Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection initially caused a great deal of controversy because even though Darwin believed to his death in a Divine Creator, he also believed that the Creator had used natural laws to bring all living things into being gradually over long periods of time. Most of his contemporaries, however, were guided by a literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation and were evidently convinced that all living things had been created in 6 days and had existed unchanged since the beginning.
If we now know and understand most of the mechanisms of organic evolution, why are there still any disagreements about the broad subject itself? Obviously, lack of objective analysis of the evidence is a factor, but it is not the sole reason. Science deals with tangible facts and evidence that can be measured or experimentally tested; beliefs stemming from metaphysics or religion are outside the realm of science to prove or disprove.
When the popular Scofield Reference Bible was first published in 1909, it included in the margin opposite the account of creation "4004 B.C.," a date arrived at by the 17th-century Irish archbishop James Ussher, who based his calculation on faulty interpretation of biblical genealogies. Ussher's date has been deleted from the margins of the
Scofield Reference Bible editions published since 1967, and the editors have observed that little evidence exists for fixing dates of biblical events prior to 2100 B.C.
A group composed mostly of non-biologists, and calling themselves scientific creationists, have sought since the 1970s to include a non-evolutionary interpretation of the living world in public-school biology textbooks. Scientific creationists do not necessarily believe the earth was created in 4004 B.C., and they recognize the existence of minor variations in living organisms. The majority, however, believe the earth is less than 30,000 years old and reject the foundations of evolution as incompatible with a literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation. In doing so, scientific creationists reject the evidence for the age of the earth provided by radioactive elements, and for evolution, including that which has accumulated since Darwin.
Objective scientists freely acknowledge that some problems concerning the interpretation of the geological past and the pathways of organic evolution exist, but they ask their detractors to suggest more plausible alternatives. At this point, some people apply the tenets of religious faith, which like history, is not subject to scientific experimentation. Others, including those who subscribe to the theory of Intelligent Design, see no conflict between science and religion. Intelligent Design proponents accept much of the evidence for organic evolution but don't believe it was possible for living cells to have arisen by chance alone. They observe that some of the complex biochemical systems of living cells, with their numerous interrelated parts, would have had to have arisen at the same time, since if only one part arose, it would not have been functional and would not have been
advantageous to the organism possessing it. Their Intelligent Design theory proposes that such complex systems were designed, presumably by a supernatural power.
Others, however, are convinced that science and religion are mutually exclusive. Depending on individual points of view, an impasse may result, with persons of different persuasions—including, unfortunately, some scientists— becoming dogmatic on the topic. Virtually no objective thinkers will deny, however, the extraordinary impact theories of evolution have had on modern peoples and on their concepts of the living world around them. Nearly all scientists who have studied the evidence feel that evolutionary processes are the only plausible explanation for the unity of life at the molecular and cellular level and the extraordinary diversity of the organisms now around us. There is little unanimity of thought, however, as to the precise pathways of evolution in the past. One authority is convinced that a certain group evolved from another, while other equally eminent authorities maintain that the exact reverse occurred. Part of the reason for such paradoxes is that the historical record is quite incomplete. Although the fossil evidence for the organic evolution of a few organisms, such as certain molluscs and the horse, is fairly substantial, other fossil evidence is very fragmentary. As previously mentioned, possibly fewer than one in each million organisms that once existed ever became a fossil, and there are very few fossils of herbaceous and soft-bodied organisms. With such evidence, scientists can deal only in probabilities or possibilities, and it is inevitable that various, sometimes conflicting, interpretations result.
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