THE CASE FOR A CREATOR
In 1959, Chicago hosted a Centennial Celebration marking the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Speakers like Sir Julian Huxley boldly portrayed the Darwinian theory as fully established, and Stanley Miller’s recent origin-of-life experiment seemed to prove that lifeless chemicals, properly jolted by electricity, had fused to make amino acids, the organic building blocks for proteins and thus life. James Watson and Francis Crick had just unraveled the mystery of DNA, which promised to deliver a fully naturalistic explanation for terrestrial organisms. Evolution through natural selection reigned as absolutely in the life sciences as did Marxism in the U.S.S.R.
Few then would have imagined that, 40 years later, a vigorous scholarly movement labeled “Intelligent Design” would challenge Darwinian dogmas and elicit serious attention, including discussions in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and essays in prestigious journals such as Natural History, the publication of the American Museum of Natural History. A fine scholarly overview of this movement is now available in Thomas Woodward’s Doubts about Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, c. 2003), a highly readable rendition of his Ph.D. dissertation.
“Murmurs of dissent” from Darwinism had occasionally rippled the scientific waters, as was evident when the noted French zoologist Pierre Grasse published L’Evolution du Vivant in 1973 and boldly rejected its core concepts. The fossil record, he insisted, holds all the evidence we have for life’s ancient history, and it reveals nothing akin to the “gradualism” basic to Darwin’s theory. Sir Fred Hoyle, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, evaluating the mathematical probability of life evolving through chance and necessity, concluded that it was about as possible as a tornado putting together a Boeing 747 with materials sucked up from a junkyard. Darwinian disciples, such as Stephen Jay Gould, occasionally admitted this–all the while devising improbable hypotheses to sustain it.
But such “murmurs” hardly troubled the scientific community’s entrenched commitment to Darwinism. “Intelligent Design” surfaced in the 1980s, Woodward says, with the revisionist scientific work of Michael Denton, an agnostic who declared: “‘Neither of the two fundamental axioms of Darwin’s macroevolutionary theory–the concept of the continuity of nature . . . and the belief that all the adaptive design of life has resulted from a blind random process–have been validated by one single empirical discovery of scientific advance since 1859′” (p. 47, italics Woodward’s). Indeed, as he concluded Evolution: A Theory in Crisis: “‘One might have expected that a theory of such cardinal importance, a theory that literally changed the world, would have been something more than metaphysics, something more than a myth.'” But in fact, “‘the Darwinian theory of evolution is no more nor less than the great cosmogenic myth of the twentieth century'” (p. 24).
Denton’s work was soon absorbed by Phillip Johnson, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who developed an interest in Darwinism fueled by his conviction that neither the evidence nor the argumentation demonstrate its truth. It seemed obvious to him that “metaphysical naturalism,” not empirical data, sustained the evolutionary creed. Johnson maintains, Woodward says, that “‘Darwinism functions as the central cosmological myth of modern culture–as the centerpiece of a quasi-religious system that is known to be true a priori, rather than as a scientific hypothesis that must submit to rigorous testing'” (p. 95). Following Johnson’s wedge in the 1990s came “the four horsemen” of the Intelligent Design movement who were just finishing their graduate studies: Steven Meyer, earning a degree from Cambridge University; William Dembski and Paul Nelson at the University of Chicago; and Jonathan Wells, at the University of California, Berkeley. Linked up through the internet and scholarly conferences, they published and argued their position in collections of essays such as The Creation Hypothesis and Mere Creation.
A well-established scholar, Michael Behe, was also drawn to the movement by his own disillusionment with orthodox Darwinism. As a tenured biochemist at Lehigh University, he defended Phillip Johnson in a 1991 letter to the prestigious journal Science. Then, five years later, he tossed one of two “rhetorical bombs [that] jarred the world of biological science” (p. 153). The first, an article by David Berlinksi (a Jewish mathematician) in Commentary, launched “a full-scale attack on the credibility of Darwinian evolution” and then Behe published Darwin’s Black Box, vividly and persuasively showing that tiny parts of the cell, like the flagellum, appeared to be “irreducibly complex” and thus inexplicable in Darwinian categories. The book was reviewed in more than 100 publications and enjoyed unexpected sales.
Like Johnson, Behe was influenced by Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, which dealt him “the greatest intellectual shock of his life” (p. 157). But he was also angered by the scientific establishment’s deceit in portraying (especially in school textbooks) macroevolution as demonstrably factual. Rethinking what he knew best, biochemistry, he suspected that complicated systems, including “blood clotting, the cilium, and intracellular transport” defied Darwinian explanations. Subsequent searches of the literature confirmed his suspicion, for he found therein a “‘thundering silence.’ Not one biochemist in the past forty hears had even attempted a testable explanation for the origin of any of the systems about which he was writing” (p. 158). Indeed, the intricate design he observed in tiny cells seemed best understood as a product of Intelligent Design rather than chance and necessity.
