1. Facts and theories
There’s a lot of conflicting information about both science and the Bible. It will help us find the most useful information if we distinguish between two different fundamentalideas. Firstly we need to think about observable facts. Then we need to think abouttheories.
An observable fact is something that can be proved beyond doubt. These observable facts are tangible, measurable and repeatable. They can be felt through our senses and can be experienced first hand if necessary. Gravity is a good example of an observable fact. We all experience the effects of gravity every day of our lives. Whenever we drop anything it always falls to the ground. Whenever we throw a ball into the air it always falls back to us. Scientists have done experiments and understand gravity enough to launch rockets into space and put satellites into orbit around the earth. So gravity is real and it can be experienced and measured. It is an observable fact.
A scientist then creates a theory about something he wants to look at in a little more detail. This will be based on a set of assumptions. This theory should be the best explanation of the observable facts. He could, for example, have a theory that gravity acts upwards. It would be obvious to anyone that this does not fit the observable facts. Such a claim would be ignored.
But sometimes we have no way of knowing whether the assumptions used in a theory are right. This is often the case when considering what happened in the past. We can’tdo experiments to test the theory and check the assumptions.
So it is important that we know what can be proved and what is only a theory thatwe can’t prove.
We want to look quickly at a couple of examples where theories which lacked vital factswere trusted. The consequences were terrible.
Trusting unproven theories
In mid-nineteenth-century England,some public-health authorities believed the “miasma” theory. This theory said that diseases were caused by a poisonous vapour known as “miasma”.
In the same era, some doctors accepted the “dyscrasia” theory, which said that disease was caused by an imbalance in the body’s temperament.
People did their best with their limited knowledge. They were unaware that they lacked vital information about viruses and bacteria.They trusted theories that were not based on all the facts. They saw no problem in drinking water that had been contaminated with sewage. The result was that tens of thousands of people died in the four cholera epidemics that broke out in England between 1831 and 1854.
Nor did they see a problem in a doctor or nurse moving from a dead body to a living one without washing their hands in between. So, up to one in three women died in hospital giving birth to children. Many women preferred to give birth in the street rather than go to hospital.
Countless people died because these theories lacked vital facts. These two examples show that we need all the facts to come up with a correct theory. They also show us that we may not realise that we don’t have all the facts.
- We can verify scientific facts. Facts are things we can repeat,touch, see and handle.
- Scientists create theories by looking at the observable facts andmaking assumptions to explain what has happened.
- A theory should be the best explanation of the facts.
- Lack of vital facts can result in wrong theories which can haveterrible consequences.
Now that we understand the difference between facts and theories, let’s see what thismeans for the “Big Bang” and evolution theories.
2. The theories of the “Big Bang” and Evolution
The observable facts of the “Big Bang” theory
When people use modern telescopes tolook at distant galaxies they find that the light looks slightly different from sunlight.The simplest way we can describe this difference is to say that the light from distant galaxies looks slightly red. Hence this observation is known as the“red shift”.
When we look out into outer space using a telescope already in space, we detect radiation known as cosmic microwave background radiation.
This fact involves the elements in the universe – things like hydrogen and helium,oxygen, nitrogen, carbon and so on. Scientists have noticed that the universe contains mainly elements that are light in weight. The lightest elements, hydrogen and helium,are by far the most common elements in the detectable universe.
The fourth fact that is often mentioned is the fact that galaxies seem evenly spreadthrough space. It does not matter in which direction we look, the spread of galaxieslooks basically the same.
These are the four observable facts on which the "Big Bang" theory is based.
The development of the “Big Bang” theory
It was the first of these observable facts that originally made scientists develop the “BigBang” theory.
Scientists believe that the “red shift” in light coming from space indicates that the lightsource is moving away from us. This would mean that the universe is expanding.
The other observable facts we have looked at are also consistent with the idea that theuniverse started with an explosion and is expanding in all directions.
• The background radiation that we detect is considered to be the remains of the“Big Bang” explosion.
• The “Big Bang” theory predicts that the lightest elements would be produced first,the heavier elements being built up from them.
• Scientists also realised that the galaxies will be evenly distributed through space if the universe is expanding in all directions following the “Big Bang”.
Scientists then make the following assumptions:
• nothing has ever happened to change the physical laws that we know today.
• these laws are consistent and the same throughout the whole of the universe.
• the red shift is caused by the light source moving away from us.
Using these three assumptions, together with our four observable facts, it becomes obvious that if our universe is expanding, then, if we roll back time, everything can betraced back to a single point in space time from which it all started. And that is what iscalled the “Big Bang”.
The “Big Bang” – fact or theory?
We must remember that this theory is basedon what we can see today. No one knowswhat information modern telescopes wouldhave given us thousands or millions of years ago. We must also remember that we cannot do any experiments to prove that the red shiftis caused by the light source moving away from us
We can see that, contrary to the impressionyou may already have, there are not manyfacts that support the “Big Bang” theory. The few facts we do have support the theory ifwe accept the assumptions that we cannot prove. Scientists are doing their best withthe available information. But, like the miasma and dyscrasia theories we looked atearlier, we may be missing some important information.
The “Big Bang” must remain an interesting theory and cannot be regarded as fact.
