The Congregation at Duke University Chapel

Believing in God, and Evolution

For the ears, you can listen to an audio recording of this presentation. [high fidelity audio playable under all personal computer operating systems via VLC media player, Microsoft Windows Media Player with the codecs for FLAC et al, OS X QuickTime with the XiphQT plugin, etc., on many Android-based mobile devices, and on iOS-based mobile devices via apps such as FLAC Player or Golden Ear]

Believing in God, and Evolution

presentation at Adult Forum by
Miles Engell, Professor of Biology, North Carolina State University
March 17, 2013

For the eyes, see the materials presented below.

auto bumper sticker 'Has faith, but accepts evolution.'

Pre- “Evolution”

4004 B.C. in margin of the beginning of the First Book of Moses
  • 1600s (Archbishop Ussher)
    • Earth formed October 22, 4004 B.C.
  • 1700s
    • Linnaeus- classification system
    • Highlighted similarities and differences among organisms
    • Buffon- quietly suggested that species change over generations, and that New World animals had “degenerated” from Old World forms
images of jaguar and leopard

Lamarck (1802)

  • inheritance of acquired characteristics; traits passed on through use or disuse

short necked giraffe stretched neck to reach more leaves

Industrial Revolution

people in urban setting
  • Coal mines (Geology, Paleontology)
  • People move to cities – (Sociology, Statistics)
    • Malthus - populations grow until reach limits on size

Charles Darwin: Evolution of a Scientist

"He had planned to enter the ministry, but his discoveries on a fateful voyage 170 years ago shook his faith and changed our conception of the origins of life."

magazine cover with title The Real Darwin - His Private Views on Science & God


Emancipation and Evolution
The Evolution of Evolution

photograph of Wallace
  • Alfred Russell Wallace came to similar conclusions (in Indonesia)
  • Wallace and Darwin together presented their ideas on natural selection and adaptation in 1858 in London
  • On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection published in 1859
  • 1000 copies, sold out immediately
The Origin of Species book cover
photo of Darwin

photo of turtles

Darwin’s theory:

Organisms over-reproduce

  1. Individuals vary, some variations are heritable
  2. Resources are limited
  3. Organisms with most favorable traits for a given environment have the most reproductive success, and those traits are passed on to next generation


This theory of evolution is known as “descent with modification,” through variation and natural selection.

  • Natural selection = environment, forces of nature that “select” individuals with traits that favor reproductive success
    • process that causes evolutionary change is natural

seven related species of birds, with different beaks, etc.

Hawaiian honeycreepers – all arose from one species that migrated to Hawaii

Over long periods of time, this process of natural selection leads to adaptation cartoon of beaver wishing for a chainsaw

Adaptation doesn't involve trying

cartoon of hypothetical beaver with a chainsaw

Natural selection does not grant organisms what they "need"

Natural selection is a process, not goal-directed

Darwin's drawing of tree relationship between species

Evidence for evolution is FACT

Mechanism for how evolution occurs is strongly supported theory

sheep in mid-air above pasture


Just a theory.

1) Biochemical and genetic evidence

There are 3 billion base pairs in the human genome
*1.23% are different in the chimpanzee and bonobo genomes photo of human back-to-back with chimpanzee

FOXP2 gene: critical for development of

  • speech in humans
  • song in bird
  • sequences of rapid movement (lips/tongue) in mice
photo of mouse shouting

Same genes control bone growth in

  • fish fins
  • bird wings
  • all terrestrial vertebrates
    (just switched “on” shorter length of time in fish)

No special “human genes” ...

