I think that this article makes some very important points despite the fact that i strongly disagree with the author's statement that evolutionary doctrine does not clash with religious faith.
~~~Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution
As recently as 1966, sheik Abd el Aziz bin Baz asked the king of Saudi Arabia to suppress a heresy that was spreading in his land. Wrote the sheik:
"The Holy Koran, the Prophet's teachings, the majority of Islamic scientists, and the actual facts all prove that the sun is running in its orbit... and that the earth is fixed and stable, spread out by God for his mankind.... Anyone who professed otherwise would utter a charge of falsehood toward God, the Koran, and the Prophet."
The good sheik evidently holds the Copernican theory to be a "mere theory," not a "fact." In this he is technically correct. A theory can be verified by a mass of facts, but it becomes a proven theory, not a fact. The sheik was perhaps unaware that the Space Age had begun before he asked the king to suppress the Copernican heresy. The sphericity of the earth has been seen by astronauts, and even by many earth-bound people on their television screens. Perhaps the sheik could retort that those who venture beyond the confines of God's earth suffer hallucinations, and that the earth is really flat.
Parts of the Copernican world model, such as the contention that the earth rotates around the sun, and not vice versa, have not been verified by direct observations even to the extent the sphericity of the earth has been. Yet scientists accept the model as an accurate representation of reality. Why? Because it makes sense of a multitude of facts which are otherwise meaningless or extravagant. To non-specialists most of these facts are unfamiliar. Why then do we accept the "mere theory" that the earth is a sphere revolving around a spherical sun? Are we simply submitting to authority? Not quite: we know that those who took the time to study the evidence found it convincing.
The good sheik is probably ignorant of the evidence. Even more likely, he is so hopelessly biased that no amount of evidence would impress him. Anyway, it would be sheer waste of time to attempt to convince him. The Koran and the Bible do not contradict Copernicus, nor does Copernicus contradict them. It is ludicrous to mistake the Bible and the Koran for primers of natural science. They treat of matters even more important: the meaning of man and his relations to God. They are written in poetic symbols that were understandable to people of the age when they were written, as well as to peoples of all other ages. The king of Arabia did not comply with the sheik's demand. He knew that some people fear enlightenment, because enlightenment threatens their vested interests. Education is not to be used to promote obscurantism.
The earth is not the geometric center of the universe, although it may be its spiritual center. It is a mere speck of dust in the cosmic spaces. Contrary to Bishop Ussher's calculations, the world did not appear in approximately its present state in 4004 BC. The estimates of the age of the universe given by modern cosmologists are still only rough approximations, which are revised (usually upward) as the methods of estimation are refined. Some cosmologists take the universe to be about 10 billion years old; others suppose that it may have existed, and will continue to exist, eternally. The origin of life on earth is dated tentatively between 3 and 5 billion years ago; manlike beings appeared relatively quite recently, between 2 and 4 million years ago. The estimates of the age of the earth, of the duration of the geologic and paleontologic eras, and of the antiquity of man's ancestors are now based mainly on radiometric evidence the proportions of isotopes of certain chemical elements in rocks suitable for such studies.
Shiek bin Baz and his like refuse to accept the radiometric evidence, because it is a "mere theory." What is the alternative? One can suppose that the Creator saw fit to play deceitful tricks on geologists and biologists. He carefully arranged to have various rocks provided with isotope ratios just right to mislead us into thinking that certain rocks are 2 billion years old, others 2 million, which in fact they are only some 6,000 years old. This kind of pseudo-explanation is not very new. One of the early anti-evolutionists, P. H. Gosse, published a book entitled Omphalos ("the Navel"). The gist of this amazing book is that Adam, though he had no mother, was created with a navel, and that fossils were placed by the Creator where we find them now -- a deliberate act on His part, to give the appearance of great antiquity and geologic upheavals. It is easy to see the fatal flaw in all such notions. They are blasphemies, accusing God of absurd deceitfulness. This is as revolting as it is uncalled for.
