate, and more precise.

One major prediction made by evolution was the prediction of a transitional fossil between land animals and fish. You can read about the process of discovering Tiktaalik here.

What about creation then? or "Intelligent Design" as it is sometimes known nowadays? Isn't this just an alternative theory?

Read the definition of what a scientific theory is again, and again. Has creation been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation?
Does creation explain the mechanisms that we see acting in nature?
Does creation answer the "how" questions?
Does creation make predictions that can be later confirmed by experimentation and observation? I'm not talking about retrodictions, made after the fact, but rather real predictions that were made before the answer was known. Predictions that were capable of being wrong.

A good scientific theory provides detailed explanations for the mechanisms involved, and also allows for future predictions. There is no question that the entire field of biology has thrived with the theory of evolution, but what would a "theory of creation" give us?

I think it's becoming clear that creationism is not an alternative theory - it actually isn't a scientific theory at all.

What about Intelligent Design? Is that a scientific theory?

The famous court trial of "Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District", commonly known as "The Dover Trial", in October 2004 concluded that:
The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.

Objections to Evolution

But what about all of the creationist objections to evolution? Aren't these valid?
How could the complexity of life happen by chance?
If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?

These questions, and many more, are answered in the Index to Creationist Claims.

I would strongly encourage you to spend a while on that site. Talk Origins is one of the best resources for discovering facts about evolution, what it claims, how it works, etc.

I would also recommend Evolution 101 and Introduction to Evolutionary Biology, to give you the basics.

Thanks for reading.