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Origins: Darwinism vs. Design

In our culture, there is a common assumption that science and the Bible are at odds with each other. This simply is not true.
Rev. Chris Daniel

[Chris Daniel is the Executive Director of the Richmond Center for Christian Study.  This two-part article series is based on the second of five sessions of an apologetics course that Chris teaches.  Details of upcoming events and audio recordings can be found here.]

Why Does It Matter?
Though there is often great interest in the question of the origin of life, you might be wondering why it even matters in the first place.  There are many reasons, but I will just present two.

       First, God is jealous for his glory.  Psalms 19:1 says, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands."  Psalm 19 is saying that creation is "the work of God's hand" and that the universe, by the nature of how it is made, is "declaring" the wisdom and power of God.  And this credit that the universe is giving to God, God is not willing to share with another.  In Isaiah 42:8 God says, "I am the LORD; that is my name!  I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols."  Imagine an artist who creates a masterpiece, and we respond by saying, "Wow!  Look at what came about all on its own!"  You could understand if that artist responds by saying, "Guys!  I made that!"  Likewise, God is jealous for his own glory.

       Second, seeing how nature itself is demonstrating that we were actually designed often removes barriers of skepticism and gives roots to the faith of believers.  I remember back in my campus ministry days at VCU when a student, who seemed to be on his way to faith in Christ, attended a lecture to commemorate Darwin Day.  As so often happens to many of our college students, he figured that if we all came about by time and chance alone, then God did not make us, He probably did not raise Jesus from the dead, etc., and he bailed on his journey towards faith in Christ.  But then some faithful friends showed him how today we see more clearly than ever that nature actually demonstrates the reality of design.  As the barrier of Darwinism was removed, this student proceeded to faith in Christ.

       The implications of this are huge, gutting how many people think of "religion," as it is often called.  If it's really true that life was designed, then suddenly certain notions that were previously seen as merely religious - like God speaking, taking on human flesh, and even raising Jesus from the dead - are now seen, not as mere faith statements that certain people believe, but as historical truth claims that might very well describe the nature of the world we all live in.

Do Science and the Bible Contradict Each Other?
       In our culture, there is a common assumption that science and the Bible are at odds with each other.  This simply is not true.

        To deal with this issue, we have to first ask, "How has God spoken?"  The great bulk of scientific history says that God has spoken both through nature and through Scripture.  In fact, the Bible itself shares this view when it says in Romans 1:20, "Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."  This is why scientists throughout the ages have referred to nature and Scripture as the two books of God.

       So nature and Scripture are both ways in which God reveals his truth.  Therefore, they are both infallible and thus cannot contradict each other.  Of course, we have to interpret nature and Scripture.  Our interpretation of nature is called science and our interpretation of Scripture is called theology.  And, of course, these are both fallible because they are human interpretations of what God has revealed.

       So, technically speaking, when we ask the question "Can science and the Bible contradict each other?" the answer is "Yes they can!"  And if they do, the Bible wins every time, because God's revelation always trumps man's interpretation.  But on the other hand, if nature ever contradicts our theology, nature wins every time because, again, God's revelation always trumps man's interpretation.

       Of course, since we're always interpreting, we're really dealing with science and theology.  So, whenever our science conflicts with our theology, we need to go back to both nature and Scripture and ask, "How have I misinterpreted what God has spoken?"

Five Views of Origins
       When we consider how life originated, we need to know what the options are.  I want to consider the five basic options in the following chart, going from the most liberal to the most conservative.

Five Views of Origins

Naturalistic Evolution Atheistic, only matter and energy exist, life can arise only by chance or necessity
Deistic Evolution God created the universe but never intervenes, life is left to arise by chance or necessity
Theistic Evolution God used evolution to bring life about, intervenes at the origin of life and (maybe) the human soul
Progressive Creationism God created the universe, then created various forms of life at different points in history
Fiat Creationism God created the universe and all of life pretty much instantaneously

       At this point, it is important to ask the question, "Can you be a Christian and hold to these various views?"  Of course, you could not be a Christian and hold to Naturalistic Evolution, because you can't be a Christian and not believe that God is there (Hebrews 11:6).  Neither can you be a Christian and hold to Deistic Evolution (this assumes you are consistent, of course) because if God never intervenes in his creation then Jesus did not rise from the dead, and if you don't believe in Jesus' resurrection you can't be a Christian, since belief in Jesus' resurrection is a Biblical prerequisite to being a Christian (Romans 10:9). 

