Evolutionary indeterminists argue that irreducible evolutionary indeterminism is real, whereas evolutionary determinists deny this. This, then, is the point on which the entire debate turns. What sorts of arguments can each side marshal in defense of its claims? Evolutionary indeterminists offer four arguments in support of irreducible evolutionary indeterminism. Each is examined below, along with responses by evolutionary determinists.
According to standard presentations of evolutionary theory, natural selection is a sampling process operating on heritable variation in fitness among individuals at some level of the biological hierarchy. That is, natural selection is the process that sorts biological entities on the basis of differences in their fitness. Those biological entities with greater fitness will tend to enjoy greater biological success survival, reproduction, or both than those entities with less fitness.
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There is, of course, no guarantee that greater fitness will always translate directly into greater biological success. Although fitter organisms will, on average, tend to be more biologically successful, events can always interfere with this outcome. According to a widely accepted view, selection operates directly on such propensities. Evolutionary indeterminists accept the interpretation of fitness as a propensity, noting that at best there is a probabilistic relationship between fitness and actual biological success.
If so, then fitness as a propensity for biological success constitutes a genuinely probabilistic property of biological entities and hence warrants the claim for irreducible evolutionary indeterminism. Evolutionary determinists reject this argument.
The problem lies not with the propensity interpretation of fitness per se, which they can readily accept, but rather with the unexamined assumption that selection operates directly on fitness differences—an assumption that, on closer analysis, turns out to be false. Selection operates on phenotypic differences, but these phenotypic differences need not represent fitness differences Shanahan It might be tempting to respond that although overall fitness differences play no causal role in differential biological success, various components of overall fitness nonetheless do.
In the example above, the two organisms differed in their components of fitness. In an environment that includes a disease epidemic, perhaps it was the fitness difference in one of the components i. But even here, what directly determines an organism's fate is not its propensity for surviving disease but rather the specific way in which its properties in fact interact with those of the environment, resulting in its survival Shanahan , To see this, consider an analogy.
For any fair coin, we may say that when flipped it has a propensity for coming up heads 50 percent of the time. Suppose that we flip the coin and it comes up heads. If we now ask why it came up heads on this particular toss, it is clear that appealing to its propensity for coming up heads roughly half of the time provides an explanation of sorts, but there is a deeper explanation available in which propensities play no part whatsoever.
The factors that caused this particular coin to come up heads on this particular toss were its initial position on the back of the flipper's thumb, the amount of force applied, the number of turns in the air, the elasticity of the surface it landed on, and the like. Knowing that it is a fair coin and thus has a certain propensity may help us to predict how a series of tosses is likely to turn out. But if we flip the coin a number of times, and it comes up heads a certain number of times, it is still not the case that its propensity for coming up heads was the cause of this outcome.
This outcome came about because of the particular factors operative in each toss of the coin. The total number of times the coin comes up heads is simply a product of these individual factors. The coin's propensity per se plays no causal role whatsoever. To bring the discussion back to biology, fitness as a propensity for biological success is not a property of an organism that causally interacts with the environment, and thus it plays no causal role in the process of evolution itself. Why, then, does the concept of fitness play such an important role in evolutionary theory?
For the evolutionary determinist, the answer is straightforward: The concept of fitness allows us to make useful generalizations and predictions. Dark-colored moths in a predominantly dark e. Hence we are justified in claiming that the dark-colored moths have greater fitness, and we might accordingly expect the relative proportion of dark- to light-colored moths to increase in the course of several generations.
One can say that a given organism was more biologically successful than another because of the former's superior fitness, but this is just a shorthand description that leaves open the question of why this organism fared better than its conspecifics. There is no doubt that probabilistic concepts like fitness play an essential role in evolutionary explanations Ariew But the considerable utility of the concept of fitness in evolutionary theory provides no reason to conclude that the process of natural selection involves any irreducibly indeterministic element Graves et al.
A second argument for evolutionary indeterminism focuses on the concept of drift. It can occur in several ways Beatty First, among sexual organisms a kind of lottery takes place in which some genes do, and some do not, find their way into gametes and hence have the possibility of being transmitted to the next generation. If there is no strong selection for or against the genes in question, gene frequencies can drift in a direction unrelated to selection pressures. Despite the lack of selective advantage of a trait in a population, that trait might still increase in the population from one generation to the next just because more of the individuals possessing that trait happened by chance to survive and reproduce than did those lacking the trait.
Because such changes are random with respect to fitness differences among individuals, they cannot be predicted from a knowledge of fitness differences. At best, we can assign probabilities to estimates of the relative frequencies of such traits in future generations.
According to evolutionary indeterminists, such probabilities in evolutionary theory represent irreducible indeterminism in the processes themselves. Critics of evolutionary determinism have insisted that drift is both real and an indispensable concept in evolutionary theory Brandon and Carson , Millstein , In response, evolutionary determinists point out that establishing the reality or evolutionary significance of drift is one thing, but showing that drift entails a distinctive form of evolutionary indeterminism is another matter entirely.
