Archive for category Evolution

Do those thought provoking atheist billboards point to God?

It’s hard to ignore the billboard battle going on right now and it looks as if the atheists have the high ground.  Their claim: religion has no monopoly on morality.  Hard to dispute that one.  Of course, neither does atheism.  It seems that morality is fleeting and held loosely by all of us,  no matter what our belief system.  Mankind has proven itself to be uniquely self-destructive even as it aims to prosper.  Or is it because we aim to prosper that everything we touch seems to spoil?

I think it’s interesting that some extreme Christians and atheists alike have found ways to excuse mankind’s most egregious acts.  One  Christian response evokes the idea that the Earth was given to us by God, that Satan is messing with our intentions and sometimes horrible things must be done in order to save souls for the after life.  Some atheists claim that the things that we do are neither good or bad, they just are – that what we do is only natural and part of the evolutionary process.  Natural selection often appears cruel, but it is necessary for the perpetuation of the species.

First, let me be clear:   I think that the theory of evolution is the best means by which to address the questions we have about life on this planet.  I do not take Creationism seriously nor am I enamored with all the aspects of Intelligent Design.  That being said,  I’m trying to figure out what evolutionary point there is for speculating on these, or any other ideas at all.  What is the point of thinking about things that don’t put a roof over our heads or food in our bellies?  I’ve started to wonder if the development of the self-aware  human mind has done anything to help perpetuate our species.  Does philosophy, poetry, music, art or religion help humanity in any practical way? (A lot of people say they don’t).  Some prominent atheists have even suggested that there are genes for these behaviors.  But why?  From an evolutionary perspective they seem like such wastes of time.  You’d think these frivolous tendencies would’ve been filtered out.

Not only that, but it is the human mind, with all  its technical capabilities, that has placed our planet in jeopardy.  Without the human mind there would be no sword, no arrow, no cross-bow, no cannon, no rifle, and no H-bomb. Without the human mind there would be no smokestacks, no highway deaths, no slums, no Love Canal, no Chernobyl, no red tide, no DDT, no flooding in New Orleans, no genetically modified plants or animals. Many of the great threats to our existence would not exist themselves.

So, how can the human mind, with its capacity for leisure, greed, curiosity, art, beauty, hatred, discovery and religion, be a product of evolution?  It  seems that the more ‘primitive’ minds of other species serve them better.  Sure, they can’t ultimately defend themselves against the violence of humans,  so I guess that natural selection has given us an advantage in that regard.  We can kill them better than they can kill us. But our technology doesn’t always come out on top, at least not with microbes, rats and roaches.  But because of our technology, we are capable of destroying ourselves, like no other species we know of. It almost looks as if the human mind is ultimately self-destructive and not a product, but a contradiction, of natural selection. If so, then does the self-aware human brain, particularly when examined under the light of natural selection, possibly support the idea of something supernatural going on? And if so, then what does our capacity to do both good and evil say about this supernatural aspect?

I don’t think faith concepts should be discarded or ignored because of any ugliness and violence associated with them, anymore than faith should be blithely endorsed because of those parts that are beautiful and life affirming. I think that these controversial billboards, both theist and atheist, represent minority perspectives. There are a few people on both sides of this debate that listen more than they shout. Those are the ones we should engage with and hopefully learn from. We are better off ignoring the rest, no matter how loudly they yell or how big their signs are.


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Fundamentalists just need more faith

Having once been an adherent myself, this is my understanding of why Christian Fundamentalists are so zealous about Creationism:

If you:

… accept the theory of Evolution as the most reasonable explanation for the variety of life on Earth

….accept the geological evidence that says that the Earth is billions of years old

…accept the astronomical evidence that the Universe is much older than even the Earth

Then you:

…obviously do not read the Bible literally

…do not believe that the Biblical creation account is true

…cannot trust that anything else in the Bible is true

…cannot accept God’s Word as true

…under the influence of Satan

…are unsaved.

So, in fundamentalist eyes, conventional scientific inquiry is not necessarily flawed but profoundly dangerous.  In order to protect the philosophically unassailable conclusions of Creationism, which are based solely upon Biblical texts, any tactic that can discredit the conventional scientific wisdom is acceptable, particularly the ad hominem argument

But the defense of Creationism becomes more difficult as scientific research continues to reveal evidence for the natural history of our planet and the workings of the Universe.  This evidence cannot be ignored so it must be re-interpreted, but always through the lens of the Bible. In this way the geologic and fossil evidence can be explained ‘scientifically’ through the extrapolation of Biblical stories, particularly the story of the Flood.

