How to Reconcile God and Evolution…and How Not To

How to Reconcile God and Evolution…and How Not To March 11, 2015

by Dale McGowan

Once you cast doubt on man’s place in creation, the entire Biblical story of salvation history, from original sin to Christ’s incarnation, is also threatened.

TULLIO GREGORY, Libertinisme Érudite in Seventeenth-Century France and Italy

The organization BioLogos is dedicated to reconciling evolution with a biblical worldview. I love the idea of helping more people accept evolution. Yet here I am all conflicted, and not even sure whether I should say why I’m conflicted.

I’ll explain, but let’s keep this between us.

Evolution by natural selection is fatal to conventional religious belief, at least the Abrahamic kind. It doesn’t just snap one branch of religion. Challenging the idea that humans are special and separate from animals uproots the whole tree, mills it into lumber, and builds a really nice house out of it — and not, I should add, a house of God.

Shutterstock

 

The complexity of the universe, and especially of life on Earth, seems for many to require a designer. “I may not know what God looks like or thinks or wants,” they say, “but come on! I can’t believe that this tree/moose/human just knitted itself together by random chance!” They’re right. If there’s anything less likely than a supernatural God, it’s the idea that all of this happened by random chance. Somebody once compared that idea to a whirlwind passing through a junkyard and assembling a 747.

For most of human history, those were the two apparent choices, God or random chance. Given those choices, I’m not surprised most people opted to believe in a designer. But in 1859, Darwin published the theory of evolution by natural selection. Suddenly people had three choices — and Darwin’s theory, properly understood, finally provided a credible fit for the evidence.

It’s worth taking a moment to describe how evolution works:

  1. All organisms include differences among individuals.
  2. Some of these differences don’t matter. Some have a negative effect, making it harder to survive or to have as many offspring. But some differences are actually helpful, making it a little easier for the individual to live longer or have more offspring.
  3. If the difference — say a slightly longer beak — gives even a tiny advantage, the lucky organism may live a little longer and/or have slightly more offspring on average and pass the same feature to them. The advantage will have been naturally selected. It’s not magic, just math.
  4. The offspring will in turn pass the slightly longer beak on to their own slightly greater number of kids, and so on. And if one of them has an even longer beak, the selective process continues. Eventually, if the longer beak keeps giving an advantage, it becomes the norm in the population.
  5. Fast-forward millions of years, and millions of selected traits produce the incredible diversity and complexity of life.

The variation is random, but the selection is anything but random. And it happens not in a straight line, but in fits and starts…and stops. A trait that was advantageous for millions of years can suddenly become a millstone when conditions change, as they often do. That’s why over 99% of species that have ever existed have clocked out for good.

Religious believers who want to reconcile evolution and religion say God uses evolution to create this diversity, but honestly, there’s not much for him to do. Natural selection works just fine without a guiding hand. In fact, if you fully understand the theory, it’s clear that it works inevitably without such guidance.

Simply put: If there is a guiding intelligence, it does an extraordinary job of pretending it isn’t there.

The implications for religion

Evolution by natural selection is one in a series of discoveries that removed us from our central and special role in the scheme of things. The Abrahamic religions are all strongly and centrally premised on the special human place in the scheme of things, and none more so than Christianity. Every major assumption, from sin to soul to salvation to savior, relies on the idea that we are separate and distinct from other animals.

Millions of Christians accept evolution, which makes me very happy. Some alter their beliefs to accommodate the new knowledge. But many refuse to accept the full implications, since those implications require an incredibly radical rethink of their religious beliefs. Many say that God created life, then used evolution to create the diversity of life, including one special kind of creature, crafted in the image of God and endowed with an immortal soul. That’s us.

“We are obligated, as people who bear the image of God,” says one BioLogos spokesperson, “to recognize the world that God has made.”

But here’s the problem. It’s difficult to reconcile our image-of-Godness with the knowledge that evolution was not aimed at making us. Thinking we were an intentional product guts the whole enterprise. The countless blind, wasteful, weaving paths and dead-end alleys of the history of life on Earth make it clear that—clever and handsome though we are—we are merely one of these side streets, impressive in our way and to ourselves, but otherwise unremarkable. The process that created us is necessarily unguided on the large scale, and guided locally only by the fickle demands of natural selection in that place and time. To make evolution a tool God used to create “Man,” much less to create him in his image, requires either a fatal upheaval in the concept of evolution or a fatal upheaval in the concept of God. The choice is yours.

