Secular and Biblical Freedom in an Evolutionary Context

Secular and Biblical Freedom in an Evolutionary Context

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Human freedom seems to be a natural phenomenon. It is an important issue for individuals, and for nations that define inalienable human rights. Who confers these inalienable rights? Is it God? Is it the state? Is it the result of a social contract by which humans pledge themselves to respect each other’s rights? Or are these rights to be free, none of the above; rather they seem to be inseparable from what it means to be human. The essay investigates the experience of freedom that most humans take for granted, despite the fact that some deny the existence of freedom. Both contemporary secular and biblical interpretations of freedom are proposed in the essay. Therefore the purpose is to clarify the origin and meaning of freedom, and differences between secular and biblical interpretations of freedom. Both interpretations can be vague, when the concept is discussed. After a description of secular meanings of freedom, the essay interprets secular freedom within an evolutionary context. The essay concludes with an interpretation of the origin and meaning of freedom within a biblical context. Although there is a difference between interpretations of meaning of secular and biblical freedom, both interpretations imply an historical context.

Secular Freedom

Human Experience of Freedom
Thomas Hobbes defined free will in 1654 “as the third way of bringing things to pass, distinct from necessity and chance.” Freedom is an empirical concept and “empirical concepts are generally learned and applied uniformly in the appropriate scientific community without any recourse to explicit definitions.” (Hoyningen 1993, 106) Clarification of terms is appropriate before beginning a discussion of any topic, especially the topic of freedom.

The principle of causality presumes that no effect is produced without a cause. There are no causeless phenomena. Human freedom always implies that an action is ultimately determined by some previous cause or set of causes, or by some free choice. Human freedom has a positive aspect, the capability to determine different courses of action, “freedom for.” Freedom also has a negative aspect, to abstain from an action, “freedom from.” Freedom from exists when there is absence of coercion.

Traditionally philosophers call the object towards which humans will or choose, freedom for, the end or purpose of the will; it is always some good. It may be material or immaterial, physical or moral, real or apparent. Sometimes a good is replaced in human discourse by the word value. However, as Joseph de Finance has noted, values specify only, and are sustained by the end. Value is a quality of an end. Hence the specification by the end is more basic. Strictly speaking, it is the end that specifies, while the value rather qualifies. (de Finance, S.J. 1962, 55-104) Thus if one helps a friend in financial need with some money the end of the activity is to help the friend. The activity brings with it the value of personal generosity and friendship.

Hobbe’s free will activity is preceded by intellectual cognition. It has been assumed in traditional philosophy that the continuous interaction of these human faculties, intellect and will, makes humans free. The relation of these faculties may be compared analogously to the steering wheel and engine of an automobile. The direction comes from the wheel (the intellect) and the movement from the engine (the will). The intellect specifies the good towards which the will actually strives. Ultimately it is not the intellect which knows nor the will which chooses, but the human being who knows through the intellect and chooses through the will. Moreover, it is assumed that if the act is free then it is accompanied by self-awareness of the person willing the act.

The great majority of people accept the existence of human freedom of choice, based on sufficient deliberation before an action, and awareness during the action. There are many vivid testimonies to the existence of this deliberation and awareness over long periods of time. Psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, about the significance of this deliberation and awareness in concentration camps during World War II. Another witness to the meaning of free will is found in books, With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me that describe the extraordinary testimony by American citizen, Walter Ciszek, S.J., after his arrest as a Vatican spy. Ciszek verifies his experience of lack of freedom from 1947 to 1963 living in Soviet prisons and slave labor camps.

The general acceptance of freedom is also found in the conviction of self-responsibility of oneself and others as a basis for the administration of justice in human societies. Of course there can be factors that remove freedom, such as ignorance, prejudice, fear, passion, torture and pain. Admittedly there are far fewer free decisions made by human beings than are often thought to exist. But as scientist, Erwin Schrödinger, wrote,

Perhaps some will voice the frequently based objection if you reject everything that might mitigate inexorable determinism, what shall you reply to the criminal who uses as an excuse that he is only an automaton and not responsible for his actions? To this one may first reply that in regulating civil life we cannot afford the luxury of excluding the personality, much rather can we afford a violation of the consistency of science. But if anyone still wants to maintain the latter and hence deduce that he is suffering an injustice, he should consider that in that case the lawmaker, the judge, the policeman, and the prison guard, also act according to unalterable necessity and, therefore, do as little right or wrong as an avalanche or an earthquake. (Schrödinger 1956, 216)

And as philosopher Sidney Hook testified,

…I am firmly convinced that the belief that nobody is ever morally responsible, in addition to being false, is quite certain to have a mischievous effect and to increase the amount of needless cruelty and suffering. For it justifies Smerdyakov’s formula in The Brothers Karamazov: “All things are permissible.” One of the commonest experiences is to meet someone whose belief that he can’t help doing what he is doing (or failing to do) is often an excuse for not doing as well as he can or at least better than he is at present doing. (Hook 1961, 179)

