and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.
Philosophical overview of Evolution and Science Controversy
Typologies and information taken primarily from Ian G. Barbour, When science meets religion: Enemies, strangers, or partners?
Conflict - first codified in late 19th century by Draper and White. Used selective data to promote their thesis that science and religion were mutually exclusive, not representative of most cultural examples they used. Claim is that science and religion make rival literal statements about the same domain, so a person must choose between them. Both sides agree that a person cannot both believe in God and evolution. Use rhetoric of warfare. Media promotes this typology.
Independence - Science and Religion can be distinguished by the questions which they ask, the domains to which they refer, and the methods which they employ. Each mode of inquiry is selective and has its limitations. Compartmentalization is motivated not simply by the desire to avoid unnecessary conflicts but also by the desire to be faithful to the distinctive character of each area of life and thought.
Dialogue - Dialogue portrays more constructive relationships between Science and Religion. Dialogue may arise from considering the presuppositions of the scientific enterprise, or from exploring similarities between the methods of science and those of religion, or from analyzing concepts in one field that are analogous to those in the other. Dialogue emphasizes similarities in presuppositions, methods, and concepts.
Integration - Three distinct versions of Integration: Natural Theology, Theology of Nature, and Systematic Synthesis, such as Process Philosophy.
Natural Theology - The existence of God can be inferred from, or is supported by, the evidence of design in nature, of which science has made us more aware.
Theology of Nature - The main sources of theology lie outside science, but scientific theories may affect the reformulation of certain doctrines, esp. regarding creation and human nature.
Process Philosophy - Both science and religion contribute to an inclusive metaphysics.
The view that one cannot with intellectual integrity be both a theist and a neo-Darwinist.
1. Evolutionary Materialism (Neo-Darwinists)
Dawkins, epistemological reductionism. "Matter is the fundamental reality" p. 94
Dennet, scientific materialism/naturalism "In a protracted critique of Gould, he insists that mutations and natural selection are the only factors responsible for the direction of evolutionary change." p. 95 Barbour
2. Theistic Critics of Neo-Darwinism
Johnson and other fundamentalists accept microevolution, but not macroevolution. Cites paucity of transitional forms in fossil record... Johnson argues that "random mutations could not have produced the coordinated functioning of many parts that occurs in complex organisms. An effective eye, for example, requires not only the coordination of diverse parts but also the presence of neural and cerebral structures." p. 97
(See also Nelson, Evolution Dissected.)
Scientific critics of Johnson - "But broad theories in science are judged in part by their ability to explain a wide range of data of differing kinds." p. 97 Johnson has not offered any data to support his position, say scientific critics.
Theological critics of Johnson - Johnson assumes that theism requires belief that God intervenes in gaps in the scientific account. "They suggest that he has not adequately distinguished scientific theories themselves from the philosophical position of their atheistic interpreters. So he has ended by agreeing with the exponents of evolutionary materialism that one cannot believe in both God and Neo-Darwinism." Pp. 97-98.
Behe, a biochemist, argues that the "irreducible complexity" of biochemical systems shows that they could not have developed gradually; it would have had to have been created all at once. Most scientists are critical of Behe's views, stating that biochemical systems build on pre-existing components, and are not made from scratch. Theological critics say that Behe has introduced a God-of-the gaps, with his ideas of special creationism.
"No conflict between science and religion can occur if they are completely independent enterprises that differ in their methods, their domains, and their functions in human life." p. 99
1. Contrasting Domains and Methods
National Academy of Sciences (1984) "Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought whose presentation in the same context leads to misunderstanding of both scientific theory and religious belief."
Stephen Jay Gould (ROA) – NOMA – "A magesterium is a domain of teaching authority. 'The magesterium of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The magesterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value.' Each domain has its own distinctive questions, rules, and criteria of judgment." p. 100 Gould is critical of theologians and scientists who try to mix the two. "Gould is critical of any natural theology that expects science to yield religious conclusions." p. 100
Neo-orthodoxy has no difficulty accepting the findings of evolutionary biology, because it (neo-orthodoxy) holds that God acts in human history, primarily in the person of Christ, rather than in the natural world. It finds the argument from design and all forms of natural theology suspect for relying on human reason rather than on divine revelation. According to neo-orthodoxy, the doctrine of creation is not a theory about beginnings or about subsequent natural processes; it is an affirmation of dependence on God and the essential good ness and orderliness of the world." p. 100-101 Scripture should be taken seriously, but not literally...
