evangelicalism, evolution, and the facts

NYTA recent article in the NYT talks about the collision between “beliefs and facts.” It struck a chord.

The author, Brendan Nyhan, argues that simply “knowing” scientific data, for example on evolution or climate change, isn’t as important as one’s beliefs and group identity–be it political or religious.

The force that determines where people eventually wind up is their ideology and the group to which they belong, which give them a coherent life-narrative.

Here is the key point of the article.

In a new study, a Yale Law School professor, Dan Kahan, finds that the divide over belief in evolution between more and less religious people iswider among people who otherwise show familiarity with math and science, which suggests that the problem isn’t a lack of information. When he instead tested whether respondents knew the theory of evolution, omitting mention of belief, there was virtually no difference between more and less religious people with high scientific familiarity. In other words, religious people knew the science; they just weren’t willing to say that they believed in it.

Mr. Kahan’s study suggests that more people know what scientists think about high-profile scientific controversies than polls suggest; they just aren’t willing to endorse the consensus when it contradicts their political or religious views. This finding helps us understand why my colleagues and I have found that factual and scientific evidence is often ineffective at reducing misperceptions and can even backfire on issues like weapons of mass destruction, health care reform and vaccines. With science as with politics, identity often trumps the facts.

Applying this to the question of Christianity and evolution, it’s not enough to “show people the facts” of the fossil record or genetics, even if in doing so some change of thinking results.

If anyone wants to re-educate evangelicalism about evolution, they need to do more than “re-educate” evangelicals–it takes more than slides and YouTube videos explaining the compelling evidence.

Education doesn’t correct bad thinking if one’s narrative relies on that bad thinking. One also has to offer an alternate coherent and attractive structure whereby people can handle these new ways of thinking without feeling as if their entire faith and life hang in the balance.

I wrote Inspiration and IncarnationThe Evolution of Adam, and The Bible Tells Me So with this process in mind. The “aha” moments series I am currently running lays out examples of others (and more to come) who have come to accept, for various reasons, an alternate “structure” for their theological narratives–specifically, how they read the Bible.

If you’ll allow me to get on my soap box, this entire evangelical dilemma comes down to: “What is the Bible and what do I do with it?”

Learning to read the Bible differently–in a manner that is consistent with reason, tradition, and experience (yes, that is the Episcopalian “three-legged stool” and 3/4 of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral)–is the key issue for evangelicalism in order to relax a bit about evolution and think through it rather than reacting and vilifying others.

Unfortunately, holding fast to familiar ways of reading the Bible is the core pillar of the evangelical narrative structure. And there you have the problem facing evangelicalism in a nutshell.

It’s a hard thing to let go of. But for those who are ready to, alternate narrative structures abound and many have found a good home elsewhere and haven’t lost their faith in the process.

The Historical Adam: It's Time to Stop Hiding Under a Theological Security Blanket
4 thoughts about the Bible as a "human book"
Adam’s Fall and Early Christian Notions of Sin
11 recurring mistakes in the debate over the “historical Adam.”
  • brianleport

    You’re right. I’ve found over the course of my life that new information doesn’t scare me because it is new, but I wonder about the consequences of the information and what it means for my view of the world. In some sense it is ok to move slowly in engaging the paradigm shifting block of information since the consequences are real life, but many refuse to engage choosing simply to ignore while acting as if they never heard the information in the first place. Quite insightful. Thanks for sharing. (Also, “the three-legged stool” is great.)

    • peteenns

      We all exercise some form of “information bias”, where we see the world in ways that make the most sense within our existing structures. But that doesn’t mean any thoughts we happen to have are fine as they are. Good point about the consequences of thinking.

      • BT

        In behavioral economics, we call that “confirmation bias”. Then there’s the “echo chamber effect” that we see resulting from that.

        Increasingly, we self select our news and information sources such that they confirm what we already think. We send our kids to Christian schools so they can avoid being challenged with competing ideas. We only engage other evangelicals in significant relationships.

        The result is that our available information set is limited, ironclad and only allows a certain mode of thought.

        Practically, how does a Christian push back on that without destroying community? I am not offended by others fundentalism, but fundamentalists haven’t seemed capable of dealing with people like me in the same way.

  • Erik Merksamer

    Yes! As I’ve made this journey, I often felt like I was doing something illegal. I felt like I was being subversive to my church.

    Thank you, Dr. Enns, for creating room for healthy growth.

  • Guest

    One important factor in this discussion seems to be missing. I can understand the goal and desire to define what the Bible is and what we do with it. I certainly share that interest. However, if that conversation is not connected more explicitly to worship its not likely to get far. This is something that I appreciated about the evangelical seminary I attended vs. the mainstream divinity school I went to. Both were great in their own ways. But I notice evangelical schools–even though they might not always be at the top and cutting edge of research–really care about the practical. They care that people are not just getting academic info, but that they learn how to be pastors. At least that has been my experience from attending different graduate institutions.

    The early church fathers cared more about how Scripture is profitable for the Christian life than the details about how it is inspired. They seemed less hung up on the difficulties. Not that they didn’t notice them. But that didn’t change the way they viewed “what the Bible is”. They knew what the Bible is. They saw it as the words of God and their focus was on how that reality encouraged a godly life. Over the centuries the Church has thrived on a variety of hermeneutical methods, including allegorical. I don’t believe that one interpretive approach is the end all. Sometime the quest to get those “literalists” to think differently can be just the other side of the coin–a quest for one right way of doing things.

    I really enjoy this blog and I can resonate with much of it, but I often have the question in the back of mind: what is the purpose here? To get people to believe in evolution? To get people to adopt different hermeneutics? Some of the most godly people I know happen to have ultra-conservative hermeneutics and believe in a 6 day creation. While sometimes wooden interpretation and misconceptions about the Bible can lead to unfortunate outcomes (e.g. not caring about the environment because its all going to hell anyway), that is not always the case. Nor does it make more progressive interpreters immune from possible dysfunctional implications of their own hermeneutics.

    In essence, I don’t see much of the evangelical community becoming interested in this conversation about science or “aha” moments unless it is more explicitly tied to worship and more explicitly tied to how it relates to profitability for “training in righteousness.” So what if I believe in evolution or not? What difference does it really make to my spiritual life and how I love God and neighbor? Christians throughout the centuries have been able to worship and follow God without knowing all these scientific details. I am not convinced that we will become better Christians simply because we have new data about history or science. 2 Peter says the eschatological Kingdom is where “righteousness dwells” (3:13). How does this conversation advance the ultimate vision? I am not saying it doesn’t, but those dots need to be more explicitly connected. As Paul said, we can have all knowledge, but if we don’t have love it means nothing. The fruit of the Spirit–the essence of the Christian life–is not contingent upon my knowing certain mathematical equations. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness . . . how does this conversation help us get there? Break it down for me.

    • peteenns

      I see what you’re saying, Karen, but I also feel you are missing a big issue here. How would you address someone who says, “I can’t worship God anymore and I don’t care about ‘training in righteousness’ because my theology has always been wrapped in looking at the Bible in a certain way–as being essentially literally true about history and science.”

      I’ve said many times that I don’t feel any responsibility to “get” people to believe evolution or the mythic nature of Genesis. I have many Christian friends who believe differently than I do and we’re fine. God is big and lining up our thinking is not my goal (actually, it’s more of an evangelical/fundamentalist goal—”here’s how things have to work…”). But I also know many people who struggle mightily with the Bible they have been given by their traditions. Maybe you can’t relate to that existentially (which is fine), but for them, your advice to focus on practical matters here would really not address their struggles. Or maybe I can put it this way: their struggles are THE practical matter they are dealing with, the gaping hole they feel between their faith and their mind or experience.

      • ajl

        That is exactly the situation I found myself. I was losing my faith because of the realities of history and science around me. So for me I needed a new way to view the Bible. I&I was very helpful in that way. However, Karens point is quite valid: if Christians only understand the deficiencies of the Bible what do they do with their faith.

        Bart Ehrman is actually quite on point with all of the data points in his observations. It’s his conclusions are what rattle Christians. What other believers really need is someone to point out the issues but at the same time assure them that everything is going to be okay.

        J. Patterson Smyth filled this niche at the turn of the century. He had a very academic approach toward errancy yet was a staunch defender of the Faith. I see people like Peter and Adam Hamilton stepping into this niche in our century.

        • peteenns

          I LOVE Smyth’s stuff. He was there long before any of us were. I used to assign sections of How God Inspired the Bible to my MDiv students at WTS to see an early example of an incarnational model of Scripture at work.

          Also, ajl, I feel that seeing the deficiencies in how we sees the Bible (not so much the Bible itself) is a necessary deconstruction for moving top greater spiritual maturity. And the next move, so to speak, will differ from one person to the next, and how and when people get “assurance that everything will be OK” will also differ. Some, I would say, have made “assurance” an idol that needs to be relinquished.

          • Guest

            Pete: that is an interesting statement that you believe seeing the deficiencies is necessary for moving to greater spiritual maturity. Those who deconstruct are more spiritually mature? It seems like a very different perspective on spiritual maturity than has been held by church tradition. But maybe you are thinking of some aspects I am not? It’s hard not to hear that statement as those who approach theology or biblical studies in a certain way are superior to others.

            As for assurance– the thing that comes to my mind is a student I had who took a class from a NT prof who was more historically critically bent. The student was not mentally prepared for what he encountered. It not only shook his faith but actually caused him to have a psychological breakdown and he almost had to drop out of school. I sometimes think that scholars who have processed all this stuff can forget how traumatizing it can be for some to encounter these things. Some teachers even seem to get a kick out of shocking their students. I think we have to remember to be gentle and be aware that some are more ready for information than others. We need to “accommodate” as God accommodates to our frailty. In this sense–while some might find their faith bolstered by realizing they can believe in evolution and still be a Christian–others might actually become atheist when they are presented with the same information about the Bible.

          • peteenns

            You’re way off base here in interpreting me, Karen. I’m actually a bit surprised, since you say you are familiar with my writings. Oh well.

          • Guest

            Well, I would have to say I am mostly familiar with I&I and this blog. The tone of I&I I tend to resonate more than the tone I sometimes find on this blog. It could just be the forum and format that gives me different impressions when I read things here. Albeit you wrote I&I 10 years ago and a lot happens in 10 years. I’ll have to read some of your more recent books and see if its a matter of difference in writing format (book vs. blog) or if it feels like a deeper kind of shift. I would be interested in hearing sometime how things have changed or not changed for you since that book. For example, on the topic of inerrancy–I noticed you had statement on the website where you address critics to I&I in which you give a definition for inerrancy and seem to still hold to it in some respect. But in more recent writings there seems to be a shift to discarding it entirely–and more of a willingness to refer to errors in the Bible in way you didn’t quite phrase it in that manner previously. I am not making a judgment about that. I’m just noticing what seems to be subtle differences. So perhaps my confusion in interpreting you stems from reading older work vs. newer work. Or maybe its just what gets lost in translation on a blog forum. Just my perceptions . . . and I don’t think I am completely daft. Nor do I think there is anything wrong with sharing those perceptions in hopes of gaining greater clarity on what a person actually thinks.

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            Those who deconstruct are more spiritually mature?

            Did Moses “deconstruct” when he questioned God’s plan to wipe out Israel and restart with him? Did Abraham “deconstruct” when he questioned how many righteous people would save Sodom? Did Jacob “deconstruct” when he wrestled and demanded a blessing? What I would guess is that there are some forms of deconstruction which are truth-seeking, and some which are vehicles for rationalization. Hence: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

      • Guest

        Pete, thanks for the comment. That is helpful. I wonder if there is a way to bring out that objective more clearly? What I mean is–the way this conversation often unfolds, even on this blog, is that it can feel like dissing on conservatives. But, if your goal is to actually bolster people’s faith by helping them to see they don’t have to abandon intellect, then that is something that would resonate more with evangelicals. They might not agree with the way that you are proposing things, but they could certainly connect with your desire to see people grow in their faith.

        While the connection might be very clear to you since you know your own heart, your underlying intention (as I understand it) is not always transparent. And I think it would be very helpful to your cause for people to see the heart-factor that is behind the motivation for discussion. For example, I really appreciate your work and can resonate with a lot of it. But even though I have familiarity with it, I still got the impression from reading this blog that you want to push people to believe in evolution, and that conservatives are simple-minded for not believing in it.

        In other words, I think its how things are framed. It seems like the conversation is framed as “This is how conservatives are missing the boat and we need to point out where they have gone wrong.” But I think a more helpful way to frame it is “For those who are struggling to know how science and history relate to your faith, here is why you can still believe.” This subtle shift would make the conversation seem less reactionary. At least that is from my own perception.

        As for me–my existential crisis came more from personal experience where certain realities in my life that the church always told me could never happen to a Christian did happen me. That shook up everything I believed about God and Christianity. Ultimately, it was a good thing because it forced me to really think about what I believed and why. I also found that the more I studied the Bible, the more I saw things that were different from what I had been taught from the pulpit. Since I grew up in fundamentalism and can speak that language, I have a desire to help that community better read and understand the Bible.

        • peteenns

          hmmm…. seems like you had an aha moment :-) Maybe you’ll want to write about it ;-)

      • BT

        Keep on writing from that perspective. Had something like this been around 30 years ago, it would have saved much searching and consternation. I’m one who nearly jettisoned all faith, precisely for the reasons you give. It took me 10+ years to sort it out. (Although I think I’m still sorting…)

    • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

      Karen ~ don’t you think a faith that that endures through honest application of reason and science will be better off? I’ll put it this way. The cognitive dissonance I would have to live with in simply ignoring vast swaths of science and evidence would not be edifying to my faith. It would cause alot of spiritual constipation, for lack of a better word. I’m only speaking for myself here. But for me, it has nothing to do with supernaturalism vs. naturalism, miracles vs. natural phenomenon. I’m perfectly open to spiritual claims and mystical experiences of God. What it boils down to is: am I going to be honest with the facts, or am I going to manipulate the facts to fit my preconceptions about Biblical interpretation? It is not profitable to demand that Christians reject very grounded scientific evidence in order to uphold a certain understanding of Scripture. I have personally profited from Christians who spotlighted ways of being faithful and intellectually honest. But it’s not just about science and evolution. It’s about how we deal with new information in general. A renewal of the mind is absolutely necessary. . . a destruction of the mind is not. You brought up a good point about worship – we worship not just with the heart and the spirit. We worship with the mind (Matt. 22:37). I can’t set that side of myself aside when I come before God.

      • Guest

        Justin–I completely affirm what you share here. And I agree that we bring our mind before God too. As for a faith that endures through honest application of reason and science–I think some people need to wrestle with different things. For some people science is not as big of an issue or existential crisis. For others it is. We all have different journeys. There is a balance to everything–some forget the importance of the mind, and others forget the importance of the heart. I live in the world of the academy so I encounter more of the latter, and perhaps that is reflected in my concern.

        • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

          Oh, I totally understand that – I also study and work in academia. I wouldn’t disagree with that observation at all. I guess I was thinking more of the general evangelical culture. When I was an undergrad studying at a Wesleyan liberal arts university, I found I was more impatient about these conflicts over evangelical stubborness on scientific matters (primarily among fellow students), because I could take as a given the ubiquity of strong spiritual lives. Nowadays, I can’t take that for granted any longer.

  • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

    Allowing for diversity of opinion in churches on this matter is the first step, not necessarily a full-throated campaign to “re-educate” (most evangelicals’ hackles would be up at that word anyway). So I think your analysis of the deeper issue is spot on. The more that the message is “the church urgently needs to change,” the more conservative evangelicals are going to “stand firm” because they will associate intransigence with fidelity. But if the message is “I see it differently than you, and I am still your brother. . .” Most respond well to that.

    I mean, that is basically how this issue has been treated over the years among my own circle of family and friends: as an issue on which there can be genuine disagreement without breaking fellowship. As long as there is fellowship, as long as the issue isn’t treated as an orthodoxy deal-breaker, then people live their lives together and disagreements become “safe” conversations among friends rather than epic battles between good and evil worldviews. And over time, “this is an absolute, foundational truth” becomes “I see your point, maybe it’s not that simple,” and then finally, one fine day, you can watch a David Attenborough documentary together with the confidence it won’t start a fight.

    The issue can be treated as a second or third tier issue. This is especially true with the age of the universe and Earth, since that doesn’t really even really have implications for Christian theology at all (at least not in the way that evolution does). And at this point, the tactics of the far right evangelicals at places like Answers in Genesis in questioning the faith of those who hold to an Old Earth is grating to even most conservative evangelicals. Conservative evangelicals admire people such as Francis Collins representing Christ in prominent positions. They are proud of that, and even if they disagree with Collins on evolution, they don’t want to see Collins’ faith undermined. However, while I’ve seen this forbearing attitude at a grass roots level, I haven’t seen much in terms of church leadership. That timidity has been disappointing. I’m not holding my breath to see evangelical churches openly embrace the science anytime soon, but a reasonable short term goal is a culture of gracious allowance for disagreement.

  • Jordan

    1,000 years from now, people will laugh at both Darwinian evolution and young earth creationism.

    • LorenHaas

      That’s funny!

    • John

      Probably true.

    • Kathy K-m

      People who don’t live in the U.S are already laughing at young earthers. But kindly, as though they are our intellectually challenged young sibling, who really don’t known any better, and can’t help it, if they aren’t the brightest bulbs in the marquee.. :-)

    • http://www.squishlikegrape.com/ Bruce Alderman

      What, are they going to bring back Lamarckianism?

      • J. Inglis

        Actually, epigenetics could be described as a form of Lamarckianism in that acquired features (using that term loosely) are passed on to offspring.

      • Jordan

        Who knows? I imagine a teacher saying something like, “In the 21st century the maintstream explanation of life’s origins was Darwinian evolution. Of course they had not yet discovered ___ or realized ___. They did their best with what they could observe at the time.”

        • http://www.squishlikegrape.com/ Bruce Alderman

          Technically, the mainstream explanation today is not strict “Darwinian evolution”, but the modern evolutionary synthesis, which combines Darwin’s work, as well as Mendel’s research in genetics, with subsequent work drawn from several branches of biology.

