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Challenging Darwin

These 40 books show a great intellectual ferment among critics of evolution

Krieg Barrie

Challenging Darwin
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Despite decades of urging, most Americans still do not believe Darwinist explanations. Four big groups are putting out fascinating books as they compete for the lead role in critiquing evolution—and sometimes they don’t get along.

It seems an uneven match. On one side sits a science Goliath, using evidence for proven evolution (animals getting bigger or changing color) to sell the unproven doctrine of macroevolution (one kind of animal turning into another). On the other side roam Davids skeptical about such claims. Prestigious groups like the American Association for the Advancement of Science attack them for exposing what the AAAS dubs “so-called ‘flaws’ in the theory of evolution or ‘disagreements’ within the scientific community.”

The debate seems even more uneven this summer, as the scientific establishment turns up the heat. One example: Fueled by $9 million from the Templeton Foundation, the AAAS this summer is inviting seminary professors to “faculty enrichment retreats” at historic seaside inns and mountain lodges. For example, from July 18 to 21 “evangelical/conservative Protestant” professors will have “positive dialogue” on evolution at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, where they can enjoy “deluxe accommodations. … Ranger-led walk on Mt. Hood (easy trail). Guided stargazing and astronomy tour. Stellar dining. … Hot tub. …”

Meanwhile, judging from press coverage, the only significant response from “evolution deniers” is a 510-foot-long replica of Noah’s Ark to be unveiled in Williamstown, Ky., on July 7. The popular Wonkette website earlier this year complained about this product of a purportedly “meth-addled creationist lame brain … literal interpretation of the Noah’s Ark Bible.” Americans would never know from the press generally that a great intellectual ferment among creationists and intelligent design proponents is under way, one that is producing many challenging books.

WORLD normally reviews individual books rather than movements, but readers have sent letters asking for coverage of whole fields such as poverty-fighting, religious liberty, and others—and the most requests have been for an overall look at what’s going on in the creation/evolution battle. So here goes: Over the next six pages I’ll take you on a tour of 40 books, most of them recently published and produced by scholars associated with the four leading groups—Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and Answers in Genesis (AIG) on the young-earth/six-day creation side, and Reasons to Believe (RTB) explicitly and Discovery Institute essentially in the old-earth sector with the Bible’s “days” interpreted as “eons.”

Orthodox Bible scholars disagree on which interpretations are valid. Some note that the Bible itself says that one of God’s days is like a thousand years, but others say the particular “there was evening, there was morning” phrasing in Chapter 1 of Genesis indicates days of about 24 hours. That discussion is worth many articles in itself, but here I’ll just deal with the clashing scientific understandings.

ICR’S CREATION BASICS & BEYOND: An In-Depth Look at Science, Origins, and Evolution (ICR, 2013) presents 10 authors questioning radioisotope dating methods, the speed of distant starlight, fossil forensics, and much besides. They say an old Earth would have produced more salt and sediment in the oceans, more erosion of the continents, more helium in the atmosphere and in rocks, and so forth. They argue that an understanding of mutations shows humans to have been around for thousands rather 2.5 million years: “Such a vast time would have produced about 125,000 generations and many thousands of mutations. Where are all the expected human SNVs [single-nucleotide variant mutations]?”

That book points to a key contention of those who believe the universe is thousands rather than billions of years old: If we assume a uniformity of natural processes over time, some of our measurements are way off. For example, The Book of Beginnings (ICR, 2012), two volumes by ICR President Henry Morris III, takes issue with conventional dating. He writes that “spiral galaxies should not exist if they are billions of years old. The stars near their centers rotate around the galactic cores faster than stars at the perimeters. If a cosmology based on long ages is correct, they should have blended into disk-shaped galaxies by now.”

Six-day creationists tell us we should not assume uniformity because the Bible itself tells us not to. For example, two of the first four rivers mentioned in the Bible no longer exist. The Bible records pre-flood humans living for hundreds of years, but the maximum over recent millennia as 120, with 70 years most common. Noah’s flood transformed the continents. (This year is the 55th anniversary of a book that rekindled young-earth creationism: The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications, by Henry M. Morris and John Whitcomb, which P&R republished in 2011.)

