May 11, 2011 | By

A Theistic Rationale for Organic Evolution

By Reuben P. Bell, DO, MS, MDiv

The dialogue between science and religion has reached an impasse over the claims by some scientists that certain biological structures or processes are just too complex to have come about by the mechanism of Natural Selection as set forth in the doctrines of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis (the marriage of Darwinian theory with modern genetics).

The claims have come to be called the “Intelligent Design Argument,” and the claimants’ scientific credentials notwithstanding, orthodox biologists see this development as nothing more than “Creation Science” in a three-piece suit. Design scientists have been aggressive in their criticism of Darwinian mechanisms, and understandably defensive evolutionary biologists have reacted unfavorably to this uninvited incursion into their territory.

Science and Religion: Two belief systems. Two paradigms. Two ideologies that seem to be mutually exclusive. And they are, in their present state of impasse.

The problem is partly semantic. What is at work in evolution is not “design.” What is happening is organic forms coming-into-being according to the natural laws so essential to scientists of all stripes (No magic allowed!). But even in this universe, orthodox scientists mistakenly ascribe the mechanism of evolution to randomness. Recent developments in Chaos and Complexity Theory lead us to wonder if “randomness” is not just an appearance to our near-sighted natural eyes, and if there might not be some orderly  “ghost” in the machine after all.

Evolution makes good sense. There is evidence for it – both scientific and common-sense – all around us. Darwin, without the assistance of genetics, produced an insightful theory of adaptive change by means of natural selection. With the addition of the elegant doctrines of genetics, both traditional and molecular, the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis has become a powerful predictor of morphological adaptation in response to environmental change. But despite its elegance, the theory of evolution still has problems, as all theories do. The greatest of these is branch-point morphological change, or the generation of an organism different enough to be a new species or even genus. Natural selection just can’t do that; it excels at sculpture, not engineering.

There are spiritual principles found in the scientific and theological works of Emanuel Swedenborg that are very useful in this regard. Using these, a theistic science can be applied to the problem of form that rescues the Intelligent Design Argument from its dependence on active meddling by the Divine in Nature. And if applied with care, it preserves the necessity of operation by natural laws, so fundamental to orthodox science.

What is Theistic Evolution? Forms coming into being according to the Order of this world, which is a mirror image of the Implicate Order of the universe, which is in turn a mirror image of a creative Urge itself. These levels are discrete, which will meet the requirements of orthodox scientists, but they are interactive as well. That is the theistic part – spiritual causes for natural things – but within a rationally defensible paradigm that preserves the necessities of both points of view.

One Response to “A Theistic Rationale for Organic Evolution”

  1. Matthew says:

    I find what you write here and the concept of evolution very interesting to consider in regard to the individual human mind. Our minds “evolve” from being in the form of hell to being in the form of heaven, through what we call regeneration – Even the natural substances of our mind evolve as we allow higher spiritual principles and realities to act on our mind and lives. We usually think of evolution as taking place over thousands of years, yet within the “world” of our own lives and minds, evolution is happeneing much faster!

    Another thought: If the natural world and all the people in it can be thought of as one grand man or grand body of the grand soul which is heaven, then evolution is simply the product of the soul (heaven) acting upon the body (earth). We usually think of evolution in terms of individual species evolving, but what about the overall or general evolution of the created physical world as a whole? Specific vs. general evolution. Certain species evolve, but can we see ways that the planet and the natural world as a whole are evolving as the spiritual world flows into it as the soul flows in and influences the body? Just some rambling thoughts I was having this afternoon!

    Looking forward to Monday’s discussion.

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