Categories of freedom describe the presence and absence of moral, physical, political, psychological, social, and theological restraints that human beings experience and that limit one’s freedom. Examples of these categories are described regularly in literary and news media. Some psychological determinists make the unquestioning assumption, contrary to Hobbes, that human behavior ultimately belongs with necessity and is predictable. But even B. F. Skinner notes, “Behaviorism is not the science of human behavior; it is the philosophy of that science.” (Skinner 1974, 3) As a leading spokesman for the field of behaviorist psychology for many years, Skinner achieved great success as he developed techniques to shape and modify behavior. His effort to extrapolate the techniques to account for human behavior in political and religious phenomena made him a philosopher, and his hypotheses of rewards and punishments never produced sufficient data to achieve equivalent success. As psychologist Malcolm Jeeves observes, “Underlying Skinner’s approach is a reductionist presupposition….There is no doubt that Skinner provided ready ammunition for anyone wishing to perpetuate the warfare of metaphor of the relation of psychology and religion.” (Jeeves 1997, 25) Jeeves makes a helpful distinction between three operational kinds of determinism:

Methodological determinism is practiced not only by psychologists and natural scientists, but as well by schoolteachers and preachers, Jeeves notes,

We all tend to operate provisionally at least, on the working assumption that any domain of behavior…is in some sense orderly and predictable, that is to say lawful in the scientific sense of the word. Thus, if a particular behavior seems to be capricious, our natural reaction is not to accept it as such but rather to subject it to more careful study, hoping to find the hidden laws we expect really to apply.

Empirical determinism is based on the assumption that exceptions in behavior are not understood completely, probably due to lack of complete information. Therefore, operationally, one assumes that necessity does apply until proven otherwise.

Finally, although many outside psychology believe that the discipline is saturated with scientists who are absolute ontological determinists, Jeeves enlightens non-psychologists by pointing out that,

Almost all scientific psychologists are determinists or near determinists in the sense of adopting methodological determinism. If they did not hope, and indeed expect, to identify regularities in human behavior that would enable them to explain, predict, and control it there would be little point in the whole enterprise in which they are engaged.

Jeeves concludes about freedom that “In practice the predictability we are normally able to obtain even in the experimental laboratory is largely of a probabilistic type.” The question of probability and freedom will be discussed later in the essay. (Jeeves 1997, 202-204)

Degrees and Levels of Freedom In Evolution
Although freedom is an essential part of being human, and there are many manifestations of this quality of freedom in history, there seems to have been relatively little research that details how this human behavior came into existence and how it developed. Julian Huxley once argued that medieval theologians urged one to think of human life in the light of eternity, sub specie aeternitatis, whereas his effort was to re-think it sub specie evolutionis. This essay follows Huxley’s effort, although there was an inaccuracy in Huxley’s assertion.

Many medieval theologians like Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century followed a long tradition. For example, in a homily about Paul the Apostle in the fourth century, Saint John Chrysostom noted that Paul, “more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue this particular animal is capable.” (John Chrysostom, 477) Aquinas followed this tradition that humans and animals are not totally different. For example, “So what is said, that man and the other animals have the same kind of origin, is true of the body.” (Aquinas 1930, 1a.75, b ad 10) Moreover, in some medieval tables of hierarchy of human societies, apes were included because they often imitated human behavior. On the other hand based on their dualistic viewpoint, theologians assumed the spiritual part of humans to be produced by God. They assumed this general quality of freedom exists uniquely in human beings, and they were able to discuss a static natural law and morality based on that assumption.

Following a medieval notion of law that dominated mechanistic thinking about Nature in the seventeenth century, René Descartes could easily conceive animals as machines based on their fixed instincts. In this interpretation animal behavior depended on relative motivations, and it was presumed that behavior could be predicted in a way similar to an analysis of competing vectors. As early as the fourteenth century the dilemma attributed to philosopher Jean Buridan (circa. 1295-1358) argued that a donkey, faced with two equally appealing bales of hay at equal distances from the donkey, would eventually die of starvation because the donkey could not make up its mind which bale to eat. The motivations would be equal from both sides.

Colleagues of chemical physicist Ilya Prigogine at the Brussels school who study applications of bifurcation theory in Nature have shown by laboratory experiments with animals that theoretical dilemmas like Buridan’s donkey do not exist. (Prigogine 1983, 21-45) In other words the behavior of animals can not be predicted with absolute certitude. The mechanistic concept of nature used by classical physics and chemistry to analyze freedom turned out to be a blind alley. Alternate approaches are necessary.

One alternate to analyze freedom sub specie evolutionis is to consider the concept of degrees of freedom as it is used in science. The concept, as defined by Willard Gibbs and others, analyzed components of chemical systems and mineral systems found in geological structures. The term system refers to a specified amount of matter in space, whether a single particle or a complex arrangement like the human body. The combination of the system and its surroundings in the analysis can be isolated theoretically, and therefore can be considered not to exchange energy with other systems. Degrees of freedom is defined as the number of variable factors like temperature, pressure and concentration, which need to be fixed in order that the condition of a system made up of components at equilibrium may be described.

