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Creationism and Evolution

A subscriber to my Brainpower Newsletter wrote to ask me about my views on creationism and the theory of evolution. His specific questions are not reprinted here, but my response is. In general he was confused - as many religious people are - about the difference in basic approach between looking to prove your beliefs and following where the evidence leads. Here is my response:

I think evolution is more than a theory. It is plain to see a selection process causing change when farmers breed better plants or people breed dogs or roses to have the characteristics they desire. The mechanisms of evolution are not as clear in the natural world, but it seems evident that the overall process is the best explanation of how things got the way they are. That may change (more likely the theory or explanation itself will evolve as we come to understand things better), and anyone with an open mind should go where the evidence leads.

Evolution is the best that science has to offer at the moment, and I see no better ideas out there in this area. Science is not always correct. Actually it is often wrong. But the difference between science and theories or beliefs based on faith or religion is that a good scientist will change his mind if the evidence demands it. In fact, it is actually common for scientists to change their minds. Steven Hawkings, for example, disproved his own theory about black holes after it was the accepted standard for years. The scientific community in general changes its beliefs often - not always easily - but they do change their minds as new evidence comes to light.

Those who get their most important ideas about the world only from holy books rarely change their thinking about key ideas. In fact, many seem to be proud of their unwillingness to drop their beliefs. To me that plainly cannot be the way to the truth. If there is a God I imagine that he gave us a brain for a reason. To adopt beliefs based on an unexamined faith is to turn ourselves into unthinking animals or robots. We are clearly more than that.

This isn't an attack on spirituality - which is not necessarily related to religion. But to get back to the point in question, many who hold religious views of creation normally refuse to seriously consider anything which might contradict their religious dogma, regardless of the evidence. A rational approach to life does not preclude a spirituality nor perhaps a belief in a creator. But it cannot include closing our eyes to the best evidence when it happens to contradict what we already believe - or what some book says in the name of some god.

I realize I didn't explain too much about why I believe in evolution - other than pointing out the clear examples we see from experience. Many others have done a better job explaining it than I can. I am telling you why I choose this theory as opposed to the "creationist" ones because I sensed that you have some preexisting religious ideas or are wondering about those.

By the way, I'm not sure what other "intellectuals" think about it, but the theory of evolution actually gives no explanation of why life exists. It really only explains the general process (natural selection) by which life forms evolve into different ones.

I hope that makes my thinking on the subject a bit clearer. I could be wrong, and if I someday see better evidence for another theory, I will embrace that - and then only until an even better one comes along. I think any real respect for truth demands that we change our minds when necessary and never have any absolute belief which cannot be challenged (at least in the forms we can express them in words).

Following creationism and using the theory of evolution as the best guess as to our origins are two entirely different approaches to truth. The former simply uses some of the language of science to justify a belief that is admittedly based on faith and not subject to being altered despite any evidence. The latter - the theory of evolution - is an honest attempt to understand, and those who use it are willing to cast it aside if there is a better idea. That's real science.

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Creationism and Evolution