Why I am not a ‘theistic evolutionist,’ etc., part 2

In the first part of this discussion, I objected to the idea that the modifier “theistic” in “theistic evolution,” might simply refer to the believe held by us theists of God’s pervasive providence.

The problem, we noted, is that if we’re talking about God’s constant presence in all things, that can’t explain the use of this word in this exceptional way. If “theistic evolution” means only that God is present in the process of evolution in the same way that God is present in the process of photosynthesis, then why should we feel compelled to speak of theistic evolution but never of theistic photosynthesis?

We don’t use that word that way. So how do we actually use this word “theistic”?

One way is in order to distinguish something from its binary opposite. We may say that something is “theistic” in order to clarify that it is not “atheistic.”

I think this brings us closer to what may be intended by this phrase “theistic evolution,” that it may be an attempt to clarify that we are not speaking of “atheistic evolution.”

But that begs the question instead of answering it. And yet again we find ourselves up against the implication that evolution is some kind of special case — specifically that, somehow, it carries some unique presumption of atheisticity (atheisticality?). And that, in turn, brings us back to the same problem: Why should we imagine some presumed quality attached to evolution when we do not make the same presumption about any of the myriad other natural processes we have also observed and studied?

Again, it would seem weird to speak of atheistic photosynthesis or atheistic quantum physics or atheistic fusion because we correctly understand that metaphysical claims of atheism or theism are wholly separate and distinct from what we can observe and learn and know about these physical processes. The same ought to be true for evolution, unless evolution is some kind of special case.

But evolution is not a special case. It is not magically imbued with some intrinsic metaphysical aspect that separates it from all of those other processes.

So what is it about evolution that makes us keep trying to treat it as an exception, as though it is a special case?

One guess is that it has something to do with the Bible — with the idea that evolution is unique because, unlike photosynthesis, it seems to contradict the words of scripture.

But evolution is not unique in this regard, and this still cannot account for why we seem so determined to singled out evolution and not, for example, the germ theory of disease, or a heliocentric model of the solar system.

In order to perceive the alleged conflict between the Bible — specifically, the creation stories in Genesis 1-3 — and the reality of evolution, one has to employ a particular hermeneutic, a particular system for interpreting the Bible. That hermeneutic is selectively and spastically literalistic, disregarding the metaphysical concerns of the ancient storytellers and twisting them into modern-style scientific and historical claims. Apply that same hermeneutic to the rest of the Bible and evolution will not be the only natural process that conflicts with “what the Bible says.” This hermeneutic also demands the thorough rejection of modern medicine, of meteorology and of astronomy. Yet few of the Christians who deny the reality of evolution “because of the Bible” seem equally eager to deny the reality of any of those other “unbiblical” natural processes.

And, more to the point, Christians who happily accept the reality of all of those other processes are not called on to qualify that acceptance by saying they only believe in theistic disease, or theistic meteorology, or theistic astronomy.

And that point also illustrates another reason I’m uncomfortable with the label “theistic evolutionist” and the term “theistic evolution.” Imagine you meet a local news weather forecaster at a party. “Ah, so you’re a meteorologist?” you ask.

“Well, actually,” she says, “I’m a theistic meteorologist.”

That distinction, you would reasonably suspect, implies that she’s referring to something distinct — that, whatever it means, “theistic meteorology” refers to something different from and something other than that which we typically refer to as simply “meteorology,” without such qualification.

Might something like that be what that odd phrase “theistic evolution” is meant to imply? Is it meant to suggest that we’re talking about something distinct from and other than simple, unqualified “evolution” — something other than the natural process we have observed and studied and fruitfully built upon as the foundation for all of biology?

I hope not, because then we’d be back to that old will-o-the-wisp of the god of the gaps. And that ever-diminishing entity doesn’t strike me as a deity worth bothering to believe in.

I noted in the previous post that we refer to people who believe in the existence of God — people like me — as “theists.” And we thus also refer to the beliefs of such people as “theistic.” But it would be idiomatically awkward and unnatural to describe a theist as “theistic.” That’s not how we use that word. “Theistic” is not an adjective we usually attach to people. It’s an adjective we usually use to qualify metaphysics.

And this is why that phrase “theistic evolution” — just like its counterpart, “atheistic evolution” — seems inelegant and strange. It begs the metaphysical question. It presumes that evolution is intrinsically metaphysical in a way that other natural processes are not. It treats evolution as a special case.

But evolution is not a special case. It is no more intrinsically metaphysical than photosynthesis, or condensation, or thermodynamics.

Just like those other processes, evolution makes no claims as to the existence or non-existence of God. Nor does it require us to make or to reject any such claim.

If a theist at sea level heats water to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the water will boil. If an atheist does the same thing under the same conditions, the atheist will get the same result. There is no such thing as the “theistic boiling point of water.” The boiling point of water is not contingent upon the metaphysical perspective of any given human who might be observing it. Nor is evolution.

Evolution is not a special case.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

    I think evolution is a special case in this sense. If we want to see bacteria causing disease, we can look in a microscope. If we want to check our theories of meteorology or astronomy, we can (at least in some cases) do so by observations in the present. But the proposition that humans and (for instance) giraffes have a common ancestor is not something we can check in the same way. The fossil record is never going to be that complete, and DNA evidence requires a great deal of interpretation (and was not available when some of us were growing up!)

    Of all the scientific theories that contradict a literal reading of Genesis, evolution is in some senses the easiest to challenge. Also, by denying a literal Adam and Eve, it’s the one that threatens Christianity most directly.

  • noyatin

    David is exactly right.  No Adam and Eve, no Fall; No Fall, no need for a savior.  Very threatening indeed. 

     

  • Wednesday

    @2b77cb22e6d8dd3d01a81a010bf602ba:disqus
    That’s true only if you think that a specific Fall is necessary for humanity to need a savior. I can see ample evidence by looking about recent history and the current state of the world that humanity has committed many evils — history and present are full of violence and hatred on small and large scales. (Also full of wonderful things, IMO, but that’s not relevant to this particular analysis).

    So, if you look at the evidence that humans do some seriously shitty things to each other and to other living things, and if you also believe in afterlives of varying desirability  and a being who sorts humans into those afterlives based on their conduct in life… well, it all depends on the strictness of the sorter and the specifics of the afterlives.  Certainly if you believe in a strict gatekeeper being and only destinations of eternal bliss or eternal torture, you may well hope (for your sake, or for the sake of humanity at large) for a savior of the sort who improves peoples’ chances of avoiding eternal torture.

    Or you may look at the world and say “we need a role model to inspire us to do better, and it needs to be one that people can relate to because clearly a Divine Frowny Face is not doing the trick”, then you may say we need a savior of the sort who inspires.

  • Joshua


    The fossil record is never going to be that complete, and DNA evidence requires a great deal of interpretation 

    Well, the fossil record isn’t complete but it is extensive, and one-sidedly in favour of an evolving tree of life. DNA evidence requires interpretation, but as far as settling evolution vs young-earth creationism, the interpretation has been done and the results are in.

    People who find it impossible to believe that humans are descended from fish

    My understanding is that work done in comparison of DNA does indeed show the common descent of humans, fish, giraffes and indeed yeast and bacteria. In detail, and with a good deal of consistency.

    So I think evolution is pretty much as hard to challenge as meteorology or astronomy. The (many, many) parts of astronomy that directly conflict with young-earth creationism themselves rely on current snapshots of what are theorised to be long-term processes, just like evolution.

    And also, Disqus sucks for stealing the middle-click gesture for its own Satanic purposes. I lost most of this comment.

  • Loki100

    The (many, many) parts of astronomy that directly conflict with young-earth creationism themselves rely on current snapshots of what are theorised to be long-term processes, just like evolution.

    I once pointed out to a young Earth creationist that light from multiple billions of years ago hits Earth. He claimed that the light was made en route. I pointed out that this means God created images of things that never happened (such as supernovas), which means he just claimed his God was a deceiver, and therefore not a being worthy of worship.

  • Joshua

    The one I’ve heard a little more often is that the speed of light just used to be a lot faster than now, like, by a factor of billions.

    We don’t notice the change in speed of light now, because the speed of light has been set to a fixed value by the Satanic weights-and-measures people.

    Full-blown conspiracy theorists.

  • Loki100

    I’ve heard that as well. Except, from my admittedly limited understanding of physics, wouldn’t the speed of light changing effectively destroy the entire universe?

  • Joshua


    Except, from my admittedly limited understanding of physics, wouldn’t the speed of light changing effectively destroy the entire universe? 

    Well it would certainly blow some minds. I don’t know what current theories would predict would happen if the speed of light changed. I doubt Einstein’s Relativity could do it at all; as far as I understand it, Einstein assumed it was constant and went from there. Invalidating the assumption would invalidate the whole theory, making it unable to make predictions at all.

    However, the proof is in the pudding. If measurements actually supported c slowing down, it would be the theories that have to adjust to cope, since the universe hadn’t been destroyed last I checked.

    Disclaimer: Didn’t study much physics after high school, and not anything relevant to this discussion.

  • Loki100

    Well it would certainly blow some minds. I don’t know what current theories would predict would happen if the speed of light changed. I doubt Einstein’s Relativity could do it at all; as far as I understand it, Einstein assumed it was constant and went from there. Invalidating the assumption would invalidate the whole theory, making it unable to make predictions at all.

    Yeah. Again, limited understanding here, but from everything I remember, massive, massive chunks of physics are based on the principal that the speed of light is constant. If it was changing, as far as I could tell, it would pretty much invalidate all of physics (or at least require insane adjustment to basically everything).

  • Joshua

    Oh yeah.

  • PJ Evans

     Actually, nothing. The speed of light is defined as a constant; the meter is defined as a fraction of it.

