Warrant, Purpose, and Evolution (Darwin Day)
For Darwin Day, a brief reflection on evolution, teleology, etc.
In the perennial creation/evolution dialogues, there tends to be a lot of conflation between what I will call the “means” and the “motive” (I’m sure there are fancier academic terms for these categories, but, this isn’t a research paper). The “means” will refer to the mode of transforming material to its final state and the “motive” will refer to the purpose or reason for this occurrence.
So, where is the conflation? The intro video from the Neo-Ussherian website creation.com offers a good example. The speaker states “Creation or evolution? Design or time and chance?”. The hidden presupposition is that (1) direct creation by a deity entails design and (2) biological evolution entails purposelessness. However, this isn’t the case at all. The means by which biological diversity arises does not have much bearing (if any) on the motive. In other words, establishing the veracity of a certain means does not establish the veracity of a certain motive.
Suppose that purely materialistic processes are proven to be inadequate to explain the origination and development of life on Earth. Does this demonstrate design? I am not sure. For example, the satirical Flying Spaghetti Monster is claimed to have created many of the features on Earth by accident as a result of a hangover . It seems unlikely that this form of creation is what one would call well designed or at least designed in the sense that many creationists want to demonstrate. In this regard, it seems rather apparent that the means of creation do not demonstrate anything about the motive for creation. A complete scientific falsification of evolutionary theory would still seem to be vulnerable to the objection that the Intelligent Designer created the universe without any real overarching purpose (perhaps s/he was bored, drunk, insert your favorite arbitrary reason). This would be the case if it weren’t for the fact that, at least in the Christian worldview, this designer has spoken .
The fact that God has spoken is, I think, the source from which motive is truly derived. God created the universe specifically as the means for calling His elect to justification and conforming them to the image of the Son . While certain degrees of purpose or telos can be derived from the natural sciences , it is the revelation of Scripture that provides the Christian with the warrant for God’s motives in creating the world. The upshot here is that if there are independent reasons for accepting God’s existence and the truth of Scripture, then, the reality of design can be warranted independent of the means by which biological diversity arose. Conversely, the reality of evolution as the means of achieving biological diversity shouldn’t undermine the conviction of purpose.
How then can this “designed evolution” be conceived? The typical response is that the process of evolution does not appear to be designed or have any particular goal, so, to call it designed is a contradiction in terms. However, I think that a rebuttal can be formulated by analogy. How often is the course of human history perceived to be completely out of control or undirected or even going opposite of expectations? By all appearances, human history does not have an obvious end goal. Nevertheless, aren’t Christians still committed to the idea that God is in control of the events of human history, guiding them to an expected end? Of course, but the warrant for this isn’t found from examining history and deriving a purpose. Rather, it is warranted by what has been revealed in passages such as Isaiah 46:8-10
“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.
If God is in control of a seemingly purposeless enterprise such as human history, then, it seems perfectly consistent to posit His control over the similarly seemingly purposeless enterprise of evolution.
What’s the point? First, this is not a positive case stating this is the way things are or even the way I think things are. Rather, it’s to illustrate that the idea of purposed/directed evolution appears to be an intrinsically consistent idea or at least as consistent as purposed/directed human history. Second, this isn’t to say that there aren’t independent objections to this idea. One could posit scientific difficulties to the theory of evolution or posit hermeneutic difficulties concerning Genesis 1-3; however, these concerns are, as mentioned, independent of the objection that purposed evolution is self-contradictory.