Biology For Dummies
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Virtually all scientists today agree that biological evolution happens and that it explains many important observations about living things, but many nonscientists don’t believe in biological evolution and are often violently opposed to it. They prefer to take the Bible’s creation story literally.

These wildly differing viewpoints have led to one of the great debates of all time: Which is correct, evolution or creationism? (Creationism is the idea that God created the world and all the life on it out of nothing. Most creationists believe the creation story that’s told in the Bible’s book of Genesis.)

The idea of biological evolution has inspired so much controversy over the years in large part because many people think it contradicts the Christian view of humanity’s place in God’s design. According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, no accidents occur in nature; therefore, everything in nature is created for a purpose. A 17th-century thinker, William Paley, built on this idea with his theory of intelligent design: Beautiful designs don’t arise by chance; if a beautiful design exists, the designer must also exist.

At the root of the controversy about biological evolution, then, seems to be this question: If living things developed in all their wonderful complexity due to natural processes and without the direct involvement of God, what does that do to man’s place in the world? Is mankind not “special” to God?

If you have strong religious beliefs and you think that accepting biological evolution as a fact would somehow make you less special to God, then it’s easy to see how belief in biological evolution creates conflict. But are biological evolution and religious faith necessarily in conflict? Many religious figures and scientists don’t think so. In fact, many scientists have strong religious beliefs, and many religious leaders have come forward to say that they believe in biological evolution.

Ultimately, each person’s beliefs are under his or her own control. But scientists stress the difference between beliefs, or faith, and science.

  • Science is an attempt to explain the natural world based on observations made with the five senses. Scientific ideas, or hypotheses, must be testable — able to be proven false — by observation and experimentation.
  • The existence of God isn’t within the scientific realm. God is widely believed to be a supernatural being, outside the workings of the natural world. Belief in the existence of God is therefore a matter of faith.
  • Because intelligent design and creationism invoke the existence of a supernatural designer or creator, they’re neither scientific ideas nor scientific theories and can’t be tested or observed by scientific means. People who support intelligent design often support their arguments with observations of the natural world, but the explanations they propose for their observations aren’t based in the natural world, nor do they conduct experiments of their ideas based in the natural world.

Creationism and intelligent design don’t follow the fundamental rules of science and can’t be considered scientific ideas.

This table puts the scientific and creationist arguments about biological evolution side by side so you can compare them and come to your own conclusions about what you believe.
Faith-Based versus Scientific Views on Evolution
What Creationists & Believers in Intelligent Design Say What Scientists Say
Nature is beautiful and complex. Many living things are perfectly suited to their role in nature. These wonderful designs couldn’t have arisen by random chance; an intelligent designer must exist. Biological evolution isn’t random. Change is random, but biological evolution is based on change and natural selection. Natural selection causes populations to shift in particular directions, specifically those that are best suited to environmental conditions. If particular organisms and structures seem perfectly suited to their environment, that’s because natural selection has made them that way.
The complexity of living things, from the many metabolic reactions in the cell to the incredible vertebrate eye, couldn’t have been suddenly created through the accumulation of random changes. Complex processes and structures aren’t suddenly created out of nothing. Biological evolution works by adapting existing structures. By accumulating several changes that remake existing structures, new processes and structures are created.
The fossil record doesn’t support biological evolution — too many gaps exist between species. Also, the missing link between humans and apes has never been found. The fossil record in Darwin’s time was incomplete, but today many evolutionary lines are well documented, including that of primates. Two particularly important fossils that show transitions between species are those of Archaeopteryx, a feathered reptile that appears to mark the transition between dinosaurs and birds, and Tiktaalik, an animal that appears intermediate between fish and four-legged animals. Tiktaalik had lungs and gills and was able to support itself on four legs.
Biological evolution is controversial even among scientists, and some scientists have proven it wrong. Virtually all scientists accept biological evolution and recognize its importance in explaining life on Earth. Scientists often argue and conduct experiments about the details of how biological evolution occurs — after all, this behavior is at the heart of scientific inquiry — but scientists don’t question whether biological evolution is a fact. Darwin’s central idea of biological evolution by natural selection is still accepted and has been supported by many lines of research.

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René Fester Kratz, PhD, teaches biology at Everett Community College. Dr. Kratz holds a PhD in Botany from the University of Washington. She works with other scientists and K?12 teachers to develop science curricula that align with national learning standards and the latest research on human learning.

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