THE CASE FOR GOD….. by Lee Strobell
The Images of Evolution
The problem is to get [people] to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth.
Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin 1
Science ... has become identified with a philosophy known as materialism or scientific naturalism. This philosophy insists that nature is all there is, or at least the only thing about which we can have any knowledge. It follows that nature had to do its own creating and that the means of creation must not have included any role for God.
Evolution critic Phillip E. Johnson2
Rewind history to 1966. The big hit on the radio was Paul MaCartney crooning "Michelle." On a television show called Spy, Bill Cosby was becoming the first African-American to share the lead in a dramatic series. Bread was nineteen cents a loaf; a new Ford Fairlane cost $1,600.
As a fourteen-year-old freshman at Prospect High School in northwest suburban Chicago, I was sitting in a third-floor science classroom overlooking the asphalt parking lot, second row from the window, third seat from the front, when I first heard the liberating information that propelled me toward a life of atheism.
I already liked this introductory biology class. It fit well with my logical way of looking at the world, an approach that was already tugging me toward the evidence-oriented fields of journalism and law. I was incurably curious, always after answers, constantly trying to figure out how things worked.
As a youngster, my parents once gave me an electric train for Christmas. A short time later my dad discovered me in the garage, repeatedly hurling the locomotive against the concrete floor in a futile attempt to crack it open. I didn't understand why he was so upset. All I was doing, I meekly explained, was trying to figure out what made it work.
That's why I liked science. Here the teacher actually encouraged me to cut open a frog to find out how it functioned. Science gave me an excuse to ask all the "why" questions that plagued me, to try genetic experiments by breeding fruit flies, and to peer inside plants to learn about how they reproduced. To me, science represented the empirical, the trustworthy, the hard facts, the experimentally proven. I tended to dismiss everything else as being mere opinion, conjecture, superstition —and mindless faith.
I would have resonated with what philosopher J. P. Moreland wrote years later, when he said that for many people the term scientific meant something was "good, rational, and modern," whereas something not scientific was old-fashioned and not worth the belief of thinking people. 3
My trust in science had been shaped by growing up in post-Sputnik America, where science and technology had been exalted as holding the keys to the survival of our country. The Eisenhower administration had exhorted young people to pursue careers in science so America could catch up with—and surpass-—our enemy, the Soviets, who had stunned the world in 1957 by launching the world's first artificial satellite into an elliptical orbit around Earth.
Later, as our nation began unraveling in the 1960s, when social conventions were being turned upside down, when relativism and situational ethics were starting to create a quicksand of morality, when one tradition after another was being upended, I saw science as remaining steady—a foundation, an anchor, always rock-solid in its methodology while at the same time constantly moving forward in a reflection of the American can-do spirit.
Put a man on the moon? Nobody doubted we would do it. New technology, from transistors to Teflon, kept making life in America better and better. Could a cure for cancer be far off?
It was no accident that my admiration for scientific thinking was developing at the same time that my confidence in God was waning. In Sunday school and confirmation classes during my junior high school years, my "why" questions weren't always welcomed. While many of the other students seemed to automatically accept the truth of the Bible, I needed reasons for trusting it. But more often than not, my quest for answers was rebuffed. Instead, I was required to read, memorize, and regurgitate Bible verses and the writings of Martin Luther and other seemingly irrelevant theologians from the distant past.
Who cared what these long-dead zealots believed? I had no use for the "soft" issues of faith and spirituality; rather, I was gravitating toward the "hard" facts of science. As Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education observed, "You can't put an omnipotent deity in a test tube." 4 If there wasn't any scientific or rational evidence for believing in such an entity, then I wasn't interested.
That's when, on that pivotal day in biology class in 1966, I began to learn about scientific discoveries that, to borrow the words of British zoologist Richard Dawkins, "made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." 5
The Images of Evolution
I tend to be a visual thinker. Images stick in my mind for long periods of time. When I think back to those days as a high school student, what I learned in the classroom and through my eager consumption of outside books can be summed up in a series of pictures.
IMAGE #1: The Tubes, Flasks, and Electrodes of the Stanley Miller Experiment
This was the most powerful picture of all—the laboratory apparatus that Stanley Miller, then a graduate student at the University of Chicago, used in 1953 to artificially produce the building blocks of life. By reproducing the atmosphere of the primitive earth and then shooting electric sparks through it to simulate lightning, Miller managed to produce a red goo containing amino acids.
