In this three part series, we have been exploring the atheistic evolutionists' perspective that we summarised in the first post as, “the Bible is not credible because its account of the origins of life doesn't square with what Evolutionary theory suggests actually happened.”
In the first post we outlined the atheist evolutionists position and identified the key points of apparent conflict with origins of the universe as described in the opening pages of the Bible.
In the second post we addressed the apparent conflicts between the atheist evolutionists account of the origins of complex life and the Biblical account.
In this third and final post, we outline some residual tensions that the atheist evolutionists needs to contend with.
The Combinatorial Challenge
Combinatorics is the science of counting. What I mean by the combinatorial challenge is to do with the claimed undirected nature of a highly path-dependant mechanism like evolution.
Others have done some sums (most are from creationists such as here), but it will suffice to make a brief illustration.
Suppose that to get from Melbourne to Sydney you would need to take three trains (A (Melbourne) to B, B to C, C to D (Sydney)), in correct order, with connections working out neatly. Now suppose that instead of a directed train-service, you were facing a random train service -- one in which trains left at random times from stations A, B and C.
Moreover, station A has 10 platforms (like Southern Cross in Melbourne), as does station B, as does station C. Unfortunately, because the this is a random train service, you cannot just step onto any train at A going to B because it may take you to the wrong platform at B and thus mean that you'll miss the connection to C. And finally, to make matters worse, there is a strict, security-conscious, nightly curfew on all stations, such that if you miss the immediate connection, you must return home to Melbourne the next day.
What to do?
Essentially, you've got to get on the right train at Melbourne (A) such that it arrives at the right platform at B at the right time, to catch the train from B to C, and again, arrive at the right platform at C at the right time to get the connection to D (Sydney).
In this random world, the probability that this will all work out with a random trial of any train leaving the platform at A is understandably small. The problem is that you are being hit by combinatorics -- there are just so many ways that trains could arrive and depart, from 10 different platforms at each station, that the probability that any one train trip from A to B perfectly meets the train going to C which perfectly meets the train going to D is vanishingly small.
The illustration is not perfect, but gets to the gist of what the undirected evolutionist supposes. In a deterministic universe, the exact initial conditions of the materials and the forces of nature which surround them will exactly determine a single pathway through the evolutionary 'train network'.
The trouble is, the number of pathways which lead to such complex life forms as we see around us in general terms, and the actual life forms we have (e.g. humans) in specific terms is very small. Creationists normally argue that the probability is so small that even billions of years of 'hero' time wouldn't be enough to get you the complexity we see. The number of alternate pathways which lead to a dead-end or at least a vastly different world are just too many.
However, let's grant there there is enough time, the fact remains that if either the initial conditions or fundamental laws of nature were wobbled just slightly we'd end up on an entirely 'different platform'.
More to the point, there is no inevitability in the atheist evolutionist's perspective to the creation of a mankind-like living thing.
The corollary is that the atheist evolutionist is making the wager that everything was 'just right' at the beginning (and I mean razor-sharp, knife-edge, just-right) to produce the kind of life forms including humans we see today.
The debate amongst biologists is live on this point (e.g. read Michael Ruse's reflections here) with some arguing that there is an 'arrow' of evolution driving toward more complex life forms, whilst others see no such arrow and rather embrace an even more complete view of 'undirectedness' such that complexity of life forms could wax and wane as the process goes on its merry random way. Under the former, the problem remains since you still wager on the very small probability of getting life like it is, whilst under the latter, the probability is vanishingly small from the outset since there is no guarantee of complexity even after a 'hero' amount of time.
The combinatorial challenge is a tension for the atheist evolutionist only, and not the theistic evolutionist. For the theist, as we've seen, the evolutionary process is directed – God is in control of when and how to go to the more complex life form, with the ultimate creation of mankind as the peak of the creative act.
The divine credentials of God mean that 'probability' is neither here nor there. He directs the creation where he wishes whether we think that direction is unlikely or not. (Indeed, the Old Testament is full of God leading his people Israel in strange and unexpected ways – the book of Judges is a case-study.)
The Moral & Mind Challenge
Finally, the moral nature of mankind has produced an enormous amount of scholarly work, and for good reason. It is seen by atheist evolutionists as a paradox – how a mechanism which is essentially governed by 'survival of the fittest' could produce an other-person centric mentality in its peak life form.
Such is the seriousness of this challenge that Richard Dawkins devoted the entirety of episode 2 of his "Genius of Charles Darwin" program to it. It seems that he is trying to directly appeal to a general public who will rightly find no moral compass in the atheistic evolutionary proposition. It seems Dawkins worries that this will so jar with the inner sense of right and wrong, good and evil, not to mention notions of empathy and charity, that viewers will wonder at the credibility of his synthesis.