  • Joshua


    Actually, nothing. The speed of light is defined as a constant; the meter is defined as a fraction of it. 

    I can’t figure out which post of mine you are replying to, and Disqus isn’t helping, so I’m afraid I can’t figure out what you mean.

  • Joshua

    By Satanic weights-and-measures people, I’m being hyperbolic obviously. It’s not a direct quote. What the creationists were referring to I think is this: http://www.bipm.org/utils/common/pdf/si_brochure_8_en.pdf, Section 2.1.1.1

  • Ross Thompson

    The one I’ve heard a little more often is that the speed of light just used to be a lot faster than now, like, by a factor of billions.

    The speed of light is intimately tied to things like “distance” and “mass” and even “colour”, all of which we can measure directly for things far enough away that creationists feel the need to invoke such an idea. We can look at the amount of space a distant galaxy takes up , or the amount it curves space around it, and we can be sure than any change in the speed of light is below the sensitivity of our instruments. And the instruments we point at the deep sky are very sensitive indeed.

    The red-shift that we see in galaxies is a combination of the speed of light and the speed of space being created between us and them*. If the speed of light were greater, everything would be bluer, making it look as if the more distant galaxies were coming back towards us. And we’d be able to see further before we hit the brick wall of microwave background radiation. Which would no longer be in the microwave – maybe it would be visible, or even gamma ray spectra.

    I’m pretty sure it would also affect the rates of nuclear reactions, which is something else we can directly measure for the time they’re talking about.

    In short, the universe probably wouldn’t be destroyed by such a change, but the deep sky would look very different from what we see, in easily identifiable ways.

    *There’s an alternate explanation for why all the galaxies seem to be receding from us: that we’re right in the middle of a spherical void that has only 2/3 the density of the regular universe, and extend just slightly past the edges of the visible universe. Astronomers dislike this solution because it means we need to be in a very special location, and that’s always turned out to be false before.

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

    Off the top of my head, the speed of light slowing down over time would most sensitively affect the weak interaction. If you assume speed of light propagation of the W+/- and Z0 particles for the duration the uncertainty principle ‘allows’ them to exist, then if the speed of light is faster, they can go farther. Since the Z0 exchange competes with photon exchange in electromagnetic interactions (remember, the true form of this is the electroweak interaction), any parity conserving electromagnetic processes in the early universe would have been ‘contaminated’ with a higher fraction of the partially parity violating Z0 exchange involving the weak interaction.

    In short, chemistry would have looked somewhat different back then and I’m sure there’d have been evidence of it.

  • EllieMurasaki

    his God was a deceiver, and therefore not a being worthy of worship.
     
    Not necessarily contradictory–Loki, Anansi, Coyote. Though I do keep hearing people who believe in pantheons that include trickster gods saying things like ‘I am keeping a very clear separation in my head between Avengers!Loki and Norse!Loki because Norse!Loki finds me quite amusing enough already’, or ‘anybody who asks Coyote for help deserves exactly what they get’. So I suppose it depends on one’s definition of ‘worship’, and probably also on one’s definition of ‘god’.

  • Loki100

    Not necessarily contradictory–Loki, Anansi, Coyote.

    Hey, look at my user name.

    So I suppose it depends on one’s definition of ‘worship’, and probably also on one’s definition of ‘god’.

    I agree with all of this.  But there is a difference between a being in a pantheon of gods being a trickster, and an omnipotent monotheistic deity being intentionally creating a reality that looks one way when it actually isn’t, just for the sake of testing the beings who live in that reality’s faith.

    In particular the God that fundamentalist Christians claim to worship, can’t be reconciled with a deity who lies.

    Although I think there is an interesting idea for a book in all this. Where a trickster god convinces people that he is the monotheistic god.

  • D9000

    Om?  Maybe even Oz. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

  • Tricksterson

    I believe some versions of Gnosticism believe exactly that.  Could be wrong though.

  • Tricksterson

    I don’t “worship” Trickster (who I consider a personified archetype from whom Loki, Hermes et al to be sun off of)  so much as I consider myself as following his Path.

  • Slashdotbin

    Exactly, with no Adam and no Eve and no literal interpretation there is no original sin from which we must be absolved though Jesus Christ’s death and the whole messiah story comes into doubt.

  • RickRS

    So, Theistic Physics, or at least Theistic Law of Gravity is necessary to accept Joshua stopping the sun in Joshua 10:13?

    Just joking: I understand what your point is and agree with the idea that science should not be dependent on what religious belief one has.

  • Becca Stareyes

    In most senses that I’ve seen theistic evolution used, it’s in the ‘evolution works except…’ with a case invoking God intervening and almost always with the result of making humans more likely to evolve, and usually in a ‘god of the gaps’ way that we can’t detect.  Which strikes me as trying to have general-your cake and eat it too: you invoke evolution and natural selection and random mutations and the whole kit of modern biology because the evidence vastly supports it, but  you want an active god who actively shaped life on Earth to produce humanity. 

    Or else of a way of saying ‘I accept evolution, with our without understanding it, but I’m no atheist’, as you note. 

    (Actually, the fields that seem to draw the most ire are the ones that say that humans are unprivileged.  We’re one of the billions of twigs on Earth’s tree of life, Earth and the universe existed for billions of years without us, and will go on existing for time spans orders of magnitude longer than the lifetime of human history. The processes that created life on Earth are not unique to Earth and we find more and more complicated not-life/pre-life and simpler and simpler life to bridge the gap.  I’m part of an Ask an Astronomer site and once a month or so, we get screeds pretty much telling us that we’re wrong and that God created the Universe and we need to go read the Bible instead of actually looking at the universe.)

  • Carstonio

     

    Or else of a way of saying ‘I accept evolution, with our without understanding it, but I’m no atheist’, as you note.

    Do you suspect that’s somewhat the equivalent of women why deny being feminists while supporting legal and social equality for the sexes? Like they’re afraid they’ll be lumped in with creationists?

  • Becca Stareyes

     

    Do you suspect that’s somewhat the equivalent of women why deny being
    feminists while supporting legal and social equality for the sexes?
    Like they’re afraid they’ll be lumped in with creationists?

    I was thinking about it more from the emphasizing the theist part of theistic evolution in order to avoid criticism (or outright dismissal) from one’s coreligionists.  But I’m an atheist myself, so I expect my outsider’s view is different than an insider’s. 

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

    If we want to check our theories of meteorology or astronomy, we can (at least in some cases) do so by observations in the present.

    If we want to check our theories of naturally occurring mutation leading to descent with variation, or environmental threats and competition for scarce resources leading to variation in characteristics of a population through differential reproductive success of certain variants, we can also (in some cases) do so by observations in the present.

    You’re correct, of course, that this requires interpretation, and that for those of us who have been around a few decades much of the currently available evidence wasn’t around when we were growing up. If I’m not prepared to study the evidence and master the theory myself, then I have to decide who I’m prepared to use as my proxy… which interpretations I trust.

    There are better and worse ways to make that choice, though.

  • Gotchaye

    I think it pretty much is a god of the gaps kind of idea, but it’s one that’s pretty safe because (1) it’s being made about really small-scale events that leave very little physical evidence and which occurred long before there were humans around to see them and (2) it’s not really different in kind from the sorts of claims made about Jesus’ miracles, and those gaps have held up for almost 2000 years.  These things are technically gaps, in that they’re probably in-principle testable by science, but we’d need either a time machine or almost unimaginable computing power and incredibly precise observations of the present to decisively test these claims.  It strikes me as odd to draw a bright line between claims about physical history about things which leave so little evidence as to be practically untestable and claims about metaphysics which are in-principle untestable.

  • Jay

    Historically, the theory of evolution was what made atheism a consistent position.  The closest pre-Darwinian version was deism, which held that God had created life and then left it alone.  After Darwin, it became possible to understand the universe as not requiring a God at all.

    That’s the link which ties evolution and theism together.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Historically, the theory of evolution was what made atheism a consistent position.

    Epicurus would like a word with you. He’s waiting back at 300 BCE. Please do explain his position as “inconsistent”.

    The closest pre-Darwinian version was deism, which held that God had created life and then left it alone.

    The term “atheist” shows up around the 16th century. [citation] Darwin wasn’t born until the 19th century. If you follow the link, you’ll see there have been quite a few consistent pre-Darwinian versions of atheism. 

    One classic and simple form of atheism is the “null hypothesis”, (begin assuming there is no effect) the burden of proof, (the party making a positive claim of existence must provide evidence for it) parsimony, (select the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions) and rejecting an ‘argument from ignorance’. (“I don’t know” is as valid an answer as an unproven assertion)

    After Darwin, it became possible to understand the universe as not requiring a God at all.

    Technically, Darwin introduced a theory that made it possible to understand the diversity of life as not requiring God at all. Questions about the origins of life (abiogenesis) weren’t addressed at all by Darwin, nor were large cosmological questions about the creation of the planet or the universe. 

    Nope. I gotta vote for the notion that evolution challenges the theistic claim that humanity is different from all other life in a mystic way that makes us special. 

  • Carstonio

    One classic and simple form of atheism is the “null hypothesis”, (begin assuming there is no effect) the burden of proof, (the party making a positive claim of existence must provide evidence for it) parsimony, (select the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions) and rejecting an ‘argument from ignorance’. (“I don’t know” is as valid an answer as an unproven assertion)

    Atheism would be an outcome of that approach, but that’s not atheism in and of itself. Instead, it’s simple skepticism.

    I gotta vote for the notion that evolution challenges the theistic claim that humanity is different from all other life in a mystic way that makes us special.

    I’ve heard of varieties of theism that dispense with that claim, but these were individuals’ beliefs and not organized theologies.

  • Jay

     Epicurus would like a word with you. He’s waiting back at 300 BCE. Please do explain his position as “inconsistent”.

