From: Jim Armstrong (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Fri Jan 24 2003 - 17:06:11 EST
Thank you Don for the nicely articulated introduction. I am also a
recent arrival on the thread. We appear to be at somewhat the same place
in life, except I hail from a physics/engineering career.
Boy, I really identify with the substance and tone of the first ten or
so paragraphs, and in particular the observations regarding the word of
God and infallibility.
But I wanted to respond to the evolution matter.
Unlike yourself, I was struck early on by the simplicity and elegance of
the organic evolution process and the principles that guide it. At the
time, my sense was that the "specialness" of man came as God breathed
into him something that he was not as a biological entity. I saw the
organic evolution process as a pretty simple "how" insight into the
creation process. Even in my high school days, with no particular
guidance one way or the other, I sensed that the Genesis timing was
metaphorical. Consequently, I felt no conflict between scripture and
evolution, even though this was not the mainstream thinking of my church
The word "random" commonly used in discussions like these was perhaps
better rendered by your use of "haphazard". First of all, I don't think
we stand on a tall enough box to pronounce a characterization like that.
But I really react to both words because they do not properly
characterize the biological processes of evolution. The course of
evolution and its processes are in fact guided by many constraints
(e.g., molecular, chemical, electrical, thermal, environmental, social,
etc.) and therefore the word "random" at the outset does not apply. That
said, it is more reasonable that one could perceive the progression of
the evolutionary tree as haphazard, with its terminated branches and
ever-changing and non-optimal "designs". Indeed, some folks have sadly
just concluded that the whole thing is aimless in its wandering and
pointless in objectives. But I would suggest that it isn't in fact
haphazard at all, but that it is very obediently following its own
internal guidance system, as intended.
But more to the point, the world of mathematics (of all things!) has
shown us some very interesting and insightful things in recent years,
particularly from the studies of complexities and chaos. One such
insight is that it takes only a very small number of "rules" (starting
conditions, operational constraints, etc.) to cause a structured and
predetermined outcome in a dynamic system, while leaving degrees of
freedom with respect to how that outcome is achieved. An fun
illustration resides something called the Chaos Game. It is misnamed (it
has to do with fractals and not much with chaos per se), but it shows
how exceedingly spartan starting conditions (3 dots not in a line), one
rule, and one simple action repeated (hundreds or thousands of times)
can produce an astonishingly structured and interesting result, even
when randomness is introduced through use of a dice throw.
A good description of the "game" may be found at
and an excellent automated illustration is at
where you can mess with the layout of the starting points or even add a
new point one if you wish.
Our universe is exquisitly simple at its foundations - a 3-dimensional
space and time dimension, 3 quarks as building blocks for all of matter
as we know it, four forces ("rules") to guide the way they interact
(gravity, weak and strong interactions and electromagnetism) and an
infusion of energy (matter in its other costume) to make things happen.
And just look what incredible music this simple orchestra has created!!
One of the best-known concepts to flow from the studies of chaos and
complexity is the sensitivity of a system to changes in any part of the
system (the flap of the butterfly wing). It is even more sensitive to
its starting conditions. When suitably designed, very chaotic and
complex systems can be made to move toward particular and predefined
outcomes without prescribing or even necessarily knowing what path the
system will take to get there. There can be a gazillion alternative ways
for the system to drive to its ultimate desired outcome, and the way
such a system picks its way through its options to its objective could
very well be described as haphazard.
There are many systems embodying so-called attractor attributes
-"attracting" (or determing in some way at some level) the system to
some desired state or outcome. It may even proceed from that state or
outcome to another objective. This is very real behavior. Your heart is
one such system. It has a attractors that operate in a sequence to
specific states, the lub and dub being the evidence of two of them
(contractions). The attractor behavior of the heart system allows it to
resume natural function even when the rhythm is momentarily disturbed by
something like a hard fall on your chest. To relate a little bit better
to the higher topic of our discussion, if you look at any snapshop of
such a system (at a given time, or some subset of the system), it might
be pretty difficult to glean from that snapshot what the objective of
the system is, thought you might get some idea of how it is happening.
But it is happening any, whether or not we can fathom its ends.
Finally, another very recent insight from this same world of mathematics
and simulation was a big surprise. It has been known for some time that
a single rule (or very small number of simple rules) embodied in a
complex system could cause a system to self-organize (like those just
discussed) and subsequently behave in a structured way. The huge
surprise is the finding that one does not even need a single rule!! The
beingness of the elements, the nature of them, is sufficient to cause
them to self-organize when energy is introduced, even without the rules.
All of this is to say that "haphazard" is a description that one might
reasonably apply to the active evolving workings of creation, IF we only
view a portion of its workings. That absolutely does not preclude,
however, that there is a bigger picture at work. The bulk of the natural
world portion of its workings may very well be operating primarily in
accordance with starting conditions and rules laid down at the very
beginning. [In fact, there are some very interesting insights emerging
as to the necessary number of conditions imposed at the "big bang"
itself - there seem to be only a few of them, and some of them appear to
be required to left "loose", to be determined by the system itself as it
evolves - introducing randomness and maybe even choice (of a sort) from
the very outset]. Evolution follows a few simple rules and in that sense
is quite deliberate in its operation. But, the paths it may explore are
many, and convoluted, and with many dead ends. It's just the way the
natural world was designed to do its job.
The evidence pouring from the Human Genome project and a huge and
dynamic body of collateral work just weighs too heavily in favor of
affirming the natural evolution of all living kind in one continuous
piece of cloth - an incredibly luminous and creative fabric stretched on
an unimaginably generous and still active loom. Our trust is in the loom
builder and we need not distrust the picture of evolution, and the
increasing resolution of the picture of its operation provided by
efforts like the Human Genome Project (headed by a practicing and
articulate Christian, Francis Collins). We are privileged to view it (or
more correctly, a portion of it), and it's just one more awe-inspiring
insight into the way God conducts his creative business in the natural
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Fri Jan 24 2003 - 17:37:39 EST