Sunday, January 10, 2010

Where I Stand on Evolution

I occasionally get emails about evolution or intelligent design, so I thought I'd do a post about what I think the Christian response to these issues should be.

Even today, over 150 years after the first publication of On the Origin of Species, many people are concerned about the implications of evolution. I hope this post will help to show that evolution is not nearly as threatening as many Christians assume. On the contrary, I think that it reveals to us something about how God went about His work of creation.

There are some atheists who believe that there is a conflict between science and religion. Richard Dawkins is most famous for this. Unfortunately, there are also Christians who think evolution and Christianity are incompatible. These Christians, who are usually called “creationists”, claim that Darwinism contradicts the book of Genesis in the Bible. Worse, they agree with Richard Dawkins that evolution actually implies atheism because it shows how life on earth could have arisen without being designed by God. Some Christians have become more hostile to science because they believe it contradicts religious faith.

So Christians with experience of science need to explain why Darwinism is not an argument for atheism. Instead, we need to show that evolution is the way that God has chosen to bring about the infinite variety of life on earth. And we need to understand that He has chosen this method for very good reasons.

One of the difficult issues that Christians must grapple with is the question of why God gives us so much freedom. He lets us do the most appalling things to each other because He knows that only if we can do evil will we appreciate and understand good. Many people would rather live in a universe where God kept a tighter reign on us and where we simply could not abuse our freedom. If that was the case, we would never have to grow up because we would never have to face the consequences of our decisions.

Evolution is the extension of that freedom to the whole of nature. God did not individually create each species. Instead, He provided a mechanism under which organisms could develop in a vast number of different directions. Thus the beauty of the natural world is not a product of divine dictate but the result of a process that God initiated when He ordained the laws of science. The universe as a whole is undetermined and free. It has to be that way if our own free will is to mean anything at all. Again, people look at the consequences of this freedom and wish things were more restricted. But God has decided true liberty is something that He should extend to all His creation, not just to us.

You will often hear it said that evolution is random. This is false and not a single biologist believes it. The process of natural selection is anything but random, but it is still undetermined in its outcome. That is why evolution can be so incredibly fruitful as a creative process and why, I believe, God has used it to generate all the variety around us.

Evolution supplies science with a theory that explains, given some form of primordial life form, how there came to be all the wide diversity of life we see around us today. Although many questions remain unanswered, experimental evidence has accumulated to the extent that very few scientists question this conclusion.

The only alternative is the controversial theory “Intelligent Design,” first suggested by the biochemist Michael Behe in his book Darwin's Black Box. He said that the internal structure of a living cell is so complicated that it could not possibly have evolved on its own. In fact, he goes further and says that many cellular structures are ‘irreducibly complex’. This means that there is no way that they could have evolved in the small steps required by Darwin’s theory. “Intelligent Design” theory claims that the irreducible complexity of cells points firmly to them having been designed. And since Behe is a Christian, it is clear that the designer that he has in mind is God.

Michael Behe's book certainly hit a raw nerve among biologists, largely because he is absolutely right in pointing out the limits to current knowledge. There is no evolutionary pathway that we know of that could have led to the complex machinery of the living cell. However, this does not mean that no such mechanism exists. There were four billion years of evolution before any multi-cellular organisms appeared. As bacteria can reproduce in as little as ten minutes and given the number of single-celled creatures that the Earth could have supported, I'm convinced that the evolution of these structures happened by naturalistic means. Besides, as science has advanced, we have begun to explain how some of the cell’s machinery could have evolved and we can be confident that the rest will eventually yield to a Darwinian explanation.

An even bigger puzzle is the origin of life itself. Not only is their no current scientific explanation for this, but we hardly have an idea of what such a theory could look like. Some Christians have seized on this scientific vacuum to assert that in the absence of an explanation, God must have done it.

So how did God do it?

I disagree that the origin of life or the complex internal structure of cells are evidence for direct divine intervention. Effectively, such an argument would claim God must have stepped in to fit together the right molecules to create cells or life itself. This is both a tactical and a theological mistake. Tactically, such 'God of the Gaps' arguments are a bad idea. They give atheists a chance to parade a victory for all-conquering science if a naturalistic explanation is later forthcoming. Theologically, as I shall now explain, they belittle the creative power of God.

Many scientists think that the chances of life naturally arising are very small. But I expect that under the right conditions the naturalistic appearance of life is going to be a certainty. Why? Because we know God created this universe precisely so that it should have sentient life in it. Life is built into the very fabric of the cosmos - it is the thing that the laws of physics were designed to produce. Thus if life were impossible and God was required to intervene to invent it, that would mean His original creation was flawed. If He has to jury-rig the universe to achieve his aims, He is not the designer we had always thought He was.

