Are Christianity and Darwinism Compatible? One Biologist Says No.

Did God Use Evolution?

Years ago I was sitting in the middle seat of an airplane, minding my own business as I watched the PBS show Evolution. As soon as I closed my laptop, the lady next to me perked with interest and asked what I was watching. It turns out she was a practicing geologist and a staunch Darwinist. She didn’t just believe in neo-Darwinian evolution, she described it as a beautiful theory that ties all of science and humanity together.

Since she was both trained in geology, and a committed Darwinist, I simply asked her what evidence she considered most compelling for her views. As best as I can remember, she said, “Have you been to a museum? There are tons of fossils that clearly reveal that we descend from a common ancestor. The fossils tell us that evolution is true.”

Christianity Darwinism Compatible

Her answer struck me as both interesting and confused. First, while there are certainly many preserved fossils, there is genuine debate about whether they support Darwin’s theory of gradual evolution. But second, even if the fossil record were complete, it could not in principle establish Darwinian evolution as true. Why not? Waynesburg University Biologist Wayne Rossiter explains:

Even if we grant the pattern of common ancestry (which has recently been cast into doubt), proponents of evolution cannot stand back, post hoc, and simply declare that this is the product of natural selection…it is possible that all of life could share a common ancestor, and yet the splitting of species (and their evolving) could be the consequence of things other than natural selection.[i]

In other words, while the fossil record could be consistent with Darwinism, it could never independently establish it. A complete fossil record could also be consistent with another naturalistic mechanism and some versions of intelligent design. To establish Darwinism, proponents need to show that the mechanism—natural selection acting upon random mutation—is sufficient to explain the diversity and complexity of life. Despite the enthusiasm of my geologist friend on the plane, the fossil record simply can’t establish Darwinism alone.

This is just one example of an important insight that Dr. Rossiter makes in his recent bookShadow of Oz. His goal is to raise some difficult questions—both scientific and theological—for common attempts to wed Darwinism and Christianity. While there is considerable variety of perspectives and approaches within the theistic evolution camp, Rossiter raises some apparent “inconsistencies” in the views held by prominent spokespersons such as Ken Miller, Karl Giberson, and Francis Collins. Consider ten quick examples that he cites in the book:

  1. “The fatal flaw of all attempts to hold both Darwin and Christianity in their full potency is that one cannot be unintended and intended at the same time.”[ii]
  2. “Theistic evolutionists are persuaded to make room in their theology for Darwin, but not room in their Darwin for theology. They perceive this as a discussion between demonstrable facts (for Darwinian evolution) and claims of blind faith (in God’s activity). Naturally, whenever the two disagree, the facts will necessarily carry the day, or the faith claims are simply compartmentalized, and the conflict is not acknowledged.”[iii]
  3. “For all their contempt for ID, they seem utterly unaware that they are also offering a brand of ID. If they believe God exists and is intelligent, and they believe he created anything at all, then he is an intelligent designer!”[iv]
  4. “We understand large-scale (and small-scale) physics better than biological evolution, and yet the theistic evolutionist is happy to argue against the consensus views of physicists and cosmologists, but not those of evolutionary biologists.”[v]
  5. “Why are [some theistic evolutionists] so willing to accept fine-tuning in the physical constants that govern the universe, but not in biological instances of the coding of specified information in DNA?”[vi]
  6. “[Theistic evolutionists] seem to be arguing that he [God] is content to simply let his machine run, rather than tinker with its inner workings. It is hard to reconcile this position with the constant interactions between God and his creation described throughout the books of the Bible.”[vii]
  7. “Theistic evolution puts the God-man project on its head, holding that creation emerges from chaos toward perfection, rather than it being in a continual state of decay.”[viii]
  8. “In theistic evolution, God’s creative process is destructive. His method for creation leads to the death of stars, the annihilation of habitable planets, disproportionate ratios of negative mutations—many of which lead to inhuman deformities, sufferings, diseases, and loss of life—and the evolutionary mechanism of fitness at all costs in the biological realm.”[ix]
  9. “It is ironic that theistic evolutionists argue that all creation appears random and meaningless, while staunch atheists like Richard Dawkins attempt to explain away the ‘apparent design’ of creation using blind and purposeless mechanisms.”[x]
  10. “It’s funny how evolutionists like to reference ‘poor design’ as evidence against the hand of a creator, and then use words like ‘near-perfect’ when they are describing what Darwin’s theory is capable of.”

Rossiter is not necessarily aiming to disprove Darwinian evolution, but to draw out some particular implications (often ignored) that follow from attempts to blend Christianity and Darwinism. According to Rossiter, the devil is in the details.