The observable facts of the theory of evolution
We saw earlier that a theory should be the best explanation of thefacts we see around us. The theory of evolution talks aboutgradual change over many millions of years. So we should expect the fossil record to show a continuous progression through all sorts of stages of development, enabling us to trace evolution. For example we should see features such as wings in stages of development.
When we look at the fossil record, we see that all the fossils appear to be fully formed, well-defined species with well defined features. An example that is often used to support the idea oftransitional species is the fossil of “Archaeopteryx”.
“Archaeopteryx” had feathers like a bird, but it appears to have had a toothed jaw like a reptile. But the fact is that all the features of “Archaeopteryx” come fully formed. It doesn’thave half feathers – it has fully formed feathersjust like those on the wings of birds we have today. As much as we can tell from the fossil record, it suggests that everything that was needed for flight is present. It had a brain case similar to a modern bird. From the facts wehave, everything had progressed to be a fully formed bird.
This lack of transitional fossils was acknowledged by Professor Steve Jones ofUniversity College, London, when he published an updated version of Darwin’s Originof Species in 1999. This is what he wrote:“The fossil record - in defiance of Darwin's whole idea of gradual change – often makes great leaps from one form to the next. Far from the display of intermediates to be expected from slow advance through natural selection many species appear without warning, persist in fixed form and disappear, leaving no descendants. Geology assuredly does not reveal any finely graduated organic chain, and this is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against the theory of evolution.”
So we can see that the fossils give us an important fact. That is that the fossilrecord does not contain the partly developed animals that the theory of Evolutionpredicts.
Before we finish looking at the theory of evolution, let’s look at some of the other facts that are used to support this theory.
Classification of animals
Another argument used to support the theory of evolution is comparative studies of modern animals, known as “cladistics”. When you look at animals, you will see that certain animals look like other animals. And scientists have produced a classification system so that things that look like each other are classified as beingsimilar.
For example, monkeys and humans both have arms and legs and five fingers and five toes, and therefore humans and monkeys are classified together.
As another example, horses and donkeys and zebras all look like each other, with minor variations. So scientists have looked at all the creatures around the world and classified them all in this way.
However, we can’t do any experiments, and there is no way of knowing how these observable facts came to be. The theory of evolution simply provides one possible explanation of how animals came to look like they do. A perfectly valid alternative explanation is that some intelligent power created them like that.
Variations within species
Another argument that is used to support evolution is variation within species. When we look at dogs we can see different breeds of dogs. Human beings on a relatively small timescale can interbreed dogs and produce very different dogs.
The argument is that, given enough time, these variations could produce new species. But the simple fact is that this has neverbeen observed. And in fact the scale of change is vastly different. It’s one thing, as Darwin did, seeing finches with different types of beak; it’s a huge jump to say that the same mechanism could explain the appearance of a heart, the appearance of bone, the appearance of feathers, the appearance of warm-blooded creatures, etc.
Big changes have never been observed, and it is not good scientific practice to extend known information far beyond what has been seen. So it is not scientific to use very minor changes as evidence to support the great changes required by the theory of evolution.
- The fossil record contains only fully formed animals.
- Classification of animals tells us nothing about how they came into existence.
- Minor changes are not scientific evidence of large changes.
3. The cell
We want to think briefly about the cell, because it is the basic building block of life. All life consists of one or more of these building blocks. The simplest forms of life are single-celled creatures. By contrast, most forms of life consist of many cells.For example, the human body contains more than 10 billion cells of about 200 different types.
Scientists have discovered that there are many parts to a typical cell. Just as a house has a kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom, so a cell has specialised areas partitioned offfor separate uses.
A room in a house is separated from the rest of the house by its walls, and then its door is used to control what comes in and out. In the same way, each compartment of the cell is sealed off from the rest of the cell by its own membrane, which has openings to allow some chemicals in and out and to prevent others passing through.
There are highly sophisticated systems to ensure that only the correct chemicals come in and out of compartments.In total there are more than twenty different sections in a cell,and these systems must accurately regulate chemical movements between every one of these sections.
One thing that it is important to remember is that every cell that has ever been discovered has all of these systems in place to enable it to survive.
Here, then, are the known facts about the cell:
• the cell is the basis for all life.
• it is incredibly complicated.
• all the cells that have ever been discovered have all the essential systems in place.
We want to think about the implications of that last fact.We have no observable facts to suggest that cells have ever been anything other thancomplete and fully functional. Nor do we have any observable facts to lead us tobelieve that the complex chemicals like DNA that we find within cells have ever been anything other than complete and fully functional.
Theories have been put forward suggesting that animal cells developed from more simple yeast cells. But again, we must remember that yeast cells are complete and fully functional. We should also bear in mind that they are far from simple. There are no observable facts that indicate that yeast cells developed into more complex cells.
4. Summary – “Big Bang”, Evolution and the Cell
Looking at the observable facts we find that the “Big Bang” theory:
• is based on very few observable facts.
• has assumptions we cannot prove.
• may be missing some important information.
Looking at the theory of evolution we see:
• the animals in the fossil record appear fully formed.
• comparing animals today gives no information on how they came into existence.
• small observable changes are no evidence of the large changes required by the theory.
• there are no observable facts to suggest the cell (the basic building block of life) has ever been anything other than complete and fully functional.