Here are few pictures from my talk to show some of the evolutionary convergences I was talking about:
Flight evolves in three times in different linages: birds-like reptiles, non-bird-like dinosaurs and mammals. (note: birds use their ‘arm’ to fly; pterosaurs use their first finger to fly; and bats use their ‘hand.’)
Philosopher Daniel Dennett captures some of these ideas with the idea of a design space. He uses it to argue for a deterministic universe, but the idea is that there are only so many possible combinations of DNA that produce viable ‘creatures.’ From a given starting point, the unfolding of different life forms, must wander around on this space, driven by local selection regimes, but the set is finite, and the steps must be small ones. Richard Dawkins uses the same notion in his view of ‘climbing mount improbable’ in which he demonstrates how evolution can completely explain the designed complexity of life on earth. Recently Sergey Gaverlets has been exploring these design spaces in some detail, developing the idea of a ‘holey’ landscape in which genetic possibilities move through natural selection in a given environment to fitness peaks on these landscapes:
They are right that evolution completely explains complexity, but the question that deserves some consideration is can we ask where the design space comes from? Of course that is in principle unanswerable from a scientific perspective. But it does raise interesting theological possibilities.
So there exist at least two possible answers to the problem of the first pivot point. Can we take this as an existence proof, or proof of concept?
Pivot Point II Consciousness
Evolutionary biology has much to say about the evolution of consciousness. Not that science has solved the problem of consciousness, meaning the problem of explaining it. But it has found much about the apparent evolution of consciousness on life on earth, with brain structures correlating strongly with cognitive abilities. LDS theology posits that consciousness is conferred by a preexistent spirit. Spirit matter is a kind of matter inaccessible to the methods and modes of science about which we know very little except that it is ‘finer’ (which I don’t think we have to translate as smaller or more fundamental even, just different).
One possible reconciliation is that a spirit needs, (is attracted to; depends on) complex configurations of matter. That an evolved body is a necessary component into which a spirit is placed. Another possibility is that spirit is a process idea and is an event rather than a monad of some kind. There is much that needs exploring here (look at my paper on consciousness on the right for more discussion of this).
Pivot Point III Embodiment
How might evolutionary biology be useful to Theology? LDS theology holds that God is embodied. There is much discussion on what this might mean. But from a biological perspective it should mean at least two necessary things:
(1) That God stands in a whole-part relationship of some kind.
(2) That those parts have functional meaning.
In biology, there is an explicit functional relationship among the parts. Hearts are for moving blood. Fingers are for holding things. The heel of the foot for bearing the weight of the body. This is not to argue that God’s body must have the same parts and function as ours. However, to be embodied means at least these two things, perhaps more, but at least these. For example, if God were just a circle, the parts of the circle, say particular segments, stand in relation to the whole. There function might be just to define shape. Of course this is an absurd reduction, but biologically to be embodied would require at least these two elements. And as I’ve pointed out evolutionary biology cannot answer any questions about theology but it can make contributions by framing new questions and exploring the implications of what designed life must imply.
My Modest proposal (This gets a little technical so ignore the equations if you wish, they don’t necessarily add to my arguments)
Assume Realism is right just in the sense that we can say things that represent reality (no claim that we can say something about everything, the we can say things that are true in some sense).
Let L be the set of all narratives units that can be constructed from the Library of Babel: The Library of Babel is from a Jorge Borges story about a library that contains all the books that could be written (The basis of my novella, A Short Stay in Hell too!):
A picture from by book by my son Christopher:
My proposal is just that although we don’t know what it is yet, there is likely some explanation of how God acts in the world that is both scientifically and theologically adequate to describing how these two work together. It means that we don’t cut out our most well-established scientific theories (evolution) nor do we toss out our faith that God is behind the creation, but that we act humbly, accepting for now that both are true and that one day the two will fit together and that such a unifying explanation is indeed existent.