How positive is science about human evolution?

(Vlad K. I'm an Agnostic Atheist) #1

Greetings all, how solid is the evidence behind human evolution and common descent of all species? In other words, is it possible that a future discovery can make human evolution in serious doubt or would such evidence (if it shows up) be treated as an outlier/anomaly?

I have some family that are very staunch supporters of young earth creationism and I, myself, am not as well versed on evolution as I should be.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

We could turn this into a numerical game – attempting to quantify a subjective question, but still it would be interesting to see about where various knowledgeable people would hang their hat.

On a scale of 0 to 100; 100 being my certainty that I exist, 99 my certainty that a universe outside my mind also exists independently of me (sorry, Pacificmaelstrom!), 10 to 20s being about where string theory or parallel universes might belong, and zero for things like faked moon landings, flat earth and such; where in there would we place common descent?

I’m going to guess most EC thinkers around here would put it somewhere in the nineties, maybe just under principles of conservation or universal gravitation and such.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #3

Now … where experts would put the proposed mechanisms for common descent and/or the assertions that said mechanisms are by themselves sufficient --that would be a much wider range of confidence levels, but I would guess in all cases it would get rated below where the same person puts their confidence in the fact of common descent itself independently of any mechanisms involved.

…so to actually answer some of your questions: For something people feel is quite established (nineties), most contrary evidence to the extent it is widely recognized as actually being valid contrary evidence, would be treated as an outlier awaiting other explanation. Of course there is always that proverbial rabbit waiting to be found in the Precambrian … Some contrary evidence would be much more devastating than other evidence if a validated case of it presented itself.

(26: my confidence that the Cubs will win the Series in my lifetime.)
(97.36248: my confidence level that some of my quantizations may include unwarranted precision.)

(Christy Hemphill) #4

Hope springs eternal in the human breast. :no_entry_sign::goat:

(Christy Hemphill) #5

Hi, welcome to the forum!

I don’t know how ambitious you are feeling, but Dennis Venema has put together a nice course on the basics of evolution that you could work your way through if you wanted to deepen your understanding of the topic.

Another useful post full of basic information about evidence for evolution and how it could be falsified is found here:

(Phil) #6

I would say about 97 on the scale. I of course believe new information will refine and there will be changes in our current understanding of the details, but so far all new information with dating, cosmology, fossils, anthropology, genetics has only confirmed and supported the general theory of evolution.

(Jim Lock) #7

@SuperBigV As someone with zero training in any of the hard sciences and having learned most of what I know about evolution on this website…I’m going to say…77. It appears that evolution is almost certainly true but I won’t be bothered to much if tomorrow THE smoking gun is announced that disproves everything.

(George Brooks) #8


In other words, one might ask how WAGER-WORTHY Evolution? How much money would you risk on a bet dealing with Evolution?

I’ll list just the few bodies of evidence that makes me PLENTY confident in Evolution:

  1. The age of the Earth. Geology and physics, using very different methods of measurement and tests using different kinds of technology, demonstrate a dramatic congruence placing the age of the Earth at MILLIONS and MILLIONS of years … in fact 4+ BILLION YEARS. So would you be less anxious betting everything you had if you knew the Earth was not less than 6000 years old?

  2. There is ZERO evidence of a global flood that wiped out Egyptian civilization. At some point between the 4th Dynasty and the 6th Dynasty, the population of Egypt should have dropped to ZERO. And yet we find no such break in Egyptian culture, in its physical record of its buildings, or in its written histories. So would you be less anxious betting verything you had if you knew there was never a global flood described by the Bible?

  3. But I’m saving the best for last. I am absolutely CONVINCED in common descent, and that strange new species can emerge from out of nowhere… because of the STRANGE PATTERN of fossil deposition we see:

A) If we are to believe that dinosarus and dinosaur-like creatures were all living when there were ELEPHANTS and HIPPOs and RHINO’s … then when the great flood came, we would find bones of LARGE MAMMALs all mixed together with the bones of DINOSAUR-type creatures, right?

And the giant reptiles that supposedly shared the oceans with giant whales… their bones would ALSO be all mixed together. In fact, in a global flood, we should even find the bones of giant marine whales and reptiles all mixed in with the bones of giant terrestrial mammals and reptiles.

B) But what do we find? we find the oldest layers (or the lowest layers) have NO large mammals in them… they don’t exist. Only the large reptiles do - - both water and land types.

C) And then, these large reptiles, water and land, suddenly disappear! Was it the flood? Maybe. But OUT OF NOWHERE … the largest of mammals (rhinos, elephants, hippos, etc.) appear where there had never been any such creatures. This REQUIRES that they emerged from the SMALLER mammals… in SHORT… evolution.

D) But we really aren’t done yet. There are the AMAZING developments in Australia! Let’s just assume that all life in Australia was wiped out … just like it was supposed to be wiped out in Egypt. And then the animals were released from the ark. What do we find happens in Australia?

  1. A group of very strange and exotic marsupials apparently RACED to Australia while it was still near the shore of India or Africa… and they started to thrive, while Australia started to move quickly out into the middle of the ocean! But apparently all these maruspials… all of them were FASTER than the placental mammals … never made it to Australia after the flood!

  2. And all the strange marsupials that we find in Australia (and New Zealand) …we don’t find them anywhere else in the world.

