Evolution in the Youth Group: Welcome to Switzerland

In the sixteenth century, admitting disbelief in God was virtually impossible – not even an option. If you lived in a western culture, admitting such would probably get you a date with the Inquisition. spanish-inquisition2

Fast-forward 500 years: modern westerners prefer logical, demonstrable, and evidence-based explanations of phenomena over supernatural explanations. Philosopher Charles Taylor frames it this way: the modern West has sloughed off transcendence (belief in supernatural explanations) in favor of immanence (evidence-based explanations).

This is huge.

For the first time in millennia, belief in science and unbelief in God are very real options for everyone.

Teenagers and adults who came of age in the twenty-first century are the ones most acutely aware of this option. The American church is bleeding millennials and mosaics while the nones, the dechurched, and the churchless are growing with no sign of stopping.

Evolution in the youth group

Dr. Andrew Root is a youth ministry scholar and a seminary professor. His recently published white paper is an exhaustive examination of science and faith in the youth ministries of American churches. Few stones were left unturned – he extensively interviewed (both surveys and focus groups) youth ministers in conservative, moderate, and liberal churches across all denominational lines. He interviewed the students in the youth groups. He explored science and faith resources (if any) used by youth ministers.

Kids want to know: one kid (or more) in the youth group brings it up in one way or another – at least once a month. The most common science question asked of youth ministers is about evolution.

But evolution is taboo – one-third of youth ministers never officially discuss science with their kids. The vast majority might lightly touch on the topic a couple of times a year. And, by “touching on”, I mean something like this: “isn’t nature awesome, guys?? God made it!”

Teenagers and young adults have grown up in a concrete, physical, evidence-based world: not one of the students interviewed challenged the evidence-based nature of science. Not one.

What the teenagers are asking is this: how can I, in an evidence-based world, have belief in God?

And the question youth ministers are asking is this: how can I avoid a science and faith discussion?

The kids in the interviews agreed: what the church encourages them to believe and what is believable in a secular age are very different – and the church is not helping them negotiate this tension.

Welcome to Switzerland

Youth workers responded to the challenge of a science and faith discussion in one of three ways.

  • At one end are the fighters. If science is going to throw punches at faith, well then, we’re gonna punch back. These are the youth ministers who arm teenagers with apologetics so they will have a ready answer for all the misinformation and lies fed to them by “science”. To the fighters, danger lurks in every science classroom, and especially on college campuses.

Still, doubts are welcome and even conservative youth ministers want their students to feel safe discussing science. But here’s the caveat – if science does not corroborate a literal reading of the Bible, science is always jettisoned in favor of the Bible. Science is used as an apologetics tool to buttress the “biblical” view of origins.

  • At the opposite end are the white flag wavers. These youth ministers believe the war has ended and science has won. Here’s one youth minister:

I wish there was some type of conflict, but science has won the day. There are no questions coming from my group.

The best these ministers hope for is to somehow ignite a small flicker of faith – at best, an interest in a world-view that includes a bit of faith.

  • Occupying the vast middle ground and definitely in the majority were the youth ministers who just want to be Switzerland. They look for safe places to establish a neutral zone for science and faith. They just want to keep their heads down and avoid any confrontation. Why would a youth minster purposefully shoot an “arrow” of evidence at adolescent faith, possibly puncturing and deflating the belief when protecting young faith is his/her job?

swiss menYouth ministers aren’t particularly averse to teaching about science and faith – after all, their kids want to talk. They just really don’t know how, and they feel no urgency to change that. Although half of the youth ministers completed graduate degrees, the majority had taken only minimum science requirements.

Youth ministers with little to no background in science, and certainly not particularly well-versed in the biology of evolution are left to forage, mostly on their own, for published resources on science and religion.

In addition, youth ministers are not always sure how they personally feel about evolution and other origins issues. And if they are, there is hesitancy to contradict what parents might believe. So, they stay safe. They stay in Switzerland.

 Who is helping?


If youth ministers creep across the neutral border, to whom do they turn for support in the conversation?

Things get scary at this point: the single most commonly resourced material was Ken Ham and his Answers in Genesis site. Ken Ham – six-thousand-year-old earth Ken Ham. Baby-dinosaurs-on-the-ark Ken Ham.  AiG’s numerous resources for youth ministries are exclusively apologetic. A literal Genesis creation story trumps any science evidence every time, all the time.

Similar to AiG is Sword and Spirit, an apologetics website for teens and young adults. Students are not encouraged to engage science, but rather to use science as a “tool” to convince others of a presupposed biblical creationism. Likewise, the objective of Simply Youth Ministry LIVE Curriculum is to “examine the claims of evolution and consider some of the ways it falls short of scientific fact.”

But these three sources pale in comparison to Focus on the Family’s offering. The TrueU videos are filled with testimonies by young adults who have encountered “atheistic” science teachers trying to shatter the foundations that have been carefully laid by home and church. Scariest of all is the portrayal of higher education. One young man makes the air quotes sign when referencing the “experts” at his college. Hostility and suspicion toward universities, even Christian universities, is strong in this resource. Here’s a promo for “The Toughest Test in College”.

There are two lesser-known resources that promote looking at the issues of science and faith (Test of Faith and On the Spot) as a conversation to be had, without eliminating either position.

Perhaps the strongest resource available that presents evolution as God’s means of creation is the BioLogos site. However, BioLogos is not specifically targeted to students and can be fairly technical.


Young adults are immersed in a culture and a world view that values evidence-based thinking over transcendent thinking. And it is not going away. Despite the efforts of Ken Ham and his Big Ark Theme Park, young adults feel the tension between what they think the church is telling them and what the evidence says.

But – wait for it – here is the primary conclusion of this extensive research study. You might want to read this twice:

What we’re suggesting may seem an oxymoron at first, but our research bears it out: injecting the subject of science into youth ministry actually catalyzes students to think about transcendence and God.

Deny the evidence-based, cast doubt on the transcendent.

Accept the evidence-based and open up the conversation for faith. Ironic, isn’t it?