Another ICR researcher, Tim Clarey, forthrightly acknowledges that claims by some creationists to have found human footprints alongside dinosaur footprints along the Paluxy River in Texas don’t have a leg to stand on. Clarey’s Dinosaurs (Master Books, 2015) takes issue with Darwinians who argue that birds are descended from dinosaurs. (I heard a tour guide at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City asking his group, “Did you see a dinosaur fly this morning?”) Clarey flatly declares, “Dinosaurs are not birds,” as he critiques the evidence for Archaeopteryx as the missing link between dinosaurs and birds: Clarey points out that no dinosaur skin imprint over the past 150 years has shown any feathery projections.

ANSWERS IN GENESIS IS THE CREATOR of the new Noah’s Ark, but AIG also publishes scholarly research. Like ICR, it argues that both the earth’s magnetic field and its biological material are decaying too fast to have been around for eons. Both diamonds and deep geologic strata have too much carbon-14. Minerals have too much helium. The sea doesn’t have enough salt, and the seafloor doesn’t have enough mud. Natural radioactivity, mutations, and decay degrade DNA.

The two-volume Earth’s Catastrophic Past: Geology, Creation & the Flood (Master Books and AIG, 2014) is a comprehensive attack on uniformitarian contentions that geological and other processes proceeded in the past at the same pace they now do. Geologist Andrew Snelling argues that during creation week “convective circulation in the mantle, partial melting, and magna generation would have occurred at rates many orders of magnitude faster than the rates of similar processes observed today. … Within three literal 24-hour days of the Creation Week, Earth’s crustal rocks would have ‘aged’ by billions of years, according to the radioisotope ‘clocks’ if measured at today’s decay rates.”

Snelling provides details about sedimentation and fossilization and writes that fossil graveyards, including coal beds, “show convincing evidence of rapid and catastrophic deposition of sediments on an enormous scale. … Coalification is a quick process that does not require long periods of time.” He states that “God would have creatively used accelerated geologic and other processes to form and shape” what became dry land. He argues that because of rates of carbon-14 formation, the amount of carbon-14 contained in artifacts and specimens from early post-flood dates would make them seem much older than their real-time ages.

Snelling also argues that the number of supernova remnants astronomers observe is consistent with a galaxy created 6,000-7,000 years ago but not with one billions of years old. He says comets are short-lived, so based on their observed age, the maximum age of the solar system should be about 10,000 years. AIG’s latest attack on uniformitarianism comes in Grappling with the Chronology of the Genesis Flood, edited by Snelling and Steven Boyd (Master Books, 2014): They scrutinize the biblical text and the geological, geophysical, and paleontological issues it raises.

Terry Mortenson’s The Great Turning Point (Master Books, 2004) shows that pre-Darwin theologians who broke with previous biblical interpretation tilled the ground on which old-earth understandings could quickly take root. Later, various scientific methods of dating backed up old-earth claims, but (as Snelling argues) they assumed uniform rates of change: If decay rates measured by radioactive dating have been constant for millions and billions of years, the earth must be old; but we have no evidence for that assumption.

And Snelling refers to one other intriguing notion: the “appearance of age” argument originally developed by Philip Henry Gosse in his 1857 book Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot, which is newly published online. Gosse argued that God thousands (not billions) of years ago made soil, plants, and mature fruit trees, along with animals with the appearance of age. God also created Adam and Eve as adults, and Jesus turned water into wine that had the appearance of age: no deception, because the Bible tells us what God was doing.

If Darwin had titled his famous book, ‘On the Origin of Changes in Species,’ he would have been accurate. But neither he nor his successors have proved what he said his famous 1859 book explained: the Origin of Species, how new body plans come into existence.

IN A MATTER OF DAYS (RTB, 2015 edition), Reasons to Believe founder and president Hugh Ross gives numerous scientific reasons to disbelieve claims of recent creation in 24-hour days. Among them: the instability of young stars, the decaying of most radioactive isotopes, the measurements of stars’ distance from Earth, and coral ring evidence. Ross attacks young-earth arguments that continents erode too quickly for Earth to be old, lunar dust accumulates too quickly, and Earth’s magnetic field decays too rapidly. Dozens more takedowns of specific claims dot the book.

