Surely, I’d reasoned, staring at my GPS as we drove, we’ll head straight north through Zurich and follow the main German motorways.
But as the minutes turned into hours, the little blue dot on my screen drifted further and further west, toward the intersection where France, Germany and Switzerland collide.
We’ll turn north any minute.
But wait…why was the little blue dot crossing the wrong border?
I’d hoped to come to this country at some point during my mission to backpack 360° around the world documenting Christian students’ university experiences—just not today!
Intrigued, I watched France’s brown fields, skeletal forests and occasional villages passing outside until we rolled into one of the larger cities. When a group of boisterous young adults filed into the seats behind me, I couldn’t help noticing that, unlike most of the conversations I’d been hearing in various languages, I could clearly understand theirs.
I turned up my music volume to tune out their discussion, until I started overhearing words like Miller-Urey, origins, and evolution.
I pulled out my earbuds.
Nothing wrong with a little eavesdropping on a loud conversation in a public bus, right?
As I listened to one of the newcomers describe his evolutionary views, I could feel my pulse pick up a notch with every word. After all, the idea that humans evolved apart from a Creator carries major consequences for both society and the Church—consequences that ultimately led to my being on that bus. Let me explain.
Why Evolution Is a Big Deal
When you get right down to it, there’s no theologically consistent way to reconcile human evolution over millions of years with the Genesis account in God’s Word. So, if those evolutionary ideas are true, like countless students worldwide are taught to believe, then God’s Word is mistaken from its very foundation. If God’s Word is mistaken, then it’s not the final authority for truth, including moral standards; human reasoning is. That leads to moral relativism, triggering a landslide departure from biblical values in society. If God’s Word is mistaken, then it’s also not ultimately worth believing. So, the anti-biblical evolutionary worldview promoted through secular schools and media helps explain why armies of church-raised students give up their faith in Scripture.1
Researching how Christian university students keep their faith in God’s Word despite such teaching had brought me to that bus in France. I’m not usually one to delve into deep discussion with whomever straps themselves into a bus seat behind me, but the conversation seemed like too interesting an opportunity to miss.
“I couldn’t help overhearing you talk about my favorite topic ever,” I ventured, turning around to face a bearded guy in a white T-shirt.
“Definitely. I studied general science—biology, psychology, and evolution courses—because so many important aspects of society relate to our perspectives on human origins.”
“So, what did you think about my summary?”
Mentally, I reviewed his monologue about life’s origins, beginning with an account of how 20th-century researchers Miller and Urey created amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, by zapping electricity through a do-it-yourself primordial soup. This experiment replicated supposed early earth conditions, purportedly demonstrating that life’s building blocks could leap into existence through a convenient collision of matter and energy—however that matter, energy, and the laws which govern them appeared. Next (so the story goes), these early building blocks self-arranged into simple cells, which morphed into complex cells and multicellular organisms. Eventually, thanks to natural selection keeping the most helpful new mutations in the gene pool, those life-forms evolved into all of us on the Germany-bound bus.
“It sounded like a pretty accurate description of the mainstream origins story,” I replied. But the mainstream story leaves out some key bits of information.
“One thing that textbooks don’t really add about the Miller-Urey experiment though,” I continued, “is that amino acids come in two different forms: left-handed, and right-handed. Miller and Urey came up with a chaotic mix of both, but only the right-handed ones can be involved in making proteins, while the left-handed kind can be deadly to life. The amino acids also ended up in a liquid solution, representing earth’s early oceans. But amino acids don’t actually stay linked together long in environments like that, so they couldn’t have bonded stably on their own.2 And even if enough right-handed amino acids did link and stay bonded, they’d have to connect in an astronomically specific order to create a functional protein. Ordering the amino acids requires information, which nucleic acids like RNA and DNA normally encode. But our human experience, observations and reasoning tell us that information can only come from intelligent sources.”3
Of course, my actual answer sounded a lot worse than that. It’s much easier to write this type of argument after the fact than it is to improvise on a bus. I felt like I stumbled miserably over my recollections of first-year biology while describing the chicken-and-egg problem associated with making a protein,4 and my bus buddy called me on it. But hopefully, I somehow expressed that the nucleic acids that carry protein-building instructions are themselves made of meticulously-organized proteins, as are the molecular machines that choreograph, fuel, and execute the whole unimaginably complex, interdependent process.
