by Paul CopanDecember 23rd, 2011 328 Comments
The former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca once said: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” This simple advice has wide-ranging application—whether we’re settling personal disagreements, planning our schedules, or trying to build bridges with non-Christians.
One area of bridge-building has to do with the creation-evolution “debate.” In my book “That’s Just Your Interpretation” (Baker, 2001), I deal with a variety of philosophical and apologetical questions such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, Eastern monism and reincarnation, foreknowledge and free will, predestination, and the like. One question I address has to do with the Genesis-science issue. I note that the fundamental question is not how old the earth is (although I do believe it is billions of years old); nor is the issue how long God took to create the universe (if we insist that God’s creating in six 24-hour days as more miraculous than a process of billions of years, this still wouldn’t be as miraculous as God’s creating in six nanoseconds…or just one!). I also mention in the book that the fundamental issue to discuss with scientifically-minded non-Christians—the main thing—is not “creation vs. evolution”; rather, it is the question of “God vs. no God.” There are, after all, evangelical theistic evolutionists such as theologian Henri Blocher and the late Christian statesman John Stott, and the theologian J.I. Packer seems quite open to theistic evolution (consider his endorsement of theistic evolutionist Denis Alexander’s book Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?).
Now I have my questions about evolution, but then again, a number of naturalists do too! For example, the biochemist Franklin Harold writes: “We should reject, as a matter of principle, the substitution of intelligent design for the dialogue of chance and necessity….but we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical system, only a variety of wishful speculations.” Hmmm…interesting. At any rate, if evolution turns out to be true, then the Christian should embrace it as one dedicated to following the truth wherever it leads. This might mean reworking his interpretation of Genesis on the subject—much like Christians have had to rework their interpretation of biblical passages referring to the sun rising and setting, the earth not moving, or the earth resting on foundations.
As I speak to secular audiences on university campuses and elsewhere, I don’t raise the creation vs. evolution issue. Rather, for the sake of argument, I grant evolution and begin the discussion there. I don’t want people turned off to the gospel because I’ve lost sight of the main thing—the centrality of Jesus; unfortunately, a lot of well-meaning Christians do just that and end up running down this or that rabbit trail and never getting back to the main thing. Evolution is a secondary concern; we Christians should remember this when engaging with unbelievers rather than getting side-tracked. Keep the main thing the main thing.
I typically highlight the following two points when speaking with naturalists.
1. If humans evolved from a single-celled organism over hundreds of millions of years, this is a remarkable argument from design! Indeed, a lot of naturalists themselves utilize design language when referring to biological organisms—“machines,” “computer-like,” “appears designed” (a point I’ll address in a future blog posting). As believers, we shouldn’t be surprised to see God’s sustaining and providential hand operating through natural processes—though unfortunately even some believing scientists are reluctant to acknowledge this. Alvin Plantinga’s recent book on God and science, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (Oxford), points out that the conflict is between naturalism and science, not God and science, even if this involves guided (not unguided) evolution.
Now, the atheist Richard Dawkins has claimed that Darwin made it possible to be a fulfilled atheist. Well, that’s not quite right. For one thing, Darwin himself didn’t see God and evolution in conflict with each other. Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species (1859), “To my mind, it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes . . . .” And again: “There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one . . . from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.” But there’s more for the atheist to consider.
2. Several significant steps or hurdles must be overcome before evolution can get going: Many naturalists claim that “evolution can explain it all.” For example, Daniel Dennett asserts that Darwinistic evolution is a “universal acid” that eats through everything it comes into contact with. The problem, however, is that a number of massive hurdles must be overcome before self-replicating life can even get a running start. Here are the key hurdles:
- The origin of the universe from nothing: evolution’s no good without a universe in which it can unfold, and the universe began a finite time ago; it hasn’t always been around.
