I have finished Francis Collins’ book and have been slowly making my way through the “Common Questions” articles. I have a lot of questions, but my general status right now is being overwhelmed by science and underwhelmed by God. The articles consistently assert that God is the creator, but I’m not connecting the dots between evolution and how He relates to it. When considering Him as one who specifically created systems large and small to fit together, even with the chaotic elements, I found it awe-inspiring. All of the randomness and selection seems to me to take that away from Him. So I’m curious, for those of you who are Christians, what is it about evolution that causes you to be awed by God as creator?
Being is grounded. The ground of being instantiates the inevitable, immutable laws of logic, mathematics, physics. Is the ground purposeful? That’s the awesome thing. It could be. It’s awesome to the power awesome, to the awesomth power. Material existence is unbelievably awesome all by itself. But if it’s purposed, then there is transcendence. It don’t get no awesomer un 'at.
We all know that some dna mutations, maybe lots of them, result in the death of the individual. This means that there are ‘areas of nonviablity’ in what is called the phase space of DNA. The phase space is a massively multidimentionsal space where the number of axes is the number of base pairs. Each axis has 4 possible locations, for A,G, C, T. This space represented all possibilities for for a DNA molecule f that length. It is just a euclidian space with several billion dimensions.
Now, I also read Collin’s book and thought that in that book, God was a useless add on–he served no purpose except a s word filler and I agree, Collins provides no mechanism by which God can control evolution and the random mutations that take place. But there is a way to view it where God controls the path.
Consider the Hilbert space above and lets draw walls around those nonviable mutations . I think we would end up with something like a cave system shown below, where one can randomly walk in any direction except into the walls.
A random walk by a dot starting anywhere in the cave will eventually have been at every point in the cave. (look it up) Now consider a cloud of DNA patterns which represent a species. As the members randomly mutate they will fill the spaces which are viable sequences of DNA. In this way God controls the randomness and ensures that we would evolve.
Here are three times steps of what I think happens.
This view makes God a real player in evolution and not a useless mantra we say every 4 pages.
What inspires me specifically about evolution is how prolifically and intricately it has filled out the ecological niches, adjusting along the way throughout a tumultuous geological history of this planet. What an ingeniously effective way it has proven to be to fulfill God’s command that the earth bring forth living creatures and that they multiply to fill the earth. The more books I read about it, the more ingenious it appear to me. The way bugs and plants evolve together to proliferate, the way a simple competition for sunshine cause plants to evolve higher and higher into magnificent trees of so many sizes and shapes … the more my non-biologist mind learns of these things, the cooler they get.
[I removed the remainder of my own post here, and apologize for the tone that I too easily lapse into these days. Sorry about that.]
Ok, awesome. And if it is not purposed? Is there not transcendence if it is not purposed?
I am glad to not be alone in thinking God was more of a side thought in all of this. That said, I will have to look at the example you sent me tomorrow when I have more time. Science is pretty new to me and I want to make sure I understand the example.
Thank you so much apologizing. I am not sure how many conversations you have had here with others about this topic, so sorry if this is the billionth time explaining something, but I do appreciate most of the responses I have seen in the forums. Also sorry for the multiple, short replies. I am dead tired tonight.
That said, what you said kind of hit on something I was thinking the other day, that evolution is in some ways analogous to free will or something? We aren’t entirely free beings, but there do seem to be some similarities in how God “operates” (or doesn’t).
Like others have stated to me the part of evolution that makes me connect to God is ecology. To me evolution is a creation that keeps on creating. Creation did not stop “on the sixth day” and nothing new ever more came into being. Creation kept on creating and creating and creating. Even though a lot of death was involved, as predators got better at killing prey, the prey got better at surviving and those survivors had a upper hand somehow and those traits got passed on. So through death there is new life and it ties into the paradigm I have God that he is our creator and through his son we have new life. The death brought the resurrection and that brought hope and I see that played out in evolution.
