Because of Us

A huge obstacle in reconciling Darwinian evolution and orthodox Christianity is as follows:

Darwinian evolution entails that chance plays a central part of our history, as random variations provide the material for selection to cull. So deeply ingrained is the role of chance that the late Stephen Jay Gould was fond of saying that if the tape of life was replayed from the beginning, an entirely different reality would exist, a reality that would not include us. This is simply because we could not count on all the various coincidences and accidents to play out again exactly as they played out in our history.

Yet orthodox Christianity views human life as an inevitable part of Creation .

How shall we reconcile these?


God could have created any one of an infinite number of creations yet He chose to create our reality. Why did He create this one? Because of us. That is, this is the creation, the only creation, in which we exist. We cannot exist in any other creation. Other humans, humanoids, or sentient beings might exist in other creations, but they would not be us.

This creation exists because it is our home, that is, where we were born and where we live.

So what makes us us? Our genetic identities. Our experiences. Our memories. Our history. Our choices. Since all of these things are necessary for our identity and are what make us us, and since these things are part of this creation, this creation must exist if we are to exist.

So how did we come into existence? Was it the miracle of Creationism? Was it the natural law and evolutionary convergence of Conway Morris or Denton? Was it by front-loading evolution? Or was it the mixture of natural selection and contingency as outlined by Dawkins and Gould?

Answer – it doesn’t matter. However we came into existence had to be because that was the way we came into existence. It’s a package deal.

So it would not matter if Dawkins/Gould was correct. Because even if chance and natural selection brought us into existence, well, then that’s what would be needed to bring us into existence. God is still in control because this very reality where chance and natural selection brought us into existence would not exist and be sustained if God had not wanted to commune with us. God choose to create this reality whereby chance and natural selection brought us into existence because that is our reality and our history. From God’s perspective, beyond our space-time reality, our emergence was inevitable and foreknown because the very reason this reality was chosen into existence is precisely because God knew it would spawn us, regardless of the mechanism. Creation runs through us and exists because of us.

Once this is realized, the obstacle of chance evaporates. God does not need to tinker with this creation to get us to appear. He created this universe, among an infinite other possible universes, precisely because it was the one that would spawn us.

If this reality exists because of us, why did God choose us? It’s the most mysterious and humbling revelation – God loves us.

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34 Responses to Because of Us

  1. Doug says:

    So true. Funny that your “so it would not matter” seems lost on so many people.

  2. Sizzle-d says:

    IMO, theistic evolution is equivalent to a belief by an Islamist activist that Jesus Christ is the begotten son of Allah, who also accepts the Qu’ran as true, is grateful to Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden and believes the Bible is false.

  3. Sizzle-d says:

    Oops, i used “Sizzle-d” instead of “Shizzle-d”.

  4. TFBW says:

    We cannot exist in any other creation. Other humans, humanoids, or sentient beings might exist in other creations, but they would not be us.

    What metaphysical premise leads to this conclusion? If the universe had been exactly the same save for the placement of a few atoms of no physical significance, would that almost-identical universe not have contained “us”? Why not? If I make the counter-claim that God could have brought “us” about in many different ways, because he’s powerful like that, but chose one particular historical path for his own subtle reasons, then on what basis would you say that I am wrong?

  5. Bilbo says:

    Hi TFBW,

    (1) Mike can reply to your first point by saying that if the few atoms had no significance in bringing us about, then it wouldn’t matter to his argument. God just has a larger range of choices from which to bring us about.
    (2) Since a large part of what makes you you is your history (your parents, their parents, etc.), then God could not create you without also creating your history.
    (3) However, I think there might be a problem with Mike’s argument. Imagine two universes, both allowed to evolve by chance. In one of them we exist. In the other we do not exist. How does God make the first universe happen and not the second? It seems He would need to control the events in the created universe in order to guarantee that we come about. But if He is controlling the events, then how is it that the events are a result of chance?

  6. TFBW says:

    Mike can reply to your first point by saying that if the few atoms had no significance in bringing us about, then it wouldn’t matter to his argument.

    It’s a question designed to test whether any variability is allowed. If none, then why not? If some, then how much, and why that much?

    … God could not create you without also creating your history.

