Archive for the ‘darwin’ tag
This is in response to a comment I received from Rich Flowers a couple days ago regarding a post about young earth creationists. Flowers writes:
It’s so easy to demagogue and ridicule the young earthers. Why don’t you come after us mainstream Christians who believe that much of the Bible is reconcileable (sic) with science? That God created evolution?
In the first place, I think it’s a stretch to suggest that belief in God-inspired evolution is kosher among mainstream Christians. For support of this, see my post on an official Darwin Day and the general pushback in the United States against giving Charles Darwin the recognition he deserves, particularly given the number anti-science, young earth lawmakers sitting on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, and indeed, in Washington generally. For instance, here is the anti-science Georgia Rep. Paul Broun:
All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.
It’s a sham that this guy is in anyway remotely associated with the word science, much less is a member of a committee to that end.
And then, there is this data from Gallup in 2010, suggesting that four in every 10 Americans, not just Christians, believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. Consider the following table:
This shows that among believers who attend church frequently, 60 percent believe in the young earth proposition, while only 31 percent of people in the same group think evolution was guided by God. Not surprisingly, 31 percent of people who rarely or never go to church believe in an evolutionary process independent of any god. So, the link between “mainstream Christians” and a theory about God-guided evolution is far from concrete.
That said, let’s assume for the sake of argument that the following are true: the Bible, Christianity and evolution. What are the implications? The argument from Christianity on how these are compatible may go something like this: the Bible claims that for God, a day is like 1,000 years, so an indeterminate amount of time could have passed between the six individual days of creation, allowing the millions of years necessary for human evolution to take place. Further, in Genesis 1:24, God doesn’t appear to just speak the animals and plants into existence, but says “let the earth bring forth” the animals, which seems to partly suggest that some other process may have been at play in the creation of biological life. Of course, that theory is shot down when we consider man’s creation, since the Bible is clear that God breathed life into man “out of dust.”
But we can go further. Evolution holds that man and every other modern species developed by slow degrees through the process of natural selection from simpler forms. The Bible, on the other hand, tells the narrative that man, although he fell in the garden, is the exalted species above other animals and can achieve redemption and eternal life if he believes in Jesus. Man is also the only species with a soul. Notwithstanding the fact that the concept of a “soul” has no basis in science, since everything that makes us who we are, along with all of our memories, are products of the brain and genetics. Christianity also maintains that man is eternal, with some people spending eternity in hell and some in heaven. There is also no basis in science to believe this is true either. When we die, we lose consciousness and our brains simply shut off. There have, of course, been reports of near death experiences, but there is strong reason to believe that these are hallucinatory in nature((1)), largely a result of lack of oxygen to the brain.
Let’s ignore these details and still maintain that man evolved by God’s plan. At what point in the human evolutionary process did God arbitrarily decide to confer a soul on the species? Five million years ago? Two million? One hundred thousand? Three thousand?
Finally, Flowers said in the above quote that he thinks that “much of the Bible” rights with science, but of course, how can one dismiss certain parts of the Bible that may not right with science (i.e. the existence of sorcerers) and accept other parts. Either the Bible is infallible and inspired by God or there are certain parts of it we can’t trust. And if there are certain parts we can’t trust, how can we trust any of it? It is here that Christians will roll out the Holy Spirit for what believers call “divine discernment.” Well, if we’re talking about Christianity reconciling with science, we might want to reconsider a spirit who has the unique capacity to transmit information to the brains of millions of humans at once.
In any case, here are some more details we can’t trust from the Bible:
- In Genesis 1:11, plants are ludicrously made on the third day before there was any light.
- In Exodus 9:24, a bunch of Egyptians are killed by fire raining down from the sky. Some versions soften the language to say “lightning,” but the KJV lists it as hail and fire.
- Leviticus 11:13: Bats are not birds.
- Human don’t live, and never have, to be 100s of years old. Some suggest that this was a translation miscue. If so, chalk that up to another way in which this all-powerful God allowed his one and only written communication with humans to get garbled.
- There is no evidence that there was ever any firmament encompassing the earth, as written in the KJV. Even the ancient Greeks knew that. Again, later versions of the Bible have softened this language to make it sound less fraudulent.