Since co-writing the book Understanding Intelligent Design with William Dembski, I have been eagerly following the discussion over the intersection of science and religion. While I have read many books on all sides of this issue, Shadow of Oz is one of my new favorites. It is accessible, insightful, and not overly technical or wordy. If you enjoy the science and faith dialogue, this book is a must-read. You can also listen to Dr. Rossiter discuss the book in an interview with Greg Koukl.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


Resources for Greater Impact:


[i] Wayne D. Rossiter, Shadow of Oz (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2015), 108, 111.

[ii] Ibid., 9.

[iii] Ibid., 6.

[iv] Ibid., 16.

[v] Ibid., 18.

[vi] Ibid., 49.

[vii] Ibid., 53.

[viii] Ibid., 70.

[ix] Ibid., 77.

[x] Ibid., 83.

[xi] Ibid., 146.

36 replies
  1. Andy Ryan says:

    “It’s funny how evolutionists like to reference ‘poor design’ as evidence against the hand of a creator, and then use words like ‘near-perfect’ when they are describing what Darwin’s theory is capable of.”

    The flip side of that is creationists referring to the perfection of God’s creation and then dismissing any examples of ‘poor design’ or viciousness in nature as being the result of ‘the Fall’.

    A biologist might point to the fossil record if pushed to give the ‘best evidence’ for evolution, but in truth the best evidence is the sheer volume of evidence. Asking for any one piece and saying ‘is that the best evidence?’ is missing the point. It’s the multitude of evidence in so many different disciplines that back it up. The fossil record may be one of the best bodies of evidence for common descent, but the other questions you say common descent leaves unanswered are addressed by other forms of evidence.

    Saying ‘why wouldn’t God tinker further in biology’ is like physicists a few hundred years ago disliking theories that explained the movements of the planets without reference to God. Why accost that gravity explains why objects fall when we can say Angels help pull them to the ground?

    Reply
    • TGM says:

      “Asking for any one piece and saying ‘is that the best evidence?’ is missing the point.”

      How ironic. So many of the contributors here try to leverage a cumulative case for theism, yet simultaneously dismiss the validity of a cumulative case for the Theory of Evolution by cherry picking select pieces of evidence and criticize them for failing to do something they are not intended to do. For example, Sean McDowell might say “In other words, while the fossil record could be consistent with Darwinism, it could never independently establish it.” as if anyone credibly promoting the ToE would argue such a thing.

      The continual misrepresentation of opposition arguments must rate as the greatest barrier to productive debate. I’m possibly guilty of this as well. But then, I don’t misrepresent my opposition from a chair at one of the preeminent religious institutions in the country.

      Reply
  2. KR says:

    “First, while there are certainly many preserved fossils, there is genuine debate about whether they support Darwin’s theory of gradual evolution.”

    No, there really is no genuine debate about that. New fossils may slightly shift the time frame of certain evolutionary transitions but as for the general principle of descent with modification, the evidence is simply overwhelming and just keeps piling up. Before you can claim that the fossil record is somehow at odds with the theory, you would need to present fossil evidence that completely throws off the chronology, like a rabbit fossil in the Cambrian.

    “Even if we grant the pattern of common ancestry (which has recently been cast into doubt), proponents of evolution cannot stand back, post hoc, and simply declare that this is the product of natural selection…it is possible that all of life could share a common ancestor, and yet the splitting of species (and their evolving) could be the consequence of things other than natural selection.”

    Leaving aside the claim that common ancestry has been cast into doubt (which I would very much like to see substantiated), it seems that Dr Rossiter has a rather odd view of what a scientific theory is. He seems to think that it’s a claim, which is obviously not the case. A scientific theory is a hypothesis that has been thoroughly tested and shown to make accurate predictions such that it can serve as an explanatory model for the reality we can observe. It represents our best current understanding of a specific subject but is always subject to change as new evidence comes to light.

    The theory of evolution proposes that life develops and diversifies through (broadly) mutation, recombination, natural selection and genetic drift – all of which can be demonstrated to affect the allelic frequencies within a population over time (i.e. evolution). What the theory does not say is that no other processes can have an effect on evolution. To make this claim we would need to know everything there is to know about evolution – which is clearly not the case as evolutionary biology is still very much an active field of research.

