Evolution Isn’t the Problem (RJS)

The science and faith discussion floats around a number of different issues. They intertwine with each other and can’t be separated completely. Yet one thread runs through and holds together the whole – ontological naturalism, the idea that it is irrational to believe in anything beyond the material world. This issue came up again in a number of comments over my last several posts.

One commenter asked:

How would you respond to an atheist who says, “these scientists who believe in God and science just choose not to apply empiricism to that aspect of their lives. It is like how Newton believed in fairies.”

This is a very common question – after all, there is no empirical proof for God, or for anything beyond the material world.

Another commenter noted:

I remember reading an author a few years ago who said something to this effect, when confronted with Naturalistic Evolution that Christians tend to try to refute Evolution, when the problem isn’t Evolution it’s Naturalism. Whatever one may think of biological evolution, it’s Naturalism that is at odds with Christianity.

I was listening to an interview with a scientist who happens to also be a Naturalist a few weeks ago. He was explaining his theory (or perhaps hypothesis is a better word) as to why the universe was able to exist without a god to create it. In his interview he made an interesting admission, that if his theory/hypothesis is true that human beings are unimportant and insignificant. That’s not the result of a belief in evolution, but of a belief in naturalism.

I don’t know which scientist this commenter was listening to, but the video below gives a rather clear example of the kind of thinking involved.

YouTube Preview Image

Krauss’s view is rather harsh – from a cosmic perspective, we’re irrelevant. It is up to us to give our lives meaning. He casts, or tries to cast, this in a positive light – but it is hard to get much meaning from his view: Science teaches us two things – were insignificant and the future is bleak. This may be true, and many believe that it is true … but we have the brain, consciousness, and self-awareness to realize that such “meaning” isn’t ultimately worth much.

Coming to terms with materiality and spirituality. Another somewhat softer version of the same sentiment was expressed by Alan Lightman in his opening comments during a Veritas Forum on Worldviews at MIT in 2011. The forum featured four MIT professors, two Christian and two non-Christian. Lightman opened the proceedings, so you can hear his comments in the first 10 minutes of the video below.

YouTube Preview Image

I’ve transcribed just a bit to help facilitate discussion.

 (0:27 – 3:05) I’m 62 years old. Over the last decade I’ve had more and more evidence of my mortality. … And I am reminded that all of us, and I, are material beings. Our consciousness and our self-awareness create an illusion that we are made out of some special substance, that we have some kind of special ego power, some I-ness, some unique existence. But in fact we are nothing but bones, tissues, gelatinous membranes, neurons, electrical impulses, and chemicals. We are material, we are stuff. … Coming to terms with our materiality is the most difficult challenge we have in our existence.

Spirituality to Lightman, and to many others, means something very different from Christian faith and hope.

(4:17) Although I believe that we are material beings, purely material. And I believe that our consciousness vanishes entirely when I die. And I see no evidence for a super being who created and guides the universe, I still consider myself to be a spiritual person. Different people have different meanings for the concept of spirituality. For me, spirituality is the belief in something larger than myself. Spirituality is the belief in principles and values for living. Spirituality is the recognition of beauty and meaning in myself and in other people, and in the world. Spirituality is connection to other people. Spirituality is also an attempt to answer the great questions of existence, such as how did the universe come into being, and what is its future? what is the purpose of my individual life?  how can I live a life with meaning? I am an atheist, but a spiritual atheist

Lightman’s perspective gives a different take on the current claim of many to be “spiritual but not religious.”

And this brings me to yet another commenter on a recent post – a commenter who took exception with what I had to say, or at least with his interpretation of what I had to say. This commenter reflected on his personal experience wrestling with the arrogance of scientific pronouncement and the possibility of Christian faith.

I was brought up as a scientist, and I remember when I was young, I had strong views about what was possible and what was not. I was a scientist, science was right – and I hated it! But I couldn’t deny the obvious success of science, so I set about finding out what scientists really know. My conclusion is that some things they do really ‘know’ and others are belief and speculation – a heady mixture, indeed! This was very important for me, to give myself the breathing space. Now I have enough room to choose my beliefs (more or less!), knowing that I am not ‘flying in the face of reason’.

Although he may not realize it, I agree with this commenter. It can be very hard to separate the metaphysical from the science in the writings and proclamations of many scientists. A careful contemplation of what we really know is a worthwhile pursuit. Lightman is seems aware of the distinction between the metaphysical and the purely scientific, but Krauss and many others simply proclaim materiality as the ultimate truth and tell people to “grow up” or to “get with the program”.  Often the pressure of ontological naturalism and materialism isn’t so transparent, but the influence is subtle, persistent, and hard to resist.

We have to confront the problem. Evolution isn’t the problem. The energy that goes into refuting evolution is a colossal waste of time, energy, and resource. Evolutionary biology will stand or fall under the weight of the evidence … in the same way that quantum mechanics and theories of gravitation stand or fall under the weight of the evidence.

Is naturalism true? If not, then what is true?

What does the Christian story have to offer and why should we believe it?

Make Your Own Meaning. Alan Lightman highlights the Golden Rule as he searches for his own meaning in life. Meaning comes through relationship and through contributing to the betterment of others.

(3:05-3:50) All that said, we can still find meaning during our brief flicker of existence. I believe that a cosmic meaning does not exist. Instead each of us must find his or her personal meaning for the universe and personal meaning for our individual lives.  We are exquisitely built machines. Machines that can define their own activities and purposes. We have the power to search for meaning, to search for our individual principles and purposes and to live by those principles.

(8:44 -9:57) So what is essential? What is real? What is it that we can not do without? For me it is my values and principles. The way that I treat other people and the way that I want to be treated. My desire to make a difference in the world. My obligation to find out what I do well and to nourish that gift. All of these things one might call my humanity. I am a single link in the long chain of human beings who have lived through the millenia. Even though individual lives come and go, their atoms of hydrogen and oxygen and carbon recirculated in air and soil the chain of humanity remains. Through the things that I do I effect other people who live beyond me and they in turn affect others who live beyond them, and on and on, so there is a small trace of my existence that continues. I am part of the great chain of existence, and that’s my view of the world.

Lightman roots his understanding of meaning in the golden rule, and in making a difference for others. And yet, as Krauss made quite clear, from a cosmic perspective not only do we each have a brief flicker of existence, but humanity as well has a but a brief flicker of existence. It is hard to get much meaning from those who live beyond us when the end is certain and final oblivion (according to science).

Christianity roots its understanding of meaning in the great commandments. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength and Love your neighbor as yourself.  God is the creator, and his creation is good. There is a meaning and a purpose that extends beyond our present existence. What we do, then, will matter for the next generation and for eternity. This understanding is key to a Christian understanding of work (see for example Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor and the posts on the book Every Good Endeavor and Connecting Gospel and Work).

Of course a more permanent story of meaning in Christian faith is not necessarily an argument for the reality of Christian faith. Perhaps the personal meaning found by Lightman is, in fact, all there is. But  N. T. Wright in Simply Christian argues that this desire for meaning, the sense of justice and fairness, the urge for spirituality, the power and pain of human relationships, and the sense of real beauty is an echo of a voice that points us toward God. The Christian story (although perhaps not some of the caricatures of the Christian story floating around) provides meaning because it is the story of the World. These voices are not simply, as the naturalist will argue, an artifact of evolution.