    This touches on the metaphysics of personal identity. Much of my history is the product of my free will, or the free will of others, rather than the actions of God. Had I decided to act differently at some point in the past, my circumstances would now be different in some way, but I would still be “me”, surely? How dependent is my identity (as distinct from my circumstances and my personal traits) on my history?

    In some ways, the argument seems to come down to, “if things were different, they wouldn’t be the same.” That’s indisputably true, but I’m not sure that we can conclude anything metaphysically significant from it. I suspect there’s more to the argument than this, however, which is why I’m asking.

    How does God make the first universe happen and not the second?

    Well, if we allow that there might be more than one possible universe, then presumably we can adopt a theistic version of multiverse theory. Something along the lines of, “there are an infinite number of possible random universes, and God knows how each would develop if actualised, so he allows the one(s) with the desired development to exist.” Not a model I’d back, personally, but if you want to avoid interventionist scenarios, it seems like an angle you could take.

  7. Crude says:

    TFBW,

    Had I decided to act differently at some point in the past, my circumstances would now be different in some way, but I would still be “me”, surely?

    Why ‘surely’? You’re talking about a hypothetical person who is different from yourself. Okay, say the difference is minor. What makes you the same person?

  8. TFBW says:

    Do I become a different person each time I make a decision? I don’t think so: I believe in some sort of continuity of identity. That being so, then why would a different decision at some point in the past make me a different person now? I would be different in some way, sure, but we could still compare “me” with “hypothetical me”, not “me” with “hypothetical someone else who can not be me, despite the similarities”.

    As I say, this discussion relies on some kind of metaphysical model of personal identity. Models which entail continuity of identity usually pin identity on an abstraction called a “soul”. The soul is not the whole person — a person also has a body, and a personality, for example. If people become ill or grumpy, when previously they were well or cheerful, we tend to describe this as a change in the person, not a change of person (except for humorous effect, as in, “who are you and what did you do with so-and-so?”). Other models are possible, and perhaps the argument presented here relies upon them. If we say that personal identity is nothing more than history, then two things are not the same thing unless they share the same history (to the maximum possible extent). Thus if I had buttered my toast a little differently this morning, I would now be a different person, the point of divergence being the point of difference.

    But this runs into the curious problem that I raised with my first question. My personal history does not stop with my conception, or with the atoms that are part of “my body” at any given moment. The history of the universe prior to my birth must also be the same if we are comparing the actual “me” with some hypothetical “me”. The displacement of a few atoms long ago is enough to create a different universe, such that the hypothetical “me” is not born into the same universe. Does that mean that there can be no “me” in this alternate universe, even if there is someone identical to me in every other way? What if the difference was inconsequential — an atom of C14 in my body which decayed at a slightly different moment, but with no measurable impact, for example? At what point do these physical differences amount to a change in identity?

    A soul-based concept of identity like mine must accommodate the idea that “I” could be very different from what I am. I accept that, and sometimes have cause to think, “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” It also means that I doubt the proposition, “we can not exist in any other creation.” A history-based concept of identity must accommodate the idea that there can be hypothetical people indistinguishable from you who are, nonetheless, not a hypothetical you, entirely because of some minor physical detail. That is unless the identity model incorporates some kind of critical threshold at which differences result in identity change, and I’d be interested to see any attempt to pin that down.

  9. Crude says:

    TFBW,

    Do I become a different person each time I make a decision? I don’t think so: I believe in some sort of continuity of identity. That being so, then why would a different decision at some point in the past make me a different person now?

    I don’t see how the two are related as questions. No one is denying continuity of identity here, as near as I can tell. The question is what constitutes that continuity, and Mike’s answer is at least in part ‘the totality of my history’. Granted, that totality is ever expanding, but it’s still a totality.

    At what point do these physical differences amount to a change in identity?

    The answer seems pretty easy: ‘At any point.’

  10. TFBW says:

    “The totality of my history” is a problematic turn of phrase to use, given that it assumes a “me” to which it applies, and the question of what constitutes “me” is the one being answered. More precisely, the question is what is essentially and uniquely me, rather than a non-essential aspect of me. I’m not sure if that distinction is clear to an advocate of the historical model, given that the historical model seems to treat everything as essential.

    I don’t know whether you consider it a problem, but it seems to me that the historical model creates some difficulties in the calculus of identity, particularly as regards continuity. If we say that there is continuity of identity, then I am the same person now (A) as I was yesterday (B). Had I buttered my toast differently this morning, I would still be the same person now (C) as I was yesterday (B), but the real “I” (A) and the hypothetical “I” who buttered his toast differently (C) are not the same person, correct? A is B, and C is B, but A is not C. So is B then not A? Does continuity only work backwards, not forwards? That is, I am the same person I was yesterday, but I am constantly becoming someone else based on what I do in the present? This isn’t “continuity” as I know it.

    In my version of continuity, it works both ways, so A is B is C. Who I am tomorrow is not negotiable: I will still be me. What I am tomorrow is rather more flexible. The historical model doesn’t seem to make a distinction between who and what in this way: the “who” is merely the totality of the “what”. Under this model, I don’t see that there really is a “who”. There are no identities (“whos”), but only physical facts (“whats”) with a history. We might give certain collections of physical facts a name, for convenient reference, but ultimately all such aggregate things are virtual — matters of convention, like “my grandfather’s axe,” or the ship of Theseus — a label applied to a set of relationships over time, not an entity as such. Even that description is a slight departure from the historical model, since the relational model might allow that the ship of Theseus is still the ship of Theseus whether we replace a broken board with this plank or that plank.

    Given all that, I’m also a little perplexed as to how the historical model of identity harmonises with the idea that “God loves us”. The “us” to which this refers is a curiously insubstantial thing. If we die, and he raises us from the dead to eternal life, for example, then what is it about the newly-minted “us” that relates to the dead, historical “us”? Our memories? Is a copy of me also me? What is resurrected at the resurrection? It seems that the historical model alone won’t allow for continuity over the event of death.

  11. Michael says:

    What metaphysical premise leads to this conclusion?

    It’s the belief that our choices and our experiences define us. For example, consider the choice to become a Christian. Had I not made that choice, would I be who I am today? I don’t think so.

    If the universe had been exactly the same save for the placement of a few atoms of no physical significance, would that almost-identical universe not have contained “us”? Why not?

    I suppose it would depend on whether or not any of those atoms would ultimately change human history.

    If I make the counter-claim that God could have brought “us” about in many different ways, because he’s powerful like that, but chose one particular historical path for his own subtle reasons, then on what basis would you say that I am wrong?

    I don’t think our choices and experiences can be cut away from our identity.

  12. Michael says:

    It’s a question designed to test whether any variability is allowed. If none, then why not? If some, then how much, and why that much?

    Only omniscience would be able to answer such questions.

    This touches on the metaphysics of personal identity. Much of my history is the product of my free will, or the free will of others, rather than the actions of God. Had I decided to act differently at some point in the past, my circumstances would now be different in some way, but I would still be “me”, surely?

    It’s not just your circumstances that would be different. If I had chosen against becoming a Christian many years ago, not only would my circumstances today be different, but I would have made a whole series of other choices based on a whole set of other values such that I would not be who I am today. I don’t think who we are can be divorced from our choices, experiences, and history.

    How dependent is my identity (as distinct from my circumstances and my personal traits) on my history?

    I would say that while history is not sufficient for my identity, it is a necessary part of my identity. Which is why our choices and free will are so crucial to who we are and our fate.

  13. Michael says:

    Do I become a different person each time I make a decision? I don’t think so: I believe in some sort of continuity of identity.
    I would agree. But I would also note that my own life contains a series of decisions that have defined who I am.

    That being so, then why would a different decision at some point in the past make me a different person now?

    Are you saying that you would still be who you are today had you not decided to follow Christ?

    I would be different in some way, sure, but we could still compare “me” with “hypothetical me”, not “me” with “hypothetical someone else who can not be me, despite the similarities”.

    Sure. But consider the effects of thousands and thousands of different decisions stretched over time.

    As I say, this discussion relies on some kind of metaphysical model of personal identity. Models which entail continuity of identity usually pin identity on an abstraction called a “soul”. The soul is not the whole person — a person also has a body, and a personality, for example. If people become ill or grumpy, when previously they were well or cheerful, we tend to describe this as a change in the person, not a change of person (except for humorous effect, as in, “who are you and what did you do with so-and-so?”).

