Musings on Evolution and Christianity
Okay, so I have to post something so that November isn’t just a blank page (yes, I should have been cleverer when I programmed this thing). But unfortunately I have so little going on in my head that I’m really struggling here…
I did have a thought – a couple of weeks ago now, whilst running over a golf course – about Michael Ruse. In his book, The Evolution Wars, he claims:
I am arguing what history has shown: there is really no reason why a Christian should not be a Darwinian, and there is really no reason why a Darwinian should not be a Christian.
At first thought, this doesn’t seem an unreasonable claim. But it does raise a number of interesting issues.
- If you’re a Christian, have you got to think there’s a kind of teleology in evolution? Were things set-up so that humans were necessarily going to evolve?
- But that’s a bit problematic. Maybe something like humans had to evolve, but it does seem that there is contingency in the precise form that humans take (well certainly someone like Gould would think so; and when I asked Ed Wilson whether he’d expect us to emerge again if evolution were re-run, he said he wouldn’t).
- However, if one thinks about this even vaguely closely, there are some possible responses that a Christian could offer.(a) Maybe what appears contingent to us, isn’t contingent at all. I can buy that, but it leads to further puzzles: why, for example, would God have set things up so that the emergence of the human species reeks of contingency? That’s bizarre. (b) Or maybe it didn’t matter too much to God exactly what form human beings took; it’s enough that we’re sentient, have a moral sense, etc. Not sure about this one either. If nothing is contingent to God, then she can’t but help know how evolution was going to end up (given omniscience). So she would know exactly what form humans were going to take from the beginning (to the extent that ‘from the beginning’ makes sense when talking about God).
- And then there’s a further thought here that maybe this whole puzzle is just a version of the old Calvinist, predestination thing. Perhaps what’s key here is that God is atemporal; that there is genuine randomness in the way that evolution unfolds (maybe it’s allowed by the laws of nature), but because God is somehow present at all stages in the unfolding, any such randomness is not an impediment to her knowing how things were going to turn out. But I’m not sure that this even gets off the ground as an argument. Would it mean that God did a number of different evolutionary experiments, and then kind of stopped when she got humans from initial conditions which had randomness built in? Or perhaps somehow she would know exactly how the randomness would turn out, so she wouldn’t need more than one? I’m not sure I can make sense of either of those possibilities.
- And then there is the possibility the whole idea of randomness, or contingency, doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’ve never really been able to understand what it means to claim that things could have turned out other than they did. No doubt this is some limitation on my part.
I had other thoughts about all this; but I’ve bored myself outlining just these few. Anyway, OB can’t complain now that I’ve let down the side by posting nothing on November 1st. Okay, it isn’t November 1st yet, but I’m going to cheat on the timing!