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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2007-04-02 16:44
Subject: Evolution takes another round on the guitar
Security: Public
Tags:politics, religion
ericjamesstone (who puts up with me because he is a better man than I, I suspect) has a thoughtful response to my recent comments on evolution on his blog. While I don't agree with all his premises (for one, his comments on randomness don't ring true for me), I largely agree with his conclusion, to wit:

What’s my personal view on evolution? That there’s a good deal of evidence for it, but there are some things for which it is currently an unsatisfactory explanation. In any case, I do not believe evolution to be incompatible with my religious beliefs.


Here's what I posted in response in his comments section:

Insofar as I know, evolutionary theory is silent on the question of God. That falls under First Causes, which is a whole nother branch of science usually included in cosmology. Even though I am a raging secularist, I don't find it odd that some can see the miraculous hand of God in, say, the Krebs cycle, or the multidimensional interweaving of genetic sequences.

For what it's worth, I think evolutionary biology has been politicized to the degree it has largely as a reaction to the push from the Right. Historically, evolutionary theory wasn't seen at odds with Christian belief so much as an explanation of the mechanisms of Creation. It's the current incarnation of literal absolutism1 that has created this "choosing sides" aspect, the insistence on the part of millions that some words in a book trump a universe full of clearly observable evidence, a large portion of which someone equipped with even modest education and equipment can validate for themselves.

I agree that evolution is (or should be) no more incompatible with your religious beliefs, any more than your religious beliefs are incompatible with my views on evolution.


Which leads to a question I've never been able to get a straight answer on from those who follow Biblical inerrancy. Why would God construct an entire marvelous observable universe, only to expect us to deny the evidence of our senses in favor of the written word, which by its very nature of generations of transmission and reinterpretation is unreliable? Is it your belief that He is tricking us?




ETA: 1. Yes, I'm well aware of the Scopes monkey trial. What I'm talking about is the original line of scientific inquiry, and indeed many biologists today, was not inherently anti-Christian or aggressively secular.
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Eva Whitley
User: wouldyoueva
Date: 2007-04-03 00:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
For someone raised Catholic (or, as we say in Maryland, Cat-lick) the whole debate on religion vs. evolution is baffling. We accepted it from the git-go.

I like your question, though. I'll have to remember it.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2007-04-03 00:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well I committed linkage and followed you over there. In part because this is one of the more entertaining parts of theology I care to discuss (remembering, of course, that I am one of those eeeeviill "cafeteria" or Librul Catlicks).

For myself, I've never in particular subscribed to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, even when I was in evangelical Protestant world. Too much of a lit crit background, I guess. The mindset of those who seem locked into inerrancy , from my exposure and experience, is that of someone who must see the world in black and white terms, and is unable to handle ambiguity. They fear many things.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-03 00:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes. And I am one of those people who is stimulated by ambiguity. I don't understand being afraid of the world -- it seems like such a waste of one's native (or God-given) intellect and talent to withdraw from the chaos and long for easy answers.

"World is crazier and more of it than we think, incorrigibly plural." -- Louis MacNeice
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2007-04-03 02:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
One can make a case as a believer that ambiguity is just a part of the exercise and challenge of the actions of faith in our lives. Life ain't easy, nor is it intended to be.

Then again, I'm not a Calvinist(theologically, not comic-bookish), nor could I ever be. Predestination and predetermination are both theological elements that seem alien to me.
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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2007-04-03 00:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The above is historically inaccurate: Religion jumped all over Darwin as soon as he opened his mouth.

Religion has since recovered enough to claim there is no inherent contradiction. This was, most certainly, not their initial reaction.

I'd also suggest your kind account is teleologically inaccurate. While it depends a great deal on what sort of a God you are trying to defend, insofar as a powerful, kind, superintelligent, athropomophic creator God is concerned, evolution provides both positive and negative evidence for atheism.

It provides negative evidence in the sense that it shows life could emerge without the intervention of a deity.

It provides positive evidence in the sense that evolution through natural selection has produced horrible conditions-- to cite a specific example, childhood leukemia. I would (and do) cite ailments like childhood leukemia as evidence that a powerful, loving God who is concerned with the actions and life-circumstances of humans (anthropocentric) must not exist.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-03 00:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You're touching on the Problem of Evil, which I've never really understood. To my mind any Creator who must test His creation that way is either not nearly so benevolent as advertised, or remarkably petty. Neither of which quite fits the bill as it was presented to me in my childhood.

But then that's just one reason I'm not a Christian.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2007-04-03 02:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ah, the Problem of Pain, and so on, and so forth.

(No, I'm not dismissing it this cavalierly, it's just that entire volumes have been written on the subject. Rather timely, though, as we are going into Easter Week.)

The problem, however, is not so much that God is testing us as that we rebelled, and, in doing so, brought pain into the world. But--a world without pain? Think about a story without pain or suffering. Would you read it?

