ISIS is stirring up a lot of trouble as of late. Stories coming out of the Levant are horrific. Nations around the world are holding emergency talks to decide what they can do. Only a few years ago, the US thought they’d rid Iraq of all the weapons of mass destruction, but clearly we left one in place. Everyone knows that WMD were hidden all over Iraq. We heard about the evidence. TV talk shows were giving us information (albeit second- or third-hand from ‘unnamed sources’ or ‘White House insiders’). There were reports on the TV and radio every day. People all around us were talking about it. Everybody knows that there were …
And yet there weren’t! It was all talk. People saying “I heard that they found …”, and then other people quoting them for saying that, and in turn being quoted.
As Joseph Goebbels (Adolf Hitler’s Propaganda Minister in Nazi Germany) said: “Repeat a lie often enough and people will start to believe it“.
I see something similar playing out too frequently in religious circles, in the form of the many questions asked and statements made about ‘the missing link’.
“Everyone knows that there are huge gaps in the fossil record”.
And yet there aren’t.
There are all kinds of ‘transitional forms’ (which is what scientists call the links). And we keep finding more. In fact, a couple days ago I was reading an article from the CBC News documenting the relatively recent explosion in fossil finds. It quotes the Temerty Chair in Vertebrate Paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and an associate professor at the University of Toronto as saying: “It’s incredible. We’re finding a new dinosaur almost every two weeks… we’ve named more dinosaurs in the last 20 years than in the previous 100“. Related to this, just this morning the BBC had an article giving a short history of the discovery 40 years ago today of “Lucy”, one of our hominid ancestors.
To explain why the fossil record looks like it skips and jumps: imagine watching a sunflower seed planted in your backyard garden beside a pond with frog’s eggs. You know that the seed slowly unfurls itself into a seven foot tall plant, and that the eggs produce tadpoles that gradually morph into frogs. But now imagine that you only get snapshots of the seed and tadpoles whenever a lightning bolt strikes … a sudden flash and another picture is added to the movie. Sometimes you have to wait three weeks before the next set of pictures are taken, and on that night you get two dozen pictures. Then another two weeks before another dozen or three pictures are taken. And so on till the end of summer. What are you left with? A series of snapshots that accurately capture the changes in these two organisms, but does so in fits and starts as you re-play the movie. The same thing happens with fossilization. Most dead bodies rot away within a matter of weeks. But every now and then … very rarely … you get exactly the right conditions for dead bodies to become fossilized and last millions of years.
Some people just want to believe that big gaps exist. They need them to be there. In order to hold on to an interpretation of scripture. And so they’ll listen to and quote from non-experts who ‘heard’ this or that evidence which supports their viewpoint. Despite the overwhelming testimony of many experts to the contrary. First-hand evidence from experts being trumped by third- or fourth-hand evidence from non-experts. Sure, one could dismiss the experts as ‘having an agenda’. But it was that kind of dismissive thinking that floated the Flat-Earth balloon and the Sun-revolves-around-the-Earth balloon for centuries. But those zeppelins eventually crashed and burned.
“I heard somewhere that the transitional species in the evolution of chimps into humans were fakes … that some scientist(s) just fabricated them”. This too is an often-repeated line. Yes, it’s true that there have been a few such hoaxes, which paleontologists were quick to denounce as soon as they were found out. But there have also been all kinds of Ponzi schemes, yet no one would say that the whole investment world is built on a lie. Athletes who test positive for performance-enhancing substances, yet we continue to celebrate sports. Religious cults that deceived many out of their money or even their lives. Singing sensations that lip-synch their way through concerts. And yet we continue to promote all these human activities, despite those anomalies because they’re … well, anomalies. Exceptions to the rule. Carried out by misguided people.
Another misperception I often hear is: “I believe in ‘micro-evolution’ but not ‘macro-evolution’”. As if those were two completely different things. The terms have been repeated often enough that they’re now in our lexicon. A standard figure-of-speech. But they have no practical value. They’re not based in reality. They simply represent two extremes of a spectrum. Like trying to distinguish between a ‘white lie’ and a ‘real lie’. A minor sexual attack from one that really matters.
A single gene mutation can lead to a minor change or a major change (the latter is especially true if the gene in question kicks in early in the development of a fetus). Whole genes or groups of genes can become accidentally duplicated in a single step, allowing the one copy to carry out the normal function while the other one accumulates mutations and eventually leads to an entirely different function. Two groups of a single species can become isolated from each other (by getting stuck on two different islands, for example, or in completely different ecosystems) and continue to evolve in different directions until they become so different that they can no longer inter-breed. At that point they become two different species, and will continue to become more and more different.
So evolutionary theory is much more nuanced than simply micro/possible versus macro/impossible.
The main point I’m trying to make in this blog is to anti-evolutionists who firmly deny well-documented and factually-based ideas simply because they heard some argument against it made by a non-expert. Don’t simply parrot those ideas. Especially the ones that start with: “I heard that …”. Check the facts out for yourself. Do some independent research before weighing in on a matter and possibly perpetuating a myth. Doing otherwise is in part why the faith community continues to be so misinformed … in my previous blog I gave some numbers summarizing how pervasive this problem is and the devastating effect this has on students when they’re finally confronted by the facts.
Finally, don’t think that accepting the realities of science means you have to ditch your faith. It doesn’t. Many have made that mistake. But many others, including myself, have found it quite possible to hang on to both. Fact and faith can illuminate each other. This is one of the main motivations for this blog series I started, and I’m sure I’ll write more about it in posts yet to come. (and in a book which is soon to come … hopefully by Christmas).
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