The moment I first learned of Millers success, my mind flashed to the logical implication: if the origin of life can be explained solely through natural processes, then God was out of a job! After all, there was no need for a deity if living organisms could emerge by themselves out of the primordial soup and then develop naturally over the eons into more and more complex creatures-—-a scenario that was illustrated by the next image of evolution.
IMAGE #2: Darwin's "Tree of Life"
The first time I read Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species, I was struck that there was only one illustration: a sketch in which he depicted the development of life as a tree, starting with an ancient ancestor at the bottom and then blossoming upward into limbs, branches, and twigs as life evolved with increasing diversity and complexity.
As a recent textbook explained, Darwinism teaches that all life forms are "related through descent from some unknown prototype that lived in the remote past."
It seemed obvious to me that there's such a phenomenon as micro-evolution, or variation within different kinds of animals. I could see this illustrated in my own neighborhood, where we had dozens of different varieties of dogs. But I was captivated by the more ambitious claim of macroevolution—that natural selection acting on random variation can explain how primitive cells morphed over long periods of time into every species of creatures, including human beings. In other words, fish were transformed into amphibians, amphibians into reptiles, and reptiles into birds and mammals, with humans having the same ancestor as apes.
So while Miller seemed to establish that life could have arisen spontaneously in the chemical oceans of long-ago Earth, Darwin's theory accounted for how so many millions of species of organisms could slowly and gradually develop over huge expanses of time. Then came further confirmation of our common ancestry, illustrated by the next image.
IMAGE #3: Ernst Haeckel's Drawings of Embryos
German biologist Ernst Haeckel, whose sketches of embryos could be found in virtually every evolution book I studied, provided even more evidence for all of life having the same ancient progenitor. By juxtaposing drawings of an embryonic fish, salamander, tortoise, chick, hog, calf, rabbit, and human, Haeckel graphically established that they all appeared strikingly similar in their earliest stages of development. It was only later that they became distinctly different.
As my eyes scanned the top row of Haeckel's drawings, representing the early stage of embryonic development, I was stunned by how these vertebrates—which would eventually grow to become so radically different from each other-—-were virtually indistinguishable.
Who could tell them apart? The human embryo could just as easily have been any one of the others. Obviously, Darwin was right when he said "we ought to frankly admit" universal common ancestry. And certainly the inexorable progression toward ever-increasing complexity could be seen in the next image.
IMAGE #4: The Missing Link
The fossil is so astounding that one paleontologist called it "a holy relic of the past that has become a powerful symbol of the evolutionary process itself." 7 It's the most famous fossil in the world: the archaeop-teryx, or "ancient wing," a creature dating back 150 million years. With the wings, feathers, and wishbone of a bird, but with a lizard-like tail and claws on its wings, it was hailed as the missing link between reptiles and modern birds.
One look at a picture of that fossil chased away any misgivings about whether the fossil record supported Darwin's theory. Here was a half-bird, half-reptile—-I needed to look no further to believe that paleontology backed up Darwin. Indeed, the archaeopteryx, having been discovered in Germany immediately after The Origin of Species was published, "helped enormously to establish the credibility of Darwinism and to discredit skeptics," Johnson said. 8
These images were just the beginning of my education in evolution. By the time I had completed my study of the topic, I was thoroughly convinced that Darwin had explained away any need for God. And that's a phenomenon I have seen over and over again.
I've lost count of the number of spiritual skeptics who have told me that their seeds of doubt were planted in high school or college when they studied Darwinism. "When I read in 2002 about an Eagle Scout being booted from his troop for refusing to pledge reverence to God, I wasn't surprised to find out he "has been an atheist since studying evolution in the ninth grade." 9
As Oxford evolutionist Dawkins said: "The more you understand the significance of evolution, the more you are pushed away from an agnostic position and towards atheism." 10
Darwin versus God
Not everyone, however, believes that Darwinian evolutionary theory and God are incompatible. There are some scientists and theologians who see no conflict between believing in the doctrines of Darwin and the doctrines of Christianity.
