Proud progress or cosmic casino?
Theistic evolutionists teach that over millions of years, molecules evolved onwards, upwards—under God’s direction—to finally produce man. Many of them believe that the same ‘divinely progressive’ process has probably produced intelligence elsewhere in the universe.
This ‘progress to man’ idea has basically been an underlying principle for all evolutionary thinking, not just theistic evolution.
However, there are signs that this idea is being abandoned by mainstream evolutionism. This leaves the committed theistic evolutionist with big problems. Since he has up to now followed the crowd (simply adding ‘God’ somehow to the formula), what will he do once the ‘inevitable progress to higher life’ idea is no longer popular?
In abandoning it, evolutionists are really only being consistent. If evolution is purely based on chance, why should it give rise to any ‘progress’? Why should it inevitably lead to humans, or to any intelligent life for that matter?
Of course, theistic evolutionism must try to cling to the idea that behind the proposed evolutionary process there is a grand purpose, an overall plan. Therefore it will generally hotly deny the claim that evolutionary theory relies on strictly chance processes.
Even many materialist evolutionists deny that evolution is only about chance. Atheist molecular biologist Jacques Monod wrote a best-seller about the evolutionary basis of all reality called Le Hazard et Necessite (Chance and Necessity). The title indicates that more than chance is at work in evolutionary belief. The random changes of accidental mutation produce the raw material for evolution—that is the chance factor. But, they say, the filter of natural selection acting on this raw material gives direction to the process.
Selection, then, is supposed to be the non-random factor, the non-chance part of the process. A particular variation comes about by chance, but selection necessarily dictates whether it will prosper (or otherwise). Hence in Monod’s title, chance refers to random, accidental changes, whereas necessity refers to subsequent selection by the environment. For example, a fish without certain equipment (lungs, for instance) must be eliminated by a situation in which all the water dries up—chance has no chance of overcoming this restriction.
Is it then unfair to say that evolution, as taught today in most academic (and many theological) institutions, is a purely chance process?
Chance + Chance = Chance
Not at all. Evolutionists do have a point when they say it is unfair and misleading to imply that they believe that a complex organ came into being all at once, in one jump, because generally they do not believe this. However, one may rightly insist that the process as a whole is, nevertheless, entirely random. Genetic changes which come about by chance (mutation), and which happen (by chance) to suit the particular environment which (also by chance) happens to be there at that point in time, will be preserved and able to multiply.
And that’s it. There is, finally, no other agency but chance being credited with creating this complex living world.
But wait a minute—haven’t we been given the impression of some sort of progress or purpose in evolution, some grand process leading up to man at the apex, as the most highly evolved creature?
Yes, of course. In fact, the very reason so many Christians who have not thought about it very much seem to think that God ‘did it that way’ is because it seems to them like a grand progressive plan. They forget the multiplied millions of years of struggle, suffering, bloodshed, blind alleys, dead ends, and reversals in a consistent evolutionary interpretation of the rock record. These tend to make it look much less divine, as well as undermining the New Testament teaching relating to Atonement and the Cross.
Man a lucky accident
But if evolution is ultimately a chance process, as we have seen, how can there be any sort of goal? How can we talk of progress at all? Isn’t man no more likely to have evolved than any of the myriad alternative creatures that have appeared? The dice numbers could have rolled a different way on countless occasions throughout our imaginary evolutionary history.
In fact, modem evolutionists, led by that renowned palaeontologist/philosopher Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard, are finally beginning to face up to this fact. If evolution is accepted as true, his arguments show that it is logical to say we are no more or no less a lucky accident than any other creature on earth. There is no reason, no ‘law of nature’ which made the appearance of man (or any other creature) inevitable.
In other words, chance and necessity (which, we have seen, really equals chance plus chance) could have filled the earth with anything at all—or nothing. If the presumed evolutionary story were to start again and be replayed any number of times, the outcome would be totally different each time.
