The Same Stuff as the Universe - Part 2


In Part one, I laid out my premise that the conflict between science and evolution creates a false dillema between scientific discovery and religious conviction. Now, I'll dive us in head first to the science of evolution.


What is Evolution?

I'm not a scientist, but I'll try to give a definition that does justice to the science. First, Evolution is a scientific theory. It is not a hypothesis. This is important. Second, evolution in the broadest sense is merely change. More to the point, it is change in the properties of whole populations of organisms (not individual ones) which are genetically passed down from one generation to the next. For a much more detailed definition and discussion, check out talkorigins.org

Within the theory of Evolution, there are hypotheses. A hypothesis is an 'educated guess' made in order to draw out and test its validity. When hypotheses have been tested thoroughly enough using the scientific method AND are found valid, they are considered theories and factual. You might notice that the street definition of theory and the scientific definition of theory are at odds, and you would be correct!  A hypothesis that is tested and found inaccurate or invalid doesn't become a theory.

Keep in mind that "scientific theories are validated by empirical testing against physical observations. Theories are not judged simply by their logical compatibility with the available data." (Theobald). Sometimes, scientists try to do the logical compatibility thing. If that happens, it should be called out because that's just bad science. 

The core of evolution is a scientific theory. It's been tested to death and validated. However, the theory of evolution also contains hypotheses such as The Red Queen hypothesis and others. But the main thing - common descent - that's a fact reliable enough to base all further study of biology on.

Evolution common use

But wait ... is evolution a theory about the origin of life? The answer to this is no, evolution is not a theory about the origin of life. 

The next bit of confusion is what to do with facts. Just because something is a fact doesn't mean it represents ultimate reality as it should be. Facts just shows us how it is. For example, the fact of natural selection doesn't give us philosophical ground to kill weaker people. The fact points to how things are when left to the natural order of things, not what they should be. Any time we talk about how things should be, we are making a values statement. All values have an ultimate source, and not all value-sources are equally authoritative or reliable.

And I want to speak to that for a moment. Think about what Genesis 1 says about how human beings were formed. It says we were formed "... out of the dust of the ground" (Gen 2:7). That's interesting. Basic Evolution theory contends something pretty similar. If we came from the dirt, and you look back further -- before there was dirt -- you'd probably have what I've heard described as 'primordial soup'. What about before that, before that, and before that? You get the idea. The fact is, we do share common biological roots with everything on earth (and even the universe), because we are made out of the same 'stuff' the earth and universe are made out of. In a future post, I'll have some things to point out about what the Bible says about God's role in all of this.



A side note: one of the reasons you might hear people say that evolution is 'just a theory' has to do with one of the great things about science. Even scientific theories can be proven wrong. New information or ways of measuring and observing may come to light which puts even tried and tested scientific theories on the chopping block. Einstein rocked the scientific world with his theory of relativity, and Neils Bohr did the same with atomic theory. Bohr especially rocked the boat because his theory was mathematical, and couldn't be 'observed' in the traditional sense (at least, not at first). But it was right on the money, nonetheless. Darwin's evolution is similarly well established, and is unlikely to be shown false. It could ... it's just not likely given the facts.

It's true that we can't 'observe' what happened thousands or millions of years the past like we can observe an ocean wave in the present. However, there are scientifically viable evidences for the theory of evolution and common descent. Using the theory of evolution, scientists were/are therefore able to reliably make predictions about what they might observe now, just like Neils Borh was able to do with his atomic theory even though he didn't actually 'see' an atom. If evolution theory was false, scientists would not be able to make accurate predictions using evolution as a backbone. Keep in mind, this has nothing to do with origins, but rather with the ability of the theory to accurately represent the natural world from (at least) a biological perspective.

So when you hear someone say "Evolution is just a theory", find out what they mean. Evolution isn't "just" a theory, because in the world of science, a theory is the gold standard. But in another sense, a much broader sense, it is just a theory. Evolution is solid enough to stake boatloads of further scientific inquiry on, but I'm not about to stake my soul, my heart and my mind on it. Evolution is just not that kind of solid, nor should it be set up as such. I'm convinced that the only thing solid enough to be worthy of being placed there at the seat of my heart is Jesus. In previous posts I've talked about the things which are closest to your heart are the things that you worship ...


In summary, having a scientific theory means having at least one hypothesis which has been tested and validated scientifically. Hypotheses are more like what any Joe on the street means when they talk about having theories... as in, "I have a theory about why babies poop so much."


So you see, science and evolution are complicated beasts. We're still just scratching the surface here, but I wanted to spend the time to give a brief yet (hopefully) accurate overview of evolution and my position on its importance. If you missed it, I think its important for science and seeing how things are in the natural order of things, but not so helpful for figuring out how things should be. I stake my life on Jesus for the latter - He is more reliable than even science to me. That's the core for me, and the rest is just working it out.

I know this leaves about a billion questions. Hopefully in the coming weeks I'll be able to address some of them. Stay tuned for Part 3.

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