Evolutionism, Creationism, Intelligent Design, or Theistic Evolution: Science vs Religion

Creationism, Evolutionism, Intelligent Design or Theistic Evolution

Posted by Ken Wear, May 2000, latest revision 6/07

Theistic Evolution should have been the end point of Intelligent Design, toward which it was progressing, but evolution of ideas took a detour back toward a less rational past. Creationism and Evolutionism suffer flaws; neither offers adequate evidence to refute the other. Creationism's advocates insist the Christian Bible offers adequate explanation of the origin of our universe and its contents, ideas that arose before there was either a sophisticated science or a language of science. Evolutionism (sometimes called Darwinism) was born from observations by Charles Darwin in his effort to offer an intellectually satisfying explanation of variations in species. Advocates of Atheism have insisted that evolution demonstrates the absence of involvement by deity and, hence, a denial of the existence of deity; thus Evolutionism and Atheism have become intertwined in the public debate. Intelligent Design had been proposed to narrow the gap between the two by admitting scientific observation although advocates of Creationism, in their unbending devotion to tradition, have attempted to frame it as a rational extension of their view. Rational Theism seeks a common ground between these various notions of our origin.

If we review the historical development of science, we note that the Christian Church, in its earlier version, for centuries actively persecuted proponents of factual observation. Notwithstanding the church, facts accumulated and mankind was gradually treated to an expanded view of an incomprehensibly magnificent and extensive universe. Despite fossils being initially taken as "sports of Nature" or an attempt by deity to confound man, they accumulated and were preserved and studied. Telescopes, and eventually mathematics, combined to show, and offer explanations of, a vastly larger and more complex universe than early science could conceive. And our study of fossils and geology allows an intellectually satisfying explanation of Earth's past. Advances in our observations and our ability to observe have led to exponentially increasing knowledge of this wonderfully exotic Nature in which we are immersed.

Progressive adaptations with successive generations has been adequately demonstrated during the last few decades by responses of microorganisms to antibiotics and the development of resistant strains of agents of disease. (In a patient undergoing treatment, the few germs of a genetic make-up that enabled them to survive our medications become the progenitors of later generations of germs with a genetic make-up of increased resistance to those medications. Thence, 'supergerms.') We have thus affirmed the evolutionary process of progressive change in successive generations. Whatever causes underlie it, we cannot refute the concept of evolution and must build our understandings on the sure knowledge that evolution is inexorable. A question, although not ordinarily enunciated, is whether those changes were directed or random. Another is why deity, in His wisdom, would allow intelligence, knowing full well some would use it to deny His very existence.

My first exposure to Creationism (1960s) occurred while it was centered on the Vancouver, British Columbia, area in Canada. At the time anyone who accepted the biblical presentation of Noah's flood as literally correct presentation of historical fact was eligible to join. There is the attendant and intellectually consistent belief that the creation story of Genesis 1 is a literally correct and factual presentation of an event or sequence of events and thus records the Deity's activity during six rotations of Earth on its axis -- 6 days as we know them. I have not followed development of Creationism but assume those two basic tenets still hold. In this context, Creationism is the teaching that our Universe and all its contents came into being through specific acts of creativity by the Deity in six days. I note that, for a Deity with adequate power, such a succession of actions is well within Deity's capability. I also note that extension of the text of Genesis 1 to the universe entire is the invention of preachers and is not supported by their text.

Unfortunately, unthinking adherence to this interpretation of Creationism of necessity denies many well-established observable facts. While many proponents of Creationism wish to retain a time scale of six rotations of Earth on its axis, if we reflect on the Hebrew language in which Genesis was originally composesd, we discern the idea of a day as a period of light followed by a period of darkness. (How else could a prophet describe his revelations in a meaningful way in the language of the time?) With this relaxation of definition of a day the narrative of Genesis 1 accords remarkably with prevailing science. (I discuss Noah's flood and the Genesis 1 narrative elsewhere. There are links at the end of this essay.)

Evolutionism asserts that progressive changes over geologic time were without any recognizable influence from an external agent or intelligence. Whether resulting from 'survival of the fittest' or 'survival by accident' or 'natural selection' or happenchance rearrangements of genetic materials, successive generations of living beings adapted to changing environments4 To read footnote, click here. Evolutionism -- or, more pointedly, Darwinism -- requires projections and speculations not supportable by careful observation and construction of observable facts, as will be demonstrated in succeeding paragraphs.

Creationism requires Deity while many proponents of Evolutionism have embraced anti-religious teachings that have evolved into a virulent Atheism. The clash has devolved into a conflict over the existence of Deity and has thus assumed a ferocity that is destructive to the processes of reason.1 (To view footnote, click here)

Intelligent Design (ID) retains the idea of deity while seeking to embrace scientific observation. To the extent ID is simply repackaged Creationism under a new designation, it suffers the same flaws as Creationism, but I am unaware of the extent of development of ID to support scientific inquiry. It is said you cannot prove a negative; similarly, inference does not create fact. Observable facts cannot be cited to assure us of the ultimate accuracy of either Evolutionism or Creationism and I am unsure if ID has been developed adequately to satisfy scientific inquiry. As I view it, the quest for truth suggests a healthy tolerance for opposing views along with a continued search for pieces of the puzzle.

It seems the argument between these religious ideologies, Creationism (or Intelligent Design) vs Evolutionism, centers on the agency that produced the changes in large creatures, in reptiles, in mammals, in birds, in fish. Over geologic time, as forests and oceans changed to plains and plains changed to mountains and mountains became forested, the surviving species evidently adapted to their changed environments. And it seems wholly reasonable that adaptations have involved changes in physical appearance, such as extending a proboscis, developing longer legs or changing in body size or color. But I ask the question: How many generations does it take for a reptile to acquire wings, then to acquire feathers, then to differentiate into the hundreds of kinds of birds? There must be thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands or millions -- or more -- of generations if progressive adaptation is to change a horse’s snout to an elephant’s trunk.

Is it possible that an intelligence -- the hand of God, if you will -- influenced adaptations in a (sometimes) guided evolution so the time scale was compressed -- indeed, if extremely rapid or quantum steps in bodily design were introduced -- to allow today’s varieties of species? Examine the idea of progressive adaptation leading to an entirely different species: There must be scores of thousands of mutations (happenchance alteration in the genetic code of DNA), each in turn requiring scores of generations in order to become widespread throughout a population and thus the basis for further mutations, if a branch of one species is to gradually evolve by progressive adaptation into an entirely different species. The fossil record supports quantum steps much more clearly than it supports progressive adaptations.

Elapsed time: Let us consider the elephant. Gestation is what, a couple years. And then many years to maturity and efforts to propagate. In a herd, reflect how many generations must be required for a specific mutation to have occurred in enough animals for it to have become general throughout the herd and thence the basis for a further mutation. I don't have numbers, but we are likely looking at many thousands of generations for a single minor adaptation to have occurred throughout the elephant kingdom. The notion of quantum steps seems more compatible with reason than gradual, progressive adaptations.

Yes! Where are the intermediate fossil forms? True, the fossil record, as we have thus far uncovered it, is limited. Discovery of fossils has been essentially by accident and there are likely thousands of sites yet to be found. But I am impressed that additional finds seem to increase the variety of creatures in our record rather than display progressive changes or adaptations. Additional finds may yet fill in more of the intermediate life forms, but thus far, to all appearances, evolution has advanced primarily by quantum steps. In my view geologic time does not seem adequate for the untold numbers of generations necessary to development of new species as foundation for further development.

In the fossil record, evolution of the horse is taken as evidence of the gradualism in an ancient life form evolving into today's species. I include a discussion of horse evolution as a footnote3 (To view footnote, click here).