Finally there’s William Dembski, with earned doctorates in both mathematics and philosophy of science, who brought intensity and high velocity intelligence to the movement. Establishing his “explanatory filter” as a means whereby one can differentiate between events that are merely natural and those that are clearly designed, Dembski roots his presentation in advanced mathematics and probability theory. In the words of Ron Koons, an erudite philosopher at the University of Texas, Dembski is the “Isaac Newton of information theory, and since this is the Age of Information, that makes Dembski one of the most important thinkers of our time” (p. 178). A torrent of articles and books by Dembski, addressing both highly scholarly and lay readers, have bolstered the ID case.
In 1966, at the age of 14, sitting in a high school biology class, Lee Strobel embraced atheism, confident that some basic truths he was learning fully justified his decision. He took as demonstrable four propositions: 1) life had originated–as Stanley Miller allegedly proved–that life could accidentally spring from primordial soup; 2) Darwin’s “tree of life” demonstrated the evolution of everything from a common ancestor; 3) Ernst Haeckel’s portraits of different embryos showed the similarity of fish, hogs, rabbits, humans, et al. at the beginning of their development; 4) a “missing link,” the archaeopteryx fossil–half reptile, half bird–validated the Darwinian hypothesis. Alas, all those planks of his childhood atheism, Strobel says–in The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, c. 2004)–have been largely refuted by recent scientific developments. He–and many others whose atheism seemed justified by science–had based his worldview on fantasy rather than fact! And since science should relentlessly seek for truth he wrote this book to illustrate how some eminent thinkers–loosely aligned in their support for “Intelligent Design”–find it reasonable to believe in a Creator.
As an experienced journalist, Strobel first interviewed Jonathan Wells, the author of Icons of Evolution, whose undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology were earned at U.C. Berkeley. Responding to a question concerning the origin of life, Wells noted that “Science magazine said in 1995 that experts now dismiss [Stanley] Miller’s experiment because ‘the early atmosphere looked nothing like the Miller-Urey simulation'” (p. 37). In fact, doing Miller’s experiment with the chemicals now thought to have constituted early earth’s surface would produce formaldehyde and cyanide, hardly the building blocks of living organisms! Wells also deconstructed Darwin’s “tree of life.” Darwin himself admitted that the fossil record looked nothing like the tree he drew in The Origin of Species, but he trusted evidence would turn up in time to demonstrate it. In fact, Wells says, fossil finds during the past 150 years “have turned his tree upside down by showing” that virtually all major forms of life appeared suddenly in the Cambrian explosion, a five million year window of time in earth’s five billion year history (p. 43). According to one expert, “the major animal groups ‘appear in the fossil record as Athena did from the head of Zeus–full blown and raring to go'” (p. 44). Rather than a tree, one sees something like a lawn! The fossil record, one Chinese paleontologist asserts, “‘actually stands Darwin’s tree on its head, because the major groups of animals–instead of coming last, at the top of the tree–come first, when animals make their first appearance'” (p. 45).
Haeckel’s embryos were Strobel’s next “facts” to fall! It turns out, Wells says, that Haeckel forged the drawings that have been endlessly reproduced in biology textbooks! Though some of his German colleagues asserted, in the 1860s, that the drawings were false, devout Darwinians found them helpful illustrations and continued to use them. Eight of ten textbooks on evolutionary biology currently used by universities contain them! On a popular level, “in 1996, Life magazine described how human embryos grow ‘something very much like gills,’ which is ‘some of the most compelling evidence of evolution'” (p. 51). In fact, Wells says, human embryos have no gills! What looks like gills are simply wrinkles on the neck of the tiny baby! No less an authority than Harvard’s Stephen Jay Gould, late in life, condemned the fraudulent drawings, labeling them “‘the academic equivalent of murder'”–though he did little for 20 years to expose them.
Finally, the fourth of Strobel’s childhood certainties, “the archaeopteryx missing link,” collapsed under the evidence presented by Jonathon Wells. Allegedly, the archaeopteryx fossil demonstrated the transition from reptiles to birds, a basic Darwinian assumption. Actually, we now know, it’s not a reptile at all. “‘It’s a bird with modern feathers, and birds are very different from reptiles in many important ways–their breeding system, their bone structure, their lungs, their distribution of weight and muscles” (p. 57). It’s a strange looking extinct bird, to be sure, but it’s purely bird! Even more striking, this bird, so long cited as proof for the Darwinian theory, appears much earlier in the fossil record than the alleged reptilian ancestors of birds!
Worse yet are “missing links” such as the archaeoraptor, featuring the tail of a dinosaur and the forelimbs of a bird. In 1998 National Geographic trumpeted that this fossil illustrated the evolution of feathered dinosaurs into birds. Unfortunately, the fossil was a fraud–someone glued together reptile and bird fossils and sold the artifact for a tidy profit! Indeed, fake fossils litter the paleontological marketplace! Something of the same applies to “Java man,” a primary entry in the World Book Encyclopedia Strobel religiously read as an adolescent atheist. In truth, the pictures of “Java man” were imaginative drawings based upon a skullcap, a thigh bone, and three teeth. In fact, the thigh bone doesn’t go with the skullcap, which seems to be the same as that of modern humans. “In short, Java man was not an ape-man as I had been led to believe, but he was ‘a true member of the human family.’ This was a fact apparently lost on Time magazine, which as recently as 1994 treated Java man as a legitimate evolutionary ancestor” (p. 62).
