Allaying Parental Fears About Evolution Education in Public Schools

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August 21, 2012 Tags: Education

Today's entry was written by David Vinson, MD. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Allaying Parental Fears About Evolution Education in Public Schools

Note: Over the next two or so weeks, students across the country will begin another academic year. Nearly all of them will receive some kind of science education, and many will experience tension between some of what they have been taught about God's creation in church or at home, and what they are likely to find in science textbooks and hear from their instructors. How should that tension be addressed? How might it be resolved? Beginning today with a personal story from doctor and educator David Vinson, we'll be publishing essays that tackle those questions from several perspectives and approaches, and as they apply in multiple educational settings from public middle-schools to private Christian colleges.

It was early spring and the weeds on the church grounds were taking full advantage of the moist soil and the warm sunlight. To keep the weeds at bay, a group of us had signed up for weed-duty and this happened to be our month in the rotation. There I was, down on my knees, grubbing around in the soil, careful to discriminate between the unwelcome intruders which we were trying to remove and the finely appointed plants which we were trying to preserve.

Jennifer, one of the church moms and a new friend, was on the beautification crew with me and my wife that day. Working side-by-side for a few hours provided us ample opportunity for conversation. She confided in me that she and her husband Michael were struggling with how best to respond to their children’s public school’s presentation of evolution. Years back these parents had had their own faith birthed and developed in a Christian tradition that sought to be faithful to Scripture, especially in those areas where biblical teaching seemed to run directly counter to popular American culture. Among their church’s counter-cultural distinctives was an affirmation of divine creation that stood in opposition to evolutionary science. The reasoning was simple and rested on two fundamentals: (1) The Bible taught that each kind of plant and animal was specially designed, and was independently brought into being directly by God himself and (2) the theory of evolution was scientifically untenable, crafted strategically by atheists to explain God away and undermine the moral fiber of our country. These tenets had been rehearsed many a time from their pulpit and reinforced by educational conferences led by Bible-believing credentialed scientists. Contradictory views were pronounced as suspect at best and destructive at worse.

But now Jennifer and Michael were coming to a crisis with their children’s public education. Next fall their oldest would be subject to the brain-washing pseudo-science of evolution, she explained. What were she and her husband to do? Though they had three choices at their disposal, only one was feasible. Because they themselves felt unqualified to assume the responsibility for a home education program, they couldn’t pull their kids out of the public school and start homeschooling. Because the costs of private Christian schooling far exceeded their limited budget, they couldn’t begin to entertain that option either. Their only choice was to leave their children in the public school and work diligently with them at home to correct the false teaching.

This “stay-in-school” option, however, confronted them with a moral dilemma. If they left their children in the public classroom, should they as concerned parents, as committed Christians, as agents of truth and light in this dark world, remain quiet or should they speak out? It was apparent that this impasse had her knotted up in emotional turmoil. Jennifer couldn’t focus on both the weeding and this part of the conversation at the same time. She stopped her work and set her troubled eyes on mine. The anguish in her voice was palpable. Was it right to stand by and let the system go unchallenged? Was it right to keep silent and let their kids, and their classmates, get fed an atheistic line? Would their failure to voice their objections to the school be a sign of cowardice, a lack of faith, a concession to the opposition?

On the other side of the equation was the potential this evolution conflict might have on the friendships they had built with the parents of her kids’ classmates, friendships that had been nurtured for years with peers who didn’t necessarily share these same beliefs about the Bible and the nature of evolution. To speak against the school’s science curriculum could put these valued friendships at risk. It was here her tone changed. Her anxiety over the conflict of creation versus evolution gave way to warmth and compassion as she related to me the depth of these relationships and the love they felt for their friends.

There seemed to be no easy solution. To speak for what they thought to be true would surely jeopardize their quest for solidarity and community with the other parents. To remain silent in the name of love would feel like a compromise of their convictions. Jennifer and Michael both felt pulled simultaneously in varied directions. When faced with this kind of decision, what did it mean to be a faithful disciple of Christ, to be a responsible parent, to be a good friend? It seemed like something valuable would have to give way.

Understandably, the weeding project had slowed considerably. But we had bigger issues at hand. After I identified with her plight and voiced my empathy, I took the liberty to introduce her to a complementarian perspective on creation and evolution that I felt would resolve their dilemma and allow them to stand by the truth of Scripture (slightly reconceived), to care for their children, to retain their friendships, and to continue to contribute to the welfare of the school. But because it was a viewpoint that neither she nor Michael had ever considered, I needed to go slowly and help her reframe both her understanding of the Bible’s teaching on creation and her perception of evolution.

I turned back to the weeds, and continued the conversation. Since my own path of discovery on this topic had a similar point of origin to that of Jennifer and Michael, I thought my story might throw some helpful light on their predicament. Over the next hour, Jennifer listened with great interest as I figuratively walked her along my own journey from a church whose creed was ‘creation versus evolution’ to a broader community who celebrates ‘creation via evolution.’

By the time our work crew had finished beautifying the many flower beds populating the lower parking lot, Jennifer was more puzzled than when we began. But now her questions weren’t so much about what to do with the school situation as about how to get her brain and heart around this novel, but strangely attractive, approach to a subject she had long been taught was black and white, cut and dried, settled.

I knew that Jennifer would be eager for Michael to get caught up on the discussion we had while weeding. That next weekend the three of us met over coffee for a few hours, taking a fresh look at Scripture, science, faith and the church’s engagement with our culture. It was a thrilling discussion for all of us, moving this curious couple a few more steps along this new trajectory. They were eager to learn more, so I passed them what I think is the best intro-level book on this topic for Christians with their background: Darrel Falk’s Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology. They both loved it and found that it helped answer many of their questions.

