Understanding Evangelical Opposition to Evolution

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September 11, 2013 Tags: Creation & Origins

Today's video features Jeffrey Schloss. You can read more about what we believe here.

This entry was originally posted on February 11, 2010.

In this brief video, Professor Schloss addresses what he sees as the two primary reasons that evangelical Christians oppose evolutionary theory. He notes that the ideas of evolution are threatening on a number of levels for evangelicals, but focuses on two in particular that seem to be the most common.

The first issue has to do with interpretations of the historicity of biblical narratives, and especially their implications for the age of the earth. Schloss comments that this is a significant concern, particularly among Christians in the United States--even though it is a debate that actually predates evolutionary theory. Still, however, some Christians feel that the very truths delivered by the Bible hinge on the historicity of some passages and are therefore threatened if we accept the view of an old earth.

The other concern runs deeper actually, says Schloss, and this is the scientific inference that there is no room for a designer or a superintendant power in the world of creation. While earlier views of evolution have suggested that evolution lacks direction and is purposeless, Schloss says that on purely secular grounds, this is changing. He says that evolutionary biology now demonstrates that there are thematic trends: trends toward complexity, greater cooperativity, and a series of major evolutionary transitions. The theory itself, he says, is just changing. Evolutionary theory, as he sees it, is increasingly hospitable to the notion of a creator.

For evangelicals, the biblical God is a God of history who has purposes for it and also who enters history through the act of creation. Recent developments in scientific thought indicate that that the acceptance of evolutionary theory can in fact be concordant with the belief in a God that intended evolution to be the mode of his creation.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.


As Senior Scholar of BioLogos, Dr. Jeff Schloss provides writing, speaking, and scholarly research on topics that are central to the values and mission of BioLogos and represent BioLogos in dialogues with other Christian organizations. He holds a joint appointment at BioLogos and at Westmont College. Schloss holds the T. B. Walker Chair of Natural and Behavioral Sciences at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, and directs Westmont’s Center for Faith, Ethics, and the Life Sciences. Schloss, whose Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology is from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, often speaks to pubic, church-related, and secular academic audiences on the intersection of evolutionary science and theology. Among his many academic publications are The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion

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Chip - #82592

September 11th 2013

Hello Jeff,

Forgive my skepticism, but I’d love to see some actual citations/references that demonstrate “on purely secular grounds… that evolutionary biology… is increasingly hospitable to the notion of a creator.”

Thnx.


Lou Jost - #82594

September 11th 2013

Ditto. I think his statement misrepresents the state of the field and would rightly be rejected by nearly all secular evolutionary biologists.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #82595

September 11th 2013

I do believe that the theory is changing as more and more evidence comes to light concerning the complexity of evolution.  E. O. Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth is evidence of this.

However I do not see many evolutionists speaking out for a historical understanding of biological change.  It is ecologists who think in this manner and they point the way to a historical understanding of how the God of nature works through ecology and evolution.   

 


Chip - #82597

September 12th 2013

I don’t often agree with Lou, but I do here.  Maybe I’m reading the wrong people—thus my request for citations, but alas, most such requests from BL contributors are left unanswered—but the secular evolutionary biologists I’m most familiar with  (Coyne, Myers, Moran, Futuyma, Dawkins…) would uquestionably dispute Schloss’ claim. 

 

In my case, “evangelical opposition to evolution,” is only reinforced when BL contributors make claims that are almost certainly false.  Still, if he can provide support for the assertion that evolutionary theory is increasingly hospitable to the notion of a creator on purely secular grounds, I’ll gladly read through it.  But as in so many such cases, I’m not holding my breath. 


Paul Lucas - #82605

September 13th 2013

“The other concern [for evangelical Christians] runs deeper actually, says Schloss, and this is the scientific inference that there is no room for a designer or a superintendant power in the world of creation. “

That is emphatically not a scientific inference.

“To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth millionth time (from college bull sessions to learned treatises): science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists.” SJ Gould, Impeaching a self-appointed judge. Scientific American, 267:79-80, July 1992.

What Schloss refers to is an atheistic inference that has been passed off as “science”.  Creationists buy it because, ironically, creationists accept the basic statement of faith of atheism:  natural = without God.  There is nothing in science or Christian theology that provides evidence for that faith, but that is the essential faith for atheism.


Paul Lucas - #82606

September 13th 2013

“Schloss says that on purely secular grounds, this is changing. He says that evolutionary biology now demonstrates that there are thematic trends: trends toward complexity, greater cooperativity, and a series of major evolutionary transitions. The theory itself, he says, is just changing. Evolutionary theory, as he sees it, is increasingly hospitable to the notion of a creator.”

