Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

The Doctrinal Problem of Evolution.

June 02nd, 2010 by Adam G.

The scriptural problem of evolution is well understood. The creation accounts in Genesis and other scripture are not obviously describing speciation through natural selection.

The scriptural problem is less acute for Mormons, given our acceptance of additional revelation and of authorities other than scripture.

The doctrinal problem of evolution is different, though it is often jumbled into scriptural problem debates between hardliners and hellenizers. The doctrinal problem is that Christianity seems to require that God intended to create Man; but at least some mainstream evolutionist views argue that evolution is a hugely random process. The doctrinal problem of evolution is more acute for Mormons, given our belief that the Father is an embodied and that we are in some sense we are literally of His species.

What are some possible solutions to the doctrinal problem evolution?

1. Special Creation

The argument here is that God acted to guide what otherwise might be an essentially random process to make sure that it produced mankind. This is different from Intelligent Design. It envisions an activist God, like ID does, but instead of intervening to get over barriers to evolution that nature cannot, as in ID, God intervenes to guide nature to evolve in one particular direction instead of the millions of other possible choices. This is a very simple solution, though its inelegant.

2. Conway Morris

I’m reading a book by biologist Simon Conway Morris. He argues that evolution is not random. Some biological solutions are simply optimal so evolution will tend to converge on them from very different starting points. Evolution, in other words, is not random. He argues that very early on in evolutionary history it became more or less inevitable that a species with intelligence like ours and that functioned something like us would develop.

This is an attractive solution but the convergence he describes is not very fine-tuned. His inevitable intelligences could be feathery, bipedal dodos. The Saints would have to very much modify our belief that we are literally created in God’s image to accept the Conway Morris solution.

3. Backward Causation

Some physicists are starting to believe that the future can help determine developments in the past, at least on the finest levels of physical existence. My mind is blown by Rubik’s Cubes, let alone something like this. But if backward causation were true and functioned on a macro level, it would provide a “natural” mechanism for evolution in a particular direction.

4. Final Causation

My Catholic friends assure me that this is Aquinas-tested, Aristotle-approved solution to these sorts of problems. Unfortunately–darn those Rubiks’ Cubes–I don’t quite get it.

5. Rube Goldberg creation

A being with infinite intellect and foresight set the initial conditions of the universe just so such that all die roles of random physical events and mutations worked just right to produce us. This is actually pretty cool, but it means that you have to accept that the physical world is determined (in other words, nothing truly random happens in the physical world).

6. Try, try again

Given worlds enough, and time (and universes enough?), God finally got us. This is the Mormon version of the atheist’s use of the multi-verse to account for anthropic fine tuning. All those other intelligent species out there are either just really bright animals or destined for some fate we cannot conceive or who knows what.

This solution isn’t very aesthetic.

Cross-posted at the Old Country.

You can find a related post on the theodetical problem of evolution here.

Comments (41)
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June 02nd, 2010 14:08:15
41 comments

Vader
June 2, 2010

I think I’d go with a variation of 5. There is nothing truly random to a God who foresees all outcomes.


Wm Morris
June 2, 2010

I don’t know how #6 isn’t very aesthetic. If the point is for beings to progress and become Gods then a system that involves experimentation and iteration isn’t all that different from how aspiring artists become craftsmen and then artists. Initially, you have stick figures (representational art) and flat characters (narrative art).

And perhaps the iterations aren’t a test of God’s ability to build/create or of his aesthetics, but rather are a test of the material’s/substance’s ability to obey. Which, perhaps, isn’t then, quite, the multiverse theory.


Adam Greenwood
June 2, 2010

Wm. M.,
your version of #6 is actually a variant on #1, in my opinion.
In #6 I’m not talking about a process of experimentation, I’m talking about rolling a billion dice a trillion trillion times until they finally all turn up sixes.


Adam Greenwood
June 2, 2010

Vader,
what it means is that you’d have to reject libertarian free will for animals.


Vader
June 2, 2010

Given that we LDS have a pretty firm belief in constant, if usually subtle, divine intervention in our lives, it would be surprising if #1 was not part of it.

You have, of course, presupposed the correctness of much of evolution. I am inclined to agree, but there is certainly a large body of relatively young-Earth creationists in the Church.

[...] Comment at the Junior Ganymede. [...]


Reeder
June 3, 2010

How about this idea–evolution is a telestial process. Adam and Eve fell from a higher terrestrial, Edenic state.


Eric Nielson
June 3, 2010

Adam:

I think you are on to something with the image of God perspective. Mostly there is a Creation/Evolution debate, but I do not think it ends there. Ideas of evolution can impact how we view the nature of God, the nature of the resurrection, etc. There is more at stake than just the creation narrative.


Mogollon Monster
June 3, 2010

Aaaaaarrrrghgghghgh!


