People are Amazing!
Features that could not evolve
Like me, I’m sure you have sometimes enjoyed watching films or online videos that showcase amazing feats performed by talented human beings. Perhaps a spectacular acrobatic manoeuvre boggled your mind, or you were mesmerised by watching an exciting-but-dangerous sport.
Changing tack, it might be that you like exhibitions of stupendous feats of memory, or someone demonstrating their astonishing engineering or maths skills. Some people have awesome technical minds.
We are all aware of people who are especially gifted in composing music or playing a musical instrument, not to mention all those amazingly talented child prodigies. Or perhaps you have been to an art gallery and marvelled as you viewed incredible sculptures, or amazing paintings by master artists. It is wonderful, too, to watch a professional calligraphist at work.
And we should not forget that, while the production of books is not itself visually stunning, there are people whose erudition in writing is utterly captivating, and others whose poetry can have us spellbound.
There are also developments in our modern world that we deeply value, as we think of the ingenuity and brilliance of the gifted men and women responsible. For instance, we frequently hear of quite brilliant innovations in medicine and science.
We also live in a day of prodigious feats of civil engineering; skyscrapers approaching 1 km (over 0.5 mile) high. The Burj Khalifa tower towers 828 m above the city of Dubai in the UAE. And the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, if ever completed, will be 1,000 m tall. People construct fantastically long tunnels and massive bridges, many much larger than the still-impressive Golden Gate Bridge, a suspension bridge built in San Francisco Bay area from 1933–1937.
Some architectural wonders have no serious function but are giant works of art upon which people can move about. One such is the ‘Vessel’ at Hudson Yards in New York—a series of many interconnecting staircases, landings and bridges that constitutes an attractive and fun engineering achievement.
And of course, we’re now over half a century on from the first moonwalk (20 July 1969), with spacecraft regularly being launched to explore the planets, moons and asteroids of our Solar System. Experiments are being performed in the weightlessness of space on the International Space Station.1 There are even tourist trips being planned to the very edge of Earth’s atmosphere to experience space (Space X).2 We could go on and on! Considering all these human achievements, people really are amazing!
What is the source of all this talent?
We may take it for granted, but it is worth asking, where does all this human ingenuity, inventiveness, skill, craftsmanship, dexterity, and agility come from? Christians certainly share in celebrating so many outstanding and awesome human achievements. However, it is crucial that we do not fall into the habit of glorying in man. This can come dangerously close to idolatry. Scripture warns against this tendency:
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed be the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord’” (Jeremiah 17:5).
The Bible is clear, that to place our ultimate trust in man is to idolise man, which is little different from the ideology of humanism. Instead, our trust, our confidence, ought to be in God, because:
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man” (Psalm 118:8).
We ought also to emphasise that, while marvelling at what people can achieve, much more should we be in awe of the God who created those humans! The Bible teaches that God’s saints will sing in the glory to come:
“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!” (Revelation 15:3).
Ultimately, therefore, God is the one to whom our adulation and praise rightly belongs. But it is right here that Christians may find themselves hitting a wall of criticism.
People can get offended. Many in our secular western culture say, ‘No, not at all. We’re not the creation of God!’ Instead, they dogmatically insist that humans are simply advanced-but-evolved animals. ‘Naturalistic processes operating over countless millions of years are responsible for our existence’, they say, ‘and science proves it! Don’t you realise? Darwin and his successors have made atheism intellectually respectable?’
At least, that is what is often claimed—and there are many these days who seem quite happy to believe such things. So much so, that there is strong hostility towards any suggestion that people owe their amazing achievements, ultimately, to the Creator. Talented individuals want the glory for themselves. Some people quickly become aggressive if they surmise that they’re being asked to share their glory with Another, let alone to attribute their giftedness to Him. Evolution for many today is the grand excuse to ignore God, to idolise humanity, and to enjoy their sinful lifestyle!
The late William Provine, one-time Cornell University professor, often acknowledged his evolution-inspired rejection of God in his talks and debates, as here in 1994:
“Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear, and I must say that these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposeful forces of any kind, no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be completely dead. … There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.”3
In other words, Provine was voicing the view of so many today: ‘No god made us, so we’re accountable to no one but ourselves.’
