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Ongoing debates: the environment as the principle cause?

The second considers particular historical changes in the environment to be an important cause, but still acknowledges the role of chance. Fitness landscapes can help us visualise this option since they allow us to more easily see the shaping role of the environment. In this view natural selection acts merely to drive organisms up hill, but the actual ends of evolution are dictated (caused) by the contours of their environment. Natural selection performs a role analogous to the influence of gravity on objects moving on a physical landscape (albeit a bizarre form of gravity that drives things up hill instead of down). This is essentially Gould’s position. Pointing to the pivotal role of the ‘K - T’ asteroid impact that separated the Cretaceous and the Tertiary period and ushered in a dinosaur free world and allowed the rise of mammals and humans, he says that “in an entirely literal sense, we owe our existence, as large and reasoning mammals, to our lucky stars.”Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History 318. If we were to re-run the ‘tape of life’ there is no guarantee of a K - T impact, so the chances become “vanishingly small that anything like human intelligence would grace the replay.”Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History 14, 48. This accords well with Gould and Eldredge’s theory of ‘punctuated equilibrium.’Gould, S.J. and Eldredge N. in Thomas J. M. Schopf, ed., Models in Paleobiology (San Francisco: Freeman Cooper, 1972). See also Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History 54. An event like the K - T impact would significantly alter the fitness landscape and natural selection would subsequently drive adaptations toward fitness in the new landscape until they reached the top of a peak, i.e. an equilibrium point. While this view considers the environment to be an important causal factor in biological history, in the final analysis the cause of adaptations is still chance, i.e. a random sequence of random environments.

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Ongoing debates: the environment as the principle cause?

[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 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: 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