April 12, 2006

Dust in the Wind

Steve Rose illustrates the tardiness of our species on the evolutionary time scale, using a Web page that's 135 feet wide (via PZ Myers, the page has some display problems with Internet Explorer).

He was inspired by Troy Brophy, who used the same horizontal scrolling arrangement to illustrate the vastness of our solar system.

Both clever ways to show how incredibly insignificant we are in space and time.

Evolutionary Timeline by Steve Rose

Posted April 12, 2006 6:17 PM

Hi Dave,

Just wanted to respond to your post about evolution and man's supposed insignificance--the last line is what got my attention: "Both clever ways to show how incredibly insignificant we are in space and time." I don't know what prompted your view here but I strongly disagree with that statement. It sounds familiar enough to me--coming from a science background--this sounds like the Copernican Principle that views man and our planet as insignificant and unexceptional, etc., and that science has come along to put man and the planet in their place, not at the center of the universe as some thought previously. Actually, I think Copernicus's view, far from demoting man, has destroyed Aristotle's vision of the earth as a kind of cosmic sink, and has elevated humanity--in making the earth a planet and heavenly body, Copernicus ennobled its status. The Renaissance, not the church, was responsible in the first place for making man "the measure of all things." Some science educators have said that "the data imply that Earth may be the only planet in the right place at the right time."

Frankly, science increasingly is revealing more detail and complexity to our universe that only points to a first cause and a Creator. Regarding evolution--scientists are virtually unanimous in ruling out random chance for the origin of life and have to come up with other mechanisms or theories to continue the Darwinian theory. Some would even say believing in chance is like invoking a "naturalistic miracle." Even Darwin admitted that the Cambrian explosion (the sudden formation of fully formed species roughly 600 million years ago) was "inexplicable" and a "valid argument" against his theory, but he predicted future fossil discoveries would vindicate macroevolution. So far, those discoveries haven't surfaced and one would think with all the searching going on around the world, that something would have shown up by now. Something else to think about.


Posted by: Terry at April 18, 2006 12:46 PM

Thanks for commenting, Terry. I don't know why you're hanging out this far out on the long tail of the blogosphere, but I'm happy for the company.

I certainly don't want to suggest that the acceptance of facts such as heliocentrism and evolution takes away from our sense of wonder and good fortune for being here. I think that science only enhances the sense of wonder we can have about life.

You made some assertions that are plainly false (and also apparently plagiarized from the study guide for Lee Strobel's book, The Case for a Creator). The fact is that Darwin couldn't have imagined the many discoveries that have confirmed the validity of his theory (Tiktaalik being just one of the latest).

Science can change belief, but try as we might, it doesn't work the other way around. Let's be honest and humble and bravely explore this vast space we've found ourselves in!

Posted by: Dave Lemen at April 18, 2006 8:31 PM


I saw it was your second last post and figured it was current enough. Wow, that's pretty impressive you recognized the quotes/comments from Lee Strobel's book--plagiarized might be too harsh--I should have mentioned him by name but was pressed for time and wanted to get the point across. I'm sure we all borrow from those we read. I liked his book--some pretty challenging comments and arguments you have to admit. One of the key points made is to examine all the evidence and not just from a naturalistic perspective. I'm being honest here and simply would like to hear an honest and believable (based on evidence) answer to the challenges made against evolution today. You read Strobel's book--the universe is simply too complex and finely tuned to accept the silly (I think) and unrealistic notion that life as we know it appeared by random chance and so on. Seriously, too much in science, astronomy, chemistry, mathematics says it ain't so and the more science discovers, the more evolutionists and other scientists have to admit the possibility of intelligence behind the universe. We must consider all the evidence and be open to that possibility (of a created order). Thanks for your time.



Posted by: Terry at April 18, 2006 10:06 PM

Hi Terry,

I'm afraid I'm not the best source of answers on evolution. You can find all you need on the talk.origins site (http://www.talkorigins.org/) or the Understanding Evolution site (http://evolution.berkeley.edu/).

Strobel's challenge (as you describe it), "to examine all the evidence and not just from a naturalistic perspective," sounds a bit silly. I suppose you can see it as science being unfair to religion in requiring a naturalistic explanation for things, but history has shown (without exception) that this is an extremely helpful approach. Besides, if you allow the alternative, supernaturalistic perspectives, you are faced with an infinite number of possible explanations for every phenomena (including the Flying Spaghetti Monster).

