----- Original Message -----
To: Stephen E. Jones
Sent: Tuesday, November 15, 2005 9:56 PM
Subject: evolution description
>This is AN.
Thanks for your questions. As I usually do when someone writes to me with questions about evolution, I will copy your questions and my answers to my blog CreationEvolutionDesign after removing your personal identifying information, so that others who may have similar questions may also benefit.
>I was hoping you could do me a favour, N...'s son, K... aged 9, has recently been saying that he came from a monkey. I was hoping that you could email me a simple (if that's possible) explanation of what evolution is and how it works.
I am afraid that there is no "simple ... explanation of what evolution is and how it works", at least not that can be explained via an email to a 9-year old, or even to an adult layperson like yourself. But what I can do is give you the most important points, from a Christian perspective.
"Evolution", as modern science means by that word, is not just: 1) that we "came from a monkey" (common ancestry); but 2) how we "came from a monkey" (mechanism). As leading atheist Michael Shermer put it, "the standard scientific theory [of evolution] is that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process'":
"...perhaps we should not be surprised at the results of a 2001 Gallup poll confirming that 45 percent of Americans believe `God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so'; 37 percent prefer a blended belief that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process'; and a paltry 12 percent accept the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.'" (Shermer M.B., "The Gradual Illumination of the Mind," Scientific American, February 2002. My emphasis)
There are two major parts to this "standard scientific theory [of evolution]": 1) "human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life" (common ancestry); and 2) "God had no part in this process" (a fully naturalistic mechanism). That the second part is the most important is seen by the fact that the "belief that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life" (common ancestry), "but God guided this process" (not fully naturalistic mechanism) is not accepted as "evolution" in the "standard scientific theory" sense of that word.
In fact Charles Darwin, the founder of the scientific theory of evolution, and modern evolutionary biologists like Oxford University's Richard Dawkins, have stated that common ancestry is not enough, because if God supernaturally intervened at any link in the chain of descent ("if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent) then it "was not evolution at all" (my emphasis):
"Darwin ... wrote in a letter to Sir Charles Lyell, the leading geologist of his day: `If I were convinced that I required such additions to the theory of natural selection, I would reject it as rubbish...I would give nothing for the theory of Natural selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent.' [Darwin C.R., letter to C. Lyell, October 11, 1859, in Darwin F., ed., "The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin," , Basic Books: New York NY, Vol. II., 1959, reprint, pp.6-7]. This is no petty matter. In Darwin's view, the whole point of the theory of evolution by natural selection was that it provided a non- miraculous account of the existence of complex adaptations. For what it is worth, it is also the whole point of this book. For Darwin, any evolution that had to be helped over the jumps by God was not evolution at all." (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," , Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, pp.248-249. Emphasis in original)
The Roman Catholic church's Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, recently made this distinction (which I agree with) between "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry" which "might be true", and "evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection" which "is not":
"The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things. Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science." (Schönborn C., "Finding Design in Nature," The New York Times July 7, 2005)
>If that's the way he wants to go I would like him to have some information of what he claims to believe so he can make an informed choice.
The important thing for children from Christian homes is not give them a false dilemma that it is either: 1) "creation" - in the sense that God created the first man literally "from the dust of the ground" (Genesis 2:7), or 2) "evolution" - in the sense of we "came from a monkey", because there is a third alternative: 3) "creation" - in the sense that God created through common ancestry (which is in fact my position).
The danger is that when they go to high school and university and are confronted with the evidence of humans and apes sharing a common ancestor, they may conclude that Christianity is false. That that is an unnecessary dilemma is seen by the facts that: 1) "evolution" in the scientific sense of the term is not just that we "came from a monkey" (see above); and 2) evangelical Christian theologians have long since pointed out that "the Scriptures do not disclose the method of man's creation" and "The `dust,' before the breathing of the spirit into it, may have been animated dust", i.e. "man's physical system" may have been "derived, by natural descent, from the lower animals":
"But, on the other hand, the Scriptures do not disclose the method of man's creation. Whether man's physical system is or is not derived, by natural descent, from the lower animals, the record of creation does not inform us. As the command `Let the earth bring forth living creatures ` (Gen. 1:24) does not exclude the idea of mediate creation, through natural generation, so the forming of man `of the dust of the ground' (Gen. 2:7) does not in itself determine whether the creation of man's body was mediate or immediate. We may believe that man sustained to the highest preceding brute the same relation which the multiplied bread and fish sustained to the five loaves and two fishes (Mat. 14: 19), or which the wine sustained to the water which was transformed at Cana (John 2:7-10), or which the multiplied oil sustained to the original oil in the O.T. miracle (2 K. 4:14). The `dust,' before the breathing of the spirit into it, may have been animated dust." (Strong A.H., "Systematic Theology," , Judson Press: Valley Forge PA, 1967, reprint, p.465)
However, I realise that this is all probably too much for a 9 year-old, so my advice to you, and to his parents, is to say to him what I said to my two children when they came across evolution in high school in the 1980's, that "if evolution is true, then it was just the method that God used to create." While this is not what the scientific community means by "evolution" (see above), it buys him time until he is old enough to understand the issues and evaluate the evidence for himself.
You are welcome.
If K... is interested in science, I strongly suggest that he be shown the "Intelligent Design DVD, "Unlocking the Mystery of Life", which can be ordered from Focus on the Family, Australia or downloaded from the Internet (although I have not personally tried this latter).
Stephen E. Jones, BSc. (Biology)