How valid are the claims of Darwin? What proof is there for his ideas and the more recent scientific conceptions of his theories, now called, “neo-Darwinism”? Is evolution really “A Theory in Crisis” to quote the title of non-Christian scientist Michael Denton’s book?
Since many sincere Christians believe in evolution without throwing away their need for a creator in the process, I want to clarify right away that in talking about evolution and creation, I am referring to two very different perspectives. By “evolution,” I mean atheistic or non‑supernatural evolution which, at its root, denies the possibility of God being involved in the process in any way. When I speak of “creation,” I am referring to the need for a Creator, a divine being. In addition, for clarity and brevity’s sake, I will put aside the “young earth/old earth” debate.
What, then, is the evidence for evolution versus creation? To begin with, one of the really difficult unsolved problems in evolution is the question of how living organic organisms evolved from non-living inorganic compounds and processes without the aid of any intelligent design or direction. The scientific search for a purely natural mechanism to bring life from non-life has been consistently fruitless. In Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box, Behe points out that the chance that even a single cell could evolve without outside direction from an intelligent source is a mathematical impossibility. The search for a non-directed mechanism is certainly not dead among scientists, but it is taking on new and increasingly desperate twists.
Panspermia: The Outer-space Connection
It is no surprise, then, that some high-level scientists are seriously entertaining a theory of what is now called, “panspermia.” In light of the formidable difficulties of life arising from non-life on planet earth without the help of an intelligent designer, some theorize that life here was initially brought (either accidentally or intentionally) from outer space. Perhaps, it is thought, the seed of all life here was planted by a meteor, or even by other intelligent alien life forms.
As potentially ridiculous as this sounds, it is now a viable theory to many atheistic scientists trying desperately to escape the clutches of the real theoretical problems evolutionary theory cannot adequately solve. But panspermia solves nothing, for it retreats into the unassailable fortress of agnosticism by suggesting that since life came from some other place in the universe, there is no way to confirm or falsify the theory, knowing that there is (so far) no viable way to find or travel to these places and test the theory.
Where did everything come from in the first place?
But even if we accept—just for the sake of argument—that life originally did come from some place other than planet earth, does evolutionary theory offer an adequate explanation for the origin of the basic raw materials of the universe as a whole? It does not, because it must assume the eternality of matter to do so. But this is an assertion that science itself, through the discovery of laws like the conservation of matter and the second law of thermodynamics, has shown to be extremely unlikely, if not impossible.
For Christianity, of course, none of this is a problem. We recognize the need for an eternal, intelligent and powerful designer of creation, especially since this is precisely what the Bible teaches (Genesis 1:1). As well, the fact that God created living things with the capacity to adapt and change in response to environmental fluctuations is obvious. This is what biologists call, “microevolution,” “speciation,” or “adaptation.” But there are inherent natural limits to this sort of biological change, refuting the notion of “macroevolution” where one type of animal (say, an amphibian) somehow becomes another type of animal (say, a reptile).
Punctuated Equilibrium and the “Hopeful Monster”
This failure to demonstrate the possibility of macroevolution has led some scientists to propose a theory of “punctuated equilibrium.” This theory claims that genetic changes remain externally unexpressed until at some “critical mass” point, the genetic traits are very suddenly and completely expressed in a whole new type of creature or anatomical feature. Thus, an amphibious newt suddenly gives birth to a fully formed and functional reptilian lizard. Most scientists try to steer clear of such “hopeful monster” theories, but the theory is really just an honest and desperate attempt to encapsulate what is required from the evidence of the fossil record. What do I mean?
The Problem of the Fossil Record
The fossil record clearly points away from Darwinian theories of gradual trans-typical change. That is, new types of animals essentially “appear out of nowhere,” remain morphologically stable for a while, and then “pop” back out of existence. And the same is true for so-called, “living fossils,” like the coelacanth, and the tuatara. These are living animals that suddenly and completely “disappeared” from the fossil record and then mysteriously showed up in modern times, virtually unchanged.
If Darwin were right, we would expect to see more transitional forms in the fossil record, which we do not. In addition, virtually all examples of “demonstrated” transitions (like horse and human evolution) are highly debatable in the first place, and have been subjected to intense (and warranted) critical analysis and refutation.
One Fatal Flaw
All of this points to one fatal flaw in atheistic evolutionary theory, the unspoken assumption that life in all of its astounding complexity and beauty must have arisen from solely natural processes. However, after more than a century of searching for the mechanisms of evolution, one consistent theme emerges: the universe (and life on planet earth in particular) was created and designed by a magnificently powerful and intelligent agent.
Indeed, God has not left Himself without a witness in the world that He has made. As Romans 1:20-22 states: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse, for even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks: but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.”
