Monday, 5 February 2018

The Christian and Evolution

In this essay, I engage with the problem of evolution. For many Christians, neo-Darwinian evolution is anathema. They think that goes directly against the Christian view that God created the universe as well as all the biological diversity within it. So, should Christians merely assert their opposition in this regard or are there solutions which allow for some kind of reconciliation with science in this matter? I present an alternative perspective based on the biological model developed by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of the Power of Judgment which may serve as an alternative to the neo-Darwinian model. I also show that some models in contemporary quantum biology show a remarkable consistency with Kant's view which supports the Christian perspective of God as Creator.

Image result for darwin origin of the speciesThe question of evolution is one that generates strong feelings among many Christians. Although there are some Christians - especially academically inclined ones (such as those from BioLogos) and those belonging to Biblical Criticism - who accepts the role of neo-Darwinian evolution within God's plan, most Christians think that the basic assumptions of this theory go directly against the Christian tenet that God created all things. The reason for this is that the mechanism which drives evolution according to neo-Darwinism, namely natural selection in cohort with random variation, is basically a random process which goes directly against the idea that all creation be viewed as part of God's great purpose. If things happen randomly, it seems that God is excluded from the process. Although one may argue that God works (in a mysterious way) through such an evolutionary process, the randomness thereof seems to exclude purpose which is indissolubly linked to God's role as Creator.

So, even though I think that one cannot expect Christian scientists to disengage from the dominant (biological) theory of the day, it is nonetheless also true that it is very difficult to incorporate neo-Darwinism within the Christian perspective. This leaves us with the question: What are the alternative options for Christians considered in scientific terms? (This would be the question of any Christian scientist such as those from BioLogos!) Christians who believe that the earth is young (such as those from Answers in Genesis) will merely say that God directly and purposively created everything during the six solar days of creation about 6000 years ago (for a detailed discussion of this view, see [1, 2]). This is obviously in direct conflict with science and very few (if any) Christian scientists of respectable standing (especially in the natural sciences) would seriously consider that as an option. Another possibility is given by those Christians who accept that the earth is old (and accept a scientific theory such as that of the Big Bang). Some of them (such as those from Reasons to Believe, Discovery Institute or the Biologic Institute) think that God intervened directly at various points in the evolutionary process when he created the species, for example, during the Cambrian Explosion 544-530 million years ago (for a detailed discussion, see [2, 3]).

Both Young and Old Earth Creationists reject neo-Darwinism. The first group does so in principle whereas the second group think that other related evolutionary models which accentuate discontinuities in the fossil record, such as "punctuated equilibrium" (which rejects the graduality of neo-Darwinism), could be reconciled with the idea of God's purpose in creation. Since "punctuated equilibrium" (or related models) cannot provide an adequate mechanism to explain those gaps, these Christian scientists and philosophers of science make their own proposal in this regard, namely that God intervened during these periods to create the species. Some of them present their view of direct divine intervention (not all such Christians have particular views in this regard) as a scientific hypothesis called Intelligent Design. I discussed the book Darwin's Doubt (2013) written by one of its proponents (Stephen C. Meyer) elsewhere [3]. The problem here is that their view seems all too human (they think in terms of human design) and many secular scientists regard this hypothesis as little more than creationism dressed up in pseudoscientific clothing although these Christians would obviously disagree.

One may, therefore, ask: Are there not any other alternatives? In an essay on this blog I previously suggested that neo-Darwinism is an incomplete theory which would in time be replaced by theories which are more in line with the Christian way of thinking [3]. Neo-Darwinism, for example, did not traditionally include quantum physics in its explanation and as such presented mere mechanistic solutions (which is incompatible with "creation"). This has changed dramatically over the last decade with the coming of age of the new scholarly field of quantum biology. At that time (in 2014) I made a proposal [3] based on my reading of Kant's philosophy of science in his Critique of the Power of Judgment (called the third Critique) which is consistent with a new biological model which has recently been presented (in 2016), namely of homogenomic evolution [4].