          • Jordan

            Excuse my imprecision. I avoided biology like the plague.

          • http://www.squishlikegrape.com/ Bruce Alderman

            And yet you feel confident saying that future generations will laugh at the conclusions today’s biologists have reached?

          • Jordan

            Sure. We laugh at the idea that the sun revolves around the Earth. Evolution is no different. As knowledge increases, our perspectives will change.

  • Darcia Routh

    I think you all have missed the point. Well trained and educated scientists who practice science every day, be they theists or atheists, don’t speak in beliefs, they demonstrate natural phenomena. As a technical manager (and progressive protestant paleontologist), I am always editing out any “belief statements” in our reports and conclusions. Religious scientists are often confident of the science behind evolutionary theory, but are disciplined enough to use science and not religious language to describe it. Do I “believe” in evolution? No. Am I confident it is the best of all possible scientific explanations of the history of life on Earth. You bet.

    • MattB

      Do you believe in Jesus?

      • Darcia Routh

        Yes, I do believe in the Jesus of the gospels and I also believe that Christianity, while intimate and personal, is public and based in community. I’m an Episcopalian, though I was raised Missionary Baptist (ABA) and was a Presbyerian (PCA) music director and a graduate student and faculty specialist for IVCF for many years.

        • MattB

          Awesome! I am a Christian too who belongs to a Southern Baptist Megachurch.

    • J. Inglis

      They may not speak in “beliefs”, but they have them. Moreover, knowledge is warranted true belief–knowledge doesn’t exist without belief.

      • Darcia Routh

        It’s not always THEY, in many cases, it is WE. Scientists believe all sorts of things. The best applications of the scientific method are rigorous about language as well as research methods. My point was I don’t wear one face during the week and another on Sundays. I have a Masters in both geology and theology.

      • John

        Correction: Some philosophers define knowledge as warranted true belief.

        • Chris J

          The philosophical debates about “knowledge” are all about the justified/warranted part. Folks like Gettier came up with various counterexamples where someone had a true belief and a justification for it but the justification didn’t hook up in the right way with the actual fact. No one denies that knowing a proposition involves believing a proposition (plus some other conditions).

        • J. Inglis

          It’s the traditional tripartite definition of knowledge (see, for example, the articles on knowledge in the Stanford Encyclopedia of knowledge). The Gettier problems suggest that the tripartite analysis is not a sufficient basis for knowledge. However, the issue is not that the JTB analysis is insufficient to understand much of what we consider to be knowledge, but rather that there are some things that we consider to be knowledge that are not fully analyzable by the tripartite approach.

          However, for the type of knowledge in view here (scientific knowledge), the tripartite approach suffices and is an effective analysis. Consequently, my point–that refusing to speak or write using the term “belief” does not mean that beliefs do not exist nor that they are not being used–stands.

          Belief statements (I believe that . . .) are often surrogates for conclusions or assumptions, and if so then they should be rewritten that way and supported appropriately.

  • Alice

    Well, in college, I made the highest marks in my biology class on Evolution and biodiversity. On the test that specifically was about evolution, my grade was almost 10 points higher than the next highest grade, in a class of almost 200. I’m an accountant. I did not major in biology. However, I could understand what they were saying. It was my easy, fun class that semester, in which over half the class failed. It wasn’t fun or easy for most people, I guess.

    At some point, I realized that Evolution doesn’t make God any smaller. In fact, it could make him bigger. What is harder? Building something, or engineering a machine to build things? My understanding of the origins of the universe does not impact my belief in God, anymore than my understanding of subatomic physics does. (Good news for an accountant)

    On the other hand, Evolution is a scientific theory, with some holes in it that need to be filled. I feel like anytime someone pokes at the holes, they are put down as just being a religious fanatic. I think we need to take science out of the political and philosophical realms. You don’t “believe in” science, any more than you believe in mathematics. It just is. Belief is a philiosophical statement. To me, it sounds like religious people are just less likely to make a philosophical statement about something that is not philosophical in nature.

    • MattB

      I’m not sure I would agree with you on the word “belief”. Science involves belief. A belief is justified by evidence or reason.

      • Nick

        No a belief requires no evidence, that’s what makes it different from an observation. I don’t believe it is day or night, I observe it.

        • MattB

          That’s not what the definition of a “belief” is. A belief is 1) An acceptance that a statement or proposition is true or that something exists or 2) trust, faith, confidence in something. You believe it is day or night because there is evidence via the five senses. I believe in Jesus based on the evidence.

          • John

            Matt, the definition of belief that you posted is exactly what Nick wrote. Notice that in the definition you posted there isn’t anything about justification.

          • MattB

            John, what I wrote, did not at all agree with what Nick said. Nick thinks a belief doesn’t require evidence. So he basically is saying that he a belief is subjective and that is not entirely true. A belief can be “objective” depending on what it is you are believing in.

          • John

            Matt, I think you are missing the point. The definition of belief has nothing to do with warrant or justification. Re-read the definition you posted. Belief is the acceptance that a statement or proposition is true (your own definition) – whether that belief is warranted or true is entirely inconsequential to the definition of the word belief.

          • MattB

            But a belief can require justification or warrant. There must be some reason as to why you hold to a belief or beliefs(s) That was the point I was trying to make.

          • John

            By definition a belief never “requires” justification or warrant. The word belief says something about the subject, it does not say anything about the object of belief. A person can as well believe that water has a single oxygen atom as they can believe that the moon is the eye of a lupine space monster. Both may or may not be justified. It is unrelated to the meaning of the word.

          • MattB

            Okay. I’m sorry for the confusion of the definition. But there must be some reason why one holds to a belief, which is what I was trying to get Nick to see. You don’t come out of you’re mother’s womb and say “I’m going to believe in evolution.” You must have some sort of knowledge or reason that leads you to believe that proposition is true. Knowledge is justified true belief. So it’s not entirely correct when you say “A belief never requires justification.” It depends on if you’re making a truth claim.

          • John

            No, a belief never requires justification. Knowledge might (although not every philosopher would agree with your definition of knowledge). Belief does not. If belief entailed justification, there would be no need for the superfluous term knowledge.

          • MattB

            So if someone says “I believe young-earth creationism is true” you’re saying they don’t require any justification for that claim?

          • John

            I have been saying – I had though rather clearly – that the word belief does not entail justification. Belief does not require justification by the definition of the word, which you were kind enough to post for us.

          • MattB

            But that’s not what you’re last comment suggests. You claimed a belief never requires justification.

          • John

            I’m sorry Matt, but at this point I either have to believe that you have a reading comprehension problem or are just being argumentative because you don’t like being wrong. Belief does not require justification. And frankly, a freshman level course in philosophy would inform you of that. Good evening.

          • MattB

            John, I don’t have a reading comprehension problem. You corrected me on what I posted and then made an error in which I was correcting you. I admit I’m not always right, but in this case I was. I’m sorry if I came off rude which I wasn’t trying to be. But almost any philosopher will say belief requires justification or reason

          • John

            No, almost any philosopher will not say that. I recommend you start here for a brief introduction:

          • MattB

            Thank you for the link. I’ve read this before.

    • Nick

      The holes are being filled in by scientists, every single day. It’s when people use holes as justification to ignore reality that they are religious fanatics.

  • copyrightman

    So, I don’t disagree with your broader point, but I do want to push back a bit against the presumptions — “beliefs” — inherent in the sort of law-and-behavioral-studies kinds of scholarship you cite here. It’s fashionable in legal scholarship circles these days to focus on these sorts of cognitive biases. That’s all well and good if we’re just looking for some insights about ways in which we might improve deliberative processes and so-on. But law-and-behavioral-psychology / behavioral economics / cognition folks like Kahan often have a broader agenda: they think just about everything ordinary people believe about stuff like “law” and “values” are ephiphenomenal bits of “folk psychology.” Really, they don’t “believe in” “law” or “values” as notions with any sort of objective referent at all. (I don’t know that this is the case with Kahan in particular, but it is, in my judgment, a common feature of the “law-and-behaviorism” movement).

    This seems to me deeply problematic, and indeed self-defeating. What about the law-and-behaviorist’s _own_ cognitive biases? Aren’t _they_ predisposed to believe their _own_ just-so stories? Or are _they_ the only ones who have been able to step out of the shadow’s of Plato’s Cave and into the light of real self-knowledge? But what would self-_knowledge_ be for them anyway? None of the arguments I’ve seen from any of these folks who want to preserve some notion of rationality and free will convince me that their own presumptions avoid the problem of “turtles all the way down.”

    With respect to your application of this to theology, Biblical Studies, and church culture, Pete — yes, I agree, of course, that many “religious” people, including many conservative evangelicals, seem to exhibit a cognitive bias in their apparent inability to accept the empirical evidence of biological evolution or climate change because of their theological / political beliefs. But I _don’t_ think the answer lies in buying into someone like Kahan’s behaviorist epistemology, which IMHO inevitably leads to nihilism. The “answer” must lie in _better_, i.e. more robust and truthful and faithful, theology. It is finally _theology_ that gives us confidence in the reality and stability of the universe and therefore in the reliability and stability (taking into account human errors and biases) of empirical observations. (This is _not_, I should note, the same thing as Reformed Epistemology or Reformed presuppositionalism — but those distinctions take a chapter of my doctoral dissertation to make…..)

    • peteenns

      Thanks, D.—and please don’t cut and paste a chapter of your dissertation here :-)

      • copyrightman

        It’s a page-turner, I’ll tell you….

  • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

    Dr. Enns, do you think it is perhaps the case that one’s conception of ‘the good’ unavoidably impacts how one interprets the facts? As you know, Enlightenment thinkers claimed that this doesn’t happen, that we can just become ever more rational. Alasdair MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality? damaged that idea quite a bit, but the Enlightenment attitude sticks around. Randal Rauser’s Theology in Search of Foundations may shed some light:

    According to Ellen Charry, the first millennium of the Church was dominated by a ‘sapiential theology’ which seamlessly integrated knowledge and goodness in keeping with its Hebraic and Hellenistic origins: ‘In a Hellenistic environment, knowledge is true if it leads us into goodness, making us happy and good. The idea that knowing good things makes us good implies continuity between the knower and what she knows. It is not simply to be cognizant of the truth but to be assimilated into it’.[5] As a result, sapiential theology sought to gain the knowledge of God by which people might live in the truth. By contrast, our world today is remarkably fractured. Charry traces the fracturing of theology to the rediscovery of Aristotelianism in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, at which point theology adopted a highly technical, rigorous, and specialized approach that subtly switched its primary focus from sapientia to scientia. As a result, the medieval scholastic was constrained to search for scientia, a knowledge which is both incorrigible (it cannot fail) and indubitable (it cannot be doubted) and which, while formally excluding first principles, included all the deductions from intuitive first principles. (9)

    • peteenns

      In a word, yes. The “good” is interpreted, of course, through cultural-sociological-and psychological lenses, our place in time and space, our communities of meaning, so to speak. Which is one reason, for example, why I feel we can and should learn well from past iterations of Xian theology but not feel as if any past era (Church Fathers, Puritans, 1970s evangelicalism, whatever) hold the key for the present. I think it’s hard for many to walk that line, but we’re only human. That’s also why I feel holding our theological constructions with an open hand is important.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        Would you provide some suggested reading on this topic? I am aware of the claim that all observations are theory-laden, but I am not very well aware of how our conceptions of ‘the good’ are part of that “theory-ladenness”, as it were. I do have Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self and R. Scott Smith’s In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy. I’ve read a bit amount of sociology lately (Berger and Ellul), so I know how society can deeply inform one’s thinking and beliefs. But I can’t fit in one’s conception of ‘the good’, explicitly, into this understanding. It still seems too distant. (This probably means I’m quite infected with the is–ought problem.)

        • peteenns

          Luke, dude, seriously…I fell asleep half way through your question. I’m glad there are people like you to figure this stuff out, and I’m happy to wait in the wings for you and others to tell us what “the good” is/means and how to get to the bottom of it. This is why I always gravitated toward biblical studies. It’s got it’s own problems but “texts in context” is such a happy place for me to hang my hat :-)

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            Yes, that the Body of Christ is composed of very different parts is a much-under-appreciated fact. :-p The reason I’m so interested in this particular question is that many seem to believe that ‘the facts’ are 100% divorceable from ‘the good’. This line of thinking can only lead to terrible places.

  • Mark K

    Pete, your point about the three legs, which incidentally I’ve lately been immersed in while reading Craig Allert, is something I’ve felt to be necessary for some time and one reason I left evangelicalism for the Episcopal church.

    This post is both interesting and informative, although I cannot accept it at this time since I haven’t forgiven you for the teaser on The Bible Tells Me So.

    • peteenns

      Jesus says you have to forgive me 70×7.

      • Mark K

        Well, OK, But ima take my time.

      • MattB

        That’s a lot of forgiveness:)

  • Jeff Y

    Great analysis. I especially think the last four paragraphs hit at the crux. That said, I do think facts do matter more than the above linked article indicates. It really was been the overwhelming facts, for example, that finally convinced people to give up the flat earth / geocentrism that went on for centuries. I think that many believers with whom I talk not only need an alternative structure, but don’t even see a need to because they think evolution has been defeated by the likes of Behe, Ham, etc. So, I would say a combination is important.

    Many with whom I talk and teach – will give an ‘okay’ to what I say about Genesis but since they also think evolution has so many holes in it – they are not motivated. I think that the stronger the evidence for evolution that comes out, the more that will shake some to realizing that perhaps they do need to rethink how they have been reading the Bible.

    A final thought – re-reading Genesis 1 in its ANE context is a great step to re-imagining a different framework for the whole of Scripture; so, if that can be impressed – it can be greatly transformative. In a positive direction, imo.

  • James

    “Education doesn’t correct bad thinking…” I think you can also say, education doesn’t mess up good thinking, if one’s narrative is the product on that good thinking. You say the author found our “ideology” and “the group” to which we belong give us a coherent life narrative. If that’s true, even scientific “facts” need to filter through that grid if they are to provide the coherence we need. Otherwise, they may be little more than mush on a crashed hard drive. What a relief to retrieve all that data and return it to its proper programs. I just enjoyed that awful experience today! I’m no philosopher but I suspect inductive and deductive thinking need to go together, especially if we call ourselves Christian.

  • Brian

    Both evolutionists and creationists ignore the evidence or lack there of. There are holes in the evolution theory when it comes to speciation. Even Darwin talks about the theory having to be backed up with transitional fossils. However science expects it to be accepted as fact and if you question then you are a moron.

    • Nick

      And then it was backed up by transition fossils

      • Brian

        What transition fossils? Been a while since college biology. Perhaps I am using wrong terminology. I am referring to fossils that prove speciation not transitions within species.

        • Pixie5

          When did you go to college? In 1900?

          I have a great deal of trouble believing that you did not learn about transitional fossils, unless you went to a Christian college.

          Most likely you have bought into the flawed notion that the transitional fossils are just examples of changes within species. Also the idea of using the word “species” to cover life forms over billions of years is simply wrong. It is a construct to help us understand and classify plants and animals,, but it is not particularly useful over long periods of time as everything is changing into something else. But that does not mean that you cannot derive evolutionary trends and patterns by looking at fossils.

          From http://www.rationalwiki.org/wiki/List_of_transitional_forms

          “Another mistake/lie made by creationist is that a transitional fossil has to be the direct descendent of one species and the direct ancestor of another. What they do not understand is the true definition of a transitional form. A transitional form illustrates an evolutionary link, as it can have features of two species, but have no other species as descendants. For example, your mother would be a ‘transitional form’ between you and your grandmother, as she shares traits with both of you. However, if your mother had a sister, she would also be a “transitional form” between you and your grandmother, having traits from both of you.

          For example, apes and humans split from a common ancestor seven million years ago and both lineages are still around.

          For this reason the concept of “missing link” is a misleading one. A transitional form does not need to be a perfect halfway house directly linking one group of organisms to another. “It merely needs to record aspects of evolutionary change that occurred as one lineage split from another.”[11]”

          This site has a larger list of transitional forms http://www.transitionalfossils.com

          “Apes – humans”

          “Most ape-like at the top (though in a technical sense, humans are still considered apes). Images and diagrams of the fossils here.

          Sometimes called “the only transition which matters”, this mustn’t be thought of as a transition from chimps to humans, but rather, as a transition from the-common-ancestor-of-chimps-and-humans to humans. Chimps themselves have had time to evolve and change since we parted ways, and so “the ancestor we last shared probably differed substantially from any extant African ape” (White et al, 2009).

          Ardipithecus ramidus ~4.4 million years ago Ardipithecus ramidus had a brain the size of a chimp’s, but probably walked upright on the ground, while still able to go on all fours in the trees, where it would find its opposable big toe useful (Gibbons, 2009). Australopithecus afarensis ~3.6 mya Australopithecus afarensis was a more advanced walker, with nongrasping feet (White et al, 2009), but it still had the brain size of a chimpanzee (Dawkins, 2009). Probably not a direct ancestor of modern humans (Rak et al, 2007). Australopithecus africanus ~3 mya Similar. Homo habilis ~2 mya? Homo habilis had a brain about 50% bigger than a chimp’s. The fossils are found with a variety of stone tools; this is the earliest human which we’re sure used tools (Coyne, 2009). Homo erectus ~1 mya A tool-maker, Homo erectus had a brain size of about 1,000 cc, still smaller than our own (Dawkins, 2009). Homo heidelbergensis ~0.5 mya Homo heidelbergensis had a brain size approaching our own, and shows a mix of Homo erectus and modern human features (Coyne, 2009).”

          If you don’t think that an upright-walking human with a brain the size of a chimp isn’t a transitional form, then what is?
          Also why do whales have a pelvis and arm and leg bones if they did not evolve from land animals? They even have digits (finger-like bones).

          • Darcia Routh

            Just sticking to vertebrates for now, and off the top of my head: lungfish, Archaeopteryx, and especially whales. Since whales are marine and Cenozoic (recent) their fossil record is extensive. Case in point, this link: http://ocean.si.edu/ocean-videos/evolution-whales-animation

          • Daniel Fisher

            I have to agree with Brian’s take on the video – One animal is a completely land-based animal that hunted in water. in the next one, while the creature has legs, it is amphibious, and the video even describes it as being “sea lion-like, spent some time on land,” and it has no tail fluke (i.e., aquatic tail).

