Time, resources and flexibility
In the last post I illustrated a way in which a pathway that seemed at first unable to be simplified into natural developmental stages could develop by duplication of genes, and parallel loops that later disappeared. These two concepts are very powerful and can explain many new developments that look unsolvable when trying to look at them in terms of linear development Most structures and pathways deemed to be “irreducibly complex” by the ID movement are not so.
The illustration I gave was admittedly theoretical and invented. However all the features in the illustration are present in nature in DNA and metabolism. → Read more
A central concept of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement is “Irreducible Complexity.” This idea maintains that certain structures, or processes in nature (such as the mammalian eye, or the bacterial flagellum) have such a high degree of complexity and interdependence that they could not have evolved spontaneously. The implication is that an intelligent designer (left unspecified) lent a hand to the natural process at specific times and then the new creations diversified by microevolution.
The proposition is very credible. Take the cover off a computer, or the dashboard off a plane and the enormous complexity of wires and silicon chip circuits, each carefully placed, connected and powered, baffle any attempt by the uninitiated to remove bits without damaging the working of the whole. How could it have arisen without intelligent planning and design? What about the bacterial flagellum, a nanomotor that contains 42 parts, each precisely placed and fitted to function together? What about a complex metabolic pathway? → Read more
It is commonly stated that no new information is ever produced by mutations and natural selection. An interview some years ago of Professor Richard Dawkins by two creationist groups, apparently shows Dawkins stumped by a question on this. The recording has been manipulated to give this impression but it highlights the issue*. Is the claim true? Michael Dembski, one of the key people in the Intelligent Design movement, has speculated a law of conservation of information – that specific information is never created nor destroyed.
Here is a question to consider. Does the passage of time add information to inanimate objects? When Sherlock Holmes looks at an old pair of shoes, or an old walking stick, does he see more or less information than was present when the items were brand new? → Read more
A friend of mine recently mentioned to me how amazed and awestruck he was by the adaptability of life through the ingenious mechanisms of DNA shuffling and mutations. God, in allowing the development of a molecule that is in constant flux from generation to generation, has allowed life the ability to flow into and fill virtually every cranny and crack and niche on this earth – from fish, mammals and crustacea that survive under the ice in Antarctic waters, to birds that can fly above Everest, to archaeobacteria that survive in sulfurous acid thermal pools at boiling point, and undersea thermal vents. In the long term, life as a whole will find a way to survive almost any earth environment where there is water, nutrients and energy, as it has already survived meteor impacts, volcanic eruptions, atmospheric changes and other catastrophic events. The adaptability of life to altered environments is a direct consequence of the adaptability of DNA. → Read more
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Sapphire and Homer had three major theories as to how the notes had come to be that way. They considered other options but these seemed the most likely.The course designer had made unique originals for each of the courses that would ever be run. For each new original, the designer ensured that exactly the same typographical errors were typed in – they were ‘prescribed’. In each separate original, exactly the same marks were faithfully added by hand, to look just like coffee spills and messy photocopying. For some courses, unique features, like what looked like a repaired tear, was added to the original. Thus each handbook for each particular course was a separate work of “art”. The handouts in Christine’s and Sapphire’s handbooks were actually typed out as different originals and embellished by hand in exquisite detail as though they were photocopies with all the extra marks. Similar to the first theory but instead of being a creative exercise, the typos, photocopying marks and coffee stains were built in separately to each course because this director was angry with the first group of students, who had complained about the costs of the course when enrolling. This theory was a little different. The idea was that the course books of the four friends shared an original in common. That original had included all the typos (presumably an underpaid or second-rate secretary had mistyped from an original or a dictation), and the staple and removed staple marks, and the bent-over corner, and also included the coffee-cup stains, which presumably were due to an accident. The course-book for Sapphire and Homer’s course had been copied from a version somewhat later than that of Christine and Gordon, and had in addition acquired a tear, and a clumsy repair. → Read more
Imagine that two business students, Sapphire and Homer meet for the first time on a lecture course about time management. As Sapphire is listening to the afternoon lecture, she notices that the handout book she was given when registering is spoilt by some typographical errors, photocopying marks and coffee stains. Page 42 summarising time management is particularly bad (see below). It shows numerous typos, including unnecessary punctuation, letter reversals, replacement of a p with a bracket in point 3 and duplication of point eight, whereas point nine is missing. It looks as though the page was copied with the paper not quite straight, and the right top corner folded down, partly obscuring some words. There are photocopied marks of a staple and holes from a removed staple. It has a coffee cup stain and coffee spill mark, and furthermore a big tear right across the coffee cup mark has been clumsily repaired with sticking tape before photocopying. Sapphire has made some changes herself – she has circled the word ‘balance’ in point 4 and has corrected “team” to “term” in the same point. → Read more
At this time of year, we consider the incarnation of Jesus – God himself, entering his own creation.
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Philippians 1:6,7
My local Christian community met this morning and there was an opportunity to share what the incarnation and the birth of Jesus meant to individuals. Several spoke of the apparent absurdity of it all. The Ruler of creation is revealed, not by a birth in noble and ostentatious circumstances, but in diametrically opposite fashion, in the smelly and humiliating stable of a village inn that had no room for his peasant mother at her moment of crisis. Secular people sometimes cringe at what they perceive as gratuitous degradation (Christ’s birth) and violence (Christ’s death) at the heart of the Christian message. And yet, strangely enough, that circumstance was how God showed his heart and identification with the poor and downtrodden of the world.
I started this book with a concern about the apparent conflict between science and faith. The popular media in particular portrays conflict, and many Christians and scientists perceive conflict, in regards to ideas of human origins. This, I said, was unnecessary, and was causing mutual polarisation and mistrust between Christians and scientists (or the stereotype of these groups into which extremists of each group casts the other). This is seen particularly in the heated debate and political wrangling between scientists using neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory to bolster an atheistic worldview, and those scientists and Christians espousing one or other form of Special Creation.
I discussed Francis Bacon’s two ‘books’ – God’s word and God’s works – and how the scholarly study of both books used formalised processes to try to clear the filters that impair our human view of the truth. Both disciplines place high value on ethical principles of truth and integrity, peer review and the refinement and progressive nature of ideas over time. Science develops and self-corrects, and so does (and must) theology – our theology has progressed from King David’s theology and from the mediaeval view of the earth at the centre of the universe. At the heart of both Science and Scripture is the same God who created and underpins the world we observe and inspired the Book we interpret. God’s truth is indivisible. My continuing concern is that the church must not be so blind to God’s totality of truth that it forces people (Christian students or sceptics) to see a dichotomy between the God of Scripture and the God of Nature.
I then discussed several areas of scientific interest – the Antipodean Heresy, the sun-centred universe, and racial prejudice – in which some or much of the church has got it wrong in the past. The error, in all three cases, involved a highly literalist interpretation of certain Bible passages, without taking into account the writers’ and audiences’ state of understanding about the world, and the original intended messages.
Next I proceeded to examine the first few chapters of Genesis, attempting to take the cultural, social and scientific (or pre-scientific) context of the writer(s) and audience, and the genre of the texts, into account. I concluded that the stories were not history in the modern sense, and that one might call them proto-history as many scholars suggest. Their central message is theological, not biological, as Blackmore and Page have stated.61 Genesis showed the Israelites how God related to them through Creation and Covenant. They were the created representatives on earth of the one true God, not uncreated gods and not slaves of competing gods. Some theologians like Walter Brueggemann go so far as to deny that Genesis has anything to do with origins at all, an idea that merits thought and discussion.
This clears the way for Christians to examine with an open mind the scholarly and scientific study of animal and human origins, without ruling out-of-court long time spans and evolutionary theories before the evidence is given. I proceeded to examine the evidence, particularly in regard to whether or not study of apes, humans and fossils since Darwin’s day has supported the predictions his theory made about human origins at a time when those predictions could not be tested. A summary of this evidence, for your easy reference, is as follows.
So far in this exploration of the relationship of scientific and biblical accounts of human beings I have indicated a number of concepts that I believe are important for Christians to embrace. Firstly, Genesis is a book about the family history of Israel and Israel’s relationship to the One Creator God. Secondly, our scientific knowledge forms a ‘book’ about the physical structure and history of our universe. Thirdly, Genetics is the ‘book’ of genes and family relationships. This last book shows that there is a very close kinship between primates, apes and humans. I have also indicated that in order to understand the biblical texts and avoid making foolish anachronistic misinterpretations, we need to understand not just their context within Scripture, but the original environment in which they arose, their authorship and purpose, and what they would convey to their original audience.
In Chapters 26 to 28 I considered the possible repercussions of these conclusions on the theology of the Fall, and concluded a) that Adam and Eve could not have been the first persons, or the first ancestors of all humans, and b) that the doctrine that Original Sin proceeded from Adam was not a central theme in the New Testament, and not an essential prerequisite to the gospel of grace and redemption through Christ’s death. In this chapter I look at whether the evolutionary view of human origins and our genetic relationship to apes alters our understanding of the human person. There are three principal issues here:Does our biological nature and inheritance determine who we are – are we merely well developed apes? What about the imago Dei, the image of God? Both Christians and Jews have long held, on the basis of the Creation story in Genesis 1, that humans are unique among all creation, because they were created in the image of God. What does this mean? Are humans purely physical, or do they have a non-physical spiritual nature in the form of a spirit or soul? This topic will occupy the major part of this section.
In Chapter 25 I concluded that analysis of genes has provided overwhelming evidence to support a common ancestry for humans, chimpanzees and other primates. If that is correct, then to deny it, even on the basis of theology, is to deny the truth. Without truth our theology fails anyway, and we are living in a fantasy. That was the mistake made by the church at the time of Columbus, when the existence of the Antipodes was a heresy to their doctrine, and again when Copernicus was deemed heretical because he said the earth went round the sun, and yet again when the slave trade was justified on the basis of genealogies in Genesis.
Genesis 3, however, contains a story that has been considered by many Christians to be at the very core of the Christian doctrine of salvation, the very reason for the incarnation and death of Jesus. That story is the one of the temptation and sin of Adam and Eve, and the curse that God placed on them. Traditionally this is the reason for the sin of every human being: they are ‘born in sin’ because they are descendants of Adam and Eve – the concept of ‘Original Sin’. Christ came to earth to die for the sins of mankind, which arise from the original sin of Adam and Eve. For Christians today this is harder to put aside, perhaps, than the question of whether the earth goes round the sun or vice versa.
To put it simply, the traditional interpretation of the theology is something like this:
In other words, Adam’s sin starts a chain reaction of consequences, which ends with our forgiveness through Christ’s death, and the promise of eternal life. A number of issues rear their heads immediately. Firstly, if humans have evolved from ape-like ancestors, how do we account for human sin and accountability before God? Secondly, how do we account for the apostle Paul’s attribution of sin (Romans 5) and death (1 Corinthians 15) to Adam? Thirdly, does an evolutionary origin of humans take away the reason for Christ’s death?
To answer these questions, I will start a bit further back and consider this story and the theology in the following two chapters as follows:
1. Is the story of Adam and Eve’s sin historically credible?
i. Is the story itself historical?
ii. Were Adam and Eve real people?
iii. Were Adam and Eve the parents of all humans?
These questions are key to the second layer of questions.
2. Did Adam and Eve’s sin cause sin and death for all?
i. Was Adam the originator of death – human, animal or plant?
ii. Was Adam the originator of human sin?
Finally we can come back to the questions that for Christians are common objections to the evolutionary development of humans.
3. Is the doctrine of Original Sin central to New Testament theology? (And if not what is?)
4. How did sin and evil arise in an evolutionary process?
The last question is by far the most difficult and least resolved – a big topic both for theology and philosophy. It is also one to which I can only give a brief and tentative answer as I am not an expert in the field.