A pastor in Colorado apparently thinks the above image scores big points against evolution, writing the following:
This snowflake was photographed in Russia. Is this not a most amazing picture? Let’s see, this is either the result of evolution or a Divine Architect. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……………….What do you think?
Is the pastor right? Is it fair to say that looking at a single snowflake should be sufficient to make one dubious of evolution?
No. Snowflake lattice formation obeys simple physical and chemical laws that result in surprising patterns over time, and that would seem to make a point FOR biological evolution, not against it. Like with snowflake lattice formation, biological evolution also rests on simple principles that build surprising things over time. In evolution’s case, these principles would include natural and sexual selection.
So maybe a snowflake is telling us something very different from what the pastor thinks: simple laws and principles playing out over time are God’s clever way of making things.
And the pastor presents a false choice here (an either-or logical fallacy). Evolution and the existence of God needn’t be mutually exclusive ideas. All of science over the past 150 years points to to an ever-changing and vastly old cosmos making surprising patterns from simpler principles. If God exists and speaks through the Book of Nature, God seems to be saying, “I use simple principles to make new and complex things over time, and I let old things pass away (go extinct). Things come and go, and I’m happy to let them evolve, one thing emerging out of another.”
Why can’t we hear this? We, after all, came out of our mothers (one thing emerging out of another). To believe that God exists, why must God be a magician pulling rabbits out of hats, wholly formed, without processes of development underlying them? (You, like a rabbit out of a hat, were pulled from your mother, but recognize the process of development that preceded it.)
So why can’t God be a birthing mother rather than a magician? Or (to change the metaphor) a supremely clever physicist and evolutionist setting up initial conditions, then letting the dance of energies work out of itself?
Why can’t God, in other words, be playful?
When I was a kid, I used to enjoy a top game–I don’t recall its name–in which I set two tops in a little plastic and concave boxing ring to contend with one another. It was delightful to set the tops to spin in such an arena, watch them clash at the center, grow weary and woozy in battle, and ultimately fall. Which would fall first? That was the game. It was Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic for kids. Which top would overcome and which would be overcome?
Maybe God is like this. Maybe God is a kid playing with clashing tops, introducing energy into an arena possessing set parameters (initial conditions) and delighting in the show. Shakespeare thought something like this was going on with the cosmos when he wrote, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.”
I admit that it’s a little unsettling to think of God in this way (as more Nietzsche than Jesus), but history is important here. The insight of Darwin is that organisms do not just come into the world fully formed, but emerge out of competition in time, in history.
Like each organism, each snowflake is also a product of history, the result of the clash of dynamic energies and law-bound forces in time. A snowflake starts as an atmospheric dust grain around which very particular molecules–water molecules–attach. When the water freezes, its unique crystal formations build out. How the snowflake grows is dependent on numerous factors, from how the ice initially froze around the dust grain to the contingent atmospheric temperatures the snowflake encounters on its descent to earth.
All these things take time.
A snowflake, then, is a birthed thing, the product of a process of development. The cloud is its mother, not its top-hat magician. And so the snowflake may be proclaiming, not just that a supremely clever physicist made the cosmos, but that that physicist did so with evolutionary principles in mind–with play in history in mind, declaring with the poet William Blake that “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.”
Here’s physicist Richard Feynman talking about the emergence of things from simple principles. If the complexity of the cosmos from simple principles is not a miracle, it will do till the miracle gets here.