Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Finding 'creation' in evolutionary creationism

I do not call myself a theistic evolutionist for the same reason that I do not call myself a theistic cosmologist, theistic general relativist, theistic developmental biologist or theistic meteorologist. I do not prefix 'theistic' to any other scientific discipline, and do not see the need to do the same with evolutionary biology. The term 'evolutionary creationism' is one that I did not coin, but I am happy to use it as it neatly summarises my position. I believe that the diversity of life we see now and through time owes its origins to an evolutionary process, and this was the secondary cause employed by God to create.

Science as I have said before is the search for natural explanations for natural phenomena, which means that one cannot demonstrate scientifically a supernatural hand in creation. Furthermore, as I believe God has granted creation functional integrity, I do not expect to see any 'gaps' or 'holes' in the natural world which are bridged by ad hod divine intervention. Therefore, I do not expect to see anything akin to a 'made by  YHWH' stamp in creation. That of course raises the legitimate question of whether I have simply tagged the term 'evolution' with the phrase 'creationism'.

My faith is based on the risen Christ. I don't mean that as a metaphor. Rather, having looked at the events surrounding the formation of early Christianity, I believe that the most plausible explanation is the one found in the gospel narratives - Jesus actually rose from the dead. [1-2] Evolutionary creationism is therefore an inference based on my acceptance of the fact of evolution and my belief in the reality of the God who raised Jesus from the grave. [3] Having said that, it is not unreasonable to expect in the natural world evidence, at a fundamental level, which are consistent with creation. Two lines of evidence exist which I find intriguing.

The first is the idea of evolutionary convergence, with the best-known exponent being the respected palaeontologist and Christian Simon Conway Morris. Near the end of his book Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe, he summarises the lines of evidence which he regards as 'congruent' with creation:

In essence, we can ask ourselves what salient facts of evolution are congruent with a Creation. In my judgement, they are as follows:

(1) its underlying simplicity, relying on a handful of building blocks;
(2) the existence of an immense universe of possibilities, but a way of navigating to that minutest of fractions which actually work;
(3) the sensitivity of the process and the product, whereby nearly all alternatives are disastrously maladaptive;
(4) the inherency of life whereby complexity emerges as much by the rearrangement and co-option of pre-existing building blocks as against relying on novelties per se;
(5) the exuberance of biological diversity, but the ubiquity of evolutionary convergence;
(6) the inevitability of the emergence of sentience, and the likelihood that among animals it is far more prevalent than we are willing to admit.


None of it presupposes, let alone proves, the existence of God, but all is congruent. For some it will remain as the pointless activity of the Blind Watchmaker, but others may prefer to remove their dark glasses. The choice, of course, is yours. [1]
None of this is proves the existence of God, but evidence congruent with the idea that evolutionary convergence will lead to the inevitable emergence of sentience certainly is consistent with the idea of a creator God who employs evolution to achieve his purpose of a creation capable of reflecting his image.

The second argument is that if one is looking for how God could create using evolution, one could find this in the islands of genomic viability in genetic 'sequence space'. Geophysicist and former YEC Glenn Mortin has argued along these lines:
I think ID is making a big mistake trying to find design in biology because evolution occurred and is capable of bringing forth such animals as we see, but that doesn't mean that there is no design. Indeed, I would propose that the design of biology lies in the ultimate structure of the DNA sequence space. I need to define what a phase or sequence space is.

Say you have a 2 base pair DNA. There are 16 different combinations. This can be laid out in a 2-dimensional space.

A . . . .
T . . . .
C . . . .
G . . . .
  A T C G

Each dot represents the entire genome. For a 3 base pair DNA, one can use a 3D volume in which each point represents the entire DNA. For a 3.5 billion human genome, one must use a 3.5 billion dimensional space. The various points in this space have various functionality. Some points allow creatures to live, other sequences are certain death. Species form a cloud in sequence space, each has its unique DNA and thus occupy a unique point in sequence space, bu they are not far from their compatriots. Evolution consists of a population moving through sequence space. When a species finds two caverns of viability coming off the one cavern they occupy, the species will split if there is selection pressure taking the population in two different directions through this cave system.

What I postulate is that there was design in the phase space or sequence space of DNA. the 4 million base pairs of E. coli make a 4 million dimensional sequence space. Each organism occupies a single point in that multidimensional mathematical world. When a mutation occurs, the organism moves from one point to another. Some points bring about death. Other points in this space allow the organism to live.

Now when one organism evolves to another, there must be a path of viability in this space (or a cavern of viability) To put things in a 2 dimensional perspective (see diagram) if one wants to evolve an animal from point A in the sequence space to point B, there must be a clear path where all the points allow for viability. There can be gaps in the path, which require 2 mutations to jump over, but such blockages, lower the probability that one will get from A to B.

Here is the diagram. The occasional period is in there for spacing purposes only.

6 A d d d d d
5 l l d d d d
4 d l d d d d
3 l l d B d d
2 l d d l d d
1 l l l l d d
  1 2 3 4 5 6

where l is a dna sequence space point leading to life and d is a DNA sequence leading to death. The place I posit design is in the design or layout of these caverns of viability. God could have pre-programmed life's evolution via this approach turning what is considered a product of pure chance into a quasi-deterministic event. The reason this approach is possible is that we do not have any idea why should one sequence of DNA leads to life and other leads to death? We simply can't calculate from first principles the rules that govern viability.

While I certainly can't prove design with this proposal, it is clear that not all DNA sequences are equally likely to result in a living being. So stalemate with the materialist view. But logically both positions are on equal footing - faith.

When animals, with their intricate functionality are examined, they look like Paley's watches but Paley's analogy does fall to Dawkins' critique of the blind watchmaker (unless the sequence space constraints are correct). Evolution can make this type of watch. But the issue of design is much higher than Dawkins realizes. Dawkins needs to explain the factory which produced those watches, which may include subtle pre-programming of the DNA space.
As Morton rightly notes, one cannot 'prove design' with this argument. Rather, this shows a plausible way in which design could coexist with an undirected process such as evolution, and as Conway Morris suggests, evolutionary convergence does allow a way in which end-results such as sentience could be achieved.

1. Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003.

2. Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.

3. Would I abandon my belief in the resurrection if a plausible naturalistic explanation to explain the events surrounding the formation of the early church was found? Intellectual honesty would oblige me to do that. However, I have found no compelling naturalistic explanation, and on this subject there really has not been any substantively new argument advanced for years. I've read them all, and frankly they are unconvincing.

4. Conway Morris S Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (2003: Cambridge University Press) p 329-330

5. Morton G The Metaphysical Casino and Other Stories of Design - Why I believe in Design