People are Amazing! Features that could not evolve
This article is unusual in having grown out of a PowerPoint presentation that I first gave on the subject in October 2020. As such, it includes many of the original slides. Slide numbers are given square brackets—click on the thumbnails to enlarge them.
I’m sure, like me, you will have watched films or online videos which showcase a number of amazing feats performed by talented human beings. I am convinced these things bespeak God’s creative design. Perhaps some sort of spectacular acrobatic manoeuvre, or someone’s mesmerising moves in an exciting-but-dangerous sport .
Or it might have been some stupendous feat of memory, or someone with astonishing engineering or maths skills .
Some people have awesome technical minds.
We are all aware of people who are especially gifted in playing a musical instrument, not to mention all those amazingly talented child prodigies .
Perhaps you’ve marvelled at an art gallery as you’ve viewed incredible sculptures, or amazing paintings by master artists. Or you’ve watched a professional calligraphist at work .
And don’t forget that, while the writing in books is not itself visually stunning, there are people whose erudition in writing is utterly captivating, and others whose poetry can have us spellbound .
Changing tack, there are developments in our modern world that we marvel at, 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 half a mile) high. The Burj Khalifa tower towers 828 m above the city of Dubai in the UAR . 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 famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay .
And there are many other architectural wonders, like this giant endless staircase and series of bridges in Hudson Yards, New York. Called the ‘Vessel’, it is a fabulous, albeit fun, architectural achievement .
Of course, we’re now over half a century on from the first moonwalk, with spacecraft regularly being launched to explore the planets, moons and asteroids of our Solar System; and experiments are being performed in the weightlessness of space on the International Space Station . There are even tourist trips being planned to the very edge of Earth’s atmosphere to experience space (Space X).1
What is the source of all this talent?
We could go on and on! In short: considering all these human achievements, people really are amazing! But what is the source of it all ? From whence comes the ingenuity, skill, craftsmanship and inventiveness of all these talented folk?
Christians will certainly share in the celebration of all these outstanding and awesome human achievements. However, it is crucial that we heed the warnings of Scripture, such as this sobering challenge from the prophet Jeremiah:
“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 ultimate trust in man is to idolise man. That is essentially what humanism is. Instead, our trust, our confidence, is to be in the Lord, for, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man” (Psalm 118:8).
Also, we will want to add, emphatically, that if we marvel at what humans can do, how much more should we marvel at God who created 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, He is the one to whom our adulation and praise rightly belongs. Ah, but it’s just here that a Christian may hit a wall of criticism.
People can get offended. Many in today’s secular western world say, ‘No, not at all. We’re not the creation of God!’ Instead, they dogmatically insist that we 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 people these days who seem quite happy to believe such things.
So much so, that there is strong hostility towards any suggestion that people ultimately owe their amazing achievements to a Creator. Talented individuals want the glory for themselves. Some of them can quickly become aggressive if there’s any suspicion that they’re being asked to share their glory with Another, let alone attribute their giftedness to Him. For many people, evolution 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 made this clear 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. That’s just all—that’s gonna be the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.”
In other words, “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. The 1923 film Evolution was subtitled, From the birth of the planets to the age of man . Many Christians have been duped into thinking that origins is a neutral issue as far as faith is concerned. On the contrary, as William Provine acknowledged, evolution really is atheism by the back door.
Is evolution a credible explanation?
Ask yourself, how would amazing human abilities 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 be 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 . That’s a very big ask!
A showcase of amazing things 
In musing on this subject, I realised that virtually every letter of the alphabet has been used to start superlative words about human beings. Humans do things which are: amazing, breath-taking, clever, dazzling, exceptional, fantastic, great, humungous, incredible, jaw-dropping, kudos-deserving, laudable, magnificent, notable, out-of-this-world, phenomenal, quick-witted, remarkable, spectacular, terrific, unbelievable, venerable, wonderful, ‘xciting’, yaba-daba-do, and zazzy! (Ok, I cheated there, but you get the point.) There is no shortage of such words, because there are so many absolutely stunning things that humans can do .
