The truth is transcendent. When we talk about the truth we are talking about all things as they
really are regardless of our ability to fully perceive them. Yet people often feel a need for certainty
and if they become convinced that something is the truth, they will proceed to believe that. The
trouble is that our ability to understand the truth improves over time while beliefs take on a life of
their own, held in place as they are by human biases. Furthermore, believers often differ among
themselves, and so in such cases, someone must be wrong, someone must not be telling the truth.
On one level, it may be that the truth is that you believe, but on another level, the truth is that you
don’t know--not for sure, anyway. But rather than exploit whatever margin uncertainty as an escape
hatch for your beliefs, it’s more honest to settle—for the time being anyway—on the probable truth.
Let the clear facts fall into place and define the intellectual landscape to which your beliefs should
conform rather than trying to force the facts to conform to your beliefs.
The search for the truth is often a contest. Evidence is gathered to support a likely version of
events, but oftentimes others will dispute the assertion and offer a differing explanation for the
facts. This could be due to honest disagreement when the facts do not strongly point to one
conclusion, or an intellectual exercise in pursuing alternate scenarios. But frequently, those in
dispute have an agenda, and interest in seeing one explanation prevail over another that is
motivated by something other than a desire for truth. An excellent example of a contest with the
truth, one which played itself for the general public in all its detail, was the O.J. Simpson case. The
The ex-wife of the former football great and media personality and her friend were found
brutally murdered and within days, evidence began to mount suggesting that Simpson was indeed
responsible. O.J. had a history of violent attacks on Nichole, and at her graveside he made the
guilty-sounding remark, “I loved you too much”. Then came the widely-viewed police chase after
which he was found with a disguise, a lot of cash, and his passport, and during which he became
suicidal once the cops closed in. At the crime scene and Simpson’s home, investigators found more
clues: Bloody footprints matching a pair of rare and expensive shoes he was shown to have owned--
and in his size--were found near the corpses and also in his Ford Bronco. Drops of blood that DNA
tests showed were probably (very, very probably) O.J.’s were found at the crime scene as well as at
his house and the door handle of his bronco. When questioned the day after the murders, Simpson
sported a cut on his finger and explained that he had cut it when he broke a glass upon hearing the
alarming news. When forced to admit that some of the blood at the crime scene was his, he
changed is story and said that somehow he had cut himself while visiting his kids at Nichole’s house
earlier. He also changed his story about what he had been doing at the time of the crime. Was he
golfing or sleeping?
There were no eyewitnesses to the actual slaying, but we do we have physical evidence linking
Simpson to the crime scene and statements and behavior that are highly suspicious at best. Each
piece of evidence contributed to a sort of multi-dimensional picture puzzle and strengthened one
another, having a multiplier effect against the likelihood that coincidence could account for the
evidence in any alternate scenario. What witnesses did see contributed vital pieces to this puzzle.
The limo driver sent to bring O.J. to the airport relates that at first, no one answered the buzzer at
the gate, then he saw a figure matching O.J.’s description emerge from the darkness of a far corner
and dash across the back yard. Half a moment later, lights came on in the house and Simpson
answered the buzzer, apologizing that he had been asleep. Was the limo driver lying that he had
seen a “large black man” in the yard? Did some other large black man just happen to hurriedly cut
across Simpson’s fenced compound at that exact moment? Maybe, but consider this: O.J.’s Bronco
was found on the side street around the corner from the gate to his parking area--where there was
plenty of room--parked at an “odd angle”. One can imagine that when O.J. arrived home from an
evening’s slashing and saw that his limo had arrived early, he didn’t want the timing of his arrival to
be marked and so he backed away around the corner and parked on the side-street (approaching
curbside in reverse, one is more likely to wind up misaligned). One more piece falls into place.
But the most spectacular piece of evidence was the infamous bloody glove. It was found near
the other side of the fence from where the Bronco was parked, behind the row of guest bungalows.
One of these was occupied by the esteemed Kato Kaelin, who testified that he heard a thump, like
someone had blundered into the rear wall of his unit (don’t ask why he was living there) at about the
same time as the limo driver’s report. The glove indisputably had the victim’s blood on it, matched
one found at the murder scene, and was the exact same style and size as a pair indisputably owned
by Simpson (and which were now “missing”). The murder weapon was never found, along with the
murder clothes and murder shoes, but the murder socks were found in O.J.’s bedroom. There was
no way to link the murder underwear back to the crime scene, but the murder stocking cap
contained strands of murder hair which showed that the killer was a black male. That in itself doesn’
t mean much except to further narrow down the chances that it was someone else. But anyway, a
plausible scenario would have Simpson bundling the knife, glove, and shoes up in the clothes--
probably sweats--and scaling the fence with it or tossing it over, with the glove falling out of the
bundle in the darkness and O.J. bumping into the back of the guest house.
