Robert Richert: Second Letter to a Christian friend

By | July 23, 2010

Hi Friend,

In a recent conversation, you brought up the point that we mere mortal humans do not have the science and knowledge to make something as simple as a leaf. You made this argument to me several months ago – I surmise the implication is that scientists will never be able to create life out of non-life. As to this question, ‘life’ has been created in the laboratory, albeit primitive life. Check out the article on the website below.

Craig Venter creates synthetic life form

Craig Venter and his team have built the genome of a bacterium from scratch and incorporated it into a cell to make what they call the world’s first synthetic life form. For more information on Venter’s work, link to

As to the question, can humans ‘make’ something as simple as a leaf, the answer is yes, and it is done every day! For example, if you want to ‘make’ oak leaves, just plant acorns, nurture them and wait for the tree to grow. Eventually, you’ll get oak leaves. Before you dismiss my point here, please understand that there is a method to my madness! You see, if one looks to nature, one sees a clear distinction between the way that humans make things – usually by assembling various parts – and the way that living things come into existence. No leaf or any living thing for that matter is assembled whole cloth from a batch of parts lying around. Instead, living things begin as a single cell that divides, diversifies and eventually grows into an adult with various complex parts. It amazes me that some people cannot accept that we humans evolved by means of a step by step process from simple one-celled organisms over eons of time – when each individual human goes through a similar evolutionary process from fertilization to adulthood in a few years!

We tend to be anthropomorphic. That is, we tend to view nature from our own perspective and apply our own ways and means of thinking and doing to nature. What makes Darwin’s insight – evolution by means of natural selection – so brilliant and magnificent is its counter-intuitiveness – and its continual confirmation since its debut in 1859. Nature, in ‘making’ living things, doesn’t work like a watchmaker, an architect, or an engineer. I do not have the time or space to show how natural selection works – I can say that it is NOT like a tornado rushing through a junkyard and assembling a 747, as Creationists say. Natural selection IS a powerful process that in an incremental, step by step way that adds/builds upon previous changes as it goes, produces incredible complex ‘design’ purely by natural mechanisms. This is known beyond reasonable doubt – it has been observed in nature and reproduced in the lab. There are many good sources that explain this process, and I would be glad to send you references if you so desire. To conclude this section, I pose this thought from the perspective of a religious believer: Which God is wiser – one who must make each living thing or species individually like a factory worker – or one who creates a vast universe in which with the touch of a button (so to speak) initiates a process that needs no further guidance or tweaking: Just lots of space – the right raw materials and conditions (lots of stars, planets – the right elements; water, etc.) – add in deep time for all of this to unfold – and eventually (on a few rare worlds) evolves intelligent creatures like us! The latter is what Christian evolutionary biologists believe.

Everyday, scientists are discovering more about how living things evolved, and more importantly, the genetic mechanisms involved in evolution – its nuts and bolts. For example, did you know that each of us humans has a gene for ‘making’ the distribution of hair over our bodies virtually identical to that of a chimpanzee? Did you know that each of us has a gene for making a tail? Our genetic code includes many such remnants of our past. So…why aren’t we hairy and have tails? Because these genes get switched off during development of the embryo! Over time in the distant past, humans gradually lost their ape-ish hairiness and mammalian tales, but the gene is still with us; they just became dormant. It is one of the many little details about us that separates humans from our cousins the apes and other more distant relatives, and also demonstrates our connection to them. In fact, we are learning that many evolutionary changes in organisms are due to a ‘mutation’ that causes a particular gene or gene segment to switch on or off. Finally, upon rare occasions, humans are born with tails or hairy like an ape. Not that long ago, these unfortunate ‘freaks of nature’ would be ostracized by family and society. Many ended up working in circuses and side shows in order to make a meager living. However, thanks to our modern understanding of evolution and genetics, we know why these people are the way they are.

