Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Creation: Emergent & Elective

I've been off line trying to write a paper on teleology and modern science, or rather dysteleological interpretations thereof. Hard yacka! Much of the focus has been on cosmology and books like Paul Davies' The Goldilocks Enigma, which is well worth a read.

However, it is hard not to touch on evolution, since Paley's watchmaker argument and Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker are of central importance, and it is evolution that is the sticking point for many.

There are several Christian models of creation, and I take it that it is a defining doctrine for Christians that God is creator. To quote (roughly) Brueggemann (sic) in his commentary on Gen 1.1 'The creator creates creation'. So what are the options?

1. 'Creationist' - either 6 day (young earth) or 6 eons (old earth). The bedrock of this is an insistence on biblical inerrancy where the bible must be lead (for the most part) literally, and cannot be in error on scientific facts. It is easy to avoid a dysteleological interpretation of evolution with this view because one merely trumps theory with theology. However, the retreat into denial doesn't help deal with the real problems observed - natural/evolved evil, etc.

The opposite of inerrancy is not necessarily errancy, and many feel that the irony with this view is that it uses modernism and falls into the trap that scientific knowledge is the unprivileged viewpoint (indeed the only valid one).

2. Intelligent design is a bit different in that it seeks to prove scientifically that there is a designer by finding gaps in the science - ideas like irreducible complexity. Stephen Meyer describes the theological concept as limited partnership because theology provides genuine scientific hypotheses to test.

There are a few issues with this view. Firstly, examples of irreducible complexity disappear with increased understanding (the rotating flagella is an example of this). Secondly, an emphasis on chance and spontaneity is misguided. Biologists like Simon Conway Morris point towards the idea that convergence in evolution shows us that evolutionary phase space is limited, and here we can see direction in evolution that may come from a designer. Thirdly, it suggests that God's creation is broken, that Howard Van Tills robust formational economy isn't robust. Maybe even that God is an inept designer.

3. Third is the process God, too tied up with the creation itself and not the creator ex nihilio of traditional Christian theology. Although not fully fleshed out, the bible seems to support the doctrine, leaving process theology high and dry.

4. Deism says God winds things up and lets it go. Enough said.

5. A popular model with some Christians is often called theistic evolution. God uses the process of evolution to produce life, consciousness and humanity to enter into relationship with Him. The idea I like, but the name I do no. Theism can mean many things, but most who use this term are thinking about the God of the bible. The emphasis is on evolution, not creation, creating the idea that the young earthers have a copy right on the word.

Others prefer evolutionary creationism, and this is closer to the right idea since the emphasis is both on the ontology (creation) and the method (creation). However, if not specified a little more, this could easily become Deistic in its emphasis.

Emergence is a trendy concept, the idea that something new comes from a collection, i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, that greater complexity emerges with time. We see this with clouds, fire, etc but supremely with life. Life emerges with non-life, and you use biology not physics to do a lot of the work. However, one can be epistemic (descriptive) or ontological (something really different and non-reductive) about emergence. To be an aid in the creation/teleological area, we need to emphasize the later idea.

Again, if creation is emergence, then it can also be Deistic. Conway Morris is very cautious, but I take it that the biblical idea of election is also helpful. Psalm 8 speaks of an elective view of humanity in the face of the immensity of creation. Creation is therefore emergent and elective if we don't wish to reduce God to the watch winder. This isn't ID in that creation could do everything on its own.

A quick example for now. Neanderthals probably went extinct due to climate variability and resource competition with Homo Sapiens (i.e. us, specifically Cro Magnon). The bible has a strong anti-idolatry polemic based on YHWH's control over weather. Late Neanderthal culture shows advancement which may be imitative or may be genuinely internal. Further, there are hints of burial, care for the incapacitated, etc. Could Neanderthals have become Imago Dei (image of God) and God elected Homo Sapiens?

Enough wild speculation for now, back to work.

1 comment:

Ron Choong said...

Hey Mick, just sauntered onto your blog - nice. have great sympathy with your suggestion that neanderthals ... er ... 'became' Cro-Magnons at som e point in time. So, do you think Cain married a Neanderthal?