Zach Ardern: Genesis and Evolution

Excellent four part series by @Zachary_Ardern. Great blog, with excellent design and writing.

Thanks for inviting your readers to join us here:

‘Peaceful Science’ discussion board – where many related issues are discussed peacefully


One question @Zachary_Ardern

A similar way of splitting the currently scientifically plausible options has very recently been posted by Dr Joshua Swamidass at Peaceful Science (my options 2,3,4 correspond to his 2,3,1) – I have been very influenced by discussions he has been part of.

I’m trying to parse out that option mapping there. Can you help me understand what you mean? I’m glad we’ve been helpful to you. Thanks for introducing your readers to us, and I hope to see you around here more too.

Welcome @Zachary_Ardern. I was glad to see some of the themes you raised in that first piece, and the specific scriptures you used to support those ideas. On the second one, I am not sure you made your case, but you stated it well. I think we are starting from a lot of the same places, you are just emphasizing the role of nature in the creation and I am emphasizing that nature had to have help. Around here, that’s about as in the same boat as it gets for me, so welcome to the forum.



Fantastic! The article “Can Biological Evolution be Guided?” Is smack on right!

Key concluding quote:
"I think it comes back to the same point made previously – processes which are describable as statistically ‘random’ are not necessarily unguided or unintended."

"If a process is intended, this changes what we can say about it – not necessarily at the scientific level, but certainly at the level of the bigger picture of meaning and interpretation."

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@Zachary_Ardern… you are HERE?!

Can I donate to your work in exchange for a digital recording (or YouTube clip) of you saying the quoted text (as above) that YOU wrote?

Thanks for this, I’m glad some people like it. I would particularly welcome comments on the ideas of fine-tuned evolution in Part Three. I’m hoping to do much more work in the area so if someone shoots it down quick it might save me a lot of time.

I edited my blog to clarify the mapping to the taxonomy of @swamidass “(my last three options for Adam as ‘Representative’, ‘Genealogical’, or ‘Ancient’ basically correspond to what Dr Swamidass terms ‘Genetic Interbreeding Progenitorship’, ‘Sole Genealogical Progenitorship’, and ‘Sole Genetic Progenitorship’ respectively)”.

@gbrooks9 I usually get nervous when people write in capital letters. Why is what I wrote there so interesting? It’s pretty standard amongst theistic evolutionists writing in the area so far as I’m aware. My time is very valuable so I doubt you could pay enough :expressionless:



Some others share your anxiety regarding my All Cap text behavior. But I’m a fairly expressive fellow who finds texts’ lack of tone and context distressing … especially when a reader emphasizes a different word than the one I had in mind … and starts responding to the wrong issue.

I will have comments to you by tonight regarding the article you are particularly interested in getting feedback on.

Lastly, you ask why such a conventional interpretation delights me So? Maybe you actually have the answer?!

What to me (and you?) seems bloody obvious doesn’t seem at all attractive to a whole school of Christians-Who-Oppose-Special-Creation.

Notice I did not say Christians-Favoring-Evolutionary-Creation; I think there is some kind of differentiation implicit here.

At BioLogos, which is a Big Tent group, I literally could not find a BioLogos supporter who ALSO was willing to say God arranged for every gene’s location… as well as for every mutation. I wasn’t trying to say this should be the BioLogos official position… but I couldn’t even find someone who said it was their PERSONAL position!

Why do you suppose this could be? What holds such people back?

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Oh, I see, fair enough … I share the same concern regarding the consensus view at Biologos (and I have written for them, once …). They would perhaps benefit from some more Calvinists being involved - it’s a real pity that Tim Keller and others like him are no longer found hanging around that camp.

A lot of people think that theistic evolution is some kind of get out of jail free card regarding natural evil; taking this approach requires a low view of God’s sovereignty or involvement in life’s history. So, open theism and similar views are big in the TE community - I think they’re sadly mistaken, but no doubt they think the same of me.

On the other hand, I didn’t actually say or imply in the part you quote that “God arranged for every gene’s location… as well as for every mutation” - merely that apparent randomness is compatible with guidance. This basic philosophical point allows for a deistic initial set up with no touching after, occasional intervention, or occasionalism; and every position in between those extremes - I don’t think I expressed a precise view in that blog series.



I accept your qualification.

But now I press on MY position:

Are you opposed to the notion that God DOES control the location of all genes … then, now and in the future?