    Becoming a Christian was not a change in me – it was a change of me.

    Other models are possible, and perhaps the argument presented here relies upon them. If we say that personal identity is nothing more than history, then two things are not the same thing unless they share the same history (to the maximum possible extent).

    I never claimed personal identity was nothing more than history. I am just convinced history is a crucial component of personal identity.

    Thus if I had buttered my toast a little differently this morning, I would now be a different person, the point of divergence being the point of difference.

    I doubt that each and every little decision (like this example) is crucial to our identity. But that does not mean all of our decisions are irrelevant when it comes to who we are.

    A soul-based concept of identity like mine must accommodate the idea that “I” could be very different from what I am.

    It’s not what you are – it’s who you are.

    I accept that, and sometimes have cause to think, “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” It also means that I doubt the proposition, “we can not exist in any other creation.” A history-based concept of identity must accommodate the idea that there can be hypothetical people indistinguishable from you who are, nonetheless, not a hypothetical you, entirely because of some minor physical detail.

    I think this gets us close to the core of our disagreement. I simply don’t believe that another “me” with a different history of choices and experiences can be said to be me. I think my choices and experiences are part of who I am.

    That is unless the identity model incorporates some kind of critical threshold at which differences result in identity change, and I’d be interested to see any attempt to pin that down.

    I don’t see how the truth of such a critical threshold could be dependent on my ability to pin that down. That would be beyond the reach of my feeble, limited intellect. What I do know is that there are choices I have made in the past that have been crucial to defining who I am today. I know that I am not the same person that I was when I was 20, for example. There is continuity, but there is also change. I also believe that I could make choices today or tomorrow that would set me on a path that would continue to change me.

  14. Bilbo says:

    TFBW: Well, if we allow that there might be more than one possible universe, then presumably we can adopt a theistic version of multiverse theory. Something along the lines of, “there are an infinite number of possible random universes, and God knows how each would develop if actualised, so he allows the one(s) with the desired development to exist.” Not a model I’d back, personally, but if you want to avoid interventionist scenarios, it seems like an angle you could take.

    I’m not sure this avoids interventionist scenarios. Out of the infinite number of possible random universes, let’s say God wants just one to exist. So He creates a universe. Now how does He guarantee that this universe has the exact chance events that God wants it to have? As far as I can tell, the only the way is to control those events. But in that case have those events happened by chance?

    It seems to me that if God wants one specific universe, but He wants the events in it to happen by chance, then God must continue to create universes until the one He wants actually happens. Compare it to rolling dice. God wants one die to come up 3, and the other die to come up 4. But God doesn’t want to intervene and make the dice come up the way He wants. So what can God do? He can continue to roll the dice until the result He wants happens.

  15. TFBW says:

    @Michael: I think our problem is that we mean two almost entirely different things by “identity”. As such I’ve thoroughly misinterpreted your post. Sorry.

    @Bilbo: My suggestion was that God can know the entire history of all possible universes without first creating them. If He had to create them first, and learned something by observing them, then He wouldn’t be omniscient. Randomness doesn’t preclude divine foreknowledge, and vice versa.

  16. Ilíon says:

    It’s the belief that our choices and our experiences define us. For example, consider the choice to become a Christian. Had I not made that choice, would I be who I am today? I don’t think so.

    It seems to me that you’re conforming your thoughts about ‘identity’ to the careless and sloppy language of psycho-babble (“I’m not the same person I was when I punched you in the face for no reason other than to see you writhe in pain”) rather than to sound reasoning about what ‘identity’ means and what follows from it.

  17. Bilbo says:

    TFBW: My suggestion was that God can know the entire history of all possible universes without first creating them. If He had to create them first, and learned something by observing them, then He wouldn’t be omniscient. Randomness doesn’t preclude divine foreknowledge, and vice versa.

    I agree that God can know the entire history of all possible universe without first creating them. The problem, as I see it, is actualizing any specific universe without controlling the events in that universe. Say God wants to create possible Universe #141. So He creates a universe and then…hopes that all the random events of #141 will happen without His controlling them? Makes all the random events of #141 happen? But then, are they still random?

