The Case for a Creator

Random, undirected evolution is incompatible with Christianity, says a well-known evangelical author.

BY: Interview by Deborah Caldwell

Lee Strobel was the legal editor of the Chicago Tribune and a spiritual skeptic until 1981, when he became an evangelical Christian. He went on to write 11 books, including the best-selling The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. His latest, The Case for a Creator, takes readers along on his investigation into how the world began. After interviewing dozens of scientists , Strobel concludes that the latest evidence points to God as the creator of the universe.

Beliefnet senior editor Deborah Caldwell recently interviewed Strobel about his findings.

Why do people often say you can't you be Christian and believe in evolution?

It depends on how you define evolution. If you define evolution as merely meaning change over time, then I don't see any problem with a person being a Christian and believing in evolution. But that's not how textbooks define evolution. They define evolution as being random and undirected without plan or purpose. So how can God direct an undirected process? How can there be a divine purpose behind a purposeless and random world? That didn't make sense to me as I began to investigate this stuff. The kind of evolutionary theory being taught to students precludes the idea that there is a God or intelligent designer behind it because of the logical problem of saying that God could have directed a process that's undirected, or that he had a divine purpose behind a purposeless and random world.

You tell the story in the book of your first encounter with evolution and how that influenced your becoming an atheist.

I could take you right back to the exact spot I was in 1966. I was 14 years old. I was a freshman at Prospect High School in suburban Chicago. I was on the third floor, northwest corner of the building, second row from the window, third seat from the back when I heard the evidence that for the first time plunged me into atheism. My teacher told us about a 1953 experiment by Stanley Miller at the University of Chicago, in which he recreated the early atmosphere of the earth and shot electrical sparks through it to stimulate lightning and after a period of time, found the collection of a red goo containing amino acids. And amino acids, of course, are the building blocks of life. They make up proteins, which make up all living things. It was a "Eureka!" moment. I said, "Wait a minute, God is out of a job. If life could have come about purely by naturalistic means I have no need to believe in him anymore." And I began to consider myself an atheist.

But, you know, most people don't. I think most Americans believe in God. Why did that have such a profound influence on you, but not on most other people?

A lot of people don't give much thought to what they believe and it's easy for them to hold what often are two conflicting ideas in their head at the same time. My background is in journalism and law, and those are two areas that cater to intellectual processes and also to responding to evidence. And so, when I saw the evidence that God was unnecessary, I jettisoned God. I will say quite candidly this was not purely an intellectual issue. I was someone who wanted to live my life my way. I didn't want to be held accountable for my morality and so, I probably was looking for an excuse to reject the idea of God. And I seized upon evolution as the excuse.

In the book you take apart Miller's origin of life experiment and say that it's no longer valid.

Often students learn something from science that has a profound impact on their life and on their worldview and they're unaware that years later the scientific experiment has been invalidated or a new theory has supplanted it. And in this particular case, Stanley Miller's experiment has now been relegated to an intellectual curiosity. Miller's concept of the atmosphere, as it turns out, was not accurate, and scientists now understand the atmosphere to be quite different from what Stanley Miller supposed it was. If you re-run the same experiment using the earth's actual primitive environment, you don't get the amino acids that Stanley Miller got--and in fact, origin of life researchers have reached a brick wall. They have said that discussions of theories and experiments in this field now either end up in a stalemate or in a confession of ignorance. But I 'learned' in 1966 that amino acids could be artificially created purely by natural means. Nobody updated the information and my worldview was formed on that day based on what I had been taught in Introductory Biology.

Can you summarize what we actually know?

Stephen Hawking said virtually all scientists now believe the universe began to exist at a finite point in the past. We can argue over when that was, but virtually every scientist believes the universe had a starting point. Well, that leads to the argument that whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist; therefore the universe has a cause. That's a powerful argument for the existence of God.

Allan Rex Sandage, probably the greatest observational cosmologist in the world, shocked everybody several years ago at a seminar in Dallas when he announced that he had become a believer in God because of the scientific evidence that he had encountered. And then physics shows that the dozens of parameters of physics that enable the universe to function conspire in an incomprehensible way to allow life to exist in the universe. They're calibrated with such mind-blowing precision that I think it argues powerfully for the existence of a creator. So I think physics tells us a lot about the existence of God.

And Michael Behe writes about irreducibly complex biological systems that defy a Darwinian explanation.

Give us an example of what you mean.

There's a little motor in the back of some bacteria. It's called a bacterial flagellum and it's 1/100,000 of an inch long. It can spin at 10,000 rpms, stop at a quarter turn, and spin the other direction at 10,000 rpms. This is the most efficient motor in the universe, way beyond anything our technology can build. Well, all of the parts of this little motor must be present in the right spatial relationship in order for it to function. There is no scientist who would claim that all those parts happen to come together by mere chance and form this motor. The odds against that are too astronomical. So Darwinism must show some process that led up to the formation of this motor.

Darwin himself said if it can be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which cannot possibly have been formed by numerous, successive slight modifications, his theory would break down. Well, scientists have not been able to find that pathway by which the bacterial flagellum and other similar systems could have been created, because all the parts have to be present for it to function--which means that the precursor part will not work at all and therefore will not be preserved by Darwinian evolution because evolution only preserves those systems that are already working. People have been debating it, but I think it's good evidence for design.

But I think probably the greatest evidence is what we find in DNA. We've discovered in the last 50 years that every one of our bodies, 100 trillion cells, has a strand of DNA that if you were to stretch it out would be six feet long. It's encoded with a six-character chemical alphabet that spells out the precise assembly instructions for all of the thousands of different kinds of proteins in our bodies.

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