Over at BioLogos, Darrel Falk, president of the outfit, presents the “evolutionary convergence” argument for God in a piece called “Was humanity inevitable?” The piece is accompanied by a Wisconsin Public Radio interview centered on Cambridge University paleontologist Simon Conway Morris and his ideas about the relationship between God and evolutionary convergence. It’s well worth listening to, for Conway Morris’s views are criticized by others as well as receiving some surprising support.
Briefly, evolutionary convergence is the observation that some unrelated groups of animals or plants have, though natural selection, converged on similar “designs” when they find themselves in similar environments. The classic examples (I talk about some of these in WEIT) are the placental and marsupial mammals (both, for example, have evolved mole-like forms), the vertebrate and cephalopod eyes, the fusiform shape of dolphins, fish, and ichthyosaurs, and the euphorbs of the Old World and the cacti of the New. Convergence shows that, sometimes, genetic variation will hit on similar adaptive solutions in similar environments. It’s nether hard to understand nor difficult to accept.
Some religious biologists, however, think that God is behind this phenomenon. I have no idea why, for the prime example they always use is human intelligence, and human intelligence is not convergent with the intelligence of any other unrelated creature. Our mental complexity is an evolutionary one-off: like feathers or the trunks of elephants, it evolved only once.
Somehow, though, religious scientists like Conway Morris want to argue that the evolution of human-like intelligence was inevitable. Behind this view, of course, is the faith that God acted to create humans through evolution, and that human intelligence, capable of apprehending and worshiping a God, is the acme of that God-driven process. But why would the evolution of such an intelligence be any more inevitable than the evolution of, say, the elephant’s trunk? I think the convergence argument for God is deeply misguided—in fact, it’s incoherent.
I’ve addressed the convergence argument before (go here, and, if you want more, trace the links back to my New Republic piece, where I discuss the issue in depth).
In the radio piece, however, Conway Morris repeats his claim, arguing that the evolution of “a sentient species, with an advanced civilization, in my view, is an inevitability.” Kenneth Miller seems to agree, but biologist Sean Carroll and philosopher Dan Dennett strongly disagree (I’m with them, of course). Surprisingly, Richard Dawkins agrees that a high, human-like intelligence was an evolutionary inevitability, saying that, “Simon Conway Morris and I are very close. . . .but he thinks it implies some kind of theistic push and I don’t.” I think Richard’s view here stems from his emphases on “arms races” in evolution, for high intelligence is a great way to win an arms race.
UPDATE: Richard explains in a comment below where and where he does not agree with Conway Morris’s claims about inevitability (he disgrees, of course, about any theistic implications).
Falk’s piece gives both sides of the argument, but he lets Conway Morris’s erroneous claims go unchallenged. Here is one:
Given enough time and resources, [Conway Morris} says, every ecological niche will be filled up by some kind of life form.
Now how do we know that? I think it’s complete twaddle, for there are some good examples of ecological niches that have never been filled. Here’s one: snakes that eat grass. What a great niche for a snake, but although they’ve been around for 125 million years, snakes have never evolved herbivory. Yet there’s plenty of room for such creatures! (Of course, you can always say that such a niche doesn’t exist, but then your argument becomes tautological.) Any biologist can think of such unfilled niches.
At the end, Falk punts the question into the arms of theologians: the intellectual equivalent of it tossing it into a black hole:
So is the near-certainty of human life front-loaded from the beginning? Was it predetermined from the Big Bang that human beings would eventually arise? Was it predetermined that God’s natural activity—that activity which upholds the universe and maintains all that is within it—would be sufficient for the eventual development of humans? Alternatively, was supernatural activity required for the creation of the human body? Does the Bible dictate one way or the other? Is it somehow less God’s creation if it took place through God’s natural activity? Is it somehow more God’s creation if supernatural activity was required? These are questions for theologians. Science is taking us up to edge as Conway Morris brilliantly shows. There, we meet the theologians, and there, we begin the journey’s next phase.
These are questions for theologians? They can tell us whether the evolution of humans was inevitable? Or that human evolution required supernatural activity? Don’t make me laugh. Theologians are completely incapable of answering those questions, or in fact, any questions. Theology is not a way of finding out answers; it’s a highly developed form of rationalizing preordained conclusions.