Evolution and creation

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The theory of evolution and the creation model address major aspects of the origins debate.

Acceptance of evolution in the United States varies from to survey to survey, but acceptance in the United States is lesser than in most other countries.

Contents

Origins debate

The origins debate is the age-old conflict of ideas about how the Earth was formed and life came into being. It also concerns the timing and process whereby the various kinds of animals and plants came into being, and how human beings appeared on the Earth.

Major views

Most people throughout history have ascribed origins to a first cause - God or various gods. Materialist views, i.e. that our creation happened due to natural circumstances, have also been put forth in this debate, some as early as ancient Greece.

Judaism and Christianity posit that "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1) Then He created plants (Genesis 1:11-13), animals (Genesis 1:20-23), and finally people (Genesis 1:26-27). Other major religions have similar creation stories.

Materialistic views are many and various. The prevailing contemporary view in the natural sciences (i.e., astronomy, geology and biology) among those who hold to a materialist worldview is that the Big Bang theory explains cosmic origins and the Theory of Evolution (in this case necessarily including abiogenesis) explains the emergence of plants, animals and people.

Teleological views of origins recognize purpose and therefore design in nature and are not in general in conflict with science; rather they are in conflict with any worldview that posits that no references to a creator, purpose, or design is necessary.

There is considerable debate over whether there is any viable middle ground between the materialist views and the creationist views. Some would hold, though, that a viable middle position could be found if both sides recognized how miraculous any theory of creation is, whether it is perfect conditions for development or a Prime Mover such as God.

A 2001 Gallup poll showed that 37% of Americans believed that human beings "evolved" in a process guided by God, 45% believed God created human beings in roughly their present form, and 12% believed a process of natural selection over millions of years developed humans completely independent of God. [1]

Acceptance

Surveys show differing distributions of origin belief in the USA. Some surveys indicate that about 15% of American adults are evolutionists, 40% are Old Earth creationists, and 45% are Young Earth creationists. Other surveys show similar figures, such as 13%, 27% and 55%, and 10%, 39% and 49% respectively.[2] However, the basic fact remains that roughly half of all Americans currently believe God created Man in his current form within the last 10,000 years. From an international perspective, America is unusual in this level of belief in Theistic Origin, with five times fewer people in the UK, for example, believing in such origins. In a survey of 34 countries in 2005, the only country that had more widely held Theistic Origin beliefs was Turkey. In the US, this belief has increased in the last 20 years. [3]

The fossil record

Evolutionists see the rock layers containing the fossil record as a sequence that was laid down over vast periods of time.

Therefore, evolutionists regard fossils as indicating the place and time period during which various species of life existed, so the first appearance equates to when they came into being, and the last appearance indicates when they went extinct. Naturalistic geologists and biologists conclude from this that forms of life came into being over a period of hundreds of millions of years.

Old Earth creationists agree with evolutionists that the fossil record indicates the appearance and disappearance of living things over time.

Young Earth creationists see the vast majority of the rock layers as a sequence that was laid down during the Genesis Flood. They argue on biblical grounds that the earth is less than 10,000 years old (usually arguing for around 6,000 years old), and that the fossils in flood-laid sediments must also be around 4,300 years old.

Kinds, species, and baramin

The Bible describes God creating living things "according to their kinds".

In the Latin translation of the Bible, the word "kind" is species, so Carlos Linnaeus, who invented the system of taxonomy, chose this word as the basic unit of his classification system. However, the definition of species as used by scientists today is somewhat arbitrary and problematic. For example, one aspect of the definition of species is that to be considered the same species, living things have to interbreed naturally. Thus two groups of squirrels on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon are classified as two separate species despite being able to interbreed, because they cannot do so naturally, due to being separated by the canyon.[4] As species is defined by the ability to interbreed, it is impossible to determine the species of creatures known only from the fossil record, but palaeontologists categorize fossils into species anyway.

Young-Earth creationists have coined the term baramin, from the Hebrew words for "created kind" and have begun researching and classifying living things according to their baramin.

Why new forms of life appeared

Physical causes (such as mutation) can alter the genetic material in the member of a species. These changes are passed on to the member's descendants, although natural selection tends to weed out detrimental changes. Depending on the changes, enough might accumulate to the point where some of the descendants are not interfertile with others, so they will be classified as a new species. This process is known as speciation.

According to evolutionists, every species of life descended from other species, all the way back to one-celled organisms. They believe that natural causes alone are sufficient to account for the emergence of all forms of life.

Not all old-Earth creationists accept common descent, especially in regards to people. They also disagree about the sufficiency of natural causes: God must have intervened to make all major changes (see macroevolution, missing link).

Young Earth creationists agree that speciation occurs, but deny that it can introduce new features, and argue that it can only occur within the created kind (baramin). Thus they reject common descent.

Compatibility

Evolution and creation are generally seen as being opposed to each other, but there are ways in which some see them as compatible.

The most direct conflict is between those who define evolution as the gradual appearance of new species of life and those who support the biblical account of God creating all kinds of life just a few thousand years ago.

But others try and harmonise the two views in various ways. Some old Earth creationists accept evolution in all except for its underlying philosophy of naturalism, believing instead that evolution was God's method of creating. Others believe that God created each new kind of creature over the claimed millions of years of Earth's history.

There are also a number of variations on those basic ideas. The Catholic Church has never formally accepted evolution, but informally has accepted much of it. However, Pope John Paul II wrote:

" ... if the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter the spiritual soul is immediately created by God."[5]
" Theories of evolution which ... consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man."[5]

Reference

  1. [1]
  2. Religious Tolerance.org, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, About origins: Results of public opinion polls on evolution and creation science [2]
  3. Owen, James, Evolution Less Accepted in U.S. Than Other Western Countries, Study Finds National Geographic News, 10th August, 2006.
  4. Lubenow, Marvin L., “Hobbits” were true humans! 14th February, 2007 (Answers in Genesis)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Pope John Paul II, Message to Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 22nd October, 1996
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