Ross in Navigating Genesis (RTB, 2014) flatly says, “multiple independent lines of evidence contradict the hypothesis of a radiometric decay-rate change during Noah’s flood.” He cites astronomical, core drill, tree ring, and biological evidence, and goes on to criticize global flood models because of their “implausible plate tectonics” and the evidence of biodeposits. He says “isotope evidence indicates that marine life was present and abundant on Earth as early as 3.8 billion years ago.”

Ross sees this long lead time before the human drama begins as not a theological weakness but an indication of God’s kindness: Over billions of years “God endowed humans with abundant biological resources. … Trillions of barrels of oil, trillions of tons of coal, quadrillions of cubic feet of natural gas.” Ross lays this out point by point in his Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (Baker, 2008): “The universe must be as massive as it is or human life would not be possible.” The universe must be old, for essential heavy elements and long-range radioactive isotopes need to build up. The universe is lonely and dark, and both those negatives are positive for advanced life.

In Who Was Adam? (RTB, 2015), Ross and Fazale Rana state that “God created the first humans (Adam and Eve) both physically and spiritually through direct intervention. … All humanity came from Adam and Eve. … God created Adam and Eve relatively recently, between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago.” RTB, along with ICR and AIG, criticizes “theistic evolution,” the idea that God relied on natural-process biological evolution to create new life forms, with humans evolving from hominids: Attempts “to identify the evolutionary pathways to modern humans will ultimately prove unfruitful.”

Origins of Life by Rana and Ross (RTB, 2014) argues: “Life appeared early in Earth’s history, while the planet was still in its primordial state. … Life originated abruptly. … Earth’s first life displays complexity.” That view dramatically opposes evolutionary theories that “chemical pathways produced life’s building blocks. … Life appeared gradually on Earth over a long period of time. … Earth’s first life was simple.” Fazale Rana’s Creating Life in the Lab (Baker, 2011) argues that laboratory creation of artificial life-forms shows undirected chemical processes cannot produce a living being, and thus undermines macroevolutionary explanations.

While ICR and AIG fight mainstream science’s dating of the earth and life, Ross is fine with current currents: “The biblical implication that Earth’s first life was marine … fits the research data … part of the biblical creation story bears a remarkable resemblance to the scientific evidence for the Cambrian explosion,” dated at 520 million to 530 million years ago.

THE DISCOVERY INSTITUTE’S FLAGSHIPS are Stephen Meyer’s two major books published by HarperOne, Signature in the Cell (2009) and Darwin’s Doubt (2013). The former shows how cells are much more complex than Charles Darwin suspected. The latter focuses on “the Cambrian explosion,” that era when many major phyla suddenly emerged. Darwin had no explanation for the sudden proliferation of so many different, immensely complicated designs. (He called it “inexplicable.”)

How likely is it that the innovative designs of complex creatures arose from random mutation? One in 10 trillion trillion trillions, Meyer writes, and he puts that into a word picture: Visualize a swimming pool the size of our galaxy, with a blindfolded man dropped into the middle of it and required to swim to the one spot on the edge of the pool where a ladder will give him a way out. His summary: “DNA sequences can mutate indefinitely and still not produce a new body plan, regardless of the amount of time and the number of mutational trials available to the evolutionary process. Genetic mutations are simply the wrong tool for the job at hand.”

David Berlinski in The Deniable Darwin (Discovery, 2009) also shows how the evidence undercuts macroevolution: Darwin “conceived of evolution in terms of small variations among organisms, variations which by a process of accretion allow one species to change continuously into another.” The evidence has not been forthcoming: “If life progressed by an accumulation of small changes, as they say it has, the fossil record should reflect its flow, the dead stacked up in barely separated strata. But for well over 150 years, the dead have been remarkably diffident about confirming Darwin’s theory.”

Michael Flannery’s Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (Discovery, 2011) shows how Charles Darwin took credit for the discovery of evolution and his co-discoverer, Wallace, was forgotten. Maybe that’s because Darwin made the intellectual world safe for atheism while Wallace declared: “The wonderful activity of cell life convinces me that it is guided by intelligence and consciousness. I cannot comprehend how any just and unprejudiced mind, fully aware of this amazing activity, can persuade itself to believe that the whole thing is a blind and unintelligent accident.”