            The next creature shown is a completely different animal; an aquatic creature, fully adapted aquatic tail, fins/flippers instead of legs, etc. This demonstrates to me a conspicuous lack of transition.

            To this observer, at least, this is nearly the same effect as if I tried to show the evolution of the manatee from a cat, and claimed to have solved the mystery of the missing transitional forms by presenting an otter as the missing link between them, never noticing the huge gaps that still remained between cat and otter and especially between otter and manatee.

          • Brian

            I just typed a long post and lost it on the iPad so I will just summarize.

            I did not go to a Christian college and my last biology class was around 2000. I admitted I may be using the word transitional incorrectly but all fossils I have seen are within species but may share some features.

            The problem I have is illustrated in the video Darcia posted. It shows the whale on the land then skips ahead a million or so years and magically shows it under water next. What happened in that gap and how it transitioned from land to aquatic can’t be explained.

            Like I said I don’t think either side has it totally correct.

          • proteo

            >Like I said I don’t think either side has it totally correct.

            That’s a problem on your understanding.

            Watch professor Ken Miller’s talk on youtube.

            Also, Tiktaalik (2004).

          • http://www.squishlikegrape.com/ Bruce Alderman

            ” all fossils I have seen are within species”

            Of course. That’s because whenever a new type of fossil is found, it is assigned to a species. Transitional doesn’t mean it has no species, or is a hybrid like P.T. Barnum’s mermaid.

            What would qualify as a “transitional” fossil to you?

          • Andrew Dowling

            LOL I had to hit my head on the keyboard when I read Brian’s comment.

          • Donalbain

            I think that in terms of understanding evolutionary biology, the notion of a species is more harmful than it is helpful. It encourages people to think in terms of fixed units, rather than the constant change that is the essence of evolution.

          • Nick Winters

            Look at it this way; you are a transitional form between your parents and your children. The changes are tiny. Add up tiny genetic changes over a long enough period, shared between several members of a particular species, and you get larger changes. Essentially EVERYTHING is a transitional form. That’s why the cry for “transitional fossils” is somewhat of a red herring; we have fossils, we can see the genes that show the connections between them, and we can make inferences about the connections. So far, all of our inferences within the scope of the Theory of Evolution have been proven correct with every fossil we find.

          • Guest

            That is simply nonsense. Everything is NOT a transitional form, and there are no such fossils or genetic evidence whatsoever. Everything evolutionists have tried to fob off as evidence has been demonstrated to be misrepresentation and fraud. Most of these ‘fossils’ were manufactured, and the few that exist that are authentic fossils show no indication of evolution at all. Your ‘inferences’ are the speculations of dogmatic and primitive minds. This is not acceptable as evidence, it is not science.

          • Nick Winters

            The problem with your understanding (apart from claiming that 99% of biologists are deliberately lying about all of genetics, a claim that is, charitably, foolishly ignorant), is that your conception of how evolution works is wrong. When you (Guest), say there are no transitional fossils, I’m thinking you mean there isn’t a fossil out there showing a cat, say, halfway into a transition into a dog. The thing is, evolution doesn’t work that way. Both cats and dogs have a common ancestor, probably going back to some very tiny furry beasts around the time of the dinosaurs (I’m not a biologist, so I don’t know the specifics). What you would see, if by some strange happenstance we had fossils for every creature that ever lived, is a divergence between two populations. One set grows more wolfish, one more cattish, and eventually we have different species.

            I have a link to TalkOrigens here; http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-transitional.html

            about transitional fossils. I challenge you to read one or two of the articles, which lay out all that evidence you seem to think doesn’t exist. Then if you think they’re wrong, come back and tell us why, with details. But your conspiratorial arguments about the hundreds of thousands of fossils that have been found as being faked are simply ridiculous.

          • Guest

            I read TalkOrigins about 10 years ago.
            It was nonsense then, it’s nonsense now.

          • Nick Winters

            Well, I have to give you props for being willing to read opposing viewpoints. Of course I disagree with you in every way :-)

            Seriously though, Tiktaalik is an exact example of the kind of transitional fossil you are saying doesn’t exist.

        • Nick

          Quite a few transition fossils, this site has quite a large collection http://www.transitionalfossils.com/

  • Kathy K-m

    I must say, this attempt to use the Bible as a science text, puzzles me. It’s really only done by American evangelicals, as Jews, Muslims, the vast majority of Christendom, don’t see it that way, at all. (including Catholicism)
    The creation story, as it was taught to us, (and we’re going back several decades) was that God was certainly not limited to 24-earth days, so to him/her/it, a day could be a billion years. They didn’t even have zero’s, when the story was written.
    The process described in the six “day” story, is a little out of order, but describes the,evolutionary process, right down to the Big Bang that started it all.
    The flood, which certainly happened, but just in the Black Sea region, must have seemed like the world was covered…to those people, THEIR world was.
    The Bible is a wonderful, richly layered text, part history, part philosophy, containing the earliest basis for our legal system, and some of the most beautiful erotic poetry, ever written.
    It can be seen as nearly timeless, because so much of it speaks to the follies and foibles of the human condition, even now.
    The “young earth” thing was really just a counting of begets and begots, and some other estimates of known events, and only came about in the late 1800′s, in a small, oddball sect. Around the 1970′s, it gained traction in the U.S, when, admittedly, we had less anthropological/archeological evidence.
    But every single piece of evidence, since then, has supported the science, and the young earthers are just pretzeling themselves, trying to disprove, what is self evident, at this point.
    One thing the Bible isn’t, nor was it meant to be, was a science book. It’s a shame many Americans insist on using it, as such.

  • http://www.heartlanguage.org/ Ed Lauber

    Nice article, except is has the HUGE hole of assuming that the “scientific” viewpoint does not suffer from the same problems. But the article is right that education is over-rated in changing human behavior. A study in South Africa showed that HIV/AIDS education did not change sexual behavior. Perhaps Jesus’ message about the heart needs to be heeded. It is not a small pointer to hubris that educated people think that education is the answer.

    • http://www.linkedin/in/stuarttlyman Stu Lyman

      Ed, I don’t see the “HUGE” hole in this article at all. The study he is referencing explicitly says “With science as with politics [and religion], identity often trumps the facts.”. Peter is applying these findings specifically to the [Evangelical] Christian vs evolution discussion/debate.

      • http://www.heartlanguage.org/ Ed Lauber

        The HUGE hole is that the author does not examine, or take into account how his own identity shapes how he interacts with politics and religion. Instead, he appears to assume that his position is not affected by such matters, but is “pure”. It’s not.

  • Daniel Fisher

    “it’s not enough to “show people the facts” …. If someone wants to “show me the fact” of evolution, just set up an experiment, put various selection of bacteria in a lab and subject them to all sorts of environmental factors to encourage maximum mutation – after say 4 decades, when you’ll have witnessed literally over 1 million generations and billions of organisms, if they have developed new complex structures (organelles, e.g., a brand newmitochondria, or flagella, or the like), then I will have been “shown the fact” of Darwinian/Macro evolution.

    But the FACT that this simply doesn’t happen even when coaxed over a million generations in a population of billions in a species that is rather tolerant of mutations… this *fact* should give even the most non-religious researcher pause when supposing that this same process can invent something far more complex (like fully-integrated pinpoint precision active sonar) during the same number of generations but with a far smaller population, in an animal far less tolerant of mutations.

    • peteenns

      Oh Daniel, your expertise knows no bounds. Even science now ;-)

      • J. Inglis

        Even with the emoticon the comment comes across as snide. And it’s also ad hominem.

        Furthermore, the use of the word “experiment” in the context of a science discussion is an equivocation. Experimental science has controls over variables, isolation of variables, hypotheses, and replicable experiments. None of these are true about the fossil record. The fossil record just “is”, and is the result of events occurring over a single timeline. The use of “experiment” in regard to a historical record is a metaphorical or literary use of the term in which the connotation of “trying many things or one thing several times” is extended to describe the presence of many fossils that are similar in some ways but different in others (i.e., it looks as if “horse” was tried out many times to see if it could survive in various forms in various locales), and so not really helpful at all.

        Furthermore, the use of experiment in relation to a purely material fact anthropomorphizes those facts. That is, experiments are performed by humans with intent, design and telos / goals. Material nature just is; it performs no scientific experiments. It does not try out things. Organisms mutate and the resulting organisms are filtered (not actually selected, which requires intent and goals and metaphysical choosing) by their material environment.

        • Nick Winters

          In the context of evolution, the key is “testable predictions”. The way you test the veracity of evolutionary theory is by seeing what types of fossils should exist at a certain geological strata under the theory. Then, you go to that strata and look for fossils. If you find them, your prediction is confirmed and evolution is (once again) tested and found to be accurate. If you find nothing, no conclusions can be made. If you find a fossil that should not be there, according to the current form of the theory, you check the strata, check the genes, check the data, and finally revise the form of the theory to account for the new evidence.

          So when evolutionary biologists who look for fossils talk about an “experiment”, what they mean is putting a prediction to the test. Tiktaalik is an excellent example of this in action.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Fair enough, but your standard creationist will say the same about the fossil record – an amazing display of biodiversity, but with the absence of significant transitional forms that they equally claim their model predicts.

            I imagine they’d also claim that Darwinian biologists are missing that this conspicuous absence of transitional forms is in fact contrary to the what the Darwinian model predicts.

          • Nick Winters

            And your standard creationist would be wrong, because the transitional fossils ARE THERE and HAVE BEEN FOUND again and again and again. The issue here is that fossils are rare. It took 3 years to find Tiktaalik after predicting its existence, for instance. (And Tiktaalik IS the type of fossil you usually think of as transitional; halfway between a water animal and a land animal) The point is that the Theory of Evolution has been confirmed so many times that the fact we haven’t found every fossil ever in existence is largely meaningless. We already are 99% certain what we would find if we found it, because in every other case, the Theory was confirmed.

            The problem here is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding within the creationist community about the concept of species and speciation. These are not clear categories, these are labels of convenience we’ve tacked on to groups of animals with a rough guideline of “able to breed.” So asking for evidence speciation in a single fossil is kind of silly; evolution doesn’t work that way. It’s the set of fossils, sharing characteristics and DNA, that demonstrates speciation, and such sets exist.

            Your other point above about complexity is due partly to a misconception about entropy. The earth is not a closed system, and thus complexity can easily develop, given enough time.

            Finally, you seem to think that a scientist has to personally see something in action to form a valid conclusion; this is a complete misconception of the scientific method. Valid inferences can be drawn if the data supporting them are sound. A good example is Darwin’s basic theory (before it was changed into the modern synthesis); he made the valid inference based on the changes he observed in nature that they could explain all creatures. This observation was confirmed with the discovery of genetics and the fact that DNA is shared among species to the exact proportion you would predict if Darwin’s original hypotheses were true.

    • Darcia Routh

      The change in the character of life in the fossil record (sedimentary geology) is the “experiment.”

      • Daniel Fisher

        the fact that there are extinct animals that have left their fossils which have various resemblances to other creatures is the fact – and I can certainly understand why it fits with the idea of the gradual change, etc. But nonetheless, the idea that they are related in certain ways is an interpretation of those facts. If this was an “experiment,” it was an unobserved one; we weren’t watching the changes and descent, only the record of what was left behind.

      • J. Inglis

        Again, an equivocation on the word “experiment”. The change in character bears no resemblance to a scientific experiment, except in relation to a scientific experiment typically tracks changes over time.

    • wygrif

      You’re aware that this has been/is being done, right?


      • Daniel Fisher

        Of course I’m aware of this, that was kind of my point. ;) Thousands upon thousands of generations and not a single new complex structure of any kind.

        The article you mentioned demonstrates the point perfectly: 60,000 generations thus far and e coli is still e coli, no new increases in complexity, no new organelles or other complex structures. Sure, evolved to be better adapted to its environment through various chemical pathways and what enzymes it secretes and showing various inconsequential changes (slight increase in size, etc.), but these are various variations on what was already there.

        I know some people want to point to these variations of ecoli or whatever bacteria as “evidence of evolution,” but to skeptics, this is as earthshattering as pointing out that we can change the characteristics of the population of dogs over time. I’ve watched fruit flies evolving right under my eyes in a lab over the course of a few weeks. No one disputes that organisms (whether unicellular or multicellular) evolve and change over time. What creationist types are disputing is the idea that this evolution via various mutations and natural selection alone can cause increase of complexity, specifically new complex organs or organelles, thus creating new and more complex organisms.

        The fact remains that when we actually do science (and not speculation), and we actually observe an organism over tens of thousands of generations, it exhibits various and sometimes quite significant variation in adapting to its environment through natural selection and variation, but we observe no increase in complexity or the generation of new complex structures. When this doesn’t happen when we do observe it, why should we suppose it happens when the time frame is so long as to be unobservable?

        • wygrif

          What, evolving a totally new ability doesn’t count as “complexity”? How about evolving to eat nylon*? What about losing interfertility**? How about a whale with legs***?

          The truth is that evolution is experimentally verified all the time. You creationists just don’t care because you aren’t really interested in truth so much as you are worried about the theological implications of the fact that your hermeneutics are flat-out wrong.

          *Prijambada ID, Negoro S, Yomo T, Urabe I (May 1995). “Emergence of nylon oligomer degradation enzymes in Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO through experimental evolution”. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 61 (5): 2020–2. PMC 167468. PMID 7646041.

          **Dobzhansky, Th., and O. Pavlovsky, 1971. “An experimentally created incipient species of Drosophila”, Nature 23:289-292

          ***Thewissen, J.G.M.; Madar, S.I.; Hussain, S.T. (1996). Ambulocetus natans, an Eocene cetacean (Mammalia) from Pakistan. Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg 191. pp. 1–86. ISBN 9783929907322. OCLC 36463214

          • Daniel Fisher

            I’ll take a look at the others you mentioned – but evolving to eat something different is not a new complexity – the process for the cells to produce enzymes to eat something is pre-existent in this case, the organisms mutate and thus change what they eat via what they excrete.

            e.g., a species of birds introduced to an island may evolve the ability to eat certain poisonous plants, based on shifts of their blood, new digestive enzymes, etc., and can eat what would have killed their ancestors; this would be a new and impressive new ability – but not a new complexity. The stomach, organs, etc., are the same, just cranking out new (and more beneficial) chemicals.

            If said bird developed a brand new organ in order to create said enzyme that it previously never had, THAT would be a new complexity. But to my knowledge (correct me if I’m wrong), that is not the case with the nylon-eating microorganisms; there are no new complex organelles involved which allow the eating of nylon, but merely a new chemical created by the previously existing process. Very impressive and striking, but not more complex?

          • Dorfl

            I really would like to know how you’re defining ‘complexity’. New enzymes are complicated things. To be produced they require new genes to be added to the genome. But for some reason which I don’t get you don’t think they count as added complexity.

          • Daniel Fisher

            New enzymes are complicated things, but the old enzymes are/ were complicated things too. changing from one to the other is not an increase (or decrease!) in complexity.

            Say, e.g., if I discovered an organsim that had been living on nylon (say, in a landfill), but moved it to another environment, and witnessed it evolving to secrete a different enzyme which allowed it to feed on sugar instead, (also requiring said addition/change to the organism’s genes) I wouldn’t say I witnessed a *decrease* in complexity.
            Thus I don’t see an increase in complexity when witnissing the reverse.

          • Dorfl

            You seem to assume that the evolution of a new enzyme requires the loss of an old, as the gene(s) for the previous enzyme mutate something that generates the new one.

            This is not necessarily the case. It is possible for the relevant gene to undergo a duplication, after which only one of the copies mutates into filling a new function. This means that something that previously had the ability to produce one kind of enzyme can still produce that one as well as one more.

          • Daniel Fisher

            You may have to explain further to me, I’m not following the implication of your last two examples. The second seemed to be simply a selection against factors that were causing infertility, and hence a new ability; but I’m not seeing any suggestion of the development of a new organ, structure, or other new complexity?

            (To clarify – the example of an already complex structure or chemical pathway getting altered and therefore doing something different is a fascinating display of adaptation and evolution – but does not display to me an increase in complexity. e.g., the enzyme that breaks down nylon isn’t inherently more complex, in and of itself, as the enzyme that breaks down sugar, no?)

            For the third, I fear I don’t follow – Ambulocetus is believed to have been a precursor to a whale, not something that evolved from a whale so as to be a “whale with legs”; besides, as an extinct creature it is not a candidate for experimental verification – I don’t follow the implication of observed emerging complexity in this organism?

        • Fly

          Your last paragraph just isn’t true, we see plenty of insertion and non-deleterious mutations.

          Another thing to consider is mutation rate, selection pressure and generation length confound our attempts to replicate any sort of large scale change in a lab. Evolution and by extension the fossil record would indicate it took nearly 500 million years before early Prokaryota did anything you’d be satisfied with as evolution.

          But here’s the damning thing: The timescale is the only thing standing in the way of this observation. YEC has been forced to concede that every individual requirement for evolutionary theory has been met in a laboratory setting. Information adding mutations (insertion), beneficial new protein transcriptions, phenotype shifts… basically there is no individual part of the theory that remains unconfirmed. The fact that we don’t have 500 million years to sit and watch should be rightly dismissed as inane.

          • Daniel Fisher

            I’m aware of the mutations, again, my skepticism comes from not seeing new complexity, not the acknowledged new behaviors/skills based on mutations of what is already there.

            Understood what you mentioned, and hypothecially I have no inherent objection to it taking 500million years for prokaryotic life to start making genuinely complex new structures. But here’s my issue: If it took 500 million years for even a Prokaryote to evolve some kind of organelle that put in on the path to being a Eukaryote… that is approximately 13,140,000,000,000 (13 trillion) generations (assuming new generation every 20 minutes * 500millionyears).

            But multicellular life has shown far, far more complex structures than (relatively) simple organelles, and no one (to my knowledge) suggests that these organisms had anything close to 13 trillion generations to work with.

            I’m not some kind of strict creationist – I just remain terribly skeptical of the ability of this process, in and of itself, to produce some significantly complex structure in a hundred million generations that it wasn’t able to do in a more mutatable species in a trillion generations.

