On this day 200 years ago, Charles Robert Darwin was born. 150 years ago (November 24, 1859) Darwin published Origin of Species, a foundational work in the area of evolutionary biology. Darwin claimed that the diversity of life had a common descent and had flowered into various forms by a process of natural selection. In 1871 Darwin published The Descent of Man, where he built upon his ideas of common descent and natural selection and applied it to the origin of human beings. According to Darwin, human beings evolved from “lower forms” namely “savages” (native inhabitants of in the Southern most part of South America) and, of course, apes. Man evolved by natural selection or the “survival of the fittest.”
Darwin’s work brought evolutionary biology scientific respectability, and the acceptability of life without God. If we can explain the origins of life, including human life, without the need of an intelligent, transcendent Creator, then the triune God of the Christian faith is an unnecessary, fictitious illusion.
On his 200th birthday, I would like to ask Darwin (and by implication, the rest of evolutionary biology) ten questions. Let me ask in letter form.
Dear Mr. Darwin,
1. Why is there something rather than nothing?
I know this wasn’t directly a part of your work, but it is one of the big questions that have been tossed around as a result of your ideas. We can start from what we see in our present experience and work backwards as you did in the Origin of Species, but if we keep working back to the beginning, even if the material universe is eternal, we are faced with these puzzling questions: Why is there anything at all? Why is there motion? Why is there order? Why is there energy? Why is there matter? If everything is a result of cause and effect in the natural world, then what (or whom) was the first cause for the effect we call nature?
2. Where did information come from?
I understand that you held the position that higher forms of animals evolved from lower forms animals, including human beings. My question is where did the information come from required to produce these higher forms of life? I understand that genetic mutations may account for some of the differences between certain kings of animals, but it seems to me that higher forms of life, more complex forms of life, would require additional information in order to create and operate these more complex forms. When I made the switch from cable to Digital Satellite with TiVo it required an entirely new set of information to run the thing. (You would like TV, by the way, I wouldn’t recommend it without TiVo.) Is there any other source of information other than an intelligent source?
3. Where did the original single cell organism come from?
This may be an extension of question #1 because we are back to the whole “first cause” idea. And I do not want to make too big of a deal with this, because I know this was not your primary area of research, but I would sure like to hear your thoughts on this one. I have looked over your sketches of the tree of life and I see what you were doing with the budding twigs, limbs, and branches, but if I follow your tree simile, which you said, “largely speaks the truth,” then what about the root? This may be an over-simplification, but if you trace human beings back to “savages” back to apes back to land creatures back to sea creatures back to single cell organism, the where did that first single cell organism come from? This leads to question #4.
4. Have you looked inside the complexity of a single cell?
I can’t say that I have either, but I have listened to scientists describe the incredible complexity of these creatures. The motor that operates the flagellum as part of a single bacterium has fifteen parts that must be assembled in the right order or the flagellum will not work. You said, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed with could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight, modifications, my theory would absolutely breakdown.” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think scientists have proved just that. Michael Behe calls it “irreducible complexity.” And you may want to check out his book: Darwin’s Black Box. (Yeah, that’s right you can order books over the Internet, but that may take too long to explain.)
5. Where did the near universal belief in God come from?
In Descent of Man, you write: “There is no evidence that man was aboriginally endowed with the ennobling belief in the existence of an Omnipotent God.” It seems today that an overwhelming majority of people believe in an omnipotent God. Is it possible that belief in God was a part of man’s “evolutionary” development allowing him to survive as you describe the origins of the human race? If you reject the idea of a Creator God and yet belief in God is a part of man’s “faculties of the imagination, wonder, and curiosity, together with some power of reasoning,” then is it possible that we cannot trust our ability to reason? If so then we are both in trouble.
6. How did life evolve from non-living elements?
I did not study biology formally. I did study biology my freshman year in high school, but I didn’t study science at the university. I spent more time in the English/philosophy/religion/theology departments of the university. But I do remember in biology that “life comes from life.” From my observation, life breeds life after its kinds. My cats give birth to cats and dogs give birth to dogs. This seems pretty elementary. Not only does specific life forms breed specific life forms, but life comes from life. So if that first single cell organism (question #3) is indeed a life form, then how did it evolve from something non-living. Sorry we are getting back to that first cause thing again.
7. Why haven’t we found any transitionary forms in the fossil record?
Your hypothesis was that as the field of paleontology grew that we would find transitional forms between the various species. Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news again, but buddy, they have been digging for 150 years since you published your book and they haven’t find any yet. I heard one scientist estimate that it would take approximately 50,000 changes for a land creature to morph into a sea creature. That is a lot of changes and yet we cannot find one solid example of a transitionary creature in the fossil we have dug up. I don’t know, maybe they should keep digging, huh? Or maybe we can revisit your original hypothesis.
8. How do you feel about how your ideas have been used to promote racism and genocide?
There is a bit of a debate over this, but there has been pretty conclusive evidence that various groups have used your ideas to justify slavery, genocide, infanticide, or a whole bunch of other atrocities. In know that you were an abolitionist and opposed slavery, but in the last 100 years the concept of “survival of the fittest” has been used to justify the superiority of one race over another, even to the extent of killing an entire race of people. Others have used this idea to promote eliminating people who seemed to be unproductive or useless members of society.
9. Do you think modern day conversation between people of faith and people of science are helpful or harmful?
Your work sure has irked some religious people, especially Christians. And surely you can see why, right? Your view of creation doesn’t really match with the account in Genesis. And even Jesus himself quoted from Genesis, so you have at least two religious groups pretty upset with your ideas. You have been villainized, demonized, and made into the image of a monkey…which is funny, you have to admit. I don’t want to be like that, I just want to explore your ideas, your presuppositions, and your theories and see where they lead us. I have to admit that I am a follower of Christ. I do believe the Genesis account of creation, but I think there is something faith can say to science. What do you think?
10. If we are to continue to evolve, allowing “survival of the fittest,” then wouldn’t we have the right to terminate the existence of the weak?
So where do we go from here? This final question grows out of #8. In the past your ideas have been used to promote an ideology of hate. Now I am thinking about the future. If our world buys into the “survival of the fittest,” then wouldn’t we be giving people the right to terminate the weak? If we are continuing to “evolve” following natural selection, then what moral grounds do I really have to tell someone is it is wrong to kill old people in their retirement years or young children with developmental or physical problems? That paints a grim future for humanity.
Instead, why can’t we answer this question with a simple answer? God, the maker of heaven and earth is the answer. He is the first cause, the creator and giver of information. He created us in his image and so our hearts remain restless until they find rest in him. He shows us how to live a life of justice and science, exploring the worlds of human relationship, human origin, and science. We can look at the starry host at night or at the complexity of the human body and see his handiwork and glory all around.
Anyway these are my thoughts on your 200th birthday. I have not put in the proper amount of research into these questions, so I apologize if I have misunderstood or exaggerated any of your propositions.
I welcome any dialogue.
Your fellow seeker of Truth,
P.S. Bonus Question: My friend Clint wants to know if it’s hot down there?