Does Evolution Contradict Christianity?

tyson-mcfarlaneMan, has it been a busy few weeks for science deniers everywhere!  Last month, Bill Nye went head-to-head with Ken Ham in a much ballyhooed debate about Creationism, and by most accounts Nye roundly schooled the Young Earth creationist on his own home turf.  Ham’s loyal supporters dutifully praised him for his performance but the bulk of their accolades centered around the fact that he managed to robotically rehearse “the plan of salvation” multiple times during his presentation.  They couldn’t have cared less about the science-y part of the debate, which in itself says an awful lot about that subculture.  But then over the last couple of weeks the first two episodes of Cosmos aired, and creationists of all kinds are having virtual aneurysms.  Some of them are complaining (again from Ham’s alternative reality) that all that science Neil deGrasse Tyson keeps dropping on the world needs to be balanced by…well, let’s call it what it is:  ancient mythology.

First Tyson had the nerve to say that there is strong evidence to suggest that the Big Bang Theory presents a valid model for what happened at the earliest moments of the cosmos.  Young Earth folks snickered and rolled their eyes at that claim (“Show us this evidence!”), but it was only a matter of a few days before news broke that a team of researchers had correctly calculated primordial ripples in the fabric of space left over from the initial inflation of the universe.  Of course, that’s one of the beautiful things about science:  It supplies models from which we can make precise predictions in order to either validate or else falsify the ideas which structure our thinking.  The many varieties of Creationism (including Old Earth and “Intelligent Design”) cannot do that because they always rely on asserting at some point, “You can’t explain that!”  A school of thought whose answer for everything unknown is simply that “God did it” has nothing to contribute to the scientific disciplines. You cannot formulate testable predictions out of “it was a miracle.”

miracle

Then episode two aired, which focused largely on evolution.  You could almost hear the teeth grinding from multiple corners of the religious world.  You could virtually see their blood pressure shooting up at the mention of Charles Darwin.  See, it’s not just the bizarre Ken Ham types who deny common ancestry.  Many Christians who accept that the universe is billions of years old and know better than to take stories like Noah’s Ark seriously still refuse to accept the idea that one species can develop from another.  That idea both contradicts how the Bible says God did it (with each species created separately and independently of one another) and it blends man and beast in a way that fundamentally challenges their theological understanding of what makes us different from other living things.  Call it human exceptionalism.  Christianity teaches that humans are uniquely important in the universe and that things which are just natural for other animals are “sinful” for us.  Once you blur the line between man and beast, you threaten the very ground on which the whole Christian story is built.  Without the concept of sin, you lose the need for salvation, and the whole Christian message falls apart.

But which Christian story are we talking about?  Defining Christianity is exceedingly difficult.  For starters, I’m not convinced there ever was one single monolithic tradition which we could call True Christianity™.  It seem obvious to me that there were always “competing christianities” even in the very earliest days of this religion.  But more than that, this faith (or rather this constellation of faiths) has been reinvented so many times in so many different contexts and cultures and vocabularies that one can scarcely even speak of this belief system in the singular.  For almost any dogmatic belief you pick, there are a dozen sects of the same religion which vehemently oppose that doctrine, saying that it contradicts the clear teaching of the word of God (or of the Mother Church, or whatever).  Seeing this difficulty, some would enjoin us to simply strip away the non-essential issues and boil things down to what C.S. Lewis romantically termed “mere Christianity,” meaning that which has been believed by most Christians for most of the religion’s history.

That’s not as easy to do as it sounds on the surface, and good luck getting them to agree about which issues are “non-essential!”  But for the sake of today’s question (Does evolution contradict Christianity?) I can make this as minimalistic as Steve Jobs’ old apartment.  At its barest roots, anything which can be called Christianity teaches there is a personal God who cares for the things and people he/she/it creates.  With all extraneous trappings removed, all Christian traditions profess a belief in a deity who is personal, loving, and who intervenes in some way or another in the affairs of the real world.  Sure, there are plenty of other concepts of God out there (many of them polytheistic), but any version which makes God an impersonal Force, or a Being completely detached from and uninvolved with what he/she/it has created cannot sensibly be called a “Christian” concept of God.  Can we at least agree on that?  The Christian God is a personal God who intervenes in the world out of care for what he/he/it has created.

A Reluctant Conclusion

It seems to me that when rightly understood, evolution fundamentally contradicts this concept of God.

I want you first to know how vigorously I have fought against drawing this conclusion.  I want desperately to find common ground with my friends and family who are Christians, and saying that evolution contradicts their religion cuts the legs from under that endeavor.  I don’t want to draw this conclusion.  I want to agree with brilliant and well-meaning people like Francis Collins and Peter Enns and all the other brave souls at Biologos who take an essentially Theistic Evolution position, arguing that there is no contradiction between science and the more intelligent versions of the Christian faith.  But Paula Kirby once articulated* the problem with this approach:

But of course evolution poses a problem for Christianity. That’s not to say it poses a problem for all Christians, since many Christians happily accept evolution: they see Genesis 1 as merely a metaphor, and declare that if God chose to create us using evolution, that’s fine by them. I used to be this kind of Christian myself; but I must confess that my blitheness was only possible because I had only the vaguest possible idea of how evolution works and certainly didn’t know enough about it to realize that unguided-ness is central to it. While I welcome anyone who recognizes that the evidence for evolution is such that it cannot sensibly be denied, to attempt to co-opt evolution as part of a divine plan simply does not work, and suggests a highly superficial understanding of the subject. Not only does evolution not need to be guided in any way, but any conscious, sentient guide would have to be a monster of the most sadistic type: for evolution is not pretty, is not gentle, is not kind, is not compassionate, is not loving. Evolution is blind, and brutal, and callous. It is not an aspiration or a blueprint to live up to (we have to create those for ourselves): it is simply what happens, the blind, inexorable forces of nature at work. An omnipotent deity who chose evolution by natural selection as the means by which to bring about the array of living creatures that populate the Earth today would be many things – but loving would not be one of them. Nor perfect. Nor compassionate. Nor merciful. Evolution produces some wondrously beautiful results; but it happens at the cost of unimaginable suffering on the part of countless billions of individuals and, indeed, whole species, 99 percent of which have so far become extinct. It is irreconcilable with a god of love.

Most Christians who finally capitulate to common ancestry will simply conclude “that’s how God did it,” and that conclusion makes perfect sense to me up to a point.  Like Kirby, that’s what I did once, too.  But in time I came to see how utterly wasteful, brutal, and cruel this process has been throughout the hundreds of millions of years that it’s been operating.  You simply cannot view the complete random unguidedness that is our biological history and say that anything intelligent was behind it, not in any ostensible way, at least.  Or if you insist that an Intelligence stood by and watched as this harsh and unfeeling process unfolded, you will have quite a time reconciling that with the notion of a personal Being who has sympathetic impulses toward his creation at any level.  Only a monster could have the power to limit suffering of this magnitude and yet do nothing about it.  Forget cancer, tsunamis, birth defects and child molestations.  That’s just a sampling of the suffering of our species over a few thousand years, and Christians usually shift the blame for all of those things onto the Fall of Adam anyway (yes, even the catastrophic weather events).  Leaving that aside, unspeakable waste and suffering has befallen millions of species over our long planetary history, the majority of which predates the evolution of the human race.  There is no reasonable way to see an all-powerful deity possessing even a smidgeon of compassion guiding this process at any level, not if you really see the process for what it is.  You will have to turn a blind eye toward some aspect of it or else it won’t compute.  You will always be trying to gloss over the messiness of it all in order to find some kind of purposeful direction inherent therein.  Your determination to see “intelligent design” behind it will always lead you to misperceive and misrepresent the way things actually happened.

Which God Were We Talking About Again?