“Besides,” I added, “even if a functional protein—or an entire cell—could appear naturalistically, it takes a lot more genetic information to build a human than it does to build a bacterium. Where did all that information come from? Natural selection can only pick and choose from genetic information that’s already present, making sure that organisms with the most useful genes survive and reproduce. New genetic information is supposed to mostly come from mutations, but mutations are almost always corruptions—losses—of information that’s already present.”
Bus Buddy disagreed with me, so I offered the example of dog breeding. A mutation in a wolf-like dog might compromise the gene for long hair, leaving short-haired offspring. Still, those offspring might survive better in hotter climates, where the long-haired dogs die off—along with all their genetic information.
In this case, the short-hair mutation happened to be beneficial for the “hot dogs.” So many mutations cause more harm than good; however, that natural selection isn’t necessarily able to weed out the harmful mutations fast enough or specifically enough. Then, the gene pool becomes further and further degraded—a dilemma known as genetic entropy.5 Typical evolution, then, isn’t so much “onwards and upwards” as “backwards and downwards.”
“You can lose genetic variety from wolves by breeding them for certain traits until you end up with chihuahuas,” I tried to summarize, “but after you’ve selected all that variety away to make pure-bred chihuahuas, you can’t breed those chihuahuas to come up with wolves again. Chihuahuas don’t have the genetic variation for doing that.”
He basically replied, “Who says?”
As cool as it would have been to have a magical answer right there off the top of my head, I didn’t. Instead, I just encouraged him to look into the question of genetic information origins, and pointed out that not even Dr. Richard Dawkins, in an interview, could come up with an example of a mutation generating decisively new information.6
Ultimately, I didn’t change his perspective, and he didn’t change mine. But he did ask me what I believe.
“I side with a Judeo-Christian understanding of origins,” I offered. “I get my ideas from the Bible, which I wouldn’t do if I didn’t think there are good reasons for accepting the Bible as true.”
“It seems like such a cop-out,” he later said, referring to theism. “Just think of the big bang—imagine the entire universe expanding from a tiny point the size of nothing! It’s unfathomable, that kind of power. How could God just create that?”
“If the universe’s origin seems that impossible to happen even with God, how could it happen without Him?”
“Physics, I think.”
I didn’t ask where the laws, constants, and organization of physics came from. I don’t think I even brought up classical apologists’ go-to argument that observable effects like matter, energy, and physical laws must have a cause that exists independently of all those effects. Aristotle thought so, arguing that a First Cause—an Unmoved Mover—must exist to explain the universe.
On some level, Bus Buddy must have thought so too, for at one point, I noted that he mentioned his belief in some sort of “gods” behind the “big bang.”
He also mentioned that he grew up in a Christian home.
I didn’t hear what happened to Bus Buddy’s faith—or even if he’d had some sort of faith to begin with, apart from his family’s. (Unfortunately, I hadn’t had much training in evangelism at that point, though I now would have been able to more fluently unpack my biblical beliefs from Genesis onwards using the type of framework presented in Answers in Genesis’ upcoming Gospel Reset Evangelism Curriculum.) Instead, the conversation turned to travel-related topics as we crossed from France to Germany, where my little blue GPS dot told me to bid Bus Buddy farewell. Then, the bus rolled away towards Frankfurt, leaving me and my massive green backpack on a curb somewhere in Germany.
The Moral of the Story
Ultimately, this young man’s tenacious devotion to the textbook evolution story reminded me how vital it is for youth in Christian homes to have access to answers about the anti-biblical teaching they hear every day. If churches and families can disciple kids to own their faith, defend their beliefs, and maintain their walk with God now, we won’t have to re-evangelize a whole generation of atheists in twenty years. Discipleship is preventative evangelism.
What insights would Christian students in Germany offer about preventative evangelism?
There was only one way to find out.
(Stay tuned for Part 23!)