In this essay, I present a more detailed version of my proposal (which is also found in my Master's thesis [5]) and show how it corresponds to the mentioned biological model. Making use of Kant's theory makes sense since the interest in his work had made a dramatic comeback in academic circles over the last few decades and his philosophy of science had been shown to be consistent with current scientific thinking [6]. As such, I argue that although God may have intervened throughout history in the process of evolution, he had already built the blueprint which allowed for the unfolding evolution of all life into his design of the cosmos when he created it in the beginning. We may interpret homogenomic evolution (which to a large extent replaces neo-Darwinian evolution) as being consistent with Kant's model and therefore consistent with the purposiveness (i.e. teleology) that Christians ascribe to God. Although homogenomic evolution has obviously not yet become the dominant model in scientific circles (it had only recently been presented as a serious alternative) there can be no doubt that the new ideas associated with quantum biology are changing the field in a way that is much more in line with Christian thinking!

I start the discussion by first giving a short overview of the Biblical creation narrative in the Book of Genesis showing that it is consistent with such a scientific view (even though the text was obviously not written with a scientific perspective in mind! - see [1, 2]). Then I present my interpretation of Kant's scientific model of biological evolution in the third Critique. Thereafter I show that this is consistent with homogenomic evolution and more specifically as presented by William B. Miller Jr. in his recent essay Cognition, Information Fields and Hologenomic Entanglement: Evolution in Light and Shadow [4]. In the same way that Old Earth Creationists accepts the Big Bang, we can now more generally accept such scientific theories as consistent with the Christian viewpoint. This means, that at last, biology joins physics as a field that Christians do not have to view with antagonism as they usually do. In general, I think that this will also make it easier for Christians to accept the scientific evidence for the age of the cosmos.

The Biblical perspective

Although most Christians regard the creation narrative given at the beginning of the Book of Genesis as important for understanding God's plan for man, not everyone thinks that it is relevant to contemporary debates about origins. Some Christians (such as those from BioLogos and those from Biblical Criticism) accentuates the fact that the book should be viewed within the ancient context in which it was written which stands totally apart from contemporary concerns. I accept that this is true but at the same time think that the Biblical account could not be in direct conflict with science (insofar as scientists make an honest attempt to understand God's creation) when we accept that it is divinely inspired (I discuss these issues in some detail elsewhere [1, 2]).

In the creation story of Genesis 1, we find that God is said to have created the cosmos in six "days" which had become a major stumbling block for many unbelievers who regard this as being in direct conflict with science (especially as interpreted by the Young Earth View). Although I cannot discuss this in any detail here, I can mention something very basic which goes against such an interpretation of the text, namely that it makes absolutely no sense that God created things on the first, second and third solar days if He created the sun only on the fourth day! In this case, there would have been three solar days without the sun!

This should not be regarded as a stupid error by the author (see [1]) but as implying that we should read the text in another way, namely that the "days" refer to longer periods (as is found in Gen. 2:4). We know this since the author also mentions that God made the sun and the moon (and the stars) on the fourth day as signs regulating "seasons, days and years" (Gen. 1:14). This means that solar days (!!!), the four seasons and even solar (and lunar) years only made their appearance on the fourth "day" of creation! This is actually consistent with the sun being made on the fourth creation day. This obviously strongly suggests longer periods of creation which is also consistent with contemporary science. (Why would one want to hold to an interpretation which is so diametrically opposed to all science if it is not really necessary?)
Image result for creation cosmos painting
God creating the sun, moon and stars - Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel
When we now take a closer look at God's creative acts during this period, we find something interesting. The phrases "God made" and "God created" (Gen. 1:21, 25) are used in the same breath as ones which state that He ordered the earth and the waters to bring forth all the many species of plants and animals (Gen. 1:11, 20, 24). Why this ambivalent description? How could the earth or waters produce the species? They seem to have been the milieu within which the species were produced. But this suggests that the process of creation - which is described as evolving from simple to more complex life forms - may have been more nuanced than Christians usually think and may have included some element of spontaneous production/evolution within the framework of God's grand design. This also means that the creation of the species (and even mankind; Gen. 1:26) could have happened through some process of theistic evolution even though not the neo-Darwinian one. At the very least, one could say that there is no reason to categorically exclude some form of theistic evolution on textual grounds.

