In his best-selling book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says that life began with an “initial stroke of luck.”
Say again? How did life begin?
“It needs some luck to get started…”
This is what Dawkins thinks “luck” can explain.
It’s a diagram called the Phylogenetic Tree of Life. It has room for a few thousand known species of living things and their inferred evolutionary relationships.
In short, it’s a chart which attempts to demonstrate that complexity of all living things – plants, flowers, grass, cacti, whales, foxes, turkeys, zebras, sharks, sloths, tuna, salmon, grizzly bears, giant redwoods, and people – came from a single-celled organism some 4.5 billion years ago. That little organism goes in the middle of the chart.
Notice it’s blank. A gap.
To be fair, the chart pictured here is one in which scientists can input their own data. Much more is known than what is blank on this particular diagram.
But no matter what version of this diagram you read, the center, for the time being, remains a void. For the heart of it is what we’re told is the elusive, single common ancestor of all living things. From this unknown organism has allegedly come such fantastic living things like blue whales, giant sequoia redwoods and Winston Churchill.
Modern science has no idea what goes there. One of my international students said to me that he thought whatever goes in the center is “like a god.”
Professor Dawkins offers somewhat of an explanation as to this unknown organism which is supposedly responsible for the incomprehensible variety of life on earth.
“Maybe a few later gaps in the evolutionary story also need major infusions of luck.” (You can find this on page 169 of The God Delusion.)
Luck? That’s it?
What is curious is that Mr. Dawkins and others like him often accuse Christians of making a “God-of-the-gaps” argument when it comes to evolution. The argument goes something like this.
When science can’t explain a phenomenon, the Christian rushes in and says “God did it!” Science later finds an “explanation” and God is squeezed out of the “natural” explanation.
Ok. True, there is a “natural” explanation for much of what we see in the physical world, but such explanations don’t automatically rule out intentional design. There’s also a “natural” explanation as to how a car’s engine works, too – internal combustion, fuel, wires, gages, spark plugs, oil, etc. – but these “natural” explanations of how things work still beg the question of how all that stuff came together with such precision to do what it does. “Natural” explanations of how oxygen is produced by photosynthesis or how an engine functions do not at all do away with the idea that both oxygen and engines were designed.
But above, Dawkins is making a “luck-of-the-Gaps” argument, where he fills in the unknown evolutionary “gaps” with luck instead of God. Is “luck” somehow a qualitatively superior scientific argument? Can one empirically prove the existence of “luck”?
According to Dawkins, life got started by an “initial stroke of luck.” So for him, the best way to describe the gaps in the evolutionary ancestry is also with luck; “major infusions” of it.
But after “Luck” has done its work, Mr. Dawkins says “natural selection takes over: and natural selection is emphatically not a matter of luck.”
Natural selection. Selection? Isn’t that what human beings do? Didn’t Darwin smuggle in some anthropomorphic terminology into his theory but then get rid of the anthropoid? Yes. He. Did.
But hold on a minute, if Dawkins says there’s no “luck” involved in natural selection, then there is an implied intentionality behind the process, is there not? What’s actually doing the choosing, sorting, and combining; all of those things which are implied when we as human beings “select” something?
Charles Darwin likened his theory of natural selection to that of a breeder of animals. The breeder chooses certain animals for breeding based on specific traits and qualities they possess. A horse breeder, for example, selects particular horses for breeding because of their strength, stamina or speed.
So, in plain language, Darwin kept the “selection” part but did away with the selector, claiming “nature” was doing the selecting. All of the genetic specificity we now know exists in living creatures just came together thorough 4.5 billion years of cellular trial and error with no one guiding or overseeing the process. So you have an intelligent selection process going on without someone doing the selecting.
And all of this began with whatever is supposed to be at the center of the Phylogenetic Tree pictured above.
So how does natural selection explain the development of, let’s say, an eye? Well, according to natural selection, eyes just don’t pop into being, they gradually develop over time. Certain traits (retinas, corneas, etc.) begin with a genetic mutation of some sort, “survive” into maturity, and then begin to self-replicate because, well, they’ve survived somehow. But according to natural selection, they were anything but designed.
Mr. Dawkins gives us a scenario from long ago in the eye’s developmental history and how its gradual increase in usefulness became integral in the survival of the fittest.
“…it is easy to imagine situations in which half an eye would save the life of an animal where 49 per cent of an eye would not.”
I’m having a hard time imagining what 49% of an eye would actually, well, look like.
But if that’s a bit too difficult to imagine, consider Dawkins’ account of the development of birds’ wings and how this progressive, “natural” selection toward flight also aided in the survival of the fittest.
“Half a wing could save your life by easing your fall from a tree of a certain height. And 51 percent of a wing could save you if you fall from a slightly taller tree. Whatever fraction of a wing you have, there is a fall from which it will save your life where a slightly smaller winglet would not.”
What exactly is 51% of a wing?
“Half a wing is indeed not as good as a whole wing, but it is certainly better than no wing at all.”
Well, I’m not sure how much empirical science stands behind that statement, but it is revealing. Not for its factual content, but for the dedication secular, atheistic science has toward what cannot be empirically demonstrated. The scenarios Dawkins posits are imaginary. No one has ever observed the evolutionary development of an eye or a wing. It’s never been proven in a laboratory, nor will it ever be.
That’s the convenient aspect of the theory of evolution. If it is true, it’s too slow and requires way too much time to be observed by human beings.
And yet, it is a theory claimed to have been clearly established by empirical proof.
Just so we’re clear, natural selection has never been observed in a laboratory, not the kind of selection which is suggested by Darwin anyway, where all living things came from one single-celled organism; an organism pretty much bereft of DNA, by the way. Evolutionary scientists infer a “common ancestor” of all living things based on the structural and genetic similarities found in all living things.
But again, the singular, common ancestor of all living things, evolutionarily speaking, is a hypothetical inference originated in the mind of Charles Darwin; an inference which has not, and cannot be, empirically substantiated.
And using “computer models” of evolutionary development doesn’t count; neither does trying to recreate the conditions for life on a primordial earth in the laboratory lend any credence to the theory. Why not? Well, someone first has to explain the intelligence of the scientists “creating” the necessary conditions in the lab, the lab and all its tools, the design and intelligence behind the computer, the software, and the veritable plethora of information and sentient intentionality behind it all.
In describing DNA for example, one cannot avoid using the language of “information.” Microsoft founder Bill Gates said of this intricate structure of coded proteins, “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.”
Take a look at the center of the Phylogenetic Tree once more and consider the words of the Apostle Paul to the “men of Athens” in Acts chapter 17. Two thousand years ago, there stood in the city of Athens, an altar with the inscription, “to the unknown god.”
And here in 2013, the blank centerpiece of evolutionary biology is engraved with the same dedication.
“He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?”
Psalms 94:9 (ESV)