      Now, regarding Theistic Evolution, you can be a Christian and hold to Theistic Evolution, as there is nothing in this view that would necessarily preclude you from being a Christian, but I would say that you would be a Christian in error at this point, as both Scripture and nature demonstrate that life was designed.  (I say this in humility as we are all in error at various points, though I do admit this would be a grave one.)  And of course you can be a Christian and hold to either Progressive Creationism or Fiat Creationism.  (It should be noted that, although there is a lot of discussion among Christians about which of these two views is the right view, it is beyond the scope of this blog entry to attempt to arbitrate between these two views.)

       It is worth making a cultural note here.  The Darwinism that is so prevalent in our world today promotes a specific brand of evolution - Naturalistic Evolution (the idea that everything concerning the origin of life, and even the universe, must be explained without appealing to divine intervention).

       What I want to do from here on out is to lay out a scientific case that the reality of how life came about on this planet resides somewhere in the realm of Progressive Creationism or Fiat Creationism, in other words, that God actually intervened and created various forms of life as independent acts of creation, rather than saying that life somehow came about by chance or natural forces descending from a common ancestor.  So we are focusing here on what God has revealed through nature regarding life's origin.  (Though the question of what God has revealed through Scripture regarding life's origin would also be a worthwhile topic, we have to leave this for another time just for the sake of focus.)

Who Has the Burden of Proof?
       Whenever you are making a case for something, the first thing you have to establish is who has the burden of proof.  You are familiar, I am sure, with the concept of burden of proof from criminal court cases.  Let's say you are put on trial for murder.  There is a prosecutor who hopes to prove that you committed the murder, and you have a defense attorney who is trying to prevent that charge of murder from sticking.  In America, it is the prosecutor who has the burden of proof, not the defense attorney.  So you don't have to prove your innocence; the prosecutor has to prove your guilt, and if he fails to do so, you are acquitted and go free.  Of course, we set it up this way because we want to protect the rights of the accused.  In fact, it would be seen as a miscarriage of justice to get the burden of proof turned around and require the accused to prove his innocence.

       Well, who has the burden of proof when it comes to the question of the origin of life - the Darwinist or the design advocate?  This leads us to what I refer to as the Prima FaciePrinciple, which says that one must assume that what appears to be true is indeed true unless there is sufficient evidence to the contrary; thus the one who argues against what appears to be true (i.e., against the Prima Facie view) has the burden of proof.

       This is just how knowledge works.  In fact, you get yourself into trouble if you don't apply this principle.  For example, imagine you are standing in front of an oncoming bus.  You wouldn't say, "I'm going to assume that I'm just dreaming unless you can prove otherwise."  You would likely kill yourself.  Sure, it's hypothetically possible you might be dreaming, but you don't embrace that view unless you have sufficient evidence for it (i.e., you wake up).  Of course, when you see an oncoming bus coming your way, you assume that what appears to be true is indeed true, that you're about to get creamed by a bus, and you act accordingly (i.e., you get out of the way).

       So we have to stick with what appears to be true and stay with that view, unless we are presented with sufficient evidence to the contrary.

       Now, it just so happens that everybody agrees that it appears that life has been designed.  Scientists even give it a name - the Appearance of Design.  Even the preeminent Darwinist Richard Dawkins has said, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose" (Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, 1).  Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule, once said, "Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved."  The assumption, of course, is that biologists have to "constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed" because it sure does appear designed.

       So everybody acknowledges that life appears to have been designed, and since the burden of proof rests with the person who would argue against what appears to be true, the burden of proof in the question of the origin of life rests squarely on the Darwinist.

       This is huge.  It is often assumed in our culture that you should assume that life came about by natural processes alone rather than by divine intervention (and even then the standard for proof is placed abnormally high), but the Prima Facie Principle shows that it is really the other way around.

       Now that we have established that it is the Darwinist who has the burden of proof, I want to show you how the Darwinist worldview fails to prove its case.  (Like the example of the murder trial, this is really all we have to do!)

       But the really exciting murder trials are the ones where the accused is acquitted, not only because the prosecutor failed to prove his case, but because the defense attorney was also able to prove that someone else must have done it anyway!  (He didn't have to do that, but it sure does put the icing on the cake.)

       That's what I want to do here - not only show that Darwinism fails to prove its case, but also that nature itself is showing that life must have come about as a result of design.

Why Darwinism Fails - False Assumptions
       For an argument to be a good and sound one, it needs two key ingredients - true assumptions and valid reasoning.  It turns out that Darwinism fails in both of these.