What do you think? Is Naturalism the problem?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • AJG

    While I consider myself a naturalist, Krauss is being disingenous in that video. I’d bet 100 to 1 that he is a hard determinist like all other scientists who happen to be atheists. Therefore, his argument that we are not puppets on strings and that we can make our own meaning is false. There’s also little in his speech to be optimistic about.

    This is the falsehood that the new atheists are promulgating: that all, or even most, people are better off jettisoning faith for reason. It’s not true. Rationals are a very small percentage of the population. Most people don’t want to embrace Krauss’ view; it’s too depressing. So while some of us have relinquished our former faith to embrace a more rational view of life and the universe, a world in which no one has faith is a bleak vision.

  • T

    I think I would say it differently. I think there are two problems w/ evolution as it is often taught, but that it is helpful to deal with them separately. One problem is naturalism, of course, and the other is how to reconcile the narratives of scripture (regarding especially the rise of evil and death, and the setting apart of mankind) with evolutionary theories. But, yes, the latter is more of a puzzle to be figured out while the former is, by definition, mutually exclusive with Christianity. That makes naturalism (and especially when it is framed as fact rather than belief, or assumed as given) a truly alternative “faith” to Christianity that evolution is not.

  • Phil Miller

    I was in a local bookstore recently and I picked up a copy of Daniel Dennett’s Freedom Evolves which on the cover claims to be Dennett’s explanation of how free will can exist in a deterministic universe. Well, after reading it, I have to say that as a Christian I don’t feel like I’m the one who’s burying his head in the sand. The only thing that it convinced me of was that many naturalists seem perfectly content to over-reach with their explanations when it comes to why life is meaningful, why we should be moral, etc.

    The thing that I couldn’t get over was that again and again Dennett refer to evolution’s “R & D” method. Now I know he wasn’t saying that there was a designer involved, but he’s still seem oblivious to his premise that there’s some foundational moral force in the universe that says it is better for one outcome to exist rather than another. It seems to me that the new atheists want to have to their cake and eat it too in this regard. They want the benefit of a moral universe, but they don’t want to admit that it’s a near impossibility to explain why it should be so within a purely naturalistic framework.

  • Joshua

    Actually, evolution *is* the problem to some people. I know a number of Eastern Orthodox Christians who cannot accept evolution because of their theology. To them, death entered the world with the Fall, and Jesus conquered death on the cross. To believe that evolution is true, they would have to believe that God was the author of death instead of believing that death was the consequence of sin, and if they do that then the central pillars of their theology fall apart; to them, it’s easier to reject science than to do that.
    And then, of course, you have the western fundamentalist types who think that if you accept evolution, you reject Genesis, and if you reject Genesis, then you reject the Bible, and if you reject the Bible, you may as well go out raping and pillaging.

    “Lightman roots his understanding of meaning in the golden rule, and in making a difference for others. And yet, as Krauss made quite clear, from a cosmic perspective not only do we each have a brief flicker of existence, but humanity as well has a but a brief flicker of existence. It is hard to get much meaning from those who live beyond us when the end is certain and final oblivion (according to science).”
    -I think this is brushing up against a line of thought that I come across frequently when speaking with religious people, yet haven’t been able to fully wrap my head around. A lot of people seem to have this idea that unless something matters *forever*, then it doesn’t matter at all. I don’t get that. I matter to me, I matter to a lot of different people who are alive now, and that’s strikes me as being enough. The fact that I’ll die, they’ll die, and eventually no one will remember that I existed, and that eventually the universe itself may end, none of that is important to *now.*

    I also have trouble with the idea that putting God into the picture fixes the problem with finding meaning. God may have made us with a meaning and purpose, but that’s only useful to us if a) we know what that meaning/purpose is, and b) we happen to care about that meaning. Lots of people who believe in a God struggle with part a); they have trouble determining what it is they think God wants them to do. Me, I struggle with believing that God exists in the first place, so I can’t even get to a).
    Once a) is solved, you have to face b). If we are indeed free agents, it’s up to us to decide whether or not we want to accept an external purpose applied to our existence, whether that purpose comes from another human, and animal, or a God.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately. And here is the problem: The essence of the objection to “naturalism” is one of meaning, but that itself lies more in emotional desire than in logic or evidence. It is (keep in mind, I know only enough philosophy to make a fool of myself, but here goes anyway) the “Kantian” impulse – but, but,…… Is it possible that that desire for meaning, importance (as opposed to the above quote “insignificance”) is part and parcel for the desire to survive, the impulse to keep the species alive etc?

    Or a completely different way of thinking: So, we only have meaning when we postulate a God. OK, which one? Well, the Christian one. So, by extent, all others that have found meaning in the transcendent – pantheists, worshipers of Amun Re, of Odin, Buddhist meditators – you get the drift. So, either they will suffer because of the wrong choice – and more likely, unfortunate birth, or it would have been all in vain, because they are all wrong, and will be annihilated, or they will be accepted anyway, because it is not their fault. So you are left with finding the “right” meaning because of chance, or a good outcome irrespective of meaning. Thus, the internal logic doesn’t hold. At all.

    Unless – meaning is a necessary construct that arises out of a combination of instinct and that wonderful occurrence, our self-awareness.

    Of course, some thought would lead to the conclusion, as AJG remarked that free-will is an illusion, and that complex determinism holds. Of course, we can only track it backwards, if we are lucky. So why be bothered about it at all?

    Furthermore, enjoyment can be reaped from life, we can suck the marrow out (thank you, Robin Williams :) ), we can marvel at the complex universe, and try and discover. We can find that balance which yields the best results – a touch of Hedonism, a touch of Epicurean enjoyment, a touch of Stoic contemplation. Too make friends with both Aristotle and Democritus…. and if others add transcendence, not to be bothered by it at all – after all, haven’e we been doing that for millennial?

    Is it too obvious that I have been influenced by Spinoza, Voltaire, and a little bit of Santayana? Of course, I you add Rev Thomas Bayes, Bacon, Godel, Shannon and Bellah in to the mix, you’d understand me too well… for now :)

  • greg huguley

    It’s always interesting to me that naturalists and Calvinists seem to have mirror image ideas on free will/determinism. Both essentially see freedom as an illusion, but both equally argue that you are “free” to do what you want/desire to do; yet those desires are determined–either by the laws of physics or by God. and then both agree on a deterministic framework, with no other options. sounds like a conspiracy to me ;-)

  • Dorfl

    @AJG

    I really doubt Krauss is a determinist. Quantum physics isn’t deterministic – unless you accept the many-worlds interpretation, that is.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Dorfl – but you still have Adequate determinism as an alternative. Also, can’t quantum physics be described as weakly deterministic, ie, you can predict many outcomes as a whole, but not one in particular?

  • Dorfl

    @Klasie

    True. Let me change what I said to “I really doubt Krauss is a hard determinist”.

  • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    RJS,

    While I agree with you whole-heartedly about the problem of naturalism, I must disagree with you that:

    • “There is no empirical proof for God, or for anything beyond the material world.”

    For one thing, such an affirmation contradicts Scripture:

    • Romans 1:18-20: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is PLAIN to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been CLEARLY SEEN, being understood from what has been made, so that men are WITHOUT EXCUSE.

    Such a stance also contradicts the findings of numerous atheists who, like Anthony Flew, claimed that they adopted theism because of the scientific evidence – namely, the evidence of biological, chemical, and cosmic design.

