When you start to ask questions about the subject of evolution, you normally generate a good deal more heat than light. Any attempt to talk about it usually raises a great deal of emotion, which makes a discussion of the subject very difficult and tends to put people off the attempt. The only people who make the effort seem to approach the subject with closed minds.
But science in general, and evolution in particular are important subjects, and need to be understood if we are to make sense of the modern world. Over the years, I have collected ideas from various sources which seem to provide a reasonable starting point for discussing the subject. I make no claims for originality or completeness in what follows, but I do believe that the following ideas provide a base from which we can conduct an honest exploration into these related subjects.
The main points I would like to make are summarised below.
The remainder of this article spells out these points in a little more detail.
The man in the street has various ideas about science. These ideas come, not from science itself, but from the 'myth of science' which has now largely replaced religion in the mind of the general population. According to this myth, scientific facts are absolutely certain; science progresses by building new truths upon old ones; and scientists are dispassionate seekers after Truth (with a capital 'T'!).
Each of these ideas are clearly and demonstrably false. No scientist, and no one with any knowledge of the history of science, believes them. Yet the 'two cultures' division allows the vast majority of the population to think of science as the realm of absolute truth. We should not be surprised. Doctors do not speak of the limitations of medicine, or of how little we understand of the healing process. Lawyers do not wax lyrical about the anomalies and injustices built into our legal system. Chefs do not explain the dangers of cholesterol before cooking our dinner. Why should we expect scientists to criticise the discipline which provides their bread and butter?
The man in the street believes in evolution because 'it is scientific,' or because 'that is what the scientists say.' The scientists themselves know better, but keep quiet because public reverence for science is in their own interest. What are thought of as the 'facts of science' actually boil down to faith in certain scientific theories. The scientists themselves constantly argue one set of beliefs against another. The beauty of science is that, on the whole, there are fairly objective grounds for arguing about the different beliefs held by the different scientists.
What most people call 'science' - the set of ideas or beliefs which are taught by the scientists - is simply the current scientific orthodoxy, the set of beliefs held by most of the important scientists of the day. The history of science shows us that time and time again the scientific orthodoxy has been argued against, refuted, and then overturned by each new wave of scientific insight or discovery.
The best we can say about today's science is that it is a set of ideas that have, in general, not been proved wrong yet. Or, in the areas where it has been proved wrong, there is no general agreement yet about what should replace the old theories.
Science is essentially about predicting the future. The way in which it seeks to predict the future is by establishing rules: if you do this, then that will happen. If you combine these two chemicals, then this reaction will take place. As a first approximation, scientists discover these rules by experimentation: setting up a situation and seeing what happens. Over and over again. If the same thing happens each time, you formulate a rule to describe it.
The essence of this process is the repeatability of experiments. If an experiment cannot be repeated, you cannot tell if there is a rule which affects the outcome. Almost by definition, the past cannot be repeated.
The classic example of this problem is the burning candle. A scientist comes into a room and finds a candle burning in a candle holder on a table. He measures the candle, notes the time, and calculates the rate at which the candle burns. Let us assume it burns at the rate of one inch an hour. He then knows that one hour before he entered the room, the candle was one inch taller than when he first measured it. Two hours earlier, it was two inches taller. One day earlier, twenty-four inches taller. One week earlier,...
The theory breaks down, of course. The assumption that the past was like the present can be seen to break down at the point where the candle would have been taller than the room. There must have been (what is called in the trade) a 'discontinuity' - something different must have happened. In general, we cannot tell what this 'something different' was without other information. We cannot even tell when it happened: it could have been any point between the time the scientist came into the room and the time when the candle would have been tall enough to scorch the ceiling.
The question of what actually happened is not within the realm of science. No experiment can be performed on the past; we cannot re-run history several times to see if the same thing happens each time. The past is not repeatable.
Science can say what 'must' have happened in the past only on the assumption that there was no discontinuity. Our confidence in the conclusion is based on two quite distinct factors: our confidence in the theories being applied, and how confident we are that nothing did change.
Theories which involve discontinuities can only be expected to offer possibilities. Any given state can be arrived at in a number of different ways, as the reader of any murder detective story will know. In stories, the vital clue is always found, and all the possibilities bar one are eliminated. In real life, things are rarely that simple.