    Epicurus wasn’t inconsistent, but he was incomplete.  He never, to my knowledge, proposed an explanation for the existence of life. 

    More generally, I was referring to Darwin’s effect in his historical context of Victorian England, where classical Greek philosophers, atheistic Buddhism, and similar schools of thought were rather marginal, but Protestantism and Deism were relatively well-entrenched.  The Anglophone parts of North America were not, in this matter, all that dissimilar to Victorian England.

    I certainly understand that the abiogenesis of extremely simple life forms is distinct from evolution, and not yet completely solved.  Nevertheless, most atheists consider this to be a tractable problem, and not one that requires a fundamental rethinking of biology the way evolution did.

  • The_L1985

     Er…evolution was suspected by many scientists long before Darwin entered the scene.  Darwin just happened to be the first to publish a book detailing a verifiable method of evolution.

    See also: Lamarck, Linnaeus.

  • Jay

    Major scientific discoveries generally get attributed to a single person, despite having contributions from many people and usually concurrent discovery in multiple sites.  If I write about “Darwin’s influence”, please understand that it means the same thing to me as “the cultural influence of the theory of evolution”, but takes fewer characters to type.

    On the other hand, if you think there’s something relevant in Lamarck or Linnaeus that Darwin and subsequent scientists left out, please feel free to elaborate on it.

  • PJ Evans

    and Alfred Wallace.

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

    I gotta vote for the notion that evolution challenges the theistic claim that humanity is different from all other life in a mystic way that makes us special.

    Evolution flies in the face of a literal interpretation of another important Bible story besides Adam-and-Eve: Noah’s ark.  I’m critiquing The Secret on Ararat right now, another work by our favorite story-dictator, Tim LaHaye.  The “hero” of the story, a biblical archaeologist, says, several times and in so many words, that the ark story and evolution cannot both be true, and that finding the remains of the ark would “strike a blow” against evolution.

    It’s yet another example of why most creationists cannot be reasoned with, why evidence just doesn’t matter: you’re not fighting facts, you’re fighting emotion: the idea that humans are special snowflakes, that we are not either related to monkeys, that Bible stories may not have actually happened.  That’s a lot to tackle.

  • Carstonio

    Evolution flies in the face of a literal interpretation of another important Bible story besides Adam-and-Eve: Noah’s ark.

    Only if one assumes that people like LaHaye are even using the word “evolution” correctly. It’s a very common mistake to assume that the theory involves the origin of life and the universe, as opposed to the just the diversity of life.

  • The_L1985

    Reminds me of a bit from my old A Beka science book in which it is argued that, despite looking, acting, and functioning just like mammals, human beings were not mammals, because we have souls.

    As if being intelligent animals was somehow a bad thing.

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

    So much for Doggie Heaven. 

  • Worthless Beast

    My sentiments exactly.  I don’t understand what’s so bad about being “one of the animals.”  I love animals. Beasts, birds and bugs are magnificent. Being connected to other forms of life is something I find a compliment.

    Or maybe it’s just that I wish I was born a cat instead of a human. There’s that, too.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I’ll point out, as a parallel, that the Catholic Church considers the Big Bang theory to be entirely consistent with their understanding of scripture.

    At the time the Big Bang theory was first proposed, the major skepticism it faced from the scientific community was that it was silly and superstitious to suppose that the universe had a beginning, and hadn’t simply always existed for an infinite amount of time in the past.

    Atheism was a consistent position prior to Darwin, because “There was no ‘origin’ of species, they just always have been*” is an entirely consistent position. It wasn’t until *after* Darwin that it became sensible to frame the evidence we were seeing in the natural world as pointing to there being any sort of progression.

    (* Modulo “From time to time a new species might emerge or an old one die out but there’s no rhyme or reason to it”)

  • The_L1985

     Not necessarily.  There were atheists in ancient Greece and Rome; generally, they didn’t believe in the existence of gods, but sacrificed to the local deity as a show of loyalty to their society.

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

    As long as people have believed in gods, there have been other people who didn’t believe.  They may not have been free to express it, but they were still there.

  • The_L1985

     I was just giving an example, honestly.  I certainly don’t believe atheism originated in Greece and Rome, just that it existed there.

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

    Sorry, I wasn’t being clear–I was agreeing with you; I didn’t think you thought that.  :)

  • Flying Squid with Goggles

    Fred’s got a good point. The ‘theistic evolutionist’ label is not a scientific label, but a cultural and metaphysical label. For that matter, ‘evolutionist’ is not a scientific label… there are evolutionary biologists, but there’s no real profession called an ‘evolutionist.’

    During my work in graduate school in biology, the profound ignorance and resistance of people in the church to evidence for evolution was a primary motivator in my leaving the church.

    Incidentally, David Evans, evolution is a very difficult theory to challenge in a scientific sense. Not only is common ancestry the most parsimonious hypothesis to explain observed genetic and physiological characteristics of organisms, but spending some time checking out observed instances of speciation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speciation generally lays to rest the idea that evolution cannot be observed in the timescale of a human lifetime. Polyploidy is a godsend (pun intended) in that respect.

  • LouisDoench

     Evolutionist sounds like a good name for a Fantastic Four or Silver Surfer villain.

  • JustoneK
  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    You’re not the first to think so; there is a Marvel Universe character named The High Evolutionary, although he’s not always a villain.  He’s been, at various times, both an ally and an antagonist to the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and several other Marvel superheroes and heroic organizations.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

    I’m aware that evolution is a solidly based scientific theory. My point is that the evidence for it in the present is subtle and/or small-scale. People who find it impossible to believe that humans are descended from fish will not be impressed by the relatively small changes in the Wikipedia article. They will probably describe them as “micro-evolution” or “change within a created kind”.

  • Flying Squid with Goggles

     That is a good, and correct, point. It touches on a common problem in logic, the small numbers fallacy, which is an even larger problem than creationism in my view. People just have trouble believing that small things are significant, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

  • Carstonio

    Yes, the false macro/micro distinction looks like an attempted end-run around evolution by appearing to endorse its mechanism. It treats species boundaries as if these are hard-coded into nature instead of human-created classifications. The same mistake that creationists make with physical laws.

  • Worthless Beast

    It’s a problem with words that has to do with societal sterotypes and perceptions. 

    When I first became a convert, I thought I had to give up certain portions of science for the sake of faith alone (before you stone me to death… mentally unstable young teenager, I was.  Adult, aware and treated now).  I thought this because it seemed to be what I was told by all sides. I watched a lot of television, then. Guys on PBS (I looooved PBS) who talked of nature often talked about the incompatability of religion and science – the exceptions being when they talked about the importance of a particular wild animal to a particular “primative” culture.  Guys on the religious television programming did much worse, with anti-evolution screeds and how you had to believe in it all literally or you were “not really saved.”  This played upon existential fears an anxieties I had at the time.  If you are wondering what kind of a kid has existential angst – well, I did mention I am/was nuts, right?

    The term “theistic evolutionist” for me is kind of like “gay christian” – (I’m not one, by the way, just have met some online).  They straddle two worlds that lots of people think clash like oil and water and something in their brains melt when they find someone who is genuinely both because they were always taught “never the twain shall meet.”  (Especially when the theistic evolutionist isn’t an Intelligent Design person in disquise and knows their science and when the gay christian is comfortable with both and doesn’t sucidially hate themselves for either parts of their soul). 

    I also think “those who stand between” NEED to exist, that they mindscrew the world just by existing and that’s a good thing.   

  • http://xulonjam.wordpress.com/ Xulon

    Given the denial of Global Warming Theistic Meteorology may not be that far off. 

  • alias Ernest Major

    There are people (all creationists?) who argue that anthropogenic climate change can’t be a problem because God won’t let it happen.

  • Phil Esteen

    The first truly sad and sadly true assertion I have read on this thread.

    Such ‘mash-ups’ do seem inevitable:
    Isn’t it the ‘duty, obligation, calling… whatever’ of Christians to inject and instill morality into every aspect of human existence?

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

    Evolution is not a metaphysically special case it is however an ideologically special case. So many people on both sides of the creation/evolution “debate” (scare quotes because there’s nothing to debate) claim that theism and evolution are mutually exclusive that it becomes a special case because of it. It gets in the faces of both sides and say “don’t you tell me I can’t accept evolution and believe in God”.

    And that’s what it means really. “I believe in God and accept evolution as fact. Now put that in your pipe and smoke it”. It’s a theological position not a scientific one.

    Fred is right this should not be a freaking issue.

    But it is an issue because of ideologues who can’t seperate ideology and reality.

    It’s not the only scientific theory that’s been rejected on ideological grounds but it’s certainly the most obvious.

    And it’s not just religious people who do this as I’ve pointed out before. Take the case of  a different Fred. Fred Hoyle – amazing scientist that he was – rejected the big bang theory (which he named in ridicule) his entire life in the face of mounting evidence because it suggested that the universe had a beginning and therefore – in his mind – a cause (which he equated with god) and he favoured his atheistic ideology over observable facts.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Hoyle#Rejection_of_the_Big_Bang  He wasn’t fond of evolution (or the standard model thereof) either for similar reasons. And – amusingly – the language he used to argue against it leaves many with the impression he was a theist and others that he was “an atheist for ID” (the latter he was after a fashion I suppose but not really – I’m sure you can Google the amazing hyperbole yourselves).

    My point? Human beings, even intelligent ones, have a tendancy to fort up when they think their view of the universe is challenged. It happens more often with religious ideologies only because so many people have one.

    But our Fred is right about one thing. I’ve never heard anyone say “theistic big bang” or “atheistic big bang” perhaps because creationists mostly ignore Cosmological Theories because it’s Evolution they see as the enemy.

  • The_L1985

     They don’t ignore those cosmological theories.  They lump them all in together under the blanket term “evolution.”