Diversity of Living Beings
The diversity and the unity of life are equally striking and meaningful aspects of the living world. Between 1.5 and 2 million species of animals and plants have been described and studied; the number yet to be described is probably as great. The diversity of sizes, structures, and ways of life is staggering but fascinating. Here are just a few examples.
The foot-and-mouth disease virus is a sphere 8-12 mm in diameter. The blue whale reaches 30 m in length and 135 t in weight. The simplest viruses are parasites in cells of other organisms, reduced to barest essentials minute amounts of DNA or RNA, which subvert the biochemical machinery of the host cells to replicate their genetic information, rather than that of the host.
It is a matter of opinion, or of definition, whether viruses are considered living organisms or peculiar chemical substances. The fact that such differences of opinion can exist is in itself highly significant. It means that the borderline between living and inanimate matter is obliterated. At the opposite end of the simplicity complexity spectrum you have vertebrate animals, including man. The human brain has some 12 billion neurons; the synapses between the neurons are perhaps a thousand times numerous.
Some organisms live in a great variety of environments. Man is at the top of the scale in this respect. He is not only a truly cosmopolitan species but, owing to his technologic achievements, can survive for at least a limited time on the surface of the moon and in cosmic spaces. By contrast, some organisms are amazingly specialized. Perhaps the narrowest ecologic niche of all is that of a species of the fungus family Laboulbeniaceae, which grows exclusively on the rear portion of the elytra of the beetle Aphenops cronei, which is found only in some limestone caves in southern France. Larvae of the fly Psilopa petrolei develop in seepages of crude oil in California oilfields; as far as is known they occur nowhere else. This is the only insect able to live and feed in oil, and its adult can walk on the surface of the oil only as long as no body part other than the tarsi are in contact with the oil. Larvae of the fly Drosophila carciniphila develop only in the nephric grooves beneath the flaps of the third maxilliped of the land crab Geocarcinus ruricola, which is restricted to certain islands in the Caribbean.
Is there an explanation, to make intelligible to reason this colossal diversity of living beings? Whence came these extraordinary, seemingly whimsical and superfluous creatures, like the fungus Laboulbenia, the beetle Aphenops cronei, the flies Psilopa petrolei and Drosophila carciniphila, and many, many more apparent biologic curiosities? The only explanation that makes sense is that the organic diversity has evolved in response to the diversity of environment on the planet earth. No single species, however perfect and however versatile, could exploit all the opportunities for living. Every one of the millions of species has its own way of living and of getting sustenance from the environment. There are doubtless many other possible ways of living as yet unexploited by any existing species; but one thing is clear: with less organic diversity, some opportunities for living would remain unexploited. The evolutionary process tends to fill up the available ecologic niches. It does not do so consciously or deliberately; the relations between evolution and environment are more subtle and more interesting than that. The environment does not impose evolutionary changes on its inhabitants, as postulated by the now abandoned neo-Lamarckian theories. The best way to envisage the situation is as follows: the environment presents challenges to living species, to which the later may respond by adaptive genetic changes.
An unoccupied ecologic niche, an unexploited opportunity for living, is a challenge. So is an environmental change, such as the Ice Age climate giving place to a warmer climate. Natural selection may cause a living species to respond to the challenge by adaptive genetic changes. These changes may enable the species to occupy the formerly empty ecologic niche as a new opportunity for living, or to resist the environmental change if it is unfavorable. But the response may or may not be successful. This depends on many factors, the chief of which is the genetic composition of the responding species at the time the response is called for. Lack of successful response may cause the species to become extinct. The evidence of fossils shows clearly that the eventual end of most evolutionary lines is extinction. Organisms now living are successful descendants of only a minority of the species that lived in the past and of smaller and smaller minorities the farther back you look. Nevertheless, the number of living species has not dwindled; indeed, it has probably grown with time. All this is understandable in the light of evolution theory; but what a senseless operation it would have been, on God's part, to fabricate a multitude of species ex nihilo and then let most of them die out!