During the last century and more, this anti-Creation, anti-God viewpoint has become progressively more dominant. A century ago, the 1923 film Evolution was subtitled, From the birth of the planets to the age of man. No mention of Creation or the Creator. And even many Christians nowadays have been duped into thinking that origins is a neutral issue as far as faith is concerned. On the contrary, as William Provine acknowledged, the danger of embracing evolution is that it is really atheism by the back door.
Is evolution a credible explanation?
Coming back to those amazing human abilities, it is worth asking just how they might have gradually evolved? Skilful art or musicianship, or mathematical prowess, for example? According to the theory’s architects and main proponents, evolution supposedly selects that which increases the likelihood of having lots of surviving offspring. But what possible use would such high abilities have been to our supposed ape-like forebears? Even in some very crude form?
According to evolutionary anthropologists, around seven million years ago an ape-like ancestor of ourselves and chimpanzees began to diverge into two lines. Ever since that time, novel features and characteristics have gradually arisen through accidental genetic mistakes. Every now and then, so the story goes, one of these mutations led to a change that provided some benefit to our evolving ape-human ancestors. The altered feature or new characteristic was ‘naturally selected’ as individuals with those features had more surviving offspring, so passing their favourable characteristics to the next generation—and so on.
In this manner, so we are expected to believe, the origin and development of every single aspect of our physical make-up, our mental capacity, and our psychological constitution, somehow occurred, and became fixed in our DNA. That’s a very big ask! But before we consider this question in a little more detail, we will first showcase a few examples of things which, by all appearances, fly in the face of evolution.
A showcase of amazing things
Regardless of one’s worldview, the examples we will consider each exhibit what we might call the wow factor.
Among the finest living mathematicians, many of his peers regard Prof Terence (Terry) Tao of UCLA as the leading maths mind today. He co-published his first research paper as a fifteen-year old and got his PhD at just 20 years of age, and some have dubbed him ‘the Mozart of Mathematics’. Now in his late forties, Prof Tao has written well over 350 papers and authored 18 textbooks,4 a simply phenomenal output by any standard. He has also originated many conjectures and theorems in the world of mathematics.5
Prof Tao has a brilliant mind! Many people, though, would go glazy-eyed if asked to watch a video of a top mathematician like him explaining some fiendishly difficult theorem! But there are gifted men and woman the world over who can do amazing things with numbers which everyone can grasp. Winnie Ngumi (pronounced un-goo-me), was formerly a medical student at Kenya’s University of Nairobi.6 Soon after arriving there, people realized that she had an extraordinary talent with numbers. Winnie is, in fact, like a human calculator, and she calls her gift, ‘mental maths’. It’s worth watching a short YouTube video of Winnie Ngumi in action in 2019.7
But what use are superb mental arithmetic or high-level mathematics in evolutionary terms? And how and why did the brain evolve to such a level? Even moderate mathematical ability is hardly going to help in brute survival? We will take up these questions later. Do not abilities like Terry’s and Winnie’s defy evolutionary explanations?
What about art? Although a matter of taste, we all agree that some people are truly brilliant. So many acknowledged past masters could be named, about whom their fans wax lyrical: Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Turner, Durer, Monet, to name just a few. While many artists had their skills honed through the advice of their peers, in quite a few cases, their ability seemingly came ‘from nowhere’ because their parents appeared not ‘to have had an artistic bone’ in their bodies!
Nineteen-year old watercolour artist Kieron Williamson hails from Norfolk in England. From a very young age, his work was publically exhibited and attracted international interest.8 As well as being an accomplished watercolour artist, his large portfolio also includes works in oils and pastels; almost 80 artworks for the year 2020 alone. Dubbed by some as the ‘Mini Monet’, exhibitions of his paintings have been known to sell out in a matter of minutes.9 People talk of his sensational talent, and Kieron was the subject of a BBC documentary in 2016.10
But the question we should be asking ourselves is this: what possible reason—what scientific explanation—could be given for how human ancestors evolved such artistic abilities? It is true that, from the earliest times, humans have shown a remarkable talent for art. In caves in France, for instance, at both Lascaux and Chauvet, there are mesmerising scenes of wildlife. They really do exhibit wonderful artistic ability. At Lascaux, experts have documented 600 drawings and paintings, plus more than 1,400 engravings.11 There are also numerous abstract designs and geometric shapes, perhaps even star-charts! With respect to the animal scenes, some experts think that the artwork should be read like a comic strip, conveying a real-life hunt.12
Conventionally, archaeologists estimate all the Lascaux artwork to be 17,300 years old. Biblical creationists would put them as post-Flood, likely post-Babel, so some time after 4,200 years ago. Truth be told, we recognise exactly the same ability here as in skilled painters today.
