Life, Hope & Truth

What Do You Mean, Evolution?

Words are a big deal in science. So it was surprising when our biology professor was delivering a lecture on the role of enzymes and a “bad word” slipped out!

Our cell biology professor was gushing about the awesome complexity, efficiency and power of enzymes (tiny machines that your cells make from instructions inherited from your parents) when she said what is apparently considered a bad word—“designed”!

“Oops!” she corrected herself quickly. “Let me rephrase myself—these enzymes evolved to …”

In our study to become teachers, we encountered many such professors who consider “evolution” the key to understanding virtually everything in their field. Words are a big deal in science. If you tell a biologist you disagree with something, you sure better know what it means! So what does evolution mean, in a nutshell?

But first, those who believe in creation might find it helpful to start by looking briefly at what the Bible says about the creation—and what it doesn’t say.

All things were created by God

Genesis 1:1 tells us, “God created the heavens and the earth.” From verse 3 on, the rest of the chapter describes what we would have seen had we been there to watch God make the earth habitable and create the forms of life we see all around us today.

You’ll notice that from the time God makes light shine on the face of the already created earth to the time He “ended His work” (Genesis 2:2) are six days—“morning and evening.” Each organism that God made was designed to reproduce to make more of the same kind. For example, “the fruit tree … yields fruit according to its kind.”

Chapter 2 goes into more detail about how people were made. The first man was made directly out of dirt (2:7). His wife was made out of his rib (2:22).

Genesis does not answer exactly how long it was between when earth was created and when we pick up the story the week humans were created. (There are clues in the Bible about this, and you can read more about that in our article “The Gap Theory.”)

So, the Bible clearly tells us that the incredible variety of plants and animals on earth today are descended from plants and animals created by God. Now let’s look at what evolution is.

Change over time—but how much?

The most general definition of biological evolution is change in the inherited traits (or “gene pool”) of a population over time. Sometimes evolution involves genes that are new to the population. These genes might arise from rare mistakes that occur while DNA is being copied for the next generation (mutation) or from shuffling of correctly copied genes (genetic recombination—a hot area of research). “New” genes might also come from new individuals that have moved into and joined the population.

Sometimes, on the other hand, evolution involves the changing frequency of genes that are already in the population.

Charles Darwin proposed a mechanism for evolution—natural selection, or “survival of the fittest.” Natural selection is a game of numbers: If an animal has a trait that makes it better able to compete for space, food or mates, or better able to escape predators, it will be more likely to survive to pass its trait on to the next generation. As a result, over time, that trait will become increasingly common in the population—unless the environment changes so that a new trait becomes “more advantageous” and its frequency starts to rise.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a familiar example. Many antibiotics work by binding perfectly to a crucial bacterial protein and clogging up the machinery so that it no longer works. However, a population of bacteria (in your colon, for instance) might include some mutants whose proteins are misshapen enough that the antibiotic cannot bind to them. Under ordinary circumstances, this trait won’t gain prominence in the population because the misshapen protein doesn’t work as well as the normal, wild-type protein. But if you take the antibiotic, suddenly the misshapen protein is an adaptive trait: now the mutant bacteria have a competitive advantage!

Does evolution occur?

Thus far, the definition of evolution is well supported by experiments and our personal experience. We can watch gene frequencies change over a few years or decades in some populations, especially in unstable environments. Diversity helps populations survive stressful times: Some animals may be more prepared to handle drought, while others may be more suited to handle a particularly cold winter. That’s how God wisely designed it!

The Bible harmonizes with scientific ideas of variation and adaptation at this level. Though you probably won’t find this word in a biology textbook glossary, you could say the Bible does not conflict with “microevolution.”

Evolutionists reason that small changes in populations can add up to produce new organs or functions and complete changes in species over long periods of time. Ultimately, this theory is seen as a way to explain the origin of all living things without the need for a designer—God. That’s quite a leap, and this does conflict with the Bible! But the theory of Darwinian evolution does not stop there. Evolutionists reason that small changes in populations can add up to produce new organs or functions and complete changes in species over long periods of time.

Ultimately, this theory is seen as a way to explain the origin of all living things without the need for a designer—God. That’s quite a leap, and this does conflict with the Bible! Most people mean “evolution” in this dramatic sense, and Life, Hope & Truth generally follows this convention to avoid confusion. For this article, however, let’s call the belief that all species have a common ancestor and that humans evolved from lower primates “macroevolution.”

How can you disprove “macroevolution”?

“Macroevolution” is challenging to prove or disprove by scientific experiments because it deals with incredibly small probabilities over incredibly long periods of time in a world that was very different. No matter how many times you experiment and find that cells do not come from non-cells (as the third principle of the cell theory insists), an evolutionist can always say that the experiment didn’t go on long enough.

Actually though, this indicates that much of “macroevolution” is outside the realm of real science—it is not falsifiable! (In other words, since there’s no way to disprove it using the scientific method, it cannot be tested scientifically.) So “macroevolution” could better be described as philosophy.

Many scientists argue that creation is not falsifiable either. In fact, God does expect us to have faith as part of our evidence that He exists (Hebrews 11:1). But the wonders of the creation itself—like the enzyme our professor was so excited about!—bear evidence of design and of what He is like.

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

Some biologists like Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box) have come to the conclusion that the biological miracles they study could not have arisen by the slow accumulation of chance mutations.

Some organs are irreducibly complex—they have no advantage until they are fully functional. So natural selection would not have favored some long series of worthless developments in order to evolve into something as wonderful as the eye, for example.

God’s design is incredible and exciting! Please keep in mind, however, that it is wise not to start or continue an argument when you know it will not do anybody any good. As Paul advised his young friend Timothy, “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife” (2 Timothy 2:23).

Study hard and keep thinking critically! As you study the awesome creation, marvel in its Creator.

Much more information is available in the other articles in this section on “Is There a God?

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