The next month Jennifer and Michael attended a presentation I give on this topic to interested groups in the area. The big-picture view helped set the debate in a much larger context and reminded them of the humble posture all Christians should adopt when discussing charged issues with fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. Jennifer found a few further recommended readings on our Web page to bring her high school biology education up-to-date.

For Jennifer and Michael their dilemma had been resolved; their fears had been allayed. They now feel good and at peace about keeping their children in the public school system, since the science curriculum is no longer viewed as a threat to their Christian faith. Their role as parents is no longer to oppose evolution but rather to set their children’s understanding of evolution in a larger theistic framework. Whether the family is reviewing the science material that the children are learning in school, or watching educational science shows on TV like NOVA, Nature, and National Geographic, they can marvel at the mechanisms of evolution and the complexity and the diversity of life that it brings forth, all as a wonderful outworking of how God creates life.

Much good came out of that morning working together in the flower beds. The weeds were all removed and the plants could get on with their growth, without having precious nutrients stolen away by competitive invaders. The same was true in some sense with Jennifer and Michael. With the weeds of the “creation versus evolution” conflict removed, they were free to direct their energies to the things that really mattered—loving God by constructively serving the people around them.

This post first appeared in May 2010


David Vinson is an emergency physician, clinical researcher, perpetual student, and educator who teaches on the constructive interface between science and faith. He hosts a Web page that serves as a clearinghouse of resources to help Christians explore the nexus between creation and evolution.

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rhymeswithdave - #72093

August 21st 2012

Inspiring article. The story seems to be the same for those of us coming out of a “traditional evangelical” world view, like myself: first the wrestling with your heart and mind, then learning to engage with the rest of the Christian community and the world on puting to rest fears on both sides.


Holly - #72103

August 21st 2012

I completely relate to Jennifer and her husband’s predicament. I too was a YEC (though I was never entirely convinced of its veracity) who feared public school science classes for my kids. I have friends who homeschool their children out of this fear. My husband and I have since embraced at least OEC and are very comfortable with evolution as God’s tool of creation. We have used the Test of Faith study with our 11 year old and plan on viewing From the Dust with him this fall. I am thankful for organizations like Biologos and the Faraday Institute (and Faraday schools too!) that help us on this journey. These resources are desperately needed to help this generation avoid a crisis of faith.


Francis - #72108

August 21st 2012

“… Jennifer and Michael were coming to a crisis with their children’s public education. Next fall their oldest would be subject to the brain-washing pseudo-science of evolution … They now feel good and at peace about keeping their children in the public school system, since the SCIENCE CURRICULUM is no longer viewed as a threat to their Christian faith.”

Jennifer and Michael changed their minds.

Have any studies been done on whether the saying is true that “Your first answer/hunch is usually right/accurate”? Anecdotally, and from my own experience, it seems to be so.

 

Here the issue is NOT “science” or the “science curriculum”, per se. The issue is the teaching of evolution in a science curriculum.

Why the continual obfuscation of language? Why, for another example, does The BioLogos Forum header say “Science and Faith in Dialogue”? Should it not say “Evolution and Faith in Dialogue”? And evolutionists try to impugn those not believing in evolution by saying the non-believers are “anti-science”. This is a lie. They’re not “anti-science” at all. They’re “anti-evolution”.  Please say what you mean.

Actually, I encourage the teaching of evolution in schools, just not in the science curriculum. The theory of evolution should be considered in courses on “philosophy” or “philosophy of science” or “religion” or “scientific hoaxes and frauds” (e.g. Piltdown Man, Haeckel’s embryo drawings).


rhymeswithdave - #72109

August 21st 2012

Francis,

I’ve seen your comments before and I think past responses about the issues you raise are more than adequate for you, if you indeed care about dialog. So, I’m not going to try to convince you of anything here.

But for the sake of others who may be reading, I will respond…


1) “Jennifer and Michael were coming to a crisis with their children’s public education. Next fall their oldest would be subject to the brain-washing pseudo-science of evolution...”

This statement was made to portray the problem from the vantage point of Jennifer and Michael. I think that is clear enough in the context (hence, why the word “crisis” was used here when later on we see that it was not truely a crisis at all).

 

2) Changing ones mind is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a very human thing to do. We learn something new and we change. Growing requires change. So, yes, to put the story rather dully, as you did, “Jennifer and Michael changed their minds.” Personally, I identify with how they changed and can feel a sort-of kinship in that way.

 

3) The issue brought out here is indeed the teaching of evolution (as you point out). I don’t think there is any “obfuscation of language” going on here. But, as the article goes on to suggest, maybe some are fighting for the wrong cause.

 

4) The dialogs here are indeed about both science and faith. Substituting “evolution” for the word “science” in the forum header would be a bad idea. It would miss the point. Evolution is one issue. As science uncovers other pieces of evidence (such as archaeological evidence) that throw off our previous notions and doctrinal stances, we need to address those as well.

 

5) Lastly, evolution is not a philosophy. It is broad scientific theory. In the end, it helps to guide scientists in finding out how/why things work and helps interpret findings. This is no different than, say, the theory of relativity. It is used to predict outcomes (though, maybe not all the predictions we’d like to test) and we can test against those predictions.

Perhaps you are referring to Evolutionary thought (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_evolutionary_thought).

 


Francis - #72113

August 21st 2012

Rhymeswithdave,

“if you indeed care about dialog.”

I do care about dialog. More specifically, I care about purposeful dialog, with the purpose being the discernment of, and agreement on, truth. Unfortunately, few attempt to dialog with me, or even answer the questions I pose. So, I appreciate your responding. We can now dialog.

