Why Do So Many Have Trouble Believing In Evolution?

So, I was just sitting here drinking my coffee, trying to push off the start of the school day as much as possible, when I came across this article.  It addresses an issue that I find puzzling:  Why is it so hard for people to believe in a creator god and the natural process of evolution at the same time?  I personally feel that the processes of evolution do not scientifically need a grand designer to function, but honestly, I do not see why  the two must stand at odds with each other (but then again, maybe that’s just the mediator in me coming to the surface…)

I think that the main reason so many people are against evolution is that they simply do not understand it.  And for many, the idea that “we came from monkeys” is absurd and a disgrace.  Eh, even if that were as true and simple as it sounds, I wouldn’t really have a problem with it.  But framing it in the “we came from monkeys” framework vastly oversimplifies the different processes of evolutionary that contribute to the progress of our species.

Here’s one situation that tests my patience:  Someone else and I are discussing life and evolution comes up:

Other person: “Oh yeah – if we came from monkeys, HOW COME THERE ARE STILL MONKEYS?” (And then they sit there with a smug smile on their face, as if they have just issued an intellectual check-mate, boo-ya! Now whatcha gonna say, Mr. Smarty McScience-pants?!)

And then I usually get a smug smile on my face, for two reasons: #1 to try to hide the fact that I, too, once thought this was the Achilles Heel of Evolutionary theory; #2, because that statement reveals that that person doesn’t understand even the basics of evolution. (Of course, you might not necessarily be able to blame them – they could have been like me – I went to a school in which evolution was hastily mentioned one day in science class, and that was when the teacher told us “Just so you know there is a theory out there called evolution.  If you want to know about it, you’ll have to read about it on your own; we’re not going to learn about it here because it goes against the Bible.”)

To simplify what I’ve learned after high school: Evolution is not a process of replacement; it is made up of different, branching processes.  That’s why humans did not “come from” monkeys to “replace” them.  Different apes and primates share a common ancestor, which we all branched from.  Sometime in the past, we branched off from that ancestor because we had evolved some type of advantageous difference.  That’s why humans and apes/monkeys can coexist.

And to address the other “slam dunk” against evolution:  It’s just a “theory.” Well, let it suffice to say that a scientific theory is much different than your theory of where the other sock goes in the drier.  Without even going into all of the experiments, results, facts, etc. that the scientific process uses to back up its theories, here’s a little example to show just how solid “theories” can be.  Evolution is a theory just as gravity is a theory.  WHAT?  GRAVITY? THEORY? Yeah.  No one can prove that one day we won’t drop the apple and it will fall up instead of down.  And since that can’t be proven, theory is a gravity.  Evolution shares the same “theoretical” standing as the theory that is keeping us glued to the Earth right now.

AND, I’ve just realized that I’m up on my soapbox and halfway through a rant, which was not my intention (this coffee must be stronger than I thought!).  So, I’m going to stand down now, and leave you with two things.  First is a short YouTube video in which a scientists explains the process of change known as evolution.  It helped me understand it a lot better; maybe you can benefit too.

And as far as the evolution vs. God thing: I have my opinion, but I guess that’s a personal decision.  I’m not sure how anyone can look at the evidence and not have to rethink how they’ve been interpreting the Bible…and I’m not sure why people think God couldn’t or wouldn’t use a million-year long, intricate, beautiful, and awe-inspiring process to ensure that life on the planet progressed…Anyways, I digress.  On to the video and the NPR article!

And now the NPR article: 

by MARCELO GLEISER, NPR.com, 1/19/12

The evidence is clear, as in a February 2009 Gallup Poll, taken on the eve of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, that reported only 39 percent of Americans say they “believe in the theory of evolution,” while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36 percent don’t have an opinion either way.

The same poll correlated belief in evolution with educational level: 21 percent of people with a high school education or less believed in evolution. That number rose to 41 percent for people with some college attendance, 53 percent for college graduates, and 74 percent for people with a postgraduate education.

Clearly, the level of education has an impact on how people feel about evolution.

Another variable investigated by the same poll was how belief in evolution correlates with church attendance. Of those who believe in evolution, 24 percent go to church weekly, 30 percent go nearly weekly/monthly, and 55 percent seldom or never go.

Not surprisingly, and rather unfortunately, religious belief interferes with people’s understanding of what the theory of evolution says.

The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. It’s in the fossil record, carefully dated using radioactivity, the release of particles from radioactive isotopic decay, which works like a very precise clock. Rocks from volcanic eruptions (igneous rocks) buried near a fossil carry certain amounts of radioactive material, unstable atomic nuclei that emit different kinds of radiation, like tiny bullets. The most common is Uranium-235, which decays into Lead-207. Analyzing the ratio of Uranium-235 to Lead-207 in a sample, and knowing how frequently Uranium-235 emits particles (its half-life is 704 million years, the amount half a sample decays into Lead), scientists can get a very accurate measure of the age of a fossil.

But evidence for evolution is also much more palpable, for example in the risks of overprescribing antibiotics: the more we (and farm animals) take antibiotics, the higher the chance that a microbe will mutate into one resistant to the drug. This is in-your-face evolution, species mutating at the genetic level and adapting to a new environment (in this case, an environment contaminated with antibiotics). The proof of this can be easily achieved in the laboratory (see link above), by comparing original strands of bacteria with those subjected to different doses of antibiotics. It’s simple and conclusive, since the changes in the genetic code of the resistant mutant can be identified and studied.

However, there are creationist scientists who claim that mutation is not the true mechanism of resistance. Instead, they claim that bacteria already had those genes in some sort of dormant state, which were then activated by their exposure to antibiotics. For example, Dr. Georgia Purdom argues that this inbuilt mechanism is “a testimony to the wonderful design God gave bacteria, master adapters and survivors in a sin-cursed world.” I couldn’t identify any data to back her hypothesis that bacterial resistance to antibiotics comes from horizontal gene swap and not mutation.

Does evolution really need to be such a stumbling block for so many? Is it really that bad that we descended from monkeys? Doesn’t that make us even more amazing, primates that can write poetry and design scientific experiments? Behind this strong resistance to evolution there is a deep dislike for a scientific understanding of how nature works. The problem seems to be related to the age-old God-of-the-Gaps agenda, that the more we understand of the world the less room there is for a creator God. This is bad theology, as it links belief to the development of science.

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