Re: BIBLE/ORIGINS: seeking feedback

From: Jim Armstrong (
Date: Fri Jan 24 2003 - 17:06:11 EST

  • Next message: "Re: BIBLE/ORIGINS: seeking feedback"

    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

    Jim Armstrong

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