It really pops out to me in the convergence of entomology and botany as these species coevolve together. Not just in the way things like Zebra swallowtails evolved with pawpaws and their caterpillars are able to consume the acetogenins that would kill other caterpillars. Then as a butterfly they carry trace amounts of it. You also see beloved wife underwing moth caterpillar that looks like lichen on a bark and blends in. But it’s not just insects mimicking plants but also the vice versa. You have the blue crown passionflower that has mock egg like structures of the brush footed long winged butterfly so that even though pollinators visit the flowers, they are less likely to lay eggs that hatch caterpillars that would eat it because they think eggs are already there.
Each of these things can be explained away through science and don’t in their own rights make me believe in God. But with all of them, millions of them, even with things like extinct giant American ground sloths that are pawpaw fruits and while eating those fruits the seeds would be scarred tearing away at outer layers making it easier for them to germinate which is why in growing from seeds with some you hear of scarification. So with all these things playing off of one another generating more and more life it just seems too coincidental. Especially when viewed in light of our cosmos. The stars and planets that are all visible and run like clockwork allowing us to mostly keep up with accurate seasons and times and even help guide wildlife and have polarization and magnetic fields that help birds travel. We have all the right chemicals and atmosphere. There is just too much there in the universe and earth for me to just think it was all blind chance with no purpose. Then ( and this is beyond the scope of the question but relative in my mind) beyond the science you have the scriptures that from the very first chapter directs us towards Jesus Christ and the patterns are built upon for thousands of years. The tree of life in the garden that grants enter all life and Jesus says he is the tree of life and he’s even a Nazarene that means he comes from the place of the sticks, the wild lands.
Just to much for me to simply dismiss it all of chance and mad ramblings.
Nope. Apart from our numinous, sublime feelings as live meat. There is no level up. No eternal higher consciousness. But there’s no harm in taking Pascal’s wager. That the infinite cosmos of created beings from eternity is mere conception. The only warrant for that? The Church.
Ok, now that I am reading this again, it makes a lot of sense! However, I am wondering if there are “caves” for smaller components before DNA??? Because if I understand correctly this is already quite far along in the evolution process, so at this point yes, no matter what path they take they will eventually end up evolving into complex forms, right??
I’ve already taken Pascal’s wager. My faith has survived deconstruction…there is something rather than nothing, so for me, that=God. And I have done a lot of reading on evidence for and against the resurrection. For me, the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is convincing. Deconstructing God as creator was next, I suppose.
Anyway, after thinking about it, I am not sure it follows that "un"purposed material existence automatically means no transcendence. Why/how do you arrive at that conclusion?
Hello, thank you for your response. This paragraph is really beautiful, especially the part about life through death. I also like the thought of the “creation that keeps on creating”.
I am lost here. It could partially be because I have not looked into all of these examples you give yet (I will do that though), but if science explains it, then millions of examples of something science explains doesn’t lead me to connect God to it???
I see evolution as nothing but the simple process of learning. How do you learn? You try different things and find out what works. In the past people have mistakenly thought that this requires consciousness and sophisticated intelligence. But we have now conclusively established that it does not. We can put together computer algorithms (evolutionary algorithms and learning systems) which use this process not only to design things far better than we can but to play our most difficult strategy games better than our best professionals. Thus showing that there is no consciousness or intelligence required. All it requires is something that can follow a simple set of rules. This is all that is required for rationality. Thus, rather than being highest achievement of the most sophisticated lifeforms, rationality is the substance of the simplest building blocks of the physical universe – all of them follow a set of mathematical rules. And we have shown that a simple set of such rules can generate infinite unending complexity.
Such system/algorithms are not even that difficult to make. Look up the so called “game of life” (i.e. cellular automata) Thus if complexity and intricate design is where people have looked for awe and a sense of the divine or ultimate being, then they have been looking in the wrong place. And yes they have been looking from the time of the ancient Greeks in the wrong place for a very long time. This is not to say that such things are of no importance. On the contrary, by mastering our understanding of these things, we have come to an understanding of much of the basis of our own existence and our power to accomplish things has been greatly magnified.
