August 22, 1999

Mr Darwin’s Classroom

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds.” Genesis 1:24

When you’re gathering supplies for school, you need a lot of different items, but one thing that’s absolutely essential is a baloney detector.  No student should go to school without one.

What’s a baloney detector?  Well, it’s not a machine, and it has nothing to do with lunch meat.  A baloney detector is for the mind.  It tests whether a claim is based on solid fact and clear thinking or just a bunch of baloney.  Don’t swallow every idea people try to feed you. First, use a baloney detector.

This is especially important when you go to a classroom where the teacher’s name is Mr. Darwin.  In many schools and universities, students are fed the teaching of Charles Darwin.  Textbooks and teachers explain all forms of life in terms of a process based on chance variation and natural selection, excluding intelligent design or a Creator.

Isn’t that the way it should be?  Isn’t Darwinism a fact that no informed person in his right mind would challenge?  Oxford biologist and author Richard Dawkins says that anyone who doesn’t believe in evolution “is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)”. Dawkins is kind enough to add, “You are probably not stupid, insane, or wicked, and ignorance is not a crime.”

Mr. Darwin’s classroom is trying cure “ignorance” and help students to see the sure truth of Darwinism.  But most are not convinced. As astronomer and author Carl Sagan complained a few years ago, “Only nine percent of Americans accept the central finding of modern biology that human beings (and all other species) have slowly evolved by natural processes from a succession of more ancient beings with no divine intervention needed along the way.”  Despite the efforts of the scientific establishment, despite years of indoctrination by public schools, despite so-called “civil liberties” lawyers squelching teachers’ liberty to mention divine creation, most people don’t think life would exist if there were no Creator.  Over 90 percent believe in God and believe that he created everything, including human beings.  Of that 90 percent, about half believe that God created all the main forms of life by miraculous creation from nothing, while the other half believe God designed and directed evolutionary processes as his method of creating.

This widespread belief in God as the designer and source of all life struck Carl Sagan as a sign that more people need baloney detectors.  It bothered Sagan that some people believe in silly things like horoscopes and psychics and aliens in flying saucers, and it bothered him just as much that most people continue to believe in the Creator and not just in a process that is entirely random. In the last book Sagan published before his death, he wrote of using a baloney detector kit to protect us from such unfounded beliefs.

Sagan was right that we should beware of baloney, but he seldom aimed his baloney detector at his own ideas.  Sagan was a selective skeptic.  He liked to attack weird superstitions and lump them together with belief in creation and miracles and life after death, but he didn’t check whether the science and education establishment might be producing baloney.  Berkeley Professor Phillip Johnson, an expert in logic and evidence, shows in his book Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds that if we bring a baloney detector into Mr. Darwin’s classroom, we find a shortage of evidence and a surplus of rotten reasoning.     Teachers, books, and museum exhibits often make it seem as though Darwinism is supported by huge amounts of fossil evidence. But they are bluffing.  The fact is that there is little fossil evidence to support the idea that one form of life gradually evolves into a dramatically different form.  Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould doesn’t believe in creation, but he admits, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology.”  Gould says bluntly that the evolutionary family trees in textbooks are based on “inference … not the evidence of fossils.”

There’s only been a handful of fossils such as Archaeopteryx and the therapsids which can be viewed as transitional forms, and even then it takes some imagination and a strong prior commitment to Darwinism to interpret these unusual fossils as proof that the fossil record confirms Darwinism.

Prominent fossil expert Niles Eldredge says, “No wonder paleontologists shied away from evolution for so long.  It never seems to happen.”  Every time a new life form appears in the fossil record, says Eldredge, “it appears with a bang, and often with no firm evidence that the fossils did not evolve elsewhere. Evolution cannot forever be going on somewhere else,” he adds. “Yet that’s how the fossil record has struck many a forlorn paleontologist looking to learn something about evolution.”

Experts may feel forlorn about the shortage of fossil evidence, but you’d never guess it from the way Darwinism is presented to ordinary people.  One museum created what it called a “Hard Facts Wall,” displaying evolutionary ancestors for various animals.  Museum visitors might assume that the ancestors portrayed on the “Hard Facts Wall” have actually been found–but the hard fact is that the museum simply invented those animals to fill in the gaps.  People don’t expect museums to make things up and present them as fact–but that’s what the museum did.

