by (Revd John P Richardson)
Let me make this clear. Although all Christians believe in a creator God, I am not a ‘six-day’ creationist. Since the days of Augustine of Hippo (4th/5th century AD), there have been those who read the text of Genesis as indicating something other than a world coming into being over six twenty-four hour periods. So I’m in relatively orthodox company. Nor am I in principle ‘anti-evolution’.
BUT, given what a hotbed of debate the subject is, I can’t help noticing there’s some very bad things being said out there about the evolution — what I call ‘bad evolution’ — and there’s a classic on today’s BBC News website.
The link from the front page is titled, “Why zebras evolved their stripes”. Well, that’s wrong for a start. There is no ‘why’ about evolution, because evolution (at least as currently proposed) does not take place in order to do anything. Rather, changes happen (rather like other stuff) and there are consequences in terms of survival rates, and that’s evolution.
It is rather like me discovering a better way the other day to set up my e-mail. It was entirely accidental. I had no idea I was doing anything different, but the outcome was very satisfactory. That is how I have now set up the e-mail on both my computers. I have ‘evolved’, but there was no ‘why’ about me making the initial change. It happened accidentally, and I selected it. Understood?
‘Bad evolution’, however, is shot-through with ‘why’ and ‘in order to’ statements. So the actual headline continues in the same vein: “Zebra stripes evolved to keep biting flies at bay”.
Oh no they didn’t. They may have had the effect of keeping biting flies at bay, but that was entirely fortuitous. The weasel word here is ‘to’. It is like saying, “I changed my computer configuration ‘to’ make my e-mail more efficient.” No I didn’t. I changed it (accidentally) and it had that it effect. There was no purposeful ‘to’.
But the report continues in the same vein (I’ve left out the paragraph breaks): “Why zebras evolved their characteristic black-and-white stripes has been the subject of decades of debate among scientists. Now researchers from Hungary and Sweden claim to have solved the mystery. The stripes, they say, came about tokeep away blood-sucking flies.”
Once again, no. Evolutionary theory dictates that the stripes just came about, but were perpetuated because the stripier a zebra, the more its chances of breeding, compared with less-stripy zebras.
Why do I make this point? Because loose talk like the above gives completely the wrong impression about evolution — that somehow it is a ‘force’ driving change towards goals. It is NOT. There is no ‘in order to’, and giving the general public the opposite impression is bad science — and ‘bad evolution’.