My post yesterday was written as a reaction to a comment made on someone else’s blog. That comment suggested that evidence of God’s existence is all around us. This post is written as a reaction to some of the comments made on yesterday’s post. For example, “evolution is just a theory.”
Is there no hard proof that humans and other living things have evolved? Is evolution “just a theory,” no more valid of a theory than creationism? That is what is claimed by those who don’t understand what the theory of evolution is.
But that is simply not the case. Evolution is a scientific theory that is supported by the overwhelming preponderance of empirical evidence. It’s not just a hunch or a good guess.
There are three reasons why people say that evolution is “just a theory.”
They don’t understand what evolution is.
They don’t understand what a scientific theory is.
They believe that if you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.
Let’s take these one at a time.
What is evolution?
Evolution is defined as the process of growth and development or the theory that organisms have grown and developed from past organisms. It’s a change in the characteristics of a population over time.
Evolutionary theory does encompass ideas and evidence regarding life’s origins, but that is not the central focus of evolutionary theory. Evolutionary biology deals with how life changed after its origin. Regardless of how life started, afterwards it branched and diversified, and most studies of evolution are focused on those processes.
Contrary to what most creationists will tell you, evolution does not posit that humans evolved from monkeys or apes. Humans do belong to the same family, known as the Hominidae, as the great apes. The closest known living relative to Homo sapiens is the chimpanzee.
But this does not mean humans “evolved from monkeys.” We share a common ancestor with monkeys that is ape-like. But there is very little connection between those ape-like ancestors and today’s monkeys, which branched off the evolutionary tree nearly 40 million years ago.
What is a scientific theory?
Let’s define the terms hypothesis, fact, and theory.
Hypothesis: In science, a hypothesis is an educated guess, based on observation. Usually, a hypothesis can be supported or refuted through experimentation or more observation. A hypothesis can be disproven, but not proven to be true.
Fact: In science, a fact is an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and, for all practical purposes, is accepted as “true.” Truth in science, however, is never final and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow based upon further examination and new discoveries.
Theory: In science, a theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.
So, a scientific theory, such as evolution, is a highly substantiated, well-supported, well-documented explanation for our observations. It ties together all the facts about something, and provides an explanation that fits all the observations. In science, theory is the ultimate goal, the explanation. It’s as close to proven as anything in science can be.
In other words, a hypothesis is educated guess; a fact is a what; a theory is a how and/or a why. A theory in science is not just a hunch or a good guess.
Are evolution and belief in God incompatible?
So was the idea of evolution created to turn people away from God, to give them something other than God to believe in? The unfortunate thing is that many religious leaders who (1) don’t really know what evolution is, and (2) don’t understand what scientific theory is, are preaching just that — that evolution is anti-God. Honestly, they don’t know what they’re talking about.
These scientists believe that it’s entirely possible that a supreme being guided the evolution of living things and that evolution, rather than being mutually exclusive to religious beliefs, complements faith.
Dr. Francis Collins is a widely respected scientist and theistic evolutionist, a former director of the Human Genome Project, an evangelical Christian, and author of the book, The Language of God — A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. He said “Evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.”
Evolution is a scientific theory back by mounds of evidence; it is not just hunch. Evolution doesn’t say that humans descended from monkeys. Evolution was not created to turn people away from God and, for many who study evolution, it is not incompatible with belief in God.
Of course, for those who take the Bible literally, believe the Earth is around 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs roamed the planet at the same time as man, and that man was uniquely created in God’s image and has, since the dawn of life been exactly the same as man is now, then yes, evolution can be contrary to their religious beliefs.
But for those who take the Bible to be historically and scientifically accurate, so is reason and rational thought.