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Evolution as chance and necessity

Writing in Chance and NecessityMonod, Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology. Jacques Monod set out an eloquent account of evolution in terms of just two forces: the necessary laws of nature, and blind contingency. Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection fits neatly into this simple framework. The variation from generation to generation that gives rise to adaptations is explained as sheer chance (exemplified by quantum indeterminacyMonod, Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology. 111, 114.), and the differential survival of the better adapted species is inevitable, just as a projectile lofted with greater force is law-bound to reach a greater height. With this conceptual framework established, Monod can claim “chance alone is the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere.”Monod, Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology. 112.

While Monod drew attention to the underlying simplicity of the processes driving evolution, other commentators have shown how these twin forces, in combination, can give rise to surprisingly complex phenomena.See Stuart A. Kauffman, At Home in the Universe: The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity (London: Penguin, 1996) 71-86.Biochemist Arthur Peacocke has critiqued Monod’s description pointing out that “the interplay between these principles is more subtle and complex than the simple dichotomies of the past would allow.”Peacocke in John Durant, ed., Darwinism and Divinity: Essays on Evolution and Religious Belief (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985) 116

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Evolution as chance and necessity

[1] Does Evolution ‘do the work of a friend’ for the Christian Religion?
Setting the scene - why focus on providence?
[2] Supposed challenges from the evolutionary sciences to theology
Intellectually fulfilled atheists?
A challenge to human uniqueness and status?
A challenge to purpose in creation?
A threat to the veracity of scripture?
Evolution ‘explains away’ theology?
A challenge to Christian morality?
The challenges in wider context - Darwin as a scapegoat?
[3] The current state of the evolutionary sciences
Different ways of conceptualising Darwinian evolution
Evolution as an algorithm
Evolution as movement within a ‘fitness landscape’
Ongoing debates: contingency versus convergence
Ongoing debates: what are the key causal factors in biological history?
Ongoing debates: the environment as the principle cause?
Ongoing debates: convergence as the principle cause?
Ongoing debates: ‘Universal biology’ as the principle cause?
The importance of moving from evolution as abstraction to particular history
Ongoing debates: directionality and progress
Ongoing debates: the origin of life
Different levels and kinds of selection?
[4] Responses from theology
Evolution, probabilities and providence
Responses from contemporary theologians
Holmes Rolston III
Keith Ward
John Haught
Arthur Peacocke
An increased role for general providence?
Theology of Creation in the light of evolution: three scenarios
[5] Concluding remarks


Adrian Wyard
Adrian M Wyard MSt

See also:

The Relation of Science & Religion
Purpose and Design
The Argument From Design
The Anthropic Principle
Charles Darwin
DNA Double-Helix