Phillip Johnson says, “There is no fossil history of single-celled organisms changing step by step into complex plants and animals.  On the contrary, the major groups of animals all appear suddenly in the rocks of the Cambrian era–and no new groups appear thereafter.”  Johnson observes that high school textbooks don’t mention this fundamental fact of the fossil record, or else they skip over it so fast that students don’t see the implications.  Shouldn’t our baloney detectors be buzzing?

A few years ago Danny Phillips, a high-school junior in the Denver area, was assigned to watch a Nova program, produced by National Public Television and funded with government money.  The video declared, “The first organized form of life on earth was a tiny protozoan … From these one-celled organisms evolved all life on earth.”  That set off Danny’s baloney detector.  He wrote a paper criticizing the program as propaganda, not science. Nova made its grand evolutionary claim without offering any evidence, and it even made claims that were self-contradictory.  For example, after saying that the first living thing was the protozoan, the narrator went on to say, “They moved about their environment feeding on bacteria and other organisms.”  Now, if the protozoan was the very first living thing, how could there be other kinds of organisms for it to feed on?

Danny Phillips challenged Nova’s nonsense, and his school decided to drop the presentation from the curriculum.  But this outraged some parents and local media. They portrayed Danny as an enemy of science and sound education, and they forced the school to put the material back into the curriculum.  No matter how obvious the contradictions, not matter what the lack of evidence, the Nova video was promoting Darwinism, and that made it “scientific.”  In Mr. Darwin’s classroom, your job is to believe what you’re told.  Don’t think for yourself.  Don’t ask why the emperor has no clothes or why the theory has no evidence.

When we think about the relationship between science and religion, we may tend to think of religion as the narrow-minded oppressor and science as the neutral, rational search for truth. But Darwinists can be as dogmatic about their beliefs as the most narrow-minded religious person.  Atheist professor Richard Lewontin of Harvard declares, “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, … in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment… we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”  Another author writes, “The fight against creationism is a fight for all knowledge, and that battle can be won if we all work to see that Darwinism, which has had a great past, has an even greater future.”  Such people don’t merely believe in evolution–they are fanatical about it and won’t allow any other perspective into Mr. Darwin’s classroom.

When you recognize their dogmatism for what it is, you are set free from the myth that they are purely objective thinkers who base every idea on actual scientific discoveries.  You won’t believe something just because they say so.  Instead, you will use your baloney detector to test each aspect of the theory of evolution in light of the evidence, and you’ll be free to ask whether the biblical story about God’s creation of different life forms makes more sense than the story told by atheists.

In Genesis the Bible says, “God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind… God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds.  And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:21,25).

Believing that God created all living creatures doesn’t rule out every form of evolution, especially if by evolution we simply mean changes within a group of living things over time.  For example, studies have shown that the average size of finch beaks on a particular island varies from year to year as the environment changes.  Nobody denies that this kind of adaptive change takes place.  Nobody denies that animal breeders can develop different breeds of cattle and dogs by selecting for certain traits.  Nobody denies that the different races of humanity trace back to the same ancestor and developed some different characteristics over time, such as different skin color and facial features.  If that were all evolution meant, there would be no argument.

But Darwinists aren’t just talking about evolution as fairly minor changes within a particular population.  They use the word evolution to describe a grand scheme which explains the origin of every form of life apart from God.  This grand evolutionary scheme is made up of several main claims.  Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga points out five: First, the universe is very ancient, perhaps even billions of years old.  Second, over time life has progressed from relatively simple forms of life to relatively complex forms of life, and eventually there were fish, then reptiles, then birds, then mammals, and finally, human beings.  Third, all of these life forms have common ancestry; life originated at only one place on earth, and all living things today are descended from those original life forms.  Fourth, this development over the generations is due to entirely natural processes, such as random genetic mutation and survival of the fittest.  Finally, there is the claim that life itself originally developed from non-living matter just by virtue of the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry, without any special creative activity of God.  All five claims, taken together, form the grand evolutionary picture.

Please note that these are different claims.  They don’t necessarily go together.  There are people who accept all these claims; there are people who reject almost all of them; but there are also people who believe some of these claims but not others. For example, some folks think the universe is old and may even think that all living things share common ancestry, but they don’t believe this happened randomly or apart from God’s creative activity.  The different claims can be distinguished from one another, so it may be helpful to consider them separately.

