RESEARCH ARTICLE: Does Natural Selection “Degrade God”?

RESEARCH ARTICLE: Does Natural Selection “Degrade God”?

The title of this chapter is deliberately provocative, but is also a quote from Mike Riddle, head of Creation Training Initiative, and former speaker for Answers in Genesis. Riddle made the comment offhand during a lecture he delivered in Washington state in answer to an audience question.[1] Riddle’s comment represents a secondary trend in creationist thought.  Others have made similar, sometimes even stronger statements.  Is this a tenable position?  Does natural selection somehow degrade God? Answering that question will require us to dive into both theology and science to understand why the question is asked, and whether it can be resolved.

Arguments Against Selection

The primary driver behind the rejection of natural selection is Dr. Randy Guliuzza, an engineer and M.D. who speaks for the Institute of Creation Research.  Guliuzza’s model is called Continuous Environmental Tracking (more on that in the next chapter).  He regards natural selection as invoking “…mystical environmental properties.[2]” His argument is “Environments do not select organisms for habitation. Rather, organisms occupy environments when they generate traits that fit.[3]”  In other words, the environment does not select for organisms. Instead, animals occupy environments they have the traits for.

This argument seems to be somewhat semantic. It is true that the environment does not deliberately select for anything. That would imply that nature has a brain and the cognitive ability to select what organisms. However, as noted in a previous chapter, natural selection is essentially environmental selection.  Environmental selection does not mean the environment is directly selecting for an organism. Instead, environmental selection simply explains why some organisms live in certain areas. They have traits which enable them to survive in that environment. Thus technically, the environment is not selecting them, the organisms are selecting their preferred environment.

Semantics are the least of Guliuzza’s quibbles with natural selection.  He also argues that natural selection is very poorly defined and no one quite knows what it is[4].  I will somewhat grant him this point. As we discovered in the first chapter, obtaining a thorough, accurate definition of natural selection is very difficult.  It is far easier to describe what it does than what it is. However, the same might be said for dark matter and certain other aspects of biology, chemistry, theoretical physics and so on. Being unable to humanly describe or fully understand something does not make it false. I do not believe any theologian has ever completely understood the doctrine of the Trinity, yet that is what the Bible teaches regarding the Godhead. Some things are simply above the ability of the fallen human brain to comprehend.

Guluizza’s main disagreement with natural selection, and probably the one prompting comments like Riddle’s is that he believes natural selection is unbiblical.  The passage he cites regularly for this is Romans 1:19-20. “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” Obviously natural selection is not mentioned in that verse, but considering the phrase was not invented until the mid-1800s, that is hardly surprising.  Guliuzza’s argument is as follows.

“To arrive at the true conclusion about God based on His creation, 1) people must truly affirm the reality they “clearly see”—namely, His intricate designs; and 2) must not falsely affirm seeing something that is not real—in this case, design abilities ascribed in times past to inanimate idols, or to present-day non-volitional things like Mother Nature, selfish genes, or natural selection. “Natural selection” induces thinking that fails both truth tests.[5]

In other words, Guliuzza has noticed that evolutionists ascribe God-like powers to natural selection and therefore sees natural selection as something like a substitute for God in the evolutionary worldview. In this he is correct.  Natural selection in an evolutionary worldview is postulated as something of a panacea for all the woes of the dogma. Between natural selection and mutations, the evolutionists think they have all the power that creationists ascribe to God. However, just because evolutionists claim something is a substitute God, does not mean it does not exist. We will return to that idea below.

Guliuzza also points out that natural selection implies that nature is intelligent and thus can make choices, hence the phrasing “natural selection”. While, as I established above, natural selection is a misnomer of sorts, being incorrectly named does not mean something does not exist.  Species names change frequently, yet no one would argue that the animals whose name changed did not exist before they were correctly named.