Schloss seems to be unaware of the history of evolutionary theory.  Evolution has always been “hospitable to the notion of a creator”!  From Origin of Species:

“To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual.” C. Darwin, On the Origin of Species,pg. 449.

That phrase “secondary causes” is a religious phrase, not a scientific one.  In Christianity, it simply means the ordinary way God works as opposed to “miracle”. 

The specific points that Schloss makes are not indicative , IMO, of God working out history through evolution.  There is no “trend to complexity” for instance.  There is a minimal complexity for life imposed by chemistry, the only way to move from that minimum is increasing complexity.  Nor have I seen any publication documenting any trend “greater cooperativity” over time.  Instead, what I see are signs that cooperativity has been around for most of evolution.  And if you are thinking that H. sapiens is a model of “greater cooperativity”, I suggest you consider the situation in Syria and Egypt. 


Paul Lucas - #82607

September 13th 2013

I strongly suggest that Schloss and everyone read an essay by Hiram Berry that is over 30 years old by now:


Merv - #82609

September 13th 2013

Paul, thanks for sharing these reactions.  I am eager to see the essay referred to in your post above, but your link didn’t make it in (or doesn’t show on my browser anyway.)


Eddie - #82610

September 14th 2013

Regarding the remarks of Chip, Lou, etc. above:

Jeff Schloss’s remarks on the video strike me as impromptu and delivered in a casual way for a general audience.  It is perhaps not surprising, then, that his description of current evolutionary theory is somewhat vague and therefore hard to nail down and assess.  I suspect that he has in mind things like the emphasis on “convergence” in people like Simon Conway Morris and Michael Denton, and the deemphasis, in a number of evolutionary thinkers, e.g., the Altenberg group, Shapiro, Margulis, etc. on “random mutations” as the main source of novelty.  I can’t be sure this is what Schloss has in mind, of course.  But it would make sense of his remark that in some ways evolutionary theory today is less difficult to fit in with Christian thought than the evolutionary thought of, say, Mayr or Gould or Gaylord Simpson.  If randomness plays a reduced role, and if there are some “inbuilt” factors that produce convergence more often than one would expect on neo-Darwinian premises, one might suspect the evolutionary process of being “programmed” or “tilted” to favor certain outcomes.  That obviously could be made compatible with traditional theism.  (Though not of course with Genesis literalism.)

If this is what Schloss is talking about, it is interesting, because it is not a view that has been very popular among BioLogos columnists up to this point.  We’ve heard not a word from Simon Conway Morris since the site started, and the ideas of the Altenberg group, Margulis, Denton, etc. have been slighted by omission here.  If BioLogos is going to start talking less about “the marvellous, creative way that God uses randomness” and more about possible directionality in the evolutionary process (however that directionality is achieved, via inbuilt natural tendencies or interventions), that would mark a new departure, and make possible some ID/TE rapprochement.  But of course this is all speculation, as I don’t know what Schloss means.  

Perhaps Dr. Schloss, if he reads the posts of the commenters here, will respond to some of them.  So far he has been a somewhat Sphinx-like character at BioLogos, and would be interesting to hear his own personal view of how divine action is related to the evolutionary process.


Paul Lucas - #82615

September 15th 2013

Eddie,  I do not see how “convergence” makes evolution more compatible with Christianity.  Natural selection is an algorithm to get design.  Physics and chemistry impose limits on what are good designs.  For instance, the physics of moving through water and the placement of the mouth for predation pretty much define what an optimimal design is going to be for a water-living tetrapod predator.  Thus sharks, ichthyosaurs, and dolphins all have a convergence on general form.  It’s the best design.  However, the differences point to evolution and common ancestry.  Although they have the common form, dolphins swim with a very different motion than either sharks or ichthyosaurs.  Dolphins swim with a modified running motion inherited from their ancestors. 

In terms of “randomness”, the term “random” is used by evolutionary biologists very differently than mathematicians.  “Random” in evolution means simply in respect to the needs of the individual or population.  Thus, in a climate growing warmer, just as many deer will be born with longer fur than shorter fur.  The variations of length of fur are “random”.  All the studies in population genetics over the decades have confirmed this. 

Natural selection is a 2 step process:
1. Variation
2. Selection

As pointed out, the variation is “random” with respect to the needs of the individual or population.  However, the selection part is the opposite of “random”.  It is purely deterministic.  Only the deer with shorter fur will do better in the warmer climate.