It is all a matter of faith. You can believe the universe had a start, or you can believe it has always existed. There is no proof - not even for the scientist - either way. The famous 'big bang is simply a hypothesis - guess - based on the assumption of no change. You can believe one of the 'scientific' theories about the start of the universe; you can believe that God created it; you can even believe that God didn't create it but you don't know what did. In the end, it all comes down to faith.
By the way, 'ex nihilo' simply means 'from nothing.' Any human artist creates things from other things. The big question is: where did those things come from in the first place? There seems to be two basic possibilities: either they came, in the first place, from nothing, or there was no 'first place' and they have always existed.
If there is no God, the problem with both possibilities is very similar: you either have a universe being created from nowhere for no reason, or a universe which just exists for no reason (having come from nowhere). For Jean-Paul Sartre, this is the fundamental problem - why is there something rather than nothing? He had no answer, and because there seemed to be no possibility of an answer, the universe (and human existence with it) was, for him, completely meaningless.
It should be obvious that, if the universe had a start, it must be a start 'ex nihilo' because if the universe was formed from something else you are simply putting back the question. If the universe was formed from a giant dodo egg, where did the dodo egg come from? We are forced back to the conclusion that either there was no start, or it was started from nothing.
So where does the idea of God get us? The trite response is to ask 'If God created the universe, who created God?' It appears that introducing God is just another false explanation, like the dodo egg: even if God did create, we are still left with the same problem, it is just pushed back another step. Fortunately, this is not the case.
If God created the universe, then the universe, and time itself, has its origin in God - we will return to this theme later. Science has only got the physical universe to explore. In the Christian faith, the relationship of God to the universe is understood to be not entirely like the relationship of an artist to a sculpture - one piece of matter to another. (Although, even with this analogy, we do not suppose the creator is like the creation in any gross physical sense - we would not suggest that Henry Moore must have large holes in him!)
If we need an analogy, then the relationship between God and His creation is more like that of an author to his book. The Bible suggests that the act of creation is like God telling a story - God speaks, and it is so. We would not suggest that we can discover facts about the author from the book, but we can discover something of the mind and character of the author through a careful reading of the book. Moreover, we recognise that there are aspects to the story which have no counterpart in real life: the construction of chapters and scenes, for example. We can ask questions about the characters which are meaningless to ask about the author.
If there is a God, it is as pointless to reason from scientific facts about His creation as to reason from events in a book to events in the life of the author. The author can create a world which contains rules the author is not subject to. In the physical universe, everything (other than the universe itself) has a physical origin which is earlier in time. We have no reason to believe the same must be true of the Creator. We may not be able to imagine anything different - but why should our lack of imagination imply anything about God? If God created the universe, it would be odd indeed if our tiny brains were able to comprehend everything important about Him.
It is therefore at least as rational to posit a creator to explain the existence of a physical creation as to posit a creation which 'just happened' or which 'just is.' Both the alternatives, when examined, strain the credibility of most people. Scientists, in particular, have problems when they try to deal with things which 'just happen' without any cause! The 'scientific' view of creation takes it outside the realm of science, which seems an odd achievement for science.
Put simply, Adam must have been created with a belly button, implying an attachment to a non-existent mother. Why do I claim this? Because God has chosen to be consistent in creation, and because it is impossible to create anything without at the same time creating something of a fictitious past for that creation.
Imagine a tree which was created five minutes ago. Chop it down and look at the stump. What do you see? Rings! If it did not have rings, it would not be a tree, since all trees have rings. A 'tree' without rings is something that looks on the outside like a tree, but on the inside is structured completely differently. It pretends to be, but is not, a tree.
But the rings on a tree are a record of the tree's history. You can see the good years when it could grow well and the bad years when it hardly grew at all. You can count the rings back and find the year it was planted and grew from a seed. But none of these things really happened: it was created five minutes ago. It was created with a fictitious past.
The same would be true for anything which is created. Some things carry a record of their past more obviously than others, but everything which is is a product of that which was. A rock on the beach has been shaped by the waves and the other rocks over the ages; a valley has been shaped by the stream which trickles down it; teeth are ground down by the food which is eaten.
Everything created must be created with an apparent age, and therefore an apparent past. A star must be created with a certain mass, and a certain mixture of hydrogen, helium, and all the other elements that make it what it is. All this gives it an apparent age. If God created a star tonight, I could look up into the night sky and see it, because part of its apparent age would include the light which would have been shining from it for thousands and millions of years. So the light striking my eye would appear to have travelled thousands of light years to reach me.
