The Theological Dilemma of Evolution, Part 2

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March 5, 2010 Tags: Creation & Origins

Today's entry was written by Gordon J. Glover. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

The Theological Dilemma of Evolution, Part 2

In part 1 of this post, we looked at the theological consequences that would arise from evolution being true. But now we must look at the other side of the dilemma: what are the theological consequences that would arise from evolution being false or physically impossible?

Consider this argument: If God created all living things as separate and distinct species by supernatural acts, then His creativity would not have been subject to any physical constraints. That’s the very definition of a miracle. You see, ordinary physical processes governed by the laws of nature impose limitations and restrictions on what can and can’t be created. And when things are created naturally, specific patterns emerge based on the physical properties of the raw materials. For instance, you can’t turn ordinary water into wine without the right kind of grapes, some yeast, and plenty of time to let it all ferment. And if you want a specific wine, you have to use a specific grape from a specific region. You can’t start with a Merlot grape and end up with a Cabernet, or vice versa.

These are the types of patterns that emerge when creating things using ordinary cause-and-effect. But God, on the other hand, can create wine directly from water without the limitations or restrictions inherent with the use of pre-existing material. And since God is a completely unconstrained creator, His supernaturally-created wine can be a Merlot, a Cabernet, a Shiraz, or something altogether new – it doesn’t depend on anything pre-existing.

Now let’s bring this back around to biology. As Christians, we believe that God created each and every one of us. Yet, because he used a natural process called sexual reproduction to accomplish it, there are certain patterns inherent to every person. For instance, a person is male only if they have a Y chromosome. So all males should have the same Y-chromosome as their fathers – where else would they get it? And children should have the same mitochondrial DNA as their mothers because sperm cells pass on no mitochondria from the father. However, if God were to create people from scratch using a supernatural process, He would not be obligated to follow these or any other rules.

In other words, if God created the first living things simply by speaking them into existence, He would not have been bound by any physical constraints. Being completely unconstrained, God would have presumably been free to design and create species without following any discernible patterns. Or He could have chosen to mix and match different patterns according to His pleasure. Either of these scenarios would have been unmistakable evidence of special creation. So the fact that we do find very specific patterns in nature should interest us greatly. What is God telling us?

Well when it comes to things like the distribution of anatomical features between the species, the distribution of species around the globe, the distribution of fossils throughout the geologic column, and the distribution of genetic information between the species – God seems to be telling us that the creation of living species was dominated by ordinary processes. Not only do we find very clear and specific patterns in each of these independent sets of data, but amazingly, they seem to all converge onto the exact same scenario of natural history – a scenario that has come to be known in the scientific community as evolution, or common descent.

Now remember, when God creates by supernatural means, He is under no obligation whatsoever to design creatures according to specific patterns normally associated with natural cause-and-effect. And given the inherent theological challenges we face if evolution is true; combined with the infinite number of non-evolutionary patterns God could have just as easily used, we have absolutely no reason to expect that God would carefully design each creature such that it fits the precise patterns required by common descent. But that is exactly what a survey of the created world reveals! So if the opening chapters of Genesis are presenting a scientific and historical account of origins, why would God intentionally infuse the cosmos with coherent data suggesting that an entirely different creation scenario is true?

This is a huge theological problem for those of us who take both science and the Bible seriously. And it’s a fairly new problem in the history of our Christian faith – one that is only getting worse as we learn more about the world we inhabit. Take for example the apparent fusion of human Chromosome #2 from two non-human primate chromosomes discovered in 2005 (see video below for more). Things like this just don’t add up unless common descent really took place.

The theological dilemma of evolution is not something that can be solved by scientists working alone in their laboratories, or by theologians pouring over ancient texts and medieval commentaries. We need pastors and theologians looking into this together – which is why I am so encouraged by the BioLogos workshops that seek to bring leading scientists together with leading pastors and biblical scholars.


