Evolution: Augmenting God?

Evolution must now be understood and explained at the molecular level.

Evolution is a rather malleable term. It can be used by me, for example, to mean something as simple as change over time. You might use it to mean the descent of all life forms from a common ancestor. In its full-on, biological sense, however, evolution means a process whereby life arose from non-living matter and ultimately culminated in an estimated 8.7 billion species on Earth. Approximately 1 to 2 million of those species are animals.

Not surprisingly, Darwinian evolution is being stretched to its limits by recent discoveries in biochemistry: the branch of science concerned with chemical and physiochemical processes and substances that occur within living organisms. This field looks at the molecules that make up our cells and tissues and those that catalyze the chemical reactions to digestion, photosynthesis, immunity, and more. Biochemists mainly study the structures and functions of enzymes, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, process of metabolism and the molecular basis of the action of genes.

EVOLUTION BY NATURAL SELECTION

When Darwin published On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859 he consciously avoided discussing the origin of life. It is assumed by many that Darwin was the first to theorize evolution, natural selection, and the development of species. However, scientists were kicking around the idea of evolution before Darwin. Darwin’s contribution was specific to natural selection—organisms vary, and sometimes these variations can better suit individuals to their environment, thus boosting their chances of passing down these traits to future generations. Even if we assume, for the sake of discussion, that life did begin as a single cell [of course, I’d be of the belief that God created that original single cell], the chief defect of Darwin’s theory is that it throws no light on the origin of that primitive organism. 

Darwin’s theory is basically quite simple. He observed variations among species: some are bigger or taller; some are slow while others are fast; some live under water and some live deep in the Amazon. He reasoned that since food supplies are limited, the ones whose chance variation gave them an advantage in the struggle for life would tend to survive and reproduce, beating out others of their species. His theory, as taught in high schools across the country for decades, is a biological “explanation” of how creatures have supposedly evolved or developed progressively through natural selection and variation (now known as mutation) over eons of time from a tiny cell to the largest creatures on earth today.

What is taught in classrooms is not mere micro evolution—small changes within a species—but macro evolution, the change from one type of creature to another quite distinct life form. And it is being taught in most schools as the only plausible explanation for the origin of life itself.

John M. Wynne wrote in The Fossil Record and the Fall of Darwin’s Last Icon,

“Given the historical consequences of Darwinism—namely, its foundational role in the ideologies leading to World War I, World War II, the spread of communism, the humanist takeover of public education and the judiciary, the legalization of abortion and the on-going culture of death, as well as much confused theology and various attacks on the family—continued belief in human evolution constitutes a tragedy of immeasurable proportions and is arguably the most harmful deception in the history of the world since the Fall of Adam and Eve.”

CHANCE—AN INTEGRAL PART

We can’t deny that chance is an integral part of the evolutionary process. Mutations—capable of leading to hereditary variations—often arise completely at random, independent of whether they are beneficial or harmful. This random process comes up against natural selection. Typically, the end result is preservation of those traits that prove useful and elimination of those that are harmful. There would be no evolution without mutation. Natural selection plays a key role in the mutation process—keeping things from becoming disorganized and out of hand, which can ultimately lead to mutations. Most mutations are disadvantageous. As a rule, they tend to degrade genetic material.

Chance variation did not originate with Darwin. William Paley (1809) argued in Natural Theology that living things and most everything about them are the products of design, not chance.

Paley wrote,

“What does chance ever do for us? In the human body, for instance, chance, i.e. the operation of causes without design, may produce a wen, a wart, a mole, a pimple, but never an eye. [Never was] an organized body of any kind, answering a valuable purpose by a complicated mechanism, the effect of chance. In no assignable instance hath such a thing existed without intention somewhere” (Paley, 1809, pp. 62-63).

Randomness remains the disturbing center of Darwin’s theory.

According to Curtis Johnson, political theorist at Lewis and Clark College, the central controversy in Darwin’s work is not the theory of natural selection itself, but Darwin’s staunch reliance on randomness to explain natural phenomena. Perhaps not wanting to “water down” his science, Darwin tried to cover up this issue by replacing the words “accident” and “chance” with terms like “spontaneous variation” in later editions of his work. Nevertheless, the change was a matter of semantics. Darwin would argue that chance stood in for unknown laws—consistent rules which were not yet known, but would [eventually] explain why individuals, both within and across species, were different. Amazingly, it is reported that in his more private and less guarded moments Darwin suggested that “the cause of at least some variations is unknowable, even in principle.”

Darwin put it this way,

“[Evolution by natural selection] absolutely depends on what we in our ignorance call spontaneous or accidental variation. Let an architect be compelled to build an edifice with uncut stones, fallen from a precipice. The shape of each fragment may be called accidental; yet the shape of each has been determined by the force of gravity, the nature of the rock, and the slope of the precipice—events and circumstances, all of which depend on natural laws; but there is no relation between these laws and the purpose for which each fragment is used by the builder. In the same manner the variations of each creature are determined by fixed and immutable laws; but these bear no relation to the living structure which is slowly built up through the power of selection, whether this be natural or artificial selection” (1875, 2:236).