The point is this: God is not trying to fool or trick us. He is simply being consistent. The people who claimed that God placed the fossils in the ground 'to test our faith' completely missed the point that fossils in the ground were inevitable, whether the animals had actually existed or not. The only way to create a planet is to create it with an apparent age.
This point should now be clear. If you accept the theoretical possibility of a creator being responsible for the existence of the universe, there is no reason why the universe could not have been created in any state. A creator can presumably create a chicken as easily as an egg, a star as easily as a cloud of interstellar gas. If you can only create objects with an apparent age, it becomes fairly irrelevant what that apparent age is.
To return to the analogy of the book, the author can choose to start the story at any point. In one sense, the characters must exist before the start of the story - they must have a story, a history before the story begins - but in another sense they only start to exist at the start of the story. 'To begin at the beginning' is a literary device like 'One upon a time' - they invite us to suspend our disbelief and enter the world of the story. Within the story, the beginning is seen as a continuation.
At this point, it may seem that I am trying to say evolution did not occur but God created a world which looks like it evolved. That is not quite the case as the remainder of this article should demonstrate. However, I am saying that even if all the evidence did point to evolution (and that is far from the case), there would still be no evidence against God creating the world as Genesis describes.
One of the things scientists do is ignore any data which does not fit the current theory. You rarely find all the bones of an animal together. You often find bones together that do not 'belong' to each other. The bones are often in little pieces, and you have to fit them together. It is quite easy to mix and match the bones and pieces of bone to form what you think the animal must have looked like. Scientists reconstruct animals to look the way they expect, and what they expect is mostly a minor variant of the current orthodoxy. No wonder the results are remarkably consistent.
When you examine it, most of the evidence 'for' evolution is simply evidence which does not contradict it. Real evidence for evolution would be evidence which can only be explained or understood if evolution is true. Such evidence is simply not available. Even if we consider evidence against all the other considered possibilities to be evidence for evolution, there is still a serious shortage.
A great deal of the evidence presented for evolution is completely spurious. When I was at school, the textbook 'proof' of evolution (the best they could come up with) was provided by a moth called 'Biston Betularia' (see the update note 1). It comes in two forms: one has mainly light wings, the other mainly dark wings, and spends a great deal of time sitting on tree trunks. Before the industrial revolution, the tree trunks were light, and the light winged version was more common than the dark. After the industrial revolution, the tree trunks were dark (all the soot from the chimneys), and the dark winged version was more common than the light.
It seems that predators can spot a light winged moth on a dark surface more easily than they can spot a dark winged moth. Amazing! And nothing to do with evolution. You started off with two versions, and ended with two versions. Even if the light winged version had died off completely, that would still have nothing to do with evolution. Species becoming extinct does not prove evolution! Evolution is all about getting more species, not less.
Since the dawn of history, mankind has given evolution a helping hand. We call it 'selective breeding'. Through careful breeding, dogs have been changed from the original wolf to an incredible variety and range of creatures to suit a great variety of needs and tastes, from dachshunds to St Bernard's, from poodles to rottweillers. A great deal of effort and planning was required to create this variety - there is no evidence of 'natural selection' at work. And the key fact is that they are still all dogs: they can all interbreed. After all our work, there is still only one species.
The finding of an 'intermediate form' is also taken as evidence of evolution. However, once one example of a new form is found, people tend to find lots more, all the same. So the evidence actually reinforces the idea that species are fixed, and many have died out. In the early days of hunting, the fossil hunters could claim with confidence that the gaps would all be filled in. A century later, not a single gap has been filled, and the claim is looking increasingly far fetched.
We ought to ask the question: what is an 'intermediate form', anyway? It is a set of bones that look a bit like one species, and a bit like another species. We already have lots of them.
Using the reasoning adopted by the scientists, you can 'prove' quite successfully that an Arabian horse is an intermediate form in the evolution of the Shetland pony into the carthorse. If you find an old skeleton of a Shetland pony and a not so old skeleton of an Arabian, the case is complete. And if you find a live Shetland pony, it just proves they didn't all die out after all. No problem. This form of argument is used all the time.