I could go on and and on (Here’s more), but believers must ask how they work out which parts of the Bible to believe as authentically coming from God and which parts may have been errors made by man. Yet, if the Bible is supposed to be inspired directly by God, why does it contain these errors in the first place? Certainly an all-powerful God would have been capable of making a book perfectly reconcilable to science, even if his ancient scribes didn’t understand what they were writing. Surely, they didn’t understand the logistics of a burning bush or fire raining down from the sky. Why would it have been a stretch to preempt Darwin and mention evolution or even germ theory or string theory?
churchgoers who are in denial about the descent of man:
Kansas State Board of Education member Ken Willard, who has in the past supported school materials that throw the fact of evolution into question, said this week that he’s now concerned with proposed materials that rightly describe evolution as established science:
In the past, Willard has supported standards for Kansas with material that questions evolution; guidelines that he and other conservatives approved in 2005 were supplanted by the current ones.
Willard said the draft embraces naturalism and secular humanism, which precludes God or another supreme being in considering how the universe works. He said he intends to raise the issue Tuesday.
“That’s going to be very problematic,” Willard told The Associated Press in an interview. “They are preferring one religious position over another.”
This is the sort of stupidity that labels evolution, or even secularism, as religions alongside Christianity or Islam or Judaism. It’s not only wrong; it’s a preposterous notion. And statements like the above would be all in good fun if the people making them weren’t actually serious. That’s the truly problematic part.
Here are two videos that detail a group of unbelievers and a scientist’s visit to the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. The conversations with believers in the first video were particularly entertaining:
As of May 30, 1,215 scientists named Steve have signed the following statement in support of evolution as part of the National Center for Science Education’s Project Steve.
Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.
The project, which is named in honor of Stephen Jay Gould, is kind of a tongue-in-cheek jab at a common practice of young earth creationists who often cite scientific “experts” to support their claims. This practice can be easily spotted in garbage literature from Answers in Genesis, Watchtower and others.
Here’s the updated list of Steves.
And if you’re interested, pick up this snazzy T-shirt:
I have been stewing on this topic for a couple of days now, so I think I will take a few minutes now to, as it were, “shoot my bolt” on this article by Rabbi Adam Jacobs paradoxically titled, “A reasonable argument for God’s existence.”
The essence of the article rests on the fact that we — scientists and free thinkers — have no idea how the first RNA molecule first appeared on Earth, and that to fill in this gap (Jacobs’ Yahweh is the great God of the Gaps, after all), we must inextricably look to a “conscious super-intelligence” as the “architect of life” to account for this gaping hole in our scientific knowledge. This, Jacobs declares, is the reasonable position when science leaves us without answers.
Not one of them (scientists) has the foggiest notion about how to answer life’s most fundamental question: How did life arise on our planet? The non-believer is thus faced with two choices: to accept as an article of faith that science will eventually arrive at a reasonable, naturalistic conclusion to this intellectual black box or to choose to believe in the vanishingly small odds that the astonishing complexity, intelligence and mystery of life came about as a result of chance, which of course presents its own problems.
He then quotes Dr. Robert Shapiro, professor emeritus at New York University:
Suppose you took scrabble sets, or any word game sets, blocks with letters containing every language on Earth and you heap them together, and then you took a scoop and you scooped into that heap, and you flung it out on the lawn there and the letters fell into a line which contained the words, ‘to be or not to be that is the question,’ that is roughly the odds of an RNA molecule appearing on the Earth.
What Jacobs doesn’t tell readers, however, is that Shapiro has not abandoned a naturalistic explanation of how RNA might have come about. Shapiro simply says that earlier particles might have eventually led to RNA. A link on Shapiro’s Wikipedia page was broken, but here is a snippet from his entry:
opposes the RNA world hypothesis, holding that the spontaneous emergence of a molecule as complicated as RNA is highly unlikely. Instead, he proposes that life arose from some self-sustaining and compartmentalized reaction of simple molecules: “metabolism first” instead of “RNA first”. This reaction would have to be able to reproduce and evolve, eventually leading to RNA. He claims that in this view life is a normal consequence of the laws of nature and potentially quite common in the universe.
