A couple of weeks ago I pointed to a resource available from the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. The web site, Test of FAITH, was put together to provide introductory resources for those who are interested in or troubled by the interaction between science and faith. There is a DVD: Test of Faith, Instructor’s Bundle: Includes Book, Leader’ S Guide, Study Guide, and DVD, a book: Test of Faith: Spiritual Journeys with Scientists, resources for group discussions with a leaders guide and study guides Test of Faith: Science and Christianity Unpacked, a version for youth 11-14 and 14-18 (here) and a version for kids planned, a YouTube Channel and more.
This short excerpt from the DVD features Dr. Ard Louis and Prof. Simon Conway Morris, both Christians whose research involves topics relevant to the debate about evolution. Dr. Ard Louis is a Reader in Theoretical Physics at Oxford University. His research is in theoretical biophysics, on the border of physics, chemistry, applied mathematics, and biology. Prof. Conway Morris, Professor of Paleobiology at Cambridge University, specializes the emergence of complexity and construction of the major animal body plans in the Cambrian explosion. In this clip Dr. Louis and Prof. Conway Morris discuss randomness and convergence in evolutionary processes.
The point being made in this clip is that the scientific definition of randomness does not imply that something is is open-ended and purposeless. The evolutionary process is an efficient search algorithm optimizing for specific functions. In fact, the evolutionary process follows well defined roads and paths constrained by the nature of chemistry and physics. Not everything is possible, there are a limited number of possible solutions, stable points in biological space. There is no reason to conclude that evolution demonstrates that we are accidents of nature.
Ard Louis elaborates on randomness in biology in the context of his own research in this clip, available on YouTube and on the Test of Faith website, but not included in the DVD.
Another short clip of the interview with Professor Conway Morris is available on the Test of Faith web site: What would happen if the tape of evolution were rerun? In this clip Conway Morris elaborates on the idea of evolutionary convergence.
Dr. Conway Morris tells of his PhD research on the Burgess shale with Stephen Jay Gould and how and why he disagrees with Gould’s well known claim that if we were able to rerun the tape of time, restart the process of evolution, something entirely different would emerge. It is not at all clear that Gould was correct – individual events have an element of chance, there is randomness, but the overall landscape for evolution may be, not rough and exquisitely sensitive to initial conditions, but constrained and relatively smooth with the flexibility to find solutions independent of the fortunes of chance.
Evolutionary convergence in some form is an idea that is gaining traction in scientific circles. It has nothing to do with design, a designer, or religious faith. It is simply an attempt to read the evidence and determine the forces that shape the world we see. Nonetheless the idea has a certain appeal from a position of faith – while theoretically at least God could use and control any means in creation, there is a reasonableness in the idea that evolution is a process that leads to a defined result.
Is an evolutionary creation where God defined the path, but didn’t control every detail consistent with the Christian faith?
Would your answer change if we discussed the forces that control our weather instead of the evolution of humans? Why or why not?
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