But the compelling nature of the bloody glove as evidence created a dangerously ironic
situation. In the minds of the public it represented the case against Simpson and eclipsed all the
other pieces of evidence. If something should harm the credibility of the central pillar of the
prosecution’s case, it could become a millstone, dragging the case down with it. And that’s exactly
what happened. The cop who discovered the glove, one Officer Mark Fuhrman, became a
household name as the defense demolished his credibility with revelations about his character.
Fuhrman was shown to be something of a racist who perhaps had planted evidence on suspects in
the past and was shown to have lied when he denied ever using the “N-word” in the previous 10
years. The problem, asserted the defense, was not that Officer Fuhrman was a racist (meaning the
problem was that he was a racist), but that he was a liar. But even liars tell the truth most of the
time. It’s one thing to not believe something that a liar says, it’s something else to automatically
believe the opposite is true. A crooked cop cannot conjure up a piece of physical evidence simply
by telling a lie, you have to acquire and transport the evidence while remaining undetected and
make it fit in with all the other evidence that will come to light.
O.J. was out of town when the investigation began, having flown to Chicago shortly after the
murders. Shortly before the murders he had treated Kato to a bite at McDonald’s; this left about a
45-minute interval during which Simpson had no alibi, and the murders were shown to have
occurred during this interval. How could the police possibly have known this, and that all the
subsequent evidence would point to the accused, at such an early stage in the investigation? The
only thing stupider than a famous and recognizable celebrity committing a double homicide is trying
to frame someone like that (actually, these turned out to be the third and second stupidest things,
respectively). But if the defense could call into question the believability of the man who found the
most important piece of evidence, it could call into question the evidence itself and by blanket
implication, all the evidence.
O.J. Simpson was acquitted, and it was not reasonable doubt that led to that verdict--the doubt
was not reasonable. The jury, and many of those watching at home, did not grasp the mutually-
supporting quality of the various pieces of evidence. Remove one and set it aside and there was
still plenty of support for the prosecution’s case from all the others. Instead, each piece of evidence
was looked at in a vacuum as though it were the sole piece of evidence. An implausible yet possible
explanation for such a lone piece of evidence would indeed suffice to produce reasonable doubt.
But an O.J.-is-innocent scenario requires a bizarro menagerie of coincidences and conspiracy
theories (the explanation for the Bronco chase: “He knew he couldn’t get a fair trial” despite being a
popular celebrity with vast resources and only a 45-minute gap in his alibi. And so on.) Yet there
was, as is so often the case, an anomaly marring the otherwise straightforward case--trace amounts
of a chemical use to preserve blood were found in blood supposedly from the crime scene,
suggesting that the samples had come from some other, older source. Again, if the blood evidence
had been the sole evidence, this could be grounds for reasonable doubt. But not all the crime-
scene blood had this stuff in it, and it’s not implausible to suggest that laboratory mishandling
resulted in these traces even as it’s too far-fetched to suggest that such mishandling resulted in
false DNA matches from top to bottom.
No, it was not intellectually rigorous skepticism which resulted in the not-guilty verdict, it was political
allegiance to a group-based identity; all but two of the jurors were black. Here it must be said that
the actual case and it outcome are pretty insignificant--except for the handful of people directly
involved. It is how the issue that this case created played out in the popular culture where the
interest lies. That is were the conspiracy theories flourished; film of students at Howard University
leaping for joy upon hearing the verdict demonstrated the view of the mainstream of the African-
American community. One of their own was being attacked, so they had to take his side. There is a
belief among many blacks that a conspiracy exists whose purpose is to “bring down” prominent black
men. Because such a high-profile media event involved the question of a black man’s guilt or
innocence in a crime, it was seen in terms of the black community’s overall image to the broader
society, an image stereotyped as “criminal”. So to resist the stereotype of blacks as criminals is to
resist the probability that O.J. is guilty--and to be black is to resist stereotypes about blacks. It’s
identity politics vs. truth.
