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A Brief History of Evolution and a discussion of "Intelligent Design"

Updated on June 26, 2008

The Big Bang

A Few Snapshots of Existence

Right before the birth of the universe, something else existed (exists?). Scientists can't easily describe that something, but they know it existed (exists?). This something is a hard thing to describe in ordinary language, because it can't be described in terms of time or place. It predates time, is located outside of space, and it exists independently of both. It might even predate our laws of physics – we don’t know. The only chance we get to “observe” the laws of physics is in space and at some point in time, and, well, like I said…

Then, something big happened. We don't really know what, but there was an explosion of sorts and all of a sudden, bang! Time shoots forward, and space shoots outwards. Not empty space, but space jam-packed with matter and energy, the exact amount of matter and energy that is said to exist today. And at nearly the exact moment of this “Big Bang,” matter and energy started following patterns and acting according to what we call the laws of physics. The infinitesimally tiny objects that make up all matter, and of which scientists still have very little understanding (they too, are very difficult to describe in terms of time and space), started spinning and vibrating and swirling around each other and eventually bonded together to form protons and electrons and neutrons, then atoms, then molecules, and eventually chemical compounds.

Vast, miasmic bodies composed of these elements began to spin and swirl and coalesce, and the universal force of gravitational attraction pulled them together into billions of galaxies, solar systems, stars, and planets.

Earth started as a coagulated ball of swirling matter and energy that pulled itself together into a multilayered sphere composed of gases, liquids, and solids of varying, density, composition, temperature, etc.

Evolution of the Brain

Molecular compounds, floating in vast oceans covering most of the earth’s surface, spun and swirled and combined with each other in different ways forming more and more complex patterns and chains. Somehow, these simple chemicals aligned themselves in such a way as to initiate a self-catalyzing chain reaction capable of reorganizing surrounding chemicals into replicating the patterns of the original compound. Or, more simply put, life began.

These self-propagating particles began to combine and rearrange and take on more and more complex shapes and patterns, forming proteins, peptides, amino acids, RNA, DNA, and organizing themselves into the incredibly complicated packages we call cells.

The cells took on many shapes and patterns, and some of them combined to form even more complex shapes and patterns, and eventually became algae, fungus, plants, and animals. The animals and the cells that comprised them formed more complex and highly integrated systems. Of these systems, the central nervous system became the most complex and the most integral.

In some creatures, the nervous systems formed complex brains, the most complex of all being of the mammalian variety.

The mammalian brain became more and more complex, until eventually it was able to do what scientists call thinking, which allowed the animal to interact with and utilize its surroundings and replicate more easily.

Thoughts, which form the substance of thinking, became more complicated and aligned themselves in more complex patterns as time went by, and the thinking taking place in the brains of human beings became the most complicated of all. Thought allowed humans to find better ways of surviving and replicating in their environments. Somehow, humans acquired the ability of language, which allowed the thoughts taking place in one brain to interact with the thoughts taking place in another brain, and that interaction allowed for the thoughts to combine into ever more complicated patterns. These thought patterns allowed for even greater possibilities of interaction with the environment, and eventually led to the creation of agriculture, cities, nations, art, science, religion, rock and roll, falling in love, the internet, psychotherapy, and all the other patterns and combinations and interactions we see in the world today.

Apologies, reader, for that incredibly messy summary of how we got here. It is by no means a complete account, more like a handful of snapshots, a few brief scenes in the life of the universe, from the macroscopic to the microscopic.

Obviously, a lot remains to be explained. While some scientists argue that nothing exists in the universe except physical matter obeying physical laws, the fact is that scientists can’t really explain the existence of either. The laws of physics are responsible for the organization of matter as it exists today, and science continues to uncover more and more laws to explain how matter is organized, but there is no explanation for the existence of the law itself. The law simply is, and has been, since space emerged from spacelessness and time emerged from the timelessness some 10 to 20 billion years ago.

I have always wondered, as I’m sure many of you have, why we exist in an orderly world at all. Of all the possible existences, why are we faced with this one? Why does this earth support life, when it could be just a dead rock? Why is the universe made of planets, stars, and galaxies, and not just a giant, lifeless, homogenous cloud of particles?

Looking back on my highly questionable “snapshots” of the events of the last 14 or so billion years, the reader will notice a clear pattern emerging. With each “snapshot” we see simple matter interacting, combining, and forming more and more complex structures. Sub-atomic particles combined to form atoms, atoms combined to form molecules, molecules combined to form cells, cells combined to form brains. On earth, we see life in all its myriad forms arising from a formless oceanic soup.

Why does matter combine and recombine into ever more complex forms, instead of settling on one simple form at one stage in the process and staying there? Why order and not entropy?