    What we can say is that we have no evidence of any other factors controlling evolution. If Dr Rossiter or anyone else would like to contest this, all they have to do is present such evidence. It’s not the job of evolutionary biologists to disprove any speculation about other factors that may be involved, it’s the job of the proponents of an alternative theory to support their thesis – preferably by showing that it makes testable (and accurate) predictions that the current theory does not make. We can’t prove that evolution is not the work of invisible pixies or that it’s not remotely controlled by aliens from a parallel universe but this is clearly not a good reason to include pixies or aliens in our theories. We can only include causes that can be demonstrated to exist.

    “To establish Darwinism, proponents need to show that the mechanism—natural selection acting upon random mutation—is sufficient to explain the diversity and complexity of life.”

    This is science done backwards. We don’t start with the theory and then look for evidence to confirm it. We start with the evidence and try to formulate hypotheses that are consistent with the evidence and which make testable predictions. As long as these tests don’t falsify the hypothesis, it remains a possible explanation. The ToE has gone through several changes as it became obvious that the old version was incorrect or at least incomplete. Science is not about confirming theories but about putting them to the test and, if they don’t hold up, discarding them.

    I’d also like to add that the reference to “Darwinism” and the description of the evolutionary mechanism as “natural selection acting upon random mutation” are dead giveaways that the author has a rather antiquated understanding of evolutionary theory. This form of classical “Darwinism” hasn’t been the reigning paradigm in biology for almost half a century. Kimura published his Neutral Theory in 1968 and ever since, genetic drift has been recognized as an important part of evolutionary change – perhaps more important than natural selection.

    As for the compatibility of Christianity and the ToE, I will happily leave it to the Christians to slug it out. What seems obvious, though, is that the ToE is incompatible with a literal reading of the Bible.

    Reply
  3. Josef Kauzlarich says:

    Hey KR,

    You said:”No, there really is no genuine debate about that. New fossils may slightly shift the time frame of certain evolutionary transitions but as for the general principle of descent with modification, the evidence is simply overwhelming and just keeps piling up. Before you can claim that the fossil record is somehow at odds with the theory, you would need to present fossil evidence that completely throws off the chronology, like a rabbit fossil in the Cambrian.”

    I find the fossil evidence very underwhelming for a common ancestor. In the Cambrian we find all the contemporary phyla of major groups appear, even some that have since gone extinct. In pre-Cambrian rocks, there are few fossils and nothing of the complexity found in the Cambrian. Your rabbit example isn’t compelling, for there are creatures of similar complexity in the Cambrian. Yet we don’t see their predecessors. I’ve seen some argue that the predecessors were all soft bodied and this is why there are so few. I find that highly implausible. One, there would still be transitional forms leading up to the Cambrian and two, there are many cases within the Cambrian of soft bodied creatures that we have fossils for. So, I do find the fossil evidence a highly contentious issue, even if the majority of scientists think it is consistent with evolution. I personally think there is extreme bias on this topic.

    You said: “We can’t prove that evolution is not the work of invisible pixies or that it’s not remotely controlled by aliens from a parallel universe but this is clearly not a good reason to include pixies or aliens in our theories. We can only include causes that can be demonstrated to exist.”

    Well said. I agree with this section as would Dr Rossiter (likely). I think he simply meant they can’t say natural selection did it with any sense of certainty.

    “As for the compatibility of Christianity and the ToE, I will happily leave it to the Christians to slug it out. What seems obvious, though, is that the ToE is incompatible with a literal reading of the Bible.”

    Again, well said. This section is hard to disagree with. I really don’t think Dr. Rossiter would even disagree. My guess is if you sat in a room with him, he would confirm these thoughts. I’m assuming his choice of words is simply poor here (for example what does he mean by “establish”) or led you to believe he was saying something he didn’t really mean.

    I also agree that the theory of evolution is incompatible with a literal translation of Genesis 1. But, with the debate still proceeding within Christian theology and multiple viable interpretations of a text written thousands of years ago (which is hardly surprising that it is difficult for us to understand), I see no reason why the the theory of evolution would pose any problem or evidence against Christianity.

    Reply
  4. KR says:

    Josef wrote: “Your rabbit example isn’t compelling, for there are creatures of similar complexity in the Cambrian. Yet we don’t see their predecessors.”

    I believe you misunderstand the point, which is not about complexity but about establishing a timeline. What the available evidence suggests is that the first rodents appeared about the same time as the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct, around 65 million years ago. Discovering a rabbit fossil in 500 million year-old rock would obviously turn our current understanding on its head, not just because of the timing but also because it would be seemingly appearing out of nowhere with no plausible predecessors or successors.