There is only ONE explanation for this kind of pattern of mammalian distribution:

A) that marsupials were the dominant mammalian life forms in Australia when Australia was adjacent to one or more of the other continents.

B) that after Australia moved into the middle of the ocean, it kept new strains of placental mammals from settling in Australia … and it allowed the marsupials to disperse throughout Australia and occupy the ecological niches that placental mammals would eventually take everywhere else!

C) And this is the only explanation for why Australia’s marsupials never made their presence known elsewhere in the world … because they were CONFINED to Australia… over the span of millions and millions of years.

So - - if these categories of evidence don’t convince you to bet the farm … you should probably stay away from mutual funds as well…

(Mervin Bitikofer) #9

so, George … I guess that translates to about 99.2 for you?

(George Brooks) #10

99.2 percent confidence level? Well, you may be a little on the low side…

(Mervin Bitikofer) #11

Well, if you’re going by my proposed “Merv scale” the confidence that there is reality outside of my head was pegged as 99%. So you’re a little more sure of common descent than you are of reality itself. Good to know where your foundations are!

(George Brooks) #12


I think this is consistent… as long as we accept the possibility that Evolution still exists even in a non-physical Cosmos…

(Peaceful Science) #13

Hey @SuperBigV, in addition to all the excellent BioLogos posts that will sent your way, you might benefit from an overview here (which links back to about 10 articles from BioLogos).

The summary is simple. Now that we sequenced both the human and chimp genomes, and we have discovered and sequenced several other ancient hominids, it is very difficult to imagine evidence that would overturn the common descent of man. It is hard to imagine any scientific theory that would simultaneously explain everything we know without relying on common descent.

The evidence, therefore, is very strong. In science, though, nothing is for certain. Maybe our imagination is impoverished, and something truly dramatic will alter everything. Honestly, given what we know now, it is hard to imagine what that could be.


Indeed I would say that the advent of genetic sequencing is showing up manymore interspecies rekationships that this is becoming one of the strongest contenders to support evolutuion theory.

Yet my question to the anti-evolution people is why evolution should be seen as threat to belief in God. I am supposing it must be because if they feel its apparent conflict with the two stories of creation in Genesis (yes two stories) questions the reliabiity of scripture. Such fears I think are not as great as they are imagine them to be. It is I think instead belief in some historical unfallibility of Genesis that makes Christain faith a laughing stock that will do more to undermine Christian faith far more than denying Genesis as history.

There is is too me no conflict between the scientific acceptance of God as “evolver” rather than instant creator. It shows a God of patience and humility, who gives freedom and carefully waits for life to unfold. The arising of humanity in time, gifted with free intelligence is no less marvelous than the Genesis stories

It also to my mind helps explain better the pain and suffering in creation as a consequence of freedom rather than something God inflicts on creation because of human sin. Which do we really want to believe in, diseases that have evolved accidently in evolution, affecting all of creation, or disease and death engineered and inflicted upon innocent children and other forms of innocent life just because of human sin? I think the latter makes God look like a evil tyrant and not a God of Love shown to us in Jesus Christ.

(Preston Garrison) #15

I have been in the habit of telling lay Christian people who ask me this (they know I was a biochemist) that either we have common ancestors with other apes or God went to a great deal of trouble to make it look like that’s what happened. In addition to the fine resources at Biologos, I wrote a blog post a few years ago that is one take on the issue. It includes a figure of an aligned segment of human and chimp DNA.

(Jamie) #16

You realize that an immaterial reality still exists outside your head (figurative, because you don’t have a physical head) as a consistent and firm creation of God. Also, @gbrooks9 the laws of science still apply: because real life is ordered and predictable, and science is how we organize our knowledge about that order and predictability… BUT whether or not evolution actually “happened” is another matter. Who knows. But it doesn’t matter because no one was “there” (to channel Ken Ham) except God, and now the world appears exactly as if it did happen.

To answer the question @SuperBigV: 100% solid within the context of science. No future discoveries will put it into doubt. The above alludes to my post here on the existence of God.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #17

[quote=“pacificmaelstrom, post:16, topic:5369”]
You realize that an immaterial reality still exists outside your head (figurative, because you don’t have a physical head) as a consistent and firm creation of God.
[/quote] [my emphasis added]

I say ‘real’. You say ‘not real’. I say ‘material’. You say ‘immaterial’ … Let’s call the whole thing off! :notes:

All we’re doing here is applying different labels to the same things. There is nothing to be gained except confusion when you reverse the agreed upon meaning of words.

(Jamie) #18

[quote=“Mervin_Bitikofer, post:17, topic:5369, full:true”]

Don’t put your failure to understand on me. Read about it.


Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. In Genesis it says God “created.” It doesn’t explain “how”'nor could it have done so–given the complete lack of scientific understanding available at the time. I have never understood why those who take Genesis literally would rather believe he “spoke” the world into existence rather than using science to create not only a world that would support human life (before human life existed) but then create a human that could live in the place he built. I find that science strengthens my belief in the Bible and that it supports many events that otherwise would have to be accepted as “magic.” But it only does so if you are willing to accept the fact that those who wrote the Bible were writing so that those in their generation (with no scientific understanding) and generations to come would understand the content of that message if not in the same way, in the same context.

(Craig Morrison) #20

Look at it this way: find a better, peer-reviewed alternate model of speciation and you will win a Nobel Prize for Science.