Evolving thoughts on evolution
I have been a Christian since my schooldays, and it was at school that I developed an interest in science. The idea of evolution so permeated our culture – even then – that of course I accepted it and believed it to be true, and I was quite happy to accept that was how God had done it. That is, I was a theistic evolutionist (though I didn’t know this term at the time): God was the First Cause, and evolution was the secondary cause (better: the natural processes causing evolution were secondary causes) He had used to produce the panoply of life.
Then I went to university (where James Watson and Francis Crick elucidated the double helix of DNA) to study Natural Sciences, and not surprisingly the theory of evolution was the backdrop to all of the biological studies. My subjects included biochemistry where I learned about proteins etc., and maths which included statistics; and one day it occurred me to see how likely it was that the amino acid sequence of a particular protein could have arisen by chance – and I was taken aback by the astronomical odds against it, for even a short protein (such as cytochrome c with about 100 amino acids). That was how I started to doubt that evolution was true.
Of course I know now that my initial calculation was simplistic: we need to allow that for a given protein there can be some permissible variation in its amino acid sequence (which will improve the odds of finding a sequence that works); and we need to consider the possibility that proteins could have emerged (evolved) gradually rather than in one prohibitively improbable step.
But I also know now that even taking these possibilities into account it is totally unrealistic that even a single biologically useful protein could have arisen through random mutation and natural selection; and it is absurd to think that a biological system (requiring cooperating proteins) could have evolved, even a 'simple' one (see the case against new genes).
I have also come to realise that most biologists haven’t even looked at the evidence behind what they believe, and all too many are reluctant to do so. (Here’s your chance!) For example, one of the myths of evolutionary biology is that proteins could have evolved from simple forms (having fewer amino acids) – it is propagated by evolutionary textbooks, but never actually substantiated, or even scrutinised. It seems evolutionists cannot risk questioning whether this basic belief is actually well-founded, because if it is seen to fail then it undermines the whole (macro)evolutionary edifice.
Then, throughout my career as an environmental scientist I collated evidence relating to evolution; and eventually the opportunity came to research it properly and write a book. When I started, my focus was on the biochemical case against evolution – hence why I called it Evolution under the microscope. Believing what I had been taught, I expected the fossil record and homology to provide at least supporting evidence for evolution. However, probably the two major surprises from researching for my book were that when I looked at these issues for myself I found that neither supports macroevolution. (See homology, fossils.) In fact non-homology – that much widely-believed homology is found not to be homologous – constitutes unequivocal evidence against some instances of supposed macroevolution, notably refuting a common ancestry of vertebrates. And in the decade since writing the book it has become even more evident that the more we find out about how biology works at the molecular level, the stronger the case becomes that there is no way such complex biochemical systems could have arisen in an opportunistic evolutionary way.
Nevertheless I do not use this conclusion to promote a creationist view, i.e. one that tries to read the Bible as a scientific book. I think the Bible should not be used to support or oppose any scientific theory; and if the evidence for (macro)evolution were sound then I would readily revert to my earlier position of theistic evolution.
If that were the case, then Richard Dawkins could be right that evolution would make God’s role so cryptic or remote as to make Him practically redundant (at least so far as biology is concerned); as he said: Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. However, he should be consistent: the other side of his coin is that if naturalistic (macro)evolution is false, then the only logical (intellectually fulfilled) conclusion is that there must be a Creator. And, it seems to me, it is an unwillingness to accept this conclusion that motivates obdurate belief in and uncritical acceptance of the theory of (macro)evolution, despite the overwhelming scientific case against it.
Unfortunately it also seems that many Christian scientists also uncritically accept evolution – perhaps because they want to distance themselves from the anti-scientific stance of some creationists. (And there seems to be a presumption on the part of many Christians as well as others that anyone rejecting evolution is doing so for primarily religious reasons rather than scientific.)
Either way, a supposedly scientific theory is maintained for non-scientific reasons, and good scientific investigation is obstructed. If nothing else, I hope that this website will at least help to provoke more open and informed scientific scrutiny of the theory of evolution.
Notes display in the main text when the cursor is on the Note number.
1. Some useful comments on Augustine can be found at https://geochristian.com/2009/03/17/augustine-the-literal-meaning-of-genesis/ .
2. Theodosius Dobzhansky (1973), 'Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution', The American Biology Teacher, 35(3), 125-129, p129.
3. Christian Anfinsen, quoted in Margenau, Henry, and Roy A. Varghese, eds. (1977), Cosmos, Bios, Theos: Scientists Reflect on Science, God, and the Origins of the Universe, Life, and Homo sapiens. 4th ed. Chicago and La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Publishing Company, p139.
Graphics are by David Swift unless otherwise stated.
a. Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AADN_animation.gif , by brian0918™ (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
b. (Displays only in narrow screens.) Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christian_B._AnfinsenNIH.jpg; by NIH (https://ihm.nlm.nih.gov/images/B01171) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Created February 2017; last revised April 2017.