Now, can God influence evolution without being “caught” by science?  Yes.  There are at least 2 ways He can do this.  I have found both being discussed by atheists—Dawkins in one case and Dennett in the other—so this is not a matter of apologetics.

1.  God could contrive to introduce particular beneficial variations.  Amongst the huge background of random mutations, a few deliberate mutations would not be detectable.
2.  God could have engaged in a bit of artificial selection in the past.  Hey, how hard would it be for God to shoot a few lightning bolts (or even less dramatically just stop metabolism) of some of the plants or animals in a population?  And, amidst all the fossils out there, how would we tell?

Having said that, let’s move to more general theology.  The idea of God “directing” evolution presumes a hidden assumption:  that God wanted a sapient creature in our particular physical form—a modified ape.  Thus God manipulates evolution to get that form.  But why should we think that assumption is valid?  What does God care for physical form?  After all, It has none.  God does not have to engage in either form of manipulation to have evolution produce a sapient species capable of communicating with Him.  All God has to do is let natural selection work.  As natural selection explores all possible genomes, eventually it is going to get to one of the huge number of genomes that code for a sapient species capable of communicating with God.  Why are we so hung up on the idea that such a sapient species must look like us?


hanan-d - #82622

September 15th 2013

>As natural selection explores all possible genomes, eventually it is going to get to one of the huge number of genomes that code for a sapient species capable of communicating with God. 

And yet, from a purely scientific POV, if you wind the clock back again, things would be totally different. This seems to be the problem of just laying that God had nothing in mind as far as mankind and just threw the dice.

 

>Why are we so hung up on the idea that such a sapient species must look like us?

Aren’t we back to that old question if God just let things “happen” using natural selection, would He would have been just as fine with a really smart octopus?


Eddie - #82626

September 15th 2013

Paul Lucas:

I don’t think we have encountered one another before.  To save time and energy on your part, I’ll let you know that I’ve been reading evolutionary theory for about 40 years now and your summary of classic neo-Darwinism wasn’t necessary.  I’m fully aware of what mainstream 20th-century evolutionary theory says.  I’m also aware that mainstream 20th-century evolutionary biology is undergoing massive transformation in the face of scientific criticism (and no, I’m not talking about criticism from ID or creationist quarters, but from atheist/agnostic evolutionary biologists themselves).  So I wouldn’t assume that classic neo-Darwinism is any longer a very reliable account of how evolution happens, if I were you.  

I did not say that the mere existence of some convergence would make evolution more compatible with Christianity.  What I was trying to say was that if it can be shown that convergence is more pervasive than would be predicted on neo-Darwinian principles, then it might well be that the evolutionary process operates in a non-neo-Darwinian and possibly even a teleological way.  And of course if evolution is genuinely teleological (not simulated teleological, a la Dawkins), that would be compatible with traditional Christian understanding (though not with the narrowest of Biblical literalisms).

Your sentence “natural selection is an algorithm to get design” implies purpose, i.e., it implies that someone “wrote” an evolutionary algorithm in order to achieve something.  Is that your position, that the evolutionary process was designed by a mind with a view toward achieving certain ends?  Or were you just writing very loosely, and is your position merely that natural selection mimics the effects of design?  I have to ask, because people here (especially the columnists) rarely state explicitly what their view is on the relation between the evolutionary process and a possible mind behind it. 

Does the fact that you call God “It” imply that you stand outside of Christian life?  I do not know of any living Christian context—Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox—where God is referred to in that way.  (As one well-educated in theology, I am of course fully aware that God is in one sense above maleness and femaleness, and so are all informed Christians, but practicing Christians generally still refer to God as “He”—except perhaps in arty/intellectual churches near universities or in “hip” suburbia which have thrown out 90% of Christian doctrine anyway.)

As for your final question, I echo the response of Hanan, and I think Jon Garvey’s response is good as well.


Lou Jost - #82649

September 18th 2013

“As natural selection explores all possible genomes, eventually it is going to get to one of the huge number of genomes that code for a sapient species capable of communicating with God. ”

That is a really interesting point. Why should a god guide evolution if unguided evolution would eventually produce something that would fit his purpose (whatever that may be), somewhere in this giant universe?


