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[3] The current state of the evolutionary sciences

It is important to remember that the contemporary field of evolutionary biology is a made up of several diverse sub-disciplines: palaeontology, molecular biology, population genetics, and developmental biology, to name just a few. Each of these sub-disciplines is constantly being revised and expanded. Together they attempt to provide a scientific account of how life first appeared, how the diversity of living creatures that we see around us today came to inhabit the Earth, and the detailed functioning of these living beings and the relations between them. If we include recent work in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, then the explanatory reach of evolutionary biology extends to the day-to-day behaviour of human individuals and societies. This is a broad and developing family of disciplines. Nevertheless, Darwin’s theory of natural selection remains a unifying organising principle that is common to them all.

The scope of the explanations provided by the various sub-disciplines and the force with which they are held to be final and authoritative varies considerably. On the one hand, palaeontology provides an impressive but incomplete account of the evolutionary pathways along which many organisms have travelled in order to reach their present form. Due to the scarcity of fossils, much of palaeontology remains tentative. For the foreseeable future we can expect new data and new fossil finds will lead to revisions of classifications and the historical timeline. On the other hand, it is difficult to see how Darwin’s idea of natural selection could ever be supplanted in those sub-disciplines which are concerned with changes in populations.A technical defence of evolution is beyond the scope of this dissertation, but amongst the most persuasive arguments are Kimura and Ayala’s discovery of the ‘molecular clock’ and the ability...

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[3] The current state of the evolutionary sciences

[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?
Different ways of conceptualising Darwinian evolution
Evolution as chance and necessity
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