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Nature programmes, science and God1


A few months ago, a British newspaper carried a truly intriguing headline:

Sir David Attenborough and Brian Cox’s TV nature shows are ‘putting viewers off science’ because the beautiful scenes reaffirm belief in god.2
BBC DVD cover for the landmark wildlife documentary series, Planet Earth (2006).

The article was written in response to the publication of a new study about the influence of documentaries about science and nature.3 Students without belief in God (‘non-theists’) were shown short video snippets from several sources. Some of the footage was designed to be awe-inspiring (from the BBC’s Planet Earth series4), whereas other clips had been chosen because they were either mundane or amusing. When the students’ responses were scored, it was found that sequences showcasing the grandeur of nature significantly increased the students’ belief in the orderliness of nature, although they attributed this to evolution. Unsurprisingly, religious people watching such footage had a heightened sense of awe. Commenting on the report, the Daily Mail stated that, “these findings suggest that awe drives ‘theists’ away from scientific explanations”—by which they meant, of course, ‘evolutionary explanations’.

So, while acknowledging that beautifully crafted nature programmes reaffirm religious people’s belief in a Creator God, secular-minded people are expressing alarm that their own worldview is taking a hit! It takes some effort to believe that the incredible wonders of the natural world (particularly the stunning creatures on display) could result from unplanned, entirely random, unguided processes. Yet that is what the history tale of evolution requires. It calls to mind the Apostle Peter’s description of “last days” scoffers of Christianity—those who deliberately forget or overlook the Bible’s testimony that this world was created “by the word of God” (2 Peter 3:3–5).

No wonder then, that in spite of the regular assertions of ‘millions of years’ and ‘evolution’ that pepper the narration of such nature shows, some people are being aroused to the possibility of order and design. We are reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words about God’s “invisible attributes” being so obvious from the things that He has made, that non-believers are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

Creation is undeniable

Discovery InstituteDouglas-Axe
Douglas Axe

A recent book by Douglas Axe makes interesting reading: Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed.5 Dr Axe has had a distinguished career at some of the leading universities and top research establishments in both the USA and UK. However, in spite of his impressive curriculum vitae,6 his dissent from Darwinian evolution has meant that he now continues his research within the ‘Intelligent Design’ (ID) community; he is currently director of Biologic Institute.7 I suspect that he would smile at the ‘revelations’ of the study discussed earlier. As an engineer-turned-molecular biologist who has researched (and published about) protein complexity at world-leading institutions, he believes that, “No amount of technical mumbo jumbo can change the fact that it’s extremely improbable for accidental causes to do the work of insight.”8

Natural selection, as biblical creationists have been emphasising for years, cannot create anything novel. Rather, as the name suggests, it can merely select from what already exists. Furthermore, evolutionists have failed to demonstrate that genetic mutations can provide the novelty that natural selection is supposed to work with. Axe writes:

“If natural selection really shaped life, it … was skilful enough to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, and wise enough to know when that work was finished.”9

In other words, life looks designed because it is designed. “Life is mystery and masterpiece—an overflowing abundance of perfect compositions,”10 he writes, going on to point out:

“If no one meant for spiders to spin, then spiders were invented by accident, making our design intuition deceptive. If someone did, then spiders were deliberately invented, making the evolutionary account deceptive.”11

In Axe’s mind, there is no question that the awesome marvels of the natural world testify to ‘someone’.

The Creator God is undeniable

Axe has many good things to say about biology and design in his book, but it is refreshing to see mention of the Creator too. This is unusual in a publication from the ‘ID fold’—where the Designer normally receives little or no mention and seems like the ‘elephant in the room’. He confesses:

“I can only see these ingenious creeping, climbing, swimming, soaring, blooming, luring, lunging, spinning, sporulating, fleeing and fighting inventions as having come from the mind of God. To me, nothing else makes any sense.”12

