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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Joe Francis - #5918

March 5th 2010

Gordon Glover # 5884

“But the evidence for common ancestry is based on very specific patterns.  The reduncy of the standard genetic code and the abundence of non-encoding DNA facitlitate the accumulation of non-harmful genetic markers across various biological groups.  And the patterns of similarities and differences in these markers can only be one way if species have all descended from a common ancestor.”

Gordon,  Thanks for your reply.  My question is why could not the creator insert patterns where he wanted to?  It is interesting to note to, that your language, is that “patterns”  “can only be one way” sounds like language that would suggest design.  Interesting. (just to let you know, I am a YEC who believes in certain aspects of common descent).


Gregory Arago - #5920

March 5th 2010

Are you saying that ‘evolution’ is an ‘origination idea’? If so, then I disagree.

To me ‘evolution’ denotes (not an ‘origin,’ but rather) a *process* of change in already existing physical entities; bifurcation, differentiation, adaptation, mutation, variation, etc. In other words, something must *first* exist before it can evolve. This is where Mike’s ‘front-loading’ ideas come in. It seems to me that you are saying there *cannot* be any evidence for front-loading. Am I following what you are saying correctly?

Not TE, not EC, not BioLogos…what then do you call your position, Glen?


Glen Davidson - #5921

March 5th 2010

To me ‘evolution’ denotes (not an ‘origin,’ but rather) a *process* of change in already existing physical entities; bifurcation, differentiation, adaptation, mutation, variation, etc.

Origination of traits, forms, species, etc., might all come under the explanatory umbrella of evolution.

In other words, something must *first* exist before it can evolve.

That is why it is called “evolution,” not “abiogenesis.”

This is where Mike’s ‘front-loading’ ideas come in. It seems to me that you are saying there *cannot* be any evidence for front-loading. Am I following what you are saying correctly?

Honestly, a person says that we lack evidence for something, and and then has to answer again and again the question of whether or not there “can be” such evidence?  How would I know if there “cannot be” such evidence?  What’s clear is that we lack such evidence.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Paul - #5924

March 5th 2010

Joe,

As a YEC, you by definition accept extremely limited common descent. By denying common descent between humans and chimps, and then applying consistent criteria, the result is that very few organisms on earth would share common ancestry. There are divergent species of fruit flies that display much greater genomic diversity than humans and chimps, likewise many “created kinds” such as felids, as Todd Wood discusses in his paper.

If you hold to a model that says God seperately created various groups of organisms but with an appearance of common descent that was consistent across all levels of scientific investigation (even the fossil record) then this is not really a scientific consideration as it is unfalsifiable. It is really no different to appearance of age arguments, and ultimately no different to last Thursdayism.


Paul - #5925

March 5th 2010

....

The facts are we know what common descent should look like, in terms of various genomes having once been the same and then having diverged. To say God just created these patterns is remarkably ad hoc, especially since the options available to any potential designer wishing to avoid the appearance of common descent are almost endless. To extend the appearance charade into shared errors between species (pseudogenes) with the same inactivating mutations, and even those that predicted evolutionary ancestors would have had, transposable elements, and so on, raises extremely interesting theological questions.


Gordon J. Glover - #5926

March 5th 2010

John VanZwieten - #5898

“Well, there are problems with the telemeres and it isn’t all as clear as it’s made out to be.”—I hear this argument used against many things, so I’m skeptical any time I hear it employed by creationists.  But I should admit that it’s possible since genomics is not my area of expertise.

If the apparent fusing of Chromosome #2 were the only evicence for common ancestry between humans and chimps, then any “problems” with using telemeres and centromeres to identify a fusion event might cast doubt on the theory.  But taken together with everything else, I’d say it’s just one more data point along a solid trajectory. 

For me personally—based on everything else I’ve seen—it’s a slam dunk.  But each person has his/her own threshold of belief.


Joe Francis - #5927

March 5th 2010

Paul,

I did not say I was making a scientific argument.  As a creationist I am trying to understand common descent from a creationist perspective first.  It is just interesting.  Also, apparently, many strains of bacteria, like certain strains of Ecoli can have tremendously different genomes compared to lets say the differences between chimps and humans.  Makes me wonder if genetics is telling us much of anything about homology, because those strains are very homologous in every other way.  So someone who holds to common ancestry would say those Ecoli strains are related if they looked at their morphology but unrelated if they looked at their genetic disimilarity?...hmm makes me wonder if the idea of common descent traps us into narrow thinking.


Gordon J. Glover - #5928

March 5th 2010

Chris Massey - #5902

“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.”

Interesting.  And I don’t know how you would “falsify” that hypothesis (assuming it were necessary to falsify a hypothesis that included special creation).  I agree that YECs will attempt to wiggle out of the chromosome #2 argument—just as they will try with radiometric dating, biostratigraphy, etc…  But when I interact with YECs, I spend the bulk of my time on “age-of-the-earth” and hermeneutical questions.  It might be premature to debate common ancestry with somebody who thinks the earth is only 6,000 years old.


Paul - #5929

March 5th 2010

Joe, what do you mean “someone who holds to common ancestry would say those Ecoli strains are ... unrelated if they looked at their genetic disimilarity?” According to common ancestry everything is related, if you go back far enough. With regard to humans and chimps (and it’s essentially the same with gorillas and orangutans, and then on to other primates, mammals and so on), the argument for common descent extends well past homology, as Professor Venema explains in his videos;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqsvEwByKU0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of0PjoZY4L0


Gordon J. Glover - #5930

March 5th 2010

Hi Joe. 

