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Evolution

Someone I trusted once commented that Darwinism has had negative consequences on society.  I wanted to shut this guy down and forget I even knew him for suggesting evolution isn’t true (which isn’t what he said or meant, but that’s what I heard).  The Catholic Church says Catholics are free to believe in evolution or not, but that the universe has a creator and that every human being has a supernatural soul that a natural process like evolution could never produce. (catechesis on creation in 1986, John Paul II)  My initial reaction to the suggestion that evolution is open to question was, “We have now entered Kookland.”  But this was just raw emotion with no study of my own to back up my fury,  so I researched.

The more I studied, the less clear I was on how evolution actually happened.  There seemed to be much disagreement over the years as to what we really know.  Admit it, you believe, as I did, that evolution happened like this:

but biologists now say it didn’t.  I found that the use or disuse of body parts doesn’t drive the positive genetic mutations that get naturally selected. (I thought we lost our large jaws, body hair, etc. because we don’t need them any more, but genes don’t change based on our needs.)  Apparently, even though most genetic mutations currently observed are detrimental, evolution presumes that the billions of favorable mutations needed to make man arrived by chance.  We’re just that lucky.

I decided to revisit some of the newspaper articles I had read in the past that made bold assertions about evolution:

  • One scientist said a lemur fossil was the missing link – but others denied it.
  • The famous fossil “Lucy” on display here in Cleveland has an illustration of her traipsing around with her boyfriend looking very human – but I found scientists who speculate that she lived in trees and was not bi-pedal, and may not be related to us at all.
  • Everyone knows that birds evolved from dinosaurs until, oops, sorry can’t happen.
  • Same for the “people had sex with chimps” headline I read in the Cleveland Plain Dealer while I was waiting to catch a plane.
  • Monkeys and humans share 98% of our DNA, proving we are related – but we share 88% of our genes with mice…and 35% with daffodils.  Am I 25% daffodil?  Are they 25% human? Turns out a whole lot of the genome is ignored as “junk”, so these figures might be meaningless to begin with.

I wondered why we were never asked in school to memorize the evolutionary tree/bush leading to modern man. Seems to me if should be the most important thing we ever learn.  But no biologist seems to know for sure what it is.  Homo Heidelbergensis might be a human ancestor, but there is “not yet agreement”.  I never realized that transitional fossil designation was so speculative.

Habitable zone according to the size of the star

Image via Wikipedia

I had never really thought it through, so I sat down to contemplate how natural selection with random mutation makes a man.  First, I presume a universe with a planet that has water, diverse non-living matter, an acceptable temperature, atmosphere, and pull of gravity (Much, much, more is needed obviously.  If the Big Bang’s expansion rate had been even slightly different, the universe would have been filled with black holes, but instead we got a universe just right to produce us.  See the Anthropic Principle.). This non-living matter, in a singular act of spontaneous generation, became living matter.  Now the human body is too complex to consider the whole thing, so I decided to look at just the human mouth:  That non-living-turned-living matter had the momentum to create a jaw, which just happened to grow a tongue, a set of teeth perfectly arrayed for chewing, salivary glands, taste buds, and jaw muscles, all to serve a digestive system that just happened to be there at the same time and connected itself to a nervous system and a brain that just appeared, along with consciousness and obviously much, much more.  Where in the fossil record does this series of miracles happen?

I did a little thought experiment: How many times do I have to dump a jigsaw puzzle on a table before it lands assembled?  The answer, obviously, is never.  How much more unlikely is it that a strand of DNA assembles itself billions of times a day in animal life all over the earth? You’ve probably heard the claim that a million monkeys on typewriters would eventually tap out one of Shakespeare’s plays, but the laws of probability say that their randomness cannot produce a single rational line. (When the actual experiment was carried out, they kept pressing “S”, destroyed the typewriters, then urinated on them.)  Nature is full of beauty supposedly created by random processes, but beauty isn’t random; it requires order.  If I bang randomly on a piano I get ugly noise, but if I follow mathematically ordered sheet music I get beauty.  It seems like a contradiction in observation and experimentation to say that random chance can produce the order and beauty all around us.

from File:Miller-Urey experiment-en.svg

Image via Wikipedia

The really big question here is how do you get life in the first place?  Neither evolutionary theory nor the study of abiogenesis has answered that question. A lot of fuss is made over the Miller–Urey experiment, presuming that it accurately recreated the conditions of earth millions of years ago, but later evidence said, no, the earth was way hotter than you assumed.  NASA has presented evidence that catastrophic, life-obliterating events happened every 26 million years or so, some right before the appearance of life, leaving impossibly small windows of time for life to evolve.  Some biologists believe that aliens put life here, but that is just pushing back the question.  Where did the aliens get life?