This refreshing acknowledgment of something which should have been obvious all along makes one ask—where, then, did the idea of ‘progress towards man’ come from? We need to remember the society in which modern evolutionism was bom. First, they were quite familiar with the old, pagan idea of the Great Chain of Being. This was the notion (originally non-evolutionary) that all living things could be put into a continuum, with very simple forms at the bottom and complicated forms at the top.1
Faith in progress
We must also remember that Victorian England had experienced industrial and technological progress on an unparalleled scale. Everything seemed to be going onwards and upwards, with no end to what heights could be attained.
Two other factors should be mentioned, both a result of biblical Christian influences. One was the idea of history heading purposively in a direction, towards a climax (the Lord’s return at the end of the age). The other was the idea of man’s being the crown of creation, ‘a little lower than the angels’.
Put these factors together (linear history, progress, man at the top of other creatures), and it is not hard to see why evolutionism has traditionally had a ‘progress towards man’ flavour. But Gould exposes this as wishful thinking.
In his latest book, Wonderful Life, he explores the Burgess Shale, a ‘middle Cambrian’ rock layer in Canada which has the most astonishingly rich and well-preserved array of fossil forms. He shows how the man who discovered and described it, the great palaeontologist Charles Walcott, was biased by this ‘progress’ idea. Evolution seemed to require a few simple, non-specialized forms in the Cambrian, which later gave rise to much more diversity and specialization. So Walcott tried to ‘shoe-horn’ the forms he found into existing categories, and call them primitive ancestors of today’s forms.
In fact, Gould shows that the evidence indicates that the diversity (i.e. the richness and variety) of the life shown in these Cambrian rocks is far greater even than what exists in today’s oceans, and that they were highly specialized. Many of them do not fit into our known classes, and are not ancestral to them either.
So the majority of the Cambrian forms have just died out, it seems, without giving rise to anything. (Notice, in passing, how well all these facts are consistent with a Creation/Flood model; greater diversity in the past, no ancestral, simpler forms, and much extinction.)
According to evolutionary belief, all of today’s creatures have descended from those Cambrian creatures which did survive. Gould asks—is there an obviously discernible reason? For instance, were those that survived more complex, more specialized, less specialized, or what?
Notice what a creationist would predict at this point—that there should be no such apparent trend, because there was in fact no such ancestor-descendant relationship. The sea creatures in the Burgess Shale were buried in turbulent sediments of the great Flood. Some of the groups represented had the good fortune to have some of their kind survive today.
Survival of the luckiest
Gould’s conclusion? There is no trend of any sort detectable. It was not survival of the fittest species, but survival of the luckiest—those which just happened to survive.
The ‘new evolutionism’ thus looks set to make people very aware of the ‘fact’ that they are just lucky accidents, with no inherent superiority over any other creature, and no real reason for being here.
Explaining the universe
Compromise with evolution is a dangerous, slippery slope for Christians; evolution in any age is ultimately no more or less than a system by which rebellious man seeks to explain the way in which the universe is said to have made itself—without plan and purpose. Consistent thought in an evolutionary framework leaves no real room for any halfway-house position which includes some sort of divine plan.
Notice the irony. Modern humanist man has made a god out of nature (worshipping the created thing, giving it the glory for creation). In this way, he has sought to avoid facing up to his own sinfulness in the eyes of a holy Creator, and thus indirectly sought to exalt himself and his autonomous reason.
Yet the inevitable outcome of such reasoning is ultimately to dethrone himself. Evolved man, in spite of the wishful thinking of some humanists and compromising Christians is, when all is said and done, of no more value than a Tanzanian tapeworm. All the hopes, dreams and achievements of himself and his children are just the result of random draws in the great lottery of the universe. As such, they too will flicker and die, disappearing into the perpetual darkness along with the embers of the last star to exhaust its fuel.
By contrast, created man, though a fallen sinner, is nevertheless of infinite value. The Creator so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, to ‘buy back’ those who put their faith in Him. And the same eternal Word which tells us of creation and the Flood in Genesis also assures us that He will, once His purposes in this decaying universe have been fulfilled, create a lasting, sinless system of eternal value, peopled by those He has bought back with His infinitely priced blood.
- For a more detailed background discussion of this concept, see The Long War Against God, by Dr. Henry Morris. Available from ICR in the USA and Creation Science Foundation in Australia.