Nature programmes, science and God1

by

Published: October 24, 2017

A few months ago, a British newspaper carried a truly intriguing headline:

Sir David Attenborough and Brian Cox's TV nature shows are ‘putting viewers off science’ because the beautiful scenes reaffirm belief in god.2
planet-earth
BBC DVD cover for the landmark wildlife documentary series, Planet Earth (2006).

The article was written in response to the publication of a new study about the influence of documentaries about science and nature.3 Students without belief in God (‘non-theists’) were shown short video snippets from several sources. Some of the footage was designed to be awe-inspiring (from the BBC’s Planet Earth series4), whereas other clips had been chosen because they were either mundane or amusing. When the students’ responses were scored, it was found that sequences showcasing the grandeur of nature significantly increased the students’ belief in the orderliness of nature, although they attributed this to evolution. Unsurprisingly, religious people watching such footage had a heightened sense of awe. Commenting on the report, the Daily Mail stated that, “these findings suggest that awe drives ‘theists’ away from scientific explanations”—by which they meant, of course, ‘evolutionary explanations’.

So, while acknowledging that beautifully crafted nature programmes reaffirm religious people’s belief in a Creator God, secular-minded people are expressing alarm that their own worldview is taking a hit! It takes some effort to believe that the incredible wonders of the natural world (particularly the stunning creatures on display) could result from unplanned, entirely random, unguided processes. Yet that is what the history tale of evolution requires. It calls to mind the Apostle Peter’s description of “last days” scoffers of Christianity—those who deliberately forget or overlook the Bible’s testimony that this world was created “by the word of God” (2 Peter 3:3–5).

No wonder then, that in spite of the regular assertions of ‘millions of years’ and ‘evolution’ that pepper the narration of such nature shows, some people are being aroused to the possibility of order and design. We are reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words about God’s “invisible attributes” being so obvious from the things that He has made, that non-believers are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

Creation is undeniable

Discovery InstituteDouglas-Axe
Douglas Axe

A recent book by Douglas Axe makes interesting reading: Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed.5 Dr Axe has had a distinguished career at some of the leading universities and top research establishments in both the USA and UK. However, in spite of his impressive curriculum vitae,6 his dissent from Darwinian evolution has meant that he now continues his research within the ‘Intelligent Design’ (ID) community; he is currently director of Biologic Institute.7 I suspect that he would smile at the ‘revelations’ of the study discussed earlier. As an engineer-turned-molecular biologist who has researched (and published about) protein complexity at world-leading institutions, he believes that, “No amount of technical mumbo jumbo can change the fact that it’s extremely improbable for accidental causes to do the work of insight.”8

Natural selection, as biblical creationists have been emphasising for years, cannot create anything novel. Rather, as the name suggests, it can merely select from what already exists. Furthermore, evolutionists have failed to demonstrate that genetic mutations can provide the novelty that natural selection is supposed to work with. Axe writes:

“If natural selection really shaped life, it … was skilful enough to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, and wise enough to know when that work was finished.”9

In other words, life looks designed because it is designed. “Life is mystery and masterpiece—an overflowing abundance of perfect compositions,”10 he writes, going on to point out:

“If no one meant for spiders to spin, then spiders were invented by accident, making our design intuition deceptive. If someone did, then spiders were deliberately invented, making the evolutionary account deceptive.”11

In Axe’s mind, there is no question that the awesome marvels of the natural world testify to ‘someone’.

The Creator God is undeniable

Axe has many good things to say about biology and design in his book, but it is refreshing to see mention of the Creator too. This is unusual in a publication from the ‘ID fold’—where the Designer normally receives little or no mention and seems like the ‘elephant in the room’. He confesses:

“I can only see these ingenious creeping, climbing, swimming, soaring, blooming, luring, lunging, spinning, sporulating, fleeing and fighting inventions as having coming from the mind of God. To me, nothing else makes any sense.”12

Indeed, “ … common science and common sense naturally lead us to attribute life to God, as even the children of atheists do.”13 While his book stops short of providing a coherent biblical creationist framework (avoiding discussion of the Genesis record for instance), it is encouraging to see a leader within the ID community showing such candour in his train of thought. Axe makes clear that, for him at least, God is personal, one who understands us and whose presence can be experienced.14 And although the book is not explicit about his Christianity, this was affirmed recently in an interview that he gave to Premier Christian Radio.15

One might think that an acknowledgement of the Creator God ought at least to be allowable in a society that claims to prize tolerance. Not so; and many scientists who have stepped out of line have discovered this to their cost.16 The outcry against the dissenters often leads to swift action, the retraction of published papers and the sacrifice of careers on the altar of secular humanism. A recent example concerned a paper about the biomechanics of the human hand (2016); the Chinese researchers made the fatal ‘error’ of invoking the Creator for the obvious design involved.