    It also contradicts corporate empirical observations. I would think that Jesus’ disciples – and they encountered the resurrected Jesus – would have disagreed with you about the alleged limitations of empirical observations.

  • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Joshua,

    You make some good observations and raise some appropriate questions. Let me just deal with one:

    • “A lot of people seem to have this idea that unless something matters *forever*, then it doesn’t matter at all. I don’t get that. I matter to me, I matter to a lot of different people who are alive now, and that’s strikes me as being enough.”

    I think that the “forever” part is secondary to the absolute part. If God is the source of all immutable truth, meaning, and love, then I want to be connected to Him. I want to define myself by Him – the truth – and what He thinks about me.

    We all seek self-definition whether through successes or the affirmations of others. However, in either case, our life depends upon our performance or the approval of others. This creates a dependence upon something that is unable to stabilize our lives and will result in bitterness and resentment when this need is not met.

    In contrast, I can be confident about God’s love and care. This can free me up to love others. For now you are satisfied that “I matter to me.” However, this will not last. We are made for more than that!

  • RJS

    T (#2),

    I think you are right – and the earliest version of this post was going to make that distinction (with more info on the intertwined threads). There are some real theological issues. But I think many (but not all) of our issues, even apparently theological issues, are rooted in this need to counter naturalism.

    The earliest version of this post was also going to be way too long – so I focused on just this one huge piece of the problem.

  • Phil Miller

    A lot of people seem to have this idea that unless something matters *forever*, then it doesn’t matter at all. I don’t get that. I matter to me, I matter to a lot of different people who are alive now, and that’s strikes me as being enough. The fact that I’ll die, they’ll die, and eventually no one will remember that I existed, and that eventually the universe itself may end, none of that is important to *now.*

    I would say that if there’s nothing of any eternal value, than having a philosophy of “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die!” is a totally sensible way to go about things. We can tell ourselves that we’re investing in our work now for the sake of future generations, but even then what are we doing that for? It’s hard for me to see how a completely materialistic view does make nihilism completely reasonable. I’m not saying that all materialists are nihilists. But I’m saying that there’s a disconnect between what people say they believe and how they live. People do not live their lives as if what they are investing in has no greater meaning.

  • Luke Allison

    Still haven’t heard an interesting explanation for the obvious “written-in” quality of death in the evolutionary process within traditional theological circles….

    Which is why I’ve been reading a lot of process thought recently.

  • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Phil,

    As C.S. Lewis so well pointed out in “Mere Christianity,” the materialist/atheist is unable to live in a consistent manner with their presuppositions. Life compels them to live as if there are higher moral laws. They’ll say things like, “You have no right to do that,” as if there are higher laws of which we are all cognizant.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Phil @ 13, the fallacy is that we are never “just” individuals – we are both individuals as well as members of communities. Also, we have the urge / instinct to preserve out community / species. Being self aware, most will recognize that current enjoyment can and should happen within the context of future enjoyment / survival of our offspring. Some people will be more aware than others – just like some are more kind than others, some are more intelligent than others etc etc.

    I am unaware of any data that bear out your assertion – in reality, just as much as there is a spectrum of people within religious communities from selfish to far-sighted, so within materialist communities.

  • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Luke,

    What’s the matter with the explanation of the Fall, resulting in separation from God and eternal life?

  • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Klasie,

    There is some interesting data that Barna.org revealed a few years back. He concluded that those who think like Jesus actually live more like Jesus. Hence, the problem is that few have spent the time to think like Jesus.

  • Adam

    C.S. Lewis also identified Naturalism as the problem and worked with it in Miracles.

    Here is an excerpt from his chapter on Naturalism, which coincides with Jeff Cook’s previous argument that our brains are proof of a supernatural being.

    “All possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning. If the feeling of certainty which we express by words like must be and therefore and since is a real perception of how things outside our own minds really ‘must’ be, well and good. But if this certainty is merely a feeling in our own minds and not a genuine insight into realities beyond them–if it merely represents the way our minds happen to work-then we can have no knowledge. Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true.

    It follows that no account of the universe can be true I unless that account leaves it possible for our thinking to be a real insight. A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, [22] and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished. It would have destroyed its own credentials. It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound–a proof that there are no such things as proofs–which is nonsense.

    Thus a strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: ‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true . . . and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.’ (Possible Worlds, p. 209)”
    -The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism

  • Phil Miller

    I am unaware of any data that bear out your assertion – in reality, just as much as there is a spectrum of people within religious communities from selfish to far-sighted, so within materialist communities.

    What assertion? That most people aren’t nihilists? I think that’s pretty much self-evident.

  • AJG

    True. Let me change what I said to “I really doubt Krauss is a hard determinist”.

    Quantum randomness doesn’t buy you free will; it only introduces randomness into the equation. I equate hard determinism with denial of free will which is consistent with the type of randomness introduced by quantum mechanics.

  • AJG

    While I agree with you whole-heartedly about the problem of naturalism, I must disagree with you that:

    • “There is no empirical proof for God, or for anything beyond the material world.”

    For one thing, such an affirmation contradicts Scripture:

    That’s not proof. That’s Paul’s supposition. Maybe he’s right and maybe he’s wrong bu it certainly doesn’t qualify as empirical proof.

    It also contradicts corporate empirical observations. I would think that Jesus’ disciples – and they encountered the resurrected Jesus – would have disagreed with you about the alleged limitations of empirical observations.

    So much of Jesus’ and the disciples’ lives are shrouded in mystery. It’s impossible to separate myth from reality. There’s no evidence that Peter was crucifed or that Paul was beheaded other than church tradition, and the early church had a vested interest in advancing that narrative.

    RJS is right. There is no empirical proof for God or the resurrection of Jesus. There are only stories. Stories != empirical proof. Believe in the Christian narrative if you wish (I certainly did for most of my life), but recognize that your belief is an act of faith and not of reason or empiricism.

  • RJS

    AJG,

    I agree with you on hard determinism, and I think Krauss is a hard determinist. Quantum uncertainty and chaos do nothing to undermine hard determinism.

    Most people intuitively are not hard determinists, but I find naturalism without hard determinism hard to reconcile. It introduces a cognitive dissonance on par with at least some of those arising from Christian faith.

  • Luke Allison

    Daniel, # 17

    “What’s the matter with the explanation of the Fall, resulting in separation from God and eternal life?”

    It doesn’t take into account the fact that death seems to be a natural part of the process of life, rather than a foreign enemy to it. I’m also not sure that this story in Genesis was meant to be (within its original context) an objective explanation for the problem of death in the world.

    In Genesis, the “Fall” isn’t referenced again after Chapter 3. Adam is a nonentity in the Old Testament.

    The “simple, straightforward” explanation of traditional Christian theology isn’t simple or straightforward enough.

  • AJG

    It’s hard for me to see how a completely materialistic view does make nihilism completely reasonable. I’m not saying that all materialists are nihilists.

    I think all materialists are nihilists but they are afraid to admit it, because nihilism has historically been perceived as a negative, fatalistic view of reality. I consider myself a nihilist in that I recognize that there is no absolute authority or morality from which we draw meaning, but I am not a pessimist about it. Life is what it is. We can embrace it and live our lives to the fullest or we can wallow in misery and self-pity.

    I’ve known plenty of believers who live miserable lives and I know many nihilists who live happy and fulfilled lives. The way you live your life has less to do with your philosophical belief system than with your personality and health. Having said that, I still believe that most people are better off holding a non-materialistic view of the universe. That view can be daunting and oppresive if the wrong type of person ruminates on that idea for too long.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Adam @ 19 – CS Lewis, much as I love him still, misses the boat here, I think.