The same applies to the complexity of cells. We can be sure that they could have evolved because God ordained the laws of nature to make this possible. That our puny minds cannot conceive of how He managed to do this is no reason to assume that He could not.

Philosophically, I think that Christians should value science because it tells us so many wonderful things about God's great creative work. So, when scientists find out how life started (which I fully expect them to do), far from being a victory for naturalism, it will be the final nail in the coffin of the preposterous idea of atheists that this universe is just a random fluke.

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum

23 comments:

Matko said...

Expresses my thoughts exactly. I still don't see where's all the ruckus about evolution and God.

The one thing I would like to know is how does evolution influence Christianity's doctrines like Original Sin.

Human Ape said...

Instead, we need to show that evolution is the way that God has chosen to bring about the infinite variety of life on earth.

And how do you show that since there's not one shred of evidence for it?

I'm wondering, do you also invoke a god fairy for gravity? If not, why are you sticking a god into evolution? Natural processes like gravity and evolution do not need a supernatural inventor.

The creationists, as hopelessly stupid as they are, are correct to say evolution conflicts with Christianity. All of science conflicts with the god idea, but evolution takes away the most important reason gods were invented.

Matko wrote "The one thing I would like to know is how does evolution influence Christianity's doctrines like Original Sin."

Even without evolution, the Original Sin idea is ridiculous nonsense. But with evolution the sin idea becomes even more nutty. Also, the childish heaven idea, which is about the most stupid idea ever invented, becomes even more insane to somebody who understand evolution.

The "evolution is the way that God has chosen" idea really bugs me because it pollutes evolutionary biology. Christians don't say "gravity is the way God has chosen to keep creatures from drifting off into space" so why do they have to stick their fairy into evolution? It's just being childish.

It's time to grow people. Your magic god fairy fantasy is obsolete, and future scientific discoveries are going to continue to make the Christian death cult look more and more idiotic.

At least you accept evolution, and that's why I stopped by here. I've had it with creationists. They are most definitely the most stupid people in human history. They're all uneducated morons, they're no better than terrorists, and they deserve nothing but contempt and ridicule. The millions of American creationists proves that Christianity makes stupid people even more retarded.

http://darwin-killed-god.blogspot.com/

Bernard said...

I want to be the first to say: Welcome Human Ape, this should be fun...

I'm wondering, do you also invoke a god fairy for gravity? If not, why are you sticking a god into evolution? Natural processes like gravity and evolution do not need a supernatural inventor.

Gravity is not a process, it is a force with a certain value. If this force was different by even a fraction of a fraction, it is unlikely (to the n th degree) that any sort of stable universe could be sustained. This leaves two options: a god fairy, or a multi-verse. Occams razor suggests I should accept the option with the fewest presumptions, i.e. one unprovable thing (the fairy) over an infinite number of unprovable things (the multi-verse).
I choose the mysterious over the ridiculous.

Dean said...

As I recall, evolution was pretty well received by many Christians.
If we accept that God made us from dust, what does it matter if we share kinship with the animals?
Others were ...a little bit less happy with this idea...

Karl said...

Human Ape,

I'm wondering, do you also invoke a god fairy for gravity? If not, why are you sticking a god into evolution? Natural processes like gravity and evolution do not need a supernatural inventor.

It could be that they beget evidence of a designer. Take evolution, its very existence raises a whole bunch of questions as Steve Dutch points out: Why should natural selection work? Why should it mimic design? Why should it produce order at all? How can any natural random mechanism favor statistical improbability? Why didn't selection result in organisms capable of resisting selection? Why didn't it (shades of Lamarck) produce organisms capable of changing their own genes in response to change?

http://www.uwgb.edu/DutchS/PSEUDOSC/StupidSci.HTM

All of science conflicts with the god idea, but evolution takes away the most important reason gods were invented.

Mind explaining how the vast majority of scientists were religious? How a good many still are religious today? I think people like Freeman Dyson, Erwin Schrödinger, Francis Collins, Gregor Mendel, Isaac Newton and many others would have noticed if their personal beliefs conflicted with their professional careers.

The "evolution is the way that God has chosen" idea really bugs me because it pollutes evolutionary biology. Christians don't say "gravity is the way God has chosen to keep creatures from drifting off into space" so why do they have to stick their fairy into evolution? It's just being childish.

Christians view gravity as a design feature of the universe God created. And atheism pollutes biology just as much since there is nothing in the evolutionary theory that precludes the existence of God. Even atheist philosopher Micheal Ruse notes that atheist evolutionary scientists most hostile to religion are just as evangelical and prone to making faulty leaps of logic as their fundamentalist opponents.

http://www.hup.harvard.edu/pdf/RUSEVO_excerpt.pdf

I've had it with creationists. They are most definitely the most stupid people in human history. They're all uneducated morons,

Actually some of them are quite intelligent and well educated as evidenced by the determined and inventive ways they try to undermine evolutionary theory and how they interpret scientific data to fit their own theories. Just because a person disagrees with you doesn't mean they're stupid.

they're no better than terrorists, and they deserve nothing but contempt and ridicule. The millions of American creationists proves that Christianity makes stupid people even more retarded.

Glad to see that you got winning their hearts and minds down pat. Bravo!

Karl said...

Matko,

Roberto Masi wrote a paper about it in 1969. Not sure if you heard of it:

http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/SINEVOL.HTM

Rational gaze said...

Human Ape is to atheism as VenomFangX is to Christianity.

Noons said...

I am not familiar with VenomFangX.

Kristofer said...

I have to say about original sin...

Human Ape

People will tell you I am no friend of Christianity.

However I think original sin is very close to being obvious.

Look around man. There are wars a plenty, crime a plenty, famine aplenty you get the idea. We do this to ourselves. Cannot blame anyone but ourselves.

I cannot think of one time in history that mankind has been kind to one another. So obviously this has happened from about day one of our existence. And their had to be an original nasty dead, sometime, somewhere by someone. And we kept doing it. So except for it causing us to die and it happening probably a bit earlier then 10K years ago this is close to what Paul was thinking.

You might want to look up methological naturalism versus ontological naturalism. If you do that you might actually understand what James was talking about.

Kristofer said...

noons

just type that name into youtube.

nuff said

Just Ape said...

I could say quite a bit about human ape's post, but I'll just throw this little bit into the mix:

creationists are definitely the most stupid people in human history

"most stupid"?

Matt said...

If you want to set Creationists' minds at ease you should offer not only a philosophical understanding of why God would use evolution but also a model of Biblical interpretation that accounts for why the creation account is wrong but the resurrection is right.

Kristofer said...

If I wanted to play that game Matt I would suggest arguing the Genesis account is an allegory. Truth be told to a degree it probably is

Matko said...

Human Ape is to atheism as VenomFangX is to Christianity.

Nah! That would be Dhorpatan.

TheOFloinn said...

how does evolution influence Christianity's doctrines like Original Sin.

The atheist term for Original Sin is the Selfish Gene. This is the inherent tendency of human beings to prefer the self over the other. It is inherited from our remotest ancestor; but only from our remotest reasoning ancestor, since a beast cannot do good or evil, it obviously cannot choose good or evil.

+ + +

One of Aquinas' Five Ways cited the finality of nature as evidence for God. Finality means that natures always work toward an end, and this in turn means that there are scientific laws of nature. Otherwise, there is no reason why Cause A would "always or for the most part" entail Result B, rather than C or Z or nothing at all. Thus, the existence of any scientific law that reveals regularity, order, or pattern in nature is another evidence of God.

From that perspective, Darwin's laws, to the extent that they are laws, are better evidence for God than apparent exceptions to those laws.

+ + +

The argument that evolution has no telos is false because it self-evidently does. Evolution works to produce a multiplicity of species. That it is not ordered to produce any one particular species is irrelevant. A general cause is not ordered toward a specific result.

In a slightly more specific manner we can say that evolution tends toward greater fitness for a particular niche. But that is only the efficient cause. Evolution is much better understood from the viewpoint of all four causes.

+ + +
Human Ape said:
I'm wondering, do you also invoke a god fairy for gravity? If not, why are you sticking a god into evolution? Natural processes like gravity and evolution do not need a supernatural inventor.

Thus proving one half, but not the other of his sobriquet.

The motions of bodies are empirical fact. Gravity is a story we tell to explain how ponderable matter moves. But we can only know gravity by means of moving bodies. It's rather a tautology.

When he can show me a gravity, tell me where it is, how much it weighs, what is its length and width, then I will believe in its objective existence. Until then, like Newton, I am content to know how moving bodies act.

No one has proposed a "god fairy" [whatever that means; the terms are oxymoronical] as an efficient cause to be inserted into an accidentally ordered chain. It is more along the lines of why matter should have the property of gravitas at all. Let alone why it is ordered always and everywhere toward the attainment of minimal potential, its telos. Why should it not sometimes fling objects upward, or suspend them, or do nothing.

