Evolution: a message of hope?
Why humanity’s origin matters
The hope of the Christian faith is inextricably linked with a belief in purpose. The Apostle Paul famously waxed lyrical with the words, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). By virtue of His incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, the Universe’s Creator and Sustainer (John 1:1–3, Colossians 1:16–17) became the Saviour. Having a personal relationship with God—through repentance and faith (e.g. Mark 1:14–15)—guarantees us a place in heaven. We have a confident, certain hope of eternal glory. But can this message be sustained if, as a consistent belief in evolution requires, humankind’s special creation by God is overturned?
“We are the one creature to whom natural selection has bequeathed a brain complex enough to comprehend the laws that govern the universe. And we should be proud that we are the only species that has figured out how we came to be.”1 So concludes evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne in his book Why Evolution is True. In other words, enlightened people know better these days than to rely on old-fashioned notions of their purposeful creation:
“Darwinism tells us that, like all species, human beings arose from the working of blind, purposeless forces over eons of time. … [S]upernatural explanations … are simply never needed: we manage to understand the natural world just fine using reason and materialism” (emphasis added).2
This humanistic autonomy, insists Coyne, need not be as bleak as some people fear. For sure, unguided natural processes brought men and women into being. And yes, there’s a lot of immorality, injustice and mayhem in society, but our evolutionary heritage has also produced altruistic human beings: many people support charitable causes, work to alleviate suffering, risk their lives to rescue others and so on. Based on his belief in human evolution Coyne claims that, “whatever genetic heritage we have, it is not a straitjacket that traps us forever in the ‘beastly’ ways of our forebears. … And although evolution operates in a purposeless, materialistic way, that doesn’t mean that our lives have no purpose.”3
Are moral values and meaning illusory?
British scientist Brian Cox concurs with Jerry Coyne. A TV personality and professor in particle physics at the University of Manchester, Cox concluded his best-selling book Human Universe (based on the BBC programme of the same name) with this confession:
“I want to be honest. We didn’t set out to make a love letter to the human race when we started filming Human Universe. We set out to make a cosmology series, documenting our ascent into insignificance. Things changed rapidly as we chatted, debated, experienced, photographed and argued our way around the world… It is surely true that there is no absolute meaning or value to our existence when set against the limitless stars. We are allowed to exist by the laws of nature and in that sense we have no more value than the stars themselves. And yet there is self-evidently meaning in the universe because my own existence, the existence of those I love, and the existence of the entire human race means something to me” (bold emphases added; italics his).4
Let us be clear about what Coyne and Cox (and many others) are claiming here: the stark conclusion of both secular cosmology and evolutionary biology is that human existence is happenchance and insignificant. But, they argue, we are sufficiently advanced in evolutionary terms to be in a position to create our own meaning. You really can ‘have your cake and eat it’, so they claim.
Cox claims that our capacity to love and imbue things with meaning is simply because evolution granted us complex brains and minds. Evolutionists will argue that this is a healthy state of affairs, that humans have been wired with a propensity to create what essentially are false views of the world. Such things as ‘love’ and ‘meaning’ help stifle the painful, nihilistic reality that man came from nothing and is headed for oblivion. No wonder, then, that such a useful tendency was fixed in the human psyche through natural selection! But, they chide, the reality is that meaning and value, good and evil, right and wrong, do not really exist—except as social constructs which ensure stable society (although sometimes, lying may be a better survival strategy). So, whatever hand you have been dealt in the ‘Lottery of Life’, keep your chin up and look on the bright side! Infamous Darwinist and atheist Richard Dawkins is insistent on this point:
“We’re extremely lucky to be here. The odds against your being here are far greater than the odds of your winning the lottery, so be thankful and spend your time—your brief time—under the sun, looking around and rejoicing and wondering and being fascinated and trying to understand everything about the universe in which you’re so fortunate to be born”.5
What are we to make of these claims? If believed and acted upon, they are certainly a potent hope-destroyer. You exist for no reason, for no purpose. It’s just that your ‘lucky number’ popped up in the great casino of the universe. After your brief foray on this planet, you’ll likely be quickly forgotten. But while you’re alive, you might as well make the best of it: love and be loved, be nice, be kind, try to do some good in the world for the benefit of humanity. Although your existence is, quite frankly, utterly pointless, consider yourself the lucky one—be thankful. ‘Thankful to whom?’ you ask? Well, not God, since He doesn’t exist. ‘Who, then?’ Well, your lucky stars of course! But don’t trouble yourself with delving too deeply into those questions.
