Last year I attended a conference and listened to a student explain that evolution was heretical because non-living matter cannot turn into living matter. I thought there was a problem with this approach, so I raised my hand when it was time for questions.
“Augustine said that God may have created the earth through a seminal method. If he is correct, wouldn’t that make evolution possible within orthodoxy?” I asked.
“No,” I was adamantly told, “because you can’t get something like a rock and turn it into a living thing. Evolution is impossible.”
Obviously, I had worded my question poorly, so I tried again. “But I’m not talking about getting life from non-life. This sort of seminal creation means that God could have planted a seed that grew into the earth as we know it.”
His reply: “Augustine was wrong.”
His thesis had nothing to do with evolution (a change in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation by such processes as mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift). Instead, he was arguing against the possibility of abiogensis (the theory that living organisms can arise spontaneously from inanimate matter). This is a problem, because these two are not the same thing.
Oddly enough, there is a board game called Primordial Soup and the object of the game is to help your amoebas evolve into higher life forms. It wasn’t a hit at youth groups.
I should probably make a disclaimer here and say that I’m not interested in teaching you what to believe about evolution. I’m not a biologist. But I do want to be sure that in our enthusiasm to understand our world we do not forget to really know what we are talking about. Arguing that evolution is impossible by denying abiogenesis is a logical fallacy, because evolution is not concerned with the origin of life. Also, the notion of evolution does not imply that life came from non-life. It’s unfair to criticize biologists on those grounds.
I’ve heard plenty of people tell me that evolution can never help us understand where we came from, but I find this to be a strange argument. The biologists I’ve spoken to are not looking into their microscopes in an effort to satisfy their existential longings – they are simply curious about science. Their observations have led them to believe that life as we know it evolved from previous forms of life, but the origin of that “first life” is still a mystery to them.
So, if you want to debate or protest evolution, then I want to ask you to do it correctly. Don’t argue against the wrong thesis, because that just shows that you haven’t done your homework. Of course, whining over evolutionary theory is the sort of thing that makes Christians a laughing stock on the internet, so maybe there are better uses of our time.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)