Gordon J. Glover holds degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Ocean Engineering and is the author of Beyond the Firmament: Understanding Science and Creation. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, he now resides in the Washington, D.C. area where he works and runs the popular blog, "Beyond the Firmament".

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John VanZwieten - #5898

March 5th 2010

Norm,

I attended a presentation by a YEC geneticist.  He was asked about the fused chromosome, and replied something to the effect of “Well, there are problems with the telemeres and it isn’t all as clear as it’s made out to be.”

For those of us without the expertise to understand all the details, just how much of a “slam dunk” is the fusing?  Can a % sure be given?  What are the arguments put forth to say it really isn’t a fusing?

Thanks for any help you or others a BioLogos can give on this, since I think it’s quite important.


John VanZwieten - #5899

March 5th 2010

The previous post should have been directed toward Gordon.  (Sorry, Norm)


Mike Gene - #5900

March 5th 2010

Hi Glenn,

Sorry, but it sure sounds to me like you conflate design and special creation.  A core aspect of your argument was the following specification – “absence of such copying.”  You made this clear in your first sentence of that paragraph: “non-inherited copying of the forms.”  You are looking for something that does not appear by descent. 

“Of course it doesn’t, but the lack of evidence for the possibilties afforded by design does falsify any meaningful ID hypothesis.”

So a “meaningful” ID hypothesis is one that entails the absence of copying/descent?

“If the “hypothesis” is simply that some designer intervened to make everything look as non-teleological evolutionary theory predicts, it is not meaningful.”

Both teleological and non-teleological notions of evolution predict copying and homology.  Thus, these are not meaningful evidence of the non-teleological perspective.


Mike Gene - #5901

March 5th 2010

Hi Keith,

Yep, I heard that argument just a few days ago.  Like you, I don’t buy it, but it is a big improvement over the “There is NO evidence for evolution; it’s all a LIE!”  If a creationist is willing to admit there is evidence for evolution, the door is open to actually explore it in some more depth.


Chris Massey - #5902

March 5th 2010

Gordon,

As always, I really appreciate your well-articulated arguments. I’m in complete agreement with you about the implications of genetics for common descent. But I’ve shied away from relying on the fusion of chromosome 2 as evidence falsifying special creation.

Would it not be open to a YEC to say that God made the great apes AND Adam and Eve with 24 pairs initially and that, somewhere along the human lineage (say, between Adam and Noah) the fusion event occurred in humans? And viola, we now have 23 pairs.

Is there anything about the fusion in chromosome 2 that would falsify that particular hypothesis?

I know there’s compelling evidence in psuedogenes, ERVs, atavisms, etc., but it seems to me that the YECs could wiggle out of the chromosome 2 argument. Am I missing something?


Glen Davidson - #5903

March 5th 2010

Sorry, but it sure sounds to me like you conflate design and special creation.  A core aspect of your argument was the following specification – “absence of such copying.”  You made this clear in your first sentence of that paragraph: “non-inherited copying of the forms.”  You are looking for something that does not appear by descent.

Yes, why don’t you produce it?

Honest science claims differentiate between their entailed predictions and those of competing hypotheses.  ID tries to conflate their non-entailed predictions with the entailed predictions of actual science.

So a “meaningful” ID hypothesis is one that entails the absence of copying/descent?

You know very well that I didn’t write that.  You have no reason to paraphrase my comment as something that has almost nothing to do with what I wrote.


Glen Davidson - #5904

March 5th 2010

Both teleological and non-teleological notions of evolution predict copying and homology.  Thus, these are not meaningful evidence of the non-teleological perspective.

First, come up with entailed predictions of non-teleological evolution that has some basis in evidence, and then I might consider what it “predicts.” 

Secondly, I already addressed what design can do and what non-teleological evolution cannot do.  Your failure to actually deal with the specifics of evolutionary theory, and of what I wrote, is noted.

I have seen no reason yet why there should be any homology from teleological evolution, merely assertions of it which apparently exist to usurp the predictive power of the causal theory.