Nobel-winning biologist Christian de Duve insisted there's "no sense in which atheism is enforced or established by science,"11 while biology professor Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University declared that evolution "is not anti-God."12 Philosopher Michael Ruse, himself an ardent naturalist, answered the question, "Can a Darwinian be a Christian?" by declaring, "Absolutely!" In his view, "No sound argument has been mounted showing that Darwinism implies atheism." 13
Biologist Jean Pond, who formerly taught at Whitworth College, proudly describes herself as "a scientist, an evolutionist, a great admirer of Charles Darwin, and a Christian." 14 She elaborated by saying: "Believing that evolution occurred-—-that humans and all other living things are related as part of creation's giant family tree, that it is possible that the first cell arose by the natural processes of chemical evolution—-neither requires nor even promotes an atheistic worldview." 15
Personally, however, I couldn't understand how the Darwinism I was taught left any meaningful role for God. I was told that the evolutionary process was by definition undirected to me, that automatically ruled out a supernatural deity who was pulling the strings behind the scene.
One recent textbook was very clear about this: "By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of life processes superfluous."16 Other textbooks affirm that evolution is "random and undirected" and "without either plan or purpose" and that "Darwin gave biology a sound scientific basis by attributing the diversity of life to natural causes rather than supernatural creation."17
If this is how scientists define Darwinism, then it seemed to me that God has been given his walking papers. To try to somehow salvage an obscure role for him appears pointless, which Cornells William Provine readily concedes: "A widespread theological view now exists saying that God started off the world, props it up and works through laws of nature, very subtly, so subtly that its action is undetectable," he said. "But that kind of God is effectively no different to my mind than atheism."18
Certainly Christians would say that God is not a hidden and unin-volved deity who thoroughly conceals his activity, but rather that he has intervened in the world so much that the Bible says his qualities "have been clearly seen .... from what has been made."19 Cambridge-educated philosopher of science Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seatde, put it this way:
Many evolutionary biologists admit that science cannot categorically exclude the possibility that some kind of deity still might exist. Nor can they deny the possibility of a divine designer who so masks his creative activity in apparently natural processes as to escape scientific detection. Yet for most scientific materialists such an undetectable entity hardly seems worthy of consideration. 20
Even so, Meyer stressed that "contemporary Darwinism does not envision a God-guided process of evolutionary change." 21 He cites a famous observation by the late evolutionary biologist George Gaylord Simpson that Darwinism teaches "man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind." 22 The ramifications are unmistakable, according to Meyer: "To say that God guides an inherentry unguided natural process, or that God designed a natural mechanism as a substitute for his design, is clearly contradictory." 23
Nancy Pearcey, who has written extensively on science and faith, insists that "you can have God or natural selection, but not both." 24 She pointed out that Darwin himself recognized that the presence of an omnipotent deity would actually undermine his theory. "If we admit God into the process, Darwin argued, then God would ensure that only 'the right variations occurred ... and natural selection would be superfluous.'" 25
Law professor Phillip Johnson, author of the breakthrough critique of evolution Darwin On Trial, agrees that "the whole point of Darwinism is to show that there is no need for a supernatural creator, because nature can do the creating by itself." 26
In fact, many of the evolutionists who have felt the sting of Johnson's criticism nevertheless find themselves in agreement with him on this particular matter. For example, evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr emphasized that "the real core of Darwinism" is natural selection, which "permits the explanation of adaption ... by natural means, instead of by divine intervention." 27
Another leading evolutionist, Francisco Ayala, who was ordained a Dominican priest prior to his science career and yet refused in a recent interview to confirm whether he still believes in God, 28 said Darwin's "greatest accomplishment" was to show that "living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process, natural selection, without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent." 29
When an attorney asked the outspoken Provine whether there is "an intellectually honest Christian evolutionist position ... or do we simply have to check our brains at the church house door," Provine's answer was straightforward: "You indeed have to check your brains."30 Apparently to him, the term "Christian evolutionist" is oxymoronic.
Pulitzer Prize—winning sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson was adamant on this issue. "If humankind evolved by Darwinian natural selection," he said, "genetic chance and environmental necessity, not God, made the species." 31 No ambiguity there.
Characteristically, Time magazine summed up the matter succinctly:
"Charles Darwin didn't want to murder God, as he once put it. But he did." 32
Darwin's Universal Acid
I wasn't aware of these kinds of observations when I was a student. I just knew intuitively that the theories of Darwin gave me an intellectual basis to reject the mythology of Christianity that my parents had tried to foist on me through my younger years.
At one point, I remember reading the World Book Encyclopedia that my parents had given me as a birthday present to answer the "why" questions with which I was always tormenting them. Reading selectively from the entry on evolution served to reinforce my sense that Christianity and Darwinism are incompatible.