    There are 3 possible counters:

    1. Spinoza’s G/g -od.

    2. The fact that real learning (by learning I mean more than just logic, but logic working on data) is more Bayesian than anything else.

    3. He (Lewis) would chain us up in the old egocentric prison, with only a God-of-the-epistmological-gap to unlock the gate. But how would we know that that God is real and not a figment of the imagination? The difficulty is the same, and the line of argumentation is therefore irrelevant. As Dawkins would say, why complicate things?

  • phil_style

    I’m inclined to also sit with Klasie that And here is the problem: The essence of the objection to “naturalism” is one of meaning, but that itself lies more in emotional desire than in logic or evidence.

    Yes, naturalism presents a nihilistic reality, and It’s one that I’m not happy with. But that has no power to determine it’s reality. It’s simply my very disappointed reaction to that potential reality. Wishing something to be “no so” doth not make it thus.

    This is wherewhy I yearn for a faith with true explanatory power, and not simply one that satisfies an emotional need.

  • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Luke,

    What if I were to show you that the Fall is subsequently referenced in both Old and New Testaments? Would that make any difference to you?

    Do you think that evolution offers a better explanation for our being programmed for death?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    AJG @ 25 – I think the issue is the negative perception people have with the word “nihilist”. It even sounds icky ;) . But you are quite right in your assessment, although I suspect that the jump to naturalism / nihilism will become more and more common, till we reach a point where that is the common pov. Then the fear would dissipate – after all, as I said at #16, we are communitarian beings. Adherence to a belief is facilitated, for most, by that belief being a communitarian belief.

  • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    AJG #22,

    Evidently, you do not have a high enough regard for Scripture for me to resort to it as evidence.

    So let’s take another look at the evidence from design and the many atheists who have come to a theistic position as a result. Is it possible that a certain degree or level of design could proved the case for God? Or does design say absolutely nothing about the Designer’s possible existence?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    phil @ 27 – but to add another layer of complexity, one which I alluded to at #5, is that that same desire is a necessary outcome of the combination of the physiological evolutionary process (the drive to procreate and ensure the species), and the complexity added thereto by our species becoming self-aware, thus, developing consciousness. If you keep that in mind, it becomes a bit like the deterministic quandary: Not worth worrying about.

  • Phil Miller

    If you keep that in mind, it becomes a bit like the deterministic quandary: Not worth worrying about.

    I guess… So again, why not simply eat, drink, be merry, and die? The only answer the naturalist can come up is that we don’t do that because our brains have fooled us into thinking that we actually matter.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Of course Phil – it also helps to laugh at ourselves, and how our self-awareness has led to interesting results!

  • Luke Allison

    Daniel # 28

    Obviously Adam is referenced in the New Testament.

    The main question for me is: “What is meant by ‘death’” when we discuss the Biblical concept of the Fall? Evolution and physical death go hand-in-hand. It doesn’t seem as if death is an enemy of the natural processes of life; rather, it seems to make them work.

    Could death in the Biblical narrative be something deeper and more existential than merely the physical act of dying?

  • AJG

    Evidently, you do not have a high enough regard for Scripture for me to resort to it as evidence.

    Now you’re moving the goalposts. RJS said there was no empirical proof of God. You disagreed with her by citing Paul. Evidence is not empirical proof.

    And besides, what evidence? That Paul thought the natural world is a testimony to God? I’ll grant that this passage is evidence that he believed it, but it is not evidence that his belief is true. Perhaps he was wrong.

    So let’s take another look at the evidence from design and the many atheists who have come to a theistic position as a result. Is it possible that a certain degree or level of design could proved the case for God? Or does design say absolutely nothing about the Designer’s possible existence?

    This number is dwarfed by those who rejected the idea of a God after weighing the empirical evidence. All that proves is that it is impossible to get 100% of people to agree on anything. There is no evidence of design that is not better explained by natural selection. When one answer to a problem requires belief in something that cannot be measured or detected and another can demonstrates its conclusion with verifiable results and can be explained in terms of things we know exist, the second solution is the superior option.

  • AJG

    I think the issue is the negative perception people have with the word “nihilist”. It even sounds icky

    I think it’s because of its association with Nietzche, a truly awful individual.

  • AJG

    The only answer the naturalist can come up is that we don’t do that because our brains have fooled us into thinking that we actually matter.

    Can you watch this and legitimately argue that you or I matter in the cosmic sense?

  • phil_style

    @Klasie ” it becomes a bit like the deterministic quandary: Not worth worrying about.”

    But I do, so therefore it is.

  • RJS

    AJG,

    Nice video.

    But size or scale and matter/don’t matter are not necessarily equivalent. I think in a purely naturalist view of the universe the scale does mean that we do not matter in the cosmic sense. If naturalism is not the full view of the universe – well then things could be different.

  • Phil Miller

    Can you watch this and legitimately argue that you or I matter in the cosmic sense?

    That gets to the heart of why Christianity is inherently scandalous and somewhat obscene in its very nature. It asserts that not only do we matter and have a purpose, but that Christ, the Creator of it all, died so that we may live. I don’t deny that on their face, they are pretty ridiculous claims. But yet, I just can’t deny the fact that I’ve had an encounter with the resurrected Christ. At its heart, I think that why Christianity thrives. It comes back to the same sort of encounters people had with Jesus when He walked the earth. We all have to answer “who do you say I am?”

    https://www.robbell.com/resurrection/

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    phil @ 38 – we all have our defects :) Seriously though, I understand where you are coming from. I’ve experienced the same, although it is decreasing in frequency…

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    I have to agree with RJS @ 39: Size is not really an argument. Phil – nice, but that whether an idea is scandalous, or comforting, or mundane, is not really an argument. The emotional reaction to something that sounds stupendous can fool in us in wanting it to be true.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Sorry for the triple post – in #42 I was referring to Phil @ #40.

  • Tim

    I think Evolution does cause some difficulties. Not insurmountable for a Narrative hermeneutic of Scripture by any means. But on the grounds of plausibility for one’s Christian faith, it doesn’t exactly help.

    One area it threatens is the common explanations we receive for why bad things happen to good people. Why there is death and suffering in this world. The common “traditional” explanation is of course that God created and desired the world to remain perfect. Free from suffering, disease, disorders, psychiatric illness, natural disasters, etc. This pins all the blame on humans, and one need not look to God as the source of this suffering. But with evolution, all of a sudden we are looking at God and asking why. Yes diseases such as cancer are an inevitable outcome of evolutionary processes, but would it not be an easy thing for an omnipotent God to stabilize our genome? Up our resistance to disease? Eliminate genetic disorders? Instead, we have a picture of a God that is either uninterested or unable to intrude in this manner into the natural realm. This seems to run counter to the Biblical picture where he is depicted doing just the opposite.

    And what of explanations for temptation? The Biblical explanation (particularly the gospels and the rest of the NT – which presumably is a more progressed narrative than the preceding OT texts) pins temptation on the Devil. Without evolution, you really do have to come up with an explanation for this internal struggle between one’s moral dispositions and baser urges. Why not posit a supernatural being or force that is inciting you to go against your better nature. Tempting you away from the good. With evolution, however, we have an explanation for this temptation. Our evolutionarily inherited dispositions include not just the pro-social but also lustful, aggressive, selfish, etc. tendencies as well. Appealing to Satan can then appear superfluous. In fact, I’ve never heard an explanation for how Satan is not superfluous given the fact of evolution. Why is he even needed? This is another difficulty evolution raises.