What might that look like in a conversation with teenagers or young adults? Maybe this: “The universe is very large and very old (evidence-based). Does this mean that the universe must be impersonal and that we are totally alone?” We’ve now made room for discussion of the transcendent (supernatural) in the context of scientific evidence.

Dr. Root calls it “begging for skylights”. Young adults live in houses framed with boards and beams of the concrete, physical, material, and scientific world. This study found that they are also begging for skylights within their houses – they want a conversation about the transcendent.


Here’s a link to the entire white paper: Youth Ministry & Science (Root, Wood, & Jones, 2015)




ccat reading


The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge


science cat writes a paper

Your Grandmother Fish, Genesis Retold, and a Scared School Board Lady

Mary Lou Bruner is scared of a lot of things, but she is particularly fearful of evolution.

Mrs. Bruner is a 2016 candidate for the Texas State Board of Education – the people who pick our kids’ textbooks.

Mary Lou Bruner

Mary Lou Bruner

She has a strong resume and is definitely a viable candidate.  And we certainly know her opinions on All Things Education – she has been particularly prolific on social media over the years. (Mrs. Bruner recently scrubbed her Facebook, but not before a multitude of screenshots were picked up by several websites, in Texas and beyond.)

In a 2013 letter to the Texas State Board of Education, Mrs. Bruner warned of the direness to follow if the board allowed the teaching of evolution to Texas schoolchildren.

Evolution is “propaganda supporting the religion of Atheism”.

Evolution is “demoralizing our nation”.

Evolution causes us to reconsider “the purpose of public education”.  Mrs. Bruner also believes that teaching evolution is behind the rash of school shootings.

(Mrs. Bruner is not afraid of dinosaurs, but she does believe that there were baby dinos on Noah’s ark).

baby dino and noah

Your Grandmother Fish

Evolution is not a scary story from which to shield our kids – or anyone, for that matter. Evolution is, however, often difficult to understand. Misconceptions abound and usually drive reluctance and fearfulness.

Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution is a new hardcover picture book, originally a Kickstarter project. Macmillan has just announced that they have picked up Grandmother Fish and will publish the second edition in September 2016. It is delightfully illustrated and the science is solid.


grandmother fish

Grandmother Fish is written for children – preschoolers actually – but my hunch is that adults were the primary target. Far from scary, Grandmother Fish is the story of us – it is a beautiful, sweeping picture of our place on the great tree of life.

Grandmother Fish had many grandchildren – they could wiggle and chomp. We had other grandmothers, too: Grandmother Reptile could crawl and breathe air. Grandmother Mammal could cuddle and squeak. Grandmother Ape could grab and hoot. We breathe air, move, and use our hands because in our human family tree were relatives from whom we inherited those traits.

Genesis Retold

Granted, our school board candidate is extreme in her fear of evolution – but she is not alone in her belief that evolution excludes faith and belief in God.

When the writers of Genesis told the story of creation, God was central: originator, sustainer, and lover. Yet, the “mechanics” of it all were completely within the only origins framework they knew – ancient near-eastern explanations of How It All Started. Old Testament writers were millennia away from the framework of modern science. It is no surprise then, that although God is central in the biblical story, the “mechanics” framework is the same as other ancient near-eastern cultures (I’ve written about Genesis and the near-eastern creation stories here and here).

What if – for today – we did it again? What if we told the story of God as originator, sustainer, and lover, but we told the story within the framework of modern science?

Leonard Vander Zee has done just that. New this month at BioLogos: “The Big Story”. big story

Using sweeping poetic language similar to the creation poetry of Psalms, Job, and Genesis, Vander Zee recounts the story of creation using the scientific knowledge the ancients did not have.

It is stunning – you can watch the video clip (it isn’t long, just under twelve minutes) and you can also read the transcript, but watch Vander Zee – the spoken poetry is beautiful.

Brains grew, capabilities advanced, until finally, a creature appeared with something entirely new: Human Consciousness. And God’s breath, the Holy Spirit, breathed into these conscious creatures, and they knew God, the creator of all. They stood tall and free, eyes shining with excitement and wonder before their Creator (“The Big Story).

ccat reading


The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge


noah ark llamas


What Darwin Got Wrong and Why Creationism Isn’t Science

It has been a year since the showdown between Bill Nye “the Science Guy” and Ken Ham “the Six-Thousand Year-Old Earth Guy”. Bill Nye caught a lot of flak from scientists for debating Ham because a “debate” implies two equally credible options. Even the BioLogos Foundation (dedicated to an evolutionary understanding of creation) discouraged the Ham/Nye debate because debates imply that you must choose between evolution and faith. ham-vs-nye-debate
Public debates are favorites of creationists – the limited time format and simplified concepts needed for a non-scientific audience usually favor the creationist debater. Debaters often employ the “Gish Gallop” (named for a famous creationist), a debating strategy in which an opponent is deluged with small arguments that can’t possibly be answered in the allotted time. If all arguments are not refuted, the creationist debater declares victory.

Debating Canada

When the Institute for Creation Research scheduled their November 2014 anti-evolution “Origin Summit” on the campus of Michigan State University, their first move was to organize a debate. Unfortunately for the group, the science faculty banded together and refused to participate in a debate with the creationist group.

Not only did the science faculty refuse to debate, they refused to comment publicly or on the record until after the event was over. The faculty of MSU steadfastly refused to elevate the status of creationism to science.
A few Michigan State students did, however, set up an outreach booth as a good-will gesture to the summit attendees. Even so, the student volunteers chose not to engage in debate.

The outreach booth organizer explained:

We don’t debate evolution because it’s not debatable. It’s like debating the existence of Canada.

Darwin Editorial_cartoon_depicting_Charles_Darwin_as_an_ape_(1871)

Certainly no scientist has been more maligned or been the subject of more unflattering caricatures than the author of evolution theory, Charles Darwin. But Charles Darwin wasn’t the only or even the first of his day to suggest that living things evolved from a common ancestor. Other scientists had suggested it, including Darwin’s own grandfather.