“Changing ones mind is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a very human thing to do. We learn something new and we change. Growing requires change.”

I agree 100%! Although I may be dull (and, as you said, state things “dully”), I have changed my mind before, after digesting new information.

“Personally, I identify with how they changed and can feel a sort-of kinship in that way.”

Personally, as you know, I don’t identify with how they changed. I changed in the exact opposite direction.

You see, I used to believe in evolution. Evolution is all I heard in regard to origins for most of my life. But I was blessed with some degree of inquisitiveness and with a somewhat open mind. And for some reason, I began asking questions about evolution about nine years ago. (Recently, I wrote of this journey on http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-the-framework-view.)

Before too long, I changed my opinion on evolution. And my opinion became firmer with each evolutionary science article read and each year completed.

“The dialogs here are indeed about both science and faith. Substituting “evolution” for the word “science” in the forum header would be a bad idea.”

How about a compromise? How about “Evolutionary Science and Faith”?

Sola “Science” just seems misleading to me. Unless BioLogos is planning to run articles on “Nuclear Fission and Faith” or “Superconductivity and Faith” or “Thermodynamics and Faith” or “Adult Stem Cell Therapies and Faith”, etc.

“[Evolution theory] is used to predict outcomes (though, maybe not all the predictions we’d like to test) and we can test against those predictions.”

On a previous blog (http://biologos.org/blog/death-and-rebirth-the-role-of-extinction-in-evolution) , I posited that a scientific theory is most strongly validated by its predictive power. I asked what the apparent vicissitudes of natural selection and evolution say about the predictive power of the theories of natural selection and evolution. But no one responded. Couldn’t get any dialog going.

What would you say evolution theory successfully predicts today that couldn’t be predicted by some other theory?


rhymeswithdave - #72114

August 21st 2012

Alright. Let’s continue the chat…

 

With regards to the forum banner (“Science and Faith in Dialogue”), both “science” and “faith” are broad terms, which is probably why they were picked. The forum is meant to discuss these two broad topics, not just exclusively “evolution and faith”.

So, yes, if there is an contention point between nuclear fission and faith, then let’s discuss it.

But I believe your point was that most topics here are about evolution and faith. But this should be expected given the issue that prompted the creation of this community in the first place, and the fact that the main site is dedicated “...to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith…” It’s the time in Christian history that we live in. In 100 years the history books will tell of it for sure.

 

 

What would you say evolution theory successfully predicts today that couldn’t be predicted by some other theory?

I’m not sure that there needs to be some other theory. The theory of evolution is quite broad and covers a lot of ground.

As for predictive power, however, Darwin’s original hypothesis’ written down in Origin were so dead-on accurate that I’m amazed at how this was even possible. The relatedness of species, for example, was predicted and the mechanism behind it explained (natural and sexual selection). But it took over 150 years of research, the invention of high-throughput computing clusters, the discovery of DNA, etc, until we were finally able to write down the genomes of several species and compare them to find out that in fact Darwin was correct.

Shall I go on? Evolution predicts an old earth. In fact, we can now measure this and find it to be true (actually, the earth is older than even Darwin has guessed). It predicts that viruses will change and grow immune to our defenses against them. Indeed, this is what we see in medicine and evolution explains why this is happening.

 

It’s been a long time since Darwin published Origin (a compilation of over 30 years of meticulous investigation) and every major step in science since has done nothing but show the theory correct. The theory of evolution by natural selection, as posed by Darwin, is perhaps the prime example of a predictive scientific theory.


Francis - #72137

August 22nd 2012

Rhymeswithdave,

“How about a compromise? How about “Evolutionary Science and Faith”?” - Me

“With regards to the forum banner (“Science and Faith in Dialogue”), both “science” and “faith” are broad terms, which is probably why they were picked. The forum is meant to discuss these two broad topics, not just exclusively “evolution and faith”. So, yes, if there is an contention point between nuclear fission and faith, then let’s discuss it.” - You

Where has BioLogos ever posted “science” articles which did not involve evolution or evolution’s sine qua non, the alleged old age of the universe?

“As for predictive power, however, Darwin’s original hypothesis’ written down in Origin were so dead-on accurate that I’m amazed at how this was even possible. The relatedness of species, for example…”

By “relatedness of species” I’m assuming you mean physical and genetic similarities among different species. But this is explained at least as well by positing a master designer using the same design principles for different designs (e.g. BMW produces some excellent cars, but also some nice motorcycles. And both have engines and wheels and lights!).

“Evolution predicts an old earth. In fact, we can now measure this and find it to be true.”

This “truth” is based on using models and instruments which rely on assumptions. Let’s go really old. Let’s go 13.7 billion years, give or take. This aging requires certain major assumptions – isotropy and homogeneity. I may write later about the assumption of homogeneity.

“It predicts that viruses will change and grow immune to our defenses against them.”

As I’ve written over and over again. Those antibiotic-resistant bacteria are still … bacteria.

“The theory of evolution by natural selection, as posed by Darwin, is perhaps the prime example of a predictive scientific theory.”

How well did it predict the extinction of dinosaurs, or the advent of the platypus or peacock, or the “convergent” evolution of eyesight and consciousness?