“My question is why could not the creator insert patterns where he wanted to?”—Absolutely.  This is a very important point.  But when we see patterns coherent enough to allow man to reconstruct the scenario that cuased them, and the scenario seem to contradict what God plainly says in His Word, then we have a problem.  The patterns are either authentic and the scenario actually happened, or the patterns were inserted by fiat for no other reason than to mislead.

“It is interesting to note to, that your language, is that “patterns”  “can only be one way” sounds like language that would suggest design.”—Design is not really the question.  Patterns can easily have unintelligent causes (snowflakes, fractals, crystals, etc..).  The question is this: of all the possible patterns we could see, why do we only see the ones predicted by common descent?

I have some videos on my YouTube channel that illustrate this if you care to watch them.
http://www.youtube.com/glovergj —watch lessons 11 and 12.


Joe Francis - #5932

March 5th 2010

Gordon,

Thanks for answering my questions.  I will take a look at the YouTube.

Joe


Mike Gene - #5936

March 5th 2010

Hi Glenn,
I’ll make this my last reply, as I feel we might have hijacked Gordon’s thread, as this discussion doesn’t have much to do with his blog entry.

“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.”

Then we have a huge communication impasse.  I said to you, “You are looking for something that does not appear by descent.” And you clearly replied, “Yes, why don’t you produce it?”  This clearly shows (to me, at least) you equate design with special creation.  I picked up on it when you insisted that evidence of design would not involve copying/descent and you confirmed it (in my mind) with your request for something evolution could not explain. 

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

No, I have no interest in the god-of-the-gaps approach, which is what your “legitimate differentiation” boils down to.


Mike Gene - #5937

March 5th 2010

“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.”

Teleology entails some element of foresight, which is a function of time, which means design would play out over time.  Design does not entail that evolution cannot be used.

“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.”

I don’t understand why you think that design cannot employ the processes of reproduction, mutation, natural selection, and recombination.


Mike Gene - #5938

March 5th 2010

“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?”

This sounds better, yet up this point, the evidence “showing design” was supposed to be a gap.  Can we thus agree that something showing design doesn’t have to be a gap?  Or will the god-of-the-gaps approach always remain central?

“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 here’s the nub - what would you count as evidence for this teleological cause?  It seems to me we back to time travel option I mentioned above.


Mike Gene - #5939

March 5th 2010

“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.”

Yet you expect design to be completely different from evolution in that design, according to you, must be rooted in non-inherited copying of forms.  Thus, the way to detect this design is to go looking for gaps.  So to the point – do you agree that evolution and design are not mutually exclusive?

“I think the “evidence” issue addresses that.”

No, that would be a separate issue.  The first issue is whether or not design must be built around non-inherited copying of the forms. 

“No, I only wrote that I see no reason why it should.”

Because teleological evolution is one form of biological evolution and all forms of biological evolution would entail homology. If we are trying to determine whether a man is angry or not, we don’t argue he is angry (or not) because he is a man. That would be like arguing evolution is non-teleological because it is evolution.


Mike Gene - #5940

March 5th 2010

“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.”

Yet I don’t known what you would count as evidence of “foresight in homology.” And I never said we should expect homology from God. I’m simply pointing out that homology is not evidence of non-teleology. 

“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.”

No, I was trying to determine where non-teleology led Darwin to predict homology.

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

It’s more complex than this.  Darwin never really made a case *against* design. He came up with an alternative to design that, in turn, made a case against special creation.


Mike Gene - #5941

March 5th 2010

““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.”

If we define design as something that is constructed or arranged so as to accomplish some function, artificial selection can reasonably be viewed as one example of designed evolution. 

“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.”

Sure – it happened very recently and is sustained by constant intervention by the designers. Neither of these facts is necessarily entailed by design.


Mike Gene - #5942

March 5th 2010

“What’s clear is that we lack such evidence.”

First, what is, or is not, clear is a subjective call.  It’s clear to me (in all sincerity) that you conflate design with special creation and it’s clear to me I have supported this point with your own words.  Yet you insist this is a “baseless and unsupported accusation.”  What does this mean?  The only thing that is clear is that we see the world differently.  We all do.  All the time.  Second, you claim “we” lack such evidence.  But you cannot speak for me and all of humanity; you can only speak for yourself.  This is especially true because ‘evidence’ is something the individual mind sees and thus has a distinct subjective element to it (the ability to convert data into evidence is a mind-dependent process as it is the mind that provides the context for the transition).  Thus, it would be more accurate for you to note that it is clear to you personally that there is no evidence.  And that makes sense, given that you believe this evidence for design must come in the form of something that cannot possibly be explained by evolution.


Glen Davidson - #5943

March 5th 2010

I said to you, “You are looking for something that does not appear by descent.” And you clearly replied, “Yes, why don’t you produce it?”  This clearly shows (to me, at least) you equate design with special creation.

I did explain that by “descent” I do not mean magical mystery front-loading and then descent.  Nor does the fact that I’m looking for something that does not appear by descent exhaust the criteria I have for design.  That ought not to be difficult to understand.

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

No, I have no interest in the god-of-the-gaps approach, which is what your “legitimate differentiation” boils down to.

Another baseless and unsupported assertion.  And you still evince no interest in doing what science actually does, differentiate theoretical predictions on the basis of known causes.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p


Joe Francis - #5944

March 5th 2010

Paul #5929,

Yes I was not making myself clear.  What I was trying to say is that sequence similarity is often used to imply common descent, and for recently diverged species we would expect a more similar genetic sequence, as compared to a more distant relative. Also, I think it is often implied that recently diverged species will also have many homologies, and their phenotypic similarity will be evident.  But I think it is interesting that two bacterial strains which I believe can differ by more than 40% at the sequence level can be so very homologous at the phenotypic level.  Do you think classic evolutionary biology would have predicted that?  Why does not one of the strains of Ecoli look very different from the other?


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