The concept of degrees of freedom expanded to sciences of thermodynamics and kinetics as physicists and chemists analyzed the energy of small particles. The concept may be described through the principle of the equipartition of energy, which means that the total energy of a particle is divided equally among the different degrees of freedom in the particle. Degrees of freedom here refers to the number of independent terms that are required to express the total energy of the particular system, whether the system is a single particle like an atom, or a complex molecule. Thus single particles have only translational motion in a direction from one location to another. That picture implies three degrees of freedom, motion of the particle in the x-direction, in the y- direction, and in the z-direction. The particle’s rotational energy is probably also present but is ignored because the particle is considered a point which can scarcely be considered, at least initially, to rotate. This analysis of degrees of freedom is shown to be accurate when monatomic gases like argon are analyzed experimentally. In diatomic molecules one must not only include translational motion but also the freedom to rotate around the axis perpendicular to the line joining the two atoms. This rotation can occur in two ways, but not in a third around the axis joining the two atoms since the atoms are considered to be points. Vibrations between the atoms also exist. They involve both a kinetic energy and a potential energy which means two degrees of freedom. In this simple analysis the diatomic molecule has 7 degrees of freedom, three translational, two rotational, and two vibrational. Clearly as the structure becomes more complex, possible degrees of freedom increase.

If one accepts the general theory of Big Bang cosmology, early creation contained single particles with only translational motion. The degrees of freedom continued to increase, as Big Bang theory predicts, and the complexity of matter gradually occurred. Of course it is impossible to calculate degrees of freedom of large complex systems of matter that self-organize as expansion of the universe continued. But clearly levels of freedom increased as the complexity of matter increased. The analysis legitimizes an assumption of the essay that freedom is a quality, not a quantity, which can assist one to understand evolutionary history.

At the level of pre-life new opportunities occur for more freedom through the self organization of complex matter.1 Interesting questions exist about choices that Nature made which involve the origin of life,

Why do the sugar molecules in DNA and RNA twist to the right in all known organisms? Similarly, all of the amino acids from which proteins are formed twist to the left. The reason these molecules have such uniform handedness, or “chirality,“ is not known, but there is no shortage of theories on the subject. (Cohen 1995, 1265)

As the complexity and organization of living matter increases new research tools and approaches become necessary to interpret levels of freedom of behavior in Nature,

In our era, the study of organic evolution has become polarized around two widely distant foci. One of these is evolution in the broad sense; a succession of events that took place over billions of years of time, and gave rise successively to living matter, organized cells, multicellular organisms, animals having instincts and intelligence, and finally to man, the only organism that is conscious of his intelligence and is therefore capable of guiding the future course of evolution. The other focus is the study of evolution at the level of populations which seeks to recognize, characterize and reproduce experimentally those evolutionary changes that can be observed by a scientist in his own life time, even though they may appear to be miniscule compared to the grand sweep of evolution as a whole. (Stebbins 1974, 284)

An absolute mechanistic interpretation of behavior, ontological determinism, can be thought of as the result, a sort of reflex, to relative instincts as fixed force vectors. It dominated behaviorist philosophy of evolution into the middle of the twentieth century. Obviously the scheme could be squeezed into theories of human behavior. Konrad Lorenz, Tiko Tinbergen, and other workers in the science of comparative ethology gradually helped modify this interpretation about the origin and development of behavior in evolution.

It was Lorenz who was primarily responsible for laying the field’s conceptual foundations in the 1930’s. Focusing particularly on instinctive behavior in birds, he showed how instinctive behavior patterns could be used like structures to reconstruct phylogenies….Tinbergen, for his part, contributed experimental and analytical talents that beautifully complemented Lorenz’s early theory building….He was also the ethologist who worked hardest for ethologist’s coordinated, balanced growth in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Defining ethology as biological study of behavior, he stove to make this definition a guiding vision for the field. (Burkhardt Jr. 2005, 4-5)

As Lorenz predicted in 1939, “That human psychology is also in need of comparative phylogenetic research has long been clearly recognized even as far back as Wundt (Wundt 1882). In their psychological make-up too all living creatures are historical creatures, and without insight into their evolutionary history it is utterly impossible to understand all the facts about them.”(Lorenz 1973, 1) The complexity of animal behavior was described by Lorenz in 1958,

There is no longer any doubt that animals in general do inherit certain deep-seated behavioral traits. In the higher animals such traits tend to be masked by learned behavior, but in such creatures as fishes and birds they reveal themselves with great clarity. These patterns of behavior must somehow be rooted in common physiological inheritance of the species that display them. Whatever their physiological cause, they undoubtedly form a natural unit of heredity…. Because of their stability, they rank with the more slowly evolving skeletal structure of animals as ideal subjects for the comparative studies which aim to unravel the history of species. (Lorenz 1958, 69)

Behavior has been expanded to classify living organisms, based on how information is obtained: innate, social and individual behaviors. Innate behavior entails the direct expression of information encoded in genes that are inherited from parents by way of germ cells.

