The Two Theories of Evolution
Evolution is a significant topic in discussions of religious belief, primarily because it challenges long held traditions and beliefs based on Scriptures. However, there are currently two theories of Evolution at large in the world. They are opposed to each other, yet they aren’t competitors. In this article we are going to examine both theories, their propositions, evidence, merits and why they both exist.
Theory Number 1
In this theory, Evolution is a governed entirely by randomness. Significant changes and events in organisms happen by chance and are not guided by anything whatsoever. For example, in this theory of Evolution, complex life generated spontaneously when a bunch of molecules bumped into each other in just the right way to create a single celled organism. It was totally random chance that this happened and it was highly unlikely.
In an analogy that is often used, this theory says that a tornado moved through a junkyard and against all odds, gathered enough material and blowing in just the right ways in a nigh impossible sequence of random events to produce a fully functioning Boeing 747 passenger plane.
Back to biology. In subsequent random events, this cell spontaneously morphed into a multi-celled organism under the influence of no outside force or direction. In later random events, fish spontaneously became half-fish/half-salamanders, then those half-fish/half-salamanders spontaneously became full amphibians. Some people may think that the half-fish/half-salamander knew to evolve into a full amphibian. This random event occurs during the life of the organism itself.
In this theory, evolved organisms replace those organisms that preceded them. For example, apes will disappear once they evolve into humans and wolves will be replaced completely by dogs.
In this theory, complex organs develop spontaneously by random chance in events that are extremely improbable. Since there is no use to partially developed organs, they must immediately appear in a highly developed, fully functional state.
In this theory, when organisms evolve they do so in large steps called “macroevolution”, where significant changes in the organism occur all at once in highly unlikely random events. One “kind” spontaneously becomes another “kind”. There should thus be very distinct half and half versions of organisms and their evolved replacements, such as a half-man, half ape. This “macroevolution” occurs very quickly so it should be observable and obvious when it happens.
In some variations of this theory, frogs evolve into donkeys and fish evolve into spiders, as well as crazy combinations like “fronkeys” and “spish”.
In this theory, fossilization occurs frequently, easily and quickly so the fossil record should be quite thorough and contain fossils of every species that has ever lived, including all of the transitional species.
In this theory, mutations are usually bad so they couldn’t possibly contribute to favorable changes in an organism, therefore mutations cannot be the cause of evolution.
In this theory, reconstructions of fossils such as sculptures, drawings and paintings are what scientists use to determine the nature of prehistoric organisms. But since reconstructions are based entirely on imagination, they are unreliable and we can’t know anything about them.
Unfortunately, in this theory, “many scientists disagree” about Evolution. It is a hotly debated topic that has no consensus or agreement. And finally, the Earth’s surface is also a closed system that receives no energy from other sources, so Evolution violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.
This theory is a mess. It is entirely dependent on randomness, total chance and an enormous chain of extremely, no… absurdly unlikely events, not to mention mutations that result in horrible disfigurements and problems in organisms. We have no observations of this happening, the fossil record does not show it, we have never seen it happen and there are still many organisms alive that this theory says should have been replaced long ago (such as apes). This theory violates accepted laws of physics and scientists can’t even agree about it.
What a disaster. How ridiculous is this theory? How could anybody be so obtuse as to believe it happened? Surely the only reason anyone would believe this is because they refuse to believe in the biblical account of Creation in Genesis. They just don’t want to accept that God created life. They have an anti-Christian agenda and have all conspired to believe in this terrible theory. And since there are scientists who do accept the biblical account of Creation, then that invalidates the whole theory.
I would totally agree that this theory is a disaster and not at all possible. I agree that nobody should ever believe that this happened no matter who espouses this theory. Even if a prominent biologist told me this theory was true, I would reject it.
That’s because this theory is Wrong. In fact, from here on, I will refer to it as the Wrong Theory of Evolution. It is ridiculous, incorrect, not supported by evidence and not worth believing. However, let’s examine Theory Number 2 and see how it differs from the first.
Theory Number 2
There are significant differences between Theory Number 2 and the Wrong Theory.
Evolutionary Theory #2 Doesn’t Describe Abiogenesis
This theory does nothing to describe how life arose from molecules. That is an entirely separate theory called abiogenesis and Evolution has nothing to say about it. There are several theories as to how life may have originated including one involving an RNA world composed of many self-replicating RNA molecules. But believe it or not, this is another topic for another day.
