God and Darwinism

by Max Andrews

I have two primary objections to Darwinism.  My first objection is that the best [and only] known source of information is mind (a positive case) and nature’s inability to sufficiently account for the origin of information (a negative case).  My second objection is that everything, particularly humans, has a purpose and chance voids any initial intention and final intention.  My focus here will be Darwinism within a theistic context.  However, before I continue I would like to clarify one point.  I’m not referring to evolution being change over time, which I agree with, or evolution being common descent, which I don’t hold to but I’m open to.  These two forms of evolution are completely compatible with intelligent design.  By Darwinism I mean that natural selection/mutation is the mechanism capable of creating new life forms.

Michelangelo's Creation of Adam

Initial intent is something that allows for design to be a legitimate inference by material or efficient causation (i.e. what it’s made of or what produced it respectively).  This would include design being inferred by the origin of information within a cell, limits on population genetics, irreducible complexity, or epigenetic information and higher information processing in the cell [and an extrapolation of causes].  Theistic Darwinists would deny these as any purposeful acts or intentions by God because it’s an implicit contradiction to Darwinism by definition.  Let’s consider final intention. Final causation answers the question, “For what purpose was this caused?”  If the theistic Darwinist wants to maintain that humans have purpose then it’s only at best secondarily and a reaction of God’s [to give purpose to humans] in light of chance’s bringing about of humans.  Consider these quotes.

An evolutionary universe is theologically understood as a creation allowed to make itself. -John Polkinghorne

Not even God could know… with certainty that human life would come to be. -George Coyne

Mankind’s appearance on this planet was not preordained… we are here… as an after-thought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might just as well have left us out. -Ken Miller

It seems that once chance and nature bring about the existence of humans only then can God predicate any purpose.  My problem with that is how can this really be final causation?  How can there be final causation without material and efficient causes?  If God set up the universe’s initial conditions to bring about the elements and conditions needed for the evolution of life to take place then that is still design.  My favorite theistic Darwinist quote is Francis Collins’ when he says,

Evolution could appear to us to be driven by chance, but from God’s perspective the outcome would be entirely specified.  Thus, God could be completely and intimately involved in the creation of all species, while from our perspective… this would appear a random and undirected process.

How is this not intelligent design?  Even if ID proponents concede our ability to infer design by material and efficient causes that doesn’t mean Darwinism would then be true because God, as Collins points out, could be intimately involved in the creation of all species.

Digressing back to final causation, I suppose that God could have purpose for the universe by his initiative act of creation.  This is categorically broad and the could not be any particular or individual purpose for humans since they are mere happenstance in the broader purpose of the universe.  The universe’s purpose would be no different had humans [or anything] not existed.  The purpose of a rock and human or equivalent.  Each are accidental properties of the universe and thus, couldn’t really have any final causation predicated to accidental properties.  (Posterior to God’s endowment of the Imago Dei on humans they may possess a greater purpose than rocks; however, prior to that endowment, they are still accidental properties and categorically equivalent.)  The best inference would be that matter and energy exist for God’s purpose.  That is as categorically defined as we can get.  Any forms of the matter and energy are accidental properties, they were not originally intended. If God initially intended for the initial conditions of the universe to bring about any form is design.

This is my philosophical hurdle to Darwinism.  Humans are accidental properties of the universe and my best guess to answer the question, “Why does anything exist” would be to speculate that God loves and enjoys matter and energy as broad as that is.  The forms and byproducts of matter and energy were not originally intended because if they were, that would have been design.  Perhaps someone can work this one out for me.


38 Responses to “God and Darwinism”

  1. I wonder if Molinism could come to the rescue here? Not that I want it to, but I just wonder what they could say about “purpose” in God picking the possible world that his foreknowledge knew would randomly evolve humans?

    • I’ve thought about that a few times and I actually considered it again while writing this post. I don’t think it works though because even if God knew that it would happen and just by him ALLOWING it to happen seems to imply a reason for it taking place. Either by weak or strong actualization there’s a reason for causing something to happen and permitting it to happen. I think a Molinist can me a strong theological case for common descent evolution but not Darwinism.

  2. I believe you have built up a straw man of Darwinism, not unlike the one built by the Discovery Institute in their recently published book, God and Evolution. The connection drawn between the random and unpredictable aspects of evolution and lack of purpose (i.e. “accident”) is a false equivalency.

