Challenging Evolution

The case for evolution is based on looking at the data and evidence provided within the Universe. The argument is that what we observe about the age of the earth, solar system and galaxies, along with the patterns we can observe in the fossil record, point to gradual evolution over time.

However, it is worth remembering that this case is based on one interpretation of the data presented. Others have taken time to look at the data and to challenge the case for evolution. The basis for the challenge is that the data is not always consistent with evolutionary theory and that another narrative, such as Biblical Creation, may provide a better fit with the evidence.

We can identify the following challenges to evolutionary theory.

  1. Questions about infinity and eternity

Theistic Evolution cannot give a compelling account for “before time.” There is a need to recognise eternity and infinity. Evolutionary theory without God simply does not do this.

The Big Bang theory simply explains the expansion of material matter within the Universe, not the presence of that matter in the Universe, let alone the very existence of the Universe itself. It is not good enough to say that the Universe is a closed system and that everything needed by the system is generated from within the system. We still lack an explanation for the origins of the system.

Atheistic evolution fails to remove the need for an originator and therefore fails in its purpose of denying the need for a God.  Resorting to theories about a third dimension and the perhaps unwise choice of the label “imaginary time” still fall short in answering the questions, “Where did the gases come from that caused the Big Bang?” and, “doesn’t the existence of matter and energy assume the existence of space and time?”

We are left with a choice. We must either declare that matter (and by implication, the Universe) is eternal, or we must state that something, somehow, existed before time and outside of space, but that we don’t know what that something was.

In the end, true “atheism” is not helped out by evolutionary theory. We are left with two alternative options. We must either choose to believe in some external cause to the Universe, even if that cause was remote and impersonal, or we must give to the universe the characteristics of infinity, eternity and aseity so that we describe it as in some way divine. In other words, the alternative to theism is a choice between deism and pantheism.

  1. Questions about the data and what it shows

The traditional method for dating rocks looked at their fossil content.[1] The fossil record was also seen to provide a historical record of the evolutionary progress from simple to complex organisms. Back in the 1970s, Henry Morris pointed out the serious flaw in this argument:[2]

“Here is obviously a powerful system of circular reasoning. Fossils are used as the only key for placing rocks in chronological order. The criterion for assigning fossils to specific places in that chronology is the assumed evolutionary progression of life; the assumed evolutionary progression is based on the fossil record so constructed. The main evidence for evolution is the assumption of evolution.”[3]

As we have seen, dating methods have moved on since then and today, much greater reliance is made on carbon dating methods. We will come on to that shortly. First of all, we need to note a few other problems with relying on the fossil record to provide us with the historical evidence for evolution.

First, there is a lack of what are known as “transitional forms.” We would expect to see examples of intermediate development between the different stages of evolution. According to Paul Garner,

“However, convincing examples of such transitional forms are rare; there are far fewer than evolutionary theory would predict.”[4]

Garner believes that where such forms exist, they “may be better explained by creation theory than by evolutionary theory.”[5]

Secondly “The fossil groups do not seem to occur in the order that evolutionary theory predicts.”[6] In other words, evolutionary theory provides a hypothesis about the order in which rock layers and fossil content would have been laid down. The rock strata should match the proposed stages of evolution. However, “in a study by palaeontologist Kurt Wise, only five out of 144 test cases showed a significant agreement between the fossil order and the predicted evolutionary order.”[7]

Thirdly, when we look at the fossil record, what we see is that at a specific point there seems to have been a sudden explosion in the number and variety of fossil groups.[8]  This linked to the suggestion that a fossil record was created not by slow deposits of sedimentary layers over time but rapid deposition[9] has led some geologists to link the appearance of many fossils not to billions of years of evolution but [a] catastrophic event[s] in more recent history. As Garner explains:

“Creationists propose a very different interpretation of the fossil record based upon the historical events described in the book of Genesis…The most geologically significant event in the history of the Earth was the global flood of Noah’s day.”[10]

Current attempts to date the earth rely primarily on radioactive dating.  There are two things we have to consider when determining the reliability of this method.

