Uh Oh, What if God Actually DOES Play Dice (or, Is Evolution Random?)

Helen De Cruz (Katholieke Universiteit LeuvenInstitute of Philosophy), recently posted a brief article “A Darwinian Dilemma for the Theist Who Accepts Evolutionary Theory.”

Despite the fact that Dr. De Cruz is clearly one of the brighter bulbs in the chandelier (she has PhDs in philosophy and archaeology, her areas of interestes are things like Cognitive Science of Religion, Cognitive Archaeology, Philosophy of Cognitive Science, and her home institution doesn’t come up on my spellcheck) she has posted a very readable article that theists (namely Christians) who are also evolutionists might want to read.

Evolution, as we all know, challenges traditional Christian notions of how and when humanity (and the cosmos) began. These traditional notions come from the Bible, namely Genesis 1 (God created in 6 days) and Genesis 2 (Adam was the first human formed out of dust in an act of special creation by God).

Some of us who are Christian and accept evolution focus on the biblical interpretation side of this issue and write books and blogs explaining why a literal (scientific, historical) reading of the Bible is placing more of a burden on the Bible than it is prepared to deliver.

But there are many other sorts of challenges that thoughtful Christians need to think about, which is where philosophers like Helen De Cruz come into the picture.

The point of her article is basically this. One way that Christians commonly reconcile Christianity and evolution is by claiming that God is present in the evolutionary process by guiding it toward an end. That means that, despite the apparent randomness of evolution (stochasticity), God’s way of creating is by a guided evolutionary process–even in the smallest subatomic details–that moves toward a goal or end (Greek “telos”), namely, we humans created in God’s image.

In other words, evolution is not random (stochastic) but purposeful (teleological).

Now, you need to read the article to see the details, but De Cruz’s main point is that the stochasticity (randomness) of evolution doesn’t seem to be “apparent” but real. If that’s so, you can’t claim that God’s purpose can be “seen” in evolution (at least not “seen” in a scientific sense) because “purpose” means “not random.”

I think if I said more I’d just confuse the issue more, so read the article. But, one last thought.

I can imagine some might be tempted to use this idea of the randomness of evolution as an excuse to dismiss the whole idea because of how (seemingly) incompatible it is with God’s existence. “See!! Evolution and Christianity ARE incompatible, like I’ve been warning you all along!!!! If evolution is random, it needs to be rejected by anyone claiming to believe in God, because God isn’t random.”

Let me say, slow down cowboy. The reasons for accepting evolution are still there, even if evolution raises some serious questions. The proper way forward is not to dismiss evolution like a bad dream, but to accept the theological challenge and the need to work through it.

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  • Van

    Jay posits: “Basically that if an infinite number of universes does really exist and the God we read of in the Bible is the creator of all of them (I believe s/he is) then half of all possible universes are not “fallen” therefore there is no suffering, of humans or otherwise. And that the hominid species as we know it may only exist in this form on this manifestation of earth.”
    Evolutionists have totally failed in their attempt to make the case for an accidental explosion ‘out of nothing’ to account for the incredible complexity and obvious design of our own visible universe and its crowning jewel — the earth and its inhabitants. So, now, what do they conjure up? You guessed it: a multitude of imaginary so-called ‘multiple universes’ that remain to be discovered and, thus, cannot be verified by TRUE science.
    It’s bad enough that they have imagined a big myth, but they have also imagined that these ‘mentally-created’ universes are populated with all kinds of star-trek type beings, thus making it unnecessary for there to be a God-created universe with its God-created life forms — including the likes of you and me.
    May I suggest that first explain to our satisfaction the origin of the universe they can actually see, touch and smell before they dream up some stupid theories about something they dreamed up after eating pizza just before bedtime.

  • Most scientists do not have the ability to understand
    biocreation or intelligent design. It is like having one eye that understands
    biology, chemistry and physics, but the other eye never developed. Being
    a great scientist (not necessarily a prolific or famous one) does not produce
    an eye or a heart for the things of God. Once I discovered the biological
    meaning of “Ezekiel’s wheel” (it is more than DNA), I documented my
    work (not through peer review), and left my position as a research affiliate at
    MIT. I could not be happier than I am now!

  • herewegokids

    Thank you.

  • herewegokids

    And, am I totally behind the 8-ball here Peter, or does Lynn Margulis still have something to add to the conversation with the work she did? “Margulis was best known for her theory of symbiogenesis, which challenges central tenets of neo-Darwinism. She argued that inherited variation, significant in evolution, does not come mainly from random mutations. Rather, new tissues, organs, and even new species evolve primarily through the long-lasting intimacy of strangers. The fusion of genomes in symbioses followed by natural selection, she suggests, leads to increasingly complex levels of individuality. Margulis was also acknowledged for her contribution to James E. Lovelock’s Gaia concept. Gaia theory posits that the Earth’s surface interactions among living beings sediment, air, and water have created a vast self-regulating system.” Lynn dismissed any creationist element involving a deity, I believe…however she was an OBSERVER and not afraid to challenge the status quo. It’s been my understanding that current science isn’t settled on the question of randomness, ie, whether it’s genuine or only in appearance, or whether we as a species are even old enough to make a judgement on that. In that sense, could we say it’s a moot point?

  • David Buchanan

    One could also start by not perpetuating the idea that evolution is entirely random. Evolution operates through a combination of random activities (e.g. mutation, genetic drift, recombination) with activities that have a direction (e.g. natural selection, migration).

  • gimel

    Quite late to the discussion, but still, here are my 2 cents. I believe “evolution is guided”, that is once life appears and the ball starts rolling, sooner or later interactions between species and their enviroment inevitably produce a niche for sentient beings using tools. Once said niche appears, sooner or later a spiecie of sapient beings evolves to fill it. These beings are ‘human’ in the most basic sense, ie. we would undoubtedly find them more or less our brethren, imago Dei, one way or another. Thus we can say that the whole process of evolution, while random (natural selection and/or genetic mutations need not follow uniform distribution but some distribution they follow), is governed by a set of rules favouring a most specific final result. (Same can be said about a great many stochastic processes which have more or less obvious physical/economical/biological interpretations.)

    In other words, God lets nature throw her dice, and, at some point, a desired outcome appears, just as it was intended and written into the rules of the game.