During a family visit to the Georgia Aquarium last weekend, for no particular reason I started wondering if they might have a clown triggerfish on the premises. Clown triggerfish are part jaguar, part piranha, and part Peter Max—among the most colorful and striking of all animals.
Eventually I asked a docent in the Tropical Diver exhibit if there were any triggerfish around (leaving off the word ‘clown’ so as not to appear star-crossed with only the most beautiful fish). He was very knowledgeable—probably a professor or teacher of marine biology just gazing at beautiful fish and waiting for someone to ask a question. He led me around the exhibit, describing the three triggerfish they had (no clowns), where they normally hang out, their swimming patterns, and a whole host of interesting fish facts. He said there was a triggerfish in the surf above our heads (go figure), and if we were patient the fish would eventually come into full view. It did, he spotted it, and let me know right away so I could get a couple of pictures. Then he said, “The evolution of their tails is really quite interesting.”
I was caught a little off guard. I wondered if this kind man was an atheist, a naturalist, a neo-Darwinist, or a proponent of scientism. Could he appreciate how all those beautiful fish came to be? I thought about saying something, but it was easier to just move on and enjoy the rest of the aquarium—sometimes we think too much. But I thought about what might have been said the rest of the day.
As William Lane Craig and evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala point out, ‘evolution’ is an accordion word that can be expanded or contracted to mean things that are obviously true, or things that are highly debated. From an apologetics viewpoint, we don’t have anything to fear in these discussions, but it takes work to keep up with developments in genetics and biology, and to understand just what someone is getting at when they use the word ‘evolution’. Here is a podcast by Dr. Craig that sheds some light on the use of the word.
According to Dr. Craig—from the standpoint of an analytic philosopher—when someone brings up evolution it’s important to determine how far they are stretching their accordion. Do they mean that:
- Present-day organisms are descended from organisms that lived earlier, with modifications;
- Biological complexities can be explained through genetic mutation and natural selection; or
- The reconstruction of the evolutionary tree of life shows all of the branches going back to some common primordial ancestor?
The first point is obvious and not objectionable to even the strictest creationist. (Otherwise how would you explain diversity among races, “goldendoodles” from golden retrievers and poodles, etc.) However the second and third points are the subject of much debate and contention, and are not accepted as ‘facts’ among all scientists.
Biochemist Dr. Fazale Rana has written extensively about evolution, and recent developments in genetics in particular. His posts on evolution are available at the Today’s New Reasons To Believe blog. Dr. Rana provides technically competent commentary on recent developments in the study of unitary pseudogenes (so-called “junk DNA”), intelligent design, and many other evolution topics. As stated previously, it takes work to be a good apologist. The good news is that science and truth favor apologetics. If you’re not familiar with Reasons To Believe, they are an amazing group of scholars who probably do more to demonstrate the accord between faith and science than just about anybody.
If you prefer something more for the man in the street, I can recommend David Work’s Reasons for the Hope blog, as he is doing a great job with his current series on the topic of evolution.
Take a little time to woodshed on evolution, and by all means don’t get caught “off guard.”
Possibly the most intriguing and bizarre creatures at the Georgia Aquarium are the weedy sea dragons. Pop the following video into high-definition (by clicking on the gear icon after starting the video) and see if you can conclude that all that beauty and complexity is the result of presumptions 2 and 3 above. Could it better be explained as the intelligent design and joyful expression of a creator? Enjoy!