Evolutionary Creationist views of how life originated and evolved


You’ll see from ensuing posts that I don’t think the natural/supernatural dichotomy helps anything in science, for your and other reasons. One of the most fascinating, to me, is the way things slip in and out of the categories as fashions change.

Taking “natural” as “regular”, though, is certainly not subjective, because it can be defined and is operationally useful, as well as closely mappting to what science actually seeks to do, that is seeking out the laws or regularities behind mere observations.

I agree with you that equating “Nature” with “logic” is a non-starter - for a start, mathematics, which is entirely logical, has no necessary counterpart in nature. Arthur Eddington describes wonderfully how Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky is entirely logically consistent with the laws of nature yet has no existence in nature.

And contingency (the proper opposite of regularity) need not be illogical: it is logical, perhaps, for me to make friends with rich people in the hope they will help me, but one couldn’t really say that it is a process of “nature”.

On the question of God’s involvement, we’re probably straying from, at least, my contribution on the thread, which has already drifted to randomness, when my aim was to be rigorous about what is meant by “nature”.

Still, let me make one response, though: “setting the table up in just the right way” presupposes that God is setting up a trick shot, rather than a real game of snooker (to create an over-crude dichotomy) and one needs to argue for one or the other… I’m thinking at the level of the created world and science, here.

Leibniz, the deist, argued for the trick-shot on the basis that God was clever enough to do it - Newton, the theist, for the snooker-game on the basis of biblical revelation about God’s active involvement in his world. I suppose a question arising from that would be the level at which other agents are able to interfere with the determinism of Leibniz’s system. It’s generally been the Christian position that God positively interacts with human choices, and in that sense (with philosophical and theological caveats) is working a billiard table with other players, not just passive balls. (There are more sophisticated ways of seeing God as sovereign even over human choice, but I’m taking basics in relation to “nature” here).

As you see even in this thread, I’m not convinced that God has built ontological randomness into the world, but randomness as uncertainty affects not only humans, but lower creatures and processes too.

One reason Babjanyan’s abilities are limited is that within a very few collisions of billiard balls, the inherent chaos of the system, not only from human inexactness but even from the imperfect shape of the balls and table, make for broad divergences. So given creaturely freedom of any sort (and I mean freedom, rather than randomness), it’s hard to see how God’s trick shot would end up anywhere he intended in the longer run.

Here, though, is a further conceptualization of God’s involvement, based on God as a player rather than a programmer - perhaps a player of music is a better analogy than a player of billiards. If I as a guitarist I “set up my table” by playing some riff or regular chord sequence on the bass strings, and then play a tune, or improvise, on the top strings, then the whole language of “extra taps” is inappropriate. For I’m playing everything according to plan, but what I’m playing consists of both regularity and contingency, and it’s all me and my active fingers (even should I cunningly set up a sampling pedal to handle the regular bits).

This analogy actually fits the biblical concept of nature as an instrument or tool God uses, rather than as an automaton he sets up.

In medicine, we deal with “physiology” and “pathology”, and the difference is “error”.

But hey - why should I accept correction for using the term “error correction” when it’s as as universal in the literature as “change of gene frequency”, which you once also tried to insist was a childish error on my part? My assertion stands unmutated.

I completely agree with that and I really appreciate your music analogy. However, this discussion started at a point where life had not arrived at the scene yet. I was describing my view of how life could have originated to Frank. There were no other conscious beings on earth at that time. Without any other agents on the scene, is there any way to distinguish a trick-shot from an elaborate symphony of cause and consequence? Or a “trick-shot” from a “real game”? To me, those two do not exclude each other. It can be both. In fact, “sustaining” can be seen as sustaining a melody by playing the right notes at the right time.

Because I was talking about pre-biotic occurrences, the billiard analogy didn’t address the mode of God’s involvement that I consider central to the Christian faith: personal interaction. It is through interaction with the person of Jesus that we come to know God. When other players start joining the symphony, it becomes clear that your music analogy indeed is a much more appropriate way of characterizing Creation. I do believe that God would still be the final composer of the resulting symphony (i.e., sovereign).

Like you, I don’t think ontological randomness is built into nature. From my own background in quantum physics I know that prominent quantum theorists have been developing a robust understanding of physical mechanisms that can coordinate the collapse of the wave function into apparently random outcomes (see, for example, the work of Wojciech H. Zurek on quantum darwinism). Their framework leads to the conclusion that the randomness in quantum physics is epistemological and not fundamental.

Thanks for the conversation!



First, I appreciate your careful distinction of conscious beings from unconscious - that has sometimes been confused in the discussion, and I’ve always tried to keep them apart when discussing “freedom” and so on. I guess my angle on that here is allowing the possibility of a degree of animal volition messing up the predictability of chaotic systems in an analogous way to human choice - but I’m not wedded to that as a vital principle.

