Philosophical evidence for evolution?

I’m looking for something like a priori arguments (if that’s possible) for evolution. As in, how would you explain and defend evolution to a creationist that has little to no knowledge or interest in science? Are there any logical principles that intuitively make evolution more reasonable or likely than creationism?

The reason I ask is because I’m an evolutionist myself but I have no idea why. I’m not a scientist and I don’t understand most scientific arguments I’ve read about evolution. My position is solely based on faith in mainstream scientists. They seem to know what they’re talking about, so I just stick with the status quo. I’m interested in understanding the principles behind the theory without engaging super difficult explanations. I must admit, I like how creationists can simply prattle off, “Something can’t come from nothing, ergo God” and “Every effect has a cause and the world is an effect needing a cause” without having to appeal to empirical evidence. Wrong as they may be, their position is easily explained to virtually anyone. FWIW, I realize it’s unnecessary to equate evolution to atheism, but if evolution is to be scientific I think it has to be able to account for the origin of life without an appeal to the supernatural.

Can evolutionists also provide easily understood arguments?

There are two things wrong with these arguments:

(1) What created the first creator, i.e., what created God? What caused the first cause?

(2) These are philosophical arguments about what created or caused the universe. Evolution is not about that, it’s about the origin of species (in the words of Darwin’s book) – not the origin of the universe, and not even about the origin of life. So, philosophically, the debate is about whether God intervened to create each species ever found on Earth, or whether inherited characteristics combined with natural selection is enough to explain the variety of species found on Earth.

I dunno about bumper-sticker slogans, but the process of evolution is easy enough to describe in plain English:

[ul][li]Lifeforms reproduce often.[/li][li]Offspring display some randomness in their appearance and abilities.[/li][li]Lifeforms compete for resources - food, territory, mates, etc. in an environment that is constantly changing.[/li][li]Lifeforms that have useful traits will have a greater chance of surviving long enough to reproduce, thus the traits they have that helped their success have a greater chance of being passed on. What is a useful trait today may not be useful tomorrow, though.[/li][li]After a few thousand or million years, quite dramatic changes can occur, even though the change from generation to generation is invisible.[/ul][/li]
This is just evolution, though. It doesn’t cover how life got started in the first place, let alone how the universe got started in the first place. If I was talking evolution with someone and they tried to invoke that “first cause” crap, I’d stop wasting my time.

I would think that one possible “philosophical” argument would be: the remarkable physical similarities between species. You can pretty much trace “families” by old-fashioned Linnaean taxonomy (with the occasional outrider like the Platypus.) This suggests that there is a familiar line of descent.

This isn’t a “scientific” argument, but it is a “philosophical” one.

The same is true for the odd things in nature, the things that wouldn’t “make sense” to any “intelligent designer.” Stephen Jay Gould entitled one of his books “Hens’ Teeth and Horses’ Toes.” We can ask why whales have “finger bones” in their flippers, or why some snakes have pelvic bones. Doesn’t make a lick of sense for them to have been “created” or “designed” that way, but is “philosophic” evidence for descent.

The danger with philosophic arguments is that they often rely on analogy. This is what led some to believe that there could never be an eighth planet, since there were so many “sevens” in the world. Seven metals, seven continents, seven major sensory passageways into the human skull, etc. But an eighth (and further) planet was found anyway.


I would probably disagree with all of the above. If you want a simple explanation that they hardly argue with, just point out that success builds upon itself. Unless members of a species cannot ever change (that is, if you go around killing all the blonds, the next generation will have exactly as many as it would have), evolution can occur.

Too, evolution teaching in schools tends to get mixed up with others things. Species change over time. But even today, this gets confused with moral philosophy considerations even in secular schools. Evolution is not improvement, nor it is a “force”. It’s just a process applicable in nearly any competitive environment.

Someone on this board once summed up evolution as:

Try everything
Kill what doesn’t work

But I like some of the arguments given here about the similarities we see in living organism and the reuse of existing structures. The reptilian jaw that becomes the mammalian ear. The fin that becomes an arm that becomes a fin again (or a wing).

And of course the turtles all the way down argument. Parsimony suggests natural evolution over creation since it requires fewer assumptions.

