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The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on evolution
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati

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by Dr Jonathan Sarfati

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by Dr Jonathan Sarfati

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The greatest hoax

Evolutionary theory is riddled with contradictions.

Jonathan Sarfati talks to

Published: 8 May 2014 (GMT+10)

(First published in Australian Presbyterian magazine, Autumn 2012, pages 3–6; republished with permission.)

Dr Jonathan Sarfati is the bestselling author of Refuting Evolution (more than 500,000 copies in print), Refuting Compromise and The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on Evolution. This last book is one of the most detailed examinations of Richard Dawkins’ views available today. Jonathan was born in Ararat, Victoria, and obtained a PhD in physical chemistry at Victoria University, Wellington. He now lives in Atlanta in the USA and works as a research scientist, speaker and editorial consultant for Creation Ministries International.

At the 2012 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne the view of Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, was again proclaimed that science is essentially anti-God and that no scientist could claim to be both a Christian and rational. How should we respond to such a claim?

I think Dawkins needs to revisit the history of science and the assumptions that make it work. Science, by its very nature, presupposes an orderly universe. The philosophical basis for modern science was actually derived from a common belief in the biblical God of order. Science would be impossible without presupposing the reality of order in the universe. Without this conviction, we have no basis for assuming fundamental scientific laws.

Dawkins faces a huge problem in that atheists cannot provide a proper philosophical basis for scientific enterprise in the first place. When he claims that science is anti-God, he is effectively cutting off the branch he is sitting on.

Is it possible to make any real progress in science on the basis of atheistic naturalism?

No, not really. Scientists who are committed to the view that the world is largely the result of chance have no logical basis for thinking that we live in an orderly universe. You can’t derive that idea from atheistic naturalism. To the extent that they see the world in this way, they are hijacking the Christian worldview. Loren Eiseley, the American anthropologist and philosopher, said that the foundations of modern science could be traced to belief in a rational designer.

Naturalism has a very ancient pedigree. Do cultures that have this outlook have a basis for scientific advance?

Naturalism itself doesn’t provide any basis for thinking about the universe in terms of order. The Greek philosopher, Epicurus, was a naturalist. He thought about the world in terms of ‘atoms’ that came into being by time and chance. Of course, the problem with his worldview is that a chance universe cannot provide the uniformity that’s required for science.

Jeff Buck [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Many Christians are convinced that there’s a reasonable basis for believing in the Creator God of the Bible without necessarily relying on the Bible itself to establish their belief. As a scientist, do you see any compelling evidence to establish the existence of the Creator God that we find in Scripture?

For me, one of the most compelling pieces of evidence relates to the origin of the first living cell. Where did it come from? Evolutionists need to be able to explain how that cell came into being. We now know that a single cell is incredibly complicated. It’s got oodles of biochemical machinery and massive amounts of coded information and decoding machines. All these mechanisms are essential for the life of the cell and, on the evolutionary model, they need to be in place for the process of evolution by natural selection to get under way. However evolutionists like Dawkins cannot provide a credible explanation for the existence of this first living cell.

Antony Flew, who was a leading atheist philosopher, said that Darwinian evolution requires this first living cell for the process of evolution to occur. However, he pointed out that neither Darwin nor Dawkins can provide a reasonable account for the existence of this cell and therefore evolution is effectively dead on the starting-line. I think that’s a very powerful argument for a Creator God—the complexity of even the simplest living things.

I think another piece of compelling evidence is the incredible fine-tuning of the universe as a whole. In fact, the constants are tuned as precisely as hitting a bulls-eye at the other end of the universe. If just one or two of these laws were varied then atoms couldn’t form. When you consider that some of these leading evolutionary cosmologists suggest that multiple universes may exist, it’s even more amazing that we just happen to live in the universe with the right conditions. Their assumption actually concedes the point that our universe is incredibly unusual and that it wouldn’t arise by chance. So, in fact, the evolutionists are actually confirming that our universe bears all the marks of design by a greater intelligence.

Richard Dawkins has admitted that his theory of naturalistic evolution is not watertight and has many unsolved mysteries. What are the main difficulties with which scientists like him struggle in attributing the origin of human life to evolution?

Dawkins has admitted he is, as yet, unable to solve the problem of the origin of life. He also admits that the origin of sexual reproduction is a big mystery to him. He says that one day he might pluck up the courage to solve it. He cannot explain how the first sexual being actually arose and how it mated with another creature of its own kind.