Genesis history is indispensable

BBCThe-Hunt
BBC DVD cover for the documentary series, The Hunt (2015).

It is encouraging to see some ID researchers acknowledging who they believe the Intelligent Designer to be. However, it is only when a holistic biblical framework is made explicit that we can adequately deal with life’s biggest questions, such as the origin of evil. Yes, in one sense, God is responsible for what Axe called “fleeing and fighting inventions”, but these resulted from His Curse of the created order (Genesis 3:14–19) following Mankind’s Fall (Genesis 3:6–7). Before the entrance of sin, there was no carnivory or hunting of prey, and all God’s inventions were perfect—“very good” (Genesis 1:29–31).

That is not to say that we cannot appreciate the spectacle of the arms race between diverse predators and their prey that plays out on our TV screens. Remarkable examples of this are exhibited in The Hunt,17 another nature documentary (narrated by David Attenborough) that falls into the awesome, jaw-dropping category. Whether watching tigers, lions, orcas, wolves, cheetahs, polar bears, blue whales, or harpy eagles, one is constantly struck by the sheer beauty, agility, grace, speed, and ingenuity of both the predators and their prey. As Axe makes clear, these characteristics have no evolutionary explanations and can only be the result of purposeful design.

Denial of God is inexcusable

Even though man, through sin, has spoilt God’s original perfect creation, the world still furnishes us with ample evidence for His Creatorship. The ‘beauty’ and ‘awe’ that even non-Christian researchers, students and journalists recognise in today’s natural world are telling us something important—nature’s author is an Awesome God:

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Revelation 4:11).

References and notes

  1. A modified version of an article that first appeared in Prayer News, CMI-UK/Europe, April 2017. Return to text.
  2. Anon, Daily Mail, UK, 12 September 2016. Return to text.
  3. Valdesolo, P. et al., Awe and scientific explanation, Emotion 16(7):937-940, October 2016. Return to text.
  4. This screened in 2006. It was certainly a stunning, cutting-edge, series at the time; not to be confused with BBC’s Planet Earth II, 2016. Return to text.
  5. See also: Tay, J., A review of Undeniable: How biology confirms our intuition that life is designed, Journal of Creation 31(2):47–50, August 2017. Return to text.
  6. Or ‘CV’, an apt Latin term meaning ‘course of life’—known in the USA and Canada as a résumé (French for ‘summary’). Return to text.
  7. ‘A non-profit research organization founded in 2005 for the purpose of developing a new approach to biology’, biologicinstitute.org. Return to text.
  8. Axe, D., Undeniable, HarperCollins, New York, p. 100, 2016. Return to text.
  9. Ref. 8, p. 85. Return to text.
  10. Ref. 8, p. 76. Return to text.
  11. Ref. 8, p. 88. Return to text.
  12. Ref. 8. P. 185. Return to text.
  13. Ref. 8, p. 232. Return to text.
  14. Ref. 8, p. 254–255. Return to text.
  15. Unbelievable? Is design in nature undeniable? Premier Christian Radio (UK), 26 November 2016. Return to text.
  16. Bergman, J., Slaughter of the Dissidents: The Shocking Truth about Killing the Careers of Darwin Doubters, Leafcutter Press, Southworth, WA, 2008. Return to text.
  17. The Hunt: Nothing Is Certain, BBC Earth, 2015. Return to text.
A modified version of an article that first appeared in Prayer News, CMI-UK/Europe, April 2017.
Anon, Daily Mail, UK, 12 September 2016.
Valdesolo, P. et al., Awe and scientific explanation, Emotion 16(7):937-940, October 2016.
This screened in 2006. It was certainly a stunning, cutting-edge, series at the time; not to be confused with BBC’s Planet Earth II, 2016.
See also: Tay, J., A review of Undeniable: How biology confirms our intuition that life is designed, Journal of Creation 31(2):47–50, August 2017.
Or ‘CV’, an apt Latin term meaning ‘course of life’—known in the USA and Canada as a résumé (French for ‘summary’).
‘A non-profit research organization founded in 2005 for the purpose of developing a new approach to biology’, biologicinstitute.org.
Axe, D., Undeniable, HarperCollins, New York, p. 100, 2016.
Ref. 8, p. 85.
Ref. 8, p. 76.
Ref. 8, p. 88.
Ref. 8. P. 185.
Ref. 8, p. 232.
Ref. 8, p. 254–255.
Unbelievable? Is design in nature undeniable? Premier Christian Radio (UK), 26 November 2016.
Bergman, J., Slaughter of the Dissidents: The Shocking Truth about Killing the Careers of Darwin Doubters, Leafcutter Press, Southworth, WA, 2008.
The Hunt: Nothing Is Certain, BBC Earth, 2015.