    And of course there are the issues evolution brings up about the authority of Scripture. Again, these issues are certainly not insurmountable, but they doesn’t do Scripture any favors. It seems obvious I think to most NT scholars that Paul really did believe there was a historical Adam, and that his fall was the source for original sin. Now, we can follow the message-incident principle and say all that was ancillary to Paul’s main point. Fair enough, and I agree. But we have now extended the envelope of scriptural fallibility beyond just the natural or historical, beyond even the OT texts where theological errors (e.g., “Herem” theology) could be attributed to a lack of understanding later to be illuminated by Jesus and the apostles. But we are now extending that envelope of scriptural fallibility to theological claims in mature NT texts at what is supposed to be the pinnacle of Scriptural revelation.

    So I would suggest that Evolution does cause some significant difficulties. It doesn’t mean that those difficulties cannot be grappled with. But I think we should be honest enough to own up to it.

  • Phil Miller

    Phil – nice, but that whether an idea is scandalous, or comforting, or mundane, is not really an argument.

    In some sense. But life isn’t really worth living with these things we can’t prove. For example, I would imagine most people would argue that love is real. But yet, there’s no way that love as an abstract concept can be proven to be something that is real.

    You may be happy to live in a universe where you believe everything that exists can be observed and tested, but the fact of the matter is that most people aren’t. So perhaps we all suffer from a mass delusion. It is a possibility. But I’d say it’s a certain sort of chutzpah to assert that everything that is knowable about the universe is within our ability to test and observe.

  • phil_style

    @Tim, a good case you make I think, for recognising that Evolution (naturalism aside) does create problems for the Christian, depending on how the Christian reads and reacts to the biblical texts.

    Over time, my response to both naturalism and to evolution with respect to both scripture and to faith in general has had to be influenced by others outside of my evangelical upbringing. I discovered Rene Girard, in the end , I really don’t know if I’m a naturalist or not. In his [RG] approach to scripture I find a method that is both helpful as a predictive anthropological tool as well as dealing with loads of questions about divine agency, the role of morally, the identification of “evil/ Satan” and the potential role of Evolution as compliment to the Christian faith.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNkSBy5wWDk

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJ0v0TESK4I : really starts at 2:00

  • Phil Miller

    In #45, my second sentence should say, “But life isn’t really worth living without these things we can’t prove.”

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Phil @ 45- I never claimed that everything that is knowable about the universe is within our ability to test and observe. As a simple counter-fact, a database containing all knowledge of the universe will be infinitely larger than the universe – for not only would it need to describe the position of every sub-atomic particle, and the relationships between particles and groups of particles, it would also need to do that throughout time.

    Again, as I stated, our states of happiness / unhappiness is often community defined. When the community at large, that is the species, finds ‘itself’ requiring transcendent explanations as a prerequisite for happiness, then most individuals would conform. When a gradual change happens where that requirement is dropped, you will reach a tipping point in which the requirement is limited to some individuals only. That is the natural “evolution” of an idea, a meme if you will.

    Sure we can describe love as an affinity based on a complex set of parameters, which may or may not include such factors as companionship, comfort, aesthetics, sexual desire etc etc, each of those being quite complicated themselves. It is easier to describe the entire grouping as “love”, and, knowing that complete rational analysis is virtually impossible (we can only approximate the 3 body problem so why worry about every detail of the “love” problem, unless it be academic), we might simply enjoy it.

    Note, I’m not ditching rational inquiry. What I am ditching is the accompanying angst. In my job I deal with uncertainty – in fact, it is one of the main concerns of what I do – quantitatively and qualitatively assessing uncertainty and trying minimize it. So maybe that has made me more immune to the angst that accompanies uncertainty, or the desire to have a simple formula that solves everything, that bridges all gaps….

  • AJG

    But size or scale and matter/don’t matter are not necessarily equivalent.

    I guess we disagree. The utter immensity of the universe is direct evidence that there is nothing special about earth or humans. I don’t see any way to defend the notion that humans inhabit an elevated position in God’s creation when we are just a speck of dust floating in an infinite sea. I remember the moment I first saw the Hubble Deep Field photo and realized that it sealed the deal for me in terms of trying to argue that humanity made a whit of difference. It was the final nail in the coffin for my Christian worldview.

    I read Nick Lane’s book on Mitochondria last year where he proposed the the evolution of eukaryotes was so improbable that it probably has only happened here on earth. At first, I was intrigued by his speculation that it might constitute evidence for earth being special. I then rejected that notion as pure speculation on his part. We don’t even know how large the universe is (infinite?) so how could he make any kind of estimate about the odds?

    Some may think this view of nature is depressing: that we are just here to witness our small bit part in the hitory of the universe and then we’re gone, but I think what we have learned is exhilarating. I pity those in ancient times who thought the earth was all there was and the heavens just sat above them turning like a giant clock. If only they could grasp a hint of reality! I suspect in a thousand years, we will be pitied by our descendants.

  • arcseconds

    I’m not sure how the existence of God can give meaning where there’s none without?

    Does it really take a transcendent, omnipotent being to validate enjoying seeing a smile on the face of a small child?

  • Phil Miller

    Does it really take a transcendent, omnipotent being to validate enjoying seeing a smile on the face of a small child?

    Of course not. But this isn’t an argument anyone is making. If temporary enjoyment is all we’re talking about when we say the word meaning, than one can say anything is meaningful. Heck, if a serial killers derives enjoyment from killing his victims, than I suppose that’s “meaningful” for him.

    What a naturalist can’t answer is why we should tell the child in your example why he or she special and is actually valuable.

  • AJG

    What a naturalist can’t answer is why we should tell the child in your example why he or she special and is actually valuable.

    The naturalist can say that the child is meaningful and valuable to someone. What else can anyone say? The Christian’s argument is that the child is valuable to God. Not much difference.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Phil – if everyone is special, no one is special.

    But here is a way of looking at your objection:

    We care for our species, because it is good for us. We have an instinct to protect the young (for instance). Occasionally, deviant members commit atrocities. We stop them. Everyone is valuable in the sense that life is inter-dependent, across species lines. My well-being not only relies on the well-being of my community here in Central Saskatchewan, but also on the well-being of humanity in general, and the natural environment we all depend on. In that sense, a child is valuable.

    The desire to declare things special that arises from Modern American Secular religion, underwritten by pop-psychology, self-help manuals and the like is but a hazy derivative of the prime drive for self- and species- and environment-survival we have.

  • Phil Miller

    What else can anyone say? The Christian’s argument is that the child is valuable to God. Not much difference.

    There’s plenty of difference, because, let’s face it, there’s plenty of children on the planet who don’t seem of much value to anyone, and it would be very easy for society to come to a place where we say it’s much better if these children are just left to die, or perhaps better yet, maybe it’s best if they never be born in the first place.

    If my value depends on other people’s assessment of me, than I can very quickly become worthless. History has proven this to be true again and again, unfortunately.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Phil, that line of reasoning is just as much against the existence of a deity as for it.

