Mass Extinctions and the ‘Boys from Brazil’

Last year Pope Francis declared that ‘Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of [divine] creation’. The argument is that, once life had been created, evolution drove it with irresistible force towards us: intelligent human beings.

But our evolutionary history tells a different story. The 500 million-year journey from marine animals to Homo sapiens is punctuated by a series of five mass extinctions. These resulted from the restless Earth’s volcanic activity, the changing compositions of its oceans and atmosphere and, in one case at least, that ultimate blunt instrument of chance, an asteroid impact. The evolutionary ‘radiation’ that led eventually to humans could not have happened if the dinosaurs had survived.

I’m reminded of the plot of Ira Levin’s novel The Boys from Brazil. Having successfully bred clones of Hitler, Josef Mengele assigns six former SS officers to assassinate 94 men, all civil servants aged around 65. To make a new breed of Hitlers, these young clones must not only share the same genes but also the same life experiences, such as losing their father at age 13.

A creator would not only have to arrange the evolution of human DNA, He would also need to arrange for the near-complete assassination of life on Earth at intervals spanning 500 million years.