  • http://www.linkedin/in/stuarttlyman Stu Lyman

    You have articulated so clearly the core of the process of my aha journey. Your writings have been a big part of helping in my on-going reconstruction of God and the Bible. A concept that I heard on a podcast once was also key and relates to your post here. Knowledge (new information) does not destroy or threaten my faith, IT INFORMS my faith. And from David Benner, “faith” for Evangelicals has shifted from “faith as trust” to “faith as belief” in certain prescribed dogmas (i.e. institutional doctrinal statement). The journey has been both terrifying and glorious. The Bible for me is not as “flat” to use your words.

  • RPS2

    Excellent post (as usual). I wrote about much of the same stuff in a very different context here: http://rpseawright.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/myopinion/

  • Andrew Dowling

    Ha, I read that article myself weeks ago and thought about your and your discussions here Pete. Good stuff.

  • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

    I’m loving how much education is being attempted in the comments below regarding evolution and the following discussions. Highly ironic given the post. :) Also thank you Mr. Enns, this statement was just spot on, “One also has to offer an alternate coherent and attractive structure whereby people can handle these new ways of thinking without feeling as if their entire faith and life hang in the balance.”

  • BT

    Thanks for the article. In my case, it was becoming convinced of the facts that led me to read the bible a bit differently, which is kind of the opposite of the article.

    Because of my own experience, I used to think the facts alone would conquer all, and that people would be logical.

    As I’ve grown older, I have realized that the article is exactly right and that my personal journey was the exception and not the rule.

    Having grown into a different, redemptive, and narrative hermeneutic, I am fortunate to have made the leap. I see much more richness and fewer problems in the text now. The bible has become much more personal and less problematic.

    I’m not sure I could have remained a Christian under the old paradigm.

    Thanks for the article – I hope people listen.

    • John

      If death entered the world before sin in the garden then the gospel is meaningless as sin is not the cause of death.

      • BT

        Again, as Dr Enns has said, their are legitimate ways to read the bible that don’t necessarily require things to happen in a given order.

        Which is good, since the bible has two creation accounts which differ in terms of the created order of things.

        The best thing? You can take your own path and get along quite well without agreeing with me. You can even think I’m condemned to hell if you wish.

        One day we’ll figure it all out.

      • mikehorn

        This applies to Theology, but is meaningless regarding Biology. Your statement implies an approach that assumes that your version of Christian theology is correct and that all facts and Theories must support your pre-judged conclusion. Science doesn’t work that way, and wouldn’t be science if it tried to (why creationism or ID is not science at all). Science gathers existing facts and creates a framework or Theory to explain what is observed. Every new discovery is not then weighed against the Theory, but becomes yet another test to see if the Theory is still valid or needs replacing or modifying. A good Theory will even predict what discoveries might prove it wrong.

        Theology doesn’t do this. Are you constantly weighing new knowledge to see if your theology is still correct, or assuming the theology is correct and everything else must bend to fit?

  • B-Lar

    Give it a few generations, and religious style thinking (dogmatic adherence to a narrative) will be seen as the substandard method that it is.
    The most important factor to refining knowledge is the ability of the thinker to let go of flawed knowledge when necessary. Unfortunately, this is anathema to pretty much all the major world religions, where faith and obedience are touted as the highest good. However, evangelicals have already started a framework for deviating from dogma by focusing on human elements and justified faith while rejecting the bigotry of their peers… so I have a degree of hope.
    Of course, evangelicals will get to the top of the hill and discover that the humanists have a well established camp up there already!

    • john

      as if you don’t have a dogmatic adherence to your own world view. hahaha

      • B-Lar

        Sorry buddy, you got it wrong. I don’t build my worldview on cherry-picked interpretations of an old book or indeed, on the say so of a person who has a vested interest in my blind faith and obedience.

        My worldview is fluid, constantly evolving. If something in my worldview does not add up, then I carefully examine it without presupposition. I carefully studied cognitive biases and how they work so that I can avoid common errors, and I never stop learning.

        This is literally, the polar opposite of dogmatic thinking. and these skills are what I see progressive evangelicals slowly start to value.


  • Kevin Maguire

    I find it sad when people in Mr. Enns position start preaching “another gospel” like the religion of evilution. How utterly unscientific, antiChrist, and antiGod, Psalm 14:1, yet because of their inability to connect the Bible with TRUE history and science they buckle to the status quo. I have a book at home that anyone can buy of over 3000 quotes by ONLY the great prophets of evilution, Darwin, Huxley, Gould, Dawkins, etc, all denying that evilution is even possible, because they all admit, that they can’t entertain the idea of God, why are Christians such compromisers if you have the truth?? Why can’t you get it, evilution is a worldview, not a science. Unbelievers see the compromisers like Mr. Enns and our churches are emptying, especially young folks, because of this compromise teaching that has dominated Christianity, really, in modern terms for the last 200 years, now we have a weak kneed Jesus knocking forlornly on hearts of sinners begging for them to let Him in, how sad. Thankfully the truth still stands even if you don’t like it or understand it.

    • Fearitself73

      Is this satire? If so it’s not very good.

  • S. Keegan

    The matter at hand is not a difference in the level of knowledge of the science involved, it is in the level of knowledge of what the Christian Faith requires and what it does not. Those who deny evolution for religious reasons do so because they believe the Christian Faith is incompatible with the theory of evolution. Many others realize (rightly) that the Christian Faith requires no such rejection of evolution, and so are free to accept the conclusions of evolutionary theory.

  • Guest

    It is not merely religious people who doubt the theory of evolution.
    A great many scientists also do. They find no evidence to support it.

    • mikehorn

      No, there aren’t that many. Every branch of knowledge has outliers and kooks, but Evolution is the single dominant Theory in biology, with zero competition.

      It is possible to confuse debate over how a Theory works with more basic disagreements. Be careful not to confuse debate within the Theory with disagreement over the basic Theory.

      • Guest


        “All the biological groups, from bacteria and blue-green algae to man, appear abruptly in the fossil record without any links connecting them with each other.”

        “Evolution is presented to grown-ups and taught to the very young as a fact that has been verified and demonstrated for so long that it is a waste of time and even ridiculous to question it.”

        “The fact is that after nearly two centuries of intense research the paleontological evidence for evolutionary theory is not only rare but highly questionable. The point is that if evolution had really happened the evidence would be in great abundance and incontestable. The museums would be overflowing with fossils clearly documenting the transitions between the various biological groups, yet there are none. Moreover, there is no indication that the situation will change in the future.”

        “The idea of gradual evolution of man from such creatures as australopithicene apes is totally without foundation and should be firmly rejected. Man is not the most recent link in a long chain of evolution. He represents a type, or taxon, which has existed without any substantial change since his first appearance.”

        - Professor Roberto Fondi, University of Sienna

        “Since the same main types of creatures and plants alive today were living in the past, it is quite clear that the same complex mechanism of life has existed from the very beginning. To the geneticist this is a very obvious proof that bio-chemical evolution has never taken place.”

        “What we can say, from observing the human chromosomes or the human DNA and comparing it to that of other species is that man is original; man is not derived from any other species. So the statement that man is a recent creature coming from some primitive form cannot be supported by genetic data at all.”

        Professor Giuseppe Sermonti, Molecular Biologist

        • FA Miniter

          So you found two creationists. Big deal. Sermonti also wrote that Snow White is about metallurgy, that Red Riding Hood is about mercury, and that Cinderella is all about sulfur.

          • Guest

            This is the usual weak response, but note that in the link I found 22 pages of names, and I chose to quote only two. Sermonti is a Molecular Biologist. Your complaint about him being a ‘creationist’ is not a refutation of his statement.

          • FA Miniter

            That Sermonti holds wacky ideas (not just about creationism but about fairy tales) is evidence that his thinking cannot be trusted.

            Wow! Twenty-two names. I am truly impressed. They probably got their B.S. degrees from Christian colleges in the Deep South.

            Evolution is well-established, and if you look at the rate at which confirmatory finds have been happening since 1950, you will notice that they have been growing exponentially as more and more scientists enter the field. Never, not once, has an anomaly been found. There is no scientific evidence that evolution is wrong.

            There is only the fearful ranting of Bible-literalists afraid that their faith will shatter along with their literal interpretation of the Bible.

          • Guest

            Sermonti’s ‘wacky ideas’ are far less disturbing than Dawkins’ http://youtu.be/YWkJ6cZ0FY8
            Or perhaps you agree with him?

            There are twenty two PAGES, almost a thousand names.
            At least try to keep up with the 5th graders, would you?

            Well-established? No anomalies? Now you’re just lying.

            It is obvious what frightens you, but watch the video to see what religious people are really worried about.
            Life is important and worth protecting; your ego is not.

        • mikehorn

          The Fondi quotes reject evolution but offer no substantiation or alternate explanation. Even if Evolution turns out to be wrong (gigantic if there), that does not mean anything else is true.

          The sermonti stuff is so wrong it is whacky. The genetic relationship between all forms of life on Earth is the best evidence for evolution, so strong that if all fossils were destroyed today, genetics alone would demonstrate evolution at every turn. If the genetics supporting evolution are wrong, so are the genetics supporting or negating criminal convictions and paternity tests: same science. I also don’t see anything serious from sermonti in decades, though at one point he had valid work about antibiotics. Ironically, antibiotic resistance is an example of real time evolution occurring.

          • Guest

            You don’t know what you’re talking about.

  • Rockgod28

    Does science, specifically Evolutionary Science, disprove the Bible?

    The opening of the Bible does not begin with Mathematical equations, physics, chemistry or anything scientific to explain the creation of the world. It says “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

    That is it.

    No more complexity or explanation of the process by with either heaven or earth were created.

    The arguments come in after the first declaration who created the world. If the first declaration is true the HOW of creation will verify if the WHO is true.

    How long did it take to create the Earth?

    The first debate or challenge to the Biblical account is the timeframe for the creation of the world. It is the word “Day”.

    Did God create the world in days? As in 12 or 24 hour increments of time?

    According to current scientific tested data says this is not true. Therefore because sediments, fossil record, carbon-14 and universal observations plus experimentation says God did not create the world in 6 days. By scientific data that means is that since the creation of the world did not take 6 days by 24 hour or 12 hour increments of time. The obvious conclusion is since the how is false then declaration at the beginning of the Bible is false.

    Yet there is a problem. What if the interpretation of the word day does not mean day? The clue to understanding this is in the Bible from 2 Peter 3:8 which is from Psalm 90:4. 1 day to the Lord = 1,000 years on Earth.

    Ok so applying this mathematic formula does that match the scientific data? No of course not. The Earth is far more than 10,000 years old. Yet here is the problem. The Bible is silent on the time frame for the first day in hours, days or years according to our understanding. Why the confusion? What purpose could there be for not having at the beginning of the Bible the exact time frame for the creation of the Earth or even a day as a timeframe of reference?

    The answer is of course in the Bible: Isaiah 55:8-9.

    So what if we combine our current understanding of the universe and apply it the word day in the context of the creation of the Earth?

    How long does it take the galaxy to complete on rotation? It takes the Earth and Sun to orbit the galactic center approximately 250,000,000 years. If we took that measurement into account and multiplied it by 6 for 6 days as a timeframe instead of hours or 1,000 years we are left with a very interesting number: 1,500,000,000 or 1.5 Billion years.

    What happened 1.5 Billion years ago according to science so far? Multicellular life.


    Now if the timeframe of the word “day” in the Bible is understood in millions of years instead of a shorter timeframe as an immortal and eternal being such as God what is a day? Do days mean anything? As the Psalmist said in Psalms 90:4 “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”

    It is easy to see from the poetic prose that time to God is not the same as our understanding at all. A day, a thousand years, a million or a billion; even a trillion years what does that mean or matter to an immortal or eternal being? As Isaiah 55:8-9 how does anyone begin to comprehend eternity?

    The Bible does not have a record of God explaining time. His comprehension and understanding was not ever explained. How could he? It is like a person from today attempting to explain to a Roman citizen 2,000 years ago the internet.

    To have him or her understand the internet you have to explain a lot of science. From the Roman Citizens point of view you might as well be living Clarke’s third law. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Especially if you brought that person to our time or took working technology from today to the past.

    To better understand we can use the Kardashev scale to understand the disparity or gap between humanity and God.

    The Kardashev scale is a arbitrary best guess to measure the civilization of any world. There are few types of civilizations of any consequence in the universe as we currently understand it. Type 0 which is our current level (0.717+).

    Type 1 is a civilization that can travel between back and forth between solar planets within a solar system. This is why we are close to a type 1 civilization because if we try we can manipulate our weather, the internet, renewable energy and can fight our own extinction, but it is not assured we can avoid it. This is why Type 0 and Type 1 have little universal impact being isolated to one solar system or even one planet.

    Type 2 is a civilization that has colonized extra planetary bodies. Mega engineering feats and reliable terraforming as well as being able to extract power from not just the planets, but stellar bodies in a galaxy. Extinction is negated.

    Type 3 is a civilization that can extract energy from the galactic core and can travel between galaxies.

    Now the point of pointing out the Kardashev scale is that a beginning Type 0 civilization looking at or experiencing any of the technology from a Type 1 to Type 3 civilization will appear to be indistinguishable from magic from the perspective of a person from a Type 0 civilization.
    In our fictional stories we can imagine powerful beings far beyond mere mortal men, yet what is the reality?
    Is the Bible correct there is a eternal and immortal being that can create worlds over millions and billions of years? Yes.
    So a super advanced or ultimate supreme being exists. Over the course from our perspective of hundreds of millions of years passed in mere “days” to the supreme being. Even from our point of view while hundreds of millions of years passed it means little when our lives are not even a blink in the perspective of universal time. The world might as well have been created in 6 days. It literally exists when we are born and continues to exist even after we die.
    Our experience is limited to about 100 years (only about 50 years at best in any proper physical shape to appreciate those 100 years) with scattered and inaccurate accumulated data from the previous thousands of years of our civilization. All the data from the last 1,000 years has barely made us able to get to the moon and we haven’t been back for over 40 years!
    We are small, limited, pathetic creatures in comparison to either the future civilization of humanity (if we survive as a species which the odds do not favor) or supreme ultimate being in the universe that is immortal and eternal.
    Is it hard for a higher civilization of science, understanding and capability to be able to do what seems to us what looks like magic or supernatural?
    Now that we have a better perspective and understanding of science can we throw out the data from the Bible even if it is not scientific? No.
    Then what is it? What is the Bible if not a scientific guide, history book or other scientific discipline?
    It is not complex. It is very simple actually. A description of a lifestyle choice.
    Are you Cain or Abel?
    Are you Abraham or Balaam?
    Do you follow Ba’al, Molock, Nothing at all or the God of Israel?
    Even more simple is the Bible teaches how to deal with the 4 T’s of life:
    The Bible teaches to avoid temptation and if not avoided to repent or return from the consequences of temptations.
    The Bible teaches the same thing for trails, testing and especially tragedy is endurance.
    It is easy to test and prove scientifically any of these principles in the Bible on how to live.
    It is even in the Bible with the example Daniel on how to live a life in the mist of those of differing beliefs.
    The most wonderful thing about this supreme ultimate being is we are given the gift to choose for ourselves what we want to do.
    Trust God or trust something else. Good luck.

    • John Hutchinson

      You have heard of Karl Popper and falsification, I assume. Get to that later.

      The issue about the age of the earth. I am quite willing to tolerate that 1 day is a 1,000 years etc. Discrete separate creations during a long period can fit within a long-age creation. The issue is the process of evolution itself. Probability does dictate that a dispersal of the extant fossil record should show varying signs of gradation between species, not complete distinct forms. Bet that is it may.

      Interesting side note prior to your 2 Peter 3:8 reference. “scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing…For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long
      ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word
      of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (Peter 3:3, 5-6). In other words, Scriptures predicts that the issue of origins and the Flood would be in dispute in the latter part of human history. This skepticism is not something, whose fulfillment occurs only within Biblical sources, but incontrovertibly outside of them.

      Let us just ignore the fact that evolution, were true, would clearly contradict statements by Christ, the omniscient God-man, amongst others (Garden of Eden narrative). So you have a problem with Biblical reliability and a God who is not God and who errs. Where does that leave your justification?

      No on disputes variation within a species. Darwin’s first chapters in “Origin of Species” notes that animal husbandry can exaggerate a preferred feature in plants or animals for human use up to limits. And the moment that these deliberate practices are ended, the species tends back to the general average. Evolutionists suggest that trial and error over long periods of time can overcome the barriers, including that of speciation, which involves new organisms, which cannot mate with their descendents; less that by such mating, the new organisms with their new features (in Darwin’s understanding) or genetic structures, return to the mean. That becomes almost the crux of the matter.

      Darwin actually anticipates and attempts to address this problem. One of his ideas is that a particular species gets trapped in an isolated island or hidden valley etc. Might be plausible when it was perceived that there was only several thousand species. It is a bit more of a logistical nightmare when there are at least 6 million species. Be that as it may.

      The problem is that in order for speciation for species requiring male/female sex reproduction is that once one produces an offspring which is reproductively isolated from the prior generation, it has no reproductive future. That leaves quite a conundrum. Of course you might suggest that the new offspring might only mate with other in that batch of offspring. A problem with plausibility or even probability, especially over the long term, I would suggest. The Neo-Darwinists need not merely to explain but prove a way around this logical conundrum.and not by technical jargon to obfuscate.

      Under the major principles of NeoDarwinisms, big tenet is that those features and behaviours that are conducive to creating a greater proportion in the gene pool will be those which will endure. Difficult to explain homosexuality’s existence. Even more difficult to explain persistence of schizoprhrenic behaviours, whose reproductive rate is 1/4 of the general popn. Neither Dawkin’s gay uncle theory nor millions of genetic mutations in every generation is plausible or probable. Thus, Popper’s falsification.

    • mikehorn

      It depends on what you mean. Science rejected the Flood model as early as the 1700′s as not fitting the mass of new info provided by global colonization. It was gone entirely by the 1800′s, fully replaced by 1970 after nuclear science demonstrated how we could be warm still over deep time and Plate Tectonics provided a tested replacement model. Noah’s flood as a global phenomena is simply false, never happened. Since it demonstrated the god of Abraham to be genocidal, then good riddance.

