Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Evolution as a Property of the Universe

Lead: Kate Dusinberre & Andy Russell


Summary by Robert DiFabio:


This discussion focused on evolution and creationism. The discussion began with Andy describing how evolution not only relates to life, but to the formation of the universe. Like the evolution of life, the formation of the universe came about over a long period of time. It started with the big bang and developed into stars, galaxies, etc. Evolution applies not only to life, but to the universe as well.

Andy then defended the creationists’ beliefs. He said that we as scientists may be somewhat biased against the creationists’ beliefs, because science depends on evidence and there is no scientific evidence to back up the creationists’ belief. He also explained that the reason creationists may defend their position so adamantly is that they feel their beliefs are under attack.Tom then posed the question: What does it mean to lose a second? And he continued by talking about different explanations of ‘time.’ For Newton’s understanding ‘time’ is independent of anythingeverything. It keeps passing no matter what happens on Earth. Others argue that ‘time’ is interdependent with everything. There is always change in everything, and time is dependent on these changes. If all changes stop (brain activities, work, school, etc) then time will stop too.

We then began to discuss how it is possible for science and religion to co-exist. Science and religion tend to answer different questions. Science describes how things happen, while religion and philosophy tend to describe why things happen. We discussed that we may need both to try to understand the formation and evolution of life and why these events happened. We also discussed that the theory of evolution does not try to prove that there is no God. This misconception may be why some of the creationists are so strongly opposed to the theory of evolution; their arguments seem to be based on a lack of understanding of the theory.

Professor Moebius then explained that in science, we try to come up with a model and test it. The only way to test a theory is to observe and experiment and try to find evidence that supports the model or theory or that invalidates it. A scientific theory needs to be tested. This is a key difference between scientific theory and religious beliefs.

After discussing the difference between science and religion, a student had a question about evolution, survival of the fittest, and advancement. He mentioned that not every step in evolution is advancement. As an example, he described how plants and bees depend on one another. If one of those species were to become extinct, then the other would not be able to survive. As these two different species evolve they will continue to depend on each other and that could not be considered advancing. Professor Davis then mentioned that there was a misconception about evolution and advancement. He said that there is no planning or foresight in evolution. Evolution does not have to be a certain design or plan, and that every step does not necessarily have to be advancement.

Professor Whittier then made a few points. First he said that if evolution is an intelligent design, then a designer must exist. He explained that Darwin was a deist, which is a belief that God created life and then withdrew. He then explained how Darwin’s theory of evolution may be somewhat pro-religious. If God created life and then withdrew, he could not be blamed for all of the problems in the world. Therefore, God could still be described as perfect even though the world is clearly not perfect. Professor Whittier then asked whether or not the observation of mutations was enough to support the theory of evolution.

The first point made by Professor Whittier was addressed first. Professor Davis pointed out that God does not necessarily have to be perfect. It is possible to have a designer that is not perfect. As an example, Andy mentioned that the Greek God Zeus was not perfect and had certain flaws. We also discussed that God himself could be evolving. Therefore, if God was evolving and advancing, then He couldn’t be perfect.

Then the class discussed about what happens to twin boys when one stays on earth and the other goes off to the Universe, but when he returns he finds that his twin brother is much older than he is. Did the twin who went off to the Universe stop time? – No, he did not stop the time. As he gets closer to the speed of light for him seems normal, but when he compares his clock to someone’s clock on earth, he realizes that time for him is slowing down. So it is possible to measure the different flow of time, and this has been tested. , but this is only a theory. However, iIt is impossible to accelerate close to speed of light, because you need as much mass as energy.

Next we addressed the question asked by Professor Whittier earlier in the discussion: could the random mutations occur fast enough to support the theory of evolution? Are the random processes sufficient to create the variation of different organisms and propel the various changes? Professor Davis provided some examples of different organisms changing in order to back up the theory of evolution. First he mentioned that some bacteria have been shown to evolve and change in response to different environments. He also pointed out that some plants may suddenly double the amount of chromosomes. These are two examples that support the theory of evolution and suggest that it may be possible for the random mutations to create the variations among different organisms.

The next part of our discussion was discussing whether or not creationism should be taught in schools. It was first pointed out that creationism should not be taught in science class, since it is not a scientific problem. It cannot be tested by experiment or observation. Some agreed that teaching creationism may be more suitable for a social studies class. Professor Whittier then made the point that even if evolution is wrong it still may be useful to teach it in school. The reason for this is that evolution is still a scientific model, and it can describe some aspects about the formation of life.

Our discussion shifted to talking about some of the problems in the debate between creationists and the theory of evolution. The first problem was that some people cannot accept that their opinion may be wrong. In other words, there are some people on both sides of the argument who may be close minded and not look at both sides of the argument. Another problem that was brought up was that there are not many places where this debate can happen in schools. It was mentioned earlier that creationism was not a scientific model and should not be taught in a science class, while evolution is only suitable to be taught in a science class. Therefore, with the exception of philosophy or a few other subjects, there is not a particular class where both creationism can be discussed and debated. This concluded our discussion on evolution and creationism.