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Sunday , September 25 2016

Evolution of the Dialogue

Recently in the Week, among such articles as, “In Defense of Obama’s Golfing” (mine is hands that are holding a golf club are hands that can’t hold a pen), was a little gem titled, “Why You Should Stop Believing in Evolution.”

Why should you stop believing in it?

So if someone asks, ‘Do you believe in evolution,’ they are framing it wrong. That’s like asking, ‘Do you believe in blue?’


It’s remarkable how poorly understood evolution is today — how easily “debated” it is — given that its rules have been in place at least since life on Earth began, and that the truth of it is easily demonstrated. In fact, the basic theory has been in a state of continuous reconfirmation since Darwin proposed it in 1859, with geology, biology, anthropology, carbon dating, Pangaea, and every dinosaur bone ever found providing a nonstop barrage of additional proof points.

Here are the rules, in a nutshell:

• Genes, stored in every cell, are the body’s blueprints; they code for traits like eye color, disease susceptibility, and a bazillion other things that make you you.

• Reproduction involves copying and recombining these blueprints, which is complicated, and errors happen.

• Errors are passed along in the code to future generations, the way a smudge on a photocopy will exist on all subsequent copies.

• This modified code can (but doesn’t always) produce new traits in successive generations: an extra finger, sickle-celled blood, increased tolerance for Miley Cyrus shenanigans.

• When these new traits are advantageous (longer legs in gazelles), organisms survive and replicate at a higher rate than average, and when disadvantageous (brittle skulls in woodpeckers), they survive and replicate at a lower rate.

Warm blood, hair, and live birth is a heckuva smudge, even series of smudges, on the reptile photocopy. It speaks to the seductive nature of a consequence-free explanation that such analogies are made without batting an eye. Extrapolate it out and you get the works of Shakespeare, not from 1,000 monkeys on 1,000 typewriters, but from accumulating smudges by endlessly photocopying initially blank sheets of paper. And if you’ve ever had to make a bunch of photocopies for work, what was your general opinion of smudges? Did they ever once cause an epiphany in the meeting?

The very notion of “species” is even a little misleading — a discrete-sounding artifice created for the convenience of people who live about a hundred years. If you had eyes to see the big picture, and could watch life change on a geologic time frame, you’d see constant gradual change, as generations adapt to circumstance.

No matter how gradual the process, eventually “parents” would have to have offspring that’s something truly new. Non-matter gives birth to matter, matter gives birth to single-celled life, single-celled begets multi-cellular organisms, which beget invertebrates, then vertebrates, and so on. Amphibians have reptilian offspring, reptiles have avian offspring, then mammalian. This isn’t about new finches, at some point you have to bite the bullet on an entirely different animal. It’s understandable why species would be a troublesome word.

That’s evolution left to proceed at its own lazy, trial-and-error pace. But it turns out you can make the gears turn a lot faster — in fact, we do it all the time. Have you ever seen strawberries in the wild? They’re little tiny things, easily missed if you are not a bird or a bee. We bred them to be big and fat, specifically by only allowing the seeds from the biggest, fattest ones in each generation to reproduce. We similarly manipulate almost every other “natural” food we eat today: Take a stroll through any modern produce section and you can see the fruits, literally and figuratively, of evolution turbocharged by human intervention.

The operative part of that snippet is, “We bred them…” So how exactly do natural forces left to their own devices increase in complexity over time, again? Hey, have you seen the size of these strawberries?

Evolution is nothing more than a fairly simple way of understanding what is unquestionably happening. You don’t believe in it — you either understand it or you don’t. But pretending evolution is a matter of faith can be a clever way to hijack the conversation, and pit it in a false duality against religion. And that’s how we end up with people decrying evolution, even as they eat their strawberries and pet their dogs, because they’ve been led to believe faith can only be held in one or the other.

But there’s no reason for people of faith to reject the mountains of data and the evidence of their own senses. Reconciling is easy: Believe, if you want to, that God set up the rules of evolution among His wonders, along with the laws of physics, and probability, and everything else we can see and measure for ourselves. But don’t deny evolution itself, or gravity, or the roundness of Earth. That’s just covering your eyes and ears. And only monkeys would do that.

Practically plagiarized the article at this point, but at least now there’s nothing left to quote. There was just too much patronizing and begging the question, with a little hypocrisy thrown in for good measure, to leave out any part. If pretending evolution is a matter of faith is a way to hijack the conversation, pretending it’s not is a way to shut it down. To say those who deny evolution believe in a duality between science and religion is a false statement. It’s a way to justify in one’s mind the derision they feel towards those who do not accept the same conclusion, as well as suppress the internal argument between what one “knows” and what one “believes.” This is at its most abrasive when people twist the First Amendment to suppress even mentioning religious faith issues from the public forum, while declaring their beliefs “science” and, therefore, not subject to the same rules.

Lumping in evolution with physics and gravity is a clever use of association. Only idiots and crazy people deny this. You don’t want to be associated with those types, do you? You may have noticed recently in other instances evolution has been paired with climate change. How charming. If you don’t want to be a science denier, you’ll fall in line and advance the progressive agenda.

And the “you don’t have to deny evolution to believe in your crazy sky man or whatever” line is about as patronizing as one can get. In any case, it’s also incorrect. If you are an atheist or agnostic or any form or fashion of unaffiliated, there’s no problem. But if you claim, say, Christianity and also accept evolution, you’re deluding yourself. The Bible refers to it as “friendship with the world.” Your faith is an endless weighing of what you want to believe, likely based around what you’re trying to justify to yourself at any given time. God didn’t flood the world or hold the sun back a day but Jesus turned water into wine. Christ died for our sins but our sins are just a product of our ancestral nature. Christ is returning to restore paradise but there wasn’t a paradise to begin with. To at least the major monotheistic religions of the world, the two are mutually exclusive, and more need to able to admit that.

Most of the time scientists are irritated by the incorrect use of terminology, especially in their particular field. They’re certainly quick to assert that those who challenge evolution misrepresent scientific terms with regularity. But there aren’t a lot of objections raised at just how frequently evolution is used for just about everything in life now. The word is used everywhere.

The evolution of the car and the computer. Do engineers and techs ever get perturbed that their life’s work, their years of identifying problems and designing improvements, is term-associated with blind forces of chance? Societal evolution, the evolution of music, culture, morals.

By all accounts, Anwar Al-Awlaki was a terrorist and a traitor to his nation. But he was still a US citizen and entitled to due process. How was his killing justified, then? By an evolving definition of what a battlefield is. Our rights themselves are subject to evolution. Especially you, Mr. Second Amendment.

If the word is everywhere, and associated with everything, then it’s a foregone conclusion. No matter what happens, we’re marching towards progress. Ideal camouflage for when we’re doing precisely the opposite.

About John Sutton

Married father of three. 5 C's. Particularly concerned with matters pertaining to the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 10th Amendments.

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