  18. TFBW says:

    So He creates a universe and then…hopes that all the random events of #141 will happen without His controlling them?

    No, he creates universe #141 with full foreknowledge of how the random events in that universe pan out. If they aren’t going to pan out the way He wants, then that’s not the universe He wants to create. By the time you’ve specified a particular universe (out of the multiverse), there are no longer any “alternatives” in its history — no possibility of anything happening other than what was foreknown, since if something else happened, it would be a different universe.

    Talk of possible universes, randomness, and foreknowledge can get a little mind-bending. Just think of a “random” event as being “one whose outcome can not be derived from any other fact in the universe”. For us, that makes random outcomes impossible to know in advance, because there’s nothing in the present that can we can know which will reveal the relevant future fact. God, on the other hand, does not need to derive future facts by extrapolation from the present.

  19. Bilbo says:

    Hi TFBW,

    I’m afraid I don’t see how you’ve addressed the problem that I’ve raised. Assuming that God wants to create Universe #141, how does God guarantee that all the events in #141 occur?

  20. Michael says:

    Bilbo,

    God is not restricted by time. He can bring Universe #141 into existence because He sees how it will all play out – beginning to end.

  21. TFBW says:

    Universe #141 is a distinct set of events. If you bring about that specific universe, then you are, by definition, guaranteeing that those events (and only those events) occur.

  22. Bilbo says:

    I agree that God is not restricted by time. But I don’t see how this overcomes the problem I tried to state earlier. Let’s go back to the simpler example I presented: God wants to roll a die and have it come up 3, but randomly. God could cause the die to come up 3, but He doesn’t want to determine that it come up 3. He wants it to come up 3 “on its own,” so to speak. It seems to me that the only way God can make this happen is by rolling the die over and over again until it comes up 3. This might happen the first time. This might happen only after several rolls.

    We could say that God could use a short cut and merely create the universe in which the die comes up 3 randomly. But it’s not clear to me that the die’s coming up 3 in that universe is still random. Did it really have any other option? Wasn’t its coming up 3 determined?

  23. Bilbo says:

    Let me add to that: Let’s say that the die did have other options, besides coming up 3 in that universe. If so, how did God make sure that it came up 3 instead of some other number, while still allowing the result to be random?

  24. TFBW says:

    This comes down to your philosophy of randomness, and how it interacts with the metaphysics of the multiverse. If every distinct possibility represents a distinct universe (the multiverse model), then, within any given universe, there is no possibility of a “random” event in the sense that there could have been a different outcome. On a per-universe basis, all facts are pre-determined. Randomness (in the sense of not being able to predict an outcome) is then a subjective consequence of not knowing which particular universe one inhabits.

    So, how does God cause an event to have a particular outcome while still allowing it to be random? First, the event has to be non-deterministic: the outcome must not be fully calculable from prior states of the universe. Second, the event must express all its possible outcomes in other universes. These two criteria fully describe a random event from a multiverse perspective.

    The question also comes down to your philosophy of causation. By choosing to create universe #141, in which a die rolls “3” randomly, has God been the direct cause of the die coming up “3”? Here, one might need to make a distinction between proximal and ultimate causes. After all, if “the laws of physics” can be described as a cause of an outcome, we still have to deal with the fact that God, ultimately, was the author of those laws. In the case of the die, the proximal cause was randomness, but the ultimate cause was God’s will in creating universe #141 rather than some other possible universe. Whichever answer you choose, however, the event is still random, so long as it meets the two criteria given in the previous paragraph.

    Perhaps your problem arises from the fact that you want a “random” event to have additional criteria. Are you satisfied with my two criteria, or do you think I have missed something?

  25. Bilbo says:

    Hi TFBW,

    I think you’ve identified the problem: I don’t think I’m satisfied with your criteria. If the die coming up 3 is not fully calculable from prior states in the universe, but God has intervened in the universe to cause the die to come up 3, would we still want to describe that event as “random”? I think not, since in this case God is both the ultimate and proximal cause of the event.

    But I’m wondering if that would also be the case if God creates a universe that has the “random” events that He wants it to have. True, those events would not be fully calculable from prior states in the universe. But is God their proximal as well as ultimate cause?

