Evolution and Faith, Updated

As part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, a new Gallup poll explores how successful Darwinism had been. Surprisingly, only 39 percent of Americans say they “believe in the theory of evolution,” while 25 percent do not believe, and 36 percent have “no opinion.”

Some scientists have helped fuel this lukewarmness. During the 1980s two books by scientists – Michael Denton’s Evolution: a Theory in Crisis and Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen’s The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories – challenged some of the standard materialistic explanations of evolution, and gave rise to the “Intelligent Design” (ID) movement, now headquartered in Seattle.

Books by scientists Michael Denton, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Stephen Meyer and others have pointed out deficiencies in the asserted “tree of evolution,” with frequent references to the “Cambrian explosion” 500 million years ago, when about forty new phyla (a large classification group) appeared, without the millions of intermediary antecedents that even Darwin had expected to turn up in the archeological record.

Atheists have also “gotten into the act.” Two recent books by atheist philosophers of science have joined in the criticism of neo-Darwinism – Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s What Darwin Got Wrong, and Bradley Monton’s Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini focus on Fibonnacci patterns, scaling factors that are multiples of a quarter, nervous systems with perfect “connection economies,” and other apparent designs that have been ignored by evolutionists; they also berate a fictional “Mother Nature” that evolutionists seem to propose for “natural selection.” Bradley Monton concentrates on the unfair presuppositions used by critics of ID, especially the restriction to a naturalist methodology.

Other factors are often invoked as problems for faith in the contemporary world, but the evolutionary explanation of why we are here and what the future of our race (if any) will be, certainly takes some precedence.

The problem, however, is not the theory of evolution, which is about as certain as any scientific theory could be, but rather the interpretation almost universally connected with it. I sometimes wish the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin hadn’t been silenced by the Vatican and his Jesuit superiors.

Darwin
Darwin

Teilhard’s emphasis on a purposeful evolution, directed by Christ himself, and a theoretically irreversible process to “Christogenesis” and a final parousia, involved a highly speculative – and sometimes problematic – theological interpretation of Genesis, original sin, evil, and the future of humanity. But his theological hypotheses, and scientific hypotheses (including a special type of energy, “radial energy,” involved in the development of complexity and consciousness) seems hardly less speculative than some of the hypotheses widely current among cosmologists – “string theory,” multiple universes, “dark energy,” etc.

Unfortunately, the most frequently offered alternative to “teleological” theories like Teilhard’s is neo-Darwinism, which is not just about evolution, but substitutes for any element of meaning and purposefulness the doctrine of pure “randomness.” With this, we find ourselves in the position described in the Bible, of ascribing the whole shebang to Chance:

The wicked. . .said among themselves, thinking not aright: “Brief and troublous is our lifetime. . . .Haphazard were we born, and hereafter we shall be as though we had not been.” (Wisdom 2:2)

In The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct, I considered the philosophical illegitimacy of the Darwinian emphasis on randomness. But a recent book by an information specialist focuses on new mathematical and scientific perspectives that counter the common narrative about the creation of new species by “random mutations.” Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design, by Perry Marshall, emphasizes that mutations in evolution are always deleterious, and the function of “natural selection” is to eliminate the “losers,” and never to create new species. Also, it is impossible to have scientific proof of randomness.

Marshall argues that it is strange to hypothesize “randomness,” when there are multiple rule-based means for the creation of new species. Almost as a replacement for Teilhard’s “radial energy,” we have solid evidence for processes that are testable in the laboratory and that reliably account for evolutionary developments: Symbiogenesis (organisms merging together), Transposition (cells rearranging their own DNA), Horizontal Gene Transfer (cells exchanging DNA), Epigenetics (organisms passing acquired traits to offspring through cells switching DNA sequences on and off), and Genome Duplication (two species merging to form a third).

But aside from these developments concerning the middle-points of evolution, the major mystery, for which no Darwinian solution has appeared, is the emergence of life itself. Evolutionist Lynn Margulis said, “To go from a bacterium to people is less of a step than to go from a mixture of amino acids to that bacterium.” The great mystery of creation is the emergence of the first cells.

Instead of the nondescript minuscule blob that Darwin considered the cell to be, we are confronted in each cell with a veritable “city” with millions of proteins, using signals, transportation mechanisms, encoding and decoding procedures, emergency responses to stresses, and reproductive facilities in various ways to fulfil their functions. The massive rational organization of our cells should highlight for thinking persons the presence of rational developments governing life, and offering reflections of the divine Logos.

Recent developments in molecular biology and study of the cell may help mitigate the negative influence the neo-Darwinists have had on faith, by turning the focus to the original source of evolution, which can’t be touched by Darwinism or “natural selection.”

Perry Marshall examined numerous failed attempts to find a naturally occurring code giving rise to life. Convinced that materialistic approaches cannot produce such codes, he offered this challenge on his “Natural Code” website:

Natural Code LLC will pay the researcher $100,000 for the initial discovery of such a code. If the newly discovered process is defensibly patentable, we will secure the patent(s). . . .Prize amount as of July 2016 is $3 million. The prize caps at $10 million.

Marshall has published two submissions for the prize, along with a critical analysis of why they fail.

The stakes, in several senses, are high.

Howard Kainz

Howard Kainz

Howard Kainz is emeritus professor of philosophy at Marquette University. His most recent publications include Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination (2004), Five Metaphysical Paradoxes (The 2006 Marquette Aquinas Lecture), The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010).