Just different regulation of same genes


  • changes in gene expression without changing underlying DNA, triggered by environmental factors, heritable
photo of flea with helmet
  • Water fleas with identical DNA:
    • spiny helmet to deter predators OR bare head ... based on whether or not their mother experienced threats of predation
photo of obese yellow mouse with thin brown offspring
  • Obese, yellow mice, prone to cancer and diabetes:
    • have healthy brown thin offspring if fed healthy diet while pregnant (B12, soy, folic acid)


  • changes in gene expression without changing underlying DNA, triggered by environmental factors, heritable
photo of youth smoking a cigarette
  • Men who smoke as young boys are more likely to have sons who are obese
photo loading food into a barn
  • Grandsons of men who had over-abundant food as boys (even in a single season) are more likely to have diabetes and die early

2) Fossil record photo of fossils

drawings of mammals with legs, webbed feet, flippers, ...

A 'Missing Link' Is Found

With the discovery of fossils of the Tiktaalik, or "large shallow water fish" scientists have found a missing connection between fishes and walking land creatures. drawings of fish with fins, footlike structure, hind limbs ...

photo of fishapod reconstruction

Fossil discovery of the "fishapod" in 2004

"Ardi" (2009) "Karabo" (2011)

  • Lived over a million years before “Lucy” (3.2 mya)
drawing of primate reconstruction
drawing of primate reconstruction

photo of fossil hand bones in larger human hand ...

A Walk Through Human Evolution

The newest fossils have brought scientists tantalizingly close to the time when humans first walked upright - splitting off from the chimpanzees. Their best guess now is that it happened at least 6 million years ago. timeline from 7 million years ago to present ...

3) Breeding/artificial selection

human, rather than natural selection

photo of Sesame Street BigBird character, and chicken bred to appear similar
photos of cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi ... all bred from wild mustard
photos of nine different breeds of dogs

4) Vestigial structures- once used/necessary, but no longer

drawing of whale skeleton with vestigial legs


photo of ostrich with vestigial wings


drawing of snake skeleton with vestigial legs


photo of burrowing animal with vestigial eyes

southern marsupial mole


  • Coccyx (tail bone)
  • Appendix
  • Muscles to move ears
  • Little toe
  • Wisdom teeth
  • Body hair
  • Arrector pili (responsible for “goosebumps”)
  • Tonsils
  • Male nipples
  • Palmer grasp reflex in newborns
photos of human ear and primate ear
photo of cold human skin with goosebumps
photo of infant hand grasping adult thumb

Atavism: the reappearance of a lost character - present in the adult, extremely rare in a population

photos of a whale and a dolphin with limbs

Living whales and dolphins found with hind limbs

photo of externally visible tail

Tail in infant boy
xray of additional unfused vertebrae

Tail in 16-year old girl

Evolutionary “hand-me-downs” in humans ...

Vertebrate retina:

Blood vessels and nerves on top of retina, rather than underneath (→ blind spot)

Mollusks and other animals have the reverse, and more stable retina (and no inverted image, either!) - slightly clearer vision

drawing of cross-section of vertebrate eyeball


drawing of cross-section of mollusk eyeball

Squid / Octopus

Male Spermatic Cord and Hernias

The tube through which sperm passes forms a roundabout loop that can lead to hernias, a result of major anatomical changes that occurred as we evolved from fish. drawing of herniated loop of intestine

(A hernia is the protrusion of an organ or the fascia of an organ through the wall of the cavity that normally contains it)

In mammals: as the fetus develops, the gonads descend

Spermatic cord (vas deferens) must take a roundabout loop to connect testes with urethra, and this causes a weakness within the body wall near its apex. anatomic drawings of human and fish gonads

Vitamin C Production

photo of oranges
photo of primate eating fruit

Most mammals can synthesize their own Vitamin C… humans (and some primates) cannot, but instead must ingest it....