  • http://misoriented.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    Naturalism, it seems we all agree, is incompatible with orthodox Christianity. Is evolution? Would we not at least agree that is a *problem* for Christianity if not incompatible? There are many problems with Christianity as there are with any all-embracing theory. We might start with a perfect “ground state” of perfect plausibility, a world in which we found either clear evidence for a six day creation or clear evidence that Genesis was never meant that way; a world where miracles were corroborated, where Jesus left extensive writings and where the resurrection was the one event in history that everyone could agree on. In some sense, any departure from those conditions is a plausibility problem for Christianity. I think Tim’s comment 44 lays this out very well.

    For me, this hit home particularly when I read Pete Enn’s admission in *The Evolution of Adam* that both evolution in general and the absence of Adam and Eve in particular are problems. Yes, he hopes (expects??) that someday theologians can solve the problems, but I don’t think he claimed to have much in the way of a clear solution at present.

    I can’t understand the argument against materialism on the grounds that it removes meaning, makes us less special, or goes against our intuition. How can we ever use our desires as evidence for reality? It seems to me that some of the same people who say, in effect, “I don’t like hell (or suffering, exclusivism, or whatever), but what I like doesn’t matter, only the truth matters,” are singing a different tune when it comes to meaning, love, and transcendence.

  • http://misoriented.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    I’m afraid I may not have written what I meant clearly enough when I said that there are many problems for Christianity. I am not saying that any of these should make us doubt Christianity (though cumulatively they do that for me); clearly the world is never simple and the fact that there are problems with our understanding does not mean that a theory is wrong.

    (Sorry to double post — I wish we could edit our comments!)

  • Phil Miller

    Phil, that line of reasoning is just as much against the existence of a deity as for it.

    How so?

  • AJG

    Is evolution [a problem]? Would we not at least agree that is a *problem* for Christianity if not incompatible?

    Mike, I used to think there was a way to reconcile evolution and Christianity. I tried for a long time to see how the two could fit together because (a) I could see that evolution was a fact and (b) I was not willing to reject orthodox Christianity. After several years of attempting to do so, I came to the conclusion that it can’t be done (at least not to my satisfaction). What are we being saved from if not Adam’s sin? Death? Death seems to be a natural property of the universe. Entropy demands a beginning, a middle and an end to the story, and since entropy predates humankind, death predates humankind. Thus, God, if he exists, is responsible for death.

    Why would God have created a universe with such despair and loss built into its very fabric? How could this be a God of love? A cruel God I could understand, but a loving God? I can’t see it. Theologians have tried to rescue the character of God, but they all have fallen short, IMO. Dostoevsky, speaking through Ivan Karamazov, put forth the best argument against God I’ve ever heard with a simple question to his brother.

    “Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature – that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance – and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears: would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?”

    Anyone who would answer yes to this question would be rightly called a monster, and yet we let God off the hook with a simple “It’s a mystery. We just have to trust Him.” If man is truly created in God’s image then why does God seem to have a completely different view of justice than we do, sending beings of his own creation to eternal damnation when some of them are merely victims of their own geography? Deep down inside, most Christians know that a God like this can’t possibly be good without destroying what it means to be good, yet they suppress those feelings because the alternative is too costly from them individually.

    Deism is a possiblity in light of evolution and death, but that’s not the Christian God. The Christian God just doesn’t make sense in light of what we have learned over the past 200 years. The carpet is being pulled out from under God one thread at a time.

  • AJG

    How so?

    Because if you tell the child dying of tuberculosis in a Russian orphanage that she is valuable to God, the first thing she will ask you is “How can that be possible?”

  • Phil Miller

    AJG,
    A lot of the problems go away if you bring up if you consider that there are other possibilities beside eternal damnation. It seems to me that what you’re rejecting isn’t historic, orthodox Christianity, but something else, namely a very Westernized, Reformed version of the faith. I’d reject that, too, if I thought that’s what Christianity was.

  • AJG

    A lot of the problems go away if you bring up if you consider that there are other possibilities beside eternal damnation. It seems to me that what you’re rejecting isn’t historic, orthodox Christianity, but something else, namely a very Westernized, Reformed version of the faith. I’d reject that, too, if I thought that’s what Christianity was.

    Annihilation is nearly as bad as ECT. The only Christianity I could accept today is Universalism, but then Christianity has nothing more to offer than any other creed that adheres to the Golden Rule.

    Anyway, I’m bowing out of the conversation because we are moving away from the original topic of naturalism.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    AJG answered the question, Phil. Essentialy, it is a variant of the “problem of evil”.

  • arc

    Phil,

    My example was perhaps not the best example, because we’ve got sidetracked into whether or not the child is valuable. I wanted an example where the moment itself is valuable: another, hopefully better example would be someone listening to a beautiful piece of music.

    What I want to know is why something like this is any more meaningful under theistic assumptions rather than naturalistic assumptions.

    Now, you’ve raised the objection that a serial killer might find killing people enjoyable, and therefore meaningful. And I suppose we’d have to assume that God (normally) approves of listening to beautiful music (although there’s been plenty of people across the years who claim God has very limited tastes when it comes to music!) and disapproves of serial killing.

    But how does that help?

    I’m kind of reminded about that joke about three rabbis, one of whom disagrees with the other two on some matter. After arguing about it for some time, the recalcitrant rabbi prays to God, and a heavenly Voice booms out of the cloud in his support. The other two rabbis are silent for a little while, then one of them says “OK, now it’s two against two”.

    (there’s a similar story to this in the Talmud)

    I agree that meaning and value are difficult to account for under naturalistic assumptions, but I’m not sure they’re any easier to account for under supernatural assumptions. We can’t see the meaning in what we do, but we don’t want to say none of it’s meaningful, so we say it’s God that does it. But is that really answering the question of meaning, or is it just pushing it out to a mysterious realm so we can avoid thinking about it?

    (I can kind of feeling us skating towards Euthyphro’s dilemma, just around the corner.)

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Arc, it is as if you get rid of the God of the scientific gaps, only to create a God of the epistemological, ontological etc gaps. It is not really solving anything – possibly just making it more complicated.

  • arcseconds

    or in this case, value-theoretical gaps :]

    (‘god of the gaps’ came to my mind too while I was writing it. Strange I hadn’t thought of that before… it’s not completely analogous to the god of the scientific gaps, but there certainly are similarities. )

  • phil_style

    @arc, klasie,

    The “meaning” derived from pushing it up to the supernatural is, as you point out, fraught with potential problems. I’ve had to reconsider this prospect over time and I’ve started settling on a related, but hopefully consistent position (fingers crossed – it’s probably a load of nonsense).

    For us, meaning/ value is bound in time. It is fleeting, being constrained by our existence. Therefore, when we cease to exist, any “meaning” or “value” we carry with us about others is lost. Eventually, in time and space, as the human race disappears from the universe and eventually those whole thing grows cold, all “meaning” ceases – because meaning is only “for whom”.

    But what if there was someplace where value and meaning could be stored, or held, which was not affected by this loss process? This scenario would require some kind of all-remembering information bank outside of the time/space constraints that we are restricted by. In this sense, I think is where some kind of god figure helps to put some structure around the concept of meaning – not that is makes it objective – as tough that could somehow give it more weight in the here-and now (as the excellent story about the rabbits points out), but that it gives the meaning or the value an indestructible quality.

    The universe and all the things that mattered to it, would continue to “matter” even after it was gone, just as my grandmother continues to matter to me, even though she is gone.

