Time Isn’t The Key To Evolution, But Design May Be

Destruction_of_Leviathan

“Destruction of Leviathan”. 1865 engraving by Gustave Doré

Historically, the Christian religion has understood the world to be something like the stage upon which the drama of cosmic history plays out. Although there has been a diversity of understanding within Christian tradition regarding the nature of the world, it could be generally summarized by saying that it consists in both physical, observable creatures and objects and spiritual, non-observable creatures and objects. Those things which are physical and observable can be seen either plainly (with the naked eye) or under the proper circumstances (i.e. bacterium, microbes; with the proper equipment). Those things which are spiritual and non-observable can only be seen by being revealed.

The many Christianites have never been ambiguous regarding this matter: God and the world are not one-and-the-same. Although the Biblical worldview posits that God actively engages the world, it is postulated with equal clarity that the Creator is not a creature. Such pantheistic theories of God’s “oneness with the universe” are not only theologically problematic; they are nonsensical. Theism alone, Christian or not, can make sense of the universe. How? The relative orderliness of the universe – now, I said relative orderliness – is unlikely to have been achieved in the approximately 15 billion years since the hypothesized “Big Bang,” and the complex and functional creatures that operate within said world likely would not have formed unguided in the span of the approximately 4 billion years since life began, if I understand correctly. Time isn’t the answer to evolution. Design may be.

The sheer existence of the world demands a catalyst. The Bible itself does not actually teach Creation ex Nihilo (creation out of nothing) with any clarity, but creation ex nihilo is philosophically inevitable, and that means that means that a catalyst is also philosophicaly inevitable. More specifically, the relative orderliness of everything demands that it was a conscious catalyst. Nevertheless, amidst the order is a cruel chaos that pervades every corner of existence. The “problem of evil” doesn’t actually go far enough in diagnosing the depth of the universe’s brokenness. It’s not just that “bad things happen to good people.” The whole machinery of the universe runs on suffering. The balance of the ecosystem is contingent upon the innate violence of the creatures therein. As it is now, the world can only run if things die, and often. This phenomenon is well illustrated in this David Attenborough quote:

“I think of a parasitic worm that is boring into the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, that’s going to make him blind. And are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball? Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a God who’s full of mercy.”

David Attenborough’s reaction to the apparent cruelty of the world is more-or-less universal. The phenomenon grates against a moral sense that is so deeply ingrained in humanity that we cannot think past it. We cannot transcend our sense of morality; we can only think in terms of it. Even those who have sought to develop a philosophical system that negates the objectivity of moral truth claims in order to prevent oppressive coercion do so ought of a perceived moral obligation to prevent oppressive coercion. Hence, given the innate moral sense with which specifically human creatures are endowed, it would seem that our conscious catalyst has an agenda. He is doing something, and the world is the stage on which this something is taking place.

The idea that there exists a conscious catalyst who has an agenda for the world alleviates more-or-less all of the objections brought against macro-evolution by its detractors, both religious and irreligious. That does not mean that macro-evolution is true, and that fact that it does not mean that macro-evolution is true does not, itself, mean that macro-evolution is not true. It only means that theistic evolution, specifically within the context of the Christian faith, is a remarkably coherent system. The problems that plague non-theistic incarnations of macro-evolution do not plague theistic evolution. And the philosophical problems raised by theistic evolution are summarily met when theistic evolution is coupled with a specifically Christian worldview.

The relative orderliness of the world ought to be expected given the Christian doctrine of design. The cruel chaos that pervades the evolutionary process ought to be expected given the Christian doctrine of the Fall. Moreover, the meta-narrative of macro-evolution is rendered meaningful, because the conscious catalyst’s agenda means that the cruelty of existence is not the result of nature’s indifference but of creation’s rebellion, it is what Ancient Near-Eastern mythology referred to as Leviathon, which the catalyst Himself has entered into history as a Jewish carpenter to reconcile to Himself.

Humans Are Seekers, Not Survivors

Tour_de_babel

Tower of Babel, by Lucas van Valckenborch, 1594, Louvre Museum

Human history is haunted by variegated expressions of religious faith, which is fascinating. To the best of our knowledge, humans are unique in the universe inasmuch as we are genuinely sentient. We have the capacity to make moral decisions both as individuals and as communities that are not fundamentally oriented around the survival of our species. Of course the macroevolutionary model is true, but it’s also the case that we operate on terms irreconcilable with a purely materialistic understanding of the evolutionary process. We are not chiefly survivors; we are chiefly seekers.

The Austrian-Jewish neurologist and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, devoted his post-WWII years to popularizing his theory that, rather than survival (as some Darwinists might have taught) or pleasure (as some Freudians certainly taught), meaning was the dominant pursuit of mankind. He argued that the search for meaning unconsciously motivates the decisions that we make, from Abraham’s desire for children to Jacob’s desire for blessing, to Paul’s desire for redemption.

Reductive though it may be, it is a helpful paradigm. Whatever we are, we are not merely the next step in the evolutionary meta-narrative (and it is a meta-narrative). We are creatures who seek out meaning and find it in places where it may or may not exist. Inevitably, then, we are creatures who seek God. Not only do we seek Him where He is (e.g. Noah, and Enoch), we also seek Him where He isn’t (“Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Rom. 1:22-23).

As far as I know, chimpanzees, who share approximately 98% of our DNA, are neither religious nor superstitious. Something is abnormal about humanity, and it probably comes down to more than simply something maverick in that remaining 2%. Plenty of theories have been put forth to explain them, and they’re not boring. But they’re also not terribly convincing. The various secular attempts to account for mankind’s insatiable religious bent are no more persuasive than the hypothesis, put forward by all cultures everywhere until relatively recently, that humanity was created by a personal being (or beings) who intends to have a relationship of sorts with us.

I’m a big fan of Yann Martel’s book Life of Pi. I originally read it as a freshman in high school, about a year before becoming a Christian. And I totally didn’t get it. On this side of the faith line, it’s much more resonant, and it provides about as good an apologetic as can be made for the existence of the divine. Granted, there is plenty to be said for classical apologetics. Despite the impassioned “Nuh-uhs” of the New Atheists, the Cosmological argument really, really is weighty. As are most of the arguments that occupy the arsenal of the average apologist.

But as a human on planet earth, living a life that takes place chiefly outside of an office with a desk, Martel’s “story to make you believe in God” really is all that. In the book, the narrator tells two stories, both of which bring about the same conclusion by all empirical evidences. One features his narrator surviving 277 days at sea on a life raft with a hungry Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, stumbling onto a “a floating island network of carnivorous algae,” and crossing paths with a cannibalistic survivor from another shipwreck. The second story has none of the more fantastical elements. He then poses the question: with both stories satisfying the empirical data, which was the better story?

It is conceivable that humanity’s seeker bent is somehow conducive to our flourishing as a species. But it’s equally conceivable, and bloody well more intuitive, that something more is at play.