So basically you’re faulting me for expecting some genuine differences between “design” and evolution which happens without forethought, and illogically claiming that this is tantamount to conflating special creation and design.  All the while you’re conflating the unentailed claims that adherents of a non-theory of teleological evolution with the entailed predictions of the causal theory of evolution.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Mike Gene - #5905

March 5th 2010

Hi Glenn,

“Yes, why don’t you produce it?”

Very good.  Since you are looking for something that does not appear by descent, I was correct in noting that you conflated design with special creation. 

Now, you want me to produce something that did not appear by descent.  Since teleology does not entail this, there is no need for an evolutionist, such as myself,  to produce such things.  But to play along, how would I do this?  Is it that you want me to find something that cannot be explained by descent?  That would be the god-of-the-gaps approach.  Or do you want a recording of the designer bringing something into existence without descent?  That would entail time travel. 

To answer you question - I can’t travel in time and I reject the god-of-the-gaps approach.


Gregory Arago - #5906

March 5th 2010

“All the while you’re conflating the unentailed claims that adherents of a non-theory of teleological evolution with the entailed predictions of the causal theory of evolution.” - Glen

I might be off-base here, but aren’t both TE and EC examples of ‘teleological’ or ‘guided’ theories of evolution? To claim that the theoretical power of TE and EC is weak on exactly *how* evolution is teleological or guided is another topic.

You seem to be getting a bit puffed up here, Glen, wrt Mike’s position. As far as I know, he accepts the majority of biological evolutionary theories. He isn’t promoting ‘intelligent design’ of the IDM variety, so when you say ‘ID does this…’ it is not a challenge to him. Thus, it might help to be constructive rather than defensive.

Please excuse if I’ve misinterpreted this in your tone.


Mike Gene - #5907

March 5th 2010

Hi Glenn,
“First, come up with entailed predictions of non-teleological evolution that has some basis in evidence, and then I might consider what it “predicts.””

Did you mean, “teleological evolution?”  If so, I’d have to discuss front-loading. 

“Secondly, I already addressed what design can do and what non-teleological evolution cannot do.  Your failure to actually deal with the specifics of evolutionary theory, and of what I wrote, is noted.”

Yet your whole arguments rests on the assumption that evolution and design are mutually exclusive phenomenon.  What if we are talking about a one-time design event that reverberated into the future? 

“I have seen no reason yet why there should be any homology from teleological evolution, merely assertions of it which apparently exist to usurp the predictive power of the causal theory.”

This makes no sense.  You seem to think that if evolution was, in some form teleological, homology (thus evolution!) would not exist.


Mike Gene - #5908

March 5th 2010

cont….

“So basically you’re faulting me for expecting some genuine differences between “design” and evolution which happens without forethought, and illogically claiming that this is tantamount to conflating special creation and design.”

No, you conflate design and special creation in expecting design to come up with examples not explained by copying/descent. 

“All the while you’re conflating the unentailed claims that adherents of a non-theory of teleological evolution with the entailed predictions of the causal theory of evolution.”

Nope.  I just understand that evidence of homology/evolution is not evidence of non-teleology. 
I’m curious.  When Darwin outlined evidence of homology, did he explain how non-teleology led him to predict this?  Or was he making a case against special creation?


Glen Davidson - #5909

March 5th 2010

“Yes, why don’t you produce it?”

Very good.  Since you are looking for something that does not appear by descent, I was correct in noting that you conflated design with special creation.

I have seen you repeat this baseless accusation, and repeatedly misrepresent what I have written, but have seen nothing at all yet that supports it.

Is that good enough for you? 

Now, you want me to produce something that did not appear by descent.

Like I thought, you evince no interest in legitimately differentiating between design and causal evolution.

Since teleology does not entail this,

Teleology entails nothing by itself, which is why it is meaningless for you to bring it up.  “Design” does have entailment, but you ignore that fact again and again.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Glen Davidson - #5910

March 5th 2010

Continuing from #5909:

  Is it that you want me to find something that cannot be explained by descent?  That would be the god-of-the-gaps approach.