  • Dorfl

    @AJG

    You’re right. It turns out I wasn’t clear on the meaning of the phrase ‘hard determinism’.

  • RichardG

    RJS @23

    Actually quantum randomness completely dishes determinism, hard or soft. Determinism is the principle that the Universe at time t is complete determined by it’s state at time (t-1). Quantum randomness means this isn’t the case.

    Quantum randomness is a different beast from classical randomness. Classical randomness is considered to come from our lack of knowledge – we could in principle work out which way the dice will land if only we know the exact starting conditions of the throw. Quantum randomness is in principle unknowable, and i think this makes it a profound challenge. The classical world, including Kant, started from ‘the principle of sufficient reason’ – that is, everything has a cause. But what about an event without a cause? – Why did that photon land exactly there? Who/what decided? To say ‘chance decided’ begs the question – what do we with think ‘chance’ is, if it isn’t a statement of our lack of exact knowledge?

    Of course jumping to free will or God isn’t justified by this evidence – but doesn’t it make you think?

    Sorry I went off topic, but I think this is important.

  • RJS

    Richard G,

    Quantum uncertainty is a different beast. From a materialist point of view it is an ontological part of nature, and part of the “determinism” of the universe. As it happens, this is my topic. I teach quantum theory at levels ranging from early undergraduate to graduate and my research focuses on manipulating quantum wavepackets.

    This quantum uncertainty doesn’t get us to free will or God – but I think it should make us think. John Polkinghorne makes this point, as does Owen Gingrich in their books. There is an openness, and this openness makes it hard as a purely scientific conclusion to eliminate God or mind from plausible reality. One can, as those I would term “hard determinists” do, make a pure naturalist assumption, and base all interpretation on that assumption. However, perhaps “hard determinist” isn’t the right term to use because it would be misinterpreted by too many.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    I see RJS got there before me: Richard, I would also refer you to the concept we discussed/mentioned earlier, sufficient determinism.

  • Tim

    AJG,

    “What are we being saved from if not Adam’s sin? Death? Death seems to be a natural property of the universe.”

    In the Bible there are two different conceptions of death. The first is physical, bodily while the second is spiritual, forensic. Your problem is that you’re thinking of the first kind of death while the biblical narratives that you once tried to reconcile with evolution are primarily concerned with the second kind.

    In particular, Adam in one sense “dies” after disobeying the commandment given to him in Gen 3 (see Gen 2:17) yet goes on to father Cain and Abel in Gen 4 and live for hundreds of years more in Gen 5. Similarly, Paul speaks of dying as a consequence of committing his first sin after learning God’s commandments (Rom 7:7-9) and John puts in the mouth of Jesus the statement that those who believe in him will not be condemned for they have passed from death to life (John 5:24). Evidently, “death” in this other sense means that one stands condemned because of their sins and is liable to the “second death” mentioned in Revelation (i.e., the lake of fire) while those who believe in Jesus have crossed from death (in this other sense) to life because they have been cleansed from their sins. From this perspective, Paul’s statement in Rom 5:12 that sin and death entered the world through one man means little more than that Adam was the first person who sinned (i.e., disobeyed the commandment given to him in Gen 2:17) and therefore “died” in this other sense. Additionally, for Paul, Adam’s disobedience in eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil explains why everyone else sins, as Adam’s disobedience explains why we all have knowledge of good and evil, hence also why we have the capacity to choose evil (i.e., sin).

    Here’s the punchline, the fact that both Paul and the final redactor of Genesis were mistaken in thinking that the stories found in Gen 2-4 are historically reliable is hardly a problem for traditional Christianity. For Paul and the rest of the NT, faith in Jesus is the solution to our own sin and not that of Adam, the fact that Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, etc. never existed doesn’t undermine Christianity’s central narrative in the least.

  • RichardG

    Thanks for the replies. Glad to be in conversation with an expert in the field. I gather that what I said was more or less right?

    I also gather that the term ‘determinism’ has taken on more shades of meaning than I have understood. I thought “determined” as a concept is pretty black and white. Either it is, or it isn’t. That there are multiple factors (both the wave function and its collapse, for instance) in causation is another debate .

    Klasie@71 I googled “sufficient determinism” and also did a search for it on this site, but couldn’t find it. Could you point me to where that discussion happened? Thanks.

    It’s interesting to muse that “Chance” and “God” can be interchanged in many sentences. After all, both “move in mysterious ways, there wonders to perform”; both are profoundly unpredictable; neither act in a way that appears to be always for the best. Yet, one or other of them put us on the planet and sustains us. Hallelujah!

  • Tim

    AJG,

    By the way, I highly recommend that you check out the work of the English developmental biologist Rupert Sheldrake. In my opinion, he has put together a compelling body of work that seems to rule out a materialist/naturalist worldview on empirical grounds in , e.g., his demonstration of the reality of telepathy (i.e., the non-physical transmission of information between minds) via his experiments on the sense of being stared at, telephone telepathy, dogs that know when their owners are coming home, etc. His latest book, “Science Set Free” speaks directly to the issues that have been discussed in this thread.

  • Tim

    AJG,

    “The only Christianity I could accept today is Universalism”

    You and Paul both (see Rom 5:18)! However, just because Paul believed that everyone would eventually be reconciled to God through Christ doesn’t mean that he thought everyone would be forgiven of the evil that they had done at the judgment. Eschatological punishment in the NT is no joke.

    “but then Christianity has nothing more to offer than any other creed that adheres to the Golden Rule.”

    Do any other creeds credibly offer God’s forgiveness of our evil and the prospect of partnering with him in his work of reconciliation? The question is, of course, rhetorical. There are no other creeds that credibly offer these things nor can a materialist worldview that denies the existence of non-physical moral categories even hope to approximate them.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Sorry RichardG – the word was adequate, not sufficient. Stephen Hawking commented on this. From wikipedia:

    Adequate determinism is the idea that quantum indeterminacy can be ignored for most macroscopic events. This is because of quantum decoherence. Random quantum events “average out” in the limit of large numbers of particles (where the laws of quantum mechanics asymptotically approach the laws of classical mechanics).[23] Stephen Hawking explains a similar idea: he says that the microscopic world of quantum mechanics is one of determined probabilities. That is, quantum effects rarely alter the predictions of classical mechanics, which are quite accurate (albeit still not perfectly certain) at larger scales.[24] Something as large as an animal cell, then, would be “adequately determined” (even in light of quantum indeterminacy).

    and

    Adequate determinism (see Varieties, above) is the reason that Stephen Hawking calls Libertarian free will “just an illusion”.[56] Compatibilistic free will (which is deterministic) may be the only kind of “free will” that can exist.

  • AJG

    Actually quantum randomness completely dishes determinism, hard or soft. Determinism is the principle that the Universe at time t is complete determined by it’s state at time (t-1). Quantum randomness means this isn’t the case.

    I disagree. Determinism means that the current state of events is completely dependent upon prior conditions even though quantum mechanics imparts a level of randomness to the equation. Laplace’s Demon is an impossibilty, but everything as it is had a prior cause even if it was not predicatable at the time.

  • AJG

    I will reconsider the term “hard determinism” though in light of the discussion. From a philosphical standpoint, a hard determinist is one who rejects the possibilty of free will as opposed to a compatibilist who allows for the possibility in some situations. QM doesn’t get you free will and I’m sure Krauss feels the same way. I don’t know of a single theoretical physicist who does given that all matter is reducible to particles and fields which do not allow for a “mind” that can influence them. If you reject the idea of a God, I don’t see how you can be anything but a determinist.

