The theory of evolution holds that all the lifeforms on Earth have a common ancestor. The process works through what is known as variation and selection over a period of time, which is roughly taken to be four billion years (a date derived from ancient rocks with biotic life which was found in Australia). Variation is a term used to describe how an organism’s offspring is not an exact copy of its parents. Selection occurs when some of an organism’s offspring produces more of their own offspring. Common ancestry does not mean that species have evolved from each other. For example, chickens did not evolve from cats and humans did not evolve from chimpanzees. Instead, what evolutionary theory holds is that if one were to go back far enough in time common ancestry says that one will find a “grandparent” of which both organisms are descendants. However, though the theory clearly maintains expert consensus, it is quite clear that some are skeptical of evolutionary theory as an explanation for the diversity of life on Earth.
Is evolution a theory in crisis, as some have argued? One commentator believes that it won’t be too long until the “evolution bubble is about to pop” (1). However, the informed scientist would fully disagree. It is true that scientists debate and argue about the specifics of the theory, after all, that is how science works. However, the general framework of evolutionary theory which includes the common descent of all species is overwhelmingly supported by scientists and does not give the impression of “popping” any time soon. An overwhelming 98% of the members of AAAS accept human evolution. Although, as it has been pointed out, there is much debate over Darwinism it does not follow that evolution is therefore a theory in crisis. That is only rhetoric on the part of anti-evolutionists. Biologos, a Christian based evolutionary think tank, explains that “There is very little debate in the scientific community about this broad characterization of evolution.” Anyone who says anything different is “either uninformed or deliberately trying to mislead.” This is because “the observational evidence explained by common ancestry is overwhelming. Of course new data causes scientists to adjust some of the specifics (like how long ago species diverged, or which species are most closely related), but this core view is overwhelmingly supported and agreed upon by the vast majority of scientists in the field” (2). Some of this debate is on the extent to which variation is explained by random genetic mutations, and how important other selection mechanisms are beyond reproductive fitness. Scientists likewise have different opinions on how natural selection works.
But what about the charge that evolution is only a theory? This line would seem to suggest that evolution is just an idea, some wishy washy concept that scientists uncritically accept. It is true that evolution is a theory, just as gravity and the Big Bang are theories. However, in scientific circles a theory is very different from that of an idea. Once an idea, or hypothesis, has been formulated it is then tested to see if it can stand up to scrutiny. If it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny then it is rejected, whereas scientific ideas that hold up under scrutiny become theories. Thus a theory, which is a conceptual framework, is supported by persuasive evidence that wide explanatory power. Biologos explains this well: “In non-scientific contexts, “theory” usually means something like a guess (e.g., I have a theory about…). But in its scientific sense, a theory is a tested and well-confirmed explanation for a set of observations. The observations explained by the theory of evolution come primarily from the fossil record, comparative morphology, biogeography, and now most importantly, genetics. Evolution does not attempt to give a scientific explanation for the origin of life, but only for the development and diversification of lifeforms after the first life began” (3).
Yet, how have Christians responded to evolutionary theory? Many remain skeptical mainly out of commitment to their theological beliefs, though others will also cite alleged scientific evidence they deem opposes evolution as an explanation. Others Christians do not see any conflict, for example Biologos affirms that “the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent. Thus, evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes. Therefore, we reject ideologies that claim that evolution is a purposeless process or that evolution replaces God” (4).
1. Luskin, C. 2014. What to Expect When the Evolution Bubble Is About to Pop. Available.
2. Biologos. What is Evolution? Available.
3. Biologos. Ibid.
4. Biologos. What We Believe. Available.