How Is Evolution Defined? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1, we looked at 6 definitions of evolution and explained how different Christian creationist positions deal with them.  If you recall, definition 6 was the most controversial:

6. “Blind watchmaker” thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; that the mechanisms of natural selection, random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of design in living organisms.

Jay Richards has several interesting things to say about definition 6 that are worth repeating:

Of all the senses of evolution, this one seems to fit with theism like oil with water. According to the blind watchmaker thesis, all the apparent design in life is just that—apparent. It’s really the result of natural selection working on random genetic mutations. (Darwin proposed “variation.” Neo-Darwinism attributes new variations to genetic mutations.)

The word “random” in the blind watchmaker thesis carries a lot of metaphysical baggage. In Neo-Darwinian theory, random doesn’t mean uncaused; it means that the changes aren’t directed—they don’t happen for any purpose. Moreover, they aren’t predictable, like gravity, and don’t occur for the benefit of individual organisms, species, or eco-systems, even if, under the guidance of natural  selection, an occasional mutation might enhance a species odds of survival.

The blind watchmaker thesis is more or less the same as Neo-Darwinism as its leading advocates understand it. It is usually wedded to some materialistic origin of life scenario, which isn’t about biological evolution per se. This so-called chemical evolution is often combined with biological evolution as two parts of a single narrative.

Unfortunately, the blind watchmaker thesis isn’t an eccentric definition of the word evolution. It’s textbook orthodoxy. For instance, Harvard paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson explained evolution by saying, “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.” Darwin himself understood his theory this way: “There seems to be no more design,” he wrote, “in the variability of organic beings, and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the winds blow.”

And here’s how the late Darwinist Ernst Mayr put it: “The real core of Darwinism, however, is the theory of natural selection. This theory is so important for the Darwinian because it permits the explanation of adaptation, the ‘design’ of the natural theologian, by natural means, instead of by divine intervention.” Notice that Mayr says, “instead of.”

These are representative quotes from the literature. From the time of Darwin to the present, Darwinists have always contrasted their idea with the claim that biological forms are designed or created. That’s the whole point of the theory.

Theists claim that the world, including the biological world, exists for a purpose; that it is, in some sense, designed. The blind watchmaker thesis denies this. So anyone wanting to reconcile strict Darwinian evolution with theism has a Grade A dilemma on his hands.

  • Modern evolutionary theory is often called ‘Modern Synthesis,’ which is a theory about how evolution works at the level of genes, phenotypes, and populations. Historical Darwinism – meaning those who supported evolution by natural selection but ignorant of genetics – was concerned mainly with organisms, speciation and individuals. Today’s evolutionary theory is a major paradigm shift from Darwin’s time because we have access to much better information and those who fail to appreciate these changes while claiming to reflect evolution as we know it today as ‘Darwinism’ and ‘Neo-Darwinism’ are simply out of step with the thinking of today’s evolutionary biologists.

    That being said, the fact remains that claims for some kind of intervening agency in natural selection suffers from a lack of any evidence to show this hypothetical intervention at any developmental point at any time. This is not just a philosophical problem but a very real and significant difficulty that reality presents to those who wish to support their claim for justifying a belief for some guiding, designing, intervening agency.

    In regards to why evolutionary theory contrasts so strongly with claims by advocates for some kind of intervention called ‘creationism’, let us consider on what basis, the, we find any ‘controversy’: we sometimes find religion without creationism but never find belief in creationism without religion. This is strictly a religious argument contrary to what science has revealed about reality.

  • Ggodat

    It’s just too bad though that science has no explanation for the origin of life at all. You just cant explain mearly using scientific theory how something came from nothing at all. There is a beginning to everything that has begun and everything that has begun had something that enacted (or created) for “it” to begin.

  • Some things are not knowable and that’s okay. Sometimes we can believe as we wish and that’s okay, too. But “I don’t know” about abiogenesis I think is very honest… even if there is excellent evidence that this could/might occur without intervention. Substituting a belief in an interventionist agency in place of “I don’t know” I think looses the thread if we forget these two are equivalent in lack of knowledge and assume something is true because we invest our belief in it being so.

  • Ggodat

    tildeb,

    I agree that there are things that we cannot know, but in science using that as an excuse to brush over something so important as the origin of life itself seems a bit obtuse. Not using one’s God given reason to think about the fact that absolutely nothing can come from nothing and that if the universal pool of matter is eternal it violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics, you can see how to the Christian the “scientist” can just claim lack of knowledge but still proudly procalim that we know there is no God. It just doesn’t seem very scientific to me..