Joshua T Hermsmeyer
T TH 2-3:30
Evolutionism vs. Creationism
The theory of evolution and the belief in a Creator have long been considered separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought . Strict interpretations by scientists of Darwin's theory of species adaptation through natural selection must inherently run contrary to equally strict interpretations of Genesis I. This is true because of the profound discrepancies that exist between the two explanations of human origin. The most notable of these discrepancies are the belief in the fixity of species and, more importantly in terms of this debate, the age of the earth. The belief in a relatively young earth, created in approximately 4004 B.C. (Jurmain, Nelson, Kilgore, Trevathan; Essentials of Physical Anthropology; p.25), cannot coexist in any logical manner with an evolutionary theory whose foundation rests upon the presumption of an earth billions, not thousands, of years old. Extremists in both camps have compiled a history of inflammatory remarks that have led many to the conclusion that broad acceptance of the theory of evolution is tantamount to eliminating God, and hence, morality, the soul, and the essence of what it is to be human. Fortunately a new debate has begun, as old assumptions about evolution, especially macroevolution, and the literal interpretation of the Bible, have begun to be challenged.
Religious scientists have recently begun to develop explanations based on modern interpretations of Genesis which allow for the coexistence of God and evolutionary theory. Loren Haarsma, a neuroscience researcher at Tufts University, in a January '96 article in The World & I, highlights one such group. Dubbed "progressive creationists" (Haarsma; Why believe in a creator?: Perspectives on Evolution; p.5), these scientists find flaws with the common practice of pairing the widely accepted and empirically supported microevolutionary theory with the much broader and less empirical theory of macroevolution. Microevolution can be studied in laboratories and in nature over time, and its focus is on the mutations that occur in individual species due to environmental changes and natural selection. According to Haarsma, there is little debate over microevolutionary principals, even among strict creationist fundamentalists, because of the vast amount of empirical evidence available (Haarsma; Why believe in a creator?: Perspectives on Evolution; p.1). In the case of macroevolution, however, the same environmental and selective forces, which are observed in individual species in mostly small but measurable ways, are applied to all living and extinct species. The problem with macroevolution, progressive creationists contend, is that no one has yet to even hypothesize how the complex adaptation of a species is possible through the incremental mutation observed in, for example, Darwin's famous Galapagos finches .
Lending to the problems with macroevolution as stated by Darwin is the presumption that evolutionary change by natural selection and environmental factors would be gradual and thus apparent in the fossil record of the earth. Analysis of the fossil record does not suggest a gradual change in species, argue progressive creationists and other skeptical scientists. Fossils indicate instead that there were long periods of little or no change followed by violent and extreme mutations in species (Jurmain, Nelson, Kilgore, Trevathan; Essentials of Physical Anthropology; p.217). One explanation of this phenomenon is a model of evolutionary change termed punctuated equilibrium (Jurmain, Nelson, Kilgore, Trevathan; Essentials of Physical Anthropology; p.217). Another model, postulated by progressive creationists, predicts the sudden appearance of new species and long periods of little or no change in the fossil record due to intervention by the Creator. Scientists have since adapted Darwin's original theory to allow for periods of rapid change due to extreme environmental factors , but all the aforementioned hypothesis share one commonality: none can be proven or disproved adequately. While most of the scientific community still support a close connection between microevolution and macroevolution, for the first time since before Darwin published Origin of the Species creationists can say they are on a nearly equal footing scientifically with other theorists of human origin.
Other creationist factions such as young-earth creationists and evolutionary creationists argue opposite ends of the creationist spectrum (progressive creationists fall somewhere in between) and are represented in the scientific community as well (Haarsma; Why believe in a creator?: Perspectives on Evolution; p.4). Indeed, physical anthropologists are no longer easily labeled. In a 1997 study published in Nature and conducted by Edward Larson of the University of Georgia, Athens, 40% of physicists and biologists were found to hold strong spiritual beliefs (Easterbrook; Science and God: A Warming Trend?; p.2), further dismantling the long held generalization that those in the physical sciences are either anti-religious atheists or agnostics.
Gregg Easterbrook, in an August 1997 article in Science, proposes that the current dialogue between science and God is fostered by the difficult ethical questions raised by discoveries such as cloning, as well as pragmatic considerations. Mainstream faith must, in Easterbrook's opinion, show that it can accommodate evolutionary theory to continue to attract increasingly well educated advocates (Easterbrook; Science and God: A Warming Trend?; p.2). Meanwhile, Easterbrook argues, scientists must be sensitive to the fact that American's lack of proficiency in science is due primarily to the assumption held by students that science will attempt to destroy their religious beliefs (Easterbrook; Science and God: A Warming Trend?; p.2).
Whether or not the two sides ever come to agreement on the origin of our species, one cannot help but be relieved that the quandary of choosing between a world where the soul is sacrificed for enlightenment or a world of ignorant bliss has proved to be a false dilemma. One of the founding principals of science is that uncertainty is the only certainty; and given that, there will always be a place in the intellectual realm for a Creator. Indeed, one may not be able to reason oneself to faith, theologians would say it impossible, but given the modern dialogue between religious and non-religious scientists, reason no longer stands in the way as it once did .