It is sometimes argued: is there not a general progression from simple organisms to more complex ones, even if we can't trace the exact lineage of each creature? This brings us up against the problem of dating.
There is no reliable way of dating things in the past. Every method makes assumptions about the way things were, and the rate at which various factors changed. Remember the story of the candle? The time can only be calculated if the rate at which the candle burns remains constant. Or, if it changes, then we must know what the rate is at each point. But knowing things about the past is the crux of the difficulty!
Until quite recently, it used to be 'proved' that the world must be at least tens of thousands of years old because it contains caves with stalactites and stalagmites, some of which are massive, and we know how fast they grow. Even ignoring the possibility that God might create a world with stalactites and stalagmites already in place, we now know that they grow at vastly different rates in different places and circumstances. Examples which had been 'proved' to be tens of thousands of years old may in fact be quite young - a couple of centuries or so. All calculations of age rely on assumptions about the past.
Rocks are dated according to the fossils they contain, so it is not surprising that the 'oldest' rocks contain the simplest organisms. If some particular rock contains a mixture of simple and complex organisms (and there are many examples of this), the strata must have been mixed up at some point in the past. Or we simply discount it as an unexplained oddity, like we discount the fossil containing both a human and a dinosaur footprint.
There are, in fact, at least three major problems with the theory of evolution. Firstly, as we saw above, the fossil evidence does not support it. Secondly, the scientists cannot agree on how it can be possible. And thirdly, there are serious difficulties encountered if we do assume that evolution has got us where we are.
Most - but not all - scientists working with fossils believe in the theory of evolution. That is, they agree that evolution has occurred. That is not really the point. People had believed in evolution for centuries before Darwin. What Charles Darwin did was to suggest a mechanism through which evolution could operate - he suggested 'survival of the fittest,' which, if you think about it, is dangerously close to common sense as a concept, and rather unlikely as a mechanism.
'Survival of the fittest' means that the fittest will survive to reproduce, and the least fit will not. It is taken to mean that the fittest will reproduce more successfully than the less fit. This presupposes a variation between the fitness of different individuals. Where does this variation come from? That is one problem.
And even if the variation occurs, it has to convey sufficient benefit to give that individual a significantly better chance of reproducing successfully than the other members of the population. But most variation is harmful, the majority of the rest are neutral, and almost every 'beneficial' variation conveys so little benefit that it would have to happen very frequently to stand any chance of influencing evolution.
Do not isolated populations show evidence of evolution? Well... what you tend to get are populations which have changed, but not significantly advanced from an evolutionary point of view. Birds have different coloured feathers, and maybe slightly different shaped beaks and feeding habits because of the different mix of food and competitors, but a significant advance? We have not found it yet.
The sad fact is that almost no scientist today believes in Darwinian evolution. I probably need to say that again: almost no scientist today believes in Darwinian evolution - they do not believe that Darwin got the explanation right. The most recent calculations say that chance alone could not possibly produce the complexity we see today within the lifetime of the universe, let alone within the time life could have existed on Earth. Remember: these calculations are done by people who believe in evolution. They have a vested interest, and still cannot get the sums to work out.
Evolutionary scientists do not yet know - or even claim to know, in general - how evolution works. They all agree that some other mechanism, some other factor or factors must be at work if evolution is to happen at the rate it appears to have managed, but they cannot agree about what these other factors may be. The scientific journals contain continual bitter argument about this. Many of the articles have a common line of argument which runs as follows: I can prove that my opponents' theories are wrong, so my theory (the only one left standing) [insert theory here] must be true. The debate - to give it a dignified name - is quite fascinating.
Let us move on to problems raised by the theory of evolution itself.
Dinosaurs are presented to us as an evolutionary step forward from the reptiles. They developed a much more efficient form of locomotion, and hence were more successful. Dinosaurs fitted into every ecological niche: plant and meat eating, fast and slow, large and small, all over the globe. They were incredibly successful and then they died out 'overnight'. The creatures they were an advance upon survived. It all seems rather unlikely, and not at all what one would expect from evolution. If they were so varied, how come they died out together? If they were an improvement, how come they snuffed it?
The traditional answer is that they were too specialised, too well adapted to one set of conditions, and when those conditions changed they died out. But they were adapted to many different ecological niches, so why did they all die? And evolution says that all the other animals which survived whatever-it-was were also adapted to their environment, so why did they survive? I do not consider this a clinching argument, but it is certainly an interesting angle on the debate.