Linguistic analysis proponents say that each self-contained language system have their own distinctive rules and functions. "Religious language expresses a way of life through the rituals, stories, and practices of a religious community. Creation stories, in particular, provide a cosmic framework of meaning and practical guidance for living. Science, on the other hand, asks strictly delimited questions in the interest of prediction and control. Stephen Toulmin suggests that extrapolating evolution to support either atheism or theism is an illegitimate mixing of languages." p. 101
2. Primary and Secondary Causality
From the tradition of Aquinas, "God as primary cause works through the secondary causes that science investigates. Because the two kinds of cause operate at totally different levels, scientific analysis can be carried out on its own terms with no reference to theology, as advocates of Independence maintain. The scientific account is complete on its own level, with no gaps in which God would have to intervene, while the theologian can say that God sustains and makes use of the whole natural sequence." p. 102 (See Carl Zimmer, Evolution, pp. 313ff, Asa Gray & esp. p. 338, Kenneth Miller, Keith Miller).
Jesuit scientist William Stoeger :God acts through the laws of nature, using them as instruments for achieving intended goals. Stoeger has 3 convictions:
- We must respect the integrity of the created order and the integrity of science.
- God's transcendence and radical otherness should be acknowledged.
- The creation of persons was central in God's purposes.
Physicist Howard Van Till - in response to Johnson (creationist) - insists that evolutionary science must be carefully distinguished from both philosophical naturalism and Christian theism. Van Till (like Stoeger) defends the integrity of the created order: "Nature was created as a developmental economy without gaps or deficiencies that had to be remedied later.... But the absence of gaps does not imply that the world is closed to divine action, as deism assumed." p. 103
Dialogue explores conceptual parallels between evolutionary theory and theological doctrines: 1) complexity and self-organization, 2) communication of information; and 3) top-down causality between levels.
1. Complexity and Self-Organization - How did complex organic molecules arise from less complex? Scientific data suggests how higher levels of order can emerge. Examples are change of a disorganized, nonstable state to an equilibrium state, development of a vortex in the disordered turbulence of a river, and the appearance of a complex pattern of convection cells in the circulation of a fluid heated from below. Prigogine has analyzed many inanimate self-organizing systems in which disorder at one level leads to order at a higher level, with new laws governing the behavior of structures showing new types of complexity. Connections are made to quantum theory, which recognizes the interplay of law and chance. Concepts of determinism and reductionism are called into question by the scientific evidence and theoretical models of quantum theory:
"Stuart Kaufmann finds common patterns... [of self-organization in systems such as] molecules, neural networks, ecosystems, and technological and economic systems.... These systems show similar emergent systemic properties not present in their components. ... [While many of his ideas are speculative and exploratory,] he finds that order emerges spontaneously in complex systems, especially on the border between order and chaos. Too much order makes change impossible; too much chaos makes continuity impossible. Complexity at one level leads to simplicity at another level. Disorder is often the precondition for the appearance of a new form of order." p. 105
2. The Concept of Information - How are knowledge and meaning transmitted? Theological view (Polkinghorne) is that the Divine Word (logos) can be viewed as the communication of rational structure and meaning when the world is interpreted in a wider context (wider than just humans??). Theologians use concept of information a "source of new analogies for talking about God." p. 61
Scientific view of information is "an ordered pattern that is one among many possible sequences or states of a system... The meaning of the message is dependent on a wider context of interpretation. It must be viewed dynamically and relationally rather than in purely static terms as if the message were contained in the pattern itself." p. 106. DNA is a linear message which leads to a 3-dimensional structure (protein), which in turn leads to function. "A very complex set of genetic regulatory programs with activators and repressors switches the activity of gene systems on and off, so that the right kind of cell is produced at the right place and at the right time in the growing embryo and in the continuing functioning of the organism." p. 106 DNA functions within a larger context - cytoplasm, organism, ecosystem... "Each unit receives stability by being nested in a larger whole to whose stability and dynamism it contributes. As Jeffery Wicken puts it, 'Nature produces itself hierarchically - one level establishing the ground of its own stability by using mechanisms made available by lower levels, and finding functional contexts at higher levels." pp. 106-107.
"Perception is the selective transmission of information about the environment. ... Perception is an active process in which patterns important to survival are picked out and organized. ... sentience seems to involve an internal dimension, an elementary awareness, feeling, and a capacity for pain and pleasure. These capacities were presumably selected for their survival value. Pain serves an alarm system for action to avoid harm. By the time a central nervous system appeared, there was a coordinating network and anew level of interaction of experience, which developed eventually into consciousness and finally self-consciousness. Higher primates are capable of symbolic communication of information, and human beings can use words to express abstract concepts." p. 107
3. A Hierarchy of Levels - Can complex systems (organisms) by understood through analysis of their components? Is the whole more than the sum of its parts?