Words have meaning, and my use “descent” obviously refers to known processes of reproduction, mutation, natural selection, and recombination.  Of course you need to produce something that couldn’t appear that way, indeed, I’d like something that shows some forethought, as known intelligent agents produce.

Actually, I’m really asking for something showing design (the mere fact that I agreed with one of your statements does not change the fact that I referred first to those things, which you have repeatedly ignored), not simply something that can’t come from descent.  Even if you were to supply the latter, how would that show either design or teleology?

To answer you question - I can’t travel in time and I reject the god-of-the-gaps approach.

You answered nothing at all, and have ignored almost everything I said in order to respond to what you projected onto myself.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Mike Gene - #5911

March 5th 2010

BTW, speaking of Darwin, I should point out that he did draw upon one form of teleological (designed) evolution to help make his case - it’s called artificial selection.


Glen Davidson - #5912

March 5th 2010

Did you mean, “teleological evolution?”  If so, I’d have to discuss front-loading.

Yes, I meant “teleological evolution,” but included the condition that it be based on evidence.

Yet your whole arguments rests on the assumption that evolution and design are mutually exclusive phenomenon.

That’s not at all true.  Nonetheless, to begin to have a meaningful explanation you’d actually need some evidence of a teleological cause, which you don’t have.

But I let that go for the most part, while I have said repeatedly that design differs from meaningful evolutionary theory.  I never wrote anything like your projection that evolution and design are mutually exclusive.

What if we are talking about a one-time design event that reverberated into the future?

I think the “evidence” issue addresses that.

This makes no sense.  You seem to think that if evolution was, in some form teleological, homology (thus evolution!) would not exist.

No, I only wrote that I see no reason why it should.  And you simply repeated the improper allegation that you made previously.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Glen Davidson - #5913

March 5th 2010

No, you conflate design and special creation in expecting design to come up with examples not explained by copying/descent.

Baseless and unsupported accusation again.

“...you’re conflating the unentailed claims that adherents of a non-theory of teleological evolution with the entailed predictions of the causal theory of evolution.”

Nope.  I just understand that evidence of homology/evolution is not evidence of non-teleology.

That is why I addressed the specifics, and wrote of design.  It is the lack evidence of foresight in homology that is most telling, although you have yet to produce any reason for me to expect homology from God at all.

I’m curious.  When Darwin outlined evidence of homology, did he explain how non-teleology led him to predict this?

He explained how known processes predict it.  You want me to accept the fact that unknown processes “could” cause the same thing as if it were the equal of Darwin’s entailed predictions.

Or was he making a case against special creation?

He was making a case against design, and if you don’t know it, you should.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Gregory Arago - #5914

March 5th 2010

Glen, do you subscribe to or call yourself either TE or EC?

Or maybe you’re becoming a BioLogosist?


Glen Davidson - #5915

March 5th 2010

speaking of Darwin, I should point out that he did draw upon one form of teleological (designed) evolution to help make his case

“Teleological” and “designed” are not necessarily the same things.  One may call artificially selected organisms “designed” in one sense, but not in all senses, indeed, not in the most usual senses of that word.

And it so happens that the purposes and rationality behind artificial selection, along with the relaxation (at least) of natural selection, in breeds of organisms is quite in evidence, and potentially able to differentiate between “normal evolution” and that cause by ourselves.  This despite the fact that intelligence was not behind the vast majority of the formation of, for instance, dogs and cats.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Glen Davidson - #5916

March 5th 2010

Glen, do you subscribe to or call yourself either TE or EC?

Or maybe you’re becoming a BioLogosist?

None of these.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Glen Davidson - #5917

March 5th 2010

He was making a case against design, and if you don’t know it, you should.

Of course he also made a positive case for evolution quite apart from making his case against design. 

He had to do the latter along with the former, though, because design was the favored origination idea of his time.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


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