The Case for a Creator: Images of Evolution
- 2004 14 May
When an attorney asked the outspoken Provine whether there is "an intellectually honest Christian evolutionist position ... or do we simply have to check our brains at the church house door," Provine's answer was straightforward: "You indeed have to check your brains." Apparently to him, the term "Christian evolutionist" is oxymoronic.
Pulitzer Prize - winning sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson was adamant on this issue. "If humankind evolved by Darwinian natural selection," he said, "genetic chance and environmental necessity, not God, made the species." No ambiguity there.
Characteristically, Time magazine summed up the matter succinctly: "Charles Darwin didn't want to murder God, as he once put it. But he did."
Darwin's Universal Acid
I wasn't aware of these kinds of observations when I was a student. I just knew intuitively that the theories of Darwin gave me an intellectual basis to reject the mythology of Christianity that my parents had tried to foist on me through my younger years.
At one point, I remember reading the World Book Encyclopedia that my parents had given me as a birthday present to answer the "why" questions with which I was always tormenting them. Reading selectively from the entry on evolution served to reinforce my sense that Christianity and Darwinism are incompatible.
"In the Bible, God is held to be the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Ultimate End of all things," the encyclopedia said. "Many Christians believe that it is impossible to reconcile this conviction with the idea that evolutionary development has been brought about by natural forces present in organic life."
Everything fell into place for me. My assessment was that you didn't need a Creator if life can emerge unassisted from the primordial slime of the primitive earth, and you don't need God to create human beings in his image if we are merely the product of the impersonal forces of natural selection. In short, you don't need the Bible if you've got The Origin of Species.
I was experiencing on a personal level what philosopher Daniel Dennett has observed: Darwinism is a "universal acid" that "eats through just about every traditional concept and leaves in its wake a revolutionized worldview."
My worldview was being revolutionized, all right, yet in my youthful optimism I wasn't ready to examine some of the disheartening implications of my new philosophy. I conveniently ignored the grim picture painted by British atheist Bertrand Russell, who wrote about how science had presented us with a world that was "purposeless" and "void of meaning." He said:
That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction ... that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried - all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.
Rather than facing this "unyielding despair" that's implicit in a world without God, I reveled in my newly achieved freedom from God's moral strictures. For me, living without God meant living one hundred percent for myself. Freed from someday being held accountable for my actions, I felt unleashed to pursue personal happiness and pleasure at all costs.
The sexual revolution of the '60s and '70s was starting to dawn, and I was liberated to indulge as much as I wanted, without having to look over my shoulder at God's disapproving gaze. As a journalist, I was unshackled to compete without always having to abide by those pesky rules of ethics and morality. I would let nothing, and certainly nobody, stand between me and my ambitions.
Who cared if scientific materialism taught that there is nothing other than matter and therefore no person could possibly survive the grave? I was too young to trifle with the implications of that; instead, I pursued the kind of immortality I could attain by leaving my mark as a successful journalist, whose investigations and articles would spur new legislation and social reform. As for the finality of death - well, I had plenty of time to ponder that later. There was too much living to do in the meantime.
So the seeds of my atheism were sown as a youngster when religious authorities seemed unwilling or unable to help me get answers to my questions about God. My disbelief flowered after discovering that Darwinism displaces the need for a deity. And my atheism came to full bloom when I studied Jesus in college and was told that no science-minded person could possibly believe what the New Testament says about him.
According to members of the left-wing Jesus Seminar, the same impulse that had given rise to experimental science, "which sought to put all knowledge to the test of close and repeated observation," also prompted their efforts to finally distinguish "the factual from the fictional" in Jesus' life. They concluded that in "this scientific age," modern thinkers can no longer believe that Jesus did or said much of what the Bible claims. As they put it:
The Christ of creed and dogma, who had been firmly in place in the Middle Ages, can no longer command the assent of those who have seen the heavens through Galileo's telescope. The old deities and demons were swept from the skies by that remarkable glass. Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo have dismantled the mythological abodes of the gods and Satan, and bequeathed us secular heavens.
By the time I was halfway through college, my atheistic attitudes were so entrenched that I was becoming more and more impatient toward people of mindless faith, like those protesters I would later encounter in West Virginia. I couldn't fathom their stubborn reluctance to subject their outmoded beliefs to that "universal acid" of modern scientific thought.
I felt smugly arrogant toward them. Let them remain slaves to their wishful thinking about a heavenly home and to the straightjacket morality of their imaginary God. As for me, I would dispassionately follow the conclusions of the scientists and historians whose logical and consistent research has reduced the world to material processes only.
The Investigation Begins
If I had stopped asking questions, that's where I would have remained. But with my background in journalism and law, the demanding of answers was woven into my nature. So five years after my adventure in West Virginia, when my wife Leslie announced that she had decided to become a follower of Jesus, it was understandable that the first words I uttered would be in the form of an inquiry.