The same gene for vitamin C production is in humans and other mammals, but a mutation has made it non-functional in humans and other primates

Mutation in distant past, when early primates (like most primates today) lived in tropical regions and ate lots of fruit

Sense of Smell

Human ancestors (like other mammals) had a more acute sense of smell than we do now

Humans have ~1000 odorant receptor genes, of which almost 70% are pseudo-genes (nonfunctioning)

Other mammals have most of the same OR genes as us, but most or all of theirs actually work

photo of human nose

Dolphin: no longer has any need to smell volatile odorants, yet still has many OR genes, ALL of which are pseudo-genes


Bipedalism relatively “skin deep” in terms of our evolutionary history

Old age only exists in humans (and some domesticated animals) ... natural selection didn’t “prepare” humans for old age

The system that is among the first to fall apart in old age is bipedal posture and locomotion ... as well as mental faculty diminution (also a recent evolutionary acquisition)

cartoon of human with backache


Capture myopathy in animals:

  • large surge of adrenaline, injures heart muscles, can result in death (especially in cautious and high-strung animals like deer, birds, rabbits, small primates)
  • capture and restraint = imminent predation or death
photo of tiger cub approaching a rabbit

photo of moose that died minutes after being trapped within a fence

SIDS and Capture Myopathy

  • Infants who are placed facedown are at greater risk of SIDS
  • Infants who are “restrained” by swaddling show more dramatic heart slowing response to noise
  • Infants who are swaddled and placed facedown are at 3X greater risk of SIDS in response to a sudden loud noise (door slam, telephone ring, argument, etc)
seven steps to avoid SIDS

photo of hq of Anti-Evolution League

~1920: William Jennings Bryan helped turn the fundamentalist movement into a popular crusade against teaching evolution

  • CREATIONISM: rejects the theory of evolution and the idea that one species can over time become another species.

Note that the banana:

  1. Is shaped for human hand
  2. Has non-slip surface
  3. Has outward indicators of inward contents:
    • Green–too early,
    • Yellow–just right,
    • Black–too late.
  4. Has a tab for removal of wrapper
  5. Is perforated on wrapper
  6. Bio-degradable wrapper
  7. Is shaped for human mouth
  8. Has a point at top for ease of entry
  9. Is pleasing to taste buds
  10. Is curved towards the face to make the eating process easy
drawing of banana with numbered highlights matching list on left

  • CREATIONISM:rejects the theory of evolution and the idea that one species can over time become another species.
  • YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM:believes that the earth is 6,000 or so years old, based on the assumption that Genesis contains a complete listing of the generations from Adam and Eve to historical times.
  • INTELLIGENT DESIGN:rejects that natural law and chance alone can explain the diversity of life on earth, arguing instead that it is the result of a purposeful scheme of some higher power.
  • EVOLUTIONISM: accepts the Darwinian argument that natural selection and environmental factors combine to explain the diversity of life on earth, may or may not believe that evolution is the way in which a Divine Being has chosen to work in the world.

% who agree that evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth bar graph of 81% Buddhist, 80% Hindu, 77% Jewish, 72% unaffiliated, 58% Catholic, 54% Othodox, 51% mainline Protestant, 45% Muslim, 38% historically Black Protestant, 24% evangelical Protestant, 22% Mormon, 8% Jehovah's Witness

  • 2008: One in eight high school biology teachers treat creationism as a valid alternative to evolution
  • 2012 Gallup survey: 46% Americans believe that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years

photo of person with fingers in ears and eyes closed


I'm right, you're wrong. la-la-la-la-la-la-la I can't hear you!

3 points about evolution vs. creationism:

1. We are frequently presented in the media with a choice between "atheistic evolution" and "Biblical creationism" ... but this is a false choice, as there are many positions in between these extremes that are held by people of good faith.

2. Students have to decide where they fall on the spectrum of beliefs, and how this relates to their personal values. It is not the job of a biology course to indoctrinate them.

3. However, evolution is the cornerstone of biology, and students must be familiar with it to have any idea of how real biology is done.

Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer


photo of balance scale tiny on left, large on right

Peer reviewed scientific papers demonstrating evidence that confirms the theory

Intelligent Design = 0 Evolution = 2,650,000

cartoon titled God Throws The Creationists a Curve... Let There Be Evolution

God does not just make the world, he does something much more wonderful - he makes the world make itself.

Victorian novelist Charles Kingsley