Evidence for God, Part 5: We Know Right from Wrong

Man holding baby

In chapter 6 of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins asks, “Why are we good?” and offers an explanation for the origin of morality without God. He, like most modern atheists, attributes human morality to an evolutionary process which favored altruistic behavior. We try to be “good” because we evolved in an environment in which helping our kin group made it more likely that our genes (either in ourselves or in relatives) would survive long enough to reproduce, carrying this instinctive altruism into the next generation. Today, in a more complex and interconnected world, those inherited ethical instincts still drive us to “do unto others” even when those others are no longer related to us.

So, Dawkins concludes, “our Good Samaritan urges,” such as “the human urge to adopt a child,” are really just evolutionary “misfirings.” However, he immediately adds, in possibly the two most striking sentences in the book, “I must rush to add that ‘misfiring’ is intended only in a strictly Darwinian sense. It carries no suggestion of the pejorative.” What is surprising is not that Dawkins wanted to quickly dispel any thought that he might be dismissing the value of moral behavior, but that he failed to see that those two sentences dynamited the carefully constructed argument which preceded them.

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Evidence for God, Part 4: Biology Which Evolution Cannot Explain

This week, my Evidence for God series will take a second look at arguments based on the appearance of design, sometimes called teleological arguments, from the Greek word telos, which means “design” or “purpose.” Last week, we looked at how the essential structure of the universe makes life possible through “fine-tuning” which cannot be explained through mere chance. Today, I want to move beyond the possibility of life to consider the actual life forms we see around us. There are two ways in which biology demands a designing intelligence: First, the complexity of biological information contained in even the most basic life form, and second, the “irreducible complexity” of biological structures which cannot be explained through evolutionary processes.

What About Evolution?

When we talk about the appearance of design in biology, we have to start by considering the theory of evolution. Every scientist would agree that living creatures seem to have been uniquely designed for their environments. In fact, the famous evolutionist Richard Dawkins defined biology as “the study of complicated things that appear to have been designed for a purpose.” The key word in that definition, of course, is “appear.” For the last two hundred years, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has offered a way to explain the appearance of design without requiring a designer. Evolution postulates that natural processes mold species over time, through adaptation and the pressure to survive, so that animals look like they were designed for their particular ecological niche. In reality, though, this “design” is merely the result of a process of natural selection whereby the best-adapted survive and reproduce while the rest perish, removing their less-fit genes from future generations.

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Thoughts on evolution

J: “I know you probably get this a lot, but I was just wondering what your opinions on evolution are.”

Before we start talking about evolution, it’s important to consider why the issue matters. From a scientific perspective, even infallible proof that evolution occurred (by “evolution” I mean the theory that biological complexity can be explained through natural processes as opposed to intelligent design) would hardly remove the need for some sort of God to explain the world. Throughout history, scientists and philosophers have recognized that various aspects of the universe strongly suggest the existence of a Designer: the simple existence of “something rather than nothing,” to quote Leibniz; the strange suitability of the universe for life, called the Anthropic Principle; the existence of any sort of biological life; and finally, the remarkable complexity of biological life.

Because evolution operates through the mechanism of the survival of the fittest, and because being alive in the first place is a fairly universally acknowledged prerequisite for survival, evolution can only appear on the scene once biological life exists. This means it has nothing to say about the sheer existence of the universe, nothing to say about the Anthropic Principle, and nothing to say about the very first appearance of biological life. All of these still appear to demand a creative Intelligence which evolution is absolutely unable to replace.

But that’s not really why we talk about evolution. Evolution matters because it appears to contradict the creation account found in Scripture. The first few chapters of Genesis describe the creation of complex life forms from nothing, over the course of six days. Evolution requires millions upon millions of years. The two pictures cannot both be right. Well, where does that leave us?

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