Guliuzza also points out, rightly, that numerous authorities on evolution, luminaries like Dr. Ernst Mayr and Dr. Jerry Coyne, have admitted that natural selection is poorly named because there is no selector[6].  Guliuzza is again correct, that there is no express selector on the organisms. However, that does not mean natural selection does not exist. This is simply a rephrase of the misnomer argument that Guliuzza uses frequently.  Simply because the environment is not picking which organisms live there, does not mean that there is not some selection in play. In fact, there must be some level of environmental influence, or selection in the vernacular of the evolutionist, on the survival of an organism. Unless Guliuzza wants to argue that the environment is irrelevant to organisms survival, then there is some environmental influence on populations.

Another argument Guliuzza will pull out to argue against natural selection is that it is indispensable to evolution[7].  He is correct that without natural selection, evolution falls apart. I can certainly admire his motives in attempting to undermine evolution by removing natural selection but in so doing he is committing the same logical fallacy as the evolutionists: equivocation.  Evolutionists regularly conflate the effects of natural selection with evolution in an effort to demonstrate their dogma[8]. Guliuzza appears to have accepted that and thus believes that destroying natural selection will destroy evolution. However, because the two are not equivalent, as noted by Fisher, destroying evolution does not require attacking natural selection[9].  In fact, some evolutionists have gone so far as to admit that natural selection is actually opposed to evolution! “So evolution takes place, not so much because of natural selection, but to a large degree in spite of it[10].” Simply put, natural selection is a hinderance to the evolutionary dogma, not a help.

Guliuzza’s primary argument against natural selection appears to be his concern with how adaption occurs.  He looks at organisms which appear to be well adapted to their environment and asks how those adaptations arose. Correctly, he states “Note that in all cases, function results from the operation of information-based systems[11].” As discussed in the previous chapter, information is required for any trait.  Thus, adaptations are generated from the genome of the organisms and are thus, internal.  However, internally produced adaptations does not eliminate natural selection, when it is properly defined.  Internally produced adaptations, generated from various genotypes within a population, work well with natural selection as a conservative force.

In fact, some evolutionists have admitted that natural selection works much better to explain the maintenance of adaptation, rather than explaining the origin of adaptations. George C. Williams, the pre-eminent authority on natural selection in the late twentieth century went even further than that. “I regard it as unfortunate that the theory of natural selection was first developed as an explanation for evolutionary change. It is much more important as an explanation for the maintenance of adaptation[12].” He makes it clear that evolutionary change is much less compatible with natural selection than it is with maintenance of adaptations already in existence.  This is what Guliuzza gets wrong.  He fails to properly define natural selection, and therefore expects it to fail to work with internally guided adaptations.

Guliuzza misses this point because he views selection as two dimensional rather than three dimensional.  His idea is that all change is internal, which it is, within an organism. However, the frequency of traits within a population are somewhat environmentally dependent. The environment might not influence the frequency of black eyes versus brown eyes, but it will affect the frequency of blindness versus sight.  Organisms themselves do not change very much in response to their environment, though there are some exceptions to this (more on this when we discuss Guliuzza’s CET model) but whole populations do change over time in response to environmental conditions.

Darwin’s finches provide a fantastic example of this variation within a population.  Extensive work has been done on these birds, in part because they provide a perfect vehicle to examine the claims of evolution. They are isolated, on small islands far from most humans, and other finch populations. The fourteen species are distinguished largely by food source and bill size and shape. It has been determined that, under certain environmental conditions, that finches with small bills survive freely. However, when new environmental conditions, namely drought, come into play and the seeds normally eaten by the smaller bill birds grow rare, they die off. The larger bill birds survive because they can crack and eat larger, tougher seeds[13]. This is natural selection.  The smaller bills are significantly deleterious to the birds under the drought conditions. It essentially keeps them from eating and they die.  If they die, they cannot pass the information to offspring. Thus, small bills should, in theory, decrease in the Galapagos island finch populations every time there is a drought.