As I said before, you cannot critique any single Christian tradition without drawing at least a few objections from some of the other traditions going by the same name.  That’s one of the great frustrations with trying to have constructive dialogue with this constellation of faiths.  They keep shouting either “Straw Man!” or else “No True Christian!” without ever acknowledging that the Christian sitting right next to them embodies everything you just described.  This makes reasonable discussion very difficult and it drives most of the sane skeptics away from these conversations entirely, leaving behind only the insensitive jerks to troll the faithful in fruitlessly circular insult-slinging matches.  I have my petty moments, too (my patience does have its limits), but I try my best to acknowledge the diversity of belief that exists whenever I can.  In that spirit, I’ll briefly mention two varieties of belief which call themselves “Christian” but could accept the cold, brutal wastefulness of the evolutionary process rightly understood as an unguided process.

First, hypothetically speaking, are the Calvinists.  Calvinism embraces the deterministic worldview presented in the Bible without trying to sugar coat it according to modern sensibilities.  Our obsession with free will is a modern phenomenon, unknown to the biblical writers who saw everything as guided by God, whether beneficial or catastrophic.

When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it? –Amos

I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things. –Isaiah

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. –Jesus

[God] works all thing according to the counsel of his will. –Paul

In theory, the Calvinists could reconcile the wastefulness of unguided evolution without difficulty because they’ve already resigned themselves to the idea that God doesn’t love everybody the same.  Some he chooses to hate (see Romans 9:13-18).  The Reformed version of God can be brutally cold to 99% of all species and even 99% of all humans.  He can do as he pleases and you have no right to find any fault with this.  Does that sound terrible to you?  Would you believe they’re just being biblical?

One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:19-21)

So again, in theory, because of the Calvinist’s fierce determination to be biblical, he could very well be cool with this situation except that the very same strict biblicism which teaches him in Romans that God hates a lot of people also tells him back in Genesis that God made people separately from all other animals. Calvinists are inerrantists, so they must reject common ancestry out of hand.  Many of them despite their erudite elitism are even Young Earth creationists (What can I say?  The human mind is ingenious at clinging to contradictory things).  That rules out the Calvinists.

The only other group I can think of which calls themselves “Christian” and yet could unreservedly accept the randomness of evolution without trying to pretty it up would come from the ranks of liberal Christianity (although most of them would still have a hard time seeing God so cold and unaffected by suffering).  In order to maintain a loving picture of God—one in which he loves everyone, not just a select few within one species—you would have to limit his powers in such a way that he is no longer omnipotent, as most historic Christianity sees him.  Process theology, for example, sees God not as fully developed, all-knowing and all-powerful, but rather continually developing and growing, himself evolving along with us.  The truth is, once you no longer feel bound to biblical categories for God, there’s no end to the number of theological innovations you can imagine. But it’s not intellectually honest to call those innovations “Christian.”  One could argue that since Christianity itself is consistently being reinvented, there’s no harm in taking it a few steps further away from its original varieties.  That’s not really my battle, so frankly I couldn’t care less.  But I do think you should be up front and honest about how consciously discontinuous with Christian tradition you are being.  It significantly impairs fruitful dialogue when so many people carelessly use the same label to describe such wildly different and irreconcilable things.

The Christian concept of God intervenes in the world and directs the affairs of the human race.  You can abandon biblical literalism, jettisoning the six-day creation, Adam and Eve, and Noah’s Ark and still call your beliefs “Christian.”  Shoot, there are many liberal Christian traditions which even teach that you can deny the literal resurrection of Jesus and still be a Christian.  They spiritualize the whole thing and say it’s just a metaphor.  It seems to me that departs from “mere Christianity” but whatever.  Even those folks still believe that God intervenes in the world to make things happen which wouldn’t naturally happen on their own without his intervention.  There just isn’t any concept of God that can rightly be called “Christian” which envisions a disinterested absentee Creator keeping his hands off while such a wasteful, destructive, and completely random mess of a process unfolds.  You either have to pick a different God, or superimpose a guidedness that isn’t there.  I’m not saying you can’t believe in a God; I’m just saying these two things don’t fit together at all.

_____

* Paula Kirby’s piece entitled “Evolution Threatens Christianity” seems to have been pulled from both its original location at the Washington Post and on Richard Dawkins’s website.  I’d love to hear if anybody knows why.

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About Neil Carter

Neil Carter is a high school Geometry teacher, a tutor, a swim coach, a father of five children, and a skeptic living in the Bible Belt. A former church elder with a seminary education, Neil mostly writes now about the struggles of former evangelicals living in the midst of a highly religious subculture.

  • Gra*ma Banana

    Are you from Traverse City, MI? My son’s father has a vacation home near the city, on the lake. I love all things Cherry and I agree that Neil’s blog is stellar!

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      This is actually spam, I’m afraid :) I’ll be deleting soon.

      • Gra*ma Banana

        Sorry, I don’t have my spamometer turned on today.

  • Gra*ma Banana

    The Catholics are working on it…http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/preview.aspx?id=236

    Here is a question posed from “Evolution and the Catholic Church: Are They in Conflict?”

    By: Sr. Paula Gonzalez, S.C., Ph.D. “Can we not then accept the idea that the Eternal Creator chose an evolutionary way of creating the natural world—and that creation is still occurring?”

  • sirbruce

    So, you make a mistake early in your concept of a “generic” Christianity; your definition of a personal, involved God does not contain the requirement of omnipotence and omnibenevolence. Then you dismiss all such Christianity as incompatible with evolution on those two very grounds. So you need to go back and revised the paragraph. You DO eventually get around to that, though, where at the end you admit that a non-omnipotent God is a fair answer, but then you arbitrarily and without much reasoning decide such a God is not Christian, either. I don’t think it’s fair to call Process Theologists “non-Christian”, or that Christians can’t accept a limited God. After all, there was much debate long ago whether a God was so powerful he could do the logically impossible! Outside of radical evangelists, I don’t think most Christians today would accept that God can make it rain and not rain at the same time in the same place, so the concept of a limited God is not anathema to them.

    I think your fundamental concept of Christianity as having to involve an active, personal God is in fact flawed. I would say the core of Christianity is that there’s some sort of God who helped create humanity in some way, who passes a moral judgement upon our lives, and who at one point created, translated, or inspired his teachings into a guy in Israel 2000 years ago. None of that requires an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, or even an currently involved (answering prayers, etc.) form of God.

    • http://ernestleecking.wordpress.com Ernest Lee C King

      Are you saying that generic Christianity doesn’t require personal involvement with God?

    • Patrick

      *You* might say the “core of Christianity” involves a weak, milk toast God, but that would put you in a very insignificant minority of Christians. Probably more furniture in Steve Job’s apartment referenced above than “Christians” who believe in this version of “God”.

      And if you’re going to water Christianity down to a God who kinda knows what he’s doing, but not really, who “helped” create humanity in some way but not really sure how (and what or whom did he “help”??), and who “inspired” a Jewish preacher to say some things before he was crucified, never to rise again, well, what are you left with? Certainly not Christianity. Just give it another name and write your own holy book, since there’s not much left in the Judeo-Christian Bible that supports this.

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      Sir,

      What I tried to say in the end was that it’s not a great concern of mine to figure out what’s legitimately Christian and what’s not because the definition is so confoundedly malleable that anyone and everyone can call his view Christian. You would not, however, be able to get a majority of Christians to agree with you that God is continually developing and growing and therefore limited in his abilities. I think that the Christian community itself would largely view that perspective as aberrant. So it’s their issue, not mine. Either way, I’m not sure that saying the generic Christian God “intervenes” requires either omnipotence or omnibenevolence. But I’m trying to be more forgiving of imprecision here than most Christians would be. Whether these atypical perspectives get to be called “Christian” depends on whether you’re asking me, or the people who hold the atypical views, or the rest of Christendom. Like I said, it’s exceedingly difficult, and perhaps I’ve done a poor job of overcoming that.

      But the notion that God is uninvolved in daily life? I fail to see how that would be endorsed by most Christians through history.