Paul Lucas - #82616

September 15th 2013

Merv:  Sorry.  The link was in the post but doesn’t seem to have survived.  You can also find the essay in the book Is God a Creationist? edited by Roland Frye.  Let me try the link again.  If it doesn’t work it is in the Wayback archives:

http://wayback.archive.org/web/jsp/Interstitial.jsp?sec>

This is another spot: 

http://intl-ttj.sagepub.com/content/39/3/249.abstract

 


Jon Garvey - #82618

September 15th 2013

The idea of God “directing” evolution presumes a hidden assumption:  that God wanted a sapient creature in our particular physical form—a modified ape.  Thus God manipulates evolution to get that form.  But why should we think that assumption is valid?  What does God care for physical form?  After all, It has none.

The error here, Paul, is in thinking that God cares only because he has something in common with us. But Christian teaching is that he cares for all he has made, so he cares for physical form because he chose to create physical form. He did not create “a sapient species capable of communicating with him” - he created mankind.

The parallel would be to suppose that a composer creates something purely to have a musical effect - but in fact Beethoven, or whoever, has one particular thing in mind as he writes - the 5th symphony or a Cantata or whatever. That is what creativity means - the reduction of possibilities to that which is best or most suitable.

As Aquinas (and others before him) pointed out long ago, God’s creation is a household - an “economy” - and God’s providence for it as careful as that of any householder. No manager or householder goes out to buy “enough food or whatever” - they go out to buy bread, beef or beans in whatever proportion and quantity will be best.


Merv - #82624

September 15th 2013

The links are there this time, Paul—thanks.  The first one terminated in an open library site that I might be able to search through at some future point.

Your second link led to an abstract by a Richard Berry for an article of his titled “The Beginning”.  The abstract looks tantalizing, but the full article is, alas, behind a subscription pay-wall in Theology Today.  Is Richard Berry who you meant when you said Hiram Berry?

-Merv


Charles Turvey - #82627

September 16th 2013

Science and faith are two different things, yet, when it comes to religion, they’re sometimes compatible with each other. We may have different views and opinions in each other’s beliefs, but we can be compatible by respecting one another. This piece of essay writing is just a reminder and I hope it will make us think hundred times before saying anything towards our brothers and sisters. 


Chip - #82629

September 16th 2013

I suspect that… one might suspect… If this is what Schloss is talking about…  But of course this is all speculation, as I don’t know what Schloss means.

Eddie,

Once again, you’ve clarified things for me.  Thanks for an accurate summary! 


Chip - #82650

September 19th 2013

As natural selection explores all possible genomes, eventually it is going to get to one of the huge number of genomes that code for a sapient species capable of communicating with God.

I love the anthropomorphization that sometimes gets applied to fully natural processes like natural selection.  Since when is natural selection capable of “exploring” anything?  NS can’t explore, think, plan, or predict.  And it’s powers of evaluation are entirely synchronic in nature and triggered by a fully-random event external to itself:  an unplanned mutation drops into its lap, and it votes up or down.  No seeking; no “exploration.”  Given this, there’s no guarantee that it is eventually going to get to anything particular, (at least not without some help) much less a “sapient species capable of communicating with God.” 


Lou Jost - #82651

September 19th 2013

Chip, I agree about your characterization of NS. The anthropomorphic way of describing the process is a convenient shorthand, but it can get us into trouble.

But this doesn’t affect the argument at hand: in an infinite number of universes, or a single universe with an infinite number of planets over all time, all viable genome sequences of length k would arise eventually, no matter how improbable, as long the probability was not exactly zero. Of course we don’t know whether there are an infinite number of universes.

 


Jon Garvey - #82657

September 20th 2013

But this doesn’t affect the argument at hand: in an infinite number of universes, or a single universe with an infinite number of planets over all time, all viable genome sequences of length k would arise eventually, no matter how improbable, as long the probability was not exactly zero. Of course we don’t know whether there are an infinite number of universes.

Lou, this statement is only as true as the number of genomes that can in practice be reached by  pathways in which every step is a fit organism. Even in an infinite Universe that is, arguably, a tall order, and the argument nowadays is about there being a small area of sequence space which is searchable by evolution and yet which contains all the genomes that have appeared.

One could visualise the parallel of terran life filling every possible ecological niche on earth, and projecting that it might therefore fill every conceivable niche on all planets - but unless there is a mechanism enabling life to travel to other worlds and survive, all those niches will remain unfilled.


Lou Jost - #82658

September 20th 2013

Jon, you are right about your first point if the universe were finite. If it is infinite, though, there is always a finite probability that many simultaneous mutations could arise to convert any genome into any other in one or a few steps. Of course here we are entering fantasy land….

