Apologetics

Evolution and Life’s Origins: A Conversation on a Bus in France

I did not expect to end up in this country today, I grinned, noting the striped blue, red and white flag which flashed past the bus window. Only a few hours earlier in Switzerland, I’d boarded this bus bound for a city I’d never heard of in Germany, where friends of friends had offered to host me at the last minute.

Surely, I’d reasoned, staring at my GPS as we drove, we’ll head straight north through Zurich and follow the main German motorways.

But as the minutes turned into hours, the little blue dot on my screen drifted further and further west, toward the intersection where France, Germany and Switzerland collide.

We’ll turn north any minute.

But wait…why was the little blue dot suddenly crossing the wrong border?

I’m in—France?!

My gaze wrenched from the GPS screen and fastened on the scenery outside—brown fields alternating with skeletal forests and occasional villages. Sometimes, low hills materialized in the background, lounging against the horizon as though painted on the winter sky.

It looks almost like Canada, except for the villages. They could be storybook drawings, with their identical peaked red roofs blanketing those white houses, and a steeple invariably rising from every town centre.

We eventually rolled into one of the larger cities, where a group of boisterous young adults filed into the seats behind me. Unlike most of the conversations which I’d been hearing that day, I could clearly understand theirs.

Americans?

I turned up my music volume to tune out their discussion, until I started overhearing words like Miller-Urey, origins and evolution.

I pulled out my earbuds.

Nothing wrong with a little eavesdropping on a loud conversation in a public bus, right?

As I listened, I could feel my pulse pick up a notch with every word. I’m not one to jump into deep spiritual discussion with whomever straps themselves into an airplane seat beside me, but this seemed like too interesting an opportunity to miss.

“I couldn’t help overhearing you talk about my favourite topic ever,” I ventured, turning around to face a bearded guy in a white t-shirt.

“Oh yeah?”

“Definitely. I studied general science—biology, psychology and evolution courses—because so many important aspects of society relate to our perspectives on human origins.”

“So, what did you think about my summary?”

Mentally, I reviewed his monologue about life’s origins, beginning with an account of how 20th-century researchers Miller and Urey created amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, by zapping electricity through a do-it-yourself primordial soup. This experiment replicated supposed early earth conditions, purportedly demonstrating that life’s building blocks could leap into existence through a convenient collision of matter and energy—however that matter, energy and the laws which govern them appeared. Next, these early building blocks self-arranged into simple cells, which morphed into complex cells and multicellular organisms, which—thanks to natural selection keeping the most helpful new mutations in life’s gene pool—eventually became all of us on the Germany-bound bus.

“It sounded like a pretty accurate description of the mainstream origins story,” I replied.

But the mainstream story leaves out some key bits of information.

“One thing that textbooks don’t really add about the Miller-Urey experiment though[1],” I continued, “is that amino acids come in two different forms: left-handed, and right-handed. Miller and Urey came up with a chaotic mix of both, but only the right-handed ones can be involved in making proteins, while the left-handed kind can be deadly to life. The amino acids also ended up in a liquid solution, representing earth’s early oceans. But amino acids don’t actually stay linked together long in environments like that, so they couldn’t have bonded stably on their own.[2] And even if enough right-handed amino acids did link and stay bonded, they’d have to connect in an astronomically specific order to create a functional protein. Ordering the amino acids requires information, which nucleic acids like RNA and DNA normally encode. But our human experience, observations and reasoning tell us that information can only come from intelligent sources.[3]

Of course, my actual answer sounded a lot worse than that. It’s much easier to write this type of argument after the fact than it is to improvise on a bus. I stumbled miserably over my recollections of first-year biology as I tried to describe the chicken-and-egg problem associated with making a protein, and my bus buddy called me on it. But hopefully, I somehow expressed that the nucleic acids which carry protein-building instructions are themselves made of meticulously-organized proteins, as are the molecular machines that choreograph, fuel and execute the whole unimaginably complex, interdependent process.

“Besides,” I added, “even if a functional protein—or an entire cell—could appear naturalistically, it takes a lot more genetic information to build a human than it does to build a bacterium. Where did all that information come from? Natural selection can only pick and chose from genetic information that’s already present, making sure that organisms with the most useful genes survive and reproduce. New genetic information is mostly supposed to come from mutations, but mutations are almost always corruptions—losses—of information that’s already present.[4]

Bus Buddy disagreed with me, so I offered the example of dog breeding. A mutation in a wolf-like dog might compromise the gene for long hair, leaving short-haired offspring. Still, those offspring might survive better in hotter climates, where the long-haired dogs die off—along with all their genetic information.