However, the smaller bill birds have not gone extinct among Darwin’s finches. Why not? Because the small beaks are not always deleterious. They are only deleterious under drought conditions.  Therefore, the small beaks do not stabilize in the populations[14]. Instead the small beaks, despite being near, to completely eliminated in the previous generation, reappear the very next year[15].

The reason large bills did not come to dominate in Darwin’s finches has to do with heredity.  Even though the small bill finches all died off in what I will term generation “X”, they all had to get the information for their small beaks somewhere. That information came from their parents. Since Darwin’s finches live for ten years or more, some, if not most of the parents survived the drought because they had larger beaks. Therefore, when the drought ended, these parents could again produce offspring. Some of those offspring would have smaller beaks.  Thus, in just one generation, the frequency of small beaked birds returned to near normal.

In order to fix the large beak trait in Darwin’s finches, several things would need to happen.  First, environmental conditions would have to make the opposite trait, the smaller beaks, deleterious. A drought provides just such a condition. However, the drought cannot be for just one year. It must last for at least the maximum lifespan of a single finch to fix the trait. The reason for this lengthy requirement is that at least some of the parents are carrying the small beak trait, whether they express it or not.  The drought causes this trait to be deleterious and therefore weeded out, but as long as parents exist that carry the trait, it will always return when the drought ends. It needs to be completely eradicated in the offspring, or it will pop up again once conditions permitting it to survive to reoccur.

The key takeaway from this is that it takes time for a population to fix on a trait.  The birds themselves do not change their beaks. If a bird hatches with a small beak, it retains that small beak until its death. The change is in the frequency of small beaks within a population.  That frequency does change over time.

Thus the scientific objections Dr. Guliuzza raises to natural selection fail, largely because he uncritically accepts what the evolutionists have to say about selection. Were he to critically examine the concept of natural selection with the same scrutiny he applies to the rest of evolutionary dogma, I suspect he would not doubt the existence of natural selection. However, it is possible, however unlikely, that we might not be correctly understanding the science.  It is thus important that we Christians also critically evaluate the theological basis of Dr. Guliuzza’s arguments to determine whether natural selection really is an affront to the nature of God.

Theological Background

Claiming that natural selection degrades God is a strong charge. Obviously as Christians, we want to be certain that everything we do in both our science and our theology is correct and gives God glory. If natural selection truly does degrade God, then Christians would be wise to reject it.  However, the “if” is the operative word in the previous sentence. It has to be demonstrated that natural selection degrades God before we simply assume that it does.

Fortunately for us, Dr. Guliuzza has outlined his theological objections to natural selection.  His arguments are interesting and worthy of consideration before moving forward in this discussion.  However, many of them seem to be reaching, at least slightly.

As mentioned above, Romans 1: 19-20 appears to be one of Guliuzza’s main points against natural selection. He claims that, since natural selection functions as a substitute god for the evolutionist, it ought to be rejected. However, this is absurd. Ancient cultures worshipped the sun. Should we reject the sun because many ancients called it god? Further, looking at the text of the verse reveals it has nothing to do with natural selection. It is condemning man’s idolatry in general, because God has made Himself known in His creation. Unless you presuppose that natural selection is idolatry, which Guliuzza does (more on that below), these verses would have nothing to say about whether selection is idolatrous or not. Further, since evolutionists do not worship natural selection, at least directly, the point is moot.

However, Dr. Guliuzza does not stop there. He makes the very bold claim that natural selection is equivalent to idolatry. “Selection is idolatrous in the basest of ways. Not only does it ascribe intelligence-like powers to unconscious environmental features, like any other idol, but it induces people not to give the Lord credit for the incredible intelligence and machinery He has built into His creatures that enable them to adapt to environmental features.[16]” As we have seen above, selection does not ascribe intelligence to the environment.  Nor is it idolatrous.  The Biblical definition of idolatry is anything that is worshipped ahead of God. As most evolutionists do not actually worship selection,  despite attributing to it much higher powers than it deserves, this is not idolatry.  Saying that the sun made us is not the same as worshiping the sun. The Bible even illustrates this for us. It tells us that the devils know God exists and fear Him, but they clearly do not worship Him (James 2:19). Claiming natural selection is idolatrous is purely absurd.

