Evolution’s Place? 6

Chapter 11 of Simon Conway Morris’s book Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe is titled Toward a Theology of Evolution, and to this we now turn.

Conway Morris suggests that the view – common among many educated westerners steeped in enlightenment ideals – that the world is ours for the taking, to be bent to our pleasures or whims is a recipe for disaster. We need to recover a broader view of the world.

First, we need to recall the limits to science.  It is no bad thing to remind ourselves of our finitude, and of those things we might never know. … At its simplest it is a precautionary principle, and more significantly a belated acknowledgment that the architecture of the Universe need not be simply physical.  We should also recall, as if we needed reminding, that we are mortal and limited, and thus should remember that the old myths of unrestricted curiosity and corruption of power are not necessarily fables.

Second, for all its objectivity science, by definition, is a human construct and offers no promise of final answers.  We should, however, remind ourselves that we live in a Universe that seems strangely well suited for us. … Not only is the Universe strangely fit to purpose, but so, too, as I have argued throughout this book, is life’s ability to navigate to its solutions. (p. 326-327).

NT Wright commonly notes when speaking or writing that there are many ways of knowing – and scientific knowing is but one of these. What science does well we would do well to head – but there is more than this to the world around us. This leads to two key questions for us to consider.

What are the limits to science as a means to explore the world? How else can we know?

Conway Morris finds the evidence for the basic mechanisms of evolution compelling – as do the majority of Christians active in science.  The theory works – it has predictive and explanatory power. Elucidating the mechanism of evolution (and the age of the earth) is one of the things that science does quite well, and this is why Genesis and “creationism” causes such conflict for so many as we grow in wisdom and stature. Conway Morris’s argument isn’t an argument against evolution, but rather an argument against secular naturalism and materialism. What is the underlying philosophy through which we interpret the conclusions of science (held with an open hand)?

Conway Morris suggests that “we need to remember that scientific explanations need not be all-embracing, and indeed it would be surprising if they were.“(p. 327) And here he moves to consider the thinking of Michael Polanyi who notes in his book Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy that Genesis 1-2 provides a much deeper and more meaningful picture of the world than the scientific assumption of a chance gathering of atoms.

For the biblical cosmology continues to express – however inadequately – the significance of the fact that the world exists and that man has emerged from it, while the scientific picture denies any meaning to the world, and indeed ignores all our most vital experience of this world. The assumption that the world has some meaning which is linked to our own calling as the only morally responsible beings in the world, is an important example of the supernatural aspect of experience which Christian interpretations of the universe explore and develop. (p. 328 – quoting Polanyi p. 284-285)

Reflecting on this, Conway Morris suggests that given a creation which has produced a sentient being with a sense of purpose we would do well to revisit and take the claims of theology seriously. He finds the facts of the world we see remarkably congruent with a Creation and Creator.  These factors include the underlying simplicity of the building blocks; the ability of evolution to identify and fill the biologically realizable space; both biological diversity and the ubiquity of convergence; the inevitability of sentience and of something much like us.

He concludes:

None of it presupposes, let alone proves, the existence of God, but all is congruent. For some it will remain as the pointless activity of the Blind Watchmaker, but others may prefer to remove their dark glasses. The choice, of course, is yours. (p. 330)

What do you think ….

What role does science play in how we understand the world and our place within the world? What role does faith play?

How much weight should we put on different ways of knowing?

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