Both the Christian and the Atheist ponder these questions, and even the most ardent supporters of either faith doubt their conclusions at times. Yes, even PZ Myers, the prideful atheist biologist and associate professor at the University of MN has, no doubt, struggled with those questions during thoughtful moments when he's not addressing his followers. Though, given the confidence in his response to someone who emailed him about their "tormenting" doubts as to what the mechanisms of Darwinian evolution are ultimately capable of, he writes with much bravado and certainty.
The email he received read as follows...
I appreciate the struggle many creationists are having about evolutionary science. I find myself tormented as I observe the world around me.
What I seem to be focused on is how a plant or animal is self aware of it's need to evolve? How does a tree know how to "evolve" it's seed to fly on the wind? How would a lizard "know" that it needed to develop camouflage to survive?
I can't imagine [how] any plant or animal other than human would have the ability to "know" and as well as pass it along via DNA to future hundreds of thousands of generations?
I'd appreciate your feedback…this is really starting to bother me.
Unfortunately, this particular person seems to have either misunderstood how evolution works, or he really blew it when posing his concerns to PZ. So, of course, PZ seizes on that misunderstanding and provides his response...
The first part of the answer is that the organism doesn't know that it must evolve. There is no plan, no guidance, no goal imposed ahead of time, the tree or lizard are not following a program that says they have a goal. The outcome emerges as a consequence of selection and chance.
The tree did not plan ahead. In a population of trees, there was chance variation in how far seeds fell from the parent; seeds that fell in the shade of the parent would not flourish, while seeds that were fortuitously caught by the wind and fell further away were more likely to thrive, and produce more offspring. Lizards that blended in with their environment were less likely to be eaten, and had more offspring that, inheriting their parents inconspicuousness, were also less likely to be eaten, and variation in their progeny was selected further approximations to camouflage.
There is no "know", no awareness. Darwin's insight was that life didn't need it to produce a pattern of change — unguided random variation, filtered after the fact by natural selection, produces an appearance of design.
And yes, this is a fact that many people find troubling. We're brought up thinking we're cuddled in the swaddling hands of a god who has a grand plan for us all, and that every little up and down in our life is the product of some cosmic intent — it's reassuring and makes us feel important. It's an interpretation unsupported by any evidence, too, and often contradicted. We live in a world of chance, and we're all on our own.
OK, readers, maybe you have a better explanation. Go ahead, chime in with a comment and explain how we're going to wean the general public away from their imaginary sky father.[my emphasis]
What irritates me is the way in which scientists like PZ explain how evolution works. They take the most simplistic examples possible, and we're to assume that these explanations account for their belief that everything on the planet is ultimately the result of evolutionary mechanisms evolving with that first lucky molecule that happened to accidentally pop into existence. I've attended lectures by both Eugenie Scott and Sean Carroll, and they made reference to these same type of easily supported microevolutionary changes in expectation that their audience would then accept, as fact, the entire molecule to man scenario.
But, when I listen to gentlemen like Dr. David Berlinski question the evolutionary paradigm, he echos my own incredulity in regard to how Darwinists can possibly assert that they have the evidence to make such bold claims about common descent with relatively so little empirical evidence to support the inference. Berlinski is much more articulate than I, so listen to his concerns in regard to whale evolution...
...and, bear in mind that this is merely one transitional account (here is a link to a recent interview with Berlinski as well). Speciation is an important area to consider when contemplating the issues that Berlinski addressed. Empirical evidence supporting speciation occurring through evolutionary means is sorely lacking. It is deemed a "major technical problem for evolutionary biology" as noted in a recent article from The Scientist...
This theory of evolution is really a framework for thinking about change in the living world. It provides no specific guesses for the kinds of traits that may exist, no strong requirements or prohibitions on how they may interact to make a complex organism or ecosystem, and no commitments to how innovation can occur. Even the problem of how a differentiated population ultimately divides into two distinct species (posed in the title of Darwin's seminal work) remains a major technical problem in evolutionary biology.
Consider all we observe in nature today, and ask yourself if the incredible complexity and order of the universe can possibly be the result of nothing other than, in PZ's words, "unguided random variation, filtered after the fact by natural selection" that produces an "appearance of design". And, while we're on the issue of design, why do scientists refer to the design we observe in nature as merely an "appearance" of design? I've always been taught that science follows the evidence wherever it leads, and both Creationist and Darwinist agree that nature most certainly appears to have been designed. Why twist that fact and deem it merely an illusion?
Getting back to the incredible complexity, beauty and intricacy of life, I'd like to share a series of Youtube clips from the Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution video series, vol. 3. I watched the first DVD in this series several years ago, and the subject matter provides many insights that are interesting to consider before deciding to taking that leap of faith and commitment to the evolutionary paradigm. The complexity of nature is vast and astounding...are we to assume that it all came about by chance?
Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution III - Part I
"The Heavens declare the glory of God.” Psalm 19:1
"What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." Romans 1:19-20