Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Is Evolution A Crazy Idea?

While making a point about how stupid Americans are, Bill Maher once mockingly said, “Sixty percent of people don’t believe in evolution in this country.” Perhaps Maher should consider supporting Jon Huntsman, who recently tweeted: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”
You’re not crazy, Governor. In fact, I might just agree with you on both points. I, too, trust a lot of scientists on global warming, but they are the ones who have overwhelmed the scientific community with so much hard evidence against the theory of manmade global warming that the whole notion has become something of a joke.
As to evolution, we might have something in common there as well. I found it quite interesting to watch that shameless liberal mom in New Hampshire prompting her little boy to ask Rick Perry about evolution, to which Perry responded: “I hear your mom was asking about evolution. That’s a theory that is out there — and it’s got some gaps in it.”
I don’t have a religious dog in the evolution fight; so from a very young age, I came at the theory of evolution from an intellectual, commonsense point of view. Even though I was predisposed to believing in evolution, what I found when I began reading up on the subject was that virtually every book began with the premise that evolution was a fact. In other words, it appeared that the theory of evolution had been given a dispensation from the requirement to present evidence.
To my surprise, the more I read, the more evolution began to sound like something out of Aesop’s Fables. Inanimate matter “evolving” into an animal, and an animal evolving into a human being? It seemed to me to be an idea that required a size extra-large imagination.
As Guy Murchie pointed out in his book The Seven Mysteries of Life, an intellectual, long-standing argument for a random universe wherein a seeming miracle such as evolution could take place on its own is that, given enough time, anything — including the evolution of human beings from inanimate matter — is possible.
This argument, said Murchie, is based on the premise that if you could sit enough billions of chimpanzees in front of computers for enough billions of years, random chance would allow them to write all the great works of literature.
It’s a fascinating thought until you consider the mathematics involved. There are about 50 possible letters, numbers and punctuation marks on a computer keyboard, and there are 65 character spaces per line in the average book. Therefore, a chimp would have one in 50 chances of getting the first space on the first line correct.
Since the same is true of the second space on that line, the chimp would have one chance in 50 x 50, or 502, of getting both spaces right (meaning just the first two letters of the first word of just one of the great works of literature). For all 65 spaces on the first line, the figure would jump to 5065, which is equal to 10110.
How big is 10110? According to physicist George Gamow, said Murchie, it is 1,000 times greater than the total number of vibrations made by all the atoms in the universe since the Big Bang!
Conclusion: It doesn’t matter how many chimpanzees or how much time you allow, not even one line of one great work could come into existence through pure chance. Given that you are infinitely more complex than a single line in a book, what are the odds that you, with all of your billions of precise, specialized cells, accidentally evolved from “primordial soup” over a period of a few billion years?
Thus, evolution in a random universe — i.e., a universe without a Supreme Power Source — would appear to be a mathematical impossibility. When sold on the basis of “natural selection,” evolution seems to require a leap of faith that takes the brash arrogance of a Bill Maher.
As with such phenomena as wind and gravity, it would seem that the only way evolution could have come into existence is through the work of a Higher Power that is beyond human understanding. Not an old man in the sky, as atheists like to mockingly portray this Power, but an invisible, conscious source of power that man can never hope to comprehend.
The coup de grace for me was when I read a book in the mid-1990s titled Ever Since Darwin, written by Stephen Jay Gould, who was one of the world’s leading paleontologists and evolutionary biologists. Like virtually all pro-evolution authors, in Ever Since Darwin Gould discussed evolution in an a priori fashion — i.e., stated as a fact rather than a theory — yet, when he reached the last page of his book, he felt compelled to state the following:
I hope that… Darwin’s own work will permeate more areas of evolutionary thought, where rigid dogmas still reign as a consequence of unquestioned preference, old habits, or social prejudice. My own favorite target is the belief in slow and steady evolutionary change preached by most paleontologists… The fossil record does not support it; mass extinction and abrupt origin reign [my emphasis].
Gould’s admission that all known evidence suggests that most, if not all, species have suddenly appeared on Earth suddenly stunned me and gave me a great deal of respect for his intellectual honesty. It supported the scientific findings that Cro-Magnon man suddenly and mysteriously appeared, about 40,000 years ago, and populated the Earth “like a bolt of lightning.”
But, Cro-Magnon man’s sudden appearance aside, even if the theory of evolution were ultimately proven to be true beyond a reasonable doubt, there is still the problem of the billions of chimpanzees pecking away at computer keyboards for billions of years; i.e., evolution in a random universe would still appear to be a mathematical impossibility.
That being the case, a religionist has no reason to fear evidence that supports evolution. For it is almost certain that evolution, if there really is such a thing, is not powered by randomness, but by a Supreme Power Source that we can never hope to understand.
This should come as no surprise; because over the past several decades, the chasm between theologians and scientists seems to be narrowing toward a middle-ground belief that science is not in conflict with God, but, rather, is a gift of God.
Having said all this, it is also possible that a Higher Power created both animals and man in pretty much their present forms. The truth is that no one knows, but, to paraphrase Guy Murchie, you are the most improbable collection of molecules in the Universe. Whether you’re an atheist or someone who believes in a Supreme Being, the one thing on which we can all agree is that man does, indeed, exist. That fact alone is either a figurative miracle or a literal miracle; take your pick.
Now, you’ll have to excuse me while I put on my flak jacket and prepare for the backlash that is sure to come from angry readers who either view belief in a Higher Being as a sign of an irrational mind or believe that I’m an apostate for not sticking more closely to scripture. Or, to borrow from Jon Huntsman, just call me crazy.

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