"Creation or Evolution - do we have to choose?" by Dr. Denis Alexander - A critical review

A review of: "Creation of evolution: Do we have to choose?" by Dr. Denis Alexander, Monarch Books, Oxford, 2008. Download PDF version. Download Microsoft Word version.

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Chapter 16: The Origin Of Life

In this, the last chapter, Dr. Alexander returns after the digressions of the previous chapter or two to being consistent. It's another topic that didn't fit in somewhere else, but which we'd expect to be in a book addressing the question of Darwinism, so here it is. How did life begin? DA's position thus far has been that Scripture does not teach that creation was accomplished through supernatural interventions, because it does not use the specific vocabulary of miracles in the creation accounts. This trite conclusion was, as we saw, based on a word fallacy - DA arbitrarily defines the vocabulary used of redemptive signs (especially at the Exodus and in the ministry of Jesus prefiguring the true Exodus) to be the only words allowed to signal any kind of supernatural intervention, and finding these (redemptive) words to be absent from the creation account, concludes that we must expect the mechanisms of creation to have been in terms of ordinary processes still active in the world today. Which, handily, was exactly what Darwinism required us to believe.

When I saw that DA returns to consistency in this chapter, what I mean is that he doesn't contradict the above assertions which were made when considering how life developed now that he comes to consider how life began. We're not to look for the supernatural, miracles, nor any unique processes not still operative in the world today. In a word (mine, not his, because as we've seen he makes another hash of this one), the origin of life must have been naturalistic. (DA doesn't actually discuss this in the chapter - it's all assumed rather than argued that we must look for such a process and that God did not speak life directly into being). What evidence is there, then, that given the processes, reactions and laws operative in the world today, that life can begin from non-life? That it can't seems so far to be as certain a scientific conclusion as any - as yet, millions of man hours spent on the problem have only opened up more and more distance in our knowledge of what needs to be and what actually is. What does DA have to say about this?

Before answering that question, it's worth noticing that DA's consistency can only apply to the select issues he chooses to focus on. Going further back, we might ask - how did something come out of nothing? How did light come out of darkness (2 Corinthians 4:6)? What of the origin of the material world, time and space? At this point I'm presuming DA would have to concede that in fact creation did involve supernatural events, despite the absence of the words that DA requires to be present in the creation account before he'd believe it. (Surely he's not going to argue that there are processes operating on nothing that can bring about something? That in the absence of time and space can bring about time and space?) And if he did concede that, then he'd have given the basis of his whole position away. So much easier just to accept the plain sense of the Genesis account: God created immediately via a powerful, life-giving Word that brings something out of nothing; not via secondary mechanisms.

The chapter starts with three pages of special pleading in which DA privileges naturalistic theories of life's origin by complaining that the identification of self-replicating DNA as designed, requiring a mind, or not able to develop in small, gradual steps is to give up on proper research and just throw our hands up in the air and say "we can't understand it, it's designed". As ever, DA simply asserts that this is what ID theorists or creationists do, without any examples or references, continuing the pattern we've seen throughout the book of deceiving his readers as to what non-Darwinists actually assert or argue in real life. In reality, the identification of DNA as being designed logically leads to more research into its workings, not less - because whereas Darwinists are ready to write off parts of the genome whose function is not yet identified as "junk", from a creationist point of view (a super-intelligent designer designed it) this is antecedently much less likely (though non-functional or faulty parts can be accommodated into the creationist view taking into account the Fall). Believing that God created the first genomes out of nothing by a Word does, yes, end the question to seek for step-by-step developmental models. But it does open up other massive areas of investigation. When we realise a previously unencountered computer virus is deliberately designed rather than being the product of a silicon explosion, the investigators don't then say "no point studying it then!", but study it all the harder to see exactly what and how it has been designed to do its work. But DA decides, instead of intelligently discussing what that would mean, to just play polemics and falsely portray the creationist and ID positions as ending all research. Ultimately it's dishonest, because throughout the book DA adopts a tone of authority, as one who's surveyed the scene and is faithfully reporting on it to the non-expert who hasn't been there.

The substance of the chapter is really suitable for a specialist, as DA discusses various biochemical theories concerning how to bridge various gaps. A non-expert reader is not going to get much from this part of the book; the only clues as to the bigger picture are a couple of times when he says that any realistic over-arching theories concerning the origin of life are 50 or 100 years away. I wondered really what the point of the technical discussions were; anyone reading who was expert enough to assess them would also be expert enough to spot all the straw-men and misrepresentations of ID and creationist positions and so not be very impressed overall; anyone not expert enough will just skip this part. Perhaps the aim is just to blind the layman with science so that he comes away with the thought "well, I didn't understand that, but it seems like this guy understands the origin of life so it's probably not that great a problem". DA ends by repeating the accusation that if you assert that the origin of life wasn't naturalistic (which DA by daftly misunderstanding again what is meant by "naturalistic", asserts is a "sinister" and "pagan" theory), then you're an obscurantist. Rather, it just means you're not wasting all those fine brains and man hours on blind alleys - it's not as if the biology of life had no areas left needing lots of detailed research! There's plenty to do with studying how God's creation works now - it's no obscurantism to not waste time on useless speculation about how life could originate in a certain fashion when the word of God tells us plainly that it originated in another.

Thus ends the book's body - just a 2 page postscript remains.


This review plods through the whole book. If you have time only to read some, look at the chapters on the theology of the Adam and Eve, the fall, suffering, evil, etc. These are the ones that most clearly reveal the non-evangelical methodology and resulting theology. Logical and scientific mistakes in other places are interesting, but the fundamental issues come out most clearly in the more theological chapters.
  1. Introduction to the review
  2. The Preface
  3. Chapter 1 - What Do We Mean By Creation?
  4. Chapter 2- The Biblical Doctrine of Creation
  5. Chapter 3 - What Do We Mean By Evolution? Dating, DNA and Genes
  6. Chapter 4 - What do we mean by evolution? Natural Selection and Reproductive Success
  7. Chapter 5 - Speciation, Fossils and the Question of Information
  8. Chapter 6 - Objections to Evolution
  9. Chapter 7 - What about Genesis?
  10. Chapter 8 - Evolutionary Creationism
  11. Chapter 9 - Who were Adam and Eve? The Background
  12. Chapter 10 - Who were Adam and Eve? Genesis and science in conversation
  13. Chapter 11 - Evolution and the Biblical understanding of death
  14. Chapter 12 - Evolution and the Fall
  15. Chapter 13 - Evolution, natural evil and the theodicy question
  16. Chapter 14 - Intelligent Design and Creation's Order
  17. Chapter 15 - Evolution - Intelligent and Designed?
  18. Chapter 16 - The origin of life
  19. The revealing postscript!
  20. Appendix: A synopsis giving a "big picture" overview of the philosophy/theology of this book.

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