Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In Light of Evolution

In 1973, Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote this article for The American Biology Teacher magazine.  Titled "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in Light of Evolution", the article simultaneously identifies evolution as the unifying theory of biology while leaving room for the religiously inclined.  Dubbed Theistic Evolution, Dobzhansky shows how a knowledge of science does not preclude faith, and may in fact enhance it.  Dobzhansky helped to establish the Modern Synthesis of evolution with biology.  So powerful is the idea of evolution, that we can easily say that evolution is biology and biology is evolution.

In his important writing, Dobzhansky begins by describing a Arab Sheik's denouncement of Copernican Theory (that the Earth revolves around the sun).  The Sheik lacked a fundamental understanding of modern physics and stood ignorant of the scientific facts on the theory.  Instead he based his entire knowledge of the universe on a literal interpretation of the Koran, to which Dobzhansky responds:
The Koran and the Bible do not contradict Copernicus, nor does Copernicus contradict them. It is ludicrous to mistake the Bible and the Koran for primers of natural science. They treat of matters even more important: the meaning of man and his relations to God. They are written in poetic symbols that were understandable to people of the age when they were written, as well as to peoples of all other ages.
No one should use the Bible as a science book.  Many natural philosophers thought that to understand God, you must study God's Word (Bible) and God's Works (Nature).  Biology becomes another aspect of that understanding, which even Darwin identified.

Like Copernican Theory, Evolution has been constantly confirmed through experimentation and observation.  This was true in 1973, and more so in 2010 with the science of genomics.  From fossilized bones in the ground to fossil genes in our genomes, evolution helps us explain the magnificent diversity of life.  And while see witness this diversity, organisms show shocking similarities with homologous structures and redundant DNA.

Creationists appear willfully ignorant of the facts of evolutionary theory.  They (and the new atheists) promote the false dichotomy of science or religion.  If you want to debate religion, let's do that. Debate Christianity and atheism.  Leave the science out of it. Leave evolution out of it.  Evolution is not the sole domain of atheism.  An understanding of evolution may fall in line with your views on religion as an atheist, but it also falls in line with my views as a Christian.  Evolution only sits against the fundamentalist, literal view of the Bible, while creationism must fight back all of biology, geology, chemistry, and physics.

Dobzhansky (and many others afterwards) hold a different view.  He describes this problem:
It is wrong to hold creation and evolution as mutually exclusive alternatives. I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God’s, or Nature’s method of creation.
You can incorporate your views on religion with the overwhelming evidence for evolution.  Theistic evolutionists believe in God and accept modern science.  We see evolution, not as an enemy, but as a tool for God to create.  We faced with the facts of evolution and an understanding of what it really is, people must accept evolution as true.

During his paper, Dobzhansky continues to identify the most common examples of evolution which students should have learned in high school: common DNA, adaptive radiation, and comparative anatomy.  Each of these can best be explained through evolution- unless you accept that God is a devious jokester who only made life appear to have evolved.

Evolution explains all of biology by tying together diverse facts.  Indeed:
Seen in the light of evolution, biology is, perhaps, intellectually the most satisfying and inspiring science. Without that light it becomes a pile of sundry facts some of them interesting or curious but making no meaningful picture as a whole.
Well said. Well said.

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciated both what you said and how you said it. I look forward to reading mor of your blog.