I grant religious fundamentalists a point for noticing this problem.

Once common descent is in the picture, the idea of the soul is also in trouble. If other animals are without this lovely thing, God must have chosen a moment in evolutionary history when we were “human enough” to merit souls. Since evolution is an achingly incremental process, there was no single moment when we crossed a line from “prehuman” into “human.” Even if you posit such an arbitrary point, we’re left with the odd prospect of a generation of children who are ensouled but whose parents are not, or some similarly strange scenario. If there’s a way to work this out that makes any sense, I haven’t heard it yet.

“Not really a tactical fellow myself”

I don’t mind making these points. But when these folks are essentially supporting a discovery I find both powerful and important to our understanding of the world and ourselves, I’m left wondering how far to push the point.

If someone chimes in on your side of an argument, but does so with reasoning that massively misrepresents the case, what do you do—keep your mouth closed and accept the support, or set them straight and risk losing it? I strongly supported Barack Obama in both elections. Suppose a friend had expressed equally strong support for Obama, saying, “I just really love the idea of a Muslim president!” Would I have cleared that up, or walked away whistling, glad for the ally?

This question was in my head the first time I met Richard Dawkins. I was teaching at a Catholic college where evolution was the centerpiece of the biology curriculum, and I asked Dawkins what he considered the best way to respond to the idea of theistic evolution. Do we push the point that evolution creates serious, arguably fatal problems for some defining tenets of Christian belief, or be happy for allies against fundamentalist opposition to evolution?

“You’ve asked a tactical question, I suppose,” he said, grinning. “Not really a tactical fellow myself. So I think the answer depends on whether you are Richard Dawkins or Stephen Jay Gould.”

Since only one of us was either, this didn’t help.

He went on to say that he would certainly push the point, and does, since that’s what inquiry is about. The idea of withholding challenge to protect a pet hypothesis is anathema to Dawkins. Gould was always more tactical and strategic, taking allies where he could find them.

I tend more toward the Gouldian because I’m a pragmatist, guided by a desire for the best outcome more than ideological purity. I want science to be more widely accepted and understood, and if you force people to choose between doing violence to science and doing violence to their conception of God, most will have little trouble making up their minds.

But when it comes down to brass tacks, and I hear exactly how a believer has reconciled evolution and faith, I often find my head and desk connecting in ways that really can’t be good for the desk.

The devil in the details

In a BioLogos video titled, “Adam and Eve: Engaging the Tough Questions[headdesk], an advisor notes that there are “a lot of proposals out there of when the first sin might have happened, what it might have looked like.”

“At BioLogos,” says the voiceover, “we don’t have a simple answer on the question of the historical Adam…who were Adam and Eve, when did they live?”

This is always the first step in a crumbling theology – the suggestion that the answer is out there, it’s just very, very complicated. The problem is our ability to grasp the answer. But no worries, there are a lot of proposals. It all makes for an impressive simulacrum of rigor, an army of question marks in search of meaningful questions.

BioLogos advisor Denis Alexander cuts to the chase, drawing the line clearly: “We need to bring everything in our lives under the Lordship of Christ, and that includes our science.”

Okay then. And if science calls the very foundation of that lordship into question…what then?

It’s not that every form of religious faith is incompatible with evolution. It can be done, but it must be done honestly. Many progressive Christians have reconciled the difference by letting go of more literal elements such as Adam and Eve and original sin while holding on to the basics of their faith—that God exists, that he loves us, and that he wants us to love each other.

Some of these honest and thoughtful believers hold that God created life, started the ball rolling, then let evolution do its work. It was an experiment. He wasn’t aiming for us—he didn’t even know how it would come out. Go there ye faithful, and be glad, for it contradicts nothing we know. But recognize as these folks have that some beloved ideas will have to yield in the process, ideas like God’s omniscience and human specialness, and that a great many other assumptions must die with them.

There are many consolations on the other end of that process, including a new sense of wonder that’s hard to fully capture. All life on Earth is directly related by descent. You are a cousin not just of apes, but of the sequoia and the amoeba, of mosses and butterflies and blue whales. Don’t try to fit that astonishing fact into your theology. Start there, then see what gods you find.

[Creation parody photo via Shutterstock.]

 

happymadison3Dale McGowan, Ph.D. is Managing Editor of the Atheist Channel at Patheos and author of In Faith and in Doubt and Atheism For Dummies. He holds a degree in physical anthropology from UC Berkeley.