    Missing pieces do not put the general picture into question as long as the pieces we have all fit with what we would expect to see. A piece that is completely out of place is another matter but so far, we have found no such pieces.

    “One, there would still be transitional forms leading up to the Cambrian and two, there are many cases within the Cambrian of soft bodied creatures that we have fossils for.”

    I’ve seen creationists and ID proponents like Stephen Meyer suggest that the Cambrian forms seem to just have appeared without any plausible predecessors. Paleontologists, apparently, don’t agree and have presented evidence of just such predecessors in the Ediacaran fauna, long before the Cambrian.

    “I personally think there is extreme bias on this topic.”

    Well, personally I find scientific arguments appealing to “bias” rather weak. Either your claims can be supported by the evidence or they can’t. I often run into statements like “we all have the same evidence, we just make different interpretations”, usually from people who don’t like the interpretations of mainstream science. I find this argument specious – if scientific results can support completely opposite conclusions, you’re just not doing it right.

    The whole point of the scientific method is to remove any possible bias by breaking down complicated issues into smaller questions that can be unambiguously answered by “yes” or “no”. As long as the test of a prediction consists of just making an observation, “bias” simply isn’t an issue. Scientific controversies obviously exist but this is usually due to a lack of data. A challenge to a theory must based on what we know, not on what we don’t know.

    “I also agree that the theory of evolution is incompatible with a literal translation of Genesis 1. But, with the debate still proceeding within Christian theology and multiple viable interpretations of a text written thousands of years ago (which is hardly surprising that it is difficult for us to understand), I see no reason why the the theory of evolution would pose any problem or evidence against Christianity.”

    I see no reason for this either but then I’m not a Christian.

    Reply
    • BEH says:

      “The whole point of the scientific method is to remove any possible bias by breaking down complicated issues into smaller questions the can be unambiguously answered by “yes” or “no”.” I’m sorry, but that is not the whole point. It’s not even a consideration. As a practicing scientist, I understand we typically use a reductionist approach. Not because that allows a definitive answer, though it may appear as if that’s true, but because nature, particularly in biology, is complex beyond our capacity to understand it. For example, when we began mapping the human genome, those involved believed it would lead directly to cures for many diseases. After all, genes control biology. However, as pointed out by others (see for example A. Lippman. Led (Astray) by the genetic maps: the cartography of the human genome and health care. Soc. Sci. Med. 1992) that has not been the case. In fact the complexity of genetics has become amplified by the project. Now we understand that many human characteristics are influenced by multiple genes that can be turned on or off. The activity of genes interacts with the environment, which itself is complex. So nature is complexity interacting with complexity. So when I grow endothelial cells in my petri dishes and expose them to glucose or insulin or glucose and insulin, I can get an understanding of how these cells are capable of responding to glucose and insulin in vitro. However, there are no neural, hormonal (other than insulin), of few other nutrient interactions that are taking place. So it in no way gives me any insight to in vivo function. It only let’s me know if a purported in vivo function is plausible. Moreover, genomics lead to the establishment of proteomics, that is the idea that it’s not all about the genes but about the formation and activation of proteins, which is also incredibly complexly regulated.

      Last, the potential of bias is not eliminated by reducing science to observation. You and I can observe the exact same phenomenon and interpret that phenomenon differently. For example, evolution predicts that the fossil record should indicate that over time life became more complex. And, as you point out, indeed that is what we broadly observe. The Bible also records, if you will, that God created life on earth beginning with less complex organisms to more complex organisms. So one would expect to see that the fossil record should indicate that over time life became more complex. And that is indeed what we broadly observe. So where is the bias? It is not in the fossils. It is in the observers who interpret the fossil record.

      This leads to another issue with your view of science and the scientific method. That if science is done right then you cannot have alternative interpretations. This is exactly what scientist do in the discussion section of their manuscripts. They should list alternative explanations (naturalistic) for their findings if any are plausible. I have been asked by many a reviewer of my papers to provide alternative explanations, particularly when my findings support an interpretation that is not completely consistent with the reigning paradigm.

      Reply
    • Louie says:

      Evolution (in the macro sense) most certainly does pose a problem to Christianity. Within the first few chapters of Genesis, it says God created life (most notably humans), then it states that by man’s sin, death entered the world. These two statements are backed up in the new testament as well, so they cannot be dismissed as “just the old testament, don’t worry about it”. These two statements cannot co-exist with macro evolution, since much death has to occur “well before” a human would enter the scene. So, how can a Christian accept Genesis and evolution? I know many Christians have worked long and hard to fit evolution between verses so we can all live in harmony, but in my opinion, they’ve done so to their own, and others detriment.

