When was the last time you went to a birthday party for a dead guy? Here’s your chance. On February 12, evolutionists everywhere will gather for Darwin Day, a celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday. Darwin can’t make it, but that won’t stop the celebrations planned worldwide.
Well, you’ll probably skip this one. Darwin’s legacy is no secret. He provided an explanation of life’s origin that removes God from the picture. The famed Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins explains the impact: “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Before Darwin, atheists had a problem. If God does not exist, how did life begin? Darwin’s theory of evolution provided atheists an answer to that troublesome question. And that’s good reason for an atheist to party.
Christian students are often intimidated by Darwin’s theory. When their high school biology teacher or college professor covers evolution, they cower. They feel ill-equipped to counter the scientific case for evolution. They don’t even know where to begin. So I give them a simple starting point: define evolution.
Definition #1: Evolution is change over time.
As we observe our world we see things changing day by day, month by month, year by year. An oak changes as it goes from sapling to tree. A newborn changes as she grows into a toddler. Seasons change. Clothing styles change. Everything changes. But is this kind of evolution a problem for Christians? Of course not. If this is what someone means when they say “evolution,” no problem.
Definition #2: Evolution is the process where small scale genetic change occurs in an organism to produce new characteristics.
In his seminal work, On the Origin of Species, Darwin distinguished two additional types of evolution. Our second definition is Darwin’s special theory of evolution or microevolution. On this view, environmental pressure forces an organism to adapt—“evolve”—in order to survive.
A classic “evidence” found in biology textbooks today is Darwin’s finches. They’re a species of bird on the Galápagos Islands where Darwin did much of his original research. Scientists have discovered the average finch beak size fluctuates during drought, when food is more scarce, and during periods where the climate produces plentiful food. Scientists proclaim that changing finch beaks are an example of and evidence for evolution.
However, this definition is uncontroversial for Christians as well. Yes, we certainly observe microevolutionary changes within species throughout the natural world. Again, if this is what someone means when they say “evolution,” no problem. But notice, microevolution does not explain how finches got their beaks in the first place. For that, a third definition is required.
Definition #3: Evolution is the process by which large scale genetic changes take place in a population to produce new kinds of organisms.
Look at Definition #2 again. Notice the difference here. On this third definition, we have large scale changes and new organisms. This is Darwin’s general theory of evolution or macroevolution. Macroevolution is microevolution on steroids. This was Darwin’s revolutionary idea. This is the reason Darwin gets the big birthday party.
Darwin saw microevolution happening within a species, like the finches. However, he didn’t see limits to that change. Given enough change and enough time, a species can develop new body parts and become an entirely new organism. Eventually, toads become turkeys. Over millions of years, wolves become whales. For Darwin, the process of macroevolution could explain all life’s diversity. And when the biology professor argues for macroevolution, now we have a problem.
To help students navigate the scientific case for evolution, I tell them to ask a simple question: Is the particular evidence being offered an example of microevolution or macroevolution? Virtually every shred of evidence offered—changing beak sizes, changing colors in peppered moths, additional wings on fruit flies, changing human genes—is evidence of microevolution, not macroevolution.
Why should this matter to Christian students? Remember what atheist Richard Dawkins said: “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Instead of a personal and purposeful Creator as the explanation of life’s origin, atheists argue we are the product of blind, physical, evolutionary processes. There are two choices. We are here on purpose or by accident. Evolution robs humanity of its special dignity. We’re no longer made in the image of God but in the image of a common ancestor. Yes, evolutionary ideas have consequences. It’s up to us to teach a new generation of Christian students they have nothing to fear from science, but can harness it to proclaim the truth of their Creator through the glory of His creation.