Still, if humans have been on the scene for a while, we can’t entirely discount their role in the “billiard game of nature”! The question remains of God’s “use” of contingent events in the physical creation with respect to mankind, against the background of laws of nature… and even evolution is still going on.

I’m interested in your view that there is still a significant debate in physics about the question of quantum randomness as epistemological. I’ve always been happy to defend such a thing theologically - in that what God creates, he knows, even if nature or man doesn’t. But of course, life is simpler if quantum events are just a more refined example of a stochastic system. A bit of a shame for Robert Russell’s idea of quantum tinkering, though!


I agree there, I think freedom with respect to one’s environment is best viewed as a continuum with human beings as a definite outlier.

The famous Copenhagen interpretation of quantum events was always meant as a pragmatic one and we were taught about it under the motto “shut up and calculate”. Philosophers have ran off with that practical interpretation and placed way too much weight on the idea of ontological randomness. If you’re interested in reading more about recent theorizing on wave-function collapse as an emergent, darwinian-like process, this paper could be an interesting read.


Hi Casper,

When I clicked the link you provided, I received an HTTP 403 Permission Denied error. Could you provide a different link? Or maybe a title and an author, so I can search for the paper myself? Thanks!

Chris Falter

Hi Chris,
That’s strange because I checked the link again and I can access it just fine. Is the website Arxiv.org allowed where you’re living?

The paper is: “Quantum Darwinism as a Darwinian process” by John Campbell


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Link worked for me too, Casper. I’ll comment (all too superficially) when I’ve given it another read.

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The link worked when I tried it a moment ago. The previous problem must have been a ephemeral issue on Cornell’s network. Thanks again for sharing the link! I’m looking forward to reading the paper.

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Forgive my tardiness Dr.S!

I have a very loose grip on the context of the conversation but I am critical of Molinism (the very very little I know of it from Wikipedia lol). As a preliminary remark I would say that we don’t and cannot ever solve the problem of theodicy in its numerous manifestations and that Molinism, while commendable in its attempt to cut a path between election and freedom, seems to risk domesticating the transcendence of God. What do I mean by domesticating God’s transcendence? Molinism is something like a procrustean bed, where parts of the Biblical narrative and human experience are cut out, cut off, and reshaped in order to make a neatly packaged theological assertion. For example: what is “free will”, how does a Molinist define it, how do you define it, how does scripture speak about human will and freedom and bondage, how does Scripture speak about God’s will? More peripherally, where does neuroscience factor in (here I’m thinking of Michael Gazzaniga’s Who’s In Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain), what about our experiences of bondage, freedom, and everything in between, how does Western culture factor into our discussion of the subject, etc. I do not think these questions are considered deeply enough for me to sign off on Molinism. That being said, I’m open to learning! Let me know if there’s anything you think I should be informed of on the subject.

My blurb in “140 character” (178 to be exact) would be: “We cannot solve the problem of theodicy and its many permutations. Only God can, and it is just that which he has promised to do. What we’re left to do is take him at his word and to explore what it means to live by faith.”

I hope to be back here on a more consistent basis, btw! I plan to chime in with a topic or two soon. We shall see.


I think you miss the point of Molinism.

It clearly solves the logical problem of theodicy, but it does not commit to this exclusive mode of God’s action in the world. God might still directly intervene. Rather, Molinism convincingly demonstrates one logical scenario that God might be all-powerful and good, but create a world where free will exists and so does evil. In this scenario, no logical contradictions ensue, so this is why it is widely held (among philosophers I here) that theodicy as a logical problem is solved.

That does not mean that Molinism IS a true complete description of the world. That is a separate question entirely and I’m not sure if strict Molinism could ever be entirely compatible with the Resurrection. That is beside the point, however, because that is not the role of Molinism in the conversation. It is an attempt to diffuse the logical problem of evil with a counter example.

To get to a complete Christian view of God’s action, we are required to add more to the picture. The Resurrection notwithstanding, many of your objections are relieved by just relaxing the Molinist proposal from a strict commitment of God’s limits (which it was never meant to be understood as), to a statement of the underlying logic of creation. God chose the best of all possible world in creating our universe, and that universe included free will and evil, because this is what we find in the best of all possible worlds.

The “Lutheran” part of this is a strong embrace of the paradox of God’s sovereignty and free will, without going down the Calvinist or the Armenian denial (in the extreme cases) of one side of the paradox.

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How would you define the logical problem of theodicy? I think I understand what you mean but I’d rather be confident before I say much more.

