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.