“I don’t mind not knowing. It doesn’t scare me.” -Richard Feynman
Is evolution a theory or a fact?
Actually, it is both. Evolution means change. Biological evolution refers to the changes in the physical and behavioral characteristics of one generation of organism to the next. This change is accumulative or adds up as time passes. We know this as a fact because we can observe that the different frequencies of genes and alleles in a population changes from one generation to the next. The theory of evolution called the modern synthesis explain the processes involved in this phenomenon thus a scientific theory.
Change occur because the kids or progeny of one generation are not a complete carbon copy of their parents or ancestral generation. Instead their biological characteristics are due to the random assortments of their parent’s combined characteristics through a process called recombination. Also, there are imperfections in the copying of DNA from parents to offspring called mutation, which resulted in coding difference of the heritable genes. Some kids or progeny tend to be sickly or less adaptable in the environment or situation they are born in, so they tend to die off in competition to others of their kind for limited resources. This process of dying off due to the environment or hardship in life is called Natural Selection.
Speciation refers to the evolutionary process upon which new kinds or species came to be. When two population of a species accumulate enough changes that they become different enough that they can’t interbreed, they become two different species or kind of organism. This usually happens when populations of the same species are separated from one another into two different environments with different conditions.
Biological evolution only answers the questions why is there a lot of diversity among different species and why different species are well adapted on the environment upon which they live. It does not answer the question where life itself comes from.
Why then does evolution produce so much controversy and criticism especially from religious circles?
The issue is a bit complex and may differ depending on which religious denomination is airing those criticisms.
One, evolutionary history clearly debunks any literal interpretation of most if not all of the world’s creation stories. We know based on a number of experimental observations as well as various tests on the ages of different substances found in the earth, that the earth is billions of years old, around 4.55 billion years give or take 50 million years. Thus any creation stories that argue that the world is a few thousands of years old are clearly wrong.
We know for a fact that there are various periods of evolution and catastrophes found in the fossil record that depicts precisely what actually happens in the history of life from one epoch to the next until the present modern era. Thus, any creation narrative that depicts life history contrary to this record is again wrong.
Two, biological evolution is a completely automatic naturalistic process. That produces complexity from simplicity but is, as far as we can tell, not driven by any purpose or intelligent agency. Thus, we are not obligated to explain the complexity of living things by invoking a more complicated intelligent agent to explain life.
“Occam’s razor suggest that, if some event is physically plausible, we don’t need recourse to more extraordinary claims for its being.” -Lawrence Kraus
Thus, biological evolution by providing a simpler naturalistic explanation for the existence of modern extant species makes the claims that modern living things are designed, as unnecessary. We cannot anymore insist that because living things such as human beings are complex and well suited for life on earth are necessarily created by a higher intelligence.
1. Braterman, P.S. (2013, October 20)How science figure out the age of the earth.Scientific American. Retrieved from https://scientificamericanl.com/article/how-science-figuredout-the-age-of-the-earth
2. Campbell,N.A., Reece,J.B. & Mitchell, L.G. (1999)Biology.5th ed. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings
3. Important events in the history of life.(2020)Univerisity of California Museum of Paleontology 12 May 2020. Retrieved from http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evo_13
4. Kraus, L.M. (2012)A Universe from Nothing: Why theere is something rather than nothing. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-1-4526-2445-8