What’s the big deal about evolution anyway? Not scientifically, as an interesting little group of theories about the varieties of organisms, but as “the most important scientific development in the history of mankind”. The theory that makes the world a different place forever. What’s with all that heart searching about whether it does away with the need for God? That stuff about making it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist? Aren’t we forgetting something basic?
Here’s an analogy. Imagine a particularly stupid scientist (preferably played by John Cleese, but I’ll settle for an uninformed teenager called Watkins). He says he’s developed a new theory of life that does away with any idea of God. It’s called the “theory of generation”, and is based on a whole set of remarkable observations in the animal and plant kingdom that apparently random unions of cells from males and females invariably produce viable organisms spontaneously, though this is often a wasteful process (millions of the cells don’t unite in nearly all cases, and only the fittest survive) and is certainly cruel and undirected, since it can result in pain to the females in whom this “generation” occurs and even, in many species, death. Clearly, then, it could not be the work of any organised process, still less of the Loving God Of Traditional Christianity.
The bubble bursts when someone (rumour has it his younger sister) points out that Watkins’s theory of generation, whilst admirably observed and true, is not as world-shaking as he says because it depends upon a world full of already-existing hugely organised and complex organisms acting for their own survival in an equally complex and organised biosphere, which he hasn’t attempted to explain.
The analogy with evolution is … well, not an analogy but a direct correspondence. Exactly the same limitations have applied to evolution since Darwin’s theory took to the page. He presupposed an existing world full of endless forms most beautiful to provide variations, and a thriving biological environment to provide selection. He did project back, as a hypothesis rather than an observation, that one or a few forms might have started the whole thing off long before the fossil record bursts into plenty. But he didn’t touch the origin of those first creatures at all, apart from comparing it to the mysterious origin of matter itself.
But the biosphere is needed for any evolution to work. And we know, from all the experience of science (an unusually unanimous “all”), that what is needed is an exceedingly optimized DNA code (one of actually more like 17 separate and overlapping DNA codes, most in 3D, at the last count) with an even more complex transcription apparatus, set in an awesomely organised cell with a bunch of other sugar codes, RNA codes, electrical codes and so on. Sometimes the awesomely organised cells depend on an awesomely organised multicellular organism, too, to do their thing. Remove any of these, and evolution is no more viable than generation. The wiser sort of scientists insist that abiogenesis is not part of the Theory of Evolution, though they still manage to slip it into school textbooks, because prior to DNA there is no mechanism of reproduction on which selection can act. Well no, of course not – there’s no DNA which generation can reproduce, either, before you even get to thinking of evolution.
So, first catch your breeding population of organisms, and *then* you can begin to get on with your atheist intellectual fulfillment. I was reminded by a recent post on BioLogos that abiogenesis was once a phenomenon that had been observed repeatedly, even under controlled conditions, since the time of Aristotle at least (though the Bible seems to have avoided that particular prevalent belief). Only carefully sterilized equipment in the late nineteenth century finally falsified it definitively, leaving behind the 100% applicability of the rival position – that life comes only from life.
Speculations aside, therefore, there is no scientific justification, least of all from Darwin’s principle of uniformity (adopted from Lyell’s geology), for any expectation of life appearing from non-life. Nothing remotely like it has ever been observed. It’s a pink unicorn or a philosopher’s stone, and the common cry that we must believe in a natural cause which science is bound to deliver in the end is nothing more or less than the sub-prime mortgage scandal of the scientific world – banking entirely on the future with no visible current assets. At some stage the bubble will burst and the intellectual debts will be called in – and it will cause more ripples than the exposure of the spurious theory of Watkinsian unguided generation.