As it turns out, the Flood is a convenient refutation of just about all the physical evidence that supports evolution and an old Earth, at least for those who believe in Biblical Creation. It is the point at which the Creationists and the Evolutionist continue to  bump heads.  Because, though the Evolutionists can say that the Flood is merely a convenient myth that neatly gives religious answers to questions about the Earth, the Creationists can reply that yes, indeed it does.  The Flood explains everything. But it is no myth

Without the Flood and the story of Noah and his Ark, there would be little if any support for the theory of Creationism.  This is the mechanism that provides an air of ‘scientific’ legitimacy to their position, one that incorporates physical evidence coupled with a theory that is irrefutable, as it cannot be tested.  When this theory is questioned on the basis of obvious evidence to the contrary, the Creationists are left with no choice but to fall back upon a supernatural explanation that is often the result of a non-contextual rendering of a Bible verse. ( i.e. “all things are possible with God”)

It obviously boils down to a question of faith, not science.  If one definition of faith is that it is a belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence, then Creationism cannot be called science.  Yet another definition of faith is trust, confidence in someone or something, without the necessary evidence to support it.

If ultimately the Creationist position is supported by an article of faith that cannot be tested, then why spend all this energy on modifying school science texts so that they teach Intelligent Design or the ongoing construction of numerous Creation museums (one intent of which is to ridicule modern science and scientists)?  It is a classic example of “preaching to the choir” and comes across as a desperate attempt to present evidence necessary to “prove” the existence of God.  Because there just isn’t enough faith.

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Electrons and God: Are Either For Real?

Dancin Wu-Li Masters

I’m back into the book “The Evolution of God” by Robert Wright. I found this passage to be particularly interesting as it was my  introduction to Quantum Physics with the book “The Dancing Wu Li Masters” by Gary Zukav that got me first really thinking about the possibility of God.

“It’s a bedrock idea of modern physics that, even if you define “ultimate reality” as the ultimate scientific reality—the most fundamental truths of physics—ultimate reality isn’t something you can clearly conceive. ”

“Think of an electron, a little particle that spins around another little particle. Wrong! True, physicists sometimes find it useful to think of electrons as particles, but sometimes it’s more useful to think of them as waves. Conceiving of them as either is incomplete, yet conceiving of them as both is… well, inconceivable. (Try it!) And electrons are just the tip of the iceberg. In general, the quantum world—the world of subatomic reality—behaves in ways that don’t make sense to minds like ours. Various aspects of quantum physics evince the property that the late physicist Heinz Pagels called quantum weirdness. ”

“The bad news for the religiously inclined, then, is that maybe they should abandon hope of figuring out what God is. (If we can’t conceive of an electron accurately, what are our chances of getting God right?) The good news is that the hopelessness of figuring out exactly what something is doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Apparently some things are just inconceivable—and yet are things nonetheless”

“At least, some physicists believe electrons are things. The fact that nobody’s actually seen an electron, and that trying to imagine one ties our minds in knots, has led some physicists and philosophers of science to wonder whether it’s even accurate to say that electrons do exist. You could say that with electrons, as with God, there are believers and there are skeptics.”

“The believers believe there’s something out there—some “thing” in some sense of the word “thing”—that corresponds to the word “electron”; and that, though the best we can do is conceive of this “thing” imperfectly, even misleadingly, conceiving of it that way makes more sense than not conceiving of it at all. They believe in electrons while professing their inability to really “know” what an electron is. You might say they believe “in electrons even while lacking proof that electrons per se exist.”

“Many of these physicists, while holding that imperfectly conceiving subatomic reality is a valid form of knowledge, wouldn’t approve if you tried to perform a similar maneuver in a theological context. If you said you believe in God, even while acknowledging that you have no clear idea what God is—and that you can’t even really prove God per se exists—they would say your belief has no foundation.”

“Yet what exactly is the difference between the logic of their belief in electrons and the logic of a belief in God? They perceive patterns in the physical world—such as the behavior of electricity—and posit a source of these patterns and call that source the “electron.” A believer in God perceives patterns in the moral world (or, at least, moral patterns in the physical world) and posits a source of these patterns and calls the source “God.” “God” is that unknown thing that is the source of the moral order, the reason there is a moral dimension to life on Earth and a moral direction to time on Earth; “God” is responsible for the fact that life is sentient, capable of good and bad feelings, and hence morally significant; “God” is responsible for the evolutionary system that placed highly sentient life on a trajectory toward the good, or at least toward tests that offered the opportunity and incentive to realize the good; in the process “God” gave each of us a moral axis around which to organize our lives, should we choose to. Being human, we will always conceive of the source of this moral order in misleadingly crude ways, but then again you could say the same thing about conceiving electrons. So you’ll do with the source of the moral order what physicists do with a subatomic source of the physical order, such as an electron—try to think about it the best you can, and fail. This, at least, is one modern, scientifically informed argument that could be deployed by the believer in God.” [Robert Wright, The Evolution of God]

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God Says; Skip the Salad but Bring On the BBQ!


Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.  But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.

As we asked in an earlier thread,  The Murderous Root of Religionhow did Cain come to understand that God  disfavored  his offering of grain (or fruits or vegetables)? Did God expressly tell him this in a thundering message from the clouds? Or perhaps in a dream?

Or was it more likely that Abel was in some way better off than Cain ? That Cain was envious of Abel’s circumstances, and figured that God just wasn’t being fair.  These were primitive people without all the trappings of  modern humankind.  So,  I don’t think that  Abel had nicer clothes or a bigger house or a more luxurious wagon imported from Germany. It’s also doubtful that money was  a concept that they would be familiar with.  So in what way did God bless Abel over Cain? What’s left to be jealous of?

One possibility that comes to mind is Abel’s health. After all, it’s always been said that if you have your health then you have everything. Maybe Abel’s family was healthier than Cain’s, suffering from fewer maladies and in better overall physical condition. Being healthier, perhaps they were also happier. To a primitive mind, what other reason could there be for this disparity, other than that God was smiling on Abel while punishing Cain.  But why would God allow Cain to be healthier than Abel?

The answer might be found  in their choice of offerings; Abel’s was made up of meat and fat as opposed to the vegetarian offering of Cain.  Today’s conventional medical wisdom affirms that Cain’s high carb menu would certainly be healthier than Abel’s fatty one. But perhaps God knows something that the majority of our doctors, nutritionists and dietitians do not.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll have steak tonight. Again.

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Strident Atheists and Militant Christians are Fundamentally the Same

Over the past few years I’ve met quite a few people, both theists and atheists,  who have some very definite ideas about God yet they are open to discussion and respect the opinions of others. Then there are those who are quite combative and almost shrill. I’ve noticed that although most of those in the second group fall into either one of two diametrically opposing camps, they share a common characteristic; fundamentalism.

It’s become trendy to label vocally strident atheists (Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens etc.) as “Fundamentalists” prompting considerable effort on their part to denounce this definition as inaccurate. And, fundamentally speaking, these atheist are correct. But many people of faith have pointed out that those who are called religious fundamentalists are rarely fundamental themselves. For example, Christian Fundamentalism is a fairly recent phenomenon that stresses a rigidly literal interpretation of scriptures as being essential to the Christian faith. This view was principally developed in response to the perceived threat that secular humanism presented to Christianity, in the wake of the Enlightenment and especially after the advent of Darwinism.


It is in regards to Biblical literalism that many members of these two extremely different schools of thought end up becoming strange bedfellows. They both agree that authentic Christianity assumes a rigidly literal interpretation of the Bible. Both agree that the in order to be Christian one must accept that the Earth is very young, that Adam and Eve were real, that all the world’s animals fit on Noah’s ark and that the flood covered the Himalayas. And as we discussed in an earlier thread, both groups assume that the Bible and Darwin’s Origin of Species are irreconcilable. Because the atheist sees this narrow view of the Bible as being inconsistent with the world of scientific evidence they easily dismiss all of scripture as absurd mythology and superstition. Meanwhile the Christian Fundamentalist says that those who do not understand the Bible in the way that they do are either lacking in spiritual discernment or even worse, acting under the influence of Satan. Both groups will readily cite individual scriptures removed from context to make their points.

Neither group sees any merit in a more open and intuitive reading of scriptures, no matter how well it is presented. I have been party to conversations where both the atheist and the fundamentalist will strongly agree that the moderate or progressive believer has no right to call himself a Christian and that in reality he is a relativist who picks and chooses what he finds most agreeable. Both the Atheist Fundamentalist and the Christian Fundamentalist think that they alone look at the world, including the Bible, through very pragmatic and logical lenses. Both groups are very much a product of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on empirical evidence, mathematical formulas and the rule of law. Christian Fundamentalists will often rise to the atheist’s bait and present very far-fetched historical scenarios in attempts to defend what they call Creation Science. And the Atheist Fundamentalist, when up against the mathematical improbability that makes abiogenesis (the spontaneous presence of life) essentially impossible, will fall back on the speculative fiction of intergalactic life-seeding aliens, multiple universes and those mysteries that may reside within black holes, at times presenting them as if they were essentially fact and not fancy.

Both types of fundamentalist are very uncomfortable with the idea that perhaps we just cannot say everything with certainty, nor may we ever. This insecurity can verge upon panic as they stridently defend their positions by personally attacking those who disagree with them. The Christian Fundamentalist sees Satan at work behind the atheistic scene and the Atheist Fundamentalist tends to blame religion for all the worlds ills.

The Atheist Fundamentalist does not believe in sin but that man’s depravity is the result of primitive superstitious conditioning – once religion has passed away the world will be that much closer to the natural Utopian end product of progressive evolution. The Christian Fundamentalist, on the other hand, sees sin as akin to a disease that infects man as the result of Adam’s rebellion against God and that someday Jesus will return to the Earth and pronounce yet another type of Utopia. Neither group is willing to see that sin is something that is intrinsic to the nature of a creature that is no longer animal, but has the unique ability to choose wrong over right, and often does so.

To suggest that the Bible is often metaphorical threatens both of these world views. If Evolution does not refute scriptures then for the Atheists there remains a possibility that God does exist and there may be vitally important truths that they may be ignoring. As for the Christian Fundamentalists, if Evolution is part of God’s plan, then some of their cherished doctrines (like Original Sin and Sacrificial Atonement) are threatened.

I am no longer surprised at how many overzealous atheists claim to have escaped rigid church traditions. So few seem to have backgrounds with the more moderate and progressive Christian denominations. Conversely, so many extreme Christian Fundamentalists seem to have recently converted from either atheism or agnosticism. This would aptly describe my situation of just a few years ago, as I converted from atheism to Christian fundamentalism. Fortunately, for me, my troubles with Fundamentalism did not sour me on the faith.

(For a couple of interesting takes on this topic check out these Salon interviews with Chris Hedges and Karen Armstrong.)

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Faith and Evolution Need Not Be Irreconcilable

A surprisingly liberal consideration of Evolution by Dinesh D’Souza from the fairly conservative Christianity Today:

The Evolution of Darwin

The scientist’s problem with God did not spring from his theory.

It was in 1859—exactly a century and a half ago—that Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species. It is perhaps the most controversial book of the past millennium, and the work that has since made Darwin the patron saint of modern atheism. According to Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

Evolution does seem to turn many Christians into unbelievers. A famous example is the distinguished Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson. Evolution gave him a profound sense of intellectual liberation from his Baptist upbringing in the South. Evolution also makes some people secular evangelists for the Darwinist cause. Michael Shermer was an evangelical Christian studying at Pepperdine University when his study of evolution convinced him to give up his faith. Shermer is now the editor of Skeptic magazine.

So does a belief in evolution automatically lead to disbelief in God? Actually, Darwin didn’t think that. Darwin was not an “intellectually fulfilled atheist”; rather, he called himself an agnostic. Atheists say God does not exist, while agnostics say they don’t know one way or the other. Moreover, Darwin did not boast about his unbelief; rather, he approached it with marked public caution. Shocking the mores of traditional believers may be Dawkins’s thing, but it certainly wasn’t Darwin’s.

Here we must distinguish between Darwin the scientist and Darwin the unbeliever. Darwin, who was raised Anglican and even considered becoming a clergyman, did eventually relinquish his Christian faith. But he did not do so because of evolution.

The story is told in Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s authoritative biography, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist. When Darwin’s daughter Annie died at age 10, Darwin came to hate the God he blamed for this. This was in 1851, eight years before Darwin released Origin of Species.

Around the time of Annie’s death, Darwin also wrote that if Christianity were true, then it would follow that his grandfather Erasmus Darwin and many of his closest family friends would be in hell. Darwin found this utterly unacceptable, given that these men were wise and kind and generous. Darwin’s rejection of God was less an act of unbelief than a rebellion against the kind of God posited by Christianity. A God who would allow a young girl to die and good people to go to hell was not anyone whom Darwin wanted to worship.

When Darwin published his work on evolution, the American biologist Asa Gray wrote Darwin to say that his book had shown God’s ingenious way of ensuring the unity and diversity of life. From Gray’s point of view, Darwin had deepened man’s understanding of divine teleology. Darwin praised Gray for seeing a point that no one else had noticed. In later editions of his books, Darwin went out of his way to cite the English writer Charles Kingsley, who described evolution as compatible with religious belief. To the end of his life, Darwin insisted that one could be “an ardent theist and an evolutionist.”

Some of Darwin’s followers, however, were attracted to Darwin’s theory precisely because they saw it as helping overthrow the Christian case for divine creation. Thomas Henry Huxley, for example, noted that evolution’s “complete and irreconcilable antagonism” toward Christianity constituted “one of its greatest merits.”