As we continue, we will first showcase a few examples of things which, as I see it, fly in the face of evolution. Regardless of one’s worldview, these are enjoyable—they each exhibit what we might call the wow factor. After that, by scrutinising matters in more detail, we will uncover scientific reasons for doubting (denying) that evolutionary theory can account for such wonders.
As stated in the title of this article, many human abilities and achievements represent “features that could not evolve”—they would be essentially irrelevant as far as ‘survival of the fittest’ is concerned. The sheer magnitude and diversity of human talent should make any thoughtful person think very carefully before blithely attributing these things to godless, goal-less evolution.
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! Some have dubbed him ‘the Mozart of Mathematics’ .
Now 45 years old, Prof Tao has written well over 350 papers and authored 18 textbooks,2 a simply phenomenal output by any standard, especially for someone so young. He has also originated many conjectures and theorems in the world of mathematics.3 But what use is such high-level mathematics in evolutionary terms? How 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 on.
Now, many people would go glazy-eyed if asked to view a video of a top mathematician explaining some fiendishly difficult theorem! But there are gifted men and woman the world over who can do amazing things with numbers. Let me introduce you to 25-year old Winnie Ngumi (pronounced un-goo-me), a medical student at Kenya’s University of Nairobi.4 Soon after arriving at university, Winnie discovered that she had an extraordinary talent with numbers .
Prior to that, she simply hadn’t realized that her ability with numbers was that exceptional. But she is, in fact, like a human calculator! She calls her gift, ‘mental maths’. This video show Winnie Ngumi in action, in 2019 .5
As stated, later on we will say more about human beings’ mathematical powers in relation to origins. For now, note that such abilities as 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 came ‘from nowhere’—their parents may not have had an artistic bone in their body!
Eighteen-year old watercolour artist Kieron Williamson is from Norfolk, England. From a very young age, his work was publically exhibited and attracting international interest .6
[Images from kieronwilliamson.com/interview]
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 . Considered a child prodigy, and dubbed by some as the ‘Mini Monet’, exhibitions of his paintings have been known to sell out in a matter of minutes.7 People talk of his sensational talent, and Kieron was the subject of a BBC documentary in 2016.8
[Images from kieronwilliamson.com/work/2020-work]
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 .
[Images all free use, Wikimedia Commons—clockwise from top left: Traumrune, CC BY-SA 3.0; Claude Valette, CC-BY-SA-4.0; Inocybe, CC-PD-Mark; Francesco Bandarin, CC-BY-SA-3.0-IGO]
At Lascaux, experts have documented 600 drawings and paintings, plus more than 1,400 engravings.9 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.10
Conventionally, archaeologists estimate all this 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 .
[Image by Prof saxx, public domain, Wikipedia]
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, and to fix it into the human genome—but how exactly? Does not the supposed evolution of such artistic capacity start to sound quite ridiculous?
To illustrate magnificent musicianship, we’re also spoilt for choice . Which instrument should we select? What style of music should we choose? For sheer technical brilliance, many, perhaps, would think of a concert pianist. We’ll focus upon the pianist’s ability to play a large number of notes at once, and very quickly. But, who do we take as an example?
[Saxophone, music score and viola images, all free use; some at CCO pexels.com]
In the realm of classical music, for example, there are many maestros. A Beethoven piano sonata? An etude from Chopin? Or else one of the mesmerizingly brilliant piano concertos by Mozart or Haydn?
The chances are, Costantino Carrara is someone who 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 .11
[Image still taken from: youtube.com/watch?v=yxagsuCFyfo]
Literally thousands of gifted musicians like him now record their instrumental pieces and upload them online for today’s generation to sample and appreciate. In this short video, Costantino Carrara plays a short, fast piano solo .
It is an enjoyable piece, many would agree. True, there are other pianists today whose technical expertise is mesmerising. A particularly phenomenal example 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.12 Her fingers are just a whir—see for yourself!