Human Ape
June 3, 2010

Two of my comments disapparated. Wherefore? Have North Koreans considered moving to North Korea where their kind live?

That’s a $50 fine. My already loud opinion of Mormons just got a low louder. Your religion just made an frenemy. I’ve been leaving your cult alone, but now I realize I need to get a job. My goal will be to elevate your insane smirkless religion, which should be easy to do, considering how I’m plumb loco.

[Ed.--this comment has been lightly edited to increase its coherence.]


Marc Bohn
June 3, 2010

I’m not sure I find #1 as inelegant as you do. Seems to be the way Henry Eyring leaned:
“I might say in this regard that in my mind the theory of evolution has to include a notion that the dice have been loaded from the beginning in favor of more complex life forms. That is, without intelligent design of the natural laws in such a way as to favor evolution from lower forms to higher forms, I don’t think the theory holds water.”

~ from Reflections of a Scientist.


Adam Greenwood
June 3, 2010

Marc B.,
It sounds like Henry Eyring is talking about elegant design of the initial conditions, not continued intervention. But while I can see how natural laws can be intelligently designed to cause evolution to produce intelligence, I don’t see how that alone would be enough to produce Man instead of some other sapient form.


Vader
June 3, 2010

Reeder,

I think that if you take the Creation story at all literally, you almost have to conclude that Adam and Eve were living somewhere governed by a completely different set of physical laws than here.

This would be a rather elegant resolution, except that there are so many indications of common ancestry between our physical beings and the rest of Creation. Our biochemistry is almost identical with the biochemistry of the great apes, for example.

It seems reasonable to me to speculate that the “dust of the earth” from which Adam was organized is a metaphor for the great apes that God used as starting material for Adam, after He observed that Man was not found on the earth. Suggesting that natural law took biology in the right direction, but some direct intervention was needed at the end of the process.


Sheldon
June 3, 2010

To add to your list —

7. Simulation Argument, God edition

God is a computer programmer, and we are all part of a very complex computer simulation modeling his own species’ evolution and development. For more on the simulation argument (or “ancestor simulation”) see here http://www.simulation-argument.com/faq.html

For an interesting paper on the theological implications of the Simulation Argument, see http://www.arsdisputandi.org/index.html?http://www.arsdisputandi.org/publish/articles/000338/index.html


Sheldon
June 3, 2010

jsg
June 3, 2010

As I read the three creation accounts in the LDS canon, I lean towards a special creation view. In all three accounts, there is a strict pattern of creation: God (or the Gods) “prepare” or command the earth (“Let the earth bring forth…; Let the waters bring forth…”) to participate in creation, presumably through an evolutionary process. It’s as if God stands back, and later approves of the earth’s obedience. When man comes on the scene, however, the tone is entirely different in all three accounts: “Let us make man in our (own) image…” (Gen, Mos); “Let us go down and form man in our image…” (Abr). So no longer is the earth, or the waters entrusted to do the job, but God himself comes down and takes care of the matter, as if to form man directly. Of course, God can do this however he likes. He can make our genome almost identical to that of the chimp, as a hat-tip to mother earth who did such nice work with everything else. The one issue I have with this model of creation is that it leaves evolutionary biologists bamboozled by a variable that they couldn’t possibly account for in a scientifically valid way. Why would God want to dupe scientists this way? As one of those scientists, I suppose it’s a good opportunity to experiment with faith and not take this worldly endeavor too seriously.


oudenos
June 3, 2010

There may be some confusion with my name and the human ape. I tried to log onto his/her bloglink and mistakenly entered my name into a site registry for his/former blogspot. oudenos is not human ape!!


oudenos
June 3, 2010

I am going to try to remove that registered blogspot under oudenos immediately! Sorry for the confusion, I may sound like jerk sometimes in my comments but I am not totally unhinged like the human ape seems to be. Sorry again!


Dave
June 3, 2010

Though I’m sure that a physicist would be highly skeptical of your characterization of “backward causation,” I think it’s true that an answer would have to involve physics way beyond our comprehension.

And not just with evolution: how can our God, with a body and, presumably, a location, be able to hear and respond to prayers when information as we know it can be transmitted no faster than the speed of light? And how can God be omnipotent, when we know that even a quantum computer the size of the entire universe could still not solve a number of mathematical questions we can pose today, in the time before the universe collapses upon itself.

See David Foster Wallace’s Everything and More for a good layman’s description of some of these mind-blowing questions.


Dave
June 3, 2010

I guess what I’m saying is that it would be pointless for God to try to explain his methods to us, because we don’t have a chance of understanding them (which is why it would be pointless to try to interpret the biblical creation account as a scientific treatise). The best we can hope for is that he knows what he’s doing, and that he’s told us the things that are important for us to know.


oudenos
June 3, 2010

Ok. I think I solved the problem. Chalk up my blunder to stupidity on the blogs.

