I found the last several chapters of Random Designer quite attractive, I think partially because I’m from a Wesleyan background. We cross the “somehow” barrier and find that human beings, by whatever means that was accomplished, want to connect with their creator. In chapter 20, this is presented as “A Choice and a Chance.” The following quote (also used as an inset quote in the book) gives the flavor:
An intimate, meaningful, and fulfilling relationship cannot be required. It can only be offered! Without the possibility of rejection, there is no opportunity for meaningful connection.
Here I think Dr. Colling gets into one of the key potentials involved in looking at humanity from an evolutionary perspective, yet doing so as a theist, though I don’t know if he would go as far as I do. God takes risks by being the Random Designer instead of the complete dictator. There is the risk inherent in creation itself. Just what type of creature will arise that will think and connect? There is also the risk inherent in relationship. Will the person who seeks a relationship with God become a better person, or will he use the “specialness” of that relationship as an excuse to lord it over others? My own answers thus tend toward an “openness of God” theology. (Please be certain to distinguish my commentary here from Dr. Colling’s. Dr. Colling does not embrace the openness of God theology in the text.)
Chapter 21, God’s Will: A Confusing Concept Becomes Crystal Clear promises clarity on a difficult topic, and here I have to express a bit of amusement. In general, once we come to an understanding of an issue, we think it’s crystal clear. I get caught here too. When teaching classes on the book of Revelation, I will inevitably be asked about some commentary in which the author says he has worked out the meaning of Revelation and it’s really very simple. I can point out that I have a row of commentaries on Revelation and several of them make a similar claim, yet do not agree on the meaning! So there are at least half a dozen crystal clear meanings to the book of Revelation.
Understanding God’s will is rather similar, I believe. While I actually like Dr. Colling’s explanation, and I think he points in the right direction at least, it would probably take only a few minutes in a room with a Calvinist to get it all pretty confused again. Of course both Calvinist and Arminian would leave with a clear understanding–just different clear understandings.
The chapter content is good. I think the subtitle is perhaps a bit optimistic, but then those who have no optimism don’t write books!
Chapter 22, the rewards of perseverance builds on the spiritual view of humanity, while chapter 23 introduces the concept of “higher order random design.” I am not going to try to summarize this one. The key example is to be found in the human immune system. I think I followed it, but I am uncertain I can express it again myself. It does indeed express again the way in which randomness can produce order and design.
Chapter 24 takes a step out into the unknown by suggesting that the genome may be as loaded as is possible and that we may well not move to greater complexity than human beings. It’s an interesting point, but one which I am woefully unqualified to analyze.
Finally, chapter 25 deals with the call to relationship with the creator again. The form of expression and the theology here is very comfortable for me as it coincides closely with my own.
This is the first time I have tried to blog through a book rather than read it completely and then write a few short notes or attempt a review. I see advantages and disadvantages. In once case, I re-read a section and commented on it further due to readers’ remarks. I think that second read had some value. So much for the process.
What do I think of the book overall? I regard the first section as one of the best explanations of the basics of evolutionary theory for a layman that I have read. It does not involve the detail that a book like What Evolution Is includes, nor does it have the spice of Evolution, Triumph of an Idea, but it has substantial advantages too.
First, I think it makes clear both the complexity of life and the power of the “random design” concept. Variation + Natural selection works. Dr. Colling is not afraid to look at abiogenesis and give us an idea of where the science is there as well. I think it is quite appropriate to separate abiogenesis from the biological theory of evolution for many purposes. At the same time, for many people the origin of life is the major question.
Second, Dr. Colling is clearly an excellent teacher, and can explain complex processes simply. He apologizes to his colleagues in the scientific community for the extent to which he will simplify, and having read other materials, I know he is simplifying considerably, yet I do believe he gives an overall excellent picture. When looking at the forest one might misidentify a tree or two while still getting the shape of the forest.
Third, Dr. Colling is talking about evolution in theistic terms, even when he is not talking about divine intervention. The recognition of God as the creator, and more precisely of God as the Random Designer underlies the entire book. The science is not divorced from theology, though science and theology are each given their spheres, their separate identity and their separate subject matter.
Finally, these earlier points mean that this is a book for Christians and other theists who want to understand how one can still perceive God in an evolving world, as well as for those who want to understand how a theist can possibly manage that. One of my responses to the claim that nobody can be a theistic evolutionist is simply: And yet here I am. Well, now “here’s Dr. Richard Colling.” The second half of the book is a more explicit expression of the Christian faith that was always present even in the first half.
One thing that struck me throughout was the basic honesty of this whole book. We have intelligent design proponents trying to pretend to do science without identifying their intelligent designer. Dr. Colling is unafraid to state from the start who he means by the Random Designer. That freedom comes with a lack of ulterior motives. This isn’t a sneaky way to get a specific type of “random design theory” into high school classrooms. It’s simply an expression of how one scientist who is also a man of faith sees God in random design.
I would strongly recommend this book for any Christian who is considering the creation-evolution controversy, and also for anyone who wants to understand where many people of faith stand in terms of the relationship between science and theology. It is clear, informative, and challenging. I can’t ask for much more in a book!