For your own sanity, keep up the illusion that, in spite of your meaningless, insignificant existence, you’re unique—even special if you like—just as long as you keep firmly fixed in your mind that materialism is the name of the game. (In our materialistic world, there are no gods, nothing supernatural, no purpose or goals.) To survive and thrive, you’re going to need coping mechanisms. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. It’s the result of millions of years of ‘survival of the fittest’, at the expense of the weak. The unfit are life’s losers. But rejoice, you’re one of the survivors after all! So try to have an appetite for wonder,6 to see how fascinating the universe really is. Ponder your good fortune in being born at all. Make the most of it. There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life. Take a leaf out of Richard Feynman’s book (eminent theoretical physicist, 1918–1988):
“I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.”7
Take it easy. Whatever you do, try to squash any fear of death or of a heavenly tribunal (such as indicated by Hebrews 9:27). Suppress such negative thoughts and remain optimistic! If you’re unfortunate enough to have to confront your imminent demise through terminal illness, try to stare death in the face, confident in your atheistic principles.
Well, enough of the psychological gymnastics of the atheistic scientists and others who are wedded to their materialistic and nihilistic view of the world (aka philosophical naturalism). Can any of this really satisfy the person prepared to take a long, honest look at human existence?
Living with the consequences of our ideas
Is it really as simple as the atheists and humanists would have us believe? Their message seems to boil down to this: ‘forget God and live for yourself, oh and maybe spare a thought for others too.’ To borrow a phrase from Scripture, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (Isaiah 22:13, 1 Corinthians 15:32). However, when the Apostle Paul employed those words, he was dealing with the Christian’s confident, glorious hope: beyond the grave, the righteous dead will rise again to eternal life. Earlier in his discourse he had asserted, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). In other words, the Bible acknowledges that a vain hope is worthless indeed. However, the Christian’s hope of eternal glory (heaven) is far from futile. It is founded on the rock-solid historical facts of the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:20).8
In contrast to these uplifting truths, atheistic philosophy and secular humanism have nothing to elevate the human spirit above despair and nihilism, not without dishonestly borrowing from ‘Christian real estate’. No logical basis for morality, meaning and purpose exists within such a godless worldview—see, Atheism—no objective morality? and Can we be good without God?.
Science writer Teal Burrell, while pushing the materialist’s line, concedes that the evolutionary perspective brings cognitive dissonance9 to people like herself:
“As human beings, it is hard for us to shake the idea that our existence must have significance beyond the here and now. Life begins and ends, yes, but surely there is a greater meaning. The trouble is, these stories we tell ourselves do nothing to soften the harsh reality: as far as the universe is concerned, we are nothing but fleeting and randomly assembled collections of energy and matter. One day, we will all be dust” (emphasis added).10
The problem for Teal Burrell—as with scientists like Cox, Coyne, Dawkins and Feynman—is that, intellectually, she has painted herself into a corner. Asserting God’s non-existence, atheists and humanists have no choice but to cling to a particular form of existentialism (whether acknowledged formally or not), kidding themselves that they can derive meaning entirely without God. Of this brand of existential thought, Encyclopaedia Britannica says, “it can hold that human existence, posing itself as a problem, projects itself with absolute freedom, creating itself by itself, thus assuming to itself the function of God. As such, existentialism presents itself as a radical atheism.”11 It is no wonder that the Bible is so unapologetic about the foolishness of such a position (Psalm 14:1, 53:1).
Isn’t theistic evolution the answer?
What is the solution to evolution’s wholly cheerless outlook on life? Can we not simply add God to the picture? Surely that would provide us with the best of both worlds: retaining academic respectability by accepting long ages of evolution as God’s method of Creation while, at the same time, maintaining belief in the purposefulness of human existence? And in light of this, theistic evolutionists will sometimes make claims of the following sort:
- Evolution is a foundational scientific truth that stands up to rigorous scientific scrutiny. Therefore, to reject it is scientifically ignorant.
- As we learn more about evolution, it helps us discover how wonderful God is.
- Evolution is evidence of God’s continual creation. This instils hope because things are always improving.
However, there are many problems with these assertions. Let us briefly consider each in turn.
Evolution as objective science?
In answer to the first point, we answer, on the contrary, that there are many fatal flaws within the evolutionary edifice. The science simply does not stack up. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that these Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels are fatal to Darwin’s dangerous idea. True, the majority of people, scientists included, do not accept this conclusion. But objective scientific truth should never be decided by majority vote, scientific consensus, political will or court action. It is usually claimed that the detractors of evolution are scientifically ignorant. On the contrary, great strides in our advancing knowledge of science are causing an increasing number of scientists to question neo-Darwinian dogma (e.g. The Altenberg 16). They are no longer prepared to submit to the ‘party line’. Many of them possess advanced academic degrees and several are members of the academic elite; very few have any particular faith commitment, whether to Intelligent Design or biblical creation. However, as true empiricists they insist on maintaining the freedom to go where the evidence leads.12 They vehemently object to any intimidation or pressure to bow at the altar of materialism. American physicist Robert Oppenheimer (scientific director of the Manhatten Project) would have been proud of them for he once declared:
“The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.”13
Evolution enhances the wonder of God?