      I’d like to see corroboration of Matthew 27 before I treat it any different than a Walking Dead episode.

      The Bible as a whole shows ignorant but curious and imaginative people trying to figure out their world. Science didn’t necessarily prove anything wrong so much as it shows things less right than we are currently. In 2000 years people will look at some cutting edge science of today as hopelessly quaint (if fundamentalists don’t drag us down to another Stone Age, that is). Read the essay by Isaac Asimov titled “the Relativity of Wrong” for a great explanation.

  • AP

    I am not a scientist. But I have a question for those of you who believe in evolution: since all these experiments are being done throughout the world, and according to you are proving evolution as fact, I was wondering if there had been the successful creation of organic matter from inorganic matter? Another question I have always had is, if survival of the fittest involves superior abilities and traits to ensure survival, and evolution encourages those traits while discouraging others, how is it that mankind is so helpless? Our infants are pitiful relative to the monkey/ ape species. We don’t see as well as a bird, smell as well as a dog, etc. Why did these obviously superior abilities and traits skip mankind?

    • Doug Goodin

      I am a scientist (although not a biologist) and the problem is that both of your questions are founded on erroneous assumptions. Your first question seems to imply that inorganic material must become organic for evolution to occur. But organic material doesn’t have to be living to be organic. It’s an irrelevant point. Remember, evolution is a theory about how species occur, and not about how life began. Frankly, no one knows the answer to how life started, although there are some pretty good hypotheses currently under investigation. The answer to the second question is a little more involved. You seem to be assuming that in order for a species to survive, it has to possess all possible “superior” traits (by which I think you mean traits that help a particular species survive and compete in the current fitness environment). This is just not the way natural selection works. Evolution by natural selection is not necessarily optimizing — it evolves species that are just good enough to survive in a given fitness environment (in other words, they evolve to fill a niche). The main evolutionary traits that have helped humans survive is a vastly capable brain and hands that are evolved to grasp objects. Curiously, one of the reasons why young humans are rather vulnerable is because of the need for the brain to develop, so in fact that “helplessness” you refer to is an artifact of our main survival trait. The fact that we are here proves that this vulnerability has not limited our ability to compete, which is why it still exists. To see the fallacy of your argument, reverse it and ask yourself, why other species do not have the same reasoning ability and dexterity of humans? The answer is, they can survive quite well without them. If your argument from optimization were true, then every extant species should possess all possible adaptive traits, which is just not consistent with any current understanding of evolutionary biology, biogeography, or ecology. I hope this explanation helps.

    • mikehorn

      Mr Goodin’s answer is excellent, but I’d like to add a little to it.

      Survivability applies to the specific environment the animal is in. Polar bears do very well in the arctic, and have been evolving away from brown bears for many thousands of years to adapt to the cold. But a polar bear would be miserable in Wyoming: too hot, different food. It is possible they might reproduce long enough to eventually change, but then they would look and act much more like brown bears. Survival traits depend on evolutionary forces. Cold? Hot? Wet? Dry? Anything that affects how well something eats and reproduces will force how they evolve, and that depends on where and when they creature lives. One trait isn’t by itself better than another, but depends on where and when to see if it benefits or hinders.

      Humans evolved into generalists for reasons still somewhat debated. Did we lose the trees or leave the trees? And other questions. We eat a very wide range of food and have generalized traits that allow wide ranges of environments. The helpless babies might also have forced complex societies and created secondary reproduction benefits to sterile individuals (grandparents), which helped us survive in yet more environments. Hands created tools but also created warm clothes. Generalized traits let us go most places, though some are still closed to us.

      • Doug Goodin

        Good points. Thanks for the extensions and clarifications.

  • polistra24

    The author’s basic point about needing a new narrative is valid but vague.

    The real problem with these ‘hot’ issues is that the official side is just plain wrong.

    This doesn’t make the evangelical side right, but it does mean that official bullying and jailing heretics will not change minds. Sane and logical people have to reject a bad theory no matter who supports it.

    With “global warming”, the official theory is a testable theory, it has been tested, and it has been conclusively disproved. We don’t have an alternative answer yet, but it will probably connect more to changes inside the earth than changes in the atmosphere.

    With “evolution”, the official theory is not a theory at all. It’s just a set of stories, and secular biologists no longer believe the stories. They are working toward a new theory that will most likely end up uncomfortably close to Genesis. It increasingly appears that the plan for life was set up all at once, and all life derives from the single blueprint, with deletions along the way.

    • Pixie5

      Secular biologists no longer believe in the fact of evolution? Who exactly are you talking about? Mainstream scientists have not in any way given up on evolution. In fact it is the only thing that is able to explain biology in the first place.

  • elvischannel

    Criminal courts in this country operate on the assumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof lies with the state. Civil courts operate on the assumption of no liability until proven liable by the preponderance of the evidence. The burden of proof lies with the plaintiff. The court of each individual mind operates on the assumptions it holds and what side has the burden of proof. One can begin with the assumption of the Bible as truth, existence of God as truth, or whatever. One can decide that the burden of proof belongs to the creationist, the evolutionist, or whomever. One can set the rules of the court of one’s mind to favor one’s politics, prejudices, self interest, or whatever. One can determine what is admissible evidence or not. One can determine what the level of certainty it takes to establish the verdict of one’s own mind. One can create in one’s mind two separate courts, one with rules to cover one’s professional life and another with different rules to cover one’s personal life. That’s how even scientists can see things one way professionally and another way personally. One should be mindful of the rules of the courts one establishes in one’s mind and note if one really can handle the truth or not.

    • FA Miniter

      None of this has anything to do with real epistemology, however. If you want to understand what you really know and do not know, you must rigorously question your basic presuppositions.

      For instance, when a Bible-literalist says, “I believe the Bible is the word of God, because the Bible says it is the word of God and I believe that because the Bible is the word of God,” we have reached a basic presupposition. The argument is circular and calls on nothing prior as a basis. One either accepts the circularity of that and goes blindly forward with that premise in hand, or one questions why this text should have any priority over other texts, thus destroying the presupposition.

      In the latter case, one is eventually compelled to the process demonstrated by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason, beginning with a priori statements that one accepts as true (e.g., the syllogistic forms of Aristotelian logic and the inferential rules of Baconian inductive logic) and proceeds to reason from there.

      • elvischannel

        You’re absolutely right. None of this has anything to do with epistemology; it has everything to do with self deception and rationalization of primitive brain activity after the fact. It’s about winning in the court of one’s mind by setting up the rules to preclude any other result.

  • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

    Has there ever been an empirically verified example of random mutation and natural selection actually creating a different species? I know microevolution is easily verified empirically, but macroevolution is not a testable hypothesis. I want to know if evolution in the Dawrinian sense is actually provable, or is it conjecture? Thanks.

    • Tova Rischi

      Actually microevolution is an empirically verified example of random mutations and natural selection creating new species. A criticism from those who accept modern evolutionary theory is that the line between micro- and macro- evolution is arbitrary and superficial; where would you draw the line? Since bacteria reproduce much faster than, say, horses, we have more examples of their speciation than others, but if you look at organisms with especially high reproduction rates and especially in environments having undergone change you’ll find examples with larger organisms – for example, the apple hawthorn fly or drosophila melangastor or drosophila pseudoobscura (two species of fruit fly that arose without husbandry but under scientific observance). Try to imagine organizing the reproductive rates for all species on a graph from fastest to slowest and I’m sure you can imagine a spectrum of relatively fast rates (eg bacteria) to relatively slow rates (eg elephants). That’s the heart of the issue.

      Modern evolutionary theory is concerned with the changes in allele frequencies in populations over space and time; it makes no distinctions in time scales or organism size.

      • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

        This seems reasonable, Tova, but I have a hard time moving from this seemingly common sense observation to man evolving by random chance by these mechanisms over time. And I think this actually bolsters my initial assumption in my question; that you are extrapolating from what we can observe to the conclusion that a human could have evolved from some other species, which we can never observe. Moving from fruit flies to human beings is a very big leap, although it is not completely implausible based on what we know.

        If evolution is indeed the way man (sorry, woman too) came into existence there is no possibility it could be by chance. That is the heart of the issue speaking philosophically. Many evolutionists want to use the “fact” of evolution as their own creation narrative devoid of a Creator, which is one reason why religious folks like me have a visceral reaction against the “fact” of evolution. (I’m not sure it is indeed a fact at this point, thus the quotes). When you’re beat on the head over and over again that evolution makes God unnecessary, even though that doesn’t follow at all, you tend to not exactly want to embrace it.

        God could have very well used evolution by his creative power to give us the universe we inhabit, but what is totally implausible to people like me is that God wasn’t and isn’t necessary for all this to come about. For that to happen, chaos somehow had to produce order; lifeless matter had to produce life, chance had to produce intelligence, and accident purpose. And what about matter itself? Where did that come from? Why is there something rather than nothing? Can nothing produce something? Why is there death? Why is the goodness and beauty? I could go on.

        So evolution isn’t the issue; maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t. It doesn’t change the claims of biblical Christianity. What I do have a serious problem with however, is when evolution leads people like Peter Enns (we were at Westminster Seminary Philadelphia together—although he certainly wouldn’t remember me) to the belief that there is no historical Adam. That is seriously dangerous ground on which to tread because it eviscerates the very concept of redemption in Christ. Enns would obviously disagree with me, but he would be wrong.

        Thanks for your info.

        • Nick Winters

          “If evolution is indeed the way man (sorry, woman too) came into existence there is no possibility it could be by chance.” This is an assumption not borne out by the facts. The fact of common ancestry with apes is borne out by every branch of science; evolution is consistent with geology is consistent with physics is consistent with Chemistry and so forth. We have the time scale, we know the rate that species change, we can actually see into the chromosomes to determine the area where they changed into the human version instead of the ape version, etc.

          It’s understandable that this doesn’t feel like common sense, but you have not studied the actual evidence, seen the fossils, read the genome. The people who have almost uniformly say that evolution is the most plausible explanation, and is almost certainly true. Their opinion carries more weight than yours or mine because they actually know what they are talking about.

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            Thanks for the reply, Nick. We’re not discussing an empirical question here, but a philosophical one. You’re response is a kind of begging the question because it assumes evolution means chance, it means undirected processes that have no purpose other than atoms smashing together and boom! Out pops human beings. I’m not saying evolution is not a plausible explanation because you’re right, I haven’t and do not have the time to study the evidence. I’m just saying that evolution as an autonomous process that is purely material is simply not possible. It’s my own assumption that one, the God of the Bible is the creator of the universe, and two that something as complex and amazing and incredible as the universe just doesn’t come from nothing. That’s infinitely more plausible to me than some random material processes resulted in everything. It’s just ridiculous, even though some very smart people believe it. I feel sorry for them. .

          • Peter Wolfe

            Hi Mike,
            I think you are drawing conclusions on what is ridiculous a
            bit too easily here. I think you owe it to yourself to do some more
            digging. A couple of books I would recommend: The Wonder of the universe
            by Karl Giberson and I love Jesus and I Accept Evolution by Denis
            Lamoureux. The opposite problem you need to consider comes from the very
            smart people who you feel sorry for. There are too many of them for
            them all to be dead wrong – seriously – all these smart people all
            convinced (by?) that what they have discovered and hypothesized is all
            ridiculous? Too much data here to just wash away that simply I think.

          • Nick Winters

            Hi Mike,

            I always love discussions like this (IE with sincere people who are open to engaging with others) because even when disagreement persists, civility and respect abounds.


            Evolution is an empirical question because it makes testable claims. For what purpose does evolution work the way it does is a philosophical question; how it works (including the apparent lack of a designer) is an empirical claim. There are a couple of misconceptions in your post that I’d like to address, if I may.

            “You’re response is a kind of begging the question because it assumes evolution means chance, it means undirected processes that have no purpose other than atoms smashing together and boom! Out pops human beings.”

            There are three linked assertions in this bit to address: they are:
            1.) Evolution means chance
            2.) Chance is defined as undirected processes with no purpose
            3.) It’s end result is human beings.

            I agree with your definition of chance, as long as you assert that evolution is random (which it is not, due to natural selection). However, you are making two underlying assumptions that contribute to your disagreement that I’d like to unpack. The first, is purpose; it appears you are assuming that there is inherent purpose in the universe. While this might in fact be the case, in science that must be proven before you can use it in any Theory. Since we can’t prove purpose as a property of the universe, it should not be part of any theory. That’s not an assumption, but rather the null hypothesis: in science, absent testable evidence, you cannot assume the existence of any property or proposition.

            The second assumption is that evolution has an “end result”, and that it progresses “towards” something, in this case humans. Evolution has no end result, as it is still ongoing. It has produced humans, modern apes, dogs, cats etc. etc.; we are a byproduct, not an end.

            Now, human beings did not pop out suddenly in the process; they slowly took their modern form, and the process is not finished because that concept doesn’t exist in evolution. To whit, the appendix, or the coccyx (a bone structure that is essentially a vestigial tail if I remember my anatomy correctly), leftover byproducts that haven’t proven deadly enough for the species to evolve away from.

            You also seem to be conflating evolution with cosmology and abiogenesis. Remember, evolution says nothing about where life came from in the first place, and it says nothing about where the universe came from. It only addresses how life changed into its present form.

            Finally, to put on my devil’s advocate cap (with delicious irony!), there is easily room for god within evolution. Observe the following logical proposition:
            1.) If God is all knowing and all powerful
            2.) Since natural selection works by pushing species as a whole to conform to their environment.
            a.) All God has to do is create the universe in such a fashion that the environment would pressure species to evolve into their present day forms.

            No active guidance necessary.

            As a side note on cosmology, modern science doesn’t teach that our universe came from nothing; it came from a single dense point of all matter, which (as far as we know) could have always been in existence. Or God could have set off the big bang. But science does not argue we came from nothing.

            A final note on probability: you are making plausibility claims that seem rooted in the notion that there is no chance all this could have happened by autonomous processes. Consider the following scenario, however.

            I have a random number generator that generates numbers from one to a trillion. The generator spits out the number 63892. The chances of that number coming up are, literally, 1 in a trillion. But if that number had not come up another would have. It’s the same with the universe. There are an unfathomable number of ways our universe could have developed (not Evolved, remember!); this just happens to be the form that was spit out of the process. We can’t read into that, because we are like the puddle of water looking at the hole and saying “Wow, that hole is designed especially to fit my dimensions!”. But the hole is not (proven) to be designed for us; we are evolved and adapted to fit the hole. We work well with this universe and this world because we were shaped by it, not the other way round.

            I understand why this is hard to accept; the numbers and time-scales involved are almost impossible to truly comprehend except in the abstract. But its also the only explanation that fits all the evidence and doesn’t make assumptions we can’t verify. You said it yourself; you are starting from the assumption of the existence of God. Ockams Razor states that the proposition with the least number of assumptions is more likely to be correct, and in this case I’m operating with 2 fewer assumptions than you are.
            With that aside, remember that evolution does NOT say anything about God. Evolution is thus entirely compatible with your two assumptions in the last paragraph, assuming you also believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient. And are willing to read parts of the bible as metaphor and parable (as all Christians did throughout history until the last 100 years or so).

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            Couldn’t agree more, Nick. It’s been very encouraging to not debate evolution with rabid atheists. I’ll look forward to reading and thinking about what you’ve written when I get some time. Thanks for taking your time.

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            Nick, this was a lot to chew on and I had to read it several times to be clear as to exactly what you are saying. Here’s a go at a tentative response to some of your arguments. We all come to the table with assumptions, some warranted, some not, as you point out, although which ones are warranted and most reasonable is up for debate. Evolution could very well appear to work just as you say it has, and science can strive to give us empirical, observable explanations as to how that can happen. It makes no difference to me one way or the other because whatever the truth is, is just fine with me.

            My main interest in the topic is how certain people attempt to use evolution, fact or no, as if it somehow proved that God is unnecessary for the universe and us to exist. Science doesn’t and can’t answer this question. Many Christians and atheists make the same category error here. But you make an assumption that is not warranted by the facts. You state that evolutions tells us that “No active guidance [is] necessary,” which I believe would make you a Deist. Your assertion that evolution is an “autonomous” process is an assertion with no basis in fact. How do you know it is autonomous and that no guidance by God is necessary? From what do you infer this? I would argue this is purely a faith commitment on your part, which is fine, but you are not justified in saying this is the way things are and use science to allegedly prove it.

            If I agree that God uses secondary causes in the development of life on earth this does not in any way preclude primary causes. As a Christian I believe what God reveals about creation from his Word. In Colossians 1, Paul says that by Christ all things were created, and that (and this is the key point) in him “all things hold together.” In Acts 17 Paul says that God “gives all men life, breath and everything else.” So there are really no primary or secondary causes because while God is transcendent he is also immanent in his creation.

            And your notion of time and randomness being able to account for something is necessary for you to believe given the previous assumptions mentioned. As I think about it, something impossible (life as we know it coming about by unguided natural selection and random mutations, and whatever other mechanisms exist), cannot become possible just given more time. I know you say that natural selection means the process isn’t random, but since we cannot posit purpose as you say, what accounts for life as currently constructed? I guess the Darwinist would have to say adaption, right? But how do we know this? Do we observe this? Or do we speculate this?

            I think all of this makes me something of a presuppositionalist, in that there is no metaphysically neutral position in which we can come to the facts of existence. Your autonomous assertion is every bit as faith based as my biblical assertion about the God’s immanence in his creation. The empirical facts don’t point to one position or the other. I would argue my position has better explanatory power because as we observe, everything in life is contingent in some way.

            BTW, thanks for pointing out the distinction between evolution and cosmology. Point well taken.

            Thanks again for writing.

          • Nick Winters

            Hi Mike,

            Here is where we are violently in agreement:

            “My main interest in the topic is how certain people attempt to use evolution, fact or no, as if it somehow proved that God is unnecessary for the universe and us to exist. Science doesn’t and can’t answer this question. Many Christians and atheists make the same category error here.”

