For this first posts in this series, The Struggle of Faith, click here, here and here.
One of the subjects that has been of the most interest to me – and also most challenging to my faith as a Christian – is that of the origin of the world and the creation or evolution of humanity. When I was in Grade 12, I was just about ready to throw in the towel on my faith. After hearing so much about evolution, I figured that if God wasn’t necessary to explain our existence, why would I continue to believe in Him? I began to study the topic as deeply as possible, and I realized that there were still many things that evolution didn’t seem to explain adequately to me. Since then, I have continued to study this debate, doing my best to understand the beginnings of our existence. At different times, the arguments by one side or the other have struck me as convincing. Each side of the debate has some interesting points, as well as some really weak ones. I found that trying to follow the discussion and make a decision about the truth caused me a lot of confusion. In fact, for a number of years, I gave up studying the subject, because the lack of certainty, the illogical arguments, and the disdain and arrogance shown by each side drove me nuts. What’s more, I despaired of ever arriving at a concrete conclusion, something that really frustrated me.
In the last 3-4 years, I have returned to this topic, once again trying to understand the answers to this question. I still don’t have concrete answers, but at least I have come to peace with the situation. I have arrived at some conclusions – not about how, exactly, the world began to exist, but about the nature of the debate, my ability to understand the science, and some problems with the theory of evolution that still don’t have scientific answers that seem credible to me. I will give my conclusion about the nature of the debate between creation and evolution at the end of this post. As for my ability to participate in the debate, I explained my position in my previous post. So, the purpose of this post is to lay out some things that still don’t make sense to me about the theory of evolution.
I am certainly not claiming to have the final answer to this debate, and I’m not even aiming to give a firm conclusion. As I said in my last post, even the scientists don’t agree about this topic, despite the oft-heard declaration that “the science is clear” in favour of evolution. It isn’t. I’m not speaking as an expert, but as an ordinary person who has questions and is searching for answers. As such, I’m going to present the issues that most leave me feeling unsatisfied. My questions and doubts are mainly about the theory of evolution, but that isn’t the full story. Please read to the end of the post before drawing any firm conclusions, especially if you are an evolutionist of whatever stripe.
One note: for my most recent research into these themes, I have used many different web sites from non-Christian sources to try to understand and appropriately present the humanistic/naturalistic perspective that is considered the “scientific consensus”. For a Christian perspective, I have primarily used the sites of the Institute for Creation Research (icr.org), The Discovery Institute and their related site, evolutionnews.org, and Biólogos (biologos.org). The first gives a perspective of Young Earth Creationists, the second is based on the theory of Intelligent Design, and the final one is from the point of view of some evolutionary theists.
So, without further ado, here are the dilemmas from the theory of evolution that most catch my attention and have left me wanting:
- The uncertainty about the steps of evolution. It’s difficult to hear over and over the mantra that evolution is a fact and proved beyond a shadow of doubt when the scientific articles are littered with ambiguity. When reading an article about the steps of evolution for a particular species of animal or anything else, the article is full of “maybe”, “perhaps”, “probably”, “we’re not sure”, “possibly”, etc. I understand that there’s still a lot to learn and a lot of gaps to fill in, but it doesn’t fill me with confidence when all the articles are like that. Even in the cases where they say that it is certain, a closer look reveals the same problem. I don’t expect perfection, but I’d like a lot more certainty and evidence about how something happened before I accept it as gospel truth (pun intended).
- The concept of Infinity. A common argument from those who don’t believe in God is that God couldn’t exist because, “Who created God?” But I’ve never understood this argument, because evolution (without God) ends up with essentially the same problem. Either the universe always existed and is itself eternal (so who created the universe? And why is an eternal universe more acceptable than an eternal God?) or there was nothing until about 14 billion years ago, then suddenly matter, and thus time, burst into existence (where did everything come from? And how can “nothing” suddenly create everything, including time?), or there was some other eternal force (e.g. gravity, as Stephen Hawking apparently suggests) that always existed, which again leaves us with the question of how gravity could always exist or why it’s okay for that to be eternal, but not God. In every case, we have to deal with the concept of infinity/eternity, and the beginning of all things. I think the concept of an eternal God makes just as much sense as any other answer. Maybe more, because at least with the concept of God there is intelligence and power capable of creating everything, something that the other ideas don’t appear to provide. I know that it’s difficult to believe in God when He can’t be measured or experienced in quite the same way as the physical world around us, but I don’t think it’s fair to exclude the possibility just because of that.
