It is fair to say that none of the people who deny evolution exhibit any understanding of what it is. But it's not always their fault because many of the people promoting evolution don’t know what it is either. Hollywood producers certainly don’t!
“Are they the next link in the evolutionary chain?
Or simply a new species of humanity
fighting for their share of the world?”
The word, “evolution” simply means “change over time.” But in the context of science, that word refers to an aspect of biology. Specifically, it is a process of varying genetic frequencies among reproductive populations; leading to (usually subtle) changes in their morphological or physiological composition, which –when compiled over successive generations- can increase biodiversity when continuing variation between genetically-isolated groups eventually lead to one or more descendant branches increasingly distinct from their ancestors or cousins. Or more simply, it is how life forms diversify via “descent with modification”. To put it another way, it is the method by which cats branched into so many different breeds within several distinct species in a half dozen genera.
Creationists usually accept that this happens, and they sometimes even accept how this happens. But they don’t call it “evolution” because they’ve been conditioned to execrate that word and to utter it only with a distasteful sneer. So they use other, safer words but which don’t quite mean the same thing.
The problem creationists have with evolution is not that it challenges belief in God, because it doesn’t. Their problem is that evolution, -like every other field of science- challenges the accuracy and authority of the storybooks which creationists equate to God. Consequently, they tend to reject science almost entirely, and will often take all the sciences they perceive as threatening, and lump them all together under one heading, which they then refer to as “evolution-ism”. It’s an attempt to minimize the sheer volume of sciences allied against them. This is also part of their intentionally-erected illusion of equality; a false dichotomy that if their legendary folklore isn’t the absolute authority -being both literally and completely true, then God couldn’t create or even exist any other way.
Sometimes they’ll say that if it wasn’t that way, or if they couldn’t believe that it was, then they’d all go mad and do terrible things to people just for the fun of it, as if causing people to suffer would be fun. Its a desperate and destitute delusion of dichotomy that if their legends aren’t right, then nothing is right.
So they insist that for evolution to be true at all, it must utterly replace God and account for everything they attribute to God. So whenever they meet someone trying to explain or endorse evolution, the first thing creationists may ask is where “everything” came from; not just living things, but all matter and energy in the universe, as if evolution should account for the origin of “Life, the Universe, and Everything”.
“Both defendants and many of the leading proponants of Intelligent Design make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evoluionary theory is antithetical to belief in the existence of a supreme being, and to religion in general. To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom, or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions."
Creationists do deliberately misrepresent evolution many different ways in all their arguments. Even when they know better, they still say that evolution necessarily requires the godless origin of life from inorganic matter. But it doesn’t mean that, and never did. For one thing, all the building blocks of life were already organic long before the first organism, before anything could be considered alive. We’ve even detected vast amounts of organic matter in deep space.
But creationists claim space evolved too, and that the big bang is part of the same evolutionary process as that which leads to new species on earth. So they often say that evolution requires “something coming from nothing”, which is ironic since creationists believe that themselves while strict scientists do not.
Obviously no aspect of biology has anything to do with how the earth formed or where anything else in the universe came from. It really doesn’t matter how the cosmos came to be. It could be a steady-state, or a cyclic series of big bang and big crunch contractions, or a one-time eruption from a string theorist’s “dimensional rift”. It could even be magically conjured by the gods of creation. Or it could be some other method used by a more reasonable version of God. However the universe originated, it does not relate at all to how life evolved.
Creationists habitually misdefine their terms, and commonly insist that evolution means “life from non-life”. But of course that’s not right either. Evolution explains how life diversifies, not how it began. Since evolution at every level is -by definition- limited to the variation of allele frequencies inherited over generations of living organisms, then it obviously can’t operate where no genomes yet exist. The evolutionary process starts with genetics and can’t start before it. So how the first genes came about may seem similar to evolution, and may even involve a form of natural selection in some way, but it is in fact a very different chemical process called 'abiogenesis'.