The biological evidence set forth by Jonathan Wells finds fascinating parallels in physics and astronomy. Allan Rex Sandage–as Edwin Hubble’s protégé, probably the world’s foremost cosmologist–declared in 1985 that he’d become a Christian, at the age of 50, because the “Big Bang” defies naturalistic explanations. “It was my science,” Sandage said, “that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science. It was only through the supernatural that I can understand the mystery of existence” (p. 70). Similarly, Nobelist Arno Penzias said: “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan” (p. 153). Indeed, he noted, “‘The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted had I nothing to go on but the first five books of Moses, the Psalms and the Bible as a whole'” (p. 77).
The implications of the Big Bang congealed for Strobel when he interviewed William Lane Craig, who unpacked the deceptively profound “Kalam” argument for God’s existence. This involves “three simple steps: ‘Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause'” (p. 98). By contrast, atheists such as Quentin Smith claim: “‘the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing'” (p. 99). Craig, however, cited evidence for each step in the Kalam position, responded to its critics, and established, to Strobel’s satisfaction, the validity of taking the Big Bang as a clue to the necessity of positing an eternal God presiding over the whole finite process of creation.
An interview with Robin Collins revealed the intricate “fine tuning” of the universe, perfectly suited for life on earth, and a similar talk with Jay Wesley Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez, authors of the recently-published The Privileged Planet, demonstrated the amazing coincidence of factors that makes the earth quite special, if not utterly unique. The acclaimed John A. O’Keefe, considered “the godfather of astrogeology,” summed it all up by declaring that it is mathematically probable that “only one planet in the universe is likely to bear intelligent life. We know of one–the Earth–but it is not certain that there are many others, and perhaps there are no others” (p. 191). Still more, O’Keefe said: “We are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures; our Darwinian claim to have done it all ourselves is as ridiculous and as charming as a baby’s brave efforts to stand on its own feet and refuse his mother’s hand. If the universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the universe was created for man to live in” (p. 191).
Turning from the “privileged planet” to the miniscule cell, Strobel sought out biochemist Michael Behe, whose Darwin’s Black Box, David Berlinski says “‘makes an overwhelming case against Darwin, on the biochemical level,” arguing with “‘great originality, elegance and intellectual power.’ Added Berlinsky: ‘No one has done this before'” (p. 196). Behe explained how a tiny bacterial flagellum moves, propelled by what one scientist calls “the most efficient motor in the universe” (p. 205). He also explained the intricate process whereby blood clots to stop bleeding. Just as a mousetrap illustrates a “specified complexity” indicating intelligent design, so too do the extraordinarily more sophisticated marvels of nature.
Equally persuasive of design is the presence of information in DNA. “Human DNA,” says George Sim Johnson, “contains more organized information than the Encyclopedia Britannica. If the full text of the encyclopedia were to arrive in computer code from outer space, most people would regard this as proof of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence” (p. 219). So where does that information come from? To Stephen A. Meyer, this is the critical question. “If you can’t explain where the information comes from, you haven’t explained life, because it’s the information that makes the molecules into something that actually functions” (p. 225). Given its information content, it’s mathematically improbable that even a simple protein molecule could have come into being through purely naturalistic means during the limited time following the Big Bang. And since we cannot escape concluding that information comes from a mind, we are justifiably inclined to conclude that the information pervading the cosmos is derived from a Cosmic Mind.
The alternative, the purely naturalistic view, strikes Strobel as “simply too far-fetched to be credible” (p. 277). Such a position requires one “to believe that:
· Nothing produces everything
· Non-life produces life
· Randomness produces fine-tuning
· Chaos produces information
· Unconsciousness produces consciousness
· Non-reason produces reason” (p. 277)
Such propositions, he concluded, require a great deal of “blind faith” in the Darwinian hypothesis, taxing reason far beyond that required by Christian theism. Indeed, we may very well be entering an era of scientific breakthroughs that restore the powerful union of faith and reason evident in great scientists of the past such as Sir Isaac Newton.
Strobel’s strengths lie in his journalistic skills: he interviews some of the finest thinkers in the Intelligent Design community (including a few, such as J. P. Moreland, I’ve not mentioned), helps them clearly explain their positions in ways ordinary readers can comprehend, and adds personal touches to enhance the discussions. His own story provides an interesting context to the presentation, but he never makes himself its centerpiece. One closes the book with a profound appreciation for the brilliance of the men interviewed, supplemented by dozens of quotations from the world’s elite scientists, and a conviction that one is fully warranted when affirming faith in the Creator.