    I can’t speak for all of your quotes, but it certainly seems that you have misrepresented Kenneth Miller by your choice of quotation in support of your straw man. Miller devotes an entire chapter of his book, Only a Theory, to the direction and purpose provided by God in the process of evolution.

    You are right to claim that this, as well as Collins’ perspective above, is an example of intelligent design. This is because theistic evolutionists believe that the world is the result of intelligent design, just as they also believe that the world is created, neither of which would accurately align them with the position of Intelligent Design or Creationism. The real difference between the Intelligent Design movement and Theistic Evolution is that the ID movement claims that God’s hand can be directly observed in nature and TE does not.

    • ^^^ faulty hyperlink =/

    • Thanks for commenting Eric :-)

      I haven’t read the DI’s book yet, though I’d like to get around to it sometime soon it’s pretty low on the reading list. I do disagree about the last line, that God’s hand can be directly observed in nature is emphatically not part of the ID movement. It may be a common metaphysical, theological, and historical inference but the ID movement itself does not identify the designer. Perhaps you can help me on the biggest objection of mine. How is can an accidental property, something that was unpredictable have an intentional purpose. I don’t believe it’s a straw-man at all but perhaps if you would like to build our scarecrow up to something a little more sturdier I can go from that reference :-) Thanks Eric!

      • Again, something that is unpredictable is not accidental. The lottery is random and unpredictable, but it is not an accident. It serves a specific purpose. Also, what is unpredictable to us is not unpredictable to God.

        From the perspective of Kenneth Miller, God shapes and forms the environment in which evolution occurs. Evolution naturally fills the available niches that are found in the environment, and so God can easily control the process of evolution by controlling the environment.

        From my perspective, God has complete sovereignty over nature. God can take control of the processes of evolution to design organisms exactly as he sees fit. The difference between the ID view and my own is that I believe that God’s action is entirely natural. God’s design may be unpredictable, but it is not an accident.

        • I don’t think the lottery is an appropriate analogy for the purpose aspect. It may help with probability but not here. The lottery is design in such a way that a result is come about with an intention of arriving at a random set of numbers. Carrying the analogy over, God would have design the initial conditions for the lottery to take place, which would be entirely specified, and then the winning balls, or product, occurs. That serves as an excellent illustration for common descent evolution; however, there are still completely specified initial conditions. As far as Miller’s take that you describe, that is completely intelligent design. God controlling evolution is purposeful and directive, that is by definition not Darwinism (unless that’s the real dispute in defining Darwinism). There really doesn’t seem to be any difference between your view and ID at all. God’s design may be unpredictable to us, but it’s still his design and contrasts with random selections. Everything you’ve stated is actually ID.

      • Again, theistic evolutionist do believe that the universe is intelligently designed. My view is not consistent with the ID movement because ID makes the claim that God’s action is distinguishable from nature. In other words, ID holds that God’s action is observable, though not directly. I reject that claim, as does Collins and Miller.

        The lottery works because evolution itself is not a random process, mutation is. In my opinion, the entire process is specified, not just the initial conditions.

        • I think we may have to disagree here on what ID actually claims. The a Darwinist, like PCW Davies, believes that the universe is intelligently designed for the building blocks of life to be able to evolve. That’s certainly true, so we cannot equate the fine-tuning of the universe with biological design (even though I believe a case can be made in the most modest sense but I’ll concede that for now). Considering we’re both in the context of Christianity we’ll identify the designer as God though the “ID movement” does not identify the designer at all, Zeus works fine :-) I think the strongest case is the origin of information for direct intelligent causation but that was a little off of where I wanted to go with this post. If the entire process is specified then that is design. You don’t sound like a Darwinist at all, you sound completely like a common descent evolutionist (which is completely compatible with ID).

      • Intelligent Design as defined by the Discovery institute is something that I reject. The position made is that certain features of the universe are best explained by an intelligent designer rather than purely natural processes. I disagree.

        On the other hand, I hold that, following the initial act of creation, the universe and all organisms within it were formed only by natural processes as far as we can tell. I agree with Jerry A. Coyne’s definition of Darwinism, “Life on earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive species-perhaps a self-replicating molecule-that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time, throwing off many new and diverse species; and the mechanism for most (but not all) of evolutionary change is natural selection.” The remaining mechanisms which explain the rest of evolutionary change, including genetic drift, are also exclusively natural.

        I reject the central premise of Intelligent Design and accept the scientific view of evolution without qualification.

        • So help me out here, how can there be purpose without design or intention. Did God purposefully create human beings, and if so, how is that Darwinism and not ID?