Darwin developed the theory of evolution in the late 1830’s, but he never published a paper– he planned to present it in one all-inclusive book. Meanwhile, another naturalist (as biologists were called at the time), Alfred Russel Wallace, had arrived at a very similar theory of evolution. Both Darwin and Wallace presented papers in 1858, but the papers were ignored. It was Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species published the following year that caused a scientific and cultural earthquake.

Darwin’s big idea eventually revolutionized science and became the foundation for all of modern biology. Darwin said that evolution occurred because of natural selection: living organisms vary, and some of these variations will better suit individuals to the environment. Individuals that are better suited for the environment will live longer and produce more offspring, thus passing down the traits to future generations. Beneficial traits are retained, useless or harmful traits disappear. Over time, a new species will emerge.

Darwin Was Wrong

Darwin himself realized that there was a gaping hole in his theory: offspring obviously had a mix of their parents’ traits, but how were traits passed from parents to offspring?

Little cell seeds – that was Darwin’s answer. According to Darwin, each cell in the body sheds little cell seeds (Darwin called them “gemmules”). Little cell seeds from both parents blend together to form the offspring. Some gemmules are stronger, so they dominate over the others.

Big problem: if traits are blended in offspring, it would not be very long before beneficial traits are diluted out of future generations.

Darwin’s explanation of how traits are passed from parent to offspring was, in a word, wrong.
Lacking an answer to the problem of heredity, enthusiasm for Darwin’s theory waned.

Super Monk to the Rescue!

While Darwin was busy in the 1850s developing his theory and writing his book, an Augustinian monk was painstakingly carrying out detailed botanical experiments in Brno Abbey (now part of the Czech Republic). Gregor_Mendel_ovalThe Abbey had a long history of scientific inquiry – specifically in the areas of agriculture and plant science. Gregor Mendel studied the inheritance of traits in pea plants – wrinkled or round seeds, yellow or green pods, and other easily identifiable traits.

(Raise your hand if you remember working out Punnett squares in school – you may thank Brother Mendel for that.)

600px-Punnett_Square.svgAfter eight years, thousands of crosses, and meticulous statistical study, Mendel determined that traits are not blended in offspring but are inherited whole.
Mendel published his work in 1866, but no one paid attention.
Almost twenty years after his death, Mendel’s work was rediscovered, breathing new life into Darwin’s theory. Before long we discovered that DNA is the chemical that holds the information for traits in all living things… then off we went, full-steam ahead into the 20th and 21st centuries and the age of genetics.

We now understand that traits, inherited from parents, are combined in unique ways at conception. Unless you are an identical twin, you differ genetically from your siblings. In addition, mutations (copying mistakes in DNA) occur frequently, and these can change a trait. When humans or any living organisms are born with traits that better suit them to their environment, their chances for surviving and having lots of offspring increase.

Embarrassing Progress

Darwin’s “gemmules” idea was utterly wrong, but his theory of evolution by natural selection has stood the tests of time and countless scientific inquiries. Matt Simon, writing in Wired magazine said this:

Being wildly wrong is perfectly healthy in science, because when someone comes along to prove that you’re wrong, that’s progress. Somewhat embarrassing progress for the person being corrected, sure, but progress nonetheless.

What Makes Something “Science”?

Science theories explain. A science theory isn’t speculation or even an “educated” guess. A science theory is an explanation that fits the evidence. For an idea to gain the status of “theory” in science, it must be confirmed consistently by observation and experimentation. As new evidence is discovered, a theory may be adjusted or tweaked, but the underlying principles remain unchanged.

Gravity is a theory. The earth orbiting the sun is a theory. There’s also germ theory and molecular theory. And, of course, evolution theory. As precise as these are, they are still incomplete. We are still tweaking as evidence unfolds.

Darwin theorized that all living things evolved from simpler forms  because of natural selection. What Darwin did not know was all the ways natural selection occurs. We are learning more and more about the “how” of natural selection and how species separate from each other, but the theory – the fact – of evolution remains true.

Science theories have predictive power. A good theory allows scientists to make predictions that will turn out to be roughly correct. When Darwin died, the fossil record was not nearly what it is today. And there certainly was no genetic evidence, much less mapping of genomes.

Yet – fossils of both plants and animals were found just where we expect they’d be found – just where Darwin’s theory predicts they will be found. For example, fish are found in older rock than are amphibians, and Tiktaalik (the famous fish to amphibian transitional fossil) was found in between. meetTik1

The explosion of genetic data over the last two decades doesn’t just show apparent relationships between living things, it shows actual relationships. DNA evidence is the smoking gun – concrete evidence of the interrelatedness of all living organisms.

Is Creationism Science?

In courtrooms across the United States, as well as in state boards of education and textbook hearings, advocates have fought for creationism (and its science-y sibling, intelligent design) as an “alternative” theory to evolution in science classrooms.

Both young earth creationism and intelligent design claim that all life was designed and created specially, uniquely, and separately. If this is true, then all predictive power is lost. If every organism is self-contained, there are no patterns to discover. There are no relationships to discover. Any direction we look for new information is just a shot in the dark.

Kenneth Miller is a biologist, author of a best-selling biology textbook, and a Christian. As an expert witness in the landmark Dover court case, Miller argued that creationism and intelligent design have no place in the science classroom. If non-natural causes are considered legitimate science explanations, Miller reasons, then all science ground rules change.

Why bother to conduct an exhaustive molecular search through primate virus genomes to find the source of HIV if it was sent from God as a divine warning? Why study the physics of light if the rainbow is a phenomenon given to us by a “whimsical” designer (according to William Dembski, a leader in the Intelligent Design movement)?




Science is predictable and explainable because it deals with natural causes.
Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design can’t predict. They can’t explain. They aren’t science.

What Does the Theory of Evolution Say About God?


The theory of evolution says nothing about God. The theory of evolution says nothing about how life began, or how matter came into being. The theory of evolution explains how life developed once it got going.

Darwin could not have imagined the vast and diverse evidence we have now that supports his theory.

Francis Collins said it succinctly:

Trying to do biology without evolution would be like trying to do physics without mathematics.

ccat reading

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

string theory

What’s New in Human Evolution and the Monkeys in my Family Tree

Obviously, the scientists in my family go WAY back. This newspaper ad, (circa late 1800s), features my great-great- grandfather, Stephen Kellogg. Professor Stephen Kellogg croppedProfessor Kellogg, that is: a “scientific masseur” and “suggestive therapeutist”. Family lore is that his wife subsequently left him, not keen on the idea of her husband seeing the local townswomen in various stages of massage-necessitated undress (not to mention the wide possibilities of suggestions in “suggestive therapy”).

The “professor” is an interesting bud on my family tree. And branching off all around him are greats and greats of aunts, uncles, and cousins. My family tree tells me that I descended from the illustrious Professor Kellogg – he is my ancestor, I am his direct descendant. All the aunts, uncles, and cousins many times removed are my relatives, some more closely related than others. They are my relatives, but not my ancestors.

Our Common Ancestor

“If we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”
A Twitter feed I follow called “Take That Darwin” trolls the twitterverse daily and retweets all the variations of the “why are there still monkeys” meme along with snarky responses (“Wow! Have scientists never thought of that??”). Irritainment, I know.

Short answer – people did not “come from” monkeys. Monkeys are still around because monkeys did not “change into” humans.

However, humans share a common ancestor with the great apes, specifically chimpanzees and bonobos. Genetic analysis estimates that the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees lived between eight million and five million years ago. After that, the family tree branched off in different directions – modern apes preceded by their (now extinct) ancestors as well as great aunts and uncles and cousins; modern humans preceded by their (now extinct) ancestors as well as great aunts and uncles and cousins.

Family Tree or Family Bush?

Until the late 1990s, the record of human history was fairly straightforward. The human family tree was scraggly – basically just a trunk and one or two branches. Here’s what we thought: about 4.4 million years ago, the very first hominins (the science word for humans and their ancestors) appeared in east Africa. The most famous early hominin is “Lucy” (her science name is Australopithecus).

About 2.2 million years ago, our genus, Homo, appeared. About one million years ago, members of Homo left Africa and moved into Asia. Separated from their kin in Africa, a new species of Homo arose in Asia called Homo erectus. Homo erectus moved into Europe and became Homo neanderthalensis (the Neanderthals).

These two Homo species thrived for hundreds of thousands of years until a new species of Homo charged out of Africa and took the planet by storm. The new kids on the block were us – modern humans – Homo sapiens. We were so good and smart and talented and verbal we out-competed or killed off all other Homo species until we were the last group standing, approximately 30,000 years ago.

Or so we thought.

Turns out, the human family tree is a bit bushier – not quite the straight shot we once thought from Lucy to Homo erectus to Neanderthals to us. Over the last several decades, a wealth of new fossil finds has changed the picture.

Scientific American (Sept. 2014)

Scientific American
(Sept. 2014)

In addition, evidence from genetic studies has fine-tuned it all. (Side note: it is hard to overstate the impact of modern genetics on evolutionary biology – it is the smoking gun of evidence predicted by the fossil record.)

Evidence now indicates that some of the early hominins left Africa thousands of years before Homo, but died out.

There is also evidence that for several thousand years, our direct ancestors shared the planet with some of our close relatives (other hominins) who were not in our direct lineage – hominin aunts, uncles, and cousins, so to speak. These hominin aunts, uncles, and cousins eventually went extinct, with modern humans the lone survivors.

Recent discoveries also indicate that modern humans were emerging, filling Africa, and migrating out of Africa during a time of climate changes, specifically the waxing and waning of ice ages. The superior brains, dexterity, and language of modern humans probably allowed them to survive while earlier humans went extinct.

And it appears there was another reason for the replacement of the Neanderthals by modern humans in Europe: modern humans and Neanderthals interbred. In fact, the genomes of non-African people today are up to 3 percent Neanderthal.

The human family tree is evidently full of branches, all of which eventually came to a dead end except one: Homo sapiens – us.

What Makes Us Special?

Our Skeletons. The human skeleton, unlike the skeleton of the chimp, allows upright posture, walking on two feet, and fine motor coordination. Two characteristics that initially allow scientists to distinguish early human fossils from chimp fossils are found in the skull. In humans, the opening for the spinal cord is forwardly placed, allowing for upright posture.

Teeth are also telling – the canine teeth are small in humans and large in chimps; human teeth are arranged in an arch, chimp teeth are in a rectangular configuration.

large canines in chimps ARKive image

ape,               "Lucy",              modern human

ape, “Lucy”, modern human


Skull and teeth traits emerged early in the hominins, but other traits that are hallmarks of the human body emerged in our forebears piecemeal over millions of years: a large brain, a long flexible thumb, long legs, a short and broad pelvis, a long flexible waist, and low shoulders.

Human femurs (thigh bone) point inward, allowing upright walking; chimp femurs are splayed outward – a sign of a knuckle-walking chimp.

chimp, "Lucy", modern human

chimp, “Lucy”, modern human

When scientists find fossils with some or all of these traits, they know they’ve found a human or a human relative, not an ape.

Tools: Tool use really took off with the appearance of the genus Homo, but there is evidence that tools were used at least a half a million years before Homo arrived. The Homo groups used fire, clothing, and built shelters. The more sophisticated tools of Homo allowed more efficient hunting and butchering of animals, fueling the growth of a large brain with a protein-rich diet.
But even the large brain in the earlier members of Homo did not result in the success achieved by modern humans.

Symbols. What really made us who we are happened relatively quickly (in evolutionary time). About 100,000 years ago, a Homo group in Africa acquired the ability to use and understand symbols. This unique cognitive ability distinguished Homo sapiens from all other groups. Humans could engage in shared tasks such as hunting big game and building complex societies. They developed language and communicated abstract ideas. Humans are alone in the ability to discern what another person is thinking in order to work toward a shared goal.