But what about life and consciousness? These have been considerably more difficult to understand. Intuitively the very essence of them would seem to be free will. But when we look at them under a microscope we see only the mechanical systems of rationality. Not only that, but when we look at free will with the methods of rationality, it tends to evaporate into magical nonsense – so much so that some who give rationality more credit than intuition have even decided there is no such thing. But I would suggest that in the aspiration to pure rationality we have aimed at very lowest levels of existence and marched on a path that would reduce ourselves to nothing but mindless machines. My implication and premise here is that the mind consists of a great deal more than mere rationality.
To lead us out of this dead end of rationality I would suggest the following question:
If you were an all powerful, all knowing being, then how would you make something that you do not control? How would you make something that makes its own choices and does things for its own reasons? How would you make someone who is truly other than yourself?
A premise in this question is that you do not accomplish things by making wishes – as if you you had some magical genie to do things for you. Thus if you were to accomplish something you would actually have to know how to do it, and could not rely on some imaginary being who had the know-how which yourself lacked. It is my suggestion that the whole notion of magic comes from our experience of infancy when we know nothing and all it takes is a cry to the world when we know nothing of what is wrong or how do anything and beings more knowledgeable and powerful than ourselves know or figure out what it takes to make us more comfortable and happy.
Leaving the exploration of possible answers to this question to further discussion, I would nevertheless suggest that the greater cause for awe and sense of the divine is found here in the answers to this question and such things as life and consciousness rather than in things like rationality, evolution, and the learning processes we have duplicated rather well in computer algorithms.
P.S. I did not come to the site because I read Collins book and was somehow converted by it. I came here looking for a discussion forum where Christians could move on from accepting evolution to looking at the consequences for Christian theology. I read the book afterwards and put my commentary on the book here.
I am sorry to be slow in responding. I may have covid, having some of the symptoms but none yet severe. I am running fevers for the past 5 days and feeling good only part of the day, so bear with me in my replies.
Every set of chemicals that have repeating and limited members, like RNA, DNA etc, have a phase space like I described above. For any given function one looks for, there are sequences that will perform that function and those that don’t, In DNA above, the function was viability. If one looks for a RNA sequence that will say, cut a particular chemical dye, well that has loads of sequences that will work, and loads that won’t, meaning, there probably are caves in this phase space as well
"Jack Szostak and Andy Ellington, at Harvard Medical School, pub-
lished one of those mind-popping articles a few years ago. They found
that they could screen through 10 trillion random RNA molecules si-
multaneously and fish out RNA molecules that bound to a small organic
molecule. Ten trillion at the same time?"
"You already know that RNA molecules can catalyze reactions.
Szostak and Ellington wondered whether they could find RNA molecules
that would bind to arbitrary small molecules. If so, such RNA molecules
might be useful as drugs or might thereafter be modified to create
entirely new ribozymes. They created what biochemists call an affinity
column, carrying a specific small organic molecule, a dye. Such columns
typically are formed with some kind of beads to which the dye molecules
are attached. The idea is that a solution will be poured through the
column and flow by the beads. Any molecules in the solution that bind to
the dye on the beads will be retained; molecules that do not bind to the
dye on the beads will pass swiftly through the column and flow out at
its bottom. They created libraries of about 10 trillion random RNA
molecules. The library of 10 trillion RNA sequences was poured over each
column. Some of the RNA sequences bound to the dye on the column. The
rest passed rapidly through the column. The binding RNA sequences were
removed by changing the chemical conditions and washing them out. After
some further steps, the authors were able to demonstrate that they had
“fished out” about 10,000 sequences able to bind selectively to the dye.
Since these workers started with 10 trillion sequences, and 10,000 of
these bind to the dye, the chances that a randomly chosen RNA sequence
binds to one of their dyes is about 10,000 divided by 10 trillion, or
one in a billion."
"This is stunning. The results suggest this: pick an arbitrary
molecular shape, a dye, an epitope on a virus, a molecular groove in a
receptor molecule. Make a library with 10 trillion random RNA sequences.
