“Evolution’s just a theory. We don’t have to believe it, do we?” Every year at least one of my students would bring up the “evolution’s just a theory” argument, but I was ready. Feeling my heart starting to race, I would respond enthusiastically, “Oh, no. Evolution’s a fact, perhaps the best established fact in all of science. It’s the cornerstone of modern biology, and the basis for all of our thinking about the origin, meaning, and destiny of life!”
“It’s easy to prove evolution,” I’d say. “Just imagine you’re on a cruise around the world (all expenses paid!) with a young man named Charles Darwin.” Darwin had received college training in theology, but didn’t really care for Bible study. He tried medical school, but didn’t do well. He did enjoy nature study, and was an avid beetle collector. Both his interest in nature and his birth into a wealthy family helped make it possible for young Charles to travel as ship’s naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle on its five year circumnavigation of the globe, 1831–1836 (not bad work, if you can get it!).
Sailing through the Atlantic and around South America, Darwin arrived at the now-famous Galapagos Islands, on the equator about 600 miles (960 km) west of Ecuador. While there he saw sea turtles hatch out of the eggs that had been laid in beach sand above high tide. As they scrambled toward the sea, most of the hatchlings were gobbled up by predators. Perhaps only three in a hundred of the tiny turtles made it to saltwater, and perhaps two of those were eaten up by predators beneath the waves! Maybe only one in a hundred of the turtle hatchlings survived to grow and perpetuate the species.
This cruel, wasteful, and ineﬃcient struggle for survival made a powerful impression on young Darwin. He found it increasingly diﬃcult to reconcile his scientific observations of deadly struggle with biblical teachings about an all-powerful, all-loving God.
On the positive side, the young man who grew up in England had been astounded by the astonishing variety and beauty of life forms he’d seen where the Beagle stopped for study of tropical rain forests. On the Galapagos, his attention was drawn to a fascinating group of small birds now called Darwin’s finches. Some with big beaks crushed seeds to eat; some with small beaks ate insects; one variety even used spines or thorns from plants to pry insects out of their burrows in bark.
Two dozen years after his fantastic voyage, an older Darwin made his observations of variety and struggle on the Galapagos Islands the basis of an evolutionary theory that shook the world. Some have called Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) second only to the Bible in its influence on human history; others would put it first.
Despite the profound impact of Darwinian evolution, his theory is based, simply and convincingly I’d tell my classes, on two irrefutable observations leading to one inescapable conclusion. First, living things exist in incredible variety, and each new generation expresses a wide range of traits. Second, all living things experience an intense struggle for existence, and only a few of each generation survive to reproduce and pass on their traits. Since there is variation and only some in each generation survive, the obvious and unmistakable conclusion is that some varieties are more likely to survive than others: survival of the fittest! In short form:
1. hereditary variation
+2. struggle for survival
=3. survival of the fittest
As I told my students, “Evolution is a fact; we see it going on around us every day. Does anyone doubt variation? Just look around the room, think of your parents and grandparents, or picture the many breeds of dogs, cats, horses, roses, oranges, etc. Does anyone doubt there’s a struggle for survival? Think about lions pouncing on zebras, cats chasing mice, or kudzu vines destroying a forest (or getting out of bed Monday mornings). Add it up for yourself: nature ‘selects’ some varieties for survival rather than others. This natural selection of the fittest leads to evolutionary progress over time.”
There is a price for this progress, however. Natural selection is based on a struggle to the death, what Darwin called the “war of nature.” Hereditary variability can improve only if large numbers of the less fit die in each generation. The horrific struggle and death Darwin saw in the Galapagos had caused him to begin doubting the existence of a loving God. But, in a complete about-face, Darwin came to see death in one generation as opening doors of opportunity for the next. What had been ascribed to the creative power of God, Darwin credited instead to the creative power of struggle and death. In concluding the book that changed the world’s world view, Darwin wrote:
Thus, from the war of nature
from famine and death,
the production of higher animals
Darwin included mankind among the “higher animals” produced by the evolutionary “war of nature,” and so did I. Rejecting the biblical teaching that mankind was a special creation made in the image of some “God,” I taught that we (like microbes, plants, and “other animals”) were a result of millions of years of struggle and death.
Nothing supernatural was required for human origins, I emphasized, but only the ordinary process of evolution—time, chance, struggle, and death. Time and chance produce hereditary variation (mutations); struggle and death (natural selection) determine which variations survive. I stressed time, chance, struggle, and death (mutation-selection) so much that my students began to abbreviate it TCSD.
