Harvest House Publishers
As a teenage boy, I remember being taught in school that evolution was a proven scientific fact. I was taught the doctrine of the “survival of the fittest”—the idea that the fittest members of each individual species would survive and mature to adulthood, and that these “fit members” would, by positive genetic mutations, pass on this “fitness” to their descendants. I was taught that this process had been going on for billions of years and through this process, not only did individual species improve, but entirely new species emerged as well. I was taught that the theory of evolution proved that human beings and modern apes evolved from a common ancestor, the clear implication being that the Genesis account of creation was nothing but mere myth.
As I continued my education throughout high school, evolution was never presented as an optional belief but was always assumed to be true. At age 17, however, I became a Christian— and started to challenge some of the basic assumptions I had uncritically accepted. Among these assumptions were the various proofs for evolution and the naturalistic philosophy that undergirded it.
One thing that became very clear to me early on was that a great deal of confusion exists regarding what the term evolution means. A common dictionary definition of the word is “a process of developing” or “gradual development.” In this broad sense, creationists can agree with evolution. For example, I might speak about the evolution (the gradual development) of the book I am writing. Certainly it took some time to develop. Or I might read about the evolution (the gradual development) of the airplane by the Wright brothers. Nothing is wrong or offensive about this use of the word evolution.
Of course, Darwinian evolutionists use the term much more specifically. They view evolution as the theory that “millions of years ago lifeless matter, acted upon by natural forces, gave origin to one or more minute living organisms which have since evolved into all living and extinct plants and animals including man.” In other words, evolution is a naturalistic theory that proposes that simple life-forms evolved into complex life-forms by chance and random variation, with species giving rise to new species over billions of years. Ultimately, this means that all living things—including human beings and apes—are related to each other in that they have a common ancestor. As evolutionists Dylan Evans and Howard Selina put it, “Ultimately, every species on Earth is descended from a single common ancestor, just as the branches on a tree all spring from a single trunk.”
In evolutionary theory, natural selection, mutations, and long periods of time play a significant role. Natural selection may be defined as “preferential survival of individuals having advantageous variations relative to other members of their population or species.” That may sound complicated, but evolutionist Michael Benton suggests four basic propositions that bring clarity to the issue:
What all this means is that nature produces far more offspring in any given species than can possibly survive. Because of limited resources, these offspring must compete with each other to survive. This competition has winners and losers. The winners are those who are best fit to survive in that environment, and the losers are the least fit. As time passes, the winners pass on their superior traits (survival traits) to their offspring so they too can survive. As this process continues over many generations—with losers continually weeded out and the superior traits of the winners passed down to offspring through positive mutations—evolution occurs. “Over the course of many generations the advantageous gene (and its corresponding trait) will be found in a higher proportion of individuals.”
In view of this, some evolutionists actually define natural selection as “the process by which in every generation individuals of lower fitness are removed from the population.” Simply put, natural selection involves a “process of elimination.”
An example sometimes cited to illustrate natural selection is the insulating coat of the polar bear. We are told that at some point during the polar bear’s evolution, a thick insulating coat developed in response to the cold environment, and this “advantage” was passed on to future offspring by positive mutations, while polar bears less adapted to the environment were weeded out (they did not survive).
This understanding of evolution is based entirely on naturalism, the idea that all phenomena in the world can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws. Naturalism effectively takes God out of the picture. As one evolutionist put it, “once we accept the theory of evolution by natural selection, the traditional idea of God really does go out of the window.” A modern science textbook pointedly states that “living creatures on earth are a direct product of the earth. There is every reason to believe that living things owe their origin entirely to certain physical and chemical properties of the ancient earth.” The textbook goes on to assert that “nothing supernatural appeared to be involved—only time and natural physical and chemical laws operating within the peculiarly suitable environment.” This naturalistic outlook is the foundational philosophy of evolution. (I address naturalism in detail in the next chapter and natural selection in chapter 6.)
The Assumptions of Evolution
Evolutionary theory accepts at least five basic assumptions. As you consider these assumptions, I suggest that you pay special attention to their speculative nature (that is, the assumptions have no genuine scientific proof behind them):
1. Nonliving things gave rise to living things. Somehow, in some way, “spontaneous generation” occurred at some point in the unimaginably distant past, and all of a sudden, life emerged. After this initial life emerged from nonlife, some 1.7 million highly complex species eventually evolved.