This brings us to God's creation of humans. The creation of humans is mentioned twice, namely in the creation story (Gen.1-2:4) as well as in the garden story (Gen. 2:5-3) (which I do not regard as another creation story [1]). According to the creation story, 'adam (mankind; which is not a personal name!), which includes male and female, was created during the sixth creation "day" whereas the central personage of the garden story, which is later called Adam, was created at the time when God planted the garden in Eden. The inclusion of both male and female persons in the expression 'adam (mankind) is nicely expressed in Genesis 5:2 where we read: "male and female created he them, and called their name 'adam, in the day when they were created." So, one can interpret this as saying that the human species was created sometime during the sixth "day" of creation, long before Adam's time. As such humans may have been around for a very long time before the arrival of Adam on the scene (nothing in the text is against this reading).

One should also note that the metaphoric use of the image of God as potter in the garden story should not be taken literally in the same way that the story of Eve's formation from Adam's rib in the same story is not to be taken as such (the problem of the fusion of metaphorical and literal motifs is typical in such ancient religious texts and confuses the modern mind - one may assume that these literary tools were not well distinguished and developed as such at that early stage [7]). The author of the garden story based the story of Eve and the rib on a well-known story from the ancient Middle East which he adapted for his purposes (for a detailed discussion of these points, see [2]). There can therefore not be any doubt that he never intended it to be taken literally! There is, therefore, also no reason to think that Adam was made from clay! Once we allow that 'adam be distinguished from Adam (see above), there is no reason to think that Adam was the first human ever created.

The view that Adam and Eve were not the first humans is supported by other textual evidence. We find, for example, that reference is made to people living outside the area of the garden of Eden - who are described as people who may have felt the impulse to kill Cain (Gen. 4:14). Where did these people come from? Now, it seems that the author took it for granted that there were people outside the garden - other humans who were not previously introduced in our story except in the context of 'adam. So, taken in this way, we can accept that the Biblical text is not in conflict with science. The earth can be very old (the Bible gives us no clue how long the days of creation were) and humans may be hundreds of thousands of years old as both archaeology and DNA data proves. Why would one insist on reading the text in a way which is in direct conflict with scientific evidence if there are other viable readings (in accordance with good hermeneutics) which are consistent with science?

More generally, there is still one outstanding issue. We may accept that the earth is very old (billions of years) as are humans (about 200 000 years) but the question remains whether one species developed from another? Did God create each species anew or did they evolve out of each other (a process in which God may have been actively involved)? The evidence suggests the second option. As scientists from BioLogos have mentioned [8], the history of the species includes a common ancestry which includes not only healthy genes but also broken ones. This strongly suggests that those genes were inherited from previous less-advanced species (and that God did not create each species anew - He would obviously not have created broken genes!). This is evidence for theistic evolution but not for neo-Darwinian evolution.

All of this implies that we can easily accept the Biblical narrative of creation as being consistent with science (insofar as the age of the earth and possibly even some form of theistic evolution are concerned). There is absolutely no good reason the insist on interpretations of the Biblical text which go directly against science. In fact, one can argue (as I do) that this is by far the better interpretation of the Biblical text (since it accounts for all the nuances of the text). As such, we may explore scientific models which are consistent with the Christian view that God's creation reflects his purpose. Such models should be in line with a teleological (purposive) reading of the unfolding biological development of the species.