It is clear that, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1). May we be wise and not foolish, by honoring and giving thanks to “the God who made the world and all things in it. For in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:24, 28).
I don’t see what atheism or the rejection of a deity has to do with evolution. I assume that a god had anything to do with the rain that fell on me last week and I have a naturalistic explanation for it, but that doesn’t mean I go out of my way to reject the idea that a god (or aliens or whatever) was up in a cloud somewhere sprinkling water on me. I just have no reason to suppose that, so I don’t. And if I were a scientist I would not consider the idea scientific not because I’m militantly opposed to any alternatives to the current water cycle science, but because until it can be tested there’s just no way to honestly call the “invisible rain sprinkling being” hypothesis science. Science as an institution doesn’t reject supernatural or religious claims, it simply remains silent when it comes to them because they usually cannot be tested. Invisible beings cannot be observed or subjected to experiments and predictions and every attempt to study the things they supposedly control like prayer and healing shows no correlation. Scientists are free to believe whatever they want about these things (and couintless scientists do believe in them) but to call those beliefs science without empirical backing is a major breach of professional ethics. If anything can be called science because someone thinks it has merit than the term science becomes meaningless and if say aerodynamics was open to un-testable ideas then pretty soon airplanes are gonna start falling out of the sky. Keeping science limited to only what we can prove is a VERY good thing.
“To begin with, one of the really difficult unsolved problems in evolution is the question of how living organic organisms evolved from non-living inorganic compounds and processes without the aid of any intelligent design or direction.”
This is like saying “the major problem with newton’s theory of gravitation is how does it explain the fungus growing in my bathroom?” It doesn’t, not because it is somehow a failed theory but because it is not even an attempt to explain that. There is no one unified theory of life, there are many thousands of theories that account for different aspects of it. Darwin’s theory accounts for how life changes once it exists, not how it came to exist to begin with. That theory is called abiogenesis and while many interesting discoveries have been made along those lines it is hindered by the fact that early life had no fortified cell structures or bones or exoskeletons to leave traces for us to reconstruct that part of life’s history. But that is irrelevant to evolution because darwin assumed there was a creator. It is also irrelevant to atheism because a cell, while difficult to explain, is far easier to account for than an omniscient, omni-benevolent genius god.
As for panspermia it isn’t an attempt to rationalize the beginning of life, it’s a real possibility given that mars was a warm, wet planet around the time life began on earth and we know that meteor impacts can propel matter into space and bacteria can survive the heat generated by those impacts and survive in outer space for decades. That life began on mars is actually possible, and we may find fossils of earlier life on mars. This is a discovery, not a conspiracy.
Punctuated equilibrium was also not an attempt to rationalize anything, it was an attempt to offer a slightly different take on evolution.
The claim that the fossil record is a “problem” for evolution since new species “appear out of nowhere” is misleading, species don’t sit still and wait for their picture to be taken, they migrate and roam and expand into new areas and even continents, this is why (as darwin well knew) we don’t find a perfect evolutionary sequence in every geological formation which records not the history of one species but the history of what species lived at that spot over huge periods of time. Globally however the fossil record follows a clear evolutionary pattern not just in terms of the emergence of new traits and complexity but also within individual lines. There are countless transitional forms in the fossil record, the idea that all life suddenly appeared one day is simply not true.
As for there being a creator god being obvious, it was obvious to the ancient greeks that lightning must come from zeus (or thor). Something being obvious to you means little, since we believe things for many reasons and many people think the opposite truth is equally obvious.
You raise a number of interesting issues and you are correct that evolution is not inherently atheistic since many evolutionary scientists believe in God. My main points in this painfully brief post are that atheistic explanations of origins do not have sufficient explanatory power. And you seem to assume that supernatural beings do not impact or influence the natural realm. But that is an a priori assumption that is not itself provable. The impact of the supernatural within the natural realm can, in fact, be discerned through answering questions about the concept of best explanations for certain types of unrepeatable events in history–not merely possible or improbable explanations. It is also interesting that you raise the ethical issue when, in fact, ethics are metaphsyical concerns that cannot be adequately grounded in purely naturalistic conceptions of reality. With all due respect, your claim that the origin of a single cell is easier to account for than a Creator is simply false. That statement alone makes me suspect that you may not really understand the level of complexity and the numerous necessary steps (let alone the question of where did everything come from in the first place) required for even the simplest forms of life to exist. While it is obvious to me that this universe has a Creator (and for several more reasons than the scientific realities I mentioned), it seems equally obvious that this is not obvious to you. But why? What specifically makes you so willing to assume the naturalistic explanation of the origin of the cell (which remains a scientific mystery) and yet so reticent to admit the possibility of a Creator? Finally, let me say thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully read and engage with my post! I really do appreciate you taking the time to read and specifically interact with the claims that I make.