Why I am not a theistic evolutionist and why I do not ‘believe in’ evolution (part 1)

BioLogos has listed what it calls “Core Tenets or Assumptions of Theistic Evolution.” I mostly agree with them, but I am not a theistic evolutionist and I do not “believe in” evolution.

Well, actually, let me qualify that a bit: I do not accept the label of “theistic evolutionist.” I cannot really say, with certainty, that I am not one because I cannot be certain what that phrase means. I understand each of those words, separately, but squish them together like that and I can’t make sense of what it is that is being said.

From just a cursory glance, it might seem that this label describes me perfectly. Here are two true statements about me:

1. I believe in God.

2. I acknowledge and affirm the reality of evolution.

If that is all this label meant — if a “theistic evolutionist” is defined as “a person for whom both of those things are true” — then it would certainly seem to apply to me.

But that cannot be what this phrase means. Both of these words mean things, and neither one can mean that.

Let’s start with the latter: I am not an evolutionist.

I am not a scientist and it would be inappropriate for me to appropriate for myself a label that designates me as one. I acknowledge and affirm the reality of science, but that does not make me a “scientist.” I acknowledge and affirm the reality of quantum physics, but that does not make me a quantum physicist. Nor am I a chemist or a virologist, even though I acknowledge and affirm the truth of both of those disciplines.

So why, then, should my identical layperson’s appreciation and acknowledgement of evolution make me an “evolutionist”?

It shouldn’t. It doesn’t.

The idea that it does is based on the premise that evolution is a special case. But evolution is not a special case.

We’re asked to treat it as special by the pretense of classifying anyone who “believes” in evolution as an “evolutionist.” There are two things askew there. First, again, we don’t speak this way when discussing any other process or phenomena. We don’t pretend that anyone who believes in chemistry is a chemist or that anyone who believes in astrophysics is an astrophysicist.

And, secondly, we do not speak of people “believing” in chemistry or astrophysics. That word — “believe” — gets applied to evolution because, again, we’re pretending that evolution is a special case.

And, again, evolution is not a special case.

We do not say that someone “believes in” photosynthesis, or in the magnetosphere, or in entropy or gravity or cell division or condensation. We do not say that because it would sound strange and because it would be misleading, suggesting that somehow the reality of photosynthesis was contingent on our acceptance or rejection of it, or that photosynthesis is somehow true for some people but not for others. We do not speak of “believing in” photosynthesis because belief is beside the point. Photosynthesis is an actual, observable, measurable process that we can and have actually observed and measured.

And so is evolution. Evolution is not a special case.

So I do not “believe in” evolution, I simply acknowledge and affirm its actuality.

Now let’s look at that other word, “theistic.”

I believe that God exists. “Believe” is an appropriate word in this context because whether or not God is actually actual is not something that can be directly observed and measured. It’s possible that God exists. It’s possible that God does not exist. I believe that God does, actually, exist. I believe this with utter certitude, but I cannot claim to have certainty.

My belief in the existence of God makes me a theist. This noun, “theist,” means exactly this: a person who believes in the existence of a God or Gods. “Fred is a theist” is, therefore, a correct statement. I generally prefer a more specific statement, such as “Fred is a Christian,” which conveys a bit more about the identity and character of the God I believe exists. But while it’s less specific than I’d like, “Fred is a theist” is accurate and correct.

We can also say, accurately, that “Fred’s religion is theistic.” Or we can say, somewhat awkwardly, but technically accurately, that “Fred is theistic.” That’s awkward because it’s not quite how we usually apply that adjective, about which more later.

Given that — given that I am, explicitly, a theist — can we at least concede that the first part of the label “theistic evolutionist” might be appropriate to apply to me?

I don’t think so, because in that label the word “theistic” is not being applied to the person, but to evolution itself. A “theistic evolutionist” is not a theist who “believes in” evolution, but rather a person who “believes in” theistic evolution. The adjective does not apply to the person — to the believer in God and in evolution — but to the natural phenomenon itself.

Or, rather, not to evolution itself, but to some qualified form of it. Not evolution, but “theistic evolution.”

And, again, I don’t know what that means.

We might guess that “theistic evolution” refers to the perspective of Christians and many other theists that God is ever-present and that nothing is separate from God’s over-arching providence — that by God “all things consist,” as the Apostle Paul wrote. Perhaps this is all this adjective signifies here.

But I’m afraid that won’t do. If the word is simply meant to express something that all Christians believe to be true of every process and phenomenon, then we must somehow account for the fact that we do not use it in reference to any other such process or phenomenon.

We may believe that there is a certain providence in the fall of a sparrow, but we do not speak of theistic sparrows. Nor do we speak of theistic photosynthesis, theistic fusion, theistic chemistry or theistic algebra. We believe that God cares for the lilies of the field, but we never therefore refer to them as theistic lilies or speak of theistic botany.

Sir Isaac Newton earnestly believed in God’s active, pervasive providence, but he never saw fit to christen his theory as “theistic gravity.”

The exceptional use of this term — the application of this adjective to this particular noun but not to any of the myriad other similar nouns — suggests again that we must treat evolution as some kind of special case.

But evolution is not a special case.

This is getting long, so let’s pick this up in part 2, to discuss some other possible things that “theistic evolution” might mean, and why it cannot (or should not) mean them either.

 

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Wheaton College and creationism (ongoing)
Wheaton College and creationism (part 2)
Tim LaHaye: dead fundamentalist
Creationists didn't do all the reading
  • http://twitter.com/BoraZ Bora Zivkovic

    Technically, theistic evolution is the belief that God created the universe and installed the evolutionary rules, leaving life to evolve on its own following those rules. But yes, you are right 100% in your analysis.

  • http://tobascodagama.com Tobasco da Gama

     Well… That’s what it’s normally used to me, but there’s already a preexisting term for a whole family of similar beliefs, namely deism. So, if anything, “deistic evolution” would be more appropriate.

  • mud man

    The BioLogos post offers the definition “the belief that God used the process of evolution to create living things, including humans.” Are you down with that? (FWIW, I’m down.)

    Also offered is the alternative label “evolutionary creation”, which does seem to get the horse in front of the cart.

  • Misterbrown9

    Genesis says that God created man from the dust of the earth.  Some presume that this creation was fairly quick, like making a gingerbread man.  But it could have taken thousands or millions of years.  I have no problem with that.  The moment He breathed the spirit of life into His creation was the beginning of man moving from being a son of dust towards being a son of spirit.

  • Ked

    I believe in evolution.  Case in point, the progressive evolution of Patheos into a soul-sucking mess of web design generating more clicks for less content.  Love Fred, but  every time I see that new front page I want to come back less…

  • Lori

     If you go through an RSS feed you don’t have to see the front page.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino
  • arcseconds

    ‘evolutionist’ is a bit weird as a term for a specialist, too.

    Normally we call such a specialist an  ‘evolutionary biologist’,  as evolution (the kind of evolution we’re talking about here, anyway) is a facet of biology.    There are also marine biologists (not ‘marinists’) and microbiologists (not micrists).   The name of the field is ‘evolutionary biology’, too.

    Although I guess this kind of structure for the name of a specific subdiscipline isn’t consistent, because we do have ‘ecologists’, not ‘ecological biologists’.   However, the name of the field is ‘ecology’, so that’s consistent, at least.

    I think the <subdiscipline> <discipline>ist formation is more common in science, though because you also have ‘physical chemist’, ‘applied mathematician’, ‘quantum physicist’, etc.  (and not ‘physicalist’, ‘applist’ or ‘quantist’).

    However, ‘physicalist’ is the name of a philosophical position (specifically metaphysics), and I think that gives some clue as to what might be going on here.

  • Gotchaye

    I’d always understood theistic evolution to mean that God rigged the game very carefully when it came to evolution.  When biologists talk about evolution, they make frequent appeals to randomness – random mutations, noise in natural selection, etc – that the theistic evolutionist believes were actually carefully arranged by God.  That way man can still be more-or-less designed; the idea is that God knew what he wanted out of evolution and set things up so that eventually it would produce 10 fingers and 10 toes and a brain.

    It differs from unqualified evolution in that on the standard view there’s a sense in which Earth might not have eventually given rise to humans, or maybe even to intelligent life at all.

  • Termudgeon

    In that case, is the soul something that also evolved gradually? If one accepts that animals do not and humans do have souls, and also accepts an evolution that God began and allows to develop in a hands-off way, whence the soul?

  • The_L1985

     Why accept that humans are special in having souls in the first place?  Far more logical to believe that either all animals have souls, or none do.

  • Termudgeon

    Indeed. But why stop at animals? At the single-cell-level, not much distinguishes an animal from a plant. The same problem crops up (no pun intended).

  • The_L1985

     True, but animals are generally mobile, and plants are generally sessile.

    Once again, “all animals have souls,” “all organisms have souls,” and “souls don’t exist” are equally consistent positions to have.  “Humans have souls, but chimps don’t” makes a lot less sense.

  • Tricksterson

    Why stop there?  I believe all things, or at least all natural things have souls.  It’s also quite possible things that are crafteed, rather than manufactered have souls.  Maybe even manufatured things in the way individual bees probably don’t have souls but the hive does.

  • http://semperfiona.livejournal.com Semperfiona

     Souls as emergent properties of sufficiently complex systems? I like it.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Sure, it’s possible.

    Or maybe  manufactured things and crafted things both have the same kind of soul, but crafted things have an additional soul, which is different. And maybe living things have yet a third soul, of a different type, and intelligent living things have a fourth soul, and intelligent living things that wear shoes have a fifth soul, and so forth.

    Or maybe none of that is true.

  • Tricksterson

    Also it’s possible that objects, natural, crafted and manufactured might have their owners soul9s0 “rub off” on them over time as in the case of a family heirloom.

  • MatherZ

    It’s just part of the marketing campaign by the You-Know-Whos: If you accept evolution, then you must reject religion – it’s one or the other, right? (The corollary being that if you’re religious, you must reject evolution)

    So if you accept evolution, that makes you an atheist.  But you’re NOT an atheist, so you’ve got to make that clear in your Official Title, hence “Theistic Evolutionist”.

    Worth pointing out in this context is that “the theory of evolution” is a misnomer.  In the scientific world, “theory” means more than “educated guess” (“I’ve got a theory about what happened to my car keys”). A theory is a mechanism to explain observations.  So we observe continents moving around and earthquakes and volcanoes happening; the theory is plate tectonics. We observe things falling – and more generally, objects with mass attracting each other; the theory is gravity (on which we have a MUCH weaker grasp than evolution, so if you want to pick on a theory for being “just a theory”…). Darwin’s full title was “On the origin of species ***by means of natural selection***”, so he had the theory built right in. We observe that there are lots of species of critters and plants, and we observe the fossil record, we observe EVOLUTION; the theory is natural selection.  Which is, I think, a much easier concept to grasp – if you doubt its efficacy, perhaps you’ve heard of antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

    Anyway, a little scientific pedantry goes a long way, I think.

  • Ralovett

    I”m not sure I buy it. “Theistic evolutionist” could mean a theist who is an evolutionist, which disposes of half the problem.  Also, within scientific fields, “believe” can play a role. Some geophysicists “believe” that the Canary Islands sit atop a mantle plume, like Hawaii. Others (last I checked) disagree. In the early days, plate tectonics carried some of the same “Yes it is!”/”No it isn’t” assertions that could produce the word “believe.”  Scientists can have very strong opinions and deep arguments. So, while I like the basic points you’re making, I think you’re stretching a bit.