"In the Bible, God is held to be the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Ultimate End of all things," the encyclopedia said. "Many Christians believe that it is impossible to reconcile this conviction with the idea that evolutionary development has been brought about by natural forces present in organic life." 33
Everything fell into place for me. My assessment was that you didn't need a Creator if life can emerge unassisted from the primordial slime of the primitive earth, and you don't need God to create human beings in his image if we are merely the product of the impersonal forces of natural selection. In short, you don't need the Bible if you've got The Origin of Species. I was experiencing on a personal level what philosopher Daniel Dennett has observed: Darwinism is a "universal acid" that "eats through just about every traditional concept and leaves in its wake a revolutionized worldview." 34
My worldview was being revolutionized, all right, yet in my youthful optimism I wasn't ready to examine some of the disheartening implications of my new philosophy. I conveniently ignored the grim picture painted by British atheist Bertrand Russell, who wrote about how science had presented us with a world that was "purposeless" and "void of meaning." 35 He said:
That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction ... that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried—-all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built. 36
Rather than facing this "unyielding despair" that's implicit in a world without God, I reveled in my newly achieved freedom from God's moral strictures. For me, living without God meant living one hundred percent for myself. Freed from someday being held accountable for my actions, I felt unleashed to pursue personal happiness and pleasure at all costs.
The sexual revolution of the '60s and '70s was starting to dawn, and I was liberated to indulge as much as I wanted, without having to look over my shoulder at God's disapproving gaze. As a journalist, I was unshackled to compete without always having to abide by those pesky rules of ethics and morality. I would let nothing, and certainly nobody, stand between me and my ambitions.
Who cared if scientific materialism taught that there is nothing other than matter and therefore no person could possibly survive the grave? I was too young to trifle with the implications of that; instead, I pursued the kind of immortality I could attain by leaving my mark as a successful journalist, whose investigations and articles would spur new legislation and social reform. As for the finality of death—-well, I had plenty of time to ponder that later. There was too much living to do in the meantime.
So the seeds of my atheism were sown as a youngster when religious authorities seemed unwilling or unable to help me get answers to my questions about God. My disbelief flowered after discovering that Darwinism displaces the need for a deity. And my atheism came to full bloom when I studied Jesus in college and was told that no science-minded person could possibly believe what the New Testament says about him.
According to members of the left-wing Jesus Seminar, the same impulse that had given rise to experimental science, "which sought to put all knowledge to the test of close and repeated observation," also prompted their efforts to finally distinguish "the factual from the fictional" in Jesus' life. They concluded that in "this scientific age," modern thinkers can no longer believe that Jesus did or said much of what the Bible claims. As they put it:
The Christ of creed and dogma, who had been firmly in place in the Middle Ages, can no longer command the assent of those who have seen the heavens through Galileos telescope. The old deities and demons were swept from the skies by that remarkable glass. Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo have dismanded the mythological abodes of the gods and Satan, and bequeathed us secular heavens. 37
By the time I was halfway through college, my atheistic attitudes were so entrenched that I was becoming more and more impatient toward people of mindless faith, like those protesters I would later encounter in "West Virginia." I couldn't fathom their stubborn reluctance to subject their outmoded beliefs to that "universal acid" of modern scientific thought.
I felt smugly arrogant toward them. Let them remain slaves to their wishful thinking about a heavenly home and to the straightjacket morality of their imaginary God. As for me, I would dispassionately follow the conclusions of the scientists and historians whose logical and consistent research has reduced the world to material processes only.
The Investigation Begins
If I had stopped asking questions, that's where I would have remained. But with my background in journalism and law, the demanding of answers was woven into my nature. So five years after my adventure in "West Virginia, when my wife Leslie announced that she had decided to become a follower of Jesus, it was understandable that the first words I uttered would be in the form of an inquiry.
It wasn't asked politely. Instead, it was spewed in a venomous and accusatory tone: "What has gotten into you?" I simply couldn't comprehend how such a rational person could buy into an irrational religious concoction of wishful thinking, make-believe, mythology, and legend.
In the ensuing months, however, as Leslie's character began to change, as her values underwent a transformation, as she became a more loving and caring and authentic person, I began asking the same question, only this time in a softer and more sincere tone of genuine wonderment: "What has gotten into you?" Something-—or, as she would claim, Someone—was undeniably changing her for the better.
