Monday, July 20, 2015

On Their Own Terms

In our previous post on “Wildlife Perspectives” we closed our discussion of South African mammals and Midwestern birds by mentioning two theories of origins— creationism vs evolutionism. Our purpose was to highlight an ongoing television interview series on The John Ankerberg Show featuring Dr. Stephen Meyer and Dr. John Ankerberg. The PBS special on The White Lions may have triggered an interest in origins. How and when did these animals come to exist? Discussions on origins sometimes deteriorate into arguments on the relative merits of creationism and evolutionism.  

Some analysts have stated that arguments are not strengthened by attacking weaknesses in the opposing case. More appropriate is presenting the strength of one’s own argument. For example, the creation model for the origin of life and the first appearance of animal phyla must stand on its own as does the belief that existing animals are the result of a past act of divine creation. We may also say that existing animal life is intelligently designed. Cataloging the perceived weakness of evolution does not strengthen the case for creation or design. Likewise, evolutionist positions are not buttressed by pointing out perceived deficiencies in the creationist position. In that spirit, we briefly offer observations from both positions.

For creationists, belief in creation or intelligent design with respect to the existence of living creatures may be an example of a properly basic belief. Such intrinsic beliefs do not need to be inferred from other truths to be reasonable. Most often the term connects with a more general discussion of belief in the existence of God. Properly basic beliefs are based on intuition and are self-validating. Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig frequently discuss this term. When we examine the magnificent beauty, diversity, adaptability, and functionality of animals on distant continents or birds in our neighborhood, we are unable to observe the act of creation by which they originated. Intuitionally, however, we are confident that these complex and exquisite animals originated in a supernatural act of creation.

Creationists support their beliefs with empirical and inferential evidence as well as properly basic beliefs. DNA and RNA are genetic and messenger molecules in the systems of all living things. The detailed information conveyed in these molecules is in the form of a code. Complex codes are always produced by an intelligent agent. The exceedingly sudden appearances of life forms along the timeline of geologic history support belief in creation and intelligent design. Creationists believe production of new proteins, then new cell types, new tissues, new organs, new body plans and finally, a new organism is a sequence of creation events necessary for the production of novel animals and plants.

Evolutionists also support their beliefs with empirical and inferential evidence. They claim evolution is a fact. Evolutionary facts are the world’s data. The data clearly show that life forms have changed substantially over time. The theory of evolution offers an explanation of the fact of evolution. Common ancestry is a tenet of the theory—all living things have descended from a common ancestor in an unbroken line of descent. The theory of evolution is profoundly dependent on demonstrating a branching phylogenetic tree of life succession from the common ancestor. Formerly the evolutionary process was explained by mutation and natural selection.

Mutation and natural selection are fading as mainstays of the explanatory evolutionary argument. Morphology, a study of form and structure has become less important as cladism and molecular genetic relationships have become more important in the explanation of evolutionary theory. Evolutionists strive to demonstrate evolutionary relationships among living things in the interest of fortifying the theory. The degree to which evolutionary relationships among current living things can be demonstrated matches the importance of the entire theory. In this way the backbone of evolution—common ancestry—is affirmed.

We hope our exceedingly brief comparison of creationism vs evolutionism is an example of presentation of both theories on their own terms. We made no effort to point out errors in either belief. Many devote much effort to denigrating the opposing theory and waging ad hominem attacks to the detriment of the argument. Readers should study and test each position, however, in order to compare strengths and weaknesses in respective arguments.