Biology Professor Addresses Evolution and its Opponents

Melissa Lee | Staff Photographer

Melissa Lee | Staff Photographer
Biologist Francisco Ayala lectured on evolution and religion last week, stating that, in his opinion, science and religion are compatible.

In light of Ben Stein’s new movie on intelligent design, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” UC Irvine biologist Dr. Francisco Ayala gave a lecture entitled “Evolution Is a Fact and It Is the Unifying Concept of Biology” on Wednesday, April 30 in Humanities Instructional Building 100.
Sponsored by the Atheists, Agnostics and Rationalists @ UCI, the speech drew on arguments from Ayala’s latest book, “Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion.” The publication heavily utilizes science to support Ayala’s arguments against proponents of intelligent design.
Ayala first pointed out that evolutionary biology follows the methodology of geology and other sciences. The fossil record, to some extent, mirrors geological evolution. As geologists discovered patterns in rock layers showing millennia of change and development, Darwin and subsequent biologists found organisms that reflected these changes over time.
Contrary to Ayala, intelligent design proponents argue that the theory of evolution is unreliable because the fossil record is missing the intermediates between one species and its evolutionary successor. Acknowledging this opposing view, Ayala’s presentation included a slideshow with photographs indicating that the intermediate species between a modern fish and its oldest ancestors “show characteristics typical of amphibians.”
The same links between species exist in human development. Ayala pointed out that, “At the time Darwin died in 1882, no hominids were known.” Since then, scientists have found several human ancestors with intermediates. Ayala explained the connection between man’s predecessor and modern man by drawing on traits such as bipedalism, the method of walking on rear limbs.
“No traits evolve in a continuous manner … [but] bipedalism appeared very early on,” Ayala said.
According to Ayala, one skeleton, named “Lucy,” dating back more than three million years, shows bipedalism in the hip structure.
Isolation also has an effect on the development of species. Ayala referred to Darwin’s own research on the Galapagos, where turtles were able to develop to unusually large sizes because the archipelago had few predators.
Similar environment-specific traits exist in all species. Ayala showed a chart of finches, demonstrating that each had traits relative to its environment. There is evidence that all finches are offshoots of an original finch variety and kept suitable traits as they evolved.
“[The finches] deviated from the beginning; they are not designed by an engineer,” Ayala said.
The study of proteins and enzymes has yielded evidence about the types of amino acids that appear in spheres of the environment. These findings indicate that evolution sprouted from a single kind of organism. As proof of his argument, Ayala stressed the relatively small number of enzymes present in organisms when compared to the hundreds of organisms that exist.
“Only 20 [enzymes] are used for organisms. … Molecular biology provided the strongest evidence for evolution,” Ayala said.
Students in attendance were disappointed that Ayala focused on the scientific aspects of the issue rather than engaging with the arguments presented in Stein’s movie. One such student was Thomas Sim, a fourth-year political science major.
“I thought it was very informative. I was kind of disappointed he didn’t go the more philosophical route in terms of comparing intelligent design and evolution. The majority of the presentation was pretty much a science lecture,” Sim said.
Valeria Goné, a third-year social science major, had similar sentiments.
“I expected him to talk more about the argument between intelligent design and evolution, so I was a little disappointed,” Goné said.
However, during the question-and-answer portion of his presentation, Ayala focused more on the philosophical side of the argument. Ayala was careful to note that none of this scientific evidence is mutually exclusive to religion.
“The theory of evolution is better for religion than intelligent design … [and] it is not impossible that evolution was guided by God,” Ayala said.
When asked if religion should be removed from science courses, Ayala gave a surprising answer.
“Religion is not science, but the fact that science is compatible with religion is an important thing to state in science classes,” Ayala said.
Following the lecture, Ayala was available for individual questions outside the lecture hall where he sold and signed copies of his book.