This slide image  shows a small selection of virtuoso pianists, past and present, some of whom were also gifted composers. Top concert pianists are able to play up to 16 notes per second in a precise, coordinated fashion; that is, sequentially, following the musical score. I am not referring to a chord where the two hands could be used to press ten keys (or even more) in an instant. Rather, think of dividing a second of time into sixteen intervals. Some pianists claim to play up to 20 notes per second but the human ear can barely distinguish the individual notes
Think about it. What possible use could it have been for our hominid ancestors to possess incipient musical ability, and the dexterity to play at the level of a concert pianist? Remember, unless something conveys a positive advantage—unless it has some sort of survival value—it cannot be selected by evolutionary means. It will not be passed on to future generations of offspring. As with other terrifically talented people we have already showcased, just how could a blind evolutionary process have resulted in a species with such astonishing finger dexterity? A species, moreover, able to learn to read music, itself a sophisticated language? And a species able to compose scores for an orchestra of instruments?
Our alleged chimp cousins have no such talent (see the video)!13 
Perhaps, like me, you find the combination of strength, agility, and grace of top gymnasts mesmerising—both men and women. 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.
This photo montage shows the gifted young Team GB gymnasts who competed at the 2017 European Youth Olympic Festival in Hungary . They range in age from 14 to 17 years old.14
[Image montage: british-gymnastics.org/news-and-events/news/latest-news/7116-future]
This young British gymnast is Elliot Browne . He took SILVER medal for Men’s Tumbling in the finals of the 2018 World Championships, St. Petersburg, then retained his SILVER medal in Tokyo on 1st December 2019.
In case you are unfamiliar with the tumbling event, take a look at this video clip .15
“Wonderful height!” says the commentator. Yes, indeed. But, what is it about gymnasts like Elliot Brown which 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 in a fallen world, that design means people can train to do far more stunning things than a haphazard, trial-and-error, naturalistic process could be expected to achieve.
[All images, free use, Wikipedia]
But 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?
Let’s review what we’ve considered so far . Having showcased 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 such that they’re more fecund—that is, more reproductively ‘fit’, such that they leave more surviving offspring than their peers.
Yet, if evolution is true—meaning, humans evolved from primitive ancestors, who in turn evolved from more primitive hominids still—every single one of these things 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 give some sort of scientific-sounding story for how self-aware, intelligent, inventive humans evolved .
Can we not say that the belief that ‘evolution did it’ is actually a blind faith? Let us take a closer look at the case for the evolution of human creativity and brilliance.
[Eiffel tower, free use CCO, Skitterphoto; woman, free use, Eternal Happiness (both pexels.com)]
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 ? Remember that the secular way of thinking assumes that 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.”16
But is that true? If Dartnell is right, there must be logical, scientifically discernible clues which would help us to see how the capacity for such a high degree of tactile precision and dexterity was built into the human genome, step-by-tiny-step, 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].”17
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 (or ‘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 has barely evolved at all since 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.
[Morocco tools, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons]
Professor Nigel Nicholson, a business psychologist and journalist , made this interesting admission (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).18
He emphasised this point by also saying, “You can take the person out of the Stone Age … but you can’t take the Stone Age out of the person.”18
This is very important to realise. Evolutionary anthropologists say, for sound biological reasons as it happens, that almost no brain evolution could have taken place since around 8,000 BC on their vastly inflated timescale. Nigel Nicholson put 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).18
This means that evolutionists believe the brain evolved much further back in time. Edward Hagen is an American evolutionary anthropologist at Washington State University . His view aligns with that of Nicholson, 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).19
The reasoning goes that, as ‘recently’ as 50,000 years ago, humans had become too dispersed geographically for beneficial new mutations to have spread, thus altering the mental capacity of Homo sapiens. What is more, even supposing that some ‘mental mutation’ occurred 10,000 years ago, that is far too brief a time for it to have been fixed globally, that is, established in the genome of the whole human population. Evolutionists themselves say so.