This, I can appreciate and I see what you mean by Molinism attempting to draw a logical path between Calvin and Arminius, which affirms both God’s complete sovereignty and a place for human responsibility (in salvation, the existence of evil in our world, and the Fall). I will (respectfully) say that it seems like Molinism attempts to smother the paradox where Lutherans would rather fan the flames. I say “smother” because you say it “solves” the logical problem of theodicy. (Though I would also say it rather “kicks” the theodicy “can” further on down the line rather than solving it.) Paradoxes aren’t solved, they (like the Dude) abide.

I say all this in the hopes that I’m not distracting you from what the actual vein of the conversation is. I’m late to this party and likely deserve no place at the table lol.

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The wikipedia article on this is quite good: Alvin Plantinga's free-will defense - Wikipedia. Though not explicitly stated as molinism, Plantinga’s argument is exactly that. A philosopher colleague of mine reports actually being in the room when Plantinga first started sharing about his idea (which he had independently formulated), and a historian in the room commented, “you really need to read about these molinists I have been studying.”

Apocryphal? Perhaps, but this comes from a credible source.

A couple key things from the wiki article (which I assert is quite good).

Plantinga’s argument is a defense against the logical problem of evil as formulated by philosopher J. L. Mackie beginning in 1955. Mackie’s formulation of the logical problem of evil argued that three attributes of God, omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence, in orthodox Christian theism are logically incompatible with the existence of evil. In 1982, Mackie conceded that Plantinga’s defense successfully refuted his argument in The Miracle of Theism, though he did not claim that the problem of evil had been put to rest.

And describing the logical strategy…

As opposed to a theodicy (a justification for God’s actions), Plantinga puts forth a defense, offering a new proposition that is intended to demonstrate that it is logically possible for an omnibenevolent, omnipotent and omniscient God to create a world that contains moral evil. Significantly, Plantinga does not need to assert that his new proposition is true, merely that it is logically valid.

And the reception among philosophers…

According to Chad Meister, professor of philosophy at Bethel College, most philosophers accept Plantinga’s free will defense and thus see the logical problem of evil as having been sufficiently rebutted. Robert Adams says that "it is fair to say that Plantinga has solved this problem.

Though in fairness, “molinism” is something bigger than Plantinga’s argument (and has more deeper history) Molinism - Wikipedia. BTW, I give credit to William Lane Craig for explicitly giving credit to molinism for his ideas.

Any how, I do appreciate your point here too…[quote=“JustAnotherLutheran, post:90, topic:35139”]
I will (respectfully) say that it seems like Molinism attempts to smother the paradox where Lutherans would rather fan the flames. I say “smother” because you say it “solves” the logical problem of theodicy.

Perhaps that is true, and this is not so Lutheran after all =). Though you do not advocate paradox over resolving logical problems like this, do you? I am willing to say that there is enduring mysteries here (and would never assert Molinism with certainty), but the harmonization of free will and sovereignty here is encouraging in that it assures us that we are not asserting a fundamental contradiction.

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I see this thread is diversifying quite widely - maybe somebody should split it up into its various streams (or maybe it will resolve itself through a quantum Darwinian process into the most energy-efficient state if we leave it long enough…)

I found the Thompson paper quite exciting, more as an introduction to Zurek than anything. I’m the first to admit I lack the background in physics to get anything like a full understanding, still less be able to evaluate it wrt other approaches, but to me the quantum Darwinism concept begins to make more sense of QM for me: I have the feeling that if it became the mainstream view and I kept reading about it, I’d slowly get a handle on it.

I’m less convinced of the wisdom of slotting it into an idea of “Universal Darwinism” - especially at a time when adaptation is being significantly downgraded in the ToE itself and Darwinian social science explanations are increasingly found wanting. It seems Zurek himself is treating his approach as merely analogical to Darwinism, in a restricted sense: there could be other paradigms by which to explain it, perhaps.

But the idea of a continuum in the “internal” workings of the quantum state, which “collapses” in a particular way as a function of translation into the existing state of the environment presses all kinds of buttons about how the world is. The link to information as a foundational component of reality rears its head again.

One of the most interesting parallels with biological evolution is QD’s dependance (if we ignore Campbell’s assumptions about the Darwinian evolution of the entire universe from simplicity) on complexity. I’m intrigued by the rather bold assertion (if I understand aright) that there are complex and entirely unknown mechanisms at the quantum scale, just as evolution, though it seems a simple idea, depends on the inordinate complexity of the mechanisms in the cell, as we have only recently come to appreciate.