One of the greatest philosophers (of science) of all time who developed such a model is Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) whose model in this regard never found a wide audience because of the popularity of the evolutionary model of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) (similar to the discovery of genes by Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) which stayed in obscurity for many years because scientists thought that Darwin (who knew nothing about genes (!)) said it all). I will now discuss Kant's model of biological evolution.

Kant's model of biological evolution

In the period before Immanuel Kant's time, Isaac Newton (1642-1727) had published his famous work on classical mechanics and there were questions as to how such a mathematical science could be placed on solid epistemological grounds (that is, be taken as objective knowledge). Kant tackled this problem in his (also) famous Critique of Pure Reason (1781) in which he showed that we can only obtain "objective" knowledge if our conceptual structures (our theoretical model) could be synthesized with sensible intuition (empirical data) (allowing for a determinate "truth" judgment in this regard). When we cannot obtain empirical data of something (say, of God Himself) then we can also not know if such a thing exists. This does not mean that such things do not exist - it merely means that we as humans are very much restricted in our ability to know things about the cosmos especially if such things fall outside empirical reach [9] (such as we find nowadays in the case of quantum entities during the pre-measurement phase).

Kant presented his scientific model in two works, namely in his Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786) which laid the philosophical foundation for Newtonian science and in his Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790; in the second part called Critique of the Teleological Power of Judgment) which focussed on biology. His work regarding Newtonian science had since been extended in a manner consistent with contemporary scientific theory (where Einstein's work was also greatly influenced by Kantian thought!) [6]. Kant's work also had a great influence on Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. His work on biology is what concerns us here. 

Kant observed that there are certain "products of nature" like organisms for which an explanation in purely mechanistic terms (which is all that was allowed in Newtonian science as well as in Darwin's theory) does not seem to make sense. He proposed that we have to go beyond merely mechanistic explanations even though we cannot prove that to be the case. As such, he proposed a teleological approach in which our world is taken as if it is designed and which allow for two kinds of causal processes, namely mechanism as well as one that is spontaneous (called teleology). This does not mean that Kant asserts that our world is designed (that cannot be proven since it goes beyond our empirical means) but merely that science has no choice but to work under a guiding principle according to which the world is regarded as if it is designed (otherwise science which searches for "laws" of nature would not be possible). Within this guiding principle, Kant suggests that there are two possible kinds of causality which produce everything in nature, namely the mentioned ones of mechanism and teleology. 

Kant produced a biological model which incorporates these ideas. This is a model that proceeds beyond "objective" knowledge (as we find in Newtonian science - exploring possibilities beyond the confines of such knowledge) to allow for "regulative" ideas which serve merely as hypotheses even though they may be beyond direct empirical confirmation. In this regard, Kant allows that our world may include not only "nature" (this Kantian concept should not be confused with our contemporary concept thereof) ruled by mechanism but also a supersensible substratum of nature which is ruled by a spontaneous causality which Kant conceptualized as a "natural purpose". Kant formulated this last one as a kind of causality which allows for non-extended  "wholes-and-parts" (i.e. which lay beyond proper space/time and which may be regarded in some sense as "designs/plans") to produce material "parts" belonging to aggregated wholes in nature through a self-organizational process. Natural purpose as a causality has a capacity or potentiality to produce effects within observable nature. In his view, the two effective causes of mechanism and natural purpose (teleology), taken together, may explain the possibilities of organisms in a way that mere mechanism cannot. 

In the context of biological evolution, Kant proposes that the “maternal womb of the earth” had an original purposiveness without which the "possibility of the purposive form of the animal and vegetable kingdoms cannot be conceived at all" (CPJ 5:420). He proposed a theory of evolution according to which one species could have evolved through adaptation into another. The alterations which species could undergo and then successfully pass on can be judged as "purposive potentialities" which were originally present in the fundamental constitution of the species (CPJ 5:419-20). This means that through natural purpose we can see new species - which incorporate the less-complex features of previous species - becoming realized within the world. In Kant's view, we can see this unfolding grand design within the cosmos within the context of God's intentional act of creation even though this can obviously not be proven (as discussed above).