But this is probably a bit deeper than can be dealt with effectively in a blog post. It's late (for me) and I want to crash since work comes early tomorrow.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-03 03:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's not that I deny the existence of pain, or evil. Or even, specifically, that I think they of necessity negate God. I do think that pain and evil in the world introduce intellectual contortions (the "entire volumes" you mention) which void the simplistic answers so beloved of much of contemporary American faith.

It all comes back to thinking. If there is a God, I can't believe He doesn't want us to think, either. Otherwise, why give us minds, and the capacity for rebellion? I suppose I subscribe to some inverse of Pascal's wager -- live as if there were no God, and I must find my own path. If He comes looking for me after all, He'll have a hell of a lot of explaining to do. If He doesn't, I've lost nothing and gained the world before me on my own terms.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2007-04-03 12:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh, absolutely (the intellectual contortions). The simplistic answers that some would seek are those that I would reject just because I do believe that we are required to think for ourselves; that the world would be somewhat lesser and the God I believe in an even lesser being if all there was were the simplistic, sugar-coated answers that so many want to believe in.

We don't have these complex minds available to us just to parrot platitudes without thinking about them. We are creatures who think, in roaring great complexities. We are supposed to do that--and, if we choose not to think, we turn our back on the elegance and the wonder of who and what we are as human beings.

My take is that I try to live my life in such a manner that I can look up at the Divine and say--"I tried, damn it."
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User: ellameena
Date: 2007-04-03 13:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Pain and suffering are the primary reason for the existence of religion. Are you thinking of your own pain and suffering when you ask how God could allow it, or are you looking at someone else's? Often--more often than not--when I meet someone who has experienced tremendous suffering, I meet someone with a strong faith in God. Why is that? Is it something that can be answered with two or three words? Probably not. Human experience is rich and complex. Is it because the person who is suffering is stupid? How much arrogance does it take to make that assumption?

It seems to me that religiosity decreases when suffering decreases, and that in rich first world countries with good medical care systems, the fear of suffering becomes more powerful than the suffering itself.

The writings on suffering from Christianity and other religions aren't what I would call intellectually convoluted. They are challenging, but not hard to understand.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-03 14:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm looking at the suffering of others. (Also, since I'm not a believer, I'm not the one asking how God could allow it.) And no, I don't think people who suffer are stupid. Nor do I think people of faith are stupid. To my viewpoint, faith is a complex process, irreducible in logical terms. It doesn't have a relationship to intelligence at any point of the scale. If I've implied or stated that people of faith are stupid, I apologize. That has never been my intent.

However, I am willing to say that selfsame logical irreducibility leads some people of faith to be very foolish about issues which are logically reducible, when they confuse the spiritual truths of their faith with the empirical reality of the physical world.

All that aside, my main point on pain and suffering is that it makes the simplistic "God is love" argument very difficult to sustain. I think my earlier comment referred to "simplistic answers", not the holding of faith in general.

It takes a lot of nerve and a lot of effort to properly understand the physical world. I don't imagine that it takes any less nerve or effort to properly understand the world of faith. I just wish people would quit conflating the two.
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User: ellameena
Date: 2007-04-03 14:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I didn't mean to imply that you think that people are stupid for having faith. But that seems to be the answer that some others come up with. I think it's like what my father told me once about driving when I was very young. If someone is in front of you on the road, and they are not moving, do not honk your horn and assume that they are an idiot. They may simply see something that you don't, such as something dangerous, or an injured person lying on the pavement.

I agree that people should not conflate the world of faith with the physical world. The confusion of science with religion and vice versa causes a lot of problems. Not just on the religious side. I see a lot of people treat science as a matter of faith, for example medical science, and relate to it in much the same way that some people relate to religion. If you exercise, eat right, don't smoke, you will be rewarded...
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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2007-04-03 13:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sadist.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2007-04-03 13:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
^ complex

(and the algorithmic concept of natural selection, outside of genetics, has a role to play in abiogenesis)
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Bob
User: yourbob
Date: 2007-04-03 01:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
1. I'd like to take a moment to remind everyone that evolution is a fact - it happens. It's defined as genetic change among generations. Your generation is not genetically identical to your parents generation unless you're a clone. If that's true, then evolution is a fact and tough cookies.

Evolution by means of Natural Selection is the Theory. This is the how change occurs in what seems like a direction (it isn't, but since we're 4 billion years down a stream that's had to run through a particular channel due to our planet's environments, we tend to see one).

The Why is not addressed by science. Period.

[note too that gravity is a fact, how gravity works is only a theory - or scientifically speaking right now it's more like a bunch of hypotheses]

2. Most people who believe there are unsatisfactory answers in evolution by natural selection either haven't thought it out completely, aren't aware of all the circumstances in the given situation, or choose not to listen. Please note this is said by someone partly trained in evolutionary biology so I'm fully "bought in" to the concepts. I'm also "bought in" to science as a discipline and so "I don't know" is an acceptable scientific answer (similar to "God's Will" is acceptable to many believers).

3. In the creationist/evolutionist debate, the question of whether God lies has been routinely asked by biologists. The answers I have heard have all been been along the lines of "you don't understand God, obviously."