An extremely important principle is the willingness to put things in their proper perspective when
making judgments. In fact, the actual verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial is insignificant other than to
that handful of people directly involved (although it did have some interesting implications in terms of
racial politics). But when it comes to putting a broad worldview into perspective, the place to start is
obviously the origin of this world. What follows is an interpretation--in brief--of the conventional
scientific view of natural history, were it to be condensed down to a few pages:
Complex systems are based on simple elements which, when combined to interact in a
predictable way, can be made to perform a task--a task which makes the system an element in a
larger, more complex system and so on. The task of creating the universe was predicated upon
some deceptively simple elements: space, time, and matter it the form a singularity--a point of matter
of infinite density--the “cosmic egg”. It then exploded in a singular, unrestrained emission about 10-
15 billion years ago. The Big Bang sent matter and energy hurtling through space, interacting in a
vast chain reaction capable of producing the complexity we see today (nobody knows what
happened before the Big Bang; it is here that we draw the line between a probable truth and the
complete unknown). At first, all the matter in the universe was hydrogen, the simplest form of matter,
each atom being a single proton orbited by a single electron. Vast clouds of hydrogen formed into
what would become galaxies. Within these clouds, smaller amounts of gas coalesced into great,
dense spheres to form stars. When sufficient mass was attained, the gravitational pressure ignited
a nuclear fusion reaction within each star. Fusion releases tremendous amounts of energy (E =
mc2), giving stars their characteristic light and heat, and it also produces higher stages of matter.
Two hydrogen atoms fuse to form an atom of helium, three helium atoms fuse to form an atom of
carbon and so on. So it is within the heat and pressure of stellar furnaces that all the familiar
elements of matter came into existence. A star lives for a few billion years, then collapses or
explodes, finally releasing the new, more complex matter back into space.
Needless to say, there was no life in the universe during this first stellar generation. There were no
planets either, other than gas giants or "brown dwarfs", would-be stars that lacked the mass to ignite
the fusion reaction. There were no rocky worlds like the Earth until such materials became available
during subsequent generations of star formation. So the purpose of the first several billion years of
the history of the Universe was to create a diversity of matter from which more complex structures
could be formed. Eventually, a new star was born amid the clouds of gas and dust and meteoroids
in the swirling whirlpool that was the forming solar system. Much of the stuff that was not swept up
by the gravitational pull of the new star formed into smaller bodies in orbit around the main center of
gravity, major ones becoming planets. The distance from the star would influence the size of these
objects, the mixture of substances in their composition, and the overall conditions which would
prevail after their formation was complete (especially the surface tempurature).
Astronomers and biologists are optimistic about the chances of life emerging on worlds with a wide
variety of surface conditions. Perhaps there are strange and wonderful creatures living on planets
which are large and gaseous, or very cold and icy, or hot and dry. Maybe there are extraterrestrials
whose biology is based on chemicals we would consider toxic. Planets with oceans of liquid
ammonia or methane have long been considered by astronomers to be prime candidates for
developing such alternative ecosystems. However, when it comes to planetary conditions ideally
suited for life, it's tough to beat the kind found on good ol' Planet Earth. We have plenty of water--
an ideal medium--and we're just the right distance from our star for it to remain liquid most of the
time. We have moderate gravity and a moderately dense atmosphere of inert nitrogen and just the
right amount of oxygen. We also have a strong magnetic field surrounding the planet, which
deflects harmful cosmic rays, and a layer of ozone in the atmosphere, which keeps out a lot of the
sun's ultraviolet radiation. It is quite probable that many of the life-bearing planets in the universe
do indeed have very Earth-like conditions and a failure to achieve this delicate mix probably results
in a dead world. So the vast majority of stars either have no planets at all or have only dead ones.
The odds of a living planet developing around a given star are billions to one, but there are billions
of stars. It’s as though the vastness of the universe was intended to provide the scale necessary for
the forces of randomization to produce a modest number of life-bearing worlds.
Anyway, once the Earth cooled and the oceans formed, living things came into existence.
Somehow. The study of how living matter might first have arose is called abiogenesis and is distinct
from evolution. Evolution takes the existence of the first living cells as a given and seeks to describe
the process of change over time. All terrestrial life is based on DNA, which is a complex molecule
shaped like a twisted ladder. The DNA ladder "unzips" and both strands of the split attract
molecules to form new "rungs" and "siderails", forming two complete strands which then divide in
turn. Each rung is made from any two of four different molecules, called "nucleotides" which
provides a four-letter alphabet with which the DNA--as a "gene"--can store information. The first
strand of DNA came into existence about 2.5 billion years ago, but one knows exactly how. It’s
possible that random mixing of chemicals spontaneously produced this self-replicating molecule--it
had 2 billion years to do so after all--but there are other possibilities.