There are other significant difficulties that evolutionists face such as the origin of human language and the existence of morality and ethics. If, according to evolutionists, we are essentially animals, how do we explain the notions of right and wrong that are universally accepted? Evolutionists can’t really justify morality on their own terms. They do talk about certain things having survival advantages, but right and wrong mean nothing in the evolutionary scheme. For instance, two evolutionists wrote a book suggesting that rape was simply a way of men propagating their genes. When one of them was challenged in an interview about the morality of his position, he had no way of explaining why rape would be wrong from an evolutionary point-of-view.

Do modern discoveries about the genetic code help us to determine which is the better model—creation or evolution?

Yes, I believe that recent discoveries about the nature of the genetic code point strongly to the existence of a Designer. The reason for this is that our genes consist of multiple codes and these codes can only come from an intelligent source. Just as language and computers operate on various codes, so do the basic building blocks of life. Our DNA contains complex codes which are read by enormously complex machines.

Evolutionists like Dawkins cannot provide a credible explanation for the existence of this first living cell.

One problem for evolutionists is that the instructions that create these machines are on the DNA itself. The DNA is meaningless without these decoding machines and, to add to the complexity, you can’t build the decoding machines without the instructions on the DNA.

Furthermore, not only is there a main genetic code, but there are other codes that overlay it. So, our DNA has at least three different codes on it. It’s hard to think of a sequence of letters that could make sense in English and in French, as well as making sense backwards and by skipping every other letter. However, that’s the sort of thing that we have in our DNA sequence, which means that it makes sense in several different languages. And that’s why we can have 20,000 genes coding for 100,000 proteins, because we’ve got these codes upon codes to enable this to happen.

So the likelihood of it happening by chance is just non-existent?

I think even one code by chance is almost non-existent, but codes upon codes makes it inconceivable.

Dawkins has claimed that evolution has been observed. If it’s true, doesn’t this mean that creationism has been disproved?

Actually, what he said was, “evolution has been observed; it’s just that it hasn’t been observed while it’s happening”.

Of course, what Dawkins is performing here is the old game of “bait and switch”. He engages in equivocation because he redefines evolution as meaning “change in gene frequencies over time”. Now the interesting thing is that if that’s what evolution means, you and I must be evolutionists as well. No one disputes that things change over time. However, we do dispute the idea that everything came from a single cell and that that cell came from a primordial soup. That’s the real issue that’s at the heart of this debate and no one ever observed this process. So Dawkins plays “bait and switch” by using two different meanings of evolution.

NPS [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Does Dawkins make a number of self-contradictory comments?

Yes, he does. For instance, in his book, The Greatest Show on Earth, he says that he is not anti-religious but of course he wrote the book called The God Delusion, which is ferociously anti-Christian. So he changes his tune depending on the audience to whom he is speaking. The problem is that some of his statements are at odds with one another. For instance, he says that evolution means a “change of gene frequency over time” and in the same breath asserts that “40% of Americans deny evolution”. However, 40% of Americans do not deny the change of gene frequency over time. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who does.

Does the fossil record provide us with any indications that human life may have evolved from more primitive life forms?

Not in the slightest.

Why do people keep saying that it does?

It’s a case of wishful thinking. Darwin knew that the fossil record didn’t provide the intermediate forms and so he had to make excuses as to why these links were missing. Evolutionists often talk about the discovery of “missing links”, but the so-called discoveries are very inconclusive. When I went to school I was taught that Ramapithecus was a missing link. However, scientists no longer believe that. Ramapithecus is now thought to be a variety of orangutan.

Neanderthals and Homo erectus seem to be just varieties of modern man because their genomes, structure, and technology are quite clearly in the range of modern man. Neanderthals could make cosmetics, which requires a certain chemical know-how. They made a kind of super-glue and Homo-erectus seems to have been able to make long sea voyages. So they were every bit as human as we are.

There are also a number of dating methods that point to a far younger earth than billions of years.

Over the last few decades we’ve had claims made about a so-called hominid, “Lucy”, in Africa. What is the status of those claims now?

Mary Leakey, an anthropologist, found human footprints that were associated with this discovery and assumed that they must have been made by someone/thing like “Lucy”. However, the footprints were human and there was no evidence anything but a human made them. “Lucy” also had very curved bones in her fingers and toes that are typical for an arboreal creature that hangs onto branches. It also had particular bones on its wrist that could lock, which is typical of a knucklewalker. So on the ground it would knuckle-walk and it probably lived in a tree, which is why it had the curved finger bones. The evidence more likely suggests that it was an arboreal knuckle-walker. It was really a unique type of creature that was not related to humans.

How reliable are artistic reconstructions of the so-called evolution of man? Are they based on scientific evidence? If not, what are they based upon?