It wasn't asked politely. Instead, it was spewed in a venomous and accusatory tone: "What has gotten into you?" I simply couldn't comprehend how such a rational person could buy into an irrational religious concoction of wishful thinking, make-believe, mythology, and legend.
In the ensuing months, however, as Leslie's character began to change, as her values underwent a transformation, as she became a more loving and caring and authentic person, I began asking the same question, only this time in a softer and more sincere tone of genuine wonderment: "What has gotten into you?" Something - or, as she would claim, Someone - was undeniably changing her for the better.
Clearly, I needed to investigate what was going on. And so I began asking more questions - a lot of them - about faith, God, and the Bible. I was determined to go wherever the answers would take me - even though, frankly, I wasn't quite prepared back then for where I would ultimately end up.
This multifaceted spiritual investigation lasted nearly two years. In my previous book, The Case for Christ, which retraced and expanded upon this journey, I discussed the answers I received from thirteen leading experts about the historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth. In my subsequent book, The Case for Faith, I pursued answers to the "Big Eight" questions about Christianity - the kind of issues that began troubling me even as a youngster but that nobody had been willing to answer.
In those earlier books, however, I barely touched upon another important dimension to my investigation. Because science had played such an instrumental role in propelling me toward atheism, I also devoted a lot of time to posing questions about what the latest research says about God. With an open mind, I began asking:
- Are science and faith doomed to always be at war? Was I right to think that a science-minded individual must necessarily eschew religious beliefs? Or is there a fundamentally different way to view the relationship between the spiritual and the scientific?
- Does the latest scientific evidence tend to point toward or away from the existence of God?
- Are those images of evolution that spurred me to atheism still valid in light of the most recent discoveries in science?
When I first began exploring these issues in the early 1980s, I found that there was a sufficient amount of evidence to guide me to a confident conclusion. Much has changed since then, however. Science is always pressing relentlessly forward, and a lot more data and many more discoveries have been poured into the reservoir of scientific knowledge during the past twenty years.
All of which has prompted me to ask a new question: does this deeper and richer pool of contemporary scientific research contradict or affirm the conclusions I reached so many years ago? Put another way, in which direction - toward Darwin or God - is the current arrow of science now pointing?
"Science," said two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, "is the search for the truth." And that's what I decided to embark upon - a new journey of discovery that would both broaden and update the original investigation I conducted into science more than two decades ago.
My approach would be to cross-examine authorities in various scientific disciplines about the most current findings in their fields. In selecting these experts, I sought doctorate-level professors who have unquestioned expertise, are able to communicate in accessible language, and who refuse to limit themselves only to the politically correct world of naturalism or materialism. After all, it wouldn't make sense to rule out any hypothesis at the outset. I wanted the freedom to pursue all possibilities.
I would stand in the shoes of the skeptic, reading all sides of each topic and posing the toughest objections that have been raised. More importantly, I would ask the experts the kind of questions that personally plagued me when I was an atheist. In fact, perhaps these are the very same issues that have proven to be sticking points in your own spiritual journey. Maybe you too have wondered whether belief in a supernatural God is consistent with what science has uncovered about the natural world.
If so, I hope you'll join me in my investigation. Strip away your preconceptions as much as possible and keep an open mind as you eavesdrop on my conversations with these fascinating scientists and science-trained philosophers. At the end you can decide for yourself whether their answers and explanations stand up to scrutiny.
Let me caution you, though, that getting beyond our prejudices can be difficult. At least, it was for me. I once had a lot of motivation to stay on the atheistic path. I didn't want there to be a God who would hold me responsible for my immoral lifestyle. As the legal-affairs editor at the most powerful newspaper in the Midwest, I was used to pushing people around, not humbly submitting myself to some invisible spiritual authority.
I was trained not only to ask questions, however, but to go wherever the answers would take me. And I trust you have the same attitude. I hope you'll be willing to challenge what you may have been taught in a classroom some time back - information that might have been eclipsed by more recent discoveries.
Scientists themselves will tell you that this is entirely appropriate. "All scientific knowledge," said no less an authority than the National Academy of Sciences, "is, in principle, subject to change as new evidence becomes available."
What does this new evidence show? Be prepared to be amazed - even dazzled - by the startling new narrative that science has been busy writing over the past few decades.
"The Old Story of Science is scientific materialism," wrote theoretical physicist George Stanciu and science philosopher Robert Augros. "It holds that only matter exists and that all things are explicable in terms of matter alone." But, they said, in recent years "science has undergone a series of dramatic revolutions" that have "transformed the modern conception of man and his place in the world."
This astounding "New Story of Science" - with its surprising plot twists and intriguing characters - unfolds in the coming pages, starting with an interview that rewrites the books that first led me into atheism.
Taken from The Case For A Creator by Lee P. Strobel. Copyright 2004 by Lee Strobel. Used by permission of The Zondervan Corporation.