Thus when, for example, our blood has more haemoglobin and red corpuscles at high altitudes, because of the lack of oxygen and the low atmospheric pressure, or when a dog grows a thicker coat in a cold climate, or when a plant growing in dark conditions stretches upwards so as to give its leaves more light, this is by no means due solely to the environmental influences, but also to an in-built genetic programme which has been evolved by the genome through trial and success and is now available to be used in these particular circumstances. It is as though the plant had been told: if the light is inadequate, extend your stem until satisfactory illumination is achieved. (Lorenz 1977, 64)

“Given that innate behavior was the primordial state, neither individual nor social learning could have arisen without mutation.” (Kenichi 2005, 340) Social behavior can be understood through learning processes that describe the transfer of information between socially interacting animals. “The rubric covers teaching, imitation (goal-directed copying of an action pattern), local enhancement (attention drawn to a particular object by the behavior of another, leading to independent discovery of that behavior), and various other psychological processes.” (Kenichi2005, 334) The large range of behaviors of domestic animals contradicts a theory of mechanistic ontological determinism and its theory of fixed instincts that can be reduced to vector forces, as in physics. Anyone who has a dog is pretty sure their dog learns what can and can not be done in the house. Even their emotion is shown sometimes that does not seem to be driven solely by instincts.

Observations in Africa by Jane Goodall, and more recent writings of Frans de Waal clarify how higher primates show simple moral behavior. De Waal describes the example in his talks of the chimp who rescued a child who fell over the railing at the Chicago Zoo and brought the child back to his terrified human companions. De Waal offers many examples in books like Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes about behavior of chimpanzees that hardly appears to be governed completely by pure instinct.

De Waal goes even further to show the close relation of chimpanzee and human behaviors,

But the word “instinct” stuck in my mind. I barely know what this means anymore, since purely inborn behavior is impossible to find. Like humans, other primates develop slowly; they have years to be influenced by the environment in which they grow up, including its social fabric. In fact, we know that primates adopt all sorts of behaviors and skills from each other, and therefore groups of the same species may act quite differently. No wonder primatologists increasingly speak of “cultural” variability. (de Waal 2005, 147)

Individual behavior and learning independent of innate and social influences can be more difficult to isolate. Domestic animals seem to learn certain habits independently. Individual deer learn quite rapidly if they hear gun shots when hunting season opens. Each individual deer disappears into the woods. When hunting season is over, individual deer come out in the open and enjoy feasting on local farmers’ corn. Moreover, they each seem to know how to hide in the woods during the day and at night come out for feeding.

The conclusion to this discussion is there is no abrupt gap between human and non-human. Humans learn instinctive habits like walking and, like mammals and birds, decide where they will go. Humans are not completely free, despite their larger range of possibilities to choose. Although there is no straight line of development of complexity and freedom as evolution goes forward, there seems to be an increasing angle of possibilities to move and to act as the vector of freedom gets larger. For example, amoebae have a small vector of freedom. Although its movement is not absolutely predictable, it is quite limited in comparison to many animals. An application of this phenomenon is to imagine vectors that have increasing angles that contain potential opportunities. Use of the image of an angle is proposed in that it excludes possibilities for increasing choice outside the angle.

Some evolutionary writers have proposed quantity as the ultimate criterion of success in evolution. (Gould 1996, 3-5) However this does not take into consideration the total historical significance and direction of evolution. To show that the qualitative application of ranges of freedom is a more productive path to understand evolution than pure quantitative measurements, one only needs to compare chimpanzees with ants. If quantity is used as a criterion of the success of evolution, then ants would be far more successful than chimpanzees. However, the freedom of action within the angle of possibilities of chimpanzees far exceeds the angle of possibilities for what is possible for ants. The quality of freedom is a criterion of progress in evolution.

Probability and Freedom
As noted above, it is difficult to make predictions about behavior without probabilities. On the other hand, human freedom is valued and is anticipated in the world of ideologies and politics. If neither animals nor humans are absolutely free, can predictions be made about behavior? Since behavior vectors are limited by angles of possibilities, predictions become more reliable as vectors and therefore angles decrease. Thus in order to make reliable predictions in science laboratories, it is necessary to limit available degrees of freedom as much as possible in the system under observation.

In their dialogue with Nature, chemists regularly find the existence of probability and relative freedoms inherent in Nature. First, atoms and ions of various elements have vectors of possibilities for reactions. Some elements like helium and neon have only translational motion and one oxidation state with a probability near zero to react. Other elements like manganese, with important oxidation states of +2, +4+, +6, and +7, have higher vectors of possibilities for reactions.

Chemists also try to understand reactions of many particles, be they atoms, ions, etc. The only known way for scientists to consider the behavior of very large populations of particles in a system is to make predictions about statistical behavior. An ensemble like millions of gas particles in a chamber can be analyzed without determining which particular particle is under consideration.2 The stunningly simple expression, S = K log n, introduced by Ludwig Boltzmann, permitted an expression of the thermodynamic value of entropy for a distribution of particles that depends on the number of possible compatible arrangements of the particles, where S is the thermodynamic entropy of the distribution in question, n is the number of arrangements of particles compatible with that distribution, and K is a number known as Boltzmann’s constant.3 The so-called Boltzmann equation permits determination of thermodynamic values regarding macroscopic behaviors of whole systems without predicting the behavior of any single particle in the system, a remarkable achievement. J. Willard Gibbs made this clear in his famous preface to Elementary Principles in Statistical Mechanics,

