Re: cumulative selection/abiogenesis

From: Peter Ruest (
Date: Wed Aug 21 2002 - 00:53:08 EDT

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    Josh Bembenek wrote:
    > Peter
    > Thank you for your time and feedback about my conversation, it is nice to
    > know that others agree with you conclusion and think about issues you
    > consider important.
    > Hopefully you can elaborate on some of the points you made (you can direct
    > me to reviews or articles or past discussions-- since your email I found a
    > discussion you were having with Van Till on issues very close to those in my
    > posting and I am sure there's much more on this listserve archive):
    > How do you accept evolution as a tool without making a myth out of the
    > creation account specifically?


    The key is interpretation. No data or text can be used without
    interpretation. As far as the first chapters of Genesis are concerned,
    most people think there are just two possible interpretations: (1)
    literal, taking the creation days to represent 6 consecutive 24-hour
    days occurring immediately at the beginning of God's work of creation,
    and the report of Adam and Eve to represent an elaboration of the
    creation of humans; (2) mythological, taking the story to be a parable
    invented to declare the truth of God being the sovereign Creator. I take
    these two views as two extremes, each picking some aspects out of the
    text and ignoring others. The main problems with them are, in
    particular: (1) is in conflict with much of what we know from natural
    science, while (2) takes an entirely inadequate view of divine
    inspiration. But there is a wide spectrum of alternatives apart from
    these extremes.

    I agree with (1) that the full text of the bible is the inspired word of
    God, but of course, some problems have to be taken into consideration,
    such as divine accommodation to allow (all genuinely interested) humans
    to understand what is said, particularities of the human author's
    language, culture, context, some (inconsequential) errors of
    transmission, and errors of translation. And I agree with (2) that the
    main point of God's message is theological, contrasting his truth with
    pagan corruption of it, that biblical inspiration doesn't mean
    mechanical dictation but uses spiritual communication between God and
    the prophet, letting the prophet use his own thought and language
    capabilities, and that no part of the bible is meant to be a "science

    But as God is the Author (direct or indirect) of both nature and the
    bible, it is to be expected that there should not be any conflict
    between the two, if both are interpreted correctly. It should certainly
    be possible for God to guide the thoughts of his prophet, such as to
    keep his formulations compatible with realities even unknown at that
    time, without curtailing his personality and freedom, and without making
    the text incomprehensible at that time or later. As scientific
    understanding has been increasing, the possibility that some earlier
    translations and some interpretations may contain errors has to be taken
    seriously. Tradition is not infallible. Such errors would not concern
    theological essentials, for I believe God designed his word such as to
    make it directly applicable, in matters of faith and conduct, in all
    times and cultures. The point of such reinterpretations is not at all a
    claim that the bible "teaches modern science", but that its formulations
    can legitimately be interpreted in a way that doesn't conflict with
    modern (or any past or future) established knowledge of reality. I am
    not talking of erroneous theories, which may or may not be held to be in
    harmony with the text. For this reason, the text of the creation account
    cannot be used to decide whether a given scientific theory is or is not

    God is transcendent, completely different from whatever he created, but
    he is also immanent, present and active in all of what he created.
    Moment by moment, he is keeping all of creation and all creatures in
    existence. In whatever occurs "naturally", it is he who does it (like
    sunrise, flowering, giving lions their prey...). His activity is not
    restricted to gaps in our knowledge. As far as actions by free created
    agents are concerned, it is God who has prepared all good works that we
    should "walk in them", but our bad works are not his responsibility, as
    he created us free to love him, which implies the freedom to reject him.

    This freedom is the reason for him to hide himself, not overpowering us
    by any unassailable proofs of his existence. The evidence for any
    miracle and "mighty work" of his is contingent on the witnesses' and
    listeners'/readers' faith. And this freedom is my main theological
    reason for believing that he is using evolution as a method of creating.
    I doubt that spontaneous, autonomous processes are adequate to explain
    the origin and evolution of the biosphere, but with the Creator's
    planning and direction (however he does it), such processes need not be
    a problem.

    So, how do I harmonize evolution with the creation story of Gen.1-2? A
    detailed attempt has been proposed in: A. Held & P. Ruest, "Genesis
    reconsidered", PSCF 51/4 (Dec. 1999), 231-243;

    > Why should science be unable to detect the creator's work? What if the
    > derivation of biologically functional sequence is such evidence detected by
    > science? Can you further explain the statement "his options being hidden in
    > stochastic and quantum uncertainties."

    Science certainly detects the Creator's work, but it cannot attribute it
    to him, because this would reach out into the theological dimension
    inaccessible to science. What can science do with an observation? There
    are different cases:
    (1) When science is able to "explain" an observation, it will be in
    terms of simpler entities or even physical primitives, on the basis of
    accepted fundamental theories like quantum mechanics or special
    relativity. That's all. But a believer knows that God is doing it and
    that all these entities and "laws of nature" have been created and
    developed by him.
    (2) If science is (presumably as yet) unable to explain the observation,
    it just acknowledges ignorance and waits and searches for future
    (3) There may be cases where science recognizes a fundamental inability
    to probe further, such as those connected with Goedel's theorem or
    Heisenberg's uncertainty principle; then that's a definite stop.
    (4) There may be cases where further research into a type of events is
    possible, but not into a historically given unique event of this type,
    such as the cause of a mutation producing a genetic disease in a given
    person, or a chain of critical steps in the evolution of the first
    active cytochrome c.

    But whatever occurred in a historical development, it's God who does it.
    All we can do to research such an occurrence is either
    (1) try to recreate it in experiments (usually not feasible), or
    (2) try to simulate it computationally (difficult to do realistically),
    (3) try to do probability estimates, taking random occurrence and
    (possibly) natural selection as the null hypothesis. For individual
    events, this won't yield any significance, as the probabilities are
    rather high, but for longer chains of specific unselected steps, we
    might reach transastronomical improbabilities. Then, what do we
    conclude? For science, that's the end of the road, but for
    philosophical/theological considerations, we might compare alternative
    "explanations", such as God not just working through normal stochastic
    and "naturally" determined processes, but deliberately guiding/selecting
    the right events (which represents what I call his "hidden options",
    because inaccessible by scientific investigation), or
    infinitely-many-universes speculations (which are definitely
    inaccessible by science), whichever looks more plausible, considering
    Ockham's razor.

    Howard Van Till's speculation is "creation's functional integrity",
    which, to my understanding, evades the issue, claiming in effect that
    there is nothing to explain in the biological realm. In my "Creative
    providence in biology", PSCF 53/3 (Sept. 2001), 179-183; + ...RustFig1.jpg;
    ...Ruest.html, I proposed what I consider a more realistic way of
    looking at God's creation and providence. That paper was the occasion of
    my discussions with Howard and others on this listserve.


    Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
    <> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
    "..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)

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