            Evolution, specifically, says nothing about the existence of the universe, and anyone using it in that vein probably doesn’t understand it. And of course, if the Universe requires God to exist, then by the transitive property of mathematics everything, including life, requires God to exist.

            On your next point, you quote my assertion that “No active guidance [is] necessary,” which I believe would make you a Deist. Your assertion that evolution is an “autonomous” process is an assertion with no basis in fact. How do you know it is autonomous and that no guidance by God is necessary?

            So I’m not actually a Deist; I’m just pointing out that Deists beliefs are not disprovable in the way young earth creationist’s beliefs are. But there’s also some confusion with the way I’m using necessary. Understandable, since when I reread it I realized I was being unclear.

            I’m using “necessary” as follows: I drop a pen. It falls. How do I explain that? Well, we have a theory of gravity that provides a comprehensive explanation of the mechanism which makes the pen fall. God is not “necessary” to that explanation because we know that mass attracts mass. Additionally, if we use the explanation “God did it” for everything, discovery shuts down and we stop learning. If we go from the idea “How did God do it” then we’re back to using the scientific method, but the explanation goes back to mass attracting mass and then tacks on the unproven assumption that God was involved. We can take off the assumption and the explanation stands. And scientific arguments HAVE to take off as many unproven assumptions as possible to be valid.

          • Nick Winters

            I’m splitting this into two posts in a vain stab at readability. I talk a lot :-). See the post below for part 1.

            Deism is not disprovable and doesn’t contradict the evidence; neither does the theology of immanence. My only problem with them is that they haven’t been affirmatively demonstrated to be true; logically sound does not equal true, and neither does plausible.

            Here’s where we disagree:

            “As I think about it, something impossible (life as we know it coming about by unguided natural selection and random mutations, and whatever other mechanisms exist)”

            You have not demonstrated that it is impossible, and thus are not justified in making that claim. Conversely, we have demonstrated the range of speeds at which evolution works, the types of changes it can make, and the timescale; all these things confirm that life as we know it both IS possible via those mechanisms and exists in a form that conforms to the rate of change we can see in nature.

            “I know you say that natural selection means the process isn’t random, but since we cannot posit purpose as you say, what accounts for life as currently constructed?”

            We’re off to the parable of the pond. The pond, upon gaining sentience, exclaims “Wow! It’s amazing that these shores are the exact right shape to contain my body. It must have been created to fit me!” But of course, in reality, the pond is shaped by its surroundings. Likewise, natural selection acts as the shores for the pool of evolution, and all species evolve and survive better when their shape conforms to their surrounding selection pressures. Evolution fully explains the current shape of life (not construction! ;-) )

            “I guess the Darwinist would have to say adaption, right?”

            Wrong. Evolution is what a scientifically knowledgeable person would say.

            Darwinist is a term used by some Christian groups that think scientists get their information from Authority, like they do from the bible. Scientists, by nature, question and try to disprove received wisdom, and get their information from experimentation.

            Theories are frameworks that have survived those repeated attempts to disprove so many times that even contentious scientists have been forced to accept them as the most likely and useful explanation.

            Adaptation is what you do after you are born. It’s a process in which you change your actions to fit your environment.

            Mutation is what happens to the genes of individual animals (human or otherwise) as they are in the process of developing in the womb. Possibly on the eggs and sperm; I’m forgetting my high school biology.

            Evolution is what species, large swathes of genetically similar creatures do over generations. No individual has ever evolved, in the scientific sense.

            “But how do we know this? Do we observe this?”

            Yes, we observe this. Beginning with Darwin’s observations of the vast physical diversity of the finches on the Galapagos, and moving on to modern genetics and the study of the fossil record, we can observe the process of evolution and even trace it back in time. The various fossils demonstrating Human evolution have been well documented; setting aside the proven hoaxes like Piltdown Man, the confirmed fossils that have been vetted and tested confirm Darwin’s initial hypothesis. And then, genetics ties everything together, giving us a map that we can use to trace our relationship back to the tiniest prehistoric creatures.

            “I think all of this makes me something of a presuppositionalist, in that there is no metaphysically neutral position in which we can come to the facts of existence.”

            I disagree with presuppositionalism on a philosophical basis, which is to say I’ve read its claims, and then read the rebuttals, and the rebuttals were more persuasive. Essentially, presuppositionalism asserts God as a premise, without questioning the presuppositions that lead to that premise, and thus is circular. In terms of knowledge, I am agnostic, which I use to mean that I do not accept that we can objectively know anything for certain.

            However, since science alone makes no absolute claims about reality, it is the only system that can get us even within shouting distance of the truth. Even it’s presuppositions, the logical absolutes, are adopted with the proviso that they are necessary to use to get anything done, but not proven absolutely true. We could all be brains in jars, and there’s no way to disprove it, so we might as well work with what we’ve got. On the other hand, while individual Christians may have doubt, the religion itself claims absolute authority and knowledge (I am the truth, the only way, etc.). That, to me, seems ridiculous based on the fallibility of our minds and the very human development of all those religions (I’ve studied early Christianity to a limited extent).

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            Hey there, Nick. Thanks again for writing and taking the time. Don’t feel compelled to keep doing it if you lose interest, but I thought it would be fun to respond to some of your thoughts, which are clear you’ve thought a lot about.

            Your faith in evolution, and it is faith, is certainly strong, but I am not at all sure (as an unguided, purely material process) it is true or justified. Well, obviously I don’t believe it is true or justified. I simply do not have the time or inclination to really study all the issues in depth, but you are quite sanguine in your assessment of the evidence, like the fossil record for instance, which doesn’t at all confirm or even hint at the gradual change you put your faith in. I know you’re familiar with Punctuated equilibrium, so not even everyone on your side agrees with you.

            This statement is rather breathtaking to me, “Evolution fully explains the current shape of life.” I cannot state this any more strongly: This is a complete leap of faith. You say this because you’ve bracketed off the question of why anything exists as irrelevant to the discussion.

            Your faith in “science” is also incredibly naïve. Scientist, you seem to say, are purely rational agents (where does reason come from?) who are completely neutral, objective observers of empirical evidence. Science has incredible value, and I very much appreciate what science has given the human race (so glad I was born in 1960 and not some other century’s 60), but science is done by humans, and in case you haven’t noticed humans are not perfect (fallen in Christian terms), thus they are, well, you pick the vices, which can all cloud their judgment.

            You claim scientists don’t get their information from authority, which ideally and on the whole is true, but to think that scientists are not influenced by bias or predilection to certain conclusions is again, naïve. But of course, you want to believe science if pure as the wind driven snow, so you can’t see the obvious, that is that science is done by human beings, and thus susceptible to human weakness.

            I think my statement about presuppositionalism wasn’t clear. I wasn’t really speaking about Van Tilian thought of starting with the Bible, etc., which is of course circular as you state. What I was getting at is that nobody comes to the evidence, whatever that might be, evidence for evolution, or evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, neutrally. Everyone lives in a position of faith because we are finite.

            You say you are an agnostic, which you define as the inability that we can “objectively know anything for certain.” Really? You sound really, really, certain that evolution is the truth. That evolution is the way the world actually works and that, as you say, “Evolution fully explains the shape of life.” You can’t have it both ways. You are epistemologically inconsistent to say the least!

            Your understanding of science, as alone making no absolute claims about reality, is awfully convenient for someone with your faith commitments. Theoretically you are of course right, that science is based on theories and evidence and anything can be disproven by new evidence, etc., but your dogmatism about evolution completely undermines this assertion. Completely.

            Yet, your point of the fallibility of our minds is excellent, but your conclusions don’t follow ineluctably. They ONLY follow based on one absolutely unprovable assumption: that we live in a closed, material universe. It’s funny how atheists, agnostics, naturalists, relativists, all make certain claims, but apply completely different standards to others who don’t buy their version of reality. You make a claim to know for certain that we cannot know for certain, which is obviously self-refuting; it is nonsense. Our fallible minds and natures should lead us to humility that our grasp of truth is tenuous, not that we cannot know truth certainly.

            Let me explain to you as a Christian, how Christianity has superior explanatory power to any other worldview of the universe as we find it and we who inhabit it. God made the world, very good. He made man in his image. God gave man freedom, which he used to rebel against God, to in effect usurp the Creator’s rightful place in his life. In Genesis 3 we see the very essence of this fall. Satan first calls God a liar, that Adam and Eve would “surely” not die when they ate of the fruit of the tree. He tells them in effect that God is an insecure, jealous being who wants to be the only God, and is keeping something good from them. As Satan lies:

            5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

            They eat; sin and death enter the world. So, you say, what does this have to do with anything? Only everything. Human beings look and act like fallen beings who were created good. There is no such thing as evil that is not parasitic on the good. That is why we see references to the “better angels of our nature.” Atheism or agnosticism cannot explain human nature as we find it. It cannot explain goodness and beauty and truth, nor evil and ugliness and lies. Christianity explains it all perfectly. This is why James Madison wrote in Federalist 51:

            “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

            Many or most of the Founders were not orthodox Christians, but they were certainly steeped in a Christian anthropology. Materialism is a bankrupt view of reality and cannot plausibly explain the world as we find it. I could go on, but I’ve taken enough of our time.

            One more thing I forgot to add. We do not lived in a closed system according to Christianity. We can know through natural means, but we can also know because God has revealed himself and knowledge to us through his Word and through Jesus Christ. These have come from outside of the box, as it were, to give us knowledge we could not know otherwise. And I find this knowledge and all the evidence for it incredibly persuasive.

            Lastly, I very much like your pen analogy, and couldn’t agree more. But a life that thinks how answers are all that is relevant to live, is poverty on a grand metaphysical scale.


          • Nick Winters

            So putting aside the bible verses, which are as relevant to me as the wisdom of Yoda, I’ll address the paragraphs one by one.

            “Your faith in evolution, and it is faith, is certainly strong”

            Here we need to define “faith”. I view faith as the “evidence of things unseen”, or in laymen’s terms, believing in things without empirical evidence to back up your beliefs. This is because there is a fundamental disconnect in most religious people’s beliefs in God and their belief that, say, the sun will come up tomorrow, and yet they use faith to refer to both. I find that fundamentally dishonest as a debate tactic, but I realize most people don’t actually realize that they are talking about two different things when they say faith.

            So no, I don’t have faith in evolution; I accept that it is likely true based on the evidence at hand and the fact that, so far, no one’s come up with a better framework.

            “fossil record for instance, which doesn’t at all confirm or even hint at the gradual change you put your faith in. I know you’re familiar with Punctuated equilibrium,”

            But it does, and the theory CHANGED to accommodate the new evidence of punctuated equilibrium. You might not be up to speed on the current state of the theory. The basic explanation is that evolutionary change speeds up in the presence of heightened selection forces. Sharks haven’t evolved much for millennia because they are perfectly suited to their environment; massively change that environment, and they might start evolving.

            “”Evolution fully explains the current shape of life.” I cannot state this any more strongly: This is a complete leap of faith.”

            Sorry, that was a bit absolute. I should have written, “the evolutionary framework accounts for all the evidence currently available to us, which includes the current shape of life.” Seriously, there is actually an explanation, on a macro scale for everything we know. The trick is, we might not know exactly HOW the appendix evolved, but we do know that the current theoretical framework is likely to be able to answer that, because it has every time we’ve applied it. Of course, having an explanation doesn’t mean that it’s right; it just means that it’s the best Theory (capital T) currently in existence because no one else has a better one.

            “Your faith in “science” is also incredibly naïve. Scientist, you seem to say, are purely rational agents (where does reason come from?) who are completely neutral, objective observers of empirical evidence.”

            I’m not claiming that. Science (the process) encompasses scientists (the fallible human being with all the biases inherent to the human condition.) What makes science reliable is that, over time, it weeds out that bias because every scientist is constantly trying to disprove the propositions of other scientists. Over time, the better explanations of reality survive. The process is, of course, NOT complete, and never will be.

            “You claim scientists don’t get their information from authority, which ideally and on the whole is true, but to think that scientists are not influenced by bias or predilection to certain conclusions is again, naïve.”

            I’m not saying they are not biased, I’m saying that scientists, when following proper procedure, do not believe that gravity works the way it does BECAUSE NEWTON SAID SO. They believe it because people CONFIRMED Newtons propositions experimentally. That’s what I mean about authority. Truth doesn’t come from other people, or books; truth comes from experimentation and independent confirmation. It’s about the PROCESS.

            “What I was getting at is that nobody comes to the evidence, whatever that might be, evidence for evolution, or evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, neutrally. Everyone lives in a position of faith because we are finite.”

            First sentence, agreed. It is almost impossible to escape our biases. Second sentence, nope. I don’t have faith (per my definition) in anything. I tentatively and temporarily accept propositions when enough evidence has accumulated to make said acceptance realistic. Most people live that way in practice; you don’t have “faith” that your spouse loves you, you have evidence of that fact through the way they look at you, touch you, speak to you, interact with you. From that evidence, you draw a conclusion of love. Yet that is still tentative. ALL conclusions should be tentative. My acceptance of evolution is tentative, in that I would drop it in a second in the face of a better theory. None exists, to my knowledge.

            Now if you are using faith to mean acceptance of something as true, then sure I have faith. But by using that definition, you are chastising the English language with scorpions, and the language doesn’t deserve that. :-)

            “You say you are an agnostic, which you define as the inability that we can “objectively know anything for certain.” Really? You sound really, really, certain that evolution is the truth.”

            I sound certain because I have a 97% certainty in the veracity of evolution. What I mean by “know anything for certain” is that no one is ever justified in claiming 100% certainty for anything. I’m 99.99% certain the sun will come up tomorrow, but a quasar could fire off a burst of radiation and fry the planet before that happens. Thus I’m not CERTAIN. My agnosticism is philosophical, mainly, in that as a practical matter I live as if I was certain about many things. For an example, as an agnostic atheist I maintain that it’s not justified to say “No deity exists”; but I live as if I believed that because as a practical matter I think its really unlikely that any deity exists. All agnosticism means to me is an acknowledgment that I could be wrong about every single thing I believe.

            “but your dogmatism about evolution completely undermines this assertion. Completely.”

            See above statements. What I’m saying is that smarter men and women than me have answered all of the objections to evolution; I’m prepared to accept their judgement as long as they are practicing good science, and until they are proven wrong. I’ve read the objections to evolution, and I’ve read the people who’ve answered and disproved those objections, so I accept the theory as true for the moment.

            “Our grasp of truth is tenuous, not that we cannot know truth certainly.”

            These are THE SAME THING. Since we know our grasp on truth is tenuous, humility dictates that we never assume that we know anything certainly.

            “They ONLY follow based on one absolutely unprovable assumption: that we live in a closed, material universe.”

            We don’t live in a closed universe. Scientists have demonstrated that matter is popping into existence, absent any other causes, which proves that our universe is not closed. I don’t know where you get the idea that evolution or the fallibility of human minds depend on a closed universe. That’s not part of those theories.

            As for material, refer back to the scientific method. To demonstrate something, it must be built on all the things that have been demonstrated before. We can’t demonstrate the spiritual, ergo science can’t take it into account even if it might exist. But yes, science does assume a material universe. If you DEMONSTRATE the spiritual realm, in a repeatable, reliable fashion, then science can start to investigate. Once again, though, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, as the many religious scientists will point out to you. Just that “God Did It” has zero explanatory power for the purpose of making predictions, machines, pills, and theorems.

            “Let me explain to you as a Christian, how Christianity has superior explanatory power to any other worldview of the universe as we find it and we who inhabit it.”

            All of it based on the uncritical acceptance of the bible as a source of truth. To which I say, meh. My worldview is based on demonstrable facts, evidence, and inquiry, and guess which heuristic has produced all the wonders and terrors of the modern age?

            “Atheism or agnosticism cannot explain human nature as we find it. It cannot explain goodness and beauty and truth, nor evil and ugliness and lies.”

            While technically true, you are mistaking atheism and agnosticism for worldviews. Atheism explains nothing, and has no dogmas; it simply answers the question “Does God exist” by saying “no one’s proved it to me yet.” Likewise, agnosticism simply is a statement of uncertainty, with no explanatory value.

            SCIENCE, on the other hand, can explain goodness (adapted social morality and empathy), beauty (symmetry is pleasing as an evolutionary byproduct), truth (more the realm of philosophy, and still open for debate), evil (selfishness, errant genes, and rage), ugliness (really? Evolutionary hiccups and prejudice), and lies (telling something one does not believe in.). These are my layman’s understanding, by the way; talk to a psychologist, evolutionary biologist, philosopher etc. to see the secular answers to these questions. Even love is explained via Oxytocin, adaptive pair bonding and social empathy. The trick is, THESE THINGS ARE STILL AWESOME AND BEAUTIFUL WITHOUT RELIGION. Watch the Cosmos show to see how science revels in the glories of our universe. Human nature is explicable in many respects. We are still learning, but we aren’t arrogantly asserting (as religion does) that we have all the answers. We do have many of them, however.

            “One more thing I forgot to add. We do not lived in a closed system according to Christianity. We can know through natural means, but we can also know because God has revealed himself and knowledge to us through his Word and through Jesus Christ. These have come from outside of the box, as it were, to give us knowledge we could not know otherwise. And I find this knowledge and all the evidence for it incredibly persuasive.”

            I don’t find that knowledge persuasive at all for a large variety of reasons. The earth has never been a closed system (the sun!) and the universe, we are now learning, is not a closed system, which may contradict some assumptions about entropy. None of this points to a God (nor precludes it), but to me the manifest harms of the Christian religious worldview, particularly the fact that it has been on BOTH sides of questions such as slavery, homosexuality, war, torture etc. make it unpersuasive to me as a moral barometer. And of course I’ve never seen a good explanation of how knowledge comes from outside our universe (partially because I don’t accept your view of knowledge as a thing that exists r.e. agnosticism)

            A word to the wise. Quoting the bible is useless when talking to atheists, because we view it as ancient literature with limited truthfulness. As an explanation of WHY you believe something, sure, but when you try to use it as evidence for the superiority of your worldview I just start to laugh because it isn’t good historical evidence. I have a masters in history (meaning I am trained in how to verify the veracity of historical claims), and the level of confirmation of biblical claims is substandard at best compared to other texts in history. We could have a whole debate on the veracity of the bible, but I think that would take this thread off topic massively.

