A Philosopher's Blog

Is God Compatible with Evolution?

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on September 18, 2007

 

While the theory of evolution is considered as a matter of established scientific fact, there is still very significant opposition to the theory from the religious community. The main concern is that the theory of evolution is a threat to faith and religious belief. Some thinkers content that religious belief is compatible with evolution-that a person can have science and God. It is to this matter that I know turn.

 

 

Addressing this matter requires being clear about what exactly is being debated. If the theory of evolution is taken to involve the claim that there is no God, then obviously God and the theory are not compatible. While this is a commonly held view, the theory does not actually explicitly deny the existence of God. What is does is postulate a mechanism of natural selection in place of an intelligent designer. So, rather than having an intelligent being design and create life forms, new life forms emerge through mutations and selection in terms of survival and reproduction. Mutations that survive and breed can eventually differ enough from the original species that they become a new species. As odd as it might seem, natural selection seems initially compatible with the existence of God.

 

 

God could have created the universe and put in place the method of natural selection as the means by which new life forms would arise from older ones. So, rather than designing each life form in hands on acts of creation, God would set the universe up so that a natural mechanism of selection did the work for Him. This sort of view is not without precedent. Many thinkers have argued that God created a world of laws and natural machinery that run without his direct intervention. The best known version of this view is deism.

 

Of course, there is the question of why God would use such a method and whether it is compatible with His other alleged traits.

 

 

God is, in Philosophy 101 terms, supposed to be all good, all powerful and all knowing. These attributes do seem to clash with using natural selection. First, if God is all powerful and all knowing, He could simply create the life forms He wants and not have to rely on a mechanism to do the work for him. An obvious reply to this is, however, to re-emphasis the view that God is the divine watchmaker who builds a world that can run on its own. Of course, many religious thinkers, such as Berkeley, regard this view as unacceptable. After all, if laws and mechanisms do all the work, what need is there for God? In any case, this does rekindle the old debate over the degree of God’s involvement in the world.

 

 

Second, if God is all good, then natural selection seems incompatible with God. This is so for two main reasons. The first reason is that natural selection seems to be terribly wasteful and brutal. It seems almost inconceivable that an all good being would allow so many species to simply perish. The second reason is that natural selection seems arbitrary. It is, after all, a chance driven mechanism. To leave survival up to chance hardly seems like the action of a perfectly good being.

 

Of course, this sort of problem is really nothing new-it is but the problem of evil with the twist of natural selection added in for a different flavor.

 

 

Thus, the logical conclusion seems to be that God is compatible with evolution, but serious problems arise with reconciling God with the nature of natural selection.

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2 Responses

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  1. MM said, on December 9, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    You write “Second, if God is all good, then natural selection seems incompatible with God.” Good is a concept conceived by humans. One of the purposes of evolution is to create evolving intelligent life, if natural, cosmic, or self made species disater didn’t happen a steady state would be reached, little or no progression. If a species evolve in controlling it’s own destiny, i.e. in avoiding diaster, then it then needs to evolve or let some new species take it’s place. Life is an interval of time for a soul to experience.

  2. Kenneth Lloyd Anderson said, on July 13, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    We see no reason why randomness and natural selection in evolution cannot be paired with design. The drive toward successful survival and reproduction has developed an astonishing line of life from simplicity to complexity, along with randomness in evolution and nature. The goal has been to be as successful in survival and reproduction as possible, and what could be more successful than to attain eternal life? That would be Godhood.


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