Hey, Mr. Dinosaur, you really couldn’t ask for more
You were God’s favorite creature, but you didn’t have a future.
The Police, “Walking In Your Footsteps”
In a previous post I summarized the atheistic account of evolution:
- The cosmos has no guiding intelligence behind it; evolution proceeds disinterestedly from cause to effect, with no telos (ultimate objective) in view.
Christians beg to differ. Those of us who accept that the theory of evolution is true nonetheless insist that it was set in motion by the Creator. God had a telos in mind and continued to work toward it.
The proportions of the timeline are admittedly problematic, as we explored in the previous post: a 4.55 billion year old cosmos, with human beings arising only in the last 40,000 years. But God is eternal: to contemplate the passage of billions of years may boggle the human imagination, but presumably it isn’t such a big deal to God.
However, there are other problems confronting a theistic account of evolution. In this post, I want to talk about extinction episodes.
Most people are familiar with one extinction episode. Dinosaurs once ruled the earth and then, shockingly, they were wiped out. I suggest that this is a problem for anyone who thinks evolution is a telos-oriented process. Why would God create a whole order of animals, establish them as dominant over the rest of the animal kingdom, and then wipe them out? How does that constitute progress toward a goal?
It comes as a bit of a shock to dig a little deeper and learn that there were other extinction episodes, some of them even more dramatic. Here I am summarizing data gleaned from Richard Fortey, Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth. (The geological time lines are conveniently laid out here.)
|End of Precambrian||543 million years ago||“This is an important development: for the first time, something has been taken away, never to reappear; previously, change was wrought by the successive addition of more and more kinds of organisms.” (p. 83)|
|End of Ordovician||443 million years ago||Due to a little-known ice age, “many kinds of animals became extinct; in fact, well over half of all the species previously living.” (p. 135)|
|During the Devonian||417 to 354 mya||“There was a series of extinctions … which have only recently been recognized, and whose cause is still debated.” (p. 180)|
|End of the Permian||248 million years ago||“The greatest of all extinctions … was probably a double event [about 10 million years apart]. … The transformation was evidently greatest in the sea, where it has been claimed that up to 96 per cent of all species died out (and nearly 60 per cent of the families, the higher units of classification). … Many of the land-based vertebrate animals [likewise] suffered an extinction (but less marked).” (pp. 203-5)|
|End of Cretaceous||65 mya||The dramatic demise of the dinosaur and other animals, including marine animals.|
Extinction episodes present a significant problem for any theistic account of evolution. I have no easy, tidy solutions to offer. (In any event, I would rather provoke you to think than tell you what to think.)
copyright © 2006, Stephen