In my work, I show that these Kantian ideas find their application in quantum physics [5]. The Kantian idea of "nature" (as a system governed by mechanism) is consistent with our "classical world" where Einstein's theories of relativity apply (i.e. within proper space-time). The Kantian idea of a supersensible realm finds expression in the "quantum world" and all the necessary characteristics (conditions) for the first are confirmed (satisfied) in the second [5, 10]. Kant's idea of a natural purpose finds expression in the reduction of the wave packet - during which superpositions of states (consistent with Kant's wholes-and-parts) are realized as outcomes in observable nature (the particular range of possible statistical outcomes reflects the Kantian idea of material "parts" belonging to "aggregated wholes"). A detailed discussion of this is beyond the scope of this essay but is presented elsewhere [5].

In a previous essay on this blog (in 2014) I suggested that this reading of the Kantian biological model of evolution may at some stage find its equivalent within contemporary quantum biology. I wrote:  "It is possible that we will eventually find that evolution has a quantum component, i.e. that leaps in biological evolution have their grounds in the quantum world where they would arguably seem to be at home." Such a model has now been presented which describe the "leaps" in biological evolution which produce new species in terms of quantum potentialities which are realized in biological phenotypes (i.e. its observable characteristics).

Homogenomic evolution

Before commencing with this discussion I freely admit that I am not a biologist. As such, I do not try to explain all the nuances of this evolutionary theory. I am only interested in its obvious correspondence with the Kantian model described above. I am also not going to discuss this model of evolution within the wider context of biological studies but am only concerned with it as presented by William B. Miller Jr. in his recent essay Cognition, Information Fields and Hologenomic Entanglement: Evolution in Light and Shadow (2016, [4]).

What is homogenomic evolution? This theory of evolution focusses on the cellular level in its evolutionary conception. It works with the principle that individual cells and other life forms (which is where the term "homogenomic" originates) can engineer solutions to environmental stresses and that these are more important than natural selection as the primary impulse of evolutionary development from the origin of life onward. As such, the embedded information within "Pervasive Information Fields" (PIF's) which operate on the cellular level, enables a natural and self-organizing cellular engineering process to solve problems, allowing new phenotypes to emerge. This rejects the idea that random mutational variation within a generally static central genome can produce such phenotypes. As such it becomes a competing model for neo-Darwinism.

The role of quantum processes stands central in this model. As such this self-organizing evolutionary process is seen as rule-based, not in a mechanistic sense, but in accordance with the principles of quantum physics. The PIF's are taken as being governed by superimpositions of biological possibilities (that is, as an overarching field) which may be expressed as phenotypic forms. Miller writes: "Therefore, at any moment of time, current biological form is the setting of the superimposition of possibilities from a larger dominant unicellar eukaryotic information set as temporary manifestation of a narrow range of specific information subsets". Selection is only the "temporary settling of a range of implicates [possibilities] within the PIF of that master Eukaryotic cellular domain as an information subset of latent potentials resolved into biological explicates [expressions]". In this model, genes are not merely "units of inheritance" but an emergent expression of "information space" which is reciprocally dependant upon cellular processes as well as information inherent in bioactive molecules and extrinsic epiphenomena (sources of information which lay beyond the genes).

So, what we find is that PIF's have "purposive potentialities" (if we may use Kant's expression) which are expressed through the adaptation to new phenotypes. They include both "the sum of the histories of the field" (the product of their evolutionary history) as well as the "summation of the latent potentials to meet environmental stresses" which may trigger their particular expression as phenotypes. These PIF's are even taken by Miller as some kind of "bauplan" which defines any form of life. This corresponds to the Kantian idea of such potential "designs/plans" being realized through natural purpose. As such Kant's idea of natural purpose is very much what Miller describes through his concept of the PIF's ability to realize its potential possibilities (with wholes-and-parts being realized as material "parts" which belong to an aggregated whole, i.e. the phenotype). Miller even says that "there is room within contemporary evolutionary biology for creativity [that is, through the "settling of ambiguities"] and determinism" which comes very close to the Kantian idea that both teleology (which operates through natural purpose) and mechanism are necessary to explain organisms.

