The Power and Elegance of the Theory of Evolution

The theory of evolution was first proposed 150 years ago by Charles Darwin*.  Since that time, the theory has not only withstood the test of time, but it has been greatly strengthened.  It is supported by numerous fields including molecular biology, paleontology, geology, anatomy, and developmental biology.  It has been shown in laboratory conditions, by the fossil record, DNA sequences, and by observation.

At its core, the theory is so beautifully eloquent that it seems obvious after one learns of it.  As Thomas Huxley once said “How stupid of me not to have thought of it.” Survival of the fittest intuitively makes sense.   Only when one lets their preconceived notions and biases interfere with reason does it loose its luster.

When evolutionary theory was proposed, the biological sciences were in their infancy.  Mendelian inheritance, molecular biology, antibiotics, and even DNA was unknown.    Yet, each of these discoveries and fields of study have not only supported and broadened the theory, but they have shown us the underlying mechanisms.

Evolution is an extremely powerful predictor.  From when Darwin declared that there would be transitional fossils found in the fossil record to the prediction that a half-fish, half-tetrapod would be found in northern Canada in a specific sedimentary layer.

Evolution’s explanatory power is also striking.  As Theodosius Dobzhansky once said “Nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution.”  Why do all organisms use an almost identical genetic code? Evolution.  Why do whales have a pelvis? Evolution.

The ideas underlying evolution are extremely useful.  Want to make better fluorescent proteins? Use evolution to guide the process as Nguyen and Daugherty did.  Want to extend the lives of fruit flies in order to study aging? Let natural selection select for the flies with the longest lives as Michael Rose and colleagues did.

Finally, the ability to falsify the theory of evolution makes it a very strong theory.  Finding fossils out of order (e.g. a rabbit fossil found in the Precambrian era) is one easy and compelling way to disprove the theory.  The discovery of DNA sequences that do not fit into the known phylogenic trees is another.

Now compare evolution to the competing theories.  Intelligent Design and Creation have no explanatory power, no usefulness, and are not falsifiable.  Why would anyone choose to believe anything other than the elegance that is the theory of evolution is beyond me.

*probably not the first, but he did popularize the idea

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3 Responses

  1. Very concise post, I like it. Anyway, I’ve been tagged, now I tag you.

  2. “Why would anyone choose to believe anything other than the elegance that is the theory of evolution is beyond me.”

    I think in your statement you have answered your own question about people who believe God created our world believing in something other than the theory of evolution. (Not that all believers do but let’s just make an assumption.)
    Evolution is understandable. It is mind-numbingly simple. In fact, as you so eloquently concluded, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the theory. It is certainly not beyond the realm of the human brain to understand.
    So why not just accept it? Well here’s the difference between biologists and physicist. When I was in school I hated biology. Not because I was squeamish. Mostly because I was bored. It was soooo predictable. But my experiments in physics however were amazingly frustrating. Sometimes they conformed to the laws of the universe and sometimes they just marched to their own drum. It was that lesson learned early on and reinforced in my amateur study of quantum mechanics and theoretical physics that lead me to “the more.” “The More,” is my scientific term for all the unexplainable things that happened in my physics experiments and in my quantum mechanic equations. It wasn’t just the element of the unknown – it was the unknown and the engagingly complex mixed in with the common sense of physical laws that got me. There was a bunch of stuff I didn’t understand yet put it all together it made a perfect order. There was never chaos. There was always order.
    I’ve experienced this in biology as well. When I began to read about embryonic stem cells and SCNT and their miracle status among cells it was maddeningly non-nonsensical how they behave yet beautifully ordered that they behaved in that way. I inexplicably concluded that there had to be a something to create such a system that would think to imbue embryonic stem cells with all their qualities and traits. It’s pure genius. And well beyond man-made.
    So yes evolution definitely makes sense in the realm of man. It fits man’s logical construct. But I do not limit myself to what I can see, hear or touch to the natural. That’s a sad life. And I’m not so arrogant to think that humans are the end all to be all on this planet or beyond it. I choose to believe in God because I believe in “The More.” That there’s more to life than what I can experience. I’ve experienced some of that “more,” and I have testimonies from others who have as well. I can see why you wouldn’t if your life was limited to the physical realm a sort of bottom-rung scientific version of Maslow’s hierarchy.
    But cop out or not I’m convinced that there are things that science can’t explain – my soul, my passion for sunsets, my addiction to Mozart, my quest to do good – and to that I chalk up to the More – which to me is God.
    Whew, lengthy I know but I couldn’t resist your question of why anyone would believe in something other than evolution. Hope you take the response in the love and respect it was given. 🙂

  3. […] I am not as smart as God and I do not understand everything about him, but I do know that evolution exists and also I know that it is one of the fundamental realities of nature.  I mean it is now, and […]

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