We now have fantastic sequences of fossils demonstrating evolution. For example, we have a beautiful fossil sequence of many specimens showing the evolution of whales from a ground dwelling carnivore that looked somewhat like a wolf and lived over 50 million years ago. We have sequences of fossils showing the evolution of fish to amphibians, amphibians to reptiles, and reptiles to mammals and birds. We have over 200 specimens of our own ancient ancestors. We now know that our ancestors and that of the chimpanzees diverged from a common ancestor 6 to 7 million years ago. We know that our ancestors began to walk upright long before our brains became bigger. The famous fossil Lucy is about 3.5 million years old. Her skull and brain case is much more – but not exactly – like that of an ape than that of a modern human. Yet, her pelvis and leg structure is much more – but not exactly – like that of a modern human. Lucy has characteristics more human than ape and others more ape than human and others right in between the two – a transitional form between species – exactly what was predicted by Darwin’s theory before we had these fossils!

I know that your church or elements of your church are Creationists. I must say that Creationism and its counterpart, Intelligent Design (ID) have zero credibility in academia! In fact were it not for their well financed efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in our schools, they would be a laughing stock. There are no Creation/ID departments at any major university in the free world, no scientific conferences on the subject, no papers being published in peer reviewed scientific journals. In short, no Creationist/ID activity, research, or even slight interest as a real science exists within the scientific community at all! In fact, despite Creationist’s bogus claims of thousands of scientist supporters, there are only a tiny handful of Creationist/ID people with advanced scientific degrees related to evolution – and none of this pitifully few has any status or stature in the scientific community. Creationism/ID is a social/religious movement, NOT a scientific one. The only debates in science about evolution are about the details of how evolution works, not whether it happened. In science, evolution by means of natural selection has been a settled issue for over 100 years. It’s a done deal!

If there were no Book of Genesis, there would be no conflict about evolution today between Fundamentalists and scientists. In fact, most mainstream Christian churches have made their peace with evolution (ex. Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists). What is ironic to me is that the two creation accounts in Genesis, when taken literally, do not jibe at all with what we now know about the universe, earth, and life – and to make matters worse, the two accounts don’t even match each other!

My friend, you are an intelligent, inquisitive person. Yes, you can be a good Christian and also accept the reality of the world as science has ‘revealed’ to us. Most Bible scholars will tell you that the Bible, especially Genesis, was not written to be taken literally. The Bible is NOT a science book! In fact, many religious thinkers believe that Biblical Literalism undermines the deeper meanings and greater scope of the Bible’s message.

This is my long-winded response to your comments…and I have plenty more! I hope this e-mail gives you some food for thought.


2 thoughts on “Robert Richert: Second Letter to a Christian friend

  1. daniel

    your argument that Creationism is only a social/religious movement could not be any more close minded. In fact, as in, in factual evidence, there is basically no evidence to support macro evolution. Micro evolution, yes, all day long, everyday, but macro evolution is unprovable. If anything, evolution theory is the equal of your previous statement about Creationism, a social/religious movement. Either way, both theories are outlandish, and require immense amounts of faith. One that you came from a monkey, that somehow came from a dog, that somehow turned into a whale, etc.. with no factual evidence. The other, that we are all created by the one true God, and that you must believe in Him for salvation. Both theories have one thing in common, the need for faith in what we cannot see. But to say Creationism is only a social/religious movement is both short sighted and hyprocritical.

    and also, the more scientist divulge into their DNA research, the more they realize how complex and "designed" it looks, and the more scientist are softening their stances on evolution as a theory..

    and also:
    "The only debates in science about evolution are about the details of how evolution works, not whether it happened. In science, evolution by means of natural selection has been a settled issue for over 100 years. It’s a done deal!"

    this particular statement is glaringly incorrect: if evolution was a done deal, it would be called a "LAW". However, scientist can't call it a law, because they can't technically prove it to be true. So they switch to calling it a fact. Which, they can't prove to be true either. So, to say evolution is a done deal, is, well, completely wrong. Currently we push evolution forward without the facts to prove it. It would not surprise me if in 15 years, we look back at evolution as the biggest educational myth ever taught. A religious movement of unmatched proportions throughout the world.. just a thought


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