In this case, the short-hair mutation happened to be beneficial for the ‘hot dogs.’ So many mutations cause more harm than good, however, that natural selection isn’t necessarily able to weed out the harmful mutations fast enough or specifically enough. Then, the gene pool becomes further and further degraded—a dilemma known as genetic entropy.[5] Typical evolution, then, isn’t so much ‘onwards and upwards’ as ‘backwards and downwards.’

“You can lose information from a wolf until you end up with a chihuahua,” I summarized, “but you can’t add new information to a chihuahua until you come up with a wolf.”

He basically replied, “Who says?”

As cool as it would have been to have a magical answer right there off the top of my head, I didn’t. Instead, I just encouraged him to look into the question of genetic information origins, and pointed out that not even Dr. Richard Dawkins, in an interview, could come up with an example of a mutation generating decisively new information.[6]

Ultimately, I didn’t change his perspective, and he didn’t change mine. But he did ask me what I believe.

I grinned.

Somehow, it feels safer to talk about touchy subjects with strangers on the opposite side of the planet from anyone I’m likely to meet again than with people who know me.

“I side with a more Judeo-Christian understanding of origins,” I offered. “I get my ideas from the Bible, which I wouldn’t do if I didn’t think there are good reasons for accepting the Bible as true.[7]

“It seems like such a cop-out,” he later said, referring to Theism. “Just think of the Big Bang—imagine the entire universe expanding from a tiny point the size of nothing! It’s unfathomable, that kind of power. How could God just create that?”

“If the universe’s origin seems that impossible to happen even with God, how could it happen without Him?”

“Physics, I think.”

I didn’t ask where the laws, constants and organization of physics came from. I don’t think I even brought up classical apologists’ go-to argument that observable effects like matter, energy and physical laws must have a cause which exists independently of all those effects. Aristotle thought so, arguing that a First Cause—an Unmoved Mover—must exist to explain the universe.

On some level, Bus Buddy must have thought so too, for at one point, I noted that he mentioned his belief in some sort of “gods” behind the ‘Big Bang.’

He also mentioned that he grew up in a Christian home.

That’s what I’m here to learn about—how to help kids from Christian homes keep their faith. It’s why I’m doing this trip. If churches and families can focus on equipping kids to own, grow and maintain their walk with God now, we won’t have to re-evangelize a whole generation of atheists in twenty years. Discipleship is preventative evangelism.

I didn’t hear what happened to Bus Buddy’s faith—or even if he’d had his own faith to begin with, apart from his family’s. Instead, the conversation turned to travel-related topics as we crossed from France to Germany, where my little blue GPS dot told me to bid Bus Buddy farewell. Then, the bus rolled away towards Frankfurt, leaving me and my massive green backpack on a curb somewhere in Germany.

What insights would Christian students here offer about preventative evangelism?

That’s what I needed to find out next.

 

 

References and Resources for Further Reading:

[1] Article discussing textbook presentations of Miller-Urey experiment: https://evolutionnews.org/2011/06/miller-urey_experiment_icon_of/

[2] Article from Biblical perspective critiquing Miller-Urey experiment: https://creation.com/why-the-miller-urey-research-argues-against-abiogenesis

[3] Book chapter explaining this information dilemma in relation to the Milley-Urey experiment is available at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/004b/e490d53fca7804ca55c02c527c48324d41a4.pdf. From Meyer, Stephen (1998) “The Explanatory Power of Design: DNA and the Origin of Information.”  Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design.  Edited by William A. Dembski, (Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, Illinois), pp. 114-47. NOTE: A further elaborated, more recent explanation by the same author is available in the book Signature in The Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design.

[4] Article from Biblical perspective discussing whether mutations can generate new genetic information: https://creation.com/mutations-new-information

[5] For an entire book on the issue, check out Sanford, John (2005). Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome Elim Publishing.

[6] A discussion about this interview is available at https://answersingenesis.org/evidence-against-evolution/skeptics-choke-on-frog/

[7] Full apologetics resource libraries representing intellectuals from a number of Christian perspectives are available online https://www.rzim.org/resources (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) and www.apologetics315.com. An online library of open-access articles addressing science topics from a creation-based perspective is also available at https://creation.com/qa.

PS – For a recent, comprehensive resource on some of the issues addressed in this article, check out Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philisophical and Theological Critique (Crosswalk Books, 2017), created by a symposium of top-notch Christian thinkers including scientists, theologians and philosophers.

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