There is a huge disconnect between the claims of theistic evolutionists and popular opinion. Specifically, it is from today’s youth that we learn of their reasons for rejecting Christianity. Today’s pop culture is saturated with evolutionary influences, whether the lyrics of pop music or movies and TV series with evolutionary themes. We may ask, where is all of this leading the ‘millennials’ (Generation Y) or the iGeneration? Are they being driven to reflect on the wonder of God? Not at all! All the available evidence shows that an evolutionary view of mankind leads many to reject, not worship, their Creator.14 In many cases church surveys show that the youth are falling away at an alarming rate; see CMI’s own investigation into this tragic fallout! Theistic evolutionists can continue hiding their heads in the sand, or they can wake up to the fact that many young people are heeding the godless message of secular humanistic propagandists like Cox, Coyne and Dawkins.
In most cases, telling such people that evolution was God’s creative method will be met with bemusement. It will merely confirm their sense of the unmitigated irrelevance of the Christian Church in today’s world. When they are told that Genesis as history can be discarded in favour of evolution, they see little or no reason to retain the rest of the Bible. And there are plenty of influential humanist writers to give them a helping hand towards the total rejection of faith. Yuval Noah Harari is one such person, an Israeli historian, two of whose recent books, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014) and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016), are million-copy bestsellers. He writes:
“…in many countries around the world, including the USA and the UK, witnesses in courts put their hand on the bible when swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It’s ironic that they swear to tell the truth on a book brimming with so many fictions, myths and errors.”15
The only antidote to this deception is an unapologetic stand upon the authority of the Word of God, beginning in Genesis.
Evolution as evidence of continual and improving creation?
To say that evolution is evidence of God’s continual creation is blatant circular reasoning. Evolution is assumed to be true at the outset, then it is alleged that this demonstrates that God used a continual method of creation (evolution)! Incidentally, whichever method of creation God might have employed (taking billions of years, six days or a fraction of a second), the omnipotent Creator would have been no more tired after creating one star than a trillion of them. Arguably, however, ‘super-fast’ creation more obviously demonstrates God’s almighty power than a billions-of-years process. But to claim that a continual, evolutionary creation instils a hopeful message is strange logic indeed—it’s not at all obvious that, as some assert, things are always improving.
Evolution is, by definition, an inexorably slow process, during which death, suffering and extinction must sift out and discard the weak. The wanton slaughter and waste that are envisaged to attend the evolutionary process have long provided atheists with ammunition against Christian belief. Moreover, for a person struggling with their present circumstances to be expected to hope and wait for evolutionary improvements would be crass absurdity. On the contrary in fact, the evolution connection helps explain why, having abandoned all hope, so many people commit suicide.
Jesus explicitly contradicted the view that we should put our hope in things of this world, advising that our hearts need to be set on heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:20–21). The Apostle Paul put it like this: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). Indeed, it is fruitful to explore theistic evolution in the light of biblical teaching about the future new creation. God, we are told, will create a new heavens and earth (e.g. Isaiah 65:17–19, 65:25; Revelation 21 and 22). It will be a restoration because the Curse will be removed (Revelation 22:3), with many parallels with Eden (e.g. Revelation 2:7). As I state in Evolution and the Christian Faith:
“Dispense with the historical reality of the first things (as theistic evolution requires us to) and the last things would seem to be robbed of much of their significance. … The glorious hope of Christian believers is wrapped up with the promise of a restoration to that Edenic perfection. We look forward with great expectations to our place in the Paradise regained. Our blessed anticipation is to be with our triumphant, death‑conquering Saviour. … Disease, pain, sorrow, death and mourning will forever be consigned to the past.”16
The hope of Christians is not to be based on anything earthly or material. Rather, Scripture emphatically teaches that their abundance of life now (John 10:10) and certainty of eternal life to come (hope) are based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ (for example, Galatians 5:5, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Timothy 1:1, 4:10, Titus 2:13, 1 Peter 1:3). This amazing good news is inseparable from the foundational teaching that God’s original purpose for mankind—created in His image in a state of moral and physical perfection (Genesis 1:26–31)—was frustrated by the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). This is no empty claim on the part of biblical creationists. It is not some contrived teaching or a theological novelty, but the testimony of the Church right back through the centuries. The Apostle Paul himself continues the aforementioned teaching on the Christian’s resurrection hope (1 Corinthians 15:19–20) by making a direct comparison between the literal first Adam and the last Adam, Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 and 15:45).
