No, there isn’t a typo in the title of this post. I just haven’t really addressed my own views about evolution on this website until now. In a previous post I allowed Christian scientists who believe in evolution to express their view about how it is possible to believe in both the Bible and the scientific theory of evolution without putting in my own two cents’ worth. Since the penny is now no longer produced in Canada, I had better get that two cents’ worth in now before they go completely out of circulation. 🙂
I was recently challenged with an age-old question: How old is the earth?
That is question that I have not given a lot of thought about in quite a few years. I was under the impression, after years of school, that science had pretty much determined that the earth is approximately 4-5 billion years old. I was also taught that life began roughly one billion years ago because the fossil record shows the progression of life from simple to complex over time.
What I could not buy, however, the idea that all life originated entirely from natural random processes in some sort of “primordial soup” of inorganic chemicals that somehow blindly came together in just the right ways to produce a living cell. In reality, I always wanted to believe that the Bible’s description of the creation as a literal reality.
Somehow I had to reconcile belief in a Creator God with a science that claimed certainty that the earth was very old and had a long-established fossil record of progressive life-forms of almost a billion years’ duration.
As a result of these two “obviously” true beliefs I had two choices. The first is belief in a God who works through a mechanistic evolutionary system to produce creatures that would eventually develop godlike intelligence and the ability to have a relationship with him, called “theistic evolution.” The second is to postulate a “gap” between the first two verses in Genesis, allowing God all the time he needs to create and test various versions of creatures until he can start over again in Genesis 1:2 with a completely functional ecosystem that also has access to certain coal and oil reserves for later development.
Since the God described in Genesis and John struck me as a very organized sort of personality I elected to go with option #2, the “gap theory.” This theory helped me to separate the dinosaur era from the human era and provided all the time needed for the fossil record’s apparent age.
This theory also allowed me to understand how Satan could be in charge of the world, if his rebellion took place on earth before humanity was created. Adam would have had to “qualify” to replace Satan as the ruler of the world. Failure to do so would ensure Satan’s dominion on earth, which Jesus is said to have acknowledged by silence during his 40-day temptation in the wilderness.
Exposure to various literary genres in the Bible at Bible college and seminary helped me come to the conclusion that the seven days of creation were written as a poem, a literary form intended to convey spiritual truth in a non-literal way. I looked at various repetitions within the passage as normal features of Hebrew poetry, and concluded that the seven days were intended to convey the idea of an organized and creative God who first makes dwelling places during first three days, then fills them with inhabitants during the next three days. After creating humankind in his image, God is able to rest and let humanity run the world for God’s glory. This enabled me not to be concerned about perceived conflicts between the Bible’s creation account and scientific discoveries.
Nothing had really challenged this mental equilibrium until a friend loaned me his copy of The Evolution of a Creationist: A Layman’s Guide to the Conflict Between the Bible and Evolutionary Theory by Jobe Martin, D.M.D., Th. M. (Rockwall, TX: Biblical Discipleship Publishers, 2004.)
Reading it was like being the householder in Jesus’ parable: bringing out treasures old and new. He both reminded me of many doubts I have had over the years about evolutionary theory and also added new perspectives I had not considered before about the age of the earth.
First, he reminded me about some thoughts I had developed on my own. For instance, I could not see how random evolution could explain how a male and a female of a new species could arise within a close enough time-frame and locality to both find one another and mate through random chance. It seems like a stretch for any sexually differentiated species to be able to evolve into a different sexually differentiated species.
The more I came to know about how DNA regulates the production of enzymes and protein structures, the more mystified I became about how this intricately integrated system could happen in stages without the whole cell-system collapsing. Without going into the “watchmaker” analogy, how can a fully integrated system come into being without a prior integration?
The first paper I ever wrote about science was in grade 7. It was a largely plagiarized piece about Gregor Johan Mendel, the Austrian monk who first discerned and quantified the laws of inheritance. He was a fascinating man, a religious man who was able to discover a major scientific principle by noticing what was happening to his garden peas. He discovered that some traits were dominant and others “recessive”. He theorized that most traits are controlled by pairs of “genes.” When a dominant gene is matched with a recessive gene, the dominant trait “wins” and is exhibited by the plant or animal. The only time the recessive trait is expressed is when it is matched with another recessive gene of the same type. This theory greatly enhanced the process of breeding desirable traits in domesticated plants and animals. The discovery of DNA eventually made clear the process by which these “genes” did their job.
His discovery lay in obscurity for about 70 years because another naturalist had stolen the limelight. His name: Charles Darwin.
I mention this to note that Darwin’s theory came into being at a time when nobody had any idea about how traits are passed on from generation to generation. Had the general scientific community been exposed to Mendelian genetics prior to Darwin’s theory, it may have had a different reception. It certainly did in my young mind. At least Mendel’s theory was testable and reproducible. There is now an established mechanism for transmission of existing traits.
Is there a scientifically established, tested mechanism for the creation of new, beneficial traits? Apparently not.
We are taught in high school and university that evolution is a scientific fact, yet no known mechanism for the creation of new organs or traits has been identified in the laboratory. What about mutation by radiation? The men who work in laboratories subjecting fruit flies to radiation have yet to produce a species-changing mutation.
Dr. Martin finds it interesting that no scientist has ever moved into the vicinity of Three Mile Island or Chernobyl to increase the radiation exposure to their reproductive organs in order to produce the next new species of improved humanity. Why? Because for all the hype, no beneficial alterations to human or animal has ever been demonstrated by increasing radiation exposure. Introducing random changes into integrated systems does not produce beneficial changes. The very best it can do is make no significant change. When it does make a significant change, the result is detrimental to the organism, reducing its chances of survival or reproduction. More often than not, it kills the organism outright.
So, what mechanism actually produces beneficial mutations? Science doesn’t know.
In another school experience, I remember the contradiction between a law I had been taught and evolutionary theory. As I was being taught Darwin’s perspective I had to ask myself, “What happened to the Law of Biogenesis?” I wondered how we went from Louis Pasteur’s proof that life only comes from pre-existing life to an unproven notion that life came from self-organizing non-organic molecules through random chance. Pasteur couldn’t make life come back into being with a concoction of formerly-living organisms, even in a non-closed environment, and we can now somehow think that random chance can bring life into being from elements that never even had life.
Pasteurization works to prevent infection or spoiling precisely because of the law of biogenesis.
Another experience that highlighted the absurdity of evolutionary theory for me personally came on an eco-tour my wife and I were on in Costa Rica last February. We were hiking (along with two other family members) through a Cloud Forest nature preserve with a tour guide. At various points she talked about different flowers and their very specific pollinators. Waxing eloquently about the wonder of how evolution could produce several individual species of flowering plants that are pollinated exclusively by one type of insect, which in turn relies exclusively on that one type of plant for its food. How does such a symbiotic relationship get started? What kind of evolutionary advantage comes from putting all of your nutritional or reproductive eggs in one basket? This co-dependency came about by random chance? Believe what you will, but I’m not buying it.
These are some of the many reasons that I have always held to some form of belief in a special creation of fully-formed creatures created according to specific kinds. It was good to be reminded that I am not the only one who has noticed the inconsistencies in science curricula.
Some of the new things Dr. Martin brings to me are some ideas about the actual age of the earth and the universe. I have never had the background to evaluate age measurements of rocks and fossils, though I have wondered why the age of the universe can be estimated to from 10-20 billion years if our methods are supposed to be so accurate. At the risk of exposing my mathematical illiteracy, that strikes me as having a certainty of 10 billion years, plus or minus 100%.
Uranium follows several well-understood steps as it breaks down into the stable element, lead. On the way, it transforms into a series of successively lighter radioactive elements, such as radon. It takes a certain amount of time for half of the uranium to become lead. This number of years is called the half-life of the radioactive element. In the same amount of time, half of the remaining uranium has become lead, and so on until all of it has become lead. In theory, this makes it possible to determine the age of rocks by noticing the ratio between uranium and lead in the rocks.
Martin notes several assumptions about using radiation half-lives for dating rock formations that I have not seen mentioned in textbooks. The one that had already occurred to me is to wonder how they know how much lead was originally in a rock before the uranium began to degrade. Simply assuming that all of it was originally uranium strikes me as potentially intellectually dishonest unless you state the assumption up front and allow it to be challenged. Frankly, there is no way to know for sure what the original ratio of lead to uranium was, so the date is already based on speculation.
A second assumption made by scientists that is new to me is the assumption that the elements being measured are in a closed system in which nothing enters and nothing leaves. For instance, none of the other atomic breakdown products, such as radon, are allowed to escape or enter. As it turns out, radon is a gas, not a solid. Not all formations or rocks are impervious to gasses or liquids.
Fossils form when minerals dissolved in water leach into the bones, replacing softer materials with mineral deposits. If water did not leach through the stratum, fossilization would be impossible (and evolution would have no fossil evidence at all). In short, we have no way of knowing for sure that what we see in a rock or formation consists entirely of only what was there when it was deposited. In point of fact, we can be pretty sure that it doesn’t because of fossilization.
Dr. Martin quotes a researcher named Dennis Peterson, who notes that scientists are aware of at least 70 ways to measure that can give us an idea of how old the earth is, which he calls “geologic clocks.” All of them are based on natural processes with measurable rates of action. Most of them indicate a young age for the earth. We will go into some of the ones I find most comprehensible in our next session.