Evolution and God

The debate about Evolution versus a Creator is unnecessary unless you are an atheist devoted to the exclusion of God from common discourse. The concept of creator, designer and lawgiver, does not conflict with natural laws or development through processes such as natural selection, but a designer is necessary to take the process beyond small structures. Evolution is usually invoked as the process of developing new species from preexisting ones. Heredity, of course, depends on genetics and the principles of genetics are well understood and getting more so with advances in biology and biotechnology.  Heredity and genetics are not controversial.

Darwin’s description of how species evolve relies on random mutation and natural selection—a process by which superior organisms tend to spread their genes more widely than inferior ones.  Note the key is biological superiority, which means more offspring.  Survival of the fittest has less to do with surviving a harsh environment than surviving long enough to produce many offspring.  So natural selection acts on random inheritable variations in a population.

The problem arises when we try to explain changes that create new species or even complex structures.  Species are defined biologically as organisms that can interbreed.  To account for major change, the biologist has two processes—mutation and time.  While it is theoretically possible that these are sufficient, it is highly improbable in the history of the earth.  First the mutation must be favorable, and survive repair by the DNA proofreading enzymes. Then the mutated organism has to have numerous offspring.  By having many offspring the favorable gene is circulated among the population. The gene also has to be dominant, if it is to succeed in a few generations, and most mutations are recessive. Even with geological time, the direction of many species does not seem to be random; n.b. genetics is not in question here.  As we know, one can breed racehorses for speed. It is the direction of the change and the requirement for favorable, dominant, random mutations that is suspect. Most mutations are detrimental to the organism, causing it to die, and most organisms are at least well enough designed to adapt and survive without the mutation.  Moreover, the foregoing refers to one random favorable mutation.  A second random mutation leading to a beneficial trait decreases the likelihood geometrically.  One also needs to take into account the organism's interaction with the environment. I do not mean inheritance of acquired characteristics, but the requirement for an environment favorable to the genetic change so that it can be passed on.

Sometimes God is invoked to "fill in the gaps."  That is, if we cannot find evidence in natural science for intermediate organisms between two forms, then we say that evolution is wrong and God intervened.  Someday natural science may find evidence for how the transition happened, but regardless of the mechanism, a design is far more reasonable than highly improbable multiple random changes.  Natural science and theology do not have to intersect, but two areas in which they often do are: 1) the beginning: what can science know "before" the big bang? Cosmologists are coming to realize this impasse. Theology explains this by saying that space and time were created by God at the time of the big bang. 2) development of mankind: natural science is stuck with evolution, but many of man's developments such as the ability to understand quantum mechanics, astrophysics, etc. have nothing to do with survival.  Theology would say that God continuously watches over man as he exercises his free will.

The evidence is that man “evolved” along with other mammals, not from them. The notion that apes differ from man only quantitatively not qualitatively seems to differ with observation and common sense. The argument is that all animals have intelligence, but man just has more. Inasmuch as the intellectual difference between man and the most highly evolved animals is immense, despite somewhat similar genomes, belief in the infusion of a soul at some point in the evolutionary line is compelling; Furthermore, man is the only organism who can "step aside" and think about himself and what he is doing. Adam and Eve with intellect and free will also make sense, and there is genetic evidence that all men are descended from one woman. One other intersection of God with man is conscience.  Where did the concept of good and evil or ethics come from?  It does not seem to be instinctual.

The origin of life is also a problem. It goes back about a billion years, 3 billion if you include the organisms living in extreme environments, and there is little fossil record from older than about 540 million—certainly not of multi-cellular organisms. Some have assumed that a spark of lightning struck some carbonaceous material, and from that event amino acids were formed, and the rest is history—oh I mean evolution. No one seems to address the question of how to get from a simple fortuitously-formed amino acid to a protein--let alone a living cell.  It is quite conceivable that God created matter and energy, as well as space and time, and also that He enacted laws to govern the physical universe and created life. However, He seems to interact only with man. It also seems reasonable that creation is ongoing.

Another point of interest is the unlikely coincidence of life on Earth with chemistry. Earth is at the perfect distance from the perfect star with the perfect inclination to the ecliptic to nourish life based on organic chemistry. Some might say that it is neither coincidence nor intelligent design, but merely the result of life evolving in such as way as to adapt to the environment as it exists on Earth. The problem with that argument is that chemistry is not relative to the environment. The properties of compounds are the same in any solar system or known galaxy. Water boils and freezes at the same temperatures for any given pressure. Moreover, the water molecule's hydrogen bonding is responsible to the unusual behavior of expanding on freezing designed to preserve aquatic life and stabilize the planet's temperature.  Furthermore, there is no equivalent to organic chemistry based on any element other than carbon—and there cannot be, because we know the properties of all the stable elements.

Compared with improbable random events, a design seems to be the most reasonable explanation for: 1) the physical constants and laws of nature, 2) the development and location of a planet suitable for complex animals, and 3) creation of man.

It is not necessary to separate God from evolution in schools. Just because "science" cannot prove there is a God does not lead most people to conclude that there is no God. It just means that God in His goodness appears to have set up the world in such a way as to require faith as a prerequisite to moving on to the afterlife. About 85% of Americans believe in God. Why should a 15% minority be so arrogant to believe that they know better than the majority? Furthermore, why should the elite of today be given any more credence than the great thinkers and philosophers of the past? In these times, we seem to be witnessing an apostasy of the elite, most notably the press.

The genetic process of inheriting genes favored by natural selection makes sense. It is the mechanism for radical change that troubles me. The forks in the road seem to call for a designer, as do the processes in the beginning of time.

J. J. Friel, Ph. D.