2. Simple life-forms evolved into increasingly complex life-forms. For example, the protozoa (single-celled, microscopic organisms) gave rise to the metazoa (multicellular animals with organs), the invertebrates (lacking a backbone) gave rise to the vertebrates (having a backbone), within the vertebrates the fish gave rise to amphibia, the amphibia gave rise to reptiles, reptiles gave rise to birds and mammals, and so on.
3. All of this was the product of chance. No deity was involved. No supernatural providence was involved. Human beings and all life-forms on planet earth are essentially a cosmic accident that took place purely by natural causes.
4. All this took place over aeons and aeons of time.
Billions of years were necessary for simple life-forms to evolve into
complex life-forms. Evolutionists argue that “the effect of numerous instances
of selection leads to a species being modified over time.” Indeed, “Given enough
time, there could be a series of many small steps linking a monkey ancestor to a
Most evolutionists believe that our solar system emerged around five billion years ago, and that simple life-forms emerged on planet earth from nonliving chemicals perhaps four billion years ago. Since this time, increasingly complex life-forms have evolved. Man finally came on the scene perhaps one or two million years ago.
5. Existing physical processes—including those related to geology, biology, and astronomy—have been acting in a consistent fashion for billions of years essentially as we see them acting in the present. In other words, the geological, biological, and astronomical processes that we now observe in our present universe operated identically in the past at the same strength and intensity. A paleobiology professor simplifies this by saying, “because natural processes operating today have always operated, we can use them as a guide in understanding events throughout all geological time.” Therefore, the best way to understand the past is to simply observe what is happening in the present. This is a viewpoint known as uniformitarianism.
Based on uniformitarianism, evolutionists calculate that the earth must be very old. They argue that because fossils seem to form rarely today, the billions of fossils that have been discovered worldwide must have taken millions of years to form. Likewise, the sedimentary layers of rock are so thick (thousands of feet) that they must have taken immeasurable time to develop by ordinary processes of deposition. As one evolutionist put it, “If the same rate of change had operated in the past as [is] observed in the present, it must have taken hundreds of millions of years to produce such huge thicknesses of rock and such depths of erosion.” Such argumentation seems persuasive— and among those persuaded by such arguments are old-earth creationists.
However, young-earth creationists counter with a persuasive scenario which says that in the past, the sudden worldwide flood that came upon the earth in Noah’s time upset normal geological processes on an absolutely catastrophic scale, causing mass extinction, fossilization, and layer upon layer of sedimentary rock at an unprecedented rapid rate around the world. They suggest that estimates of the earth’s old age “assume that rates of sedimentation and radioactive decay have remained constant, assumptions that are impossible to verify empirically.” In short, they argue that what may appear to have taken millions of years may in reality have taken a much shorter time.
Certainly modern geologists are fully aware that such things as volcanoes and earthquakes can affect normal geological processes, prohibiting a perfect constancy in uniformitarianism. But young-earth creationists believe the worldwide flood was absolutely catastrophic, and the effect on normal geological processes was immeasurable—much worse than any local phenomenon that has been observed in modern times. Only a worldwide catastrophic flood, they believe, can account for the sheer magnitude of geological upsets (massive volcanoes) and the vastness of mass fossil graves around the world, even atop high mountains. In this view, then, things in the past took place at enormously different rates and intensities from anything seen at present. This view obviously goes against the uniformitarianism accepted by evolutionists.
I address uniformitarianism and the fossil record in chapter 4. Now, however, I must shift attention to the critically important distinction between microevolution and macroevolution.
Microevolution vs. Macroevolution
A distinction must be made between microevolution and macroevolution, for much modern confusion on evolutionism is rooted in a confusion of these categories. Simply put, microevolution refers to changes that occur within the same species, while macroevolution refers to the transition or evolution of one species into another. Macroevolution “consists of changes within a population leading to a completely new species with genetic information that did not exist in any of the parents.”
Creationists and evolutionists agree that microevolution has taken place. Creationists believe all the different races of human beings descended from a single common human ancestor (Adam). Likewise, all kinds of dogs have “microevolved” from the original dog species created by God. In no case, however, have scientists ever observed macroevolution. I argue later in the book that the genetic pool of DNA in each species sets parameters beyond which the species simply cannot evolve (that is, dogs can take on new characteristics, but they cannot evolve into cats, for dog DNA always remains dog DNA, just as cat DNA always remains cat DNA).
