The last post was about the importance of contingent extinction events in the trajectory of evolution. It occurs to me since that, in the context of Evolutionary Creation, the “creative catastrophism” of these undermines one of the commonest arguments used by TEs for the sufficiency of “natural causes”, usually against ID and any form of Creationism.
This argument runs along the lines used by Leibniz against Newton: that any decent God wouldn’t have to keep tinkering with the secondary causes in creation, but would set them up, in Leibniz’s phrase, “in a perpetual motion.” And so the idea of God’s steering evolution by direct acts would imply that he hadn’t designed the process properly in the first place, like a clockwork toy that has to be pushed when the motor sticks.
This line of reasoning is particularly strong in the “free process” sector of Evolutionary Creation, where it would be an affront to the dignity of creation for God to override its autonomy. But it is not restricted to them – there is, I’m sure you will agree, a strong sense even amongst more classically orthodox BioLogos types that the glory of God is shown best in the outworking of God’s reliable laws in evolution. See how well the Bayesian maths works out! See how accurate the theory’s predictions are! Even in these days of neutral evolution and Junk DNA, the close of Darwin’s Origin of Species still seems to have great traction in this view:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
Yet as I mentioned in the previous post, Darwin was a Lyell Uniformitarian at a time when that was opposed, in principle, to its alternative Catastrophism. But the undoubted crucial role of the major catastrophic events that have, as we now believe, set and reset the course of life on earth – asteroid strikes, anoxic oceans, continental movements, mega-volcanoes, solar output variations, etc, etc – mean that the strategic-level “evolutionary creation” (a misleading term anyway) of life on earth in all its grand array did, in fact, not occur only through the unfolding of an elegant theoretical (and lawlike) process, but by a series of jerky and, ostensibly, clumsy interventions.
Now, there’s a tendency in our times to distance God from anything “unpleasant”, so that the idea that he would even consider wiping creation clean to “reset” it is anathema – to many, despite Genesis 6-9, the KT event and all those others less frequently considered were accidental interruptions to evolution and probably not God’s doing. But the record shows they were major drivers of evolution, however they happened. And they were entirely contingent.
So whether ones view of providence is historical – that God governs all events in his world – or liberal – that God only does nice, reliable things – the fact of the matter is that the creation of the living world as we know it occurred though at least a goodly number of abrupt interferences with the wondrous mechanisms of current evolutionary theory. Either God rudely intervened to dirupt “the perpetual motion”, or nature itself did.
Now one could perhaps defend the other view by suggesting that all these catastrophic events were somehow ordained by God in his original creation of the universe – that the KT asteroid was a billiard ball aimed unerringly at Mexico by a divine trick shot at the Big Bang. But that hardly meets the criteria implied by Darwin in his quotation, and it’s hard to see what profound philosophical difference there is between “God intervenes” and “God ordains chaotic events to intervene”.
Thereis, of course, an important theological difference, between a Deistic and Christian conception of God.