 

 


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  • Lars Pallesen

    “Once you cast doubt on man’s place in creation, the entire Biblical story of salvation history, from original sin to Christ’s incarnation, is also threatened.” Oh good! 🙂

  • Ray Allen

    Great article and discussion of evolution by natural selection and how it works. Are there good theories about what mechanism caused the natural selection to shift gill equipped ocean dwellers to sea mammals with lungs?

  • ctcss

    Although I am a Christian (but very non-mainstream), the ToE really has no relevance to the religious beliefs I was taught. Basically, the ToE only relates to material life and how it appears to change and evolve. It says nothing whatsoever as to one’s relationship with God (which is an entirely spiritual relationship), thus it has no impact on my religious beliefs.

    If one’s relationship to God is an eternal one, then it exists long before one appears to be physically conceived or born, and persists long after one appears to physically die and become dispersed. That means that matter (in whatever form, shape, size, color, description, classification, etc.) has nothing whatsoever to do with one’s relationship with God. Thus, if my physical life is not impacted in the slightest by the color of the socks that I wore on July 23, 2006, why should my spiritual existence be impacted in any way, shape, or form, by the notion of a physical shadow that has less conceptual substance than an eye-blink?

    IMO, people focus far too much attention on a concept that has no bearing at all on what is important with regard to their relationship with God.

  • M Diaz

    “reconciling evolution with a biblical worldview”
    would describe a capricious god…NO way around that.
    it’s as if this god just stood indifferently for millions of years and then just decided to appear to a specific group of ppl who were ignorant of the micro and macro world and relied on scapegoats in order to appease their gods….

    this is just pure foolishness.

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Yes, BioLogos has an Adam and Eve problem. So does the Holy Roman Ctholic church:
    Adam, Eve, and Evolution

    Adam and Eve: Real People

    It is equally impermissible to dismiss the story of Adam and Eve and
    the fall (Gen. 2–3) as a fiction. A question often raised in this
    context is whether the human race descended from an original pair of two
    human beings (a teaching known as monogenism) or a pool of early human
    couples (a teaching known as polygenism).

    In this regard, Pope Pius XII stated: “When, however, there is
    question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children
    of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot
    embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there
    existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through
    natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that
    Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way
    apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of
    revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the
    Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin
    actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is
    passed onto all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis 37).

    The story of the creation and fall of man is a true one, even if not
    written entirely according to modern literary techniques. The Catechism states,
    “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but
    affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the
    history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the
    whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed
    by our first parents” (CCC 390).

    Population genetics tells us otherwise.

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Are there good theories about what mechanism caused the natural
    selection to shift gill equipped ocean dwellers to sea mammals with
    lungs?

    Well, there was that whole excursion onto land thing. Sea mammals undoubtedly came from land mammals, not directly from sea fish. A good book on the topic is At the Water’s Edge by Carl Zimmer.

  • Robert Landbeck

    “How to Reconcile God and Evolution?” Of course the way to do so is for religion to start from scratch with a conception that starts with evolution. For it is self evident, at least to myself, that evolution has fixed moral and spiritual limitations for our species, a sort of glass ceiling which humanity is unable to break by any means or measure of it’s own understanding. Although transhumanists and some
    Neuropsychologists, hoping to improve on the human condition and thus make it more sustainable, ‘dream’ of doing so!

    And now take that ‘Dream’ as the very nature of religious purpose and revealed truth: to provide a path for man’s moral evolution. Yet the means to do so being not another techno fix, but a direct experience of transcendence. Changing human ethical conduct and perception nature beyond all natural and evolutionary boundaries or potential. Displacing the evolutionary root for a new spiritual root or moral enhancement.

    And while others argue endlessly over an already ‘crumbling theology’ trials of such a teaching are already under way that could very well bring the whole house down. More at http://www.energon.org.uk

  • Roger A. Sawtelle

    Did God create natural selection, just as God created gravity and light? Of course.
    The problem here is not for God, but for humans. If humans are just like all other creatures governed by natural selection, then we really do not have anything to do. Ants don’t think and they have no morality. They just exist!
    So why do we care about government and science? Why don’t we just do whatever natural selection tells us to do and forget about thinking.
    What does natural selection tell us to do? Does being good, whatever that means, give people an evolutionary advantage?
    If survival is the ultimate goal of life, as Darwin says, then it would follow, that eternal life or survival would be the ultimate reward to humans for living a good life.
    Mr. McGowan says that belief in a rational universe is rational, and I quite agree. Thus he seems to be able to go along with a Creator God, but he does not think it is necessary to have a moral God, because science through natural selection explains how living beings act and exist.
    But I raise the question, Is natural selection moral? If not, then humans need no morality and can just be selfish and ethnocentric. If so, then the morality of natural selection must come from God and this gives God plenty to do.

  • Sven2547

    But I raise the question, Is natural selection moral? If not, then humans need no morality and can just be selfish and ethnocentric.

    Just because natural selection is amoral, that does not mean human morals are irrelevant. You’re making a major category error.

    Is gravity moral? Does gravity’s amorality have any meaningful implications to human morality? Of course not. The same goes for natural selection which, like gravity, is a simple fact of the universe we live in. Attaching abstract, personal concepts like morality to these impersonal natural forces is meaningless.

  • scarf77

    One remark, only:

    in “Somebody once compared that idea to a whirlwind passing through a junkyard and assembling a 747”, was the great astronomer Fred Hoyle – an atheist otherwise – who used the so-called “junkyard tornado” fallacy in support of his favorite hypothesis for the apparition of life on Earth: panspermia.

    Otherwise, a great article.

  • Roger A. Sawtelle

    Sven,

    Thank you for your comment.

    “Just because natural selection is amoral, that does not mean human morals are irrelevant. You’re making a major category error.”

    If natural selection is amoral, it means that it does not reward good and punish evil. It means that nature is amoral. If goodness does not produce benefits for individuals or society, then morality is pointless and the amoral win.

    “Attaching abstract, personal concepts like morality to these impersonal natural forces is meaningless.”
    In a time when the world seems to have lost its moral compass with terrorism, Putin, Ferguson, and Tea party in the daily news, it seems strange that you label morality as abstract.
    Yes, morality is personal. Maybe you did not notice it, but Mr. McGowan seems to deny that humans are personal. Being personal is what makes humans special and unique beings, very different from our hominid peers and other creatures. He doesn’t think that God gave humanity a soul or psyche, but most people think that there was a point in time when human received the gift of self awareness and the power to reason.
    In any case it seems that he thinks that our destinies are governed by an impersonal force such as karma, which is not moral because it does not take motive in consideration.
    What do you think? Are humans special in that they are rational and moral? In that we are not doing a very good job being rational and moral, do we need help from God?

  • Benjamin Carlyle

    Natural selection is amoral, just as gravity is amoral. It doesn’t have any fixed fundamental sense of good and evil, or the reward and punishment of the same. However, morality is a valid survival strategy and to the extent that it is a valid survival strategy it is selected for.

    A species that cooperates survives better than a species made up solely of competing individuals. A species that can coordinate itself into large cooperative structures survives better than one that can only coordinate itself into small cooperative structures. Societies that can cooperate fare better than those that war against themselves.

    So a moral sense, morality, and cooperation are all products of natural selection… but still these are but one strategy and cooperation between species is not an automatic consequence. We still have species whose lifecycle is to burrow into a human eye and blind our children. We still have species succeeding because they are ruthless towards those they steal resources from. We still have species that live distant from one another and do not cooperate except to breed. Natural selection favours what works, which may or may not match our own moral sense.

    Humans are far from being the only moral species. We likely are the most cooperative species on the planet and this has produced clear benefits for us. We are also able to plan and match our behaviours to a preferred outcome better than other species can.

  • LikesAllCats

    This was one of the concepts that, once I wrapped my head around it, really clarified how humans could be “moral animals” without having been created that way. Altruism as a survival trait exists in many species, and cooperative individuals do tend to survive better and have more opportunities to pass on their genetic material.

    It was challenging at first to realize that our perception of morality likely has its roots in the amoral process of natural selection. I understand how some people can suggest that, if our moral compass has no greater purpose or foundation, then there is no reason to consider the ethical implications of our personal and group decisions. However, our evolved moral sense is what led us to develop the concepts of love, equality, and consideration for our neighbors. Even if these are human inventions, does their enhancement of our mutual life experiences not give them some value, if only for us?

    As sentient creatures, we have the ability to choose, to some extent, how we think about, perceive and interact with our world. It seems nonsensical to suggest that our evolutionary origins render illegitimate our desire for a positive human experience. Working together and taking care of each other has so far been the best strategy for a mutually positive human experience. The existence or non-existence of a god seems inconsequential in this discussion.