  26. TFBW says:

    Perhaps you could tackle that question by first explaining what a “random cause” is, and how it would be different if God intervened. Also, you have to answer the question as to whether it’s even possible for God to create particular universes or not.

    To see how these questions are related, let us consider the die roll in the absence of God’s intervention. Let us suppose that a die is rolled, and its behaviour is influenced by truly nondeterministic events such that there are many possible universes describing its trajectory and final orientation at rest, all of which share the same initial conditions but differ in outcome. God has not specially intervened in any of these possible universes in order to produce the final outcome: the proximal cause in all cases is the laws of physics, including its nondeterministic elements.

    Now let’s introduce God into the picture. He wants the result of the random die roll to be a “3”. Which of the following descriptions most closely matches your intuitions on the matter?

    1. God can see all possible outcomes in all possible universes. He elects to create possible universe #141, which includes the desired outcome. No special intervention is required: it’s just a matter of choosing which possible universe to create.
    2. God can see all possible outcomes in all possible universes, but he can not create specific possible universes. He can create universes with very precise starting conditions, but many possible universes share the same initial conditions, so many outcomes are still possible. Having created the universe, however, he knows how the future will unfold, and thus whether or not this is a universe with his desired outcome. If it isn’t, he can either try again, or specially intervene in whatever small way it takes to get history on the desired course.
    3. As per #2, but God does not know which possible universe he has created, and thus lacks complete foreknowledge. Not even He can know the outcome of a random event prior to it happening. If he wants the die to have a particular outcome, he needs to monitor the course of the die, and possibly intervene each time it is nondeterministically influenced.

    Any thoughts?

  27. Bilbo says:

    Hi TFBW,

    I like your trichotomy. I think 2. comes closest to matching my intuitions.

  28. Gregory says:

    Still going on with your version of an ‘anthropic’ principle from a biologists perspective, Mike? ‘Because of Us’ sounds a bit like Bocelli’s “Because We Believe.” That’s a compliment on one level, if not another.

    Have you faced Bostrom’s simulation argument yet? Bostrom’s an expert on ‘anthropic’ principles, even such as yours. His “Anthropic Bias” can be found on-line.

  29. Bilbo says:

    Poor Gregory. They deleted our argument at BioLogos, so he needs to come here to try to start another argument. Maybe I should put up a post at my blog so Gregory can let off some steam.

  30. TFBW says:

    Bilbo, to cap off our conversation, I trust that you can see how #1 could stand as a (proximally) non-interventionist description of God’s interaction with the universe, even if you reject it for intuitive reasons. As it happens, I’ve also met people who insist that #3 is the only possible state of affairs, and use that to mount an argument for the incompatibility of free will and divine foreknowledge. Ain’t metaphysics grand?

  31. Bilbo says:

    Hi TFBW,

    But the problem is that if my intuitions are correct then #1 isn’t a real possibility. Given that event A has a random element to it, so that two or more possible outcomes exist, how does God actualize the desired outcome without being proximally involved?

  32. TFBW says:

    But the problem is that if my intuitions are correct then #1 isn’t a real possibility.

    The three are, of course, mutually exclusive, and if your intuitions are right, then #2 represents the facts of the matter. Even under #2, however, it’s possible for God to avoid proximal involvement if he’s willing to resort to brute force — i.e., create a squillion universes with the same starting conditions, then delete all but the best “acceptable” one (and if none are acceptable, rinse and repeat). The very fact that it entails a scenario in which God is obliged to resort to brute force methods is what makes me intuitively dubious about it.

  33. Bilbo says:

    Yes, I agree the “brute force” scenario would work under #2. It’s just not clear to me how God avoids using brute force under #1. If there is a Hell – a place where people eternally refuse to acknowledge that God is God and they are not – it means that God has created a universe where He does not overrule free will. I understand why such a place would exist given #2. It’s more difficult to understand it given #1.

  34. TFBW says:

    And so the metaphysical knot becomes even more tangled. Not only do we need a philosophy of randomness and divine omnipotence, but also of free will. There are two possible ways to model free will compatibly with #1: either it is not possible to override free will, in which case there are no possible universes in which free will is overridden; or it is possible to override free will, but God chooses not to create those universes.

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