Now, in order to sustain a DNA reaction, it must take place in a perfectly stable environment. Be it in
an isolated pool of rain or seawater or moist clay deposits, the mix of chemicals must be perfect.
Nutrients must be present and toxins must be absent. Contact with a stray molecule with a strong
electro-chemical charge could destroy the DNA strand and end the reaction. In order to survive in
the ocean, a generic strand must surround itself with a membrane with a charge of its own, one
which will repel any toxic substances and absorb any beneficial ones, thus preserving that perfect
environment surrounding the genetic nucleus. Now our little creatures can safely reproduce while
getting tossed about in the molecular soup of the ocean
So here we have the first cells, and indeed cells are the basic unit of all living organisms. The basic
characteristics of the cell have been preserved even as the size and complexity of creatures
progressed out of all recognition. The fact that the first living things were one-celled brings us back
to that simplicity of singularity. Before more complex multi-celled designs could be attempted, single
celled creatures served as test beds to perfect various functions. Simple creatures developed the
ability to move by using whip-like tails or multiple tiny flagella or by pulsating their entire little body to
scoot about. Some learned to recognize different substances they encountered by analyzing the
chemical reactions when different chemicals impacted their outer membranes--the forerunner of the
senses of taste and smell. Others had a small amount of the compound chlorophyll that enabled
them to convert sunlight to energy. This of course led to the entire plant kingdom, but some of
these one-celled proto-plants had animal characteristics as well.
Occasionally when cell division occurred, they didn't go their separate ways but remained linked.
Whole clusters of cells sometimes formed this way, but if a cell were cut off from nutrients in the
water by its siblings, it would die. Any multi-cellular structure must allow each cell access to
nutrients. One promising direction is for a colony to form itself into a tube shape. Water could carry
nutrients into one end and carry waste chemicals out the other. This formed the basis for blood and
digestive systems. A sponge remains an example of a cell colony circulating throughout via a
complex tube structure, but the straight tube arrangement had potential as well. A larger front
opening could bring larger bits of organic material inside where secreted chemicals could break
them down to be absorbed. Different cells elsewhere, such as on the outer skin, could absorb
oxygen from the water. If organisms could evolve specialized cells and cell structures, then thick
layers of tissue could form and new functions could develop, just so long as there are always
internal vessels to carry nutrients to every cell in the body.
Specialized cells such as muscle cells, blood cells, various structural cells, nerve cells, and
reproductive cells enabled systems such as muscular, digestive, vascular, nervous, reproductive,
and sensory to form. Even a creature as simple as a worm has a complex set of organs and
systems. The emergence of segmented worms provided another breakthrough for these were the
first creatures with a central nervous system. These gave rise to the subkingdom (phylum) of
chordates, characterized by having a spinal cord, including lancelets, tunicates (whatever the heck
they are), and vertebrates.
Meanwhile, plants, with the ability to convert sunlight to energy, could flourish with simpler designs
and spread rapidly across the face of the Earth. Plants were, of course, the first living things to
colonize the land. This enabled a major planetary transformation to take place. Plants absorb
carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. There was little O2 in the atmosphere until the proliferation of
plants brought it to the level necessary for the evolution or animals to continue. It is also worth
noting that, although vertebrates were to take center stage in the course of evolution, invertebrates
such as mollusks, arthropods (insects and crustaceans) and innumerable microorganisms continued
to exist. They continued to evolve as well, although there was less of the relentless forward
progress that vertebrates would display.
Indeed, there seems at all times to have been a core group of species whose descendants were
destined for greatness while other successful designs were veering off into their niche in the
ecosystem, undergoing only minor adaptations as the eons passed.
At times evolution seems to be focused on the radical transformation of a single species into a new
and advanced form, at others the proliferation of that new prototype into diverse forms of similar
complexity. Thus, once advanced worms developed into vertebrates and then true fishes, fish types
proliferated (first cartilaginous then bony). Then a few types of fish developed primitive limbs and
lungs and evolved into amphibians that, once again, rapidly diversified to fill all the ecological niches
the land had to offer. The same thing happened yet again when some amphibians evolved into
reptiles, but here there were a few twists. An interesting early reptile known as dimetredon, familiar
as the "sail backed" lizard, was not in fact a dinosaur as is often assumed. Dimetredon was another
test bed, used for experiments in regulating blood temperature. The skin surrounding the "sail"
contained blood vessels and functioned as a solar panel. This enabled dimetredon to become
active earlier in the day than it's conventional cold blooded counterparts, who therefore provided
ample food for the ravenous new lizard. Having all these sluggish sleepyheads to munch on gave
dimetredon what might be considered "investment capital" to develop the internal physiology needed
for full-time warm bloodedness. Thus arose the line of mammal-like reptiles or "proto-mammals" and
some of them were quite ferocious.