Believing it was a consequence of millions of years of struggle and death, I summarized the classic sequence and significance of molecules-to-mankind evolution as follows:
In the beginning, the earth was quite diﬀerent from what it is now. Lightning flashed back and forth in an atmosphere of methane and ammonia for perhaps a billion years, producing molecules that rained down into the ancient oceans. Then, just by chance, a group of molecules got together that could reproduce, and life on earth began.
About 500 million years ago, fossils first began to form, in abundance, of those early, simple kinds of life, forms like the trilobites. About 400 million years ago, the first land plants and animals appeared in the sequence. About four million years ago, certain ape-like animals took those first upright steps toward becoming human beings.
People are the first animals able to look back over the history of their own evolution. As we do so, we learn things that help us understand ourselves and our nature. Why do we do things harmful to our own kind? It’s that “jungle fight for survival” that brought us into being in the first place.
But we’re not without hope. We’re already beginning to take control of that molecule of heredity, DNA. Using the techniques of genetic engineering, we can re-make ourselves into our own image of what mankind really ought to be. We’re already reaching for the stars. There’s simply no limit to what human beings can do.
For me, “evolution” was much more than just a scientific theory. It was a total world-and-life view, an alternate religion, a substitute for God. It gave me a feeling of my place in the universe, and a sense of my relationship to others, to society, and to the world of nature that had ultimately given me life. I knew where I came from and where I was going.
I had heard Christians and other “religious fanatics” talk about “back to God, back to the Bible, back to this, or back to that.” But for me as an evolutionist, the best was yet to come. And, as a scientist and professor of biology, I could help make it happen. By contributing to advances in science and technology, both directly and through my students, I could be part of the process of bringing “heaven on earth.”
Let’s face it. Evolution is an exciting and appealing idea! A lot of scientific evidence can be used to support it. Perhaps most importantly for me and many others, evolution means there is no God, no “Creator” who sets the rules. Human beings are the top. Each of us is his or her own boss. We set our own rules, our own goals. We decide what’s best for us.
I didn’t just believe evolution; I embraced it enthusiastically! And I taught it enthusiastically. I considered it one of my major missions as a science professor to help my students rid themselves completely of old, “pre-scientific” superstitions, such as Christianity. In fact, I was almost fired once for teaching evolution so vigorously that I had Christian students crying in my class!
Once in a while Christian students would say something like, “You don’t have to be that hard on the Bible or the Christian faith. After all, you can believe in the Bible and evolution at the same time.” Thinking I had them in a trap, I would respond something like this: “Who wants to pray to a god that used millions of years of struggle and death to create things? Aren’t time and chance the logical opposites of plan and purpose? What kind of god would wipe out 99 percent of all the species he/she/it created, and bury the mistakes in fossil graveyards? Besides that, don’t you Christians believe God sent His Son, Jesus, to conquer death and give us new life? If God had been using millions of years of struggle and death to create things, Jesus would be opposing God’s plan! You don’t really understand evolution or the Bible either one!”
Although I thought I was “open-minded” and didn’t mean to be mean, my remarks must have been oﬀensive to many Christian students. Since Christians, Jews, and Muslims share the same basic account of creation and the earth’s early history, my evolutionist exuberance would have been oﬀensive to Jewish and Islamic students as well. Actually, I was more than willing to let students believe in whatever God they wanted to—so long as their religious belief did not dispute the “scientific fact of evolution.”
Then I got invited to a Bible study. How silly, I thought, that educated people in this age of science would still study a dusty old outmoded book like the Bible, but the Bible study was led by the chemistry professor where I was teaching. More importantly, I was promised free coﬀee and donuts for coming. Now those are three of my favorite words: free . . . coﬀee . . . donuts! So, for less than honorable motives, my wife, Mary, and I set oﬀ for that Bible study. Besides, I thought, by pointing out all the obvious errors in the Bible, maybe I could convince them to study something more relevant, like evolution, for instance!
Most of the errors I tried to point out turned out to be my errors. The chemistry professor, Dr. Charles Signorino, was a superb Bible teacher, and that got to be irritating, but the free coﬀee and donuts kept us coming back anyway. I soon learned, much to my amazement at first, that the Bible describes the origin and history of life on earth in a way dramatically diﬀerent from evolution’s story:
In the beginning was God. With plan, purpose, and special acts of creation, God stretched out the heavens and clothed the earth with plants both “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” He created our first parents (Adam and Eve) in His own “image,” mandated that they care for and cultivate the earth as a “garden of delight” (Eden), and asked only for their love and trust.
Unfortunately, our first parents sinned—rejected God’s love and put their trust in their own opinions rather than God’s Word. That self-centered arrogance ruined the world God had created “all very good,” and brought death, disease, and disaster to the earth—a “bondage to decay.”