    (Also, apologies for any biology- or philosophy-related faux-pas I may have committed above. I have studied both only a little, so it’s possible I’m making claims that don’t follow, or are not scientifically accurate. Please feel free to correct me, and offer resources that will broaden and enhance my understanding. Thank you in advance.)

  • Roger A. Sawtelle

    Thank you Benjamin and Swanon for your responses.
    I am old fashioned enough to think if something has moral consequences, it is moral, rather than amoral. You know, if something looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and sounds like a duck, it is a duck or a very good facsimile.
    Just because some products of natural selection do not seem to be based on the principle of cooperation does not per se disprove the rule, if the general principle holds.
    I have defined morality as the conscious following of moral principles, so by that definition only humans can be moral. I would suggest that if we can determine that the universe is both rationally and morally structured, which is a big if, then this fact is evidence of creation by a rational and moral God.
    The obverse then would be true, if we find the universe to be not rationally nor morally structured, then humans are justified to claim there is no rational and moral creator God. If God acts like and works like God, then God is God.

  • Without Malice

    Great essay, Dale. There is, quite simply, no way to reconcile evolution and Christian doctrine. There never was an Adam and Eve, and as you say, there was never a time when the offspring of proto-humans could be so different from their parents that one could call them the first modern humans. This is the BS that the Catholic church is now trying to sell to the public, but it fails miserably. Genetics also destroys Christian doctrine. Back in the day when people thought that the woman determined the sex of her children (remember how Henry Vlll got rid of one wife after another who couldn’t give him a son?) the idea of a virgin birth made a little more sense. But now we know that it is the Y chromosome donated by the father that produces male children, and that a virgin, even if she could be pregnant without sperm, would only produce a clone of herself.

  • Without Malice

    If you want to argue that the long and bloody history of religion has somehow made man more moral, well, you might find that to be an easier sell on a religious blog.

  • MNb

    “Do we push the point that evolution creates serious, arguably fatal problems for some defining tenets of Christian belief, or be happy for allies against.”
    As a Dutchman, ie from a country where even orthodox-protestant schools have to teach evolution, I’d say this is a false dilemma. I don’t really care if evolution creates problems for believers. It’s their problem, not mine. My problem only begins when believers reject evolution.
    Believers may suffer from cognitive dissonance or not, their belief systems may be accomodatable with science or not, I will remain an atheist anyway.

  • Roger A. Sawtelle

    Who is saying that humans are moral? I do not see evolution or science saying that.

  • Without Malice

    Morality is a human construct and derives from a societies joint agreement on what is ethical and what is the best way for individuals to behave in order to have a society that does not descend into chaos. The so-called lower animals have their own forms of morality and behavior characteristics that ensure group cohesion, which in turn ensures group survival. Human morality is always in flux. The men of the bible – good Gawd-fearing men – thought nothing of bedding twelve year old girls or cutting the throats (on Gawd’s command) of even younger children. Thankfully, man’s morality has evolved beyond what we find in the bloody pages of the bible – at least in the western nations who have jettisoned its ridiculous and awful precepts. To try and argue that without Gawd man would be better off doing any damn thing he pleases just to please himself is idiotic. Every animal that lives in groups has been supplied by evolution with behavior traits that keep the group from dissolving into chaos and breaking apart. There’s no need for the interaction of Gawd in any of it.

  • LinCA

    This “spiritual relationship” that you claim to have with your god, does it also have that with all other forms of life (past, present and future)?

  • ctcss

    As I noted, I am very non-mainstream, thus what I believe may or may not map to other mainstream Christian beliefs. But yes, that spiritual relationship relates to everything that God expresses. I was taught that God’s creation (like God) is eternal and spiritual, because it is the manifestation of God’s nature. In God’s creation, there is no past, present, or future because it exists in eternity, a timeless state. God’s creation is also entirely spiritual since God is Spirit and His creation is a manifestation of His nature.Thus the ToE, although it is a marvelous description of material life and how it varies over time, is meaningless in God’s creation where matter and time (not being a manifestation of God’s nature) don’t even exist.

    As I said, very non-mainstream.

  • LinCA

    You wrote,

    I was taught that God’s creation (like God) is eternal and spiritual, because it is the manifestation of God’s nature. [Emphasis mine]

    What convinces you that those that taught you what you now believe, knew what they were talking about? How did they attain this knowledge?

    You wrote,

    In God’s creation, there is no past, present, or future because it exists in eternity, a timeless state.

    What do you base this assertion on? What facts do you have to support this?

    You wrote,

    God’s creation is also entirely spiritual since God is Spirit and His creation is a manifestation of His nature.

