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Pastor Glenn McDonald: In the Beginning

It seems hard to believe, but just 200 years ago every respectable scientist believed that spoiled meat, all by itself, could generate maggots. 


The idea that non-living substances automatically morph into living creatures is known as “spontaneous generation.” 


Dust generates fleas. Dead cows produce wasps. Ocean sand yields barnacles. And a winning lottery ticket spontaneously generates relatives you didn’t even know existed. 


No one seems to have noticed the all-important intermediate steps – that flies, for instance, routinely come and lay their eggs on rotting meat, and that fleas come into the world only because they have flea parents. In 1859, the French scientist Louis Pasteur decisively demonstrated, by means of clever experiments, that spontaneous generation never happens. Life only comes from life. 


Since Pasteur’s discovery overturned two millennia of serious misunderstanding, it stands as one of the greatest moments in the history of science.


Which makes it all the more jarring that 21st century scientists – those, at least, who subscribe to materialistic naturalism – have been left to conclude that spontaneous generation takes place after all. Since “we cannot allow a divine foot in the door” (in the words of atheistic scientist Richard Lewontin), that’s the only possible explanation for the origin of life in the universe.


Living things must have emerged from nothing. With no outside help. For no purpose whatsoever. Because that’s the only explanation intelligent people are allowed to entertain. 


Most of the research and speculation concerning the evolution of life that followed the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (which, coincidentally, also arrived in 1859) concerns what happens to living things after certain basic systems (like cell membranes, DNA, and mitochondria) are already up and running. 


But how did those systems originate? How did atomic particles “find each other” and become living organisms?


So far, no one has the answer. And there’s no evidence that one is waiting is just around the corner.    


I have long had an interest in these questions, since my undergraduate degree is in molecular biology. Furthermore, whatever conclusions we reach concerning the mysteries of life’s origins have powerful theological ramifications. As author Philip Johnson pointed out years ago, there are currently two competing “metanarratives” or overarching stories in the Western world: “In the beginning God…” and “In the beginning were the particles.”


Which story is more true to Reality? The meaning of our lives hangs in the balance.


The question really comes down to information. Life is impossible without plans or blueprints of some sort that can be transferred from one living generation to another.


How in the world did such information ever arise, if it started from nothing?   


George Sim Johnston wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 1999, “Human DNA contains more organized information than the Encyclopedia Britannica. If the full text of the encyclopedia were to arrive in computer code from outer space, most people would regard this as proof of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. But when seen in nature, it is explained as the workings of random forces.”


If, by the way, you’re not sure what an encyclopedia is, ask that next-door neighbor who still has a landline.


Scientists with a philosophical commitment to “naturalistic only” solutions to the puzzles of life’s origins (that is, No Supernatural Allowed) are well aware of the difficulties that lie before them.  


British biologist and atheist Francis Crick – one half of the duo that discerned the structure of DNA in 1953 – wrote before his death in 2004, “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.” 


Such frank admissions are why theologian Noman Geisler titled one of his books, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.


In The Case for a Creator, journalist-turned-apologist Lee Strobel presents six conclusions one has to affirm if opting for spontaneous generation on a cosmic scale:


Nothing produces everything.

Non-life produces life.

Randomness produces fine-tuning.

Chaos produces information.

Unconsciousness produces consciousness.

Non-reason produces reason.


Those are seemingly insurmountable attainments for randomly moving particles – unless a pre-existing something was there to help direct their interactions.


As it turns out, that’s the very claim we find in Scripture.    


“In the beginning was the Word [logos in Greek], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). We discover in John 1:14 that this Word is equated with Jesus of Nazareth. 


Logos is an extraordinary term. It was widely used in the world of classical antiquity, and took on a vast and nuanced range of meanings. It seems that John the Gospel writer was eager to appropriate these meanings and apply them to the biblical story, and to Jesus the Messiah in particular. 


Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, identifies just a few of them.


Logos connoted realness, authenticity, truth, intelligibility, meaning, essence, form, structure, purpose, point, order, relationship, unity, principle, and the idea of that which is universal. It also suggests wisdom, understanding, knowledge, sagacity, intelligence, thought, explanation, reason, and logic. Our word “logic,” in fact, is directly derived from logos. Finally, this word, which is usually translated “word,” can mean language, speech, communication, revelation, expression, manifestation, argument, discourse, testimony, witness, and explanation.


It can safely be said that no other biblical term carries so much weight and meaning. 


So, who is Jesus? He is God’s logos. He is what can be known, understood, and communicated about all of Reality. He is the embodiment of divine Information. And he himself is fully divine.


Which brings us back to those opening words of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the logos…”


That’s the Bible’s way of saying that the utter richness of life, and the deepest structures of the cosmos – both of which we are still just beginning to comprehend – are not the products of random, impersonal events.    


They are instead the personal and purposeful creations of an extraordinary Artist.


And those who come to know that Artist are sure to experience spontaneous generations of love and praise. 

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