  • arcseconds

    While I agree with the general point that Fred seems to be trying to make that the language used does end up making it sound like there’s something ‘optional’ about believing in evolution, more optional than it really should be.  

    However, I’m not sure I’m completely in sympathy with Fred here.  There is a distinctive point of view here, which is distinct from creationism, and it is also, in the classic case, quite distinct from an atheistic take on evolution as Gotchaye details. Normally when we have distinct ‘camps’ on an issue, we find it useful to have names for those camps, so we can talk about them without having to discuss every individual separately or resort to painful circumlocution.   I don’t think rightness is really an issue here – I don’t think it’s all that useful to say “the people who have things right for good reasons aren’t really a ‘camp’ “,  however useful it is  to point out that they’ve got things right for good reason.  They still act like a camp. (Just as one example, we still talk about ‘abolitionists’ from back when there was a debate about slavery, even though virtually no-one now thinks that you could really go either way on the slavery question.  Not really the best example… I’ll try to think of another.)

    I think Gotchaye is right about what he says.  A lot of people who hold the position we might want to call ‘theistic evolutionism’ do think that God is somehow fixing the process in a quite deliberate sort of a way.  Perhaps Fred doesn’t believe that, which would make him different from the classic case.

     Maybe we need a name for the position that God is only ‘there’ in evolution (including human evolution)  in the same sense that they’re ‘there’ in precipitation (including that leading to disastrous flooding)  so we can distinguish this from the more usual attitude!

  • http://www.facebook.com/robtish Rob Tisinai

    Ralovett, I think there’s a difference in saying, “I believe this” and “I believe in this.”

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    Theistic evolution is a theological label not a scientific one. And one that seems designed to get up the ideologues noses. 

    Fred is quite right that logical people don’t believe in evolution in the same way they don’t believe in their chair. You don’t have to believe in proven thing.

    But the problem is that when science runs into ideology bad things happen. And it’s not just theological ones – any ideology can make people go crazy when science seems to challenge it. cf Lysenkoism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysenkoism – it’s not clear from the wikipedia article but Lysenko was a Lamarckian and the Soviets disliked Darwinism because in their minds it made some people better than others where Lamarckianism meant people could be improved. I have a book about the history of the potato that deals with it in detail. (I could go into the intellectual ****wittedness of this but I’m sure I don’t need to).

    Nobody is saying ideology X must be false because gravity/photosynthesis nor that gravity/photosynthesis must be a lie because ideology X.

    People are doing both those things with evolution.

    In that context the label makes sense – it’s an ideological statement that the person using the label accepts evolution is proven and doesn’t believe that the truth of evolution precludes God doing it and indeed believes he did it and it couldn’t have happened without him.

    The label also emcompasses the fact they can’t prove this – which is what distinguishes it from ID.

    But in the end it’s a label and labels are problematic in and of themselves.

  • arcseconds

    Yeah, so I’m suspicious that Fred’s trying to play a trick here, a bit like Newspeak, where it becomes impossible to articulate a creationist position without sounding ridiculous.

    Some atheists use similar strategies to make theism impossible to articulate without sounding ridiculous, too, and I think Fred wouldn’t like that.

    I’m struggling to articulate my thoughts on this without sounding ridiculous myself…

  • alfgifu

    Yeah, so I’m suspicious that Fred’s trying to play a trick here, a bit like Newspeak, where it becomes impossible to articulate a creationist position without sounding ridiculous.

    Isn’t it possible that, with creationism, any attempt to articulate a position sounds ridiculous unless it inherently misrepresents evolution?

    In which case, attempting to use clear and precise language about evolution (as Fred does here) necessarily makes creationism sound ridiculous – but the flaw isn’t in the language use.

  • arcseconds

    Thanks for your reply.  I guess I’m in the irksome position of smelling something fishy, and I’m having trouble articulating exactly what it is, and you’ve prompted me to think a bit more about it.

    I agree that evolution isn’t just ‘a belief’, and that creationists do try to treat it as though it is.  It is important to point this out.  Those of use who understand it and its importance to biology realise that it’s not just a story which appeals to us (because it makes God superfluous and means we can have sex with our sandwiches or whatever) with some half-arsed story which vaguely makes some sort of sense, and I do suspect there might be a certain amount of projection going on when creationists suppose it is like this.

    I also agree that theists (almost by definition; see deist) believe God is somehow involved in all natural processes, so in some sense there might not be a need to single out evolution.

    However, I don’t think it’s all that helpful to say things like ‘I don’t believe in evolution; I acknowledge and affirm its actuality’.   While we do use ‘belief’ to mean specifically cases where utterly convincing evidence is lacking  (“It’s my belief that..” ) and cases which there’s some kind of acknowledgement that’s it’s either faith-based or a pro-attitude, or a combination of the two (“I believe in America”, “I believe in aliens, Lister!”), it’s also quite ordinary to use it to mean anything that one thinks is true, is false (generally that means you believe the negation of the statement) or would give a probability to.

    Also, this use of ‘belief’ to mean any taking-to-be-true is used in specialist disciplines, both ones taking a first-person perspective (epistemology, decision theory) and ones taking a more third-person perspective (psychology) use ‘belief’ in this more general way.

    Also also, I’m not sure it’d be useful to say this to a creationist.  They could just say “well, I don’t ‘believe’ in a young earth! I affirm and accept its actuality! so there, nyah :-P !” (and this may be an appropriate response, see below).

    I realise that Fred can be interpreted to just be making the point that evolution isn’t a doubtful, wishful, pro-attitude, faith-based type belief with a bit of a rhetorical flourish, and I can’t prove otherwise… I’m just a bit suspicious…

    Anyway, another thing I don’t think is useful is to deny a position or a family of positions needs a name because there’s nothing ‘odd’ about it.   As I’ve already mentioned, there are plenty of people who think that God has been and is guiding, tweaking, meddling with, or set up the initial conditions and scripted the quantum randomness to get specific results, at least regards human beings.   So they think that human evolution in roughly the same terms as some theists think of some natural disasters as being divine punishment – God is involved in a more direct way than he’s involved with gravity, say, or ordinary weather.

    That is distinct from a completely ‘no God involved’ take, so it kind of needs a name.  Even if Fred doesn’t believe this himself he’s surely aware that there are plenty of people who do believe this, and I’m smelling a bit of disingenuity here with his failure to mention this and his apparent bafflement with what ‘theistic evolutionism’ could possibly mean.

    (I’m pretty sure Fred doesn’t think God specifically planned malaria, he’s virtually said so.  I think it would be pretty odd for a Christian to think that humanity was no more planned than malaria.  So I kind of suspect that Fred actually does have quite a different take on human evolution than an atheist, who normally do believe that humans are just a random happenstance as malaria is.  So again, I’m suspicious…)

    The reason why we don’t need a name for ‘theistic thermodynamics’ is that no-one is advancing any theistic way of thinking about heat transfer at all.  If there were multiple positions regarding this, they’d need names too.

    So I’m not at all sure that I agree that Fred is trying to use clear and precise language to discuss evolution and attitudes to it.   I think he’s rather cleverly making what on the surface are good points, but meanwhile actually making his own beliefs impossible to discuss, because they’re not beliefs on the one hand, they’re not distinct from scientific orthodoxy on the other, they’re not distinct from religious orthodoxy on yet another hand, and therefore can’t be named.  He also appears to be setting up a language game which the creationist is unable to enter.

    That’s both unnecessary, and unhelpful, I think.

  • SisterCoyote

     Fred’s posts are frequently quite clever, and more complicated than they appear on the surface. But as he’s never before shied away from discussing his positions and beliefs, I would rather hope he’s not trying to actually Newspeak a discussion out of existence.

    As for disappearing creationists… well, if you’re referring to the point wherein someone responding to “This process is measurable and provable” with “Well, I don’t believe it,” I… would kind of think such a person would feel a bit silly, yes. But nothing prevents creationists from responding to such language, nor even playing with the rules and describing themselves with precise language.

    What stands out to me here is the way “theistic evolutionist” is almost a sort of ‘othering,’ in that it goes “Ah, you’re not a real normal Christian/theist, you’re one of those ‘evolutionists.'”

  • The_L1985

    But when you have concrete proof that the world is older than 6,000 years and that life forms do evolve, it IS ridiculous to insist, in the face of those facts, that Genesis is actual history throughout.

  • arcseconds

    But when you have concrete proof that the world is older than 6,000
    years and that life forms do evolve, it IS ridiculous to insist, in the
    face of those facts, that Genesis is actual history throughout.

    Yes, but it’s not self-contradictory to assert that.  Initially I thought that it was something like that Fred’s preferred language was taking us, where a creationist couldn’t articulate their belief without saying something contradictory.

    Now I think it’s actually more that Fred’s preferred language  is protecting him from engaging with a creationist by setting things up so a creationist can only discuss the matter with him by asserting the truth of evolution.   (Which would still force them to start sounding self-contradictory if they tried to assert creationism at the same time, of course. )

    (I also suspect it’s protecting him from athiests)

    We shouldn’t be prepared to stack the game like this, but even if we were, there’s simply no need. 

  • erikagillian

     I don’t understand why you seem to think Fred is trying to do something manipulative.  I’ve never seen him to do so before, and I’ve been reading here quite a while (and back at the old place).  He said it was a two-parter, so why not wait till he finishes. 

    Terry Pratchett talks about the differences between belief and knowing all the time.  Witches don’t believe in gods, the same way you don’t believe in a table.  They know they exist, why bother to believe?  That’s a paraphrase, no idea what book it’s from, it’s so common.

    And why wouldn’t Fred not engage with a creationist?  He’s talked about it before.

    In fact, mostly I have to say what are you talking about?  That’s just ridiculous.

  • arcseconds

    My comments aren’t dependent in any strong sense of what Fred thinks he’s doing.  I did try to express myself in a way that wasn’t commiting me to Fred actually having manipulative intent, although I wasn’t all that careful about it so there may be places where it sounds like that.

    It’s not all that uncommon for clever people to set up a framework that effectively insulates their viewpoint from criticism, and I think they often do this without realising it.  I’m not even sure that that’s what’s going on here, but it is a possiblity.

    I’ve already agreed that there are useful distinctions to be made in different uses of ‘believe’, including the one you’re citing Terry Prachett on. 

    But once we’ve established that we don’t mean we believe in evolution in the same sense as we believe in Democracy, and we believe it because it’s an incredibly well supported theory which makes vastly more sense of biology (and other subjects) than could be made without it, there’s nothing much to be gained by insisting on not using the word ‘believe’ to describe our attitude towards the theory. 

    Doing so turns the debate into a semantic debate.  You can see this because if someone were to insist on refusing to use the word ‘belief’ but rather ‘accept and affirm’, you can just do a search-and-replace and have exactly the same argument, just expressed more clumsily.

    Also, there’s no reason why a creationist couldn’t also insist that they don’t ‘believe’ in a young earth, because they take themselves to know it.   Then you just get into an argument, likely to be fruitless, as to who is entitled to which word.

    And if you were consistent in refusing to use ‘belief’ when you take yourself to know, you’d be risking getting into the same semantic debate with everyone you disagree with.

    That’s a specific remark on saying “I don’t believe in evolution: I affirm and accept it’s actuality”.   I can’t see any reason to wait until part II until making this remark, and I can see plenty of reasons not to (he might not say this in part II,  part II might not be forthcoming).