The thing is, we don’t have fossils of the soft parts of animal or human tissue. Mostly it’s bones and what you put inside the soft part depends on what you think is ape-like or humanlike. In my book, The Greatest Hoax on Earth?, I document how one such artist, Ron Ervin, was told to make his illustrations either more ape-like or human-like, depending on the conclusion that the writer wanted to make. It’s possible when you are simply shown bones to have a fair bit of artistic licence in portraying the outward features of a person or an animal. For example, you could make someone with a Neanderthal skeletal structure look relatively human. There are certainly people around today with the big brow ridges that have some resemblance to this type. You sometimes see these characteristics in certain European populations. You probably wouldn’t even notice them walking down the street. So a lot of it is based on artistic licence.

For evolution to be true, the earth needs to be billions of years old. Can we know this for sure? How reliable are modern dating methods?

All dating methods have certain built-in assumptions. You can certainly measure radioactive decay over time, but of course you have to make an assumption about how much of the material was there to begin with. That’s a huge assumption. You have to assume the rate that we observe today has always been this rate, and again that’s an assumption. In fact, we do know of things that can change decay rate. So dating methods are built upon one assumption after another.

We undermine the entire message of Scripture if we try to introduce the idea of evolution into it.

I think it’s only fair to point out that there are also a number of dating methods that point to a far younger earth than billions of years. These dating methods make more sense. The things that point to an older age can be explained under a young earth framework but not the other way around.

One of the best dating methods I think is radiocarbon, which decays so quickly that if the whole earth was made of radiocarbon, it wouldn’t last a million years. Yet we’re finding radiocarbon in coal and in diamonds. Diamond is the hardest substance on earth, so it can’t be contaminated. But we find diamonds that are dated as billions of years old and they still contain radiocarbon. So it means they can’t have been that old because the carbon would have disappeared by then. In coal as well, supposedly 300 million years old, we still find radiocarbon. So once again, this puts an upper limit on the age of coal and diamonds. The upper limit is on how long the C-14 would last—less than a million years. So here is a case where the famous Carbon-14 dating proves to be an ally of the biblical creation models.

There are many Christians who believe in the processes of evolution as an explanation of the origin of life. On the other hand you’ve got people like Richard Dawkins who claim that biblical, and especially evangelical Christianity, is fundamentally incompatible with evolutionary theory. Who’s right?

GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

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Here is one case where I agree with Dawkins. The thing is the Bible is very clear about certain things. It says that the world was created in six days and that a flood covered the whole earth. It’s also very clear that the death and suffering we see around us is a result of the fall of Adam and Eve. The New Testament is emphatic about this. In Romans 5, and 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us Adam brought death into the world and Jesus Christ, the last Adam, brings the resurrection from the dead.

So the whole gospel of Jesus Christ depends on a literal happening in the Garden of Eden where Adam sinned against God and brought God’s curse upon us. Evolution undermines this account of our origins by putting death before sin. The Bible also says that death is the “last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26); yet theistic evolutionists would have us believe that God used his last enemy to create things which then became “very good” (Gen 1:31). However, according to the evolutionary view there was death, suffering and disease for millions of years. Frankly, I find it hard to imagine how that can even remotely be described as very good.

Christians who believe in evolution also have to face the problem of restoration. If Christ is going to restore or “regenerate” the world, what will He restore it to? Will we simply experience millions more years of death, suffering and disease? Once Christians accept an evolutionary hypothesis they are buying into a worldview that not only denies just a few verses in Genesis; in fact, evolution is opposed to the biblical ideas of creation, fall and redemption. We undermine the entire message of Scripture if we try to introduce the idea of evolution into it.

Where does this leave Christians who believe that evolution resolves the conflict between religion and science?

You lose your ability to understand where this death and suffering comes from. You lose the ability to understand Jesus as the Kinsman-redeemer, who is our blood relative because He comes from Adam and all the rest of us come from Adam. But if there’s no real Adam, then the Kinsman-redeemer concept gets thrown out the window as well. The authority of Scripture is undermined because there’s no real way you can develop evolutionary ideas from Scripture. This means that fallible evolutionary science becomes the underlying hermeneutic for Scripture. Is this something that evangelicals can afford to tolerate?

We easily forget the warning of people like the late leading biologist Jacques Monod. He said that evolution is the cruellest, most wasteful, and inefficient way that anyone could imagine of creating the world. I think Monod is right. Evolution leaves us with a supposed God of love who uses a cruel and wasteful process to eliminate the unfit. The gospel of God’s grace, however, is about the God of mercy who delights to save sinners.

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