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.
But why would an evolutionist say it looks designed, yet it isn't?
Because they believe purely naturalistic processes can create biological systems that appear to be designed even though they really aren't. They believe the process of Darwinian or neo-Darwinian evolution can accomplish the creation of complex and irreducibly complex biological systems. I just don't think the evidence points in that direction.
I think at the root of this is a philosophical problem. Many scientists rule out from the beginning any possibility of anything existing beyond matter and energy. In other words, many of them are scientific materialists. They believe that what you see is what you get, that science should only be involved with exploring natural processes and looking for naturalistic explanations for the world. I think scientists ought to go wherever the evidence points, and if the evidence points somewhere else, I believe they ought to have the freedom to explore that. If the evidence of cosmology and physics and astronomy and biochemistry and genetics and cognitive science--if it points to the existence of an intelligent designer, scientists ought to be able to consider that hypothesis.
I think scientists perceive the inquiry as a debate between two polar opposites, Christianity and atheism. Why can't there be a spectrum in-between?
There are people who call themselves Christians who also embrace evolutionary theory. That's within the bounds of orthodox Christianity, depending on the person's views.
Could somebody who believes in intelligent design be Jewish or Buddhist?
Absolutely. Intelligent design is consistent with any faith system I can think of, because most faith systems believe that there is a creator. The scientific evidence by itself doesn't point necessarily toward solely a Christian conclusion. An Islamic philosopher almost 1,000 years ago first formulated the argument that whatever began to exist has a cause; the universe exists, and the universe has a cause. But I think there are Christians who would say, "I'm a theistic evolutionist; I believe God was behind this process of evolution."
I think a lot of people say that.
A lot of people say that, and personally when I look at how evolution is defined as being a random and undirected process without plan or purpose, I have trouble reconciling that with Christianity or with theism.
Maybe this is just a semantic problem in that the average non-scientific, relatively intelligent Christian just thinks, "OK, evolution is true in some big sense and why couldn't it be that God set the whole thing spinning?"
What I can't understand is why would someone put their eggs in the evolution basket in the first place. If they're saying that God is behind evolution, they're saying that there is enough evidence from evolution to establish that Darwinian theory is true. And I just don't think the evidence is there. I don't see why people would want to put their stock in a theory that is in severe crisis.
Maybe that's just because people aren't paying enough attention.
There is a spectrum of belief when it comes to creation and evolution. There are those who hold a biblically literal six-day young earth position; there are those that hold to an older earth creationism; and there are those who are theistic evolutionists.
Which one are you?
I see merit in a lot of what's said, and what I try to do in my book is say, "Let's look at the science that virtually every scientist would concede. Let's see, based on their playing field of secular science, where the evidence points." I think the evidence points persuasively and powerfully toward the existence of God.
Are you are a creationist?
I certainly believe that God did create the world, yeah, absolutely I believe that.
But did God create the world in six days?
That depends on how you define six days, and that gets into a theological question that has been debated literally for centuries. I can see merit in the different arguments about creation. I try to ride above that a bit and say, "Let's look at the evidence from science that virtually all scientists will concede is true and let's see where that points."
I think a very tiny group of people are atheists and a very tiny group of people are true creationists.
But when you think `creationist,' you have to be careful because even a theistic evolutionist is a creationist. In other words, all a creationist believes is that God created.
What I'm talking about is people who believe in a six-day young earth or even a six-day old earth--that's a very small group of people. What I hear people calling intelligent design is `backdoor creationism,' because they think it is a way of making the six-day biblical creation story acceptable.
That's not true. I don't believe that because there are people in the intelligent design movement who hold a variety of positions. There are agnostics who are part of that movement, there are literal six-day creationists who are part of the movement. I think the idea that somehow the intelligent design movement is trying to introduce literal six-day creationism into schools is a scare tactic that evolutionists try to use to discredit it.
But I have also noticed that the intelligent design people don't tend to distance themselves from biblical creationists.
Why do you think this is one of those hot-button issues, like abortion or gay rights? This doesn't go away.
Because at the root of it is a worldview issue. The scientific materialism that is at the root of evolutionary theory is a worldview that has broad and sweeping implications. If evolutionary theory is true, there are five inescapable conclusions. Number one, there is no evidence for God. Number two, there is no life after death. Number three, there is no absolute foundation for right and wrong. Number four, there is no ultimate meaning for life. And number five, people don't really have free will. That's why this is a very spirited battle between two world views. It comes down to the issue of should science limit itself only to naturalistic processes? Because if it does, then Darwinism wins by default. Or, should science open itself to going wherever the evidence points, even if it points in the direction of an intelligent designer?
I think we should teach what Darwin suggested and the evidence for Darwinian evolution. But I think we also ought to be able to talk about where the evidence fails to support the grandest claims of Darwin.
But should we teach Genesis? No, but I think kids should be taught the controversy. If we're going to teach evolution, let's not just take only the evidence that supports it and hide from students the evidence that undermines it. Let's talk about the failure of scientific materialism to come up with any explanation for the creation of the universe, for the creation of life, and the creation of consciousness. I'm not talking about teaching theology. I'm talking about science; this is not an issue of faith vs. science. This is an issue of science vs. science.
Can you explain the difference between being an old-fashioned theistic evolutionist, and being someone who believes in intelligent design?
There are theistic evolutionists who believe God is behind an evolutionary process. If they want to believe that, then do they believe in the existence in an intelligent designer? They probably do because they're saying God was pulling the strings and causing an outcome that he wanted to cause and therefore was creating through the process of evolution.
So I believe theistic evolutionists are probably adherents of some sort of intelligent design idea. But I just don't think evidence points in that direction. I think there's a philosophical disconnect because of the logical inconsistency of a God who could direct an undirected process and have a divine purpose behind a purposeless and random world.
People just basically need to update their understanding?
I think one of the problems is `evolution' is a slippery word. For many people it just means change over time, in which case there's no conflict. But for others, it means that natural selection and random variation accounts for all the diversity of life we have without the need to resort to any kind of creator. So there are different perspectives on what the word `evolution' means. Everybody concedes that there is a thing called `micro-evolution' which is variation within kinds of animals, which is why we have 200 varieties of dogs.
But where the controversy comes in is whether you can then extrapolate from that the idea that we have macro-evolution, which is fish becoming amphibians becoming reptiles becoming mammals and birds and so forth. These grand assertions of neo-Darwinism that are simply unsupported by the fossil evidence.
If a bat and a whale have a common ancestor, would there not be a huge number of transitionary fossils that we would find? The evidence just is not there. So, you know, that's why I scratch my head when Christians want to be theistic evolutionists because the evidence of science I don't believe supports the idea of evolution in the first place. So why create a theology that is built on a scientific theory for which the evidence is sorely wanting?
For me, it makes sense to start with a clean slate and say, where does the evidence point? Does it point purely towards a naturalistic process for the creation of the universe, for the creation of life, for the creation of consciousness and so forth, or does it point to an intelligent designer behind it? I believe an objective analysis of that data shows the evidence points much more powerfully toward the explanation that there is an intelligent designer. So I don't see the need to resort to a belief in the grandest claims of Darwinian evolution.