But they weren't dinosaurs. All this was taking place during the Triassic period, and by the time the
proto-mammals had evolved into true mammals the dinosaurs themselves had emerged. This raises
some interesting questions. Why did dinosaurs take over when mammals were so clearly superior?
Dinosaurs evolved rapidly from a particular strain of reptiles, increasing in size as well as diversifying
into a multitude of species. Plant eating dinosaurs led the size race--bulking up to more easily
digest tropical forests--while carnivorous followed with the size needed to prey on the big
herbivores. The early mammals were carnivorous as well, but their physiology must have been too
complex to evolve rapid size increases. As a result they could not compete in the daylight monster
battles and were pushed in the opposite direction, becoming small and nocturnal. But if we are to
continue supposing that a higher intelligence was guiding the course of evolution we will need to
speculate wildly to explain events. After all, dinosaurs utterly dominated the land for 140 million
years, while the supposedly favored mammals remained in the shadows, developing in subtle ways
while biding their time.
Natural selection remains in force at all times. Designs that are successful become the basis for
further radical change. Competition for ecological niches was real and vigorous, but during the
Jurassic period, a major design breakthrough occurred. A certain species of small dinosaur (they
didn't all get huge) that most likely made it's living climbing up trees or rocks and leaping after flying
insects, discovered aerodynamic lift. Scales on its forelimbs and tail were gradually becoming
elongated and spiny, and may have had an effect on body temperature as the species evolved
warm-bloodedness, but it also enhanced its jumping-after-bugs performance. But it was only when
its scales had become delicate and specialized indeed was the apparent goal of the project become
realized: Feathers. Flight. The first birds. There were already flying reptiles as we all know
(technically they were not true dinosaurs) but the limits on their performance had been reached.
However they may have provided a lot of test data in aerodynamics for the bird project. Even so,
plenty of testing must have gone on, the prototypes probably remaining a small, localized
population, before the first "production model" went out and began colonizing. Archaeopteryx and
its descendants proved extremely successful and spread across the planet, diversifying greatly. But
despite being a major advance capable of opening up whole new environments, their potential to
become truly dominant and/or intelligent was severely limited by the over-specialization of flight
anatomy. They could not grow large brains and their forelimbs became useless for anything but
flying and sometimes lost even that.
Still, the world is greatly enriched by the creation of birds, their benign presence being much more
appealing than that of its monstrous relatives. For the dinosaurs, being bulky or ferocious didn't
lend itself to the development of intelligence, but they hindered the potential of mammals as well as
other reptiles. It was as though the world was overrun by demons. Thus it seem particularly
miraculous that around 60 million years ago an asteroid came and wiped the dinosaurs out.
Evidence is piling up that such a impact occurred at about that time on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula
and this kicked up enough dust to darken the sun, causing one of the greatest mass extinctions--not
just for the dinosaurs--in Earth’s history. Perhaps God did shoot the Earth with an asteroid to kill the
dinosaurs and clear the way for the evolution of mammals. That’s a pretty blunt object. Then again,
maybe God did not want the disaster to happen but was powerless to stop it! The laws of
conservation of matter and conservation of angular momentum and gravitational motion makes it
very problematic for even a supreme being to create a complex object out of nothing or divert one
from its gravitational trajectory. The sheer volume of impacts over the long term as evidenced by
the extensive cratering of the other rocky worlds in the Solar System would indicate that the
Cretaceous impact was most likely a random event.
But if supernatural intervention is unnecessary and contrary to what is apparent in governing the
behavior of large bodies, the same cannot perhaps not be said of the changes in the genetic code
that produce the mutations which drive evolutionary change. Perhaps God or whatever higher
being you would have has been programming the incremental upgrades in the DNA of localized test
populations before their being released for mass production, so to speak. Research and
development. The realm in which the smallest particles of matter operate is mysterious enough that
it is there where we can find room to postulate that a dimension-spanning higher intelligence in
engaged in direct manipulation. Divine intervention on a sub-atomic level, is all it elegant minutiae.
On a macro scale, maybe the creation of the Cosmic Egg and the instigation of the Big Bang way by
this same higher power, or maybe this was a power that exists on a completely different “level” as
the one(s) programming the evolutionary process. At any rate, this is called “God of the Gaps”
thinking and is frowned upon in science. It”s important to respect the commitment to strict naturalism
in formal scientific inquiry, but the layman is free to speculate. If God exists and is operating within
the Universe, the gaps are the only place where He might be found.