Let’s continue chatting.


bren - #72167

August 23rd 2012

It is interesting that you view the issue as being one of predicative power.  I’m a little bewildered at your concluding that evolution has no predicative power.  Gee, and here I was thinking that this was one of the key factors it had going for it.  It predicts complex and counterintuitive patterns in bio-distribution as Darwin pointed out, while there is nothing about the trek from the arc that would make similar predictions.  It predicts the ordering of the fossils, from simple to more complex, as you ascend the geological column.  It predicts, for example, that you will never, never, never find a dog in Cambrian rock layer, a human in a dinosaur layer or any of a million other combinations.  Do you happen to have a theory, involving, for example, massive amounts of flooding and chaotic mixing, that would predict that these millions of combinations would never, never occur?  It predicted in Darwin’s time that there would be some factor in the biological makeup that would make it so that (a) children inherited a source for a particular biological pattern from the parents and (b) that the source of this pattern would be subject to small changes that would also be inherited and could accumulate and be selected for or against through geological time; hey presto – DNA/mutations/molecular biology.  It predicts roughly what life forms will be found in intermediate positions in the fossil record (there is no reason to expect to find something with mixed characteristics between dinosaur and bird and not to find something with mixed characteristics between an ape and a fish in any other known theory and there is no theory that predicts roughly where the anticipated mixtures will be found).  It predicts the impressive consonance between molecular and morphological phylogenies.  It predicts that similar genetic changes/errors relative to paraphyletic groups will be found between monophyletic groups.  This could go on and on; the reason that evolution is so widely accepted is because it is so powerfully predictive.

And creationism?  It predicts a jumble of many species from all “geological periods” all mixed together a huge, complex layer relating to a global flood and then fossils spreading out from some point in the middle east through the remainder of geological time.  Any takers?

By “relatedness of species” I’m assuming you mean physical and genetic similarities among different species. But this is explained at least as well by positing a master designer using the same design principles for different designs (e.g. BMW produces some excellent cars, but also some nice motorcycles. And both have engines and wheels and lights!).

Yes, this explanation seems to cover a lot of ground for creationists.  Take it all the way; why not mix and match component parts as convenient, like they do for car parts?  Why should we find any pattern in this at all?  Why not put a bird’s highly efficient (for flying) respiratory system in flying squirrels, just take the whole unit and insert as necessary?  Oh, right, because the squirrel is a mammal: while its system may converge on a common solution due to natural selection, it is constrained by the mammalian system that it has in place.  Many such patterns of what we find and what we will not find are explained by evolutionary relationships; what part of the hyper simplistic common designer response will do the same explanatory legwork?

As I’ve written over and over again. Those antibiotic-resistant bacteria are still … bacteria.

Yes they are.  And your life has traversed how much of the geological timescale again?  I’m not sure what you expected, unless it was cats somehow giving birth to dogs.  The issue is not: do small molecular changes lead to small phenotypic changes in small timescales that allows us to categorize the two resulting groups as being a part of the same species or as being closely related species (this surprises no one).  The issue is: what mechanism would stop these small changes from accumulating into highly significant overall modifications over large timescales?  There are two creationist options to choose from: either get rid of the large timescale or posit some mechanism (baraminology predicts, perforce, that we will find such a resilient mechanism) that will stop small changes from accumulating, leading to ever increasing divergence.  Either one will do, but either will need to be a very serious proof to overturn the current evidence.


bren - #72168

August 23rd 2012

continued…

How well did it predict the extinction of dinosaurs, or the advent of the platypus or peacock, or the “convergent” evolution of eyesight and consciousness?

It didn’t predict the extinction of dinosaurs.  That’s sort of an odd question.  It doesn’t predict the platypus or peacock any more than thermodynamics predicts where and when two particular molecules will collide in a football stadium.  Neither theory claims to make such predictive claims.  Convergent evolution depends on the strength of similar sets of selection pressures on different initial biological structures.  Evolutionary theory hardly makes this outcome surprising, but it doesn’t dictate where or when such convergence will occur, only that it becomes highly likely when the selection pressures are very strong (as in the case of the eye).  This set of points betrays some misconceptions that it is events as opposed to patterns and relationships that are predicted by the theory.


rhymeswithdave - #72143

August 22nd 2012

Where has BioLogos ever posted “science” articles which did not involve evolution or evolution’s sine qua non, the alleged old age of the universe?

Miracles and Science: The Long Shadow of David Hume(http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/louis_scholarly_essay.pdf). It discusses the role miracles play in a sciencifically-minded culture. 
By “relatedness of species” I’m assuming you mean physical and genetic similarities among different species. But this is explained at least as well by positing a master designer using the same design principles for different designs (e.g. BMW produces some excellent cars, but also some nice motorcycles. And both have engines and wheels and lights!).
Perhaps. But this explanation would by no means be considered a scientific theory. It is untestable (how could you test supernatural events?). Evolutionary theory shows this in a purely naturalistic manner. This is why it is accepted in the scientific community.

The remaineder of your comments concern specifics that I won’t respond to. Basically, for two reasons. 1) Because I don’t have the expertise and would rather not pretend that I do. 2) You can discover these things for yourself. Science operates by checking facts, reading conclusions and second-guessing everything.
For a start, here’s a multi-sectioned article from Talk-Origins that discusses scientific merit of evolution: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/As they say in the intro,“This article directly addresses the scientific evidence in favor of common descent and macroevolution. This article is specifically intended for those who are scientifically minded but, for one reason or another, have come to believe that macroevolutionary theory explains little, makes few or no testable predictions, is unfalsifiable, or has not been scientifically demonstrated.”
Francis - #72153

August 22nd 2012

Rhymeswithdave,

The BL article you linked uses the words “evolution” or “evolutionary” three times, and clearly advocates for evolution. The article is also about five years old. Do you know of any BL science articles (recent or not) which do not trumpet evolution/old ages?

