Evolution: not just about biology
High-level evolutionists themselves reveal that there is much, much more involved—and at stake
Published: 20 November 2014 (GMT+10)
‘That’s got nothing to do with evolution!’ This is a common response evolutionists give when creationists challenge them to produce evidence for abiogenesis (the idea that life spontaneously arose from non-life). Evolution, they say, is not about the origin of life; it’s only about the subsequent development of that first life form into the vast and diverse array of living things that now populate our world.
Of course, it is fair to distinguish between the two claims. However, in referring to abiogenesis as ‘evolution’, creationists are generally not confusing the proposition that life had a naturalistic origin with the proposition that all life is related by common descent. Rather, the point is that concepts like abiogenesis, universal common ancestry, and even the alleged development of stars, galaxies and planets from simpler structures are all connected to each other like intersecting threads in a much larger web of controversy. Our critics may want to arbitrarily limit the scope of the debate, especially when it comes to areas such as the origin of life, in which the evidence is so strongly stacked against them. But ultimately, this battle isn’t just about biology—it’s a battle of worldviews. And as we shall see, leading evolutionist sources themselves often use the term ‘evolution’ to refer to much more than a biological theory of common descent.
Life’s origin—not out of bounds
Sometimes, the ‘abiogenesis is not evolution’ claim is just point-scoring, to try to highlight creationist ‘ignorance’. Often, though, it is meant to imply that it is somehow unreasonable for creationists to challenge evolutionists about where life came from to begin with. However, here are three reasons why this is not so.
First, evolutionists almost universally believe that life did develop from non-life by natural means. The many who are atheists have of course left themselves no other option by ruling God out of the picture (which means that even if they claim life on earth was seeded by aliens, their origins must in turn be traced to some form of abiogenesis). Theistic evolutionists could be expected to hold that God was at least supernaturally involved in life’s origin. Instead, though, they typically exercise faith that a naturalistic explanation for life will one day be found, arguing (in deeply confused fashion) that any appeal to the supernatural is an illegitimate ‘god-of-the-gaps’ approach.1 So, when creationists critique abiogenesis, we are not aiming at the wrong target. That’s exactly what the bulk of our opponents believe.
Second, evolutionists regularly and dogmatically promote abiogenesis in public, through tax-payer funded schools, the media, and other venues. In other words, not only do evolutionists hold these views, they’re on a crusade to persuade others.
Third, and very significantly, evolutionists themselves commonly call their naturalistic origin-of-life scenarios ‘evolution’. And they consider them part of their grand narrative about how the entire universe emerged and developed all by itself, from scratch. For example, the website for Harvard University’s ‘Cosmic Evolution’ course contains a section on “chemical evolution”, which is about how “life originated on Earth by means of a rather slow evolution of nonliving matter.”2 Or, consider the hostile witness of arch-anticreationist Dr Eugenie Scott who, although she wants to keep evolution and the origin of life “conceptually separate”,3 nevertheless permits herself to speak about life itself evolving and admits, “Evolution involves far more than just human beings and, for that matter, far more than just living things.”4
Another example is the September 1978 issue of Scientific American, which was specially devoted to evolution, including one major article on ‘Chemical Evolution and the Origin of Life’. This stated:
“J.B.S. Haldane, the British biochemist, seems to have been the first to appreciate that a reducing atmosphere, one with no free oxygen, was a requirement for the evolution of life from non-living organic matter.”5 [Emphasis added]
In reality, the claim that abiogenesis is not part of evolution is often nothing more than a ploy to avoid having to deal with the issue. Life’s origin is an embarrassing problem for evolutionists, so it’s easier for them to banish the topic than to debate it. But if evolutionists can’t even get the process started, then surely their naturalistic narrative is in big trouble.
Now, many Christians would agree with CMI’s stance that explanations for life and its diversity are relevant to the evolution controversy, but they would still fault us for focusing on the age of the earth (and universe). In other words, just as some evolutionists claim the origin of life is off-topic, some Christians think the same about the age of the earth. How many times have we heard Christians who believe in millions of years say it doesn’t matter when God created, just that he created? But typically those who say such things have failed to interact with our arguments. For one thing, we have repeatedly shown that belief in an ancient earth creates serious biblical and theological problems.6 But here we will limit our focus to explaining why it is a mistake to treat evolution and deep time as unrelated issues.