    In short, the word evolution doesn’t mean the same thing to YEC’s as it does to everybody else.

  • John Small Berries

    I have always assumed that the phrase “theistic evolutionist” refers to someone (like, for example, the pastor at the Methodist church I grew up in) who accepts the mountains of evidence for evolution, yet believes that it was consciously guided by God to produce humankind as its end goal.

    Which made more sense to me than Creationism until I actually thought about what that meant: that a god would create an entire universe, then wait around for ten billion years or so for a pale blue dot to form around one of 30 sextillion
    stars*, then stick its fingers into the evolution of life on that planet
    in order to give rise to a specific species another few billion years later, so
    that a couple hundred thousand years after they arose, it could visit them and tell them to rest one day a week, not to use its name in the wrong way, and what they should and should not do with their genitals.

    __

    * The most conservative estimate of the number of stars in just the observable portion of the universe

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

     Well a deity that predated and created our universe would theoretically be outside it and terms like “wait” would quite possibly have no meaning http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/12166

    Block time – another thing that can provoke ideological existential panic. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkgcKmbsqp8

  • Carstonio

    And that ever-diminishing entity doesn’t strike me as a deity worth bothering to believe in.

    Whether a deity is worth the bother of belief has nothing to do with whether the deity actually exists. A deity’s existence or nonexistence would be independent of human belief.

    It presumes that evolution is intrinsically metaphysical in a way that
    other natural processes are not. It treats evolution as a special case.

    Evolution conflicts with the idea of an inherent purpose to life and a reason for suffering, unless one does some philosophical contortions with that idea to make it fit evolution. So it’s reasonable to describe it as anti-metaphysical, at least against a certain type of metaphysical philosophy.

    I oppose the categorization of physical/metaphysical, natural/supernatural, material/nonmaterial, whatever terms one uses, because it’s an assumption that may or may not be valid. That’s not to say that the latter part of each divide doesn’t exist. Instead, it’s possible that the divide doesn’t exist and we lack the knowledge about the universe to see that both halves are the same thing.

  • MaryKaye

    For people who work with the genetic-similarity evidence, it is overwhelming.  Really truly overwhelming.  If humans and chimpanzees are not closely related the only alternative I can see is that some entity maliciously made them look as if they are.

    To a limited extent, we can actually sequence genes from fossils now and fit them into that pattern of genetic similarity.  We had predictions for what the Neanderthal genome would look like; we are sequencing it now and testing those predictions.  That’s about as good as it gets for a science that infers historical processes.  (Regrettably, though, early reports that we could get dinosaur DNA involved contamination; it doesn’t look like anything usable survives that long.)

    And when you do this, the results make sense.  Genes that apparently come from the Neanderthal lineage appear in modern humans, and they appear specifically in populations whose ancestors shared territory with Neanderthals–not in southern African populations, for example.  That hangs together with what we know from stone tools and art and bones.

    I work in evolutionary biology, and people occasionally ask me what it would take to make me stop “believing” in evolution.  I’m at a loss to answer.  Obviously there could be evidence that would do it, but frankly I can’t imagine what, short of a Matrix-style “none of what you see is real.”  I could imagine a huge modification to our current understanding–if Hall’s experiments on directed mutation had been right they would imply that evolution was a lot more Lamarckian than we think, at least in prokaryotes, and that would have been a very big deal.  The discovery in the last 20-25 years that horizontal gene transfer is pervasive in prokaryotes, so there is no treelike “tree of life” down there, is a big deal.  But no evolution?  You mean, gene duplication doesn’t happen–even though it happens in the lab next to mine every month?  You mean, natural selection doesn’t work, even though I can measure it in the field?  You mean, no matter how many times we observe genetic similarity correlating with common ancestry, it doesn’t actually?  How could that *be*?

    It’s like, you have a bunch of books that are extremely similar, down to even sharing some errors and typos.  So you hypothesize that they are copies of each other or of some previous book.  Now someone comes along and wants you to say what would be evidence that no, they were created completely independently:  not just that people wrote similar text, but that the “hte” for “the” on page 28 line 7 in two different books happened completely independently.  Even though we can observe things like the frequency of copying errors when modern copyists do it, and the books we observe fit those patterns perfectly.  No, they’re independent.  How could this *possibly* be shown?

    At some point the explanatory power of a theory is so overwhelming that it’s tatamount to proof.

  • Joshua


    I work in evolutionary biology, and people occasionally ask me what it would take to make me stop “believing” in evolution.  I’m at a loss to answer. 

    In response to the crack-smoking YEC accusation that evolution is an untestable faith and not science, I’ve seen the answer that a rabbit fossil in a pre-cambrian stratum would disprove evolution. Your post seems to imply that you would disagree. So, if I may ask, how would a pre-cambrian rabbit, assuming you were made confident of the dating and that the fossil had been undisturbed since Cambrian times, change your understanding of evolution?

    Also,

    Genes that apparently come from the Neanderthal lineage appear in modern humans, and they appear specifically in populations whose ancestors shared territory with Neanderthals–not in southern African populations, for example.

    I thought that the idea that interbreeding between H sapiens and Neanderthals was possible was far from settled. Do you think that some kind of consensus has emerged, or is it still controversial?

  • PJ Evans

     It’s apparently becoming more accepted. I was reading last weekend about Denisovian genes being more likely to show up in Pacific Islanders, and particularly Australian natives; apparently that group of people went southeast from central Asia.

  • Joshua

    I was reading last weekend about Denisovian genes being more likely to show up in Pacific Islanders, and particularly Australian natives; apparently that group of people went southeast from central Asia.

    I read about that. Actually, I read the Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denisova_hominin) which looked to me like one of the unusually weak ones. Maybe I need to read more widely about it. However, it seems to me that they’re inferring a hell of a lot from a very small amount of evidence, even assuming they really have sequenced nearly the entire genome of the sample they found. They’ve found, like, two or three small bones from two individuals. From that, they’ve inferred a new species, dates of most recent common ancestors, and talking about hybrids with both Neanderthals and H sapiens.

    Surely there can be no idea of the amount of variability of genes in the alleged species. If hybridisation is possible, and turns up twice when only two individuals have been found, you have to question whether it’s a separate species at all. Or if it is, the common characteristics between the Denisovian toe and Neanderthal’s toes came from a common ancestor rather than hybridisation. Or, you know, that particular Denisovian just had a funny-shaped toe. Sample sizes matter.

    Not having read the paper, I have no idea whether the similarity between the Denisovian genome and that of melanesians might be just a coincidence. However, it may be that they each just happen to preserve variants present in our common ancestor that other populations have lost.

    I mean, have we even sequenced more than just individual Neanderthal genes yet? They’re just as recent, in just as cold environments, and far better attested. I haven’t heard of it.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I thought that the idea that interbreeding between H sapiens and Neanderthals was possible was far from settled. Do you think that some kind of consensus has emerged, or is it still controversial?
     
    As awesome a read as Clan of the Cave Bear was (…I was in seventh grade stop looking at me like that), I thought expert opinion was tilting towards the commonalities between Homo sapiens and Neandertals being due to recent common ancestry rather than to interbreeding.

  • Nathaniel

     Most recent thing I read on the topic indicated DNA evidence of Neanderthal ancestry for some Europeans.

    But I just read this in the papers, and I’m no scientist.

  • The_L1985

     I was of the understanding that H. sapiens sapiens (us) and H. sapiens neanderthalis (Neanderthals) were different subspecies, not different species.

  • alias Ernest Major

    We don’t know whether anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals were conspecific or not.

     Back when all we had was bones, tools and mtDNA sequences there was a tendency to infer that they were separate species from a lack of interbreeding inferred from the distinct clusters of mtDNA haplotypes. That was never a slam dunk conclusion.

    Now that we have pretty good evidence for interbreeding from the nuclear genome some people have jumped in the other direction.  That’s not a slam dunk conclusion either.

    In Mexico there is a cotton species. In one population on the Pacific Coast the chloroplast DNA and about 3% of the nuclear DNA comes from another species, from Baja California. No-one has suggested merging those two species; they’re not even considered to be sister species. But that 3% number is rather similar to the Neanderthal contribution to extra-African anatomically modern human genomes.

  • Joshua

    As I understand it, this taxonomy is not settled. I’ve seen  H. neanderthalis more often than 
    H. sapiens neanderthalis. Perhaps the tides of change are, er, tiding.

  • The_L1985

    Perhaps.  Of course, when you’re brought up with a view of hominid evolution that focuses primarily on the hoax nature of Piltdown Man, and that the first Neanderthal found was “just an old man with rickets” (I’m assuming he was actually an old Neanderthal  man with rickets?), you tend to latch onto the first piece of non-“gotcha” science you find as the Real Truth, even if it’s inconclusive.

    I apologize for this unfortunate tendency.  However, it unsettles me when something still that uncertain is being written about and published in a tone that suggests that the matter was settled.  It reminds me too much of Mr. Ham.

    Instead of “many factors appeared to cause the extinction of the dinosaurs (the K-T meteor, vulcanism, disease, etc.) so we can’t conclusively pin it on just one of them” like I got in my dinosaur books growing up, I got a clear “H. sapiens neanderthalis,” with no mention that many scientists aren’t convinced of this status and still call them by the other label.  This was about 10 years ago, IIRC, in either Time, Newsweek, Popular Science, or National Geographic, because those are pretty much the only waiting-room magazines I ever pick up.

    Which means that journalism, once again, is making science look like something other than what it is.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which means that journalism, once again, is making science look like something other than what it is.

    This surprises you? http://xkcd.com/882/

  • Ross Thompson

    the first Neanderthal found was “just an old man with rickets” (I’m assuming he was actually an old Neanderthal  man with rickets?)

    Not the first found, not by 50 years, but I assume they’re thinking of this guy.

