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What is evolution?

BioLogos promotes “evolutionary creation,” the view that all the lifeforms on earth came about by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent. The word evolution can be used in many ways, but in biology, it means descent with modification. In other words, small modifications occur at the genetic level (i.e. in DNA) when a new generation descends from its parents. Over many generations these modifications can result in significant differences from the ancestral population. When those differences are beneficial for survival, they can work their way through a whole population of organisms, and if the differences are substantial enough, scientists may recognize those organisms as a different species from their ancestors.

The theory of evolution makes no attempt to explain the origin of the first life which appeared on earth about 3.85 billion years ago. It explains the development and diversification of all life—including humans—after that in a “family tree” of species through common descent. Common descent is supported by multiple independent lines of evidence, most notably the fossil record, the geographical distribution of species, and the comparison of the genomes of many species.

A number of common misconceptions have led to confusion or suspicion about evolution over the years. Some people object that no one has observed one species suddenly becoming another, such as a cat giving birth to a dog. The truth is that such a sudden transition is not predicted by the theory of evolution. Evolution of new forms—what some people call “macroevolution”—takes a very, very long time, as small variations add up over millions of years. Humans have only been studying these changes for several hundred years, and so could not witness such major transitions. But we have seen smaller transitions in this timeframe, including the formation of new species, and the evidence left from the past shows clearly that major transitions have occurred.

Next, the claim that humans share common ancestry with other species does not mean that humans have evolved from any other presently existing species. Humans do share many genes with other living primates, but we are not their descendants. Humans and chimpanzees both descended from a common ancestor who lived about 6 million years ago, and the other primates have been changing over this time. Our ancestry does not determine who we are (as image-bearers of God), but simply speaks of the genetic “dust” from which we were formed.

A third misconception is that evolution is a random, purposeless process. It is true that individual mutations of the genetic code appear random from the perspective of science, in the sense that they are unpredictable. But “unpredictable” does not mean “purposeless,” and elements of randomness might have important purposes. Consider a video game, where the game designer intentionally includes random elements to create a richer experience. A Christian can view God’s governance of the evolutionary process as a similar use of “intentional randomness.” And then there are other elements of the evolutionary process that are not at all random, like the selection of positive variations that increase fitness. Whether the process as a whole is purposeless is not a scientific question. At BioLogos we believe that God intentionally created human beings, and did so through evolution.

There are many debates among evolutionary scholars about the details of the process, but common ancestry through evolution is firmly established as the general framework. At BioLogos, we believe that the theory of evolution is the best scientific description of the means by which God has accomplished his praiseworthy purposes of bringing forth life, with humanity as the pinnacle and focus of his creative work.

Learn more about the theory of evolution:

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Blog series: Evolution Basics

By Dennis Venema
Written by BioLogos Fellow of Biology Dennis Venema, this series of posts is intended as a basic introduction to the science of evolution for non-specialists.
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Blog article: Speciation and Macroevolution

By Kelsey Luoma
A common challenge to evolutionary theory is that while life does indeed change over time (what is known as microevolution), no one has ever seen one species evolve into another species (macroevolution).
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Blog series: Misconceptions About Evolution

This two-part series highlights some of the most common misconceptions about evolution and some helpful responses to them.

Learn more about the origin of humanity:

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Blog series: The Human Fossil Record

By James Kidder
In this series, James Kidder provides an intriguing study on transitional fossils and the evolutionary history of modern humans. He begins by discussing the fossil record, explaining how new forms are classified. He then explains the physically distinguishing trait of humankind—bipedalism. From the discovery of Ardipithecus, the earliest known hominin, to the australopithecines, the most prolific hominin, Kidder focuses on the discovery, the anatomy, and the interpretation of these ancestral remains.
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Blog series: Adam, Eve, and Human Population Genetics

By Dennis Venema
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Blog article: Evolution and the Imago Dei

By Francis Collins
Originally published on May 11, 2009.

Learn more about randomness and purpose in evolution:

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Blog article: Evolution, Chance, and God

By Neil Ormerod
The affirmation of genuine chance and randomness in the universe does not rob the universe of meaning and purpose.
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Blog article: From Chaos to Order: The Random Process as the "Precision Tool"of God

By Ryan Pettey
For many, the importance of apparent randomness in evolution can be a major stumbling block when considering whether God could have created through an evolutionary process.
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Blog article: On Beginning to Understand the Intelligence of Design: Reflections on 'Darwinism and the Divine' by Alister McGrath (Part II)

By Darrel Falk
For McGrath, nature is an “open secret...though open to public gaze, its deeper significance lies hidden.”