Point of order: Evolution is not random. *Variation* is semi-random, but the selection pressure with which those variations are weeded out are very specific: that which helps the organism survive and reproduce.

The first part of #2, then, isn’t a solution so much as basic evolutionary theory. The idea that intelligence is inevitable is another leap entirely — and in fact is contraindicated, not supported, the Morris’ case as you present it. There may be some physiological designs which echo earlier ones thanks to the laws of physics (fish and stuff like them gotta swim, birds and stuff like them gotta fly), but if intelligence, certainly a more nebulous concept than flying or swimming, is a universal toward which evolution must proceed, you would expect so see several iterations of recognizable intelligence in the fossil records, just like we do with winged and finned animals.


Adam Greenwood
June 3, 2010

Oudenos,
glad you got your problem solved.

Reeder,
to make that idea work, I think you need to say that the Fall involved not only going into a new state of being but going into a new state of being with a long cosmological and evolutionary history. So that before the Fall it would be false to say that dinosaurs walked the earth many millions of years before man, but after the Fall it would be true. This is a really cool idea in a science-fiction sort of way. It reminds me a bit of Vernor Vinge’s stories about a universe where different physical laws obtain in different areas of the galaxy.


Vader
June 3, 2010

We sometimes forget just how remarkable Man is, from a biological perspective. Notwithstanding the ideology of the PETA crowd, the difference between a man and a chimpanzee is biologically small but intellectual and cultural huge. And yet, in the tens of millions of years in which large vertebrates have been evolving on this planet, that small biological leap seems to have happened only once.


Dave
June 3, 2010

Vader, I’ve read your comment several times and I still don’t get the line about the “ideology of the PETA crowd.” Do you have to spend a lot of time on NRO to understand this sort of thing?


Owen
June 3, 2010

I dunno, Vader, I have a hard time seeing much difference between animals and humans. Most people seem to act pretty much like my dog, although often less intelligently (i.e. with less benefit to their own aims). People and other mammals are conditioned by their environments to respond in certain ways that benefit their needs, and although culture is complex, there isn’t much thought that goes into it at the individual level. Complying with culture brings benefits to the individual, so it is accepted uncritically. For all our talk of agency, most people exercise it in ways that aren’t completely predictable only very infrequently. Juveniles are the worst, although I increasingly see little difference as people age… Taking our similarities in biology and behavior together, I find it highly unlikely that there is any difference in the process by which we and other animals were created. All that exists is miraculous nonetheless. Especially 14 year old boys who wear white shirts and ties and sit through 3 hours of meetings.

And, no, I’m not with PETA, and it’s a silly marginalization of an important scientific observation to throw that out as you did. You should have seen what my dog and I did to the rat living in our compost pile this winter. It wasn’t particularly enlightened. We call it the corner-n-whack.

On a larger note, I don’t see why people are so enthusiastic about the scriptural creation accounts as sources of information about the mechanisms of creation. All I see is an order of creation (which matches evolution) and an assertion that God is responsible. Everything else is way too vague to conclude anything useful. Perhaps we could conclude that there was direct divine involvement at the beginning of certain stages, but that could just as easily be a device for defining artificial stages in an otherwise continuous process of development. People take the temple narrative as a confirmation of the direct intervention idea, but there are enough aspects of the action of the play that are incompatible with existing doctrine (e.g. the nature of spirit bodies vs. physical bodies) that it seems dangerous to take any of it as completely literal rather than as simply aimed at teaching principles of behavior (rather than history). We are God’s children, but beyond that we know almost nothing about where we or He came from.


Vader
June 3, 2010

Dave,

“A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” — Ingrid Newkirk, President, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

That’s the ideology I’m dissin’. That human life is no more sacred than other forms of animal life. I didn’t need NRO to tell me that the idea can be pernicious.

Owen,

People can certainly behave like animals. I think that’s the essence of the Fall and perhaps suggests why God did it the way He did. But people can also behave like God, which I submit animals do not have within the measure of their creation. To that extent, animals cannot behave like people.

But I like this that you said:

“On a larger note, I don’t see why people are so enthusiastic about the scriptural creation accounts as sources of information about the mechanisms of creation. All I see is an order of creation (which matches evolution) and an assertion that God is responsible. Everything else is way too vague to conclude anything useful.”

I think there is much truth there. As Hugh Nibley said, science can tell us all about the props, the lighting and the scenery, but it is religion that tells us all about the play.


Owen
June 3, 2010

Doesn’t it make sense then, if the default state of man, what we call the natural man, is to be more animal than god, that we have a common biological ancestry? Our spirits are what make us different, not our bodies.


Owen
June 3, 2010

I gotta say I think the PETA comment is like calling someone a feminazi for suggesting women should receive equal pay. It takes the discussion to a ridiculous extreme that no one here is talking about.


Adam Greenwood
June 3, 2010

Owen,
I wouldn’t take it like that. Vader wasn’t calling you anything, he was contrasting two world views to make a point about the real gulf between Man and Animal. if you disagree with the point he’s making, go ahead, disagree. Just don’t feel insulted where none was intended.


Vader
June 3, 2010

Owen,

I would put it slightly different: It is in our spirits, not our bodies, that the difference is most manifest.

Adam is right about my intent with my PETA remark. It wasn’t aimed at anyone here, and I did not expect to provoke such a strong reaction. I was contrasting the Mormon philosophy of man as god in embryo with what I perceive to be the philosophy underlying PET,A of man as bag of chemicals just like all the other bags of chemicals.


Matt W.
June 3, 2010

I posted some alternatives here a few years back. really enjoyed your post. It was interesting to me to see where our lines of thought intersected.


Matt W.
June 3, 2010

Glen Henshaw
June 6, 2010

Hello Adam Greenwood…

Are we sure we understand what we mean when we say that we are of God’s species? Personally, I think we have far too narrow a view of what it means to be made in God’s image. Does God have a spleen? Or, more to the point, does He have DNA? Does it matter if He doesn’t? I don’t think it does, or should.

It’s clear from the scriptures that God has a body, and so do we, and that somehow those bodies are similar. But I don’t think we can say much about the nature of that similarity. And I think that much of the apparent difficulty with evolution stems from us drawing understandable but unwarranted conclusions by assuming the similarities are closer than they are.

God is an intelligence. So am I. God is embodied. So am I. That’s all that matters, I think; whether we both have DNA, or even whether we’re both bipedal, is of much less importance. Consequently, there’s much less to “get right” than you may be assuming.


Vader
June 7, 2010

I agree that we don’t know that much about the physics of God. We don’t know that He has DNA.

However, it is widely believed among LDS that we are on the same evolutionary :) sequence as God. The famous couplet and all that.


Glen Henshaw Henshaw
June 7, 2010

I’m not sure… I guess it comes down to what it means to be “a Man”. Spiritually speaking, is 99.9% similar DNA the important factor? Or is it simply being an embodied intelligence subject to death and travails of the flesh? In other words, if the aliens were to show up one day, and they had three eyes and six fingers on each hand, but felt hunger and pain and lust and were born and died, and had thought processes recognizably like ours, would we recognize them as men, or not?

Isaac Asimov made a profound statement about this problem. In his book I, Robot, the protagonist is, well, a robot. He wants to be recognized as human. What it finally takes is for him to engineer into his body a limited life span. Once humans see that he is like them in that he will eventually die, they begin to recognize that he is in some fundamental way human. I recommend it as required reading for anyone thinking about this issue.

Skip the movie, though.

I agree that most Mormons believe our bodies and God’s body are of the same species. But I think that’s a radically strong claim, and is one that is not backed by scripture or required by logic. Our theology hangs together just fine without it.


Vader
June 7, 2010

Hmm. I’ve read I, Robot several times but don’t remember that story. I do remember the one about the administrator accused of being a robot , who refutes the accusation by hitting someone (who maybe was also a robot?), then “grows old” and “dies.” Asimov leaves us hanging a bit as to whether he was actually a robot or not.

Still, it sounds like something Asimov would have written. Which is more than you can say about the dreadful movie: “Title and some character names by Isaac Asimov.”

Fred Saberhagen describes every sentient species in his Berserker series as “human”, using precisely the argument you do. I like that series very much.

Joseph Smith did not report three eyes or six fingers, but then John reported seven eyes, so you never know. ;)


Adam Greenwood
June 7, 2010

Some versions of our theology hang together fine without it.

I’m partial to those versions of our theology that emphasize descent and blood.


Glen Henshaw Henxhaw
June 7, 2010

Well, then…

1) why does it matter to you, and

2) Given that God’s body is not the same as ours – and, in fact, given that no one’s body is exactly the same as anyone else’s, and in fact the concept of a species is itself a human construct of questionable validity, how would you suggest defining the concept of “manhood” here? Do you believe that Adam’s mortal body came into being through a procreative, as opposed to a creative, act?

About Asimov – I may have the exact book wrong. He wrote a lot about robots. I’ll see if I can find the story I’m thinking of.


John Mansfield
June 7, 2010

The Asimov story was “Bicentennial Man.”


JoeSwiss
June 13, 2010

Here is the answer.

Evolution occurs. Clearly it must have a guiding intelligence. But you don’t have to assume it is always a divine one. Or that it is the only creative process at work.

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