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        I guess it’s the same as the Christians who reconcile accepting gays and gay marriage, and further back, the Christians who reconciled being anti-slavery with their slavery-condoning bible.

        Reply
        • Louie says:

          All I am doing is clearing up what scripture says, so people can see why the two accounts do not allow co-existence. I can’t help it that you do not like what scripture states. Sometimes I don’t like what it states. But, that does not make it untrue. So, I can either whine about it, or man up and deal with it. I will choose the later.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            “I can’t help it that you do not like what scripture states”

            When did I say I don’t like what scripture states? My point was that virtually everyone reconciles contradictory passages in the bible or passages that contradict reality. People find a way. Look at that other thread here when people took two completely different accounts of how Judas died and how the field he died in got its name, and came up with a story to attempt to reconcile the two. If they can manage that, they can manage anything.

          • Louie says:

            You don’t have to say it, for me to know you do not like it. You’ve made it clear in past threads that you do not like that the scripture condemns homosexual behavior.
            We’ve been through the Judas death thing before, and I am not going down that path with you again.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            So you start by saying ‘You may not have said it here but you said it on past threads’ and then say you don’t want to go over the Judas thing because it was already discussed on past threads. Are we harking back to past threads or not? Either way, what was the relevance of you you saying “I can’t help it that you do not like what scripture states”? It had nothing to do with my point.

            And why pick out the anti-gay parts of the bible rather than the pro-slavery parts? Why don’t you say: “You’ve made it clear in past threads that you do not like that the scripture condones slavery and the owning of other human beings”?

          • Louie says:

            Andy:
            All I attempted to do, was offer why Christianity and Evolution cannot co-exist. You were the one that chimed in about the Christians that accept evolution must be the same ones that accept homosexuality and are now anti slavery. The scripture is what it is and I accept it, I don’t cherry pick to make sure my beliefs are accepted by main stream society. A little bit of research into translations and past culture goes a long way in helping to understand the ancient text. But even after that research, it does not allow me to see how Christianity and evolution can co-exist.

    • KR says:

      BEH wrote:

      “As a practicing scientist, I understand we typically use a reductionist approach. Not because that allows a definitive answer, though it may appear as if that’s true, but because nature, particularly in biology, is complex beyond our capacity to understand it.”

      This strikes me as a defeatist and (for a scientist) rather startling outlook. If you think nature is beyond your capacity to understand, what’s the point of doing science in the first place? I used to be a “practicing scientist” myself and I can tell you that my interest in science was very much driven by the thrill of discovery and the desire to figure out how things work. This in itself requires that nature is open to investigation and, ultimately, understanding. If I had thought that it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have bothered getting a scientific education. What would be the point?

      “In fact the complexity of genetics has become amplified by the project. Now we understand that many human characteristics are influenced by multiple genes that can be turned on or off. The activity of genes interacts with the environment, which itself is complex. So nature is complexity interacting with complexity.”

      So genetics is complex. Should we therefore conclude that it’s beyond our understanding? Are scientists wasting their time trying to unravel this complexity? I confess I’m having trouble following your reasoning, could you clarify?

      “So when I grow endothelial cells in my petri dishes and expose them to glucose or insulin or glucose and insulin, I can get an understanding of how these cells are capable of responding to glucose and insulin in vitro. However, there are no neural, hormonal (other than insulin), of few other nutrient interactions that are taking place. So it in no way gives me any insight to in vivo function. It only let’s me know if a purported in vivo function is plausible.”

      So you perform in vitro experiments that lead you to believe that a certain in vivo function is plausible. Then what – do you just stop? Wouldn’t the obvious next step be to test your ideas in an animal model which has the neural, hormonal and nutrient interactions required?

      “Moreover, genomics lead to the establishment of proteomics, that is the idea that it’s not all about the genes but about the formation and activation of proteins, which is also incredibly complexly regulated.”

      Again, what conclusion do you draw from this – that we should’t try to understand genomics and proteomics because it’s too complex?

      “Last, the potential of bias is not eliminated by reducing science to observation. You and I can observe the exact same phenomenon and interpret that phenomenon differently.”

      Do you think we are able to make objective observations? Do you think we can agree on whether a temperature is rising or sinking or if cell proliferation in a culture plate is increasing or decreasing? If you think we can, do you agree that scientific problems can be broken down to questions which can be settled by this kind of objective observations? If you don’t, then I’d have to wonder why you bother doing any experiments at all. If all your results are up for debate, how can they be of any use? If we can’t decide if a scientific hypothesis has been falsified or not, how have we been able to make any scientific progress at all?