 

“But this explanation [Intelligent Designer or ID] would by no means be considered a scientific theory.”   

Two points:

1) So what if some don’t consider ID a scientific theory? Are we interested in “the truth”, or are we interested only in “truth science can prove”?

2) If ID doesn’t meet some definition of “scientific”, at least it’s based on logic, reason and universal human experience.

 

“It [ID] is untestable.”

Is not evolution also untestable? Where has any evolution, let alone a predicted evolution, ever been observed in the wild or induced in a lab?

 

“Evolutionary theory shows this in a purely naturalistic manner. This is why it is accepted in the scientific community.”

I’m not going to try to speak to this. Whatever I might say will be lost in what I expect to be a flurry of lengthy back-and-forth from others here.

 

“The remaineder of your comments concern specifics that I won’t respond to. Basically, for two reasons. 1) Because I don’t have the expertise and would rather not pretend that I do. 2) You can discover these things for yourself. Science operates by checking facts, reading conclusions and second-guessing everything.”

The remainder of my comments addressed topics you broached and in which you believe. Don’t you ever question and test what you believe? Or are you not into “checking facts, reading conclusions and second-guessing everything.”

“For a start, here’s a multi-sectioned article from Talk-Origins …”

Been there, done that. Along with reading from many other sources, pro and con. And thinking. And that’s why I became a convert – to disbelief in evolution.

 

Does anyone else use spell-check anymore?


rhymeswithdave - #72156

August 22nd 2012

The BL article you linked uses the words “evolution” or “evolutionary” three times, and clearly advocates for evolution. The article is also about five years old. Do you know of any BL science articles (recent or not) which do not trumpet evolution/old ages?

You may be right. Is this a bad thing?

Are we interested in “the truth”, or are we interested only in “truth science can prove”?

Both. Science restricts itself to the investigation of natural phenomena. We are interested in that. Faith concerns itself with God and how man is to live and respond to Him. We are also interested in that. See John Polkinghorne’s “binocluar vision” outlook on this: http://goo.gl/Kg83o

If ID doesn’t meet some definition of “scientific”, at least it’s based on logic, reason and universal human experience.

Here we disgree.

Is not evolution also untestable?

Parts are untestable (because they’re historical in nature; history is not scientifically testable). Other parts are.

Where has any evolution, let alone a predicted evolution, ever been observed in the wild or induced in a lab?

Refer to my early Talk-Origins link.

Don’t you ever question and test what you believe?

Yes. But I have come to a different conclusion than you.

Been there, done that. Along with reading from many other sources, pro and con. And thinking. And that’s why I became a convert – to disbelief in evolution.

That’s OK. I don’t judge you for that and I doubt that many here would. I believe I understand your position quite well (being in it at some point myself). Which, surprisingly, brings us back to this article in which we are commenting.


Francis - #72172

August 23rd 2012

Bren,

Regarding the “geologic column”, please see my comment #71422 on http://biologos.org/blog/hominids-videocast

As far as not finding “a dog in Cambrian rock layer, a human in a dinosaur layer or any of a million other combinations”, maybe they will someday. Just as they may one day find the trillions of missing intermediate fossils - those AWOL transitions which worried even Darwin and which Jay Gould in 1977 called the “trade secret of paleontology.”

Evolution’s supposed predictions of  “DNA/mutations/molecular biology” and “ impressive consonance between molecular and morphological phylogenies” are explained at least as well by ID. (I didn’t really follow your riff on my BMW analogy.)

“The issue is: what mechanism would stop these small changes from accumulating into highly significant overall modifications over large timescales?”

What’s a large timescale? A million years? How about a billion years? Well, each of the days in the last thousands of years was a large timescale away from a billion years ago. Why haven’t we seen a “highly significant” modification to an organism kind? Even something “small scale”, like a drosophila mutating into a gnat? Evolution never stops and today is a billion years from a billion years ago. Why no sightings of a fruit fly popping a fly (or even something between a fruit fly and fly)?

“Convergent evolution depends on the strength of similar sets of selection pressures on different initial biological structures… as in the case of the eye.”

So that I may see, what were the selection pressures which led to eyes popping up all over the animal kingdom relatively simultaneously?  (The last I heard, eyes evolved from a sun-sensitive patch of skin. Who’d have thought that sunburns could be a good thing?)

How did the perfectly and uniquely functional pupil, retina, cornea, aqueous humor, rods, cones, and optic nerve accidentally mutate into purposeless existence, hang around for who knows how many millennia (with the organism expending energy the whole time to hold on to these things which provided no function or advantage), come together (from wherever they happened to mutate on the body), integrate themselves in just the right way, and then plug into the brain (wherever that came from) in just the right spot , and then, presto! It sees?

Now the above seems incredibly surprising and highly unlikely to me. Yet you say “Evolutionary theory hardly makes this outcome surprising, but it doesn’t dictate where or when such convergence will occur, only that it becomes highly likely when the selection pressures are very strong.”

Again, what were the selection pressures which would make the above sequence of eye-opening events NOT surprising and NOT unlikely?

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wesseldawn - #72173

August 24th 2012

Evolution is the “way of the world”; pretty much cut and dried (nature is a dictator), constantly changing/adapting. As new evidence concerning the earth is uncovered, then of course we should be perfectly comfortable with changing our thinking. 

The problem for me is the changes in Christian theology: the constant “trying to make the  the Bible fit the world” when the Bible will be as unchanging as the Author who inspired it!

For I am the LORD, I change not...  (Malachi 3:6)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:17)

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Heb. 13:8)

The world changes but God stays the same throughout eternity: two very different scenarios! When people try to marry the two (as being the same) there will always be conflict. The world is not God. If this were God’s world then justice would prevail everywhere, but if right is not diligently maintained and fought for, evil quickly prevails.