This is a difficult question for science, and for the majority of scientists it is a question that never gets pursued. Perhaps, there are good reasons behind this. After all, how does a physicists divide his time between studying the laws of physics, and asking the question, why are there laws of physics? How much time can a biologist take off from studying living organisms to ask, why are there living organisms?

Some scientists, who are probably just too busy to look into the problem will say, “Life as we know it is just the product of random mutations and natural selection. There is no design, and no intelligence behind that design, and there is no reason to try to attribute goals or intentionality to anything that occurs in nature. Things exist the way they do today by complete accident.” This is what some scientists argue, and what many people buy as an actual scientific argument.

To argue that anything is random, accidental, or inexplicable is by its nature unscientific. It is just as, if not more, unscientific as arguing for the existence of an unseen being who has created the universe according to its will. The creator argument, at least, is a hypothesis. The randomness argument is not.

Broccoli Fractal

Evidence of underlying mathematical and physical laws are are made apparent by the growth patterns of many natural objects
Evidence of underlying mathematical and physical laws are are made apparent by the growth patterns of many natural objects

The same philosophy of never accepting anything as inexplicable should pertain to “Intelligent Design” theorists as well. Arguing that this or that mutation is scientifically inexplicable does not in itself lend any support to the argument for design. There has to be some explanation, some reason, for the existence of each and every facet of existence, regardless of whether it is all part of some grand design or not. God works in mysterious ways, he does not work in unknowable, inexplicable, and certainly not random, ways. If it could somehow be proven that God played some role in this or that event, scientists would still be just as obligated to examine how and why.

How and why did natural laws appear to just pop into existence, and how and why do they seem to form a pattern (which for the sake of argument, does not imply a designer) or a design (which does imply a designer) that is so seemingly well suited for the inevitable genesis of life, and in turn, thought, consciousness, perception, ideas of beauty, love, knowledge, truth, and so on? This is the type of study that is being carried out by true scientists within the calm eye of the intelligent design debate, while demagogues from each side of the argument sling epithets at each other, argue about what should and should not be taught in schools, and continually feed a frenzied, politicized, media sensation that seems to be whipping the most adamant, and ignorant, believers on both sides of the debate to near hysteria.

“Intelligent Design” is not just an excuse to force religion into schools, and it is not a moot, pointless argument, as many lazy evolutionary theorists will argue. It is (or should be) an explanatory hypothesis that should be tested and retested, not ignored.

The fact that we live in an ordered universe which seems to be governed by an as yet unnamed universal principal, that order shall proceed from chaos, that the inanimate shall combine to form the animate, that the unconscious shall eventually give way to the conscious, weak though it may be, is evidence of something. What that something might be, I will not be examining in this article. But, I will include some video links that I hope will demonstrate that there are real scientists out there evaluating this problem from both sides, doing actual research, and presenting intriguing theories.

Rupert Sheldrake, Terence McKenna, Ralph Abraham

Peter Russel's Primacy Of Conscioussness

Richard Dawkins discusses "The God Delusion"


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    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "Scientists can't easily describe that something, but they know it existed (exists?). This something is a hard thing to describe in ordinary language, because it can't be described in terms of time or place."

      Interesting. If a Christian tried to explain God the same way...

    • profile image

      Hugh E. Scott 

      10 years ago

      Intelligent design theory should not be ignored because it forces a reexamination of evolution theory. Properly conducted, the reexamination (i.e. debate) can be an intellectually invigorating process that will lead to more knowledge. However, the process must be conducted by scientists, not K12 school teachers. Otherwise, more and more teenagers will believe ridiculous ideas like human beings coexisting with dinosaurs.

      By the way, Marshall, you have an amazing ability to express scientific theory such as the Big Bang in easily-understood, entertaining text. Keep up the excellent work with another article about intelligent design and evolution. I also eagerly await your thoughts about extraterrestrial life.

    • Marshall Hammond profile imageAUTHOR

      Marshall Hammond 

      10 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      I'd just like to add that my account of evolution is a theory that I have learned about through educators and books and so forth. The rough account of the chemical formation of life that I have presented here is quite possibly absolutely false. To me, it sounds like a good explanation, so I'm gonna stick with it until i hear a better one.

      Right now I'm looking into some interesting theories about the possible extra-terrestrial origin of life. I see no reason to deny this as a possibility, although if it were verified it would do nothing to solve the problems of how extra-terrestrial life evolved.

      I am also looking into some possible evidence of extreme human antiquity (dozens of millions of years) that, if true, could cause some problems for evolution theory. Check out this hub for a little peek at what I'm talking about.


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