Getting evolution back to front

If we’re really serious about teleology and a God of eternal purpose, then maybe we look at the laws of physics the wrong way round. I mused a little on the question of teleology¬† here¬† last year.¬† It seemed to me that our natural methodology – and not only within scientific endeavour – is always to look at cause and effect. But if we believe in the God who starts with the purpose of uniting all things together in Christ, then we ought to be thinking instead of means and ends.

I was reminded again of this in the frustrating discussion of Darrel Falk’s reply to William Dembski on BioLogos. It seems remarkably hard for people to understand what the issues are, and how inadequately they’ve been addressed in Falk’s essay, but that’s another story. As far as I can prise out the arguments at this stage, the BioLogos position is roughly this:
(1) Evolution purely as an outworking of natural law, as assumed by naturalist science, is indeed an adequate explanation of life (caveat: probably … God could do a few miracles if he needed to).
(2) But (the Big But) natural law only keeps working because of God’s sustaining power. That’s the Logos part.
(3) As natural law alone clearly cannot specify highly detailed outcomes (like the fall of a sparrow?) over billions of years, therefore God’s purpose for nature is necessarily rather open and experimental, rather than specific as Scripture indicates. The process was bound to produce something a bit like mankind, at which point God started communicating with us. This imprecision is called the “freedom” of creation.

The role of chance is not mentioned in this, but for my purpose here (as opposed to its importance for the theoretical structure of BioLogos‘ position) that’s not so important. The main thing is that it leaves some of us with the impression of a rather hit-or-miss sense of purpose on the part of God. It’s back to Billy Bean and his funny machine. God’s purpose is always fulfilled because it was pretty open-ended anyway. As someone said, if you don’t set a target it’s very easy to hit it.

But supposing I, and the BioLogos crowd, have got it all wrong because we’re not thinking as God, perhaps , thinks. That is, teleologically. And I mean teleologically in eternity, not in time. Now from the human viewpoint, for God to achieve any degree of purpose in nature through natural law, he has to set the initial conditions and fine tune the laws to an unbelievable degree. He lights the blue touch paper and watches events unfold from the big bang. A few billion years down the line, without course-corrections, what real chance is there of the world looking anything like he planned?

But if as many physicists believe, the arrow of time is actually a function only of our personal experience of entropy, there’s another possibility. The laws of physics are completely reversible, and if you could flip the polarity on that entropy, everything would backtrack happily towards that first (now last) singularity and end with a plop.

So what if God, who has absolutely no necessity to go with the flow of entropy, starts by creating the end he wishes, at the time and place he determines? Rather than fine tune the laws of physics to radiate out from the big bang, all he has to do is decide when the whole shooting match will kick off, and tune the laws so that events all converge back on the big bang correctly. So in evolutionary terms, instead of starting with LUCA and hoping that chance and necessity produces man, you start with man and whatever other life you want around in his world, and plot a route to converge, eventually, on LUCA.

The intermediate stages aren’t actually that critical, because everything’s falling towards its origin, rather than climbing and branching towards a goal. You can get lost climbing up the tree of life, but climbing down is easy. So you’d expect to find criss-crossing happening on the way down, with similar creatures sometimes diverging rather than becoming more alike (what we see as convergent evolution!).CE’s an embarrassment to Darwinian evolution, but it’s a prediction of my teleological devolution.

It’s obviously quite hard to get ones head round this idea if one doesn’t happen to live in eternity, but to my mind it would enable a pretty close governance of creation by the Lord, whilst still primarily employing the “natural” laws he has set up to run backwards. After all, it’s much easier to collapse a complex and ordered reality into a ball than the reverse.

The more I think about it, the more of a fundamental theory of teleology it is. At least it’s worth a Templeton Prize.

I shall call it … SogoLoib.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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