Donald Byron Johnson - #72174

August 24th 2012

I sure wish the author had used a different word that the neologism “complementarian”.  That word was invented in the late 20th century by those who believe the Bible teaches what is sometimes known as patriarchy, when men are supposedly charged by God to lead their wives and only males are qualified for some church leadership positions.  They chose to invent a new word because they felt the other existing words had negative connotations.

I could figure out that what the author meant was complementary, which is not a neologism and has the standard meaning.


Janine Davies - #72176

August 24th 2012

Great article and discussion, thank you all for your thoughtful contributions.


HornSpiel - #72177

August 24th 2012

Kudos to rhymeswithdave in his discussion with Francis. I don’t feel qualified to evaluate how well Francis held up his side of the discussion, but I’d hate to loose him as a discussant here.


Francis - #72191

August 25th 2012

Rhymeswithdave,

I wrote:

“Why does The BioLogos Forum header say “Science and Faith in Dialogue”? Should it not say “Evolution and Faith in Dialogue”? … How about a compromise? How about “Evolutionary Science and Faith”? Sola “Science” just seems misleading to me… The BL article you linked uses the words “evolution” or “evolutionary” three times, and clearly advocates for evolution. The article is also about five years old. Do you know of any BL science articles (recent or not) which do not trumpet evolution/old ages?”

You responded: “You may be right. Is this a bad thing?”

It’s not a bad thing for those who aren’t concerned with truth in advertising.


bren - #72199

August 26th 2012

Francis,

“As far as not finding “a dog in Cambrian rock layer, a human in a dinosaur layer or any of a million other combinations”, maybe they will someday.”

You’re response is “maybe they will some day”?  That’s it?  Statistically, there is no reason at all to not find hundreds or thousands of such misplaced fossils on a yearly basis under the global flood hypothesis (in fact, there’s no good reason to find any significant order at all and it should be very rare that we discern any accidental order at all), while evolutionary theory predicts that not one will ever turn up, but the sweeping response is; “the jury is still out”.  Yes apparently the jury is out for good, having been permanently dismissed from the task of deliberation.  And just when will such strong statistical inferences start to count instead of being dismissed offhand?  And then you redirect with the old myth that there are no transitional fossils, backing this up by quote mining Gould (who actually did think that there were transitional fossils btw)?  First, quote mining is not officially a part of the scientific method.  Second, subscribe a relevant scientific journal and you will see in depth analyses of fossils with intermediate characteristics found in predictable layers on almost a monthly basis (I’m speaking for journals that don’t specialize in the subject such as Nature), sometimes known as transitional fossils.

Let’s pause.  Multiple aspects of your response indicate that you do not have a good idea of what evolutionary theory actually predicts.  This is no fault of your own if it has been poorly presented by high school teachers or misrepresented by creationist bigwigs.  It begins to become inexcusable when you hold forth on the subject as though you did know.

(1)   The evolution of the eye has been discussed since Darwin, and there is therefore no excuse for how you present it.  What you present simply has no connection at all to what has been discussed and elucidated for more than 150 years now.  If one of your statements is “…accidentally mutate into purposeless existence, hang around for who knows how many millennia (with the organism expending energy the whole time to hold on to these things which provided no function or advantage)” then you have no business discussing the subject at all until you spend a little extra quality time with google.

(2)   “Why haven’t we seen a “highly significant” modification to an organism kind?” and “Why no sightings of a fruit fly popping a fly (or even something between a fruit fly and fly)?” – Even the terminology has little connection to the field of biology.  How exactly do you think evolution is supposed to work?  “Kinds” don’t just change into other “kinds” (not sure what part of “accumulative” you find unclear in evolutionary theory.  In fact, evolutionary theory can predict with some confidence that any given “kind” (if you want to use this term) will never evolve into another kind that currently exists.  Won’t happen.  There may be convergent characteristics in future branches, but that’s about it.  Again, you don’t seem to have a clear idea on how it works.

(3)   “Evolution’s supposed predictions of “DNA/mutations/molecular biology” and “ impressive consonance between molecular and morphological phylogenies” are explained at least as well by ID.”  Interestingly, this doesn’t betray a misunderstanding of evolution so much as it betrays a misunderstanding of ID.  ID doesn’t even claim to explain the consonance of phylogenies.  At all. Only common descent makes any such prediction.  Genetics and mutations as the missing mechanism that Darwin needed has absolutely nothing to do with ID.  Did you really think that there was such a prediction?

I think it’s great that you take the time to discuss your views in this forum and you have interesting points, but it is very clear that you understanding of evolution has been largely filtered through creationist websites or writings and that you have not made significant efforts to study the subject apart from the filter.  If you aren’t interested in searching to find out what evolutionary theory actually says or predicts in its own terms, then I can only conclude that you aren’t that interested in knowing.  Best of luck if you do decide to make such an investigation..


Francis - #72207

August 26th 2012

Bren,

At the time of the flood the entire earth was populated with plants and animals, but only a portion of the planet was populated with people - a relatively small number of people. Dinosaurs apparently didn’t live near these people. Neither did polar bears. That we haven’t found them all mixed together in the same sedimentary rock is not surprising to me.

What’s more surprising to me is the absence of transitional fossils. Scientists have a relative handful of fossils which are arguably transitional. Those who have declared them transitional are not without their detractors and skeptics, even within the science establishment.