My personal view is that since the God of the Bible is mean, capricous, undisiplined and all sorts of other things, I have no problem with the concept He'd lie. Most believers would probably dispute this.

4. I've too frequently come up against believers who do not understand the true meaning of omnipotent, limiting the abilities of their God in the things they can do (like work through evolution or put life on Mars).

5. I recently heard part of a talk with Richard Dawkins, whose current book is "The God Delusion." I was taken by his view that he doesn't mind if God exists - he just wants to know what God evolved from if it does exist because complexity doesn't come from nowwhere.

I'm done. :)
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Brian Dolton
User: tchernabyelo
Date: 2007-04-03 09:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That last point kind of echoes an argument I've used - that Ockham's Razor argues against the existence of God. The universe is unbelievably complex and it does seem extremely difficult to believe it "just happened". However, if the Universe was created, then the creator must be of an even greater order of complexity, which is therefore even less likely. Therefore, no God.

Yes, you can get out of this argument - but only by arguing that God is actually LESS complex than his creation, and I've not yet found a Christian willing to walk down that road.
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User: ellameena
Date: 2007-04-03 13:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ah, but if you assume God doesn't exist, you have the whole problem of "what happened before the Big Bang." You cannot get away from unanswerable questions in cosmology.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-03 13:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I believe the answer to that question is "nothing." As I understand it (disclaimer, my understanding of this topic is *very* limited, not that that stops me from having an opinion), there's nothing in the math or science of cosmology that requires anything prior to the Big Bang. That sense that something must come before is an artefact of human psychology.

Besides which, "what happened before the Big Bang" is functionally equivalent to "what happened before God" as far as I can tell. Assigning the creation of the universe to God only abstracts the question by one layer, it doesn't resolve it.
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User: ellameena
Date: 2007-04-03 14:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually, until quite recently at least, it was thought that the Big Bang was preceded by the collapse of another universe like our own. The idea was that whereas our universe is expanding from the force of the original Big Bang, gravity would ultimately cause it to contract again and squish up, and then another Big Bang, etc. Except with the discovery of dark matter, that idea has been shaken up.

My point is that if you are discussing the origins of the universe and of life, taking God out of the discussion does not make it simpler. The Big Bang itself is complex, so saying that all of this intensely hot and energetic matter appeared out of nothing is not an answer, either. If there was nothing there before, then why did "something" suddenly appear? And if the Big Bang resulted from the collapse of the previous universe, then how did *that* universe come into existence?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-03 14:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Agreed, for the most part. My counterpoint is putting God into the discussion doesn't make it any simpler either. It amounts to a rephrasing of the question. If the Big Bang resulted from the agency of God, then how did *God* come into existence?
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User: ellameena
Date: 2007-04-03 14:20 (UTC)
Subject: Re:
Yeah, it's an endless loop either way.
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Doctor Pipe
User: dr_pipe
Date: 2007-04-03 15:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I thought that dark matter was less a discovery, more a hypothesis created precisely in order to make that expand-collapse model work. Because the observed universe didn't have enough matter to cause collapse, they hypothesized dark matter. Since then, if I understand correctly, evidence for dark matter has actually been discovered.

Also, I think you mean taking God out of the discussion does not explain everything. It certianly does make it simpler; simpler in the amount of one God. A Big Bang theory that includes God as the agent behind the action and a Big Bang theory that does not include God are basically identical, except the God one is slightly more complicated, since it includes one acting agent that the other does not.
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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2007-04-03 17:50 (UTC)
Subject: Watch out for the bait and switch
Watch out for what someone means by "God" in the above... (or in any discussion of this kind).

If one means "whatever made the big bang, I shall call God, and that is the extent of that which I ascribe to God"... fine. (It wouldn't be any different if you used the word "Telephone.")

If one means "I believe my God created the Big Bang, and I believe my God is very complicated- omnipotent/omniscient, kind, interested in the actions of mankind, answers prayers, insantiated Himself in the universe as a flesh-and-blood human so that he would be executed..."

Then that second God is a great deal more complex than the Big Bang hypothesis, and there are a 'host' of unanswered questions, like how a superintelligent anthropomorphic being can be said to exist, how it can cause the Big Bang to happen, and most importantly where it came from.

One proceeds directly from scientific evidence, the other includes a sufficient number of ad hoc assumptions to justify anything (even many things which appear logically self-contradictory.)

In considering any replies to this post, ask oneself the following: What else can I justify with this logic? Was Hitler simply acting in accord with Ba'als (or YHVH's) wishes? Perhaps I, poster dirkcjelli, created the universe seven minutes ago... and have simply incarnated myself in earthly form to torment my naive, nascent creations. Maybe the Creator of the Universe is a superintelligent cat named Poopsie who can walk through walls.

If one is allowed to perform the theological contortions involved in the God Hypothesis, one can justify anything (and can accomidate any change in the evidence.) In ordinary conversation, we call such things "false," but allow a special case for religion.
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