I didn’t understand your second paragraph, especially the last line. Most scientists think that since life arose so early on earth, life on other planets is not terribly improbable given the right conditions. And with the number of exoplanets discovered so far, it seems likely that there are many other earthlike planets. But I admit with a database of one point we are just guessing, and the problem of post-hoc selection of that data point makes it even harder to extract (or even rigorously define) the probabilities.

I think if it should turn out that earth was the only planet in the universe that has life, this would be evidence (though not proof) for the sort of theistic god that Christians or Muslims or Jews believe in. And if life is found to have arisen independently many times throughout the universe, this would be evidence against the orthodox views of those religions.


Jon Garvey - #82660

September 20th 2013

Lou

Glad your post eventually got through the BL net!

Much as I think it possible that there is life only on this world, I don’t think that would make particularly strong evidence for a monotheistic God, taken generally. It would just make life very rare and difficult to produce - and in any universe there’s bound to be something that’s rare. At most it would confirm a possibility that earth has a special role in such a God’s economy, which certainly isn’t demanded either by the concept of God or the sacred texts.

But the geocentric focus of, say, the Bible would by no means rule out God’s doing similar things elsewhere, any more than my concentrating resources on my own family denies the reality of equally valid families elsewhere.

My second paragraph, I confess, didn’t consider multiple origins of life - just multiple divisions and opportunities. Just the way my mind was running this morning. But that doesn’t alter the argument much - if life is common, it’s because the chemistry and physics forming it is common, so one would expect it to start in more or less the same place and undergo the same divergence as that one earth - and there is work suggesting the number of possible pathways may be quite limited. Infinite routes to infinite destinatiomns is an assumption lacking in evidence.

But until we either have several examples to work on, or understand the process here better, there’s just no way of saying how much of DNA or protein space life actually can explore. If a planet is sufficiently earthlike for life, then it will impose the same kinds of restraints on what genomes work, and what routes between them are viable.

I personally think that invoking absolutely infinite universes to say anything is possible somewhere is always a fruitless thing. Firstly, unless we have access to observation of such a universe, it’s just as much fantasy as invoking magic in faeryland. The Universe we do observe is by no means infinite, and given its scale and the uniformity of its laws certain events - such as the multiple mutations of LUCA to produce man in one generation - are effectively impossible. Or if not, then we are never in a position to reject any data, however fantastic - a Cambrian rabbit would simply be a routine case of convergence: no explanation required, because anything’s possible in infinity.


Eddie - #82662

September 20th 2013

I have to agree with Jon here.  It seems to me that, whether our planet is the only one in the universe with life, or whether it is just one of many such planets, either an atheist or a theist could explain that result as compatible with his view.  

I have seen some Christian apologists trying to score points in debate regarding the uniqueness of life on earth—and thus they try to argue, e.g., that any life forms found on Mars will prove to be merely transfers of life forms from the earth, but I don’t know why they feel the need to stick their neck out to defend such a claim.  There is nothing in Christian theology that forbids God from creating life on other planets.   We don’t know what God’s intentions for the rest of the universe are, and I’d hesitate to rule on what God would or would not do.

Of course, the Carl Sagan sort of scientist could point to life on many other planets as “just the sort of thing they would expect”; but if God likes a multiplicity of inhabited worlds, that is just the sort of thing a theist would expect, too.   And on the other hand, life on many worlds is *not* the sort of thing we’d expect, if it turns out that there are fewer planets than we thought and that virtually all planets are in the wrong position in relation to their suns to have the potential for life.  So an atheist/materialist position is compatible with the extreme rarity of inhabited planets.  And of course the theistic position is also compatible with earth’s being the only home of life.

From a practical point of view, we cannot currently confirm life outside of our solar system, and we may never be able to do so.  So if we don’t find life in our solar system, the verdict will be:  earth is the only *known* home of life in the universe, but there *may* be life elsewhere.  And that doesn’t give us enough data upon which to base theological conclusions, even if theological conclusions could be drawn from the presence of life.  So I don’t find the discussion all that useful.

It is interesting, though, from a human point of view:  one can ask why some people are so determined to believe that there is no life elsewhere, and others are sure the universe is crawling with alien life forms, when the most rational position on the subject at the moment is agnosticism.     