But what possible evolutionary advantage is there in artistic ability? How could genetic mutations have led to such things arising in alleged evolving hominids? And further mutations would have been required to hone the first beginnings of such ability, in order to fix it into the human genome—but how exactly? Does not the supposed evolution of such artistic capacity border on the ridiculous?
To illustrate magnificent musicianship, we are also spoilt for choice. Which instrument should we select? What style of music should we choose? For sheer technical brilliance, some might think of a concert pianist. We will focus upon the ability of such pianists to play a large number of notes very quickly. But, who do we take as an example?
In the realm of classical music, for example, there are many maestros. A Beethoven piano sonata perhaps? An etude from Chopin? Or else one of the mesmerizingly brilliant piano concertos by Mozart or Haydn? The chances are, Costantino Carrara is someone you will not be familiar with. However, he is an example of a capable Italian pianist and composer, appreciated by his fans for popular piano pieces on online platforms such as YouTube—follow the link to watch him playing a 20-second fast piano solo piece.13
Literally thousands of gifted musicians like him now record their instrumental pieces and upload them online for today’s generation to sample and appreciate. Of course there are other pianists today whose technical expertise commands large audiences. A phenomenal piece that I’ve occasionally watched and listened to in recent years is concert pianist Yuja Wang playing Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous composition, the Flight of the Bumblebee;14 her fingers are just a whir—see for yourself!
Top concert pianists are able to play up to 16 notes per second in a precise, coordinated fashion. We’re not talking about plonking down 10 fingers and thumbs down at once, but the precisely timed notes following the musical score. Think of dividing a second of time into many intervals. Some pianists claim to play up to 20 notes per second but the human ear can barely distinguish the individual notes and the result is musical blur.
But think about it. What possible use could it have been for our hominid ancestors to gain some sort of incipient musical ability—to learn to read and/or compose music (itself a sophisticated language)—plus the dexterity that would later enable such rapid playing of a musical instrument? In evolutionary terms, unless some randomly-arising novelty conveys a positive advantage, it has no survival value—it is invisible to selection and cannot be passed on to future generations of offspring. One thing’s for sure, our alleged chimp cousins have no such talent—watch a video of chimps trying their hand at the piano!15
Perhaps, like me, you can find yourself entranced by the combination of strength, agility, and grace of top gymnasts. Whatever the piece of apparatus, and even when it is ‘merely’ a large mat during their floor routine, top gymnasts train long and hard to master acrobatic feats that are quite brilliant to watch. It is a sport that suits the young because of the things that these men and women must put their bodies through. For instance, the gifted young Team GB gymnasts who competed at the 2017 European Youth Olympic Festival in Hungary ranged in age from 14 to 17 years old.
Tumbling is super-impressive to watch. In my own country, young British gymnast Elliot Browne took SILVER medal for Men’s Tumbling in the finals of the 2018 World Championships, St. Petersburg, then retained his SILVER medal in Tokyo in December 2019. You can watch him in action here.16
“Wonderful height!” says the commentator in response to his tumbling spectacular. Indeed, but, what is it about gymnasts like Elliot Brown that enables them to perform such feats? ‘Training, and lots of it,’ you may be thinking. Without doubt that is true.
But even before the training, think of the design of the human body. There’s the musculoskeletal system par excellence, working perfectly in conjunction with a nervous system and brain. Of course, all these systems of the body are powered by oxygen and glucose from the equally remarkable respiratory system (lungs etc.), heart, and circulatory system. The design concept of the human body is perfect.
Even though marred by genetic deficiencies and diseases in a fallen world, that design means people can train to do far more stunning things than a haphazard, trial-and-error, naturalistic process would be expected to achieve. What evolutionary pressures did our alleged hominid ancestors undergo which would (or could) have driven them to evolve such exquisitely finely-tuned physiques, capable of doing such extreme gymnastic manoeuvres?