  • The_L1985

     Oh wow, that makes a lot of sense, actually.  It’s not hard to spin “We goofed about Neanderthal anatomy and they actually looked a lot more like modern humans” into “the scientists were WRONG and those so-called Neanderthals were actually FULLY HUMAN!!!  They just had bone diseases that made their skeletons look all ape-y!!!”

    Especially when your goal is to pick and choose paleontological evidence to support the idea that “there were never any ‘ape men,’ just regular apes and regular men.”

  • Tricksterson

    Had a friend who opined that Neanderthals were just a mutation that cropped up occasionally until I pointed out the enormity of the fossil evidence and then he conceded.  He was a dittohead at the time but got better.

  • Joshua

    This happens often enough in taxonomy. I wouldn’t blame the journos too much (this time) because the biologists involved probably just use one name, and not mention alternatives that others prefer.

    It’s hard to work out what an extinct population could or could not interbreed with, and assigning species based on the shapes of fossils and old bones will inevitably involve judgement calls.

    Even if we had perfect knowledge, nature doesn’t always provide a clear place to draw a line.

    My understanding is that taxonomy, even of living species, has always been revised regularly. Modern gene technology might settle some questions definitively in the end, but I expect right now while the work is ongoing it’s probably making things even less stable.

  • Ross Thompson

     

    I’ve seen the answer that a rabbit fossil in a pre-cambrian stratum
    would disprove evolution. Your post seems to imply that you would
    disagree. So, if I may ask, how would a pre-cambrian rabbit, assuming
    you were made confident of the dating and that the fossil had been
    undisturbed since Cambrian times, change your understanding of
    evolution?

    Honestly, I’d almost believe that it was left there by time-travellers before believing that our understanding of natural history was that wrong.

  • Tricksterson

    Now you have me thinking of a story idea involving time traveling creationists planting evidence to disprove evolution.  Coincidentally I;m currently reading Strata by Terry Pratchett which takes place in a future where entire planets are created from scratch including fossil record and the supervosors have to keep an eye out for pranks like Neanderthal skeletons with gold teeth or Tyranosaurs with wristwatches.

  • TheDarkArtist

    I think that the difference between theistic evolution and atheistic evolution is actually a pretty big difference to make. I despise the term “evolutionist,” because it’s so cartoonishly moronic that it sounds like a word Jack Chick made up and I’ve never heard a biology professor or any other scientist use it.

    Personally, I feel that evolution is the biggest hole in the idea of God existing. I think about it simply: Humans exist because evolution happened. Evolution happened because the Earth was right for self-replicating molecules. Molecules can self replicate because of the laws of chemistry. Chemistry can happen because of matter and energy. Matter and energy exist because of the forces and constants of the universe. The universe exists because of the Big Bang. The Big Bang is the beginning of time, before it there was only a singularity with no features.

    So, where does God fit into that? It’s an extremely narrow hole. The best we can say about God is that he’s the First Mover, but we don’t need that. Why did the Big Bang happen? It’s division by zero. Undefined.

    So, we don’t need God to start the universe. We don’t need God to sustain the universe. We don’t need God to create the Earth and it’s inhabitants. We’ve never seen any evidence of God, and we know that stories attributed to the power of God or faith have been lies.

    All of which is to say that the distinction between theistic and atheistic evolution matters because theistic evolution, as an idea, is based on a whole bunch of other ideas about the universe that one must accept to also accept that it’s okay to shoehorn God into the idea of evolution. The agnostic/atheist perspective doesn’t require that, and according to the concept of Occam’s Razor, atheistic evolution, atheistic science and just atheism in general are the more sound ideas.

  • Carstonio

     That argument almost treats “God” as though it’s a job description or a honorary title and not a type of being, as if Epicurus were right about “neither willing nor able.” To make a point about avoiding assumptions, I’ve sometimes suggested the possibility of a god existing who had no role in the universe past or present. The usual response has been something like Fred’s – what’s the point of believing in a god like that? I’ve never been sure how to answer that, since I’m not talking about belief, except to ask if there should be a point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    I’m not sure something that has “no role in the universe past or present” can be said to exist, at least not without stretching the definition of “exist” farther than I’d be willing to stretch it.

  • Carstonio

    I should have said no active role, since such a god could be a observer.

  • GDwarf

     

    To make a point about avoiding assumptions, I’ve sometimes suggested the
    possibility of a god existing who had no role in the universe past or
    present. The usual response has been something like Fred’s – what’s the
    point of believing in a god like that? I’ve never been sure how to
    answer that, since I’m not talking about belief, except to ask if there
    should be a point.

    But can such a being really be said to exist? If it has no influence on anything then it certainly doesn’t exist for any practical standard, and if we want philosophy to be more than solipsistic navel-gazing we have to anchor it at least somewhat in reality.

    It’s sort-of like the invisible pink unicorn argument, only taken even further. Since this unicorn has no influence on anyone ever no one even thinks it exists. It displaces no air. It leaves no footprints. It has no mass. I’d say that it doesn’t exist. Even random imaginings have more actual existence than these things. At least there’s some electrical activity in your brain.

  • Carstonio

    Sounds as if you misunderstood my reasoning for suggesting that possibility. I was challenging the idea that if a god exists, it’s likely to have properties that would make it worthy of belief or worship. Or that a god that’s worthy of belief or worship is more likely to exist than one that isn’t. Theodicy seems to assume that a god would automatically be loving.

    While I can understand believers seeing the “invisible pink unicorn” concept as insulting, that argument makes the valid point that we have nothing that we can positively say was caused by gods. (As opposed to caused by belief in gods.)  Putting aside the issue of personal belief, all such assertions about gods causing events seem indistinguishable from speculation.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I don’t see how Occam’s Razor enters into it. Something being an unnecessary postulate for science simply means it’s an unnecessary postulate for science. Science has nothing to say about whether there is or is not a god or gods unless a person bases their faith on supposed fact, in which case it isn’t really faith anyway.

    Science does not have all the answers. Scientists and doctors are human beings and prone to error. They take wrong turns, many of which kill people and destroy people’s lives. Even if the human beings who practiced it were somehow without error, science is simply a tool — a powerful one, but that’s it. It does not have the philosophical answers to creation. It is necessary but not sufficient.

    I’m happy not to believe in any gods. But other people are happier to believe in gods, and may even find the supernatural to be a necessary postulate. So long as they’re not also spreading lies, then good for them. And no, if something cannot be proven it is not ipso facto a lie.

  • Carstonio

    The weakness of “science has nothing to say about gods” is that hypothetically, anyone can assert (as opposed to believe in) the existence of something that can’t be detected by scientific methods. Like it’s some sort of safe zone away from any kind of skepticism or scrutiny. It’s possible that gods exist who can be detected through scientific methods and we just haven’t figured out how. I’m wary of assuming that gods would have to exist in certain ways.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    hypothetically, anyone can assert (as opposed to believe in) the existence of something that can’t be detected by scientific methods

    Hypothetically, anyone can assert anything. I assert the existence of things that cannot be proven by scientific methods, actually. Love, beauty, art, basic human rights, compassion…

    Like it’s some sort of safe zone away from any kind of skepticism or scrutiny.

    Some people will misuse stuff in order to be jerks. Yes. And? 

  • Carstonio

     

    I assert the existence of things that cannot be proven by scientific
    methods, actually. Love, beauty, art, basic human rights, compassion…

    Very true, but those are concepts and feelings, not objects or beings, and my point was about the latter.

    Some people will misuse stuff in order to be jerks. Yes. And?

    And any kind of assertion deserves to be questioned and scrutinized. I’m not accusing anyone of deliberately seeking to evade scrutiny for what they assert. I’m suggesting instead that both creationism and god-driven evolution  start with certain assumptions about the properties and capabilities of a god, and I’m attempting to crawl underneath the assumptions.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Very true, but those are concepts and feelings, not objects or beings, and my point was about the latter.

    The Pieta, Passing by Nella Larsen, Mozart’s Requiem, a dance, a rose — those are all things that exist in measurable ways. I don’t understand how concepts and feelings are inherently separate from objects and beings. And separating human beings and human feelings doesn’t work.

    I’m going to backtrack a bit and say that while love, for instance, cannot be proven through scientific methods, I don’t know that it will always be impossible to prove it through scientific methods, if the methods and technology change enough. I seriously doubt it will, and I doubt the utility of such an attempt, but maybe it’ll be possible someday. Beauty won’t, though, because everyone has different standards of beauty. 

  • Carstonio

    My point has nothing to do with measurability, and I didn’t say that concepts or feelings were separate from objects or beings. I was contending that they were distinct classes. The first class is of things that depend on humans for continued existence, while the second class would continue to exist if humans ceased to exist. Money as a concept requires the existence of humans, and if either the concept or the humans disappeared, the bits of metal and paper formerly used as currency would still exist. 

    The second class also includes past events such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor. If humans lost all knowledge and records of the event, the bombing itself still would have happened. It wouldn’t be like someone went back in time and changed history so the bombing never took place, although the distinction might not have any practical relevance.

    What is relevant is that if a god exists, or if it doesn’t, this would be the case regardless of what humans believed or didn’t believe, or even if humans didn’t exist. The samek would hold if that god had any role in the creation of the universe or of life. The level of ability by humans to detect or measure an object or phenomenon doesn’t change its existence.

  • swbarnes2

    What is relevant is that if a god exists, or if it doesn’t, this would be the case regardless of what humans believed or didn’t believe, or even if humans didn’t exist…  The level of ability by humans to detect or measure an object or phenomenon doesn’t change its existence.

    But it affects our ability to reasonably conclude that the thing exists.  We don’t have Platonic truth detectors.  We only have empirical reality-checking to get rid of wrong stuff.