Evolution is a process that happens only after life with reproductive processes start. In other words, after abiogenesis happens. Evolution describes how life becomes more diverse and adapts to its environment and thus it describes how various species come to be.
It is true that scientists as of yet do not know the details of abiogenesis nor have they been able to replicate it in a lab. However this isn’t an immediate opportunity to insert a god of choice as the answer. There was a time not long ago that we didn’t have the slightest clue that microorganisms were the cause of most diseases, nor did we even have the tools, technology or knowledge to discover that microorganisms even exist. Before that discovery many attributed their diseases to demons, devils, evil spirits or even punishment from the gods or God. At that time it would have been ridiculous to claim that tiny living things too small for the eye to see were causing diseases. The more obvious reason was supernatural. But we now know this not to be true.
Similarly, we simply don’t have the knowledge, tools or technology to reproduce abiogenesis. It’s also possible that we don’t have the time. Abiogenesis may have been a very slow process that took thousands or millions of years even for self-replicating molecules to arise. We just don’t know. And that’s okay. More on the state of uncertainty later.
Evolutionary Theory #2 is Not Random or Chance
In fact, it is exactly the opposite. Evolution occurs via several means, but the primary one is Natural Selection. Many attempt to reduce Natural Selection to “survival of the fittest”, but this isn’t quite accurate. It’s more like “organisms with biological advantages that allow them to reproduce more effectively are more likely to pass those genes on to subsequent generations”. It is all about who can reproduce the most effectively under particular conditions. Yes, that depends on an organism’s survival, but survival is not the end goal. Reproduction is.
Let’s use a simple example. Say a population of beetles with green shells moves into an area with more brown in the environment than green. These beetles are highly visible to birds so they are more likely to be eaten. It doesn’t mean they all will, just that more of them will. Then say that one beetle is born with a mutation that makes its shell a brown color. Believe it or not, this doesn’t take much of a mutation. This beetle will be more difficult for the bird to see and therefore it will be safer. This beetle will therefore be more likely to reproduce and reproduce more frequently before it dies. Its children have a high likelihood of getting this same mutation, which means the next generation of beetles will have even more brown beetles. These children will also be able to reproduce more often creating a generation of even more brown beetles. And since they will be eaten by birds far less often, green beetles will dwindle while brown beetles will thrive in this environment. Before long, all beetles that moved into this new area will be brown.
This is Natural Selection. Nature has selected the beetles that have the features more likely to allow them to reproduce. Those that do not have this feature will reproduce less often if at all. Notice, this is not a random process. The initial mutation was random, sure. But the results of the mutation are not. Which mutations are beneficial are selected by nature itself. Nature isn’t a brain either. It isn’t designing anything with a purpose. It is simply inevitable that organisms with benefits over other organisms will reproduce more often.
Nature is like the ultimate, never-ending, enormous obstacle course with many paths. The features of the obstacle course determine which features allow successful navigation. In some places in the obstacle course, if you are born slow, you die. If you are born hairy you pass through the cold spot and can reproduce. Hopefully your children get that hair too.
In Theory #2, Evolution does not occur during an organism’s lifetime
In this theory, organisms do not develop new traits during its life. It doesn’t spontaneously change color or get smaller or develop color vision or the ability to metabolize lactose during its lifetime. This occurs only during reproduction. Mutations occur within the sex cells (egg and sperm) of sexually reproducing organisms or during cell division in asexually reproducing organisms. A mutated sperm or egg must be involved in fertilization. Then this mutation must be a beneficial or neutral one, such as the brown beetle.
So organisms do not choose to evolve or somehow know what to evolve into. They simply get a mutation when they are produced and with any luck it’s a good one.
Theory #2 does not imply that species are replaced
In Theory #2, new species can coexist with the same species they evolved from. This is not a problem at all. Take, for example, the beetle example from above. In this example a population of green beetles moved to a new area. Meanwhile, other populations of green beetles stay where it is mostly green. These two populations will now diverge. Brown beetles will thrive where the environment is brown while green beetles will continue to thrive where it is green. Even though brown beetles came from an original population of green beetles, those green beetles are still there.
As long as the ancestor species still fills an ecological niche and can survive in a particular environment, they will continue to exist. It is only where the new species competes with the ancestor that replacement occurs. Evolution isn’t a ladder, it is a branching tree.
