Objection #3: Evolution Explains Life, So God Isn’t Needed (2001)
(Interview w/ Walter L. Bradley, Ph.D.)
This objection is extremely poorly phrased. From a reading of the chapter, it is clear that Strobel’s phrasing, "Evolution Explains Life" means more specifically, evolution explains the origin of life or how evolution was able to give rise to life from non-life. Unfortunately for Strobel, this is a non-issue because evolution explains no such thing, nor does it purport to. Strobel smugly points out that Darwin, "didn’t really have a good idea of how life arose," (94) and didn’t look into the issue with much depth. This is because the problem of how the first life began is totally irrelevant to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Evolution and natural selection explain how organisms change over time. As far as origins are concerned, the only thing that is important to evolution is that life, somehow or other, did in fact begin. The issue of how life arose from non-life is called "abiogenesis" and should be treated separately from evolution.
So "Objection #3" really isn’t an objection at all, but rather an excuse for Strobel to argue: "Since we can’t account for the origin of life, God must’ve been behind it." But this is just an appeal to ignorance, attributing that which we can’t explain to God and converting Him into a three letter word meaning "I don’t know." Almost the entirety of the chapter is devoted to the problem of abiogenesis, and I will discuss that a bit more in short order. But first, there are a few actual evolution criticisms to address, as well as an issue of Strobel’s journalistic integrity.
Throughout the chapter Strobel and Bradley beset us with implications that are made explicit near the end with this quote from Bradley: "Today it takes a great deal of faith to be an honest scientist who is an atheist" (111). Thus he has painted a picture of a scientific community where all reasonable and honest scientists have conceded the existence of an Intelligent Creator, while a few rebels desperately hang on to outmoded naturalistic explanations out of sheer stubbornness. This is completely disingenuous and Strobel should be ashamed of such a misrepresentation. The fact of the matter is that there are tons of honest men and women recognized for excellence in their scientific fields who reject the notion of God. Furthermore, the vast majority of scientists who do believe in God consider creationism to be complete rubbish. This is why creationists are forced to always bring up the same people (Behe, Denton) and either misquote or quote out of context everyone else, from Einstein to Asimov, to support their position . Of course, the most important point of all is that what specific scientists say or believe does not determine truth. On this bogus tactic, in fact, see Richard Carrier on The Fallacy of Appeal to Authority and The Fallacy of Appeal to Reverence.
Strobel does launch a couple meager attacks on evolution. Before I address them specifically, it is vital to note three points: (1) The Creationist’s False Dichotomy: Virtually every aspect of "creation science" involves mounting an attack on evolution. What I think they fail to realize is that, even if these attacks were wholly substantiated and evolution was demonstrably false in every way, it would do nothing to uphold the validity of creationism. Even if evolution is false, it’s not as if the Bible’s creation story is the only alternative. (2) God And Evolution Aren’t Incompatible: If you recognize evolution as true, it doesn’t mean you have to toss God out on the front stoop. Just because evolution occurred, doesn’t mean God isn’t behind it all. As a matter of fact, there are millions of Christians who believe the existence of God and evolution both are true, and it causes them no problems whatsoever. (3) Scientific Debate is Not a Weakness: Creationists are pleased by nothing more than when scientists disagree on some evolutionary issue or when new evidence overturns an old conclusion. They seem to perceive this as a weakness, when in fact it’s one of science’s greatest strengths. The fact that science has an error-correcting machinery built into its method, allowing even the most strongly supported issues to be open to debate, and old conclusions to be repeatedly tested in the light of new evidence, should inspire great confidence in science’s ability to determine the truth. On the other hand, religion’s dogmatic assertion that it has a special privilege to the one and only changeless truth, which cannot be tested or questioned, should at least raise your eyebrow, if not scare the living hell out of you.
As for his attacks on evolution: Strobel regurgitates the tired old creationist argument that there is "a paucity of fossil evidence for the transitions between various species of animals" (91). This is blatantly false. When Strobel couldn’t find any transitional fossils, I guess he overlooked these:
Transition from primitive jawless fish to sharks, skates, and rays:
Transition from primitive bony fish to holostean fish:
Transition from holostean fish to advanced teleost fish:
Transition from primitive bony fish to amphibians:
Transition from amphibians to reptiles:
Transition from reptiles to mammals:
Transition from reptiles to birds:
Now, on to some of the classes of mammals.
Transitional fossils from early eutherian mammals to primates:
Transitional fossils from early eutherian mammals to rodents:
Transitional fossils among the cetaceans (whales & dolphins):
Transitional fossils from early eutherian mammals to the carnivores:
Meanwhile back at the ranch,
Transitional fossils from early eutherians to hoofed animals:
So, there’s a partial list of transitional fossils. And this really only scratches the surface, since it doesn’t include all groups that have no surviving relatives, didn’t discuss modern amphibians or reptiles, left out most of the birds, ignored the diversity in modern fish, didn’t discuss the bovids or elephants or rodents or many other mammal groups…. I hope this gives a taste of the richness of the fossil record and the abundance of transitional fossils between major vertebrate taxa .