And that is really the theory that I think most work from, that RNA and later DNA first came about from earlier and simpler compounds. Now, we revert back again to this question: where did the simpler compounds come from? We can keep reverting back to the regression after regression until we hit the infinite one. But at least the scientific explanation of how something exists rather than nothing finds its basis in quite simple, naturalistic explanations. Jacobs, however, would have the scientific community introduce an immensely complex being such as God to explain how our little dot of a planet in the cosmos came into being, a concession that would beg many more questions than it answers, such as, “Who made God?” and “How can we theorize a scientific explanation for a spiritual realm?” and “How can we possibly qualify or scientifically observe or record a spiritual reality?”
I posit to you that all the evidence points, in an obvious and inextricable way, to a supernatural explanation for the origin of life. If there are no known naturalistic explanations and the likelihood that “chance” played any role is wildly minute, then it is a perfectly reasonable position to take that a conscious super-intelligence (that some of us call God) was the architect of life on this planet. Everyone agrees to the appearance of design. It is illogical to assume its non-design in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
Jacobs’ thesis here is very primitive indeed. First, it’s not chance. Second, let’s go back before Darwin so eloquently explained natural selection. What were believers saying? They were saying that humankind has its origins in the divine, that we are made in the image of God, that a complex being such as humans could not have possibly originated from any thing other than a supreme being. I posit that this is precisely what Jacobs is doing on the origin of the universe. Whether Jacobs might like to admit it or not, Darwin all ready solved the great mystery of how man ascended from his former lower position in the animal kingdom to being the most intelligent species on the planet. Science, not the divine, solved that riddle for us. Today, believers are making the origins of the universe analogous with earlier questions of the origins of man, and God is the ever-present and ever-ready answer.
But that would be the wrong answer. Just as evolution eventually became the accepted means by which humans developed from lower strata, eventually, we will have the answer on the initial origin of life so long as we let science do its grand work. There is no point in throwing up our hands and summoning a god in the meantime. It is this primitive tendency of us humans that gets us into arguments in which we can’t escape, and it’s far from constructive to continue the practice of looking to the heavens for answers to stuff we can’t yet explain, like the ancients.
I vehemently disagree with the final two sentences above: “Everyone agrees to the appearance of design. It is illogical to assume its non-design in the absence of evidence to the contrary.”
Perhaps every theist agrees that there is an appearance of a design, but when I consider the vast number of failed planets and potential planets in our universe through the eons, the likelihood of a planet like ours eventually arising seems quite high, and in some 12-14 billion years, so high that we should be surprised if such a planet had not eventually formed. We live in that eventuality.
Since I’ve added a few more reviews than usual to the site, I have installed a new plugin that will allow me to rate the books and movies via a five-star system. This is how it will look, and I already used it in my review of the movie, “Agora“:
Also, I plan to make a concerted effort to keep track of the books I read this year. I’ve never done this pragmatically, so it will be interesting to see how many I can get through. I’m not John Milton (He supposedly studied from 6 a.m. until midnight and then repeated the cycle), and I probably have more hobbies than good ol’ John (Learning and writing being his main pursuits), so I will likely be a little disappointed in the result come December 2011, but I’m at least going to give it a ago and try to top my numbers for 2010. I’ve got quite a few in the cue and began a new one, “Positivist Republic” by Gillis Harp today. Next up will either be, “Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years” by Carl Sanburg or possibly, “1421: The Year China Discovered America.” I have read negative reviews on the latter, so I may defer to something else when the time comes.
That said, and since I didn’t make a concerted effort to keep track of what I read this year, here is an annotated and approximate list of books that I read in 2010 based on memory, listed more or less chronologically from most to less recent:
- Nixon’s Piano: Presidents and Racial Politics from Washingtion to Clinton by Kenneth O'Reilly
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates: Using Philosophy (and Jokes!) to Explore Life, Death, the Afterlife, and Everything in Between by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein
- On the Origins of Species by Charles Darwin (audio book)
- The Portable Atheist, edited with an introduction by Christopher Hitchens (audio book)
- A Polite and Commercial People: England 1727-1783 by Paul Langford
- A Monarchy Transformed: Britain, 1603-1714 by Mark Kishlansky
- Basic Writings of Existentialism, edited by Gordon Marino
- The First World War by John Keegan
- The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design by Richard Dawkins
- 1776 by David McCullough
Andrew Johnson and the uses of constitutional power by James E. Sefton
- The Stranger by Albert Camus (reread)
- Islamic Imperialism : A History by Efraim Karsh
- The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (audiobook reread)
- Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
- Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli
- God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (audiobook reread) by Christopher Hitchens
- Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson