Monday, September 5, 2011

Christians Debate Genesis and Evolution

Alice C. Linsley

The debate among Christians over Genesis and evolution involves several distinct but related issues. They are:

1. The Biblical assertion of a fixed order in creation
2. The Biblical view of a hierarchy in creation
3. The Genesis king lists as historical in contrast to the meta-historical Adam and Eve
4. Science's reliance on the Biblical assertion of uniformity in nature

First, there is the question of whether or not Genesis (and the Bible as a whole) allows for the possibility of evolutionary transformation from one species to another species. It does not. Genesis (and Jeremiah, Isaiah, Job) speak of a fixed binary order and hierarchy in creation, with humans at the pinnacle. The tiers of the hierarchy are spoken of as "kinds" and the clear implication is that there is a genetic boundary between kinds. That is why humans reproduce humans and bacteria - even when genetically modified - produces bacteria.

Consider the work of Richard Lenski at Michigan State University. He has grown E. coli in the test-tube for more than 40,000 generations. The first generations showed little mutation. Then a “mutator” strain arose, after which new genetic varieties were present in all cells, resulting in more than 250 varieties. The total number of single changes is more than a thousand, yet Lenski has produced nothing fundamentally new.

There is also the evidence that humans were fully human (and according to Genesis in the image and likeness of the Creator) from the beginning. Skeletal remains have been collected in Ethiopia, Kenya and Cameroon to recontruct a picture of the earliest known human populations. For example, Ward, Kimbel, Johanson, report here that the complete A afrarensis fourth metatarsal discovered at Hadar shows the deep, flat base and tarsal facets that "imply that its midfoot had no ape-like midtarsal break. These features show that the A. afarensis foot was functionally like that of modern humans."

"Australopithecus afarensis" means "Ape of the South found at the Afar Triangle."  The term was coined by South African anatomist Donald C. Johanson though Mary Leakey would have named her older find in Kenya "homo."  Today Johanson admits (as in the report above) that the evidence doesn't support his intial label of  "ape."

The earliest human skeletons show a range of anatomical features found among humans today.  Paleontologist Tim White reports here that the nearly complete skulls of people who lived 160,000 years ago are "like modern-day humans in almost every feature."

When Jeremy DeSilva, a British anthropologist, compared the ankle joint, the tibia and the talus of fossil hominins between 4.12 million to 1.53 million years old, he discovered that all of the hominin ankle joints resembled those of modern humans. Chimpanzees flex their ankles 45 degrees from normal resting position. This makes it possible for apes to climb trees with great ease. While walking, humans flex their ankles a maximum of 20 degrees. The human ankle is quite distinct from that of apes. Read more on this here.

Some of the A afarensis fossils dating between 700,000 and 2.4 million years are recognized as "early human fossils." These skeletal remains reveal human dentition, bipedalism, and oppositional thumbs. Stone tools for butchery of animals have also been found along with bones showing evidence of butchery. Dr. Curtis Marean of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University said, "Most of the marks have features that indicate without doubt that they were inflicted by stone tools."

It seems that there is no evidence of macro-evolution from one kind to another kind. Even the evolutionary biologist Kenneth Roux admits this here. He has said, "Evolutionary convergence at the molecular level is presumed to be widespread, but is poorly documented." It is impossible to honestly document what has not been observed.

The claim of universality of the DNA code as a prediction of common descent doesn't align with known variations that violate this prediction. At the same time there appear to be specific fixed boundaries within the DNA code. What is often termed evolutionary "change" is really flux, a distinction many fail to make. Flux is expected within species. This is not the same as evolving from one species into another, and flux within a fixed order challenges the evolutionary convergence theory.

Certainly, there is evidence for fluctuation within kinds. Consider horses, dogs and the range of human populations. Yet each is easily identifiable.  Range of physical characteristics is not the same as change in essence. Take the case of water. The essence of water is always and only H2O, but the form of H2O can fluctuate between vapor, solid and liquid. We wouldn’t call this transformation “evolution.” People in the ancient world were familiar with the concept of “flux.” Plato and Aristotle address this in their writings. Plato’s Forms and Flux are very close to Afro-Asiatic thought of Genesis, as he studied in ancient Egypt.

Meta-historical Adam and Eve

There is also the question of Adam and Eve, who in biblical parlance represent the first created humans. As such we must relate them to the oldest known human populations in Africa, dating to over 3 million years. Yet their offspring Cain (Gen. 4) and his brother Seth (Gen. 5) have been identified as Chadic rulers who lived around 2800 BC. Cain and Seth, and the women that they married, represent a thriving river civilization with a lengthy list of rulers who established laws and maintained order. Obviously, there is a gap of time between the creation of the first humans and the emergence of a people to whom God made the Edenic promise that a woman of their people would bring forth the Divine Seed (Gen. 3:15). The whole of the Bible concerns God’s fulfillment of this first promise made concerning the "Woman" (not Eve, as she isn't named until five verses later). Therefore, this promise is also a prophecy concerning a future event which Christians call the "Incarnation of Jesus Christ." That is why I believe that Genesis is not ultimately about human origins. It is about the origins of Messianic expectation among Abraham's African ancestors.

Science's Reliance on the Fixed Order of Creation

Finally, there is the fact that science works because the world is exactly as Genesis asserts. The constellations, the stars and planets move according to a fixed pattern. That's why scientists can predict where to look and when to look there. That's how they can identify singularities, such as the Star of Bethlehem.

Progress in the sciences depends on the fixed order of creation. It assumes the consistency of the laws of nature. Geneticists recognize certain genetic patterns which form the basis for their research. Physicists' exploration of the material world is based on physical laws that do not change. Anthropologists find that humans are essentially the same regardless of their environments. The oldest known human skeletons show the same range of flux, the same essential nature as human skeletal structures today. Even technological "change" has been possible because of the fixed nature of mathematical and physical laws.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Alice, thank you for this; it's very helpful for someone like me who never did know what to think of evolution.

And I love your observation that if it's all down to chance, there cannot be any science.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I'm glad you found this helpful. In an age of mis-information, it is a challenge to understand what is true.