Unfortunately, many poorly-informed Christian Ministers teach very frightening images, like some fish washing up on a beach, being somehow zapped, and getting up and walking away as a person! Such Ministers have watched too many science-fiction movies! The scientific definition of evolution is nothing at all like that. It's actually a very UN-impressive activity!
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The concept is actually extremely simple. If there are two or more living things in an environment, AND THEY ARE NOT PRECISELY IDENTICAL, then they can have different responses to any change in the environment. That's actually it! That's natural selection, or evolution!
Let's look at an example, which anyone can duplicate. I happen to have some very rural property which is exactly one acre. With no neighbors, mowing the lawn is somewhat optional! So, as an experiment, for a four-year period, I decided to regularly mow exactly half of the area. Here's the thinking: The lawn contained plenty of seeds of "lawn grass", the small, slender blades which we all like in our yards. But, being in such a rural location, I suspected that there were also seeds present for the far larger "field grass" that is common in natural meadows. I had no idea of what proportion of seeds might exist, and only counted on at least one seed of each size-type. Actually, in an acre, there were probably millions of each kind!
Since I had regularly mowed the entire lawn for many years, the lawn grass would have enough time between mowings to grow to its full size and even sometimes develop seeds, thereby multiplying the number of available seeds. The field grass always got chopped off way before it ever got mature enough to develop seeds, so no new seeds would be produced. Logically, the lawn had become virtually entirely the desired lawn grass. Since all the blades got about equally tall, they each got reasonable amounts of sun, and they and their new seeds thrived. Regular mowing (an environmental condition) ensured that.
Now, when mowing was completely stopped for half of that lawn, for a number of weeks, nothing much different seemed to happen, and both halves of the yard looked pretty similar, except for the one half looking somewhat shaggier. But after about 4 weeks, there were several VERY tall blades of grass mixed in there. I really don't know if they came from existing old seeds or from new ones that got blown in from neighborhood fields, but there they were, half a dozen foot tall blades surrounded by millions of blades of lawn grass.
Now that the larger field grass was allowed to mature and go to seed, within a few weeks after that, small groups of tall field grass blades began to surround each of the original few. These bigger grass blades happened to have bigger root systems, which were able to reach farther down into the soil, to get more water and nutrients. Also, as the little groves of very tall field grass blades began to thicken, THEY were getting plenty of sun, but they collectively were beginning to block the sunlight from getting down to the much shorter lawn grass blades. Between getting less sun and having much of their water source taken away by the deeper root systems of the field grass blades, they were soon beginning to show poorer vitality.
I had expected to see some effect at the end of my four-year experiment! But even at the beginning of the second summer, the unmowed half of the yard was fully overrun by the tall field grass, and it was virtually identical to the appearance of nearby natural meadow fields. With a now almost continuous blanket of field grass blades a foot above the ground, very little sunlight was getting down to where the lawn grass used to be, and there were very few blades of it still there.
After just one year of my experiment, the two halves of the lawn looked totally different, one with the short, fine lawn grass blades, and the other with the tall, broad field grass blades.
This is how natural selection occurs! It's as simple as that! No blades of grass needed to MUTATE to a different form. No change happened instantly, or even noticeably, in the sort term. But, with at least two DIFFERENT types of available seeds (actually many thousands of very slightly different ones), the area that was mowed permitted the lawn grass to have a "survival advantage" over the taller grass that could never get to mature. At the same time, with the exact same mix of available seeds, the unmowed half permitted the natural advantages of tallness and deep roots to give the field grass a "survival advantage" over the lawn grass. Note that neither was actively helped or harmed in the experiment, and each kind of grass just did the best it could in each environment.
One would need a time-lapse movie to even see the changes! Notice that absolutely nothing unusual even ever happens! It's all very logical! The small grass type thrives in an environment that (relatively speaking) favors it, while the tall grass type thrives in the other environment which (relatively speaking) favors it. In just a very few generations of grass, each comes to virtually totally dominate the other.
If the conditions (mowed or non-mowed) would continue for 20 years, the seeds remaining in the soil, for the kind that is not able to do anything, eventually all try to sprout, and fail, and the transition would then become more established, because the competing variety would not be able to quickly grow and multiply if the mowing conditions then got reversed.
This is the entirety of what science calls Natural Selection or Evolution! Consider some other examples: In a forest environment, consider a litter of kittens being born, one white, one black, one gray and one calico. As they grow up, which one has the greatest danger of being caught and eaten by predators, in a dark colored forest? I would think the white one would have extra danger there. Once they have grown up, which would have the most trouble sneaking up on mice/food, in that dark forest? Maybe, again, the white one. So, of the kittens, which one would probably have the worst chance of growing up enough to have kittens of its own (which might carry the color tendency)? If I was a white kitten, in a dark forest, I'd be worried!
However, have the same group of kittens be born in Canada, where white snow is regularly on the ground. The white kitten might then have a "survival advantage" over the others, for the reasons just mentioned. Just which one has an advantage depends on the environment they are in, just like with the two types of grass.
