Friday, June 10, 2005

Evolution: Meaning and Implications

Meaning of Evolution
To evolve simply means to change. As far back as Aristotle, philosophers have noticed that time is related to change, i.e., in time, all things change. (We shall not discuss an even more important issue, whether time exists when matter does not change at all, or does time necessitate change in matter). Aristotle calls birth and death generation and corruption.
Today, the modern scientific theory of biological evolution refers to the observable fact that species transmute and the inference that change in the development of life forms from a common ancestor. The problem is to explain the fact of evolution. How does it come about and what makes it continue to do so?
The ancient Christian doctrine of creation and providence asserts that God alone is the creator of all that exists and is primary source of power. Modern science emerged to observe, measure and tabulate such changes and the hunt for a theory to explain evolution was on. It was Charles Darwin who provided the most successful theory to date. While it is not perfect, it remains the most popular and persuasive explanation we have. However, when he then suggested that his explanation did away with any intellectual belief in the existence of God, he crossed the metaphysical boundary and spoke ultra vires. It is this implication that is now hotly debated in the united States between what has been erroneously named “Darwinists” and “Creationists”/”Intelligent Design movement”. What is important to note is that there are many theories of biological evolution, some are Darwinian while others are not.
Any discussion ought to define the type of evolution is question.

Implications of Evolution
Biological evolution as an observed fact implies that (i) the universe is very finely-tuned, (ii) biological systems are highly interdependent so that cosmological existence as an accidental occurrence is highly unlikely. This has led atheists like Stephen Jay Gould to claim that life is a lucky strike which could not be relied upon to happen again if we spin the dice’ of time again. We of the living universe are lucky accidents. For theists like Simon Conway Morris, evolution implies the existence and participation of a God who created beautifully and bountifully. Life is inevitable. Neither views are necessary elements of biological evolution but mere implications or suggestions which are not justifiably verified. What about Darwin’s type of evolution?
Darwinian theories of evolution can imply atheism while non-Darwinian ones can imply theism or directionality from purpose (teleological). Implications are suggestive but not necessary entailments so it is possible to hold to even a theistic Darwinian view of evolution. Evolution certainly implies a finely-tuned universe which is either an incredible accident of history (Gould) or an inevitable result of purpose (Morris). Let us see how far implications can go:
Modern Darwinists such as Richard Dawkins introduced the idea of the ‘selfish gene’ to suggest that living forms are merely repositories of genes who are ‘copy-me’ sets of proteins, whose entire agenda is to never die, to be passed on with each generation. It has no final purpose. The Christian Bible claims that God is the creator of the cosmos, and of life. This has never been challenged by Darwinism. What can been inferred by Darwinism is that morality need not be absolute and God is no longer needed. Darwinism does not impinge upon where all these living forms came from anyway. The last passage in The Origin of Species offers no clue as to what was responsible for the existence of life or the universe. Although Darwin himself allowed for a ‘creator’ to ‘breathe’ into inanimate matter, the essence of life, he regretted what he wrote because readers may take him to mean that he was thinking about God. Darwin did not claim as much as he was later said to have.
Some say that Darwinism is dangerous because it leads to harmful philosophies, such as Nazism and greed. We need to distinguish identification from propositions. Nazism identifies with but is not a proposition of Darwinism. Science by its very nature is descriptive, then predictive. Theology is prescriptive and normative.
When evolutionary biology identifies the engine behind survival instincts, which include killing in order to eat or removing competition in order to acquire more, it plays no part in prescribing such behavior as normative. This is the realm of theological ethics. We are free to make decisions on values. John Duns Scotus and his view on will as rationality advances the idea of personal responsibility and sin.
For the Christian, evolution ought to show that God exists because our scientific knowledge of nature do not make us capable of making just decisions.
Evolution shows that God is necessary because science cannot judge with justice.

