Why Evolution is a Matter of Science and Not a Matter of Faith

Naturally Speaking

The oft-debated theory of evolution is a matter of science, not an article of faith. In fact evolution stems from the natural sciences, the study of the natural world. It owes its origins and ongoing development to scientific research and principles. In this case, science itself is defined as "knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method." (Websters New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 1034) Evolution is built upon the systematic excavation and study of artifacts (in this case fossils, which are the remains of creatures that have been in the ground long enough and under proper condtions to have their organic elements replaced by minerals and are thereby preserved across staggeringly large periods of time).

These fossils are first studied in place in the ground (in situ) by paleontologists and in relationship to all that is around them. In this way, they tell a larger story about the world the fossilzed creature inhabited and those other creatures that inhabited the world with them at a given point in time. The strata of earth (a layer of soil or rock) the fossil inhabits is noted and examined carefully as well as this helps to place the fossil in time. If you look at a picture of the Grand Canyon, each and every stripe you see in the rock represents a layer of strata and a discrete period of time. For the trained professional scientist, each layer of rock has a story to tell. As a former professional archaeologist, I can attest that the same applies to layers of dirt.

Many people are tripped up by the phrase "theory of evolution." They take "theory" to mean something equivalent to "guess." Nothing could be further from the truth. A scientific theory is a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena. (WNCD 1209) In plain English, a theory is a far more than a guess. It is the result of a long period of intense investigation, creating a variety of questions (or educated guesses if you like) called hypotheses that are based on the evidence gathered up to that point and are then tested against new discoveries as they arise. Any hypothesis that does not stand up to new evidence is eventually discarded (even though this can be ego crushing to the scientist who proposed that hypothesis). Those hypotheses that are confirmed and strengthened with new evidence discovered are added to the ever growing body of knowledge in the area of study, in this case evolution, and become theories. The theory of evolution has been around since the nineteenth century and has been repeatedly tested. While details are changed by new evidence discovered and gaps in the story are filled in, the general principle that life evolves from earlier, simpler forms into more complex forms has never been disproven and is considered to be proven fact in science.

Confusion often arises among laypersons about the status of the theory of evolution as new discoveries are made and adjustments to the theory's details occur. However, throughout this long period, as I said, the basic theory of how life has evolved since the beginning of life on earth has never been refuted by scientists. Some have tried very hard to do so and have always failed. This process of studying the natural world, creating and testing hypotheses, and generating facts based on proven hypotheses that become theories and perhaps eventually laws (gravity for example) is an ongoing process grounded in the careful examination of the natural world. All the evidence created by science is grounded in the observation and testing of the natural world. It is never an article of faith.

Faith is a different matter. When people ask if evolution is a matter of faith rather than science they are asking if it is an article of faith like faith in God. Faith in God is strong belief in the Creator, one who is outside of the physical universe (or is supernatural...and not in the spooky "Ghost Hunters" sense but supernatural in the sense of outside of the natural world) and therefore may not be studied by science. While the faithful, such as myself, see evidence of God moving and active in the world when viewed through the lens of faith and are called to follow God, it is not evidence that may be directly studied by science as God is not directly accessible to scientific study. There is good news here. Despite the overheated, overblown rhetoric you hear from different quarters, based on what science can and can't study, God will never be able to be proven or disproven by science. And that is how it ought to be. However, recent studies in science have generated exciting evidence concerning how our brains are hardwired for belief. God has created us and allowed us to evolve over time into beings who are physically designed to perceive and desire community with God.

In the end, in my way of thinking, evolution gives us insight into how God brought us to where we are today. The fossil record provides a compelling glimpse into God's handiwork, which is an extraordinary opportunity and a personal source of awe.

I hope this hasn't been too dull and that it helps.

You've Blinded Me with Science!

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Comments 12 comments

sooner than later profile image

sooner than later 7 years ago

J.S. Brooks,

this hub was not boring at all. I did not find it offensive whatsoever.

I am a Creationist at heart, and believe that there is substancial evidence to prove that the earth is not as old as you might think it is. I have hundreds of hours at the Grand Canyon as well- I have some questions that might inspire you to change your mind. Let me know if you even want to hear them. thanks

J.S. Brooks profile image

J.S. Brooks 7 years ago Author

Hi sooner than later,

Thank you for your input. It is much appreciated. As a life-long Baptist as well as a trained archeologist, I've had the enjoyable opportunity to see this issue from many angles. I respect your literal interpretation of the early verses in Genesis but do not adhere to it myself.

I'd be happy to hear what you have to say and listen to your questions. Dialogue is essential if we are ever to be able to live as one as Jesus prayed we one day would.

sooner than later profile image

sooner than later 7 years ago

Yes, thank you.

Well my belief is that the Grand Canyon is a product of the flood. The reason I and many others feel it is so, is because of the "flat" shape of the layers.

1. There must have been mountains, valleys and such- why are they not evident in earth layers?

2. Does it take millions of years for a fossile to form, or just the right circumstances? New studies suggest it does not take so long to form "many" things that we once thought otherwise.