  • http://markcamos.wordpress.com mark

    Nicely written. I agree: at the very foundation of reality, science contradicts magic. Just the way it is.

  • Jim B

    sirbruce — you are exactly the type of datapoint that makes it impossible to talk about “Christianity.” No matter what one might say about Christianity, there will be millions of Christians who say that the claim isn’t true.

    “As I said before, you cannot critique any single Christian tradition without drawing at least a few objections from some of the other traditions going by the same name.”

    In this case, you are that Christian outlier. The majority of Christians do believe in an interventionist God, a personal God, one who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.

    • sirbruce

      No, I’m note; I’m not even a Christian. Hilarious how you felt self-righteous enough to prejudge someone, though.

      The point is godlessindixie starter with a bad premise and reached a bad conclusion. I, in turn, pointed out the flaws in his thinking, and together we are seeking to refine the argument in order to construct a better one. If you’re not interested in participating in the process in a useful manner I suggest you find entertainment elsewhere.

      • Jim B

        sirbruce, I made an assumption that you were a liberal Christian as you appeared to be holding up a very modern and liberal definition of Christian is being more fundamental than what most people would categorize as Christian. I didn’t “pre-judge” you; I was commenting on statements you just made.

        You go too far to assume my disagreement with you as being “self-righteous.” Tell me on what basis you derive that I’m self-righteous.

        • sirbruce

          That makes little sense. If I hold a more liberal definition of slavery than you, does that make pro-slavery? If anything, I think that would more than likely make me an abolitionist. This is indeed pre-judging, as there was no rational basis for assuming my religious beliefs, if any.

          In any case, I am not really interested in debating minutae with you; I’d much rather get a response from the author on the substantive issues I raised.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            Done. See reply above. I’ve been really busy, so I’m behind on replies.

  • David W

    Neil,

    I have been meaning to read/learn about the theory of evolution for some time. In the article you linked by PAULA KIRBY, she mentions these two books, “The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins or Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne.”

    Can you recommend either of these books, or perhaps others?

    I do plan on going back and taking college level courses which are concerned with evolutionary theory, but first, I need to finish the program I am currently in; wish I had two lifetimes =/

    Very interesting essay. Prior to reading this I was unaware that Christianity and the theory of evolution may be incompatible; I am now mostly convinced that for most Christians they are incompatible, although I would be interested to read a (reasonably brief) rebuttal to your essay, as long as it included reconciling a “…personal God who intervenes in the world out of care for what he/he/it has created.” who is also all knowing and all good, with evolutionary theory. (I add benevolence and omnipotence because I have never met a Christian who thinks God doesn’t have these characteristics.)

    • http://luvsiesous.wordpress.com Wayne

      The best venue for Dawkins is in person. He dismisses Christianity less, and he insults people less.

      As for Coyne, I am not sure what the best venue is to listen to him.

      As with Dawkins, he chose to work for a University founded and funded by the Christians he hates.

      Wayne

      • David W

        Hmm, well insulting people doesn’t usually accomplish much, thanks for the opinion.

        As far as Dawkins goes, I have watched many of his youtube debates, and from that perspective alone, I would disagree with you when you say he hates Christians.

        I think the more accurate statement is that many non-theists hate the damage that they believe theism does.

        This boils down to the distinction between respect for beliefs vs respect for a person.

        Beliefs do not deserve respect, ever.

        • http://luvsiesous.wordpress.com Wayne

          I agree. Insulting people does not work well.

          That is why I recommended watching Dawkins rather than reading him.

          Were you asking for an honest appraisal?

          Wayne

          • David W

            Hmm, this “Were you asking for an honest appraisal?” and “Although I do not expect you to keep your logic” and some of your other comments are pretty off-putting, I thought that you might be unaware, and that maybe you would like to know; or perhaps this was your intent?

          • http://luvsiesous.wordpress.com Wayne

            David,

            I would not have taken that as off-putting, so thank you. I try not to be.

            Wayne

    • Piobaireachd

      David, Coyne’s book is very good. Accessible and lays out the case for evolution in a very organized way. It’s a quick read and well worth the investment in time.

      • David W

        Thanks for the recommendation :)

        • Brendan Reid

          David (and everyone interested in learning more about evolution)

          Jerry Coyne was recently interviewed on Seth Andrews The Thinking Atheist podcast and it is worth listening to

          Also, Jerry’s website is awesome, I check it daily:

          http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/

          And Dawkin’s recent illustrated book aimed more towards young adults The Magic of Reality is fantastic. If I were a billionaire I would slip copies onto playgrounds near every homeschooled kid in the country ,,,, and we might finally join the 21st century by the time the 22nd comes around …

    • http://trueandreasonable.wordpress.com trueandreasonable

      David W

      Its a matter of how you want to define evolution. Atheists can define evolution in a way that makes God impossible. Just like I can do that with any natural law or process. Christians think God knows things that seem random to us. Christians think God can perform miracles. If certain people want to say that is incompatible with this or that theory then they can define God out.

      That is really all that is involved here.

      If you want to have other perspectives I recommend you visit blogs where the creator of the blog does not censor views of those who disagree with him, like Godless in Dixie apparently does.

      • David W

        trueandreasonable,

        My interest in the compatibility of Christianity and evolutionary theory is more of a sociological curiosity. My family and most of my friends are Christian, and I find it useful to try to understand them. However, my interest does not extend to wading through blogs of non-scientists who buck the 97% to 99% scientific consensus around evolutionary theory, and yet are only able to offer transparently religiously motivated so-called ‘theories’ which cannot be tested.

        “Atheists can define evolution in a way that makes God impossible.”

        “Christians think God can perform miracles.”

        “That is really all that is involved here.”

        Hmm, my first thought is that evolutionary theory had little to nothing to do with my deconversion. I wish I could recall the comment of a previous poster in a previous thread on this site, but it was something like this:

        Christianity involves believing that fantastic supernatural events occurred in the past; this is while we are in a present which is clearly lacking in these fantastic supernatural events; and all the while hoping and believing that fantastic supernatural events will occur in the future.

        The comment was much more eloquent, but I think you get the idea here.

        • David W

          Found that comment.

          Cjoint: “…I’ve come to the conclusion that for me to be a Christian, I would need to embrace the fantastical claims of the past contained in an imperfect copy of copies of letters and books (of which are disputably inaccurate), its claims about the future which is unknowable, and largely ignore the reality and experiences of the present, where there is no direct evidence of a supernatural divinity intervening in anything.”

          Told ya’ it was more eloquent ;)

        • http://trueandreasonable.wordpress.com trueandreasonable

          What you said in the last 3 paragraphs is philosophy not science. Its also not evolution. Understanding the difference is important and what this blog author, and the person he quotes misses.

          I’m not saying you need to wade through creationist blogs. Most Christians do not think believing that is relevant to being Christian. I am saying you should choose blogs that do not censor out christian views, like this blog does. I am hesitant to post much here because prior posts of mine have not been posted. If you want to really know how others view things you should just read blogs that do not censor the other sides voice, like this one does.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            Not sure what you’re talking about with the censoring accusation. I have only deleted one person in nearly a year of blogging, and that was because he was becoming verbally abusive of the commenters. When have you been censored?

            FWIW, sometimes there is a delay in comments showing because the spam filter catches when there are a lot of links in the comments.

          • http://trueandreasonable.wordpress.com trueandreasonable

            That might be the case. If so, I am glad to hear it, because I like your blogs and enjoy discussing the issues you raise.

            In the groundhog day blog, I have had lengthy responses to David W and another David sit “awaiting moderation” for over a week while other posts were posted in the meantime.

            Do I need to make sure I don’t include links?

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            Some go through automatically and some sit in a folder awaiting moderation. How quickly they go through depends on how often I get free to checkt that folder. It’s unfortunate that I get busy for days at a time and can’t give these discussions the attention they should have. But I’m pulled a lot of different directions so sometimes I’m slower getting around to it.