The laws of thermodynamics, as empirically determined, express the approximate and probable behavior of systems of a great number of particles, or more precisely, they express the laws of mechanics for such systems as they appear to beings who have not the fineness of perception to appreciate quantities of the order of magnitude of those which relate to simple particles, and who cannot repeat their experiments often enough to obtain any but the most probable results. (Gibbs 1902)

Interpretations of ensembles by Boltzmann and Gibbs led to the introduction of population dynamics. The science of predictions based on probabilities is found in behavioral sciences, and especially in ecological systems with randomly fluctuating environments.4

But only probability predictions can lead to uneasiness among some people. As 1998 Nobel laureate in physics Robert Laughlin has written, “The painful echoes of ancient Greece in modern science illustrate why we cannot live with uncertainty in the Age of Emergence, at least for very long.” (Laughlin 2005, 215) Methodological determinism is essential for science; otherwise meaningful data could not be separated from meaningless information. On the other hand there is a well-known mentality that can not accept freedom and only probabilities in creation and societies.

For many years, the atheistic communist authorities in the (then) USSR prohibited their scientists from working in relativistic cosmology and, from their point of view, the authorities were right to do so. The reason is the following. In Orthodox Christian theology the so-called ‘symbolic’ interpretation of the Bible is popular. This means that the creation of the universe by God from nothing is a symbol – nobody can give a full account of what it means in human terms because it concerns the relation of the Transcendent and the Immanent. But in the 19th century, when scientists believed the universe was infinite in time, it became possible to say that this symbol was meaningless; and this was very important for the atheistic creed that the “creation of the universe by God is impossible.” Now, in the post-atheistic era in Russia, we can say that the Big Bang theory of the beginning of the universe means that a creation of the universe by God from nothing is notimpossible – thereby negating the atheistic formula.


As for quantum theory, there are the well-known words of Sir A. Eddington that “religion became possible after the discovery of quantum mechanics.” What are the features of quantum mechanics that can lead to something connected with religion? To find the answer one merely has to read papers in philosophical journals in the USSR from the end of the thirties. In communist countries, only the atomic bomb saved quantum mechanics from the fate of relativistic cosmology. The key words that could play a fatal role in the life of a quantum physicist were indeterminism, complementarity, the role of the observer, and even the collapse of the wave packet. Why? A post-atheistic reading gives the following answer: ‘indeterminism’, ‘complementarity’ and the ‘role of the observer’ mean that consciousness may be important in the universe. The wave packet collapse is the point where ‘indeterminism’, complementarity’ and ‘the observer’ meet together. 5

Professor Grib continues with an observation about quantum theory in which it is not possible to make absolute predictions. Probability rules.

In the problem of the quantum creation of the universe we have a confluence of the concepts of ‘the beginning of the universe’, ‘indeterminism’, ‘complementarity’, and ‘observer dependence’. As for the singularity problem, in certain simple quantum models of the origin of the universe the singularity is absent but in other cases a singularity is present, even in the quantum version of the theory. (Grib 1993, 163-164)

Both vectors of freedom in societies and chance of events occurring, or particles being identified in large populations are based on probabilities. Deviations from normal behavior are predicted in statistical terms. Probability and degrees of freedom seem to exempt evolution from absolute determinism.

Graphs similar to a Gaussian bell curve are often applied to express the population of a particular species. It is presumed that evolution does not take place at the mean or center of the distribution that accounts for most members of a species. Aristotle and scientists up to the nineteenth century after him classified species based on this mean of the distribution of members. But it is at the edges or extremes of the distribution, where there are fewer individual members of the species, where successful reproduction can occur with new degrees of freedom, and higher probability of change. Thus animals with new qualities can eventually propagate themselves into stable species. Thus higher probability for new species originates from the outer ranges of Gaussian distributions, which is also the higher improbability range of the population distribution of the original species. As Richard Dawkins notes, “The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability.” (Dawkins 2006, 158)

Two general ideas have been proposed that explain variations that predict success. J. B. Lamarck was the first person to explain the mechanism of how evolution occurs. In 1801 Lamarck proposed the source of success was usage. For example, he believed that giraffes owed their long necks to the effort of many generations of giraffes who had to stretch their necks in order to reach high branches on trees. This habit of the animals adapting became hereditary. On the other hand, Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection in 1849 proposed that the long neck of giraffes occurred as the result of hereditary changes that turned out to be successful for the survival and success of the modified individuals at the outer ranges of the distribution. It seems today that Darwin was correct.

Relation of Structures to Freedom
The relative success or failure for continued existence of individual species has been found to depend on a sensitive balance between a species’ vector of freedom and its supporting structures. Even at the level of simple chemical systems, it has been observed that a quality in matter itself promotes gradual self-organization of structures.6

And so we return to a tantalizing possibility: that self-organization is a prerequisite for evolvability, that it generates the kinds of structures that can benefit from natural selection. It generates structures that can evolve gradually, that are robust, for there is an inevitable relationship among spontaneous order, robustness, redundancy, gradualism, and correlated landscapes. Systems with redundancy have the property that many mutations cause no or only slight modifications in behavior. …Robustness is precisely what allows such systems to be molded by gradual accumulation of variations. Thus another name for redundancy is structural stability – a folded protein, an assembled virus…. (Kaufmann 1995, 144)

Scientists who study evolution, like geologists and paleontologists, find relationships throughout evolution between levels of freedom and structures. For example, lions are known to be among the most powerful animals on planet Earth, but they cannot fly like birds. Examples of biological species with various characteristic structures and levels of freedom have been portrayed in diagrams. The diagrams suggest for species their potential for future stability, development or extinction. (Schmitz-Moormann 1996, 104-108.) This relation of structure to freedom in biological systems can be appropriated to analyze the quality of human societies.

