I note your expression "the evolutionist", singular but referring to all who accept evolution. It's an insidious grammatical variation which implies that since they are all alike, there is effectively only one to consider. Historical parallels include "the savage", "the Jew" and "the Hun". Consider the prejudices of the people who used those.
1) Here is what Gould meant. The division between human and ape is arbitrary, based on a consensus of zoologists. They drew a line in the progression and called everything after it "Homo". Just this side of that arbitrary line is what we would call a very apelike human. Just the far side is a species considered a very humanlike ape. Every species on the line can be considered a transitional species between those either side of it. (I'd like to know what your definition of "transitional species" is, by the way.)
We are immediately descended from only one of the humanoid species, in the same way that an individual can only have one set of parents. Though some of them like Neanderthal Man split off as our umpteenth cousins, many of the species found are our direct ancestors, and the ancestors of our immediate ancestor species.
The current estimate is that 90% of all species of anything which have ever lived are now extinct. It happens, especially when a species very like you but somehow better is suddenly sharing your resources. Through competition and natural selection, each species on the timeline is likely responsible for the extinction of the one before it, including Homo sapiens. The other apes survived by diversifying to the point where they weren't in competition with our ancestors anymore. For example, some came down from the trees and some didn't.
2) Blue whales are very big, and they grow quickly. Cells are very small, so if a big lifeform grows quickly, a lot of cells are created very quickly. If cells multiply and increase at a rate faster than one cell per second, then it is reasonable that something with more cells than seconds since the Earth's formation (1.5 * 10^17) could fully form in the time since the Earth's formation.
As it happens, the rate of increase of blue whale cells easily exceeds 100 million per second during childhood, which allows an individual blue whale to grow to adulthood in a matter of years. Is there an actual problem with this, or does it just strike you as amazing and therefore impossible without divine help?
Ernst Chain's objections to evolution (as told by the Institute for Creation Research) have been answered many times, though not necessarily here.
- He saw evolution as a chance process, which thanks to the mechanism of natural selection it is not.
- He doubted the efficacy of change through mutation, which has been repeatedly demonstrated, most recently by Richard Lenski's e.coli experiment.
- He contrasted "classical Darwinian ideas" with the function of genes, knowing that Darwin and his contemporaries had no idea what genes or DNA were. Post-genetic neo-Darwinian theory, which was available to Chain if he wished to study it, takes genetic function into account very well.
- He saw the development of mathematics, poetry and other exclusively human abilities as the result of a "divine spark", whereas evolutionary psychology has excellent explanations for their development.
- He wrote that evolutionary theory "does not allow the development of ethical guidelines for human behavior," assuming as many religious people do that anyone would want to use it for that purpose. There's enough secular empathy, convention and philosophy to do that already, without also trying to exploit a simple scientific explanation of a physical phenomenon, thankyou very much.
If there's no particular reason why Chain did not support evolution which stands up today, invoking him is simply a shallow appeal to authority. If that's all you're going for, fine, but it's an authority in the minority.
Why only apply your idea of evolutionary logic to fellow animals? We're related to all living things on the planet. "Qualitatively", if we've got nothing on apes then we're no better than any of them, so we oughtn't to kill or harm anything at all. You know why we don't think like that? Because if we ever had, our ancestors would have starved and we wouldn't be here.
I must mention that in your first paragraph, you've made a very sweeping statement in a very small parenthesis. Just consider how much more obviously offensive it would be if you had said, "I would not want to be alone on an island with a black man," or, "I would not want to be alone on an island with a Jew."
I assume you subscribe to the school of thought that because atheists have no absolute authority on which to base their morals, their morals are effectively baseless. I parry, very simply, by saying that in the absence of any moral absolute which we (humans, not just atheists) actually know exists, there are many valid objective bases which serve us well, especially when used in concert. I counter by wondering out loud whether it is worse to be without a perceived absolute moral basis than to use a false moral basis, as in the case of followers of all but one religion (or, of course, all of them).
Back to your actual question: the psychological ability to kill animals and eat their meat has nothing to do with atheism, and little or nothing to do with personal concepts of evolution. Rather it is determined by an effect of evolution: empathy. The more we are able to identify with a creature, the more difficult it is to hurt or kill it. This served us well in the early days before concrete laws, when helping others usually resulted in reciprocation and made everyone happier.
The differences between us and apes are not as important as the similarities between us. In case you haven't noticed, orangutan isn't on the menu at your local restaurants. Neither is dog or cat, for that matter. The idea of killing these animals, or especially causing them pain, makes everybody uncomfortable. That's because we identify with them. Apes on television are eerily similar to humans, and while dogs and cats are more distantly related, in our culture we've come to see them as little friends.
After the most familiar creatures, there's a sliding scale of empathy. We're much more comfortable with the idea of eating sheep and other cattle, but we like to be assured that they were treated well on the farm and were killed humanely. (Contrast this with the religious concepts of "kosher" and "halal", which demand that these animals are killed in ways that cause them brief but terrible pain.)
At the far end of the scale are alien-looking creatures like mosquitoes, which we casually hunt down and brutally murder before they have a chance to feed on us. Once we leave the animal kingdom and consider plants, fungi and bacteria, we generally cannot identify with them at all (for example, we can't understand any mechanism whereby they might feel something like pain) and thus we slaughter and devour them without a second thought for their welfare (beyond working to prevent their extinction).
Those who are vegans for emotional reasons are in that small minority which empathises fully with all animal life, but they still kill their plant relatives. Those on the low end of the compassion meter, on the other hand, might not feel bad about killing even dogs or apes. I doubt very much that this group contains a disproportionate amount of atheists. Perhaps there is some research on the subject.
What we have here is a case of large numbers vs other large numbers, preventing a clear-cut case for high or low probability.
A simple version of the Drake equation applies here. The probability that we will be contacted by aliens is:
A. the probability of intelligent life evolving on at least one other planet, multiplied by
B. the probability that a given intelligent species will develop interstellar exploration, or intergalactic exploration as the case may be, before it becomes extinct, multiplied by
C. the probability that a given species with interstellar/galactic exploration will actually find us before we become extinct ourselves.
(I say "exploration" rather than "travel", because the aliens might not have to be in our vicinity to find and contact us.)
If you remove the "other" from A to make, "the probability of intelligent life evolving on at least one planet," its probability becomes 1 (certain), as our existence proves it has already happened. If it happened here, nothing prevents it happening elsewhere, so A is indeed very close to 1 and very likely indeed. In other words, they're probably out there.
B is where the trouble starts. Interstellar or intergalactic travel or communication within reasonable timeframes (say, between any two stars in a galaxy within a lifetime) might actually be impossible, if the universe's inherent speed limit of 300,000km a second cannot be circumvented. B could be zero, and therefore alien contact might simply be impossible.
If instead there is a way to cross the cosmos which we haven't discovered yet, we won't know how long that takes until it happens. The danger is that it requires a species to spend a very long time working from a baseline of technologies with which it might inadvertently destroy itself. We're at that stage right now; our theories of deep space travel stem from some of the same research and the same minds as our atomic weaponry. The terrible risk of this particular period in a civilisation's existence appears to lower B considerably.
Finally, C is a function of A and the possibly infinite size of the universe. If every intelligent species which will ever arise has an volume of space to itself so big it will take the rest of its lifespan to explore (likely so far, since we've found nothing in the places we can see properly), no two may ever cross paths. Since the universe is expanding, the chances of contact are shrinking all the time, especially if the species are in separate galaxies, clusters or superclusters.
Tragically, the most likely case appears to be that there's intelligent life all over the universe, forcibly segregated by the tyranny of time and distance. Of course, ET could show up tomorrow and waggle a glowing finger at our flawed view of the universe.
Firstly, and I'm not assuming that you intend a creator god to be the preferable explanation (though of course many do), the same question can be applied to that god. If one always existed, he/she just sat there for an eternity before acting. Why?
Secondly, models of an open, non-oscillating universe generally imply that time as we know it did not exist before (or as one apologist put it, "ontologically prior to") the Big Bang. As one part of Einstein's theoretical combination "spacetime", it was wrapped up with everything else in the singularity (speck) and its apparent forward flow began when the expansion did. Going by this type of model, it wasn't possible for anything to happen "before" the Big Bang. Stephen Hawking likened the question to asking what's north of the North Pole.
Thirdly, it's possible that there are systems of time and space outside the universe we know, and our universe was set off by one of these. There are various models of a multiverse, collectively infinite in both time and matter, where universes regularly beget other universes. There are also slightly simpler models of a single external mother universe or "metaverse" which spawns the others. These are speculative, of course, but at least the extra entities being posited are objects we know exist in at least one case, i.e. universes.
Finally, new evidence is emerging which may challenge the singularity's perceived lack of a beginning. It may be best to wait and see.
As I said, see the second comment.
There's some doubt. Whether you give your friend the benefit of that doubt is up to you.
Consider the obvious: your friend knows you don't even believe there is a Hell, so might simply be joking in a way she thinks won't offend you or the Christian. Just working from this one anecdote, I can't confirm definite enemy action here. You never know, she might regret saying it after thinking about it.
Do think about asking her directly whether your atheism is a problem. You might well avoid a whole bunch of Seinfeld-style conversations where the one important thing is never stated. She is still ostensibly your friend. If there is a problem, maybe you can work it out, perhaps by dispelling a myth or two about self-declared atheists.
As for your Christian, my heart goes out to you. That was one sadistic sentiment about laughing while you burn, even if she does actually have a god behind her. Holy schadenfreude, Batman.
Begin by reading around the site, where I address many of the reasons people are Christians. If you've use any of those, there's a start.
Simple stuff to get you thinking: there are many religions, and adherents to each are just as convinced they're right. Why is one lot right and another wrong? How many possible gods are there, and therefore, what are the chances you've got the right one?
To distinguish between agnosticism and atheism: if there is no particular reason to believe in any particular god, why believe that there is something at all?
This is essentially what I do when I want to make more atheists. I ask people why they believe. That's what happened to me: as it turned out, my reasons for believing sucked, and I realised the fact.