What Kind of God Uses Evolution?

I recently posted that Evolution does leave room for God, but only certain versions of Him. I also insinuated that the finite God of Mormonism probably qualifies. But we should be a bit more specific. How finite?

Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion posits a God, which Dennett thinks is strikingly similar to what is proposed in Darwinism. This God is
a stupid mechanic, who imitated others, and copied an art, which, through a long succession of ages, after multiplied trials, mistakes, corrections, deliberations, and controversies, had been gradually improving(.) Many worlds might have been botched and bungled, throughout an eternity, ere this system was struck out: And a slow, but continued improvement carried on during infinite ages in the art of world-making... Why may not several deities combine in contriving and framing a world? This is only so much greater similarity to human affairs... If such foolish, such vicious creatures as man can yet often unite in framing and executing one plan, how much more those deities ... whom we may suppose several degrees more perfect?
If we ignore the exaggerated rhetoric we are left with a model which closely resembles the Mormon idea of creation. Hugh Nibley (as Mormon as they come) said, "The creation process as described in the Pearl of Great Price is open ended and ongoing, entailing careful planning based on vast experience, long consultations, models, tests, and even trial runs for a complicated system requiring a vast scale of participation by the creatures concerned." The similarities are striking.
Dennett continues:
The task of the wise God required to put this world into motion is a task of discovery, not creation, a job for a Newton, not a Shakespeare. What Newton found... are eternal... fixed points that anybody else in principle could have discovered, not idiosyncratic creations taht depend in any way on the particularities of the minds of their authors... So, as we follow the Darwinian down this path, God the Artificer turns first into God the Lawgiver, who now can be seen to merge with God the Lawfinder. God's hypothesized contribution is thereby becoming less personal - and hence more readily performable by something dogged and mindless!
This is also rather harmonious with Mormon doctrine for God once, just as some of us will in the future, had to learn (discover) the laws by which creations are created. Do we really think that God is continually making the Hydrogen in the Sun fuse to create that energy or does it make more sense to say that He leaves it to act according to physical law?

But this is also where people get nervous as we said before, for it is a slippery slope to saying God did nothing at all! But do we think the same thing when somebody builds a beautiful house? Yes, but the person clearly intended to build the house. His method of building the house is not near as wasteful as is evolution either.

There are two questions which much be addressed: (1) couldn't God have done it any better way? (2) What was His intention? What was His purpose? With regards to (2) the answer is easy. We are His purpose, or so we like to think. The answer to (1) is not so simple. Science has shown that the earth has existed for billions of years, and during much of that time it was teaming with life which was struggling to survive. There was no bambi. "Nature red in tooth and claw" it has been said. Couldn't God have done it a different way?

This is what philosophers have called the problem of evil, natural evil to be exact which precludes any appeal to free agency. Either God could not have prevented all that waste and suffering (suffering didn't really come into play until there was a conscious animal), or God could have prevented it, but for some reason did not want to. Remember, we cannot appeal to free agency. Is God less kind than we have always thought, or is He less powerful? The Mormon tradition has generally been that He is less powerful:
Traditionally, the affirmation of God's sovereign power is expressed philosophically by the concept of "omnipotence," which means that God can do absolutely anything at all, or at least anything "logically possible." This often accompanies the dogma that all that is was created ex nihilo (from nothing) by God. The conclusion follows that all forms of evil, even the "demonic dimension," must be directly or indirectly God-made. In Latter-day Saint sources, God is not the only self-existent reality. The creation accounts and other texts teach that God is not a fiat creator but an organizer and life-giver, that the "pure principles of element" can be neither created nor destroyed (D&C 93; TPJS, p. 351), and that the undergirdings of eternal law, with certain "bounds and conditions," are coexistent with him (cf. D&C 88:34-45). "Omnipotence," then, means God has all the power it is possible to have in a universe—actually a pluriverse—of these givens. He did not create evil. -Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
Now we are better equiped to answer the original question: What kind of God uses evolution? Answer: a God you has limitations put upon Him. This is an issue which people must deal with if they are to accept evolution. Luckily the Mormon doctrine is far more accomodating in this regard than is strict ethical monotheism.

Evolution tells us that life as we know it has been evolving for billions of years in order to "reach" mankind. This process involved prodigious amounts of waste and suffering, couldn't God have done it a better way? Mormons will want to answer "no" so as to maintains God's omnibenevolence, but this is at the expense of His omnipotence.


Interesting post, though I think we often miss the variety of life.

Remember John's vision of heaven and the four beasts before the Throne of God? Both actual beasts (sentients and exaulted) and representatives of orders of creation?

The world's filling the measure of its creation is grander than we sometimes allow it to be.

Also, we miss significant issues in just how short mortal life is and how minimal the impact of "red in tooth and claw" is vis a vis the need for a setting that allows us choice.

It is like the kid who hits his finger with a hammer when missing the nail and decides that life is too painful. Later that kind of pain is so inconsequential it doesn't even make some people flinch when it happens.

In that context, one need not have the view that many take in modern times (though it isn't excluded).

3/19/2005 04:45:00 AM  

I personally think it unwise to trivialize the amount of suffering and waste inherent in evolution. That said, your position is one that I imagine my members would want to adopt, though I think it somewhat unsound.

3/19/2005 10:06:00 AM  

Gould uses the picturesque word "hecatomb" as shorthand for the "suffering and waste" inherent in evolution. www.m-w.com defines "hecatomb" as (1) an ancient Greek and Roman sacrifice of 100 oxen or cattle [the literal original meaning], and (2) the sacrifice or slaughter of many victims.

3/21/2005 12:25:00 PM  

I don't think that God has to be as limited as you find him. Evolution is a method or mechanism of a telestial sphere. We are told that each type of sphere operates on its own set of laws. (See D&C 88:36-38). To assume that the economy of this planet is painful and wasteful exactly describes the laws of a 'fallen' existence. There needs to be no angst over this condition as it is operating perfectly under its given laws.

The question of the timeframe of it all happening, the large rate of extinction (99% of all species) and all of the ‘wasted’ life to arrive at the point of the earth’s current condition is also mute. This is the nature of this existence. In a fallen state, life feeds upon death. Energy for our cars and homes comes from death. Plants are fed by death and decay. If you think of it, and you wanted to live ‘above’ this law you would not be able to do so. You are a participant in the process.

You will note that in the paradisiacal earth, death (of animals at least) is not caused by their killing one another. (See Isaiah 11:6-9). Adam and Eve in the garden were told that they could eat of all of the fruit of the garden save the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Once they fell however, animals were killed to provide them skins for their covering. Death became an ending to a period of probation. Extinction is an example of being overpowered by Satan and his followers, as we would loose our agency and identities to him.

It was to be symbolic of a penalty paid for the sins we would commit. Death’s bands being broken would symbolize and in reality show a rising above this fallen world and condition. We would be reunited with our Heavenly Father (the end of spiritual death) and have our physical bodies (the end of temporal death) if we kept this estate.

Your concept of a finite God is one that gives me the most pause. You want to limit the understanding of all existence to a telestial sphere. The laws that govern terrestrial and celestial spheres are not known to us in any detail. God’s understanding of physical laws creates a situation where the whole plan is know from beginning to end. A libertarian view of the universe allows for multiple possibilities and hints of a lack of control. A compatabilist view says that all things are known and yet we still have our agency. I side with the compatabilists.


Posted by Taylor Payne

5/14/2005 04:33:00 AM  



<< Home