One in a billion will bind to your site. One in a billion is a tiny
needle in a large haystack. But the staggering thing to realize is that
we can now generate and search, in parallel, among trillions of kinds of
molecules simultaneously to fish out the molecules we want, the
candidate drugs we seek."
"We saw in Chapter 6 that the estimated protein diversity of the
entire planet might be, about 10 trillion. Szostak and Ellington, and
now many others, are almost trivially generating this diversity of RNA
sequences in tiny test tubes and simultaneously screening all of them
for the tiny faction that has a desired function. We now rival the
planet’s diversity in a tiny test tube. And where evolution may have
taken eons to fish out its choices, we can already fish out ours in
“Prometheus, what did you start?” Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the
Universe, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 140-141
You are not alone in thinking that many modern scientists who are Christian have sidelined God. They make him a useless add on, a ghost in the corner who doesn’t do anything in nature at all. Gerald Cleaver whom I have met (I doubt he remembers me), wrote an article here for biologos on how string theory declares the glory of God. Well, String theory can not be the correct theory of gravity for the simple reason that String theory only works on a non-dynamic space-time and we know that space time is very dynamic.
"Every string theory paper fails to answer an incredibly important question that no reviewer seems to ask, how can your theory be right when the math only works in a flat and static space-time when we know that space-time is evolving and is quantum in nature???’ But reviewer after reviewer pass and praise and publish String theory when everyone knows it can’t be right.’ Also there are no observed supersymmetric particles which should have been seen by now."
"As we have seen more than once, supersymmetry plays a fundamental role in string theory. String theories built without supersymmetry have instabilities; left alone, they will take off, emitting more and more tachyons in a process that has no end, until the theory breaks down. This is very unlike our world. Supersymmetry eliminates this behavior and stabilizes the theories. But in some respects, it does that too well. This is because supersymmetry implies that there is a symmetry in time, the upshot being that a supersymmetric theory cannot be built on a spacetime that is evolving in time. Thus, the aspect of the theory required to stabilize it also makes it difficult to study questions we would most like a quantum theory of gravity to answer, like what happened in the universe just after the Big Bang, or what happens deep inside the horizon of a black hole. Both are circumstances where the geometry is evolving rapidly in time." Lee Smolin, The Trouble with Physics, (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006), p.145
Smolin’s concern was not with God, but mine is. How can a theory that is demonstrably not the correct theory glorify God? To me, it is just using God as a justification for what one is doing anyway. It is again, a useless clueless God who is a ghost in the corner unseen and doing nothing with the creation.
Thanks GStanto. It does not follow that the eternity of stuff needs God. It has itself. As always. Existence is fundamentally inexplicable at whatever level it starts. Or stops. Invoking God doesn’t help as He then becomes the inexplicable. All the reading in the world cannot provide convincing evidence of the incarnation. I want it to be true and the accounts allow that. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t. Analogous for your believing that existence necessitates God.
If there is no God there is certainly no transcendence. It’s imparsimonious, superfluous; meaningless. Null. Mind and life are physical; no God, they cease. There’s only entropy. And the quantum vacuum that feeds it. Live long enough and you will lose your mind. And die. The end. Back to the beginning. We return whence we came. Noise. The physical is all there is.
One of the best indicators to me that Christ really rose was the behavior of the 12 disciples. None of them recanted. As Colson said:
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”.
The three Mormon witnesses all recanted. The disciples didn’t
And my favorite story comes from the spiritual grandson of St. John, who risked his life as an old man to reclaim a soul. Why would an 80+ year old man risk death if he didn’t believe what he preached?
XLII. And that you may be still more confident, that repenting thus truly there remains for you a sure hope of salvation, listen to a tale? which is not a tale but a narrative, handed down and committed to the custody of memory, about the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit.