For the purposes of this public forum I’m agnostic on that at the current time. When it suits I am happy to plead my status as a humble scientist (and an inexperienced one at that), not worthy to claim any authority in metaphysical speculations.
I prefer to tackle questions I see myself as having more chance of getting an answer to.


@Zachary_ardern ,

Ahhhh… how ironic! I think we just found the 2nd contributing factor to why so many hesitate on this issue!

You demure… and claim it is because you are a young scientist.

And yet to me it was obviously a THEOLOGICAL question with ZERO scientific implications.

If you can accept that qualification for the purpose of just this discussion … can you respond with a yes?

Or is there really a theological reason for your demure?

That is the wonderful thing about metaphysical positions… they are like snowflakes… everyone can have a unique one!

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Yes, I tend to think that God is in control of everything; whether through active intent or through permission. There are various subtleties involved though, and I generally prefer to stick to the more empirical questions, particularly in such a forum, where future scientific employers may read my jottings.


What you wrote is too tentative for me to evaluate. I don’t know how the others feel. It seemed to me you were mostly just laying out options without giving a lot of support or criticism of any of them.


Thanks Mark, but I’m surprised by this response. I made a bunch of substantive claims about parts of biology that appear fine-tuned. In part 4 on humanity, I was more laying out options but that was really not how I phrased part 3, as far as I can tell.

To start with, other than the physics stuff, I introduced Michael Denton’s approach to biochemical fine-tuning. I have seen this fully taken on board by TEs like Denis Lamoureux, which somewhat surprised me, and similar things from Alister McGrath and Simon Conway Morris, but I think never by Biologos (perhaps in line with their general anti-evidentialism in this area) - I would appreciate any comments on this. I have actually seen basically no critiques from Christians of Denton’s approach, even his “Evolution: still a theory of Crisis” received a positive review at Biologos.

My own contribution later in the essay however I thought was fairly unique - firstly suggesting a categorization of possible biological fine-tunings into evolutionary initial conditions and evolutionary parameters, and then giving specific examples of each. I would appreciate comments - particularly from a biological perspective - on any of these examples and whether they can fit an idea of fine-tuning, and whether this is worth exploring more. I think this is not stuff that Biologos would be too interested in but thought it might get a more substantive, mixed, and possibly even positive response here - I would like to know whether there is any consensus on whether these things are worth me developing further, or appear to be likely to be a dead end, or fallacious, etc.


I really like part 3. As we have discussed in private im working on similar stuff. I really need to read Denton. But isn’t some of the “biological fine-tuning” a direct result of cosmological fine-tuning? So can you really call it fine-tuned biologically?

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I would love to know whether biological fine tuning is collapsible into cosmological fine-tuning. That is the approach I’ve heard taken by e.g. Luke Barnes.

I think reductionism between physics and chemistry, and then between chemistry and biology, is false, so that there is at least the possibility that there are biological (or even chemical) facts which are not determined by physical facts.

Even if reductionism were true, I think the kinds of fine-tuning in the cosmological literature are minimalist. Consequently, if I am right in my suspicions about things like our genotype-phenotype map being particularly evolution-friendly, then more extreme fine-tuning would be required to account for them. Even if this is ultimately determined by the cosmological parameters I think it makes sense to describe this as additional ‘biological’ fine-tuning.

However, I don’t know to what extent the genotype-phenotype map is actually dictated/fixed by physics - as above I suspect this is a question about reductionism, which I think is a horrendously complicated topic…


A quick argument that the G-P map is not fixed by physics is that it is very plausibly (almost certainly) multiply-realizable - e.g. the same genotypes and/or phenotypes could conceivably be based on different chemistries (e.g. there could be a world where the nucleotide ‘A’ is a different chemical, perhaps also with different underlying nuclear physics, but life still works as it does in our world, at the higher level of the G-P map).

Multiple-realizability is commonly used as an argument against reductionism, and my current view is that it is a successful argument, but I know there are replies and haven’t dug into that literature enough to be fully sure. It’s something I hope to write on eventually.


Have you read this?


Chapter list can be found here for those interested:

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No, way too expensive! (I seriously considered buying it even still) but I think that’s what I was vaguely thinking of in regards to Simon Conway Morris - I really should read it. There is also another similar book on water with a foreword by Alister McGrath and I think a contribution from SCM if I recall correctly, and I may be getting them confused … Somehow I came across essays from one or both of these books online though so I have read some of it/them (perhaps through the CUP website and uni access) This one looks more useful than the water one - I spoke to Alister about these things a few years ago and he was disappointed with the water book.

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