In the final instance, it seems that Miller's model of homogenomic evolution can be viewed as a contemporary version of the Kantian evolutionary model (although cells play no role in Kant's model, life forms do) which accommodates elements of neo-Darwinism (natural selection) as well as Mendels' discovery of genes (both of which came after Kant's lifetime). What is particularly important, is that although this evolutionary process includes some random elements, it is primarily a "well-designed" one which Christians can without reservations accept as consistent with and expressing God's purpose.

As such, Christians can accept that God embedded his purposive design within the world at the time when He first created it (which may have been through the Big Bang) and that this had been unfolding through time as a process of theistic evolution. Throughout the ages, He would have been guiding this process, allowing particular adaptations to develop at certain periods (as God is beyond time, there is presumably no preference with him for long or short periods of time). Christians would also believe that God was especially closely involved in the evolutionary process which produced humans which were created in the image of God Himself (a process of which we still know very little at this stage).


In this short essay, I discuss the problem of evolution. Most Christians cannot accept that neo-Darwinian evolution is consistent with God being the creator of the universe. They have consistently rejected neo-Darwinism as a scientific model that represents a true reflection of the process of evolution (or as reflecting divine creation, more generally). They are now vindicated in this reservation with the radical new direction that scientific evolutionary theory had been taking over the last decade and especially with the emergence of the new field of quantum biology! Suddenly, we find that new evolutionary models are being proposed which are very much consistent with the Biblical worldview.

I have not merely argued that homogenomic evolution is consistent with the Christian perspective. I have also shown that it is consistent with an old evolutionary model which was first proposed by Immanuel Kant in his third Critique. I have previously shown (on this blog and elsewhere) that Kant - who was a Christian and whose philosophy is consistent with the Christian worldview (see [11]) - had been vindicated in most aspects of his regulative metaphysics. His idea of the supersensible realm had long been rejected as untenable but we now know that it is consistent with the quantum realm. He was obviously far ahead of the people of his time and even those of many generations to come!

Now Kant is even vindicated in his theory of evolution which is suddenly much more relevant than Darwin's original ideas which would probably have gone out of fashion long ago (natural selection does, after all, seem to be a mere tautology!) if it was not for certain scientists whose dogmatic stance about natural selection enforced a mechanistic view of the world (why do we not speak about neo-Mendelism since he discovered genes?). But that time is forever gone with the coming of age of quantum biology! A new era has arrived. One in which Christians are much more at home!

[1] Does the creation narrative of Genesis 1 support the idea of a young earth?
[2] Adam and Eve: Were they the first humans?
[3] Darwin's Doubt
[4] Miller, William B. 2016. Cognition, Information Fields and Hologenomic Entanglement: Evolution in Light and Shadow. Biology 5(2) 21.
[5] Mc Loud, Willem. 2015. Introducing a Kantian Interpretation of Quantum Physics, in accordance with Kant's Philosophy of Science in the Critique of the Power of Judgment, reinterpreted and reworked with special attention to the supersensible realm. Masters thesis. Cape Town: UCT.
[6] Friedman, M. 2001. Dynamics of Reason (Stanford: CSLI Publications).
[7] Shusman, Gregory. 2009. Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations. London: Continuum.
[8] Giberson, K.W. & Collins, F.S. 2011. The Language of Science and Faith. London: SPCK.
[9] Science and our restricted human understanding
[10] Science and the spiritual realm
[11] Science and metaphysics: in search of Russel's teapot

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref.
The author is a scientist (PhD in physics) and philosopher (MA in philosophy of science). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy and eschatology.

No comments:

Post a Comment