Tellingly, in the opening of the episode Dawkins speaks of taking the viewer into the 'heart of darkness' of Darwinianism.
To win back the viewer, Dawkins sets out to attack the evolutionary operator as an organising principle for mankind:
"As a scientist I'm thrilled by natural selection, but as a human being, I abhor it as an organising principle for organising society. … a society run on crude darwinian lines would be a ruthless, merciless place. [but] Among the pinnacles of our human civilisation... we can empathise, we can imagine how it is for others." – R. Dawkins (2009), The Genius of Charles Darwin, Episode 2.
Moreover, Dawkins wishes us to feel emboldened that,
"We alone on earth, have evolved to the extraordinary point that we can understand the selfish genes that shaped us, they are not models for how to behave but the opposite. ... because we are conscious of these forces, we can work towards taming them, through kindness and morality, modern medicine, charity ... we can overthrow the tyranny of natural selection. Our evolved brains empower us to rebel against our selfish genes." – R. Dawkins (2009), The Genius of Charles Darwin, Episode 2.
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking works exactly as Dawkins highlights: against the processes of evolutionary selection. But if this is true, then this kind of thinking shouldn't exist in mankind today. It should have been selected out with a more ruthless, less caring, more 'successful' form of human selected in.
Furthermore, the fact that human beings have 'minds' – consciousness, personhood, understanding, intelligible apparatus – is a related problem for the atheist evolutionist. For the atheist evolutionist, the universe is made of nothing but physical matter (atoms, elements and molecules), powered by 'natural' (not super-natural) forces. However, a long-standing philosophical and logical problem has existed around whether such a purely material world could produce something so apparently 'other' (in kind, purpose, intelligence, and function) as our minds.
Philosopher and atheist Thomas Nagel provides a modern treatment of this problem in his book, “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False". The excerpt below captures well Nagel's skepticism that a naturalistic evolutionary mechanism is capable of producing human consciousness, and so, that the present evolutionary methodology (as presented by the likes of Dawkins) could be a complete account:
"Consciousness is the most conspicuous obstacle to a comprehensive naturalism that relies only on the resources of physical science. The existence of consciousness seems to imply that the physical description of the universe, in spite of its richness and explanatory power, is only part of the truth, and that the natural order is far less austere than it would be if physics and chemistry accounted for everything. If we take this problem seriously, and follow out its implications, it threatens to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture."
Again, for the theistic evolutionist there is no paradox here. The Bible consistently points to the special nature of mankind, only man is made 'in the image' of God, only man is given special stewardship roles in the created order, only man is given the special opportunity to be known as a 'kingdom of priests a royal nation.'
For the theistic evolutionist, since God is directing the path of evolution, and uniquely forms man in his image, God is well able to endow mankind with special moral reasoning, consciousness and mental capability as he wishes. The end of Genesis 1 affirms this kind of special creative interaction with mankind.
In the end, working out exactly how God created the universe and the living things in it will likely be an unsettleable matter. I say this for at least two reasons.
First, because all of our mechanistic knowledge of the natural world is constantly being refined and revolutionised. Today's theistic evolution may be replaced by a theistic derivative of evolution tomorrow. So by nature of science, the matter will not be settled.
Second, because as we have seen, the nature of the text we have in the Bible and its limited detail on mechanisms leaves an enormous amount of freedom on what the contours of the true creation mechanism could have been.
Nevertheless, we have seen that the repeated claim of atheist evolutionists that evolution implies atheism is wrong.
More than that, this assertion is an unnecessary and unhelpful distraction to the progress of dialogue with non-believers.
Thankfully, there is an event in history for which the Bible gives a tremendous amount of detail, via clearly historical texts, which occurred within human recorded history. The event was public, both in its lead up, and its aftermath. And moreover the central character of the event interacted not only with thousands of normal people, but also with the political and religious elite of the day, and so generated the kind of historical fingerprints which attend such high level interactions.
The event of which I speak is of course Jesus' life, death and resurrection. As John Dickson has helpfully said, it is, with this event, "as if Christianity has put its head on the chopping block of history and invited anyone to have a swing."
As we have noted at the outset, Evolution and the credibility of the Bible is a high stakes question for believers. However, I think I speak for many when I say that for followers of Jesus, speaking about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the central text of the Bible worthy of primary study.
I pray that for the non-believer, this series might prompt a reconsideration of the credibility of the Bible in general, and the Jesus event in particular.
Simon Angus is an Economist at Monash University, and in his spare time serves the City on a Hill Movement as the Strategy & Analysis Pastor, and Many Rooms Ltd as a Board Director. Simon is married to Susan and has 3 kids. He loves complexity and systems thinking, trail running and dreaming about the next Lego build.
Simon has qualifications in industrial chemistry, political philosophy and economics from the University of New South Wales and in Theology from Moore College.