      • There is design and intention. Humans are purposefully created.

        The Discovery Institute is very specific in their definition of what ID is. Their definition makes a distinction between the actions of an intelligent designer and natural processes. They claim that an intelligent designer provides a better explanation for some observed phenomena than natural processes alone. This is what I mean when I say that they claim that an intelligent designer is observable. They see the designer’s action as supernatural acts superimposed onto a natural process.

        I reject the distinction between God’s action and natural processes. I reject the notion that God is observable apart from nature because I don’t see God’s action as being apart from nature. From a scientific perspective, the evidence is indistinguishable from a purely natural process of evolution.

        • Yet again, there seems to be no difference between you and Collins here. Just because we cannot detect God’s action and design doesn’t mean that there isn’t. On one hand you deny it and on the other you affirm it; it’s just a matter of empirical detection. Even if we couldn’t detect it there is still design there, which is not Darwinism. I’d be more than wiling to concede the question as to how we detect design, but if you claim design is nonetheless still there it’s not Darwinistic by definition. I’m very familiar with the DI, I studied with them last summer so I’m not in the dark on what their position is.

      • Francis Collins is no friend to the ID movement. In fact, he is one of the primary targets in the God and Evolution book. You are right that it is a matter of empirical detection. That is the real difference between the ID theorist and the theistic evolutionist.

        I find it interesting that you say that design is not Darwinistic by definition. I have already supplied my own definition for Darwinism. I would be interested in knowing what definition you are working under.

        • Darwinism as natural selection working on random mutations as the mechanism for creating new information and all species. If the theist really wants to deny intelligent design God cannot create any information or guide the process. If God does do any of that then that is certainly design (even if we cannot detect it but God still provides such actions then yes, still design).

      • “Darwinism as natural selection working on random mutations as the mechanism for creating new information and all species.”

        I agree with this definition. Natural selection working on random mutations is sufficient mechanism for creating new information and all species. Natural selection acting on random mutation is God’s mechanism for design.

        • I think this clarification helped us out here. My question is how can you equate natural selection and random mutation as purposive and intentional design? They seem to be quite contrary. I see that as no difference from “God guiding evolution,” which is intelligent design and not Darwinism. There’s an equivocation that has to be worked out here. So how do you reconcile this?

      • As I said before, I deny a distinction between God’s actions and natural phenomena. This is a false dichotomy that is too often held by christians today. God is sovereign over nature.

        You’re oversimplification of intelligent design as “God guided evolution” is not consistent with intelligent design as the discovery institute defines it. Intelligent Design is a position that states that an intelligent designer is a better explanation for some observable phenomena than natural processes.

        • God’s sovereignty over nature is quite broad itself. You deny material and efficient causation but how do you maintian final causation? I think you’ve created such a broad simplification without nailing down the predicates of the causes. I already conceded DI’s material and efficient causation for you as you you’ve stated on how you understand it, my question remains going back to final causation, how can there be final causation? God’s guiding evolution is completely compatible with ID, read any of Behe’s stuff, he’s a common descent evolutionist ID proponent. So your DI distinction isn’t even accurate.

  3. I don’t deny material or efficient causation. The material cause is population genetics and random mutation. The efficient cause is natural selection. The final cause is God’s design for life.

    I am very familiar with Behe’s work. Michael Behe was the reason why I decided to major in biochemistry as an undergrad. Both of Behe’s books are aimed at identifying phenomena which he considers are best understood as design by an intelligence (rather than purely natural phenomena). He proposes irreducible complexity and the edge of evolution as instances of empirical detection of God’s work in nature, points in time in which God directly and supernaturally alters the genetic makeup of a given organism. This isn’t God guiding evolution, it is God stepping in and overriding evolution.

    • Behe’s edge of evolution is as far as natural selection can go and that’s where the origin of information is impletemented, so to speak, by God. I forget how many phyla it was, seven?, but it was a top down approach, so no overriding is necessary; rather, it’s the initial conditions. So, if we start with God as the final cause and planning to create life as he did, it’s not really random then because the final causation is determined by, or logically prior to, material and efficient causation (EDIT, which is determined by final causation. So it cannot be random if God is the final cause. If God purposed it it must then be specified to that purpose, even if it is empirically undetectable.

      • Behe’s argument is faulty. He uses a very crude estimation of the rate of chloroquine resistance in Malaria and assumes that same rate applies for the evolution of all molecular binding sites. He assumes an oversimplified “all-or-none” development of protein binding sites that is not consistent with current research.