      “The Bible also records, if you will, that God created life on earth beginning with less complex organisms to more complex organisms. So one would expect to see that the fossil record should indicate that over time life became more complex. And that is indeed what we broadly observe. So where is the bias? It is not in the fossils. It is in the observers who interpret the fossil record.”

      I’m not sure if I understand you correctly, are you saying that we see only simple life forms in the oldest rock and then more complex organisms in later rock layers because that’s the order God created them in? Can you point to a specific Bible quote where this progression from simple to complex is explained? How do you explain the patterns of nested hierarchies we keep finding in the fossil record as well as in comparative anatomy, comparative biochemistry and of course in genetics? They would be an inevitable result of a process of descent with modification and speciation but why would divine creation leave this kind of evidence? Also, how does this hypothesis account for the fact that 99,9% of the species we see in the fossil record are now extinct? Why would God continuously create new species over eons of time, just to have them die out? Again, this is easily explained by an evolutionary process but becomes a bit of a mystery if we are to believe God is behind it all.

      “This leads to another issue with your view of science and the scientific method. That if science is done right then you cannot have alternative interpretations. This is exactly what scientist do in the discussion section of their manuscripts. They should list alternative explanations (naturalistic) for their findings if any are plausible. I have been asked by many a reviewer of my papers to provide alternative explanations, particularly when my findings support an interpretation that is not completely consistent with the reigning paradigm.”

      You’re missing my point. I very specifically said that there is genuine controversy to be had where there’s a lack of data. Once the data is in, concensus follows. If you disagree with this, can you point to any recent debates about heliocentrism vs geocentrism? The aether theory vs special relativity? Phlogiston vs oxygen? All of these were genuine debates at one time but once the data was in, they were settled and we moved on. Science at the cutting edge will always have an element of speculation but any scientist worth his salt will be very meticulous about making clear what is speculation and what is based on solid evidence. The discussion part of a scientific paper is simply an assessment of where to draw the line between what is speculation and what we can confidently claim based on the available evidence.

      Reply
  5. Chas says:

    The arguments that you present seem to overlook the possibility that God is using the process of evolution to achieve His ends. Unless you believe that DNA (which is capable of producing a near-infinite number of different living species) was produced by God, you have to believe that it arose by chance. Some chance!

    Reply
    • KR says:

      Chas wrote: “The arguments that you present seem to overlook the possibility that God is using the process of evolution to achieve His ends. Unless you believe that DNA (which is capable of producing a near-infinite number of different living species) was produced by God, you have to believe that it arose by chance. Some chance!”

      Evolution requires an imperfect replicator (such as DNA or RNA) so obviously evolution can’t explain the origin of this replicator – that’s a different field of research called abiogenesis. I’d just like to point out that “God or chance” is an obvious false dichotomy. I don’t believe in God and I certainly don’t believe DNA is the result of chance. I think DNA is the result of chemistry which doesn’t operate on chance but on thermodynamics. If chemical reactions were random chance events there would be no science of chemistry since there would be nothing we could learn about chemistry (except that it was random).

      As for God using the process of evolution I certainly can’t disprove it. That’s the thing about supposedly omnipotent deities – they can’t be falsified. Of course, this pretty much removes such deities from scientific investigation. As I’ve already pointed out, I can’t disprove “evolution by invisible pixies” and “evolution by aliens” either. All of these hypotheses suffer from the same problem: a distinct lack of positive empirical evidence. Until such evidence is presented, I guess we’re stuck with the evolutionary causes that we can actually demonstrate to exist: mutation, recombination, natural selection and genetic drift.

      Reply
        • KR says:

          My hypothesis is that DNA formed from RNA, which in turn formed from simple chemicals like hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulphide, which would very likely have been present on pre-biotic earth. This hypothesis is supported by the experimental work of (among others) John Sutherland at Cambridge University. Posting links seems to be problematic but you can find a description of Sutherland’s work in the March 2015 issue of Science.

          Back to you: What is your hypothesis as to the origin of DNA, and what on what known facts is it based?