So Where’s the Missing Link?

“Scientists have never found the missing link!” is often a throw-down argument used to topple claims of human evolution. Lancelot Link Secret Chimp
Actually, there isn’t a missing link between apes and humans.
There are multitudes of links. There is a wealth of missing links. The bushy tree of human evolution is full of them.

Scientific American

Scientific American

“Lucy” and her close cousins are excellent examples of the transition from ape to modern human. Lucy’s skull is small and chimp-like, so she had a small brain. But her teeth were more human – small canines with arched tooth rows. In her middle, she was a mixture of ape and human traits. But her lower body was almost modern human.
The fossils that date from the time of Lucy and her cousins to the early Homo groups become less and less ape-like and more and more human-like as they progress to anatomically modern humans.

Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham’s creationist organization and the most prolific producer of young earth, literal seven-day-creation writings, rejects all evidence of human evolution and the existence of any “missing links”. The proof, they say, is not in the fossils, but rather in the “Biblical Worldview”:

Therefore, a now-extinct ape with a unique pelvic anatomical design should not even be considered as a possible missing link. There were none. Anatomical variations do nothing to threaten biblical authority or to support evolution. …Adopting a biblical worldview means accepting God at His word.

A Creating Creation

Accepting the natural history of human beings does not have to threaten faith.
The real threat to faith is equating a “biblical world view” with a 6,000 year-old earth and a literal, historical, and scientific interpretation of the Genesis creation stories.

There is absolutely nothing in evolutionary biology that dismisses God or devalues faith. Charles Darwin recognized that his ideas would be perceived by some to be irreligious and he addressed the religious objections head-on. Why would someone hold religious objections to the origin of man, over time, using natural processes, Darwin asked, but not object to the natural processes that, over time, bring about the birth of a baby?

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of each kind, cattle and crawling things and wild beasts of each kind.” And it was so. God made wild beasts of each kind and cattle of every kind and all crawling things on the ground of each kind, and God saw that it was good (Gen. 1:24-25).

In 24, the earth is commanded to “create”. But in 25, it is God who creates. Inconsistent?
Not at all.
Here’s Robert C. Bishop, writing at BioLogos:

…these verses are telling us that God and creation are both at work fulfilling God’s purposes in bringing forth and sustaining living creatures.

In other words, God created a creation capable of creating.

Biologically, we are related to all living things – we are part of one big family tree.
Chemically, we are made of the same stuff as the universe.
Truly, we are creatures of the dust and clay.

And none of that contradicts faith in God. None of it demeans or devalues God – a God who loved his creation so much that he stepped down and became part of his creation, part of the family tree, a creature of the dust and clay. God with us.

ccat reading

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.







What is the Fine-Tuning of the Universe?

Apparently the universe knew we were coming.


Freeman Dyson, one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century, said this about the physical laws of the universe:

The more I examine the universe, and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the Universe in some sense must have known we were coming (The Language of Science and Faith, p. 195).

The physical laws of the universe appear to be designed precisely to support life. In addition, the beginning of it all – the Big Bang – appears to have transpired precisely in a way that would result in life.

Nobody debates this fact – the universe is finely tuned to support the appearance and the development of life.

What is the “fine tuning” of the universe?

There are a myriad of constants in our universe. These constants are numerical values that always hold true – for example, the speed of light.    speed limit of light

There are also forces in nature: the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, and the most familiar of all, gravitational force.

If any one these myriad factors – the constants or the forces – differed even slightly from their actual values, life in the universe would be impossible.

Fine Tuning – Three Examples

carbon  The most important building block of life is the element carbon. Carbon, present in all living things and absolutely essential to life, is a highly improbably element.

But before we talk about carbon – the building block of life – we need to first talk about stars.

Most of the heavy elements in the universe were formed in stars through a process called fusion. Fusion happens when two or more atomic nuclei collide at a very high speed to create a new, heavier element. When fusion occurs, energy is released. Fusion is what fuels the stars and makes them shine:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star 
I know exactly what you are 

 Opaque ball of hot dense gas 
Million times our planet’s mass 
Looking small because you’re far 
I know exactly what you are 

Fusing atoms in your core 
Hydrogen, helium, carbon and more 
With such power you shine far 
Twinkle twinkle little star 

Stars are primarily composed of the lightest element, hydrogen.

In intensely hot stars, two hydrogen atoms fuse to form helium. Two helium atoms fuse to form lithium, two lithium atoms fuse to form beryllium, and so on as we march across the periodic table.

  periodic table  .

Some fusions are much more improbable – carbon is one example. In order for carbon to form, three helium atoms have to collide and fuse. And if that wasn’t hard enough, energy levels in the colliding atoms must match up in order to form carbon. If three helium atoms happened to collide under normal circumstances, the energy levels would not match up. The helium atoms wouldn’t stick together and the atoms would fly apart before they could actually form an atom of carbon. In the production of carbon, the strong nuclear forces and the electromagnetic forces collaborate in a delicate-just-so dance, working together in a collaborative way that allows an improbable window of opportunity for the helium atoms to stick together and form an atom of carbon.

The slightest change to either the strong or electromagnetic forces alters the relevant energy levels, resulting in greatly reduced production of carbon. And carbon, of course is essential to life, so reducing its production dramatically reduces the probability that the universe will turn out to be habitable (p. 182).

Fred Hoyle, one of the twentieth century’s most renowned scientists, called this phenomenon the carbon resonance.

A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and there are no blind forces worth speaking of in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question. (Language of Science and Faith, p.182).

hoyle    (Here’s an interesting side note to the Hoyle quote – Hoyle was an agnostic and in no way wanted to invoke God as an explanation.)

Gravity is the force that attracts you to the surface of the earth (and vice-versa). Gravity is the force that keeps the moon in its path and keeps planets in orbit. Gravity is the force that attracts everything in the universe to each other.

Immediately after the big bang, all matter was randomly distributed – no stars or planets – just individual atoms swirling about in the darkness of space.

