Faith and Reason, a Series of Articles by R. Dr. Michael Avraham, Part V

The Place of Evolution in the Theological Debate

The Neo-Darwinist Picture in a Nutshell

In the beginning there was the Big Bang, from which matter went forth into the universe (with the gracious assistance of the ‘Divine’ Higgs-Boson). After this the expansion creates stars and galaxies (the force of gravity overcomes all other elemental forces).

This was accompanied by the cooling of temperature which allows our existence. At a later stage, or at random (a remarkable coincidence, according to Dawkins), or in the wake of abiogenesis (the deterministic formation of life) the first chains of proteins were created. From here on in the name of the game is evolution.

This is a system in which three mechanisms are at play: 1. The formation of mutations. Changes in the genetic protein chains (usually understood as random) 2. Natural selection. A struggle for survival of every mutation, and the survival of the fittest of them. 3. Genetics. The passing down of characteristics of surviving mutations to the following generations.

The Logical Place of Evolution in the Discussion

Evolution does not prove that there is no God, and it does not prove that there is. It simply doesn’t deal with Him. Evolution is a scientific field, and it is interested in physical-biological reality. There are those who argue that evolution presents a refutation to the physical-theological proof. This is the sum total of its part in the debate. It is an additional objection, part of the list of objections which are dealt with in this series. The significance of this is that even if the refutation is correct (and it isn’t), then all this means is that one of the proofs for God’s existence has dropped.


The methodology that should be used to deal with this issue is built on three layers:

A. The philosophical validity of the physical-theological proof itself.

B. The scientific validity of evolution (a field in which most of the creationists’ arguments are concentrated)

C. Back to philosophy: If evolution is correct, is it a refutation of the proof.

Let me start by saying that there is a consensus between creationists and neo-Darwinists, that evolution is a critical litmus test for the theological debate. The latter support it and reject belief, the former reject it to hold to belief. All agree that there is a contradiction, and that is where both sides are wrong (precisely such a rare and pastoral consensus, based on a mistake). I intend to show that evolution is entirely unrelated to our discussion.

The previous columns dealt with layer A (and we will return to it later). I will set aside layer B here, since for the purpose of discussion I assume that the neo-Darwinist picture described above is true. I do not have a better scientific theory, and I will show below that it doesn’t matter anyway. Now we have arrived through a leap straight to the discussion at layer C.

The Objection from Evolution

Evolution provides a scientific explanation for the formation of a complex object without a guiding hand. It arises from here that is something is not designed or complex, it can create the physical-theological ‘illusion’ regarding the necessity of the existence of the guiding hand.

Some of the respondents to the previous columns referred to this point. Some demanded a definition for the term ‘designed’ or ‘complex’. Others argued that the existence of a complex and designed object does not mean that there is a designer (begging the question). I will return to the arguments in the next column.

Shakespeare and Other Animals

I will deal with the whole gamut without going into the scientific details. I will not even differentiate between the different scientific stages (Big Bang, Abiogenesis and Evolution). My argument is as follows: Every scientific explanation for the development of the world is given to us in the framework of the laws of nature.

However, these explanations are not relevant for the theological debate. An explanation can be of theological significance only if it is not dependent on the laws of nature, which is of course impossible (if it was possible, that would mean that physics and biology are branches of mathematics, or of logic).

Let me demonstrate this with a common example. Creationists ask – what are the odds that a monkey jumping on a keyboard will randomly produce the combination “to be or not to be”? And if we speak of a whole sonnet of Shakespeare, the chances of course go down drastically. And regarding the complexity of the world and its environment, the chance for random formation is miniscule.

Yet, in an article published in the 1980s in Scientific American, a decisive answer was published for this argument. Someone (The argument is so stupid that mentioning the author’s name violates lashon hara. You can find it on any atheist website) reported the results of the following experiment. Take the 14 letter combination (referring to the Hebrew. In English it’s 13 – AIWAC) “tobeornottobe”. The chance that a random lottery of letter chains of this length will produce this combination is miniscule, since there are 1422 different possibilities (or 1426 in English). At the rate of his computer such a chain is expected to emerge only after 200,000 years.

However the clever author did another experiment: he ran the letters one at a time, and every time he arrived at the correct letter he ‘froze’ it. The computer begins to run individual letters (and not chains). When it reaches the letter “t”, is immediately frozen, and then the computer continues to run another letter. When it arrives at the letter “o”, it is also ‘frozen’, and so on and so forth. This is what he did, until he arrived at the full chain.

Guess how long it took the computer to finish in this way? 90 seconds. An entire play of Shakespeare came out in 4 1/2 days. The flying spaghetti monster had done a miracle, and there was much rejoicing among the atheists.

I presume that the physicists and the mathematicians among us rubbed their eyes in shock, not at the results, but at the sight of such folly. One could have arrived at this conclusion with a pen and paper with a simple calculation of probability, saving the readers’ time and the ecological harm to the Brazilian rainforests. This simulation revealed before us the amazing discovery that is there is an outside factor which sees to it that the correct results are arrived at, the odds of their happening go up tremendously.

A more sophisticated experiment would have done better: to write a program that will ensure that the computer will directly spit out the right chain. A simple complication would show us that in one round we would get the desired chain (and if not, the unintelligent designer should be fired). Besides, if there were computers in Shakespeare’s day, they would have saved a lot of time…

Consequence for the Theological Debate

Ironically enough, this stupid experiment demonstrates the real problem well, and in fact is a demonstration in favor of the physical-theological proof. The creationist argument is that the odds of a chance formation of a complex object are miniscule. The neo-Darwinists argue that the process is not one of chance. There are factors that greatly improve the odds for chance formation (the laws of evolution: feedback, natural selection &c), and in Dawkins’ formulation: level the slope of the unlikely mountain.

However the physical-theologist, as we mentioned, assumes the principle of sufficient reason. Therefore he once again asks: what is the sufficient reason for the constraints which improved the process? Who is the designer who intervened in the chance process and ensured that it will reach its goal? The laws of nature are analogous to the constraints which improved the performance of the computer program described above.

Therefore any explanation via the laws of nature which explains why an incredibly rare process is actually likely is irrelevant for our discussion. The physical-theological proof would still stand, but it will appeal not to the creation of life, but rather the laws which control it.

Let us continue the analogy, and take a medium-sized protein chain, about 300 codons. The number of possible combinations of these chains is 20300, an astronomical number by all accounts. Now the question arises – how were the ‘live’ chains formed and multiplied in a chance process? The answer is: because of the laws of nature (these are the ‘constraints’ on the lottery). But now we will ask: What is the sufficient reason for the laws of nature? How were they created? And again we will arrive at an intelligent factor, or a guiding hand.

Inside the Laws and Outside of Them

The critical point here is the distinction between an argument within the rules and outside of them. There is a process which a priori the odds of its happening are miniscule. Now we find laws, or constraints, which significantly improve its odds (freezing the correct letters, or the laws of nature).

The argument within the laws says that now the process is likely since the laws allow the spontaneous formation of life. However the argument outside the laws says that the laws themselves require us to assume the intervention of an intelligent factor.

Whoever accepts the principle of sufficient reason (and therefore makes the physical-theological argument), is not satisfied with the explanation according to the rules. And whoever does not accept the principle of sufficient reason, has no need for the objection from evolution (in other words for an explanation according to the laws), since the (physical-theological) argument does not convince him in the first place. The conclusion is that evolution is not relevant to the discussion in any way.

Back to Paley’s Watch

Paley’s watch argument works on the same logical basis. The odds that something as complex as a clock was created by chance is miniscule. The world and life are far more complex, and therefore the odds of their spontaneous generation are obviously miniscule. The common rejection of this argument is that our world is not like a watch (because a living creature undergoes evolution, as opposed to a watch).