I am not saying that possible explanations which fit the evolutionary hypothesis are impossible to find, but you have to make so many assumptions and guesses it starts to strain the credibility a bit. It takes more faith than I am capable of.
Evolution, if it is the Truth, must explain every aspect of life (both physical and behavioural) as we know it. For a feature or behavioural trait to exist, it is not sufficient for that feature to be evolutionarily neutral: it must confer (or be associated with or a by-product of) some evolutionary benefit.
There are two reasons for this: first, a neutral factor on its own could not be selected for, and secondly, anything which exists prevents all the alternatives from existing, and so anything which does not enhance an individual's evolutionary chances must rule out the possibility of other options, some of which do enhance them, so is actually negative in its effect. If you cannot do anything useful, it is better to shut down and do nothing than waste energy doing something useless - I will return to this point in a moment.
This evolutionary benefit must be a net benefit - a real benefit in other words. We could make an agreement by which you give me a pound and I give you a penny. In this case, I can argue that you have received a benefit from this transaction: you have a penny which you did not have before. I suspect you may not be entirely convinced by this argument. But this is exactly the way that many evolutionists argue: they point to trivial evolutionary benefits and ignore the massive evolutionary cost of achieving these benefits.
An additional problem is that every evolutionary trait must have conferred an advantage from day one, and at every stage throughout the evolutionary development. It is difficult to see how some developments satisfy this condition: the end product is clearly useful, but some of the necessary steps in the development of the product would be of little or no benefit. Remember that evolution has no sense of purpose, no grand plan. It cannot say 'I will tolerate this slight inconvenience for the moment because it can be used to great advantage later.'
There are a few more basic questions. For a start, how does evolution produce art? How does it produce individuals capable of self-sacrifice? How does it drive us to care for the weak, the infirm, the handicapped? Ants may be all the same genetically, but people are clearly not. How does it drive people into monasteries and convents? How does it make mankind so prone to war? Over the centuries, the more aggressive people have joined armies and fought and died, while the more peaceful stayed at home and reproduced. How come we still fight?
Why is self-sacrifice such a strong and consistent trait throughout the human race? Why, for example, will millions of young men - many unmarried and childless - volunteer to kill and die for their country in time of war? The classic answer is that their genes are very similar to the genes of their family, and in sacrificing themselves they are enabling the similar genes in the rest of their family to survive.
But in evolutionary terms, my survival is more important than the survival of any one of my children, let alone any of my relatives. I have all my genes: my children only have half of them. Given a simple trade-off where I can choose to sacrifice myself to save the life of my child, I have to decide whether the child's likely future reproductive success is at least twice my own likely future success. If so, the sacrifice is worth it for the sake of my genes. I apologise if this sounds a bit heartless, but if evolution is true that is the only analysis which makes sense.
So a limited degree of self-sacrifice may make sense in evolutionary terms. But men go to fight for their country, not their family. Why? If I go to war, the degree to which my nation is more like me genetically than the nation I am fighting is minuscule, so the evolutionary benefit of my sacrifice is tiny. The cost is much greater: my genes have a much better chance of multiplying if I don't go to fight. Remember that evolution can only operate on an individual, not a group or society, race, nation, or even species.
War offers me a penny in exchange for a pound. And what little benefit there is (the 'penny') assumes that my family and nation will not survive if we lose the war, so fighting only has any evolutionary rationale if the price of not fighting is that we suffer genocide. In evolutionary terms, we do better to lose the war if we survive and reproduce anyway. 'Give me freedom or give me death' makes no sense if evolution is true: I can reproduce quite successfully as a slave.
If you cannot do anything useful, it is better to shut down and do nothing than waste energy doing something useless. 'Useless' on this context includes things like making music or poetry. In fact, almost everything that we consider makes live worth living is useless in evolutionary terms. The only thing that matters is reproduction and ensuring the survival of your personal gene pool, your offspring. But art seems to be one of the defining characteristics of the human race: all societies, from the most primitive, produce art.
Why did evolution create love? It is not sufficient to say that love keeps individuals together. We have a basic taboo to prevent us from murdering the people in our family or clan. This has a clear evolutionary function and benefit. Why not the same type of taboo to prevent mated humans from leaving each other? It would be far more effective!