The only possible answers are two:
1) It just IS!
2) God wills it so.

When we consider that the traditional conception of God is as a being of Pure Act, having no potentiality, and that a being of Pure Act must be Existence Itself, we start to understand the nickname "I AM."

Ape says also
Christians don't say "gravity is the way God has chosen to keep creatures from drifting off into space"

But of course they do. You don't hear it so much because no one claims that "gravity proves God does not exist." But Christians believe God is the first mover of all motions. They just don't believe that he is also an instrumental cause.

Ape writes
creationists... are most definitely the most stupid people in human history.

I dunno. I think they may have some competition.

+ + +

Part of the confusion stems from "design," which many moderns suppose means an engineer sitting at a drafting table specifying parts and components for the latest model. But "design" meant primarily "intention" as in "I have designs on that slice of chocolate cake."

Humphrey said...

O Floinn. I tried initiating a discussion with him earlier and the response I got was 'Go fuck yourself asshole'. I think we might safely conclude from that that our friend is incapable of debating the subtleties of Thomism.

Kristofer said...

assuming he is tell the truth here this man is about 61 years old. I honestly thought he was a teenager.

My hobbies include studying evolutionary biology, wasting my time unsuccessfully trying to make creationists understand science, chess, swimming, and trying not to starve to death before I start collecting the maximum social security check at age 70 in the year 2019.- Human Ape's blog

Bernard said...

I've just visited his blog. The man is a comedy genius! Surely it must be satire.

David_Morris said...

Do the millions of European non-evolutionsists prove that non-Christianity makes you stupid too?

amtheomusings said...

lol, I had the same Human Ape on my blog. I suppose I must've had an extremely low expectation of humans, because it never occurred to me that he's being a satirical troll, as Bernard suggested.

Anyway, good points.

Anonymous said...

Eh, what?

I'm a total atheist, but I'm not obnoxious about it. I accept the possibility there is a God just as much as I believe there isn't one.

Actually, I came upon this blog because I was searching for more accurate casualty figures for Genghis Khan's conquest than the ridiculous 40 million that I kept seeing everywhere.

Out of curiosity, I looked at some of your older posts, and while I mostly agree with your post (even though I'm an atheist), I'm surprised there's even still a question on the irreducibility of cells.

Biology courses have already been teaching the theoretical mechanism by which one goes from complex biomolecules to lipid bilayers to simple prokaryotes to eukaryotes. Any bio graduate will have memorized the process.

Specifically, if one looks at the complex structures inside a cell (implying a eukaryote, since a prokaryote doesn't have membrane-bound organelles), they are derived from one cell that phagocytosed (ate) another cell, and rather than the consumed cell being destroyed, they assumed a symbiotic relationship, and the subsequent specialization of such substructures over generations. This is called endosymbiosis.

This is why all eukaryotic cells contain mitochondria, which are like mini-cells inside of them which *contain their own DNA*.

On the other hand, there are biologists who don't accept endosymbiosis (they contend that prokaryotes may have arisen later through simplification, or that prokaryotes, eukaryotes and archaea arose at the same time).

But even then, the complexity of cells is explainable by the gradual improvements of structures as driven by mutation and selection. Cells are not made out of brick and mortar--the cell membrane is made out of flexible fat molecules that can fold in or out, which is a natural mechanism for how more complex membrane-based structures might happen, and the incorporation of more complicated molecules to stiffen parts of the membrane or to add motor functions like cilia don't require a special 'ah-ha' of irreducibility, but can likewise be explained by mutation and selective pressure.

In other words, irreducibility of cells as a concept has been silly to trained biologists for a very, very long time.

Anonymous said...

Human Ape most likely is a troll. He has not a clue about history, or the history of science. The whole concept of reason emerged from philosophy, and was furthered by religion, specifically Christianity.

For Human Ape, evolution is the end-all. Alright, so in doing that, he would be forced to admit that some races are superior to others; that the sexes do exist, and so forth. However, atheists will cry racism, and drop the entire evolution dogma.

"All of science conflicts with the god idea" - Which science? Science in itself was based on religion, on the concept of a god. So Christianity is not the "most stupid" thing ever.

I am afraid Human Ape is not an atheist. An atheist is someone who does not believe in a diety, not someone who diefies science.

Anonymous said...

@Anon

You have not answered the question. You describe HOW cells are the way they are. We know this. The question is, HOW did they get there, and WHAT probabilities did they go through.

You skim around the question and provide a conclusion from no premise.