They maintain that the fundamental principle of evolutionary determinism is operative here no less than in cases of natural selection: Whether the events in question concern genes or phenotypic characteristics, in all contexts outside of the peculiar domain of quantum mechanics we are justified in assuming that identical causes result in identical effects. Given the same genetic and developmental events, in the same environment, the same evolutionary effects will follow. If the evolutionary indeterminist responds that this is more a restatement of determinism than an independent argument for it, the evolutionary determinist can reply that the burden of proof lies with the evolutionary indeterminist to show why this general principle, accepted by evolutionary indeterminists in all contexts outside of quantum mechanics, fails to apply with equal force to evolutionary processes.
Rather than make a direct appeal to principles, the evolutionary determinist can also ask us to consider the nature of drift as a causal process by considering a relatively simple example. Suppose that a forest fire sweeps through an area, killing 90 percent of a breeding population, and that survival is unrelated to fitness differences. Presumably one could not, before the fire struck, predict to a high degree of accuracy precisely which organisms would survive and which ones would perish based on a knowledge of the particular traits of each organism.
Yet in retrospect the differential survivorship is fully explainable in terms of a set of sufficient causes that resulted in precisely that outcome. Some organisms survived because they were located near the periphery rather than near the center of the fire and so were able to escape.
Those able to escape did so because their sensory organs interacted with factors in the environment such that they identified the location of the fire engaged their locomotory apparatus, and fled directly away from it. Others perished because their brains misinterpreted the data from their sensory organs and ran toward, rather than away from, the fire. The behavior of each of these organisms could be specified further in terms of individual neurobiological and physiological processes. In each case the organism possessed some set of physical properties that, in causal interaction with the environment, resulted in differential biological success.
At no point is there any need to appeal to irreducibly indeterministic processes. A third argument for evolutionary indeterminism proposes to dispense with thought experiments by treating the issue as an empirical problem that can be settled by experimental investigation. They offer an experimental test of the evolutionary determinist thesis: Many organisms are clonable, and clones may be placed in the same carefully controlled environment, with the results recorded. When this is done, the results are unequivocal.
Despite the genetic identity and identity of environmental conditions for the plants grown by Bever , there were significant differences among the phenotypes of the resulting plants. Brandon and Carson take this as an empirical refutation of evolutionary determinism and therefore as a vindication of evolutionary indeterminism. Predictably, evolutionary determinists find this argument unconvincing. First, this example concerns development rather than evolution. An argument for irreducible biological indeterminism with regard to development will not sustain the claim of irreducible evolutionary indeterminism.
Second, even if the connection between developmental indeterminism and evolutionary indeterminism could be made, in the experiments cited there is no way to control for indeterminism resulting from quantum-level effects, which are not at issue in the debate over irreducible evolutionary indeterminism.
As chaos theory makes clear, there are limits to the precision of any measurement of initial conditions, and these limits cannot, even in principle, be transcended. Initial conditions can therefore vary even if we are unable to detect such differences. Over time these small initial differences can be compounded into huge, macroscopically significant effects. Chaos theory gives determinism a new lease on life. Living things are the most complex entities known. It is among living things, most of all, that one would expect to see the effects of chaos in action.
An experimental refutation of evolutionary determinism therefore seems doomed to failure. Evolutionary indeterminists maintain that a commitment to scientific realism requires accepting the idea that the probabilistic concepts appearing in evolutionary theory refer to irreducibly indeterministic processes. Brandon and Carson point out that in science the positing of theoretical entities is taken seriously only when a positing such entities aids the development of theory and b the available empirical evidence supports the assumption that such entities exist.
In addition, whereas all the evidence supports the idea of probabilistic propensities, the notion of deterministic hidden variables in evolution is contradicted by the empirical data. On both theoretical and empirical grounds, therefore, evolutionary indeterminism should be accepted. This argument is problematic for several reasons. First, the relationship between scientific realism and evolutionary indeterminism is far more complex than this argument suggests Weber Second, as Brandon and Carson admit, the experimental evidence they cite is perfectly consistent with a deterministic interpretation of evolution.
What are considered hidden variables at one stage of science e. Finally, and most critically, this argument conflates evolutionary theory with the process of evolution. Even if a given perspective is theoretically useful, it does not follow that the entities postulated are real consider the ontological status of epicycles in Ptolemaic cosmology. Because both deterministic and indeterministic phenomena can be described probabilistically, the fact that a theory is probabilistic is no guarantee that the processes it describes are indeterministic. Hence, arguments that appeal to a realist conception of science lend no support to the claim of evolutionary indeterminism.
Showing that arguments for a given view fail is insufficient to establish the contrary view, because there may be insufficient reasons in support of either view. What positive arguments can evolutionary determinists offer in support of their view? Besides pointing out that the various arguments for evolutionary indeterminism fail, evolutionary determinists maintain that only their view conforms with the understanding of the world required by the physical sciences. The unity of the sciences argument: According to our best physical theories, all macrolevel physical processes are apart from any indeterministic effects percolating up from the quantum level entirely deterministic.
Evolutionary processes such as selection, drift, and migration are all macro-level physical processes. Therefore, evolutionary processes are apart from any indeterministic effects percolating up from the quantum level entirely deterministic. Any indeterminism associated with biological properties would have to be explicable in terms of properties at a subbiological level.
But our best understanding of the physical structure of the world provides no reason to suppose that there are sources of indeterminism in physical systems in addition to those associated with quantum phenomena. Were the claims of evolutionary indeterminism true, a fundamental revision in our understanding of the physical world would be required on a par with that which accompanied quantum mechanics a century ago. Evolutionary determinists remain unconvinced that adequate motivation exists for any such drastic revision of worldview.
In the absence of such motivation, evolutionary determinism should be embraced. Despite its apparent simplicity, this argument for evolutionary determinism faces problems of its own. On the one hand, it emphasizes that our understanding of evolution should accord with our understanding of the purely physical domain. If the purely physical domain is deterministic, then so too is the biological domain. Yet our understanding of the physical domain does not come to us in unfiltered form directly from nature itself.
It is mediated by our best scientific theories: that is, the theories that have proved most theoretically fruitful and empirically adequate. Those theories tell us that apart from any quantum-level effects the physical world is fully deterministic. But if so, then the evolutionary indeterminist can point out that ultimately the evolutionary determinist is putting faith in the referential success of our best scientific theories in a given domain to tell us what the phenomena in that domain are really like.
This is, of course, precisely what the evolutionary indeterminist proposes to do with regard to our best theories of evolutionary phenomena. The dilemma: The evolutionary determinist cannot invest faith in the referential accuracy of our best physical theories while rejecting appeals to the referential accuracy of our best biological theories—unless, that is, scientific knowledge in one domain physics is to be privileged over that in another biology.
Doing so, however, is likely to encounter intense resistance among those who have labored long and hard to argue that, whereas biology is indeed distinct from physics in fundamental respects, it is no less scientific and no less revealing of the nature of the world Mayr , As David Stamos speculates, although the debate between evolutionary indeterminists and evolutionary determinists appears to be about the nature of evolutionary processes, at a deeper level the disagreement concerns the more fundamental issue of the relationship between biology and the physical sciences.
Evolutionary indeterminists argue that the success of evolutionary theory warrants the claim that the probabilities it uses are objective features of the processes it describes, even if this requires positing indeterminacies that have no explanation in chemistry or physics. Evolutionary indeterminists do not consider this problematic, because evolutionary theory and biology more generally already deploys concepts that transcend explication in purely physical terms e.
Methodologically and conceptually, biology enjoys considerable autonomy from the physical sciences. Evolutionary determinists, on the other hand, argue that, although biology can and must make use of concepts that have no direct analogue in the physical sciences, nonetheless the processes described by these concepts must all, at the end of the day, be explicable in purely physical terms. Evolutionary determinists uphold consilience within and among the findings of various branches of science as a fundamental requirement for a unified scientific conception of the universe.
In support of this value, they can appeal to the example of Darwin, who took the idea of consilience very seriously, as he was convinced and attempted to convince others that the broad range of facts drawn from widely different sciences e. In addition, evolutionary determinists can point out that Darwin was genuinely worried that estimates of the age of Earth provided by the physical sciences of his day provided insufficient time for the slow march of evolution to have reached its present state, a worry that would make sense only if he believed that ultimately the physical and biological sciences revealed a single interconnected but immensely complex world.
His notion of the glory of God is at once awe-inspiring and ominous. One may then extend the argument to include God's responsibility for the emergence of sin. If human fallenness is a necessary or inevitable function of human evolution, then salvation in Jesus Christ has to address not only human fallenness but also the underlying problem that gave rise to such fallenness. Dualist positions suggest that there is an underlying form of evil in the world that is often associated with that which is material, bodily and earthly, often with female embodiment Eve or with bodily passions.
Accordingly, sin may be regarded as the necessary by-product of bodily existence or human sexuality. In radical feminism, this is reversed so that a spurious parasitic maleness, feeding off women as creative life bearers, is regarded as the source of evil Ruether The sources of evil may also be located in the forces of chaos, darkness, formlessness, vacuity Moltmann , the so-called 'shadow side' of being a finite creature, or nothingness, that which God did not will Barth's Das Nichtige - which would make evil metaphysically necessary.
God's act of creation may then be regarded as a victory over the forces of chaos and destruction. And also of male rationality over female emotivity? Alternatively, the origins of evil may be found in the figure of Satan a fallen angel? However, any sustained form of dualism would undermine God's sovereignty, suggesting that there is something outside of God's control. The problem is not only that this would be blasphemous but also that it leaves the victims of history without hope.
If sin is not God's will, it at least does not go beyond God. God can use sin and invert it for salvific purposes - as demonstrated in the horrifying execution through the cross. Likewise, chaos does not lie outside God's freedom and may be used by God for creative purposes, even to play with Van Ruler As John Hick already recognised, the problem is that sin is either rendered impossible by the created perfection of human beings implying their presumed original righteousness or else is so very possible that it is excusable.
Sin is thus made more or less inevitable by the recognition of some inherent flaw that renders us vulnerable to temptation which again makes God responsible for sin. Moreover, if sin is truly inexplicable, must it be understood as a form of self-creation ex nihilo in the midst of a wholly good world created by God?
Does monism not then revert to dualism?
As Robert Williams observed:. The classic doctrine is impaled on the first horn of the dilemma original righteousness excludes sin , while modern theological reconstructions are confronted with the other to acknowledge a flaw seems to equate finitude with sin. To put it mildly, this theological debate on the implications of evolution remains far from resolved. In the interim debates in sociobiology, evolutionary psychology and animal ethology on the interplay between competition and cooperation in the emergence of pro-sociality, proto-morality and human morality continue unabated.
As I have argued elsewhere Conradie b; Ricoeur , it may be helpful to clarify the distinct narrative or mythic frameworks within which the story is told of what went wrong in evolutionary history to eventually produce the social evil that we find in the world around us. In the circles of evolutionary biology, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, there is an underlying Manichaean vision where good and evil, survival and predation, conflict and cooperation are indeed more or less co-original. For some the moral of such a Manichaean version of the story is to accept the social Darwinian emphasis on the survival of the fittest.
Others suggest that we need to muster the forces of goodness, if necessary to rebel against our own genes Dawkins 15 , to sign a social contract to prevent an underlying conflict to have the last word. We have to save ourselves and we need to save the earth from ourselves. Or else we need to offer Stoic resistance given the recognition of an underlying tragic dimension to life and death. Such a moral of the story may be more plausible in terms of evolutionary history, but is also less palatable for the victims of that history. Although some theologians are drawn to a vision of the tragic as a response to the theodicy problem, most shy away from such a Manichaean version of the story.
However, they are also not attracted to the classic Augustinian position that sin is best understood as privatio boni. This narrative framework rejects both dualist explanations of evil a rival power as the cause of sin - which undermines God's sovereignty and monist explanations of evil which renders God ultimately responsible for human sin. However, to insist that the good is primary and evil a privation of the good seems less plausible in light of evolutionary history.
Southgate, for example, insists that evil is not a privation of the good, but a necessary concomitant of the creation of the good: 'the same processes that lead to the refinement of creaturely characteristics also lead to suffering and extinction' Southgate This prompts Southgate to 'drop the fall' Southgate ; Williams How, then, should the evolution of sin be understood see Deane-Drummond ? There is another option favoured by many theologians seeking to ensure compatibility with evolutionary history, namely, within an Irenaean narrative framework that emphasises a development path from innocence to maturity.
This position is neatly captured by Arthur Peacocke :. Human beings seem to be 'rising beasts' rather than 'fallen angels'. There is no evidence for a past paradisal, fully integrated, harmonious virtual existence of Homo sapiens , so how should this shape our understanding of the 'work of Christ' as 'redemption'?
Should we not now be regarding the 'work of Christ' less as the restoration of a past state of perfection than as the transformation into a new as-yet-unrealized state? How did and does the life, death and claimed resurrection of Jesus make any difference? In Redeeming Sin? I argued that such an Irenaean framework can still be interpreted in diverging ways so that this debate too remains unresolved Conradie b.
I also warned against conflating creation and fall by treating these as co-original, if not as alternating features of the human condition. For the victims of history, it remains necessary to make a distinction between creation and fall in order to maintain that 'this is not the way it's supposed to be' Plantinga S election and the survival of the fittest. In scholarly discourses on evolution, it is widely recognised that the phrase 'survival of the fittest' was introduced by Herbert Spencer although it was adopted by Darwin in the fifth edition of Darwin's On the Origin of Species.
The phrase is also questioned for accuracy in biological debates on evolution. Many would argue that the basic flaw is associated with the focus on individual specimens who are supposed to be the 'fittest' and therefore able to survive long enough to procreate. Instead, the emphasis should be on the best adapted within a specific environment. In addition, an emphasis on niche construction allows for an adaptation of the environment and not merely adaptation to environmental changes. Survival is also not the only aspect of natural selection as survival without procreation would be futile in evolutionary terms.
Moreover, many sociobiologists emphasise the role of cooperation rather than competitiveness e. Those who work together and hang together have a much better chance of survival. This applies especially to social species, and most notably among humans where children remain dependent on others for many years before they can procreate.
However, cooperation can serve diverging purposes - from raising children Hrdy to waging war see Fuentes One may conclude that natural selection is not best understood as a 'struggle' for the survival of the 'fittest'. As noted by Arthur Peacocke :. Natural selection involves many factors that include better integration with the ecological environment, more efficient utilization of available food, better care of the young, more cooperative social organization - and better capacity of surviving such 'struggles' as do occur remembering that it is in the interest of any predator that its prey survive as a species!
These qualifications are widely welcomed in theological discourse. However, the bottom line of natural selection on the basis of fitness within a particular environment in order to survive and procreate remains in force as an assumption in biological theories of evolution. This recognition is aggravated by the role of variation and subsequent mutations. Some mutations may be beneficial, but most are harmful and only beneficial once it becomes incorporated in organisms through natural selection Ayala The rest of the 'experiment' is simply discarded.
Those specimens that cannot 'adapt' die and become food for others. This allows for the evolution of species over the longer term. I think it is fair to state that theologians have found it hard to come to terms with this biological bottom line. As Lisa Sideris has argued, many feminist ethicists who have embraced evolutionary insights have underplayed the fierce struggle for survival in evolutionary history. The underlying problem is seldom stated in such terms, but one could raise the question as to how natural selection relates to divine election.
The implied wordplay may be facile, but this at least raises the question whether natural selection is indeed a matter of selecting. This is clearly an anthromorphic term as there is no conscious selection at stake; it is more a matter of being eliminated because of failed adaptation. However, at least for the second pelican chick it is a matter of not being 'selected' by the mother bird impure to eat according to Leviticus , associated with doom and destruction in Psalms , Isaiah , Zephaniah The problem lies deeper than personifying nature though.
In the biblical roots of the Christian tradition, there is overwhelming evidence that God responds to the cries of the weak and vulnerable, the outcasts and marginalised, the oppressed slaves rather than their oppressive slave masters, the colonised rather than the colonisers. This is of course open to theological interpretation, but the agenda is unmistakably set by liberation theology, black theology, Kairos theology, feminist theology, Minjung theology, Dalit theology and a variety of indigenous theologies. God is like a hen gathering her chickens Mt , albeit not like a pelican hen!
This poses an intractable theological problem: is God's work of salvation moving in a different direction compared to God's work of ongoing creation through evolution on the basis of natural selection see Conradie c, ? Does this not lead us back to Marcion where God as Saviour has to bring some correction to the botched job of God as Creator? There are different avenues available for a theological response to this problem, but none of these seems to be satisfactory at least in my view.
One somewhat secular? One may even welcome becoming food for others as a radical form of kenosis see McFague , but this option is hardly commendable and seems to come at the cost of the command to 'be fruitful and multiply'. Another option is to admit that God is on the side strong after all, at least among non-human animals.
If one can find God's providential hand in allowing only those foetuses that are viable to survive, would that make God the greatest abortionist of all Ayala ? Or would one want to see all of them survive in the name of a God coming up for the discarded? Another perhaps Lutheran solution may be to suggest that God takes the costs of evolution to heart through the incarnation and cross of Jesus Christ.
This suggests a God who suffers with us in our weakness. It is not a God who blesses the survival of the fittest; through the cross God identifies with the unfit, with those who do not survive. If so, the cross is regarded as a response to the costs of creation the Father's work and not so much to human sin so that God's work of creation and redemption again stand in tension with each other. Alternatively, one may hope for an eschatological resolution of the problem of premature death by offering solace to the victims of history human and non-human in a final victory over death, in a radically new creation where suffering will be no more.
This perhaps Anabaptist solution is followed by many scholars aware of the costs of evolution: 'death as a characteristic of frail, temporal creation … will be overcome through the new creation of all things for eternal life' Moltmann One may also argue that creation is God's ongoing project that remains experimental, open to trial and error, and incomplete. The evolution of life through natural selection was the only way in which God could allow for the emergence of life and for complex forms of life.
God the Saviour engages with the work creatura of God the Creator in such a way that nature is in the long run ever more profoundly transformed by grace. This Anglican and Catholic position is perhaps the dominant one in contemporary debates. However, such a position on nature and grace cannot be taken for granted given deep confessional differences in this regard nature and grace vs. A final option is to question the role of natural selection in biological evolution, for example, by arguing that natural selection is not the primary driver of biological or cultural evolution or that the term as used by biologists is reductionist.
This last option may obviously undermine a dialogue between evolutionary biology and Christian theology although a reminder may be appropriate that words such as adaptation, cooperation, competition, survival and selection are metaphors employed by biologists that can easily become ossified see Haught My sense is that theologians have typically failed to grapple with this obvious problem posed by evolutionary biology and, in an extreme form, by social Darwinism. This may simply be because divine election and natural selection are seldom placed in juxtaposition see Kuyper ; Van den Brink though.
Nevertheless, this clearly goes to the heart of the challenge posed by evolutionary biology to Christian theology, namely, to reflect on the identity and character of the God that Christians confess to trust. The facile response is that God loves all creatures, therefore comes up for the downtrodden and discarded against the strong and domineering, and will in the end establish victory over all suffering for all sentient creatures.
Would one expect such a God create and sustain life through the mechanism of natural selection though? Faith in this God remains deeply counter-intuitive and, for many, offensive, either because this God is too weak or too strong. Nietzsche, for one, recognised this challenge better than most others.
In often cited words, the biologist David Hull formulates the challenge starkly quoted, e. The evolutionary process is rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain and horror. He is now even the awful God pictured in the book of Job. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray. In brief, who are s elected by the triune God? If Christians confess that God cares for the weak, how does that relate to the Darwinian struggle for survival?
Is caring for the weak, poor and oppressed merely a requisite corrective to guard against the excesses of the strong? Or is God's care for the weak the heart of the Christian faith - as suggested by the notion of the preferential option for the poor in liberation theology and by a concern for God's justice in the Confession of Belhar? On this question there remain deep ecumenical divides, with some preferring a vulnerable God and others a God who can break the force of demonic powers.
Many would want a God who is persuasive rather than coercive, but an impotent God simply cannot liberate 'us', whoever may be included under that. Instead God's power has to be understood in the context of living relationships see Edwards Natural selection as explanation for morality and religion.
A last challenge posed by evolutionary biology to an understanding of the Christian faith concerns the use of natural selection to account for the emergence of morality and religion. As mentioned above, attempts to derive a particular ethic from theories of evolution in terms of the notion of 'the survival of the fittest' have been widely discredited. Four main criticisms have been raised: 1 that the survival of the fittest is biologically inaccurate given the role of cooperation among social species ; 2 that cultural factors play a role in human communities alongside biological factors although biology allegedly holds culture on a 'leash' Wilson - so that purely biological accounts of morality remain reductionist 19 ; 3 that this particular ethos is discredited given its social applications in eugenetics, Nazi ideology and unbridled capitalism; and 4 that this is a prime example of falling into the trap of the naturalistic fallacy by deriving an 'ought' from an 'is'.
It seems clear that conflicting moral prescriptions have been and could be derived from animal ethology or evolutionary thinking - in support of capitalism the role of competition , Marxism class struggle , militarism the fittest survive , socialism the need for cooperation among social species , environmentalism the resilience of ecosystems , anarchism a natural inclination towards cooperation and fascism eliminating the weak see Ruse One may conclude that the content of human morality cannot be derived merely from evolutionary biology as human behaviour cannot be reduced to genetic predispositions.
However, there is another dimension of the debate, namely, with reference to attempts to offer an explanation for the emergence of morality and of religion in terms of evolutionary theory in general and natural selection in particular for a survey, see Van den Brink If morality and religion may be found throughout all human communities and in diverse cultures, it seems mandatory to explain what the adaptive value of such features was in helping some communities to survive better than others.
There is a growing corpus of literature that situates the emergence of morality in hominin history with the tacit assumption that such morality needs to be compatible with the role of natural selection e. Joyce ; Ridley In studies on animal ethology, the development of forms of proto-morality among mammals, and especially primates, has been widely discussed in terms of capabilities for cooperation, empathy, compassion, comforting and peace-making see, e.
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In the context of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, the compatibility of an emerging sense of altruism with the role of 'selfish genes' Richard Dawkins prompted lively discussions. Such debates have been of interest to Christian ethicists see Deane-Drummond ; Messer , but my understanding is that this does not by itself pose any serious challenges to an understanding of the Christian faith.
There is no need to deny that human morality has to be anchored in mammalian sociality. The one exception may be where reductionionist assumptions are maintained in the sense that human morality can be fully explained in biological categories, thus underplaying the role of complexity that emerges through layers of information, enabling through complex feedback loops human freedom. At worst, ethics becomes nothing but a function of selfish genes. Such reductionism is widely criticised in Christian theology, but such critique is also found in other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.
There is indeed some lively debate on the interplay between self-interest, conflict, cooperation, empathy, reciprocity, altruism and love. Similarly, there have been several attempts to explain the emergence of religion and proto-religion in terms of theories of natural selection see also Du Toit What has been the adaptive value that religion added to human communities which enabled them to survive better in an otherwise hostile world where there is competition for resources?
Is religion an evolutionary useless by-product or perhaps a useful adaptation to support cohesiveness and cooperation in human communities following Durkheim? This question is often addressed with atheist assumptions, that is, without any reference to the possibility of divine revelation see Van den Brink , This is often correlated with a discussion of secularisation, namely, to explain why religion is no longer necessary as, arguably, it has little adaptive value in modern, industrialised societies.
Again, my understanding is that this debate does not by itself pose grave challenges to Christian theology on the basis of evolutionary biology. Christian theologians may well appreciate any historical studies that can illuminate the emergence of religion. Likewise, they may appreciate studies conducted in the field of the cognitive science of religion that seek to understand the cognitive processes involved in religious practices and the emergence of such capabilities. To locate a God-gene would help little to prove or disprove the viability of religion and even less to undermine the plausibility of the Christian trust in a triune God.
In the same way that processes of cultural evolution cannot be derived merely from biological evolution, the evolving Christian understanding of God cannot be derived merely from the emergence and evolution of religion. Christianity is one form of religion, but the critique of idolatry the theological critique of forms of Christianity suggests that its understanding of God is not merely one such notion of the divine alongside many others.
The question is not whether a notion of God emerged but which one. The whole history of the Jewish-Christian-Muslim tradition entails a debate on this question. A distinction thus needs to be made between evolutionary theory on the basis of biological evidence and the metaphysical assumptions that some theorists employ to explain the significance of such theory often dubbed as evolutionism - see Van den Brink To offer an explanation of the origins of morality and religion is not yet to offer an adequate justification for any particular form of morality or of religion or of its absence.
That is best regarded as the terrain of philosophy and theology see Van den Brink Scholars who opt for a confrontational model of the relationship between evolutionary biology and Christian theology typically fail to heed such a distinction. This applies to creationists and militant atheists alike.
This can only lead to confusion. Once such a distinction is acknowledged, the confrontational debates can arguably be resolved. However, the philosophical debate on the metaphysical assumptions of theories of natural selection is clearly not resolved, neither are ethical debates on the implications of natural selection e. A very brief conclusion may suffice. This article outlines the status questionis on the challenges posed by evolutionary biology to an understanding of the plausibility of the Christian faith. My argument has been that different layers can be identified in the evolving debate, that there is an emerging consensus on some aspects of the debate outside the circles of creationism , and that in each case there are underlying problems that remain very far from being resolved.
It may, at times, be helpful to outline an agenda for further deliberation, with the recognition that any such agenda will itself become contested quite rapidly. I declare that there are no competing interests that has influenced me in writing this article. Ayala, F. Barth, K. Brunner eds. Bavinck, H. Bolt ed. Bekoff, M. Berkouwer, G. Boyce, J. Brunner, E. Brunner, Natural theology , pp. Conradie, E. Van der Belt ed. Part 1: An inconclusive inquiry', Scriptura , In Conversation with Frans de Waal', in M.
Evers eds. Science and theology questioning human uniqueness , pp. Social diagnostics amid ecological destruction , Books Lanham, Lexington. Dawkins, R. Norton, New York. Deacon, T. Deane-Drummond, C. De Waal, F. Domning, D. Drees, W.
View Evolutionary Essays A Thermodynamic Interpretation Of Evolution
Religion, science and value , Routledge, London. Du Toit, C. RITR, Pretoria. Edwards, D. Ellis, G. Farley, E. Fuentes, A. Gandolfo, E. Gregersen, N. Hall, D. Haught, J. Hefner, P. Hick, J. Hrdy, S. Jablonka, E. Jacobs, A. Johnson, E. Joyce, R. Kitcher, P. Kuyper, A. Bratt ed. McFague, S. Messer, N.
Moltmann, J. Murphy, N. Nowak, M. Peacocke, A. Polkinghorne ed. Peters, T. Peterson, G. Jeffrey eds. Plantinga, C. Polkinghorne, J. Ricoeur, P. Ridley, M. Rolston, H. Ruether, R. Ruse, M. Russell, R. Russell, W. Ayala eds. Sideris, L. Smith, J. A philosophical exploration', in J. Cavanaugh eds. Southgate, C. Spikins, P. Suchocki, M. Van den Brink, G. On taking evil seriously', in E.
Van Geest eds. Van Huyssteen, J. Van Ruler, A. Veenhof, J. Ward, K. Welker, M. Williams, R. King eds. Wilson, E. Correspondence : Ernst Conradie econradie uwc. Received: 04 Feb. For a similar description of the state of questioning, see Gijsbert van den Brink's detailed study I developed this survey independently but obviously benefited from his analysis. His agenda is to explore where there might be points of conflict between mainstream evolutionary biology and orthodox understandings of the Christian faith. He identifies especially six such presumed conflicts but argues in each case that there is no necessary conflict and that Christian theology and evolutionary biology each offer a distinct perspective on the same history, that sometimes overlap with each other and in some cases can mutually illuminate each other.
By recognising such distinct perspectives he seeks to recognise the influence of shifting worldviews and to avoid category mistakes by conflating science and theology. The six challenges that he identifies are correlated with three aspects of evolution: 1 the geological time scale of evolution posing problems for biblical hermeneutics and for an affirmation of the goodness of the Creator given suffering long before the emergence of humans ; 2 human descent posing problems for an affirmation of human dignity on the basis of the 'image of God' and for the emergence of human sin ; and 3 natural selection as the main mechanism for evolution posing problems for under-standing God's sovereignty given the role of random mutations and for extending natural selection towards the emergence of culture, morality and religion.
In this article, I have rearranged the agenda by identifying and describing broad challenges, while not seeking to adopt any substantive position on any aspect of this agenda.
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My aim is to show why each of the debates remains unresolved, while Van den Brink's aim is more apologetic, namely, to argue that there is no necessary conflict between orthodox reformed beliefs and evolutionary biology. We agree that science and theology offer perspectives on the same evolutionary history and seek to interpret that. This suggests the need for 'traction' to address any incompatibilities of theological constructions with scientific evidence and also for plausibility do theological perspectives actually help to make sense of such history?
For an earlier version of my description of such shifts, see Conradie b. See Van den Brink in conversation with the work of Denis Lamoureux. Van den Brink recognises that understanding the Christian faith in terms of ahistorical truths does not offer a way forward and that the terrain of evolutionary history cannot be withdrawn from the sphere of God's actions.
