Faith Matters

Evolving the arguments around faith and science

Christians should be more confident about entering into scientific debate on subjects, such as evolution, which are often seen as off-limits, says Dr Brian Wilson

The single greatest problem which the fossil record poses for Darwinian evolution is the 'Cambrian explosion' of around 600 million years ago. Animals appear in the rocks of this period, but without a trace of the evolutionary ancestors of Darwin's theory

CHRISTIANITY has a strong record of recognising the complementarity between faith and science, despite the notion in modern society that the Church is anti-science.

Richard Dawkins has become one of the loudest proponents of the view that belief in God today is simply a childish escape from reality, saying "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful."

Wisdom can be defined as "the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight".

Whilst thinking 'wisely' about my faith and listening to the 'New Atheists', I have noticed the incredible zeal with which this group uses evolution as scientific confirmation that God does not exist.

Dawkins is clear in this regard: "I say quite openly that it is my understanding of evolution that has led me to atheism."

Such words from an Oxford graduate with numerous academic awards and several prominent public roles have huge weight, and Darwin's theory of evolution which excludes God is accepted by most educated people in the western world as fact.

Many people use evolution as evidence that human life arose by natural processes from which God was completely absent.

The non-existence of God seemingly frees people to put their own desires first, so that power lies with them.

To propose that the incredible order, symmetry and beauty of the natural world can be brought about by a Creator-God is emotionally comforting but, they say, it is false.

It is not just palaeontologists looking for bones who are disgruntled with Darwin's theory, but some evolutionary biologists also remain puzzled as to how the evidence can fit

Turning to the theory itself, Darwin made three major presuppositions in his major publication On the Origin of Species.

The first of these is that "species are not immutable". By this, Darwin meant that new species are created sequentially over the long period of Earth's history.

There is unquestionably evolution within species. Every animal breeder knows this well, and owners of labradoodles perhaps even more so...

But Darwin's theory holds that one species gives rise to another in a very slow, gradual process, whereas the physical evidence supporting this is weak, as I will show.

Charles Darwin's hugely influential On the Origin of Species was published in 1859

The second presupposition is that this evolutionary process can be extended to account for all the diversity of life, because all living things descended from a very small number of common ancestors, perhaps a single microscopic ancestor.

The changes are postulated to occur from infinitesimally small 'mutations' advantageous to survival and the production of offspring.

But as mentioned in my first Faith matters article, scientists observe large sudden additions in complexity and understand that mutations are mainly disadvantageous to survival and offspring production.

The third presupposition is that this vast process was guided by natural selection or a guiding force so effective that it could accomplish prodigies of biological craftsmanship that people in previous times had thought to require the guiding hand of a creator.

On this point scientists observe that far from crafting biological masterpieces, mutations overwhelmingly lead to reductions in complexity, thereby failing to explain the sheer intricacy of life.

Scientific theories are regarded as valid or invalid based on the evidence, and evolution is fundamentally about history; it aims to tell us what happened in the past.

In this regard, fossils should provide us with direct evidence, because Darwin himself said that his theory implied that "the number of intermediate and transitional links, between all living and extinct species, must have been inconceivably great".

However, geologists have discovered that species and groups of species appear suddenly, rather than at the end of a chain of evolutionary links.

Clearly Darwin was well aware of the lack of fossil evidence when he described it as "the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory".

A review of the evidence suggests there is much more mystery around the diversity of life and how humans came to be than scientists openly admit

As I understand it, the single greatest problem which the fossil record poses for Darwinian evolution is the 'Cambrian explosion' of around 600 million years ago, when nearly all the classes of animals appear without a trace of the evolutionary ancestors that would be expected.

It is as though they were just planted there, within a glimpse of our planet's 4.5 billion year history.

It is not just palaeontologists looking for bones who are disgruntled with Darwin's theory, but some evolutionary biologists also remain puzzled as to how the evidence can fit.

Jerry Coyne, of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, reports: "There is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view; its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak."

This is a serious voice of scepticism from the scientific community.

Scientists, like most other people, base their opinions on the consensus, leading many to accept Darwin's theory based on authority.

Unfortunately, criticisms are often dismissed by the scientific community as nonsense. To openly question the theory is to risk ridicule.

But it is important to bear in mind that the order, complexity and vastness of the natural world reasonably support belief in God.

Is there another reason why humankind is inclined to reject God?

Christians hold that people have an in-built fallen nature, directing them away from God, down a path of distrust.

This distrustfulness is called 'original sin' and means that whilst on earth, our understanding of God and the world in which we live will remain incomplete.

A frequent result of this is that people replace God with something else, which St Thomas Aquinas categorised as money, power, pleasure or honour.

These things are not bad in themselves, but our attachment to them can become disordered and lead us away from God.

An honest search for answers is not limited only to Christians.

Socrates, the father of philosophy, tells us to "follow the evidence wherever it may lead".

A review of the evidence suggests there is much more mystery around the diversity of life and how humans came to be than scientists openly admit.

Uncertainty remains, and Christians should be confident in entering into debate in this topic which is often seen as off-limits.

They can take courage from the words of God to the prophet Isaiah: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Dr Brian Wilson grew up in Ballymena, Co Antrim, completed undergraduate studies in Chemistry at Imperial College London and completed his PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Oxford in 2016.

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Faith Matters