How good is the evidence that life evolved naturally, without a Creator?
The first verse of the Bible tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”1 It does not tell us precisely how He did it.
It is “by faith [that] we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”2
God Out of the Picture
Many of us are quite happy to leave it there – a matter of faith. But others seek a scientific explanation for the origin of the universe and the subsequent development of millions of life-forms. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this. Scientific discovery and biblical revelation do not have to be in conflict. Unless, that is, science leaves God out of the picture.
Unfortunately, the commonly accepted scientific explanation for the origin and development of life—the theory of evolution—does leave God out. The theory proposes that life was generated originally from nonliving material, and evolved gradually over billions of years by natural processes.
Although evolutionists admit they don’t yet adequately understand how this happened, that it happened is not negotiable. For them, evolution is one of the “facts” of scientific life. But should it be?
Certainly, you need faith to believe there is a Creator God. But if you believe that there is no God, you also need faith to believe that.
Was Darwin Right?
Although the details have changed, the theory of evolution is still essentially based on the concepts of Charles Darwin (1809-1882). He was not the first to suggest that life gradually developed in complexity through evolution, but he did advance a scientific theory to explain how evolution might have worked.
Darwin’s ideas have helped shape scientific thinking for more than 100 years. His original concepts have been reshaped, as Darwin did not fully grasp the role of genetics. The theory as generally taught today in the classroom is known as Neo-Darwinism. In essence, Neo-Darwinism is based on two premises. First, that living organisms are subject to random variations through mutation. Second, some variations give their recipients an advantage, so that through natural selection (what came to be known as ‘“survival of the fittest”), new species develop.
Some scientists have pointed out that the second of these premises, that better-adapted life-forms are more likely to survive, is a circular argument. Obviously, if only the fittest survive, those that survive are the fittest. This neither proves nor disproves evolution. But what about the first premise? Can new species develop through random mutation?
Micro and Macro Evolution
Certain characteristics of living plants and animals change—that cannot be disputed. Animal breeders have long known how to exploit variation through artificial selection. Similar variations also occur in nature. The potential for variation in animals and plants is known as microevolution, and it explains why we have such variety of life on earth. Not just generic dogs, cats and horses, but hundreds of different breeds.
The theory of evolution suggests that this potential for variation within species eventually allows one life-form to gradually evolve into another, into an entirely different species, genus, or family—a process known as macroevolution.
If evolution is to work, that is what must happen. But—and this is crucial to understanding why some scientists see a problem with the theory—it has never been demonstrated that macroevolution actually happens! In fact, the evidence seems to point to a different conclusion.
If it cannot be shown that macroevolution occurs, a fundamental premise of evolution is on shaky scientific ground, and to accept this theory one needs—let’s call it what it is—faith. A paleontologist or evolutionary biologist might not like that word because of its religious connotations. But since one definition of faith in Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary is “firm belief in something for which there is no proof,” then faith it is.
But faith is not subject to scientific investigation, and this is why the theory of evolution is being challenged. Not just by creationists, but by scientists from many branches of science who are committed to scientific integrity. These scientists believe that because this fundamental premise of evolution has not been confirmed, the present conclusions do not adequately explain the origin of new species when examined by science’s own rules.
Still Missing Links
Charles Darwin recognized some potential flaws in his theory. In particular, he knew that if evolution progressed slowly across the ages, as he had suggested, we should expect to find evidence of transitional life-forms (“missing links”) in the fossil record. The fact that no such fossils had been found was, Darwin said, “the greatest objection which can be urged against my theory.”
Darwin wrote these words in the early days of paleontology, when only a few fossils had been classified. He was confident that further discoveries would validate his ideas. But they have not. Today, about 200 million fossils have been found and classified into about a quarter of a million species. But in this vast horde, there are still no adequate fossils that can be considered beyond all doubt transitional forms, and only a few that are candidates for intermediate forms.
“The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology,” writes Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould in the May 1977 issue of Natural History (page 14).
A scientific theory must be based on an objective analysis of the facts. But so far, the evidence fails to confirm evolution. It points to a different explanation. Rather than show that life gradually develops from simple to complex, the fossil record seems to indicate that life-forms appear abruptly, then they exist with only minor variations for millions of years, and sometimes abruptly become extinct.
Recognizing this, some evolutionists have proposed a variation of the Darwinian model of gradual evolution. Called “Punctuated Equilibria,” it suggests that since the fossils show that species remain stable for long periods, then macroevolution must occur suddenly (suddenly, that is, on a geological time scale, meaning it happened in millions rather than hundreds of millions of years). This gets around the problem of missing transitional forms, but it does not resolve the main problem: There seems to be a “species barrier” beyond which variations do not happen.
Pig’s Wings and Cylindrical Eggs
Today, scientists have confirmed this in ways that Darwin could never have imagined. We now understand that mutations happen at the level of genes and chromosomes. But even when examined at the molecular level, genetic types show resistance to change beyond a certain limit.