Lou Jost - #82664

September 20th 2013

Jon and Eddie, sure, either of these scenarios regarding life in the universe are compatible with materialism or theism. That’‘s why I said either outcome would count as evidence, not proof, for one of those beliefs. But if life is not just rare but actually unique to earth, that is such a special, unlikely situation on the materialist hypothesis, and yet it is predicted by Christianity and Islam among others. If this turns out to be the case, it should count as evidence for a theistic god. And likewise, even though the Christian god could have made life on other planets, orthodox theology does not predict this, and indeed does seem very geocentric, while materialism does predict that our planet should not be unique in this regard. So if independently-evolved life turns out to be common in the universe, this should count as a successful prediction of materialism.

But yes, it is hard to imagine how we could ever really get evidence for the uniqueness of life on earth.

As I said in my earlier comment, I agree that we are entering fantasy land when we consider scientific arguments that depend on infinity. But theological arguments are not so limited. And that was the kind of argument I was addressing. Theologically, there is no need for ID or guided evolution even if god existed and wanted to produce something essentially human.


Chip - #82652

September 19th 2013

The anthropomorphic way of describing the process is a convenient shorthand…

Maybe sometimes.  But in other cases, IMO, it’s a means to account for the evident “appearance of design” (which even Dawkins famously concedes), by ascribing notions like goals, planning, intent and exploration to a process like natural selection—even though natural selection doesn’t allow notions like goals, planning, intent and exploration. 

And when that little bit of inconsistency is rooted out, infiniteness is often invoked (time, planets, probability assumptions, and of course, universes).  And yes, while what you propose is theoretically possible, and while I might enjoy reading about such notions in Heinlein or Asimov, the current number of known universes is, well, one. 


Lou Jost - #82653

September 19th 2013

I think it is not misleading to say that a population “explores” a parameter space, though of course there is no intent involved. No mainstream biologists ascribe goals, planning, or intent to natural selection, though. The absence of those things is a pillar of evolutionary theory, as you know. And the empirical evidence supports that pillar against alternatives like ID.


Jon Garvey - #82667

September 21st 2013

Lou

Just to demonstrate that your assumptions about what “theology predicts” are coloured by your culture, try this quote from one of the most celebrated English Puritan writers of the 17th century - as representative of “Christian theology” as you could wish:

 I know it is a thing uncertain and unrevealed to us, whether all these globes be inhabited or not. But he that considereth, that there is scarce any uninhabitable place on earth, or in the water, or air; but men, or beasts, or birds, or fishes, or flies, or worms, and moles, do take up almost all; will think it a probability so near a certainty as not to be much doubted of, that the vaster and more glorious parts of the creation are not uninhabited; but that they have inhabitants answerable to their magnitude and glory. Richard Baxter

As for your final point:

Theologically, there is no need for ID or guided evolution even if god existed and wanted to produce something essentially human.

That is where the theological rubber hits the road. The basis of classical theism (for which also read classical Christian theology) is a God who is rational, wise and purposeful, working out all things to his chosen ends by the best means.

So he is not a Jolly Gene (look him up) figure, building a machine to see what might turn up, but one for whom the means are tailored for the ends. That does not absolutely preclude that he might choose to create man by setting up a multiverse where every possible outcome occurs, and then homing in on the desired result once it appears.

But it would be the equivalent of the child who writes out “1+1=” 100 times with a different answer each time, and then takes credit for the one the (gullible) teacher ticks. Or almost so, because in God’s case he builds this rather creaky multiverse with mankind in view - so it’s pure design, though of a type most of us would consider crass. In your quote, “wanted to produce” is quite sufficient to establish both design and direction, and the existence of “something essentially human” sufficient to establish its success.

The only exception to the design case would be if God had no such aim in view in creating the multiverse (Jolly Gene rules, OK?), and was surprised and delighted that mankind turned up. Such an idea seems close to what some recent TEs have espoused, but it’s light-years removed from the concept of God in any major tradition, and is internally incoherent.

Let’s clarify that - suppose I’m an eccentric artist wanting to produce a painted human form by a random process - I throw paint bombs at canvases, and eventually something vaguely figurative is bound to appear, and that’s the “keeper.” That’s the analogy of “creation by multiverse”.

There is as much teleology there as if I’d painted meticulously from life: the design is in the intention, the recognition that the means are (barely) adequate, and the selection of the result. If I used a multiverse worth of canvases to produce a facsimile of a John Singer Sargent portrait, it would be just as designed - but one would be justified in asking if I’d have been more Intelligent going to art school.

But God might work that way - after all, photography is an art where design is almost completely fulfilled by selection. But photographs are still designed.

