I liked Mike’s recent post on Shadow to Light. Michael Ruse has restated the rather tired assertion that any guidance God put into evolution would overturn its known unguidedness (every instance since it began having been studied, I suppose, in detail and shown to be unguided?). Any cheating by, say, God’s guiding quantum events would be “messing with science”.
Mike points to Elliot Sober’s recent argument (cited here) to show that he is wrong because science simply has no ability to comment on divine action, but in the instance of “quantum governance”, as Robert J Russell makes clear, it would not be “messing with science” because the science itself is indeterminate.
Ruse goes on to speculate that God creates through random processes by forming a many-worlds multiverse and waiting till one turns up that does what he wants. Uneconomical, but unexceptionable to science (which is free to speculate on fabulous multiverses but not to accept evidence of an actual God). Mike’s response is to remind Ruse that God, dwelling outside time, does not have to “wait” for anything to turn up, since he sees the end from the beginning. He does form such a multiverse, but only mentally, presumably running an infinite series of simulations in eternity. When he finds the one that will produce the precise ends that conform to his purpose, he creates just that one. Without any nasty unscientific interference it will turn out, in detail, just as he wishes.
In his discussion, Mike spells out the teleological aspect of this in a way I find very attractive. If God, for example, desired to created you, specifically, as a teleological endpoint, then he also necessarily created your entire history, your ancestors both human and pre-human, with their histories, and so on. This describes well what I tried to express here. Science decribes only causes leading to effects in time, which can only incompletely map to a creation in which God thinks first of his purposes, and considers the means necessary to produce them only secondarily.
But I’m not sure how useful Mike’s general notion of a virtual multiverse is, except as a polemic response to Ruse. After all, we’re picturing God imagining every possible Universe operating on law and chance, and finally selecting the one to instantiate. But the truth is that none of these virtual Universes was “going to happen”: they are all possible versions of what God himself might choose to do. Without him, nothing will do anything. Predicting what you mean to do is simply to do it.
Here’s an analogy. I want to shoot an arrow at a target I have in view. I imagine every possible scenario. I exclude very quickly those in which I face backwards, or use ivy for the bow-string or run away. I warm more to those in which I carefully line up the arrow with the target, make allowance for gravity and wind, draw back the string just so, release my fingers in that specific manner and so on. In my imperfect human experience I will be trying to imitate and refine the physical and mental conditions of my best previous shots. God in his perfection does it all in his mind. In other words, there is very little conceptual difference between God’s selecting from an infinite number of imagined universes and my selecting from an infinite number of possible bow-shots. It’s called “design”. Indeed, that’s what “design” is – reducing possibilities to the few, or one, that will produce a desired result. It’s eliminating uncertainty by choice.
Even so, at face value Mike’s preferred scenario seems a little deistic, which maybe is congenial to his favoured front-loading model of evolution, in which all the potentialities for the life we see today are built into the first genome and uncurl over time by the natural processes of mutation, natural selection and so on. God conceives the one Universe that will unfold to his final goal, creates it in time and, lo, it performs as desired.
But if, as Mike has already understood, God exists outside time, why should the creation process, any more than the conception process, privilege the temporal beginning of things over the rest of their existence? If God conceives in eternity, will he not also create in eternity? If you read this, you will probably work through from beginning to end. But it will have appeared on your computer more or
less instantaneously. You have no way of knowing whether I wrote my concluding paragraph first, or how I marshalled my thoughts in the editor. Nor will you know how many adjustments and alterations I made along the way.
We have no way of knowing, especially given the truth of Sober’s (and others’) claim that science cannot exclude divine action, that the Universe God willed is not one in which his direct, creative, activity occurs frequently. My analogy of a trajectory-sport like archery, for example, might be less correct than that of a sport like pinball, in which (if Tommy represents it fairly) the skill lies not only in the initial launch of the ball, but in timely adjustments along the way. Or God’s creation might even be analogous to this post, whose concept might (optimistically) have been fully formed in my mind from the start, but whose actualisation depends on my typing each individual key-stroke personally.
Mike does point out in another post (linked from the first) that given a teleological understanding of God’s creation the actual mechanisms are of minor importance:
So how did we come into existence? Was it the miracle of Creationism? Was it the natural law and evolutionary convergence of Conway Morris or Denton? Was it by front-loading evolution? Or was it the mixture of natural selection and contingency as outlined by Dawkins and Gould?
Answer it doesnt matter. However we came into existence had to be because that was the way we came into existence. Its a package deal.
I’d agree with that. But I’d also point out that positing the idea of God’s selecting from an infinite multitude of possible Universes doesn’t move us any further on in our understanding of those mechanisms that the more time-honoured statement: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.