Thursday, August 11, 2005

Divine Evolution?

Fred Turner has a very interesting article in TCS about the debate between Intelligent Design and Evolution.  He opinions that believing in a designer, and accepting the conclusion that evolution guides the biological processes that represent the diversity of species that inhabit the earth presently, are not mutually exclusive.

      "Old-earth" Intelligent Design proponents accept that the universe may have started 13 billion years ago with a Big Bang, that the Earth is at least 4 billion years old, and that "microevolution", the diversification of species into strains and breeds, can occur through selection.

Nice start.  I’ve often felt that while I cannot relinquish my creator’s role as it’s stated in the Bible, I stand before evidence that the biological world he created is constantly changing, and have to ask myself how much is it really changing, and could evolution be a part of God’s plan?  Is evolution the method he took in bringing his creation about and maintaining it?

Another interesting question might be:  Is evolution actually a part of the fall?  For another time.

Interestingly, at no point in the article does Turner mention that many theologists point to the lack of serious proof that evolution is occurring.  The theory of evolution is accepted as fact because it seems to best fit what scientists find, not because it’s been proven beyond doubt.

Sometimes that’s enough, and for the record, belief in evolution is not a make-or-break theological point.  You aren’t going to hell by believing that people evolved from apes. 

But you have problems if you claim to follow Christ and don’t believe that God created the world and controls the destiny of the entire universe.

      The awkward issue here is what some cosmologists call the "goldilocks" problem. The initial parameters of the universe -- the speed of light, Planck's constant, the number of families of quarks, the electron volt constant, Avogadro's number, the gravitational constant, the rate of curvature of the universe, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces, etc, etc -- had to be "just right" for the universe to have produced life and minds. If, like the porridge or the beds of the three bears, the universe is too hot or too cold, too big or too small, we would not be here to observe it.

Turner argues here that, while complex biological beings can, in theory, be produced given time by selection, the constants of the universe don’t have an explainable origin.  The rules that guide the universe allowed the evolution of humans from flagellum, but where did the rules come from?

      This is the problem for anti-design thinkers: though evolution, once it is set in motion, mightn't require further design, design certainly looks like the least implausible explanation for the beginning of the process itself.

      But the theological problem for the Intelligent Design advocate is just as awkward. What would we say about a creator who started a universe with the evident intention of producing life and intelligence, but who needed to step in every few billion years, or every few seconds, to fix the process, rewrite the program, give the actors new lines, touch up the brushstrokes of the painting, seize the conductor's baton and introduce a new melody? Wouldn't we say that such a creator was an incompetent artist, that if he knew what he was doing he wouldn't be botching it up all the time and having to come in to shore up the building or fire a midcourse correction burn?

I don’t think this is awkward at all, if you know some deep theology regarding the Christian religion.  There is a tension in Christianity between free will, each individual choosing whether to follow God or not, and God’s inescapable control over everything.  Some might call this pre-destination, that God has predestined the salvation of every person from the day of creation, but you can’t escape that this concept exists in the Bible.

You see, in addition to everything else in the universe, God is supposed to have created time.  Which means that God himself is outside of time.  Being such, God cannot be restricted by time, and in fact would have to exist in all time concurrently.  His plan for creation would be all encompassing, all events would be known ahead of time, and all “tinkering” would occur at the plan’s creation.

Does that have your head spinning yet?

      It is interesting, however, to note that many of the greatest framers of our Constitution were deists. The universe they envisaged, of "nature and of nature's God", as it says in our Declaration of Independence, is distinguished by its overriding quality of freedom. It's a hands-off universe, in which things do what they want, what is in their nature to want, rather than one that is micromanaged by a an external deity who forces things to happen the way he wants, concealing his manipulations as he goes, like a devious boss in an office. The good, they thought, would emerge by itself if we got the legal and economic rules right, and would not need to be enforced by the decrees of a king. Evolution, with its emergent species, looks a lot like a free market, with its emergent true prices. Paradoxically the theory of evolution is far more consistent with the open-market, free-enterprise, limited-government ideals of the American Right (which sometimes opposes evolution) than with the anti-market, politically correct, big-government ideals of the American Left (which has in desperation taken up evolution's cause despite the fact that evolution is fatal to the leftist's desire to micromanage).

I have often wondered about this.  You would think that evolution proponents would be free market thinkers too, but that’s not usually the case.

      And what if the "nature and nature's god" position -- that God does not need to step in from some external place outside the universe to ensure his will is done -- does not imply a remote and uncaring god at all? What if God is always intimately here, at hand, in the very workings of nature itself, in the sun and moon, the ox and the ass, the human body, as Saint Francis believed? God would certainly be remote and detached if he were outside nature, and did not mess with the process of evolutionary history once begun. But if God is within nature, and the free creative evolutionary process is his very intention working itself marvelously out -- as Emerson thought -- then he would be very close indeed, maybe even uncomfortably so.

Uncomfortable indeed.  This is an interesting way of looking at things, but not entirely inconsistent with what I said above, and what the Bible says about God being in all things, working through all things, and the universe and all that is in it cannot survive without Him.

I like his treatment of “strange attractors” as possible signs that God does intervene in the course of history in such subtle ways that we cannot perceive that he is doing it.

      We now know that nonlinear dynamical systems -- essentially, systems whose elements all cause and control each other's actions, and in which a single line of cause and effect is impossible to untangle -- have "strange attractors". Strange attractors are graphically demonstrable forms that govern the evolution of the dynamical system, but do it in a way that is not predictable. Some attractors, like the Lorenz attractor, govern lots of very different dynamical systems, from dripping faucets to the rotation of star clusters. Living organisms are highly complex dynamical systems, combining in their operation many hierarchical levels of different attractors, with a grand super-attractor that is unique to each species.

Will this calm the proponents of the extreme left and right of this issue who refuse to hold fast to their explanation of the universe?  Probably not.  But the article does give food for thought for those of us who read our Bible regularly and then look to the stars and wonder.

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