Let’s do this in reverse order and begin with the last two ideas, that the development of life from one form to another happened by chance, and that the original forms of life emerged from non-living matter by chance, apart from any divine design or action.  These are the claims that are most obviously in conflict with biblical teaching about creation–and these are also claims for which there is not a shred of scientific evidence.

The notion that life emerged from non-living chemicals by chance, through purely naturalistic means, is wildly unlikely. Our smartest scientists have tried over and over to produce life from lifeless material and have failed, so it’s extremely improbable that such a thing could happen by accident. Darwin himself thought this claim was iffy, and recent discoveries in molecular biology make it far less plausible than it was in Darwin’s day.  Back then scientists thought cells were fairly simple things.  But we now know that even the simplest living cells are irreducibly complex and precisely coordinated.  Even the simplest cell can’t live unless all the complex interactions are working from the start.  There’s no scientific evidence to exclude a higher intelligence as the designer and creator of the first life forms; on the contrary, there’s considerable evidence of intelligent design.

Likewise, there’s no evidence for the idea that various forms of plant and animal life evolved by purely natural processes.  Even if there were a process of evolution from one life form to another–and that’s not at all certain–there would still be no proof whatsoever that God did not direct the process. It is very hard to see how delicate instruments like the eye and the ear, which involve many complex parts working in coordination with each other, could develop by pure accident.  Any claim that such developments could occur by chance is without evidence.

Phillip Johnson describes what he calls Berra’s Blunder.  Ohio State University Professor Tim Berra wrote a book titled Evolution and the Myth of Creationism.  In the book Berra compares the evolution of animals to the evolution of cars.  He describes how the splendid Corvette “evolved from more mundane automotive ancestors in 1953” and speaks of the various steps and changes in later models which have led up to the present model of the Corvette.  “A similar process,” writes Berra, “shapes the evolution of organisms.”

Is your baloney detector buzzing?  Here is Berra’s Blunder: he thinks the “evolution” of the Corvette illustrates the way natural forces randomly produce a changing sequence of organisms. But every Corvette in the entire sequence was designed by engineers!  Those Corvettes didn’t result from one car giving birth to another that was similar in some was and different in others. The similarities and differences were designed by the cars’ creators. So Berra’s example doesn’t portray blind evolution at all.  It shows that intelligent designers can build something, and then, in later models, they can add variations to their basic plan.

Darwinist Richard Dawkins makes a similar mistake.  He says that a fast computer generating thousands of random letters of the alphabet per second would eventually produce any book you want, as long as the computer knew what text it wanted ahead of time and saved the randomly generated letter whenever they matched the desired result.  This supposedly shows that random mutation and natural selection could produce the genetic codes for various life forms, apart from divine design.  But how does a comparison to computers disprove intelligent design?  Every computer and every program is a product of high intelligence, not something that just happened by chance.

Atheists, in their effort to show that everything develops by chance and not by intelligent design, keep comparing various forms of life to machines and describe evolution as a mechanistic process.  But every machine or mechanistic process we’re familiar with is the result of intelligent design.

There are no scientific grounds for denying that life was originally created by a great Life-Giver and that every later life form was designed by a higher intelligence.  The claim that God did not design and make the various forms of life is based on a narrow-minded commitment to atheism, not on what seems most probable in light of evidence and logical reasoning.  The clearest and most important aspect of the biblical story of creation is that God did it, and where Darwinism denies God’s involvement, it is all bluff and no evidence.

What about the second and third claims in the grand scheme of evolution, that simpler life forms appeared before more complex life forms, and that all these forms of life are related through common ancestry?  Well, when it comes to the sequence, there’s not much argument.  The Bible says plants came first, then fish and birds, then land animals and people.  Almost every scientist would pretty much agree with that basic sequence.

But what’s the explanation for that sequence?  Darwin and his disciples see it as an indication that all living things trace back to a common ancestor and gradually evolved and became more complex over time. But what if similarities in structure and successive developments point not to the same ancestry but the same Creator?  Things which Darwinists see as proof of common ancestry can just as easily be seen as proof of common design.

Some people believe in both common design and common ancestry.  They believe that God created all things but that he designed the process of evolution from one life form to another as his way of accomplishing this.  No doubt God could have done it that way if he chose, but the scientific evidence for this is weak at best.