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Further Reading

Readers’ comments
Hans B., Australia, 24 October 2017
All living systems are unnatural. Living systems are NOT a natural consequence of the materials from which they are made. The programme language of the coded information systems and their associated conventions are not a property of the materials from which they are made. The materials and molecular motion simply cannot apply the math and physics in a directed order towards an end design for detailed specificity on its own. Detailed design comes from an extrinsic source of directed energy, and that can only come from a creative mind. Evolution simply does not exist.
Lassi P., Finland, 24 October 2017
The problem Cox and Attenborough are raising is, that nature is as it is [all there is? Ed.]. The grandeur in nature is probably one of the biggest reasons these people are making nature documentaries instead of computer gaming documents for example. Their evolutionary agenda might be easier to defend in a sloppy 1980's 3D "documentary", though if one wants to see evolution, then that's what they see.
Ian H., Australia, 24 October 2017
In our interactions with people both at markets and privately when we give away back copies of the Creation magazine, we find that the vast majority of people are not anti or closed minded, indeed most people do not have a position on Evolution and even those who think they have evolved from an Ape or Monkey are happy to examine the contrary evidence. Dr Tas Walker introduced us into the concept of giving away these back copies of magazines and we estimate, apart from the markets, that we have given away about 2000, the only statistic we keep is how many people refuse - less than 1%. In the process of a conversation we offer the magazine face up and say, "We give away back copies of these magazines, would you like one?". The response is generally "What's it all about?" and then we introduce the background that PhD Scientists write the articles and examine Science to see where the evidence of our origins leads. When the person takes the magazine we ask them to look on the back and note the website Creation.com and tell them there are over 11,000 fully researched articles on the website and many 1 minute film clips showing that evolution is 'just a story about the past!' Happy Witnessing!
Andy D., Netherlands, 24 October 2017
Again a great article rebuking the evolutionistic argument that there are no 'real' Bible believing scientists. I'm making it a good habit to go into the wiki pages (English and Dutch) concerning (creationist-) scientist (past and current) but also other historically influential people to make sure the creationists' beliefs of these people are clearly mentioned. Once in a while it triggers quite some discussion on these pages as obviously there are people really not happy with these additions, but until now, every time in the end it is being accepted, as all is based on simple verifiable facts. The reason I do this is because I think a lot of secular people will be reading these wiki pages when searching for info, and is therefore a good place for them to read about things they will never read on most other web pages...
Eddie C., United States, 24 October 2017
I read Doug Axe's "Undeniable" last year. It is a great read for anyone who doesn't really know how to coherently talk about why they believe in a Creator when they do not have a science background. The book is not written to the scientific community, but rather for most people to understand easily. His examples are clear and not only do a good job of explaining design, but make the argument of random processes being responsible for life seem ridiculous. I've encouraged Christians to read this book before and it's nice to see a plug for it here at CMI. No, its not creationist material, but there is very little in the book to disagree with from the creationist perspective.
Tom G., Australia, 24 October 2017
I was watching a documentary on the Galapagos Islands which of course was full of evolutionary theory. What intrigued me was that one of the most eastern islands had a lake in it that was frequented by migratory flamingos. Looking at those birds I couldn't help but notice how they fed with their bills upside down. And I couldn't help but think how long it would take, and how it would be possible for them to change from a 'normal' way of feeding to their present way, if evolution was true! It just wouldn't be possible!
D. C., United Kingdom, 26 October 2017
Interesting. How many students were involved in this research programme? The Daily Mail does claim that it speaks for the real British people. This could mean that you may possibly have the majority if the UK could vote on introducing creationism into the Biology Lab. However bear in mind that the Daily Mail has frequently been accused of setting an appalling example to young people. The paper frequently faces a barrage of fresh criticism from leading figures in education and the church.
Philip Bell responds
Quoting from an article published in a newspaper does not qualify as an endorsement of the same.
Sue T., Australia, 1 November 2017
Thank you, Ian H, Australia, for sharing your encouraging feedback on giving away magazine back-copies and the spiel you use. I'm reinspired!