So, what have we learnt?
A quick review of what we have considered so far. Having showcased some of these amazing things, we can surely agree that “people are amazing!” Moreover, Christians will attribute this awesome display of talent to the Creator who made them. Yet, many insist that humans have arisen from ape-like ancestors without purposeful design.
Those who hold to such a belief must face up to a huge burden of proof: all the amazing things which people can do with their minds and bodies have virtually no special use in living and surviving from day to day. They would seem to be quite irrelevant from an evolutionary viewpoint. Such talents do not make people better able to procure food for themselves, or to significantly enhance their health, or to become more fecund—that is, more reproductively ‘fit’, such that they leave more surviving offspring than their peers.
According to evolutionary thinking, humans evolved from primitive ancestors, who in turn evolved from more primitive hominids still. For that idea to hold any water, each and every one of these talents and abilities must somehow be explained as having arisen naturalistically. Rule out a divine origin, as many people are intent on doing, and one must jump through hoops to come up with a scientific-sounding story, explaining how self-aware, intelligent, inventive humans evolved. Such a belief seems little different from blind faith, which ironically is often how evolutionists try to characterise biblical creationists. Let us take a closer look at the case for the evolution of dazzling human cognition, creativity, and skill.
Dating the dawn of human brilliance
Within the evolutionary time frame for anthropology, just how far back must we go to find the first sparks of human brilliance? Within the evolutionary worldview, humanity today represents the culmination of a protracted, slow evolution. Lewis Dartnell is Professor of Science Communication at the University of Westminster (London), author and newspaper writer, and presenter of popular science TV programmes. In Origins: How the Earth made us (2018), he writes:
“The hand crafted by evolution to grasp a tree branch pre-adapted us for holding the shaft of a club, an axe, a pen, and ultimately the stick of a jet plane” (emphasis added).17
But is that true? If Dartnell is right, there must be logical, scientifically discernible clues which would help us to understand how the capacity for such a high degree of tactile precision and dexterity was built into the human genome, step-by-tiny-step (i.e. by virtue of random DNA mutations), when it could have been of no use to our ‘primitive ancestors’.
Later on in the book, Lewis Dartnell suggests some timings:
“It took 3 million years from hominins making chipped stone tools for humans to smelt the first copper; yet we have progressed from the Iron Age to space flight in just 3,000 [years].”18
Evolutionists are fond of claiming this sort of thing. But the very idea should open people’s eyes to the fact that something is deeply wrong with evolutionary theory. Just when did this advanced knowledge and these amazing skills kick in, on the inflated anthropological timescale?
Human cognition (‘brain-power’) refers to the ways in which we process various experiences of the senses and acquire knowledge, then process this accumulated information as conscious thought. It involves perception, recognition, thought conception, and the ability to reason.
It may be a surprise to learn that the evolutionary consensus is that human cognitive ability is not vastly different from what it was in the so-called ‘Stone age’—going back more than three million years when, allegedly, our more ape-like ancestors were still using simple stone tools. In the evolutionary story, the innovations made possible by metal-working did not commence until approximately 10,000 years ago.
Professor Nigel Nicholson, a business psychologist and journalist, made this interesting admission in the Harvard Business Review (1998):
“A convergence of research and discoveries in genetics, neuropsychology, and paleobiology, among other sciences, evolutionary psychology holds that although human beings today inhabit a thoroughly modern world of space exploration and virtual realities, they do so with the ingrained mentality of Stone Age hunter-gatherers” (emphasis added).19
He further emphasised this point with his wry remark, “You can take the person out of the Stone Age … but you can’t take the Stone Age out of the person.”19 This is very important to realise. Evolutionary anthropologists say, for sound biological reasons, that almost no brain evolution could have taken place since around 8,000 BC on their vastly inflated timescale. Nigel Nicholson puts it like this:
“The success of Homo sapiens was no fluke. … Much of [their] brain’s programming was already in place, an inheritance from prehuman ancestors. … their world radically changed with the invention of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago” (emphasis added).19
In fact, many evolutionary theorists believe that the brain evolved to its present state much further back in time.
