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Evolution: not just about biology

High-level evolutionists themselves reveal that there is much, much more involved—and at stake


cfa.harvard.edu cosmic-evolution
Harvard University’s ‘Cosmic Evolution’ course website divides the history of the universe into eight epochs of evolution: particulate, galactic, stellar, planetary, chemical, biological, cultural, and future.

‘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.

wikipedia.org Eugenie-Scott
Dr Eugenie Scott, long-time director (till 2013) of the pretentiously named National Center for Science Education and winner of the 2012 Richard Dawkins Award. This humanist-linked US group is dedicated to opposing creation and promoting evolution.

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.

About time

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.

Published: 20 November 2014

References and notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Scott, Eugenie C., Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004) p. 27. Return to text.
  4. Scott, Evolution vs. Creationism, p. 23. Return to text.
  5. Dickerson, R.E., Chemical Evolution and the Origin of Life, Scientific American 239(3):62–102, September 1978. Return to text.
  6. 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.
  7. Meaning ‘evolution of the whole cosmos’, or as some have put it: ‘From nothing to everything, all by itself’. Return to text.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Ruse, Michael, How evolution became a religion: creationists correct? National Post, 13 May 2000, pp. B1,B3,B7; creation.com/ruse. Return to text.