I am posting a thought on Darwinian evolution. There is already quite a lot of material on this subject on this site. This week I am sharing a thought which might help as a way in for teachers or pastors who wish to gain, and hence offer to others, a brief impression of the big picture.
Before I share my thought, let’s quickly acknowledge that the Darwinian account, which is based on the ideas of inheritance, variation from one generation to another, and natural selection, is basically correct. Any reasonable and well-informed person will accept the mainstream accounts of this, since the evidence is vast and makes a coherent case. To be precise, we don’t want or need dubious ideas such as the one currently going by the name ‘intelligent design’. However we don’t need to buy into misleading metaphors about the Darwinian process either. We don’t need metaphors of war and selfishness, for example, nor need we accept irrational opinions such as the opinion that the results of evolution are without further layers of meaning beyond the categories of science.
Now I want to offer an illustration that captures fairly well the big picture of Darwinian evolution.
Think about one of those patterns of frost that you sometimes see in winter on a window where ice has condensed. The frost pattern is often like a rather beautiful collection of fronds. The process behind this is a combination of chance and necessity. Change governs where the ice molecules happen to be as they approach the glass of the window. Necessity governs the way one molecule binds to another. The resulting pattern shows both aspects. No two ice fronds are exactly alike, yet all have similar patterns.
The same can be said of the products of Darwinian evolution. Various basic truths of existence guarantee large amounts of the grand pattern, but they do not dictate the details.
What God guarantees is what absolute truth guarantees—that two plus two make four, for example. And absolute reality also guarantees many richer truths. For example, the truth than organisms do better when they can sense and respond to their environment. Also, the truth that tit-for-tat is a good strategy in a simple kind of social group. These are among what I called just now ‘various basic truths of existence’. And in more complex social groups, richer truths are displayed, such as the truth that mercy is better than revenge. All these are not chance outcomes. Rather, they are absolute truths that the process of inheritance, variation and natural selection could not fail to respect and reveal. Like the patterns of the ice frond, these are all aspects of reality that biology has shown, and could not fail to show.
This is not to say that social groups will always exhibit things like mercy. What I mean is that moral truths remain what they are, and any process that results in social animals cannot fail to furnish those animals with some idea of how social life works, because otherwise they would not be social animals. This is what variation and natural selection is guaranteed to discover, because it is not possible to discover anything else. No process can discover that hate is better than love, because in fact hate is not better than love. It is as simple as that.
We have inherited from our God-given evolution our moral capacity, among various other capacities, and that capacity enables us to learn, slowly but surely, what is good what is not.
In short, as long as our theism is not naïve, then the evolutionary coming-to-be of the ecological world makes perfectly good sense within a theistic perspective.