            I’d say keep posting as normal, links included, and if some take a long time to show, just shoot me a note and I’ll take care of it.

  • http://luvsiesous.wordpress.com Wayne

    Well written post.

    I have found some atheists and some Christians who would agree with you.

    But, I do not believe Evolution challenges Creation.

    Wayne

    Luvsiesous.com

    • Brendan Reid

      Wayne,

      Neil did not quote the next paragraph from the Paula Kirby article – which I reproduce below as it sure convinced me that Evolution does challenge the creation and genesis myths, as well as the entire Jesus myth. I found it to be a real head slapper “Why had I not seen that before etc”. Basically “Jesus died” for a metaphor.

      Paula Kirby: “Evolution poses a further threat to Christianity, though, a threat that goes to the very heart of Christian teaching. Evolution means that the creation accounts in the first two chapters of Genesis are wrong. That’s not how humans came into being, nor the cattle, nor the creeping things, nor the beasts of the earth, nor the fowl of the air. Evolution could not have produced a single mother and father of all future humans, so there was no Adam and no Eve. No Adam and Eve: no fall. No fall: no need for redemption. No need for redemption: no need for a redeemer. No need for a redeemer: no need for the crucifixion or the resurrection, and no need to believe in that redeemer in order to gain eternal life. And not the slightest reason to believe in eternal life in the first place.”

      • http://luvsiesous.wordpress.com Wayne

        All the animal hybrids I know of are not able to reproduce, and there is a lot of work done in genetic labs to overcome this.

        Therefore, excluding a miracle, there had to be a single father and a single mother, both human at the same time.

        So, if I use your logic, there is still a need for a redeemer.

        Although I do not expect you to keep your logic.

        Wayne

        • Brendan Reid

          sigh ….

          Wayne, may I sincerelyy suggest you invest a day or so and read a few books on evolution.

          The illustrated young adult level book by Richard Dawkins The Magic of Reality is a great start. Easy read. It seems to penetrate even very high levels of evangelical brainwashing, adult-age willful ignorance and confirmation bias. The pictures seem to help.

          But I have come to understand that since the Old Testament original sin is actually trying to gain knowledge, I won’t hold my breath that you will actually take me up on this suggestion. Ya might go to hell or something if you did.

          By the way, how old do you think the earth actually is? Your answer will help me better answer your last comment bringing “animal hybrids” into a discussion of evolution. Mick Jagger memorably sang …. “Tiiiiiime is on my side, yes it is ….”

          Anyway, as far as needing a redeemer, as another fine rebel Patti Smith once growled … “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” If you find you need an imaginary redeemer for a metaphorical distant ancestor’s supposed sin of questing for knowledge, then you are welcome to him. Its a free country.

          Hey, have a great day!

          • http://luvsiesous.wordpress.com Wayne

            I answered a simple question I thought.

            I hope you can get past whatever it is you are really looking for.

            Wayne

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          Wayne, I’m not sure I understand what you mean in regards to animal hybrids and the first humans.

          Are you saying that the story of evolution is that two different species created a hybrid, which was the first human? If so, that is a drastic misunderstanding of evolution.

          Can you please clarify?

          • http://luvsiesous.wordpress.com Wayne

            In order for a species to hybridize into a second species, two individuals must hybridize at the same time.

            Else, you always get a mule instead of a newer donkey or a newer horse.

            Wayne

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I think there is a misunderstanding of evolution here. You seem to be saying that two individuals with parents that are Species A are suddenly born as Species B and (hopefully) find one another so that they can give rise to a whole population of Species B animals. I may be misunderstanding you, since it is a bit hard to extract a topic as large as evolution out of the two sentences you wrote.

            From my understanding, evolution does not work that way at all. instead, you have whole sub-populations of a species that evolve slowly until, eventually, they are too different from the rest to be considered the same species. For example, its NOT that there were two wolves that suddenly gave birth to two dogs and these dogs are the parents of all dogs today. Instead, there was a group of wolves who were separated from the rest and became their won little sub-population. Because of their separation from the rest of the wolves, any genetic changes in their group did not proliferate to the other wolves but are contained within the sub-population. Eventually the changes accumulate and this sub-population is different enough that they are not really wolves anymore.

            Note that this happens at the level of a population, not as individuals.

            Sorry if I misunderstood what your idea was.

        • bonnie

          Wayne,

          When a species is kept isolated from each other for long periods of time, in differing environments, different traits begin to emerge. You can see it readily in humans. Africans vs. Europeans vs. aboriginal Australians. It has nothing to do with two ‘similar’ species (horses and donkeys) reproducing with each other (mule). Instead, it is the emphasis of certain traits, which increase survivability within a sub population over a long period of time. If isolated from each long enough (millions of years) it is possible that the sub species could evolve drastically enough to be unable to reproduce with others of its original ancestry successfully (donkeys and horses = mules).

          You’re dismissing the ‘time’ aspect. You don’t just breed two similar species and get ‘evolution’ in a day.

          Bonnie

          • http://luvsiesous.wordpress.com Wayne

            Bonnie,

            While I appreciate your answer, I was not the one dismissing the time element.

            How millions of years ago did Australia separate? And aborigines are now a different species? Or not?

            I find it interesting how little most evolutionists actually know about naturalism.

            Wayne

        • bonnie

          I answered your last comment below.

          • http://luvsiesous.wordpress.com Wayne

            OK, I don’t see it.

  • westminstercorealestate

    The big issue is that if you accept evolution as true (and the evidence for it is VERY compelling) you have to throw out Adam and Eve and original sin. If you do that, Jesus’ raison d’etre vanishes. Granted, from a moral/ethical point of view the concept of original sin is absurd, but that’s a different discussion I suppose.

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    Here’s an interesting discussion to throw into the mix, and since I probably underrepresented the Theistic Evolutionary perspective in this post, here is my attempt to represent one of their perspectives:

    (His comment:)

    And so the axis on which Christianity turns is a God who suffers and dies to give new life and eternal life to humankind…And the process that brought about human kind has elements of suffering and death, that brings new life such that it survives the changing environment over billions of years…Are you sure these two things are incompatible?

    My reply:

    So we’re using the cross as a metaphor for evolution? That’s kinda messed up despite its poetic-ness. And trust me, I was *deeply* indoctrinated into the idea that the suffering and death of Jesus was a good thing. But it wasn’t a good thing, and I don’t even know where to start to explain how many different ways it wasn’t a good thing…Of course, one issue is that I don’t even believe that Jesus meant to get crucified, and I think that the places in the Bible where it looked like he wanted that to happen were reverse-engineered later on as the gospels were developing. But this is neither the time nor the place to open THAT can of worms…But even taking the sacrificial death as a given, and as a good thing, it’s only in light of redeeming a fallen creation. In other words, the cross is a response to people making things NOT go the way they’re supposed to go. It seems a major stretch of the imagination to me that you would then reach all the way back billions of years before mankind ever even appeared and say that all that suffering and death were positive. Taken out of its redemptive narrative, I don’t see how this suffering is a purposeful thing.

    And then him again:

    What we are discussing here is whether the notion of evolution is consistent with Christian beliefs. And I just demonstrated why I think they are…And I say that the heart of Christian doctrine all across the Christian tent is Christ’s death and resurrection, and what it supposedly accomplished…Now whether you like that doctrine or see it as “positive” (whatever that means) or not is certainly up to you. But if you are arguing that evolution is consistent with it, then I have already made my case…New life from Christ’s death and resurrection is outrageous and scandalous. And so is new life from billions of years of death and resurrection in organic life…Whether you like it or not has nothing to do with whether it is consistent or not.

    • http://luvsiesous.wordpress.com Wayne

      Ah-ha. You did open that can of worms.

      Liberal Theology is what you chose to believe about Jesus. There is little wonder you have difficulty believing Jesus was real. Liberal Theology bounces (and has bounced) all over the place. From female priesthood to gay priests to no priests to no god.