Remember, the reason why we are considering these statements from various scientists is that we had showcased amazing human abilities and asked, ‘how far back do we need to go to find the first sparks of such brilliance evolving ?’ As it turns out, not back just 10,000 years, or even 50,000 years, but we likely must go back, say many evolutionists, at least 200,000 years! Perhaps much more.
[Image: Andrea Piacquadio, free use, pexels.com]
Dr Suzanna Herculano-Houzel is a Brazilian neuroscientist . In a recent 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 big hemispheres of the brain).20 Great apes have, at most, half of that number. Of course, it is not particularly the number of neurons that really matters but the way in which they are connected and organised. She writes:
“… 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 likelyalready had the same 16 billion neurons in the cerebral cortex that we do today”(emphasis added).20
[Image: CC BY 2.0, Wikipedia]
Notice, not only does she believe that human ancestors living 0.2 million years ago had the same number of brain cells, but the same ones—which would also entail the same synaptic connections. If true, it would be tantamount to saying that, all the amazing things that people can do now, ancient hominid ancestors could have done too, assuming they had been taught the knowledge and skills!
Yet the idea of such ancient brain wiring is absurd from an evolutionary point of view . It would be evidence against significant evolution of the human brain for the last 200,000 years. That takes us ‘back’ to a theoretical time, 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.
[Image: Anna Shvets, free use, pexels.com]
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? It is wishful thinking in the extreme. Simply put, if such evolutionists are correct, just how was the potential for modern abilities selected for and fixed into the genome so ‘early’? (Remember that evolution is blind, so cannot work with a goal in mind!)
Unsurprisingly, other evolutionists have somewhat different ideas than the above. 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 say that a suite of ‘creativity genes’ evolved some 40,000 years ago, leading to “unprecedented cultural and technological sophistication”.21 Of course, this is not hard science, and much speculation is involved. Unlike the case with living human beings, as Dr Cloninger admits:
“The problem with evaluating creativity in extinct species is, of course, you can’t talk to them.”21
The same news report acknowledges that this published research did not establish any genetic basis for the supposed higher self-awareness and creativity of Homo sapiens.
In another scientific news commentary, regarding a paper in the leading journal Science, the author asks, “When did Homo brains become ‘modern’?”22 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—which is often far from true of 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.22
Yet, 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 
Clearly, the 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. Are we to believe, then, that the first beginnings of mathematical genius, musical ability, and much more, were already present at least 200,000 years ago, just requiring the right opportunities to nurture into being the amazing abilities we observe today? 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. Somehow, complex human brain cognition, dexterity and the real potential for remarkable feats arose in primitive human ancestors. Yet these are abilities which most Christians would acknowledge 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 these compromises, such hominids are seen as soul-less animals. They were not made in the image of God, so they had no spiritual capacity whatsoever.
Take mathematics, for instance, which is foundational and absolutely essential for such endeavours as astronomy, engineering, large building projects—and much more besides. According to evolutionary anthropologists, advanced mathematics has roots going back several hundred thousand years. What about complex maths such as calculus for instance? This may seem a facetious question 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; he writes:
“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).18
He adds that, “analyzing options and next steps” (which he deems to be akin to Calculus) was not going to help our ancestors survive.18 It is not that they would have lacked the capacity to engage in more complex reasoning, if they’d wanted to. Rather, classification is an easier, more practical everyday-skill. That is why we still classify today, he argues. But if this is true, why and how did evolution produce a brain that could think in this way?
Alister McGrath is the Andreas Idreos Professorship in Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, a respected historian, apologist, and theologian. Since he is no biblical creationist, rather a theistic evolutionist, McGrath’s observations about the origin of complex mathematics, in his book Enriching our Vision of Reality, are all the more pertinent [slide 49].23
This makes good sense: 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.”24 This still leaves the question open: When exactly (at what evolutionary stage) were mathematical and other abilities ‘imparted’ by God? Was it when, as some teach (the late John Stott and many others for example), God ‘ensouled’ two Neolithic farmers (‘Adam and Eve’ representatives) as the spiritual progenitors of the human race?25
The trouble is, all such ‘Christian compromises’ are entirely arbitrary, neither acceptable biblically, nor consistent with the evolutionary consensus. Nevertheless, we can applaud Alister McGrath for fairly and honestly making these astute observations about the complete inadequacy of naturalistic evolution, in terms of explaining the origin of the amazing abilities of human beings. In fact, he goes further [slide 50].26
This is exactly right: human “cognitive capacities vastly exceed those required for mere survival” (my emphasis).