There is a movement gaining ground lately whose advocates promote the possibility of intelligent
design in the creation of life. They have presented mathematical models and other research that
casts doubt on the idea that life arose and evolved into all its present forms completely
spontaneously and randomly. They are suggesting—as I sort of am—that that an intelligent power
may be behind all the complexity that makes up living things. But the trouble with ID as it’s being
presented is that it’s totally vague. Proponents say that students should be exposed to “alternate
theories” to evolution, but even if we cut them a lot of slack on the scientific definition of a “theory”,
they’re still not telling us enough about what it is and where it fits in with the rest of science. There
are proposals before a number of state and local school boards to insert a 1-paragraph disclaimer
in the biology curriculum suggesting intelligent design, but without any broader natural history
context, that amounts to giving students a lank check or a wild card to disregard whatever they
please and to fill in the blanks in accordance with their own beliefs. I can think of a number of
possible scenarios that ID proponents should clarify their position on before going any further:
The Earth is 6,000 to 10,000 years old and all species were specially created at that time.
A smaller number of “proto-species” were specially created 6,000 years ago and those that survived
Noah’s Ark “micro-evolved” over the last 4-5,000 years to their present forms.
The Earth is billions of years old, but each species (or proto-species) was created separately over
the course of that time-frame.
The Earth is billions of years old, and all living things evolved except humans, who were specially
created 6-10,000 years ago, and remains of human ancestors are either advanced apes or
descendants of Adam and Eve.
All life evolved, but the first bit of DNA and the incremental genetic mutations were intelligently
ID either mainly concurs with conventional science, and merely quibbles within a narrow, murky
area, as do I, or it radically and dogmatically dismisses a great many of the robust conclusions of
science. This vagueness as to where their point fits in with the rest of science stands science on its
head, and yet ID proponents want it taught in schools as science. To do science you start by
making the simple observations and answering the easy questions, then proceed to tackle the more
difficult ones, building a base of knowledge and eliminating false impressions as you go. To do
politics, you start with a policy goal and proceed to strengthen its support by broadening its appeal,
even if that requires being vague, manipulative, and two-faced. (I’m doing
The knowable universe is like a foundation for a building. It’s unalterably real, with an
absolutely precise size and shape. Spiritual beliefs are like designs for the building to go atop the
foundation. What constitutes the proper windows and spires and cornices and other cosmetic
details is open to interpretation--our house of faith, so to speak. But at its very base it must fit the
foundation exactly; any blueprint--any belief system—that does not is quite simply invalid. Now then,
science is the process of measuring and describing that foundation; it is not perfect since the
foundation is so elaborate in all its detail, but it’s close and getting closer a little bit every day. As
knowledge of the facts changes, what you believe must change along with it.
The ancients believed that the Earth was flat and didn’t extend much more than a thousand
miles in any direction. When a story made the rounds that long ago a flood covered the world and
killed everything except a particular man’s family and all the animals they could gather onto a great
boat, from which all living today are descended, there was nothing apparent that made the story
unbelievable. But later we discovered that the world was round and consisted of a number of
continents with varied populations scattered across wide oceans. After the flood, how did the
animals manage to distribute themselves across the globe, for example the warm-climate creatures
of South America? Of course, there are millions of species, so they couldn’t possibly have all fit
onto Noah’s Ark and been kept fed. Perhaps a small number of species were on the Ark and their
descendants rapidly evolved into the present diversity, right? Same deal with the human
populations. But there’s ample archaeological evidence that various ancient civilizations were in
existence at the time Noah’s flood supposedly took place, about 3000 B.C. The Egyptians, for
example, were building the pyramids at about this time.
So the biblical story of Noah’s Ark couldn’t be true. So what? We shouldn’t have to belabor the
point. Archeological evidence also suggests that the story is based on similar, older tales from
ancient Sumeria. It’s possible that a great flood did devastate that region long ago and a man
managed to float his family and livestock to safety (others have postulated that it was the sudden
expansion of the Black Sea around xxxx BCE). Who knows, maybe he did indeed have a psychic
premonition of the coming disaster, which would give the story it’s spiritual dimension. But it’s one
thing to postulate a real-life basis for what, upon centuries of re-telling, became a tall tale, and quite
another to insist that said tall tale is a completely true and reliable account of the origin of our
World. Another claim made in the story of Noah’s Ark is that the rainbow appeared for the first time,
symbolizing God’s promise not to bring about such a disaster again. But we all know that rainbows
are caused by the refraction of sunlight through masses of water droplets in the lower atmosphere.