Clearly, I needed to investigate what was going on. And so I began asking more questions—a lot of them-—about faith, God, and the Bible. I was determined to go wherever the answers would take me — even though, frankly, I wasn't quite prepared back then for where I would ultimately end up.
This multifaceted spiritual investigation lasted nearly two years. In my previous book, The Case for Christ, which retraced and expanded upon this journey, I discussed the answers I received from thirteen leading experts about the historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth. 38 In my subsequent book, The Case for Faith, I pursued answers to the "Big Eight" questions about Christianity—the kind of issues that began troubling me even as a youngster but that nobody had been willing to answer. 39
In those earlier books, however, I barely touched upon another important dimension to my investigation. Because science had played such an instrumental role in propelling me toward atheism, I also devoted a lot of time to posing questions about what the latest research says about God. With an open mind, I began asking:
* Are science and faith doomed to always be at war? Was I right to think that a science-minded individual must necessarily eschew religious beliefs? Or is there a fundamentally different way to view the relationship between the spiritual and the scientific?
Does the latest scientific evidence tend to point toward or away from the existence of God?
Are those images of evolution that spurred me to atheism still valid in light of the most recent discoveries in science?
When I first began exploring these issues in the early 1980s, I found that there was a sufficient amount of evidence to guide me to a confident conclusion. Much has changed since then, however. Science is always pressing relentlessly forward, and a lot more data and many more discoveries have been poured into the reservoir of scientific knowledge during the past twenty years.
All of which has prompted me to ask a new question: does this deeper and richer pool of contemporary scientific research contradict or affirm the conclusions I reached so many years ago? Put another way, in which direction—-toward Darwin or God—-is the current arrow of science now pointing?
"Science," said two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, "is the search for the truth." 40 And that's what I decided to embark upon—a new journey of discovery that would both broaden and update the original investigation I conducted into science more than two decades ago.
My approach would be to cross-examine authorities in various scientific disciplines about the most current findings in their fields. In selecting these experts, I sought doctorate-level professors who have unquestioned expertise, are able to communicate in accessible language, and who refuse to limit themselves only to the politically correct world of naturalism or materialism. After all, it wouldn't make sense to rule out any hypothesis at the outset. I wanted the freedom to pursue all possibilities.
I would stand in the shoes of the skeptic, reading all sides of each topic and posing the toughest objections that have been raised. More importantly, I would ask the experts the kind of questions that personally plagued me when I was an atheist. In fact, perhaps these are the very same issues that have proven to be sticking points in your own spiritual journey. Maybe you too have wondered whether belief in a supernatural God is consistent with what science has uncovered about the natural world.
If so, I hope you'll join me in my investigation. Strip away your preconceptions as much as possible and keep an open mind as you eavesdrop on my conversations with these fascinating scientists and science-trained philosophers. At the end you can decide for yourself whether their answers and explanations stand up to scrutiny.
Let me caution you, though, that getting beyond our prejudices can be difficult. At least, it was for me. I once had a lot of motivation to stay on the atheistic path. I didn't want there to be a God who would hold me responsible for my immoral lifestyle. As the legal-affairs editor at the most powerful newspaper in the Midwest, I was used to pushing people around, not humbly submitting myself to some invisible spiritual authority.
I was trained not only to ask questions, however, but to go wherever the answers would take me. And I trust you have the same attitude. I hope you'll be willing to challenge what you may have been taught in a classroom some time back—information that might have been eclipsed by more recent discoveries.
Scientists themselves will tell you that this is entirely appropriate. "All scientific knowledge," said no less an authority than the National Academy of Sciences, "is, in principle, subject to change as new evidence becomes available." 41
What does this new evidence show? Be prepared to be amazed-— even dazzled-—by the starling new narrative that science has been busy writing over the past few decades.
"The Old Story of Science is scientific materialism," wrote theoretical physicist George Stanciu and science philosopher Robert Augros. "It holds that only matter exists and that all things are explicable in terms of matter alone." 42 But, they said, in recent years "science has undergone a series of dramatic revolutions" that have "transformed the modern conception of man and his place in the world." 43
This astounding "New Story of Science" —-with its surprising plot twists and intriguing characters-—unfolds in the coming pages, starting with an interview that rewrites the books that first led me into atheism.
TO BE CONTINUED