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            Lordy, you are insane! (reference to the thoroughness and length of your response, not mental capacities:). I look forward to responding in due course, but I will make one quick comment to your disparagement of the Bible. You seem to be a careful thinker, but comparing, even if it’s only “to you,” the Bible to a fictional character in a popular movie series does not do you justice. It is sloppy and betrays a deep seeded bias at the center of your thinking.

            The Bible is one of the and arguably THE most influential book (or 66 books) in the history of the world. It makes stupendously significant claims about its authority and veracity which transformed both the ancient and modern worlds. To even put it in the same sentence as Yoda is juvenile. To say such a thing betrays not only a bias, and thus dishonesty, but an ignorance of what it actually says.

            There are Bible scholars who don’t believe it is the actual revelation of the true and Living God like I do, but they don’t poo poo it as somehow unworthy of serious consideration as to what it claims to be.

          • Nick Winters

            You’re correct in the comparative influence of the Bible versus Star Wars; I was using humor in somewhat poor taste to point to the futility of using the bible as a proof text when conversing with an atheist. Of course the bible is massively influential, both as a literary document and as a sacred document. BUT its value as a historical record (as opposed to its value as a window into the minds of the early Christians and Hebrews) is limited due to the lack of independent confirmation of central claims. This does not make it valueless, but it does make it suspect as a historical source.

            And I will say that it’s serious consideration of the claims of the bible that leads me to that conclusion. I poo poo it as a historical source because I have already investigated it as a historical source and found it wanting. Other scholars have reached different conclusions. And the debate rages on :-)

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            I appreciate the clarification, Nick. Although it is impossible to debate your claim, and mine, that it is a reliable historical source, in comments on a blog post, it would be fascinating to know what exactly you’ve investigated to lead you to this conclusion. Maybe one day if you ever find yourself in Chicago, or I where you are, we can sit down over an adult beverage or coffee and explore these and many other things. Thanks.

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            Hi again, Nick. Busy, busy life, so not as much time to get to blog comments. So we continue . . .

            Faith: Your definition of faith is self-serving because it assumes methodological naturalism and that the only reliable knowledge we can have is empirical. This is of course self-refuting, but I think that’s obvious. Faith is NOT believing in things without empirical evidence, even if you quote from the Bible, which is of course a “no no” in your world. Faith is a requirement of life regardless of the context because we have limited knowledge. Faith in fact can be a leap in the dark devoid of evidence, empirical or not. Or faith can be a rational inference of trust based on available evidence, empirical or not.

            Since we are having challenges of definition, when I say faith I mean trust. Yes you have evidence that your wife loves you, but to conclude that she actually does requires faith or trust in said evidence. You see, in your truncated world (where on the material is what we can know) you have to bracket faith as “religious” and not rationally related to evidence because you have to in order to justify your atheism or agnosticism. You have to believe we religious folks are just deluded Neanderthals who a la Marx or Freud believe as wish fulfillment. Since the only knowledge you can trust is that derived from empirical testing and such, you automatically assert any other evidence, like historical evidence, as de facto not allowed.

            But back to you, you very much do have faith in evolution because your knowledge is limited. For instance you believe in the uniformity of the laws of nature, that they have always been thus. Prove it. You can’t.

            I have to laugh at the “theory CHANGED to accommodate the new evidence of punctuated equilibrium.” Isn’t that convenient for the evolutionists. Take the lack of evidence in the inconvenient fossil record and make the theory fit the lack of evidence. My what a malleable theory. If you weren’t so serious I would think this is a joke to make evolutionists look silly. Evolution changes speeds, hahaha.

            When you say “Truth doesn’t come from other people, or books, truth comes from experimentation and independent confirmation,” are you saying this is the only source of this thing you call truth? I appreciate that you do believe in something called “truth” but based on your worldview truth can’t really, objectively exist. Unless of course you take a leap of faith, which of course you do!

            Books and books and books have been written to counter the thinking of the likes of you (you can tell I’ve been reading/watching stories from the 19th Century). My step brother-in-law J.P. Moreland wrote a book called Scaling the Secular City, which utterly destroys the pretense of naturalists/physicalists/materialists, that somehow their knowledge is the only real knowledge. One of the most brilliant minds in philosophy today is David Bently Hart. He wrote a book a handful of years ago inspired by the insipid “New Atheists” that makes them, and atheism in general, look absolutely stupid. If you don’t engage in people like this, your faith is simply wish fulfillment. You don’t want there to be a God because if there is you will be accountable to him, and admit you are a sinner in need of a Savior, so you define reality, be it faith or science or knowledge, to exclude him.

            I must say I do appreciate your understanding of the tentative nature of your knowledge, at least that which your worldview allows you to know. So many people who on the atheist/agnostic site of the equation are fundamentalists and so really annoying. No humility whatsoever.

            I need to challenge a presumption you have that really galls people like me. You state with absolute certainty, which you claim you cannot have the following:

            “All of it (whatever I say as a Christian) is based on the uncritical acceptance of the Bible as a source of truth. To which I say, meh. My worldview is based on demonstrable facts, evidence, and inquiry . . . .” Why do you assume anyone who accepts the Bible’s claims about itself as “uncritical.” That is hugely unfair and dishonest, as if only “critical,” i.e. careful people who really care about the truth and evidence, will come to the right conclusions, which surprisingly enough are the conclusions you come to. Damn! Isn’t that convenient.

            Last thing because I’m not going to convince you and you sure will never convince me, but your claim that the Bible lacks historical evidence is laughable and completely false. In fact, in terms of ancient literature, the Bible has infinitely more evidence for its claims than any other ancient literature, bar far! Just the number of manuscripts alone of the New Testament in Greek, full or partial, number over 5000! But gosh, since you have a degree in history, well, you must be right!

            Anyway, your worldview, and it is a worldview, and it does have to prove something and it does explain; to state it simply is negation is convenient, as is everything you seem to believe, so only your conclusions are valid, which of course they are based on your unprovable, a priori faith commitments to naturalism. The explanatory power of the Bible fits reality perfectly, while science as an explanation is purely reductionism, and a very poor reductionism at that.


          • Daniel Fisher

            Nick, wonder if we might agree on one clarification if I may jump in… The process of organisms developing new traits and structures is completely random, i.e., there is no mechanism wherein the organism says, “wow, I could really use X mutation right about now…” Natural selection simply weeds out the misfit toys and keeps those whose new (and entirely random) traits that provide advantage (or at least no disadvantage) in survival and reproduction, no? So not entirely random, in the sense that you have an algorithm to reject the misfits, but it is only selecting what was completely randomly generated.

            Also, “in science, absent testable evidence, you cannot assume the existence of any property or proposition.” I’m not sure i follow, since the universe not having a purpose is as much a property or proposition as the idea of it having one? Sure, it would be one thing to remain as neutral as possible on the topic… But that is different than what I typically see (not necessarily from you), where the idea of the universe having no purpose is enshrined as axiomatic but having a purpose is an idea excluded from the outset as “prejudicing” the data….

            Fully concur that as evolution is understood it was not progressing “toward” man (or anything else). And while I appreciate your point about probability, I don’t think it relates to what is being debated: I at least would not argue with the basic idea that there were a trillion different varieties of sentient, complex , moral beings that could have been made, and humans are the ones that happened along…. The point is more that when i examine what is required to develop ANY sentient, conscious, moral, complex being with even comparable biological, neurological, and intellectual complexity to a human arising from this process on any of the billion x billion planets in this universe…. the odds still surpass a googolplex to one…. Especially after the decades upon decades where we have witnessed approx a million generations and billions of bacteria, and witness no new complex structures that we be even the first steps to the larger process.

            P.S. not sure how genuinely vestigial the coccyx is… Doubt you’d want to try to live without yours. To my recollection the appendix is the only item that genuinely seems purposeless , though even that is debated in medicine. That being said, it is the single exception that proves the rule…. Basic evolutionary theory would predict all kinds of useless, unorganized, purposeless structures…. So long as they weren’t actually deleterious to the organism, natural selection would not weed them all out. The fact that we don’t have a multitude of seemingly useless structures, in my mind, argues against organisms being the result of random mutation, with natural selection weeding out only deleterious changes.

          • Nick Winters

            Hi Daniel,
            Following your points in order:

            Yes, the mutation process is random and lacks an end goal, but natural selection provides limitations and directions in which a species as a whole can evolve. Thus to call evolution random is wrong, because it implies a complete lack of structure. Your point is true, but the problem is in the larger discussions, the “random” talking point gets flung around with abandon to try to cause confusion (not that you are doing, this, I’m referring to other, less principled debators) Thus I try to stamp it out because its not as accurate as other terms.

            I disagree that lacking a purpose is a property, for the reason that it is impossible to prove a negative. Remember, science is built on a rock hard core of repeatable evidence. Everything has to be supported and/or explained by all of the interlocking scientific disciplines, all of which must be able to demonstrate the reliability of their claims. Once you get beyond the logical absolutes (Gold is Gold and is not not-Gold), demonstrating a negative becomes almost impossible.

            So in terms of the universe, we know its expanding, because of spectral analysis and our understanding of light. We know gravity exists, because I can drop a pen. We know how stars work, how planets form etc. through demonstrations of the basic chemical principles, physics etc. Thus we can make those claims about the universe. We have not yet experimentally demonstrated a purpose, and therefore one cannot be assumed. This does not mean Science assumes there isn’t a purpose, but merely that a purpose is not evident and thus has no predictive or experimental value until it is demonstrated.

            For probability, the number doesn’t matter. Without multiple universes, no matter how high the number is one of the possibilities had to come to pass. Probability only matters when you have multiple iterations of the same task or situation, occurring over and over again, because then you can figure out whether what has already happened will happen again. With a sample size of 1, probability is literally meaningless. 1 universe, 1 timeline, 1 single iteration of events.

            A quick wikipedia search on human vestigial organs lists a wide array of vestigial structures within the human body, as predicted by evolutionary theory. I’d recommend following a couple of the links; my point about the coccyx was more about the vestigial tails that pop up from time to time, but the structure itself could easily be much smaller and differently shaped. Since you are unsure, perhaps you should not be so sure in your dismissal considering the uniform acceptance of vestigiality among the people who do this for a living and have access to all the data.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Thanks for the thoughts – I quickly reviewed the Wikipedia data on vestigial organs… all of them discussed under humans (the rest of the animals were not terribly detailed), excepting the appendix which is still debated, described organs or structures with very real, definite, recognizable functions, though I’d have to do more research on a few – don’t remember much about the muscles around the ear.

            Problem is that *concluding* that any of these functioning organs or muscles is in fact vestigial requires the presumption that humans really did evolve from ancestors that had different functions for these structures. If that assumption is not made, all we have is a fully functioning, useful, and well designed coccyx, plica semilunaris, occipitofrontalis muscle, etc.
            occipitofrontalis is a perfect example – designed and works perfectly to allow us to have and make the various facial expressions that we have. Other primates use this muscle for other more structural functions. One can conclude that this muscle is vestigial only if you presume already that humans descended from the primates that use this muscle for a different function. But nothing about the muscle in humans, looked at in isolation, says, “wow, this muscle has no function, no purpose, it must be vestigial.” It has a perfectly useful, balanced, and important function, nothing vestigial about it in and of itself – it can only be concluded to be vestigial if it is presumed that the human descended from an animal that used that muscle for a different function.
            Nothing wrong with that hypothesis on the surface, and exploring various experimental consequences. But as a “proof” of human evolution and common descent, however, it is circular – we know humans descended from primates (in part) because they have this vestigial structure…. We know this structure to be vestigial because the primates from which humans descended didn’t use it for the same function….

          • Nick Winters

            You’re partially confusing vestigial with non-functioning. Vestigial organs can and often do have continued, limited function, but the defining trait is that they have lost most or all of their ancestral function. Vestigial tails are a perfect example; at a rate above random mutation, human babies are born with tails. This is due to the DNA coding from our ancestors that still allows for that possibility. The tails may work (blood flow, etc), but serve no useful function.

            In the case of occipitofrontalis, you are correct in that if we ignore all the other evidence out there, there is no reason to assume vestigiality. But of course, you aren’t allowed to cherry-pick evidence in science: other apes, closely related to us (vis a vis DNA and Chromosome 21), have the same muscle which is used to balance the head on the spinal column.

            And remember, Science doesn’t have anything to do with “proof”. Evolution is a framework that explains ALL of the available evidence, organs that appear vestigial included. DNA points to vestigial organs, our own bodies point to vestigial organs, comparisons with other species point to vestigial organs, and there are no other explanations rooted in science that cover all the bases. If one comes up, then we can compare it with evolution and see whether it is better, but any explanation you use MUST conform to 100% of the available evidence in all fields of science. Like all propositions in Science, evolution is tentative, but like all THEORIES in science, its been confirmed so many times in so many different ways that it’s not really reasonable to challenge its existence unless you have overwhelming (or really, any) evidence. Specific parts of the theory are constantly under revision as new evidence is discovered, but the basic framework of common descent was effectively confirmed with the discovery of DNA.

          • Daniel Fisher

            You are correct in that I was misusing “vestigial” for “nonfunctioning.” But even your example of a vestigial tail will only be perceived as vestigial with the assumption of ancestry – to me, who does not make that assumption, I see a birth defect of an abnormally large/long tailbone or the muscular remnants of spinal formation – which for whatever reason during development did not properly retract into the embryo’s body, but as it developed, it, like any other abnormality, will still have muscle, blood, etc.
            For comparison, when I read of a child born with a sixth finger, I (and I assume you also?) do not see that as an example of a “vestigial” finger, but simply as some odd mutation or perhaps mal-formation during development. We do not see this as vestigial because we are harboring no assumption that ancestors had a sixth finger… Well, I, refraining from holding the assumption that human ancestors had tails, similarly see no “vestigiality” when a child is born with a birth defect wherein their developmental tail was for whatever reason not fully absorbed into the developing embryo.
            Agreed Evolution is a framework to help explain – and on some levels (variations, even very significant ones, within populations) it works quite seamlessly, and is experimentally verifiable; but I simply do not share the perspective that it adequately explains everything about the overarching complexity of biological, especially human, life; and of formation of perfectly balanced, amazingly complex structures and systems – there are plenty of areas where I see a failure to be confirmed by reality, experiment, predictive function, and the like.

          • Nick Winters

            My only point here would be that there is no theory currently out there other than evolution that explains why a tail would be part of a human’s developmental process at all. Or why we look the same as a chicken in the initial stages of our development in the womb. That doesn’t mean such a theory could not be created or be correct, just that the current model accounts for all the evidence and thus is reasonable to accept at this juncture.

            And this is probably the exact point at which we diverge. I’ve had my questions about evolution answered to my satisfaction, and you haven’t. I’d encourage you to run your questions past someone qualified to answer them (any evolutionary biologist would do), but that would require hunting one down and they’re usually busy doing science things ;-) So at this point I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. I’ve had fun talking with you!

    • Doug Goodin

      Yes, there has been. See the work of Richard Lenski at Michigan State University.

      • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

        Thanks, Doug. I can’t read Lenski’s stuff in depth (time you know), but while the adaptions of the E-Coli are impressive, it doesn’t seem to confirm that a fish became a dog, etc. These seem to be adaptions at the micro level and point to the possibility of change at the macro level, but I don’t think it proves it. I could be wrong, but that’s what it seems. I’m inclined to not believe in the Darwinian take on evolution because of my religious convictions, so I could be blind. Hopefully not, but it’s certainly possible.

        • FA Miniter

          Actually, dog like creatures became whales: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_cetaceans

          I think I understand your fear. If evolution is correct, if all current life forms evolved from simpler life forms over 500 million years or more, then how can we say that only humans have souls. Either all animals have souls like humans, or no animals have souls at all. Some try to reclaim religious theory be claiming that at some point in human evolution, God ensouled humans. But when and why become a problem.

          The problem, if you reject evolution, is what do you do with all of the evidence. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_evolution for a quick summary. And it is no longer just the plethora of skeletons that keep being found, showing stages of development, it is the DNA that is substantiating it. We now have neanderthal DNA.

          We also have evidence of evolution in other species. And what do you do with the museums full of dinosaurs and pterodactyls? You don’t really hold with the Creationist Museum that Adam and Eve shared the Garden of Eden with Tyrannosaurus Rex, do you? Or, to bring it a bit closer, Wooly Mammoths and Saber-toothed Tigers? Do you give up medicine all together?

          And what about the speed of light and the red shift Doppler Effect, giving us evidence that the universe is billions of years old? Do you give up physics as well as biology, molecular biology, and biochemistry?

          What are you willing to give up to preserve a literalist interpretation of the Bible?

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            FA, what makes you think I embrace a “literalist” interpretation of the Bible? Because Adam and Eve were historical persons who actually existed? And why would I have anything to fear? Just because I’m not yet convinced that Darwinian evolution is a “fact”? Have you ever read “The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate”? if I buy the argument of the book what does that make me? Still afraid?

          • FA Miniter

            Walton is, essentially, among the “some” I mentioned who try to say that God ensouled humans at some point. He uses the term function to describe what God did, but it comes to the same thing.

            By the way, did you know that the god of Genesis 1, El, is not the god of Genesis 2:4 et seq. – Yahweh. The finding of tablets at the Ugarit archaeological site, in Syria, in the late 1920s has given us the history of El, a creator god with 70 children, of whom Yahweh was one.

          • Sharon Diehl

            Behavioral scientists have demonstrated that dolphins, elephants, gorillas, and chimps have self-awareness using mirror tests. We all breed, breathe, and bleed the same–I’ve always figured whatever happens at death, we all end up the same.

        • Doug Goodin

          What happened in Lenski’s bacteria is not adaptation. Adaptation does not change the genome. In Lenski’s experiment, the genome of the bacteria actually changed, which is fundamentally the definition of evolution. The differentiation of micro from macro evolution is specious. What really matters is genetic change, and Lenski has shown that this fundamental element of natural selection actually happens. The idea that fish became dogs is also not consistent with evolution. What is consistent is that fish and dogs shared a common ancestor, as in fact do all living organisms. Also, remember that these changes take place very slowly. One way I think of it is to imagine that you and your ancestors were arranged in a long line, all the way back to beginning of life. Any two adjacent ancestors would be virtually identical. In fact, you could go several hundreds or perhaps even thousands of generations with little or no apparent change. However, if you went millions of generations, you would see change. The key point is that over short time scales, the changes would still not be apparent. There was no magic moment when a protohuman gave birth to a modern human (or that a fish gave birth to a dog), the change is gradual.