    This reeks of being an end-around to circumvent the problem of first cause.

    You wrote,

    Thus the ToE, although it is a marvelous description of material life and how it varies over time, is meaningless in God’s creation where matter and time (not being a manifestation of God’s nature) don’t even exist.

    Why would your god create time in the material world, if it isn’t part of it’s nature?

  • ctcss

    What convinces you that those that taught you what you now believe, knew what they were talking about? How did they attain this knowledge?

    You do realize that theologies are conceptual notions regarding God, right? If one accepts the premises regarding God, then one should probably follow where that leads. Suffice it to say, I have encountered enough evidence regarding what I have been taught that I am interested in exploring it further to see where it goes. Would this evidence convince you, or someone from a different religion? Based on what I have seen, it’s not very likely because people tend to interpret things in the way that makes the most sense to them, and what I consider to be helpful or factual may not strike someone else the same way. But that’s OK, because people are completely free to choose what interests or intrigues them. To each their own. And as to when and how the theology initially came about, that’s usually based on a person obtaining a new perception, revelation, insight, whatever one chooses to call it, and then pursues it further. Discoveries of all sorts often start this way.

    What do you base this assertion on? What facts do you have to support this?

    Matter, energy, space, and time are all joined together. God, OTOH, is considered to be Spirit, i.e. not matter, energy, time, or space. Thus if one accepts that God exists, then God’s creation manifests His nature. Eternality simply follows as a consequence of being a manifestation of God.

    This reeks of being an end-around to circumvent the problem of first cause.

    I may be misunderstanding you here, but you seem to be assuming that only a temporal point of view can exist, based on matter, energy, time, and space. IOW, I am guessing you are a materialist. I, however, am not.

    Why would your god create time in the material world, if it isn’t part of it’s nature?

    You are assuming that God created matter, energy, time, and space. I am not. God’s creation has nothing whatsoever to do with matter, energy, time, and space.

  • LinCA

    You wrote,

    You do realize that theologies are conceptual notions regarding God, right?

    Of course. I just wonder what makes them any different than conceptual notions of the Easter Bunny.

    You wrote,

    If one accepts the premises regarding God, then one should probably follow where that leads.

    The question should really be why anyone would accept any premise regarding gods, without any evidence to support them.

    You wrote,

    Suffice it to say, I have encountered enough evidence regarding what I have been taught that I am interested in exploring it further to see where it goes.

    Care to share? I’ve seen nothing to distinguish gods from other fictional characters. What makes your god fundamentally different from the Tooth Fairy?

    You wrote,

    Would this evidence convince you, or someone from a different religion?

    What evidence? If you have anything that could reasonably be interpreted to support the existence of such creatures, I’m all ears.

    You wrote,

    Based on what I have seen, it’s not very likely because people tend to interpret things in the way that makes the most sense to them, and what I consider to be helpful or factual may not strike someone else the same way.

    You won’t know until you try it.

    You wrote,

    Matter, energy, space, and time are all joined together.

    True, but probably not in the way you believe.

    You wrote,

    God, OTOH, is considered to be Spirit, i.e. not matter, energy, time, or space. Thus if one accepts that God exists, then God’s creation manifests His nature.

    That is ridiculous. It’s circular reasoning. Such reasoning can “prove” anything. Based on such arguments the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are just as real as your god.

    You wrote,

    Eternality simply follows as a consequence of being a manifestation of God.

    It doesn’t. Not if you don’t a priory accept that you god exists and is eternal.

    You wrote,

    I may be misunderstanding you here, but you seem to be assuming that only a temporal point of view can exist, based on matter, energy, time, and space.

    No, I’m saying that there is no evidence to support a non-temporal view. There simply is no reason to hold such a view.

    You wrote,

    I am guessing you are a materialist.

    If by “materialist” you mean that I don’t accept as true, statements of faith that aren’t supported by evidence, then yes, I fall into that category.

    You wrote,

    You are assuming that God created matter, energy, time, and space.

    No, I don’t. Your god isn’t real. It didn’t create anything. I thought that you believed your god created it.

    You wrote,

    I am not. God’s creation has nothing whatsoever to do with matter, energy, time, and space.

    OK. I guess, like you said, very non-mainstream.

    It makes me wonder how your beliefs fit anywhere in the Christian spectrum.