Enter gravity.

As matter expanded, gravity began to tug on matter, clumping it into bits, then bigger bits, and bigger. Eventually, matter clumped together as stars and galaxies.

If the force of gravity had been just infinitesimally greater, gravity would have pulled everything back together again, crashing in on itself.   If the force of gravity had been just infinitesimally smaller, matter would have been scattered throughout the universe so loosely that stars would have never formed. Without stable stars like our sun, there can be no habitable planets capable of supporting life.

Paperclip-300x200  Just how exact must the force of gravity be in order to have the universe we have? A paper clip weighs one gram. If gravity was changed so that you weighed one-billionth of a gram less or one-billionth of a gram more than you do now, our universe would have no stars, galaxies, or planets.


No planets, no life.

Goldilocks and the Big Bang. Just after the bang of the big bang, things proceeded in a way that would pave the way for life. For example, if the rate of expansion had been greater, matter would have been so diffuse (spread out) that gravity would not have been strong enough to gather matter together into stars and galaxies. If the rate of expansion had been any slower, gravity would have pulled everything back into a black hole. The expansion rate was “just right” – just like Goldilock’s porridge – not too fast, not too slow.

goldilocksCan We Explain Fine-Tuning Without God?

Because humans exist, the laws of nature are obviously conducive to life. Otherwise, no one would be around to notice.


This is typically the rationale given by those in the “no God” camp. But is it a satisfying explanation?

Here’s an analogy given by philosopher John Leslie (Language of Science and Faith, p. 187): Suppose you are to be executed by firing squad. There you stand, blindfolded, and all of the guns fire. Every shooter misses, and you survive.

What do you think about your situation?

Do you think: Well of course all of the shots missed. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here to notice that I am still alive.

Or do you suspect that something’s up? Something went on behind the scenes? A plot to save you, maybe? Why might such an unlikely event occur?

Our universe appears to have something that went on “behind the scenes”. Intellectual curiosity should lead us to at least consider explanations as to why so many unlikely events converged at the instant of the big bang.

Inflation is another God-free explanation for the apparent fine-tuning of the universe, but this theory simply pushes the fine tuning back a step, it doesn’t eliminate it.

Finally, there is the multiverse explanation. This explanation says that there are an infinite number of universes with infinite combinations of conditions and this is the one we happen to live in. There is not wide-spread support for this idea. Interestingly, Stephen Hawking has said that the multiverse idea is really the only way around the apparent fine tuning of the universe.

Proof of God?

Obviously we can’t prove God, but the fine-tuning of the universe definitely points to a Designer/Creator.  Giberson and Collins (p.190) enthusiastically endorse the idea that the universe is intelligently designed (not to be confused with the “Intelligent Design theory” that opposes evolution). The numerous forces, conditions, and constants that must be “just so” provide a compelling argument that a Creator brought matter into existence, governed by finely-tuned natural laws, resulting in a universe where life could develop and thrive.

Modern scientific understanding of physical laws and constants were not what the psalmist had in mind when he wrote:

Creation is maintained by your rulings, since all things are your servants (119:89-91 JB),

nor was Paul speaking as a physicist when he described the Creator-Christ as the one who holds all creation together (Colossians 1:17).

Science can define, observe, describe and articulate natural laws; this does not diminish God as the author and sustainer of those laws.

This series is a chapter by chapter discussion of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins, with my commentary and my observations.

I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

Why is Darwin’s Theory So Controversial?

Why is Darwin’s Theory So Controversial?

Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love recently published a new novel – The Signature of All Things. The book is fictional, but the historical setting is not. The book follows a nineteelizabeth-gilbert_72140_600x450enth century female botanist, Alma Whittaker.  Through her own observation, collection, and study, Alma, like many natural scientists of her day, came to understand that life on earth had changed drastically – evolved – over time.

Here’s the catch – the fictional Alma (and her non-fictional counterparts upon whom she was modeled) – lived and worked before Darwin.

Evolution Before Darwin

Prior to Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, the idea of the development and evolution of living things over time was widely discussed – and accepted – by scientists and natural philosophers. What Darwin did was to articulate the process (natural section) by which these changes occurred.

The vast amounts of time needed for evolution was not initially a sticking point for Christians. The idea of a very old earth was widely accepted before Darwin, even among conservative Christians. Advances in geologic science and a rapidly growing roster of fossils pointed to an ancient earth – and nobody was really upset about it. For most Christians, an old earth did not contradict the Genesis creation story.

An old earth was usually reconciled with a literal reading of Genesis in one of two ways: the day-age theory or the gap theory. Day-age theory said that the “days” of Genesis were not 24-hour days, but instead were epochs of geological time. Gap theory said that there was a great gap of time between God’s creation of the heavens and the earth and the creation week found in Genesis. In light of scientific data, many nineteenth-century Christians adjusted their reading of Genesis without widespread upset.

Reaction to Darwin – Then and Now

Initially, Christian opposition to evolution was focused in two areas.

The non-directed (random) nature of the evolutionary process was seen as purposeless and without meaning. Actually, the thought of animals and plants evolving was far less offensive to most Christians than the thought of a “meaningless” process.

The second point of opposition lay in the biblical scholarship battles of the day. Because religious modernists (the “liberals”) tended to be captivated by new science discoveries, they also tended to accept evolution. The very fact that liberals tended to accept evolution was reason enough for many Christians to deny it. Even so, by the end of the nineteenth century the evolution of species (except humans) was accepted by many Christians, including several conservative theologians.

Practically no one was arguing for a very young earth except the Seventh-Day Adventists, whose founder claimed a vision revealed to her that Noah’s flood was responsible for fossils.

Darwin, Evolution, and Twentieth Century Christians

George MacCready Price, a self-taught geologist and a Seventh-Day Adventist, expanded the flood explanation in a series of genesis flood coverbooks in the early part of the twentieth century. In 1961, the flood/fossil idea was updated and was published in what would become the centerpiece book of the young-earth-creation-science movement: The Genesis Flood. Because of Sputnik (1959) and the subsequent push for improved science education in American schools, evolution as a topic began to appear in earnest in science text books.

headline sputnik

In response, The Genesis Flood school of thought caught fire and took off.