  • Tim

    With respect to the question of determinism, our current historical moment is not hard to describe. Before the 20th century the prevailing thought amongst physicists was that our world was like a very large (materialistic) mechanical clock governed by fixed laws that could be discovered by empirical science and described via the language of mathematics. However, with the discovery of QM that old mechanical view of the world no longer seems likely, even if it still cannot be completely ruled out (hence, AJG’s dubious proposition of a deterministic world that nevertheless enjoys a “level of randomness”). Indeed, we’re not quite sure what QM is saying about the world, everything is up for grabs again.

    My feeling is that the existence of non-physical minds is a corollary of the reality of telepathy (i.e., the non-physical transmission of information between minds), which has been empirically demonstrated by Sheldrake, Honorton, Radin, etc. If telepathy is real then our minds have to be non-physical, and if our minds are non-physical then somehow they are interacting with our physical bodies, which means that the old pre-20th century view of the world as a closed, materialistic, mechanical clock can’t be correct, as suggested by QM if not entirely proven. Of course, this line of reasoning doesn’t provide us with a theory as to how the physical and the non-physical can be mediated; however, it does tell us that such mediation does take place.

  • RichardG

    Klasie@76 Thanks for the clarification. I can’t agree with Steven Hawking, though. It is true that most quantum effects don’t make it to the macroscopic level. Most but not all – clicks on a geiger counter, grains on an underexposed photographic print, to name a couple of exceptions. That such effects could manifest in the mutation of a gene, or the workings of the brain (Henry Stapp, Roger Penrose etc) seem to me to be plausible. Steven wants to say that “completely determined” and “mostly determined” are close enough as to make no difference. But that small difference could make all the difference.

    AJG@77 Determinism means that the current state of events is completely dependent upon prior conditions even though quantum mechanics imparts a level of randomness to the equation.

    I agree completely with you formulation. My argument is that when “quantum mechanics imparts a level of randomness” it is converting complete determinism to partial causation.

    Causation is about “A gives rise to B”. “A + randomness gives rise to B” is actually a long way of saying “A does NOT give rise to B” or “B arises by chance, and A affected the likelihood”.

    I think RJS@70 puts is a good answer. If one assumes a naturalist cause for the random element, then one has a version of determinism again. But to do this is a leap of faith, as we have no idea what that naturalist cause might be.

  • Marshall

    “Evolutionary biology will stand or fall under the weight of the evidence.” Amen, game over. God is real and in the world; nothing hidden but shall be revealed.

    I think the key is teleology. Are we in the middle of God’s plan, of which the thrust is at best dimly seen? … but the arc runs from a ball of plasma to conscious beings. Or shall we say we have arrived already at the eschaton, when things have taken their final form. I see fundamentalists and naturalists in the same boat, denying the future and whistling in the dark.

  • RichardG

    AJG@78 I don’t know of a single theoretical physicist who does given that all matter is reducible to particles and fields which do not allow for a “mind” that can influence them.

    Have a look at this paper: A Neurophysical Model of Mind–Brain Interaction (http://www-physics.lbl.gov/~stapp/PTRS.pdf) – At least one of the authors is a real theoretical physicist (Stapp – google him).

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    RichardG, the assumption though seems to be that random = indeterminate. That is an interesting question. What about this statement: This result was achieved by a random number generator. Thus, something can be determined by the outcome of a random process. This is not classical determinism. But it is not philosophical/logical in-determinism either. I would therefore disagree with the outcome of your A gives rise to B line of argumentation. The outcome is determined, but not pre-defined, by a random process. Thus determinism can always be seen to work backward into the past.

    Furthermore, statistical laws determine the outcome of random processes – even though quantum processes are “random”, we can still determine the half-life of an element, for instance. What you seem to require is absolute LINEAR determinism – and that demonstrably does not exist.

    Also, on a more philosophical level, this could be reduced to another “God of the gaps” argument – the outcome of a random process could be generated/controlled by transcendent means, therefore it must be, thus God exists and naturalism is false. Hardly an argument.

  • Morbert

    To echo what has already been said:

    Even if quantum mechanics turns out to have stochastic elements, it is still a theory entirely described by physical laws. Free will, in the Biblical sense, is as incompatible with QM as it is with classical physics. Thus, free will, if it exists, must be posited as supernatural.

  • RichardG

    Thank you Klasie@83. These are subtle arguments, I hope we can find agreement.

    The outcome is determined, but not pre-defined, by a random process.

    This doesn’t scan for me. I get home from my walk the moment my father calls on the telephone – this is determined by a random process? Or should I say it was just luck? – ie, not determined at all.

    Determined and random are opposites by definition, except when randomness refers to lack of knowledge – ie the process is determined but I just don’t have the information to know. The point is that quantum events, as RJS@70 says, are ontologically uncertain, not just unknown.

    As for “The God of the gaps”, I promise I’m looking for a gap in our knowledge just to stuff God in it.

  • Morbert

    RichardG@85:

    That is correct. The uncertainty in quantum mechanics is ontological, or at least almost ontological (There are some deterministic interpretations out there). What is more important, however, is quantum mechanics is still formulated using physical laws. The schrodinger equation of quantum mechanics does not accommodate free will any more than Newton’s laws would. I.e. The state of a physical system is still wholly determined by the laws of quantum physics, even if the state is not an intuitive, “classical” state.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Richard – Morbert sums it up very nicely at # 86. That was part of my point in #83 – linear causality / determinism is not the only type of determinism. There is no reason why one should define non-linear and/or stochastic processes, which are governed by laws, as indeterminate / free will phenomena.

  • RichardG

    Gosh, I still don’t get it! Let me see if I understand your view correctly:

    Imagine I have a quantum driven device which on pressing a button gives me 1 or 0. Its physics is fully understood, the wave-function involved precisely known, the device is tested with millions of repetition and found to have no bias, and no auto-correlation of results.

    If I understand you correctly, this is a device which is fully described by the schrodinger equation, so it counts as ‘deterministic’. The fact that you can’t tell whether the next press is a 1 or a 0 only means that it is not “linear determinism”, but “stochastic determinism”. After all, you can predict aggregate results to any degree of accuracy, it’s only a matter of taking a big enough sample size.

    No scientist would say a dice is not understood, just because individual throws can’t be predicted. Even though all the atoms in my glass of water might be making ontologically unpredictable little jumps, I can be 100% certain that it will stay where I put it, because those little jumps are statistically bound to cancel out.

    Have I got it?

  • http://misoriented.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    I’m going to stick with the expert’s statement: “This quantum uncertainty doesn’t get us to free will or God – but I think it should make us think.”

    RichardG, I think you should do some careful investigation of the claims of telepathy etc. beyond the works of the authors who support it. There is probably a good reason that it is not accepted as true.

  • RichardG

    Mike@89 There is probably a good reason that it is not accepted as true.

    Actually I’m not the telepathy guy, but here’s Rupert Sheldrake’s take on the “good reasons”:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix2PX7KKSG4

  • http://misoriented.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    Sorry RichardG for the mixup! It was Tim who was talking about telepathy.

  • Morbert

    Richard (88),

    Yes, that is essentially it. Though I would not use terms like “linear determinism”, as it would be confusing in this context (Quantum mechanics is actually a linear theory, while the more classical chaos theory is a non-linear theory).


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X