So in order for this one small biblical passage to be true, a massive alteration in the physics of light
would had to have occurred just 5000 years ago. Astronomers place a great deal of stock in the
behavior of light spectrums, using them to determine the chemical composition of stars as well as
using the “red shift” to calculate the speed at which distant bodies recede. But to defend a literal
interpretation of the Bible, some have claimed that the light we see from any star more than 6000
light years away was created artificially by God and so isn’t really from that star.
This is part of the “appearance of age” school of Young Earth Creationism, which argues that God
created the Earth and the Universe to look like they were billions of years old, to test our faith in the
Bible or something. Another school of YEC is “anti-uniformitarianism”, which holds that the speed of
light along with things like the rate of geologic erosion and continental drift were once much, much
faster than today, so that billions of years of changes took only a couple thousand. In other words,
they reject the notion that such scientific constants have remained uniform throughout history. Yet
another school is “catastrophism”, which holds that all rock strata and geologic formations resulted
from the tumults of Noah’s Flood (but this ignores the astronomical distance problem; after all the
Universe didn’t flood). Then you get hybrid arguments like Old Earth Creationism, which accepts
that the Earth is very ancient and--according to one brand anyway--animals did evolve as read, but
still Adam and Eve were created while other hominids—including Neanderthals--are extinct apes.
Biblical literacy’s escape hatch here is the claim that the six “days” in Genesis were not 24-hour
days but periods of time whose length is unknown but conveniently just the right length for seven of
them to span whatever the age of the Universe turns out to be. Come on. Why would a word that
has only one understood meaning as a time measurement be used in a radically different sense that
is understood by no one? Counting from the Big Bang, a biblical “day” would have to be close to 2
billion years, so God created Adam and Eve more than that long ago and then did nothing for one
full “day”? You’d think they’d get their story straight; it is very telling that there is little debate
between these radically different creationist models. They’re not really interested in getting at the
Science is not about providing people with a variety of explanations so they can select one that
conforms to their beliefs. Science weeds out the explanations which are contradicted by the
evidence, leaving behind those which are not. Needless to say, space does not permit a thorough
presentation of all the evidence refuting the various claims of creationism, but it’s available in
limitless quantity from the world of science in any level of detail you would require in challenging it. (I’
m not going to recommend a lot of websites in this book, but TalkOrigins.com is your one-stop shop
for all things evolution.) There are truly scads of evidence that the Earth is more than 6000 years
old. One small but vivid example is found in ice core samples drilled from the icecap of Greenland.
Each thin layer represents an annual cycle of snowfall and melt, with a slight accumulation of dust
thrown in. Layers corresponding with certain years show distinct layers dust which came from
certain volcanic eruptions, many in nearby Iceland, but the layer from 79 A.D. clearly shows dust
from the eruption of faraway Mt. Vesuvius. The dust from the Icelandic eruptions can be matched to
layers of ash deposits sandwiched between normal soil accumulations. Excavations show these
going back tens of thousands of years, with the ash deposits from the last thousand years being
further corroborated by accounts of volcanoes in the island’s historical chronicles. So we have 3-
way reinforcement of the accuracy of our yardstick, which shows ice layers going back 120,000
years with uninterrupted uniformity--no time compression scenario is possible. That’s well outside
the bounds of Young Earth Creationism, but just a few ticks of the clock in geologic time, because of
course ice strata does not stick around forever, unlike rock strata.
It is in the vast scope of the rocks of the Earth’s crust and the story they tell that we find the most
compelling case for and Old Earth and evolution. The oldest and deepest layers naturally are
igneous rocks from when the planet’s molten surface first cooled. Above that you’ll find layers of
sedimentary rock, which began as accumulations of surface dust or ocean sediment and turned to
stone after a million or more years of pressure from the stuff piled on top. Once exposed, the rocks
can tell geologists a great deal about the environment that existed when they were laid down, be it
ocean floor, desert, forest, or whatever. Coal, as we know, is left over from a period of dense
vegetation in certain swampy areas. If a layer of strata is capped by a layer of completely different
sedimentary rock, we know that the environment there had changed radically--the sea floor lifted
above the surface, a desert invaded a forest, an area was flooded by a lake. The composition and
consistency of the rock matrix are determined by the environment conditions, but so are the fossils
found therein. “Flood Geology” tries to argue that the sedimentary strata were all laid down during
the Noachian Flood and the differing layers are the result of “hydrological sorting”, but this is quite
impossible. For one thing, it takes more than a few thousand years to turn mud into rock or bones
into fossils, for another, there are in many places alternating layers of sedimentary and igneous
rock, and mud obviously cannot penetrate solid layer of igneous rock. And besides, the sediment
and fossils are not distributed in the strata in a densest-to-least-dense pattern--they are distributed
in a pattern that reflects an Old Earth and evolution. The deepest layers contain fossils of only the
most primitive forms of life, while subsequent layers include fossils of species that came along later.