In Debating Darwin’s Doubt (Discovery, 2015), a follow-up to Meyer’s work edited by David Klinghoffer, Casey Luskin shows how “evolutionary mechanisms we observe in the present day operate at rates that are too slow to explain what took place in the Cambrian period.” Discovery also supports the work of Biologic Institute Director Douglas Axe, whose book Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed (HarperOne) will be published next month. Axe argues that we all know we need knowledge to accomplish tasks, and we all know deep down that the knower for inventing life can only be God. Axe then shows how Darwinists who want us to suppress our intuition avoid looking at the gaping hole in their theory.

DARWIN’S 157-YEAR-OLD THEORY is more vulnerable than ever: That’s a big takeaway from the growing intellectual ferment. If Darwin had titled his famous book, “On the Origin of Changes in Species,” he would have been accurate. But neither he nor his successors have proved what he said his famous 1859 book explained: the Origin of Species, how new body plans come into existence.

This year brings the 30th anniversary of biologist Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Adler & Adler, 1986), which showed how Darwin’s hope that researchers would find evidence of gradual evolutionary change was still unfulfilled. Denton’s new book, Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis (Discovery, 2016), presents examples of how Darwinians are still in a rut. “No forms illustrating a genuinely transitional state between a fin and a limb have come to light,” Denton writes. “The great divisions in the natural order are still as profound as ever.”

Can we get along?

I come away from all this reading thinking that both old-earth and 6-day-24-hour creationists put forward plausible arguments, and neither should excommunicate their opposites. Could it be that both are right? Seven Days That Divide the World (Zondervan, 2011), by John Lennox, a 72-year-old Oxford math and science professor, separates the question of the earth’s age from the interpretation of the creation days’ length.

Lennox argues that Scripture does not demand creation in six consecutive 24-hour days. He suggests that creation may have occurred during six days of normal length, each with evening and morning, but separated by long periods of time: “The outworking of the potential of each creative fiat would occupy an unspecified period of time after that particular creation day. One consequence of this is that we would expect to find what geologists tell us we do find—fossil evidence revealing the sudden appearance of new levels of complexity, followed by periods during which there was no more creation (in the sense of God speaking to inaugurate something radically new).”

I don’t expect strong advocates of competing positions to embrace Lennox’s, but the debate among creationists and intelligent design adherents now may parallel the debate among pro-life leaders 27 years ago. Back then the pro-life movement suffered from infighting, with some demanding an all-or-nothing approach (a constitutional amendment protecting all unborn life) and others proposing an all-or-something approach (until all gain protection, save as many as possible). Similarly, some creationists with a precise sense of the time attack those who focus primarily on the Creator and say the length of the process is secondary—and ire goes the other way as well.

Happily, quarterly meetings among pro-life leaders that began in 1989 helped to forge an informal truce among the warring parties. Absolutists and incrementalists learned to get along. Most came to agree on pro-life boundaries: Partner with all those whose goal is to protect all babies. Do not attack those who realize this goal will not be achieved quickly. Do not partner with those who favor the abortion of Down syndrome babies, or those conceived in rape, or those whose continued existence might affect the mental health of the mothers.

Could leaders from many groups, including the Big Four—ICR, AIG, Discovery, RTB—see if they can get along, as pro-life leaders did? After all, all four agree that life is the product of God’s design and not random forces. The names of all four of the biggest organizations have merit. Creation research is important, since we should not leave the scientific field to evolutionists’ inferences. Answers do reside in Genesis. We can and should present reasons to believe, as Luke did when he authored the book of Acts. With God’s grace we can discover the truth, and it will make us free. These groups should be allies, not combatants. —M.O.

Classics and new entries

This year brings the 25th anniversary of Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial (IVP, 1991) which jump-started the intelligent design movement. Johnson, a University of California law professor, interrogated Darwinism the way a trial lawyer would a defendant and found that the theory lacked supportive evidence. Johnson’s other books include Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (IVP, 1997), which clearly and concisely applies critical thinking to macroevolution’s unsupportable assumptions.

Two other pairs of books deserve mention. Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (Free Press, 1998) shows how Darwinism cannot answer the challenges of irreducible complexity, since so many radical changes would need to occur at once for new organs and new creatures to arise. Nine years later Behe struck again with The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (Free Press, 2007), which showed (for example) that a change in a particular malarial protein required two mutations, not just one, and thus increased exponentially the change’s unlikelihood.