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            That makes sense, Doug, and seems plausible. One problem I have, though, is how could something like an eye slowly evolve over millions of years? What would be the purpose of half an eye, an eye that can’t actually see? Does not the theory of evolution say that mutations create (wrong word) changes for a reason, so the entity is more adapted to its environment, something like that? I’m not sure length of time makes one tenth of a human being, or dog or whatever, make sense, something that could actually survive. See what I mean?

          • Daniel Fisher

            Mike, generally it is suggested that the process started with photo-sensitive cells in an organism, simply cells that could do no more than detect the presence/absence of light, which gave an advantage over its peers, and then small adaptations gradually improved over time. So it is suggested that there are in fact “half-eyes” that do at least see something – and there are creatures of that sort that exist today. Not that this is what I believe, but those who hold such an idea aren’t simply proposing a completely half-formed and completely non-functioning predecessor t the complex eye.

            Even so, the main reason I am terribly skeptical of this process is related to what Doug mentioned above – that we would be able to see this kind of change if we could witness millions of generations. But in various microoganisms, we are in fact able to witness a million generations and billions of offspring over a single person’s lifetime, and we witness no such significant changes – fascinating adaptations, evolution, and useful mutations to be sure, but never some new complex organelle (nor even the first steps toward such) that would be comparable to the tremendous and even more complex leaps in evolution that are believed to happen in a comparable million generations of multicellular life.

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            Thanks, Daniel. Very helpful and this is definitely my inclination. It’s the old, give it enough time argument. Sure, God could have used an evolutionary type process over millions of years to create the universe and what’s in it, but what could never in a billion, zillion, trillion years have happened, is that blind, directionless, effectively non-teological processes could have produced the amazing world we inhabit, including us.

            As I’ve raised my children and inoculated them against the absolute ridiculousness of atheism, I’ve said something like this many, many times: Isn’t it amazing that by total coincidence of chance that I happen to exist, and that I have this thing called a mouth that has taste buds that can distinguish and enjoy between sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and that by coincidence there are these things that grow out of the ground called trees that have these things called oranges that taste really good to us, that by another further coincidence provide nutrients that we need to continue to exist. Amazing! And I’ll add, praise chance!

            Thanks again.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Even more than raw biological complexity, what is exponentially more astounding to me is what it is to be human:

            The basic naturalistic/nontheistic conception of the universe requires the belief that hydrogen alone, in sufficient quantities, given sufficient energy, and given enough time, is a sufficient cause for space shuttles, nuclear submarines, Mozart’s “Requiem,” and the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

          • Doug Goodin

            Richard Lenski has seen significant changes and new complexity in his bacteria. He saw an entire new biochemical pathway evolve, one that can metabolize citrate, which was something these bacteria were previously not able to do. This would be analogous to humans evolving the ability to metabolize lignin, or something similar. A huge, huge change. I should also note that this occurred after only about 60,000 generations, which is nowhere close to millions, and it happened in a very constrained fitness environment. As for eyes, the previous comment is correct. The evolution of eyes is actually well understood, and there are numerous examples of partially evolved eyes still observable in nature. Mutations don’t create anything, they are random events. Most don’t make any difference, some are harmful, and some provide an advantage. The ones that provide an advantage get selected. The idea of partial organisms (i.e. “one tenth of a human”) is another specious idea. There are certainly hominids in the fossil record that are ancestors to modern humans, but they are not one-tenth humans, they are fully formed examples of their own species. I have no qualms with religion, although I am not a religious person myself. I do think that trying to explain scientific phenomena using an essentially ascientific tool is just a very, very bad idea. If you want a good object example of how ignoring biology can cause major problems for a society, google the story of Lysenko and his influence on biology in the old Soviet Union. Lysenko’s ideas on biology fit well with the Soviet political philosophy, which led to it becoming official doctrine even though it did not explain evolution nearly as well as Darwinian natural selection did and continues to do. Russian biology is still recovering from that particular mistake. Dogma and ideology are fine for some things, but they are disastrous is science. And now, I have to be away from my computer for a while (doing field research in bioclimatology, which is my scientific area of expertise), so will no longer be able to reply. I appreciate you keeping it respectful, and I hope I’ve given you some food for thought.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Doug, one clarification – “mutations don’t create anything”? I’m not sure I follow – if mutations aren’t understood as being responsible for creating the new, complex structures in organisms, then what is?

            Also, I do appreciate how people can be impressed by organisms evolving to eat new things – this is fascinating and a testimony to the skill of organisms to adapt…. but this is not a new complexity to this observer. It is an adaptation of a complexity that already exists. The structures, pathways, mechanisms that produce enzymes are all there already; mutations that change and/or add instructions to that already complex process don’t impress me as some new complexity. A genuinely new organelle, or even the first steps toward one, would be. But nothing remotely like that – not just in Lenski’s experiments, but not at all even in the millions of generations of any bacteria that humans have been able to observe under microscopes.

            (new digestive enzymes strikes me a bit like reprograming one of those new fancy drink machines to let me have cherry-lime-vanilla-raspberry-Dr Pepper – OK, granted, that would be a “new” ability, with new programming pathways that didn’t exist previously, allowing the machine to do something it previously couldn’t do… but none of the hardwired machinery /structure has to be changed in any way, and this brand new flavor is depending on its existence to the previously existing complexity. And the machine itself is essentially identical, though with new programming that allows it to “secrete” a brand new flavor. I fear I simply don’t see an increase in complexity in this example about new digestive enzymes.)

          • Doug Goodin

            two points: 1.) Natural selection does the creating, 2: no, it’s more like one of those machines reprogramming itself. Incredible complexity involved.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Doug, if I am understanding you correctly (which I may not be), I must respectfully submit that your understanding of Darwinistic evolution is erroneous here – natural selction alone doesn’t create anything new – it can’t. Mutations do the “creating,” natural selection simply weeds out all the new “creations” that don’t cut it. Without mutations to create something completely new in the gene pool, natural selection would have nothing to “select” from, no? This is especially true about asexual reproduction in single celled organisms where, short of a mutation, the offspring will be genetically identical to the parent.

            This is standard Darwinian evolution – mutations introduce the changes (i.e., the new creations), while natural selection keeps the ones that either provide an advantage, or at least which introduce no significant disadvantage.

            Also, to follow the metaphor, it is more that these machines have a propensity to make accidental changes in their programming. the vast majority of these just do nothing or cause shutdowns, but occasionally, the programming changes such to give a new flavor that people like. There isn’t any intentional conscious reprogramming going on, just a million mindless, unintnetional reprograms, of which occasionally one ends up being useful.

      • Guest


  • modoccus1

    First a little epistemology — how we know what we think we know
    There is this little problem when folks want to extend logic of reason into areas of political, social, moral philosophy and evolutionary speculation without sufficient anchor in empirical science, but pretend to have their the gassy theoretical edifice on scientific foundation. Some folks don’t seem to recognize the severe limits on logic of reason alone, because expanding theoretical logic on bits and pieces of evidence seems so reasonable, Unless each inferred assumption can be tested empirically at each step, as a whole structure of knowledge is being built, the whole business is suspect. One mistake we make, usually due to youth or inexperience, is to think that seemingly brilliant yet facile logic by reason discovers truth.

    If you should want to gain experience and maturity quickly as it relates to the use of your highly esteemed ability to reason logically– Never mind that this sounds strange,—– trade commodities with fundamental analysis .If you should ever succeed, which very few do, you will have learned to say humbly “maybe”, “perhaps”, “possibly” and most importantly—”I don’t know”. You quickly learned the limits of logic of reason alone, and that even unanimous opinions of learned experts have a high rate of failure. You will also learn to avoid extended trips of theoretical logic.
    I think it would be very useful to require those scientists who wish to indulge in evolutionary speculation first prove success in trading commodities. They will quickly learn not to approach facts and data with preconceived biases and in particularly be very open minded to facts and data that do not conform to current position, and will have learned to reverse positions without regard to previously held ideas. It will critically change the way you think. After the futures market cleans up on you and you lose your shirt for insisting that speculative assertions are facts, and standing by them, you will cease and desist.
    One of the foibles of human nature is the influence of beliefs where rationality is complexed with emotion. Plainly speaking all of us vary in times when thoughtful understanding of rationality influences how we feel vs. deeply felt emotionally complexed beliefs that seriously effect our rationality. In this situation, we use our minds to rationalize how we feel and make it look logical (single most important reason why 90% of people lose in the futures market). To a third party disinterested observer, the strange contorted logic is baffling. It can make an individual seemed delusional, unwilling to accept what seems obvious. It is in this mode that we make worst mistakes

    • FA Miniter

      Blah, blah, blah. When you speak of the “logic of reason”, you use an expression that logicians do not. So I infer you are probably not a logician. Are you referring to Aristotelian deductive logic? Are you including Bacon’s and Hume’s inductive logic? Do you have room for the advances of Russell and Whitehead in Principia Mathematica, or modern relational calculus? Do you have anything to say about the a priori and a posteriori reasoning of Kant?

  • modoccus1

    This brings us to the sad fact that the theory of evolution is nothing but a bunch of speculative ideas which are authoritatively stated for scientific facts because of the insistent presuppositional doctrine of secular faith that scientific empiricism shall and will explain everything. The faithful cannot bring themselves to say they really don’t know or that science may in fact never be able to satisfactorily explain—– which of course does not prove creationism.

    The primary problem: it is not testable by scientific procedures nor can it be experimentally repeated, no one has directly witnessed or documented it. You can’t even put regressive selection pressure in breeding to come up with the immediate ancestor types with no matter how hard you try. It should be a lot easier to reverse evolutionary progress in the laboratory versus pushing evolution forward; if evolution actually occurred, there should be leftover genetic memory.

    The only thing left is reading the “tea leaves” of fossils which haven’t been at all cooperative: sudden appearance and stasis.

    Just because some species of animals with some similarities seem to be found in strata of an earlier era does not prove conclusively anything. Consider the problem of the platypus. This amalgamation of traits from different phyla simply appeared in the fossil record as it is today, typically like all fossils, abrupt appearance then stasis. If this animal had been found in early strata, then disappeared, the platypus would have been waved in the faces of the skeptical as absolute scientific fact that this is a transitional fossil between major phyla, when we know it came too late for that possibility. What I am trying to say, even if a fossil is found that appears to be transitional between phyla because it has traits of different phyla, you’re still only speculating—- the fossil may be another “platypus”.

    So all you have is these speculative guesses in which proof of validity is that authorities say it valid– that’s it. Which, of course, does not prove creationism. however, if this kind of situation showed up in the futures market, you would want to be prepared to take the reverse position at the appropriate opportunity.

    The single instance of the bombardier beetle alone falsifies Darwinian evolution. How is it possible with merely selection of the fittest do you develop the three separate chemicals, combustion chambers, complex command and control system, all of which needs to be in place before there is any evolutionary value of increased survival.

    And that is not even the big problem. Why did nature bypass numerous, simpler, yet effective ways of enhancing survivability other insects use? Instead, it came up with this gaudy extravagance for defense. It is hopelessly preposterous that Darwinian process would come up with this.

    If you tried with application of intelligence in terms of intense breeding and selection you couldn’t accomplish this, but apparently fortuitous chance can do it! Perhaps, there may yet be naturalistic explanation for this, but it won’t be Darwinism. The Darwinian process is so utterly and so pathetically simplistic.

    • FA Miniter

      What a perverted view of the theory of evolution. There is nothing speculative about it. The millions of finds since Darwin put forth the theory provide continual and continuous confirmation of the theory. Theory can predict that between A and C we should someday find a B that came in between. And in time, and repeatedly, Bs have been found, thus providing predictive proofs.

      Furthermore, studies of speciation of birds on nearby islands with different flora have shown that speciation can occur in relatively short periods of time. If you think it is simplistic, take a college level course in evolution.

  • modoccus1

    This, of course, doesn’t prove creationism from the viewpoint of scientific method because there’s no testable scientific method to prove it. The only thing that comes close to it in the laboratory is application of intelligent design in genetic engineering

    It is a theory held in desperation by the materialist for lack of any alternative, and I feel sorry for the Catholic Church which got bamboozled into accepting a version of it — the result of endless castigation due to the historical incident of Galileo.

    • Dean

      I get the gist of where you are coming from. What I’ve never heard from creationists, though, is so what do you think happened? How did we get the species we see today, knowing that they didn’t exist millions of years ago? Where did they come from and how? And I’m not asking for some sort of general explanation, what I am asking is mechanically, biologically, how did they coming into being? I don’t think I’ve ever heard a straight answer to this question from a creationist, except “God did it”. So I guess I would imagine some sort of I Dream of Genie situation? Certainly you can acknowledge the general resistance to that from the academy.

      • modoccus1

        What if we are indeed a simulation?


        If so, what kind of communication (if any) would the Great Simulator have to simulated beings who are nevertheless independently sentient, self-aware, and morally cognizant?

        • Dean

          Have you seen the movie the Thirteenth Floor? It came out the same year as the Matrix which is why I think it was overlooked. I highly recommend it. I think that would be great, we should definitely investigate that possibility. But you should be careful advocating something like this to conservative Evangelicals lest you be accused of anthropomorphizing God! How dare you compare the Lord Almighty to a computer programming slob who drinks Mountain Dew all day!

  • geoffrobinson

    It’s kind of interesting that this article pops up about a week or so after Michael Behe was proven correct about the number of malaria organisms needed to provide resistance to a particular drug. About 1 in 10^20.

    All that was for was a 2-point mutation. For an organism that has a ton of generations in a short amount of time.

    Now, what do you think evolution can do for organisms that that count generations in months and years instead of hours? Not much.

    So who is ignoring evidence? Maybe the reason why religious people who have the information about evolution reject it is because it deserves to be rejected. And we have a choice.

    Materialists don’t have a choice no matter the evidence. They have to pick Darwinism because they are boxed in by their philosophy.

    • mikehorn

      No, Behe isn’t right. His math is awful, knowledge of statistics not up to an undergrad level, and still good at misreading what a study said. The study confirmed two mutations in this instance. It said nothing about simultaneous, and Behe’s contention that the first must be beneficial is garbage. Any mutation must be neutral enough that it allows reproduction – that means that by some measures it can be negative and still proliferate: decreased lifespan, as long as reproduction occurs, is not negative enough, as a generic example. “Beneficial” is also a subjective term that depends greatly on environmental forces: arctic benefits and tropical benefits are usually mutually exclusive, which is why you don’t see malaria in Greenland or Svalbard, mutated or not.

      Behe is a demonstrably bad source. From the Dover proceedings, he is either a liar, a fraudster/huckster, ignorant due to lack of study or intelligence, or willfully ignorant due to ideology. Short version: Behe has zero credibility. He should be grateful he has a job at this point – I wouldn’t trust him to tend bar properly, as confused and ignorant as he gets.

      • geoffrobinson

        Behe didn’t contend that the first mutation had to be beneficial. Sounds like you haven’t read what he’s been saying. Go here and read up on the latest: http://www.evolutionnews.org

        The point remains. Somewhere around 1 in 10^20 under intense pressure. Evolution, experimentally confirmed, can’t do much esp. for higher organisms.

        • mikehorn

          Quoting Behe:
          “]A major point of the book was that if evolution has to skip even one baby step to attain a beneficial state (that is, if even one intermediate in a long and relentlessly detailed evolutionary pathway is detrimental or unhelpful), then the probability of reaching that state decreases exponentially. After discussing a medically important example (see below), I argued that the evolution of many protein interactions would fall into the skip-step category, that multi-protein complexes in the cell were beyond the reach of Darwinian evolution,[thus design, creationism, god]”

          He is wrong again, because the study says no such thing, mutations don’t have to be beneficial to perpetuate, and he ends with a logical fallacy: argument from ignorance (I can’t figure it out, therefore god).

          Don’t look to Behe for good support.

          • geoffrobinson

            The study shows the probability involves a metric boatload of individual organism and a lot of generations to get to a needed state that involves 2 mutations. That proves his point exactly.

          • mikehorn

            No, it doesn’t. Behe misrepresents the study. Read the actual science, not commentary by a mediocrity.

  • FA Miniter

    If Christians would stop thinking (a) that the Bible is one book (instead of the many that it actually is) and (b) that the Bible is the word of god, they could actually appreciate it for the beautiful literature that it is.

  • Daniel Fisher

    As I look over this whole discussion thread, one view seems conspicuously missing (not that I’ve had time to read each and every post): any serious defense of some form of involved theistic evolution – Is anyone else surprised by this?

    i.e., it seems we have either 1) folks who are dubious of large-scale evolution in its entirety, prefering to embrace some aspect of special/immediate creation; or 2) others who are embracing a completely autonomous, naturalistic view of evolution – that nature, in and of itself, has within it the capacity to evolve complex life, especially humanity, out of bacteria (and bacteria out of non-living matter), if given enough time, and God’s direct involvement/intervention is not required for the process to move forward. (the latter view doesn’t require one to be non-theistic, but it seems to view Darwinian evolution as sufficent explanation, not even requiring God’s direct intervention at key points in the evolutionary process, to get the process over certain “hurdles”).

    Am I missing it? I would think there would be a significant number of people embracing that “middle way”, that evolution happened, that the fossil record reflects evolution as Darwin understood it, but that natural processes are insufficient to explain the process, and this points to God’s direct involvement at key points in the evolutionary process. Is anyone defending this and I missed it? Or is there some reason creationism or naturalistic (though not necessarily atheistic) evolution seem the only two options embraced?

    • Steve Knudsen

      Problem is, there is the assumption that the world evolves deterministically, and then God steps in from outside and inserts something, does something. Sean Carroll of CalTech tries to debunk this thinking.

  • Steve Knudsen

    The author of this article does not himself have a coherent view that explains Jesus, evolution, etc., in my mind.