Lacking an identifiable sequence of intermediate forms to display gradual adaptation, the fossil record suggests quantum steps in bodily design. And quantum steps suggest intervention by a guiding intelligence. I readily agree that evolution, as progressive changes in successive generations, has produced the myriad life forms on Earth today. But to me it seems more plausible, based on what we see as a fossil record, that evolution proceeded as much by quantum steps as by the unguided gradualism taught as conventional evolution. I call it 'Theistic Evolution.' (Parenthetically, it is an article of faith of Atheists that sufficient intermediate forms will eventually be found to demonstrate gradualism, just as it is an article of faith of Deists and Theists that Deity was involved.)

Additional intermediate life forms will undoubtedly be found. But, if we limit our science to observable fact and admit that speculation is just that -- speculation -- then in intellectual honesty we must admit the possibility of an external influence in producing the tremendous variety of species that inhabits and has inhabited our planet. While it pleases me to feel that the Deity was involved, it may please others to deny that possibility. But observable science cannot be cited to support either position. 2 To view footnote, click here.

As a corollary to Theistic Evolution, the Deity isn’t finished yet. He allowed us intelligence, and we can use that intelligence to intervene to either slow or accelerate evolution, to influence it in either harmful or beneficial directions. Through the application of intelligence to selective breeding we accelerated evolution and developed the lowly kumquat into limes, oranges, grapefruits, nectarines, . . . We bred the wolf into hosts of sizes and shapes and temperaments of dogs. We’re on the verge of using knowledge of the human genome to fight diseases and will undoubtedly extend that into changing selected attributes of individual members of our own species and perhaps using comparable technologies to devise new species to serve selected purposes.

I am hopeful we will use this new knowledge wisely -- or even petition the Deity for wisdom. Whatever fingerprints we contemporary humans put on Evolution, we need to feel we have acted -- we must act -- in the long term best interest of our kind. I am also hopeful we will honor deity for the role He has played.

Where will evolution of our kind lead? That is, of course, unknown, but we can guess what effects mankind will have. I suspect that efforts to increase desirable characteristics such as intelligence will have unanticipated results in corruption of other characteristics, possibly to the extent that medical intervention becomes commonplace in order to offset the consequences of those corrupted characteristics. Size of cranial cavity is likely to continue to increase more rapidly than other characteristics. Mankind's history of destroying anything and everything that appears significantly different from members of our species suggests that gross differences in physical appearance will not be permitted to survive. So future humans -- or the following species after homo sapiens sapiens -- will look physically very similar to present humans although perhaps with increased size of the brain and its protective cover. Regretably I don't have much confidence in humans applying their knowledge in beneficial ways for future generations because of our fixation on altering our efforts in keeping with today's interests.

To view essays mentioned above, click here for Genesis 1 or here for Noah's flood.

To offer an opinion or seek further comment, you may send an e-mail that will pass my spam filter if you use as Subject -- I read your post about Deistic Evolution -- exactly as you see it here. Click here for the e-mail form.

A presentation that displays agreement of science -- the foundation of the Evolutionist's speculation -- with the biblical creation story as expressed in Genesis 1 of the Bible -- which is the Creationist's overshadowing argument -- is found by clicking here. (Referenced above)
You may find interest in the author's notion of Rational Theism; clicking here will link to that.
Or, to review a collection of theologically oriented philosophical ideas, click here.
Or, again, for comment on mankind's "interference" with evolution, or the degradation of species that increased survival of the weak produces, click here.

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I think it reprehensible that the advocates of atheism have been allowed to present their conclusion -- that the scientific study of fossils demonstrates that evolution has produced, through chance mutations as creatures adapted to changing environmental conditions, the tremendous variety of creatures -- both fauna and flora -- extant today -- as unchallenged scientific fact. The notion of evolution, as progressive changes with succeeding generations, is scientifically accurate; but present verifiable knowledge does not support their conclusion about mechanism. Educators, especially in the earlier grades, should restrict their discourse to the scientifically demonstrated facts rather than teaching their conclusion in the theist-atheist debate; that controversy should be left to more mature minds.