 


Lou Jost - #82671

September 21st 2013

Your Richard Baxter quote is indeed surprising to me, a very nice quote. I do have a hard time believing that this was ever Christian orthodoxy though, even if a Puritan said it. What is the orthodox view today? I see people arguing that god wanted to create something like us (even physically—no octopus-overlords allowed), and that this was the goal of the whole of creation, and that this god has a special relationship with us. I don’t recall if anything in the bible actually says that we are alone among the intelligent “god-fearing” beings in the universe, but Genesis certainly leaves that impression (and of course never even shows any awareness of the difference between planets and stars). Baxter’s quote does show how scientific advances (discovery of planets, etc) affected Christian thinking. I do not think Christianity, Islam, or Judaism ever contemplated the possibility that the heavenly lights might be inhabited, until modern astronomy arose.

You said “If I used a multiverse worth of canvases to produce a facsimile of a John Singer Sargent portrait, it would be just as designed - but one would be justified in asking if I’d have been more Intelligent going to art school.” The first part of that sentence was my point. In an infinite universe, there is no need for a god to guide evolution, even if you believe in god and believe that naturalistic unguided evolution is vanishingly improbable. I can’t have any opinion on the second part of that sentence, asking which creation technique is more intelligent.


Jon Garvey - #82672

September 21st 2013

Lou - the reasons Christian orthodoxy never emphasised life on other worlds are:

(a) that it was concerned with how humans here ought to live, to which the question of ET life has, even now, marginal relevance, and

(b) pre-modern cosmology really didn’t in general have a concept of extra-terrestrial bodies as other worlds, but as, if anything, higher beings in themselves. After all, phenomenologically they were all, apart from moon and sun, point sources of light. They showed no parallax, and thus informed opinion up to the time of the telescope  considered them to be small points relatively close. Science considered them not worlds in themselves, but influences over our world - hence the re-emphasis on astrology after the Renaissance, including astrologers like Galileo (whose deterministic horoscopes came under the censure of the Church, which disapproved of astrology: a strand of the cosmology story that’s seldom aired nowadays!)

The realm above the earth was, to pagans and Christians alike, the realm of the spirit - the dwelling place of gods and angels. To paganism the heavenly bodies actually were the gods - so who apart from the odd eccentric would consider them as bearing mortal inhabitants?

Baxter of course lived post-Galileo, and would have been in the first generation or so to be in a position to consider extraterrestrial life in modern terms. In what context he cast his eyes up from the pressing business of humans concerns I’m not sure. He had, after all, a congregation of maybe 1200 in Kidderminster, and kept in close pastoral touch with them all (as is well-documented) as well as writing voluminously.

As for the point about probabilities, I still maintain it does neither theology nor science any useful service. In an infinite universe absolutely anything, one supposes, and not just sampling of genetic space, happens somewhere. So science can admit no distinctions between what is true and what is not (absolutely everything’s true somewhere) and theology has a God with no preferences at all (he profligately and indiscriminately creates every possibility). It’s all possible - but evidentially science puts severe constraints on what has been seen to occur in nature, and theology has described a God who produced a constrained and rational universe. Actual infinities are just fantasies amd speculations, so why should we  give them any weight in our thinking?

With a multiverse one can, perhaps, get round this irrationality, because as a noted philosopher said in a presentation I attended, there’s bound to be at least one universe organised and ruled by an omniscient personal being who has very specific aims, like the formation of mankind in his image and the moral and spiritual requirements he makes of it. And there’s every likelihood that we just happen to inhabit that universe. So it’s back to guided evolution and religious discourse - it’s just them other universes that are unguided, and we’ll never have any contact with them.

Incidentally, Christianity does have something to say about the goal of creation, and the creation of human beings wasn’t it, though it was an important element. The goal was actually to unite all things together in Christ, and mankind was the obscure means by which that would happen. In Genesis 1 man only appears on day 6 - the climax is day 7, where God himself takes up residence and government in his creation (see the John Walton threads and their video links).


Lou Jost - #82675

September 22nd 2013

Jon, you said “there’s bound to be at least one universe organised and ruled by an omniscient personal being who has very specific aims.” This would only be true if the concept of an omniscient, interfering being were logically coherent and physically possible in some realizable universe. I suspect it is not.


Jon Garvey - #82676

September 22nd 2013

And I suspect (a) an infinite universe and (b) the exploration of every possible genome in it may not be logically coherent and physically possible. Touché.


Lou Jost - #82683

September 24th 2013

John, I don’t argue for either (a) or (b). All my discussion above was conditional on the premise (made by others) that there were infinite universes or infinite time. I was trying to point out the consequences of that view.


