What Do Evolutionists Mean by “Random” Mutations?

For the longest time when I heard evolution described as “random” mutations I always would think random meant something along the lines of “by chance.” If someone had asked me if these “random” mutations could have been caused I would have responded with a resounding “No.” My resounding answer was not as correct as I had thought.

In a recent podcast William Lane Craig offers some clarification on the concept of “random” when it is being used by evolutionists. When evolutionists say that some mutations occurred randomly they do not mean “by chance or without purpose or without design.” These are all metaphysical statements are these assertions go beyond what any scientist can claim using only the tools of natural science. In another context but on the same subject Craig refers to Francisco Ayala who he describes as “an expert practitioner of the theory, with more decorations than an Argentine general.” According to Ayala and others random as used in evolutionary theory means “these mutations do not occur with the benefit of the host organism in view. They happen irrespective of any benefit, or detriment, they might bring to the host organism.” I was first corrected on my misconception while reading Alvin Plantinga’s book Where the Conflict Really Lies. He writes,

“For example, God could have caused the right mutations to arise at the right time; he could have preserved populations from perils of various sorts, and so on; and in this way he could have seen to it that there come to be creatures of the kind he intends.”

“You might wonder whether random genetic mutations could be caused by God: if these mutations are random, aren’t they just a matter of chance? But randomness, as construed by contemporary biologists, doesn’t have this implication. According to Ernst Mayr, the dean of post-WWII biology, ‘When it is said that mutation or variation is random, the statement simply means that there is no correlation between the production of new genotypes and the adaptational needs of an organism in a given environment.’ Elliot Sober, one of the most respected contemporary philosophers of biology, puts the point a bit more carefully: ‘There is no physical mechanism (either inside organisms or outside of them) that detects which mutations would be beneficial and cause those mutations to occur.’ But their being random in that sense is clearly compatible with their being caused by God.”

“What is not consistent with Christian belief, however, is the claim that this process of evolution is unguided—that no personal agent, not even God, has guided, directed, orchestrated, or shaped it.” (11-12)



About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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