People really are amazing!
At risk of repeating myself: The incredible things people can do are features which could not evolve” . 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 this is not only true 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.27
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?
[Graduation image, free use CC0; man reading, by Oladimeji Ajegbile, free use; both pexels.com]
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 stops there, going 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 direction of the worship of human beings 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).
May 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 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 (turn from your sin to Christ) and believe in Him. Just as Jesus said to Nicodemus in the classic Gospel verse, 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
- SpaceX, nasa.gov/spacex; accessed 6 May 2021. Return to text.
- See terrytao.wordpress.com/books; accessed 12 May 2021. Return to text.
- Terence Tao, Analysis Group, University of California, Los Angeles, math.ucla.edu; accessed 3 December 2020. 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 April 2019; accessed 3 December 2020. Return to text.
- ‘The human calculator’: Winnie is a mathematical genius, K24 TV, youtube.com/watch?v=VJ-yYp4bUJk, 15 February 2019. Return to text.
- See his profile, blog and gallery of his artwork at kieronwilliamson.com; accessed 6 May 2021. 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 September 2016; accessed 3 December 2020. Return to text.
- You 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 3 December 2020. Return to text.
- For example, Bella Ciao, youtube.com/watch?v=XnWa7dSGYow&list=PLecj36ttAZK4siCStayp5edewxlOD666b&index=3, 25 April 2020. Return to text.
- Yuja Wang, Flight of the Bumblee, youtube.com/watch?v=fdKEUmFUMFg, 15 September 2014. Return to text.
- Video at: Two chimps playing the piano, Myrtle Beach Safari, youtube.com/watch?v=DtjEt_HBucE, 16 June 2017. Return to text.
- Clockwise from top left: Taeja James, Birmingham Gymnastics Club, age 14, from Nottingham; Pavel Karnejenko, City of Glasgow [club], age 17, from Hamilton, Scotland; Zoe Simmons, The Academy, age 14, from Radstock, Somerset; Jake Jarman, Huntingdon Gymnastics Club, age 15, from Peterborough, Cambridgeshire; Amelie Morgan, The Academy, age 14, from Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire; Jamie Lewis, Woking Gymnastics Club, age 16, from Woking, Surrey. Return to text.
- The full video is available here: 2017 men’s tumbling final world championships, youtube.com/watch?v=CfT9ysdO6vc, 1 December 2019; the clip is taken from 9:23 – 10:00. Return to text.
- Dartnell, L., Origins: How the Earth Made Us, The Bodley Head, London, 2018, p. 15. Return to text.
- Dartnell, ref. 16, p. 156. Return to text.
- Nicholson, N., How hardwired is human behaviour, Harvard Business Review, hbr.org, July–August 1998. Return to text.
- Hagen, E., Why couldn’t humans have evolved during the last 10,000 years? human.projects.anth.ucsb.edu, 2002. Return to text.
- Herculano-Houzel, S., The evolution of human capabilities and abilities, dana.org, 12 April 2018. Return to text.
- Saplakoglu, Y., These ‘creativity genes’ allowed humans to take over the world, livescience.com, 30 April 2021. The article is based on this paper: Zwir, I. and 15 others, Evolution of genetic networks for human creativity, Molecular Psychiatry, 21 April 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 April 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 April 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, 2017, pp. 162–163. Return to text.
- McGrath, A., What are we to make of Adam & Eve?, youtube.com/watch?v=yL5su0zmpKM, 24 March 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. 23, 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.), Journal of Creation 35(1):22–24, 2021. Return to text.