Creationists also misrepresent hypotheses on the origin of life. They will use any parody they can to link it to evolution, and make both sound ridiculous, and that isn’t surprising considering how ridiculous their own position is. The most common fib they use here is to point to the complexity of any single eukaryotic cell and question how that could have poofed into being in its current state –as if by magic- from a rock or from mud.
They often say that the “evolutionist’s” explanation for the origin of life is ‘spontaneous generation’ where already complex organisms somehow pop out of organic sludge fully-formed. But of course the scientific perspective is nothing like that. It’s a surprisingly intricate multi-stage sequence.
Creationists obviously have no appreciation for how solid all our combined forensic sciences are, be it genetic orthologues confirming ancestral phylogenies which were once only indicated morphologically, by determining derived synapomorphies; or whether it is the several different kinds of radioactive decay rates which cross-confirm each other to produce the same consistent results once any variables are accounted for.
Creationists often cite the laws of Thermodynamics as if they could somehow apply to the diversification of life on earth. They don’t. Lord Kelvin, the scientist who discovered those laws was a creationist himself. He was definitely opposed to evolution. But even he said that thermodynamics demands that the earth would still have to be on the order of twenty to forty million years old at least, even if the bowels of the world didn’t continue to heat themselves radioactively, which of course they do, and that pushes the age back much further.
But whether creationists accept any amount of proof against them or not, the fact is that everything we know about physics demands that the earth be billions of years old. And according to every ounce of paleontological evidence anyone has ever dug up, there is every indication that the further back in time you look, the simpler and more similar living things appear to be until there are only single cells, and prior to that, there is no evident life of any kind at all.
There were no primates 100 million years ago, and no mammals 200 million years ago, and no land animals at all 400 million years ago. 600 million years ago, there weren’t any fish or even bugs yet. We’ve never found any trace fossils for macroscopic life forms prior to 700 million years ago, but we have oodles of bacterial microfossils covering another 2.8 billion years prior to the first multicellular anythings we’ve ever found a trace of. The only possible conclusion we can draw from all that is that life was only microscopic & microbial for the first 80% of the history of life on this planet.
Add to this the fact that organic molecules form naturally in all sorts of environments, and we know from the Urey/Miller experiment and other discoveries, that even the nucleotides required for genetic structure also form naturally even in the hostile environments we should expect of the pre-biotic earth. We also know through repeatable experiments how these can combine in the right common medium into polynucleotides and so on. Even Christian biologists admit that at its most basic, life is simply chemistry, and living tissues conform completely to those guidelines. The elements which form basic cell structures for example create a phospholipid bilayer automatically upon contact with water, due to their combined polarity. Even the function of enzymes and transport vesicles and other miniscule but critical elements within a cell all conform to the functions of chemistry. Consequently, there are a number of competing concepts to explain exactly how the first replicative polymers lead to the next stage, known as hypercycles, and then on to still more advanced stages before they qualify as life. Teams of biochemists around the world are still working out the long, complicated string of chemical combinations which began with simple and already self-replicating polymers and eventually lead to the first metabolic cells capable of maintaining some level of homeostasis, a balanced internal environment. That is the definition of life.
Viruses are not considered to be alive, even though they can be killed, because they lack metabolism, which is an independent internal chemical process. Protobionts (which biochemists propose) would be quasi-biotic cells very similar to viruses. But whether we’re talking about fully “living” cells or not quite yet living cells, they are both driven by the natural functions of enzymes, chemical reactions, and molecular polarity. If there is any other aspect to life, science has yet to detect it. And if there is a supernatural component to life, science will never be able to detect it.
Abiogenesis has a decent amount of evidence behind it, but nowhere near as much as evolution does. So far we still don’t know which (if any) of the explanations posed for the origin of life is the most accurate one. But if there’s one thing the wisdom of the ages has taught us, it is that simply not yet knowing the real explanation is no reason to go and blame anything on magic. Besides, even if a god did appear and summon the first life into being billions of years ago, there is no question but that life has certainly evolved since then, and is still evolving now.