It soon became a matter of Christian orthodoxy to deny evolution and an old earth.

Groups like Answers in Genesis and The Institute for Creation Research have advocated “teaching the alternative” or  “teaching the controversy” (young earth/special creation/fossils from the flood VS evolution) in schools.


What Are the Challenges to Evolution?

Some questions about evolution were problems at one point, but have now been fully resolved. Not long after Darwin, physicists argued that the earth was only about 100 million years old, not nearly enough time for evolution to have produced the current variation in living things. It was assumed at that time that the earth began in a molten state and had been cooling ever since. Analysis of the rate of cooling from the heat remaining in the ground (volcanoes, geysers) revealed that the earth could not possibly be billions of years old (Language of Science and Faith, p. 162). Not long afterwards, radiation was discovered. Radiation has been releasing heat into the earth since the earth began, countering the cooling process. Radioactive elements are also a very reliable natural clock – because we know the amount of time needed for one element to decay into another, we can determine the age of rocks.

Long-resolved challenges to evolution like this are now only problems for those who are not current with scientific literature or who do not respect the literature.

Some questions about evolution are not really problems at all, but are premised on misunderstandings of science. A common argument against evolution is that evolutionary theory breaks the second law of thermodynamics. The second law states that everything becomes disordered over time. We see examples in everyday life – cars don’t get newer, they rust and corrode. Fruit doesn’t get fresher, it decays. Evolution seems to say just the opposite – simple, primitive cells evolved into the brilliant complexities of modern organisms.

Here’s the important part – the part that is misunderstood: the second law says that disorder increases in an isolated system. Almost every system in nature has input from the outside. Input from outside a system can produce order.

Here’s a familiar example: green plants and the process of photosynthesis. With energy input from the sun, green plants turn carbon dioxide and water into sugars. As long as the green plant has energy input from the sun, sugars will be constructed – order is increased.

Go to any elementary school science fair and I promise that right next to the kid who investigated “playing rock music vs. classical music to potted plants” you’ll find a junior scientist “investigating” what happens when you grow plants under a box in the dark. Take away the outside input, and the plant starts to decay – it becomes “disordered”. science-fair-projects-for-kids-growing-plants

Interesting to note that as the sun produces the energy that is used by plants to become more ordered, the sun itself is becoming more disordered.

As evolution unfolds on earth the sun becomes increasingly disordered and the total order of the solar system and the universe is still decreasing (Language of Science and Faith, p. 167).

Biological systems (living things) are not isolated systems, so the second law does not apply to them.

Some questions about evolution are unanswered…so far. Probably the most concerning unanswered question is about the origin of life itself. Evolution theory explains the development of life on earth. Evolution theory says nothing about the origin of life – that is a separate question. Scientists have a pretty good idea about when life appeared on earth (about four billion years ago) but no agreement on the how.

But – just because we don’t have a science explanation for how life emerged today does not mean that we won’t have one tomorrow. It is tempting to put God in our gap of knowledge: since we don’t know how life began on earth, it must have been a special miraculous intervention by God. Then what happens if tomorrow’s headlines announce that scientists have discovered how life began? Is all lost for believers in God?


If (or when) the origins of life are found, we will not have disproved God; we will have discovered the mechanism by which God brought life about on earth.

…God’s original and elegant plan for the universe may well have included the potential for life to arise without necessarily requiring later “supernatural” engineering to jumpstart the process. In this view, God’s sustaining creative presence undergirds all of life’s history from the beginning to the present (Language of Science and Faith, p.175).

Side note: Last week, Dr. Giberson, one of the co-authors of The Language of Science and Faith, debated a young earth creationist in an event sponsored by the Center for Creation Studies.

It’s lengthy, but very interesting. Here’s the linkgiberson debate

Dr. Giberson is a very patient man!

This series is a chapter by chapter discussion of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins, with my commentary and my observations.

I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

Science and the Existence of God

Do you believe in God?

Have you ever been put in the spotlight and asked just that question?


You are on the spot now – What say you?

With biting humor, Bill Maher looked at modern belief in God in his 2008 documentary, Religulous. It is cleverly made, but quite often uncomfortable to watch. Why would any educated, intelligent person in the twenty-first century believe in God any more than they would believe in Santa Claus, Zeus, or a Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Can a Reasonable, Rational, Science-believing Person Believe in God?

 Common Arguments for the Existence of God

  • First cause argument: why is there something rather than nothing? Everything in existence was “caused” by something or someone. God is the “first cause” of everything and he started the chain of all other causes. This argument actually predates Christianity – it was proposed by Aristotle in the fourth century B.C.
  • Design argument: the universe displays intricate and complex design. Just as a complex machine or a fantastic example of architecture points to the existence of its designer, the universe also points to a designer (God).
  • If you can imagine it, then it is so: if it is possible for God to exist, then he exists. (I know- doesn’t make a lot of sense. This isn’t a very popular argument).
  • Love is real: and so is morality, beauty, and loyalty. The non-physical aspects of life cannot be completely explained in a purely materialistic way. There is a reality (God) that is not material or physical.
  • Logic argument: some things are always true and this truth does not depend on human minds. This argument says that things like logic, science, and ethics do not make sense in the absence of God.

The sometimes uncomfortable truth is this: we cannot absolutely prove God’s existence. None of these arguments settles the case once and for all. Some of the arguments are flawed.

All the same, reasons for belief in God can be meaningfully discussed and taken as evidence that he exists.

The Problem of Evil

How can a good, loving, and all-powerful God allow evil and suffering in the world?

 Of all the challenges to faith, few are greater and have caused more believers to abandon their faith than the problem of evil (The Language of Science and Faith, p. 127).

Actually, the problem of evil is a conundrum for both believers and nonbelievers.

