An Evolutionary ‘devil’ in the Detail


In a chapter entitled ‘Evolutionary explanation’ Professor Ian Hutchinson (2011) refers to the dangers of a hospital environment. Hutchinson comments that one reason hospitals are such dangerous places is that, “…the environmental pressures on the bacteria there (in hospitals) are such that they rapidly evolve resistance to the various anti-bacterial agents that hospitals use.”  Within the biospheric ‘framework’ there are a quite remarkable amount of life-forms, some of which might be considered unnecessary intruders, or the kinds of creation that God would ‘surely not have conjured-up’ because they seem to prove a contradiction in terms when one maintains a particular understanding of what a  ‘good’ creation would look like. Bacterial life-forms are, as Hutchinson infers, endemic—not only in hospitals but in the whole of the biosphere. They are essential to the whole of the history of the biosphere. Biochemistry Professor and Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe (2007) refers to statistics offered by workers at the University of Georgia who estimated that about a billion billion trillion (thereabouts) bacterial cells are formed on the earth each and every year. Behe adds that:

If that number has been the same over the entire several-billion-year history of the world, then throughout the course of history there would have been slightly fewer than 1040 cells, a bit less than we’d expect to need to get a double CCC (i.e. a mutation cluster: ‘chloroquine-complexity clusters’):  The conclusion, then, is that the odds are slightly against even one double CCC showing up by Darwinian process in the entire course of the life on earth…So if we do find features of life that would have required a double CCC or more, then we can infer that they likely did not arise by a (purely material) Darwinian process.

‘Processes aside: Biochemist, Dennis Alexander refers to the necessary effects of biological evolution on its products—advocating that biology is a package deal and that the values only come with the disvalues. However, Alexander goes on to say that the positive side of this is that we are living in an incredibly dynamic world in which there is what he refers to as ‘a huge amount of daily coming and going—the dead of all kinds are constantly making room for the living; all of life is Interdependent’ . Alexander holds that the ‘Good God’ of all creation is also the great naturalist who enjoys all the richness and diversity of the natural world that he has brought into being—including its ‘impressive carnivores’ .Physicist John Polkinghorne underlines the fact that this current universe is a creation endowed with the physical properties that have empowered it to ‘make itself’ over the course of its evolutionary history:

A world of this kind by its necessary nature must be a world of transience in which death is the cost of new life. In theological terms, this world is a creation that is sustained by its Creator, and which has been endowed with a divinely purposed fruitfulness,…

Of course, it is the case that a Darwinian notion of ‘divinely purposed fruitfulness’ offers no guarantee of a ‘just so world’ in which there is no cost to the created order—unless it can be argued that the God of the Bible had no choice but to initiate such a ‘chamber of horrors—that this world is, not only the ‘best possible world’ but the ‘only possible world in which God could bring about his ‘GOOD’ purposes.  This world may be ‘endowed by collaboration and fruitfulness’, but it is also a ‘vale of tears’ in which, metaphorically speaking, ‘all hell breaks loose’. Such a world as this most definitely necessitates suffering, but whether or not its proclivity to produce the ‘short successes’ of life—the inevitability of pain and extinction may be considered wasteful—may not be comprehensively addressed from mankind’s current knowledge or current perspective. God is, as Polkinghorne suggests:’…the one who holds creation in being and interacts in hidden ways with its history. It is though ‘the hiddeness’ that mankind finds so difficult to comprehend. Indeed, what may be observed ‘today’, is not the whole story. Polkinghorne refers to the  “two halves of God’s great creative/redemptive act…” —the second half being that through which God shall bring about both vindication and justification for the [Created] state of affairs. The ‘present’ half (the old creation) may be seen to explore and realise its potentiality at “some metaphysical distance from its Creator” while the second half—the new redeemed creation—is brought into freedom through its intimate relationship with the ‘life of God’—in and through the work of Christ. The problem with this is of course: How to balance the evidence for a ‘greater-good’ with the opposite.

