Dawkins and Evolution
Written by William Macleod
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Reformed Worldviews - Evolution/Creation

An atheist friend gave me a copy of Dawkins’ Greatest Show on Earth for Christmas. Although life is busy, I felt I should give the time required to read this book which presumably is the best book on the evidence for evolution. When I began reading, it was with a sense of trepidation. Despite my strong beliefs, was I going to find myself overwhelmed? Actually, I was surprised at how weak the case for evolution is.

There is no doubting Dawkins’ vast knowledge of his subject, his very considerable intellectual ability and his gifts of communication. The book is well-written and gives many fascinating insights to the marvels of the world around us. Dawkins is frustrated and angered that so many people still don’t believe in evolution and indeed that their numbers are growing.

Selective Breeding

His argument begins with ‘Dogs, cows and cabbages’. All dogs come from wolves which over the centuries have been domesticated and bred selectively. We now have enormous Great Danes and tiny Chihuahuas. There, says Dawkins, is evolution taking place before our very eyes! Yet, as he himself says, under the skin the Great Dane and tiny Chihuahua is only a wolf! No sane antievolutionist would argue against the evolving of certain limited characteristics (micro-evolution) through selective breeding. But they are all just dogs and can be crossbred with one another. No new genus is produced. There appear also to be breeding limits as to, for example, size. Recently vets have been complaining that some small dogs’ skulls are too small for their brains. Similarly a whole related family of plants have been developed from wild cabbages. This is not what the world regards as evolution (macro-evolution). In no way is this evidence for even one step in the direction of the evolution of a new genus.

Natural Selection

The next chapter deals with natural selection which is seen as the great tool for producing macro-evolution. Again we have no problem with the idea of natural selection. We are aware that it is constantly at work in the world around us. This chapter has much fascinating information. Insects, which are essential for the cross pollination of plants, can have an impact by being attracted to the most colourful flowers. These flowers will then tend to predominate over the less attractive ones. Similarly the insects best at obtaining the nectar from the plants will thrive at the expense of the others. There will be gradual changes because of this. But again these changes are within limits. There is a sexual selection with peahens being attracted to the most colourful peacocks and a correcting factor here is that colourful peacocks will also catch the eye of predators.

Dating

Dawkins then turns to radioactive clocks to measure the age of rocks. It is from these that vast ages for the earth are calculated. The potassium argon clock for example assumes that when the rock solidified there was no argon present and all the argon comes from the decay of the potassium. But what if there was argon present from the beginning? We believe in six-day creation as taught in the Bible. We are not told in the Scriptures the exact age of the earth but we can assume from the data given that it should be measured in thousands of years rather than billions. So how are we to equate this tiny age with the vast ages that the various radioactive clocks demand? Well, we have to ask, how did the earth begin? Did God create it as a ball of molten rock, wait for it to cool down and gradually erode to form sand and gravel? No, it was created as a habitable earth with soil composed of gravel, clay and decaying vegetable matter. It had the sort of landscape which we see today. There were trees created and I believe some of these were fully grown the day they were created and may have had rings giving an apparent age. Adam was created not as a baby but as a full grown man, perhaps of an apparent age of 30 years. So it was a mature earth of an apparent age which God created. This makes the giving of a true age to the earth very difficult for the scientist who ignores the Bible.

Before our very eyes

For Dawkins I believe that this next chapter entitled, ‘Before our very eyes’, is the most important in the book. Very clever experiments were carried out with the bacteria E coli and this bacteria was carefully observed through 45,000 generations. What was discovered? The size of the bacteria increased with each passing generation and also its ability to make maximum use of a limited supply of glucose (food). Then one of the flasks showed a dramatic improvement. Not only was there glucose in the flasks there was also citrate which is normally indigestible to the E coli but in this flask the E coli had mutated and so was able to utilise the citrate as food. So how do we assess this? We see a natural selection process whereby the E coli which is best able to survive a shortage of food multiplies at the expense of the rest and in the flask where the citrate is broken down we have a new strain of E coli developed. But is this macro-evolution? No, because no new genus is developed. There is no coming together of two cells to form something more complicated. There is no growing of arms, legs or tail. After all these generations we simply have a new strain of E coli. It is just the same as breeding a dog whose metabolism rate is such that it can survive on less food than other dogs.

It was also shown in this experiment that to produce this change two mutations were required. Mutation A had no beneficial effect but was required before Mutation B could change the E coli so as to be able to feed on the citrate. Here Dawkins finds proof that the ‘irreducible complexity’ argument of those who believe in Intelligent Design is proved wrong. Wait a minute! We have two factors here which have to be present – the first of which has neither a negative nor a positive effect – only two factors. How many factors are required to be present together for, for example, blood clotting to work? And further some of these would be destructive if present on their own. Dawkins must think people are terribly gullible – and sadly many are!

Missing links

When we come to the subject of missing links in the fossil record, great faith is placed in the theory of evolution and then the existing data are fitted in. Dawkins finds many of what were regarded as missing links eg in the development of whales. There is a genetic similarity between whales and hippos, therefore both must have developed from the same ancestor. Could there be another explanation – that God made us all of the same basic materials and chose that some animals be more closely related genetically than others? Fossils of various mammals are presented, supposedly demonstrating how a grass-eating ancestor which originally had come from the sea returned to the sea and developed into a whale. Now in Dawkins’ way of explaining what happened, all changes are tiny, so over millions of years the transition from for example feet to fins took place. For me the missing links are the fossils with half hind feet and half fins or the beginnings of fins on the tail. Some fish are genetically more like humans than like other fish. This simply proves to me that tracing evolutionary history by means of genetics is flawed.