For nonbelievers, the problem is truth. If truth is not absolute, then there is no absolute morality. “Right and wrong” are simply artifacts of culture and human social development. In the absence of an absolute morality, no one can complain about the unfairness of any kind of suffering or injustice….it just is what it is.

For believers, the problem is inconsistency. Believers must reconcile the apparent conflict between a loving, all powerful God in charge of a world filled with Holocausts, human trafficking, terrorists, disease, and natural disasters.

The Problem of Human Evil

Humans are free-willed beings. From a Christian perspective, free will is a gift from God that gives meaning to life. We were not created as programmed robots that act in a predetermined way. We can choose to accept the love of God – or not. Free will also means that humans are a primary source of evil in the world. Humans are free to choose murder, theft, torture, trafficking, and lies.

Only an actual choice – real freedom – can give us a genuine relationship with God. But with real freedom, evil is always an option.

The Problem of Evil in Nature

Yersinia pestis

Disasters  in the natural world cause untold suffering. Polio cripples and malaria kills. People die in tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods.

And on a daily basis, vipers have poison, bees sting, mosquitoes bite, and cats torture their prey before they kill it. Predator and prey in the animal kingdom, where death and suffering are ironically the way of life.

Some Christians do back-bends with their theology in order to reconcile the violence of nature with a good Creator God and the perfection of Eden. A popular explanation is that no animals were carnivores prior to the sins of Adam and Eve in the garden.

We have to suppose that every animal on the planet had its way of life dramatically transformed by the curse. Sharp teeth and poison glands – and the genetic code to produce them – had to pop into existence, since animals were now going to start killing each other for the first time (Language of Science and Faith, p. 131).

vegitarian lion

Quite simply, there is just no evidence in the fossil record of carnivore-style teeth suddenly appearing – and teeth fossilize very well. Additionally, natural laws such as gravity, force, and tectonic plate movement must be suspended in order to support the supposition of a perfect, nonviolent world: no animal deaths from falls, no squishing an insect with a carelessly placed hoof, no earthquakes or volcanoes.

Overwhelmingly, it is clear that death, suffering, and natural disasters were commonplace billions of years before humans appeared.

 The Problem of Evil and Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design (ID) is an explanation of origins that is touted as an alternative to evolution. The Intelligent Design argument says that the exquisite and complex features of creation point to a Designer (understood to be God) who individually designed each component of the natural world. Intelligent Design highlights helpful components of nature such as the human eye, the human blood clotting mechanism, and interesting things like the “cute” little motorboat-like flagellum of bacteria (p. 132).

Intelligent Design proponents, however, do not talk about the more sinister “designs” in nature: the incredibly well-designed and successful AIDS virus or the really efficient bacteria that killed millions with plague. And then there is the especially charming species of wasp that lays its eggs in a caterpillar. When they hatch, the baby wasps nourish themselves by eating the internal organs of their hosts in the order that ensures their hosts live as long as possible (Language of Science and Faith, p.130).

Some have suggested that Satan is responsible for the creation of the distasteful things in nature, but this is elevating Satan to the level of creator (p. 133).

I can’t go there.

How Might Evolution Help Faith?

By faith we believe that all creative power comes from God, but this power can be wielded by nature to form, build, shape, and create. Tides, rivers, wind, even gravity are constantly forming and reforming the earth.

In the most minute sphere of the physical world – the subatomic level – things really get interesting. Identical electrons will “choose” to behave in different ways. This behavior is random and is not predictable.

…many processes in nature exhibit a genuine unpredictability that looks, for all the world, like freedom (p. 134).

Analogous to the freedom given by God to humans is the freedom given by God to all creation. God does not micromanage human behavior, and the result is that we humans abuse our freedom and bad things happen. Bad choices are the result of autonomy. Likewise, God does not micromanage nature. In its autonomy, nature will produce some bad designs (from a human perspective).

Humans and nature have been granted freedom by their Creator – neither are programmed robotic creations.

So why doesn’t God intervene? No one can explain why God doesn’t stop great evils like the Holocaust. No one can resolve the problem of when and why God chooses to intervene in human history or in nature.

It does help, however, to realize that genuine freedom – the very real freedom that allows us to love God – has to allow evil.

If God constantly intervened and blocked the consequences of the moral choices of humans every time they lead to evil, moral responsibility would disappear (p.140). We would be free to lash out, harm, and even murder those who anger us, confident that God would swoop in and undo the results of our wrath.

If God constantly intervened and blocked the consequences of natural laws, our world would be unpredictable and science wouldn’t work.

Moral Laws and God

Just as some use evil to argue against the existence of God, the unfairness of evil can be interpreted as support for God’s existence. Whenever we complain about the unfairness of a situation like cheating, bigotry, or third world debt, we are appealing to some sort of higher standard – the way things “should be”. If we are nothing more than an assemblage of chemicals, why should it matter?  One molecule owes nothing to other molecules. Our moral sense of right and wrong transcends our material selves.

It has been suggested that our moral selves evolved as our big brains evolved. It is true that caring and helpfulness and other positive traits are beneficial and could have evolved to aid human survival. It is entirely possible that God could have used natural processes to produce moral standards in humans, but there is currently no compelling theory for this (Language of Science and Faith, p. 143).

The prevalence and universality of moral standards is completely consistent with the existence of God. 

If we accept the reality of such moral laws, then we must ask about their origins. God is a reasonable conclusion to such exploration (Language of Science and Faith, p. 144).

Evolution Helps Faith – Really

The subject of evolution makes a lot of Christians really nervous. Many smart, thoughtful believers consciously avoid even investigating evolution for fear that science is corrosive to faith.

In addressing the age-old question of “how can a good God exist when there is so much evil in the world”, science is a positive. Evil, both human and natural, are the results of the freedom in creation. God is not the cause of evil.

Our universe appears to have a beginning. It appears to be fine-tuned for life. Our universe appears to have a place for love and purpose. To deny the existence of God is to say that the universe is not really as it appears – it’s all an illusion.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1

This series is a chapter by chapter discussion of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins, with my commentary and my observations.

I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.