What should the Christian believe about the age of the earth and the origin of life? WORLD magazine editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky explores the issue against the backdrop of a Grand Canyon raft trip.*
In June we covered Olasky’s thoughts on whether Christians should embrace evolution to help further evangelism. “For such a time as this we must learn to trust God to change hearts without our having to back away from the Bible,” Olasky concluded. Now, having joined creationists for a raft trip through the Grand Canyon, Olasky in this week's cover story of WORLD examines the origins controversy in more detail. “This article will look at some young-earth creationist thinking as compared with conventional theories,” he writes, “and suggest how Christian colleges should react.
Joining him on the rafting trip were individuals from Answers in Genesis, including geologist Andrew Snelling and science/geology historian Terry Mortenson. But why even give the young-earthers a chance to defend their view? Olasky answers (convincingly, in our admittedly biased opinion) by quoting secular geologist Wayne Ranney:
“[R]ivers like the Colorado actually deepen their channels only during relatively large and intermitted large-scale floods, when huge amounts of large, rocky debris are in motion. . . . Most canyons are carved only during relatively rare flood events. . . . Imagine the view from the rim at the moment when a lava dam catastrophically failed and a tremendous outburst flood roared through the Grand Canyon with rubble-filled water 600 feet deep.”
Ranney clearly “sees the limits of uniformitarian explanations,” Olasky writes. Of course, the same can be said of the creationists on the trip with Olasky, whose teachings on the trip (condensed by Olasky) form a quick summary of much of the young-earth creation arguments for a young earth:
Olasky is a fair judge, pointing out that young-earthers still don’t have a comprehensive understanding of radiometric dating (though neither do old-earthers; see last week’s News to Note), and that old-earthers point to their own evidences of the Grand Canyon’s antiquity. (He also promises a follow-up article presenting the old-earth view.) But he concludes that Christians “need investigation, not arbitrary exclusion of what is scientifically unfashionable,” and that Christians “should not excommunicate young-earthers” but instead “encourage debate among all those who see the Bible as God’s Word but have differences in interpretation.”
Surprise, surprise: we agree.
Stephen Hawking, perhaps the most famous physicist since Einstein, has again emphasized that the universe didn’t need God to get things rolling.
In a new book, The Grand Design, Hawking and coauthor Leonard Mlodinow lay out the case for a universe that began without any divine spark—one step beyond even those who accept the big bang but see it as God’s handiwork. To the authors, the big bang was the unavoidable result of the laws of physics at work. “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing,” they write.
Among the authors’ arguments is that the discovery of extrasolar planets—those that orbit stars other than our own sun—shows that “the coincidences of our planetary conditions . . . [are] far less remarkable and far less compelling as evidence that the Earth was carefully designed.” However, nearly all extrasolar planets (or exoplanets) discovered to date appear to be extremely inhospitable.
The book also raises the possibility of multiple universes, a theory commonly invoked to explain, without the need for God, how life could have arisen in our universe. Turning the usual argument on its head—and begging the question, in a way—the authors argue that the existence of multiple universes would be “redundant” if God was trying to create mankind and are therefore another evidence against God.
The Times report (subscription required) includes a quotation from atheist biologist Richard Dawkins, who admitted tellingly that he had “always assumed the same thing” even before Hawking’s book was released.
Also quoted was Oxford University theoretical physicist Frank Close, who incisively points out, “Given the vast numbers of stars in our known Universe, God’s efficiency may already be called into question: if the sole aim was to create you, me, and Stephen Hawking, would not one solar system have been enough?”
Reacting to the news, Answers in Genesis astrophysicist Jason Lisle noted, “Progressive creationists claim that the big bang is God’s method of creation. But here we have the most respected astrophysicist in the world saying that the big bang is a replacement for God. It’s not God’s method. It’s what you are supposed to believe in instead of God.”
But debating whether God or no one created the universe leaves out a third possibility, argues University of Sussex astronomy fellow John Gribbin in a Telegraph column this week. “[O]ne possibility has been almost ignored,” he writes, “—the idea that the universe around us was created by people very much like ourselves, using devices not too dissimilar to those available to scientists today.” Gribbin is referring to such devices as the Large Hadron Collider.
Sadly, while Gribbin declares, “The universe is comprehensible to the human mind because it was designed, at least to some extent, by intelligent beings with minds similar to our own,” he steadfastly insists that he “do[es] not mean a God figure, an ‘intelligent designer’ monitoring and shaping all aspects of life.” Whether the “creators” are the inanimate laws of physics or a race of beings with “roughly our level” of intelligence, mainstream scientists seem to do all that they can to avoid the conclusion that the universe was designed.
A strange Australian lizard that can, apparently, both give live birth and lay eggs: is it evolution “caught in the act” or a curiosity explainable by wearing creation lenses?
In the lowlands of New South Wales, a lizard known as the yellow-bellied three-toed skink lays eggs—nothing out of the ordinary for a reptile. But high in the mountains of New South Wales, the same species bears live young. This strange ability to use both methods of reproduction—and its evolutionary import—is the starting point for research by East Tennessee State University biologist James Stewart and colleagues.