Scripture indicates that God created the initial “kinds” of animals, and then reproduction took place, generation by generation, “according to its kind” (Genesis 1:21,24). This type of evolution is “micro” in the sense that small changes have taken place in the DNA of specific species to bring about minor changes in that species. So, for example, human DNA allows humans to have different eye colors, different hair colors, different heights, dark skin or light skin, a bulky frame or a scrawny frame, a thin body or a fat body, and so forth. The possibility for all kinds of variations such as these are encoded into the DNA of the human species.
All of this contrasts with macroevolution, which, as noted previously, refers to large-scale transitions of one species into another through the process of natural selection. Evolutionists believe that only the best-fit members of each species survive and transmit their genetic characteristics in increasing numbers to succeeding generations, while those less adapted are weeded out. Through this “survival of the fittest” mechanism, species can allegedly evolve or transform into entirely new species. Simple life-forms can allegedly evolve or transform into more complex life-forms.
This is where the confusion often emerges in the theory of evolution. While microevolution is an observable fact, evolutionists have in the past tended to speak of evolution as a single unitary process (merging micro- and macroevolution into one category) such that proof for microevolution is viewed as proof for macroevolution. This conclusion is entirely unwarranted. The extrapolation from microevolution to macroevolution is an idea rejected even by many nontheistic biologists.
An illustration of this folly involves the well-known evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote an article entitled “Evolution as Fact and Theory” in Discovery Magazine. In the article he emphatically stated that scientists now have “observational evidence of evolution in action.” However, the examples he cites are actually examples of microevolution in action, not macroevolution. Some evolutionists try to claim that macroevolution is microevolution over a very long time (like billions of years), but such a claim flies in the face of everything scientists have observed in the world of nature.
What scientific observation clearly reveals is that variations do occur within species (within fixed limits), but one species does not transition into an entirely new species. So, to cite my previous example, variations have occurred within the “dog kind,” but we never witness the dog evolving into another species. Variations have occurred within the “cat kind,” but we never witness the cat evolving into another species. Arguing for the validity of macroevolution based on the observation of microevolution is unscientific.
Christian scholars Norman Geisler and Joseph Holden provide this helpful chart to summarize key differences between microevolution and macroevolution :
Darwin Was Aware of Problems with Evolution
Charles Darwin was certainly aware that his theory of evolution had some problems. In fact, his book On the Origin of Species, which is full of all kinds of observational data, catalogues key problems with his theory, admitting he simply cannot answer some questions but also suggesting possible solutions to some of the problems.
For example, Darwin admitted that if his theory were true, intermediate fossils should show transitions of one species into another (macroevolution). At the time he wrote his book, no such intermediates had been discovered. Darwin suggested, however, that the fossil record was sketchy and incomplete, and he expressed hope that one day intermediates would be discovered. He also suggested that the geological conditions under which a new species might emerge in a given area were such that fossilization was not likely to occur, and therefore the fossil records may contain less evidence of intermediates.
This answer served to convince many of Darwin’s contemporaries of the validity of evolution. But since his day, massive numbers (billions) of fossil discoveries have proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that no true intermediate forms exist in the fossil records. (I address this in detail in chapter 4.)
The Persistence of Evolution
Despite the problems many have pointed out regarding evolutionary theory (I focus attention on these problems in subsequent chapters), the theory persists and will seemingly not go away. In fact, evolution now seems to permeate our culture far beyond mere biological processes. Today evolutionary theory has been applied to virtually every area of life, including the social sciences, humanities, economics, business, and politics. Evolutionist Julian Huxley said that following Darwin’s discovery,
the concept of evolution was soon extended into other than biological fields. Inorganic subjects such as the life-histories of stars and the formation of the chemical elements on the one hand, and on the other hand subjects like linguistics, social anthropology, and comparative law and religion, began to be studied from an evolutionary angle, until today we are enabled to see evolution as a universal and all-pervading process.
One of the reasons why evolution is so “all-pervading” today is that the philosophy of naturalism is all-pervading. We now turn our attention to this issue.
Excerpted from The 10 Things You Should Know About the Creation vs. Evolution Debate by Ron Rhodes. Copyright © 2004 by Harvest House Publishers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.