      But, just because you have a can of worms, or think Jesus is scandalous does not change what I believe.

      Anymore than what I believe about Evolution changes what you believe about Evolution.

      Or, can I change you that easily?

      Wayne

      Luvsiesous.com

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Actually, some Christians criticized the reboot simply because it presents some painfully bad history:

    http://www.christianapologeticsalliance.com/2014/03/11/cosmos-giordano-bruno-and-getting-it-right/

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      I was critical of the handling of Bruno’s story as well. Christians aren’t the only ones concerned about accurately telling history.

      But I have also observed that if a non-theist makes a dozen points and one of them is even the slightest bit off, that is all the theist will want to talk about. Perhaps if one’s treatment of the story of church history was poorly handled, then all of the science can be dismissed as well?

      Not really.

  • karenh1234567890

    Thanks for a reminder of those thrilling days of yesteryear…

    That is one ancient computer programming cartoon. I first saw it in 1979. It was probably old then.

    Then there was the one where a woman carrying a suitcase was standing by a man in an easy chair saying “This is the last time you call me your interpersonal interface, Harold.”

  • Benjamin G

    Your “Reluctant Conclusion” really has nothing to do with evolution. The main process of biological evolution is ‘fitness’ not death. A person may live to be 99 years old, but with no offspring is no fitter than an infant who dies. As such, “Wrath of God” and “suffering” has nothing to do with evolution/creation, it is a totally separate issue that is confined to the age-old theology question “the God of the Bible shouldn’t be as wrathful as what we observe.”

    You state: “One could argue that since Christianity itself is consistently being reinvented, there’s no harm in taking it a few steps further away from its original varieties.” Our understanding of evolution changes much more rapidly than the Christian faith.

    • Benjamin G

      I’m also not certain that a “wasteful and destructive” God is inconsistent with most Christian views. Take the flood story for instance–it requires a God that essentially destroys the world, while you don’t believe in the flood–the people you are criticizing, do.

      Maybe I just disagree with Kirby here–most unsuccessful mutations don’t lead to “unimaginable suffering” as he states, most are lethal prior to sentience.

  • http://trueandreasonable.wordpress.com trueandreasonable

    Here are a few of my thoughts:

    First I think you start your history a bit late. Early on the church had plenty of people who were willing to interpret genesis non literally like fundamentalists have in the last few decades.

    “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” ,

    I quote Saint Augustine who lived from 354-430 AD. Its frustrating when people take a small sect in Christianity that arose in the last 100 years and think that small sect speaks of traditional Christian thought.

    Ok to the argument about evolution and Christianity.

    First of all both the author of the blog and the author he quotes conflates 2 arguments. They conflate the idea that evolution is unguided and the argument from the problem of evil. This may work to convince some people but it is not logical.

    The problem of evil should be addressed separately and really has nothing to do with evolution.

    But what about the unguidedness of evolution. Sometimes people refer to this as the randomness of evolution. What is random to us is of course not likely not random at all. Things happen for a reason. Most people even scientists who are atheists and believe in evolution can accept that. Of course,theists think there is a God who knows all these reasons and therefore nothing is really random to God.

    But consider this claim that it must be “unguided.” Is that supposed to mean it happened for no reason? Or does it mean it happened for a reason we can’t explain? Well like I said allot of scientists think it happened for a reason. What is the scientific proof that God didn’t know the reasons? Well there is no such proof.

    Now the theory of evolution does not depend on any guide that is true. Neither does the theory of Gravitation. Newton did not depend on the idea that angels pull down apples when they fall. But does that mean we can’t believe that Christ walked on water? Of course not. Because the belief that no God could possibly suspend the normal laws of nature is an entirely different claim than one that says posits the law of gravity. We can understand how the world works without God intervening – ie natural law. But that does not mean we need to exclude the possibility that God can suspend those laws.

    The people who argue evolution contradicts Christianity want to say if you believe in gravity then you must believe not only that apples fall without God intervening but that it’s impossible that God could intervene and ever cause an apple to fall. Of course that is an entirely different claim and not a scientific one at all. Just like the claim that God could not have chosen the system of evolution to create us because its impossible that it had any guidance. Again note the difference:

    1) Evolution seems to need no guidance

    2) Evolution could not have had any guidance

    The first statement is one that can be reached by looking at how fossils and how life develops seemingly without God stepping in. The second is a philosophical claim. Science can not answer whether there was in fact was ever any guidance, or not.

    If atheists want to insist that evolution could not possibly have been guided that is fine. But that is a philosophical claim and there is no empirical/scientific evidence to support it.

    • Jim B

      Its frustrating when people take a small sect in Christianity that arose in the last 100 years and think that small sect speaks of traditional Christian thought.

      Supposedly 15%-20% of the US population are young-earth creationists. It is not only tiny, but it is influential. About 45% of the US population count themselves as creationists. In the last election cycle, none of the candidates in the Republican presidential primary would admit to believing in evolution (Huntsman was equivocal).

      Sometimes people refer to this as the randomness of evolution.

      You misunderstand evolution. Nobody thinks evolution is random. There is variance within a population, for multiple reasons, one of which is random mutations and random choice of chromosomes which are selected during production of eggs and sperm. But Darwin’s key insight, natural selection, is decidedly non-random. That is the key idea, with myriad interesting implications. But *nobody* thinks it is random.

      Things happen for a reason.

      Please define how you are using that word. Scientists would say that physical events have a cause, but not a purpose. “Reason” is too vague of a word and can be too easily interpreted to mean purposeful. Tsunamis may kill 100,000 people, but that is just an accidental byproduct of a physical process; it had no intent. There was no “reason” in the lay sense for it to happen. The second half of your argument rests on this notion of “reason.”

      • http://trueandreasonable.wordpress.com trueandreasonable

        “Supposedly 15%-20% of the US population are young-earth creationists. It is not only tiny, but it is influential. About 45% of the US population count themselves as creationists. In the last election cycle, none of the candidates in the Republican presidential primary would admit to believing in evolution (Huntsman was equivocal).”

        This is likely because many people want to define “evolution” beyond the science and say that to believe in it means you can not believe in the Christian God. If you want to define evolution that way its fine but then evolution versus creationism is the false dichotomy. Many people are like me and think God understood how we would be created and at times may even interact in the world during the process. There is nothing in the actual science that contradicts this view. In your opinion does that make me a creationist?

        “You misunderstand evolution. Nobody thinks evolution is random. There is variance within a population, for multiple reasons, one of which is random mutations and random choice of chromosomes which are selected during production of eggs and sperm. But Darwin’s key insight, natural selection, is decidedly non-random. That is the key idea, with myriad interesting implications. But *nobody* thinks it is random.”

        I’m not sure why you thought I misunderstood evolution.

        The “random” sperm and egg as well as the random “choice” of Chromosomes might be random to you, and they are part of how we evolved. They are not part of natural selection, but they are part of evolution. I,e., they are part of how we came to exist. You and I might disagree on the importance of genetic drift vis a vis natural selection. But someone who thinks genetic drift has an impact does not reject evolution. But my point is that all these factors are not random to God. .

        Please define how you are using that word. Scientists would say that physical events have a cause, but not a purpose. “Reason” is too vague of a word and can be too easily interpreted to mean purposeful. Tsunamis may kill 100,000 people, but that is just an accidental byproduct of a physical process; it had no intent. There was no “reason” in the lay sense for it to happen. The second half of your argument rests on this notion of “reason.”

        You are right “reason” can have many meanings. I did not mean a teleological reason I meant a causal reason. God understands these even if we don’t. He put this in motion. So to us what seems unguided is not actually unguided. You can reject this if you want but you would have no empirical evidence to do that. At that point you would be philosophizing not doing science.

        And BTW there is nothing wrong with philosophizing. I think it very good and important. But you should keep straight what conclusions you are drawing from empirical evidence and what conclusions you are drawing from your philosophical dispositions.