In dealing with the history of man Dawkins reckons that there are many missing links but again it is interesting that he admits that they belong to the ape-like humans rather than to the human-like apes. An examination of modern human skulls will show considerable variation of shape and brain size. The BBC reported recently that Neanderthal man had been found to use make-up. Tools have been found with the earliest remains of humans. It appears that they were not really so different from us after all.

‘You did it yourself in nine months’ is a silly chapter to include in a book purporting to give the evidence for evolution. The development from the tiny embryo to a baby proves nothing with regard to the evolution of single cell bacteria into humans. To include such a chapter simply shows how weak the arguments are.

Maps and Homology

I am quite happy to accept that the ancient world looked different from today and would argue that there must have been land bridges between the continents. Scorn is poured on the idea of animals moving out from the ark across the world. Imagine a kangaroo hopping all the way to Australia! But Dawkins himself argues for the origin of man being in Africa and then spreading out to Australia. I see no problem with a family of kangaroos making it to Australia in, for example, a century or two.

I find no problem with homology – this is the idea that various animals have the same basic structure, eg a head and four limbs. To me it speaks of one Creator rather than a common origin. One basic plan is used and that is developed in many ways. With the infinite variety of possible mutations which the evolutionists claim why do we not have three-legged and five-legged animals? Why do we not have animals with wheels rather than legs as on certain terrain they could move very much faster and more efficiently? All men and animals are related in having bodies. What distinguishes man from the animals is the soul which is created in the image of God.

History written all over us

In his chapter, ‘History written all over us’, Dawkins argues that ostriches are obviously descended from birds which used to fly. He asserts that because of this no serious observer could doubt the truth of evolution. For my own part I cannot see why even an evolutionist would have to believe that ostriches or their predecessors originally flew. Why should some birds not develop into flying birds and others into fast running ones? For my own part I find it hard to imagine why natural selection would take the power to fly from certain creatures. Surely flying is a great way of escape from predators and an excellent way to find food. Dawkins is so enamoured with his own theories that he fails to be self-critical. In a section on ‘Unintelligent design’ he argues that ‘God’ didn’t make a very good job of some of His design work. The eye is described as a kind of patch-up job. What amazing arrogance! Let him or his friends produce a better eye and fit it into the eye sockets of the many blind people in the world and then maybe he will have a right to talk. The reason behind certain structures is questioned. They may appear useless to us with our limited knowledge but in years to come after diligent research I have no doubt but that the reasons will be discovered for the way we are made. For example the tonsils and the appendix might seem to us useless organs but modern surgeons are not as keen as in the past to remove them, reckoning that they do have a purpose.

Arms race

In his penultimate chapter Dawkins deals with what he describes as the wastefulness of the ‘arms race’. The trees of the forest have to climb ever higher to get light – but then that provides man with timber. The cheetah and the gazelle must run ever faster to survive. Here we see nature ‘red in tooth and claw’. The Bible speaks of the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain together until now, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God (Romans 8:19-23). There is pain and suffering in the world because of the sin and fall of man. We live in a cursed world where death reigns. But we look for Christ to come again and bring in a new heavens and a new earth where there is no death and suffering and the lion shall lie down with the lamb. Dawkins concludes as we would expect, ‘Natural selection is all futile. It is about the survival of self-replicating instructions for self-replication’. How sad! He has dug himself into a hole where everything is meaningless, while at the same time his human conscience and awareness of himself as a creature made in the image of God is telling him that there is meaning to life.

The last chapter tries to give a more positive spin. He ends: ‘We are surrounded by endless forms, most beautiful and wonderful, and it is no accident, but the direct consequence of evolution by non-random natural selection – the only game in town, the greatest show on Earth’. Naturally we see it quite differently. It is all made by God and to this amazing God we give the glory.

Problems with Evolution

For me after reading this book there remain catastrophic problems for evolution to explain.

1. The first great problem is how to explain the origin of life in the beginning. Dawkins notes the difficulty. He weakly attempts to argue that perhaps life began with RNA, rather than DNA and proteins. He talks bravely of what he believes chemists will be able to do in the next few decades to simulate the beginning of life. Despite all the advances of science, chemists so far have made no progress in that direction. Yet a chance reaction in a warm puddle or on the ocean floor is supposed to have produced the immensely complicated self-replicating RNA from which living cells were supposed initially to have been formed.

2. A second related problem is that even if living cells had come into existence, how could they survive and what would they feed on? Obviously they could not feed on plants as there could not be plants, which are themselves very complicated living organisms.

3. Dawkins sees evolution progressing through tiny mutations. Now it may be possible to envisage a leg growing longer or thicker by this means but how could fish dependent on gills change into mammals dependent on lungs, how could a heart with three chambers change into a heart with four? Spread it over millions of years and explain how by tiny changes the blood-flow system of cold-blooded animals changes to that of warm-blooded animals, how could feathers begin to grow, how could eyes form? These and a thousand more transitions cannot be done by small mutations but by drastic changes.

For these and many other reasons I find it much easier and more reasonable to believe that God created it all, just as the Bible tells me. Dawkins’ overwhelming evidence when it is boiled down is actually rather weak.

Rev. William Macleod is the pastor of the Knightswood Free Church of Scotland Continuing, in Glasgow, Scotland, UK. He is the editor of his denomination's magazine, the Free Church Witness, and is Principal of the Free Church Seminary, Inverness.  This article was previously printed in the Free Church Witness and is republished here with permission.