I’ve come to think that life is irreducibly and inherently complex (I’m not talking about Behe, more Denis Noble or Sy Garte!), and the thought that it may be equally so at the “basic” quantum level is rather mindblowing. It makes the idea of a reductive mechanical view of reality less tenable - which in turn potentially opens up all kinds of “supernatural” phenomena to scientific assessment (just as “occult” gravity became available to science through Newton).

At the same time, “quantum Darwinism” seems to me to point in a greayter way to the need to see God as the unifying and originating cause of it all - and to make his ongoing interaction with reality far more plausible than in “the mechanical philosophy” of metaphysical naturalism.

Such were the immediate effects of the paper on my imagination - probably more than on my reasoning, given my lack of background. But thanks a lot for the stimulating link. As so often, physicists seem to think more like theologians than do many biologists.

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Hi @Jon_Garvey,
Maybe I should indeed split this thread off into multiple realizations of beable states.

Thanks for reading the link, I’m glad it triggered your imagination. My main purpose in linking to that paper was to provide an introduction to Quantum Darwinism that is more readable than the original papers by Zurek himself, which were all written for an audience of specialists on this topic. I’m glad you picked up on that intention of mine.

Campbell has a particular take on the topic that might be a bit overly enthusiastic. I agree that his conception of Universal Darwinism may come with a bit too much ideological baggage, although I’m intrigued by the possibilities it opens up. The core idea centers on populations that generate offspring with small variations and that are subject to some kind of selective pressure. It’s interesting to see how that idea can be applied fruitfully in fields of science beyond biology. I think making that link was Zurek’s original intention, of course not to exclude other kinds of explanations.

Indeed, the deeper we go with the scientific method, the more important the concepts of complexity and emergence become (see, Michael Polanyi might actually be a prophet). Although most scientists have no problem acknowledging this, reductionistic tendencies are still prevalent. In analogy with QD, my hope is that reductionistic streams of thought will eventually die out completely as other streams of thought keep being (ein)selected due to greater coherence.

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I shall refrain from further quantum jokes, lest Universal Darwinism be seen as the explanation for the history of ideas as well as everything else… whereas everybody knows it’s all about selfish memes and infection. :slight_smile: Or morphic resonance (which is a bit closer). :grinning:

I did something on Polanyi and evolution back in 2014 on The Hump, and Personal Knowledge is well up amongst the most influential books on my shelf (and the Hump booklist), so his thought turns up frequently there.

Maybe someone should do a piece on him here?

See, this is why I need to talk with more people from WashU :wink:

Having read the Wiki page, I have a better sense of Plantinga’s argument and of your reasons for proposing a version of Molinism in response to the logical problem of theodicy as it relates to the creation/evolution. He’s one of the authors I intend to make a start into by the end of the summer. Thank you for taking the time to explain things and to direct me to some resources.

It depends on the paradox or problem! (The paradox of the incarnation, for example, is one which, I think it reasonable to say, will never be understood.) In this case, (A) I would advocate for a deep exploration of the logical issues surrounding questions of theodicy in our Western context (Plantinga does this well from what I know of him); I would say it is healthy to propose certain logical puzzles and to play at understanding just what is going on with our questions of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. And play it is. As you (and the Wiki page) said, Plantinga’s postulations are not necessarily accurate representations of reality but are rather specifically reasonable (reasonable in their specific context) rebuttals to the arguments of others against certain ways of understanding the Christian God. As you said, it’s comforting to know that, in at least one logical framework we are not necessarily fundamentally wrong or completely irrational (though reason can easily be twisted to fit the intentions of its wielder…). But (B) I would also advocate for a more holistic encounter with the questions of theodicy (i.e., as they relate to the topic of evolution, factors related to human responsibility, exegetical theology, and a whole host of other frames of reference) so that if there is paradox, it can be thoroughly appraised and responsibly situated.

But then I would ask Why? Why appraise and situate paradox (as it relates to the origin and evolution of life or to other questions)? As Christians, what is it we wish to accomplish and how does this goal fit with our commission to make disciples among the nations, baptizing them in the Triune name, and teaching them to observe the Word of God?

Just some thoughts! A jovial Fat Tuesday to you and a reflective Lent.

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2 posts were split to a new topic: Creation, Redemption, and the purpose of the Incarnation

So if you’re handwaving to try and assert that these frequent “errors” are a part of the “design” of the DNA replication/repair system, you’d be dead wrong. They are chemistry; the cell isn’t making any error.

Take the term “mismatch repair.” It’s much more accurate. Do you think that system corrects errors, propagates them, or both, Jon?

But even when terms are more accurate, they are analogies and metaphors, and are merely explanatory devices in science. They all eventually break down.

Finally, since you have nothing but rhetoric to throw at science, if you are searching for truth, you have a far greater responsibility to be rhetorically accurate, even when others aren’t.


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