Edward Hagen is an American evolutionary anthropologist at Washington State University. Along with Nicholson, he says that humans could not have evolved during the last 10,000 years:
“Evolutionary psychologists downplay the possibility of significant cognitive evolution in the 10,000 or so years since the advent of agriculture (a period of time known as the Holocene) for reasons of both science and political correctness. Scientifically, 10,000 years (500 generations) is not much time for natural selection to act, and it certainly is not enough time to evolve new, complex adaptations—sophisticated mechanisms coded for by numerous genes” (emphasis added).20
The reasoning goes that, as ‘recently’ as 50,000 years ago, humans had become too dispersed geographically for beneficial new ‘mental mutations’ to have spread, and thus to have altered the mental capacity of Homo sapiens globally.
Remember, the reason why we are considering these statements from various scientists is that we had showcased amazing human abilities and had asked, ‘how far back do we need to go to find the first sparks of such brilliance evolving?’ As it turns out, not 10,000 years, or even 50,000 years, but many evolutionists believe we likely must go back at least 200,000 years.
Dr Suzanna Herculano-Houzel is a Brazilian neuroscientist. In an article titled “The evolution of human capabilities and abilities”, she first points out that human beings have a whopping 16 billion neurons in their cerebral cortex—the folded grey matter that makes up the big hemispheres of the brain.21 Great apes have, at most, half that number. Of course, it is not so much the number of neurons that really matters, rather the way in which they are connected and organised. Dr Herculano-Houzel goes on to say something very interesting indeed:
“… given what we have learned in my lab about how brain size relates to numbers of neurons within and across species, [it] means that the first modern human of 200,000 years ago most likely already had the same 16 billion neurons in the cerebral cortex that we do today” (emphasis added).21
It bears repeating that not only did our alleged human ancestors living from 0.2 million years ago have the same number of brain cells, but the same ones. This would entail the same synaptic connections, thus the same wiring and circuitry. To accept this evolutionary view as the truth is tantamount to saying that, all the amazing things that people can do now, ancient hominid ancestors could potentially have accomplished too, assuming they had been taught the knowledge and skills!
Yet the idea of such ancient brain wiring is really quite absurd from an evolutionary point of view, for it would surely count as evidence against significant evolution of the human brain during the last 200,000 years. Think about it. That remote date in our alleged anthropological history is 150,000 years before the earliest dates assigned to cave art by evolutionary archaeologists. In fact, it greatly predates any evidence of ‘modern’ human skills in the archaeological record from an evolutionary point of view.
What would all that sophisticated brain wiring in such ancient ancestors have been for? How could mutations and natural selection have fixed all that cognitive potential into the evolving human genome hundreds of thousands of years ago—so altering the brain and every part of the human body—as if anticipating future agility, artistic and musical talent, mathematical genius and so forth? Remember that evolution is blind, so it cannot work with a goal in mind! To evolve such brain sophistication so long before those features would be put to use is wishful thinking in the extreme; it even conflicts with evolutionary theory itself. We are left with the challenge that there is no way that the potential for modern human abilities could have been selected for and fixed into the genome so ‘early’.
Unsurprisingly, other evolutionists have somewhat different ideas than the latter. One such person is Dr Claude Robert Cloninger, professor emeritus in psychiatry and genetics at Washington University, St Louis. He and his colleagues recently did collaborative research with scientists from the University of Granada, Spain. They claim that a suite of ‘creativity genes’ evolved some 40,000 years ago, leading to “unprecedented cultural and technological sophistication”.22 Of course, this is not hard science, and much speculation is involved. Unlike the case with living human beings, Dr Cloninger admits:
“The problem with evaluating creativity in extinct species is, of course, you can’t talk to them.”22
Reports of their published work acknowledged that the research did not establish any genetic basis for the supposed higher self-awareness and creativity of Homo sapiens.22
In another scientific news commentary, regarding a recent paper in the leading journal Science, the author asks, “When did Homo brains become ‘modern’?”23 Although brains don’t fossilise, scans of endocasts of various hominid fossils can yield clues about brain morphology and organisation. Endocasts are the imprints left by the brain on the inside of the skull, but the ability to produce reliable endocasts therefore necessitates that the brain case is well preserved. This is usually far from being the case with fragmentary hominid fossils. The researchers looked at five Homo erectus skulls from Dmanisi, Georgia (allegedly around 1.8 million years old) and concluded that their frontal lobe area was distinct from that of ‘younger’ H. erectus fossils.23
However, evolutionary paleoanthropologists say that early members of the genus Homo were manufacturing stone tools long ‘before’ the Dmanisi individuals existed. Therefore, the endocast research is inconclusive: evolutionists cannot give a simple answer to the question, “When did Homo brains become ‘modern’?”