    I’m basically repeating myself here, however, and I would have thought it was obvious these remarks stand whether or not Fred realises it’s just a semantic game.   If you didn’t know what I was talking about earlier, you probably are still in the dark now.  If you’re still confused, you’ll have to ask more specific questions than ‘what are you talking about?’.

    Fred’s totally at liberty to not engage creationists, but he doesn’t need a sophisticated rhetorical strategy to do that.  He can just say “I’m not going to bother talking to you, creationist”.  

    However, he is defending both evolution and theism, so it is worth thinking about what people who hold opposing views would say in return.  And as such it’s implicitly engaging them anyway.

  • erikagillian

     As far as I can tell you’re just making semantic arguments.  What Fred seems to be doing is setting his terms and is going to now discuss whatever it was that he set them for.  There are (at least) two things that can be called belief.  He’s made clear what he’s going to use to mean ‘belief in what’s scientifically provable’ and ‘belief in what’s not provable but he believes nonetheless.’    So you basically are saying that you don’t like that?  Or his dislike of the phrase theistic evolutionist is wrong?  I have a hard time figuring out what you’re talking about in most of the conversations you’re engaging in.

    You seem to be accusing people of being disingenuous, and I wish you’d stop.

  • arcseconds

    I’m suggesting that Fred is coming close to making semantic arguments
     
    Now you’re accusing me of making semantic arguments.

     Please tell me this isn’t some kind of a sophisticated version of the playground “no you’re the dummy! no backsies! nyah! :-P”  !

    (I guess diagnosing a semantic argument is in a sense itself a semantic argument, because you’re still discussing semantics.  However, you appear to be comfortable with suggesting I’m making semantic arguments, so presumably you can’t have a problem with me suggesting Fred’s making a semantic argument?)

    Fred has certainly decided to uphold a distinction between ‘belief’ and
    ‘accept and affirm as actuality’, which is a semantic distinction as the
    second can as well be (and is, by decision theorists, psychologists,
    and philosophers, amongst others) called a belief.

    I don’t have a problem with this distinction as such, as I have already said several times.  If you ask me again about this, I don’t know what I’ll do, I’ll probably have to print it all in caps.

    Now, if that was all, perhaps I’d just accept that he’s trying to make a conceptual distinction clear by using different language for two cases (although it’d be nice if he explained this). 

    But as he also seems to be denying that his position needs a name.  It’s not that he’d prefer a different term to ‘theistic evolution’ — he almost appears to be suggesting that there’s no real distinction between what he believes and what an atheist evolutionary biologist believes. 

    But Fred tells us he does believe that something worth calling God is in some sense at work through evolution, because he tells us he agrees with the tenants of ‘theistic evolutionism’.  So his overall take on evolution is different from that of a creationist on the one hand, and an atheist on the other.   And it would seem to have a lot in common with the other people who are calling themselves ‘theistic evolution’.   If we’re ever to discuss the three distinct takes here, we need three distinct terms.   While i take the point that Fred thinks all natural phenomena are like this, it’s still useful to label this perspective about evolution in particular.  

    So at the very least, he’s being a trifle obfuscating on this point by refusing a label.

    And the two things combined seem to me to have considerable potential for rhetorical trickery, as I have illustrated with my little example.

    Is this helping?  I kind of feel I’m mostly repeating myself here again.  Again, i’d encourage specific questions. 

  • Anton_Mates

    But once we’ve established that we don’t mean we believe in evolution in the same sense as we believe in Democracy, and we believe it because
    it’s an incredibly well supported theory which makes vastly more sense of biology (and other subjects) than could be made without it, there’s nothing much to be gained by insisting on not using the word ‘believe’ to describe our attitude towards the theory.

    The problem is that if you’re talking to a creationist, “we” includes the creationist.  And creationists do not in general accept that belief in evolution is a different sort of thing from belief in Democracy.  This is a pillar of creationist rhetoric: evolution is a religion.  Belief in evolution is a faith-based, emotional and moral commitment.  It follows that “evolutionists” can’t be trusted to argue the facts fairly, because they’re psychologically driven to defend evolution at all costs.  It follows that “evolutionists” are morally defective, because they follow the precepts of “randomness” and “survival of the fittest” instead of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes.  And it follows that “evolutionists” cannot be proper Christians, because their loyalties are divided.  Instead of honoring and venerating Christ and his word, they idolize “human reason,” or “blind chance,” or even Charles Darwin himself. 

    (Which is why creationists spend so much time arguing that Darwin was stupid/crazy/racist/evil.  From their point of view, faith in the theory is much the same thing as faith in the man, so if they can show that Darwin is unworthy of veneration, it follows that his theory is unworthy of belief.)

    So we’re not going to be able to establish that the word “believe” is meant in your desired sense here.  You can argue that it should be read that way, and the creationist will argue that it shouldn’t, and then we’ll have exactly the sort of semantic debate you’re trying to avoid.

    Fred’s alternative approach is the one taken by a lot of veteran creationist-debaters and other science advocates.  He goes with a longer but more precise and unambiguous formulation, like “accept and affirm the factual reality of.”  The creationist may still insist that you really do “believe in” evolution in the religious sense, but now it’s crystal clear from the start that you don’t agree with them, and they have to make the explicit argument that you’re outright lying about your own beliefs.  That’s harder for them, especially if they’re not a jerk –or don’t want to appear jerky in front of their audience.

    Also, there’s no reason why a creationist couldn’t also insist that they don’t ‘believe’ in a young earth, because they take themselves to know it.  

    But of course there’s a reason.  Creationists usually want to say that they ‘believe’ in a young earth, because it’s a faith commitment for them.  They do take themselves to know it, certainly, but they also want to communicate that they trust in it, because they trust God and they trust the Bible.  Some prominent creationists even argue that belief in a young earth requires such trust: “evolutionists” cannot interpret the evidence correctly until they convert, because their thinking is skewed by Satan’s influence and their own fallen nature.

    So when you say:

    However, he is defending both evolution and theism, so it is worth
    thinking about what people who hold opposing views would say in return. 

    That’s precisely what Fred’s doing.  I would be very surprised if he doesn’t have a fair amount of experience with people who hold such views.

  • arcseconds

    Fred’s alternative approach is the one taken by a lot of veteran
    creationist-debaters and other science advocates.  He goes with a longer
    but more precise and unambiguous formulation, like “accept and affirm
    the factual reality of.”  The creationist may still insist that you
    really do “believe in” evolution in the religious sense, but now it’s
    crystal clear from the start that you don’t agree with them, and they
    have to make the explicit argument that you’re outright lying about your
    own beliefs.  That’s harder for them, especially if they’re not a jerk
    –or don’t want to appear jerky in front of their audience.

    Well, OK, sure, if he’s debating actual creationists he may need to give ‘believe’ to them and use a different formulation.   If that’s why he’s doing this, though, it would be nice if he explained it, particularly as his regular readership aren’t creationists and don’t necessarily spend ages arguing with creationists.

    Does this have the desired effect in a debate with actual creationists though?  I would expect it wouldn’t, because they still won’t understand the distinction.  I really get the impression that not only do creationists typically think that the scientifically literate have the same relationship to the evolutionary account as they do to Genesis, they simply don’t understand that there’s any other possible relationship to have, or what it’d be like to have it.

    My thought was that they’d just take it to mean ‘absolutely certain’, perhaps in a similar way to Fred’s attitude to the existence of God, which was one reason I thought that a creationist could take the step of just parroting Fred’s language.

    You may be right that they’d want to retain the language of belief/faith.  I had thought about that myself.  But I don’t really know what to make of that – it sometimes sounds like they agree it’s not really provable, you just have to believe it, but then they continue to argue as though they think it’s the only rational position.

    Would that really prevent them using Fred’s language, though? I mean, I’m sure they also say they “affirm” things all the time, and “accept” things too (like Jesus into their heart). 

    When I said:

    “However, he is defending both evolution and theism, so it is worth
    thinking about what people who hold opposing views would say in return. ”

    That was directed at erikagillian, who seemed to be saying that Fred wasn’t addressing creationists.  My point was that needn’t stop me considering what creationists might say in reply.

  • Carstonio

     

    I really get the impression that not only do creationists typically
    think that the scientifically literate have the same relationship to the
    evolutionary account as they do to Genesis, they simply don’t
    understand that there’s any other possible relationship to have, or what
    it’d be like to have it.

    They’re confusing the two meanings of “authority” or treating them as the same thing. Someone with a great deal of knowledge about a given subject would reasonably be treated as authoritative on that subject, and might even be treated as having the power to decide what constitutes knowledge about that subject. But that’s a power that rests on reputation alone. Creationists tend to believe that knowledge is something that’s decided by people who have inherent authority, which turns the concept of authoritativeness on its head. In their minds, scientists are self-appointed authorities who decide for mere uneducated mortals what is approved knowledge, as if there weren’t any other way of pursuing knowledge.

  • arcseconds

     That sounds right.   I like this notion that people may be treated as having the power to decide what constitutes knowledge about the subject, due to their mighty reputation, that seems like it could be a useful notion.   I can’t really think of any good examples of this off the top of my head, though.   It certainly happens from time to time in smaller academic communities (or sub-communities), but often not for entirely good reasons.

    But anyway, to this concept of authority I’d add that their idea of the history of the world/cosmos is thoroughly value-laden.   Anton pointed out that in part it’s about trusting God, which naturally interfaces nicely with your observations on authority.  But it’s also about Man’s place in the universe, and God’s direct and obvious actions in the world, and about situating Abraham (more important for Jews than Christians, and arguably what Genesis is really all about) and also Christ.

    So alongside thinking that scientists are basically set up as a church of some kind, they also mistake the story being told about the universe as being value-laden: God doesn’t do anything, humanity isn’t important, the universe is a big, baffling and hostile place.   Of course, it’s an easy step from accepting evolution to accepting those things, but it’s not a step that has to be made, but moreover here too I think the creationists invert things.   A scientifically literate and rational person accepts evolution because it makes sense of the data in extremely rich and productive ways (and is compatible with and interfaces thoroughly with other parts of the overall scientific account).  If they go on to conclude there is no God, that humanity is not important, etc. they do so as a result of accepting evolution.

    Creationists often seem to think it’s the other way around: people want to deny God, undermine humanity, and so forth, and therefore they embrace evolution.

    (of course, it doesn’t help that some people actually do seem to do this, and/or read their values off evolution (or their mistaken view of it).)

  • Carstonio

    I doubt that the step from evolution to those other things is as easy as you describe. You’re right that creationists are misinterpreting evolution as a value story. But one can accept evolution and still hold that humanity is important. Any conclusion about the value of humanity is a choice and isn’t automatic or natural from one’s stance on the origin of life or the origin of life’s diversity. Arguing otherwise is tantamount to saying “there has to be a god otherwise life would have no meaning.” There could be gods and life could still have no inherent meaning, or else that meaning could exist without gods.

  • EllieMurasaki

    There could be gods and life could still have no inherent meaning, or else that meaning could exist without gods.
     
    Life doesn’t have inherent meaning. That doesn’t make life meaningless. Like most things, it is what we make of it.

  • Carstonio

    While I agree, I was allowing for the possibility of inherent meaning.

  • Anton_Mates

     

      If that’s why he’s doing this, though, it would be nice if he explained it, particularly as his regular readership aren’t creationists and don’t necessarily spend ages arguing with creationists.

    Well, I suspect his use of language here is pretty familiar to many other Christians, who (I think) are his target audience in this particular post.  But yeah, it doesn’t look like you’re the only reader who found it obscure.  I’ve probably spent so much time immersed in evo-creo land that I have a very skewed idea of which rhetorical points are obvious.

    Does this have the desired effect in a debate with actual creationists though?  I would expect it wouldn’t, because they still won’t understand the distinction. 

    I can’t say that anything has the desired effect in most discussions with actual creationists, but I do think many of them understand the distinction; they just don’t accept it in the case of evolution.  Creationists aren’t in general particularly anti-science, at least not consciously.  They tend to respect scientists as very smart people who are probably right in their fields of expertise, they understand science that produces factual truth and practical benefits for society, they don’t consider most areas of science to be equivalent to religion, etc.  And although they often claim that they would maintain their faith in (their version of ) the Biblical story of Creation regardless of what the scientific facts say, I don’t think they’re very comfortable actually doing that–among other things, they don’t want to think of God as a deceiver.  

    So it’s important to them that evolutionary theory be especially bad science, and that people commit to it in a “religious idolatry” fashion that they don’t do with other scientific theories.

    My thought was that they’d just take it to mean ‘absolutely certain’, perhaps in a similar way to Fred’s attitude to the existence of God, which was one reason I thought that a creationist could take the step of just parroting Fred’s language.

    They could, but in my experience they don’t.  They often stop for a second and ask what you mean, because they do understand that you’re drawing a distinction from religious “belief” in some way.  And yeah, they talk about “accepting” Jesus, but I think that “accepting that X is true” is pretty clearly employing a different meaning.  Similarly, some science advocates will say that they “believe that evolutionary theory is correct,” in order to draw a distinction between “belief that” and “belief in.”  That’s not Fred’ s preferred language, obviously, but I don’t know that either formulation is superior.

    (I am, of course, talking here about creationists who are actually trying to have a meaningful conversation with you.  If they’re just there to score debate points they may try to ignore the distinction you’re trying to make, but that’s all the more reason to hammer on it for the sake of the audience.)

    But I don’t really know what to make of that – it sometimes sounds like they agree it’s not really provable, you just have to believe it, but then they continue to argue as though they think it’s the only rational position.

    I think the idea is that it’s rationally provable, but our brains are broken by sin and demonic interference, so we won’t necessarily see that it’s provable until we make the leap of faith and have Jesus sharpening up our thought processes.  AFAIK, that’s the Vatican’s position on the existence of God.

    That was directed at erikagillian, who seemed to be saying that Fred wasn’t addressing creationists.  My point was that needn’t stop me considering what creationists might say in reply.

    Oh, I see.

  • arcseconds

     

    Creationists aren’t in general particularly anti-science, at least
    not consciously.  They tend to respect scientists as very smart people
    who are probably right in their fields of expertise, they understand
    science that produces factual truth and practical benefits for society,
    they don’t consider most areas of science to be equivalent to religion,
    etc.  And although they often claim that they would maintain their faith
    in (their version of ) the Biblical story of Creation regardless of
    what the scientific facts say, I don’t think they’re very comfortable
    actually doing that–among other things, they don’t want to think of God
    as a deceiver. 

    I don’t think they understand how it is that science produces factual truth, though.  I’m pretty confident about this on statistical grounds because most people don’t understand this :-] but creationists seem particularly bad at it (although that may be because more light is cast on their beliefs).

    It seems to me that very many people, if not most, have a bit of a mixed-up view of how science works.  I think for many people they believe it for exactly the same reasons many people believe in religious stories: the stories are some combination of consistent, sense-making, interesting, and told to them by authority-figures.  They might know that some sciences use mathematics, but that means much the same as ‘uses sorcery’.  They of course know that scientists ‘do experiments’, but they don’t really understand how the theories are related to experiments.   They often know about ‘critical experiments’, but they don’t seem to know about the careful scrutiny the most secure parts of science are subject to.  That gives a skewed view of how experiments work in science, and you can see this in creationists’ constant search for results that evolutionary science can’t account for.

    If your (possibly subconscious) attitude to science is that it’s a credible story that makes a vague sense of some evidence, and you find a story that you prefer, there’s no really compelling reason to stick with the scientific story.

    So I kind of think that creationists view all scientists having roughly the same relationship to their science as creationists do to (their interpretation of) scripture.  That of course doesn’t preclude scientists producing truth, because creationists also think their ‘theory’ is true and produces truth.

    The combination of respecting scientists, understanding the epistemic care that good scientists take towards theories and phenomena, and the scientific consensus in evolution should be highly troubling to a creationist.  

  • Ross Thompson

    Yeah, so I’m suspicious that Fred’s trying to play a trick here, a bit like Newspeak, where it becomes impossible to articulate a creationist flat-earth position without sounding ridiculous.

    Fixed that for you.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    Yeah, so I’m suspicious that Fred’s trying to play a trick here, a bit
    like Newspeak, where it becomes impossible to articulate a creationist
    position without sounding ridiculous.

    It is impossible to articulate a creationist position without sounding ridiculous. Fred’s just rejecting the rhetorical skullduggery creationists engage in to obfuscate that fact.

  • Vass

    ‘Theistic evolutionism’ sounds like it means believing that God is evolving. Which sounds good to me, but I’m sure it’s not what any Real True Christians believe.

  • badJim

    We have a pretty comprehensive  idea of how evolution works, which, like our understanding of how the planets move, assigns no role to God. This is an untenable conclusion if we assume that we owe our existence to a Creator, and of the mess that it renders of Paul’s confection of original sin and substitutionary atonement, the less said the better.

    Paul contributed one wonderful insight, that anyone could be a Christian. Universality was arguably a key advance. Otherwise his scheme has perhaps irremediable problems.

    The original affront to human exceptionalism was due to Linnaeus when he classed humans among the primates, and who could deny our similarity to the rest of the apes? We recognize it instinctively. The insistence that humans are somehow distinct, solely ensouled, is far from universal; many look forward to seeing their dogs in heaven, without considering the eternal prospects of species more closely related to simians, like rodents.

    JBS Haldane quipped that God seemed to have an inordinate fondness for beetles (since there are so many of them) but instead it seems that He most favors His first and most numerous creation, bacteria. Given the billions of years since the emergence of life, eternity seems superfluous.

  • Stone_Monkey

    The theory of evolution says nothing about God, because he is outside its purview. Which is fine. Whether you want to believe in a God is both your own business and pretty much irrelevant to evolution. Which is part of the problem with Creationists, I think. As they really want it to be saying something that it’s not. And so we get theistic evolution.
     As Fred says, the whole construction is a nonsense because that’s not what evolution is about.

  • arcseconds

    Let’s put it this way:

    S: you may believe that the cosmos is only 6,000 years old, but I, and most other scientists, believe it to be  15 billion years old
    C:  bzzzt! wrong!
    S: look, I know you believe it’s younger than that, but..
    C: no, I don’t believe it at all, actually.
    S: eh? but you just said…
    C: no, *you* believe the world is billions of years old.  You believe this on what Man has done, and Man’s theories are fallible, as you have admitted plenty of times in the past.   We say “I believe” when we are not certain, and thus it is appropriate for you to say “I believe”. I on the other hand, have it from God’s Holy Word that it is not so.  God is infallible, therefore I don’t ‘believe’ anything.  Instead I accept and affirm its actuality.
    S: (*blinks*) eh, whatever.  Anyway, so your position is…
    C: it’s not a position.
    S: eh?
    C: you have positions on civic issues, in races, and in the bedroom.  The Truth is not a ‘position’.
    S: Okay, but anyway, according to you…
    C: not me.  God.
    S: OK, so what you affirm and accept is creationism, so…
    C: I wouldn’t say that.
    S: but you are a creationist, though?
    C: I refuse to accept that term.  ‘-ist’ implies either an area of expertise, or an adherent of a belief system.  As I said just now, the young earth is not a belief, and the Truth needs no label apart from ‘the Truth’.  As far as expertise goes, there is only one Expert in Creation, for it is written “Where were you when I laid
    the foundation of the earth?”
    S: *BGDAH!*

    If a creationist behaved like this to us, we’d be rightfully irked at this new strategy to avoid actually discussing the issue.  Fred isn’t quite doing this, but there’s seeds of it there…

  • fraser

     Discussions like this usually come up not in terms of “is evolution or Genesis true?” but “if evolution is just a different belief system then not teaching creationism in class is discriminating in favor of one religion against mine.” So while I wouldn’t stop at arguing evolution is proven science, pointing out the difference is a valid stance.

  • Joshua

    I say “hear, hear!” to all points in the post.

    With a caveat: I understand theistic evolutionist to mean that God specifically engineered the random happenstances that led to our evolution. I don’t like this idea at all, it’s just a God of the Gaps, just because we can’t explain why one mutation occurred instead of another, doesn’t mean it’s helpful to say, “Well, my god is there, then. Prove me wrong!” In fact, I find it kind of pathetic. And leads inevitably to a shrinking god as our understanding grows over time.

    I think there are senses in which it is appropriate to distinguish “believe” from “accept” with regard to scientific theories. All acceptance of theories should be provisional if you are doing the scientific method, or accepting the word of those who do. New evidence may come along that washes the old theories away. In that sense, belief is unhelpful and in no sense required.

    However, I haven’t met a scientist who didn’t have some strong opinions about their field, about which they’ll go down fighting to the end. They believe.

    I, not a biologist but trained in the scientific method, have read enough about evolution and seen enough living things to have a core emotional acceptance that the current consensus on the theory of evolution is on the right track. I don’t just take biologist’s word for it neutrally, like I would a chemist’s word on the best ways to make polymers. If biologist’s consensus about evolution were to change substantially, it would be a big deal to me. So, I believe.

  • Carstonio

    I see a distinction between believing something and asserting something, because the latter amounts to proposing knowledge that everyone should accept. If someone asserts that a god, say, engineered the processes of evolution, that amounts to a proposed modification of the theory, even if the asserter doesn’t intend this. It’s almost a form of cheating because it’s an assertion of an untestable cause of an observable phenomenon. That wouldn’t be the case if it was simply the person’s belief and zie wasn’t presenting it as though it were objective knowledge. Maybe Fred is talking about something different, where the believer in a god does NOT also believe that the god causes events to happen. (I would prefer that the proper name “God” not be used in this subject because doing so implicitly treats the Christian god as the default.)

  • Kevin Alexander

    I’m not sure but the gist of Fred’s post seems to be to promote a specific definition of the word belief. If you accept as something true that which is evident then you don’t say you believe it but if you accept as true something which may be no more than a figment of your imagination then you say you believe.

    Is that it?

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    I’ll admit that my antennae twitch whenever the subject of “truth” comes up in a religious context.  I once listened to a week-long series on Christian radio: the theme was (and I am not even kidding) Christians don’t have a religion.  Jews and Muslims and Hindus, they have a religion.  What Christians have is The Truth.

  • The_L1985

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    Fred, you have hit the nail on the head for why I feel awkward with that label, even though I do believe in gods and I do affirm that evolution is a fact.

  • http://twitter.com/mattmcirvin Matt McIrvin

    Concerning “scripting quantum randomness”: One thing that I think is insufficiently understood is that the requirement of randomness in quantum mechanics is actually very, very strong.

    People often imagine, and I’ve seen some theists explicitly state, that quantum nondeterminism gives God some wiggle room to do what he wants within broad statistical parameters, without violating consistent laws of physics. But there’s actually very little wiggle room. If God wants to put his thumb on the scale without being inconsistent with the rules of quantum mechanics, he can’t put a bias on the average value of *any measurable quantity*. In principle, that includes such things as “propensity of evolution to produce intelligent bipeds”.

    Now, you could well argue that God could confine himself to biasing variables that are very, very hard to measure in the laboratory. But a hidden miracle is still a miracle. From a quantum-physics perspective, nudging mutation subtly to produce humans a billion years later is not that different in principle from molding Adam out of dust.

  • arcseconds

    Yes, but omniscience is also very, very strong.

    Just to give a much simpler case to reason about, lets say there’s a society that uses a quantum coin-tosser (stolen from Schrödinger’s box, maybe) to make decisions.

    Even if God decides to limit herself to just using this coin-tosser, and even if she limits herself to sequences that look random to us, that still gives her an enormous amount of control over the society.
     
    Being omniscient, she can see all outcomes of every possible sequence, so all she has to do is examine every (history, coin-toss sequence) pair to find the pair which maximises whatever outcomes she’s interested in subject to the restriction that the coin-toss sequence looks random (a long substring of a non-computable number, maybe, and there are plenty of them), and then produce that sequence.

    I suppose we might get suspicious if we see this society constantly making good decisions, but I think we’d end up settling on other explanations, like the members of this society unconsciously phrasing the questions in a particular manner, or interpreting the direction in beneficial ways.   After all, we can examine the set-up and see it really is a quantum RNG, and we can look at the output and see that it is, as far as we can tell, random.

    And if God wants to hide, she just needs to include us not getting suspicious enough as an outcome she’s interested in.

    Now, given that God has not just one random generator to play with, but myriads upon myriads that interact with one another in stupendously complex ways, that’s actually a vast amount of control that can be had, even when keeping rigorously to QM probability behaviour for each individual particle. 

    (Or, if you want to get really clever about it, God has a lot of options with the continuing partial collapse of the wavefunction of the entire universe even when sticking to the high-expectation eigenstates of the ‘humanity observes stuff’ operator)

  • http://twitter.com/mattmcirvin Matt McIrvin

    “And if God wants to hide, she just needs to include us not getting suspicious enough as an outcome she’s interested in.”

    It’s true, an omniscient interventionist diety who really wanted to hide could simulate the workings of QM alone to some great desired degree of accuracy without making us terribly suspicious. I was mostly raising the technical point that this would *still* be a deviation from pure QM, rather than the Born rule providing us with a clear boundary between the stuff that physics gets to decide and the stuff that God gets to decide.

    I get the impression that people sometimes try to take a compatibilist viewpoint in which this kind of thing works without the God really trying to hide at all. But it’s really a very sophisticated form of God-of-the-gaps argument.

  • arcseconds

    I don’t understand why you think it’s a deviation from QM?  It’s a ‘deviation’ in the sense that there’s something else going on, sure.  But in the example I’ve provided, we can’t tell that the coin-tosser isn’t actually random.  The proportion of heads to tails is as close to 50% as we’d expect given the number of tosses, and there’s no pattern we can ascertain.

    It’s even (or could be, if necessary) random in a well-defined mathematical sense – there is no Turing-computable algorithm that describes the sequence.

    So what could we even look for in principle in the sequence that would tell us that there’s something other than QM going on? It seems to me it would be exactly in keeping with QM’s predictions.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    There is an interesting Asimov short story in which the deity involved “inserts” things like quantum mechanics and chaos theory into the universe, and finds to its surprise that the universe evolves in ways which it did not expect.

    So if someone wants to take a “God controls stuff” POV compatible with modern science, who’s to say said God didn’t invent a universe with quantum mechanical behavior woven into its very fabric?

  • arcseconds

    I’m not sure I follow.  What do you mean by ‘a universe with quantum mechanical behaviour woven into its very fabric’?  Isn’t that what mainstream physics would have us believe?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I think you missed the part where I don’t believe in God.

  • arcseconds

    I’m even more confused now. 

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Evolution is not a special case.

    I think this is the crux of the matter. One’s acknowledgement and affirmation of evolution need not be qualified or justified, and any attempts to do so can only undermine the effort, further muddying the understanding of what science is, what evolution is, whether and/or where actual scientific controversy exists, and what exactly the distinction is between the people who acknowledge and affirm evolution without treating like a special case and those that won’t.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    You apparently feel that God is a special case.  E.g, “I believe this with utter certitude, but I cannot claim to have certainty.”  Why can’t people acknowledge that evolution is true (deep down in a place they don’t mention in church), and then just not believe it anyway?

    You’ve made all these comparison between evolution and other scientific matters, and argued that evolution shouldn’t be a special case.  To paraphrase what you appear to be saying, in matters scientific, you apportion your certainty to the evidence. 

    But why not compare to the thing you’ve just declared IS a special case, where you think its ok NOT to apportion your certainty to the evidence?  I bet that’s the comparison the people you’re addressing are making.

  • Ross Thompson

     The difference is that there is strong evidence in favour of evolution, but in the case of God, the best you can say is that the evidence is consistent with God not existing. One can believe or not believe without contradicting any evidence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    Ok, there’s a LOT wrong with this.

    First of all, saying that the evidence is consistent with something is the same thing as saying that there’s evidence for it.  There’s no line between those two concepts.  At best, you can say that the evidence for one thing might be stronger than another, but you’ve still got evidence either way.

    Second, if you have certainty in something but you acknowledge that the evidence doesn’t demonstrate certainty in it, then you ARE contradicting the evidence!

    Third, having unjustified certainty in something isn’t more or less rational based on the chance that you will be definitively proven wrong in the future.  See below.

    Scenario 1- I build a machine that randomly hides a ball under one of two cups, and turn it on.  The chance of either cup being chosen is 50%.  Joe decides that he is certain the ball is under cup 1, even though he knows the chance is 50/50.  Then we look under the cup.

    Scenario 2- I build a machine that randomly hides a ball under one of two cups, but then takes the ball back out.  The chance of either cup being chosen is 50%.  I turn the machine on.  Bob decides that he is certain the ball is under cup 1, even though he knows the chance is 50/50.  We can’t check though, because the machine undid our only evidence.

    Joe and Bob are equally irrational. 

    Now lets say that Joe continues to believe that the ball was under cup 1, even after we check!  In that case, Joe is ignoring more evidence than Bob is ignoring, so I suppose he’s more irrational.  But the both of them are still irrational in the same fashion, even if not to the same degree.

  • http://www.facebook.com/abb3w Arthur Byrne

    Given sufficient additional arbitrary assumptions, any evidence can be reconciled to any conjecture; as such “consistent with” in a strict sense verges on meaningless. When dealing with the mathematical formalities, the notion of “evidence for
    one thing might be stronger than another” roughly corresponds to how little additional information is required to describe the evidence. When the description crossed a fuzzy line to some fuzzy threshold of additional assumptions becoming required, the evidence is no longer referred to as “evidence for”, even though it remains “evidence consistent with”.

    I also suspect some of your second point may be confusing certainty about a proposition, with certainty about the balance of probability on a proposition.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

     Re-read.  I think you’ll find that I’ve kept those concepts separate.

  • Anton_Mates

    First of all, saying that the evidence is consistent with something is the same thing as saying that there’s evidence for it.

    No, it’s not. If the evidence is consistent with something, that merely means that there isn’t strong evidence against it.

    The evidence is consistent with the claim, “There is an almost perfectly cubical rock floating in space in the Alpha Centauri system.”  It’s also consistent with the negation of this claim.  There’s no evidence for or against (unless someone’s come up with a theoretical statistical distribution of rock shapes in the Alpha Centauri system, in which case I need a new example.)

    Second, if you have certainty in something but you acknowledge that the evidence doesn’t demonstrate certainty in it, then you ARE contradicting
    the evidence!

    No, you’re not, unless you claim that your certainty is evidence-based.  By your standard, no reasoning is valid–any argument starts from premises/axioms which are not themselves proven by the evidence.

    I build a machine that randomly hides a ball under one of two cups, and turn it on.  The chance of either cup being chosen is 50%.  Joe decides that he is certain the ball is under cup 1, even though he knows the chance is 50/50. 

    The analogy to theism is already broken, since no one knows how to compute the a priori probability of God’s existence.  Unless you’ve got a universe-making machine and we can see what proportion of its products contain a deity.

    Bob decides that he is certain the ball is under cup 1, even though he knows the chance is 50/50.  We can’t check though, because the machine undid our only evidence.

    If the machine truly undoes all your evidence, then Bob doesn’t know the chance is 50/50, because there’s no way to check the machine’s performance.  If you observed its performance earlier to come up with the 50/50 ratio, then the machine must have been subsequently altered to add the evidence-removal bit, and Bob may believe that this alteration changed the machine’s output pattern.  So it’s neither rational nor irrational for him to be certain that the ball was under cup 1.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The evidence is consistent with the claim, “There is an almost perfectly
    cubical rock floating in space in the Alpha Centauri system.”  It’s
    also consistent with the negation of this claim.  There’s no evidence
    for or against (unless someone’s come up with a theoretical statistical
    distribution of rock shapes in the Alpha Centauri system, in which case I
    need a new example.)

    I’m neither a geologist nor an astrophysicist but I don’t think rock works like that. I mean, one could probably get a cubical piece of obsidian or flint, if one worked at it right? But obsidian is volcanic and flint is sedimentary and those simply don’t occur off a planetary surface. Rocks that are likely to be found floating in space are either big enough to reshape themselves via gravity, in which case they’re roughly spherical, or they’re not, in which case they’re whatever shape they ended up in when they stopped accreting, probably best described as ‘lumpy potato’ and certainly not ‘cube’.

  • Anton_Mates

    Perhaps I have an overly-loose definition of “almost perfectly,” but I wasn’t really thinking of a perfect cubic crystal or anything.  More a rock that was about as cubical as, um, a lightly-weathered cardboard box.  The smaller space rocks didn’t form by accretion, but by fracturing off larger bodies in collisions and such, and it seems to me that one in ten billion of them might come off looking pretty cubical.  I suppose it’s even possible that a cubic pyrite crystal might form in some small planetoid, then survive the subsequent smashup.  But I also am not a geologist.

    I was just trying to think of a more plausible version of the “teapot orbiting Jupiter scenario.

  • hf

     If the evidence is consistent with something, that merely means that there isn’t strong evidence against it.

    If, at some point, it would have seemed possible for the evidence to not be consistent with the theory, then the fact this didn’t happen should count as evidence in the theory’s favor. It may be extremely weak evidence, though. I started to apply this to the cubical rock but decided that the necessary degree of pedantry would accomplish nothing.

    Now, this claim that “Bob doesn’t know the chance is 50/50” seems like a bigger problem. If he knows that only two options exist (practically speaking) and he has no evidence for preferring one to the other, he most definitely does have a state of knowledge that acts like a 50% probability for each outcome. Or say you know a coin is fixed to land on one side almost every time, but you don’t know which one. Until you learn the results of the first flip, if you have no way to infer the preferred side, then you should have about as much confidence in seeing ‘heads’ as you would with a normal ‘fair’ coin flip. (And you should expect to guess right in about half of similar situations.) Some people would refuse to call this a probability, but I don’t think I care.

    Likewise, you have the right to invent an academic definition of ‘rationality’ such that, before the first flip, absolute confidence in seeing ‘heads’ would be “neither rational nor irrational”. And I have the right to laugh at you.

  • Anton_Mates

    If, at some point, it would have seemed possible for the evidence to not be consistent with the theory, then the fact this didn’t happen should count as evidence in the theory’s favor. It may be extremely weak evidence, though.

    True enough.

    Or say you know a coin is fixed to land on one side almost every time, but you don’t know which one. Until you learn the results of the first flip, if you have no way to infer the preferred side, then you should have about as much confidence in seeing ‘heads’ as you would with a normal ‘fair’ coin flip. 

    If you’re a Bayesian.  If you’re a frequentist you have no justification for any particular level of confidence, unless you know something about what proportion of fixed coins favor heads vs. tails.

    (And you should expect to guess right in about half of similar situations.)

    By the nature of this scenario, you can expect whatever success rate you want; you’re never going to find out whether your expectations were correct.

    Some people would refuse to call this a probability, but I don’t think I care.

    Which is to say, Bayesianism is an axiom for you.  That’s fine, but it’s not rational (or irrational).

  • Patrick

    Uh, no. Let’s leave aside your interpretation of frequentism and just focus on the logic here. You can’t say that we have no way to apportion probability in the absence of frequentist data and then turn around and say that it’s therefore ok to be certain about something in the same scenario! A frequentist who thinks he cannot say that chances are 50/50 without frequentist data cannot rationally conclude that certainty is appropriate! Even if this form of strict, strong frequentism is cogent, that remains a contradiction.

  • Anton_Mates

    You can’t say that we have no way to apportion probability in the absence of frequentist data and then turn around and say that it’s therefore ok to be certain about something in the same scenario!

    Sure I can.  If we have no way to compute any probabilities, no level of certainty is more or less ok than another.  Absolute certainty that the ball’s in cup 1 is fine.  Absolute certainty that it’s in cup 2 is fine.  50/50 uncertainty is fine.  None of these attitudes will ever be borne out as right or wrong by the observable facts.

    I’m about as certain as I can be that an external world exists.  I realize that it could not exist, and I have no idea how to assign any probabilities to the question, but I more or less can’t help being convinced that it does exist.   I think that’s okay.  As I said, everyone’s working off axioms, and by definition those axioms don’t come with probabilities attached.

    A frequentist who thinks he cannot say that chances are 50/50 without frequentist data cannot rationally conclude that certainty is appropriate!

    A frequentist cannot rationally conclude that certainty is the only appropriate attitude here, nor can he rationally conclude that uncertainty is.  Therefore they’re both appropriate.  It’s an a-rational choice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

     This is jaw-dropping.  I don’t know what else to do or say at this point.  You actually think that if you have no information to help you choose between two options, it is rational to arbitrarily select one and be certain in it?

    I guess the only thing to say is that, for the record, for anyone else reading, that is NOT what frequentism says.  So don’t use that in college or anything, it won’t go well.

  • Anton_Mates

    This
    is jaw-dropping.  I don’t know what else to do or say at this point. 
    You actually think that if you have no information to help you choose
    between two options, it is rational to arbitrarily select one and be
    certain in it?

    As I said before, it’s a-rational.  Rationality neither forbids nor requires you to select one.  Not quite sure why you find that position jaw-dropping at this point, since you seem to have been attacking it since your first post on this thread.  If you disagree, maybe make an argument about why uncertainty is the only rational option?  The two-cups thing was a nice intuition pump, but unsurprisingly it just revealed that people don’t all have the same intuitions in this area.

    I guess the only thing to say is that, for the record, for anyone else reading, that is NOT what frequentism says. 

    Well yeah, frequentism doesn’t say anything about how certain your beliefs should be.  That’s kind of one of its distinguishing features–it’s not about epistemic probabilities.

  • arcseconds

    It’s also a-rational by Bayesian standards, too.

    Let’s say you know a factory produces cubical boxes up to a maximum of 1m on a side, and you know nothing about their product line apart from this.

    So what are the chances of a particular box being over 0.5 m on a side?

    Well, you might decide that you’ve no reason to assume any particular box-height is any more common than any other, so you’d better assume a uniform distribution, so the probability had better be 0.5.

    OK.  So what are the chances of a particular box with the surface area of a face being 0.25m² ?

  • hf

     Maybe I don’t follow. The probability of the box’s area equaling exactly 0.25 m^2 comes to zero by those assumptions. That’s because “real numbers” aren’t, not as a matter of observation. The chance that rounding the area to the fifth decimal point will given you .25 equals 0.00001.

  • arcseconds

    That’s because I’m an idiot and didn’t think about what I was saying.

    What are the chances of the surface area of the box being greater than 0.5m².   I’ll edit my post.

  • Anton_Mates

    It’s also a-rational by Bayesian standards, too.

    Well, by the standards of some Bayesians.  Many of them would argue that the principle(s) of indifference/transformation groups/maximum entropy can rationally require a particular probability distribution for the length/volume/area of your box.  I’m not sure they all agree on which distribution that should be, though.

    They often know about ‘critical experiments’, but they don’t seem to
    know about the careful scrutiny the most secure parts of science are subject to.  That gives a skewed view of how experiments work in science, and you can see this in creationists’ constant search for results that evolutionary science can’t account for.

    All true.  However, they don’t search for such results in other areas of science (except, these days, in climate change), and if you listen to their rhetoric, they don’t expect to find any.  When it comes to physics and medicine and so on, creationists are quite happy to talk about how almost all the results in those fields have been rigorously proven through careful experiment.  Hell, they often act like the Second Law of Thermodynamics is part of the Bible.  I fully agree that they don’t understand the scientific process, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t respect it.  They draw a very strong distinction between Good Science and Bad Science, and they ascribe Bad Science to an ideologically-driven failure to apply the scientific method correctly.

    So I kind of think that creationists view all scientists having roughly the same relationship to their science as creationists do to (their interpretation of) scripture.  That of course doesn’t preclude scientists producing truth, because creationists also think their ‘theory’ is true and produces truth.

    Thing is, Protestant creationists don’t have much room in their worldview for something which is like interpreting Scripture, but isn’t interpreting Scripture.  Taking a “religious” attitude toward anything other than the King James (or New International Version, these days) is heresy, or pagan idolatry, and it cannot produce truth.

    If RTCs are going to accept science, it has to either be explicitly Christian “science” like intelligent design, or it has to be something totally distinct from religion–impersonal, impartial, non-prescriptive, philosophically neutral.  (After all, they’re well aware that most modern science is produced by non-RTCs.  But trusting such heathens  on any remotely religious issue would be heresy.)  The problem they see with evolutionary biology is that it’s neither aligned with nor orthogonal to the true faith; it’s pointing in the opposite direction.

    IMO, of course.  I’m not a sociologist.

  • Carstonio

     

    I’m about as certain as I can be that an external world exists.  I
    realize that it could not exist, and I have no idea how to assign any
    probabilities to the question, but I more or less can’t help being
    convinced that it does exist.   I think that’s okay.  As I said,
    everyone’s working off axioms, and by definition those axioms don’t come
    with probabilities attached.

    While you’re right about probabilities, any alternative to the external world as a hypothesis can easily be discounted as impractical as compared to the external world hypothesis. An alternative wouldn’t gain us anything in terms of explaining what we observe, and it would be less parsimonious as an explanation. I would agree that both hypotheses are not falsifiable. And one can make a good case that choosing the external world hypothesis for the reasons I suggest is no different from using it as an axiom. The only grounds I could see for giving serious consideration for any alternative hypothesis would be if we had observations that couldn’t be explained by the external world hypothesis, something akin to Toto pulling back the curtain.

  • Anton_Mates

    While you’re right about probabilities, any alternative to the external world as a hypothesis can easily be discounted as impractical as compared to the external world hypothesis. An alternative wouldn’t gain us anything in terms of explaining what we observe, and it would be less parsimonious as an explanation.

    You could make that argument. But you could also argue that it’s more parsimonious to discard the external world hypothesis, and just say that your mind largely behaves in a way that is conveniently modelable using an external world.  Practicality is in the eye of the beholder.  That said, as a subjective matter I agree with you; the external world hypothesis certainly makes my reasoning feel less labored.

    But this sort of parsimony-based reasoning is forbidden by Patrick’s version of the principle of indifference, so far as I understand it.  Under the latter, you would have to be 50% certain of the existence of an external world, no more or less.

  • Carstonio

    I would think that the conveniently modelable behavior would be less parsimonious, since the mind could just as easily behave in a way that isn’t modelable.

  • hf

     any alternative to the external world as a hypothesis can
    easily be discounted as impractical as compared to the external world
    hypothesis. An alternative wouldn’t gain us anything in terms of
    explaining what we observe, and it would be less parsimonious as an
    explanation.

    That sounds a lot like the standard rule for assigning prior probabilities (the ones that we update based on the evidence). Not sure what definition of “axiom” y’all are using that rules out probabilities or ways of getting them. If we view probability theory as an extension of logic then we’d apply it to probabilistic axioms or working assumptions.

    Now nobody can use the method I’m talking about in its pure form, and amusingly the reason for this involves solipsism. Any practical, explain-able rule for updating probabilities (by comparing theories to the evidence) will fail for at least one hypothesis. This says roughly, “Nothing exists but a modified version of the rule you’re using, a version which prints out the evidence if and only if it looks at a theory that does not print out the evidence, looking at this hypothesis (or one that behaves just like it).”

    But this theory has to contain at least one full description of the observed evidence, or another complete theory that can predict all the evidence. So it would need a lot of logically distinct details, each of which cuts off and discards a slice of prior probability. Each detail that could have been otherwise tells you to assign some of the total probability to the other possible theory or theories. And this particular form of solipsism seems to fare worse – seems even more complicated and less likely –  than the old standby, “Reality is a machine for repeating exactly the evidence you’ve so far observed, forever.”

  • Carstonio

    My point wasn’t about determining probabilities or dismissing them. The point of a hypothesis is to explain observations and to predict new ones. I doubt that any alternative to the external world hypothesis would be usable in making predictions. 

  • Anton_Mates

    I doubt that any alternative to the external world hypothesis would be usable in making predictions.

    Oh, sure it is.  The whole reason solipsism’s untestable is that it can make all the same predictions made by the external world hypothesis.  E.g. general relativity is still “true,” it’s just true about certain properties of your own mind instead of about the outside world.

    I would think that the conveniently modelable behavior would be less parsimonious, since the mind could just as easily behave in a way that isn’t modelable.

    That could be true under the external world hypothesis too, though.  There could be a well-behaved physical world that didn’t correlate to your mind’s behavior at all.  Arguably, it’s less parsimonious to have to assume that such a world exists and that it’s causally linked to your mind.

  • Carstonio

    You’re right about the untestability. The solipsism hypothesis doesn’t explain why the indisciplined organ of the mind would create a well-behaved world. Dreams don’t follow such behavior and deliberate acts of imagination don’t either. It doesn’t explain why the mind’s world isn’t like the one created by Alan Moore’s Black Mercy plant.

  • Anton_Mates

    In what way could the external world hypothesis explain these facts, such that the solipsism hypothesis couldn’t do the same?

  • Anton_Mates

    Any practical, explain-able rule for updating probabilities (by
    comparing theories to the evidence) will fail for at least one
    hypothesis. This says roughly, “Nothing exists but a modified version of
    the rule you’re using, a version which prints out the evidence if and
    only if it looks at a theory that does not print out the evidence,
    looking at this hypothesis (or one that behaves just like it).”

    Hmm…can you rephrase, unpack or cite?  My paradox-reading circuitry is sparking….

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    I’m reminded of an old quip:

    “I don’t believe in alcohol.”
    “I assure you, it exists.”

