It’s back-to-school month, and that means it’s time to go looking for new backpacks, folders, and clothes. And unfortunately it also means that videos about protecting your kids from evolution start making the rounds on social media.
One of these videos from Genesis Apologetics was brought to my attention recently. It uses the formula from God’s Not Dead, in which an enlightened teacher claims that science (particularly evolution) has shown that faith is outdated and unnecessary. Then the teacher is schooled by an earnest student who has done her homework.
I’m sympathetic to the concerns which fuel these kinds of videos. We’re Christians living in an increasingly secular and even anti-Christian society. It is natural to want our kids to be protected from influences and ideas that might make them turn from faith. And there really are teachers who proclaim that science has shown it is silly to believe in God. (Though to be fair, my kids had a biology teacher in their public school who said, “I’m required to teach you some evolution, but I want you to know I think the idea is silly.”)
From the BioLogos perspective, it would be helpful in these videos to see examples of how students might respond to the overblown claims of scientism. We might see some discussion of the limits of science. And there is a need for careful thinking to be done about the theological implications of evolution. But this video does none of that. Instead, the quick-thinking student recites a string of talking points about the lack of evidence for the science of evolution. Those strike a chord, because they reinforce the “us vs. them” thinking we’re all wired to use. So, we bypass the harder work of actually investigating the topic and just share the video with our friends.
Let’s consider some of the student’s claims:
“Life cannot come from non-life…”
If the teacher was claiming that there is a scientific explanation for the origin of life, the student is absolutely correct to bring this up. Origin of life research (sometimes called “abiogenesis”) is an exciting field of research, but one where there is no consensus. We’ve written about this in the article, How did life begin? So this is a good objection to an all-encompassing scientific naturalism that thinks science can answer every important question. But as an objection to the science of evolution (which is what the student was actually doing), it is a red herring. Evolution is an explanation for the diversification of life on Earth, not for the origin of life on Earth.
“Mutation only loses information…”
With this claim, the student objects that evolution can’t produce new species because that takes new information. This argument hinges on what we mean by information. We’ve been trained to think of DNA as a code, with its As, Ts, Gs, and Cs. But of course those are just symbols we use to name the four different chemical bases that make up DNA. These bases don’t mean anything, and so it isn’t information in that colloquial sense. Instead, DNA does something. And if the DNA mutates, it does something different. If you call that information, then I guess you could say a mutation loses information because the DNA no longer does the original thing. BUT, you’d also have to say it gains information because now the DNA produces something else. For example, people with Sickle Cell Anemia have DNA that has mutated at one point. Because of this, many of their red blood cells are produced in the shape of a sickle. Their DNA produces something different. This is a tricky and subtle point. For further explanation, see our article, Can evolution generate new information?
Next the student claims that if evolution is true, then “we’d have millions of in-between creatures running around…”
Did the teacher in the video seriously not have an answer for this? It is just a misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. Evolution does not claim that currently existing creatures have evolved into other currently existing creatures. Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort thought they debunked evolution by holding up a picture of a crocoduk and asking why we don’t find any of these half crocodile, half duck creatures. But evolution claims that for any two organisms today, you could go back in time and find common ancestors of them. For crocodiles and ducks, that’s about 245 million years ago, and those common ancestors were neither crocodiles nor ducks. The “in-between” creatures aren’t running around today, but they were back before the two lineages diverged (but probably didn’t look like Cameron and Comfort’s picture!).
That brings up the next claim by the student, which is: “All of the in-between fossils could fit in the back of my Prius…”
It is so surprising that this talking point has been able to survive. Have opponents of evolution really not paid attention to the discoveries of the last few generations of paleontologists? The Valley of the Whales contains hundreds of “transitional” fossils, and not one of them would fit in the back of her Prius! I went to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History a couple years ago (pictured above). At this display in the Hall of Human Origins, we see just of few of the fossils that have been found from more than 6,000 individuals that were “in-between” ancient apes and today’s humans. And if you want to get technical, every fossil we find is “in-between” two others, and over long stretches of time, we can very clearly see the changes in lineages. Here’s a great video to watch on what we know now about the transition to four-legged animals.
Finally, the student’s speech both begins and ends with the oft-repeated claim: “It takes a lot more faith to believe in evolution…”
I wish people wouldn’t use the word “faith” that way. Isn’t it a good thing to have faith?! They make it sound like it should be our goal to have as little faith as possible.
Narratives like the one in this video are attractive because they pit the plucky, faithful underdog from our tribe against an external threat. We’re wired to respond positively to that. But unfortunately the video only perpetuates echochamber thinking. It reinforces a stereotype that true Christian faith is bundled with a rejection of evolutionary science. For too many kids today, once they get out of the echochamber and find the science actually holds up, they feel they have to abandon faith too.
If you want to do something for your kids’ faith before they go back to school, consider inviting an actual scientist to come to a youth group meeting. We know lots of them who would love to do this. Have the scientist talk about their work and their faith. Let the kids ask questions. That is harder than just sharing a video. But it will more reliably bring about the goal of preparing Christian kids to engage scientific thinking.