Robust structures exist in populations of human societies that incorporate viable vectors of freedom and angles of possibilities. If the society is so-structured that levels of freedom for individuals becomes inhibited, then the society will eventually destabilize and become extinct. Examples of over-structure that limit freedom were manifest in the previous century in Soviet Russia. On the hand, examples of societies whose vectors of freedom and angles of possibilities became so excessive that redundancy in the society decreased and the society’s structure was destabilized. Such a society existed after the revolution in France at the end of the eighteenth century. The delicate balance of structure to vectors of freedom can be extended by sociologists to family life.

Social extensions of the delicate balance required between structure and vectors of freedom are found in societies in which human solidarity is not an important value. Eventually those societies become destabilized. Today many human beings are trapped in poverty by interpretations of society in which an individual’s misery seems almost inescapable. Possibilities to exercise freedom are limited by structures that have encouraged the emergence of their poverty. Often the limitations of freedom of possibilities that keeps them entrenched is not their own fault. Hopes are crushed by a persistent and oppressive poverty in succeeding generations that seems to deny to all but the boldest the basics of human dignity, and the opportunity to live happy and fulfilled lives. When it is estimated that over eight hundred million human beings go to bed hungry each night there is a challenge to any governing body that is charged with the relation of its structure to levels of freedom.

As Nobel laureate in economics, Amartya Sen writes,

There is a deep complementarity between individual agency and social arrangements. It is important to give simultaneous recognition to the centrality of individual freedom and to the force of social influences on the extent and reach of individual freedom. To counter the problems that we face, we have to see individual freedom as a social commitment. (Sen 2000, xii)

This raises questions about religious interpretations of freedom.

Biblical Freedom

Jews, Christians, and Muslims hold that the bible is a special book. It is an important book because in it the belief is that the true God becomes known. The Bible tells of events in the emergence of human history that made it possible for the Hebrew people to know their purpose and the reason for their freedom. Up until two hundred years ago in western civilization, freedom was considered to be a confluence of Greek philosophy and biblical experience. The interpretation of biblical freedom in this essay is from a Judeo-Christian perspective. Thus the description of freedom is presumed to come from revelation, not from a secular interpretation.

Revelation is not concerned with philosophical or political freedom. Rather, it is concerned with freedom from human self-imposed alienation through sin and the consequences of sin. In that process people are freed for freedom that leads to union. The union found in evolution can be interpreted by Christians as an intimation of the life of union that exists in the Christian triune God. (Salmon 2002, 853-871) Union in creation is deemed a gift given by the free God. And the dynamics of human freedom is not rooted in nature, but in a special empowering by the Spirit of the triune God to create images of Self living in community. In the bible the human being is not freed to be merely free. Rather the human being is freed in order belong, so as to enter into union with God and neighbor. Revelation also discloses the anti-dynamics of the network of evil that opposes the freeing activity of God. Thus biblical freedom is the freedom God gives that supports societies to live in what is interpreted as the reign of God.

Freedom in the Old Testament
The word freedom is not used in the Old Testament except on social or economic levels. Originally it is an experience of liberation from social enslavement which Hebrew tribes experienced in the Exodus event. (Ex 3:1-22)7 This interpretation became the model of freedom that would occur throughout their history. Before the Exodus experience it seems these Hebrew tribes had similar myths and the same view of time as cyclical, as their neighbors. But the experience of an event of a free God proposing a covenant to them became a revelation of their own freedom to respond or not to God’s ongoing offer. Time became linear, and real historical events occurred, that had to be freely interpreted.

In the Bible an important or signal happening is not an event unless it is also an event of revelation, that is, unless it is an event which has been interpreted so as to have meaning. Indeed, this is true for any fact. Unless it is given meaning in a certain context, it is meaningless and insignificant…. No modern scholar can “prove” the Bible. Historical and archaeological research can uncover the factual background in ancient history. But the meaning, the interpretation, the faith which in the Bible is an integral part of the event itself–this no one can prove. Like all great convictions it is something which is shared and proclaimed. Nothing of basic or ultimate meaning in our world can ever be proved. One cannot prove the value of Mozart’s music any more than he can prove the nature of space. (Wright 1960, 11)

One freely either accepts or rejects the conviction that these historical events are significant. One then can freely or not belong to a community of faith.

Some scripture scholars propose the original Exodus experience to have occurred about 1450 BCE, but others propose about 1270, based on studies of Egyptian and Israelite traditions. Composition of the Book of Genesis, which included the second chapter was written in the tenth or early ninth century BCE, and the first chapter that includes the creation event was probably not completed until the sixth century BCE around the time of the Babylonian exile. Thus it is conceded that the Hebrew experience of God as Lord of events in history was extrapolated back to the realization described in the first chapter of Genesis of God’s free act of creating as Lord of Nature.

