Evolution, and the worldview that has sprang from it, is the prevailing worldview in American culture. You will encounter it at all levels of education, when you watch the news, or even when you are watching movies. With it being so pervasive, there will come a time when you have to talk about it in some way. Is it true? How do we determine whether it is true or not? Can/should Christians believe it? These are some of the questions that I will try and tackle this week.
Before we dig in I would like to get a few clarifications out of the way. Firstly, there are Christians who hold to evolution. I think there are serious problems with being a theistic evolutionist, but I would not say that holding to evolution disqualifies someone from salvation. Secondly, Christians who hold to an old earth/universe perspective do not necessarily therefore believe in evolution. The age of the earth/universe question will likely get its own post, but I just wanted to clarify it as it relates to this topic, specifically. Lastly, I will be dealing with evolution in regards to natural selection and its worldview underpinnings, and not necessarily tackling all the different branches or aspects of the theory (genetic drift, speciation, co-evolution, selfish-gene theory, etc.)
It is often supposed that evolution is equal to the phrase the survival of the fittest, and while this is somewhat helpful, it is also very limiting, and misses the main thrust. Evolution is the incremental change in a species over many successive generations. Ultimately, natural selection (the engine of evolution) is concerned with procreation. So if the plumage of a peacock is bright and attracts mates to better produce offspring, natural selection would select that trait, even if the bright color made it more vulnerable to predators. A better phrase to sum up evolution might be the survival of offspring or at least a phrase that sums up natural selection.
While the ideas of evolution were around previous to this, evolution as a theory didn’t hit its stride until Charles Darwin published his famous Origin of the Species in 1859. It has evoked controversy down through the ages even today, where it is the widely accepted theory of biological origins of life on earth. Naturally, if it purports to be an explanation of the origin of all life on earth, that would include human life as well, which puts it on a collision course with the biblical understanding of creation.
For present purposes, we’re going to rule out all other options for the origin of life, and thus be dealing only with evolution and biblical creation. The first thing we have to realize is that there are no unbiased people in this discussion, whether they are scientists, theologians, or everyday people. We all have a worldview, and will interpret things based on that worldview, even though evidence will influence our beliefs. This is an important thing to keep in mind, because it is often construed that secular people, scientists in particular, are completely objective when dealing with this issue, and that creation must be rejected out of hand because it is biased and religious. It is true that biblical creation is inherently religious, but that doesn’t actually mean that it should be thrown out. If it makes the best sense of the data we have available to us, then we should accept it, regardless of what else it entails. You may also have noticed that there are many secular worldview trappings that come with evolution. The theory has become a worldview, and has started taking over other disciplines so that now you have evolutionary psychology and evolutionary sociology as well. The stakes are simply too high to throw out one or the other by claiming your position is neutral while the other is biased. Frankly, doing so is likely to be either due to cowardice or laziness, or both.
As we mentioned earlier, the main engine for evolutionary change (the small, incremental changes over generations) is natural selection. If there is a particular trait that a particular member of a population has that allow it to attract more mates and reproduce more quickly, it will be a trait that will be selected, due to its helping to continue the survival of that species. This brings up an interesting point, that I first heard presented by Alvin Plantinga. While he uses the complete argument to show that you can’t believe in both natural selection and naturalism (atheism) at the same time, you must have naturalism or theistic evolution, I think it’s helpful to at least use part of the argument to suit our purposes even though I think theistic evolution has its own problems.
The part of his argument that I find useful is the idea that natural selection does not select for the truth value of a certain belief, but only this or that trait, regardless of belief or action. I’ll explain what I mean with a silly and simple example scenario. Suppose a primitive man is alone in the woods, away from his tribe, and he encounters a bear. In his mind he thinks the bear is extremely soft looking, and would like very much to feel the fur, and to perhaps cuddle with the bear for warmth at night. Strangely enough, the best way he can think of to do this is to try and run away and get away from the bear at all costs. The belief is asinine, but let’s suppose that the man actually does get away. This man will go on to procreate, regardless of the fact that the beliefs which motivated his actions were false. Natural selection, then, will pass on the genes due to the fact that his speed or evasiveness allowed him to live long enough to procreate, whereas someone with true beliefs may not have been as fit, and died before procreating. Now why is this a problem? Because, if you believe that natural selection does not select for truth value (a point that is noncontroversial among people I’ve talked with) then you have to wonder how we can believe any of the thoughts we currently have, including those about evolution itself. To put it more simply, the general idea is that humans evolved over time from the primate family (not the technical term, I know). However, if our bodies evolved from theirs, that also means that our minds evolved from theirs as well, and if natural selection doesn’t select for truth value, we don’t have much of a solid ground to trust our own minds. In this way, evolution undercuts itself. Interestingly, Darwin himself struggled with this same issue when he said
“But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”
Alternatively, if it is true, as we have discussed in earlier posts, that God exists, and in Him rests the foundation for logic and thinking, and that the universe is extremely fine tuned and orderly, so that we can understand it, then we have good reasons for being able to trust our minds, since we are created in His image.
We can also take the ideas of intelligent design that we mentioned in earlier posts and apply it here as to whether or not natural selection can produce the complex things that we see in existence today. There also is the issue of what is commonly called the Cambrian Explosion. This was an event that happened in a relatively short span of time in which a large number of new species or adaptations appeared all at once, which is problematic for natural selection, which needs large amounts of time to accumulate changes with small steps.
Another area in this discussion is the origin of life. To put it simply, natural selection needs to have something to work with, but where did the “stuff” come from in the first place? In other words, even if we suppose that evolution is true and that natural selection works, we have to figure out how the whole process got started. Many are familiar with the “genetic soup” theory, which is the idea that on the primitive earth, there existed pools which contained the correct chemical/genetic makeup for life, and that lightening struck the pool, jump starting the process. Due to their inability to recreate this scenario in the lab, this idea has largely been discarded, in favor of the idea that life may have been jump-started in the deep ocean near thermal vents where the heat could have started the process. Ultimately, what we are looking for is how the genetic information in DNA and the the workhorse builders of proteins came about. Stephen Meyer explains in this clip.
Various scenarios have been proposed to solve the chicken/egg problem of DNA and proteins needing one-another, the most popular of which is the RNA world. Does this scenario work? Meyer says no.
These are some major problems facing evolution, and which point to it being false. Finally, I want to mention a couple things which often factor into this discussion. It is often alleged that any form of creationism or intelligent design is simply not science. The idea is that science deals with only the natural, and does not have the ability to speculate or detect anything supernatural, which means that any sort of theory that invokes a designer or creator must be thrown out. However, this is circular reasoning. A person making this claim would need to prove that science has to be in inherently naturalistic, and not merely define it in such a way that it supports their position. In my opinion, the most balanced way to approach science would be to realize that it is one way of getting at information, specifically about the world/universe around us. Whichever theory or method one uses must incorporate physical reality, otherwise it is worthless; however, neither naturalistic or supernaturalistic (for lack of a better term) models can’t be thrown out simply because of what they are, provided they still allow us to continue to gain knowledge of reality. Note that this idea does not exclude evolution from the table. All perspectives should be welcome to the table, and they should be allowed to present their arguments, evidence, and theories to prove their position and critique others. That said, I think there are significant reasons (even more than I mentioned in this post) to believe that evolution should be discarded.
Old Earth Creationism: Reasons to Believe
Young Earth Creationism: Answers in Genesis
Intelligent Design: Discovery Institute