Most reptiles, as with most fish and birds, lay eggs, but about one-fifth give live birth as do nearly all mammals. Evolutionists, such as Stewart, interpret live birth as having evolved from egg-laying at various points in evolutionary history. Therefore, “by studying differences among [skink] populations that are in different stages of this process, you can begin to put together what looks like the transition from one [birth style] to the other,” Stewart explained.
The biological explanation for the two birthing styles is straightforward: laying eggs reduces the resource load on the mother, but bearing the developing embryos until birth protects them from environmental threats (such as predators and weather). It’s no surprise, then, that skinks lay eggs in the warm lowland environment but retain the embryos in the cold mountain regions.
But giving birth to live young is quite different for skinks than for mammals. Skinks simply retain the eggs (that is, the shelled embryos) inside their bodies, while most mammals develop with a placenta rather than a shell. But keeping the eggs inside causes the shells to thin, so mother skinks counteract by secreting calcium into the embryos. This, according to Stewart, is “basically the early stages of the evolution of a placenta in reptiles.” He added, “We tend to think of this as a very complex transition, but it’s looking like it might be much simpler in some cases than we thought.”
So is the skink really “moving” from eggs to live birth, as the National Geographic News headline states? On the contrary, it appears that God designed some creatures with the amazing capability to switch birth methods to protect them from environmental dangers; meanwhile, Stewart’s team has observed no sign that skinks (or other creatures) have acquired or are acquiring any abilities they once lacked.
Killer whales “are still evolving, and quickly,” BBC News reports. But is it really so?
Scientists led by Andrew Foote of the Natural History Museum of Denmark have watched as orcas (another name for the whales) living near Antarctica appear to be diverging into two types, B and C. Type B orcas are among the largest known and feed on seals, while type C orcas are small and mainly eat fish. The two types also have distinct head markings.
Curious to learn more, Foote’s team compared the genes of the two orca types and discovered two notable differences. All type B orcas showed a mutation on a gene known as site 279, while most type C orcas have a separate mutation, at site 193. The genes are both involved in directing how the whales’ cells produce energy. Foote explained:
“The gene under selection is important in producing energy for the body’s cells, and so the mutations are probably linked to the metabolic requirements of these two types. Both types live in the Antarctic pack ice and therefore the low temperature of this habitat could be one selective pressure. But the two mutations should have the opposite effect on metabolism to one another, suggesting divergent evolution.”
According to the researchers, neither mutation is present in the genome of what is thought to be the two orca types’ most recent ancestor, dating from before the two types split off an alleged 150,000 years ago.
As with most supposed examples of evolution in action, however, these orcas’ divergence can be explained within a biblical, creation-based biology framework. Genetic mutations and the workings of natural selection do appear to have led to two new orca types; yet neither shows an increase of genetic information or diversity relative to either the other or to the hypothesized common ancestor. Furthermore, the whales are still whales. Foote’s team has thus helped reveal another interesting case not of molecules-to-man-style evolution, but of a population of creatures adapting to its environment.
A new, overarching study of fossil discoveries reveals that most fossil finds cause little change in scientists’ view of evolutionary history. Why is that newsworthy for creationists?
The University of Bristol team conducting the study hoped to determine whether newly unearthed fossils tend to “rewrite evolutionary history,” as is often claimed. Likewise, creationists sometimes bemoan that one can’t trust evolutionary history as fact because it’s always changing.
But with the exception of dinosaur fossils, evolutionary history rarely changes in response to a single fossil find, the team concludes. For the scientists, that’s a good thing. “It might seem negative to say that new finds do, or do not, change our views,” noted the university’s Michael Benton. “However, to find that they don’t means that we may be close to saturation in some areas, meaning we know enough of the fossil record in some cases to have a pretty good understanding of that part of the evolutionary tree.”
When it comes to dinosaurs, however, the team pointed out that new dinosaur excavations—in regions previously untouched by paleontologists, such as China—continue to overturn aspects of the evolutionary history of dinosaurs.
Of special interest, study leader James Tarver explained why, despite the perception, hominid fossils rarely upset existing literature: “Scientists may be pushed by their sponsors, or by news reporters, to exaggerate the importance of their new find and make claims that ‘this new species completely changes our understanding.’” His comment brings to mind the embarrassing flap over a fossil nicknamed Ida, reported with significant media fanfare last year. (We covered more of the scientific fallout last October and in March.)
Ultimately, it’s not particularly surprising that most fossils don’t change evolutionary history; such paleontological upheaval wouldn’t last long before scientists would be forced to be more circumspect. Further, fossils are typically described and interpreted with reference to “known” evolutionary history. For example, although fossils don’t come with tags stating their age, researchers quickly pin down an estimate of their age, often by referencing to other fossils. Finally, when creationists have complained that one can’t trust evolutionary history as fact because it’s always changing, the criticism has more to do with many evolutionists themselves than with the body of evolutionary history; by insisting that certain evolutionary hypotheses are “fact,” only to see them later overturned and repudiated, evolutionists lose their credibility.
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