OK, lets say that large cat populations develop in both the forest and in the snow area. Some cats get a disease and die, or are unlucky to get caught by a predator, or any number of other problems. But, on the whole, science would say that the white kittens had a survival disadvantage in the forest and a survival advantage in the snow area. Any individual kitten / cat might make it or not. When thousands of cats are involved, science only claims that there are likely to be fewer (surviving) white cats in the forest and likely to be more white cats (proportionately) in the snow area. With more adults present, there are greater chances of passing along the genes of their color type, if that is an inherited trait. Science would claim that, after 100,000 generations of cats (a short time in geological history) in these two environments, the forest would probably include virtually no white cats while the snow area would have a very high proportion of them.
We have been considering just a single trait, fur color. In reality, there are hundreds of environmental conditions that have their effects. A cat with especially good hearing might locate more food, and therefore grow and survive and reproduce. A clumsy cat might catch little food, and starve, and never reproduce. A cat that could run a little faster might catch more food and therefore live better, while one that had some cause of running more slowly might catch little food. Even very minor survival advantages can give a slight increase in the percentage of surviving cats that will reproduce. The concept of Evolution does NOT claim that any one cat or plant or animal WILL survive, but only that it has some ADVANTAGE in doing so. It generally then requires hundreds or thousands or millions of generations before any such advantages or disadvantages are present in a lot of the population.
Notice that this Natural Selection process does not actually show any effect in the original generation. Even the effect in a second generation is likely to be extremely subtle. It is only when that subtle advantage continues, WITH RELATIVELY CONSTANT ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS, that really substantial differences start to be obvious, after hundreds or thousands of generations.
And, Natural Selection has no guarantees! Even the most advantageous animal could get sick and die, or be surprised by a predator. In that case, all the accumulated advantages of countless generations suddenly end! Even worse, if the environmental conditions suddenly change, from an advantageous one to a disadvantageous one, an entire population of "evolved" creatures could all die off. Science calls this an Extinction. Many thousands of extinctions have been documented, with a few occurring nearly every year.
I think there is a possible explanation.
Examine Genesis 1. In Genesis 1:24, God created the diversity of animals. In Genesis 1:26, in an entirely separate act of Creation, God Created Adam (and later Eve). Yes, as Christians insist, these are two completely distinct acts of Creation.
God clearly placed a Soul in Adam and in Eve.
Now think about two SEPARATE paths: (1) Any and all descendents of Adam and Eve would have Souls, including us. (2) Any and all descendents of any of those animals (of Gen. 1:24) would not. As "animals" they would continue to follow the path of natural selection, sometimes slightly evolving. I am suggesting that some of those animals might have eventually evolved into ANIMALS (without Souls) that happened to closely resemble Adam and his descendents in appearance. I believe that the Bible gives evidence of this. When Cain left Eden (Genesis 4:15-17), he met a group (in Nod) that he thought were "people". Got even put a mark on Cain, so that others (who???) would not kill him. Why would God see the need to do that? Cain married, had children, built a city, etc. No one can explain where these "people" came from, if Adam (and Eve) were the only two humans.
I have heard Christians try every stretched argument to try to explain how those "people" could have been there, such as their being other children of Adam (during his many hundreds of years of life) who had left Eden earlier. Such arguments always have terrible logical flaws! I believe that the reasoning I am suggesting here is far more logical. It explains the existence of such "people" simply as being the (inferior, and Soul-less) evolved descendents of the animals of Genesis 1:24. This also explains why they seemed to have no redeeming characteristics! If you read all of Genesis with this thought in mind, there are a lot of things that now seem to make new sense!
For example: This would result in the descendents of Adam and Eve multiplying and going forth across the Earth, at the same time that similar-appearing "people-animals" were also doing the same. Doesn't it seem obvious that the two groups would eventually inter-marry? One parent would have a Soul and the other would not. Would the children have Souls? I don't know, but I'd guess not. By the time of Noah, how many "pure" descendants of Adam and Eve might there be? Maybe relatively few, if a lot of inter-marrying had occurred in previous generations. (The Bible is silent on these sorts of details). It seems to me that this represents a very good reason why most "people" of Noah's time were corrupt and bad, they weren't actually people at all! And it seems to me to present a strong reason why the Flood was necessary, such that Noah and his group (each direct descendants from Adam and Eve) would be the only survivors. Humans had shown that they could not distinguish between actual people (with Souls) and those that looked like people but did not have Souls, so God provided the Flood.
This argument has an interesting consequence. When God made Adam "in His image" the reference might then have been to "in having a Soul" rather than in a physical appearance (superficial) manner.
By the way, this argument might also provide an explanation for science finding fossils and bones of extremely old human-like creatures, because they could simply have been creatures! It also could provide an explanation of why the apparent time scale described in Genesis 1 and as described by science might appear so different to us, as really being due to a difference of perspective, and that there may not actually be any conflict. In that regard, many years ago, I wrote an essay which noticed that the 14 specific events mentioned in Genesis 1, are in the exact same sequence that modern science understands them (except for the appearance of birds, which is one position different). I have always felt that is FAR too great a coincidence, and that a statistical analysis of it essentially (scientifically) proves that Genesis 1 could not have been written by any human, prior to around 1900 AD, with the correct sequence, without the Inspiration of God.
The result of my argument above is that WE humans are all descendants of Adam and Eve, and that we are therefore NOT "evolved from animals", while at the same time recognizing that modern science has mountains of proof that natural selection (evolution) occurs in all plants and animals (but usually very, very slowly).
I encourage a re-reading of all of Genesis with this thought in mind, to see what conclusions you arrive at!
Pastor, A Christ Walk Church
Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago