Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Theistic Evolution: the Philosophical Problem
So far in our review of Francis Collins' book The Language of God we have considered some of the theological problems involved in his version of theistic evolution. But there are philosophical problems as well.. The central question in the debate is whether or not there is such a thing as design in nature, and this, in turn, lies at the heart of the much broader question of whether or not life itself has meaning and purpose.
Like Darwin, Dr. Collins conceives of evolution as a naturalistic process, but he also asserts the "Anthropic Principle." At the moment of the "Big Bang" 14 billion years ago the universe was precisely tuned to sustain life and ultimately produce man. But this seems to imply a kind of mechanistic determinism of the type once advocated by Laplace: by a very long chain of cause and effect the outcome of the process is determined by the beginning. But that would leave no room for the kind of moral responsibility Dr. Collins says is the distinctive feature of humankind. Moreover, as Dr. Collins points out, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle undermines any notion of mechanistic determinism. That would mean that "God plays dice," as Einstein complained, and it would also mean that the evolution of Homo sapiens is would have been far from certain. Dr. Collins tries to tell us "evolution could appear to us to be driven by chance, but from God's perspective the outcome would be entirely specified. Thus God could be completely and intimately involved in the creation of all species, while from our perspective, limited as it is by the tyranny of linear time, this would appear a random and undirected process" (p. 205).
But Dr. Collins still has not answered the question, is there design in nature? There would appear to be three possibilities: 1) God controls each step of the process to ensure the desired outcome; 2) Evolution proceeds in a deterministic fashion, so that God can foresee the outcome without directly controlling the process; or 3)Evolution really is a random and undirected process. Dr. Collins tells us how it appears, but he is not at all clear about how it actually is. Is the design real, or is it merely apparent?