Having come to one of the cities not far off (the name of which some give), and having put the brethren to rest in other matters, at last, looking to the bishop appointed, and seeing a youth, powerful in body, comely in appearance, and ardent, said, “This (youth) I commit to you in all earnestness, in the presence of the Church, and with Christ as witness.” And on his accepting and promising all, he gave the same injunction and testimony. And he set out for Ephesus. And the presbyter taking home the youth committed to him, reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and guardianship, under the idea that the seal of the Lord he had set on him was a complete protection to him. But on his obtaining premature freedom, some youths of his age, idle, dissolute, and adepts in evil courses, corrupt him. First they entice him by many costly entertainments; then afterwards by night issuing forth for highway robbery, they take him along with them. Then they dared to execute together something greater. And he by degrees got accustomed; and from greatness of nature, when he had gone aside from the right path, and like a hard-mouthed and powerful horse, had taken the bit between his teeth, rushed with all the more force down into the depths. And having entirely despaired of salvation in God, he no longer meditated what was insignificant, but having perpetrated some great exploit, now that he was once lost, he made up his mind to a like fate with the rest. Taking them and forming a hand of robbers, he was the prompt captain of the bandits, the fiercest, the bloodiest, the cruelest.
Time passed, and some necessity having emerged, they send again for John. He, when he had settled the other matters on account of which he came, said, “Come now, O bishop, restore to us the deposit which I and the Saviour committed to thee in the face of the Church over which you preside, as witness.” The other was at first confounded, thinking that it was a false charge about money which he did not get; and he could neither believe the allegation regarding what he had not, nor disbelieve John. But when he said “I demand the young man, and the soul of the brother,” the old man, groaning deeply, and bursting into tears, said, “He is dead.” “How and what kind of death?” “He is dead,” he said, “to God. For he turned wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber; and now he has taken possession of the mountain in front of the church, along with a band like him.” Rending, therefore, his clothes, and striking his head with great lamentation, the apostle said, “It was a fine guard of a brother’s soul I left! But let a horse be brought me, and let some one be my guide on the way.” He rode away, just as he was, straight from the church. On coming to the place, he is arrested by the robbers’ outpost; neither fleeing nor entreating, but crying, “It was for this I came. Lead me to your captain;” who meanwhile was waiting, all armed as he was. But when he recognized John as he advanced, he turned, ashamed, to flight. The other followed with all his might, forgetting his age, crying, “Why, my son, dost thou flee from me, thy father, unarmed, old? Son, pity me. Fear not; thou hast still hope of life. I will give account to Christ for thee. If need be, I will willingly endure thy death, as the Lord did death for us. For thee I will surrender my life. Stand, believe; Christ hath sent me.”
And he, when he heard, first stood, looking down; then threw down his arms, then trembled and wept bitterly. And on the old man approaching, he embraced him, speaking for himself with lamentations as he could, and baptized a second time with tears, concealing only his right hand. The other pledging, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness for himself from the Saviour, beseeching and failing on his knees, and kissing his right hand itself, as now purified by repentance, led him back to the church. Then by supplicating with copious prayers, and striving along with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various utterances of words, did not depart, as they say, till he restored him to the Church, presenting in him a great example of true repentance and a great token of regeneration, a trophy of the resurrection for which we hope; when at the end of the world, the angels, radiant with joy, hymning and opening the heavens, shall receive into the celestial abodes those who truly repent; and before all, the Saviour Himself goes to meet them, welcoming them; holding forth the shadowless, ceaseless light; conducting them,to the Father’s bosom, to eternal life, to the kingdom of heaven.
St. Clement of Alexandria
Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?
In my opinion, John believed to his dying days that Jesus arose and was willing to risk death for that cause.
Peter denied Christ three times as I recall.
Looking into the details of the three Mormon witnesses reveals how complicated the truth behind such claims can be. Such are the complications that we simultaneously get this claim by opponents of Mormonism that three witnesses recanted and the claim by supporters that the three witness never recanted their testimony.
Personally I find the claims of Mormonism about Israelites in the Americas to be absurd (and insulting to the Native Americans), find the Jesus portrayed in the book to be an authoritarian caricature with little to recommend it, and the church to be full of boring services and problems with misogyny and polygamy. But hey… whatever rocks your boat and makes your life worth living is your prerogative.