You can’t explain evolution to a creationist. Creationists have already rejected science, and don’t need logical consistency in the world because they believe in magic.

You can use arguments in this thread to arrive at Lamarckism just as easily as evolution.

Darwin used the concept of artificial selection as a segue to natural selection. But if your creationist doesn’t believe that modern day farm animals and plants are the results of centuries of domestication and you couldn’t use evidence to show this is true then you’d be stuck. Evolution arrived out of investigations into facts that didn’t make sense without it. Even with these facts creationists do not accept it and have ways to deflect them. Without evidence you have no shot.

You should figure out why that is.

Evolution is so simple a child can understand it. What’s hard is acceptance. Evolution is not intuitive to most people because it does violence to the way we see the world operating. It inverts folk logic reasoning, like having designs without designers.

Do you have evidence for this claim? Have you tested it, using the scientific method?

But that’s the thing, it doesn’t. The word evolution simply means change. Biological evolution doesn’t care about how life got started. It doesn’t even need an origin of life. The theory would still work exactly the same if the Earth and life on it was infinitely old. It would work the exact same way if the Earth were magically popped into existence by wizards or aliens or God. All the theory describes is how lifeforms change over time. It’s not a very complicated concept.

For an easy to understand example, look at the breeding of dogs. Dogs were domesticated thousands of years ago, and just in that time look how much variation there is. It wasn’t due to natural selection but due to human influence, but you can see how breeding for certain characteristics over many generations can produce wildly varying lifeforms. If you had never seen a dog before, would you believe a great dane and a chihuahua were the same animal? If you can accept that a great dane and a chihuahua had a common ancestor, is it that much of a stretch to see that humans and chimpanzees had a common ancestor?

Also, please don’t use the word “evolutionist”. That word implies that “believing” in evolution is a sect of some religion or something. You’re no more an “evolutionist” than you are a “gravityist” or a “germ theory of disease-ist”.

explain struggle for existence, selective breeding, and survival of the fittest. those are largely philosophical arguments.

One aspect you may try is to ask them why God made the animals and such in a way that there appears to be a evolutionary path.

I followed this line myself and came to my current understanding that God uses everything around us to teach us, as Jesus the Son used verbal parables, The Father uses parables of a much greater form. For instance through watching animals societal groups we learn about aspects of our own human societal structure that would be hard to see for us, but looking at animals it’s much easier to see it in them then see similarities in us.

Evolution as a parable could show us our own path evolving from really something small and primitive to a beautiful advanced life form, as our journey in life and finding out who we are. God does not just create us as beautiful refined creatures, but we evolve as God refines us and the Bible is full of examples of this. The question is then is evolution real, if there is a message in evolution from God would not God do the real thing?


Like a cockroach. Or a naked mole rat. Or a slug. All of which have been produced through hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Like everything else.

Sure. Aristotle’s teleology. In a nutshell, he envisioned all things constantly striving to become more and more like God.* Biological evolution would seem to fit nicely into the system.

But this is not only unscientific, it is a philosophy completely inimical to the scientific world-view. (As biologists must tire of explaining, evolution is not teleological.) And to philosophers it is extremely dated. (Unlike Plato.) Except perhaps for Catholic Thomist philosophers, whose system derives from Aristotle indirectly, I doubt there are any philosophers anywhere who would now defend it.

*Don’t bother praying. He can’t hear you. Aristotle’s God, so far from being omniscient, is too perfect and complete-in-Himself to be aware of anything outside Himself. Spinoza had a similar view.

Just like some people very stubborn resistant to change, and some people are just satisfied being ugly. Don’t worry, God has more time to work on them.

Creationists like to claim that everything is perfectly designed. That just ain’t so. Lots of us need corrective lenses because our eyes aren’t perfect. We got bad backs, bad knees, birth defects, hereditary diseases, etc. Animals are adapted to their environments not by custom designed body parts, but by improvisation - penguins swim underwater with their wings, elephants lift things with their noses.

Nobody planned all this - it’s the result of evolution – whatever works, as John Mace reminded us.

The problem is that evolution is not about “ascending.” It is about adapting and surviving. That is all. And where’s the philosophical fascination in that?!

It is demonstrably false that evolution has “beauty” as an end goal. It doesn’t have an end goal.

Oh, yes it does.