Aside from the other deficiencies of this rejection (it assumes that there is already a multiplying chain, and ignores the necessity of previous stages), essentially there is an argument here that the laws of nature act to increase the odds for the ‘spontaneous’ formation of life (like the computer program which saw to the formation of the desired chain). However this is an argument within the laws.

If there were other laws, or if there weren’t any laws, life would not have been created. If so, then there arises the question of sufficient reason outside the laws: Are these constraints themselves (= the laws of nature) meaningful without a guiding hand? And if we return to Dawkins, the question is: who is the watchmaker, and can He be blind?

Hoyle’s Plane and Gould’s Parable

The same is true for “Hoyle’s fallacy”. Hoyle compared the odds of a chance formation of life to the odds that a storm passing over a junkyard will produce a complete 747. It was argued against him that he does not understand the laws of evolution and their significance, since they see to it that the process is not directionless, and thus greatly improve the odds of its occurrence.

The astute reader will clearly notice that the logic of the argument is the same logic. Within the laws, the objectors are correct, but Hoyle’s argument is correct outside of the laws.

A couple of weeks ago a part of my book was published (online), in which I brought Gould’s parable, which demonstrated how a random process can bring about a unique result. A drunk leaves a bar, and begins to randomly wander towards the sidewalk. To his right there is a wall and to his left a ditch. In spite of the randomness, Gould argues, at the end of the process the drunk will be in the ditch. Here we have an example of a random process which led to a unique and predetermined result, without a guiding hand.

The responses were stormy, as usual, but the storms reflected a misunderstanding. I’m not asking inside the laws, but outside of them: How indeed did such a result come about? Thanks to the constraints of the environment. In a random environment, the odds of this are miniscule.

If so, who created the constraining environment (=the laws) which dictated the result? This example is just as stupid as the aforementioned experiment (with the computer – AIWAC) and actually demonstrates very well the need for a guiding hand.

Summary: Philosophy and Science

Science teaches us that in the beginning there was a point of singularity, from which was created the universe and all that is in it: states and cities, seas and mountains, various animals, humans, trees, plants, galaxies and stars, suns and moons. Every one of these is complex, and many of them are designed and complex down to the smallest details.

For some reason (some sufficient reason), there is in the background a system of four hard laws (the basic forces of physics) which see to it that all this takes places. A common sense consideration says that there is a guiding hand here.

This is a philosophical consideration, not a scientific one. Science and philosophy work in two different spheres. Our attitude to the physical-theological proof is determined by philosophical considerations (the principle of sufficient reason and its applicability). Our attitude to evolution is a matter for scientific examination. There is no connection between these two planes of reference. Criticism of evolution does not strengthen belief (as the creationists think), and validating evolution does not undermine it (as the atheists think).

For those who think the physical-theological proof is reasonable – evolution does not undermine it (it just moves the debate form looking within the laws to looking outside of them, and from looking for sufficient reason for evolution for looking for sufficient reason for the laws which control it). If in someone’s opinion the physical-theological proof is not reasonable – then he does not need evolution either. In sum, science plays no part in the physical-theological discussion.

Questions of unlikelihood within the rules (as those creationists ask when they look for God in the scientific gaps, or the “God of the gaps”) are questions from the field of science. However, if a theory is insufficient from a scientific point of view, one must find another (different laws), and it must be done with scientific tools. The questions outside the laws are philosophical questions, and only they are relevant for the theological debate.

For the sake of clarity I painted a slightly simplistic picture. In the following columns, I will (God willing) get to a number of finer points which are derived from it (the anthropic principle, quantum physics, the significance of randomness, sufficient reason for laws and objects, what is complexity and more).



Hi, my name is Avi Woolf. I'm an American-Israeli MO Jew living in Israel. I have a background in Israeli (as in Land of Israel) and Jewish History and an insatiable need for knowledge. I also have professional experience as an editor, translator and indexer. Enjoy the ride! If you are interested in using my services or just want to drop me a line, contact me at:
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