He suggests that theological and scientific perspectives overlap with each other on this point and cannot be regarded as completely incommensurable Barth or as non-overlapping magisteria Gould. Given the enormous size and scope of the available literature, it would be inappropriate to select some and disselect other contributions.
See my overview of such debates in the Afrikaans monograph Lewend en Kragtig? Elizabeth Johnson puts this well: If all were law, the natural world would ossify; its ordered structure would be rigid, repetitive, deterministic. If all were chance, nature would dissolve in chaos; no patterns would persist long enough to have an identity. But chance operating within a lawlike framework introduces novelty within a pattern that contains and directs it.
See Edwards : It is quite possible to think theologically of God as working purposefully in the universe through processes such as random mutation and natural selection, which when investigated empirically does not reveal purpose at all. There are too many contributions in this regard to list here. Perhaps the most detailed discussion is offered in the volume edited by Murphy, Russell and Stoeger See my earlier discussion Conradie a of such an ambiguous 'gift', keeping in mind that 'gift' in Germanic languages also means 'poison'.
The ambiguity lies in the danger that interesting intellectual inquiries on the theodicy problem can divert attention away from the primary problem, namely, the destructive impact of human sin. Ellis and Murphy in recognising such kenosis even speak of 'the moral nature of the universe'. However, the caution that kenosis in redemption is based on God's deliberate response to human sin and is in this sense historically contingent and not merely to be understood as an underlying principle of creation is in my view rightly raised by others, including Denis Edwards and Christopher Southgate see Kenosis is not an aim in itself; it has meaning only in order to restore broken relationships see Edwards I have argued elsewhere at some length why such a conflation of ongoing creation and salvation is not a viable route see Conradie c, In brief, it is neither clear what is being saved and where what is comes from, nor where the source of salvation has to come from.
Note that these questions allow for diverse positions on three axes: 1 ranging from the elect only, humans only, sentient beings only to the whole cosmos; 2 views on how sin and death are related; and 3 whether redemption from social evil only or also from natural evil is plausible. See, for example, Elizabeth Johnson's discussion in Ask the Beasts She wants to retain not only the Western focus on being redeemed from sin, but also the Eastern openness to the cosmic scope of redemption and the hope to be delivered from death and its corruption p.
God created all things and will redeem all things p. She rightly focuses on the interplay between cross and resurrection, and this enables her to affirm that grace entails liberation from sin and death p. How that 'and' is to be interpreted is another matter, as Johnson clearly affirms that death is inextricably linked to creaturely finitude: we suffer and die pp. If so, why do we need to be redeemed from death? Is this not a refusal to accept life on the Creator's terms? Or is destruction, death and extinction indeed the ecological wage of sin pp.
Johnson finds her way out of the entanglement through a Catholic notion on grace elevating nature, the Orthodox notion of theosis and the Scotist position that the incarnation would have taken place whether human beings have sinned or not p. Clearly the old confessional divides on nature and grace continue to influence debates on evolution. Each of these approaches is seriously flawed, but as far as I can see there are no alternatives available yet.
An perhaps Anglican emphasis on creation as kenotic or cruciform or incarnation God's suffering with creatures alone would not do either - as this leaves those who suffer and will die suffering without hope. The debate on the origins of human sin is often confused and conflated with discourse on original sin, which in my view is best understood in terms of the planetary spread and inescapability of sin. It has more to do with the consequences than with the origins of sin.
It describes the situation in which one finds oneself and that has preceded oneself. For a notion of original sin as explanatory ground for the origins of sin, see Domning and Hellwig , Haught , Hefner , Peterson , Suchocki and Williams For a different view, see Edwards , For secular explorations of the notion of original sin, see Boyce and Jacobs See also my critical engagement with Haught's position Conradie and the discussion in Redeeming Sin? Conradie b Richard Dawkins did not emphasise the inherent selfishness of genes a rather anthropomorphic metaphor in order to justify such selfishness but to alert us of the need to overcome that.
This becomes possible through our unique capacity for foresight that gives us: the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination. Dawkins Dawkins' notion of selfishness is strictly speaking amoral and refers to the drive of each gene to promote its own reproductive success.
His argument is not that people spread their genes selfishly; genes selfishly spread themselves. However, it is not clear how one can adopt such a technical definition of selfishness by discarding its everyday meaning assuming moral agents without sacrificing conceptual clarity. I note in passing how far this is removed from a Calvinist ethos based on the privation of the good leading to pervasive depravity - to be overcome only through God's grace leading to a sense of gratitude and a commitment to justice.
Besides several theologians who resist the notion of the fall as incompatible with human evolution, there have been some innovative attempts to offer a constructive reinterpretation of the fall that takes hominid, hominin and human evolution into account. See, for example, Smith and Van den Brink This is of course the subject of long-standing debates, not least the one between Emil Brunner and Karl Barth In Dutch reformed theologies, this is also widely discussed. One of the most perceptive discussions is offered by Veenhof with reference to the work of Bavinck.