So why didn’t Darwin correct his overenthusiastic advocate? Here is where the story gets complicated. Over time, Darwin’s hostility to Christianity did play a role in his scientific views. While Darwin was originally very modest about evolution—a theory to account for transitions from one life form to another—he became increasingly insistent that evolution was an entirely naturalistic system, having no room for miracles or divine intervention at any point. When Darwin’s co-discoverer of evolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, wrote him to say that evolution could not account for man’s moral and spiritual nature, Darwin accused him of jeopardizing the whole theory: “I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child.” Darwin’s ultimate position was that it was disastrous for evolution to, at any point, permit a divine foot in the door.

This history is important because we can embrace Darwin’s account of evolution without embracing his metaphysical naturalism and unbelief. Dawkins and others like him are in a way confusing the two faces of Charles Darwin. They are under the illusion that to be an evolutionist is essentially to be an atheist. Darwin, to his credit, rejected the equation of these two stances as illogical, even if he didn’t always maintain, within his own life, a clear distinction between his science and his animus toward God.

Dinesh D’Souza, a former policy analyst in the Reagan White House, is author of What’s So Great About Christianity and other books.


Evolving Christians: Is Darwin Really the Enemy of Faith?

Concerning God and Evolution, there seems to be 5 primary positions;:

1. Atheists who feel that Evolution thoroughly disproves the existence of God

2. Atheist/agnostics who feel that Evolution has no bearing on whether or not there is a God

3. Theists who feel that Evolution has no bearing on whether or not there is a God

4. Theists who feel that Evolution is incompatible with the existence of God

5. Theists who feel that Evolution is further evidence for the existence of God
(Tell me if I missed any.)

I belong to the fifth camp. There is just too much cool stuff going on for it to be accidental. The more involved it gets, the more intricate and deliberate, the more it screams God. You could go insane contemplating the patience needed for such an inconceivable process. The creation of this universe has taken nearly 14 billion years and is far from finished. God as Master Chef, not short-order cook.

However, the Theory of Evolution does go against a literal reading of the Genesis creation accounts, and quite a few Christians have distinct problems with this. Even so, there are many more Christians who see no inconsistency between Evolution and scripture, even Genesis 1 and 2.

Genesis 2:7 states that “God formed man out of the slime of the earth” which, if anything, sounds more disgusting than saying that man and ape share a common ancestor. But, according to the Theory of Evolution, man and ape do share a common ancestor, a one celled organism that lived in the primordial “slime of Earth”. Most mainline Protestant denominations as well as the Catholic Church have been able to accept the Theory of Evolution as not posing a threat to their faith. Where atheistic evolutionists and theistic evolutionists usually differ is over whether or not natural selection was random or instead guided by the proverbial Hand of Providence. We may never resolve that particular argument.

Now, we know that a lot of Christians have zero tolerance for Evolution (at least for Macro-Evolution) even to the point where they might say that one cannot entertain this theory and remain faithful to Christ. Personally, I could never see how this was the case. Why should my faith in Christ be questioned because I might see the logic in this idea of animal and human development? Certainly God is big enough to use Evolution to suit his plans and a metaphorical reading of Genesis can be consistent with current theories of cosmology as well as evolution.

Most of the arguments that I’ve encountered appeared to me as merely re-workings of legalistically literal interpretations of scriptures, coupled with a natural recoiling from the idea that humans may have descended (actually, ascended) from ‘apes’. Recently I’ve come to understand a much stronger Christian objection to the Theory of Evolution and it has to do with the prevailing conservative doctrine of the sacrificial atonement of Christ.

From their perspective, to accept Evolution is to, logically, dismiss the literalism of Genesis, and thereby the existence of the two individuals named Adam and Eve (although literal readings of scripture was not always the norm). For some Christians, to say that there was no original couple who ate the Forbidden Fruit also means that there was no Fall of Man, which then removes the basis for the doctrine of Original Sin. Without Original Sin we are left with no foundation for the Total Depravity of Man and consequently no doctrine of Election (at least for the Biblical literalists ). With no Fall, no Original Sin, no Total Depravity, then what reason was there for the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection?

B.B. Warfield the principal of Princeton Seminary from 1887 to 1921, himself a Calvinist, once said

“I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution.”

So, one fairly conservative (by today’s standard) Christian has found no conflict between his faith, the Bible and Darwin’s theory. And I have heard some atheists say that they do not see Evolution as providing ample evidence for the non-existence of God.

I am not interested in opening up debate over the validity of Evolution, but whether the theory is detrimental to (or supportive of) the Christian (or any other) faith in God. Personally, if this theory were either conclusively proven or thoroughly debunked, it would have no bearing on my beliefs.

Where do you stand?

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