Evolution and Its Impact on Modern_Christianity
Biological evolution or evolutionary biology is genetic change in a population occurring from generation to another (O’Neill 2002). All life forms evolve and continue evolving from earlier species, and these life forms include human beings. Most biological scientists concur that the earliest life forms on earth evolved from chance natural occurrences 3 1/5 to 4 billion years ago.
They agree that evidence for evolution comes from fossil records of change, the chemical and structural similarities of related life forms, the recorded genetic changes in living organisms for many generations (O’Neill) and the geographic distribution of these related species. Fossil remains of animals and plants in sedimentary rock deposit prove and serve as records of past changes that occur through time and of the numerous varieties of living things. They also suggest that gaps or missing links in evolution are due only to lack of recorded data (O’Neill).
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Living things share the same basic chemical and structural characteristics and highly complex organisms with billions of cells evolved from single-celled organisms through division (O’Neill 2002). Another evidence is that 99% of the proteins, carbohydrates, fats and other molecules of living things are composed of only 6 out of 92 most common elements and that they inherit specific genetic combinations from their parents. Most remarkably, the numerous types of proteins in living things are composed of only 20 kinds of amino acids and have only one DNA code, attesting to the basic molecular unity of life.
Furthermore, living things obtain energy for growth, repair and reproduction from sunlight, by photosynthesis or indirectly by eating green vegetation and other organisms that consume this vegetation. Moreover, vertebrates, or animals with internal skeletons, share the same types of body structures, which they inherited precisely from a common ancestor. Examples are human arms, the forelegs of dogs and cats, birds’ wings and the flippers of whales and seals. Their similarities urge the belief that they share a common ancestry or they evolved due to similar natural processes (O’Neill). Genetic changes also occur through generations.
When a given population of organisms is unable to tolerate huge genetic changes, they die or become extinct. Charles Darwin, however, observed that there are individuals who would survive an environmental crisis and then reproduce (O’Neill 2002), resulting in new genetic changes in the ensuing generations. Major isolated areas have been observed to evolve their own distinct plant and animal communities. Examples are Australia’s more than 100 species of kangaroos, koalas and marsupials and the absence of land mammals in Hawaii and New Zealand. This geographic distribution of living species is another evidence of evolution.
It is widely held by evolutionists that evolution continues to occur today, although the specific evolutionary paths of some species remain speculative at present. But a lot more has been added to the collection of knowledge on evolution since the 19th century. Examples are the six processes that can operate independently or in cooperate to bring on evolution and serve as basis of an overall theory of evolution – multiple causes, including Charles Darwin’s concept of natural selection, Gregor Mendel’s genetic inheritance experiments, and important 20th-century discoveries (O’Neill).
The explanation offered by British economist Thomas Robert Malthus on how human populations remain balanced brought Darwin’s own ideas on the changeability of species (Microsoft Encarta 2007). Malthus suggested that an increase in the availability of food for basic human survival could not cope with the geometrical rate of population growth. Darwin applied Malthus’ argument in animals and plants. By 1838, his sketch of a theory of evolution developed and was published in 1859 with the title, “The Origin of Species. ” It was described as the book that shook the world.
His theory by natural selection argued that, on account of the food-supply conflict, the young of any species would intensely compete for survival. The young, who survive to produce the next generation, would tend to embody favorable natural variations through the process of natural selection. In Darwin’s mind, these variations would occur by heredity. It meant that each generation would improve adaptively over earlier generations. This gradual and continuous process would be the source of the evolution of species. Besides natural selection, Darwin’s concept suggested that all related organisms descended from common ancestors.
He also placed greater emphasis on the old concept that the Earth is evolving rather than static (Microsoft Encarta). Creationism supporters sustain the Biblical account of Genesis, whereby God created the world as a single act approximately 6,000 years ago and that animals today had the same forms as they did when created (Youdebate. com 2007). It has likewise been noted that Creationism developed only in the 1900s (Bakke 2000), when strong religious adherents feared that the evolution theory would debunk the Bible as an infallible account of the creation of the world and man.