In Theory #2 there is no such thing as “macroevolution”
In Theory #2, “macroevolution” is simply the accrual of many “microevolutionary” traits such that two populations diverge to a point where they are unable to reproduce with each other. In the Wrong Theory it is thought that an ape will give birth to a human-like ape with less hair, whites in the eyes, taller, more upright, different teeth, different skull shape and a bigger brain, all at once. This is “macroevolution” according to the Wrong Theory. But this does not happen. Evolution is very gradual and the changes build up over time.
In order to demonstrate this I’m going to use an image.
The top half of the image represents “macroevolution” as in the Wrong Theory. The bottom half represents Theory #2. In the top half, the colors change gradually but noticeably. It is very easy to discern each different color. Each color represents a new species. The child looks very different from the parent.
However, Theory #2 predicts a change more like the bottom half. Each vertical pixel column in this line represents offspring of the pixel next to it. So going right to left, each pixel column represents a child of the pixel to the left of it. Since it is 640 pixels wide this represents 640 “generations”. If you take any two pixel columns they are virtually indistinguishable from each other. Only with careful investigation could you determine that they are different. In other words, each child is almost exactly like its parent. So similar, in fact, that most people would probably say any two adjacent pixel columns is exactly the same color. But after 640 generations of very small changes the colors are very different. Side by side they would be obviously different.
The same is true of Theory #2. Evolution occurs in very small increments. So small that each child would be exactly the same species as its parent. Yet after enough generations have passed, the differences are significant.
One interesting possibility in Theory #2 is the existence of “ring species“. Many proponents of The Wrong Theory say that evolution does happen within “kinds”, like green beetles evolving into brown beetles. But we don’t see them become different kinds.
But what is a “kind” exactly? Is a dung beetle a different kind than a ladybug? Most would say so. How about different varieties of dung beetle? Usually this comes down to whether or not the two different beetles can breed and produce viable offspring. So some dung beetles are the same kind if they can produce viable offspring while other dung beetle varieties cannot, so they are two different kinds.
But let’s take a look at the ring species. Imagine 5 different species of sparrow. For simplicity’s sake we’ll call them sparrows A, B, C, D and E. In a ring species arrangement, A can breed with B, B can breed with C, C with D and D with E. But A cannot breed with E.
However, this makes for a difficult problem with “kinds”. Since A can breed with B, it is the same kind as B. And since B can breed with C, they are the same kind too. This also means A is the same kind as C. A would also be the same kind as D, since C can also breed with D. Finally, A would have to be the same kind as E since C is the same kind as D, which can also breed with E. Therefore, A and E are the same kind. However, A cannot breed with E, therefore they are not the same kind. This is a contradiction and a problem with defining “kinds”. Therefore the very concept of “kinds” is useless.
There are many groups of species observed in the wild that have this precise arrangement. This is predicted and explained by Theory #2.
In Theory #2 Species to do not evolve into radically different, preexisting species
So frogs do not evolve into donkeys or fish into spiders or an octopus into a quail, nor are there crazy hybrids of these. In Theory #2, a species can only give birth to the same species but with slight changes.
Theory #2 is supported by an incomplete fossil record
Fossilization is rare and we are lucky to have the fossils we do. The conditions required do not occur very often or in certain conditions. One of the most important aspects of fossilization is what material can even fossilize. It has to be a material that decays very slowly, such as bone, exoskeleton, teeth, claws, shells, carapaces and other hard material. This is why we don’t have fossilized dinosaur skin or dimetrodon eyes or cynodont fur. This also means most soft-bodied organisms, including most of the earliest complex multi-cellular organisms had a very low chance of being fossilized.
What this means is that a complete fossil record of every species to ever exist is nigh impossible, especially for the earliest complex organisms. Indeed, our fossil record is incomplete yet it does support Evolutionary Theory #2. However it isn’t the only evidence.
Theory #2 is based on the idea of beneficial or neutral mutations
Yes, most mutations are detrimental, but not all of them. Some are beneficial, which is an obvious part of Evolution. But even the neutral mutations can be beneficial in the long run if the same genetic sequence experiences another mutation that turns it into a beneficial one.
There are several types of mutations. Deletion is a mutation where DNA pairs can be deleted from the strand during copying, making the genome smaller. Duplication is where segments are accidentally copied twice. Chromosomes can be multiplied and even entire genomes can be duplicated (polyploidy). Duplication/insertion and polyploidy are mechanisms that add new genetic material sometimes in significant amounts.