- The creation (or rise) of life from non-life. At least everybody is in agreement about this point: we don’t have the slightest clue exactly how life began on earth. There are many sites that give explanations or theories as if it were certain, such as this one from Berkeley, but the reality is that we don’t know how the ability to replicate or reproduce began. Some sites, such as this one or this one from Live Science, state that we know exactly when life began, but not how. Biologos agrees, and give their opinion here. They are optimistic that further investigations are going to bring new evidence and explanations about how life began. On the other hand, evolutionnews and ICR (here, here, and here) don’t believe that it is (or was) posible for live to arise from non-life.
In my opinion, at this point the reasons and complications against the spontaneous creation of life appear more valid. The evolution of life, which appears so certain when one reads a basic explanation from an evolutionary source, appears much less certain upon reading an article that outlines how difficult and apparently impossible it is to combine basic elements and begin a process of reproduction. In my view, there is at present a total lack of evidence that this can happen. There are just a lot of hypothetical ideas of what might have happened.
On the other hand, Biologos has a very good article that reminds us that a lack of answers does not necessarily indicate the presence of God. The answers often arrive with more experiments and investigation. But at the moment, this is a crucial barrier that the theory of evolution has not been able to satisfactorily cross.
- The tendency of mutations towards destruction and neutrality. Humanistic evolution says that each organism has arisen due to gradual changes throughout the course of millions of years. The most common mechanism held responsible for these changes is mutation. A mutation (says the theory) brings certain benefits to the organism that helps it to survive and copy itself better than its competitors, thus allowing it to become dominant. Over time, the compilation of mutations leads to the rise of new organisms, until we have the variety and diversity that we see today. Everything sounds nice and simple.
But the reality (and once again, everyone is in agreement with this part) is that the vast majority – nearly all – of mutations are negative, or at best, neutral. And the few examples of beneficial mutations, such as “superbugs”, never bring a change in species, which makes suspect that they are not really evolutionary changes, merely adaptations of an organism that allow it to survive in a different situation.
A relatively recent example of this comes from Harvard Medical School, where a long-running experiment produced a “significant” change in the bacteria being investigated – a mutation that could be seen as a step, say the researchers, towards the beginning of a new species. (A bacteria began to use an element in the presence of oxygen when it had not been able to do so previously.) But others say that this investigation doesn’t demonstrate evolution, and it definitely doesn’t show the creation of a new species, or even steps in that direction. In fact, the rebuttal points to another scientist who made the same bacteria do the same thing much more quickly, but did not believe that the change was anything significant.
Another discussion about mutations, but on the genetic level, speaks about the belief that there are many “pseudogenes” (false or inactive genes that remained in our DNA after the mutation of new ones that made them unnecessary). This idea is being challenged by new research (and here) that show that at least some of these “pseudogenes” have active and important roles, and that maybe they are not indications of previous mutations. To me, this case appears very similar to the argument about vestigial organs (organs left over from evolution that no longer have use). In the many years since these organs were first proposed as “proof” of evolution, we have discovered that almost all of them – and some would say every single one – serve a useful purpose. In fact, Francis Collins, who directed the Human Genome Project which mapped out the human genome, declared that the extra pseudogenes (junk DNA) in our bodies was evidence of evolution. But in 2015, he retracted this statement, saying that the majority of the things that appeared extra, are not.
So despite the beliefs and proclamations of the evolutionists and the constant reports of the evolution of new superbugs, positive mutations are not very common, and up until now, as far as I know, scientists have not been able to force variations that create new species, but rather only variations within the same type of organism. And if millions of beneficial mutations are necessary for a new species to arise, it’s difficult to believe that it’s possible. I know that that last statement is an expression of belief, not fact – the so-called “argument of incredulity” – but I just don’t see sufficient evidence to be convinced that mutations can create new creatures.
- The creation of biological information. The last two problems mentioned have as their root the problem of the creation of information. Despite all of the discussion about mutations, these mutations do not appear to result in the creation of new information. The theory of evolution says that the complexity of organisms has increase bit by bit until the present day, when we have extremely complex organisms. But it appears that mutations only result in organisms that are weaker or have modified their form, and never in the creation of new information or in an organism that is different and more complex.