       Let's look first at assumptions.  Darwinism assumes Methodological Naturalism, which essentially says that only naturalistic explanations are allowed.  Anything else is declared unscientific.

       You find this assumption everywhere.  In fact, it is the operating assumption in most biology text books.  For example, on page 254 of the VCU Biology 101 textbook entitled A Brief Guide to Biology with Physiology (the content of this blog entry was originally presented as part of a course on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University in March of 2010), the author says this regarding the origin of life: "There are varying religious accounts of how this happened, but there is only one scientific account, and it can be summed up with a single word: evolution."  The author is suggesting that evolution is the only account, or explanation, that even qualifies as scientific.  Thus, design is ruled out ahead of time.

       The danger in this approach, of course, is that if you rule out certain options before the evidence is considered, you risk ruling out the truth.  If the purpose of science is to discover the truth, ruling out an option ahead of time cannot be considered good science.

       One of the reasons many scientists hold to Methodological Naturalism when it comes to the question of the origin of life is because of the "God-of-the-Gaps" problem.  The God-of-the-Gaps problem refers to a situation where you have a gap in your scientific understanding of how something works, and you end up filling that gap in understanding by appealing to God.  The concern is that, if you appeal to God when you can't explain something scientifically (so God "fills the gap" in our scientific knowledge), when the time comes that you can explain it scientifically, appealing to God becomes unnecessary.  Thus, God in effect gets "squeezed out" of our understanding of how something works and becomes more and more irrelevant.  Of course, you can avoid this (the thought is) by not appealing to God in the first place.

       A famous example of this is when, centuries ago, many scientists wondered how it was that the planets stayed in their orbits and did not get pulled into the sun.  In the face of relative scientific ignorance, Sir Isaac Newton suggested that God must be intervening from time to time to give the planets a nudge and keep them from falling into the sun.  Of course, now we have a fuller scientific understanding of how the planets stay in their orbits, and the need to appeal to God in explaining this has been "squeezed out."

       This is one of the reasons why many scientists use Methodological Naturalism to explain the world we live in, including the question of where we came from, limiting their explanations to natural causes alone and avoiding appealing to some sort of intelligent agent.

       Now, the problem with this way of thinking is that it fails to recognize that there are fundamentally two types of science.  We tend to think of "the sciences," all in one big category all essentially functioning in the same kind of way.  Actually, there are two fundamentally different types of science that operate under different rules - the empirical sciences and the historical sciences.  The empirical sciences ask how things operate now that they are here (e.g., chemistry, physics and biology).  The historical sciences ask how things got here in the first place (e.g., archaeology and forensic science).  With the empirical sciences, it is proper to apply Methodological Naturalism and limit our explanations to natural causes because we are asking how things operate by nature now that they are here.  (It is worth noting that the reason Newton and others have run into the God-of-the-Gaps problem is not because they appealed to the work of an intelligent agent, but because they appealed to the work of an intelligent agent in the realm of the empirical sciences.)  With the historical sciences, on the other hand, it is totally proper to consider both natural causes and intelligent causes (i.e., the work of an intelligent agent) because we are asking a fundamentally different type of question - how certain things got here in the first place.
       For example, when the archaeologist asks "How did these cave markings get here?" he is not required to limit his explanations to natural causes like wind erosion, but is allowed to consider the possibility that they came about through the work of some sort of intelligent agent.  Likewise, when the forensic scientist asks "How did this dead body get here?" he is not required to limit his explanations to something like a heart attack, but is allowed to consider the possibility that it came about through the work of an intelligent agent (in which case, we might have a murder).  So when we ask "How did life itself get here?" we (like the archaeologist and the forensic scientist) are asking a question that belongs to the historical sciences - not the empirical sciences - and thus are allowed to consider design as a possible explanation.

       So it turns out that, while it is proper to apply Methodological Naturalism in the realm of the empirical sciences, it is not proper to do so in the realm of the historical sciences.  And when Darwinism applies Methodological Naturalism to the question of how life got here in the first place (a question that belongs to the historical sciences!), it is operating under false assumptions.

In part 2 of this article series, we will look further at the invalid reasoning that permeates the Darwinistic argument and demonstrate positively that nature shows design.


[Chris Daniel is the Executive Director of the Richmond Center for Christian Study.  This two-part article series is based on the second of five sessions of an apologetics course that Chris teaches.  Details of upcoming events and audio recordings can be found here.]


Originally published February 16, 2011.