Strobel then takes up the "irreducible complexity" argument espoused by Michael Behe (the same guy, yet again). This is nothing more than the antiquated argument from design wrapped up in the raiment of modern molecular biology. The problem with Behe’s irreducibly complex systems is that their irreducibility is based on the assumption that a particular molecular component’s function has not changed over time. But we have every reason to suspect that component functions can and do change. There is a wealth of criticism for Behe available: see the Secular Web’s library on Michael Behe.
Before I totally let Behe off the hook, I’d like to point out another of Strobel’s spurious journalistic tactics. He describes Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, as "award-winning" (92). Now, he doesn’t explicitly say what kind of award this was, yet I believe he expected the reader to presume this was an award for scientific merit from a scientific organization–and I think most readers probably did. However, the distinction was actually bestowed upon Darwin’s Black Box at the Christianity Today Book Awards . Shouldn’t Strobel have mentioned that little fact?
The Building Blocks Of Life
The entire Bradley interview itself is concerned with abiogenesis, which, I would again like to note, is irrelevant to evolution. Nevertheless, this interview is also flawed. Bradley informs Strobel that the initial conditions were assumed in the famous Miller-Urey Experiment in which amino acids were created by simulating earth’s early environment and adding electrical energy to the system. Strobel makes a great to-do of Bradley’s revelation (to him) that Miller assumed an environment rich in the elements which he used for the simulation. They then dismiss the entire experiment (95-7).
Firstly, just because Strobel couldn’t recognize that the experiment is based on a hypothesis, doesn’t mean everyone else is so blind. I don’t believe Miller attempted to hide the fact that he was guessing as to the composition of the early earth’s atmosphere. Secondly, we still have an experiment where the building blocks of life formed spontaneously from non-life conditions. Even if those were not early earth’s conditions, it still says something about the possibility of abiogenesis.
Assembling A Cell
Bradley extols the complexity of the cell and declares the origin of life to be an unsolved problem. He then goes on to refute six theories of abiogenesis (95-106).
Bradley is right that the cell is complex and the origin of life unknown. As for the six theories, I am not qualified to discuss them specifically. However, there are several considerations to keep in mind when evaluating abiogenesis theories (and refutations):
To begin with, to actually calculate the ‘odds of life evolving by chance’ one must calculate the odds of the first living (i.e. replicating) organism arising by chance. But no one knows what that first organism was, for it naturally had no bones and thus left no fossils, and it certainly would have been vastly overpowered and driven to extinction by its more advanced children who were born after successive mutation and selection. It is not even known if this first life was DNA-based, much less how complex it was. But even if we could estimate the simplest possible biochemical replicator, the task would only be beginning. The odds of such a replicator forming by chance would not be based on its complexity alone. The chances would have to be calculated based on the number of materials available (e.g. more than one different molecule may serve the same purpose at any given point in a chain), the probability that they will form into collectives (e.g. amino-acids naturally chain, water molecules do not), and the number of tests (e.g. the number of chemical reactions that occur in a given environment, and the number of times any kind of chain or collective is formed in the population). In other words, to actually calculate the odds of ‘life’ developing from inanimate matter, one must be acquainted not only with a vast arrangement of data and know how to estimate all the statistical relationships involved, but one must even know things that no one on Earth presently knows, or ever may know.
Therefore, any one who claims to be able to tell you about the likelihood (on unlikelihood) of a particular abiogenesis theory should be treated with the utmost suspicion.
The Most Reasonable Inference
Bradley suggests that an Intelligent Designer is, indeed, the most reasonable inference (107-9).
Bradley says, "If there isn’t a natural explanation and there doesn’t seem to be the potential of finding one, then I believe it’s appropriate to look at a supernatural explanation" (108). But this solves nothing, because Bradley is simply handing off the problem to God, who can explain anything. It is not a reasonable inference because it is based on ignorance. To Bradley’s credit, it should be noted that he claims, "what I’ve found is absolutely overwhelming evidence that points to an Intelligent Designer" (109). To his detriment, it should be noted that he fails to produce any such evidence.
Reasoning By Analogy
Bradley would have us believe that, "we can legitimately use analogical reasoning to conclude that the remarkable information sequences in DNA…had an intelligent cause" (109-11). He trots out a couple of analogies for just this purpose.
Analogical reasoning is useful as an explanatory tool, allowing us to understand more complex issues by their comparison to simpler ones. However, because analogies do, by nature, simplify an issue, their conclusions are often specious. If a Christian doubts this, I invite them to examine the following:
1. David Koresh claimed to be God, therefore he was a lunatic.
2. Jesus Christ claimed to be God, therefore he was also a lunatic.