  • ctcss

    Since you are finally getting that I am a very non-mainstream Christian, and (hopefully getting) that I am very interested in pursuing a pathway towards (what I believe to be) God, the likelihood of us agreeing on anything is very small. Once again, that’s no big deal. To each their own. We are all following the pathways that personally interest us. No one else is forced to follow someone else’s pathway. It’s done entirely by personal choice. Thus, I don’t care in the least that you wouldn’t find it worthwhile, or logical, to follow my pathway for the reasons I am following it. I wouldn’t expect you to. Some people like to collect stamps, or follow and participate in pools on the NCAA championship games. Those things (along with those people’s reasons for becoming involved) don’t interest me at all. But I have no problem with the idea that there are people who find those pursuits to be very fulfilling. Those pursuits resonate with them, just as pursuing my religious pathway resonates with me.

    Personal choice is cool in my book.

    But you did ask two questions that I think can be answered.

    You wrote

    It makes me wonder how your beliefs fit anywhere in the Christian spectrum.

    I refer you to the definition used by religioustolerance.org as to how they denote who is a Christian.

    We use the following definition:

    “We accept as Christian any individual or group who devoutly, sincerely, thoughtfully, seriously, and prayerfully regards themselves to be Christian. That is, they honestly believe that they follow Yeshua of Nazareth’s (a.k.a. Jesus Christ’s) teachings as they interpret them to be.”

    I wrote

    Suffice it to say, I have encountered enough evidence regarding what I have been taught that I am interested in exploring it further to see where it goes. Would this evidence convince you, or someone from a different religion? Based on what I have seen, it’s not very likely because people tend to interpret things in the way that makes the most sense to them, and what I consider to be helpful or factual may not strike someone else the same way. But that’s OK, because people are completely free to choose what interests or intrigues them. To each their own.

    To which you asked

    What evidence?

    And luckily for you, Linda LaScola of Rational Doubt already politely asked basically the same question, so I politely responded. And, as I repeatedly stated in those responses, none of what I was saying was meant to convince anyone else of God’s existence. They were simply some of the instances in my family’s life that made us want to continue pursuing our religious pathway further. We, in the context of those instances and how they impacted our lives, found them to be convincing to us. No one else (including you) needs to arrive at the same conclusion. Everyone gets to choose the pathway they find to be most helpful for reasons that they personally consider to be compelling.

    Enjoy. (And no, my family’s history is not up for debate. It is what it is, and is true to the best of my knowledge and understanding.)

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rationaldoubt/2015/01/doubt-street-u-turns-only-allowed/

  • LinCA

    Regarding where you fit in the Christian spectrum, you quoted,

    “We accept as Christian any individual or group who devoutly, sincerely, thoughtfully, seriously, and prayerfully regards themselves to be Christian. That is, they honestly believe that they follow Yeshua of Nazareth’s (a.k.a. Jesus Christ’s) teachings as they interpret them to be.”

    How does giving an extremely broad and vague definition of Christians explain where you fit in that spectrum? It’s like saying “I’m a Leo”, as if that explains anything.

    You wrote,

    And luckily for you, Linda LaScola of Rational Doubt already politely asked basically the same question, so I politely responded. And, as I repeatedly stated in those responses, none of what I was saying was meant to convince anyone else of God’s existence.

    If it doesn’t convince anyone, who doesn’t already believe in this god, how can it be considered evidence of it’s existence? The exact same reasoning can be used to support the existence of any fictional character. Your god is no more real, in any sense, than Santa, or the Tooth Fairy. It exists nowhere, other than in your mind.

    In your reply to Linda LaScola you wrote,

    And since my family is religious, having such an outlook informed our decisions as to what to do when facing difficult situations.

    That seems to be a recurring theme. You seem to attribute every little coincidence to the god you believe in and see it as evidence of our god. You believe your god to do those kinds of things, and therefor believe all those coincidences to be evidence for your god. It’s utterly circular.

    It’s also nice to know that your god decided to save a kitten, but chose to let 150 innocent passengers die at the hands of a suicidal maniac at the controls of the Germanwings jet last week. Were those people not the right kind? Did they not pray hard enough? Or is your god just such an asshole? My bet is that it is just fictional.

    You wrote,

    We, in the context of those instances and how they impacted our lives, found them to be convincing to us. No one else (including you) needs to arrive at the same conclusion. Everyone gets to choose the pathway they find to be most helpful for reasons that they personally consider to be compelling.

    You describe to a T how Christianity splintered into over 40,000 different cults, sects and denominations. It’s entirely based on gullibility. The complete lack of any rational support for the folklore allows people to just make stuff up as they see fit. The delusional beliefs of the parents, childhood indoctrination and willful ignorance do the rest. Pathetic.