The global survey of pre-history stories of world religions by Claus Westermann finds only four clearly defined ways of presenting Creation: “Creation through making or action, Creation through (generation and) birth, Creation through conflict, Creation through word.” (Westermann 1974. 39-40) Westermann emphasizes the uniqueness of God’s word in the first chapter of Genesis, as he distributes each of the works into the component parts of the Creation command as it was understood at the time:

Introduction of the command: God said
the command: let there be
completion: it was so
judgment: God saw that it was good
time sequence: It was evening…one day.

The same order of sentences recurring through the whole chapter gives it that peculiar and effective monotony which enables it to articulate in characteristic fashion the utter transcendence of Creation over any other event. This literary style forestalled any misunderstanding of the Creation account as mere information. (Westermann 1974, 42)

Westrmann emphasizes the intention of the author of the first chapter to push God’s free activity of creation into the realm of incomprehensibility. If one compares the event of chapter three of the Book of Exodus, the call of the Hebrew people, with chapters 1-3 in the Book of Genesis, it seems that God, the Lord of History, is calling this people into a covenant relationship to share a life of freedom with the Lord of Nature.

It is interesting in passing to notice in Genesis 2:7, “that the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” Blowing into nostrils the breath of life is not part of the story’s concern for other animals. Moreover in Genesis 3:19 God brought the animals “to the man to see what he would call them: whatever the man called each of them would be its name.” The gift of life and presumption of freedom to name the animals might indicate the author of Genesis takes for granted the human freedom that had been revealed earlier at the Exodus event. A question for the Judeo-Christian tradition is not so much how evolution produced the human-animal; rather interpretation of the meaning of the symbolism in Genesis 2:7 and its relation to being human.

The eight verses of the first stanza of Psalm 119, the longest Psalm in the Old Testament, tell of the free response of the people to God’s holy Law. The psalmist testifies he will become freer as a member of the community by concrete commitment to God’s way. This is the paradox of obedience and biblical freedom.

Happy those whose way is blameless, who walk by the teaching of the Lord.
Happy those who observe God’s decrees, who seek the Lord with all their heart.
They do no wrong; they walk in God’s ways.
You have given them the command to keep your precepts with care.
May my ways be firm in the observance of your laws!
Then I will not be ashamed to ponder your commands.
I will praise you with sincere heart as I study your just edicts.
I will keep your laws; do not leave me all alone.

Thus Old Testament freedom is not individualistic. One freely belongs to a community which enjoys a covenant relationship with the living God of History. Human freedom comes through a religious experience of events, freely interpreted as gifts of God.

Jesus’ Freedom
There are too many testimonies to the freedom of Jesus in the four Gospels of the New Testament to record them here. Jesus’ freedom is revealed as human freedom that is relative and in response to the Father. (Sheetz 1998, 5-7) This essay records only two passages from John’s Gospel that portray the significance of his human freedom. John 10:17-18 finds him saying, “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.” Again, in John 5:21, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the son give life to whomever he wishes.” Thus the freedom of Jesus comes from his union with God the Father. This obedient union is the source of his authority and power. Moreover, like the liberating power of God revealed in the Exodus event, Jesus’ liberating power is for human beings.

Concretely, Jesus exercises a universal liberating attitude throughout the New Testament Gospels. For example, as a Jew, his attitude toward Samaritans was counter-cultural. Samaritans were historical deep-rooted enemies of Jews since the death of King Solomon and splitting of the kingdom in 922 BCE. In John 4:9 we read, “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?’ (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)” But, besides the well-known Good Samaritan story in Luke 10:25-37, there are other examples of Jesus counter-cultural attitude toward Samaritans. In the journey from Galilee in the north through Samaria to Jerusalem in the south, Jesus dispatches his disciples to a Samaritan village, “but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.” (Lk 9:53) Then James and John ask Jesus if he wants them to call fire down from heaven and destroy them, but Jesus rebukes them, which sets the tone for his attitude toward Samaritans. (Donahue 2004, 72)

His decisions reveal his freedom. Being at home with sinners and yet condemning sin; making Jewish customs relative that had become absolutes, such as dietary laws; role of the Sabbath, the Temple, and the Messiah; and finally demythologizing the Kingdom of God, all indicate his freedom despite the unpopularity it produced. His treatment of women has generated new interest and scholarship.

Many examples in the Gospels manifest what seems to be the special role Jesus gave to women in his ministry. Traditional Christianity has interpreted this behavior of Jesus as contrary to first century Jewish cultural norms. Some feminist theologians argue Jesus’ free behavior contradicts attitudes of the patriarchal tradition in Judeo-Christian theology. This interpretation has caused some concern.

