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Goaded or Guided?
© 21 August 2007, Stephen Sparrow

It has been four years since I wrote "Evolution: Part Of God's Grandeur" and I think now is the time to explain why I wrote it. In February 2003 I was admitted to hospital for urgent neuro-surgery. A week after the procedure, a young female practitioner administered occupational therapy. In the course of several consultations the therapist explained why a certain muscle functioned the way it did, and I asked why that was so. The therapist said, “because that was the way it evolved”. I asked if she was sure about that and she replied that it depended on whether one ran with science or the story. There and then was not the place to continue that line of enquiry but a week later her words still rankled. “Was Sacred Scripture incompatible with Modern Science? Were they truly mutually exclusive?” 

My answer is in "Evolution: Part of God’s Grandeur", an essay in which I used a very broad brush and I think the picture could be added to with a few finer strokes that in no ways take anything away from the original. These strokes relate to Darwin’s insistence on evolution/change being completely random--something I gave qualified acceptance to then, in the knowledge that all change obeys laws--my attitude being based on Flannery O’Connor’s dictum that “a god you understood would be less than yourself”; which some may say is a cop out. Okay, but can Darwin’s theory of natural selection also be labeled a cop out? Darwin’s idea that the mechanism that stimulated change was both random and blind came not out of empirical measurement but rose straight out of the ‘too hard’ basket. Darwin held that environmental favoritism of random mutations was the underlying cause of change. The theory enjoyed common appeal because change is perplexing, and assigning the cause of change to some random, mindless happening became the easy way out. Voila, the problem disappears, and with it the rug under our feet. However, more than fifty years before Darwin and Wallace published their findings, Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) was the first to publish and lecture on organic evolution. Lamarck believed that changes beneficial to an organism’s own needs were the most likely to be passed on to its progeny. In other words a sort of innate desire stimulates an organism to adapt to a particular ecological niche. Lamarck’s theory flies in the face of Darwin’s conclusions.

This principle of innate desire pervades the whole spectrum of life in all of its forms, but must (I think) be preceded by consciousness/awareness--a faculty shared to some degree by even the most primitive of organisms. Desire is expressed in appetites--food, sex, and additionally in the case of humanity, the desire to be comforted. Human beings crave comfort, presupposing the existence of some place or thing where that desire is satisfied, and this desire for comfort is intuitively embodied in the ascending realms of the physical, the psychological, and the spiritual. At its highest level--the spiritual level--desire is replaced with either hope or despair; hope being both trust in and expectation of the supernatural and immeasurable concept of mercy, despair being the rejection of that concept. Despair reveals itself in a corrupted desire signified by addictions to virtually anything. Both hope and despair are made manifest at either end of the spectrum of free will--they are free will’s ultimate expression, so please don’t tell me that the virtue of hope was forced on humanity by random natural selection. Natural selection is hostile to all that is not geared toward survival at its most basic, and so at the very least, random natural selection would have, at the moment of hatching, crushed the faculty that enables both hope and despair to be contemplated. That faculty is free will, and it is unique to human beings, and it is confirmed and celebrated by Judeo-Christianity. But, returning to animals and plants; is this principle of innate desire not replicated at a lesser level in a desire to, where possible, co-operate with the environment? In other words, to just survive?

Now, if I accept the mechanism of random natural selection, I am in effect saying that all that I do is programmed by some “set in concrete” internal law that overrides all else: meaning I have no say in the matter of my desires. Pardon me but I beg strongly to differ, and as implied earlier, I happen to know that I possess the faculty of free will--i.e. I can either trust that the supernatural principle of mercy exists and that it can be granted me, or I can reject that principle and so indulge my innate desires in any fashion that pleases me--regardless of how others may be affected. Concomitant with this experience and use of free will is the knowledge of good and evil and accountability so beautifully illumined by St Thomas Aquinas who said, “all evil exists in mistaking or misusing the means for the end”--meaning that my actions have consequences for me that exist outside of and beyond this concrete world I currently inhabit. That is an idea I’m comfortable with, the comfort of knowing mercy exists, that mercy reposes in some supernatural authority, and that I have not been abandoned to an abstract random.

I have no problem with evolution, right? But as for random natural selection? Well the Jury has been out for a long time and something tells me they’ve given up on the task of finding a verdict--which means that for me the conclusions of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck are more than sufficient for the day.

© 1995: Brian Collier and Comforts of Home

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