Question from Richard:
I have been debating back and forth with my sister who is a devout Christian. I know that it is almost pointless to argue with a theist being that they have mysticism of religion to fall back on once things are not going well for them. One thing my sister seems to do is acknowledge the validity of evolution, but states that god created evolution and just let it run its course. It is really hard to comeback with something to say. This is one of those things that makes perfect sense in my head but it is hard to communicate with her why this dual belief is incorrect. Can you please help.
If God created evolution by natural selection as many liberal Christians believe, He set up a mechanism which rendered Him completely superfluous from that point onward. If God guided natural selection along the way, then it wasn’t natural selection.
The Darwinian/neo-Darwinian theory of evolution (the main difference between the two is genetics, which Darwin didn’t know about) holds that as soon as there was a self-replicating organism which tended to make imperfect copies, the variations created by random mutation are all the raw material that was required for natural selection to encourage the progress and diversification which produced all current life. No designer was required, even if there was one available.
Natural selection isn’t really an algorithm you can design or impose. It’s an emergent phenomenon, which means it simply tends to happen when different life forms are competing for resources. It’s like how when a container of stones and sand of different sizes is agitated, the smaller particles sift lower in the pile. There’s no universal rule in place which guides each stone to its proper place in the pile; everything just falls into the available spaces, and a certain amount of order emerges. Likewise, if every life form survives or dies by being better or worse at something than its competitors, which is often self-evident, then each generation will have “fitter” creatures than the one before it. It’s not something which has to be dictated beforehand in order to happen.
As I said, many liberal Christians believe what your sister believes, including prominent evolutionary biologists such as Ken Miller and Francis Collins. The issue is that when they’re called upon to justify this, they invariably do it by arguing for the inadequacy of scientific explanations. They pick an amazing physical feature such as the human brain and say that either natural selection needed a guiding hand to achieve it or, in Collins’ view, that natural selection is rigged to inevitably achieve it. That’s artificial selection, not natural selection, and it has nothing to do with Darwinian evolution. It’s very close to the position of Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe, who in his last book argued that God is responsible for beneficial mutations.
Alternatively they go back to before the beginning of evolution proper and say that the building blocks of life could not have assembled in the first place without help. This is a denial of the entire study of abiogenesis, which has made a great deal of progress in recent years despite not actually replicating the phenomenon completely. (You’d hear about it if it did, trust me.) This claim by itself isn’t even saying that God made evolution; it’s saying that God made life and then evolution simply happened. It’s still a case of biologists attacking biology, which is sad to see.
Your sister’s position is superficially tenable; it’s possible that both God exists and evolution happened, and even that one had something to do with the other. However, as I’ve argued above, this idea has implications which weaken both the idea of evolution and the idea of God. It’s the price one has to pay to accommodate both.
“If God created evolution by natural selection as many liberal Christians believe, He set up a mechanism which rendered Him completely superfluous from that point onward.”
Question from Richard: