Analogies for explaining BioLogos thinking

I have just come up with a way of explaining BioLogos thinking that I intend to use in an apologetics group. Please feel free to suggest improvements to this. I am also interested in any other analogies or inventive ways that people have come up with to get the message across! I am already aware of and particularly like the analogy of language change. As a linguist, I relate to that. I am also aware that there are BioLogos resources. But it would be great to have several different and new ideas to choose from!

Here is my analogy:
Spot the difference
Concerning the genetic evidence for an evolutionary tree (including humans)… If someone showed me a Spot the Difference puzzle with just 8 differences between two otherwise identical pictures, I would not believe that the artist had drawn both pictures from scratch. Surely they used “cut and paste”?! A brilliant artist could probably draw both from scratch and fool us, but if they had all the possibilities in the world, why would they draw them as almost identical unless they wanted to make us believe that they were essentially the same picture? If that artist went on to produce say 10,000 pictures, each differing from a previous one by only 7 or 8 points, and if it was possible to work out the “cut and paste” order from one picture to the next for the whole set of pictures, would you still think the artist had started from scratch each time? Even if the artist was capable of it, why do it? Especially if the artist is known for his creativity? I would rather conclude that using “cut and paste” is a legitimate tool for the artist! If the artist doesn’t think so, why go to all this trouble to make us think that is what he did?!

(I might give them an appropriate Spot the Difference puzzle to start this off!)


The analogy sounds good to me. Another point might be that parts of one picture appear to have started out as identical to part of another picture, but imperfectly modified to be something else on the new picture.

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First, I will start with an analogy that I personally find compelling, but your mileage may vary.

Psalm 139: 12Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. 13For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. 14I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.…

In that Psalm it says that God makes babies in their mother’s womb. Today, with technology and an understanding of genetics, we know that this is a natural process. I would also suspect that most Christians and even the vast majority of creationists are able to wed Psalms and modern science together. I highly doubt that any creationist would argue that the science of embryonic development somehow refutes the existence of God, or the actions of God as it applies to how babies develop. I would argue that the same approach could apply to evolution.

As to your tree analogy, it doesn’t quite capture the essence of why the tree of life is such strong evidence for evolution. It isn’t the existence of cut and paste that supports evolution. It is the PATTERN of the cut and paste that points to evolution. For example, if you copy pasta feathers from birds and mammary glands from mammals into a new species, this would actually falsify evolution. A better analogy might be some sort of modern technology where humans mix and match different sub-designs to make a whole. For example, vehicles might be a good analogy.

Let’s use planes, cars, and boats as our example. You can find examples of vehicles that try to both a car and a plane (a Google search can find examples), a car and a boat, and a boat and a plane. The design elements for planes, cars, and boats are all mixed and matched without any pattern, and the combinations are only limited by human imagination. This is very different from what the tree of life looks like. We only see certain combinations of features, and not others. We don’t see any half mammal and half birds. Why? Birds never had a mammal ancestor, so they couldn’t inherit mammal features. Mammals never had a bird ancestor, so they couldn’t inherit bird features. The features that make a bird a bird evolved in the bird lineage, and had to stay in that lineage. The same for mammals. However, a designer would not be constrained in such a way, so we would not expect to see a tree of life if life was designed through a copy pasta method like humans use in their designs. Does that make sense?


I guess I’m confused. (Not for the first time, either.) Spot the Difference seems like an interesting exercise, but are you trying to demonstrate something about genetics and God, or something about evolutionary processes being no less creative than individually creating every single species?

Very good, but let me suggest a possible improvement.

Let’s limit ourselves to cars. We can group all GM cars together, and we can have families (Chevrolet, GMC, Pontiac, the late Olds, Cadillac). However, this isn’t really a nested hierarchy, because those cars aren’t descended from each other; models in one family share most of their components under the sheet metal with specific models of the other family. For example, the new 2017 Chevrolet Camaro is basically the same car as the Cadillac ATS:

We don’t see this in biology. In biology, not only do we have a nested hierarchy of organisms, but also of their components, even down to characteristics irrelevant to function. In other words, all GM cars will likely have 7/16" bolts from a single manufacturer. If cars were like organisms, one car would have a 7/16" bolt for a particular function while its relative would have a nearly identical 29/64" bolt for the same function.

It’s this congruence between the trees of organisms and their components that it so convincing.

What do you think?

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One ID criticism of evolution is that the scientific process, methodological naturalism, a priori excludes God, and that is the root of the “atheistic science” canard that is continually trotted out. Here is a story that I have used to illustrate the problem:

Suppose that you are in your house, and you clearly hear the screen door in the front open and shut. You go to the front door and open it, but there is no one on the porch. You step outside and look up and down the block, but there is still no one in sight. Confused, you go inside and shut the door.