Exceptional human traits could not have evolved
To the unprejudiced, scientific evidence does not support the idea of primitive ancestors of man so long ago. Dr Herculano-Houzel does say in the article cited earlier that, even with all these brain cells, schooling is essential in each generation.21 Are we to believe, then, that human brilliance is owing to a modern-looking brain whose architecture originated some 200,000 years ago; that the flowering of mathematical genius, musical ability, and much more, just required the right nurturing opportunities and environment? And just how much further back in time do evolutionary advocates believe you could go, and still find a hominid ancestor with essentially the same brain wiring and cognitive potential? A few million years?
Secular humanists expect us to accept the evolutionary scientists’ word on this. Yet as we reflect on these remarkable cognition and abilities, consider that most Christians would acknowledge they are manifest evidence that people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27):
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
The Bible’s teaching about the special creation of people cannot be married to the evolutionary doctrine of intelligent and ingenious hominids developing by entirely natural processes back in Deep Time. Hundreds of thousands of years is far too long ago for such alleged ancestors to have been ‘Adam and Eve representatives’ in any progressive creationist or theistic evolutionary scenario. In such ‘Christian’ compromises, those hominids are seen as soul-less animals. They were not made in the image of God, so they had no spiritual capacity whatsoever. Do theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists seriously imagine soul-less hominids possessing (at least in principle) the brain capacities that we as God’s image-bearers possess today?
Origin of mathematics
Take mathematics, for instance, which is foundational and absolutely essential for such endeavours as astronomy, engineering, and much more besides. According to evolutionary anthropologists, advanced mathematics (e.g. Calculus) has roots going back several hundred thousand years. This may seem a facetious statement but no, Professor Nigel Nicholson (quoted earlier) believes that our primitive ancestors would have started with simple classification to help them process their experiences and environment as a precursor to Calculus:
“Classification before Calculus. The world of hunter-gatherers was complex and constantly presented new predicaments for humans. Which berries can be eaten without risk of death? Where is good hunting to be found? … In order to make sense of a complicated universe, human beings developed prodigious capabilities for sorting and classifying information. … Classification made life simpler and saved time and energy” (italics in original).19
He adds that, “analyzing options and next steps” (which he deems to be akin to principles of Calculus) was not going to help our ancestors survive.19 It is not that they would have lacked the capacity to engage in more complex reasoning, if they had wanted to. Rather, classification is an easier, more practical everyday-skill. That is why we still classify today, Nicholson argues. But if this is true, why and how did evolution produce a brain that could think in this way?
Alister McGrath holds the Andreas Idreos Professorship in Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, a respected historian, apologist, and theologian. He is no biblical creationist, rather a theistic evolutionist. Thus McGrath’s observations about the origin of complex mathematics, in his book Enriching our Vision of Reality, are all the more pertinent:
“Our modern ideas about natural science and mathematics arose far too late in our history to have played a role in natural selection of human beings. Evolution did not select for calculus, quantum theory or even the theory of natural selection.”24
This makes good sense. McGrath says that evolution can have had nothing to do with the origin of mathematical ability. As a Christian, McGrath presumably believes that such things as mathematical ability are sure signs that people are God’s image-bearers. However, his theistic evolutionary belief prohibits him from taking scriptural teaching at face value. In an online video he says “in some way, Adam and Eve are stereotypical figures, and in some way they encapsulate the human race as a whole.”25 This still leaves the question open. When exactly—at what evolutionary stage—were mathematical and other abilities ‘imparted’ by God in the theistic evolutionary view? Was it when, as some teach, God ‘ensouled’ two Neolithic farmers (‘Adam and Eve’ representatives) as the spiritual progenitors of the human race?26
The trouble with all such compromises positions is that they’re entirely arbitrary, neither acceptable biblically, nor consistent with the evolutionary consensus. Nevertheless, Alister McGrath is to be applauded for fairly and honestly making these astute observations about the complete inadequacy of naturalistic evolution to explain the origin of amazing human abilities like mathematics. In fact, he goes further still:
“A common theme in contemporary evolutionary biology is that human cognitive capacities evolved primarily for the purposes of survival. We did not need to solve complex cosmological problems in order to get by from one day to the next. Indeed, one of the mysteries that evolutionary accounts of human capacities have to confront is that our cognitive capacities vastly exceed those required for mere survival—as evident, for example, in the remarkable success of mathematics.”27
That is exactly right: human “cognitive capacities vastly exceed those required for mere survival” and cannot have evolved by neo-Darwinian evolution.
