Not long ago, the former professor of biology at Cornell University, a man who is known throughout the world for his expertise in biological science, William Provine, made the following statement:
“Let me summarize my views about what modern evolutionary biology tells us: There are no gods. There is no purpose to life. There are no goal directed forces of any kind. There;s no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I’m going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There’s no ultimate foundation for ethics, there’s no meaning to life, and there’s no such thing as free will. “
Now, Provine is a good scientist, but a very bad philosopher. And, his view is widely believed among the intellectual elite of our culture. And unfortunately, the culture, and what the culture believes is largely determined by the intellectual elites. That’s just the way it is.
Now, Provine’s statement is really not true, because, if evolutionary theory is true, it doesn’t mean there’s not a god. I could grant the truth of evolutionary theory, and I would still have plenty of reasons to believe in God, completely outside of the biological realm.
There is for example an argument for God’s existence
- based upon the origin of the universe
- based upon the fine tuning of the universe
- based on the objectivity of the moral law
- based on the miracles in the New Testament
- based on the reliability of the New Testament documents
So, even if evolutionary theory is true, it doesn’t follow, that all the things that Provine has told us are reasonable to believe. As I said, I could grant the truth of evolutionary theory for the sake of argument, and still have plenty of reason to believe in the Christian God.
What does evolutionary theory do?
It actually does, I think, 2 things:
- First of all, it robs us of an argument for God’s existence, because we can base an argument on God’s existence based upon the design of living things. After all, living things look designed. And so, you can build an argument for God based upon the design of living things, and if evolutionary theory is true, it could be argued – that argument is off the table. Fair enough. Then, evolutionary theory would rob the Christian believer of one of many arguments for God’s existence. That’s a legitimate point.
- The real problem however, with evolutionary theory is not that it touches on whether or not there’s a God. The real problem with evolutionary theory is it tends to undermine some very plausible ways of interpreting the early chapters of the book of Genesis. And the book of Genesis is an important foundational document to the Christian community.
So, it’s important to understand that Provine has it wrong. So, nevertheless, evolutionary theory is an important thing it’s just been misunderstood by the general public and Provine, in terms of the impact of the theory, if it’s true,
Is evolution true?
Well, that depends on what you mean by it. I am going to characterize 3 different meanings of evolution and tell you where the tension lies, and then I’ll give you 3 reasons why I don’t believe in the theory of evolution. (See rest of transcript below video)
Evolution can mean 1 of 3 things:
- Microevolution- Evolution can mean that organisms change when they go to new environments. This is true. If you take a group of brown rabbits, and if they migrate to an area where there’s a lot of snow, it could be (that) after several generations their coats turn white, rather than brown, and that enables them to survive better. Is that definition of evolution true? Yes, and nobody disputes it. That’s called microevolution.
- Common descent- The second meaning of evolution is called the thesis of common descent. This is the idea that living things appear on earth in a sequence of simpler life to a more complex life, in a sequence of new life forms all the way from single cell organisms (simple life, supposedly) up to human beings. That’s called the thesis of common descent (from chimps to mankind). All of the evidence for evolution is evidence for this thesis. There is no evidence for the third thesis, I’m about to tell you (about). Well, is the thesis of common descent true? I’m inclined to say, “No.” But, let me say very clearly, “If the thesis of common descent turned out to be true, I would have very little problem with it, as an evangelical believer, because I think that the early chapters of Genesis teach us that life appeared on earth, by and large, through a sequence of events from the simple to the complex. So, if the thesis of common descent was true, which I don’t believe it is, but, even if it were, it would cause my Christian faith very little adjustment because I am committed to the idea, according to Genesis, that living things appeared on earth, by and large, from simple to complex.
