Birch, Charles. Neo-Darwinism, Self-organization, and Divine Action in Evolution.
According to Charles Birch,
most biologists now accept neo-Darwinism as the methodological basis of their
understanding of biological evolution, supplemented by the concept of
self-organization. 1) Research areas in neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory
include differences in the object of selection, the problem of deleterious
mutations, subtleties concerning the role of chance, the genetic assimilation
of environmental effects, influences on natural selection by modification of
the environment, and both neutral and punctuated theories of evolution. 2)
Self- organization refers to the production of complex order without a centralizing agency and is
usually invoked to explain the evolution of the pre-biotic world. It may also
help to explain complex processes in developmental biology, including cell
differentiation. Stuart Kaufman applies the mathematics of chaos theory to some
aspects of biological evolution without appealing to natural selection.
Birch acknowledges that both
neo-Darwinism and self-organization draw on strictly mechanistic models, but
insists that this does not imply that biological entities are in all respects
machines. On the one hand, a mechanistic analysis seems to provide all that we
need for modern biology from a purely physical perspective. On the other hand,
it has little, if anything, to say about the mental experience of biological
creatures, namely their experience of freedom, choice, and in the human case at
least, self-determination. Such analysis has even less to say about the
possibility of divine action in the living world. Birch believes this problem
stems from the fact that the organism is treated methodologically by
neo-Darwinists as an object and not as a subject. Compounding the problem, the
mechanistic methodology has led many Darwinists to argue for an underlying
mechanistic metaphysics. As a result, the evolution of mind and consciousness,
and the functions which they uniquely serve in nature, have remained an enigma
In its stead Birch suggests
a metaphysics for biological organisms which includes their mental as well as
physical aspects. The proposal is drawn from the philosophy of Whitehead, in
which all individual entities from protons to people are considered to be
subjects. Biological evolution is not simply a matter of change in the external
relations of objects, but also one of change in the internal relations of
subjects. This includes a subjects relation to its immediate past, analogous
to memory, and its relation to its possible future, analogous to anticipation.
There is an ever-present urge in life which can be called purpose. Process
thought thus posits mentality or experience in some form as an aspect of nature
down to the level of fundamental particles. Only at the higher levels of
complexity is experience actually conscious. Birch cites David Chalmers, Galen
Strawson, and Henry Stapp as non-process scholars who support the validity of
experience as universal in nature. The key argument is that mentality did not
emerge from the non-mental at some point in the evolutionary sequence.
He then contrasts process
philosophy with two alternatives: emergence and reductionism. Emergence involves
a category mistake (that the mental emerges from the physical) as well as a
scientific problem (drawing the line between sentience and non-sentience).
Reductionism, although it is fruitful and represents most scientific analysis,
is inadequate because it cannot account for the fact that the whole has
properties which the parts do not; moreover, the parts become qualitatively
different by being parts of the whole.
In its place, Birch claims
that the best answer to the whole-part problem and the strongest argument for
rejecting reductionism is the doctrine of internal relations. This process
approach is compatible with a lower-to-upper causality, and it has important
implications for scientific research, too, offering support for the idea of top-down
causation. Theologically, the potentiality of the universe is held in the mind
of God. Divine potentiality becomes concrete reality in the universe by means
of persuasive love. God interacts with individual entities in three ways.
First, the future is open, and God persuasively confronts entities with
creative and saving possibilities for their future. Next, the entities of the
world are created by God and respond to Gods feelings for the world. Finally,
God responds to the world with infinite passion, taking actual entities into
the divine life.
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