People really are amazing!
Far from it being self-evident that human beings are highly evolved animals, the stark truth is that hominid-to-human evolution is an idol. People embrace their idol rather than acknowledge and worship their Creator and Maker, the God of the Bible.
Scripture is replete with exhortations to turn from idolatry to the One, true God, Creator of us all. Two examples will suffice, one from each of the Old and New Testaments:
For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry (1 Samuel 15:23).
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14).
Is it not true that evolution is a huge idol in the hearts of numerous men and women today? There is a blatant disregard of the doctrine of biblical creation in favour of secular humanism and its corollary belief that humans are evolved animals. And is this not the case at the level of popular science?
Even in advanced academic textbooks, we see the language of idolatry; for example, saying that Nature (or Evolution) has done this or accomplished that thing, which is just a secular substitute for, “God has done this, or that”. A recently published case in point is, Bioinspired Devices: Emulating nature’s assembly and repair process (published by Harvard University Press, 2018). Author, Professor Eugene Goldfield falls over himself in assuring readers that “nature invents”, “nature discovers”, “… builds … uses … achieves” and more. These evidence-free, idolatrous statements occur some 60 times.28
Among other virtues, the Apostle Paul commended Christians in first century Thessalonica (northern Greece) for the very fact that they were shunning the worldly thinking prevalent in their godless society, and turning from idolatry:
“For … your faith in God has gone forth everywhere … For they themselves report … how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God …” (1 Thessalonians 1:8–9).
Does that not lay a challenge at our own door? Allow me to make things personal for a moment: Does a belief in evolution blind you from seeing the obvious? Or, if you reject big-picture evolution, do any vestiges of that idea maintain a hold on your thinking? Or upon the minds of Christians you know?
Who gets the glory?
Some readers may wonder whether this is a subject that actually matters all that much. Is it not a question of academic interest only? Well, recall the point made near the start: What does Scripture teach about who should get the glory when we are filled with wonder?
Certainly, we rightfully want to give people credit where it is due, for their truly amazing displays of talent and expertise. Often this represents an enormous amount of hard work, the investment of years of practice, in order to hone their art or skill. However, society usually goes no further than praising man—or worse, praising evolution.
Instead, we need to worship and glorify God for these wonders. Consider what Christ himself says:
Jesus said: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8)
Jesus’ words teach that the worship of human beings is to be exclusively God-directed, albeit that we may rightfully celebrate human achievements. The inspired writer of Hebrews exhorts Christians on similar lines:
“… let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe …” (Hebrews 12:28).
I challenge my Christian readers to do just that. Rapturous applause is a natural response when we find ourselves moved or inspired, but let’s not forget the One who created us, endowed us with our minds, and ultimately deserves the credit as the Gift-giver.
Finally—and most importantly—it is always good to be reminded that God’s greatest gift to human beings is neither our bodies, nor our minds. It is not our God-given capacity for amazing feats. Rather, it’s the gift of God’s beloved Son, Jesus, to make an atonement for our sins. Through His sacrificial death, He has made a way back to the Creator God whom we have offended, and from whom we are alienated. Romans 6:23 famously says:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If you acknowledge those words to be true—both that you are a guilty, needy sinner, and that Christ Jesus is the only Saviour—you must repent. You must turn from your sin to Christ, and believe in Him. Just as Jesus said to the religious leader Nicodemus in the first century (John 3:16):
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
References and notes
- E.g. see Growing plants in space, nasa.gov, last updated 12 July 2021. Return to text.
- SpaceX, nasa.gov/spacex; accessed 6 May 2021. Return to text.
- William Provine, in debate with Phillip Johnson, Stanford University, 30 April 1994; see youtube.com/watch?v=m7dG9U1vQ_U, last accessed 16 June 2022. Return to text.