Posted by: Dave Lemen at April 18, 2006 10:47 PM

i'll jump in here! terry, i can appreciate your skepticism about science as well as the offense taken to the idea that humans might not be as significant a creation as previously was thought. i grew up with a strong creationist view, so some of the evidence you present--that scientists are being forced to re-consider an intelligent designer because of our increasing awareness of complexity on the planet--is very familiar to me. i was taught over and over again from childhood to adulthood that the scales were tipping and that there was an abundance of science out there to confirm creation for any scientist willing to see it. and by reading this information, i really thought i was reading "both sides" of the debate. that i was giving both science and religion a fair chance to offer me an explanation, when in reality, i was just hearing the same argument made by the same people offering different language. and it almost doesn't matter that this is the case because i really couldn't even entertain a different point of view on these subjects until some of my own prejudices were dealt with. it wasn't until i was completely out of the creation conversation that i encountered evidence that addressed some of my deeper biases about science and scientists, whom i assumed were all atheists or else they'd be considering the science that purportedly supported creation.

my first truly secular read was stephen hawking "a brief history of time". most of it went right over my head, but one thing stood out clearly--hawking's palpable love for truth and his longing to deeply understand the first moments of creation. at one point in the book, in discussing the friction between science and religion, he plaintively asks if god would condemn him for wanting to know how those first moments happened, if indeed god did it. that's not an exact quote, but i was left with the sense that his longing for truth was deep and sincere and perhaps greater than mine. up until then, i only wanted the truth if it would confirm my worldview and reinforce my belief system. i remember walking away from that book very aware of the fact that god would invite that kind of curiousity and that if he were indeed the sole creator, that the brilliance of stephen hawking was no threat to him. at that point, i promised myself, i would trust god to bring me into the fullest understanding of the truth that i could possibly hold in my heart. that was eight years ago, and it's been a turbulent time for my faith as a result of that promise. but i can honestly say, the god i have now is so much bigger, more expansive, deeper, more mysterious and more amazing than anything i had before. my spiritual journey is also more challenging, too, but i'm more convinced than ever that seeking for truth with all my heart and not just looking for evidence of what i already want to believe, is bringing me closer to god as well as a more active willingness to live a life of compassion and love.

i could go on and on, but maybe this helps a little bit. the evidence dave's offering doesn't have to be the end of faith--it can be the beginning of a new adventure where you can grow and expand in your love for god more than you thought was possible.

Posted by: jenlemen at April 19, 2006 7:37 AM


By naturalistic perspective, I was implying the tendency for evolutionists to gather "evidence" that supports their view--rather than allowing all the evidence to speak in the debate. The Cambrian explosion is a good example of this--where the fossil record says something contrary to basic evolutionary thought but that is seemingly ignored or "explained" away by evolutionists (stasis and sudden appearance) without really providing a scientific reason. I really have no problem with science--I have a science background/degree and came from an eveolutionary perspective early on but have since changed my view. I suppose a lot of this debate has to do with one's basic worldview and framework. One has said that what we call scientific law is an approximate human description of how faithfully and consistently God rules the universe. So, I think it's not a matter of either a supernatual or natural explanation for phenomena--that kind of dualism has led to a lot of weird theology and philosophy like deism and gnosticism and what you said above. But it seems that evolutionary theory has enough varieties to be accused of that (having infinite number of explanations for phenomena) too.


Thanks for your insights and thoughtful comments. I can understand basically what you are saying when you mentioned that you couldn't entertain other points of view until your own prejudices were dealt with. That can be true for a lot of things in our lives too besides the evolution/creation issue. I don't think I'm being close-minded or stubborn about this issue since I came from that background and have had to hear and read both sides of the debate. We should be willing to read and check things out but ultimately we all come to some conclusion or at least some framework and viewpoint that we tend to stick with. And I totally agree that God is not threatened by anything man (mankind :)) says or does--he made us after all. Hawking is a brilliant man--as Strobel has shown in his book though, his theory on the universe has its problems and if I remember correctly is based on the use of imaginary numbers.

As a Christian, I have to agree with Paul in Romans 1 (paraphrased here) where he writes that God's invisible qualities are clearly seen (in his creation) by what has been made so that men are without excuse. That's how I look at the world and creation--it's pretty awe inspiring when you think how big God is to have made it. Take care.


Posted by: Terry at April 19, 2006 1:32 PM

That's funny, I would say that selectively gathering evidence to support their view is a characteristic of creationists, rather than "evolutionists." In fact, creationist arguments such as the one you offered, based on the Cambrian "explosion," rely largely on distorting research conducted by "evolutionists."

I don't understand how you take my viewpoint as dualism, or how science results in infinite explanations.

Posted by: Dave Lemen at April 19, 2006 2:20 PM


I suppose we could go back and forth on the evidence for creation vs. evolution but I'll leave it at that--and keep reading and studying.

As far as dualism goes, I was trying to point out that I think it's a mistake to create the separation that we sometimes do in our discussion by saying "this" is natural and "that" is supernatural. When I say "natural" I refer to the steady and consistent order of phenomena that God has created (like the sun rise) and I used a quoted definition about scientific law to show that. I know there is the other view of naturalism that refers to order/design apart from outside intelligence. Accepting and including all the evidence (not if we do) means that "supernatural" phenomenon should be considered too--for me at least it won't contradict science since I assume an order created by God. (For this discussion, supernatural means something done outside the "normal" everyday consistent way that things operate.) An example of dualism I used was deism--where proponents basically say that God has left the universe to run on its own after He got it going. This leads to the idea that God is separate (or at least absent) from creation and more concerned/involved with the spiritual realm.

Finally, I was also referring to the fact that there are many theories and explanations for phenomena offered by evolutionists--I wasn't saying that "science" results in infinite explanations, i.e., I wasn't equating science with evolution per se since it encompasses so much more. Evolutionary theories have to adjust to new scientific discoveries as well, especially when the old ones don't fit the data any longer. Enough said I suppose and sorry for any rambling.



