Science Ch.9 - Everyone Believes in Evolution

Young-earth interpretations say that the thousands of species rescued by Noah became the millions we see now. They say that species changed much faster at that time, while others say they always change slowly. Can we conclude which theory is wrong?


Christians who reject the theory of evolution by random mutation over billions of years don’t actually reject evolution itself. Although they often avoid using the term “evolution,” they agree that one species can produce many other new species, but by a much faster method than random mutation. This is the conclusion of organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research and others.1 It is good news, because it means that all Christians can agree to praise God for the process of evolution – an amazing aspect of creation!

       Young-earth theories are based on interpreting the six “days” in Genesis as consecutive short periods and regarding a global flood as the cause of worldwide geological upheaval. This means that all land animals are descended from those that were rescued by Noah, and Noah’s ark could only have carried thousands of species at the most, not the millions we find on the planet today. The solution commonly proposed for this is that the word “kind” in Genesis (see 1:24; 6:20; etc.) does not mean “species” but something similar to a biologist’s “genus” – a group that may contain just a couple or sometimes hundreds of similar species. That is, God created animals and plants with the potential to form new, related species, though within the constraints of their “kind.” This process would have to occur very quickly, and having done so, there would be no need to continue diversifying, so that creatures today produce young who are always of the same species.

5-minute summary

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Lions and bears

For example, the genus Felidae includes lions, cheetahs, and domestic cats, so Noah would not need to take on board all these species, but just a pair of one of them. (For his sake, I hope that the ancestral “kind” of Felidae was something like a domestic cat!) Similarly, he would only need to take one pair of toads and one pair of bears because after the flood they would produce natterjack toads, giant cane toads, brown bears, polar bears, and about 160 more species of toads and bears that exist today.2

       So, surprisingly, all Christians agree that new species can develop over time. The main differences concern the speed and the process by which these changes occur. Young-earth theories reject the mechanism of random mutation – that is, the minor genetic changes that result in isolated populations becoming gradually different from each other. Instead, they assume that the “kinds” God created already contained all the genes that were needed for later differentiation, so that the new species can arise very quickly.

       For example, the MC1R gene determines red hair in humans and other aspects of hair color in dogs. The two dogs in the ark could, between them, carry four varieties of the same gene (technically known as alleles) – one on each pair of chromosomes. In dogs today there are actually five varieties,3 so one of them must have occurred later as a mutation. Young-earth theories don’t accept that a new species can arise through mutations, but they agree that occasional random mutations occur that may cause minor changes like this.

       Intelligent design is a hybrid theory that agrees evolution can occur very quickly (like the young-earth theory requires after Noah’s flood), though instances of this faster evolution could have occurred millions of years ago. In particular, the start of the Cambrian period (six hundred million years ago) left a fossil record with dramatically more variety than just a few million years previously.4 The mechanism during these periods of faster evolution (sometimes called macroevolution) is still unknown, and some Christians theorize that on these occasions God stepped in to provide extra genetic input.

       Therefore, everyone accepts that new species arose and that genetic changes are still happening; they only disagree about the mechanism and how fast it occurred. We know that modern wheats are nothing like the grass plants they were bred from, and farmers are aware that selecting seeds from the strongest plants will likely produce a superior crop next year. Similarly, everyone can understand that modern antelopes are fast because they are all descended from those antelopes that didn’t fall behind in the chase and get eaten. Elephants in Mozambique will soon have no tusks because those few mutant individuals that were born without tusks now have many more children than those that have been killed for their tusks.5

       The core dispute is therefore not about whether species can change, but how fast and by what mechanism. If the process took billions of years, the mechanism can be random mutation – the same process by which elephants are slowly losing their tusks. But if the process was completed in a few centuries following Noah’s flood, then it used a far faster mechanism, which we cannot see anywhere because it no longer occurs.

Praising God for evolution

While the arguments and debates about evolution continue unabated, it seems that we have forgotten to praise God for his creation of evolution. This enables animals and plants to adapt themselves and to thrive in completely different ways when there is a change in the environment.

