Re: Destiny or Creativity

Adam Crowl (qraal@hotmail.com)
Sun, 21 Feb 1999 21:46:16 +1000

Hi ASA
----- Original Message -----
From: David Campbell <bivalve@mailserv0.isis.unc.edu>
To: <asa@calvin.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, February 17, 1999 9:01 AM
Subject: Re: Destiny or Creativity

>Adam Crowl wrote
>>Based on recent work with bacteria it describes various factors that
seemingly
>>DETERMINE how life will evolve. New niches becoming available seem to act
as
>>species generators, allowing an ancestral form to diversify rapidly.
>>Neo-Darwinian dogma seems to demand a certain randomness and uncertainty
to
>>the process of evolution, without any teleological hint of "goal" or
>>"purpose".
>
>Actually, such rapid change in response to new opportunity is explainable
>by natural selection. In a new niche, competition (and thus selection) is
>low. An organism with a mutation that would normally put it at a
>disadvantage can survive because it shelters in the new niche. However, if
>one of its descendants retains the innovation but fixes other problems,
>competition will increase again.

When I wrote what I did I wasn't overly concerned with the mechanism, just
the way the concept of "randomness" infiltrates discussions of natural
processes. As far as I am concerned the only "randomness" in the
evolutionary process [aside from the slings and arrows of outrageous
fortune] is in the microlevel change in the genomes, but to me that's
"spread" that enables biological forms to diversify. From there what happens
is more directed and less random, since the history of each lineage
constrains what it might then produce. Cumulative history is a major
constraint that limits what can be produced, and I think it goes a long way
towards explaining the unique features of the Cambrian Explosion. As many
have pointed out over the years, there was nothing anomalous as far as
species "creation" rates go and the rise and plateauing in numbers of taxa
followed a pattern similar to other explosions of form into new niches. The
anomaly was in apparent diversity and I think that relates strongly to the
creatures of the day having only a short phylogenetic history to constrain
them - hence I favour a "late" common origin of the animals [700 - 600 mya.]
That doesn't mean that there weren't "animal" forms around prior, but none
of them will be directly ancestral to modern forms.

> For bacteria, reported directed mutation has proved to be simply an
>increase in mutation rates. Bacteria that could not digest lactose were
>given only lactose, and some seemed to mutate into lactose-digesting forms
>too rapidly for "chance" mutations to explain it. However, it turns out
>that a mutation occurred that increased the mutation rate. Normally this
>would produce enough harmful mutations to cause the mutant bacteria to be
>outcompeted, but in the absence of competition, the high mutation rate
>forms survived long enough to hit on a useful mutation.
>
Like I said I wasn't doubting neo-Darwinian evolution, just the emphasis on
"randomness" that infects discussions that talk about what it all means.
>
>[Snipping some of the text]
>>What's God's role in all this? How many on this list still agree with
>>Descartes and consider all animals to be soulless automatons? I would
argue
>>strongly that such anthropocentric prejudice is non-Biblical, since the
Spirit
>>of Life gives life to all flesh.
>
>Whatever the processes, God is sovereign and is able to bring His plans to
>pass even when we cannot discern a pattern or direction (as is the case for
>much of evolution).
> Our being made in God's image is a unique distinction relative to
>other animals, but exactly what their status is does not seem to be
>addressed in Scripture. They merit humane treatment (Ex. 20:10, 23:5,
>etc.), and all of creation will be involved in the redemption (Rm. 8:21),
>but beyond that I cannot think of anything stated in Scripture.
>
Rejecting Aristotle [who believed in multiple "souls"], modern science
turned animals into automatons, and somehow such roboticising of animals
infects the Church's attitude towards the rest of Creation. That's a rather
dangerous situation. We seem to think that our subduing of nature is meant
to involve turning it all to our purposes, rather than fulfilling our roles
as God's representatives [the true image, if you will] on this Earth.
Darwinism says very little about the evolution of meaning and purpose,
assuming that somehow that doesn't apply to animals, that it's a uniquely
human emergence. It's changing though, with people like Daniel Dennett
discussing the minds of animals from an evolutionary viewpoint. Is there a
window of opportunity for Christians in such discussions, since we have
quite a lot to say about meaning and purpose? Because "conscience" has
evolutionary roots, according to some sociobiologists, it means that
morality is "programmed" and we are genetic robots - or so they say. I think
this leads potentially to the worst of tyrannies in which people are treated
as machines by social policy makers who are influenced by such
philosophically doubtful material. The role of agency and will in moral
actions is being eroded by simplistic determinism.

But what is the essence of free-will? Was Nikolai Berdyayev right when he
spoke of "meonic freedom" that existed "before" God? If randomness is a part
of logic itself - it exists in mathematics, in numbers themselves - can even
God himself escape its disruptive power, since God is defined as being able
to do all that is logically possible? Or is it a part of his essence, the
fount of all creativity?

Adam