    I don’t see Fred as trying to play any Newspeak-style games here, what I see is that he’s arguing against people who use two definitions of “believe” but then treat them identically in order to push an agenda. “I believe X is the correct explanation because the scientific method backs it up” turns into “X is just a matter of belief and so not-X is just as valid”.

  • PJ Evans

     Not just two definitions of ‘believe’, but also not understanding there are two (at least) uses of ‘theory’ involved.

  • mud man

    I’m not clear why Fred referenced Scot’s pointer to the BioLogos post rather than the post itself. Not in order to discourage people from reading it, one hopes. 

    “Theistic Evolution”- a poor name but we seem to be stuck with it – is not the same as the Alarm Clock model: wind it up and X billion years later it goes off. Darwinism is driven by random events, but recall that “random” means obscure events that we can’t properly analyze. A personal God who continues to intervene in the world when it suits him to could be active right along, loading the dice as it were. Matt McIrvin is quite right this is not different in kind from forming Adam directly from the mud. Why would he do it that way? The usual answer is that God values our human freedom … more than we do ourselves, it seems. The comments in Jesus Creed are an extended argument about this point.

    MisterBrown9: Point #4 in the present discussion emphasizes that Genesis is about our relationship to God, and it isn’t fair to compare it directly with modern Cosmology. But I agree that as an artistic presentation, it isn’t THAT bad. That is, if Genesis were the introduction to an Ingmar Bergman movie, nobody would have any trouble understanding what he was talking about.

    Ross Thompson: Quite right. One’s opinions about God should be conditioned, but need not be dictated, by “objective” evidence. 

  • Misterbrown9

    I don’t understand how a book that is about our relationship to God wouldn’t make a comment on how God created physical man (in a metaphor that could be comprehended through the ages). Isn’t all scripture about our relationship to God?  Genesis isn’t unique, but it does hold tantalizing clues about the nature of revelation, religion, and man’s place in the scheme of things.  Many of the gems in Genesis have been referred to in later scripture and given a new context.
    For instance:
    “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;(Genesis 3:17-18)
    Man was condemned to a life of struggle, and his spiritual progress would be severely hindered by these thistles and thorns which Jesus called ‘the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches’ (Matthew 13:22)
    In a sense Jesus is saying the true garden of Eden is in the heart of man, where the seed of the word of God is planted, but the harvest is dependent upon inner conditions.

  • J_Enigma32

    Just as a quick point of fact – you ARE a scientist, in the sense that you follow the scientific method every day in your life, multiple times a day.

    For instance, you’re in the living room of a night, and there’s a storm going on outside. There’s a loud CRASH from the back room, and you rush in to find that a shelf with some pictures has crashed on the floor. Looking around, you assess it’s placement in relative to the window, which is open, and move the nail it was hanging on, to see it was loose. There’s a violent and windy storm going on outside, and the curtains are clearly billowing. So what’s the conclusion? The wind knocked it down.

    Both of those are examples of using the scientific method (or a variant thereof) in your every daily life. In some ways, the human brain is geared towards those methods, since the purpose of the brain is to put everything in some logical order. Of course, what the human brain is *really* geared towards is finding a solution that the brain believes will be important for survival. Thus, the brain sometimes cheats and takes shortcuts in this reasoning process, and that’s why some people will come to the conclusion that the wind blew down your shelf – and others might hop up and down and proclaim it proof of a ghost. Okham’s Razor and the scientific method are external “patches” to try and get around the brain taking those kinds of short cuts. But those patches have to be learned and consciously applied (which runs contra to the usual, unconscious thinking process most of us use*); accurately applying the scientific method requires a degree of trained metacognition that, sadly, we’re just not teaching our students**.

    Still, the brain looks to find solutions to problems. It’s how the brain operates and ensures our survival. Sometimes it follows the scientific method. Other times… it uses short cuts. But the underlying processes are there, and if you’ve “patched” the brain’s attempts at shortcuts, then you’re a scientist (in the sense you use the scientific method) every day of your life.

    * For example, think of a problem. Now solve that problem. Now tell me how you solved that problem, and why you came to the answer that you did. This is the primary reason why children have to show their work inside of a math class – so you can understand how you think and see it there on paper. It also leads to unique situations I’m on stranger too where I do the work wrong but still get the right answer. It doesn’t matter that I got the right answer – what matters is that I have bad and sloppy thinking, and that needs to be addressed.

    **IMHO, metacognition is the most important skill anyone can learn. If kids learn nothing at all in school, they need to learn how to understand their own thinking. Once you understand your own thinking, you can literally learn anything, because you can tailor your data to match your learning schema and integrate it more easily.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Many, many years ago, when I was beginning the process of disengaging myself from the Orthodox Judaism I was raised in, I was asked by a rabbi whether  I believed in God. By which he meant, of course, YHWH, the God of my forefathers, as described in the Torah.

    And I thought about this for a long time, because it was a complicated question, and neither “yes” nor “no” seemed like appropriate answers.

    Now, decades later, I can say more simply that it’s not a question of
    belief. That is, I don’t believe in YHWH as he is portrayed in the Old Testament,
    but that’s not really what my rabbi was asking about; lots of Jews don’t believe in God that way. What he wanted to know was whether I was rejecting YHWH.

    And that’s not some kind of Orwellian Newspeak game; it’s a perfectly legitimate use of the word. When someone says they don’t believe in premarital sex, they don’t mean that the many reports of premarital sex are somehow mistaken and no such events ever occurred. They mean they reject it. They mean that they don’t approve of it, don’t endorse it, don’t align themselves with it.

    If someone tells me they believe in love, or believe in democracy, or believe that now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of my country ’tis of thee, they aren’t making statements about where the preponderance of the evidence lies. That’s just not what they’re talking about, and if I insist on interpreting them that way I am being dishonest.

    I didn’t understand this clearly at the time, and I couldn’t express it clearly, but I was beginning to wrap my brain around it even then.

    I hadn’t yet made up my mind whether I believed in God in the way that I believed in, say, the Rocky Mountains, or squid, or my shoes, I told my rabbi, although it was seeming less and less reasonable to do so. But I was pretty sure I did not believe in God in the way  that people believed in, say, the sanctity of marriage or in democracy.

    And he accepted that as an answer, because I’d told him what he really wanted to know.

  • Tricksterson

    I  guess I am a theistic evolutionis in that I believe that a Creator created the universe and the laws of physics and biology that govern it including evolution.  I also believe that it’s possible, though not definite, that something, maybe the Creator, maybe a Power of a lesser order than the Creator but greater than humanity (at least for now) gave evolution a nudge here and there to achieve specific ends, most likely, but not necessarily sentient life.

  • PJ Evans

     My thought is more like time is constantly created, and everything else evolves (appears, grows, changes, reproduces, dies, goes away).

  • mud man

    BTW, many here are taking it as a no-brainer that everybody should be able to understand the validity of darwinian evolution. Such people don’t appreciate the lamentable quality of secondary education many places in this country, not just concerning science, but also history, economics, statistics, sociology, you name it. In the climate these days, the great and the common folk ARE entitled to their own facts.

    Jesus had great respect for the truth. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/abb3w Arthur Byrne

    One of the better summaries of the major positions seems to be the options from a Cleveland Plain Dealer poll (run by Mason-Dixon), done back in 2002 near the height of the Intelligent Design foofrah.

    Atheistic Evolution: “All living things on Earth came from a common ancestor and over millions of years evolved into different species due to natural processes such as natural selection and random chance.”
    Theistic Evolution: “God created the universe and all living things as claimed in the Bible. Creation took millions of years and evolution is the method God used to achieve this result.”
    Intelligent Design: “Living things are too complex to have developed by chance. A purposeful force or being that may or may not be God is responsible for designing life as we know it. Evolution may be part of a such a design.”
    Old-Earth Creationism: “God created the universe in the manner the Bible describes, but over a long period of time, and the world is millions of years old. God made all living things, including humans, but has allowed some small-scale evolution to take place.”
    Young-Earth Creationism: “God created the universe exactly as the Bible describes, in a period of six days, and the world is less than 10,000 years old. God made all living things, including humans, in the form they appear now, and there has been no evolution.”

  • Jay

    Technically, theistic evolution is the belief that God created the
    universe and installed the evolutionary rules, leaving life to evolve on
    its own following those rules.

    OK, but what do those rules say about God?

    Some of the rules of evolution go like this:

    – Evolution is about long-term survival for organisms and their offspring.

    – Threats are manifold and unpredictable, so having as many offspring as possible is generally the optimum survival strategy.

    – Because of the above, populations have a strong tendency to expand to environmental limits.

    -“Environmental limits” take the form of famine, wars, and other forms of mass suffering.

    Many people, including myself, find it impossible to reconcile Christianity’s loving God with evolution’s constant strife.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Some Christians seem to take handily enough to using doctrinal aspects of Christianity to back up Social Darwinism.

    “The elect”, “God’s Chosen”

    Ring a bell?

  • Jay

     Some Christians seem to take handily enough to using doctrinal aspects of Christianity to back up Social Darwinism.

    I agree that some people think that way, but I consider it to be a cartoonishly oversimplified version of evolution married to an unrecognizably distorted version of Christianity.

  • alias Ernest Major

    I think you’ll find that American Social Darwinists more often than not reject the factuality of common descent. Social Darwinism is the belief that society red in tooth and claw is a desirable state, which can be held regardless of one’s opinion on the various theories of evolution.

  • The Ridger

    Bora says “theistic evolution is the belief that God created the universe and
    installed the evolutionary rules, leaving life to evolve on its own
    following those rules.” Which seems quite inoffensive, but as Fred says, when people go on about Earth being perfect for life, we don’t say we believe in “theistic astrophysics” or something. Evolution IS being treated as something different here, and it’s different from the theological/religious viewpoint.

  • Misterbrown9

    I believe the Divine Purpose was that from the matrix of the material universe a creatures(s) would appear to reflect the image of the Creator and comprehend the invisible worlds of the spirit.  Apart from that ‘the flesh profiteth nothing’.
    But there is spiritual evolution as well, in which the Creator plays an active role.
    ‘Whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting’.
    ‘The law was the schoolmaster that led us to Christ’
    ‘Now we see through a glass; darkly
    (I am paraphrasing these scriptures, of course)
    If necessary I could provide chapter and verse.
    There are many examples of a slow and steady civilizing or spiritualizing of the human race towards a similarly determined outcome.

  • Carstonio

    Why is it different? Put aside the common misconception that “evolution” is an atheistic mishmash of pseudo-natural selection and pseudo-abiogenesis. I suspect the difference is that natural selection undermines the idea of human exceptionalism. 

  • Jay

    I think Fred is misunderstanding the resistance evolution gets from more conservative Christians.

    What they’re trying to preserve is the doctrine of original sin.  That’s essential to their version of Christianity (as I understand it, of course).  That doctrine says that suffering and death are man’s fault, not God’s, and that God’s grace can overcome the Fall.  That version of the faith goes like this: Act I: the Fall, and paradise gets messed up.  Act II: Easter, and the promise of salvation.  Act III: Judgement Day, and the promise is fulfilled.

    But it just doesn’t work without the talking snake and the magic fruit.  If death and suffering existed before moral choice, then we never had an unfallen state to which we could be redeemed.   If man didn’t break the world, what did?  Because one thing almost every human in every culture agrees on is that the world isn’t what it should be.

    I just think that if Fred approached the topic from along these lines, and with attention to these issues, maybe the argument would move forward instead of staying stuck in the same rut.

