Stirring Up Controversy

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… (Genesis 1:1)

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:24)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (2 Peter 3:8, see also Psalm 90:4)

Is evolution the whole truth about how our little blue planet came to be teeming with life? Not too long ago I read Richard Dawkins’ recent book The Greatest Show On Earth, The Evidence For Evolution and I’ve also read his 2006 book The God Delusion, so I thought I would offer some comments about evolution as my blog contribution for March. In April I’ll let you know if Dawkins convinced me to become an atheist!

My disclaimer: I studied evolution in my archaeology classes back in the 1970’s at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC. I was a history major, but I took as many archaeology classes as I could squeeze in because I loved working the puzzles so much. After obtaining a BA I went on to seminary and obtained an MDiv (Master of Divinity) so I guess its no surprise that I am a committed Christian who happens to be an ordained minister. I’ve been dealing with this intellectual problem for several decades.

So, is evolution the whole truth or is creationism the whole truth?
After mulling this over for years I have come to see the three passages reproduced above as the key to faithfully and scripturally begin understanding the origin and diversity of life on earth. I have concluded that before the beginning (that very phrase is filled with problems!) there was God. That God in fact exists outside of time and space and that He created both of those dimensions as a metaphorical box in which all of His creation abides. When scientists tell us that the universe originated with a Big Bang and has been expanding outwards ever since I see no problem accepting that. What the scientists can’t tell us is ‘what came before the Big Bang?’ To say that the universe has been expanding and contracting in an endless series of Big Bangs explains nothing. Where did all this matter and energy ultimately come from? Science can only say ‘it has always been here’, but I affirm that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

‘Okay’, you might say, ‘but what about the creationist claim of six literal twenty-four hour days of creation?’ Here both Peter and the psalmist come to our rescue by hinting that Moses’ account of the creation as recorded in Genesis is poetic and metaphoric in character and that ‘With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’ If a day can be a thousand years- a really, really big number to an ancient mind- why can’t a day of creation be a billion years or even several billion? Perhaps, as some creationists contend, the earth was created with ‘apparent age’, but I see no problem provisionally accepting that the earth really is very old. God didn’t need to be in a huge hurry to get His work done. Put that bread back in the oven for a while, won’t you, until its really ready… As Martin Luther put it when his accusers demanded that he recant his radical rediscovery of the gospel he declared that he would only recant if convinced ‘by scripture and plain reason.’ Both scripture and plain reason affirm that the earth is old.

This leaves us with the essential point of Richard Dawkins’ book that all life can be explained through the working out of natural processes acting over vast stretches of time. He seeks to lay to rest any dependence on theistic explanations by laying out what he claims is absolute evidence that life developed as a result of random mutations and natural selection. I will offer only one point in refutation of that point: ‘Mr. Dawkins, please show me at least one instance of incontrovertible proof of one kind of creature evolving into another type of creature.’

The examples Richard Dawkins offers are, in type, no different from the examples offered in textbooks about evolution for at least the last forty years of my own personal experience. The classic example is the white moth in England that was camouflaged against the white lichen of trees evolving into a black moth after the coal dust of the Industrial Revolution turned the lichen black. The vehicle of natural selection was predation by birds. Prior to the advent of heavy coal dust any moths born black as a result of mutation were easy prey and so didn’t survive to reproduce. After coal dust any moths born white suffered the same fate, hence a white moth evolved into a black moth, hence evolution is the mechanism by which all life came into being. But wait… is the black moth really something new? I think not, since the black and white moths in question can still reproduce with each other and they are still the same kind of thing.
‘Okay’, you might say, ‘but what about dogs evolving from wolves? Haven’t we seen here an evolution of one kind of animal from another?’ Quite to the contrary. In spite of the fact that we have bred creatures as different from each other as Chihuahuas are from Great Danes we have not in fact created anything different in kind. All dogs can still reproduce with each other and also with wolves. Even if mechanical problems preclude Chihuahuas and Great Danes from getting together sexually there are no real and lasting distinctions between the two.

We see this in populations of feral dogs- no matter what breeds of dogs any given pack of feral dogs descends from they all tend to converge over time towards a characteristic mean. That is to say, one pack of feral dogs looks and behaves much like any other pack of feral dogs rather than continuing to be a pack of feral German Shepherds or Dalmatians. Populations of feral dogs seem to obey the second law of thermodynamics which tells us that everything tends to run down, tends to degenerate, becomes less complex, effectively tends to become undifferentiated mush. Genetic diversity in isolated populations tends to diminish over time, not increase, in spite of Dawkins’ claim to the contrary when he writes about populations of rats. That’s why animal breeders are always concerned about bringing new blood lines into a line that is becoming too similar for its own long term good. This is why the more pure your German Shepherd is the more likely s/he is to develop hip dysplasia, etc.

So even if American Fundamentalist Classic Creationism is probably not correct neither is Darwinian evolution proven. Darwin’s finches, as different as they were from each other, were still finches and not discernibly on their way to becoming something else. All dogs are wolves, even if neotenized, and all those black moths from early industrial England are just white moths selected for a darker shade. Each of these examples is consistent with a God who created each thing not identical, but ‘according to their kind.’

So, if even living things are subject to the second law of thermodynamics, where does complexity and diversity come from? The answer is simple: Jesus.
We can declare this as a faith statements because the Bible says ‘…by Him all things were created… He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.’ (Colossians 1:16-17) Scientists call this effect of Jesus dynamically holding everything together right down to the subatomic level the phenomenon of Zero Point Energy. Physicist Dr. Hal E. Putoff wrote an explanation:

“When the idea of the hydrogen atom was first put forward in the form that you often see it on textbook covers, where it looks like a tiny little solar system with the electron planet circling the nuclear sun, one of the questions at the time was: why doesn’t the electron simply radiate its energy away and spiral into the nucleus, in a way similar to the way our satellites have certain losses and spiral into the planet? At the time, the answer was simply, well it is just the magic of quantum theory, it doesn’t obey classical rules, and for some reason hydrogen atoms are like little perpetual motion machines. But in fact, from the standpoint of the zero point energy approach, we now recognize – and the calculation has been done, in fact I published on it myself – we show that indeed you expect an electron in a hydrogen atom to radiate its energy away, but it picks up energy from the background zero point energy and therefore is sustained by it. What that means in terms of physics is that it shows why atoms can be seen as perpetual motion machines, it is just that they always have an energy input from the background to make up for the losses.”

That energy input is Jesus, who ‘…was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life and the life was the light of men.’ (John 1:2-4) Do you want to know more? Come out to church some Sunday morning and find out how Jesus is holding us together here at Valhalla Lutheran Church!