    We have to stick with what we can detect.  If we drift away from that, we drift away from reality.  When we make mistakes, we figure that out when we are able to detect we are wrong.  But you can’t start out by assuming that things are the way you wish them to be when there’s no evidence that that’s the case.

    And again, this a strawman, because almost no believers believe in an undetectable God.  Most believers believe in a God who should be detectable, and one of the big problems with evolution is there ought to be evidence of a merciful and loving God, or at least some God who detectably creates life, but that’s not what the evidence is at all.

  • Carstonio

    I hope you didn’t mistake my post as an argument for assuming the existence of undetectable objects or phenomena. I’ve often said that I cannot reject the possibility of things that may exist beyond my perception, with the operative word bring “may.” I don’t know if they exist or not so I take no position.

    And I have almost no idea what constitutes a Platonic truth, except for this: http://newepicurean.com/?p=2517

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

     

    I don’t know if they exist or not so I take no position.

    Of course, this isn’t always an option. If I adopt your stance, then I can’t reject the possibility of an omnipotent entity willing to subject me to an eternity of suffering because of my relationship with my husband. It may exist or may not.

    But that’s inadequate, really, because I have to make some decision about my husband, and my relative levels of confidence in the existence or nonexistence of that entity affect that decision. If I continue my relationship with my husband, it’s either because I don’t believe in such an entity, or because I think our relationship is worth an eternity of suffering… and, fond as I am of the guy, I have to admit it’s more the former.

    And like that, a host of other entities either exist or don’t, where their relationship to decisions I have to make one way or another requires that I take more of a stance than “may exist, may not.”

    In general, the stance I take is “in the absence of evidence indicating that it exists, I act as though it doesn’t.”

  • Beroli

     

    Hypothetically, anyone can assert anything. I assert the existence of
    things that cannot be proven by scientific methods, actually. Love,
    beauty, art, basic human rights, compassion…

    THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER, AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE, AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    Why are you yelling?

  • http://semperfiona.livejournal.com Semperfiona

     He’s quoting Pratchett’s Death, who always speaks in all caps.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

     Ah.  Okay.

    I tend to tense up when I see all caps in an online setting, just as if someone really was yelling.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    In what sense can’t the existence of love, beauty, art, basic human rights, or compassion be proven using scientific methods?  Human behavior, human perception, human mental states, and human social constructs are all things we can and do study scientifically, and the actual things that are denoted by the words you used each fall into one or more of those categories.

  • GDwarf

     

    I assert the existence of things that cannot be proven by scientific
    methods, actually. Love, beauty, art, basic human rights, compassion…

    But all of those things can be proven by science to exist. They cannot be proven to be correct, but the fact that there are people who believe in them means that the concepts do provably exist.

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

    Science has nothing to say about whether there is or is not a god or gods unless a person bases their faith on supposed fact, in which case it isn’t really faith anyway. [..] science is simply a tool — a powerful one, but that’s it. It does not have the philosophical answers to creation.

    I agree that if my faith provides philosophical answers to creation and assertions about the existence and nature of a god or gods, but does not make any claims about past events or predictions of future events, then science has nothing to say about my faith, and there is no direct conflict.

    That said, many traditions that are referred to as religious faiths by their practitioners do make claims about past events and predictions about future events, and many of those claims do conflict with things that science has something to say about.

    And I really don’t see it as my place to declare those traditions to not really be faith.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I really don’t see it as my place to declare those traditions to not really be faith.

    I see it as my place though :-D. That sounds ridiculously arrogant within a Western frame, as we tend to use “faith” interchangeably with “religion”. While I will say things aren’t faith, they’re perfectly legitimate religions. But if a tradition is entirely dependent on something that has been disproved by science and history, then it is a system of lies, not a system of belief. 

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

     

    That sounds ridiculously arrogant within a Western frame, as we tend to use “faith” interchangeably with “religion”.

    I don’t generally use  “faith” interchangeably with “religion,” though I’ll agree that when other people use those words I don’t understand them to clearly refer to distinct things.

    Despite that, though, I find it unhelpful to tell someone who considers themselves to have a faith X that no, X isn’t really a faith. And, yes, since you mention it, that is in part because it does indeed sound arrogant. And with reason.

    More importantly, though, it’s because it seems to invite a dispute over definitions rather than an actual discussion about the things in the world we’re talking about, and I rarely find disputes over definitions valuable.

    That is, if there’s some set of properties P I think something needs to have in order to be a faith, and someone tells me their thingie F is a faith, but F lacks P, I’m far more likely to say “F lacks P” than “F is not a faith”.

    If my interlocutor agrees that F lacks P, then we agree about F, we merely disagree about what the word “faith” ought to refer to, which I don’t really care about that much. We agree about the thing that interests me, and I’m happy to leave our disagreement about labels unresolved.

    Conversely, if my interlocutor disagrees, then we disagree about the world, and I would much rather explore that disagreement without introducing label confusion. I will usually, in that case, avoid using the word “faith” at all, and simply talk about things like F.

  • swbarnes2

    if my faith provides philosophical answers to creation… but does not make any claims about past events or predictions of future events, then science has nothing to say about my faith, and there is no direct conflict.

    What good are answers whose merits can’t be judged by reality-checking them against the universe?  I can tell you that the number three is really blue, but what does that answer mean?  Why should one prize a philosophy that gives such answers?

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

     

    What good are answers whose merits can’t be judged by reality-checking them against the universe? 

    Let’s be clear, first, that I didn’t say that such answers were any good for anything; your question is entirely orthogonal to my original point. I merely agreed that, if I possess such a faith, science has nothing to say about it.

    That said, though, now that you raise the question: one thing I’ve noticed people doing with answers to questions besides reality-checking them against the universe is using them as shibboleths to establish tribal membership. For example, if there exists a club that is open only to people who know to answer “What is the number three?” with “Blue!”, then when you tell me the number three is really blue you are giving me access to that club’s membership benefits, and I might prize a philosophy that gives such answers because espousing the that philosophy offers me access to those benefits.

    Relatedly, people sometimes use answers as ways to establish our status within a tribe.

  • The_L1985

    Because for some people, belief in one or more gods gives a feeling of comfort.

    Because some people have experiences that they interpret as being of one or more gods.

    Because their parents believed in Deity X, so by golly they’re going to believe in Deity X, too.

    There are many reasons why people believe in gods, and they generally have more to do with emotion than reason.  Please do not discount the HUGE importance that such emotional influences can have on many people.

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

     *cough* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodosius_Dobzhansky did.
    I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God’s, or
    Nature’s method of creation. Creation is not an event that happened in
    4004 BC; it is a process that began some 10 billion years ago and is
    still under way.
    — Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” (1973)

  • Random Lurker

    As an atheist who studies the crevo debate for entertainment, I usually come across TE (theistic evolutionist) in two contexts.  There are more to be sure, but where the debates are had online, these are the most common ones.

    1: Defensive in-tribe self description.  IE, yes, I believe in evolution, but I’m one of you guys anyway.  With the false dichotomy set up by most creationists, this is often necessary and also often ignored.

    2: Acknowledgement from the most fervent pro-evo debaters that these are people that don’t need to be picked on.

    I’ll agree with Fred certainly that the term is unneeded and places distinction where none should exist.  The issue is that the lines are drawn in the sand with a backhoe and paved in concrete, and declaring oneself “TE” is an attempt to facilitate communication between oneself and two bittter sides.  It’s a social descriptor, not so much a description of beliefs.

  • Carstonio

     “Crevo” sounds like a shipper nickname for a couple.

  • swbarnes2

    declaring oneself “TE” is an attempt to facilitate communication between oneself and two bittter sides. 

    But is communication accomplished, or just equivocation?  If TE’s say to the Creationists: “I believe that a loving God exists and cares for us and answers our prayers, and was intimately invovled in the creation of life”, while saying to the other side “I believe that the evidence does not show any reason to think that divine action detectably shapes life”, what communication do the two sides have?  Creationists are making concrete claims that the evidence does not support, TE’s are making nebulous claims the evidence doesn’t support.  Perhaps the latter is less harmful to school curricula, but it’s not sounder reasoning.

    It seems to me that the TE’s best argument is “The evidence can’t disprove an undetectable God”, to which the science-minded will say “Well, so what?  Get back to us when you can distinguish between undetectable things and non-existant things, because from here, they look the same”  And the Creationist response will be “No, the God I believe in is absolutely not undetectable!  I don’t know what God you are talking about, but you aren’t alking about mine”.

  • Loki100

    I think we need to start labeling creationists (along with climate change deniers) exactly what they are: conspiracy theorists. They are people who believe that the entire world is wrong, and they are the brave paragons of truth who can see through the charade.

    Is there really any difference between creationist claims and, say, the claims that man didn’t land on the moon? It’s the exact same thing, except one is stating that Archaeopteryx is really a lizard while the other is stating that the movement of the flag proves it was filmed in a movie studio.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I don’t think evolution is a special case. It just happens to be the latest to be understood of those scientific discoveries Fred listed: heliocentrism, germ theory, evolution.

    People were judicially murdered by the church for talking about heliocentrism. People (especially women in childbirth) died because doctors refused to think about the possibility of germ theory being correct. Now, kids are being mistaught, and in this country, most of them can look on the internet and be un-mistaught. But I’m not afraid my mother is going to be burned at the stake for being a biologist, and I’m not afraid my uncle’s wife (she’s younger than me, I can’t call her “aunt”) is going to die of puerperal fever in childbirth in a few months. It’s getting better. 

    Odd note: Disquis doesn’t think “heliocentrism” is a word. Or “internet”. 

  • Joe Bleau

     Eh, I dunno, I think that there is a decent case to be made that evolution is somewhat of a special case.

    Theories of Evolution and natural selection at their most fundamental level attempt to address
    the question of how we came to be as we are; and that doesn’t seem completely orthogonal
    with the more metaphysical question of how we came to be at all.