Charles Darwin predicted that if his theory of common ancestry was true, fossil hunters would eventually find huge numbers of transitional forms of life between the major groups.  That hasn’t happened. Darwin also predicted that animal breeders would use the power of selection to produce radically new kinds. That hasn’t happened either.  Selective breeding can produce variety within a life form, but it hasn’t produced new forms.  As for fossil discoveries, we’ve already heard Stephen Jay Gould’s statement about “the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record” and Niles Eldredge’s complaint that every major new life form “appears with a bang” in the fossil record and that evolution “never seems to happen.” Another scientist writes, “nearly all categories above the level of families appear in the fossil record suddenly and are not led up to by know, gradual, completely continuous transitional sequences.”

The Bible says that God created each living thing after its kind.  He could have done this through an evolutionary process if he wished, but the most straightforward reading of Scripture seems to indicate that God created each of the main families of life as separate and special (with room for development and adaptation within each family), and there’s little scientific data to contradict this or to support a theory of gradual development of all life from the same ancestor. Common ancestry appeals to some people not because the evidence demands it but because they are uneasy with anything sudden or miraculous and prefer something gradual and entirely natural.

There’s one more claim of Darwinism that we haven’t evaluated yet: the claim that the world is billions of years old. The evidence and arguments for this may be stronger than for some of the other claims. Notice, though, that this claim can be separated from the other claims.  Even if it’s the earth is very old, it doesn’t prove common ancestry, and it certainly doesn’t eliminate God. At any rate, the earth’s age doesn’t seem to be a big concern in the Bible, and different Christians have a range of different opinions.

Some Christians think the Bible teaches a relatively young earth and aren’t convinced by theories that the universe is extremely old.  Perhaps it only appears to be old, or perhaps there is a flaw in the various methods which scientists use to estimate the earth’s age.  After all, when people take the results of a few hundred years of study and try to project it over millions and even billions of years, it’s possible their estimates will turn out to be badly mistaken.

Other Christians, though, are persuaded that astronomy, geology, and the study of fossils all point to a very old earth. They take the scientific evidence for an old earth to be very strong, and that’s just fine with them, because it’s perfectly consistent with the way they understand Genesis.

Some take the early chapters of Genesis as God’s easy-to-understand way of saying he created and rules all things.  He used non-technical, simple, sometimes figurative language so that anyone hearing the story could get the main point.  The six days of creation, in this view, maybe be figuratively describing long periods or eras, since the Bible often uses the word “day” to describe a period of time other than a 24-hour period.

Other Christians believe the creation days may have been ordinary days, but the world might still be extremely old.  How could that be?  Well, they say, the original creation of the earth occurred long before the creation week described in Genesis 1.  After all, the first verse of Genesis says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and the second verse says, “Now the earth was formless and empty.”  What if there was a great gap in time between those two verses, a gap God doesn’t bother to describe in detail?  What if all sorts of things happened and all sorts of creatures lived on the earth after God initially created it but before the earth became a formless and empty chaos (perhaps as a result of God’s judgment against fallen angels)?  What if God took that ancient chaos and made a new world with new creatures?  In that case the world itself would be very old, but the creation events described in the rest of Genesis 1 would be relatively recent.

Given the range of different interpretations, it’s probably best for Christians not to be too dogmatic about the age of the earth, especially since the Bible doesn’t make it a matter of great importance for salvation or spiritual growth. If Christians insist too strongly on something which the Bible itself doesn’t make very clear or consider very important, we might cause unnecessary divisions between Christians with different perspectives, and we might create an unnecessary obstacle for people who aren’t yet Christians.

If you’re not a Christian and aren’t convinced that God created all things, don’t start by asking about the earth’s age. For that matter, don’t even start by asking about common ancestry.  First ask whether a random process could produce the amazing design which is evident in all creatures.  Consider this with an open mind, and you’ll see there must be a Creator.  Once you accept that, you can go on to deal with the other questions, and you may be surprised at how many other aspects of Darwinism are based more on guesswork and bluffing than on evidence.

Perhaps, though, you’re already a Christian and believe in the Creator.  If you or your children are going to be spending any time in Mr. Darwin’s classroom, don’t forget your baloney detector.  Try to sort out what is really scientific from what is merely anti-creation propaganda.  That’s not always easy to do, especially for young people, and a public school probably won’t help you do that.  It may be best just to get out of that kind of school and find a different one.  Find a Christian school which takes the Creator seriously, points out his wisdom and power displayed in the creatures he’s made, and encourages students to seek a relationship with him through Jesus Christ.  Those are things we all need to know, things we’ll never be told in Mr. Darwin’s classroom.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.