Attributing variation to chance leads to a rather sticky theology. If God is all powerful, how can he roll the dice with each infant, doling out disadvantages and, at worst, crippling, painful, terminal birth defects? Please realize, I do not believe God is responsible for deformity, deficiency, weakness, flaw, or imperfection. I don’t hold the opinion that God gives birth defects to babies or causes the birth of albino deer or cats with two faces. Incidentally, Darwin had no answer for this issue, which led to his loss of faith in God. Some have suggested it is likely he kept his commitment to chance from his God-minded colleagues and the public. Eventually, Darwin adopted a full-blown materialistic determinism. Darwin concluded that because unknown laws of chance were responsible for individual character and appetites, there was no space left for free will. Matter determines.

There was a problem with Darwin’s theory of natural selection. He had no idea how it worked. Offspring had a mix of their parents’ features, sure. But how? What was the mechanism at work at the exact moment of conception? This was a huge hole in Darwin’s theory.

WHAT DARWIN DIDN’T KNOW

New aspects of evolution have come to light with the introduction of advanced technologies that didn’t exist during Darwin’s era.

What would it take for the accidental spark of a single living cell? Before you respond, remember even the most elementary form of life is more complicated than any man-made thing on earth. The entire workings of New York City are less complicated than the makeup of the simplest microscopic cell. Scientists say the structure of a single cell is unbelievably intricate. The chance for a proper combination of molecules into amino acids, and then into proteins with the properties of life, is entirely unrealistic. Charles Eugene Guye, a Swiss mathematician, computed the odds against such an occurrence at merely one chance in 10 to the 160th. That means 10 multiplied by itself 160 times—a number too large even to articulate.

Frank Allen, PhD, Cornell University Professor of Biophysics, expressed it this way,

“The amount of matter to be shaken together to produce a single molecule of protein would be millions of times greater than in the whole universe. For it to occur on earth alone would require many, almost endless, billions of years” (The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, p. 23).

Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection—which he tried to parlay into an explanation for the origin of all species—had been considered settled beyond challenge by the majority of biologists and other life scientists, as well as public school teachers and college professors, until recently. So what has changed?

Nathaniel T. Jeanson has claimed in Replacing Darwin: The New Origin of Species, “…the events of the last 130 years have rewritten the history of life on this planet” (pg. 9). Frankly, this was inevitable. We’ve come to see the substance of life as being made up of billions of interconnecting jigsaw puzzle pieces. I remember my first IMAX movie at the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian. It was called The Power of 10. The premise of the documentary was a look inward (inner space) then outward (outer space) by units of ten for as far as technology allows us to see. I was struck by how the molecular level of all matter—whether living or not (air, water, or solid)—is tenaciously yet remarkably cohesive.

This is true across all life. Mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, starfish, sea urchins, crustaceans, arachnids, insects, worms of all sorts, shellfish, octopi, snails, corals, jellyfish, sponges, mosses, ferns, conifers, grasses, orchids, fruit trees, fungi, algae, bacteria, and all the other life forms on earth possess unique combinations of traits, which are stored at a molecular level. DNA is the code that allows us to read those combinations. Jeanson believes the question of the origin of species is rooted in the origin of traits. He writes, “If you want to know the origin of zebras, you need to discover the origin of stripes…” He says, for example, the origin of eagles goes hand in hand with the origin of white feathers. The origin of the rest of the species is found in the origin of the traits that define them.

It’s been said that since species are defined by their traits, the origin of traits constrains the picture of the origin of species. Any attempt to understand the origin of traits must include an explanation of how DNA controlled the behavior of traits. And if we got to the mystery of the how—if we cracked the code for the mechanism by which traits got coded or programmed—could we then learn to cause a complete shift in the program? Could we cause leopards to become whales, for instance? Is it possible to use CRISPR technology to create our own spotted whale? CRISPRs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) are sections of DNA.

The point of all this conjecture is to spotlight the complexity of DNA and genetic traits. 

I Though Darwin Didn’t Know Genetics!

If Darwin had no background or understanding in genetics, how could he write a book he brazenly claimed to explain the origin of species? Moreover, if genetic data were absent from his thesis, then how could he have made any semblance of a scientific argument for the origin of species? It was agreed by most scientists of that time period that offspring did indeed get their physical characteristics from their parents, but how and in what ratios was unclear. This was one of the main arguments opponents of Darwin at the time had against his theory. He was unable to explain how inheritance happened. Sadly, because the field of genetics did not exist until the 1900s, scientists of Darwin’s time did not know to look for the molecule that carries genetic information from generation to generation.

Further, consider the weakness of the data available to him. Fossils don’t directly record genealogical relationships. What’s worse, fossils can only tell us about ancestry after a model of genetics has been assumed. Accordingly, any great insights into the question of traits and ancestry must follow the discovery of genetics. Of course, Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species before genetics was even a scientific field. Consequently, for Darwin fossils were unable to unilaterally answer the question of traits and ancestry, which he didn’t admit in his writings.

Darwin never addressed the concept of epigenetics: heritable changes in gene expression that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence. An epigenetic change can be caused by factors such as age, environment, lifestyle, or disease. Simply, epigenetics is the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off.