Understandably, since they deny universal common ancestry, old-earth creationists are reticent to think of themselves as evolutionists. However, when you ask both groups how the sun, moon, and stars formed, or how the earth came to have its oceans and atmosphere, their answers are the same. Both groups believe that natural processes were sufficient to accomplish such tasks. But note that the very idea of millions of years was originally derived from the length of time it would take nature to accomplish (if she could) these and other similar feats. Furthermore, evolutionists describe all these processes as ‘evolution’ too! For example, when Eugenie Scott tells us evolution is about “far more than just living things”, she has in mind the origin of the universe and all its constituent parts. As she puts it, “Astronomical evolution deals with cosmology: the origin of elements, stars, galaxies, and planets. Geological evolution is concerned with the evolution of our own planet: its origin and its cumulative changes through time.”4
The many faces of evolution
Similarly, Harvard’s Cosmic Evolution7 website, mentioned above, divides the history of the universe into eight epochs of evolution: particulate, galactic, stellar, planetary, chemical, biological, cultural, and future. In other words, biological evolution is only one small part of a much larger evolutionary story, the same story from which deep time comes, and which old-earth creationists accept. Thus, while old-earthers might deny biological evolution, it would be fair to say that their belief in millions of years still weds them to most of the evolutionary account of history.
At this point, some might object that there are multiple senses of the term ‘evolution’ at play here, so it is unfair to lump them all together as equally problematic. However, what unites astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological evolution is that they are all part of an attempt to account for the entire cosmos without recourse to God and, in particular, the history He has revealed in Genesis. When evolutionists say the universe has evolved, they mean it developed by natural processes alone. Old-earth creationists commonly recognize that the scientific establishment accepts biological evolution because they let their naturalistic conclusions come before the evidence. But why think this problem is limited to biology? It is no accident that those who believe in biological evolution also believe that stars, planets, and life itself arose through natural processes. There are massive problems with the idea that stars and planets have formed naturally, but these ideas gain traction because a supernatural explanation has been disqualified a priori.
Thus, if we want to confront the naturalistic dogma that pervades the scientific community, it is not enough to oppose biological evolution. The same naturalistic presuppositions manifest themselves in cosmology and geology, and that means the age of the earth is a crucial part of this battle as well.
Usurping God’s throne
Since evolution is essentially applied naturalism, it’s not surprising that many evolutionists see it as all-encompassing. Sir Julian Huxley, for example, at the centennial celebration of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1959, delivered his ‘secular sermon’ in which he declared that “all aspects of reality are subject to evolution, from atoms and stars to fish and flowers, from fish and flowers to human societies and values—indeed, … all reality is a single process of evolution.”8
Likewise, according to the Harvard website, not only does all of physical reality evolve, but so does culture, religion, and the future. (The website isn’t even shy about making pronouncements concerning the metaphysical significance of human beings,9 or calling for immediate action to prevent overpopulation.10)
Sweeping claims like these serve to illustrate evolutionary philosopher Michael Ruse’s remark that “Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion—a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality.”11 For those evolutionists who recognize their theory’s naturalistic underpinnings and believe that it performs many of the actions formerly attributed to the Creator, such thinking is only consistent. But this is exactly why biblical creationists are so passionate about exposing evolution for what it is—a lie.
In the final analysis, evolution is a hydra with many heads, but all are rooted in the pre-commitment to explain reality apart from the biblical God. Whether we are dealing with astronomical, geological, chemical, biological, or another form of evolution, we are dealing with an affront to the biblical worldview—and so ultimately to God Himself. Thus, it is proper for biblical creationists to critique evolution in all its manifestations, pointing people to the truth about our Creator and the things He has revealed in His Word.
References and notes
- Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins, The Language of Science and Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), pp. 170–175; Ken Miller, Finding Darwin’s God (New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1999), p. 276. Return to text.
- Chaisson, Eric J., “Theories of Life’s Origin”, Cosmic Evolution website; www.cfa.harvard.edu/~ejchaisson/cosmic_evolution/docs/fr_1/fr_1_chem.html. Return to text.
- Scott, Eugenie C., Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004) p. 27. Return to text.
- Scott, Evolution vs. Creationism, p. 23. Return to text.
- Dickerson, R.E., Chemical Evolution and the Origin of Life, Scientific American 239(3):62–102, September 1978. Return to text.
- Cosner, Lita and Gary Bates, Did God create over billions of years? And why is it important?, 6 October 2011. Carl Wieland, CMI’s views on the Intelligent Design Movement, 30 August 2002. Return to text.
- Meaning ‘evolution of the whole cosmos’, or as some have put it: ‘From nothing to everything, all by itself’. Return to text.
- Huxley, Julian, “The Evolutionary Vision: The Convocation Address”, in Sol Tax and Charles Callender, eds., Evolution After Darwin: The University of Chicago Centennial, vol. 3 (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 1960), p. 249; archive.org/stream/evolutionafterda03taxs/evolutionafterda03taxs_djvu.txt. Return to text.