So, in light of these things, can the Bible’s teaching on hope (as recorded in the sublime teaching of Jesus, or New Testament luminaries like the Apostle Paul) be divorced from its teaching on human origins? Many ‘neo-evangelicals’ claim that human evolution must, somehow, be accommodated within Christian theology. Those with the ‘courage’ to take this to its logical conclusion (ironically, people with a low view of Scripture) are questioning the infallibility of Paul, Peter, Luke and even Jesus Himself (see Jesus, just ‘a man of his time’?).17 That way, they feel they can ignore their teaching about the origins of humanity, human morality, the doctrine of the Fall and more (but note Jesus’ own warning in John 3:12).
No, hope must be securely grounded in the Bible’s truth. Unless the Bible’s entire teaching about humanity (biblical anthropology) is trustworthy, its message of hope is vain. Without doubt, the atheistic message (as exemplified by scientists like Cox, Coyne and Dawkins) is an exercise in vanity and folly because it is logically inconsistent. Such extravagant reasoning as we considered early on in this article is far from harmless. It is fallacious in the extreme, a spiritually lethal doctrine that is utterly destructive to faith and can have appalling consequences. Following the Columbine High School (Denver, USA) massacre in 1999,18 pastor and police chaplain Gino Gerraci gave the following impassioned reply to the school superintendent’s question of why such an atrocity had happened:
“You have taught our children that they come from nowhere, and that is where they’re going, and that life is a point of pain in a meaningless existence. And they believed you.”
Chaplain Gerraci’s convictions, based on the foundations of biblical creation, were a great help to him as he ministered to people caught up in that tragedy—see ‘Hope for the hopeless, based on a literal Genesis’ in the article Tragic Truth.
But theistic evolution also falls foul of a plain reading of biblical passages (see Should Genesis be taken literally?). Worse, it is a violation of the theological teaching of the apostles, even a denial of the infallibility of the very Christ these men and women profess. Evolution, in any form, adds nothing to the Gospel of Christ and, consistently applied, seriously diminishes Christian hope, if not destroys it altogether.
References and notes
- Coyne, J.A., Why evolution is true, Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 254. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, p. 245. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, pp. 251–255. Return to text.
- Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen, Human Universe, William Collins, 2014, p. 241. Return to text.
- Richard Dawkins, Beautiful Minds, series 2, programme 3, BBC4, broadcast 25 April 2012. Return to text.
- Richard Dawkins’s autobiography is entitled: An appetite for wonder: the making of a scientist, HarperCollins Publishers, 2013. Return to text.
- Richard Feynman, interview with BBC Horizon, 1981, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MmpUWEW6Is. Return to text.
- Or to quote the words of a famous hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Written by English pastor and hymn writer Edward Mote, 1834. Return to text.
- Defined as, “a state in which there is a difference between your experiences or behaviour and your beliefs about what is true”, dictionary.cambridge.org. Return to text.
- Teal Burrell, A meaning to life: How a sense of purpose can keep you healthy, newscientist.com, 25 January 2017. Return to text.
- Nicola Abbagano, Existentialism, brittanica.com, last updated 16 October 2018. Return to text.
- See for example: Mazur, S., The Paradigm Shifters: Overthrowing 'the hegemony of the culture of Darwin', Caswell Books, 2015. In this book, Susan Mazur interviews 19 scientists, some of whom are acknowledged world leaders in their fields, e.g. Carl Woese (1928–2012), Eugene Koonin and James Shapiro. Return to text.
- Barnett, L., J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted in: Life 7(9):58, International Edition, 24 October 1949. Return to text.
- This is covered in some detail in ‘Fruits of society’s evolutionary view of mankind’, chapter 6, and also chapter 12 of: Philip Bell, Evolution and the Christian Faith: Theistic evolution in the light of Scripture, Day One Publications, 2018, pp. 139–143 and pp. 268–290. Return to text.
- Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow, Vintage (Penguin Random House), UK, 2017, p. 203. Return to text.
- See chapter 10 of Bell, ref. 14. Return to text.
- See Bell, pp. 58–95, ref. 14; chapters 3 and 4 are devoted to this question. Return to text.
- CMI’s article at the time highlighted how one of the killers wore a T-shirt emblazoned with ‘Natural Selection’ and that both young men were obsessed with Nazi belief, fuelled by Darwinian struggle; see How to build a bomb in the public school system. Return to text.
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