          Reply
          • Chas says:

            First, regarding on your hypothesis, in the study by John Sutherland, has he got anywhere near to synthesising RNA or DNA? My hypothesis is that God exists and wanted to create beings with whom to enjoy a relationship. However, such beings could only be created from His own being, so He separated a part from His being, using destruction, and then created the universe out of it. The use of destruction in the separation meant that the mechanisms of destruction are present throughout the universe, including the earth. These facts can be observed in the destructive events that are occurring throughout the known universe. To minimise suffering during the processes that are producing these ultimate beings, via what we choose to call evolution, God also put in place mechanisms of creation. These can be observed e.g. in the ignition of suns and in the procreation of offspring in living species on the earth. It is significant that the process of evolution in animals is naturally producing species of greater intelligence and social behavior in each group, e.g elephants, wolves, dolphins, crows and man. Can you find any shortcoming in this hypothesis on the basis of observable facts?

          • KR says:

            First, I’d like to correct myself. The article describing Sutherland’s work was indeed published by Science on March 16, 2015 but it was in the online version of the magazine, not the printed one. The original article by Sutherland et al. was published in Nature Chemistry, 2015, 7.

            “First, regarding on your hypothesis, in the study by John Sutherland, has he got anywhere near to synthesising RNA or DNA?”

            Sutherland and his colleagues have come more than close, they have been able to demonstrate that RNA can form spontaneously under plausible pre-biotic conditions.

            “Can you find any shortcoming in this hypothesis on the basis of observable facts?”

            I can find at least two:

            1) You present no empirical evidence for the existence of God, you simply assume it. Observations of “destructive events”, “ignition of suns” and “the procreation of offspring in living species on the earth” can all be explained by natural, observable causes without appealing to anything supernatural. Consequently, your hypothesis falls foul of Occam’s razor, i.e. the principle that the hypothesis which requires the fewest assumptions is more likely to be correct.

            2) Your hypothesis is, by its very nature, unfalsifiable – i.e., there’s no experiment or observation we can make that would demonstrate your hypothesis to be false. Since your hypothesis can’t be tested, it can’t help us gain any understanding of the subject and is clearly outside the purview of science.

            I’d also like to add that if the purpose of evolution was to create intelligent life, it seems a bit odd that the most abundant forms of life are microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi.

  6. Chas says:

    It is strange that you choose to use Occam’s razor, because my hypothesis requires only one assumption – that God exists. Your hypothesis seems to require many, the first being that life can spontaneously come into being; that it can survive all the adverse conditions that exist on the earth, from the earliest lifeform to the present; that the maximum density of water is at 4 deg C, etc, etc. Also you seem to have missed the point of the tendency toward intelligent life. It is not the number, but the intelligence that is the final goal.

    Reply
    • KR says:

      Your hypothesis assumes the existence of a deity for which you have no positive evidence. My hypothesis makes no such assumption, it relies entirely on physical causes that we know exist. Therefore it’s a better hypothesis. You seem confused about the difference between an assumption and a hypothesis. I’m not assuming any of the things you claim, I propose that it’s possible that an evolvable structure (i.e. a “protocell”) consisting of a lipid bilayer vesicle encapsulating some kind of replicator, e.g. RNA, could have formed spontaneously. This possibility has experimental support from researchers like John Sutherland, Jack Szostak and Matthew Powner. As far as I can tell, the “God did it” proposition has no such empirical support.

      I would suggest that it is you who is missing the point. If you claim that the evolutionary process has a tendency towards intelligent life, then the obvious fact that most living organisms have not evolved to have intelligence needs to be explained. This would be another weakness of your hypothesis: it creates more questions than it answers.

      Finally, I notice that you don’t contest that your hypothesis is untestable so I take it we are in agreement that it fails from a scientific point of view.

      Reply
  7. Chas says:

    I think that I have established conclusively that you believe that DNA, a molecule that has encapsulated all lifeforms since the first, and has adapted to all the changes that the earth’s development has thrown at it, arose purely by chance. Some chance!

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      Chas, what a bizarre things to say.

      KR said: “I’d just like to point out that “God or chance” is an obvious false dichotomy. I don’t believe in God and I certainly don’t believe DNA is the result of chance. I think DNA is the result of chemistry which doesn’t operate on chance but on thermodynamics. If chemical reactions were random chance events there would be no science of chemistry since there would be nothing we could learn about chemistry (except that it was random).”

      He specifically said he didn’t believe it was chance and held that it actually COULDN’T be by chance. And your response is that you’ve ‘established conclusively’ that he believes the opposite?

      Either you’re not reading his responses or you’re confusing him with someone else.

      Reply
    • KR says:

      What Andy said. If chemical reactions happened by random chance, the results would be different every time – and yet we have entire chemical and pharmaceutical industries which seem able to reliably produce the same, consistent product over and over. In fact, they depend on this consistency. Are they just really, really lucky?