    And
    I’d argue that the question of how we came to be is  an especially
    fundamental and foundational concern in much of (at least Western
    monotheistic) religious thought and practice. Surely, the notion of
    God-as-Creator seems to be a more profound and significant theological
    concern than
    G0d-as-the-thing-that-keeps-objects-of-small-mass-pinned-against-objects-of-substantially-greater-mass
    or the like, even among those who are inclined to accept the Genesis stories metaphorically. As has been mentioned previously, G0d-as-Creator seems to provide a significant amount of backing to the notion of Fallen Humanity, and is further often seen to be central to the question of why we should worship (and, more to the point, love and exalt) and not loathe and resist God if She does really exist. These tend not to be piddling notions for those that take their theology seriously.

    Fred is absolutely correct that there nothing
    about evolution that requires any metaphysical
    addenda, but if you are a theist who wishes to express or form beliefs
    (whatever that means) vis-a-vis God-as-Creator, then
    it’s only natural to glue those beliefs onto the front end of whatever
    natural mechanism for this creation that you choose to accept, be it natural selection over many millennia, or a little spit, dust, and clay. In this
    sense, “theistic evolutionism” contrasts with “atheistic evolutionism”
    simply because of the addition of these additional beliefs, and thus the
    former can be seen as a proper superset of the latter.

    And it’s
    not just entirely a metaphysical addition, either. If a person wants to
    assent to a belief like “I believe in God the Father,  Creator of Heaven
    and Earth, of All that Is, Seen and Unseen”, then it really  doesn’t
    matter if she chooses to remain utterly uncommitted or agnostic as to
    how the Creator pulled it off – she is still
    asserting something about the real, non-metaphysical
    world in which we reside. In this sense, I think that the term “theistic
    evolution” does carry some useful semantic import here.

    And,
    FWIW, even though it’s not terribly natural to speak
    of other scientific theories in such terms (e.g. “theistic
    photosynthesis” or “theistic thermodynamics” or some such), beliefs very
    similar to these are in fact rather extremely widely held and attested.
    Certainly, if one believes that Jesus was born of a Virgin, then it
    seems reasonable to say that one believes in theistic embryology, right?
    If I pray to what I believe (or at least hope) is a receptive Deity to
    help bring down my daughter’s dangerously high fever, and if I then
    attribute her subsequent recovery at least in part to this Deity’s
    agency, then can’t I be said to believe in theistic epidemiology, even
    if I might not be inclined to describe my belief in
    this way?

  • AnonymousSam

    But evolution is not unique in this regard, and this still cannot account for why we seem so determined to singled out evolution and not, for example, the germ theory of disease, or a heliocentric model of the solar system.

    Perhaps not en masse, but it most certainly is happening in small groups here and there. Christian Scientists seem to trip over germ theory on a regular basis, while Ken Ham feels the need to paint germ theory with a religious perspective (trigger warning: AAAAAARGHHHHHH).

    Likewise, I’ve had regular arguments with people on youtube who feel the need to argue that the Earth is not, in fact, orbiting the sun.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    Here’s a better link for “regular arguments with people on YouTube.”  See also this and the alt-text to this.

  • AnonymousSam

    Bwahaha. Well, to be fair, my half of the argument tends to happen in private space where I’m not particularly concerned about getting a reply. ~_^

  • Flying Squid with Goggles

    Despite the wisdom of Pratchett’s Death shared above, Love is an emergent property of organisms and can be observed and (not ethically) subjected to experimentation; despite the inability to locate a molecule or atom of it.

    As to whether something outside the realm of experimentation on ethical grounds, much as the common descent of large eukaryotic organisms is outside the realm of experimentation on practical grounds, is still science.

    Observational study is largely overlooked in primary and secondary education as a part of the scientific method… But it is critically important to evolutionary biology, as it is to the closely related sciences of Loveology and Lustography.

  • Bob Wheeler

    For what it’s worth Francis Collins professes to be a theistic evolutionist, which he also calls “BioLogos,” and distinguishes it from Intelligent Design.  His position is this: God engineered the Big Bang, and then evolution proceeded in a purely naturalistic fashion.  Human beings, however are unique, apparently the result of some sort of divine intervention.
    There are, I think, some problems with his position, however.  If we accept, for the sake of the argument, that a process of evolution took place, we have three options.  1) God engineered the original event, and then evolution proceeded through an long chain of causality so that the final outcome was predetermined.  But this involves a kind of mechanistic determinism.  2) Evolution is a guided process, with God acting through natural causes to guide the process.  3) Evolution is a completely unguided natural process, and God had nothing to do with the result.  For all practical purposes option # is atheistic — if God exists, He has nothing to do with the natural world in which we live. 

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

    Although quite credulous in other ways, Collins is quite useful for one reason: his position that the DNA evidence alone is quite enough for evolution, even if we ignore the fossil record.  It’s a nice point against those believers who think that fossils were planted by Satan to mislead us.

  • Carstonio

     If someone like Collins is presenting that as a proposed hypothesis and not a statement of personal belief (and I don’t know how Collins himself is presenting it), then it’s fair to challenge the basic premise of an undetectable being causing events to happen. The hypothesis would be so broad as to explain anything, which would mean that it really explains nothing.

    Option 2 would be a contradiction if one presumes that “natural” means undirected. Offhand, I don’t know of a way to verify that option as a hypothesis without buying into the intelligent-design premise that order can only be designed. Philosophically, it suggests a thought-out response to the god-of-the-gaps idea that “miracles” are suspensions of physical laws.

    “Statement of personal belief” deserves some clarification. I suspect it would be mean-spirited to question someone who believes that a god saved hir from falling off a cliff. But not so if the person insisted that anyone walking along a cliff need not be careful when doing so.

  • Carstonio

    Despite my respect for Collins’ scientific achievements, he’s just as guilty as anyone else of using god-of-the-gaps thinking. He strongly doubts that evolution can explain the existence of the moral sense.

  • Carstonio

    That stance is reasonable because the burden of proof is on anyone who claims that such suffering awaits. Fundamentalists in both Christianity and Islam make opposite claims about eternal suffering, one if the person believes Jesus to be mortal and the other if the person believes him to be divine, and apparently neither group considers the possibility that they’re both wrong.

  • Mary Kaye

    Joshua wrote:

    So, if I may ask, how would a
    pre-cambrian rabbit, assuming you were made confident of the dating and
    that the fossil had been undisturbed since Cambrian times, change your
    understanding of evolution?

    It would be darned puzzling, but it wouldn’t disprove evolution–to do so it would have to challenge the experimental evidence for evolution, and it doesn’t.  (If you leave critters around in an environment, they evolve.  Every year or two the yeast cultures in the lab next to mine re-evolve the trick where they climb up the sides of the chemostat and into the sterile medium chamber, and that particular experiment has to be thrown out.)  And it would have to challenge the DNA evidence for relatedness, which it doesn’t.  (The genes that establish the segmentation in fruit fly bodies are distinctly related to the genes that lay out the “segmentation” in human rib cages.  That wasn’t expected, but it’s true.)

    Hypotheses I would consider before I’d consider evolution-doesn’t-happen:  Time travel.  Elaborate fraud by agencies human or non-human.  Alien life resembling a rabbit enough to fool us.  Billion-to-one freak accident creating a false fossil.  You cannot get DNA from a pre-Cambrian fossil:  DNA would bother me enormously more than bones due to the vastly greater information content.

    If evolution doesn’t happen why do I think there *was* a Cambrian anyway?  Practically everything known about paleontology must be wrong.

    I thought that the idea that interbreeding between H sapiens and
    Neanderthals was possible was far from settled. Do you think that some
    kind of consensus has emerged, or is it still controversial?

    I am personally convinced, but it’s certainly not completely settled.  Early reports that there was no interbreeding relied on mitochondrial DNA, and I and others worried that that’s a single data point (and one less likely than average to show interbreeding).  Recent work is more genome-wide and it looks very good to me, but it is probabilistic.  The Neanderthal Genome Project should tell the whole story eventually.  (Disclaimer:  I work in this general area but have not done anything with the Neanderthal data myself; I’m relying on papers and presentations.)

    The experiments I found convincing went like this:  Identify parts of the Eurasian human genome that have rare, highly divergent haplotypes (collections of alleles at adjacent genes).  Test for those specific areas in the Neanderthal DNA specimens.  Far more often than expected by our known common ancestor with the Neanderthals, the rare haplotype matches a Neanderthal haplotype.  This doesn’t happen with African genomes, where we have reason to believe on fossil/tool grounds there were no Neanderthal populations.

  • christopher_young

    The whole “precambrian rabbit” thing annoys me, because everybody knows, including Haldane and Popper, that no such thing will ever be found. Haldane was an abrasive character, and this was basically just a way for him to tell Popper (or “a Popperian” in some versions) to FOAD. It’s not really a useful argument any more than if I said that if I saw somebody spinning straw into gold, I’d believe in Rumpelstiltskin. It doesn’t matter. Ain’t gonna happen.

    The evidence for an evolutionary process, both fossil and genetic, is as clear as the evidence for gravity. How that process works in detail, of course, is quite another thing.

  • Joshua


    The whole “precambrian rabbit” thing annoys me, because everybody knows, including Haldane and Popper, that no such thing will ever be found. 

    Well, of course not. But scientific theories are falsifiable. If you happen to believe in a particular theory, of course you expect that contradictory evidence won’t be found. But you have to be able to describe what contradictory evidence would look like, or the theory isn’t falsifiable.


    The evidence for an evolutionary process, both fossil and genetic, is as clear as the evidence for gravity. How that process works in detail, of course, is quite another thing. 

     

    Yeah, we have some idea about how evolution works in detail, unlike gravity.