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I have studied a series of lectures on the physical make-up of the human body. It is an amazingly complex mechanism. An outgrowth of the combination of two cells whose DNA has provided the blueprint for intricacies in the developed body in minute detail -- down to clusters of cells (many likely not yet identified) for specific purposes yet too small for microscopic examination. How DNA itself arose is mystery enough. To ascribe it to chance mutations exceeds the bounds of reason, especially when you ask about the sequencing of switches that cause certain processes and functions to turn on and off during the multiplicative processes of fetal growth and later growth into adulthood and continuing changes on into old age.

Philosophically, while I question the adequacy of chance mutations to bring about the diversity we see as life, I also question that there was an initial objective on the part of Deity, that He had in mind final designs for the plant and animal life on Earth or even for man. Further, I doubt that evolution (as successive changes in succeeding generations to produce alteration in animal and plant design) has ceased.

Recently there has been published in an archives journal studies of alleles (variants of genes) where changes in a specific gene (in this case, increasing the size of the human brain) have proceeded with a very uncharacteristic rapidity when compared with alleles of other genes, suggesting that some mechanism set a sequence of changes (evolution?) in that gene into high gear. (Deity?)

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It was Thomas Huxley, that well-known atheist, who popularized the idea of straight-line evolutionary progression toward the goal(?) of the modern horse. It was later recognized that there were many twists and turns in progressing from the fox-like 3-toed forest-dwelling ungulate taken as predecessor to tapirs, horses and rhinoceri.

I am reminded of the gradual changes geological forces have brought about over the millennia as ice has advanced and retreated, mountains sprung up and developed, forests become grasslands, etc. And I am impressed at the minutae of detail considered in naming of species and assigning fossils to one or another category or establishing a new category. Despite the intricacies, there appears little difficulty in assignment to a genera or species. Moreover, whole categories have been realigned based on study of new fossil finds or as more careful examination has revealed previously undetected characteristics or altered explanations of known characteristics.

An interesting observation in the presentation of horse evolution is that there was no linear path so that earlier species gradually and persistently followed a distinct path over their generations. Rather, evolution has proceeded in fits and starts, sometimes regressing but more often ending in disappearance of a species. But there were periods of rapid differentiation during which alleles of certain genes for certain traits changed with uncharacteristic rapidity as well as extended periods of arrested change in alleles. So there were both gradual and abrupt changes in successive generations.

I would not be so reckless as to suggest all -- or even most -- changes were wrought by deity and His surrogates, but I do marvel at the selective activity of various genes and alleles. I am more content with the idea that deity has been involved from time to time, at times of His choosing. This, of course, flows from the idea that there was not initially an end point or design for certain species, but that Deity is just as surprised as we are at the outcomes of His involvements.

We should recognize that today there are many variants of those lovely creatures that participate in the Kentucky Derby. While I have no quarrel with the notions of either gradual or abrupt change, I have no reason to unquestioningly accept that the presently- accepted predecessor of the horse was that fox-like creature or that the horse (or any other of the horse-like species) was a "goal" of evolution. I see no reason in the presentation of horse evolution to suggest Deity had no hand in either gradual or abrupt change (although abruptness fits better with the picture of quantum change).

I like a quotation taken from G.G.Simpson's l961 book Horses (Doubleday & Co., New York): "[Fossils] were animals, just as full of life as you are, even though they occur at different points in the endless stream of time. Within their own segments of this stream they breathe, eat, drink, breed, fight, and live their own lives." What an endless delight for the author of those lives!

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"Reproductive efficiency" seems a much more accurate cause of the gradual growth in population of the better adapted and gradual loss of the lesser adapted. The extent to which reproductive efficiency is a consequence of other cited causes I do not speculate.

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