        • Jim B

          We are coming at this from two different directions. You think that atheists say that not only is evolution undirected, but that God isn’t allowed to bump the table a bit and guide things. That isn’t the atheistic viewpoint. Such a thing could be possible, but there is no evidence of it. Everything seen in creation has, as far as we so far know, natural explanations.

          I did not mean a teleological reason I meant a causal reason. God understands these even if we don’t. He put this in motion. So to us what seems unguided is not actually unguided. You can reject this if you want but you would have no empirical evidence to do that.

          Rejecting things we have no evidence of isn’t unscientific. One could posit an invisible poodle swaps the green M&Ms with the red M&Ms and then swaps them back in the bag when nobody is looking, and so far as we know we can’t rule it out. Is it unscientific to not consider it? There are myriad such not-disproven possibilities, but nobody takes them seriously because they seem unlikely and do nothing to help explain the state of the world.

          From what I’ve seen of the world, the Greek pantheon of Gods do a far better job of explaining the natural world than the God of Abraham. They were a quarrelsome, inconsistent, petty, and vindictive lot. The chaos and inexplicable fates and fortunes which befall a person fit that model better than any of the models of God which various flavors of Christianity assert.

          • http://trueandreasonable.wordpress.com trueandreasonable

            Thanks for your follow up comments I think our views on evolution are similar.

            I am not sure that all atheists agree that God can not come in and bump the table. For example it seems to me that the author of this very blog is arguing that to believe in the science of evolution, one can’t believe that a God might come in and bump the table. But I assume you disagree with him.

            “Rejecting things we have no evidence of isn’t unscientific.”

            I am not sure if you are aware of the fallacy of appealing to ignorance.

            http://www.iep.utm.edu/fallacy/#AppealtoIgnorance

            Lack of evidence alone is not often a good reason to reject a claim. Neptune had at least 13 moons before we had evidence of them. Scientist looked for them despite the lack of current evidence and found them. If they rejected the idea that Neptune had at least 13 moons due to lack of current evidence they would have no reason to look for them.

            Some of your comments seem to deal with the burden of proof. I did a blog on that and I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

            As far as thinking the Greek Gods are more likely than the Christian God I think that is a bit outside the scope of this blog.

          • Jim B

            T&R –

            I believe that a God, if one existed, could bump the table, but that currently there is no reason to believe He does.

            re: appeal to ignorance

            Sure, I’m aware of it. Physicist spent a great deal of their time trying to probe their ignorance, trying to disprove what they think they know. My point wasn’t that one should only try to confirm what we believe, but that there are an infinite number of things one could imagine to be true, and we don’t have enough resources to go down every blind alley. There must be some reason to investigate this hypothesis vs that hypothesis, and there is always the risk of dismissing what we should have investigated.

            In investigating evolution, on what basis do we decide to take seriously the hypothesis that God is directing it at some level? And if we think it is possible a productive question, then which model of God do we pick? Do you pick a weak god, one who set the mechanism going and then walked away, or an interventionist God that most Christians would recognize, or something else? My answer is that it isn’t a useful hypothesis until the time that there is some data pointing in that direction.

            re: greek gods, I agree — it is pulling off course. but for the record, I don’t believe in them either.

  • bonnie

    While accepting evolution was not my final step in leaving Christianity it was one for the 1st onto that path. So, although it contradicts your message, I try to convince my Christian friends that they can believe in both. Anything, to open their minds to science.

  • bonnie

    When comparing evolution to breeding a horse with a donkey you completely dismiss the factor of time.

    I did not say the aboriginals were a different species, I said you can see evidence of the emphasis of different traits in humans who have been isolated for long periods of time. I was saying how evolution DOES NOT happen by breeding a donkey with a horse but by this kind of situation.

    You seem to think it is impossible for one species to evolve into a ‘new’ species which is a common argument I hear in support of divine intervention. If this is your point, then say so but citing mules is not good evidence on your side. Two different species breeding is not how evolution occurs.

    What is it I am missing about naturalism?

  • http://amemoforyou.wordpress.com Wayne Ferguson

    IMO, a myth is story that is true on the inside whether or not it is true on the outside. Ideally, IMO, the church should make more of an effort to facilitate the transition (for those whose questions warrant it) between a literal/historical understanding and a symbolic/metaphorical understanding. Moreover, each group (those of a historical/literal bent and those of a symbolic/metaphorical bent) should be taught to understand and respect one another (since these two points of view are not really inimical but dovetail nicely in the life of the community).

    Neil Carter wrote: ["At its barest roots, anything which can be called Christianity teaches there is a personal God who cares for the things and people he/she/it creates. With all extraneous trappings removed, all Christian traditions profess a belief in a deity who is personal, loving, and who intervenes in some way or another in the affairs of the real world."]

    “Personal” is tricky… Our God is living; is intelligent; is love… That all works– kind of like the Hindu notion of sat, chit, ananda (being, awareness, bliss). That does not require an anthropomorphic deity who operates after the fashion of a conscious human agent. And yet it lends itself to that kind of interpretation if we are so inclined/conditioned…

    ["Sure, there are plenty of other concepts of God out there (many of them polytheistic), but any version which makes God an impersonal Force, or a Being completely detached from and uninvolved with what he/she/it has created cannot sensibly be called a “Christian” concept of God."]

    Consider the possibility that rather than space, time and matter being primary, that consciousness is primary and that it extends throughout the whole of creation from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest physical system on a truly cosmic scale… Suppose further that this consciousness is the mind of God in which we participate. He is not too far from any one of us, eh? For in “Him” we live and move and have our being…

    ["Can we at least agree on that? The Christian God is a personal God who intervenes in the world out of care for what he/he/it has created."]

    God is transcendent and immanent and the story of Jesus reveals the union that exists between our minds and his–between us and the whole of creation (his temple/the body of Christ). Created (chosen) in Christ, we are One with God, One with Nature, and One with other human beings. After our first (natural) birth– as we grow up –we become forgetful/ignorant of that Oneness and must be reminded of it. As apparent individuals, we embody the paradox of God on the cross and it is natural for us to flee suffering and death. But as followers of Christ, rather than fleeing the cross (which appears, on the surface, to be the epitome of “evil”) and attempting to secure our personal “good” (as a separate “individual”), we choose, instead, to take up our cross (this is a prerequisite to entering the kingdom of God which is said to be within us; among us; at hand).

    All this can be understood in terms of self-transcendence. It is portrayed in scriptures as being “crucified with Christ” (“put to death in the flesh”) and “raised with him in newness of life” (“made alive in the Spirit”). The archetypical symbol of this is the story of Jesus (his death and resurrection) just as the archetypical symbol of our “fall” into duality and separation is the story of “Adam and Eve”.

    ["if you insist that an Intelligence stood by and watched as this harsh and unfeeling process unfolded, you will have quite a time reconciling that with the notion of a personal Being who has sympathetic impulses toward his creation at any level. Only a monster could have the power to limit suffering of this magnitude and yet do nothing about it. Forget cancer, tsunamis, birth defects and child molestations. That’s just a sampling of the suffering of our species over a few thousand years..."]

    But again, God does not just stand idly by, he suffers with us, and we live in him. We are One with the Father…

    ["...and Christians usually shift the blame for all of those things onto the Fall of Adam anyway (yes, even the catastrophic weather events). Leaving that aside, unspeakable waste and suffering has befallen millions of species over our long planetary history, the majority of which predates the evolution of the human race. There is no reasonable way to see an all-powerful deity possessing even a smidgeon of compassion guiding this process at any level, not if you really see the process for what it is. You will have to turn a blind eye toward some aspect of it or else it won’t compute. You will always be trying to gloss over the messiness of it all in order to find some kind of purposeful direction inherent therein. Your determination to see “intelligent design” behind it will always lead you to misperceive and misrepresent the way things actually happened."]