But we should have billions, maybe trillions of such intermediates. When you go from a goat to a whale (http://michigantoday.umich.edu/2011/06/whales.php),  it’s like going from A to Z, to put it kindly and mildly. So where’s B through Y (or at least substantial portions, thereof)?   

I can understand why Darwin and Gould were worried.

 

“ The evolution of the eye has been discussed since Darwin, and there is therefore no excuse for how you present it.”  

Would you then please explain for me, and perhaps refresh the memories of others reading this, how eyesight evolved?

And would you please also identify the “selection pressures” you mentioned which allegedly led to eyesight throughout the animal kingdom at about the same alleged geologic time.

 

“In fact, evolutionary theory can predict with some confidence that any given “kind” (if you want to use this term) will never evolve into another kind that currently exists.”

I get that. I just didn’t know any other way of describing something that doesn’t exist. That’s why I said “Why no sightings of a fruit fly popping a fly (or even something between a fruit fly and fly)?”.

 

“ID doesn’t even claim to explain the consonance of phylogenies. At all. Only common descent makes any such prediction.”

I suppose we can now have another long-winded discussion of what something is, in this case ID. Well, Francis’ idea of ID says that rational human beings recognize design, know that design come from a designer, and reasonably assume that such designer could use certain efficient and wondrous design structures more than once. And so, a Francis I D er could predict or expect similarities/consonances between different types of organisms.

 

“… it is very clear that you understanding of evolution has been largely filtered through creationist websites or writings and that you have not made significant efforts to study the subject apart from the filter.”

Me understanding of evolution is indeed partly due to creationist websites. It’s also partly due to the state of evolution education (see BL’s 8/25/12 “The State of Evolution (Infographic)”).

 

“If you aren’t interested in searching to find out what evolutionary theory actually says or predicts in its own terms, then I can only conclude that you aren’t that interested in knowing. Best of luck if you do decide to make such an investigation.”

You seem to be under the impression that I’m not interested and haven’t been investigating. As I’ve explained on a previous blog, I’ve been investigating for about nine years. I’ve been reading what the evolutionary scientists themselves say, in places like Nature magazine, Science magazine, the Public Library of Science (PLOS), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and many other sources from the science establishment.

Thanks for chatting with me. I hope you’ll continue the chat by answering my questions above.


Francis - #72213

August 27th 2012

“There may be convergent characteristics in future branches, but that’s about it. Again, you don’t seem to have a clear idea on how it works.” – bren

Why do evolutionists continue to refer to the branches when they seem to have no clear idea where the trunk is, or whether the trunk existed at all?

 

See #71421  http://biologos.org/blog/hominids-videocast


bren - #72243

August 28th 2012

“At the time of the flood the entire earth was populated with plants and animals, but only a portion of the planet was populated with people - a relatively small number of people. Dinosaurs apparently didn’t live near these people. Neither did polar bears. That we haven’t found them all mixed together in the same sedimentary rock is not surprising to me.”

Again, the point is not that a particular combination of species doesn’t occur in the fossil record, but that only an extremely minute subset of possible combinations does occur, and occurs consistently, without deviation, that the pattern that these combinations makes matches a plausible evolutionary sequence (it should be noted that most possible patterns, produced for any other reason, would not produce a plausible evolutionary narrative).  The fact that any two species (homo sapiens and fill-in-the-blank dinosaur) are never ever found together is something suspicious in and of itself, although one can come up with plausible reasons in a number of cases, including different natural habitats (your polar bear example fits here, although the Inuit hunter may beg to differ), and then assume that massive flooding that moves mighty boulders across the landscape fails to mix any unlikely pair of animal remains.

We have never found that a Dilophosaurus has chased down an antelope, and we never will.  We have never found a whale or a dolphin in a similar habitat to an Ichthyosaur.  Never a monkey near an Archaeopteryx.  Never a chicken eaten by an Adasaurus.  With the earliest herbivores too, you can predict that flowering plants won’t be found in the same layer.  To have a theory predict that any one of a million such combinations will not occur would be an impressive feat for any theory (especially after a worldwide flood), but to predict that they will never occur (and to have that supported by the fact that we have never found such combinations in 200 yrs of digging and finding) is a very serious prediction, not to be dismissed lightly.  Without doing the least bit of research as to what combinations paleontologists have actually found, you can make absurdly long lists of what combinations have not and cannot be found (even if many of their physiological characteristics seem to indicate similar habitats) and then check it against the literature.  Each combination can be predicted never to happen.  In real life, if a predator can gain access to potential prey, they will, and they will go out of their way to do so regardless of what geological time periods evolutionists expect them to stick to.  This pattern can only be explained outside of evolution by there conveniently being impassable mountain ranges (this might prevent any mixing upon flooding although not so sure that this still works if the flooding is higher than the mountain tops, note that bodies tend to float during flooding and powerful displacement would occur during a worldwide flood…) or some other extreme physical barrier between each of the geological periods that evolutionists claim to have discovered.  And these almost perfectly isolated zones would have to be contiguous in some cases (for the minute mixing between supposed sequential geological periods) and far apart in others in order to mimic the supposed geological sequence.  And then this perfectly arranged jigsaw puzzle of isolated zones would need to be erased by the flood (crushing some of the mountain range arrangements) such that we see no trace of such an arrangement, all the while ensuring that the same flood did not accidently mix any of the animals from different zones.  And even given this set of hypotheses, such barriers would preclude finding animals from one such zone superposed in a layer above an animal from another zone, or the “convenient mountain ranges” hypothesis would fail, since the animals should be geographically separated.  To put it simply, even when you come up with a long sequence of implausible and unsubstantiated ad hoc hypotheses in which to explain one set of facts (that already have an available explanation) or one overall pattern, another set of facts then comes along to make these hypotheses impossible.


