Evolution as Popular Opinion

Evolution as Popular Opinion

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A quiz from a Grade 4 Science Class. (Thanks to Snopes.com for the image)

 

This is a follow-up post from a few weeks ago where I had begun to discuss some of the wild convictions held in my earlier faith days, including some that stemmed from a Young Earth Creationist worldview. I figured I’d expound a bit more on this by sharing some thoughts on my relationship with the Creationist movement and where I’m at today.

Some Context

It seems the debate is old and worn out. It seemed to have really gotten off the ground with the Scopes Trial back in the 1920s and then gained steam in the 1960s when some legit scientists published The Genesis Flood, offering a rational response to evolutionary theory and the age of the earth founded on a literal understanding of Genesis. It provided the arguments, and perhaps more importantly, the confidence needed, to stand face to face with “real” science and posit a very plausible explanation of our origins. It also made for interesting drama in the scientific community over the years, to which many of us, myself included, observed from afar, absolutely fascinated with it. Fast forward 50 years and  if my immediate social group is any indication, our generation is tired and cynical over the whole thing. It’s time to move on, to let it go and pour our energies into more life-giving endeavours. That’s my initial thought on the whole issue.

Having said this, I do get asked once in a while which camp I’m planted in with the whole origins question. The YEC worldview is most often affiliated with a very specific brand of Christianity – namely, Fundamentalists, of whom I associated myself closely with once upon a time. I’ve no doubt come a ways out of this thinking – depending on who you ask ;) – but in doing so I haven’t really spent a lot of time developing or updating my convictions on origins and how it all came to be. I suspect a lot of people my age have been in this boat, actually. In the evolution of our faith (lame yet expected pun, sorry), we may have gained all sorts of new incites into how to read the Bible, or what following Jesus might really entail, or even developed a new epistemology, but in the process of this movement we have inadvertently skipped over the origins question. And with good reason, as some of these new understandings don’t implore us to have to delve too greatly into the debate. As long as we hold, “God created, man fell” – we can more or less move on. And with where the debate stood in terms of the Type-A personalities and straight up arrogance that both sides represented–and of which often trickled into the practices of their adherents, including me–when we jumped ship so many years earlier, we’d just as soon not look back.

Also, I would say most Christians that have sort of come out of the fundy camp and have contemplated Genesis in a “new light” would probably side with evolution these days. It seems to be the logical conclusion, at any rate. And on that note, I too would fall in the theistic evolution camp but I won’t make too strong of claims one way or the other. You may even say I’ve become indifferent to it all and don’t consider having a position on this matter nearly as important as I once did. I have not taken a science course beyond high school so to debate one side or the other with any authority is something I’d rather not do for fear of being made the fool. I have resigned myself to this. I know all the popular arguments for the Creationist movement, or at least at one time I did. Having not looked into any creationist literature for well over 10 years, I was surprised to find that a quick Google search of these sound byte arguments revealed that according to creationist organizations themselves, a number of these once considered “sure fire” arguments should now be avoided, including the “dust on the moon” argument, “salinity of ocean water” argument, and even some of the more foundational ones such as proposing that there are no beneficial mutations (a necessary mechanism for evolution), or that no new species have been produced (think liger, tigon, zonkey, wolphin, etc.). No doubt that a movement as widespread as Creationism and with as much momentum as it has gained over the last 60 years or so will be able to produce new and snazzier arguments to fend off the ever encroaching evolutionary worldview… but I digress.

Young Earth Sympathy

Having said all of this, believe it or not, I am not adamantly opposed to the Young Earth movement either. I mean, I get it. I really do. I get where they’re coming from, I get their line of reasoning, and I get their zeal. And so do countless others out there (See: Rachel Held Evans). There is a lot within the movement that makes sense. And I understand the Bible is not a science textbook but it is kind of cool to read about the fountains of the great deep bursting forth (Genesis 7:11) and water gushing out – a topographic map of the ocean floor shows this pretty much happened as the Bible suggests. And there are a bunch of cool little “gotchas” that the YEC movement has brought up as plausible evidence for a really young earth.  I recognize that there are probably attempted responses to every creationist argument, just like there are, no doubt, to every evolutionist argument. And this is the problem – with either side of the debate there are certain presuppositions that make objective interpretations (an oxymoron) of evidence impossible. And that’s okay because I know one can’t escape some form of bias when interpretations of any sort are carried out. But all that to say, Creationists have done their homework, and they’ve built a case that shouldn’t be outrightly mocked, at least not by fellow Christians who allegedly would hold many of the same worldview tenets, regardless of their view on origins.