LOL, BEFORE THE RESURRECTION!!! We were talking about the RESSURRECTION which should have been a clue for you.
Sheesh, Mitch, details matter.
No whatever rocks one’s boat is not the criterion for truth–it is the critierion for moral relativism.
Mitch, I re examined the data that convinced me. there do appear to be contemporary accounts of their recantation after seeing the plates:
- Joseph Smith said Dec 16, 1838, “Such characters as McLellin, John Witmer, David Witmer, Oliver Cowdry, and Martin Harris are too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them.” History of the Church, Vol 3, p232
- Brigham Young said, “Some of the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, who handled the plates and conversed with the angels of God, were afterwards left to doubt and to disbelieve that they had ever seen an angel.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol 7, page 164, 1859, Brigham Young.)
I am trying to verify these now, but if true, this is a recantation. I have ordered the Discourses
" According to Smith’s 1832 handwritten history, Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery also had visions, prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon, in which they (individually) saw the Lord: “the Lord appeared unto him [Harris] in a vision…. [The] Lord appeared unto a young man by the name of Oliver Cowdry and shewed unto him the plates in a vision….” Early Mormon Documents , comp. and ed. Dan Vogel (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996), 1:31.
Showed him in a Vision??? This is clearly at odds with the claim that he had seen them with his own eyes.
The Mormons stated of Martin Harris and a few other men within the pages of the church’s official newspaper at the time, “a lying deceptive spirit attend them…they are of their father, the devil…The very countenance of Harris will show to every spiritual-minded person who sees him, that the wrath of God is upon him.” Latter-Day Saint’s, Millennial Star, Vol 8 pp124-128. This is 1846
Of Whitmer 1. Like Martin Harris, David Whitmer later testified that he did not see the plates literally with his fleshly eyes: He said he saw the plates “by the eye of faith” handled by an angel.(Palmyra Reflector, March 19, 1831)
2. David Whitmer changed his story about seeing the plates and later told of finding them lying in a field and later still, told Orson Pratt that they were on a table with all sorts of brass plates, gold plates, the Sword of Laban, the ‘Director’ and the Urim and Thumim. (Millennial Star, vol. XL, pp. 771-772
When I get the discourses in a week or two, I will let you know.
I guess for me just because science can explain it all away does not change the probability of everything from the cosmos to the tiny moths and flowers working out.
I see it as why are we not seeing it occur somewhere else in a galaxy much older than us resulting in intelligent beings signaling us. There are galaxies and planets way older than us and we know some of them have potentially the right composition to sustain life. We do most plants not do it? Why has none of them been able to do it snd result in a being able to reach out to us in some way.
Ultimately what works for me may not work for you. I see ecology as a system put in place. Just because that system is scientific in nature does not change the fact I see it as leading to my creator.
How many coincidences do I see to see before I attribute it to being part of a creation?
I’m not a Christian because of science. At best, all science could do it tell me there is a creator. Nature does not lead to Christianity but it does lead to a creator in my opinion.
How I determined that creator is God is completely different.
So how did the passiflora plant end up mimicking the eggs of a butterfly? It’s easy.
At one point a mutation occurred that resulted a plant with a small bulbous like thing on its underside. That plant ended up having less competition because butterflies confused those for eggs. That plant then set seed eventually. Some of those seeds with that genetic makeup produced plants that had that same mutation. Again, the ones without that mutation had eggs laid on them and caterpillars ate them while the other ones were less likely to be eaten and grew up and set seed. Over thousands of years of this pattern, the plants breeding together simply kept resulting in more and more plants with that genetic mutation. Evolution by itself does not make me believe in God or believe in a creator. That would be like arguing if meteorology lead to God or to atheism. Evolution is just one scientific field. When I look at all the coincidences in all the scientific fields, and when I look at all the arguments from philosophy, personal experiences, and theology it all leads me to believe in God. It’s not just one.