Eddie - #82673

September 21st 2013

Hi, Lou.

I think it’s true that the idea of other inhabited planets was not a mainstream Christian idea, but it did exist.  

Albertus Magnus and other medieval thinkers discussed the possibility of a plurality of worlds—though by “worlds” they usually seem to have meant not planets but whole integrated systems of stars, planets etc.  They did not, it seems, directly discuss whether these other “worlds” contained life or intelligent life, though certainly the analogy of our own world would suggest that this was in the back of their minds.  Nonetheless, I don’t know that any medieval thinker affirmed that there actually were other worlds; it seems to have been a speculative discussion, i.e., is it compatible with the omnipotence, wisdom, etc. of God that there could be more than one world?

The idea of other inhabited “worlds” in the sense of other inhabited planets or stars appears to have been first defended by Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), who was a very high-ranking churchman, holding important offices, including that of Cardinal.  So by the late Middle Ages the idea had made its appearance in Christian thought, and apparently it was a tolerated speculation.  Thus, the idea of other inhabited worlds exists in Christian thought prior to the time even of Copernicus, let alone the 17th-century Scientific Revolution.

I grant you entirely that the Biblical account, and Christian theology generally, were not of such a nature as to cause people to dwell much on the possibility of other inhabited worlds.  The Biblical/Christian account is concerned with man on this world.  But it doesn’t rule out other intelligent races in the cosmos.  So there is no natural prediction from Christianity or other theisms that there won’t be other inhabited worlds.  It’s more like:  if there are any such worlds, they are God’s business, not ours; ours is to get on with glorifying God. 

As for the octopus thing, the point that I and others have objected to is not that God might have created many worlds, with molluscs as the high intelligent form on one world, arthropods on another, primates on another, porpoiselike creatures on another, etc.  The point is that, from an orthodox view of God’s sovereign will, if God made such races, he intended exactly those races for exactly those worlds.  But that’s not the way the modern TEs talk.  They talk as if God just threw out some matter, started off the evolutionary process, let random mutations and natural selection and asteroid strikes etc. take their course, and, whenever a planet happened to spit out a form high enough to be in fellowship with him, said, “OK, I can work with that.”  That’s certainly not the traditional Christian view, even allowing for a multiple-worlds scenario.

Of course, the TEs might complain I’m caricaturing their view, and that they hold God to be more involved or determinative than that.  Well, if that’s what they think, they’ve been unwilling to say it, in the light of persistent questioning for about 15 years now, in ASA discussion forums, on BioLogos, in their popular books, etc.  Almost all of them—Russell being one of the rare exceptions—duck the question of whether, and exactly how much, God planned the outcomes of evolution.  They apparently don’t want to commit themselves, probably because evolutionary theory as they understand it makes outcomes very contingent and unpredictable and they don’t want Christian theology to cross swords with evolutionary theory.  So regarding intelligent octopuses, they fully deserve all the theological criticism they get.

If an atheist talks about intelligent octopuses, that’s another matter.  On atheist premises, it really would be an accident what products each world spit out.  There’s no inconsistency if Sagan or Gould affirms such a thing.  But I expect Christian scientists to offer a recognizable historical Christian theology of creation, not an essentially atheistic molecules-to-man scenario, sugar-coated with a thin layer of Jesus-piety and with some blather about the wondrous creative powers of randomness and the loving kindness of God to give nature its “freedom” to co-create with him.


Chip - #82677

September 23rd 2013

Jon, you said “there’s bound to be at least one universe organised and ruled by an omniscient personal being who has very specific aims.” This would only be true if the concept of an omniscient, interfering being were logically coherent and physically possible in some realizable universe. I suspect it is not.

Jon,

What you clearly fail to understand is that speculations about infinite numbers of unobserved universes are only valid when such speculations are coherent and do not include involvement from any interfering being, which is clearly not allowed.  The key is to adjust your a-priori assumptions—namely, “infinte” means what is  realiazble.  Accept that, and everything else lines up as transparently self-evident. 

I’m here for you. 


Jon Garvey - #82678

September 23rd 2013

Chip, I always thought I was realizable, but now…


hanan-d - #82680

September 24th 2013

Just to liven things up a bit:

THEISTIC EVOLUTION EXPLAINED?

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/09/theistic_evolut077041.html


Eddie - #82681

September 24th 2013

“I think he’s got it!  I think he’s got it!  By George he’s got it!  By George he’s got it!”

—Professor Higgins


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