    How do you explain to people who imagine themselves to be separate what it is like to be atOne with God? One possibility is to tell them a story about the past and the future that explains how their sense of separation came about and introduces them to the possibility of reconciliation. This is a metaphor for the abundant life that is available HERE & NOW if we take up our cross and place our unconditional trust in the light of the world which is the presence of God in our life (the “I Am” presence). This is the narrow way that leads to life. Most people don’t see this right away. So, in the meantime, the story of sin, salvation, and judgment (as a series of historical events) gives them an ideal to strive for that is (on balance) beneficial to them and their community (I say “on balance” because it can becomes an ego-trip which does violence to people outside of and on the margins of their particular religious community).

    This also relates to your comments in the CCNS Facebook group where you asked: ["Does the evolution of the species as we find it in nature really point to an Intelligence behind it all?"]

    The answer is that the intelligible relationships that we see in the world– here & now –reflect the Divine intelligence. Contrary to the exoteric narrative, it is not best understood as historical progress toward some future goal. The “end”– like the “beginning” –is near: Christ in you–the hope of glory! :)

    http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/additional-essays/the-beginning-is-near/

    • http://trueandreasonable.wordpress.com trueandreasonable

      Interesting comments. I tend to agree that we should not jump to conclusions about What God is like.

      “Ideally, IMO, the church should make more of an effort to facilitate the transition (for those whose questions warrant it) between a literal/historical understanding and a symbolic/metaphorical understanding. Moreover, each group (those of a historical/literal bent and those of a symbolic/metaphorical bent) should be taught to understand and respect one another (since these two points of view are not really inimical but dovetail nicely in the life of the community).”

      I agree with this. I think there is some attempt here. But I do not think the church should be unduly concerned with these issues because it is very much a diversion from Christianity. The Church should really emphasize that fact IMO.

  • http://softmoth.wordpress.com Tim Smith

    The best book I’ve seen defending [Christian] theistic evolution is Finding Darwin’s God, by Kenneth R. Miller (1999). Mainly laying out the evidence for evolution, his audience is those who don’t yet believe evolution. But he also explains why he sees evolution as *supporting* the Christian faith, rather than challenging it.

    It’s been a while since I read it, but I recall his core idea as God working through quantum indeterminacies which, rather than being a “gap” in our knowledge, were put into the most basic structure of the universe to allow for perfect free will for God’s creatures, and for God to intervene in this world in a direct way without breaking the laws of nature. I didn’t find his argument there compelling, but it is passionately written and thought-provoking all the same. I definitely recommend the book!

    I think the answer to how God can stand by through all the suffering will just fall back to the usual replies to the problem of evil.

    • Jim B

      Tim, Kenneth MIller knows 10x more about biology than everyone in this discussion put together, and yet he is a faithful Catholic. That settles it, who am I to use evolution to doubt the compatibility of science and religion if he is OK with it?

      Well, for one thing, there are others equally informed about biology who are full-on atheists. So how can it be that two equally smart and informed people disagree? One resolution to the problem is that smart people are just more creative in how they rationalize their beliefs; this applies to the theist and atheist alike. Many smart people also make the mistake of assuming their brilliance in one area also means they understand other knowledge domains.

      Miller certainly is mistaken in his reliance on the idea that God drives events in the world through the magic of quantum mechanics. Sure, QM makes some strange predictions, but it isn’t a get-out-of-jail card for rational thought; QM obeys a lot of very specific and extremely well quantified rules. QM effects diminish rapidly with scale, so for this to work at all we need to also invoke the butterfly effect, the idea that small local changes, in the the right conditions, can magnify themselves to produce much greater effects later on in a seemingly disconnected fashion. Chaos theory studies situations like these, but again, it follows certain rules.

      For God to sneak in and know how to play 16-dimensional chess in order to make everything line up at the quantum level to yield some desired-yet-indistinguishable-from-natural event later places very large demands on conditions. I could imagine a god pulling that trick once in a while, but the system would be entirely over-constrained for God to do it the millions of times a day He supposedly does mess with the world.

      Even for specific events, some state changes are not possible: you can’t get from A to B sometimes. As an analogy, say you are playing chess and you have a bishop on a white square. It is impossible for it to end up on a black square, no matter how many moves you make or how complicated the positions might be at any one time.

      If God must violate physics with every time he intercedes in the affairs of the world (if he didn’t, then it would be just nature running its course), and QM can’t be used to explain miracles in general, there is only one “out” I can think of. That is for God to be like Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street, and to appear only when no scientist is looking.

      • Benjamin G

        @Jim B, quoting from some of your rebut of Miller

        “For God to sneak in and know how to…”

        “…would be entirely over-constrained for God.”

        The reason you disagree with Miller is because you don’t accept the notion that the God Miller believes in is infinite. Your imagination (” I could imagine a god pulling that trick once in a while”) limits a conceivable God to a finite being where as orthodox doctrine proposes that God is infinite.

        An infinite god would indeed have the capability to “mess with” the universe as he pleased, as would any being capable of creating the laws of physics.

        Does this necessarily mean that there is an infinite God that messes with us using QM or chaos theory? No. It means that if there is an infinite God, by definition he would be capable of doing it.

        Hope that made sense. Have a good day.

        • Jim B

          Benjamin, the whole topic here is the compatibility of God and science, specifically if evolution (as it is understood by biologists) is compatible with Christianity. Having a joker card in the deck which says God can divide by zero means there is no point in discussing science — you are simply making an assertion, irrespective of evidence..

          Miller tries to use the mystery of QM to explain how God affects the world while remaining undetected vis-a-vis violation of natural law. I tried to explain how QM doesn’t have unlimited power do allow arbitrary things to happen. Your counter is that with God anything is possible, but then you are discarding Miller’s argument, just like I am, but for different reasons.

          In any event, it is of no utility to imagine hypothetical scenarios we have no evidence for. If you are stuck in a video game simulation (ala the Matrix), the most rational course of action is to assume that is reality, to discover the rules of that reality, and use it to your advantage. The theist solution is to semi-arbitrarily ascribe certain events to God’s will and accept other things as natural, and as far as I can tell, there is no rhyme or reason for determining which case applies. It is far more productive to just assume everything has a natural cause unless there is some evidence which shows otherwise.

        • http://softmoth.wordpress.com Tim Smith

          Benjamin, in addition to what Jim B says (or maybe just restating it in my own words), I found Miller’s ideas unpersuasive because it makes God invisible. But we see no evidence for it, and his interactions are so subtle and so regular as to be indistinguishable from His not existing. Miller manages to create a home for God to live in that, for him, is compatible with our current best theories AND with any possible new findings that science might create. He has no need to fear that science might squeeze God out of his QM gap. And he finds great comfort and joy in that security.

          I find the same comfort and joy in not believing in God at all. Nevertheless, I think that Miller’s whole-hearted embrace of the advance of scientific knowledge is a good thing, and I encourage anyone who is resisting evolution just because you’re afraid it might steal God away from you to read him. If you’ve not lost your faith due to the myriad other difficulties, then for heaven’s sake don’t worry about evolution being the last straw. It’s an easy one to adjust to, relatively.

      • http://trueandreasonable.wordpress.com trueandreasonable

        “Tim, Kenneth MIller knows 10x more about biology than everyone in this discussion put together, and yet he is a faithful Catholic. That settles it, who am I to use evolution to doubt the compatibility of science and religion if he is OK with it?

        Well, for one thing, there are others equally informed about biology who are full-on atheists. So how can it be that two equally smart and informed people disagree?”

        They need not disagree about the science involved in evolution. They might just disagree on their philosophical views.

        I would say that both atheists and theists who claim they can prove or disprove God based on science are doing more philosophy than science.

        • Jim B

          T&R –

          I would say that both atheists and theists who claim they can prove or disprove God based on science are doing more philosophy than science.

          I haven’t met an atheist yet who says they can prove God doesn’t exist — they just say that specific claims about specific Gods can be disproved. But it is is like whack-a-mole because each person comes up with a different definition of what God is.