Even though beneficial mutations are rare, they are still very likely when populations are large enough, and it only has to happen once for it to propagate into a population. In a population of 5 million individuals that has an average of 4 offspring in their lifetime, even if the odds of a beneficial mutation occurring are as low as 1 in a million, there will be two individuals with beneficial mutations born every single generation, and it only takes a single occurrence of the mutation for it to be introduced to the population.
Theory #2 does not violate the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics
Evolution and abiogenesis appear to create order from disorder or decrease entropy. At a glance this seems to be a violation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. However this law only applies to a closed system.
Imagine a water pump that pulls water up out of a pool. It comes out at the top then falls over a water wheel, which powers the pump. Does this mean the pump can then power itself in perpetual motion? Of course not. This is a closed system and the pump would lose energy and entropy would increase in the system eventually coming to a stop.
But what if we used an outside power source? What if we had a man pedal a bicycle connected to the pump to power it? In this case it will run until the man runs out of energy himself. The pump is no longer a closed system.
The same is true of the Earth. The Earth receives enormous amounts of energy from the Sun and even some from its own hot core. This energy is plenty to cause chemical reactions and create stable, complex molecules without violating the 2nd Law. It really is that simple.
Theory #2 proposes that complex organs can develop from simpler ones
What is the use of half an eye? Well quite a bit if detecting light is a benefit in your world. Eyesight doesn’t need to be perfect to be useful. Simply being able to find sunlight, detect food or predators or find your way to new habitats is much better than nothing at all. Even if you can’t discern colors, high resolution or even have a large field of vision, something is certainly better than nothing in the wild.
Sight isn’t all-or-nothing. There is color detection, wavelength sensitivity, retinal sensitivity, field of vision, distance or even capable ranges, stereo vision, resolution, contrast, light focusing and many other factors that may or may not be useful for any particular organism. These features can develop over time as they become necessary for the organism. If it is not necessary it may not develop. For example, humans cannot detect ultraviolet light while bees can. This is because it is much more useful for a bee to detect UV light than humans as it helps them find flowers. Humans survive perfectly fine without this ability, yet it is one we do not have. Even more is that eyes of various abilities and complexities are seen all throughout nature, from the patches of light sensitive cells on planarians to the highly complex eyes of the octopus.
Theory #2 is not reliant upon visual reconstructions of organisms
There are many drawings, illustrations and sculptures of what some people think certain prehistoric organisms looked like based on their fossils. While these reconstructions are interesting and inspire the imagination, not to mention satisfy our natural curiosity to some degree, they aren’t necessarily accurate. There is some imagination and creative license involved, particularly in coloration as pigments do not fossilize well. So we can’t really rely on these reconstructions to come to conclusions about the organism.
Thankfully, those who propose Theory #2 do not rely on reconstructions. They rely on the actual fossils themselves. Skeletal structures, bone sizes, attachment angles, marks that suggest predators, teeth and their shapes and types can say a lot about diet and cranial capacity and shape can tell us about brain size and intelligence levels. These and many other features can be used to glean information about these long gone species. What they ate, how they died, how they moved what their physical strengths and weaknesses were, what they defended against or what they were vulnerable to. Scientists don’t merely speculate and say, “Well, this is possible so we’re going to claim it is fact.” While there may be speculation, it is known and treated as speculation while what is claimed to be fact must be supported by evidence.
Finally, Theory #2 is not debated among nearly all scientists
Evolutionary Theory #2 is not some fringe theory guess about what might have happened. There is no major debate among scientists. Some groups of people often like to cultivate the impression that scientists simply can’t agree, there is constant heated debate and that there is no consensus.
This. Is. Not. True.
There may be certain details that are still being studied and for which evidence is still being gathered and tested and which scientists debate and disagree. But there is no major disagreement about the fundamentals of the theory. It is the overwhelmingly accepted explanation for Earth’s biodiversity and it is the foundation of modern biology.
You can find scientists who don’t accept Evolution, but they are very few and usually have motivations for denying it, namely religious belief. It’s interesting that the only scientists who don’t accept Evolution are those who have an interest in it being incorrect.
Let’s rename Theory #2
As you can see, Theory #2, which I will henceforth refer to as The Correct Theory (in the sense that it is the theory scientists actually accept), bears very little similarity to The Wrong Theory. The Wrong Theory is full of misconceptions, poor information, bad science, unsupported by evidence and is impossible. You have every reason to remain unconvinced by The Wrong Theory of Evolution. In fact, The Wrong Theory isn’t even a proper theory. It isn’t supported by evidence. It is illogical. It violates scientific principles. It does not make accurate predictions. To call it a theory is thus giving it more credit than it even deserves.