- The article states: “Surely, we would be conceited, vainglorious, and downright pretentious to regard ourselves as the final product of universal change, the very pinnacle of cosmic evolution.” www.cfa.harvard.edu/~ejchaisson/cosmic_evolution/docs/fr_1/fr_1_future.html. Return to text.
- The article states: “Change is required and it’s required now. Because of our position on the explosive part of the population curve, the present time is pivotal. Our generation—not the next one—must effect planned change, lest that change occur by means of war, pestilence, and famine.” www.cfa.harvard.edu/~ejchaisson/cosmic_evolution/docs/fr_1/fr_1_future.html. Return to text.
- Ruse, Michael, How evolution became a religion: creationists correct? National Post, 13 May 2000, pp. B1,B3,B7; creation.com/ruse. Return to text.
Many evolutionists are disingenuous. We have also had that complaint, "That has nothing to do with evolution!" Yet, they ignore *other* off-topic posts we make, but the issue of the origin of life is still a sore topic. I believe that this is part of the process of distancing themselves from the failure of abiogenesis. Sometimes I'll remind them that one of the heroes of evolution, Carl Sagan, said that we're all "star stuff" and similar remarks. No, abiogenesis is completely appropriate to discuss. Just ask David Attenborough creation.com/first-life-arrival, for one. It *is* a part of evolution.
Really? So abiogenesis has nothing to do with evolution? Even if I accept that life evolved from simple life to increasingly more complex life forms, all by natural selection and chance, which I DO NOT accept - how did life begin in the first place? I would like to state that I am a Christian and a firm Creationist. If evolution is supposedly now a "proven" fact of science, why can't they give a "proven" explanation as to the origins of life, rather than just throwing it into the "too hard basket". When they throw this into the "too hard basket" it probably lands right on top of the One Book that is proven to have the answer to the question of the origins of life - The Word of God, in written in the Holy Bible.
Anytime I discuss or debate the issue of evolution, I always begin with the twin issues of 1) Where did the matter/energy come from for the Big Bang?; and 2) How do we get a self-replicating cell through abiogenesis? The answer to those questions requires irrational speculation and strong faith (of the non-Christian variety). But until those questions are sensibly tackled, I would argue we don't need to even consider other parts of the evolutionary claims.
Interesting to note that even P.Z. Myers agrees with you on this. In an article where he gives some of his pet peeves, he mentions that "claiming abiogenesis is not a part of evolution" is a pet peeve of his. Here is what he says:
[Myth] #15 is also a pet peeve [of mine]: “Evolution is a theory about the origin of life” is presented as false. It is not. I know many people like to recite the mantra that “abiogenesis is not evolution,” but it’s a cop-out. Evolution is about a plurality of natural mechanisms that generate diversity. It includes molecular biases towards certain solutions and chance events that set up potential change as well as selection that refines existing variation. Abiogenesis research proposes similar principles that led to early chemical evolution. Tossing that work into a special-case ghetto that exempts you from explaining it is cheating, and ignores the fact that life is chemistry. That creationists don’t understand that either is not a reason for us to avoid it."
So very true. And it's the topic that evolutionists will either shy away from or attempt to make you out as a deranged lunatic in order to safeguard their position and approach.
I've tried (on multiple times and in various ways) to explain that if evolution is naturalistic, then so must the mechanism be that has caused life to come from non-life. They essentially fall under the same umbrella. But for some reason or another, they (at least the ones I've spoken to - everyone of them) really don't get this simple correlation.
They mostly argue along the lines - There's not yet a good "scientific theory or explanation" for abiogenenis, and the theory of evolution is the best one we currently have to explain the diversity of life. So, evolution is a fact and we accept that abiogenesis occurred at least once, they would say. My point is, from the outset, they already disregard anything supernatural... and that's the problem.
Outstanding article. Answered questions I've had from atheists/evolutionists pertaining to the crawfish comment, "That’s got nothing to do with evolution" so many times. You closing statement hit the nail on the head to when you stated, "Thus, it is proper for biblical creationists to critique evolution in all its manifestations, pointing people to the truth about our Creator and the things He has revealed in His Word."
"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" [Romans 16:17-18]
"Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" [2 Corinthians 10:5]
In my opinion, CMI does demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. May the Lord richly bless all there at CMI ...
This article hits the nail on the head. Someone once said that if he were granted two assumptions at the start, he could win any debate. Since hearing that I don't let evolutionists get away with even trivial "misstatements". Especially not the statement, ‘That’s got nothing to do with evolution!’. I usually address it by saying, "Well, you just want to talk about possible mechanisms for some change that might, or might not, have happened, but, you see, my mechanism for the different kinds of creatures is that God spoke and it was so. Is there anything that you observe empirically that my mechanism does not explain?" I hate being on the defensive. Great article!!!!!