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Origins & development of life etc.

Introduction: scope,
promoters, and various theories

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Scope of this section:

This section compares and contrasts three main groups of belief systems about the development of Earth's plant and animal life forms, including:

  1. Hundreds of diverse, conflicting, beliefs promoted by various religions throughout the world. This includes about a dozen theories of creation science derived mainly by conservative Christians from a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis in the Bible.

  2. The theory of evolution. This is based on the concept of natural selection coupled with unguided processes of nature.

  3. Theistic beliefs about origins. These blend scientific and religious beliefs, including:
    bulletTheistic evolution -- the concept that God used evolution as a tool to guide the development of species towards human beings, and
     
    bulletIntelligent Design (ID) -- the theory that some deity, or other entity with knowledge well beyond that of humans, designed at least some parts of some species.

We also include material on other related topics including:
bullet Abiogenesis, the study of how life on Earth, in the form of the first primitive single cell life form, could have arisen from inanimate matter.

bulletBeliefs about the origins and development of the Earth and the rest of the universe.

Promoters of various systems of belief:

Conservative religious groups and scientists tend to work independently of each other. Their concepts of truth, proofs, analytical methods, etc. are quite different. Thus they look at items in very different ways, and often define terms quite differently.

Religions tend to combine stories about the:
bulletCreation and development of animals, plants, geological formations,
bulletThe Earth itself, and
bulletThe rest of the universe.

Scientists generally separate these into separate specialties:
bulletAbiogenesis: the study of the origin of life in its most primitive form
bullet Biology: the study of living species. The main organizing principle accepted by almost all biologists is the theory of evolution.
bulletOther specialty studies, ranging from acarology (the study of ticks and mites) to virology (the study of viruses).
bullet Geology, the study of the Earth over time.
bullet Cosmology, the study of the universe's origin and development.
bulletetc.

Scientists generally confine the scope of the term "evolution" to include only the study of the development of life, from -- but not including -- the first life form. Non-scientists often expand the scope of the theory of evolution to include the study of the origin of life. Still others use "evolution" to refer to processes like the development of stars, galaxies, etc.

Even the word "theory" is often defined very differently:
 
bullet Many religious folks define the word in the same way as is seen in the programs CSI or Law & Order: a theory is a hunch, an unproven conjecture. Thus the theory of evolution is "merely" a theory and does not need to be given much weight. One often hears the expression that evolution is "only a theory."
 
bullet Many scientists, and essentially all biologists, believe evolution to be a fact.  The Theory of Evolution consists of a body of work that attempts to give explanation to what many scientists believe to be observable fact or phenomena.  The term "theory", as used in science,requires well substantiated explanations that have been repeatedly tested and have received extensive peer reviews.

Four categories of belief systems:

The media delight in talking about the warfare between evolution, creation science, and the new kid on the block: intelligent design. However, there are more than three conflicting belief systems concerning the origin of plants and animals. There are literally hundreds of theories which can be grouped into four categories:

  1. Many diverse, conflicting religious views from non-Abrahamic religions: These are all of the world religions except for Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and perhaps the Bah'ai faith. According David Barrett et al, editors of the "World Christian Encyclopedia" there are 19 major world religions which can be subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many thousands of smaller ones. Among these various faith groups, we estimate that there are hundreds of significantly different creation stories from which to draw.

  2. Creation science: This consists of about a dozen different, conflicting, belief systems, based on different interpretations of the creation stories in the biblical book of Genesis. These beliefs are found frequently in the North American conservative wings of the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They can be roughly subdivided into two groups:
     
    bullet New Earth creationists believe that the earth, its life forms, and the rest of the universe were created by God during a six day, 144 hour interval, less than 10,000 years ago. Only very minor changes within various species have happened since creation. No new species have evolved or been created. In North America, this belief system is mainly promoted by fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians who believe that God inspired the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) to write inerrant text.
     
    bulletOld Earth creationists believe that geology and radiometric dating has shown that the world is billions of years old. They believe that God created the Earth itself, the earth's life forms, and the rest of the universe at that time. Those old earth creationists who believe in the literal interpretation of an inerrant Bible interpret the six "day" creation interval as occupying a very long interval of time.

  3. Scientific view: The origin of the universe occurred about 13 billion years ago. The earth coalesced about 4.5 billion years ago. Life subsequently began, perhaps as single cell prokaryotes -- elementary forms of life that lack a cell nucleus -- deep in rocks, and has been evolving ever since. These various processes have been driven by purely natural forces, without input from a God or a Goddess or multiple deities, and without any overall plan.
     
  4. Theistic evolution view: The theory of evolution is accurate, just as scientists believe. However, it is viewed as a tool created, used, directed, nudged, and/or controlled by God in order to accomplish a higher purpose -- the creation of humans. This view includes Intelligent Design (ID).

Reference used:

  1. WordNet Search, Princeton University, at: http://wordnet.princeton.edu/

Site navigation: Home > "Hot" religious topics > Origins > here

Copyright © 1995 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1995-NOV-3
Most recent update: 2011-APR-05
Author: B.A. Robinson
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