Possibly the most telling set of problems from a scientific perspective comes from the issue of irreducable complexity. Many of the physical and biochemical systems within living creatures are irreducably complex: the entire system must be in place (both present and correctly aligned) for the system as a whole to work and deliver any benefit. The chemicals involved in blood clotting are a good example: there is currently no theory to explain how this complex system could have developed through any evolutionary mechanism (see the update note 2).
Finally (and, perhaps, most importantly) - if evolution is true, what then is the rational basis for believing that evolution is true? We have no reason to believe in our reason any more! If we have something, it can only be present because it gave us an evolutionary advantage in the past. But abstract reasoning is so recent it cannot have provided any evolutionary advantage, so we have no reason to trust it. Neither can we trust our sense perceptions, as they will only tell us what was to our evolutionary advantage to know. We have no reason to believe that this relates to reality as we understand it. It can be totally wrong as long as it was usefully wrong in the past.
A newly hatched chick will believe the first living thing it sees is it's mother. You can see how this makes sense: it is far easier than programming in a complex hen shape, sound and smell recognition routine, and 99 times out of a hundred it works perfectly. So a chick hatches, sees a goose, and believes the goose is its mother. The chick is certain. Within the chick's brain, the goose is its mother. We happen to know better.
What we do not know is how many of our beliefs are as certain - and as incorrect - as the chick's. We have no way of telling. Things I totally believe, things we all find ourselves incapable of questioning as they are so clearly, so self-evidently true - they may be nothing more than a by- product of evolution cutting corners as it did with the chick. Evolution, of course, cuts corners everywhere it can find some benefit by so doing. I have no reason to believe my beliefs if I believe evolution is true, and no reason to believe the reality of the world corresponds to the way it appears to me, or any of us.
The only conclusion to reach from a scientific point of view is that the theory of evolution, to be at all credible, requires a large set of beliefs about things that 'must' have happened in the past, and a faith that a sufficient mechanism or set of mechanisms exists. Note that all these points must be satisfied: if there is a single area where evolution cannot explain how the world as we know it came about, then some other explanation is required. And once you add something beyond 'natural causes', it is difficult to see how to limit the effects of this other factor, and evolution becomes at best a bit player on a wider stage.
Occam's Razor is regarded as the philosophical starting point for modern science. It says that you should not 'multiply entities beyond necessity' - in other words, the simplest explanation, the one which makes the fewest assumptions, is likely to be the truest explanation. On this principle, the theory of creation is far more scientific than the theory of evolution.
Having reached this point, the Christian is still left with a general issue of how to tie up the Biblical record with what we know and experience. This is a fundamental issue which affects all aspects of our life and faith at every level, and needs to be addressed in many different ways. Two aspects of the nature of God as revealed in the Bible are particularly relevant when we consider evolution.
One theme which runs through the Bible is the way in which God plays with time. This has been taken up by many theologians who maintain that God is 'outside time.' More precisely, it seems that God is in some sense both inside and outside time.
'One day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day' tells us that He is not affected by or constrained by time in the same way that we are; many passages teach us that God knows what will be, and this is taken as referring to the way in which He can see the end as well as the beginning from His vantage point 'outside' time. This is, if you like, a philosophical necessity, as the only alternative is to assume that the end is predictable from the beginning, and that therefore the entire future of the universe is determined.
As Christians, we also believe that God squeezes Himself into time: to communicate with us, and most importantly, in the person of Jesus. Christianity is, more than any other, a historical religion. God somehow becomes subject to the process of time.
Many of the miracles also seem to revolve around the manipulation of time - making it go at a different rate (or in a different direction) for some people or objects: the sun standing still and the shadow moving back are two classic examples. Many of the miraculous healings could easily be perfectly natural healing processes running at many times their normal speed. Changing water into wine is a process which happens every year, helped by vines. There seems to be two main types of miracle: God makes something out of nothing, and God makes time run differently.
Raising people from the dead can then be seen as a 'simple' application of time running backwards; most healings could be brought about by the body's natural healing processes being enhanced or speeded up. Feeding the five thousand seems to have involved creating something from nothing, although that is admittedly not the way the miracle is presented in the Gospels. Did Jesus use some sleight-of-hand to make the event appear less miraculous?