Ecologist Ed Deevey wrote in The Yale Review: “Some remarkable things have been done by crossbreeding and selection inside the species barrier, or within the larger circle of closely related species, such as wheats. But wheat is still wheat, and not, for instance, grapefruit; and we can no more grow wings on pigs than hens can make cylindrical eggs” (pages 631-640).
House of Cards
Think of this built-in potential for variation within a species as a pack of cards. You can shuffle them, and get many variations of the original hand. But no amount of shuffling will produce new cards.
Colorful charts of the development of life and reconstructed fossil progressions can be rather intimidating to someone who believes in creation, or in any theory suggesting abrupt appearance. The evidence for evolution when presented this way seems overwhelming. But such displays rarely focus on the weaknesses in the underlying theory.
But if one can’t prove how species evolve, a skillful museum display or artist’s impression doesn’t mean much. It’s like preparing for a trip by buying a guidebook and route maps, then discovering your car doesn’t have an engine!
Scientists who criticize evolution are not necessarily espousing the creationist’s cause. Many simply want their colleagues in paleontology and evolutionary biology to be accurate and objective.
They recognize that without confirmable data, evolution does not warrant the distinction of being considered an authoritative theory. If speculation based on such an unproven premise was advanced in any other branch of science, it would be considered a highly conjectural hypothesis, not an idea on which to build a major branch of knowledge. Other views of the origin and development of life deserve to be heard.
Messy and Personal
But evolutionists are as human as the rest of us, and it is difficult for them to admit the role faith plays in their thinking. Notice what Stephen Jay Gould wrote about what he called the “messy and personal side of science”:
Our ways of learning about the world are strongly influenced by the social preconceptions and biased modes of thinking that each scientist must apply to any problem. The stereotype of a fully rational and objective ‘scientific method,’ with individual scientists as logical (and interchangeable robots) is self-serving mythology.3
Unfortunately, many evolutionists seem to be trapped in circular reasoning: Evolution must be true; therefore, there must be a mechanism that produces evolution. And the best candidate is still natural selection from random mutation. But until this can be demonstrated to occur naturally, at a macroevolutionary level, it should remain conjecture. And conclusions based on it have to be accepted in faith, whether or not evolutionists will admit it.
A Case for Humility
This should reassure those of us who believe in a divine Creator. It certainly makes no less sense to believe in a Creator than it does to believe in evolution. But a note of caution: The failure of evolution to prove its case does not automatically establish God as Creator to the skeptic and agnostic. And although the evidence strongly suggests the abrupt appearance of life, this does not scientifically establish that such life was divinely created. Some creationists, with a fundamentalist approach to the Bible, oversimplify the question. Einstein once said, “Make things as simple as possible, but not more simple than they are.”
If, as Stephen Jay Gould says, science has its messy and personal side, so do some views of the Bible. Some biblical reconstructions of creation use scriptures and circular reasoning to support preconceived ideas. Preconceived stereotypes are not the path to understanding. Evolutionists have not been able to satisfactorily explain the origin and development of life, but their search has uncovered information that leads to challenging and exciting questions.
Additionally, there are many points of view among those who believe in God as Creator. Scientists with a deep respect for the Bible (and there are many) recognize that a wealth of information is waiting to be discovered and interpreted. The search for origins should be an arena where science and faith meet with mutual respect and tolerance. “There is bogus or pseudo-science just as much as there is bogus or pseudo-religion, and the only worthwhile battle is between genuine and bogus, not between science and religion.”4
The Wonders of Creation
An evolutionist once noted that “if indeed the Creator exists, He seems to be inordinately fond of beetles,” because He made so many of them. Our Creator is fond of beetles, and everything else He has made. He said it was all “good” (Genesis 1:31).
God’s creation is living proof of His absolute mastery of life. He created life and sustains it, whether on a windwept mountain, a parched desert or in the deepest ocean abyss. He can make it beautiful or bizarre, robust or fragile, “larger than life” or microscopically tiny; but always perfect, intricate and functional. Through the wonders of creation, God has shown us He loves life.
God also loves you and wants you to have life: not just for a few short years, but life that lasts forever. God wants you to have this life so much that “He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
We, the created, have never been able to make life. Not even a lowly beetle. But, because of our Creator’s love we are given life that will last forever. Humbling, isn’t it?
The books listed below are from a growing body of literature that questions the validity of evolution from a scientific viewpoint. There are many others that favor it, of course, but we think that the following ones deserve some attention as well.
- The Origin of Species Revisited, vol. 1. by W.R. Bird. Thomas Nelson, Regency. 1991.
- The Facts of Life, by Richard Milton. Fourth Estate. 1992.
- Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, by Michael Denton. Adler Burnett, 1986.
- Darwin on Trial, by Phillip E. Johnson. InterVarsity Press, 1991.
- Creation and Evolution, by Alan Hayward. Bethany, 1995.