There is, of course, nothing conscious or intentional in the action of natural selection. A biologic species does not say to itself, "Let me try tomorrow (or a million years from now) to grow in a different soil, or use a different food, or subsist on a different body part of a different crab." Only a human being could make such conscious decisions. This is why the species Homo sapiens is the apex of evolution. Natural selection is at one and the same time a blind and creative process. Only a creative and blind process could produce, on the one hand, the tremendous biologic success that is the human species and, on the other, forms of adaptedness as narrow and as constraining as those of the overspecialized fungus, beetle, and flies mentioned above.
Anti-evolutionists fail to understand how natural selection operates. They fancy that all existing species were generated by supernatural fiat a few thousand years ago, pretty much as we find them today. But what is the sense of having as many as 2 or 3 million species living on earth? If natural selection is the main factor that brings evolution about, any number of species is understandable: natural selection does not work according to a foreordained plan, and species are produced not because they are needed for some purpose but simply because there is an environmental opportunity and genetic wherewithal to make them possible. Was the Creator in a jocular mood when he made Psilopa petrolei for California oil fields and species of Drosophila to live exclusively on some body-parts of certain land crabs on only certain islands in the Caribbean? The organic diversity becomes, however, reasonable and understandable if the Creator has created the living world not by caprice but by evolution propelled by natural selection. It is wrong to hold creation and evolution as mutually exclusive alternatives. I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God's, or Nature's method of creation. Creation is not an event that happened in 4004 BC; it is a process that began some 10 billion years ago and is still under way.
Unity of Life
The unity of life is no less remarkable than its diversity. Most forms of life are similar in many respects. The universal biologic similarities are particularly striking in the biochemical dimension. From viruses to man, heredity is coded in just two, chemically related substances: DNA and RNA. The genetic code is as simple as it is universal. There are only four genetic "letters" in DNA: adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine. Uracil replaces thymine in RNA. The entire evolutionary development of the living world has taken place not by invention of new "letters" in the genetic "alphabet" but by elaboration of ever-new combinations of these letters.
Not only is the DNA-RNA genetic code universal, but so is the method of translation of the sequences of the "letters" in DNA-RNA into sequences of amino acids in proteins. The same 20 amino acids compose countless different proteins in all, or at least in most, organisms. Different amino acids are coded by one to six nucleotide triplets in DNA and RNA. And the biochemical universals extend beyond the genetic code and its translation into proteins: striking uniformities prevail in the cellular metabolism of the most diverse living beings. Adenosine triphosphate, biotin, riboflavin, hemes, pyridoxin, vitamins K and B12, and folic acid implement metabolic processes everywhere.
What do these biochemical or biologic universals mean? They suggest that life arose from inanimate matter only once and that all organisms, no matter now diverse, in other respects, conserve the basic features of the primordial life. (It is also possible that there were several, or even many, origins of life; if so, the progeny of only one of them has survived and inherited the earth.) But what if there was no evolution and every one of the millions of species were created by separate fiat? However offensive the notion may be to religious feeling and to reason, the anti-evolutionists must again accuse the Creator of cheating. They must insist that He deliberately arranged things exactly as if his method of creation was evolution, intentionally to mislead sincere seekers of truth.
The remarkable advances of molecular biology in recent years have made it possible to understand how it is that diverse organisms are constructed from such monotonously similar materials: proteins composed of only 20 kinds of amino acids and coded only by DNA and RNA, each with only four kinds of nucleotides. The method is astonishingly simple. All English words, sentences, chapters, and books are made up of sequences of 26 letters of the alphabet. (They can be represented also by only three signs of the Morse code: dot, dash, and gap.) The meaning of a word or a sentence is defined not so much by what letters it contains as by the sequences of these letters. It is the same with heredity: it is coded by the sequences of the genetic "letters" the nucleotides in the DNA. They are translated into the sequences of amino acids in the proteins.
Full article: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/10/2/text_pop/l_102_01.html