Monday, September 1, 2008

Evolution - Fact or Theory?

"Through conscious beings the universe has generated self-awareness. This can be no trivial detail, no minor by-product of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to be here." Paul Davies

Because of a keenly inquisitive mind - and perhaps a slightly rebellious nature - Darwin, in the pursuance of his theories on the origins and workings of nature, set himself on a collision course with the Establishment. In retrospect, it seems probable that his mysterious - and undiagnosed - chronic stomach illness, which dogged his whole life, may have been induced by the stress of knowing the size of the time-bomb on which he was sitting. He prevaricated for over twenty years and - fearful of the backlash from the Church and the Establishment - his life’s work was very nearly pre-empted by the work of others; most especially Alfred Wallace.

Many philosophers and politicians have tried to build on Darwin’s ideas (sometimes with disastrous results), such as Karl Marx, Adolf Hitler and, some would say, Lady Thatcher. Similarly, many mainstream and respectable scientists have attempted to take Darwin's ideas and apply them to all sorts of other areas of science, just as Darwin borrowed form the sociologists of his day.

There are many well-respected scientists today who, although by no means Christians, are willing to concede that no theory of evolution is without its problems; Michael Denton being just one example. All do, however, accept the evidence from the (fragmentary) fossil record for there having been a tendency for (generally) increasing complexity in life-forms with time. This often seems to come remarkably close to a belief in “a series of creative events” throughout geological history. However, there are also many scientists who are firmly agnostic; those who accept there are many questions that science cannot answer for us, and for whom it is OK to say, “We don’t know”.

However, whatever else evolutionary theory may do, it does not - and cannot - explain the origin of the universe, or the origin of life within it.

In fact, the list of cosmic coincidences required for our existence in the universe is so long that it prompted Stephen Hawking to remark that "the odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the big bang are enormous." Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson went further, and said: "The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known that we were coming."

This paradox is sometimes dealt with by reliance upon the anthropic principle, i.e. "we are here because the universe is the way it is, therefore the fact we are here is not surprising." However, this clever sounding truism, barely disguises the fact that the we're very lucky the universe even lasted long enough for planets capable of supporting life to emerge from the "fall-out" of the big bang itself.

In the end, although science should be the objective pursuit of knowledge; and theology the intuitive pursuit of truth, if we want to be truly objective, all that is required of us is to admit that we don’t have - and cannot expect to have - all the answers.

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