I find it especially disturbing, therefore, that the tendency to define Jesus as unique over and against Judaism remains even in feminists who do not make use of the Jesus-was-a feminist argument, who are quite aware of Christian anti-Judaism, who are freely critical of Christian sources, who have gone very far in deconstructing Jesus’ divinity….It seems as if the feminist struggle with patriarchal christologies leads back into the trap of anti –Judaism. (Plaskow 1991, 106)

However, Christian scholars who agree with the special role of women in Jesus’ ministry argue the behavior can be reconciled with careful study of the turmoil that existed in first century Jewish culture.

Hence it cannot be stressed enough that the Jesus movement must be understood as one among several prophetic movements of Jewish wo/men who struggled for the liberation of Israel. In order to avoid as much as possible such anti-Jewish misreadings, I have replaced here the notion of renewal movement with the concept of emancipatory movement. (Schüssler Fiorenza 1995, 92)

The author continues,

Biblical christology no longer can afford to neglect its participation in cultural and religious identity formation; rather it must continue to reflect critically on the oppressive or liberating functions of its Christological interpretations and historical reconstructions in diverse sociopolitical contexts. (Schüssler Fiorenza 1995, 96)

Contemporary christological interpretations of the resurrection from the dead and ascension of Jesus do not refer to some kind of Gnostic space trip, but indicate that the whole Being of Christ becomes not only the embodiment of the freedom of God, but also a sign of the ultimate meaning of human liberation. Summing up, for Christians, Jesus’ freedom permitted him to communicate God’s power to the world as free gift.

Christian Freedom
A fair review of descriptions of Christian freedom in print would require a book. This essay is limited to only one approach in writings by the Apostle Paul, not often considered. It recalls the secular description of human freedom itself, “freedom from,” and “freedom for.” The approach is based on interpretation of initiation into Christian community that offers one power to be free “from” sin and “for” service to others. In Galatians 5:13 Paul writes, “For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather serve one another through love.” Rudolf Schnackenburg explains by exegesis of Greek Pauline texts how this initiation relates to baptism in “Baptism as Assignment to Christ and Incorporation in Christ.” (Schnackenburg 1964, 18-29)

The influence of Paul’s Jewish heritage is found in his presentation of the Christian community as a spiritual temple in 2 Corinthians 6:16, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God;” In Paul’s perspective, membership in the Christian community is an environment in which no one should sin. Sin is a corroding force in a corrupt environment. Despite the salvation won by Christ, sin still existed in Paul’s time. Freedom from sin in a Christian community is perceived as a matter of protection, a barrier around individual members. This belonging can be seen as one purpose for freedom in Paul’s mind, namely membership in Christian community. As he constantly writes in 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians, those who “belong to Christ,” are free from sin and for mutual love and service. This interpretation explains his statement in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor offers a parable to relate Paul’s interpretation with application of Christian freedom “from” and “for,”

A very poor person lived in a highly polluted industrial city. The toxic gases which permeated the entire atmosphere gave him a respiratory disease, and with every breath he drew his condition grew worse. He went to a doctor who informed him he would certainly die unless he began to breathe pure air. The man’s poverty was so great that he could not afford to move out of the city, and so obedience to this wise and well-meant directive proved impossible. One day, however, a social worker came to tell him that a generous benefactor had arranged for him to go and live in the mountains. There, in the crisp pure air, he quickly recovered his health and became whole again. (Murphy-O’Connor 1982. 160)

The kindness of the generous benefactor for the man frees him from the illness.

The two environments are analogous to Paul’s contrasting cultures of the “living” and the “dead.’ To be totally free “from” and “for” is a challenge to any Christian, as it was in Paul’s time. He distinguishes between examples of living in two environments: polluted (works of the flesh), and salvific (works of the Spirit of Christ). He writes in his letter to the Galatians 5:19-23 about concrete behavior,

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Paul’s doctrine of sinless Christian communities seems to have spread quickly, especially among Gentiles, as individuals saw an opportunity to share liberation in an environment that encouraged and could inspire individuals to freely live as Jesus had taught.

Although there are differences between secular and biblical interpretations of human freedom in an evolutionary context, common themes appear. The emergence of self-realization by human beings of freedom from and freedom for, support both interpretations. Descriptions of emergence of degrees and levels of freedom that increase, supports an interpretation of freedom as a quality in evolution. The analysis indicates that the human experience of belonging to a community is a common biblical theme that is not as clearly found in the secular context.



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1 cf. Salmon, James. 2003. “Chemical Self-Organization, Complexification, and Process Metaphysics,” Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 988: 345-352.

2 An ensemble is a system in which all the parts are considered as a whole.

3 The term entropy is a measurable physical quantity, just like the length of a stick. It represents the amount of unavailable energy for useful work in a system.

4 cf. May, Robert. 2001. Stability and Complexity in Model Ecosystems. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

5 Two terms are not common outside of theoretical cosmology that can refer to the singularity point at the beginning of time in the universe at t=0. At that point the density of matter is found to be infinite. A wave packet in quantum mechanics determines where a particle of matter might be. When measurement finds the particle’s location, then the probability of finding the particle in any other location in space is zero, and the wave packet has collapsed.

6 cf. Salmon, James. 2005. “Teilhard’s Law of Complexity Consciousness,” Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia. Vol. 61, no. 1, 185-202.

7 All biblical translations are taken from New American Bible, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.