Theistic evolution is becoming an increasingly debated topic within the Church. In its June 2011 cover story, Christianity Today featured various professors who argue against the existence of Adam and Eve. Soon thereafter, World magazine named two volumes—God and Evolution and Should Christians Embrace Evolution?—as its books of the year. Both events followed on the heels of the release of The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions (hereafter Language), co-authored by the most recognizable name in the theistic evolution camp, Dr. Francis Collins.
Heavily promoted by InterVarsity Press—the publishing wing of one of the largest student-focused college ministries—the book argues that Christians should adopt theistic evolution, the contention that Darwinism poses no challenge to the Christian faith. Co-authoring The Language of Science and Faith is Karl Giberson, another theistic evolutionist, who, among other things, questions the Christian doctrine of the Fall (see Saving Darwin, HarperOne, pp. 10–13).
No Room for Disagreement?
Each chapter of Language addresses a particular question; thus, the first chapter is titled, “Do I Have to Believe in Evolution?” The very framing of this question is telling. Why not title the chapter “Is There Good Evidence for Evolution?” or “Is Evolution an Option for Christians?” Such a formulation would imply that there is room for Christians to hold different views. But the authors’ formulation implies that a full embrace of Darwin may be required for Christians. Indeed, Giberson published a CNN.com op-ed (April 10, 2011) claiming that “Jesus would believe in evolution and so should you.”
But God isn’t the only authority to which Collins and Giberson appeal. Language offers multiple statements like, “almost all Christian biologists accept evolution” (p. 30), or “virtually all geneticists consider that the evidence proves common ancestry with a level of certainty comparable to the evidence that the earth goes around the sun” (p. 49).
Whether or not the claim of near-unanimity among scientists is accurate, the implication is that, if you doubt universal common ancestry, you’re thinking on the level of a geocentrist. I wasn’t completely sure if the book intended this message until I read another article by Giberson, where he states: “To suggest that this ‘data’ can be handed over to non-specialists so they can make up their own minds is to profoundly misunderstand the nature of science” (“On the Integrity of Science: A Response to Bill Dembski,” Patheos.com, May 11, 2011).
Giberson and Collins are correct that there are many experts who support neo-Darwinism. But that doesn’t mean the debate is over, for there are also credible Ph.D. scientists, such as Michael Behe, Douglas Axe, and Ann Gauger, who doubt neo-Darwinism and have published peer-reviewed scientific papers critiquing the orthodox evolutionary view in journals like Quarterly Review of Biology, Protein Science, Journal of Molecular Biology, and BIO-Complexity. Their work raises strong evidential challenges to Darwinian evolution that cannot be written off by appeals to “consensus.”
Ironically, Giberson and Collins seem to recognize this point, writing that “scientific truth is not decided by the number of names on a list,” but rather “is based on the evidence” (p. 33). Here, they are absolutely right—but one can’t help but notice that they just undercut their book’s many appeals to authority.
Since the evidence is what matters most, let’s take a brief look at it.
Following the Evidence
The authors’ main scientific argument for neo-Darwinism is based on the existence of “pseudogenes,” which they call “broken” DNA (p. 49). In their view, it is “not remotely plausible” that “God inserted a piece of broken DNA into our genomes” (p. 49). Therefore, the existence of pseudogenes “has established conclusively that the data fits a model of evolution from a common ancestor” (p. 43).
But there’s a serious problem with this argument. As pro-ID biologist Jonathan Wells explains in his book The Myth of Junk DNA, scientists have discovered many examples of pseudogenes that are not “broken” but, on the contrary, perform important functions in the cell. A 2011 article by Ryan Charles Pink, et al., in the journal RNA (vol. 17, p. 792) also notes that while “pseudogenes have long been labeled as ‘junk’ DNA . . . recent results are challenging this moniker.” The paper goes on to say, for instance, that “many pseudogenes are transcribed into RNA” and “harbor the potential to regulate their protein-coding cousins.” Likewise, a 2003 paper by Evgeniy S. Balakirev and Francisco J. Ayala in the Annual Review of Genetics (vol. 37, p. 123) states that “pseudogenes that have been suitably investigated often exhibit functional roles.”
Thus, if history is our guide, Giberson and Collins are likely to find their argument for “broken” DNA overturned by future discoveries.
Another of their main arguments for evolution has already been challenged by mainstream science. Collins and Giberson maintain that the creative power of mutations is revealed by the evolution of “feathers from scales.” (p. 38) The classical evolutionary model of feather origins did claim that feathers evolved when reptilian scales mutated to become frayed, eventually giving some advantage for flight.
But that model was abandoned when biologists discovered the great differences between feathers and scales: feathers develop as hollow tubes that grow out of special follicles in the skin, whereas scales are flat, folded skin which develop quite differently. The cover story in the March 2003 issue of Scientific American states outright that difficulties with the scale hypothesis show that the “long-cherished view of how and why feathers evolved has now been overturned.” Its authors, two leading evolutionary biologists named Richard Prum and Alan Brush, further admit:
Although evolutionary theory provides a robust explanation for the appearance of minor variations in the size and shape of creatures and their component parts, it does not yet give as much guidance for understanding the emergence of entirely new structures, including digits, limbs, eyes and feathers. (“Which came first, the feather or the bird?”, p. 86)
In an effort to address the origin of new, complex biological structures, Collins and Giberson cite the evolution of the automobile as evidence that “macroevolution is simply microevolution writ large: add up enough small changes and we get a large change” (p. 45). Phillip Johnson calls this argument “Berra’s blunder,” after evolutionary biologist Tim Berra, who mistook evidence for intelligent design as evidence for evolution (see Johnson’s Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, InterVarsity Press, 1997). After all, each of the innovations that transformed the Model T into the Prius hybrid was intelligently designed by engineers, and did not arise by random mutations.
What Would Paul Do?
Presaging the scientific method, the Apostle Paul exhorted us to “test everything, hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21). But according to Giberson and Collins, rather than “make up [our] own minds” on topics like evolution, we should defer to those deemed the “experts.” So what should a non-expert do?
Most lay people, of course, are not in a position to devote years to experimentally testing Darwinian evolution. But they can “test” the validity of Darwinism by reading lay-level books and articles by experts on the topic, and then use their own God-given intelligence to decide who presents the strongest case.
Giberson and Collins would have us believe that all credible experts support neo-Darwinian evolution, so that deferring to the experts necessarily means endorsing the evolutionary view. That assumption is wrong. As noted, there are hundreds of scientists who doubt neo-Darwinian evolution (see www.dissentfromdarwin.org), and who hold degrees from and positions at many of the same institutions that those who support evolutionary theory hail from. These scientists may be in the minority, but they cite evidence and make arguments backing their view in peer-reviewed technical articles.
When credible experts disagree, I think Paul would encourage us to test the arguments on all sides and form our own conclusions. The good news is that it does not require a Ph.D., or even a science degree, to understand the scientific debate over origins and arrive at an informed opinion. Many books and articles on the subject are accessible at the popular level. Non-experts can thus form their own conclusions on reasonable grounds, using common sense and weighing the arguments and evidence cited by experts on both sides. Whether neo-Darwinian evolution turns out to be right or wrong, we should study this debate, and follow the evidence wherever it leads.
Casey Luskin , an attorney with a science background, is research coordinator at the Discovery Institute (www.discovey.org) in Seattle, Washington. He is a senior editor at Salvo magazine, and co-author of Science and Human Origins and Traipsing into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller v. Dover Decision (both Discovery Institute Press).