The Difference between Meaning & Implications

All sorts of problems arise when we do not take care in making arguments. Our topic here is what Darwin means and what he implied. Let us call Darwin’s own proposal ‘Classical Darwinism’ and the contemporary variations of evolutionary theories either Neo-Darwinism or Non-Darwinism. Most Neo-Darwinian models of biological evolution maintain Darwin’s argument that ‘natural selection’ is entirely devoid of any divine intent. On the other hand, many Non-Darwinians maintain a theory of evolution which replaces natural selection with either ‘intelligent design’ or some form of ‘divine direction’ amounting to a teleological view.
How are the words Darwinism and Evolution related. Darwinism is an example of a theory attempting the explain the scientific fact of biological evolution. We shall now attend to what each word means and what they do not. This is different from what each word implies and what they do not. Since these are scientific words, their meanings are always scientific in character but since their implications may extend beyond the boundaries of science, they may include non-scientific conclusions, such as philosophical and theological.
Hence the fact of biological evolution:
1) means that all life forms emerge from a common ancestor (scientific) but may
2) imply that the laws of physics evolve over time from a single theory of everything (philosophical) or that religious morality is an unnatural impediment to progress (theological).
In the same manner, the theory of Darwinism
1) means that Darwin believed natural selection is a sufficient explanation for evolution. When he then said that God was not necessary, it was
2) an implication from his theory, not part of the meaning of his theory. We need to discern what is a meaning and what is an implication of a fact and of a theory.
Any debate must begin by stating whether it is the meaning or the implications of either Darwinism per se or the theories of evolution that is at stake.

The Christian Confusion about Evolution: A Proposal for Divine Selection

Let us begin at the beginning.

It is important for the purpose of this seminar to limit all meanings of evolution to biological evolution. We do not refer to all manner of evolutionary ideas now adopted by many fields of inquiry.

Biological evolution states that all living things share a common ancestor by descent with modification. Charles Darwin did not discover evolution (but he proposed natural selection). His grandfather Erasmus Darwin published one of the first formal theories on evolution in his two volume Zoonomia, or, The Laws of Organic Life in 1794 and 17964 .

In 1801, almost 60 years before Charles Darwin published his ideas about natural selection, Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de la Marck (1744-1829) whom history would know simply as Lamarck introduced the idea of evolution.

Charles Darwin’s contribution was the plausible mechanism called natural selection, which sorts random mutations, privileging those which maximizes optimal survivability. Lamarck’s mistake was to suggest that function creates the organ, e.g., giraffes have long necks from trying to feed from tall tress rather than organ provide function, e.g., tall giraffes survive better because they can feed from tall trees.

Biological evolution is a fact and can be observed in nature. Darwinism is a theory to explain the fact of evolution by adopting the mechanism of natural selection.

The science and religion argument is not over the fact of evolution but over the theory of Darwinism. We are sometimes confused over this and think that the central issue is evolution itself when we think of evolution as necessarily Darwinian. This has led the Christian Intelligent Design movement to insist that evolution is not a fact but rather an hypothesis while creationism is a scientific program. This is not a helpful caricature of an already disputed notion. Few scientists and informed lay people deny the idea of evolution. What we are uncertain of is the mechanism behind it and the implications for our future existence.

The notion of ‘special creation’, i.e., that God created each new species separately from others is not biologically tenable. This does not mean that it is untrue, but that it cannot be a ground for an understanding of biology. Some would say there is no warrant for such an understanding even from the Bible itself. The majority of confession Christians in science do not hold to the theory of special creation for each species but believe that after the initial events of creation, possibly with distinct acts of creation for planet and animal life, all species of life forms came out of continuos lines of existing species. This expands the idea of a common ancestor to one of several early ancestors.

What are Post-Darwinian Theories of Evolution?

Charles Darwin lived and wrote at a time before modern Mendelian genetics and molecular biology became understood and incorporated into the many theories of evolution. After Darwin, several modern evolutionary theories emerged to account for observable nature.

Post-Darwinian evolution consists of both Darwinian and Non-Darwinian theories which incorporate the latest scientific findings discovered after Charles darwin’s death. Darwinian theories of evolution generally points to an accidental beginning with no need for a creator God and a bleak future after biological corruption, or death. Non-Darwinian theories of evolution posit a theory by which it is possible to reconcile evolution with a biblical explanation of creation along with an optimistic hope for a future when biological limitations on our brains will no longer constrain what our minds can achieve.

Every Christians ought to know this: there is no single theory of evolution today. While they share a common belief that life is continuos with each other so that man for example, is a kind of animal and that viruses, bacteria, plants and animals are part of animated matter, they do not agree with the mechanism or even the source of life. For example, some theories argue for natural selection while others for what I call divine selection.