#291

November 11, 2012

Why Is Evolution So Widely Believed?

Dear Dr. Craig,

I love your work and your tireless efforts to spread the message of Christ in a intelligent, articulate manner! You have personally brought me to faith in Christ and delivered me, through your various articles and debates, from an atheistic-induced existential depression ( I really contemplated suicide for I thought: Since there is no afterlife... might as well go into oblivion sooner..... ); and for that I cannot thank you enough!

I have 3 questions.

1) Regarding the theory of evolution, why is it so widely accepted in mainstream science? While I am steadfast in the fact that evolution cannot disprove the existence of God; I cannot seem to find any evidence clearly showing the general process of simple organisms evolving into more complex ones. Furthermore, there seems to be a consensus among geologists that the Earth is roughly 6 billion years old, whereas I hear Young Earth Creationists stating that the Earth is only 6 thousand years old. Who is right?

2) If evolution is true, then why didn't God write Genesis differently? Just a simple " and little organisms changed over time " would certainly clear up all the conflict between Creationists and Evolutionists and prevent people from thinking that the Bible is against science or something. In line with this thinking, why didn't God put the Big Bang Cosmology theory in Genesis? " In the beginning, the universe was a hot dense state. Then, it expanded! "

3) What is going to happen to the Reasonable faith ministry should you retire or be called to be with Christ? Is it going to continue under another scholar(s)? Or will it ceased to exist? ( the horror! =D)

Please give me links or additional information regarding these topics

Once again, I really thank you for your work and pray that God blesses and keeps you, and everything you hold dear, well.

Warm Regards,

Timothy

United States

I’m thrilled to hear that your life is now on a good track, Tim! I’ll respond to your questions in order.

(1) Why is the theory of evolution so widely accepted in mainstream science? I think the short answer is that it’s the best naturalistic theory we’ve got. If, as a result of methodological naturalism, the pool of live explanatory options is limited to naturalistic hypotheses, then, at least until recently, the neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution driven by the mechanisms of genetic mutation and natural selection was, as Alvin Plantinga puts it, the only game in town. Rival naturalistic hypotheses could not equal its explanatory power, scope, and plausibility. No matter how improbable it seems, no matter how enormously far the explanatory power of its mechanisms must be extrapolated beyond the testable evidence, no matter the lack of evidence for many of its tenets, it has to be true because there isn’t any other naturalistic theory that comes close.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves that the word “evolution” is an accordion-word that can be expanded or contracted to suit the occasion. The evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala points out that the word “evolution” can be used to mean at least three different things:

1. The process of change and diversification of living things over time. It is in this sense that biologists say that evolution is a fact. But obviously this fact, so stated, is innocuous and would not be disputed even by the most fundamentalist Young Earth Creationist.

2. Reconstruction of evolutionary history, showing how various lineages branched off from one another on the universal tree of life.

3. The mechanisms which account for evolutionary change. Darwin appealed to natural selection operating on random variations in living things in order to explain the adaptedness of organisms to their environment. With the development of modern genetics, genetic mutations came to supplement the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection by supplying an explanation for the variations on which natural selection works. Accordingly, we can call this hypothesis “neo-Darwinism.”

Now evolution in the senses of (2) and (3) is not an established fact, despite what is said and believed in popular culture. According to Ayala, “The second and third issues—seeking to ascertain evolutionary history as well as to explain how and why evolution takes place—are matters of active scientific investigation. Some conclusions are well-established. Many matters are less certain, others are conjectural, and still others. . . remain largely unknown” (Darwin and Intelligent Design). With respect to (2) Ayala emphasizes, “Unfortunately, there is a lot, lot, lot to be discovered still. To reconstruct evolutionary history, we have to know how the mechanisms operate in detail, and we have only the vaguest idea of how they operate at the genetic level, how genetic change relates to development and to function. . . . I am implying that what would be discovered would be not only details, but some major principles” (Where Darwin Meets the Bible). As for (3), he cautions, “The mechanisms accounting for these changes are still undergoing investigation. . . . The evolution of organisms is universally accepted by biological scientists, while the mechanisms of evolution are still actively investigated and are the subject of debate among scientists”(“The Evolution of Life: An Overview”).

Once you realize that the word “evolution” can be used to refer to any of these three aspects, you begin to understand how misleading it can be when it is asserted that evolution is an established, universally recognized fact.

Indeed, there are very good grounds for scepticism about the neo-Darwinian mechanisms behind evolutionary change. The adequacy of these mechanisms is today being sharply challenged by some of the top evolutionary biologists. In fact, I was intrigued recently to learn that Ayala has apparently since given up on the adequacy of the neo-Darwinian mechanisms. Lyn Margulis, one of the so-called Altenburg 16, a group of evolutionary biologists who met in 2008 at a conference in Altenburg, Austria, to explore the mechanisms behind evolutionary change, reported, “At that meeting [Francisco] Ayala agreed with me when I stated that this doctrinaire neo-Darwinism is dead. He was a practitioner of neo-Darwinism, but advances in molecular genetics, evolution, ecology, biochemistry, and other news had led him to agree that neo-Darwinism’s now dead” (Suzan Mazur, The Altenberg 16 [Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2010], p. 285).

Now it needs to be clearly understood that Ayala is not about to embrace some sort of creationism. Rather additional natural mechanisms will be sought to supplement genetic mutation and natural selection. These are already being suggested in the scientific literature. I have every expectation that during the course of this century the neo-Darwinian mechanisms, which have been long challenged by creationists of various stripes, will come to be recognized as inadequate, and new mechanisms will be recognized. The irony will then be that the community of evolutionary biologists, rather than admitting that the criticisms of the creationists were justified, will say, “Oh, well, we knew all along that the neo-Darwinian mechanisms were inadequate!”--this, despite the public posturing that goes on now in the name of neo-Darwinism!

So while evolution in an innocuous sense is well-established, belief in evolution in senses (2) and (3) is not universal among scientists, and the dominance of neo-Darwinism heretofore is due to the constraints of methodological naturalism and the want of a better naturalistic alternative.

2. If evolution is true, then why didn't God write Genesis differently? It seems to me that the answer to this question must be that the purpose of Genesis is not to teach science. Rather its purpose is theological; it demythologizes the pagan creation myths of Israel’s neighbors, so that the sun, moon, and stars are no longer deities but just things God made, like the plants and animals. It is the demythologization of nature and an assertion of God’s sovereignty.

3. What will happen to Reasonable Faith after I’m gone? Reasonable Faith will end when I do. I’ve no interest in building an organization. After I’m gone, perhaps there will remain an archival website, but that’s all. And hopefully some changed lives!