        A random material can be used in a non-random way. God’s ultimate design and the process of natural selection are not random, but they can easily utilize the freedom of development provided by random mutation.

        • I was simply using Behe as a categorical example of a theistic evolutionist who is pro-ID (empirically detection), nothing else. So you are departing from Darwinism in your statement? If not you’ll have to clarify what you meant in that last sentence by saying it is not random but development is random. Thanks.

        • Also, can you send me the PDF of the article you sent or a persevering/proxy link? My university doesn’t have that subscription, go figure lol.

      • I am not departing from Darwinism as defined by you or me. If you reread what I wrote you will see that I did not say that development is random, mutation is. The rest of the evolutionary process is not at all random.

        I don’t know where to send you the PDF and my school requires a password for the proxy.

        • Really, you have departed from Darwinism. Asa Gray was the main contributor to believing that evolution was guided by God. After a revival of Darwinian natural selection in the early twentieth century theistic evolution increasingly focused on trying to reconcile unguided evolution with God. There wasn’t an ordered random mechanism used by God (which at best is specified design and at worst contradictory by how you describe). Go back and read the quotes from the post on theistic Darwinian evolution. You really have departed from Darwinism, you’re position is common descent evolution intelligent design. There’s nothing wrong with that but God is quite distanced from the evolutionary process in Darwinism. God cannot even be the origin of information. Any type of information causation in the evolutionary process is intelligent design, detectable to us or not.

      • Definitions aren’t trivial Max. I realize that you want to throw the word “unguided” into the definition of Darwinism somewhere, but its not there. My views are consistent with Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller above. Miller just sees God as a bit less involved in the process than I do.

        You’re going to have to pick a definition and stick to it. According to the definition provided above for Intelligent Design and Darwinism, I am a darwinist.

        • Did you not read the Miller, Polkinghorne, and other quotes? Those are examples of theological and philosophical implications. Accidental properties. At best you just don’t seem to take the philosophical and theological implications of the Darwinian mechanism. Attributing the mechanism to divine causation, final causation or not, it’s intelligent design and not Darwinism. You’re affirming the divine causation like a theistic ID proponent would say it is, except you say Darwinism. Sorry, but THAT is not theistic Darwinism.

      • Those are applications, not implications. Miller and Collins both agree with me that the process of evolution is guided. You even pointed that position out for Dr. Collins in your article.

        I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this issue. Divine causation is not inconsistent with Darwinism. Either way, I’ve enjoyed the conversation. I’ll keep an eye out for future posts.

  4. I’m going to side with Eric here. Not that I’m anti DI in any way but I find convergent evolution convincing.
    I don’t see how Darwinism is in any way complete in the way it has been defined here. It seems to assume that the ecology is a “flat space” and somehow random mutations creates stuff and then natural selection chops the bits off that don’t do so well. If that is the case then Darwinism is bankrupt. But then I doubt any biologist would defend that view. Evolution on Darwin occurs inside a system with ecology. As F. Collins says genes don’t evolve in a vacuum. Natural selection just shows us the maximum of the ecology and random mutation has the process of “illuminating” the maxima and minima of the ecology. The “design” is in the ecology. In the world of electronics, that I work in, we can discover what the nature of a system is by stimulating it with a random signal (white noise). When we monitor the result we find that all the characteristics of the system have been stimulated and we can “see” the ecology of the system.
    Now as far as I can see God could have either, controlled the ecology and directed how the organisms changed with a change in ecology. Or he could have created an ecology that “unfolded” with time in a way that he designed from the start. This would be very clever as everything in the system is very interdependent. I think the former option is more closely aligned with Christian theology.

    Now there may be good reasons why what I say is invalid for some scientific reason but that is the way I understand things at the moment.

    • What you’re advocating is actually intelligent design, not Darwinism If God exists and Darwinism is true then God must be completely removed from the evolutionary process with no teleology or final causation and he cannot be an efficient cause for anything in the process. That is, unless we want to redefine Darwinism to be something other than natural selections acting on random mutations as the mechanism for creating new information. Even if God were to delimit the range of randomness (i.e. God rolls a die and doesn’t allow it to land on three but any other number is fine) that’s still design and intelligent causation/ purposive.

  5. We’ll I’m ok with that but now I’m wondering what theistic evolution is.

  6. Dawinism seems agnostic to the notion of design in the ecology.

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