As noted in this month’s previous article, I will be detailing important points from each chapter of Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Faith, in subsequent articles. These articles, by nature, are going to be a bit longer, so I’d grab a snack and some coffee or tea and get ready for some mental exercise!
OBJECTION #3: Evolution Explains Life, So God Isn’t Needed
Lee Strobel continues his search for answers to eight of the most emotional objections to Christianity in his fourth interview and third chapter of The Case for Faith with Walter L. Bradley, Ph.D. Prior to the interview, Strobel muses about the theory of Darwinism and whether or not it’s still considered true. Once the impetus for his journey into atheism, he is now considering that the issue of how life began is not necessarily a case of “religion versus science” but of “science versus science”. Upon closer examination, it seems that more scientists are seeing holes in their “evolution of life” theories, “prompt[ing] an increasing number to contradict Darwin by concluding that there [is] an Intelligent Designer behind the creation and development of life.”
Strobel concedes that evolution is true in some fashion as he subsequently explains “micro-evolution” and “macro-evolution”. Micro-evolution points to variations within species of animals and plants. Macro-evolution is a more controversial theory that Charles Darwin popularized with his expounding upon mutation, natural selection, and human evolution from the same common ancestor as the ape. He then explains that bigger than his curiosity about evolution is this “cornerstone question of human existence: Where did life begin in the first place?”
It is at this point in the chapter that Strobel introduces Walter L. Bradley, PH.D., the interviewee for his third chapter of The Case for Faith. Dr. Bradley, the co-author of 1984’s The Mystery of Life’s Origin, is an expert on “polymers and thermodynamics, both of which are critically important in the life origin debate.” “[He] received his doctorate in materials science from the University of Texas at Austin and was a professor of mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University for twenty-four years.”
Strobel starts by talking with Bradley about Darwin’s theory on the origin of life. Although Darwin was a proponent of “spontaneous genesis“, in the early 20th century (about 60 years after Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published), some scientists agreed with Louis Pasteur who had speculated that spontaneous genesis might occur given billions and billions of years but not in a shorter time frame as Darwin had suggested.
Before going any further in the interview, Strobel asks Dr. Bradley to establish the fundamentals of cell production. He defines both living and nonliving systems. He states that a living system processes energy, stores information, and replicates. He simply states that nonliving systems are unable to perform these three functions. He explains that a “one-cell organism is more complicated than anything we’ve been able to recreate through supercomputers.” He then explains what it takes to build a living organism: “Essentially, you start with amino acids. They come in eighty different types, but only twenty of them are found in living organisms. The trick, then is to isolate only the correct amino acids. Then the right amino acids have to be linked together in the right sequence in order to produce protein molecules. Picture those plastic stick-together chains that kids play with–you have to put together the right amino acids in the right way to ultimately get biological function.” The reason this is so difficult regarding chemical evolution is because there would be no outside intelligence to guide the process. Additionally, only left-handed amino acids work in living matter and must be linked together in the correct sequence. On top of this, there must be the right type of chemical bonds (peptide bonds) “in the correct places in order for the protein to be able to fold in a specific three-dimensional way. Otherwise, it won’t function.” He then further explains that roughly one hundred amino acids must be linked in just the right manner to create a protein molecule. Having created one protein molecule is not equivalent to creating life. About two hundred protein molecules must be united with the appropriate functions in order to get a typical living cell. Does that make your head hurt? I feel like mine is about to explode!
In addition to the enormity of the chance of a “random” occurrence of the above process, every cell of a plant and animal has a DNA molecule, which works closely with RNA to direct the sequencing of the amino acids. Subsequently, the making of DNA and RNA is even more complex than that of making a protein. Strobel quotes Nobel Prize-winner Sir Francis Crick: “The origin of life appears to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to be satisfied to get it going.” Strobel then asks Dr. Bradley to give his summary of the most common hypotheses regarding the origin of life in recent years.
Theory #1: Random Chance
Dr. Bradley explains that the time between the Earth reaching the correct temperature to support life and the first emergence of life is only about four hundred million years. This, simply put, is not enough time for chemical evolution to occur.
Theory #2: Chemical Affinity
Supporters of this theory suggest that there is an “inherent attraction that would cause amino acids to spontaneously link up in the right sequence to create the protein molecules out of which living cells are made.” Dr Bradley was part of a team of scientists who debunked this theory in 1986; the team wrote a computer program that analyzed two hundred and fifty proteins which resulted in findings that chemical preferences is not relevant to sequencing.
Theory #3: Self-Ordering Tendencies
This concept of “non-equilibrium thermodynamics” “says that under certain circumstances, if energy is passed through a system at a fairly high rate, the system becomes unstable and will actually rearrange itself into an alternate and somewhat more complicated form.” Although scientists have used the analogy of a bathtub vortex to support this theory, Dr. Bradley says that there is a large gap between the complexities of the vortex and the creation of living matter. Others are proponents of “equilibrium thermodynamics” which uses an analogy of cooled water turning into ice as a way to bolster this theory. Again, Dr. Bradley asserts that this is a very low level of information compared to the sequencing of amino acids to create protein molecules.
Theory #4: Seeding from Space
Some have proposed that the building blocks of life have come from some place other than Earth. This still does not solve the problem of the origin of life.
Theory #5: Vents in the Ocean
Bradley explains that although “vents might provide an unusual energy source that could prompt some chemicals to become reactive, [it] never even addresses the assembly problem.” He further expands, “It’s now thought that all of the water in the ocean is periodically recirculated through these vents. If you were finally getting some molecules that were beginning to get bigger and more complex, they would be so fragile that they would get destroyed by the heat when they were recirculated. That means the time scale for chemical evolution would be shrunk dramatically.”
Theory #6: Life from Clay
Scottish chemist A.G. Cairns-Smith popularized this theory, yet admitted in 1991 that “no one has been able to coax clay into something resembling evolution in a laboratory; nor has anyone found anything resembling a clay-based organism in nature.”
After asserting his summation of these six theories of the evolution of life, Dr. Bradley explains to Strobel his own hypothesis. He believes that if there is not a natural explanation, then the obvious thing to do would be to explore the possibility of a supernatural explanation.
In closing, Lee Strobel introduces one last theory, that of “reasoning by analogy”. Dr. Bradley’s take on this theory is that where intelligent communication occurs there must be an intelligent cause. He tells Strobel, “Each cell in the human body contains more information than in all thirty volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It’s certainly reasonable to make the inference that this isn’t the random product of unguided nature, but it’s the unmistakable sign of an Intelligent Designer.”
How’s that for an Awesome God?!?
Do you know someone struggling with moral objections to Christianity? Maybe you were that person at one time? Maybe you still are? Let me know your thoughts below! And thanks for reading!
*Stay tuned for objection #4 next month!