WORLD’s 2011 Books of the Year were God and Evolution (Discovery, edited by Jay Richards), and Should Christians Embrace Evolution? (P&R, edited by Norman Nevin). The former notes that what some scientists a few years ago considered “junk DNA” is actually valuable: The “junk” regulates the timing of DNA replication, tags sites that need their genetic material rearranged, guides RNA splicing and editing, helps chromosomes fold properly, and regulates embryo development. The latter gives additional evidence in that regard, and shows how genome mapping demonstrates irrefutably that man and great apes did not have common ancestors. —M.O.

Design for students

Answers in Genesis publishes many books for children, including Ken Ham’s Dinosaurs of Eden (Master Books, new edition, 2015) and Ruth Carter’s I Really, Really, Really Want to Learn About Ape-Men (AIG, 2015).

Two short ICR books written by Randy Guliuzza and suitable for Christian high-school or college use—Made in His Image: Examining the Complexities of the Human Body (2009) and Clearly Seen: Constructing Solid Arguments for Design (2012)—zestfully show how living creatures proclaim God’s engineering genius. The first gives lots of specific detail on how God made us to do amazing things, including throwing a baseball at more than 90 miles per hour. (Well, some of us.) The second, also well-written, shows how “the whole universe … continually broadcasts the evidence for God’s handiwork.”

Discovering Intelligent Design: A Journey Into the Scientific Evidence (2013), by Gary Kemper, Hallie Kemper, and Casey Luskin, is Discovery’s entry into the homeschool and private school market. (Discovery, in conjunction with Illustra Media, also puts out excellent videos.) One section on cosmic design examines Big Bang cosmology, fine-tuning of the universe and planet Earth, and materialist attempts to explain fine-tuning. A section on the complexity of life explains the importance of biological information, describes “irreducible complexity,” and debunks “junk DNA” talk. The text also skewers Darwinist frauds, including highly publicized “transitional forms,” and shows the abrupt appearance of new organisms in the fossil record. —M.O.

Theistic evolution?

Technological advance—ultrasounds that let us see what within the womb was formerly hidden—also helped the pro-life movement, and scientific advance is helping the pro-creation movement. Increased understanding of cellular complexity, along with the omnipresence of computer programs and apps, is making Darwinist denial of the importance of information less acceptable. When Bill Gates says, “Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created,” more people wonder who the Programmer is.

Sadly, the advance of “theistic evolution” is undercutting that advance. Christian academics who adopt that position can avoid ruffling the feathers of their Darwinist colleagues, but they can learn about some of the scientific flaws in that approach from Wayne Rossiter’s Shadow of Oz: Theistic Evolution and the Absent God (Pickwick, 2015). They can also learn from Charles Hodge, the great 19th-century theologian and Princeton professor who critiqued Darwinian evolution in an 1874 book now internet-available for free, What Is Darwinism?

In a section on “Theism in Unscriptural Forms,” Hodge wrote of those who “admit the being of God, who depart from the scriptural doctrine as to his relation to the world. According to some, God created matter and endowed it with certain properties. … According to others, He created not only matter, but life, [and since then] has no more to do with the world, than a shipbuilder has with the ship he has constructed, when it is launched and far off upon the ocean.”

Hodge asked how intricate marvels like our eyes emerged, and noted the theistic evolutionist belief that “they were foreseen and purposed by God, and that He endowed matter with forces which He foresaw and intended should produce such results.” Hodge called this theory “utterly inconsistent with the Scriptures” and “inconsistent with obvious facts. We see around us innumerable evidences of the constant activity of mind.” —M.O.

Darwinism’s impact

What difference does accepting macroevolution make? We can learn much from what happened once Darwinism began to rule. Historian Richard Weikart has written three good books on how evolutionary thinking became murderous in the hands of those who were not gentlemanly like Charles Darwin himself. Weikart’s From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany and Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004 and 2009) tell one of the 20th century’s saddest stories.

This year Regnery Faith published Weikart’s The Death of Humanity—and the Case for Life. Other streams of thought besides Darwinism have joined to create a surging, bloody river, but the common source of them all is the belief that God is dead and the Bible is defunct. Justifications for genocide, forced famine, and compulsory sterilization become common when dictators perceive humans as either animals or machines. It’s one small step from Darwinism to infanticide and “assisted suicide.” —M.O.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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