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Why Does the History of Life Give the Appearance of Evolution?

Stratocumulus Clouds Over Pacific.jpg

Fossil evidence suggests that life on earth originated about three and a half billion years ago, starting with prokaryotes (single-celled organisms without nuclei, such as bacteria). Much later came eukaryotes (cells with nuclei), which included algae and single-celled animals (protozoa). Multicellular marine animals appeared long after that. Then came land plants, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, primates, and finally humans. Not only did living things appear in a certain order, but in some cases they also had features intermediate between organisms that preceded them and those that followed them. Kenneth R. Miller challenges critics of Darwinism to explain why we find "one organism after another in places and in sequences... that clearly give the appearance of evolution."1

The answer is found in various religious traditions, especially Christianity. "Far from denying life's progression, tradition provides a reason for it," wrote Huston Smith in 1976. "Earth mirrors heaven. But mirrors, as we have noted, invert. The consequence here is that that which is first in the ontological order appears last in the temporal order." Smith explained: "In the celestial realm the species are never absent; their essential forms or archetypes reside there from an endless beginning. As earth ripens to receive them, each in its turn drops to the terrestrial plane." But "first a viable habitat must be devised, hence the inorganic universe is matured to a point where life can be sustained. And when living beings do arrive, they do so in a vaguely ascending order that passes from relatively undifferentiated organisms... to ones that are more complex." Thus "man, who is first in the order of worth on the terrestrial plane, will be last in the order of his appearance."2


(1) Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (New York: Cliff Street Books, 1999), pp. 127-128.

(2) Huston Smith, Forgotten Truth: The Primordial Tradition (New York, Harper & Row, 1976), pp. 129, 139-140, 142.

James S. Cutsinger, "On Earth as It Is in Heaven," in Mehrdad M. Zarandi (editor), Science and the Myth of Progress (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2003).

The idea that the world had first to be prepared for human beings is found in prescientific form in Gregory of Nyssa's fourth-century On the Making of Man: "Not as yet had that great and precious thing, man, come into the world" when "the maker of all had prepared beforehand, as it were, a royal lodging for the future king... as a good host does not bring his guest to his house before the preparation of the feast." On the Making of Man, II:1. Available online at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2914.htm.

Image credit: NASA, Stratocumulus Clouds Over Pacific.