Evolution Mechanism or Miracle?
Firstly, the teaching of evolution handed down from Darwin IS a theory. That is to say, whilst there is plenty of evidence for it, no one has actually ever seen anything evolve. This seems surprising but it is not. The theory itself posits a long time frame for significant change to take place.
While scientists, biologists and agronomists have been able to mutate and genetically alter life forms to some extent, and while genetic engineering also leads to such altered forms, the natural flow of things' wherein forms mutate, prosper and proliferate according to certain principles, namely, adaptation to the environment, competition between and among species and survival of the fittest, there is still a world of difference between what conscious effort on the part of committed science can achieve and what evolution theory seeks to explain.
Evolution theory seeks to explain three things within the plant and animal kingdoms: diversity, similarity and complexity. Let us put the third issue into context. The famous physicist Isaac Newton explained in his theories of thermo-dynamics that there is a universal law that things, namely natural systems, break down. Darwin observed that regarding life forms the converse seemed to be the case, such forms generally moved from the simple to the complex, that is, rather than breaking down they grew up.
Of course, the Christian Church had hitherto proclaimed that God had created the world exactly as we find it, in six days. So, both from the point of view of contemporary science and religion Darwin's views were radical. But his were not the only views.
Whereas Darwin promoted the idea that 1) the motor force of the evolutionary process was competition and 2) that key to it was the mixing of parental genes, another biologist, Jean-Baptists Lamarke posited that 1) change occurred through a process of co-operation and adaptation, not competition and 2) change occurred due to the transmission across generations of acquired characteristics.
Lamarke's theory was said to have been proved wrong' but in fact it was as true as Darwin's because it is now known that both types of processes take place. In fact a whole new branch of mainstream science has lately arisen called trans-genetics, which studies the acquisition of characteristics that occur during the lifetime and cause a genetic mutation that is then passed down to the next generation. For example, a village in the north of Sweden experienced a severe famine over one hundred years ago and the seceding generations have a syndrome which causes them to gain and keep weight. The mechanism involved here is a turning on or off of switches within the genetic structure, thus also explaining why we have far fewer genes than previously thought, but in more complex configurations.
Also it is now understood that within each of the three trillion cells in the human body are tiny molecular structures that function as motors to convert glucose into energy and that these motors, called mitochondria, are single cell organisms of very ancient origins, which, having died out in their original natural habitat have somehow' become enclosed in the cells of all living beings and are essential to their survival. In other words, we have here an incredibly rich example of evolutionary co-operation. I put the somehow' in inverted commas to stress that in all processes of evolution so far discovered there are such missing links' wherein we rightfully ask, how on earth did it happen?
At the heart of evolutionary theory, of any type, is a missing link which can be usefully described as a leap.' It always reminds me of those Gothic novels where the hero is in some dark dungeon on one page and on the next is written the immortal phrase, "In one leap he was free!"
To summarize so far:
1) Evolution IS a theory, a process never witnessed except in its supposed results.
2) Darwin's theory is a good explanation for many processes but nevertheless, not complete.
3) Other theories complement Darwin's and co-operatively' (IE, they are not in competition, natural or otherwise) flesh it out.
4) Darwin posits gradual change over perhaps thousands or millions of years whereas change may be rapid, as in the case of immediate mutation.
Additionally to all this I want to explain why the whole paradigm in which evolution is discussed has become quite mechanical.
There is of course the well known controversy regarding evolution versus intelligent design: paraphrased in the question, did we evolve or were we created? It can be put more brutally as one between two beliefs: Mechanism or Miracle.
Newton himself, in looking at the incredible balance within the universe likened it as to one million icicles balancing upon their points. Although he studied the mechanisms involved in all these incredible balances (Eg. The Solar System) he was convinced that an intelligent design was at work behind it all. In modern chaos theory physicists talk about great attractors', being alike mathematical laws that direct the vast potential of matter in motion in certain meaningful ways.
Similarly, evolution in all its forms is a flowing movement of life, engaging itself in ever more complex forms, that is, it is a natural process. But behind it, what is the power that makes it so? This ever-upward movement and flowering of forms reminds one of a plant stretching up towards the sunlight. But, what for us, as humans possessing this strange thing called consciousness, what for us is the light?
There is a principle utilized in science called Occum's razor, attributed to the 14th Century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham. It is taken to mean that everything unnecessary should be cut out in order to explain a phenomenon in the simplest way. Vulgar science has used this to exorcise any investigation of anything that cannot be proved or disproved in a laboratory experiment. Talk of God, spirit, even consciousness itself has been put beyond the pail by some zealous materialists. Science became purely mechanical, like clockwork. Now, with the theories of relativity and quantum physics, the whole principle business of science in hunting down certainty has been conjoined with a new curiosity towards investigating uncertainty. It has been a paradigm shift and an opening up which promises a renewed unity between science, religion (in its finest non-dogmatic sense) and art. I say art because the universe is also a beautiful place to be!
Evolution can also break out of the clockwork world in which conventional science has striven to keep it and be looked at fresh as a work of art in progress. Both natural evolution and the study of it are art forms, the one being a mirror of the other. But ultimately the question of questions remains, who is the artist? Perhaps it is us.