  • drakvl

    I am not a biologist, but I have heard many a biologist utter that evolution happens on the group level, not the individual level. So as I see it, the question should be, what makes for stable populations? Many species have achieved this in different ways, and even among humans there are rather different approaches–although there are some striking commonalities, such as the Golden Rule. That said, experiments in animal behavior shows that notions of fairness extend beyond our species–both ways: monkeys who feel they’re being ripped off will complain, but other animals (I do not recall if they were mice or primates) would share their food with another, or even release the other to allow them to partake of a tasty snack as well. If you ask me, these internal emotions driving us to help others were the beginnings of ethics, and a game-theory style of interaction among various people acting on their personal ethics led to morality.

    That said, evolution sometimes acts to a species’ detriment; the most common example given of this is the peacock’s tail, which aids the individual in sexual selection, but harms the species as a group by reducing their ability to escape predators.

  • LightBold

    Probably one of the reasons that you’re conflicted about Christians becoming evolutionists is that you’d like to keep the “intellectual high ground” for atheism. I don’t see why evolution by natural selection should be fatal to conventional religion. Genesis says that man was formed from the dust of the ground (which is pretty low in the hierarchy), so to find that we came from microscopic organisms sounds about right. Yes, Genesis also says that God breathed a soul into Humanity at some point, and no, I can’t give you a date on that or explain exactly what that looked like, but I think it’s interesting that you don’t find yourself separate or distinct from other animals. You’re extremely articulate and literate for a dolphin, 🙂 or any of the rest of your animal brothers. You’ve constructed a straw man of what you think Christianity should believe, but it doesn’t really work that way. Natural selection is self-correcting, but it doesn’t preclude a God who invented atoms and all the elements and energy, and set all the initial conditions so that natural selection could go to work and produce us. It’s a big universe to have come from nothing.

  • Timothy

    I don’t think that the dust of the ground sounds like microscopic organisms, the people who wrote it wouldn’t have known about them and if they had in fact known about microscopic life then it doesn’t mention such life later on and wouldn’t explain how the information that would have been important if it was true became lost. I don’t get the dolphin part, isn’t it obvious that separation from different types of animals are just things like bodies, intelligence, behaviour and similar things, I don’t think I get what you mean by saying he is weird for a dolphin. I know it’s suppose to be part of your point, but you may as well say a kangaroo is too bouncy and hairy to be a dolphin, it doesn’t really show how the differences between humans and a type of animal mean they are completely separate, it just says their different. And the bit with the universe being to big to come from nothing, you may as well say it is a big god to have come from nothing.

  • LightBold

    It’s true, I’m asking you to make allowances for the limited language that must have been available to discuss this topic, given that the original human authors of scripture would have been pre-literate, and had no concept of microorganisms, passing down an oral story until Moses wrote it down. Scripture isn’t a science text book, of course, but it’s nice to see some consistency with science, given those limitations of language and understanding. As for mentioning the dolphin, I was just trying to point out that human language and analytical thinking can’t be found in the animal world. There is only one linguistically sophisticated (extremely developed use of language, both spoken and written), sentient, morally conscious, morally responsible, species on the planet. (That’s us.) That seems distinctive to me. I don’t find evolution to “cast doubt on man’s place in creation.” (McGowan’s opening quote) Man’s place in creation actually seems pretty obvious, just looking around my room and out the window. As for God coming from nothing: I think that since He started the whole show, He exists outside of time, and has no beginning.

  • Powerglide

    Of course there is one perfect, irrefutable way to reconcile science and creationism: Gosse’s Omphalos hypothesis.

  • Armanatar

    Language you might be able to get away with, but ‘morally conscious’, not so much. Many of our close relatives in the animal kingdom demonstrate signs of altruism, a belief in fairness, affection, compassion, and other key markers of morality. Even language is sketchy, because you assume it implies something special about us, when it most likely implies something interesting in our past circumstances (writing and more sophisticated language likely being tied to the development of agriculture and the need for more complex communication methods).

    You can handwave God into existence if you like, but we don’t even need to handwave the universe into existence, the idea of a universe arising without cause is consistent with our understanding of quantum mechanics and uncaused quantum events (like radioactive decay); since the fundamental forces didn’t come into existence until after the universe began, the only forces at play would have been quantum forces, which point and laugh at our macro understanding of causality.