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.

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