- The delicately-balanced, knife-edge universe requires many very specific conditions for life;
- The emergence of first life (and eventually consciousness): how life could emerge from non-life (or consciousness from non-conscious matter) continues to stump scientists; moreover, if humans could somehow produce life from non-life, this would simply show that this takes a lot of intelligent planning! Just because we have a life-permitting universe, this is no guarantee that it will be a life-producing universe.
- The continuation of life in harsh early conditions: even if life could come have into existence on its own from non-living matter, there would have been immense obstacles to initial life’s continuation, development, and flourishing.
When we’re looking at the odds in terms of probabilities, this is what we have:
STAGES TO CONSIDER
|1. A UNIVERSE (OR, PRODUCING SOMETHING FROM NOTHING IN THE BIG BANG):||Exactly 0. (Something cannot come into existence from literally nothing; there isn’t even the potentiality to produce anything.)|
|2. A LIFE-PERMITTING UNIVERSE||Roger Penrose (non-theistic physicist/mathematician) notes that the odds of a life-permitting universe: “the ‘Creator’s aim must have been [precise] to an accuracy of one part in 1010(123).” What number are we talking about? It “would be 1 followed by 10/123 successive ‘0’s! Even if we were to write a ‘0’ on each separate proton and on each separate neutron in the entire universe—and we could throw in all the other particles as well for good measure—we should fall far short of writing down the figure needed. [This is] the precision needed to set the universe on its course.” Astronomer Donald Page (a theist) calculates the odds of the formation of our universe at 1 in 10,000,000,000124.|
|3. A LIFE-PRODUCING UNIVERSE (LIFE FROM NON-LIFE)||Stephen Meyer (a theistic philosopher of science) calculates the odds for the necessary 250 proteins to sustain life coming about by change as being 1 in 1041,000.|
|4. A LIFE-SUSTAINING UNIVERSE (MOVING FROM THE BACTERIUM TO HOMO SAPIENS||Frank Tipler and John Barrow (astrophysicists, the latter accepting the Gaia hypothesis) calculated that the chances of moving from a bacterium to homo sapiens in 10 billion years or less is 10-24,000,000 (a decimal with 24 million zeroes). Francisco Ayala (naturalistic evolutionary biologist) independently calculated the odds of humans arising just once in the universe to be 10-1,000,000.|
Many naturalists will simply deny design at every stage (and for all of them). It seems that no matter how much the odds are ramped up, design would never be acknowledged—an indication that the issue isn’t scientific after all. This is a theological and philosophical issue. At any rate, from the literal outset (the beginning of the universe) the falsity and folly of an “evolution did it all” explanation is apparent.
So the main thing is to keep the main thing: God vs. no God—not creation vs. evolution. And if evolution turns out to be true, why couldn’t this be one of the means by which God brings about his purposes on earth? Indeed, God has revealed himself and his nature through two “books”—God’s Word and God’s world—and Christians should view them as ultimately in concord with one another.
 Franklin Harold, The Way of the Cell (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 205.
 Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, orig. pub. 1859 (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, n.d., corr. ed.). Quotations from pp. 459 and 460.
 Roger Penrose, The Emperor’s New Mind (New York: Bantam., 1991), 344.
 Noted in L. Stafford Betty and Bruce Coredell, “The Anthropic Teleological Argument,” Michael Peterson, et al. (eds.), Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 3rd edn.(New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 239.
 Mentioned in Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell (New York: HarperOne, 2009). For documentation of other biologists’ calculations, see Meyer’s peer-reviewed essay, “Intelligent Design: The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (2004) 117/2: 213-239.
For a brief video on the intricacies of the cell, see “Journey Inside the Cell”: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/more-on-id-at-justin-brierleys-unbelievable/.
John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 557-66.
 Noted in Frank J. Tipler, “Intelligent Life in Cosmology,” International Journal of Astrobiology 2 (2003): 142.
- Expelled: Evolution vs. Intelligent Design – A Review
- Inferring Design from Anti-Design Scientists
- The Creation-Evolution Debate in a Nutshell
- The Language of God: Some Reflections on Francis Collins’s Perspectives on God and Science
- Six Views on the Creation/Evolution Debate