Another of Dr. Guliuzza’s primary arguments against natural selection on the theology front is that organisms appear to be designed for their environment. I could not agree more with that statement. Organisms are incredibly well engineered for their environments. However, what Dr. Guliuzza means is different than our usual understanding of the term.  “A distinctive of living things is their goal-directed operation—one of which is filling ecological niches. This is in obedience to God telling “them” to be “fruitful,” “multiply,” and “fill” the earth (Genesis 1:22, 28; 8:17; 9:1, 7.) An organism-based paradigm is biblical[17].”  This is a huge stretch based on the verses he cites.

Based on Guliuzza’s prooftexts, he is right about one thing. The animals are commanded to fill the earth and the sea and they have done this. It is hard to go anywhere on planet earth where there are not at least a few creatures.  However, his uses of Genesis 1:28, Genesis 9:1 and Genesis 9:7 are bizarre. Genesis 1:28 tells man to fill the earth, not animals and is thus entirely irrelevant here.  Genesis 9:1 repeats that command but to Noah and his sons. Genesis 9:7 repeates the same point, again direct to humans.  Why Guliuzza applies commands given to humans to the animal world is a mystery, unless his argument is that since humans do not undergo natural selection, animals do not either; which would be equally bizarre and a false equivalence.

While a bizarre use of Scripture alone is not enough to sink an argument, his misuse of the other verses do submarine this argument.  Genesis 1:22 and Genesis 8:17, while directed to the animals, say nothing about how they would fit the environment. There is no command in the Bible anywhere for animals to adapt to their environment. Since animals are well adapted to their environment, one of three things must be true. Either 1) they were pre-fitted to their environment, 2) natural selection fitted them to their environment by favoring traits or 3) they internally generated traits to fit their environments.  It is possible there is some overlap between these three, but all three cannot be true for a given organism in a given environment.  All three of these options are Biblically acceptable.   Therefore, we cannot say, Biblically, which drove the diversification of life after the Flood.

However, as noted by Dr. Jason Lisle in his scorching rebuke of Dr. Guliuzza’s ideas, there are examples of natural selection in the Bible.  The remainder of this section on theology draws heavily on Dr. Lisle’s arguments[18]. I am deeply grateful to Dr. Lisle for expressing these ideas much more thoroughly than I could and I recommend anyone with interest in the topic to read the article in the Answers Research Journal.

Lisle points out that there are at least three examples of the natural selection in the Bible. The first is the Flood. Which is incredibly simple, yet, I freely admit, I had never thought of it that way.  The Flood wiped out all air breathing, land dwelling animals outside the Ark.  That is natural selection in a nutshell.  Think about it. The environment changed, drastically. Suddenly, being an air-breathing, land dwelling organism was no longer suited to the environment.  There was no land. Obligate land dwellers could not handle the new environment and were wiped out. As Lisle notes, this selection did not select against things like whales, which, while air breathing, do not require land. Thus, selection favored these organisms because they were now most fit for the environment[19].

Lisle also points out that the parable of the sower shows natural selection in action. Again, Lisle is way ahead of me on this, I had never considered that this parable incidentally showed natural selection. “For the seed that fell among the thorns, it was the thorns—an external environmental agent—that choked them out (Luke 8:7). Jesus did not say, “the seed among the thorns failed to overcome the environmental challenge of the thorns,” as Guliuzza would insist. Rather, Jesus indicates that the thorns were the active agent to choke out the seedlings. By Guliuzza’s reasoning, Jesus was wrong.[20]” In other words, by denying natural selection, Guliuzza is indirectly calling Jesus a liar.  I do not believe Guliuzza recognizes this, but he is walking the same path as a theistic evolutionist.

