The Doctrinal Problem of Evolution

June 3, 2010 | no comments

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.

Comment at the Junior Ganymede.

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

Comments are closed.


Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.