  • arcseconds

    OK, so one of the points that Fred seems to be making here is that he (and I imagine most ‘theistic evolutionists’) agree with everything the science says about evolution (or almost everything).

    And they don’t ‘believe’ the standard account in the same sense that they believe in America, or even Christ, they ‘accept and affirm it’s actuality’, just as they do physics or chemistry.

    So there is a strong sense that they agree with nontheist scientists.   They can read through any evolutionary biology textbook and say “yep, yep, that’s the way it is alright”.   They can teach the same science classes with a straight face and a clear conscience and no-one will notice (or care).

    So sure, theistic evolution isn’t some scientific alternative to atheistic evolution, or just plain vanilla evolution.  Whereas intelligent design and creationism definitely are.  Fred’s intending on collapsing the distinctions between people who accept textbook science certainly seems apt enough when it comes to textbook science.

    However, this doesn’t mean there’s no difference between theistic evolutionists and nontheistic ones.

    I also don’t think it’s right to say evolution isn’t a special case.  It may well not be for Fred, although that would make him pretty unusual, I think — and one of the things i don’t understand about his account is to what extent he’s speaking only for himself, and to what extent he’s speaking for theists (or Christians) who accept evolution.

    The thing is, Christians think humanity is special.  Even if they don’t read Genesis literally, they still think that humanity is in some way the crowning glory of Creation (maybe alongside other sentient beings, if they’re cosmopolitan enough), and worth God sending Their only begotten Son, &c.

    So they don’t think humanity is simply happenstance.    And evolution is how the theistic evolutionists believe the cosmos winded up having humanity in it, so it’s natural for them to look at that process and say “that was God’s plan”.   

    Atheists, however, do think that humanity is simply happenstance (as a rule).

    So already there’s a huge difference in attitudes towards evolution here, at least in so far as it ends up with humanity.

    This is most obvious with those theistic evolutionists who believe God is a being outside the process who actively interferes with the process.   They explicitly think that the causality of evolution (the phenomenon) isnot the same as what the nontheists take it to be: it’s not just random mutation, genetics and natural selection, it’s all of that plus divine meddling.  (would Fred be happy with labelling these folk as ‘theistic evolutionists’?)

    But all theistic evolutionists (including, it would seem, Fred, as he says he doesn’t have a problem with the tenants) think that God’s in some sense working through evolution, even if they’re careful enough not to express this causally.  Presumably they also think God is working towards (or has worked towards, or is currently achieving, or however you want to express it) some divine outcome, and humanity is an important part of that.

    So their beliefs about evolution (especially that of humanity) taken as a whole, are indeed significantly different from those of an atheist, therefore they deserve a special label.

  • The_L1985

    What about us non-Christian religious types?  I’ve always supported the idea of the gods just sort of being like “Hey, let’s toss a meteor over that way and see what evolves after the dust settles.”  “Oh hey, intelligent life!  That’s pretty cool!”

    Please note that this idea rules out divine omniscience, which I’ve never been able to accept anyway.

  • arcseconds

    Well, assuming I’m not doing huge violence to your worldview by reading you fairly literally there, it sounds like you’re in with the theists who think divine beings have a direct causal influence on an otherwise natural process?

  • The_L1985

     I think it’s possible.  I can’t exactly prove it, after all. :P

  • arcseconds

    Now, I suppose someone (like Spinoza, or an occasionalist) might argue “all phenomena are equally caused by God and part of His Plan, so yes, I agree that my take on evolution is different from an atheist’s even though I agree with the atheist about all the scientific facts.  But I think this about all so-called natural phenomena – gravity and thermodynamics too! so evolution isn’t a special case”.

    But that’s not what theistic evolutionists typically say.  As I said in my previous post, they generally think humanity is an important part of God’s plan.

    But they don’t think malaria is.

    So not all evolution is equally God’s work, it would seem.

    Plus, evolution isn’t actually the only phenomenon where such people think God is somehow at work in, moreso in other phenomena.

    It’s also common for Christians to think God is at work in cosmology in a special way, too.

    And it strikes me that we could have (and, in some ways, are having) the same debate about meterology.  Atheists think the weather ‘just happens’.  Fundamentalists think that sometimes at least  God uses the weather to punish the sinful (their attitude may actually be quite analogous to that of many theistic evolutioners about evolution – often it just happens, but sometimes it’s God).   Liberal-theology Christians agree with atheists about the science but think that God is somehow working through the weather nevertheless.

  • http://www.facebook.com/larissa.lee.148 Larissa Lee

    I’m not sure I belong in this comment section because most of what everyone is talking about is going over my head.  I just wanted to say this why I make the disctiction that I am a *theistic* evolutionist as opposed to just an evolutionist. 

    Evolution, in the mainstream public conscience, has been slightly jacked by atheists.  Atheists who have said that evolution proves that there is no God (which it can’t) or who say that evolution disproves the Bible (which it doesn’t) or that evolution means that man is accidental and without purpose (which, again, it doesn’t).  So when a person says they accept evolution, the mainstream public takes it to mean that you don’t believe in God, the Bible or human purpose. 

    Since I believe in God, the Bible and human purpose, and evolution I feel the need to clarify my evolutionary position with the phrase *theistic*.  No one assumes that if you believe in physics or chemistry that you are a God-hating atheist.  Many people assume that if you belive in evolution that you are.  Especially if you have grown up in a Young Earth Creationist church.

  • Carstonio

    True, there are some atheists out there who indeed insist that evolution disproves the existence of gods. But the true jacking has been done not by them but by the creationists, a far larger group. They’re the ones responsible for convincing the public that evolution and atheism are the same thing. Fred has written many times that their larger goal is defining Christianity in tribal terms.

  • Jim Roberts

    And since they use the words of the “atheist evolutionists” as a cudgel, it become truth.

    I’m in about the same boat as Fred. There was a point where I did like the label of “theistic evolutionist,” but that time has passed. At this point, I’m a Christian who happens to see the theory of evolution as the best, most cogent explanation for life as we know it.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    This is a bit of a long-winded explanation as to why a pre-Cambrian rabbit would be a crisis for evolution. 

    The multiple lines of evidence used to support evolution require the same form of “interpretation” used to support heliocentrism. Heliocentrism has never been observed in the form shown in science textbooks. Voyager is off the ecliptic by a mere 32 degrees, and is forced to use a mosaic of multiple exposures to spot all of the planets. The fact that Kepler (and later Einstein) were forced to interpolate elipses from a series of discontinuous observations probably hindered the development of their particular theories of how the solar system works. 
    One of the deep misunderstandings of evolution (I also reject the notion of “theistic” or “atheistic” evolution), is that it’s a series of “just so stories” like, “How the Hominid got Her Voice and Became Human” or “How the Velociraptor Got Feathers and Became a Bird.”  It describes and explains family relationships involving correlations among anatomical, metabolic, and genetic data. A modern rabbit is part of a family with ~60 living species and a few more fossil species, which in turn, is part of a larger nesting set of clades, of the class mamalia, which appears to have a common ancestor somewhere in the Jurassic or Triassic.  Just as Kepler interpolated elipses from thousands of discontinuous observations recorded by Tycho, zoologists interpolate a set of common-ancestor relationships using metabolic, genetic, and anatomical observations across hundreds or thousands of species.

    The existence of a modern rabbit in the pre-Cambrian or Cambrian would be equivalent to waking up tomorrow to discover that the planet Mars was over 100 million miles away from where it’s supposed to be in early September 2012. If the model of planetary motion developed by Kepler (and later Einstein) is correct (accounting for minor gravitational deviations from other bodies), we should be able to predict both the actual position and relative position of Mars down to a handful of kilometers. If Mars moved 2/3rds of its orbital radius in a matter of moments, we would be forced to say that Kepler and Einstein were wrong. If that error was only a matter of a few kilometers, it’s possible that K & E were generally right, but there might be some additional minor force, or nuance of n-body gravitational interactions that we need to consider. (We have a plausible explanation of the Pioneer anomaly, for example. MOND lost.) 

    If our model of descent with modification is correct, then newly discovered species should fit in reasonably well in our existing taxonomy and timeline of probable common-ancestor relationships built using thousands of observations using anatomical features, metabolic features, and DNA analysis. And they generally do. Archaic prokaryotes might become the special-case supermassive black holes of the theory, and we might bicker about the details of relationships among genus Homo (a tiny fraction of zoology), but we probably are not going to find any modern mammal billions of years out of sequence with the rest of its kin.  If we did, zoologists would have to radically rethink all of their theories.

  • Joshua

    Well we seem to have two votes for the time-travelling rabbits. Awesome, I’m all in favour of that.

  • AnonymousSam

    Unrelated, but I love that fossil. Here’s one I found many years ago:

    http://i48.tinypic.com/jh6mie.jpg

    I always thought it was curious how I found it: out back behind a laundromat in a pile of rocks. The block is an imperfect square measuring 2.75″ x 2.75″, flat, cut to a sharp edge at one corner with incredibly flat sides. Altogether, it contains eight fossilized imprints.

    For all in the world, it looks like a museum piece, but it was just dumped out in a pile of rocks like any old piece of slate.

  • Ross Thompson

    I got a clear “H. sapiens neanderthalis,” with no mention that many scientists aren’t convinced of this status and still call them by the other label.

    One reason for this is that it’s simply a question of labelling; the degree of relatedness between modern humans and neanderthals  (oh, and it’s neanderthalensis, not neanderthalis, just by the way), but they’re on the boundary between being a sub-species of H. Sapiens and a very closely related sister-species. 

    As “species” is an arbitrary division (though not as arbitrary as any other taxonomic division), these arguments crop up all over the place (cf the arguments about whether there are one or two species of African elephant), but they don’t reflect any disagreement about underlying reality, just which semantic box to put it in.


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