Lisle also points out that Guliuzza consistently limits God in his articles[21]. His logic leads him to conclude that the creature must generate the means necessary to obey the commands of the creator. This is utter hubris and has no Scriptural support. It is certainly possible that the creature can obey the Creator using its own means, such as when Paul and his companions went to Macedonia after receiving God’s call to go there. They did not need God to pick them up and drop them there; they went by foot and boat. But not all commands can be so obeyed. In fact, repeatedly in the Gospels, Jesus commands sick individuals to do things they could not do, be it stretch out a withered hand, or stand when crippled, or see from blinded eyes.  These things could only be done through the power of the Creator assisting the creature to perform His command.  The creature had no power to do these things without the direct interference of the Creator.

Worse, Guliuzza actually limits God to the role of the human engineer[22]. His argument essentially is “If a human engineer wouldn’t do it this way, God couldn’t do it this way.” However, this is incredibly short sighted. Lisle says “[U]nlike human engineers, God has designed and currently controls both organisms and the environment. Thus, God can use either the organism’s programming or environmental designs (or both or neither) to accomplish His purpose[23].” I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Lisle.  God is in complete control of the universe and He can cause organisms to adapt to their environment from internal, external, or top down designer changes, or some combination of the three.

Because Guliuzza gets this wrong, he is forced into a heretical conclusion, namely that God is both to credit for the success of organisms or to blame when they fail.  In other words, since God is equivalent to a human engineer, and an engineer is responsible when his creations either succeed or fail, when animals fail to adapt to their environment and die, God is to blame[24]. This means that animal death is God’s fault. This is not a Biblical position. Romans 8:22 tells us that the entirety of creation groans in pain. Since we know that God created the world very good, according to Genesis 1, something must have changed. And we know what that is. Genesis 3 tells us about how man brought death into the world through his sin.  Therefore, animal extinction and death is man’s fault not God’s.

Lisle actually points out that this view of God is heavily influenced by deism[25].  True deism believes that God made the world, but does not interfere in it in any way. This leads to a rejection of miracles and often the Bible.  Guliuzza does not qualify as a true deist. He accepts miracles and the Bible. However, he does qualify as a “quasi-deist[26]”. In saying the natural world has no influence on organisms, he is denying natural law, which was created and ordained by God. Since the Bible says that God upholds the world by His own power, natural laws are an extension of God’s power and nature.  Therefore, he is denying that God is influencing the world through natural laws. This is effectively Deism lite.

This deistic idea is the root of the bad theology driving the rejection of natural selection. Believing that organisms must generate their own traits, and that the environment and natural law, (which are extensions of God’s nature), essentially views God as a hands off, no-involvement God. This is not the God of the Bible.  In fact, it is the exact opposite of the God of the Bible, Who, repeatedly throughout Scripture is intimately involved in His creation.

Please understand, if you are a fan of Dr. Guliuzza’s work, this is not meant to be viewed as an attack on Dr. Guliuzza’s character, Christianity, or commitment to creation science. Nor is this an automatic rejection of his continuous environmental tracking model.  I believe Dr. Guliuzza is a sincere Christian who is passionate about creation science. However, sincerity does not equal accuracy. In denying natural selection, Dr. Guliuzza is both ignoring valid science, and misusing Scripture. Sadly, his ideas are being communicated to tens of thousands of people who often do not comprehend his errors and thus swallow them wholesale.

So, in return to the question posed at the beginning of this chapter, does natural selection degrade God as Riddle said? I think we can answer as a resounding no!  It is quite easy to give God glory in light of natural selection. Consider that natural selection is a conservative, purifying force which helps keep the population from going extinct. Could not an all-knowing God see the Fall coming and program nature with a mechanism to eliminate the bad mutations He knew were coming? How would such a mechanism be dishonoring to Him? Would that not demonstrate His power, knowledge, and wisdom and thereby give Him glory? To me, natural selection speaks of the omniscience of God, and His careful preparation of this world to survive and thrive while He worked out His perfect will for it.