First of all, this form of dating assumes that we can determine the makeup of rocks at the point that they were formed. We assume that we are dating back from current half-life measures to the full life. As we saw in the previous section, this relies on comparison with material from meteor showers, but that assumes that the meteor data is in fact comparable with data that originates from our planet.[11]

Secondly, this method assumes that the rates of decay have been consistent throughout time and not affected by external factors.[12] A number of attempts have been made to test these assumptions, most notably the RATE project sponsored by the Institute for Creation Research and the Creation Research Society since 1997.[13]

Garner notes that RATE’s tests have found evidence that environmental factors can affect and accelerate the pace of radioactive decay.[14]

“The RATE research has strongly supported the young-age timescale derived from the Bible and suggests that radiometric dating methods vastly overestimate the true age of rocks and minerals.”[15]

  1. Alternative explanations for apparent aging

Does the appearance of age in the Universe definitely mean that it is as old as it looks?  Evolutionists are often quick to discount this on the basis that appearance of age in a young creation would be deceptive.  There are, however, a number of situations where realistically we might expect appearance of age within a young earth creation.

First of all, divine creation would require God to make things that appeared to show signs of age and development. John Frame offers three examples. First of all, the light from the stars.

“Presumably when God made the stars to light the night, he did not have to wait millions of years of years for their light to reach the earth. Rather, he created light waves to illuminate the earth that would be replenished by a light source, the stars. Similarly, when he created plants, he created them mature and nourished, together with a source of their nourishment, the rain.”[16]

Secondly, Adam and Eve would have been created mature as adults. They would have appeared physically older than the chronological appearance.[17] This means that they would seem to have a history in terms of their growth and development that wasn’t actually present if God created them as adults.  Indeed, Frame notes that, “Any newly created being, whether star, plant, animal, or human being, if created mature, will contain data that in other cases would suggest events prior to its creation.”[18]

Thirdly, the formation of soil, rocks and fossil fuel may well provide further examples of a planet created mature. Frame cites James B. Jordan on this:

“But what about dead stuff? Did the soil [during the original creation week – JF] have decaying organic matter in it? Well, if it was real soil, the kind that plants grow in, it must have had. Yet the decaying matter in that original soil was simply put there by God. Soil is a living thing, and it lives through decaying matter. When Adam dug into the ground, he found pieces of dead vegetation…

This brings us to the question of ‘fossils’ and ‘fossil fuels’ like oil and coal. Mature creationists have no problem believing that God created birds and fish and animals and plants as living things, but we often quail at the thought that God also created ‘dead’ birds and fish and animals and plants in the ground. But as we have just seen, there is every reason to believe that God created decaying organic matter in the soil. If this point is granted, and I don’t see how it can be gainsaid, then there is no problem with God’s having put fossils in the ground as well.”[19]

The second significant explanation for apparent aging is the Fall. The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve’s sin and the resulting judgement had a massive impact on the whole Creation including climate and geology. Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:

“For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”[20]

The third factor we need to consider is the potential impact of a world-wide flood on climate and geology.  The description of significant upheaval in Genesis 7 suggests geological changes as well as a deluge.[21]  Flood waters covering the earth may have included an ice-age and glaciers in colder regions of the planet.  The sudden, catastrophic death of plant and animal life would have contributed to fossilisation. The world after the Flood would have been a very different place to the world Noah left behind when he boarded the ark.

This reminds us that there are all sorts of reasons why people and things look old in life.  People can age quicker (or more slowly) based on their genes and the environment. We can also choose to make things and then age them for aesthetic reasons or practical reasons including medical treatment. For example, corneal cross linking:

“uses ultraviolet light and vitamin B2 (riboflavin) drops to stiffen the cornea. Used together, they cause fibres within the cornea to cross-link – or bond more tightly. This treatment mimics the normal age-related stiffening of the cornea, which is known as natural cross-linking.”[22]

  1. The difficulty of reconciling Theistic/Old Earth Creationism with the problem of suffering and death

This requires death before the Fall. Yet the Bible is very clear that death entered the world through sin. This is made explicitly clear in two places. First of all, in the Genesis account itself God tells Adam that if he eats from the forbidden tree, then he will die. Then in Romans 5 we are told that,

“When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.”[23]

The onus is therefore on those who believe in Theistic Evolution to explain how death could have happened before sin. John Walton makes the case as follows:

“Not only does the verse (Romans 5:12) not make a claim for death in general, everything we know logically repudiates the absence of death at any level prior to the Fall. Day three describes the process by which plants grow. The cycle of sprouting leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds is one that involves death at every stage. This system only functions with death as part of it. Likewise, with animals; we need not even broach the topic of predatory meat eaters to see that the food chain involves death. A caterpillar eating a leaf brings death. A bird eating the caterpillar brings death. Fish eating insects brings death. If animals and insects did not die, they would overwhelm their environment and the ecology would suffer. Furthermore, if we move to the cellular level death is inevitable. Human skin has an outer layer of epidermis – dead cells -and we know that Adam had skin (Gen 2:23).”[24]

This is a reasonably strong argument, but there are one or two problems with it including:

–          Romans 5:12 needs to be read in conjunction with Romans 8:19-22. Creation is subject to God’s curse because of sin. There is a qualitative difference to the state of planet Earth before and after the Fall.

–          This means that assumptions about ecological sustainability that don’t take into account the impact of the Fall are likely to be faulty.

–          Walton assumes that creatures living prior to the Fall were carnivorous, yet it is possible that as with humans all other creatures relied on fruit and plant matter for their diet.

–          Walton does not allow for a distinction between non-sentient plant life and sentient animal life. Whilst we may use the word “death” to describe part of the life cycle of plants, this stage in the process is obviously quite different from the experience of suffering and death that humans and other animals now endure.

Having said that, even if we allow for the possibility of death as a process experienced by all non-human creations, we still need to consider the experience of humans prior to the Fall. Additionally, if humans were not a special creation but evolved from other similar creatures, then those creatures would have died and so the experience of death would already be in the human conscience.

Walton goes on to suggest that the reason that humans were immune from death was not due to having immortal bodies but because

“an antidote had been provided to our natural mortality through the mechanism of the Tree of Life in the garden.”[25]

This is possible, but as we saw earlier when looking at Genesis 2-3, whilst some people have suggested that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil contained some form of magical or medicinal properties, a better Biblical understanding of the function of the tree is that it acted in a sacramental way; eating its fruit represented a decision to live outside of God’s care and provision. In the same way, we saw that the Tree of Life would function sacramentally too; eating its fruit represented dependence on the Lord God who had breathed life into Adam and Eve.

Therefore, I am as yet unconvinced that suffering and death for humans and animals would have been permitted prior to the Fall.

Conclusion

For the reasons identified above, I, on balance, do not see the need to move away from a literal understanding of Genesis 1-3. There are problems with evolutionary theory which mean that it does not give us the best fit.

The Biblical account, on the other hand, gives us the grand narrative which best fits with what we know about God, the Universe and human nature.

 

[1] Henry Morris, Scientific Creationism (San Diego, CA.: Creation Life Publishers, 1974), 132-134.

[2] Carol O Dunbar, Historical Geology (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1949). Cited in Morris, Scientific Creationism, 135.

[3] Morris, Scientific Creationism, 136.

[4] Paul Garner, The New Creationism, 197.

[5] Garner, The New Creationism, 197.

[6] Garner, The New Creationism, 197.

[7] Garner, The New Creationism, 197.

[8] Garner, The New Creationism, 198.

[9] Garner, The New Creationism, 84-86.

[10] Garner, The New Creationism, 199.

[11] Garner, The New Creationism, 93. Note that “Isochron dating” is seen as a methodology that can help overcome these challenges. However, Garner notes problems with this methodology too. See Garner, The New Creationism, 93-96.

[12] Garner, The New Creationism, 93.

[13] Garner, The New Creationism, 97.

[14] Garner, The New Creationism, 100-104.

[15] Garner, The New Creationism, 104.

[16] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, 305.

[17] Frame, The Doctrine of God, 309.

[18] Frame, The Doctrine of God, 309.

[19] James B Jordan, “Creation and the Appearance of Age” Open Book 45 (April 199): 2.34. Cited in Frame, The Doctrine of God, 309-310.

[20] Romans 8:18-22.

[21] See Genesis 7:11-12.

[22] http://www.moorfields.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/Corneal%20cross-linking_3.pdf accessed 16-06-2017

[23] Romans 5:12.

[24] Walton, The Lost World of Genesis 1, 99.

[25] Walton, The Lost Word of Genesis 1, 99.

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