Convergence

I am a proponent of the convergence of science and religion. Additionally, I am hoping to have an impact on aiding the integration of psychology and Christian theology. I believe truth is truth; further, all truth is God’s truth. We know truth—that which has been settled as verifiable fact—cannot contradict truth. Scientific and religious truths, by their very definition, are reconcilable. Moreover, science and faith can enrich each other. They tell the same story, albeit from different perspectives. This is not a problem. Believers and theologians need not adjust their thinking about God because of Darwin any more than they did after Copernicus disproved the church’s theory of a geocentric universe.

Interestingly, many Christians and followers of other religions have been enthusiastic about the advent of evolution. For example, immediately after On the Origin of Species was published, the learned Anglican priest and theologian Charles Kingsley publicly thanked Darwin for demonstrating how ingenious and creative evolution is, and how this exciting new picture of life had enlarged his understanding of the Creator. He said, “A God who can make a universe that can make itself by way of natural processes is much more impressive and worthy of worship than one who is always tinkering with the world or keeping it tied to divine puppet strings.” And where would the free will be in such a universe?

NATURAL SELECTION IS NOT EVOLUTION!

The fossil record gives no support to the idea of one species gradually changing into a completely distinct and other species. Ten times in the book of Genesis we read God’s decree concerning the reproduction of each of His creatures—”after its kind.” The word kind refers to species, or family. Each created family was to produce only its own kind. Natural selection cannot generate brand new genetic information. It simply doesn’t work that way. Instead, it filters information that already exists. Darwinian evolution holds the basic tenet that single-celled organisms gained new genetic information over millions and billions of years, and eventually arrived at higher life-forms such as man. For this whole “microbes-to-man” evolution to be true, evolutionists should be able to point to thousands of examples of information-gaining mutations, an uphill process, but they can’t.

Genetic variants may cause differences in survival, but that has nothing to do with explaining their design. What requires explanation is the origin of the biological apparatus with the ability to generate, save, and pass on variations in the first place. Darwin’s argument was circular: nature’s designer is nature itself. Attributing design to natural selection is also circular—but at a deeper level—making it harder to spot.

It is worth noting that God did not create all the varieties of dogs, cats, horses, insects, and other animals in the beginning. (Varieties of animals are different than kinds of animals.) For example, there were no Labradoodles in the Garden of Eden. There were male and female of each species, with many changes occurring over the centuries to produce a wide assortment of varieties within the family. But let’s be real: cats have always remained cats; dogs are still dogs; men are still men. Mutation has only been responsible for producing a new variety of the same species, but never originating a new species. In addition, selective breeding has brought tremendous improvements such as hornless cattle, white turkeys, adorable puppies, and seedless oranges. Regardless, all organisms continue to reproduce exactly as God decreed at Creation—after its kind.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I would be remiss if I did not admit that at the core of this argument between evolutionists and creationists lies a struggle between opposing worldviews. It’s not a matter of their facts versus ours. Actually, it has never been about the facts. As I’ve stated, all truth is God’s truth. All facts are available to scientists of both camps; all scientists have the same data available to them. The data is identical, but the “lens” through which it is viewed is not.

I agree with Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) that truth is absolute. If not, then nothing is true. They consider (p. 64), “If a worldview is true, we can expect to find at least some external corroborating evidence to support it. This does not mean that something is true because there is evidence for it, but rather evidence will be available because something is true.” [Italics mine.] It is critical to note that evidence is always subject to interpretation, and interpretation also can be subject to bias. As it’s been said many times, worldviews function somewhat like eyeglasses. When you put on your eyeglasses for the first time the rims can be quite distracting. In a short time you lose your awareness of the rims and even the lenses. It’s as if you forget you’re wearing glasses. A worldview is like that.

Regardless of dueling worldviews, according to standard evolutionary theory today, evolutionists look to mutations as being the process responsible for generating the new genetic information evolution requires, which is then acted upon through natural selection. When pressed over the years, evolutionists have been unable to give specific evidence of mutations that increase the information in the genome. Natural selection is essentially an observation about genetic variants and how they play a role in survival and nothing more.

As a tool for explaining design, natural selection is completely worthless. Darwin seems to distort the design process by falsely attributing power to the environment to “select” traits. In fact, the ability to generate traits is a property of living things enabling them to diversify, multiply, and fill environments. Whether or not these traits fit an environment is what determines survival. Darwin further failed to explain how the ability to generate traits in living things—the real source of information for design—originated. He simply said this capacity is simply assimilated into nature.

References

Monsma, J. (1958). The Evidence of God in An Expanding Universe. New York, NY: Putnam.

Paley, W. (1809). Natural Theology. Philadelphia, PA: John Morgan Publishers.

Phillips, W., Brown, W., and Stonestreet, J. (2008) Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview, 2nd ed. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing.

Wynne, J. (n.d.). The Fossil Record and the Fall of Darwin’s Last Icon. Retrieved from: http://kolbecenter.org/fossil-record-and-fall-of-darwins-last-icon/

 

 

 

 

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