Theologians are interested in top-down causality, a feature within biological systems. Scientists study structural systems (quark, nucleus, atom... system, ecosystem), functional systems, e,g, reproductive hierarchy (gene, genome, organism, population) or neural hierarchy (molecule, synapse, neuron, neural network, brain, and body). Each level within a system may be focus of study, which can lead to reductionisms...
Methodological reductionism - a research strategy which has been successful in biology, and is not incompatible with multilevel analysis and the study of larger systems.
Epistemological reductionism - the claim that laws and theories at one level of analysis can be derived from laws and theories at lower levels. Barbour argues that physical and chemical laws are not enough to explain biological systems. Barbour does argue for "interlevel" theories which may connect levels, without making one level more fundamental or important than another. (It's all physics!)
Ontological reductionism - The whole is equal to the sum of its parts. Barbour disagrees - and proposes "ontological pluralism, a multilevel view of reality in which differing (epistemological) levels of analysis are taken to refer to differing (ontological) levels of events and processes in the world... In evolutionary history, novel forms of order emerged that not only could not have been predicted from laws and theories governing previously existing forms, but also gave rise to genuinely new kinds of behavior and activity in nature." p. 109
Holism - levels are defined not by size but by functional and dynamic relationships. Bottom-up causation occurs when many subsystems influence a system. Top-down causation is the influence of a system on many subsystems. Boundary conditions are imposed by higher levels, which could not be predicted at lower levels. An example of top-down causality are the huge jaws of a soldier termite to show influence of system on individual organism, which requires other castes of the society to feed the soldier.
"The idea of top-down causality has also been extended by theologians who suggest that God acts as a top-down cause from a higher level without violating the laws describing events at lower levels. God would be the ultimate boundary condition, setting the constraints within which events in the world occur." p. 111
1. Natural Theology - Evolutionary Design
Is evolution a directional process? Is there evidence of design, or strictly chance? Over the short-term, evolution seems to have resulted in many directions of change. But over the long-range, evolutionary history "shows an overall trend toward greater complexity, responsiveness, and awareness. The capacity of organisms to gather, store, and process information has steadily increased.... Could all this be the product of chance?" p. 111 The argument about the number of possible amino acid combinations is ungrounded in science, due to specific forces between amino acids, making the likelihood of certain combinations much greater than for others. "As larger structures are formed, stable combinations at various levels will stay together. Complexity comes into being by hierarchical stages, not in one gigantic lottery.... Evolution shows a subtle interplay of chance and law." p. 112
A theist may say, God controls the biological events that appear to be random... what about lethal mutations, blind alleys, and extinct species? Is God responsible for those mistakes, too??
Traditional theists equated design with a detailed, pre-existing blueprint. Early theologians were influence by Aristotle's' "eternal order of ideas behind the material world." p. 112 In the Integration view, evolution suggests another understanding of design - a general direction but no detailed plan... In this view, there is increasing order and information but no predictable final state.... Chance and law are complementary rather than conflicting features of nature. Random events at one level may lead to statistical regularities at a higher level of aggregation.... Chance would be part of design, and not incompatible with it." p. 113
"Today we think of God as the designer of a self-organizing system." p. 113 Barbour adds that this view of God makes God seem "distant and inactive God of deism, a far cry from the active God of the Bible..." p. 114
2. Theology of Nature - God and Continuing Creation
Peacocke has written extensively about models of God in an evolutionary world. God is the creator, conveying meaning through the patterns of nature; God is the choreographer of an ongoing dance or the composer of a still-unfinished symphony; change is God's radar beam sweeping through the diverse potentialities that are invisibly present in each configuration in the world. Chance is a way of exploring the range of potential forms of matter. p. 114
Peacocke also used the idea of top-down causality, with God at the highest level, who acts on the world as a constraint or boundary condition without violating lawful relationships at lower levels. Peacocke also uses the whole/part relations by considering God as the all-encompassing whole for which natural organisms are parts. p. 115
3. Process philosophy
Process thought "rejects determinism, allows for alternative potentialities, and accepts the presence of chance as well as lawful relationships among events. It shares with evolutionary theory the conviction that processes of change are more fundamental then enduring substances and that no absolute line separates human from nonhuman life, either historically or in the world today." Pp. 115-116
"The process view is ecological in conceiving of the world as a network of interactions in which every entity is constituted by its relationships." p. 116
"In process though, God is the source of order and also the source of novelty. God presents new possibilities to the world but leaves alternatives open, eliciting the response of entities in the world. As source of novelty God is present in the interiority of every event as it unfolds, but God never exclusively determines the outcomes. This is a God of persuasion rather than coercion.... God is not an omnipotent ruler but the leader and inspirer of an interdependent community of beings..." p. 117