The early earth became so filled with violence and corruption that God destroyed it in a global flood to give the world a fresh start with Noah and those with him on the ark. Sadly, human evil has again polluted God’s world, and the present world is destined for cleansing by fire. We might summarize the sad history of our planet so far as 3 Cs: creation, corruption, and catastrophe.
We’re not without hope. There is a fourth “C.” The same God who created us, the same God who daily cares for us, is the same God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to conquer sin and death and to raise us to new life, rich and abundant, now and forever. As “new creations in Christ,” we wait for a “new heaven and new earth,” where “the wolf and the lamb will lie down together,” there will be no more pain, tears, or death, and peace and paradise will be perfectly restored.
The evolutionary world view can be abbreviated TCSD for time, chance, struggle, and death. The biblical view can be represented as 7 Cs (say “Seven Seas”), but I’ll focus on just 4 Cs: God’s perfect world (creation), ruined by man (corruption), destroyed by Noah’s flood (catastrophe), restored to a new life in Christ—creation, corruption, catastrophe, Christ.1
What a difference! In evolutionary thinking, time, chance, struggle, and death produce “new and improved” forms of life. In biblical thinking, chance and struggle produce disease, decline, and death. Evolution begins with dead things; living things—including us—are temporary intruders in the universe, and when the sun burns out, death wins at last. The Bible begins with the life of God; death is a temporary intruder, and eternal life wins at Christ’s return.
Most people agree that it’s the Bible that has the happy ending: life triumphs over death. During an interview, a famous evolutionist and anti-creationist admitted that it would be nice to believe that we were especially created by a loving God who put us here to superintend the earth. Then he quickly added that it isn’t right. During a television program in which I also appeared, another leading evolutionist told how he had grown up in a religious household and had heard the “wonderful story” of a beautiful creation, ruined by man’s sin, restored by Christ’s love. Then he went on to say that the whole of his scientific training, indeed the whole development of science during the last 200 years, had convinced him the “wonderful story” was wrong.
That’s the way I looked at it, too; the Bible was just a story with a happy ending—like all those other fairy tales. My strong belief in evolution was a huge stumbling block to my accepting the good news of new life in Christ. I thought evolution had proved the Bible was wrong, and that there was no God out there to keep all its wonderful promises.
Dr. Signorino, an excellent Bible teacher, was also a topnotch scientist. He challenged me to look again at the scientific evidence I thought I knew so well. Then Allen Davis, a biologist newly hired at the college, began to share creationist evidences and resources with me, including the famous (or infamous) book by John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood. For three years we argued creation/evolution. For three years I used all the evolutionary arguments I knew so well. For three years I lost every scientific argument. Reluctant and surprised, I finally concluded that what we read in God’s Word is the surest guide to understanding what we see in God’s world.
Now I’d like to invite you to consider some of the evidences that suggest the “wonderful story” is true after all! And it’s not just me. Thousands of scientists are sharing the scientific evidences in God’s world that encourage us to believe all the wonderful promises and principles in God’s Word, the Bible.
How can that be? How can scientists—all using the same evidence—come up with such diﬀerent ideas about what that evidence means? Hasn’t “science” proved the Bible wrong? Don’t we “know” that man created “God” in his image when he reached the stage of abstract thought in evolution? Wouldn’t going back to believing God created man in His image bring back other superstitions and destroy the very fabric of society in our scientific age? Isn’t it unconscionable (and unconstitutional) to mix religion, like the Bible, with science, like evolution?
People do get “fired up” about creation/evolution. There really are important issues at stake here, both personal and social. That’s all the more reason to hold our emotions in check and to examine our beliefs calmly and thoughtfully. After all, it’s important to know not only what we believe but why we believe it. Being comfortable and confident with our beliefs means that we have honestly considered the merits of beliefs diﬀerent from ours, and understanding another’s beliefs helps to generate respect and compassion, even if the disagreement is deep, profound, and absolute.
I love science. This book is especially for those who love and/or respect science. In it I’d like to share with you some of the scientific evidence that helped to change me, as a biology professor, from an enthusiastic (even “evangelical”) belief in evolution to a belief instead that the Bible is the best guide to understanding God’s world and our place in His plan. The Bible contains no explicit references to DNA, mutations, fossils, or the Grand Canyon, so my scientific applications of biblical truths are no better than the evidence I use to support them.
I also want you to understand evolution clearly and thoroughly, so I’ll also be going over with you—as I still do with my students—all the standard textbook arguments used in favor of evolution.
Take your time. Be critical. Think it through. It took me three years of re-examining the evidence before I gave up my deep-seated belief in evolution and concluded, like thousands of other scientists in recent times, that the 4 C biblical outline of earth history is the more logical inference from our scientific observations.