       Evolution results in all kinds of unique and fascinating characteristics. Peacocks look glorious because peahens pick the suitor with the best plumage. Migrating birds are so good at finding their way back home because they are descended from those that got back quickly and started mating first, so that they had more descendants – who inherited their navigational skills. Scientists recently discovered how the golden-winged warbler is able to predict and escape tornados: they can hear the subsonic frequencies of the developing wind patterns.6 Once this trait occurs, it is likely to spread because those that escape from incoming tornadoes have more offspring. Who would have thought that birds (who communicate in high-pitched tweets) would develop subsonic hearing?

       Problems remain with whichever theory we propose. For example, if subsonic hearing developed in the golden-winged warbler by random mutation, what was its usefulness when it was half-developed? On the other hand, if it was part of God’s inherent design, why didn’t he give that ability to other birds – and to humans? More research is needed by everyone, and it is important to be honest and open to what nature teaches us, rather than prejudging the issue on the basis of our Bible interpretation.

       Whether we believe in a young Earth or an old Earth, we can praise God for equipping living things with this built-in mechanism to produce new designs in response to new needs and opportunities. It is much more powerful and flexible than a fixed blueprint.

       The power of evolution has now been harnessed by building it into robot programming.7 With fixed programming, robots can greet people by name (using face recognition) and give verbal responses to simple questions (e.g., “Where is … ?”). But even if we gave these robots really clever software, they would be unable to improve much because they couldn’t come up with innovative ideas. Now, however, evolutionary development is built into some robot software. Random changes are allowed to deliberately occur in their programming that can be deleted if they are useless. But if any tiny improvement is detected, the change is automatically adopted and randomly changed further. As the process is repeated, more and more improvements are gradually made. All this occurs without human help. Some such robots even invented a simple language for speaking to each other, and the neural net behind Google Translate has invented its own intermediary language to help it understand human languages.8 Evolution is the most powerful design method available … and we didn’t invent it.

       Personally, I praise God for evolution, which I regard as an amazing aspect of his wonderful creation. It is a remarkable process, invented by an awesome God, that enables life to constantly adapt to all the variety found in our world. And if God used that process to craft my body, then I’m proud to be a result of it.

Summary


• Even young-earth theories require evolution to form six million species from the thousands rescued in the ark.
• Evolution still helps species adapt to new environments or new dangers.
• There are still questions about the mechanism, especially for the fast evolution required after a worldwide flood.
• Proposal: Instead of arguing about whether evolution happens, the important question is whether it was previously faster than it is now.

1^ See Institute for Creation Research, “Speciation and the Animals on the Ark” (tinyurl.com/ArkSpecies); Answers in Genesis, “How Could Noah Fit the Animals on the Ark and Care for Them?” (tinyurl.com/ArkNumbers); Creation.com, “ How Did All the Animals Fit on Noah’s Ark?” (tinyurl.com/ArkRoom); Genesis Apologetics, “Noah’s Flood: How Could All the Animals Fit on the Ark?” (tinyurl.com/FitOnArk).
2^ See Answers in Genesis, “No Kind Left Behind” (tinyurl.com/ArkKinds).
3^ See DogGenetics.co.uk, “The E Series” (tinyurl.com/DogFaces).
4^ See, e.g., an article by G√ľnter Bechly, a paleontologist who came to this position as a non-Christian: “Ignoring Other Research, New Study Explains (Away) the Origin of New Body Plans,” Evolution News (tinyurl.com/BechlyMeyer).
5^ See Dina Fine Maron, “Elephants Are Evolving to Lose Their Tusks, under Poaching Pressure,” National Geographic (tinyurl.com/TusksLost).
6^ See Carrie Arnold, “Birds May Have Sensed Severe Storms Days in Advance,” National Geographic (tinyurl.com/StormWarblers).
7^ See Wikipedia, “Evolutionary Algorithm” (tinyurl.com/EvoAlgo).
8^ See BBC News, “Robots Develop Language to ‘Talk’ to Each Other” (tinyurl.com/TalkRobot); Sam Wong, “Google Translate AI Invents Its Own Language to Translate With,” New Scientist (tinyurl.com/TranslateNeuralNet).

This was previously published in a similar form in Christianity magazine

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