Posted by: Terry at April 19, 2006 4:01 PM

No problem with rambling, Terry, as long as it's sincere.

Have you read Kenneth Miller's book, "Finding Darwin's God"? Miller is a molecular biologist and an evolutionist, who also happens to be a Christian. If not, it would be a really good book for someone coming from your perspective. It's a lot more logically and factually sound than what you've referenced in this discussion (like faulting Hawkings' theory because it involves imaginary numbers?!).

Posted by: Dave Lemen at April 19, 2006 9:51 PM


I'll check that book out--it's always good to get the perspectives from both sides, and the latest ones too. Don't know much about Hawking but if some reputable scientists who know about such matters (let's at least make that basic assumption for sake of argument) question his theory, that's something to consider. I really find it interesting how scientists and other thinkers can look at the same evidence and come to such different conclusions. It seems there is more at issue than just the science.


Posted by: Terry at April 20, 2006 1:12 PM

It's important to understand that the controversy associated with evolution is a science vs. faith thing, and not a science vs. science thing.

Posted by: Dave Lemen at April 20, 2006 7:30 PM

Apparently, there are a lot of reputable scientists--Christian and non-Christian--who disagree with your last statement (of course there are those who agree as well). Perhaps some have made this debate a science vs. faith thing when it should not be. I don’t see any tension between faith and science per se. If God created the universe including man, which has been my presupposition, then the abundant evidence of that will speak for itself (Romans 1). Our discovery of that evidence and associated phenomena constitutes science. Not sure why you insist on the dichotomy. If I understand you right, you believe in God and Darwinian evolution correct? And you don’t see a problem with that—correct me if I’m wrong.

Alistair McGrath has “pointed out that all worldviews require faith.” For example, he was speaking of atheism--“The truth claims of atheism cannot be proved.” “How do we know that there is no God? The simple fact of the matter is that atheism is a faith, which draws conclusions that go beyond the available evidence.”

A couple more quotes from those who speak to creation by intelligent design better than I can: Stephen Meyer has said that “whenever we find a sequential arrangement that is complex and corresponds to an independent pattern or function (DNA), this kind of information is always the product of intelligence…much like books and computer codes (created by man).” To believe otherwise is to believe that non-life produces life, randomness produces fine tuning, chaos produces information, and so on, which highlights the faith aspect of evolutionary thinking.

Sir John Templeton: “Faith does not imply a closed, but an open mind. Quite the opposite of blindness, faith appreciates the vast spiritual realities that materialists overlook by getting trapped in the purely physical.”

Werner von Braun: “The vast mysteries of the universe should only confirm our belief in the certainty of its Creator. I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.”



Posted by: Terry at April 21, 2006 1:33 PM

No, there really aren't a lot of reputable scientists who disagree with evolution. Creationists use linguistic sleight-of-hand to try to make it seem that way, and they have a large audience that's happy to be tricked.

I grew up in an evangelical, Christian, six-day-creation-believing family, and I tried for years to "keep the faith." After a while though, I had to accept the fact that there IS a conflict between science and faith.

Here's a goofy example to illustrate. Let's say I tell you that I believe (by faith) that my god lives in physical form on the moon, and he's so huge that you can see him at night with the naked eye! Is there a conflict between science and my faith? Heck yeah! So I have to modify my belief. I might claim that you can only see him if you TRULY BELIEVE. I could also say that your evidence doesn't rule out a god who lives on the DARK side of the moon (a sort of Pink Floyd diety). But once you can send a spacecraft around the moon, my faith is in trouble. Ultimately, the observable truth changes what I used to believe by faith -- unless I want to go down the conspiracy theory route.

At this point in my life, I'd describe myself as agnostic. I know and respect many people who have faith in God of one kind or another, but I can't go there anymore. That's a long story, and I won't be telling it on this thread.

Posted by: Dave Lemen at April 21, 2006 5:31 PM


Couple of things--first, I don't know of any litmus test for being a Christian (in the biblical sense) that says one must take a particular view on creation--whether a literal 6-day or long time periods or a framework hypothesis or whatever. And I have met Christians who believe in what would be called theistic evolution, although I don't believe it's the most popular view. Again, this conflict you see between faith and science doesn't necessarily paint the whole picture or even the right one. You're "keeping the faith" as you say it seems limited to faith in a particular viewpoint about creation/evolution rather than what the bible usually refers it to--faith in God and His word in Christ. I believe this is an issue that Christians have agreed to disagree on--similar to views on end times theology, although what one believes about creation/evolution usually says a lot more about what they believe on other topics but not always. Again, I know of theistic evolutionists.

Also, I would agree with your goofy view as you put it but both science and faith is messed up in your illustration. This sounds similar to the flat earth theory and pre-Copernican view of the solar system--where the scientific view had to be corrected as well--by the way, the bible does indicate a round earth in the book of Proverbs. There is a lot in life that cannot be proved by science and that we take by faith everyday and what we believe about God does not require science to "prove." Take care.


Posted by: Terry at April 24, 2006 1:50 PM
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