bren - #72249

August 28th 2012

There is some missing info in the above point, it should be noted that the “impossible” combinations alluded to are limited to a fossil showing up in a layer that is characteristic of a significantly older time period (e.g. a panther, who had not yet evolved according to the evidence, being found in the Mesozoic), being therefore found next to an animal that is normally found in that older layer.  It is not strictly impossible (though highly unlikely) that some small groups of dinosaurs may have survived mass extinction, to remain largely unmodified and undetected by the available record, only to show up in a much later period (a layer that is characteristic of a more recent time period with the corresponding flora and fauna).  That said, this is generally unlikely and is worth mentioning only to cover my bases and to restrict the word “impossible” to its rightful domain.


bren - #72244

August 28th 2012

As for transitional fossils, I will only point out that evolutionary theory does not in fact predict trillions of intermediates, but it does predict that we should find some between major groups if fossil preservation is sufficiently likely.  Even Darwin, being a successful geologist, pointed out that fossilization and preservation should be extremely rare and the fossil record fairly incomplete.  It has long been recognized, based genetics and studies in allopatric speciation etc., that small isolated groups change far more rapidly than any group with a large gene pool and by definition, it is very unlikely that any fossils will be found from these small isolated groups instead of the large stable groups.  For a host of such reasons, it should be difficult to find many transitional fossils.  That said, we should find some; in particular we should universally find a particular pattern in the fossils that matches the relationships predicted by morphological or genetic studies.  Thus, we may expect to find fossils with hybrid characteristics between theropod dinosaurs and birds, but never between mammals and birds.  We would expect to find (based on biological studies in the details of the anatomy, genetics, bone structure and organs) fossils with hybrid bone structure characteristics between whales and land mammals like cows, as wild as that may seem, but not between sharks and cows.  The patterns that we do find match the expectations, but are not the least bit predicted on the creationist side.  The so called controversy amongst evolutionists for some of these fossils is badly misrepresented in creationist websites; they are usually controversies about detailed phylogenies (which of the discovered fossils are closer to the split between two groups) and often arise not because the fossil fails to display the predicted characteristics, but because there are multiple fossils available, increasing the competition in a highly competitive and poorly funded field.  Also, it is essentially statistically impossible that any given find will be exactly at the split point between two groups; it is far more likely to be a relative, branching from this split, with some small modifications not found in either group (probably, like 99% of all other species, a dead end branch), and this can lead to extended debate about just how close to the branch point this fossil actually is.  This is, almost comically, sometimes misrepresented as being a debate about whether there is any relationship at all.  As for the number of finds; well you just told me what journals you sometimes read, so I shouldn’t need to supplement anything.  These journals regularly turn out new findings, any of which could overturn (“rabbit in the precambrian”) evolutionary theory or fail to match the overall pattern.  But they never do.  Even the quickest creationist websites sometimes seem to have trouble keeping up with the latest finds (AiG seems to slot small segments in the weekly “news to note” section, but usually doesn’t get around to a full analysis and tends to just jump on any dissenting and decontextualized quote or misrepresented debate that they can find – you just need to check the sources).  With transitional fossils, the issue is not how many there are, since evolutionary theory has nothing to do with the preservation of fossils and makes no prediction on how many will be found.  What it does predict is that if preservation is likely enough for us to find some fossils and if we do then find them, then a certain pattern should be observed and this should include some with intermediate characteristics between certain groups and none between others.  These predictions have been entirely successful though there is no reason for this to be the case if evolutionary theory is mistaken.


bren - #72245

August 28th 2012

“I suppose we can now have another long-winded discussion of what something is, in this case ID. Well, Francis’ idea of ID says that rational human beings recognize design, know that design come from a designer, and reasonably assume that such designer could use certain efficient and wondrous design structures more than once. And so, a Francis I D er could predict or expect similarities/consonances between different types of organisms.”

To repeat, ID does not predict consonance (I should probably say “concilience”) of molecular and morphological phylogenies (I did not say “organisms”; please re-read).  There is nothing “less or more intelligent” about having a genetic code that does not produce an “evolutionary tree” that is similar to that produced by morphological studies.  ID simply has nothing at all to say on this issue and seems to take no interest in explaining this pattern.  The degeneracy (redundancy) of the genetic code, as well as the complex and redundant nature of the genotype in relation to the phenotypic outcome means that there is no logical reason to expect concilience between phylogenies unless there is common ancestry.

The main issue with your presentation of the eye is that you suggest that at each stage, any modification would need to hang on, while providing no function or advantage for millennia, involving the “purposeless” expenditure of energy throughout.   Actually, your whole description of the process is a little bewildering.  Somehow, in your version, a bunch of separate parts with no function migrate together at random over incredible lengths of time and hey presto, an eye.  This is so far from any proposal that has been made, that I am again forced to assume that you have not made any serious effort to research any evolutionary hypothesis on the subject (and no, www.icr.org does not count as an authoritative proponent of the evolutionary perspective on this one).   To save time, I’ll refer you to the following http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB301.html.  Note that the evolutionary hypothesis on this subject involves no intermediate stages that are useless, without function, or without advantage (and the advantages enjoyed at each intermediate stage are amply proven by animals that are currently a part of the natural world and available for study).  For interesting articles on convergent evolution of the eye and reasons for high selection pressures, read “convergent evolution” by George McGhee, “Life’s solutions” by Simon Conway Morris or since you have access to Nature, I remember that there was a major review article on this in 2009.

Sorry about the length of the reply, it is one of my weaknesses!  I hope this responds to some of your points or questions..


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