Ask everyone to write down one possible cause of the noise. Give a few minutes for responses, then ask for some replies and discuss a few theories. Finally, ask whether anyone wrote down “God did it,” or something to that effect. After no one raises their hand, segue into a discussion of methodological naturalism. This is how we operate every day of our daily existence. When something happens, we first look for physical causes. This is how we think. It is not a conspiracy of science against God. Etc. Feel free to take this kernel of an idea and make it your own, if you like it.


That is also a good analogy. If you really want to dig into it, you could cite specific violations in the tree. If the first splits in the tree are by automaker, your second split could be pickups and cars. The terminal branches of the tree could be the models of cars and trucks. You could then pick one Toyota car model and one Toyota pickup model. As many know there are many engine choices for each model of car and pickup. You can actually find a Toyota car and a Toyota pickup that share the same engine, and yet two cars within the same Toyota model will have different engines. This is a clear violation of the nested hierarchy that you constructed based on make, type, and model. In addition, you could point out that you can find the same tire on a Ford Taurus and a Chevy Malibu, yet two different tires on two Chevy Malibu’s.

All I want to know is: Who gets to play the Studebaker, or the Yugo, or the Pontiac?:cry:

Extinction event due to meteor impact. :wink:

I used to use the automobile analogy to show why Common Descent and Common Design do not produce the same evidence.

Under Common Descent, we would expect some new feature like power steering or disk brakes to appear in a particular factory in a particular model and then multiply from there in the future. But if Common Design applied, some inventor would offer patent permissions to various manufacturers and their factories and features like power steering and disk brakes would start appearing virtually anywhere and everywhere.

It has always amazed me that anyone would pretend that Common Design “looks” the same as Common Descent. I find that people who promote that idea don’t understand nested hierarchies and how they develop in an evolutionary model.

Of course, there is also the question of why a Common Design (i.e. God) would create a biosphere where the nested hierarchies of life and all sorts of other evidence points to evolutionary processes when evolution never happened. Why would God try to deceive us by planting misleading evidence? I don’t believe that harmonizes with the descriptions of God we find in the Bible. I refuse to believe that God is a deceiver or trickster who plays with us.


I’m arguing against the view of God starting off new creation processes at several steps along the way rather than developing them from other species (particularly with regard to humans, but also all the way down the tree). A refinement of my analogy might help: What I have described above is really what we have with the fossil record. Every few changes, we get another picture, and we have enough pictures that we really can tell that the drawings are almost completely the same. However, with the information that we have from genetic science, it is almost as if we have a record of every pixel that was changed in every picture! We know when it got changed and whether it was deleted or added. So it becomes even more crazy to claim that the creator drew most of the pictures from scratch, copying every pixel exactly, in the right order! There is clearly a continuum, and we know a great deal about the ordering and connections of that continuum.

Does that help? The analogy isn’t perfect, but I think it will help some people.

I’m unlikely to use the analogies with cars - but I like them!

To be fair, I wouldn’t expect a layperson to automatically understand what a nested hierarchy is, how it works, and how it differs from human designs. After all, Darwin (and Wallace) rose to fame for being the first one to figure out that the nested hierarchy discovered by Linnaeus was indicative of common descent. When I tried to create my first cladograms in Bio 101 I made a bunch of mistakes. It took a little effort to really understand the nuances.

The ultimate problem is hubris on the part of some creationists (present company excluded, of course). They feel that they understand what the biologists are saying AND that they know more than those biologists which is how you get wrongheaded statements like “Common Design would look just like Common Ancestry”, or “Scientists are claiming that similarities are evidence of Common Ancestry”.

In the vein of trying to help lay people understand evolution in the context of Sunday School classes or Bible studies, it might be a good approach to discuss with people why scientists (atheist and Christian alike) think that evolution occurred. This would allow you to lead into the subject with something like “Scientists think evolution occurred because life falls into a tree like structures called phylogenies”. You could then discuss what phylogenies are, why evolution would produce them, and the evidence that life does indeed fit the common ancestry model. Just a thought.

One experiment I have always wanted to try is an adaptation of the “Phone Game” to mimic how evolution works. This is where you start with one sentence at the beginning of a line, and then have one person whisper the sentence to the next person in line until it reaches the end of the line. What usually happens is that the sentence at the end is different than the sentence at the beginning. This is a lot like descent with modification within a lineage. If you allowed the lines of people to split into two lines at one point you could also model what a speciation event is like, where each line still has changes along the way but the changes will be different between the two parallel lines of people causing the sentences to diverge over time. You could also have each person in line write down what they whispered on a piece of paper so you could have a record of the mutations as they happened.


