Randomness and Other Metaphors in the Theory of Evolution

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Ard Louis speaks on "Randomness and Other Metaphors in the Theory of Evolution" at the 2015 BioLogos Evolution and Christian Faith Conference.

Popular descriptions of evolution can employ many value-laden metaphors such as survival of the fittest, selfish genes, or random mutations. While these can have precise scientific meanings, they are unfortunately often misappropriated in popular natural (a)theological arguments, used both by religiously motivated anti-evolutionists and metaphysical naturalists, that look at the natural world and then extract theological meaning (or lack of meaning) from it. In this talk I will re-consider some of these metaphors. For example, the word “random” can have overtones such as purposeless. But in science and engineering we often use methods that employ random number generators to precisely calculate well-defined properties. There are many parallels between these methods and the way that evolution works. Technically these are often called "stochastic" methods, so it might have been better if we scientists had used the term stochastic mutations, instead of random mutations, since the former term is scientifically correct but runs less risk of carrying unnecessary metaphysical baggage. Helping people avoid misunderstandings of these metaphors may allow them to better appreciate just how beautiful the science of evolution really is. 

John Stott, Pastor, Theologian, and Author
“It is most unfortunate that some who debate [evolution] begin by assuming that the words ‘creation’ and ‘evolution’ are mutually exclusive. If everything has come into existence through evolution, they say, then biblical creation has been disproved, whereas if God has created all things, then evolution must be false. It is, rather, this naïve alternative which is false. It presupposes a very narrow definition of the two terms, both of which in fact have a wide range of meanings, and both of which are being freshly discussed today.” -from Understanding the Bible 

 

- John Stott, Pastor, Theologian, and Author
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