          They need not disagree about the science involved in evolution. They might just disagree on their philosophical views.

          Ken Miller, I’m sure, never invokes God in his research to explain results — everything has a natural cause. You say it is just a philosophical difference then as to whether he thinks that everything just happened to line up to create you, or if God intended it all along. Miller, though, makes a testable claim: that God manipulates the microscopic world of QM to arrange for things to appear to happen naturally. My argument is that Ken Miller isn’t an expert in quantum mechanics, and his claim can be disproved. It isn’t a matter of philosophy.

          Backing up to the big picture, the original post isn’t an attempt to disprove God. It is a claim that the generally accepted view of the Christian God isn’t compatible with current evolutionary theory. I’ve taken the tack that they are incompatible on grounds of scientific necessity. Neil’s post had a lot more emphasis on the mismatch between the brutal, uncaring process of evolution vs. the claims of God’s love. That is, I think, just a smaller piece of “the problem of evil,” aka theodicy.

          • http://trueandreasonable.wordpress.com trueandreasonable

            Thanks for the comments.

            “Backing up to the big picture, the original post isn’t an attempt to disprove God. It is a claim that the generally accepted view of the Christian God isn’t compatible with current evolutionary theory. I’ve taken the tack that they are incompatible on grounds of scientific necessity. Neil’s post had a lot more emphasis on the mismatch between the brutal, uncaring process of evolution vs. the claims of God’s love. That is, I think, just a smaller piece of “the problem of evil,” aka theodicy.”

            Yes I agree that Neil seems ultimately resort to the argument from evil.

            But I am not sure what you mean when you say that the Christian God isn’t compatible with current evolutionary theory “on the grounds of scientific necessity.” What does that mean?

            “Miller, though, makes a testable claim: that God manipulates the microscopic world of QM to arrange for things to appear to happen naturally. My argument is that Ken Miller isn’t an expert in quantum mechanics, and his claim can be disproved. It isn’t a matter of philosophy.”

            How could you disprove that God manipulates anything? I mean lets say I see an apple fall from a tree. It might have happened naturally and you can show that. But how could one prove that God didn’t make that apple fall a second earlier than it should have? And even if you could prove such a thing how could you prove God does not ever manipulate anything in the QM realm? It seems you would have to have a perfect understanding of how everything happens in order to rule out the possibility that God doesn’t manipulate such things. I mean that is where I think we are leaving science and entering philosophical beliefs.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            I’m getting this a good bit here lately. My argument sounds like the theodicy question but it wasn’t my intent to ask a moral question about a good God creating an evil world (even though that dilemma remains an unresolved dilemma for theists of the sort I describe above). My main point was not about a lack of compassion but a lack of apparent intentionality in the way the species developed. While natural selection (itself an unintelligent process) creates an illusion of design simply because the disadvantageous variations die away with time, the mutations themselves are thoughtless and random, more often disadvantageous than beneficial. Put differently, it’s the lack of apparent intelligence in the development of the species which to me points away from an intelligent designer. There is an efficiency of resources evident whenever an intelligence is at work. But when we view the growth and development of the cosmos, we see randomness unguidedness.

            This analogy breaks down at one point but consider the difference between the migratory path of an animal herd vs. the path cut by a tornado. The former clearly shows a sign of sentience which the latter does not. There is an efficiency and a purposefulness to the herd movements which you will not observe in the tornado. One points to a swarm of intelligences, and the other to blind, unintelligent forces of nature. The analogy breaks down because things would be different if tornadoes could pass down their genetic code to future tornadoes. But even then it would not be about design so much as a consequence of reproduction.

          • http://trueandreasonable.wordpress.com trueandreasonable

            Ok I see what you are saying and this way of looking at things does tie in better with evolution. I think your point has some force.

            Why would God pick this odd route to create us? It seems a rather haphazard way.

            I think the issue comes down to whether these things are really random to God like they are to us. If God has an infinite understanding of these things then it wouldn’t be haphazard at all. It might even be considered a very wonderful and elegant way to create us. Creating us in a way such that we can see this process is also pretty amazing. It certainly beats out the creation from clay imagery.

            But is that God too much to believe?

            Thanks for the clarifying comment.

          • Jim B

            T&R –

            re: “scientific necessity”

            What I was trying to get at is the idea of “necessary and sufficient” in deciding what features to include in a theory. There are countless features one could include in a theory which are not disprovable. To be useful, the thing being added must somehow be necessary to the theory, not simply not in contradiction to the theory.

            How could you disprove that God manipulates anything? I mean lets say I see an apple fall from a tree. It might have happened naturally and you can show that.

            First off, the burden of proof is backwards here. If the evidence we see of the world around is is explained without invoking an interventionist God, why is it up to the athesits to disprove it, rather than the theists to prove He exists?

            Back to my specific claims, QM obeys certain laws. I’ve allowed that God could, on occasion, make everything line up such that QM effects, which appear entirely natural and result in a cascade of more material effects could result in something observable happening on the macroscopic scale (the butterfly effect, in this case, an apple falling). If you accept that God allows himself to be constrained to these QM ripple effects, as Ken Miller does, you can’t hand wave that just anything is possible — even QM is constrained to follow certain rules. If the conditions to make apple #1 fall at a specific time are not compatible with making apple #2 fall a moment later, God can’t force it without coming out from behind the QM curtain and exposing himself.

            I think it would be a more consistent answer to give up on the QM stuff and take the Snufflelupagus approach and say that God bumps the table, but only when nobody is looking. It feels like a dodge to me, but I think saying He hides in the cracks offered by QM is entirely broken.

          • Jim B

            godlessindixie –

            Considering your kid glove approach to discussing religion, you probably can’t stand PZ Myers. He delights in being rude, and his followers are pretty vicious at times. However, he wrote a great blog entry, avoiding inflammatory rhetoric, going heavy on the science, covering an interesting case which is along the lines of your reasoning here:

            http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/06/24/segmentation-genes-evolved-und/

            In short, if one imagines an intelligent creator, you’d expect them to design segmented insects by having a biological equivalent of a subroutine to stamp out N copies of the identical segments. But in fact what is found is something a lot more messy and suboptimal, the kind of thing which evolution would expect but intelligent creationism wouldn’t. Read the article; it is quite interesting just from the biological aspect.

  • http://www.techthoughts.net/ danielbastian909

    Thoughtful, thorough piece. I like the quote by Kirby. It reminds me of a similar quote shared by the late Stephen Jay Gould from an anonymous minister. Upon coming to grip with evolution – actually understanding its mechanics, its processes, its stochasticity – he had this to say:

    “Pope John Paul II’s acceptance of evolution touches the doubt in my heart. The problem of pain and suffering in a world created by a God who is all love and light is hard enough to bear, even if one is a creationist. But at least a creationist can say that the original creation, coming from the hand of God was good, harmonious, innocent and gentle. What can one say about evolution, even a spiritual theory of evolution? Pain and suffering, mindless cruelty and terror are its means of creation. Evolution’s engine is the grinding of predatory teeth upon the screaming, living flesh and bones of prey.…If evolution be true, my faith has rougher seas to sail.”

    Can’t say I disagree. I wrote a similar piece mapping the common boundary between evolution and theism.

    http://www.techthoughts.net/2012/11/30/evolution-theism-and-the-dissonance-which-lies-between/

    • Jim B

      Daniel, nice post! I’ve never attempted to write my thoughts in a polished manner like that. Every time I get a bug to attempt it, I come across a well written essay like yours, see that nobody has commented on it, and it discourages me to investing the time. All the same, thanks for writing it.

  • mikespeir

    You appear to have the hornets stirred up again, Neil. Good work!

  • http://iamchristianiamanatheist.blogspot.kr/ Christian Kemp

    Wonderful post. Evolution is truly a very difficult thing to bring into line with Christianity as you pointed out. As for the no true Scotsman fallacy when I see it I just place my face in my palm repeatedly.


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