- The blind watchmaker thesis- The real problem with evolution is the third definition, and that’s where all the tension lies. This is called the blind watchmaker thesis. According to the blind watchmaker thesis of evolution, the processes that gave rise to living things are totally naturalistic processes, and there was no room for God to do anything. We don’t need to postulate God to explain where life came from, that God was involved in creating different life forms along the way because mutations and natural selections, that is blind processes- the watchmaker who designed us was blind- that means not conscious, not intentional, had no purposes in mind. Why? Because the processes that gave rise to us are purely material physical processes of mutation and natural selection, and that’s where the real tension lies, because this thesis says that the common descent of animals from simple to complex took place without any intervention from God creating anything, or doing anything in the process. The process is purely naturalistic, and we don’t have to postulate a supreme being to explain life. (9:00)
There is, in my opinion, not a shred of evidence to this thesis. All of the evidence in debates are evidence for common descent, not for the blind watchmaker thesis. I am going to give you three reasons why I think it’s false. In other words, I am going to give you 3 reasons why I believe that God had to be involved in the process, and that you cannot explain the living world, as we know it, without there being a Creator intelligent God. Before I do, there are many lines of evidence I could have selected, but, I’m gonna pick 3. In most fields there are pace setters that set the pace in that field. I am an academic and a professional philosopher, and there are certain people in my discipline that are pace setters. If you’re gonna be a responsible, professional philosopher, you have to read what they write, because if you don’t know what they say, you’re not up to speed on your discipline. One of the professional philosophers in my field, for 50 years, who has been one of the leading intellectuals in the entire world, I would list him in the top 30 western thinkers in the world, is Thomas Nagel. He is a professor of philosophy at New York University. He is clearly an avowed atheist. In his book ‘The Last Word’, he makes it clear “I fear God, and what I mean by that is I don’t want God to exist. I don’t want the universe to be like that and I hope there’s no God.” It’s called the cosmic authority problem. He doesn’t want an authority over his life and he is clear about that. Photo above via http://ebooksdownloadfree.com Photo below Thomas Nagel – via Wikipedia.
A week ago, a major event happened. Nagel, who is an atheist, published a book with Oxford University Press (1 of the 2 top academic Presses in the western world (Cambridge being the other)), and he has argued in this book that the general theory of evolution is nonsense for 3 reasons. Now, he doesn’t believe in God, he’s hoping for other solutions. But, the point is that you have one of the top academic atheists in Europe and in the United States publishing a book that just came out (video is from 2012). I’ve taken notes from this book, and he says that there are 3 things that evolution cannot and will never explain and so we have to abandon the theory, in terms of its adequacy of explaining living things. I am going to use the ones he lists, because he’s a critic of our views.
1. The Origin of Life
Too improbable to happen by natural processes. Living things contain information & we know, as the SETI scientists themselves assume that if we discover information, that is evidence that the cause of that info is intelligent minds Nagel claims, and he’s right about this, that the probabilities of natural law and chance to produce life is abslutely ridiculous. That you will never get living things, by natural laws and Darwinian processes to appear. Why is that? When Darwin looked through the microscopes of his day, a living cell looked like a simple little blob of jello. Not so anymore. We now know that the simplest single cell is like the city of Detroit or Chicago or New York. It’s got a police dept., it’s got a library, it’s got street signals… I mean, it’s as complicated as a city. The problem has become then, how do you get through natural processes and random chance? Something that complicated in 4 billion year (let’s grant/say), and Nagel says, “There’s not a snowballs chance in a certain place (hell) that that’s gonna happen. Here’s an example: Suppose I filled the state of Texas a mile high with quarters and I put an X on one quarter, and I flew over it in a helicopter and I put it somewhere in the state of Texas. The chances of evolving through natural processes a single cell would be the chances of me giving the opportunity to pick one quarter and picking the right quarter on the first draw. No one in his right mind would believe anything like that. What if I did pick the quarter on the first draw? You would know that it was rigged, that it was done by cheating, done on purpose. And Nagel says that there’s just not any possibility that the probability of forming life through Darwinian processes are so astronomically small that they’re comparable to picking the quarter on the first draw in the state of Texas. No one in his right mind would believe that.
By the way, there is a second problem with the origin of life. We now know that information comes from an intelligent mind. When we discover information, it is evidence that intelligence stands behind that information. You’ve heard of the search for life in outer space. It’s called SETI the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The assumption that is made by the SETI scientists is that information can only come from an intelligent mind. So, if we discovered a signal from outer space that contained information, we would conclude that the origin of that signal was an intelligent mind of some kind. What we have discovered is that there is more information in a single cell than in all the books in the libraries where I did my phD at USC. It is stacked with information and the evidence of information is evidence of mind. So, the origin of life is the first reason why Darwinian theory fails because (a) it is too imporbable to be rational, to believe it happened that way, and (b) living things contain information and information is evidence that the cause is an intelligent thinker.
2. The Diversity of life forms
(a) Diversity of life is far too complex and intricate for it to have evolved in 3.5 billion years through natural processes and chance mutations and through the laws of chemistry and physics. (b) Living systems contain irreducibly complex structures and it will not confer survival values for a mechanism if it doesn’t have all the parts. Here’s the second reason why I don’t believe in Darwinian evolution: It’s the diversity of life forms that we see all around us. The diversity and the complexity of life around us. Nagel makes the point that if evolutionary theory were true, and somehow, if we could get a single cell organism say, 3.5 billion years ago, there’s not enough time in 3.5 billion years to go from a single cell organism to lions, and tigers, and bears. Because, if evolution were truewe would not expect there to be enough time for very much diversity to have appeared. In other words, the sheer complexity and diversity of living things is far too much for the mechanisms of evolution to account for it. And Nagel runs a probability argument on this as well, saying, pretty much like the state of Texas, “Suppose we could evolve a single celled organism, the probabilities of developing life as we know it are again, like picking the quarter on the first draw. It’s way too improbable. Think of a butterfly, for example. The mechanisms that can take you from a caterpillar to a butterfly are staggering. You start with a caterpillar, it goes through a stage where you have a stack of goo with not much information, and then you get a butterfly squirting out that is totally different than the caterpillar. And the processes and the staggering detail, and the amount of complexity involved in something that simple are simply too much for the mechanisms of evolution to explain.
Consider the brain. I’m doing research on the soul and the brain this year. If you take a look at what are called the neural nets, these are networks of neurons, and in order for you to have a thought, you have to have billions of neurons firing in just the right place, at just the right time. There’s not a chance that that could happen through natural consequences, it’s way too complicated. So, the probability of life diversifying into the staggering complexity that we see is simply too large for evolution to explain, says Nagel, and I agree with him. (20:00)
One other problem with the diversity of life involves what is called irreducible complexity. Something is irreducibly complex if it contains parts that won’t work if all the other parts aren’t there. Let me give you an example of an irreducibly complex structure: a mousetrap. It is composed of 5 parts- the base, the spring, the trap, the thing that holds it down, and so on. A mouse trap won’t work with only 4 of the parts. It doesn’t work until you have all 5 parts in the right place and then it works. That means that a mousetrap is irreducibly complex. The problem is that you can’t evolve irreducibly complex structures one part at a time, because it’s not gonna work till all the parts are there. And, how is a structure that’s only got some of its parts there, but it doesn’t work gonna help an organism survive ? Let me illustrate it. There’s a little single celled organism called a flagellum, that you can see under a microscope. It has a rotary tail. The thing will turn at 100,000 rpm’s in one direction and propel the little guy through fluid. It will stop on a dime and turn 100,000 rpm’s in the opposite direction, just like that. It contains 50 parts. Guess what? If you’ve got 49 of the parts it doesn’t work. It needs all 50 parts, before an of it will work. How are you gonna evolve the rotary tail from precursors that didn’t have a rotary tail, one part at a time? You can’t evolve irreducibly complex structures one part at a time because the structures will not confer survival value on their owners unless all the parts are present. And, irreducibly complex structures are a huge, huge problem for Darwinian theory. (25:00)
This is the one Nagel spends 2/3 of the book arguing. Consciousness. The real problem is that you can’t get mind from matter. If you say, “In the beginning were the particles…” then what you end up with is brute sub atomic particles, electrons, strings, protons, neutrons, whatever they think is down there. You end up with particles that aren’t conscious- an electron doesn’t have consciousness. The laws of chemistry and physics cause these particles to bind together to form molecules. Those bind together to form cells, and those bind together to form the bodies of living things. The process is a process of taking matter and simply forming it into more complicated arrangements of matter. But now there’s a problem here, and Nagel points it out. If you start with matter and all you do is rearrange matter, you know what you’re gonna end up with? Rearranged matter. You’re not gonna get mind squirted into existence. To put the point differently, you might end up with brains, but you’re not gonna end up with minds. Cause if you end up with minds, that’s getting something from nothing, and that’s a pretty tough sell.
Basically, what I mean by consciousness is what animals and we have, and that’s what we’re aware of when we introspect- when you close your eyes and introspect, you are aware of your consciousness. Your consciousness includes:
- sensations – experience of pain and pleasure
- thoughts – like the thought that 2+2=4
- beliefs – like my belief that George Washington was the 1st president of the United States
- desires – my desire to be a good dad and to have ice cream and avoid the dentist
- acts of free will – where I freely choose to raise my arm to vote, for example
So, what we have is consciousness is not physical. It is invisible. I could look all throughout your brain and I couldn’t see your thoughts or your feelings, or your desires, or your beliefs. All I would find would be neurons firing. The problem is, as Nagel points out, if you start at the beginning with the particles, and you rearrange the particles according to the laws of chemistry and physics you’re never gonna get consciousness. I don’t have that problem cause I believe in God. I don’t think ‘In the beginning was the particles…”, I think in the beginning was the logos. So, I start with mind. I don’t start with matter. And it’s not a problem to explain where our minds came from because the universe began with a grand mind. Surely a grand mind could make subsequent minds. If the universe began with consciousness, it means that there was a kind of big mind out there, a big conscious being. If you don’t mind, I’ll just use the word God for Him.
If Nagel and I are right about this, why are all the scientists Darwinist? There are 2 reasons:
- They are taught to think that way in graduate school. They’re internalized into a theory that you have got to force the evidence to fit. They are not open to alternative methods of explanation, because if you start appealing to a designer, they claim that you’ve stopped doing science. And so, they are angry at Intelligent Design advocates. I was at UC Berkeley a couple of years ago (2010), and just before I came, William Demski was on campus defending intelligent design. Do you know what happened? The biology department boycotted the meeting and wouldn’t let their graduate students attend it. There’s free thought for you. If this guy’s so stupid and his ideas are so ignorant, go to the meeting and expose him as a fraud. But, why boycott a meeting? Because when you do an undergraduate and graduate degree in science you are taught a certain set of theories that you’re not allowed to question, because if you question Darwinism, you’re now going to religion and religion and science are not supposed to mix.
- The cosmic authority problem. Nagel says, “I don’t want God to exist.” I think, frankly, the reason Darwinism is held widely is because of sex. In the early days of Darwinism, Huxley, who was Darwin’s bulldog, stated clearly that the reason he defended Darwinism is he wanted to do sex anyway he wanted to anytime, and he didn’t want anybody telling him what he should do. And today, we are a sex crazed culture in the west and I think evolution gives you the permission not to have to worry about a divine being who might judge your sexual behavior. I think that’s got a lot to do with it. What it doesn’t have to do with is the evidence. Because, I’m telling you, while there may be evidence for microevolution, there may even be evidence for common descent (though I don’t accept that), there is to my knowledge a terribly inadequate defense of the blind watchmaker thesis, and there are good reasons not to believe it.