J.S. Brooks profile image

J.S. Brooks 7 years ago Author

Interesting questions sooner than later. However, in 1, in a relatively flat area (aside from the water eroded peaks left in the Grand Canyon) the strata will be level. In mountainous areas, strata fold like a rumpled rug. In fault zones you see fractures, places where the strata don't match up on either side of the fault line. In western Maryland along I 79 there is a terrific example of folded strata where the road cuts over 300 feet deep into the mountaintop. The interesting thing is the strata is folded in the opposite direction to the mountain peak, meaning that the strata shoots upward on either side of the peak, speaking to much older mountain peaks and much erosion. It's a great example of folded strata.

Fossilization is the process of replacing organic material with inorganic material and takes considerable time. I've excavated sites hundreds of years old and another 12,000 years old and there is no evidence of fossilization in either case.

Now, I'm intrigued, honestly. If the Grand Canyon is the result of flooding from a single event, is the material making up all the peaks and the strata in them deposititional or did the flood erode away much of the landscape and leave the river and peaks behind? If the peaks were deposited by the flood in a single, short lived (geologically speaking) event, why are there so many layers? Why are layers reflecting volcanic activity present among the layers? Wouldn't the deposit be one large, relatively undifferentiated mass of dropped stone, soil, and debris?

sooner than later profile image

sooner than later 7 years ago

The Bible indicates that the flood was not caused just by rain fall, but the earth pushed great fountains of water upwards as well. This water had the force to collapse mountain ranges. If a land mass of red strata drifts over a land mass of brown strata and so on, the layers would be flat. The volcanic activity would be present in this catostrophic event- made to end life. Peaks and valleys are not evident in the layers, but only on the surface layers that have been eroded away. The canyon also has a very interesting "V" shape, which indicates a rapid formation. I truly believe that this canyon was formed from receding waters.

I also have a five gallon bucket of palm sized clams. There are four interesting points to these clams.

1. They were found embedded in 4 different strata layers of the Canyon.

2. They were completely closed. dead clams do not stay closed. So these were alive and then burried.

3. They all inherited the color of stata from which they were found, but the middle is always a dark grey.

4. Many of these clams are found on the surface outside of Seligman, AZ. But never in the top layer, which is white and erodes away rapidly.

J.S. Brooks profile image

J.S. Brooks 7 years ago Author

This sudden upwelling of water doesn't account for the very many layers in the canyon. A catastrophic event of this nature would be more likely to leave a massive jumble as it occurs over a very short period, similar to the piles receeding glaciers leave behind as they retreat and drop rocks and debris along the glacial edge.

Clams found fossilized are likely to have been buried and preserved, so it makes sense many would have been alive at the time of burial. Since fossilization leeches out organic material and replaces it with inorganic material, it makes sense the shell would take on the color of the surrounding rock. The differentiation in color between the shell and interior may have something to do with the different substances being fossilized. Finding clams in four different strata tells me those fossil beds were laid down in four different period as strata accumulate over long periods of time and doesn't speak to sudden destruction.

With a flood capable of destroying mountains as the water of the land rose up to meet the water of the sky, why have the high mountains of the Alps, the ranges along India and China, and the Rocky Mountains survived with such sharp peaks? Once again, I'm interested.

sooner than later profile image

sooner than later 7 years ago

I'm suggesting that certain land masses were destroyed and filled low areas of the earth. It is said that Noahs Arc came to rest atop a mountain range- So, it cannot be that all mountians were destroyed.

J.S. Brooks profile image

J.S. Brooks 7 years ago Author

I understand that. Thank you for the insights into Young Earth Creationism. While I doubt we'll ever agree on this particular issue, I think we can both agree that when we each look at the beauties of creation we see the awesome works of God and are awe-struck and inspired.

sooner than later profile image

sooner than later 7 years ago

Yes, I think they are wonderful.

thank you

txron profile image

txron 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

You have an interesting article. I do, however, agree with 'sooner than later' in that the Grand Canyon was formed by the great flood mentioned in the Bible. I am only a lay person with an interest in science and the creation/evolution issue. If I may suggest a couple of books on the subject: "The Genesis Flood" and a newer book "Earths Catastrophic Past", both available through the Institute for Creation Research ( http://www.icr.org/ ). Not trying to push books on you, just invite you to check them out, I've read several books from them and they are very interesting and informative.

I, too, am awestruck with the beauty of Gods creation. Thanks for an interesting article.

A.Villarasa profile image

A.Villarasa 5 years ago from Palm Springs

J.S. Brooks:

Your post should be read by theists and atheists alike. I have always contended, (and subsequently been excoriated by both sides) that the verity of evolution and the existence of God are not mutually exlusive.

Your post was well reasoned and seasoned... so thanks for sharing it with us.

J.S. Brooks profile image

J.S. Brooks 4 years ago Author

I couldn't agree with you more. I support your contention.

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