In the ongoing Intelligent Design debate, there are questions that both sides need to answer. And the answers may surprise some, suggests Peter McGowan.
It may surprise some, that in their beliefs, atheists and Christians share the quality of faith—faith in a different belief system—but a strong faith nonetheless. Christians have faith in a Creator-God, while atheists believe in science—which also takes faith. Or does it? Surely science is demonstrable, consistent and reproducible, and thus requires no faith? One can see how “scientific” an atheist is by looking at five of the important links in the evolutionary story. We will judge these ideas as either scientific or otherwise according to their ability to satisfy the scientific method of being reproducible, consistent with scientific observations and testable in a laboratory.
The “Big Bang”
The current most popular theory about the origin of the cosmos asserts that our entire universe began with a “singularity” of infinite density, which expanded to the present size of the universe.
Considerable faith is required to believe that an event without a cause could have such a dramatic result. It disobeys all known laws of physics, such as the first law of thermodynamics about conservation of matter and energy— things just do not just appear unless on an atomic scale and then only briefly. It also disobeys all current understanding of the second law of thermodynamics concerning the decay of order and information— no mechanism has yet been proposed for the ingenious arrangement of the orderly cosmos—observed order always comes from some external source.
Thus the big bang is not reproducible, unobserved, inconsistent with known laws, and cannot be tested in a laboratory.
It is therefore “unscientific.” It takes a degree of faith to believe in such a serendipity.
There are similar leaps of faith required in order to believe that the universe evolved in just the right way (entirely by chance) to be able to produce our planet and its ideal environment for life. For example, the composition of our planet is quite different from all the other bodies in the solar system—it is largely iron and nickel. Chance produced a planet of very high density—much higher than all the other bodies in the solar system—and is constructed from galactically relatively scarce material.
How did our land, seas and atmosphere develop? They should have boiled away during the early evolution of the planet as it cooled. How did the ratio of oxygen to carbon develop with just the correct amounts at the planet's surface in just the right places? No theory or mechanism to explain this has ever been proposed! The elements of life—oxygen, carbon and nitrogen and so on—should not be capable of coexisting especially in the formative stages, and especially in the presence of copious amounts of dangerous radiation from the sun and outer space.
Again, these origins are unobserved, inconsistent with current knowledge, not reproducible and untested. They are therefore, again, “unscientific”—a serious problem for the atheist who must depend on the scientific method alone.
Probably the greatest problem or miracle of evolution is the origin of life itself. How did the first living cell arrive? Before that, how did the first DNA and amino acids form in conjunction with each other? (Nucleic acid and amino acids are normally incompatible.) Further, it is a fundamental law of biology that all cells must have their origin in another living organism—an invariant law known as biogenesis.
Even if some mechanism were proposed for the coexistence of the right chemicals, where did the huge amount of information for the construction of the cell come from? Where did the machinery for reading the DNA code arise? What was the origin of the chemical reproduction equipment? Where did the repair of damage and growth mechanisms come from, all so ingeniously encoded in the DNA? This problem isn't just difficult, it's impossible! Not only has no mechanism ever been proposed for abiogenesis, but no biochemist could even produce the required results under controlled, contrived laboratory conditions! Then there is the problem of the very one-sided chirality of many organic chemicals. Many chemicals occurring in living matter can exist in two forms, mirror images of each other. However, biological proteins have only left-handed amino acids, and DNA and RNA have only right-handed sugars. Thus, if naturally occurring chemicals exist in equal proportions of left- and right-handed forms, and living cells arose naturally, this should be reflected in cell chemistry.
However, in all living cells these chemicals exist exclusively as either left- or right-handed entities as illustrated above.
This fact alone (called homochirality of biochemicals) demonstrates the extreme difficulty of abiogenesis.
Abiogenesis has never been observed, cannot be reproduced in the laboratory and cannot be tested. It is therefore also “unscientific” and must be accepted as a miracle of faith by the atheist.
The next miracle of atheistic faith is the development of the numerous species of living creatures and plants from a presumed single, original species.
Adaptation is well observed and is not controversial—a species can develop wide variations of its principle characteristics to suit its environment. But the development of new species from another species is another matter entirely. Again, this has never been observed and cannot be tested.
Evolution suggests that small mutations of the genetic code (DNA) are what lead to the evolution of new species.
However, this assumes that such mutations are helpful and an advantage to the organism. That is, the mutation will sometimes be beneficial by adding new and better information to the genetic code. Again, no such mutation has ever been observed—all mutations result in the loss of information and are always detrimental to the organism.
Thus, the miracle of speciation must remain a matter of faith for the atheist, unable to be observed or reproduced.
Even if we admit all the previous miracles, there remains another insurmountable problem of irreducible complexity.
It is an integral part of the evolutionary “faith” that any and every mutation that becomes a permanent feature of the genetic code must be an advantage to the organism as it gradually develops. But this is a serious problem with some complex organs.
Take the eye, for example. The eye has several components, including the pupil (with the optic sphincter muscle) to control light intensity, eye muscles for accurately pointing the eye in the correct direction, the lens and focusing mechanisms, aqueous and vitreous humours, the retina to convert light to electrical signals, the optic nerve to transmit the information to the brain, and appropriate and very complex parts of the brain to interpret the huge flow of information.
Without any one of these components (and this is not an exhaustive list), the eye would not function and the other components would be of no advantage to humans or other creatures.
Ask a simple question: How could any one of the components of the eye have evolved, because not one of them confers any advantage on the creature before all the others develop? Again, no explanation can be offered and the miracle of irreducible complexity must be accepted by faith.
If the eye were the only such example, then this would be only a minor irritation for evolutionists. Unfortunately, such examples abound and include things such as the blood and circulatory system, the skeletal system and the muscular system, among others. In fact, almost every organ of the human body could be cited as an example of irreducible complexity that could not have been produced by blind evolutionary processes.
Probably the greatest example of irreducible complexity is the single cell itself, the origin of which cannot be explained, nor can any possible origin even be foreseen.
Again, this is an important element of the atheist's faith.
Another problem of irreducible complexity is the existence of sexual reproduction— how did the sexes evolve at all? Evolving a male without the female would be useless. How did the transition from asexual to sexual reproduction evolve simultaneously at each biological level? There are no suggestions on the table and this evolutionary miracle must be accepted either blindly or by faith.
There's a stark choice between an omnipotent Creator-God on the one hand and a series of evolutionary miracles on the other including the big bang, the order of the cosmos, the origin of the earth, abiogenesis, speciation, irreducible complexity and sexuality, to name only a few. Each of these miracles is inconsistent with current observation and natural law, which puts atheism into the same place that it places religion.
So why is atheism appealing when it takes just as much faith in the unseen as Christianity? The answer is in the consequences and obligations of the two alternatives.
Atheism: There is no God and the universe is meaningless. Humans are just another species of animal; morals and ethics are meaningless, so we are responsible to nothing.
Theism: There is a Creator-God who made humans and all else. He defines right and wrong, which makes us responsible to Him.
Thus, atheism is a convenient way of avoiding our responsibility to God. Many reject theism because they're unwilling to make the commitment it implies. At least one atheist, author Richard Lewontin, has been brave enough to actually say so: “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism."
“It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.
Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door!” (“Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review , January 9, 1997, page 31).
By contrast with atheism, theism is more consistent (but still unscientific— God rarely allows Himself to be the subject of laboratory tests). Theists will testify that they have a personal relationship with their Creator-God who regularly performs miracles. For those who serve God, He is a source of life, strength and inspiration: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. . . . For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Psalm 33:6, 9).