For example: One theory proposes that multicellular organisms began when a single-cell organism entered into another single-cell organism and the two began a symbiotic relationship that gave them (together and individually) a competitive advantage. Again, this sounds good. The problem is that for this organism to copy itself as a complete organism (new organisms that include both parts), there has to be a mixing of the genetic information of the two (their DNA) in order to make a copy, something that doesn’t appear overly common or easy to do. And if that wasn’t enough, there also needs to be the creation of new genetic information to guide the new organism and the new DNA in how to work together and replicate itself. DNA doesn’t just include the basic information for the parts. It also contains the information necessary for all the different parts to work together – information that simply didn’t exist when they were separate organisms. It needs to define which part of the new gene will reproduce first, how they will interact, etc.
Maybe that’s not the best example, or not explained the best – remember, I’m not a scientist, I’m just someone trying to explain what doesn’t make sense to me. And the creation of new information at a genetic level isn’t simple, and it doesn’t appear that there is a natural mechanism that helps the process to work. Yet many times, when an article is talking about organisms and the “evolutionary advantage” that a mutation confers on them, it speaks as if the organisms had some sort of intelligence or guiding principle. But they don’t. A unicellular organism just makes copies of itself and does it’s job (if it has a job). If it lives in a good environment, it can make many copies. If it enters into a less hospitable place, it dies or cannot make many copies. It doesn’t have the ability to think, “Aha! Here’s a good spot! I’m going to stay here for a while. And if I join with this or that other organism or cell, then we can survive longer and grow stronger. And even better, if we mix our genes, we could become something incredible!” Unicellular organisms simply carry out automatic processes. So if they’re going to mix with another cell to form a new organism, they have to be able to do it automatically – it’s either an inevitable process or something external (environment, etc.) forces this combination to happen. There is no guidance, intelligence, or deliberate help.
If you want to study the concept of the beginning of multicellular organisms more in depth, you can go here to gain an evolutionary explanation. Stephen Meyer and his colleagues at the Discovery Institute are those who best explain the problem of the creation of biological information, and you can find more information here or here (the first article has a link that connects to a book on this topic by Stephen Meyer). As well, both ICR (here) and evolutionnews (here) mention an article by two non-Christian scientists that says that chemical reactions do not appear to be sufficient for the evolution of life, and speaks about the possibility of information and networks, instead of chemistry, as the key for the formation of life. However, they don’t really give a clear explanation about how this works. The original article is available here, although you have to pay for it.
So, those are the points that most catch my attention regarding the origins of life. It is a huge topic, and there are many things that I have not mentioned. As always with this topic, I have more questions than answers. If I had to choose my own position, I would probably align most closely with those who argue for Intelligent Design, but my position has changed various times in my life, and could very possibly change again in the future. As Denis Venema said in the article that I mentioned before, the lack of answers does not necessarily mean that there aren’t answers, just that we don’t have them right now. But right now there appear to be some significant barriers for science to show that evolution without God isn’t possible.
But – and this but is very important – this doesn’t mean that I’m completely against the concept of evolution without the direct intervention of God and through completely natural means, even though it presently seems incredibly hard to believe. It is possible that we will find answers to all of the problems that I have mentioned, and many others that I haven’t. Maybe we will someday be able to fill in the holes of our understanding with knowledge. And that would be fine. Even if we discover that it was not necessary for God to intervene to create new species and form life from non-life, I would still continue with my faith. Why? Because it still seems that our universe needs something (or someone) outside of itself to start it. Because even though science might be able to explain the “how” of life, it’s terrible at explaining the “why”. Because there are still various other lines of reasoning that point to God. And more than anything because our faith isn’t centred on how God created the world, but on the person, death and resurrection of Jesus.
But apart from all that, the conclusion that I’ve come to about the whole debate between creation and evolution is that we are wasting a lot of time discussing a secondary matter. I don’t believe that the Bible, and the first chapter of Genesis in particular, was written to give a scientific explanation of the creation of the world. I’m not a scientist, but I am a theologian, at least to some degree. I study the Bible a lot, and I don’t think this creation/evolution debate captures the point of what the Bible is saying. I will do a post soon about this (well, as soon as possible with 4 kids, work, and taking classes), but first I have to deal with the question of what it means to “take the Bible seriously”, a discussion very important (at least within Christian circles) to be able to discuss the significance of a lot of Biblical passages – especially Genesis 1.
If you have a comment or question, please put drop me a note below. God bless.