- See terrytao.wordpress.com/books; accessed 16 June 2022. Return to text.
- Terence Tao, Analysis Group, University of California, Los Angeles, math.ucla.edu/~tao; accessed 16 June 2022. Return to text.
- Kamau, R., Meet Winnie Ngumi: The maths genius who hopes to be in the Guinness World Book of Records, nairobiwire.com, 1 Apr 2019; accessed 3 Dec 2020. Return to text.
- ‘The human calculator’: Winnie is a mathematical genius, K24 TV, youtube.com/watch?v=VJ-yYp4bUJk, 15 Feb 2019. Return to text.
- See his profile, blog and gallery of his artwork at kieronwilliamson.com; accessed 16 June 2022. Return to text.
- For example, see: Seven-year-old’s paintings fetch £150,000 in Norfolk, bbc.co.uk, 30 July 2010. Return to text.
- The making of a master, BBC, youtube.com/watch?v=St5ciUhjRCQ, 10 September 2016. Return to text.
- Groeneveld, E., Lascaux Cave, ancient.eu/Lascaux_cave, 6 Sep 2016; accessed 16 June 2022. Return to text.
- You can view many of the artworks and take a virtual guided tour of the artworks at: Lascaux, Ministère de la Culture, archeologie.culture.fr/lascaux/en; accessed 16 June 2022. Return to text.
- Costantino Carrara, Fastest piano solo in 20 seconds, youtube.com/watch?v=SUktyCcCt2g, accessed 16 June 2022. Return to text.
- Yuja Wang, Flight of the Bumblee, youtube.com/watch?v=fdKEUmFUMFg, 15 Sept 2014. Return to text.
- Two chimps playing the piano, Myrtle Beach Safari, youtube.com/watch?v=DtjEt_HBucE, 16 June 2017. Return to text.
- 2019 Men’s tumbling final world championships, youtube.com/watch?v=CfT9ysdO6vc, 1 Dec 2019; Elliott Browne can be seen in action from 9:04–9:42. Return to text.
- Dartnell, L., Origins: How the Earth Made Us, The Bodley Head, London, p. 15, 2018. Return to text.
- Dartnell, ref. 17, p. 156. Return to text.
- Nicholson, N., How hardwired is human behaviour, Harvard Business Review, hbr.org, July–Aug 1998. Return to text.
- Hagen, E., Why couldn’t humans have evolved during the last 10,000 years? human.projects.anth.ucsb.edu, 2002; accessed 17 Jun 2022. See also: Kanazawa, S., Why human evolution pretty much stopped about 10,000 years ago, psychologytoday.com, 16 Oct 2008. Return to text.
- Herculano-Houzel, S., The evolution of human capabilities and abilities, dana.org, 12 Apr 2018. Return to text.
- Saplakoglu, Y., These ‘creativity genes’ allowed humans to take over the world, livescience.com, 30 Apr 2021. The article is based on this paper: Zwir, I. and 15 others, Evolution of genetic networks for human creativity, Molecular Psychiatry, 21 Apr 2021 | doi.org/10.1038/s41380-021-01097-y. Return to text.
- Geggel, L., First ‘Homo’ species left Africa with ape-like brains, livescience.com, 9 Apr 2021. The original paper to which this new report refers is: Ponce de León, M.S. et al, The primitive brain of early Homo, Science 372(6538):165–171, 9 Apr 2021 | DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz0032. Return to text.
- McGrath, A., Enriching our Vision of Reality: Theology and the Natural Sciences in Dialogue, Templeton Press, pp. 162–163, 2017. Return to text.
- McGrath, A., What are we to make of Adam & Eve?, youtube.com/watch?v=yL5su0zmpKM, 24 Mar 2020. Return to text.
- See Bell, P., Evolution and the Christian Faith: Theistic evolution in the light of Scripture, Day One Publications, pp. 127–131, 2018. Return to text.
- McGrath, ref. 24, pp. 127–128. Return to text.
- Bell, P. B., Biological plagiarism: emulating nature without due credit, review of, Bioinspired Devices: Emulating nature’s assembly and repair process (Goldfield, E.C.), J. Creation 35(1):22–24, 2021. Return to text.