      Reply
    • KR says:

      Of course, life itself depends on the non-randomness of chemical reactions. If carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen atoms would randomly combine in different ways whenever they came into contact with one another, none of the chemical processes of living cells would work.

      Reply
    • Louie says:

      I agree with Chas, this is all here by chance or choice. The amount of things that would have to fall in line is incalculable, just to arrive at the place where life forming is possible. We have all the ingredients for life all around us, we have life all around us, yes we cannot get the soup to come alive. One of you is correct in what was said previously, the simplest solution is usually the best. “In the beginning, God said…”

      Reply
      • KR says:

        “I agree with Chas, this is all here by chance or choice.”

        Still a false dichotomy – at least until you’ve explained how you exclude “necessity” as an option. Nature clearly isn’t random. When an apple detaches from a tree, it doesn’t take off in a random direction. If you mix the same chemicals under the same conditions you don’t get randomly different results every time. You can of course make the claim that God designed the laws of physics and chemistry but then that claim would need justification.

        Reply
        • Louie says:

          Choice or Chance. Either we are here by choice (created) or by chance. In the beginning… nothing became something (chance) or something created something out of nothing (choice). The first one is unbelievable. I don’t need to justify that God designed nature, any more than you need to justify that He did not. I have no issues with the world I see, it fits well in the biblical account of history.

          Reply
          • KR says:

            “Choice or Chance. Either we are here by choice (created) or by chance.”

            I’ve run out of ways to say it: physics and chemistry don’t operate on chance – if they did, we wouldn’t be able to do any science. Is this really such a difficult concept to grasp? Even Christian apologists like William Lane Craig acknowledge that the possibility of “necessity” needs to be addressed. Simply repeating the same dichotomy isn’t going to make this possibility go away.

            “In the beginning… nothing became something (chance) or something created something out of nothing (choice).”

            This would be a false dichotomy twice over. In addition to your unexplained exclusion of necessity, you’re assuming that the default state is “nothing”. What is this assumption based on? Clearly not on any observation. To my knowledge, we’ve never been able to detect a state of “nothingness” anywhere. Wherever we look, even in “empty space”, there always seems to be something. As far as I can tell, we don’t even know if “nothingness” is a physically possible state.

            In addition, our empirical experience is that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, only change form. This observation is so universal that we’ve elevated it into a law – the law of conservation of mass energy.

            “I don’t need to justify that God designed nature, any more than you need to justify that He did not.”

            If you’re making the claim that God designed nature, then you actually do need to justify it – it’s called the burden of proof. I’m not making the claim that God didn’t design nature – omnipotent deities are by definition unfalsifiable – just pointing out that there are other possibilities which don’t rely on chance.

          • Louie says:

            I am understanding what you are saying, just not allowing nature & its laws & chemicals to come about freely. We are simply on polar opposites of the spectrum. I see the world I live in as fitting the biblical account. It tells me that God created all things, and I accept that. For me not to accept it, I would require it to be proven wrong. You see the world you live in as fitting the evolution theory, in order for you to not accept it, you require it to be proven wrong. So, from each others view point, we both feel the other has the burden of proof. There is no one thing that places creation ahead of evolution in my mind, it is when I consider all things; evolution is less probable to me.

          • KR says:

            “I am understanding what you are saying, just not allowing nature & its laws & chemicals to come about freely.”

            We don’t even know that they “came about” at all – it’s possible they’ve always been. Making absolute declarations before the data is in is baseless.

            “I see the world I live in as fitting the biblical account. It tells me that God created all things, and I accept that. For me not to accept it, I would require it to be proven wrong. You see the world you live in as fitting the evolution theory, in order for you to not accept it, you require it to be proven wrong.”

            The theory of evolution is an explanation for a very specific phenomenon: the diversity of life. It says nothing about the origin of life or the origin of the universe, those are questions addressed by other fields of research. My general outlook isn’t evolutionary, it’s empirical.

            I don’t see how any claims about an omnipotent deity could be proven wrong. That’s a problem, since it means that such claims can’t be put to the test. It also means that these claims can’t help us understand anything about nature. By contrast, scientific theories are falsifiable, meaning they can be calibrated against reality. If the theory and our empirical observations don’t match up, the theory has to be adjusted or even completely discarded. Either way, every such test of our theories teaches us something new about nature.

            Between faith-based and evidence-based approaches, I tend to gravitate towards the alternative that’s open to empirical investigation and has the potential to offer some verifiable insights into the workings of nature. Religion seems completely insulated against any such scrutiny and demands that its claims be taken on faith. That just doesn’t work for me.

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