Indeed, “ … common science and common sense naturally lead us to attribute life to God, as even the children of atheists do.”13 While his book stops short of providing a coherent biblical creationist framework (avoiding discussion of the Genesis record for instance), it is encouraging to see a leader within the ID community showing such candour in his train of thought. Axe makes clear that, for him at least, God is personal, one who understands us and whose presence can be experienced.14 And although the book is not explicit about his Christianity, this was affirmed recently in an interview that he gave to Premier Christian Radio.15

One might think that an acknowledgement of the Creator God ought at least to be allowable in a society that claims to prize tolerance. Not so; and many scientists who have stepped out of line have discovered this to their cost.16 The outcry against the dissenters often leads to swift action, the retraction of published papers and the sacrifice of careers on the altar of secular humanism. A recent example concerned a paper about the biomechanics of the human hand (2016); the Chinese researchers made the fatal ‘error’ of invoking the Creator for the obvious design involved.

Genesis history is indispensable

BBC DVD cover for the documentary series, The Hunt (2015).

It is encouraging to see some ID researchers acknowledging who they believe the Intelligent Designer to be. However, it is only when a holistic biblical framework is made explicit that we can adequately deal with life’s biggest questions, such as the origin of evil. Yes, in one sense, God is responsible for what Axe called “fleeing and fighting inventions”, but these resulted from His Curse of the created order (Genesis 3:14–19) following Mankind’s Fall (Genesis 3:6–7). Before the entrance of sin, there was no carnivory or hunting of prey, and all God’s inventions were perfect—“very good” (Genesis 1:29–31).

That is not to say that we cannot appreciate the spectacle of the arms race between diverse predators and their prey that plays out on our TV screens. Remarkable examples of this are exhibited in The Hunt,17 another nature documentary (narrated by David Attenborough) that falls into the awesome, jaw-dropping category. Whether watching tigers, lions, orcas, wolves, cheetahs, polar bears, blue whales, or harpy eagles, one is constantly struck by the sheer beauty, agility, grace, speed, and ingenuity of both the predators and their prey. As Axe makes clear, these characteristics have no evolutionary explanations and can only be the result of purposeful design.

Denial of God is inexcusable

Even though man, through sin, has spoilt God’s original perfect creation, the world still furnishes us with ample evidence for His Creatorship. The ‘beauty’ and ‘awe’ that even non-Christian researchers, students and journalists recognise in today’s natural world are telling us something important—nature’s author is an Awesome God:

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Revelation 4:11).
Published: 24 October 2017

References and notes

  1. A modified version of an article that first appeared in Prayer News, CMI-UK/Europe, April 2017. Return to text.
  2. Anon, Daily Mail, UK, 12 September 2016. Return to text.
  3. Valdesolo, P. et al., Awe and scientific explanation, Emotion 16(7):937-940, October 2016. Return to text.
  4. This screened in 2006. It was certainly a stunning, cutting-edge, series at the time; not to be confused with BBC’s Planet Earth II, 2016. Return to text.
  5. See also: Tay, J., A review of Undeniable: How biology confirms our intuition that life is designed, Journal of Creation 31(2):47–50, August 2017. Return to text.
  6. Or ‘CV’, an apt Latin term meaning ‘course of life’—known in the USA and Canada as a résumé (French for ‘summary’). Return to text.
  7. ‘A non-profit research organization founded in 2005 for the purpose of developing a new approach to biology’, biologicinstitute.org. Return to text.
  8. Axe, D., Undeniable, HarperCollins, New York, p. 100, 2016. Return to text.
  9. Ref. 8, p. 85. Return to text.
  10. Ref. 8, p. 76. Return to text.
  11. Ref. 8, p. 88. Return to text.
  12. Ref. 8. P. 185. Return to text.
  13. Ref. 8, p. 232. Return to text.
  14. Ref. 8, p. 254–255. Return to text.
  15. Unbelievable? Is design in nature undeniable? Premier Christian Radio (UK), 26 November 2016. Return to text.
  16. Bergman, J., Slaughter of the Dissidents: The Shocking Truth about Killing the Careers of Darwin Doubters, Leafcutter Press, Southworth, WA, 2008. Return to text.
  17. The Hunt: Nothing Is Certain, BBC Earth, 2015. Return to text.