When it’s all said and done, though, it is presuppositions that dictate everything on each side of the debate. For instance, creationists begin with the assumption that Genesis 1-11 is literally true and that tracing the genealogies throughout the Bible will yield an age of the earth as somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years. Because they begin with this foundation, everything is built upon it, which then guarantees that a creationist researcher will stay affirmed in his or her position, regardless of what arguments are presented. We share 98.6% similarity in DNA with chimpanzees? Obviously points to the fact that we have the same Creator, not that we are in any way related as that just wouldn’t fit the paradigm. A transitional fossil is found? Must be a distinct organism that has gone extinct. Rock dating methods imply billions of years? Must be a faulty dating method.

But before we go and throw all creationists under the bus, evolutionists do the same thing. They begin with a foundation that supposes organisms evolve, and that the evolutionary process takes millions of years. Every shred of evidence is built upon this premise. Methods for dating rocks that would suggest the age of rocks is anything less than a few billion years old must be explained through a varying rate of decay because otherwise it doesn’t fit the paradigm. Or red blood cells, hemoglobin, and soft tissue discovered in “fossilized” dinosaur bone? Dinosaurs died 65 million years ago so evidently our understanding of the process of fossilization needs work. Both sides interpret the evidence to suit their paradigm.

So Why Evolution?

For me, it all comes down to Thomas Kuhn.

I remember reading Kuhn in college and really picking up what he was laying down. He suggested that a paradigm – or a scientific revolution –  would be adhered to persistently until enough anomalies had been accumulated to cause it to collapse. Sure, it can be said that both the creationist and evolution paradigms are chalk full of anomalies that run counter to the assumptions within each viewpoint—depending on who is interpreting the facts. Be that as it may, the vastly more popular perspective in modern science seems to be very much tied to an evolutionary paradigm. Evidently, the science community as a whole has not concluded that enough anomalies exist for a new paradigm to replace it, and so we trod on. Yes, there are always stories of well-educated evolutionary scientists who became creationist scientists after years of being an evolutionist or vice versa on account of the accumulation of anomalies in their respective paradigms and who can no longer defend a particular position in good conscience. I have a great deal of respect for these academics because in the face of their entire scientific communities they have declared, “Nope, it’s not working.” That takes balls. But those exceptions aside, I begin with the assumption that the scientific community does not have a secret agenda to turn us into a secular humanistic God-hating society, and that they are, in fact, just doing science as best as they know how. Accordingly, the paradigm in which most of science is then left with remains very much founded on evolution.  And so I embrace this paradigm, albeit humbly, recognizing that 1) I am not a man of science beyond any sort of popular level, and 2) I’ve been on the other side and know that there are intelligent, science-honouring, God-honouring men and women doing groundbreaking work and yet coming out with vastly different conclusions of which ol’ Hawkings and Dawkins would never entertain.

In other words, I’m going with popular opinion on this one.

There’s a lot more that can be said on this and I hope to address some other angles in the future. If you’ve experienced similar thoughts toward this topic as I have, then you’ve probably already read Rachel Held Evans’ work. But if not, check out her reflective memoir Evolving in Monkey Town.  And if you’re curious about paradigms and what have you, then check out Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Also, I’d be interested to hear any thoughts on this. 

2 thoughts on “Evolution as Popular Opinion

  1. Wow. Thoughtful opinion on a difficult subject.

    As a “there’s probably a Higher Power but I can’t define it” guy, the whole debate seems a colossal waste of intellectual time and energy.

    Let’s put the issue down because neither side will EVER budge nor does it matter which side is “right.”. Let’s put all those minds and hearts and souls (if you believe in such things) to work on feeding children rather than irresolvable debates on issues that have little practical application.

    1. Hey, I like that perspective, Victor! Thanks for chiming in. As I said in the post, the whole thing has become kind of passé to the majority of us. Still, it’s always interesting to contemplate our origins.

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