It is very tempting at this point to try and put two and two together. There has not been enough time for evolution by natural selection to work; God can speed up specific processes; therefore God could supply (in other words, 'be') the missing part of the picture. This is possible, but I find this to be too close to the traditional 'God of the gaps' picture for comfort.
I do not wish to assign God a role in evolution, either an active one, or a passive one as the source of the 'life force' driving evolution forwards. Rather, I simply point out that God could have used a mixture of natural selection and other methods to bring about the world we live in, if He so chose. He could have done this in a way which is entirely consistent with the Biblical record and with His character as revealed in the Bible. Whether He in fact did this is something we cannot, at present, know.
My final point follows on from that last note of uncertainty. It appears that God has designed the world and structured our experience of it in such a way that, in many circumstances, we cannot tell for sure what the real situation is. He likes, for some reason, to leave us unsure.
We can see this at the intellectual level when we try to understand the nature of something as basic as light: is it a wave or a particle? Yes and no: both are true, yet they are clearly (to our minds) incompatible. The Bible likens God to light, so is it stretching the point to see an analogy with the nature of God? He is presented to us as both Omnipotent and the One Who gives His creatures free will, when both are clearly (to our minds) incompatible. We are left unsure, yet we know enough to live as His children.
On a different level, it appears that the amount of matter in the universe is very close to the limit which causes the universe to collapse again. Is the universe destined to end in a single piece (again?), or will it continue to expand and just fizzle out eventually? We do not know. It appears that God likes to leave us in a state of uncertainty about some of the basic features of the world we live in.(see the update note 3).
The same applies to the question of evolution. It appears that there is sufficient evidence for evolution to make it scientifically plausible, without making it scientifically watertight. We are given enough information to enable us to choose to believe it if we want, and enough reason to doubt it if that is what we choose to do.
And that may be the whole point of the exercise: when things are not cut and dried, when there is doubt and uncertainty, we are forced to make a choice. We are, of course, free to choose to ignore the problem altogether. Whether we do so is pehaps the most significant choice involving our intellectual honesty we are required to make.
A recent news item (March 1999) suggests that even this minimal and indirect evidence for evolution was faked.
The New Scientist published the news that the research was faked: amongst other details, it was revealed that the moths were pinned by the researcher to the bark of different coloured trees, because they do not naturally land on such places. The article by Coyne in Nature, 5 November 1998, says in part: "For the time being we must discard Biston as a well-understood example of natural selection in action...".
In recent years, a movement that is often summarised as 'Intelligent Design' has been leading a significant reassessment of evolution from a scientific perspective. It is often dismissed as 'creationism with a different name' but the reality is completely different.
Most people from a creationist background will argue that certain things are true or not true because of what the Bible says. Intelligent Design does not rely on the Bible or any other religious or faith-based source; instead, it attempts to deal exclusively with the scientific evidence we have available to us. The 'Access Research Network' is one good source of information about this important field.
I wrote this paragraph in the early 1990s. Since then, the whole 'dark matter' thing has gained prominence. I kept on nearly updating the paragraph in the light of the newest theories, but every time it looked like we might get some kind of clarity on the subject sometime soon, well... we didn't.
At the time of writing this update (December 2008), it is still not clear whether or not dark matter actually exists: there are several competing theories concerning the source of the repulsive force that recent observations seem to require. But we have been through a time when it seemed certain that the universe will continue to expand forever, and are now back at a point of uncertainty again.
The New Scientist article 'From Big Bang to Big Bounce' talks about recent support for the old idea of the event we refer to as the 'big bang' being the result of the previous universe collapsing into a 'big crunch'. The theory called 'Loop Quantum Cosmology' or 'LQC' suggests that space comes in quanta, 10 to the power -35 metres in size or thereabouts. This is small, but not a singularity, so the equations still work, and you can extrapolate back in time before the big bang.
The consequence of this is that the fate of our present universe is once again uncertain. The article says that a question mark "hangs over the universe's matter and energy density, which we have not measured with sufficient accuracy to be sure that the universe will not eventually stop expanding. If it turns out to be a smidgen greater than current observations, then it is a recipe for cosmic collapse."
(The content of this article was put together in its present form on 14 October 1999, based on similar things I had written prior to that. It was slightly updated on 31 May 2005 and 13 December 2008.)