Saturday, March 07, 2015

The challenge of evolution

i) The story of the Bible centers on the creation, fall, and redemption of man. As such, the theory of evolution (i.e. macroevolution, universal common descent) poses the greatest or most direct challenge to Christian theology.

Evolution challenges the first two planks–and by implication–the third. If man is not God's special creation, if original sin is a myth, then what did Christ redeem us from?

ii) However, it may be providential that not only is evolution the most challenging scientific theory, but the most challenged scientific theory. The theory that poses the greatest challenge to Christian theology is, in turn, the most scientifically challenged major theory.

Naturally, evolution has always been theologically controversial, but what's remarkable is that it's always been scientifically controversial. For instance, you have secular scientists who grant the fact of evolution, but are critical of the theoretical underpinnings. 

iii) There may also be a parallel between the hard problem of consciousness and biology. Some philosophers contend that as a matter of principle, mental experience has properties which can never be captured by a physical state. We could map the human brain all the way down to the quantum level, but the categorical divide would still remain. The problem of consciousness is insoluble given physicalism.

Of course, that's hotly contested, but it's contested by men with an absolute commitment to physicalism.

Likewise, there are intelligent-design theorists who contend that an unguided process cannot develop the organisms we find in nature.

Some go further and content that even a guided incremental process cannot bridge the gap. Nature can't assemble an organism one piece at a time. It has to start with something more than individual pieces. 

Like robotics. A robot can assemble another robot, but a robot can't assemble itself. At best, a partially assembled robot might be able to complete the process. 

My aim is not to argue the point, but simply note that if that's true, then the theory of evolution will never successfully shake off the fundamental challenges to its adequacy or feasibility. Even in principle, it can't get the job done.


  1. As we know, neo-Darwinism is the mainstream accepted paradigm when it comes to evolutionary theory. Neo-Darwinism centers on three main tenets: (1) small-scale random mutations leading to macroevolutionary changes in body plans ("from micro to macro"); (2) natural selection as the main cause of adaptive change; and (3) heredity, ultimately tracing its way back to a universal common ancestor.

    However, there have been challenges to neo-Darwinism. I'm not referring to, say, creationism or ID theory. Rather, I'm talking about challenges to neo-Darwinism from fellow secular scientists. Here's a list of alternative contenders to neo-Darwinism, taken from Darwin's Doubt (chapter 16) by Stephen Meyer:

    1. Symbiogenesis (e.g. Lynn Margulis, Michael Syvanen). This challenges neo-Darwinism by disagreeing with all three - random mutations, natural selection, and heredity.

    2. Natural genetic engineering (e.g. James Shapiro). This challenges neo-Darwinism by disagreeing with random mutations and natural selection.

    3. Facilitated variation (e.g. John Gerhart, Marc Kirschner). This challenges neo-Darwinism by disagreeing with random mutations.

    4. Evolutionary developmental biology (e.g. Sean Carroll, Rudolf Raff, Jeffrey Schwartz). This challenges neo-Darwinism by disagreeing with random mutations.

    5. Self-organization (e.g. David Depew, Stuart Kauffman, Mark Newman, Bruce Webber). This challenges neo-Darwinism by disagreeing with natural selection.

    6. Neutral evolution (e.g. Michael Lynch, Arlin Stoltzfus). This challenges neo-Darwinism by disagreeing with natural selection.

    7. Neo-Lamarckism (e.g. Eva Jablonka, Massimo Pigliucci). This challenges neo-Darwinism by disagreeing with heredity.

  2. About your first point: If some people believe that God created man through evolution, and separated man from general nature to serve him, then wouldn't there be no problem for them?

    1. There's be no problem for them in the sense that they discount Genesis and feel free to excise whatever tenets of Biblical theology conflict with mainstream science.

    2. And if I'm free to discount some texts that conflict with my personal worldview, then I'm free to discount all texts that disagree with my worldview thereby conforming God's Word to myself instead of being conformed to God's Word.

      It's the ultimate act of hubris, and hearkens back to echoes of the fall; "Yea, hath God said?"

    3. But there's still the problem of the text, as the same science rejecting creation also rejects human parthenogenesis. By what standard does one get to reject creation but call the virgin birth dogma, if the text means whatever it means to me today?

    4. I don't believe in evolution, but I don't think those responses really have anything to do with the mechanisms of creation. "Yea, hath God said" was about a command notto eat of the tree. I don't believe that evolutionary creationists are putting words into Gods mouth any more than young earth creationists are. God said that we must rest on the Sabbath because he created after 6 days and rested. I don't think evolutionary creation would change that. It would just change the mechanism. Now Kirk, I don't think that denying any miracles in the bible because you have a different view of creation follows. Evolutionary creation still is a miracle, even atheists agree that it was very improbable. Also, Paul and the writer of Hebrews reinterpreted a lot of the law and prophets to fit the death and resurrection of messiah Jesus, would you then call Paul or the writer of Hebrews a "compromiser"?

    5. @martin718

      "I don't believe that evolutionary creationists are putting words into Gods mouth any more than young earth creationists are."

      This isn't necessarily to disparage someone's intentions. But one can be sincerely mistaken.

  3. That being said, i believe that putting the beliefs of man before scripture is wrong. But young earth creationism, although explaining the bible better, is still an interpretation of man. Like evolution is an explanation of nature that appears to work better, still leaves lots of things unexplained.

    1. We can consider evolution on its own terms. We don't necessarily need to bring in Christianity or the Bible. Indeed, there are plenty of secular scientists and philosophers who disagree with key tenets of neo-Darwinism.

    2. The point is, does the interpretation originate from Scripture and the revelation God has provided therein, or is the interpretation imported from the outside?

      Does it say, "yes Lord, as You have said", or does it say, "yea, hath God said?".