And that is exactly what I do in introducing the automobile analogy as an example of Common Design—and then contrast that with the phylogenies of living organisms where we see the evidence of Common Descent. Then the students can see that BOTH involve “commonalities” (things which look similar) but they realize that HOW they look similar is manifested in very different patterns.

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I like that! You could use that with a youth group. If you do a few different phrases with the branching version, you could then ask which mutations happened before the branch and which after - before looking at the record more closely. This has potential!

Great illustration! And one can also imagine an experiment where scientists analyze the various versions which the people wrote down—and they could determine the chain of evolution of the messages; reconstructing the nested hierarchies. Errors in transmission are basically mutations.

Of course, this kind of experiment also illustrates what textual critics have to do to figure out how various Biblical manuscripts relate to one another—and to determine the most likely original reading. Much like the fossil record, we don’t have every “transitional form” of every branch of ever textual tradition and we often have to compare a later mss. with a descendant of an older “cousin” mss. And sometimes we find a mss. of a textual sub-tradition which we thought had “gone extinct” —but we can extrapolate some or even much of the ancient text by stringing together excerpts that appear in some Syriac lectionary or a Latin commentary from centuries later.

Indeed, the more I think about it, someone bored for entertainment could spend many hours stringing together a great many parallels between the work of paleontologists and the labors of textual critics.

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Yes, that helps. I just needed a little more context to understand the main concept you wanted to get across. No analogy is perfect. That might be a helpful point to make, as well. Show some of the common metaphors for evolutionary concepts – the evolutionary “tree,” DNA as “computer code,” etc. – and talk about the difference between the metaphor and reality. In other words, the metaphor helps us understand a complex idea, but it has its limits. This has many applications in understanding the Bible. For example, the Scripture uses a multitude of metaphors to describe the new creation, the new heavens and earth, the new Jerusalem, etc. Why? What do they teach us? What are their limits?

Anyway, just shooting off ideas. Sounds like you’re on the right track. Have fun!

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I’m really glad I asked this question now, because it has got my mind thinking! I really like the Chinese whispers/telephone game and I am imagining how to develop that with a very large tree structure!!! (For young people). I’m also considering how song writing could also be used - with various bits of manuscript for each mutation, plus the occasional fossil record of a recording! (I could even document the process as an illustration!) And now you talk about the relevance in understanding the Bible and the treatment of metaphors. As I have been involved in translation, that is close to my heart too!

I am definitely having fun!

I would definitely give it a trial run and see how it goes. If there is a steady “mutation” rate you could show students how molecular clocks work. For example, with this set up:

You could set up the lines like those found on the clade on the right. A should be genetically equidistant from B and C if there is a steady mutation rate, which is one of the observations that so strongly evidences evolution. You will have to figure out how to model word changes or insertions/deletions of words. Just some thoughts.

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In case the previous post dealing with molecular clocks wasn’t clear enough, I thought I might flesh it out a bit more in this post along with some other exercises that could go along with the Phone Game.

In the phylogeny found in the previous post, if you trace the lines to where species A and species B meet it is the same point where species A and species C meet. This means that species A shares the same common ancestor with both species B and species C. This makes A equidistant to B and C. If the evolutionary distance is the same between A–B and A–C then we should see about the same genetic distance between them.

To use a specific gene as our example we can go to Homologene at NCBI and compare the cytochrome C gene between many divergent species. I did just that with a search for human cycs (cytochrome C) and a pairwise alignment. You can (hopefully) see the results on this page:

If we focus on the vertebrates on the list there shouldn’t be too many problems with homoplasies. If you take two more closely related species and compare them to a third more distantly related species you get the predicted pattern. For example, let’s use humans (H. sapiens), dogs (C. lupus), and chickens (G. gallus). The bold heading on each group is the genome you are comparing to. Here are the results:

In the phylogeny, A = chicken, B = human, C= dog
Human v. Dog = 89.8% similarity
Human v. Chicken = 81.6%
Dog v. Chicken = 82.2%

As expected, the chicken cytochrome C gene is equidistant to both human and dog cytochrome C. The distance between chicken–human and chicken–dog is only 0.6% off.

You could have a larger phylogeny showing the relationships between all of the vertebrates on the list. You have the kids choose three of the species, and move those three species to the simplified phylogeny so that they can predict which species are equidistant to which other species. You can then show them the actual data. All of this could then be compared to their Phone Game.

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