Of course, fossils of different living things in the same layer would be consistent with those you
would expect to find in a particular type of environment.
And yes, there are transitional fossils, those that clearly mark an evolutionary halfway point
between two radically different kinds of life forms. One of most famous being archaeopteryx, the
fossil of which has bones that are identical to a known type of dinosaur but which shows distinct
impressions of feather, indicating that it was a bird and could fly--and that birds are evolved from
dinosaurs. Also well known is the succession of skeletons from extinct North American horses--
which went from smallish five-toed creatures to large one-hoofed ones with intermediate species
having outer toes which dangled uselessly. And the evolution of whales is well-documented in the
fossil record as well, there being no large gaps in the progression from bearlike land mammal to
ocean going creature with hindlimbs becoming increasingly vestigial, but never disappearing
completely. Vestigial bones are present in many other animals, from snakes to flightless birds to
humans with our tailbone. (The human appendix and tendency to have a bad back are also left over
Indeed, for all their tremendous variation in size and shape, all mammals have the same number of
bones in their bodies. Apparently, it is easier for evolution to change bones’ the size and shape
than to make them appear and disappear. This fact helps question the highly questionable
creationist argument that there may have been “microevolution” but that there is no such thing as
“macroevolution”. This is a concession that evolution may have occurred within the various
unspecified “kinds” of living things, while still denying that one “kind” of life can evolve into another.
No competent biologist accepts this distinction, and the uniform number of bones among mammals
(along with all the other similarities) indicates that on one level they--we--are all the same “kind”.
Besides, under the Young Earth model, post-Noah’s Ark “micro” evolution would had to have
occurred at a much faster rate than paleontologists, archaeologists, or anthropologists would agree
to. The considerable variation of racial features among homo sapiens as we’re distributed across
the globe is by no means the most significant given that whole species within genus are held to have
emerged within that time frame.
Archaeological remains of modern humans dating back at least tens of thousands of years have
been found all over the World. We know this because researchers can measure the density of the
radioactive isotope carbon-14 in organic material such as bone or wood and compare it with the
known amount from when the specimen was alive. It deteriorates at a specific rate called the half-life
and this acts as a clock which allows us to measure the age of these kinds of artifacts. But some
people have decided that complicated kinds of evidence like this can be disregarded at will.
Likewise, it would seem, for the most compelling kind of evidence for evolution, which is that
obtained through DNA mapping. Researchers can tell how closely related any two living things--
including a lot of extinct ones--are to each other. The resulting pattern largely parallels the familiar
“tree of life” derived from comparative anatomy--with a few inevitable surprises. Just for starters we
can see how closely related humans are to chimpanzees (95%), gorillas, and all the other primates
as well as various extinct hominids including homo erectus and homo neandertalensis, i.e.
Neanderthals. The latter in particular can in no way be considered a large ape in that they left
behind evidence of a fairly sophisticated culture, and the DNA evidence shows they split off from
modern humans about 600,000 years ago. Just as interesting is the recent finding by
paleoanthropologists studying “mitochondrial’ DNA that all modern humans are apparently
descended from a single female who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago. Some religious
leaders were quick to seize on that (even as they are just as quick to dismiss DNA evidence they
don’t agree with) and to suggest that this was Eve. It was indeed dubbed the “Eve Hypothesis” by its
supporters, but make no mistake: There were certainly plenty of other humans living at that time,
which is It’s just that the progeny of this proto-Eve were completely successful in supplanting or
interbreeding with other groups of humans as they spread across the globe.
One final piece of evidence comes from certain American Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest.
Some of their traditional lore dates back to the Ice Age, when the sea levels were lower, which would
be about 12,000 years ago. A particular island off the coast is spoken of as a hill, and so on. There’
s little room for the Ice Age in Biblical creationism, but get this: Many of these Native American
cultures deny that their ancestors came to North America across the Bering Strait land bridge and
instead insist that they were created separately in place on the continent. Are we to therefore
accept as true a hodge-podge of differing creation myths? That would amount to cultural relativism
and we’re not into cultural relativism around here. We’re into truth.