However, there is an aspect of this which does not give God glory. Again, I will quote Lisle because he says it much better than I could. “[I]n reality, promoting error robs glory from God, because God is truth. And Guliuzza has been promoting error repeatedly. As I demonstrated in my paper, natural selection is the normal way that God selects which organisms survive and which do not. Therefore, to deny natural selection is to falsely imply that God is not sovereign. That is not glorifying to God. Guliuzza’s claim that credit (for success) or blame (for failure) resides with the designer implies that God has failed billions of times. After all, some organisms fail to adjust to their environment. To blame God for this is dreadfully unbiblical[27].” Again, Dr. Lisle is spot on.  Implying that God has the capability to fail is blatant heresy. I do not consider Dr. Guliuzza a heretic, but I do believe his ideas can lead to a heretical conclusion.

Conclusions

 Unfortunately, in both the scientific and theological realms, Dr. Guliuzza’s rejection of selection falls flat.  It has no Biblical basis, regardless of his claims to the contrary. In fact, some of his claims are in direct contradiction to what the Bible says. Further, when compared against empirical science,  his rejection of natural selection simply does not hold up. Unfortunately, many Christians have bought into his ideas. Christians would be wise to carefully examine any such claims to ensure they align with the Bible first, and science second.

 

REFERENCES

[1] Mike Riddle “Dinosaurs: Key to the Age of the Earth” streamed live April 27, 2018 Apologetics Forum of Snohomish County video 59:30-59:37 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q765KEcRI-Y

[2] Randy J. Guliuzza “Natural Selection is Not ‘Nature’s Intelligence.’” Institute for Creation Research May 1, 2010 Accesses July 28, 2019. https://www.icr.org/article/natural-selection-not-natures-intelligence

[3] Randy J. Guliuzza “Similar Features Demonstrate Common Design.” Institute for Creation Research November 1, 2010, Accessed June 28, 2019.

[4] Randy J. Guliuzza “Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: Recognizing Missed Warning Signs.” Institute for Creation Research; April 29, 2011 Accessed June 28, 2019 https://www.icr.org/article/darwins-sacred-imposter-recognizing

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Randy Guliuzza “Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: How Natural Selection is Given Credit for Design in Nature.” Institute for Creation Research June 30, 2011 Accessed July 1, 2019. https://www.icr.org/article/darwins-sacred-imposter-how-natural

[8]Sarah E. Bush et al., “Host Defense Triggers Rapid Adaptive Radiation in Experimentally Evolving Parasites,” Evolution Letters (2019): 1–9, doi:10.1002/evl3.104.

[9] Fisher, 1958

[10] George C. Williams  Adaptation and Natural Selection Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.

[11] Randy Guliuzza “Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: The Illusion That Natural Selection Operates on Organisms.” Institute for Creation Research August 31,2011,  Accessed July 1, 2019. https://www.icr.org/article/darwins-sacred-imposter-illusion-that

 

[12] Williams, 1972.

[13] Peter R. Grant  Ecology and Evolution of Darwin’s Finches Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[16] Randy J. Guliuzza “Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: Natural Selection’s Idolatrous Trap.” Institute for Creation Research October 31, 2011 Accessed July 9, 2019. https://www.icr.org/article/darwins-sacred-imposter-natural-selections

[17] Guliuzza, June 2011.

[18] Many of my arguments from this point on are paraphrases and shortenings of Lisles arguments. I have attempted to credit him each time I have paraphrased him.

[19] Jason Lisle “Refuting Dubious Claims Regarding Natural Selection.” Answers Research Journal Volume 11 (2018) Pages 301-340. https://answersingenesis.org/natural-selection/refuting-dubious-claims-regarding-natural-selection/

[20]Ibid

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] Ibid

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid

[26] Ibid

[27] Jason Lisle “Responding to Lightner’s Comments on Natural Selection: Points of Agreement and Disagreement.” Answers Research Journal Volume 12 (2019) Pages 45-51. https://answersingenesis.org/natural-selection/response-lightner-natural-selection/

 

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