The Correct Theory, however, is something worth studying. It has not been falsified. In other words, no evidence has yet been found that disproves it. Other scientific fields such as genetics, embryology, ecology and population distribution, geology and plate tectonics, psychology and medicine has only added more support for The Correct Theory. In fact, there are many things in genetics that only make sense under The Correct Theory. Same with anatomic peculiarities, such as the recurrent laryngeal nerve.
The Correct Theory works. It is understandable. It’s even pretty simple and elegant and explains so many biological observations that were previously mysterious. It has even made predictions, such as the existence of a moth with a very long tongue, and where paleontologists would find a transitional fossil between fish and amphibians. The Wrong Theory is only proposed by those who attempt to disprove Evolution. The Wrong Theory is the result of a lack of education and a lack of interest of learning how Evolution really works and why it is the accepted theory of Earth’s biodiversity. You can tell the difference between someone who understands Evolution and someone who does not as soon as you hear an argument made against Evolution. Watch for yourselves. You’ll see it. Someone will put up an argument against Evolution and you’ll see The Wrong Theory being argued against. After all, The Wrong Theory is easy to disprove. It’s wrong. It’s much harder to disprove The Correct Theory. The problem is, those who attempt to disprove Evolution don’t understand The Correct Theory.
I highly suggest learning more if you do not. Evolution is one of the most fascinating topics a human being could ever learn. After all, it tells us our own origins and explains why we are the way we are. The information is out there and there are a couple of excellent books I will refer to at the end of this post.
But before that I would like to end with an observation.
What is more likely?
There are thousands of scientific theories and principles. We depend on many of them every single day of our lives. Fluid dynamics, electromagnetism, orbital mechanics, optics, cardiology, laws of motion and friction, thermodynamics, microbiology, atomic theory, nuclear physics, chemistry, botany, combustion, geology, meteorology, astronomy and many other scientific fields and principles are of extraordinary importance to our lives. The more we have learned about the universe the longer our life expectancy has become and the more comfortable our lives get. We’ve learned to heal illnesses, manufacture products, grow more food, produce electronics, predict volcanic eruptions and severe storms, launch satellites that help us navigate the earth and communicate, heat and cool our homes and simply building better mousetraps that cost less money.
Almost all of these are easily and readily accepted by any human being in the developed world as the truth about how the universe works. After all, it has led to human progress and the results are unquestionable.
Is is therefore very strange that of the huge number of scientific principles not only that are accepted but relied upon every day, the few sciences that aren’t accepted by the general populace in developed countries are also those that are threatening to religious belief.
Isn’t that strange? Why aren’t there large numbers of people who reject atomic theory or the germ theory of disease? Why aren’t there billboards set up against the falsehood of thermodynamics? Why aren’t there debates about whether or not radio waves are real? Very simple. Because they aren’t threatening to religious belief. They also happen to benefit humans in ways that are very easy to see. We like things that benefit us. We don’t like things that tell us our most cherished beliefs might be wrong.
Evolution, Big Bang cosmology, plate tectonics, radiometric dating and climate change are the only five scientific principles that aren’t accepted by significant portions of the populace. They also happen to be the scientific theories that are most threatening to religious belief (with perhaps the exception of climate change**). This is very telling, is it not? That so much science can be so easily and readily accepted but the only ones that are not are those that seem to contradict Scriptures and religious beliefs.
I ask you, what is more likely? That the accumulation of our scientific knowledge is all good, correct, useful and acceptable, except for those few things? And that those few things just by coincidence call certain religious beliefs into question? Or that it is the religious beliefs that are incorrect and the resistance to accepting those scientific principles is motivated by a strong psychological desire to retain one’s religious beliefs?
- The Greatest Show on Earth, by Richard Dawkins
- Why Evolution is True, by Jerry Coyne
- On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
- Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, by Daniel Dennett
** Climate change is the odd one out. While it doesn’t immediately contradict religious beliefs, there are some apocalyptic and end-times themes that it gets in the way of a bit. But mostly I think the resistance to climate change is due to a lack of education and scientific understanding combined with the human resistance to change behaviors, a fear of losing jobs and income in the fossil-fuel industry, not to mention a strong fondness for fossil-fuel-powered vehicles that are seen as status symbols and symbols of “manliness”.