  • Carstonio

     Based on the Duane Gish children’s book and the Creation Museum slideshows that I’ve seen, you’re probably correct. It may be human nature to want to blame one’s self or blame others for suffering that appears to have no human cause, and natural selection strongly implies that death and suffering are part of the nature of existence. But I doubt that Fred or anyone else could approach the topic along those lines, at least without sounding like an Asian philosopher, and that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

  • Jay

    I agree that this is a challenging way to approach the issues for someone who believes in both Christianity and evolution.  I also think that, if someone wants to engage with creationists on this subject, it’s important to see where their emotional commitment to young-earth creationism is coming from.

    When a grown adult claims to literally believe in a talking snake with magic fruit, there’s something close to a psychotic break going on.  In that situation, hammering on the evidence isn’t going to convince anyone.  Figuring out where the emotional sticking points are and addressing them is a better strategy.  Of course, leaving the crazies alone may be an even better strategy.

  • Carstonio

     I’m tempted to just tell them, “Shit happens. Deal with it.” Do they tend to come from the same theological background as the gospel song Farther Along, which laments that the wicked often prosper and the virtuous often suffer, and just assumes that there’s some reason that we’ll learn after we die? Maybe these people are unable or unwilling to grasp the possibility that life has no purpose other than what we make of our lives as individuals.

  • Jay

     Maybe these people are unable or unwilling to grasp the possibility that
    life has no purpose other than what we make of our lives as
    individuals.

    That’s exactly it.  It’s the idea that life is without purpose that scares some people to the point that they just can’t deal with it.  When we say “evolution is true” they hear “you cannot be redeemed from original sin”, which to them means “you were hopelessly screwed from the moment of your birth”.

  • The_L1985

    “Because one thing almost every human in every culture agrees on is that the world isn’t what it should be.”

    Are you kidding me?  The world is awesome, even when you take the suffering part into account.

  • Jay

    The world is awesome, even when you take the suffering part into account.

    There’s no accounting for taste.

  • http://criada.livejournal.com/ Liz Coleman

    The TL;DR version (as I see it, anyway): The term “theistic evolutionist” only makes sense in the context of The Culture Wars (wherein society divides itself based around the rallying points of certain causes like evolution, abortion, homosexuality) and Fred is, in this post, implicitly rejecting The Culture Wars.

  • Carstonio

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/The-Last-Page-Darwin-for-Dads.html

    In this column, the author’s biochemist daughter tries explaining to dad that natural selection is not a judgment, either on the species that survive or on those that don’t. Perhaps since natural selection goes against the idea of human exceptionalism, people who believe that “everything happens for a reason” have the most trouble with it, even when they’re not creationists.

  • The_L1985

    …But the deaths of animals DO happen for a reason.  Animals die because:

    – They contracted a deadly disease;
    – The environment changed before they could adapt;
    – They became prey to other animals;
    – They couldn’t obtain enough food or water;
    – They drowned in something;
    – They were struck by lightning and burned;
    – They were buried alive in an earthquake;
    – They suffered some sort of physical malady not caused by pathogens;
    – They were tortured to death by a malicious human;
    – They were struck by a rock, car, or other large blunt object;
    – They ingested something poisonous;
    – They grew old and their bodies wore out;
    Etc.

    Granted, some of those things are just the result of bad luck, but they’re still reasons.

  • Carstonio

    I would classify most of those as causes, since “for a reason” usually implies that an intelligence was behind it. It’s theology lite.

  • swbarnes2

    I believe that God does, actually, exist. I believe this with utter certitude, but I cannot claim to have certainty.

    As far as I can tell, certitude and certainty mean the same thing.  What on earth is Fred trying to communicate here? He believes with certitude, but isn’t certain?  That his feelings are far stronger than the evidence warrants?  It sounds like he’s trying to adopt contradictory stances of being rationally cautious and faithfully sure at the same time about the same claim.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    What on earth is Fred trying to communicate here?

    Judging from the paragraph the quote is embedded in, I understood “certainty” to refer to confidence one can have about things directly observed and measured, which do not require belief and where the possibility of error is negligible, and understood “certitude” to refer to confidence one can have about things not directly observed but rather inferred or intuited, which do require belief and the possibility of error is non-negligible.

    Personally, I don’t find this a helpful distinction. I find it’s more helpful to treat everything I experience as an inference from something else, whether I experience it as a belief or a perception or an intuition or a suspicion or an expectation or a faith or a doubt or an obsession or whatever, and to accept that the amount of confidence I have in those experienced things actually existing can vary based on other experiences.

    That said, I accept that these terms have lots of connotations, and the connotations matter to people… that when someone says they believe X, they are trying to express something different than when they say they suspect X, or they find X likely, or that X is true, or if they refer to X in passing as a known fact while talking about something else, or various other speech acts.

    I find, in general, that I do better to concentrate on what they are trying to express with those speech acts, and not worry too much about the cognitive taxonomy implied by their terms.

  • AnonymousSam

    For whatever it’s worth, there are still deeply conservative religious people who believe that even basic tenets of science are a form of atheism. “Rain occurs because God wills it to. End of story. Evaporation? Condensation? Rising vapors? That’s all nonsense. God did it and that’s all that matters. Teaching more than that is leading people away from what matters.”

    So in some cases, one really could say they “believe” in this, that and the other, because according to various authorities, they really are spouting nonsense.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     Welllllll…. hrm.

    So, I’m more or less a materialist when it comes to behavior. For example, I expect that there’s an answer to the question “Why is Dave writing this comment?” that can be given in terms of the dynamics of my brain, in just the same way that “Why is it raining?” can be given in terms of the dynamics of the atmosphere.

    But if someone waves away such an answer in favor of “This comment got written because Dave willed it to, end of story.” they are not spouting nonsense. They are simply insisting on an answer at a much coarser level of description than what is available.

    This is not entirely analogous to your example, of course, since the available evidence for the existence of Dave as a relevant entity at the level of comment-writing is different than the available evidence for the existence of God as a relevant entity at the level of raining. But to dismiss evaporation, condensation, and rising vapors as irrelevant to what really matters when discussing rain is not necessarily to make that error.

    “When gods spit fire in bright angry streams
    To burn their names into the hapless ground
    Then pause for breath and bellow thunderclaps
    That crack the sky and call down sheets of rain
    To carve new canyons into ancient rock
    It’s hard to recognize in their grand sweep
    The stately flow of warm and humid air
    That rises dumbly into cooler skies.”

  • AnonymousSam

    How about to ensure that evaporation, condensation and rising vapors aren’t even considered relevant, and to try and remove them from being taught in schools? (Unfortunately, the example I got this sort of thinking from is a man with political power somewhere in the east — although I can’t find the article where I first read it.)

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I oppose that, in part simply because it’s a power move by an opposing faction, and in part because it’s important that some people understand the internal dynamics of both atmospheres and minds, and teaching it in schools seems like the best way to do that.

  • AnonymousSam

    We both would oppose it since we lean secular when it comes to education. I’m saying there are people who consider even meteorology even this basic to be misleading at best, heresy at worst. Rain? God did it and any attempts to explain to the contrary are looking for mundane explanations for the miraculous, which is blasphemy.

    Granted, you have to go into extremely conservative territory to find these attitudes, but I wish I could say I was exaggerating when I say they still exist and there are people who want to enforce them on others here in the present day.

    Heh, then again, I’ve had some fun debates with a person who considered any speculation about the physical world to be an act of self-harm. I don’t remember what religion he had, but it sounded like an extreme version of Hinduism. He argued that in making any ties to the physical world, we bind ourselves to the cycle of death and rebirth, never progressing into oneness with the world beyond. Therefore, merely acknowledging the physical world was a kind of sin, albeit one which was almost impossible for a human to avoid doing. He probably would have had interesting things to say about meteorology…

    “Rain? I would prefer not to.”

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     Sure, I’m aware of the existence of the people you describe in your first couple of paragraphs. Indeed, some of them were responsible for much of my early education. If I gave the impression I didn’t believe in their existence, I apologize for the confusion.

  • arcseconds

     

    Heh, then again, I’ve had some fun debates with a person who considered
    any speculation about the physical world to be an act of self-harm. I
    don’t remember what religion he had, but it sounded like an extreme
    version of Hinduism. He argued that in making any ties to the physical
    world, we bind ourselves to the cycle of death and rebirth, never
    progressing into oneness with the world beyond. Therefore, merely
    acknowledging the physical world was a kind of sin, albeit one which was
    almost impossible for a human to avoid doing

    that’s awesome.   that’s totally the line i’m taking with physicists from now on.

    (I used to go with Zeno, but they start to mutter stuff about the continuum, limits, and the calculus…)

  • AnonymousSam

    I used to argue Zeno’s Paradox with people, but then I mellowed out. Now I just reply, “Wherever I go, there I am.”

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    How about to ensure that evaporation, condensation and rising vapors aren’t even considered relevant,

    A rather inaccurate understanding of this led to “the rain follows the plow”. (-_-)

  • http://twitter.com/BoraZ Bora Zivkovic

    If you want a precise definition, here it is in both words and graphics, at NCSE site:
    http://ncse.com/creationism/general/creationevolution-continuum

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

    Great post, Fred. When people accuse (and yes, it’s always a hostile accusation) of believing in evolution, that accusation betrays that they don’t grasp what evolution – and more importantly, the scientific method – is about. Accepting evolutionary theory doesn’t require belief. It is simply being persuaded by the evidence for it. 

  • Carstonio

    Sorry for the confusion. I was really talking about predictability, and
    that’s where I see the external world hypothesis as having an edge.
    That’s not the same thing as explaining what we perceive. Solipsism
    doesn’t seem to allow for making predictions because the mind would
    appear to capable of creating anything, or creating a world based on the person’s desires or fears.

    I see that as similar to the “god” hypothesis – there’s no way to make
    predictions with the postulation of a being capable of anything, because
    any possible observations would be compatible with the hypothesis.

  • Anton_Mates

    Carstonio

    Apologies for not noticing your response three weeks earlier!  It’s probably too late to rezz the thread, but….

    Solipsism doesn’t seem to allow for making predictions because the mind would 
appear to capable of creating anything, or creating a world based on the person’s desires or fears.

    No more so–or less so–than an external world might be capable of creating anything.  The external world could be a completely unpredictable place where anything can happen–it’s logically possible–but upon observation, it doesn’t appear to be.  Ditto for the mind.  (After all, the only way we know that the external world’s behavior is predictable and regular is that our mental perceptions of that world are equally so!)

    As for creating a world based on your desires or fears–well, again, our minds simply don’t seem to work that way.  Most of what I perceive and feel seems irrelevant to what I want to perceive and feel.  I don’t hallucinate living in a paradise or a nightmare nor do solutions to mathematical problems pop into my head as soon as I want them.  Sugar tastes good and dish soap tastes bad whether or not I’d like them to taste that way.  So the solipsist simply concludes that the mind operates on laws that are largely independent of hir own desires, just as the non-solipsist concludes that the external world and the mind operate in that fashion.

    I see that as similar to the “god” hypothesis – there’s no way to make 
predictions with the postulation of a being capable of anything, because 
any possible observations would be compatible with the hypothesis.

    That’s true only so long as one refuses to hypothesize about that being’s intent or its rules of behavior.  If one postulates an omnipotent god who–for instance–desires that momentum, energy, charge and spin be conserved, lots of predictions follow from that.   (Not that most modern theists do this AFAIK, but they could.)


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