I've always secretly identified with the apostle Thomas. Upon hearing eyewitness accounts of the Lord's resurrection, Thomas stubbornly said, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." Doubting Thomas could have been a journalist.
When I became a Christian, I began looking for real-world evidence to bolster my faith in Christwhether that evidence came in the form of threads snipped from the Shroud of Turin or splinters supposedly from Noah's Ark. I rebelled at the sneering claims of atheistic evolutionists such as Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, who assert (with complete faith) that a proper understanding of physical law leaves no room for "the God hypothesis." Every science course I ever took assumed that we evolved from "primordial soup" in a random, purposeless process. No God required.
What I read in Genesis didn't seem to square with mainstream scientific theory, so I decided the theory was wrong. After all, "objective" scientists with naturalistic agendas had fallen for hoaxes before (just google "Piltdown Man"), and what little fossil evidence there was seemed skimpy. I wasn't alone in my skepticism. According to Gallup, approximately half of Americans express serious doubts about evolution.
Last year, however, came word of Tiktaalik roseae, which looks discomfitingly like those offensive "Darwin fishes" on the cars of smug college professors. Giddy evolutionists immediately hailed the 375-million-year-old fossil as a "missing link" between fish and land animals. "It's a really amazing, remarkable intermediate fossil," scientist Neil H. Shubin told The New York Times. "It's like, holy cow."
So what's a Doubting Thomas to do? First, we need to remember that scientists have hailed "missing links" before, only to be embarrassed when further evidence came out. The Discovery Institute, which supports Intelligent Design, noted that enthusiasm over this latest find is a backhanded admission by paleontologists that the fossil record has not been kind to Darwin's theory.
But what if Tiktaalik roseae turns out to be an indisputable evolutionary missing link? Certainly millions of Christiansincluding the late John Paul IIhave believed in both evolution and God without apparent spiritual harm. They say evolution is the method God used to create us. Francis Collins, who heads the Human Genome Project, is one of them.
"The evidence mounts every day to support the concept that we and all other organisms on this planet are descended from a common ancestor," Collins told me. "When you look at the digital data that backs that upwhich is what dna providesit is extremely difficult to come to any other conclusion. There are many things written within our instruction book that not only tell us how we function but also represent dna fossils left over from previous events. And those fossils, in many instances, are found in other species in the same place, in the same way. Unless you're going to propose that God placed them there intentionally to mislead us, which does not fit with my image of God as the Almighty Creator, then I think one is, like it or not, forced to the conclusion that the theory of evolution is really no longer a theory in the sense of being untested. It is a theory in the sense of gravity. It is a fact."
This "fact," interpreted through the lens of faith and not doubt, can perhaps deepen our understanding of our Creator, who works all things according to the counsel of his own will. If evolution, messy and circuitous as it appears, is true, then God is more mysterious than I imaginedbut no less God. Scientists say that the carbon that makes life on earth possiblepart of the "dust" out of which we are formedwas ejected from the cores of dying stars billions of years before we ever came on the scene. Such a long-range perspective gives us a new appreciation for the verse that says, "A thousand years in [his] sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night." God is never in a hurry.
And accepting the idea of common descent doesn't mean abandoning our belief that the created order declares the glory of God. Increasing numbers of world-class scientists, as a matter of fact, are in awe of the apparent design and fine-tuning of Creation. "The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture," physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson notes, "the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming."
No, this kind of evidence won't prove God's existence to the Doubting Thomases of the worldincluding me. But it doesn't hurt.
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Christianity Today's articles on science are available on our site. Related articles about Tiktaalik include:
Doubts About Fish Story | Anti-Darwinists downplay 'missing link.' (June 1, 2006)
Quotation Marks | Recent comments on Intelligent Design, church architecture, and the term 'evangelical'. (June 1, 2006)
Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, Evolution News & Views of the Discovery Institute, and Reasons to Believe have articles or posts discussing the implications of the discovery of Tiktaalik.
The University of Chicago has a website for Titaalik roseae.
Related articles include:
Fossil shows how fish made the leap to land | 375 million-year-old remains look like a cross between fish and crocodile (Associated Press)
Discovered: the missing link that solves a mystery of evolution | Scientists have made one of the most important fossil finds in history: a missing link between fish and land animals. (The Guardian)
Arctic fossils mark move to land | Fossil animals found in Arctic Canada provide a snapshot of fish evolving into land animals, scientists say. (BBC news)
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