Evolution may be the way man came to be, but shouldn’t biology admit its boundaries and not make theological or philosophical pronouncements?  For example, if evolution is unjustifiably presumed to be a godless process that prefers the “fit”, then the jails need to be emptied of thieves – if theft helped them survive, then they are the “fit”. Why is rape rewarded with a prison term rather than a medal?  It propagates the species doesn’t it?  The only thing that differentiates between 1) a love we celebrate with a wedding and 2) a crime we punish with a prison sentence is something supernatural:  consent.  We can’t prove it’s there.  We can only judge by hearsay.  If we are only animals with an instinct to survive and perpetuate our genes, who’s to say that 1) is any better than 2)?

That guy I mentioned earlier who ticked me off by criticizing Darwinism was actually criticizing the idea of eugenics. Sir Francis Galton originated the field of eugenics based on the works of Charles Darwin, his half-cousin.  Eugenics is the idea that we can speed up evolutionary progress by selectively breeding only the “best” human beings. Hitler praised eugenics in Mein Kampf and took the idea to its logical conclusion by trying to create a “superman” and eliminating the races he saw as inferior. (From a purely scientific standpoint, the “Lebensborn” turned out no smarter or better than anyone else.)  Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood based on eugenic ideals and expressed her goal of eliminating inferior races in her book The Pivot of Civilization.  Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton prophetically warned against eugenics in his book Eugenics and Other Evils. High school textbooks in the 20’s through the 30’s promoted the idea as sound science…now, not so much.

The lesson of eugenics is we can’t make decisions based on science without considering what is “good”.  Should we make a “superman” even if science says we can?  If the Wicked Witch of the East and the Good Witch of the North are real people (which, if you believe the Multi-verse Theory, somewhere they are) they are “super-women” but one of them we love and the other we drop a house on.  Who cares about “super”?  What we really want to know is, “Are they good?”  Science can’t answer the question of what is good, only philosophy can.

I’m not a climatologist, but I believe they are influenced by what is popular, respected, and what gets grants, therefore they push global warming theory. (Climategate)   I’m not a biologist either, but it seems the pressure on them to say evolution is a proven fact is even greater.  You notice how the solid claim of “global warming” has been altered to the all encompassing “climate change”.  Most people understand evolution to mean that one species becomes another, but that has been altered to the all encompassing “change over time”.  I smell waffling. No one denies that a virus “changes over time” to become resistant to antibiotics, but that doesn’t prove it can one day become a giraffe.

I once saw a TV debate where a school board was trying to decide if it would allow evolution to be taught as only a theory.  A very nervous schoolteacher testified that her students never objected to anything she taught them about biology until the subject was evolution, when the students would engage in rigorous debate.  The teacher justly queried, “Should I shut down that debate?” No one should have to be afraid of persecution for questioning the theory of evolution, but for some evolutionists this is more intellectual freedom than they are willing to bear. I think the reason some biologists cry “theism” every time someone raises questions about evolution is because they presume the only other explanation for the existence and complexity of life would have to be a miracle.  I think a more scientifically honest answer would be, “We don’t know for sure.”

Shows slices of expansion of universe without ...

Image via Wikipedia

I think some misunderstanding takes place because some Christians outside the Catholic Church take the whole bible literally.  The bible isn’t a book. It is a library, a collection of books written at different times, in different styles, to different audiences. Like any library, whether I take it literally depends on what section I’m in.  The book of Genesis isn’t meant to be a scientific treatise.  It is a figurative way of expressing how God created the universe.  Science happens to agree with Genesis that, since the universe appears to be expanding, it had a definite beginning.  You know this as the Big Bang Theory, proposed in 1933 by the Catholic priest / physicist / astronomer Fr. Georges Lemaitre.

Some Protestants feel obligated to take seven days of creation literally, but time is relative.  If I remained on earth, and you were in a spaceship traveling near the speed of light, your 24 hour day would be my lifetime.  Likewise, if you were on a more massive planet than earth and could look at me on earth through a telescope, it would appear that I was moving incredibly quickly.   There is no other way of discussing time from the standpoint of the entire universe except figuratively, whether you are a scientist or a theologian, so Genesis is speaking of time in the only way it can: figuratively.  (See How to Build a Time Machine)

I had always presumed I was a highly evolved monkey, and I don’t rule out the possibility that I am, but I think the Church is working within the realm of reason to say that humans have a spiritual, moral dimension that other animals lack and mere biology can’t account for.  If you doubt this, ask yourself why we don’t put monkeys on trial for murder if they kill another monkey.  We know animals don’t have souls or free will.   Studying theology led me to accurately predict that the trainer for Koko the sign language monkey did a lot of projecting to make the ape seem more human.

I guess the reason I bring up the subject of evolution at all is because my knee-jerk emotional reaction to Church teaching was not based on reason, and when I did real scientific study of the theory I found scientists proclaiming more than their evidence could bear. The Church prompted me to open my mind to a lot of science, history, and philosophy that I would never have otherwise considered- and it was almost physically painful to humble myself enough to open my mind that little crack.  I found that the Catholic Church occupies a reasonable middle ground between scientific materialists and biblical literalists who say, “It’s my way or the highway and you’ll drive it either with a Jesus fish or a Darwin fish on your bumper.”

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