In philosophy much is spoken of regarding the existence of a ‘Best Possible World’—that in order to offer a defense for the existence of evil in the world this world is to be defined as ‘the best possible world’.

Supreme wisdom—united to a goodness that is no less infinite cannot but have chosen the best…(Leibniz)

In other words, the God of the Bible would have had to create the best possible world. Ergo, this world is the best [of] possible states of affairs. But is that the case? Moreover, need it be so? Biochemist & Theologian Christopher Southgate says that he fully accepts that we can never be sure that this was God’s only way to give rise to creatures such as stem from the 3.8-billion-year-long evolution of the Earth’s biosphere but he does suggest that “…given what we know about creatures, especially what we know about the role of evolution, in refining their characteristics, and the sheer length of time the process has required to give rise to sophisticated sentience, it is eminently plausible and coherent to conclude that this was the only way open to God.” It seems to me that Southgate may be sacrificing the omnipotence of God in order to retain God’s benevolence—or indeed to avoid conflict with the present ‘priestly’ paradigm of evolutionary theory or, moreover, the continuing  ‘synthesis’. There are however several things that can be said in answer to this. Firstly, in the light of our comprehension of the evolutionary process so far, we can ascertain certain fundamentals of the evolutionary process—fundamentals that Southgate mentions: 1. The role of ‘evolution’ in the refining of creatures’ characteristics. 2. The amount of time taken. There are also several things we can say about these assumptions: Given the nature of God’s omnipotence we can presume that time and procedure had nothing to do with God’s ability but all to do with God’s planned intentions—intentions to produce intelligent carbon-based-life on this planet,  i.e.that there always has been (for want of a better word) a  ‘blueprint’ for the process. It was never left to mere ‘chance’ for if it had been, we need not look further for omnipotence; though benevolence we might find—though it would be a poor substitute—and would hardly give us cause for rejoicing. God’s role in this procedure would have been one of watching ‘helplessly/haplessly’ as a mother watches her fledgling bird being devoured by its predator. Given God’s omnipotence we can further assume there was no ‘better’ way for God to bring about/to actualize particular outcomes.

Critics demand to know why it is that, in spite of God’s ‘alleged’ attributes, this world appears to fall far short of being the ‘best possible world’.

           Michael Murray (2008) considers two sorts of criticism: 1) that the natural laws could have been better and 2) that there could have been more ‘evil-preventing interventions’.  Murray’s suggestion is that, to show that such a world is possible the critic would need to describe a nomically regular world which (a) contains goodness of the sorts (either the same sorts or equivalent or better sorts) and amounts found in the actual world and which (b) contains substantially less natural evil than the actual world. Murray’s conclusion is that the task seems hopeless—that it would be necessary to identify a reasonably complete list of the goods that this actual world contains in order to offer a ‘best possible world’ potentiality. Murray suggests that it would be hard to know whether or not the acquisition of such a comprehensive list was at all possible:

Not only must the critic confront the fact that describing such an alternative world is seemingly beyond our capacities, she must also confront the claims of numerous scientists that there are many respects in which the physical parameters governing our world could not, after all, be significantly different from what they are in fact. Michael Murray 

Murray’s points are crucial to the question of whether or not God could have presented a better option. Murray, I believe, is most likely correct: As from our present understanding of the physical world—we cannot know whether or not there could have been a better option; this world being de facto the world we inhabit and of which we have reasonably comprehensive knowledge. As I have suggested elsewhere: It is not beyond the realms of possibility/probability that a different manifestation of the physical laws existed prior to, at least, the Angelic Fall— i.e. physical laws that might have preceded the ‘known laws of physics. Most importantly, it is because of the character of the God of Scripture, that we can assume that this world is the best of possible worlds. Liebniz  indeed argues that it is in this sense that this world is the best possible world, as we know of no other, and assume that God would not have created this world without it being an absolute necessary state of affairs; this is, as is suggested above, an assumption rather than an argument—it is though a reasonable assumption.

Derek J. White ( July 2019)

An exert from’God’s Goal in Creation’ 2019 [1644Words]


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