A new film from Illustra Mediasets forth Darwin’s Dilemma: the astonishingly quick appearance of all major animal groups (phyla) during the Cambrian period of natural history.
Mainstream scientists call it the “Cambrian Explosion.” Time magazine called it “Evolution’s Big Bang.” Charles Darwin called it “inexplicable.”
The documentary’s website explains scientific issues for which I do not have space here, and a Google search on the film’s name returns plenty of arguments for and against its conclusions. Predictably, evolutionary science bloggers have criticized details in the film (and some of their detail-level criticisms have merit), but as far as I have found, they concur with the general idea that the Cambrian Explosion represents an unresolved evolutionary riddle.
Still, the vast majority insist that intelligent design cannot be the solution. An evolutionary answer will someday be found in the fossils, they say; or if, for some reason, the fossil evidence never shows up, evolution must still be the explanation anyway.
There is a story that evolutionists think intelligent design is really telling, and they think it is ridiculous. In the case of Darwin’s Dilemma,it goes roughly like this. Evolutionists “know” that ID’s Designer is really God (they have that right, at least). He got life started rather boringly with bacteria, which is all the life there was for an exceedingly long period. The next thing He moved on to, blue-green algae, was hardly more interesting
Gradually, God picked up the pace with creatures like the half-plant, half-animal Ediacaran oddities that lived some 600 or so million years ago; but from the fossil record it looks as if He just wiped most of them out and decided to start all over again with the Cambrian animals.
Darwin’s Dilemma makes the point that the Cambrian Explosion took place in less time than the resolution of the fossil record, meaning that if God took 30 million years to create all the new animal forms, or if He made them all the very same day, either way the fossil record would look pretty much the same. So maybe God did make them all on the same day.
To most biologists this is ludicrous. From their perspective, even if there is a God, it’s just impossible to imagine Him popping all kinds of new creatures on the scene all at once, fully formed (“by magic,” they often say).
It’s strange even if He took his time and sprinkled these new animals into the world one at a time, over a few million years. He’s getting His hands dirty, tinkering with creation like an amateur mechanic who couldn’t quite get it right the first time. C.S. Lewis said in his book Miracles that there was a time in his life when for him, it seemed aesthetically offensive to think of God mucking around with things that way. Many evolutionists agree: ID is not only bad science, it’s bad theology.
C.S. Lewis came to see it otherwise. I wonder if one major difference between him and the biologists is that he had read John Milton’s (1608-1674) Paradise Lost, and most biologists haven’t. See what kind of joyful, almost playful, and artistic Creator Milton pictured God to be. I wish I had space to quote it all, because a short snippet cannot convey it adequately. We’ll pick up a bit of it starting at line 243 in the Seventh Book:
Let ther be Light, said God, and forthwith Light Ethereal, first of things, quintessence pure Sprung from the Deep, and from her Native East To journie through the airie gloom began
Thus begins a “journie” through the creation story that climaxes at line 551:
Yet not till the Creator from his work Desisting, though unwearied, up returnd Up to the Heav’n of Heav’ns his high abode, Thence to behold this new created World Th’ addition of his Empire, how it shew’d In prospect from his Throne, how good, how faire, Answering his great Idea. Up he rode Followd with acclamation and the sound Symphonious of ten thousand Harpes that tun’d Angelic harmonies
Along the way are many moments like this sparkling display of the moon (line 380):
then in the East her turn she shines, Revolvd on Heav’ns great Axle, and her Reign With thousand lesser Lights dividual holds, With thousand thousand Starres, that then appeer’d Spangling the Hemisphere: then first adornd With thir bright Luminaries that Set and Rose, Glad Eevning & glad Morn crownd the fourth day.
Do you see God’s delight here? It calls to mind biblical passages like Job 38:4-7 (ESV):
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
But wait: what exactly is the point? What conceivable help could a 17th-century poet contribute to a debate on 21st-century science? Shall we rely on Milton’s biology over a contemporary scientist’s? Hardly. By the same token, though, shall we rely on the biologist’s aesthetic opinions over Milton’s, who has been ranked with Shakespeare as the English language’s greatest poet?
Milton, you see, did not regard God as a tinkerer, but as an artist, much more like a musician than a mechanic; or perhaps like a poet Himself. Suppose that in the Cambrian age God commanded the earth just as Milton said (line 453), and
The Earth obey’d, and strait Op’ning her fertil Woomb teem’d at a Birth Innumerous living Creatures, perfet formes, Limb’d and full grown:
Was this some gauche, bumbling thing for God to do? Or was it the natural kind of thing for a supernatural artist to do—to toss an exuberant splash of living paint over the landscape of creation?
Though usually presented as a matter of pure scientific reasoning, much of the evolution/ID debate comes down to a kind of aesthetic judgment—what fits best in our picture of what we think reality ought to be like. A mechanistic picture of reality fits poorly with poetry like this—not just with the sense of it, but also with the fact that such creativity exists.
There is no adequate fossil evidence to explain where the Cambrian animals came from. Evolutionists insist that, regardless, only natural causes are fitting for consideration. I think perhaps we should read more poetry.
Tom Gilson is director of strategic processes in the Operational Advisory Services team for Campus Crusade for Christ. He maintains a blog at www.thinkingchristian.net.
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