Most people view religion as based on faith rather than fact and anything that can concretely disprove the creation of the world and of man, as Creationists believe, will destroy the entire foundation of religion itself. While the evolution theory concerns itself only with how life on Earth has progressed and varied since the first life form, Creationists have targeted more than one feature of the theory: first, that man and ape had a common ancestor (Bakke); then that the questionable use of the word “theory” and, later, of evolution as a concept itself.
Fundamentalist and evangelical Protestantism found the concept of evolution especially offensive. The idea of nature as presented by Darwin’s theory comes into obvious conflict with the Scriptures. The theory’s argument, which supposed that human beings descended from more primitive forms of life clashed with the doctrine of special creation “in the image and likeness of God. ” Conservative Christian sectors came to the rescue of the literal truth contained in the Bible and rejected all forms of evolution. The Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, engaged Darwin’s friend, T. H. Huxley, in a debate in Oxford in 1860. In this debate, Wilberforce was said to have ridiculed evolution. Huxley, on the other hand, resented ecclesiastical intrusion into science and viewed clerics as enemies of science. This bitter exchange of ridicules between the two men reinforced the conflict between religion and science (McCarthy et al). The Catholic Church in the 19th century likewise reacted negatively towards Darwin’s theory (McCarthy et al 2001). The Pontifical Biblical Commission of 1909 maintained that the earlier chapters of Genesis is historical in character and thus establishes scientific truth.
In the course of time, however, the Catholic Church gradually adopted new methods of Biblical research. Catholic theologians and Church officials found no serious inconsistencies between Darwin’s theory and the Pope’s encyclical Providentissimus Deus, released in 1893. Pope Leo XIII told Catholics not to look for scientific information in the Scriptures. In his encyclical, “Humani Generis,” published in 1950, the Pope granted that the human body could have naturally evolved through time. But he insisted that God creates each human soul directly.
In 1981, Pope John Paul II rejected creationist literalism in his address at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He emphasized the teachings of the Holy Bible on the origin of the universe and its make-up. This, he said, is in itself a scientific treatise. The Pope said that Sacred Scripture establishes the correction relationship of man to God and with the universe. He conceded to existence of existing proof of biological evolution. His admission decisively altered previous suspicions and rejections of evolutionary science. It implicitly encouraged the development of evolutionary theology.
It also endorsed a long-held view by some Catholic scientists and theologians that evolution is not contrary to Christian faith (McCarthy). Ernest Haeckle, in his work, “The Riddle of the Universe,” published in 1989, supported Darwin’s theory and viewed it as a triumph of science over the superstition and backwardness of religion (McCarthy et al 2001). He advocated “scientific materialism,” which held that all knowledge and reality are the products of the material world. These products, according to Haeckel, are absolutely determined by the laws of nature.
Evolution gradually became the symbol of the Victorian era’s belief in the inevitability of progress. Competition if business represented and reflected the natural outworking of competition occurring in nature. The famous phrase, “the survival of the fittest,” was coined by Herbert Spencer to describe the application of natural selection to moral and social issues. These collectively referred to “Social Darwinism. ” It held that, in social life, nature endorses the strong and the wealthy in the struggle for success.
The phrase, “survival of the fittest,” was adapted from biology to fit the moral and social order in order to justify economic competition and colonial aggression. But many sectors argued that appealing to evolutionary justifications of ethical and political systems was like deriving the “ought” from “is. ” They reasoned that the evidence of evolution underlay a fact that already happened and could not be used as basis for what “ought” to happen (McCarthy et al). Like Haeckle, Angligan churchman Charles Kingsley, saw no conflict between Darwin’s evolution concept and the Christian faith (McCarthy et al 2001).
Kingsley perceived that a creation developing from primal forms would, in fact, point to a nobler concept of the Creator than from a non-evolving world. He visualized God’s nobility in creating creatures with the capability of self-development as well as in intervening in human existence in order to produce new species. Kingsley also proposed that evolution allowed mortals to contemplate on God as being more deeply involved in nature than in the way previously established by scientific thought.
Frederick Temple, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke of evolution as God’s making creatures with the capability to make themselves. Others in modern Christianity have come to view the evolutionary model as a healthy correction to the distorted concept of deism in previous ages. In their mind, evolution stressed the immanence of God and His indwelling in creation. It focused on God’s continuous activity rather than His occasional interference in human affairs (McCarthy et al). #