Just to clarify Hans, the three occasions mentioned in my piece as indicating divine intervention I have extracted from Wallace’s writings partly because I wanted to show that belief in evolution by natural selection does not necessarily imply either atheism or the impossibility of divine intervention in the evolutionary process. Wallace, as Darwin’s co-discoverer of natural selection, would have been an expert on the way in which it operates.
He has been described as the missing link between early evolutionary theory and Intelligent Design, but his convictions do not equate to a God of the Gaps type of creationism. Advocates of Intelligent Design who assert a “God of the Gaps” envisage a God who intervenes in evolution if the natural processes are incapable of producing the required organ or part of an organism. Divine intervention, in other words, is intrinsic to biology and at times indistinguishable from it. Wallace on the other hand conceives of a higher power that in some way acts as an overall guide to what is a random and even haphazard process; any intervention that has occurred relates to the spiritual dimension or soul of the human being. This God would be better described as a God of tremendous evolutionary transitions, which Wallace felt couldn’t be accounted for by natural selection. The first two transitionary stages he describes—from the inorganic to the organic and from the plant to the animal—were, he believed, preparatory steps on the way to God’s ultimate purpose which he perceived as the infusion of a spiritual soul when the body was prepared to receive it. Wallace nonetheless always held to the overall view that natural selection generates all the diversity necessary for biological evolution and that environment is key to evolutionary change through adaptation and survival; the antelope with stronger legs escapes predatory lions to live and beget offspring. As Ron Grossman of the Chicago Tribune has put it, “Mostly nature carries the ball, but once in a while God throws a touchdown pass.”Ron Grossman, “The Man Everybody Ignored,” Chicago Tribune (February 10, 2009). Available online at https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2009-02-10-0902090728-story.html It’s important to keep in mind also that Wallace did not see himself as doing theology in his speculations on the supernatural. As I pointed out in my previous piece, Wallace’s conviction that natural selection could not have bridged the ape-human gap was grounded in his knowledge of what the natural processes are capable of achieving. Tracking the action of an unknown higher Power that had produced phenomena for which natural selection could not account was, he declared, every bit as scientific as inquiring into the origin of species itself. It constitutes an attempt to solve the inverse problem, to deduce the existence of a higher power to account for facts that according to the theory of natural selection shouldn’t happen.
Evolutionary Mechanisms and Direct Divine Intervention
I think this should answer your question Hans as to the possible emergence of new scientific evidence that could provide naturalistic explanations for such events. Wallace’s theories in this regard are falsifiable, as all true scientific theories must be. Wallace did not base his arguments on a lack of evidence so much as inferences grounded in his deep knowledge of natural selection and what he believed it to be capable of achieving. It is of course possible that a series of chemical reactions can be shown to have caused the emergence of organic life and that naturalistic explanations for the emergence of animal consciousness and human cognitional abilities will be discovered. With regard to the origin of life, Darwin himself in the second edition of the Origin allowed for the possibility of divine intervention, though he believed that natural selection could account for everything else.In the first edition of the Origin, Darwin wrote in the conclusion of life being breathed into a few primordial forms; in the second edition he changed that to say it had been breathed in by the Creator. See Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 96. While I tend to the belief that Wallace is correct on all three counts, my own convictions on this matter relate mainly to Wallace’s third stage, the appearance of human cognitional and spiritual faculties. As it happens, the reason for this is precisely my commitment to Darwinian/neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory which holds to the gradualist view of evolution.
There is of course an alternative evolutionary school of thought which argues that a mechanism called ‘punctuated equilibrium’ and not natural selection is the main mechanism of evolution. This viewpoint is associated mainly with palaeontologists whose field of study is the fossil record as opposed to genetics. The former shows long periods of stasis ‘punctuated’ by the apparently sudden emergence of new species. This has led punctuated equilibrium theorists such as the late Stephen Jay Gould to argue for a hierarchical view of evolution that includes natural selection operating at the level of the individual, but sees the main mechanism of evolution operating speedily at the level of species. The scientific evidence however overwhelmingly supports Darwinism and its claim that populations are slowly and gradually transformed by its fittest individuals. While not denying that species can emerge with relative suddenness in evolutionary terms, neo-Darwinists claim that most apparent gaps in the fossil record will eventually be closed with the discovery of intermediate organisms, and that those that do emerge suddenly are compatible with Darwinism since they can be explained by evolutionary phenomena that are grounded in adaptation at the individual level. Punctuated equilibrium theorists in turn point to the sudden emergence of modern humans as proof of evolution at species level since no gradualist explanation can account for it. They are unable however to identify any punctuationist mechanism that could cause the sudden emergence of a species so qualitatively superior in such a wide range of intellectual abilities to all other hominid species.
Evolution of the Body, Creation of the Soul?
As it happens, the Roman Catholic tradition to which I belong has maintained a view of evolution similar to that of Wallace ever since Pope John Paul II’s famous 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in which he recognized evolution as “more than a hypothesis.From a scientific perspective informed by faith however, I feel I can safely predict that in the long term no satisfactory scientific explanation, either gradual or punctuationist will ever be found for human cognitional abilities.”John Paul II, “Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences,” The Quarterly Review of Biology 72.4 (December 1997): 382. He also stated his conviction however that while the body may have evolved, the soul did not but was directly created by God and infused into a pre-existing hominid species. This type of divine intervention is not however on a par with miracles, where the laws of nature are broken; rather it adds something that complements and brings to full fruition what the evolutionary process has already achieved. Also with regard to our intellectual abilities, we are no longer dealing with a lack of evidence as there is positive evidence in the paleoanthropological record that these abilities arrived suddenly as a package and not in a gradual sequence. That said, I have no doubt that in the short term there will be claims by paleoanthropologists that missing links have been found. From a scientific perspective informed by faith however, I feel I can safely predict that in the long term no satisfactory scientific explanation, either gradual or punctuationist will ever be found for human cognitional abilities. Interestingly the claim that modern humanity came into existence with the infusion of a spiritual soul into a hominid body can be perceived as a form of direct creation. I believe that Christianity and evolutionary biology complement and mutually expand upon one another on the related questions of human origins and human nature, the theological implications of which I explore in detail in my new book Homo Lapsus.Niamh Middleton, Homo Lapsus: Sin, Evolution, and the God Who Is Love (Sisters: Deep River Books, 2018).
With regard to Jim’s definitions of evolutionary creationism, let me say first that I would always have considered the terms theistic evolutionist and evolutionary creationist to be synonymous. Having read Jim’s very useful analysis of the term I have come to realize that given the polarization associated with much of the creation/evolution debate, a phrase that contains both terms can certainly give rise to ambiguity and needs clarification. For me Christian evolutionary creationism should indeed imply there is a God who is a personal God, that evolution is a fact, and that all things came into being through Christ. Another similarity is my belief, as explained in my first piece, that God guides the evolutionary process and is therefore permanently involved in it. Evolution, a temporally expansive event, has broadened the concept of creatio ex nihilo to include the concept of continuous creation. Direct divine intervention in this context, though rare, is not Deistic, but operates in parallel with God’s guidance of the natural processes to achieve his plan for the summit of creation which is the human person, a combination of the material and the spiritual. I would argue therefore that evolutionary creationism does allow for direct divine intervention.
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