Dr. Bruce Charlton has been thinking hard about evolution and the gospel. Evolution by natural selection is supposed to be a purposeless, random process.  But in practice, even evolutionary scientists cannot talk about evolution for a minute without mentioning ends (purposes, or in  metaphysics, teleology).  They will claim, if pressed, that it is only for convenience.

Something needs to be figured out.

Here is Dr. Charlton:


most of the most deeply thoughtful mainstream Christians are ‘creationists’ – rather than evolutionists. Typically, that is, they regard the Genesis account of God’s creation of the earth and life and Man as true (perhaps with qualifications to account for its narrative symbolism, or different cultural context); and they reject the truth of natural selection.

However, there is a serious – albeit mostly unrecognized – problem here, which is that Genesis is itself an evolutionary story; a story of changes – of God creating the earth inside Time, apparently from pre-existing materials, and by stages – then adding living things – and finally inserting Man into the picture.

At the very least, this complex ‘rigmarole’ seems unnecessary when God could (by his definition) have accomplished the whole thing in (literally) no Time and at a stroke.

(Indeed, much the same could be said about the whole of the Old Testament account of the long, complex preparation of the Ancient Hebrews for the Messiah.)


Mormonism, on the other hand, has a thoroughly evolutionary metaphysical theology. The Mormon understanding of God is that he is within the universe, creates by the shaping of pre-existent stuff, by stages and within Time. The Mormon Plan of Salvation is also evolutionary, progressive and proceeds step by step.

And this understanding of God’s nature and how he works is straightforwardly compatible with the Biblical accounts in Genesis (also The Pearl of Great Price), and continuing through the Old Testament (and Book of Mormon).

However, the Mormon evolutionary scheme clearly does not map onto natural selection for the same reason that mainstream Christianity does not – natural selection excludes purpose and insists upon undirected, algorithmic processes.




evolution is guided by ‘purposive governing entities’ which start-out as very abstract things – maybe most easily conceptualized as fields, forces, forms or the like – but that these airy abstractions need to become instantiated in solid, material, eventually ‘flesh and blood’ actuality in order for evolution to fulfil its purposes.

So evolution is rather like a series of condensations – with each condensation serving as the basis for a subsequent spiritual abstraction that is working towards a further condensaton into solid matter.




Teleology (purpose) in biology is based on, requires, that reality be coherent, cooperative and complementary. This, in turn, requires that there is a single and unifying governing entity. In sum, teleology requires deism.



These are tastes, meant to tempt you to read the next link. Dr. Charlton has condensed his own thinking into a journal article, which I highly recommend.


I propose a new teleological metaphysics for biology. . . .

[W]ithout teleology we cannot know. I mean we cannot explain how humans could have valid knowledge about anything. No knowledge of any kind is possible. If Natural Selection is regarded as the bottom-line explanation – the fundamental metaphysical reality (as it is for biology, and often is with respect to the human condition) then this has radically nihilistic consequences. And this is a paradox – if natural selection was the only mechanism by which consciousness and intelligence arose then we could have no confidence that the human discovery of natural selection was anything more than a (currently, but contingently) fitness-enhancing delusion.


Evolution—change, growth—can of course happen by artificial selection. The breeder picks which rams and which ewes breed, like Isaac tinkering with his father-in-law’s flock. Or, at minimum, the breeder culls the herd. He controls who does not breed. Although the rams and ewes are choosing mates naturally, they still experience still evolution by artificial selection.

There is more than just an analogy here to personal growth. As we grow through life, we try on ways of being. Some we reject. Some we allow to flourish and father new roles for ourselves. Character is good breeding. At the Judgment, we cull the flock of our identities—the strain may grow and flourish and even improve from there, but the base stock is set.

But returning to the breeder with his sheep. The breeder could also change or evolve his breed without doing any breeding. He could do it by putting the animals in a different kind of environment. If he wanted hardier sheep, he could simply pasture them outside year round, on scrubbier pasture, and let birth and death do his work for him. The flock would be experiencing evolution by natural selection because Nature would be selecting which animal lived and which animal died. But the flock’s evolution would still be by artificial selection too, since the breeder picked the Nature that the animals were exposed to.


There is an analogy here to free markets. In a real sense, nobody is in charge of the market. Nobody even perfectly understands it. At the same time, the market is a creation. It is created by laws and customs that set property rights and protect contracts, and that set the limits on exchanges. Sometimes this process is extremely clear: in the Middle Ages, markets were literally created by Lords or Bishops. But even nowadays, the most complex market is at root created. So the market itself is a co-creation. There is the creation of the existence of the market, and then the equally important actions of the people who are buying and selling in the market. A functioning market is a co-creation.

We know by revelation that many of us assisted Christ in the creation of the world. I hate making metaphors out of scripture stories, but the temple ceremony gives us some reason for thinking that the creation story can be treated that way, if not only that way. If so, we can see ourselves as involved in co-creating the world right now.   It is our presence here that is our act of co-creation.


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