My Review of Saving Darwin

Theistic evolutionists have a bumper crop of books to choose from this summer. I’ve already reviewed Ken Miller’s new book Only a Theory. Michael Dowd’s Thank God for Evolution! is on deck in my “To Read” pile. The subject for today, however, is Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. Giberson is a professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College.

The curious thing about the book is that Giberson actually says very little about how to be both a Christian and an evolutionist. Most of the book is given over to covering the standard topics in this area. He has a chapter on the legal battles over evolution from Scopes to Dover, a chapter on the emergence of flood geology from George McReady Price to Henry Morris, a chapter on the evidence for evolution, and so on. All of this is well done. It will be old hat for people steeped in this issue, but a person looking for a quick introduction could do a lot worse.

Also admirable are Giberson’s forthright descriptions of the state of play between science and religion. Not for him any breezy statements about how the vast majority of Christians have made their peace with evolution or how anti-evolutionism is the exclusive purview of a small number of die-hard extremists. For example, he writes:

From a purely theological perspective there is much in evolution to interest Christians, and if controversy had not driven discourse so quickly off the rails, the voices of reason might today be speaking from the center of American Christianity, rather than the fringes. (p. 215)

Giberson opens the book with a chapter describing his own spiritual development. As a teenager he was a practicing fundamentalist and young-Earth creationist. That changed when he started studying science in a serious way in college. He came to realize that the young-Earth arguments ranged from wrong to ridiculous, and changed his views accordingly.

I find this highly significant. Spend any time addressing creationist arguments and you will find yourself lectured about how people are impervious to arguments on this issue. It’s all just emotionalism and deep spiritual cravings and not the sort of thing that can be dealt with by logic and evidence alone. There is some truth to that, certainly, but the fact remains that some people are swayed by evidence. Giberson is one. I am another. The fact is that a great many youthful creationists hold the views they do simply because they have never been exposed to any alternative. Someone had better take the time to present that alternative.

That’s the good news about Giberson’s book. I’m afraid there is quite a bit of bad news too.

Giberson, like many theistic evolutionists, seems genuinely baffled that his views are not more popular among Christians. He writes:

Their fear is understandable. Almost everyone who talks about evolution insists that we must make a choice between evolution or creation, materialism or God, naturalism or supernaturalism. Dawkins and Dennett believe this and say, “Choose evolution” ; Johnson and Moriis believe this and say, “Choose creation.&rdquo The four of them are grand evangelisrts for the positions they have chosen. Just as significantly, all four of them are champions of a false dichotomy.

This dichotomy plays well in the press. It’s controversial, combative, and simple. There are good guys and bad guys, no matter where you stand. But this dichotomy is wrong. These are not the only two options. These are not even the most reasonable options. (pp. 215-216) (Emphasis in original)

The cracks in Giberson’s argument begin with his understanding of the history of fundamentalism. As he tells the story Christianity has a long and happy history of making peace with evolution. In several places in the book he notes that there were a number of evolutionists among the authors of “The Fundamentals,” the influential series of early twentieth century essays laying out the core committments of the Christian faith. He further notes that these essays were far more concerned with topics other than origins.

Then came Morris and Whitcomb with The Genesis Flood in 1961. Giberson describes the success of this book as “intellectually disastrous” for Christianity, and it’s pretty hard to disagree. He sees this success as a break in the tradition of good relations between Christianity and science. But Giberson does not explain why Morris and Whitcomb found such fertile ground for their ideas. He seems to think that large numbers of Christians were simply persuaded by their arguments to switch from a stance of reconciliation with science, to one of antagonism instead.

Perhaps. But a more plausible explanation is that the relationship between evolution and Christianity was never as cozy as Giberson makes out. The authors of The Fundamentals were responding primarily to the “higher criticism” of the Bible that emerged during the nineteenth century to challenge certain aspects of traditional Christian belief. That is why they focused more on points of doctrine and the interpretation of scripture than on origins. That they devoted little space to the minutiae of Genesis does not imply they found the issue unimportant.

Furthermore, the evolution of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a different beast from the evolution of today. Darwin convinced everyone of common descent, but natural selection was mostly dismissed as a plausible mechanism. Common descent was a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s the idea of natural selection as the primary mechanism of evolution that really causes problems. Consider, for example, the contribution to The Fundamentals by James Orr, entitled, “Science and Christian Faith.”

Much of the difficulty on this subject has arisen from the unwarrantable confusion or identification of evolution with Darwinism. Darwinism is a theory of the process of evolution, and both on account of the skill with which it was presented, and of the singular eminence of its propounder, obtained for a time a very remarkable prestige. In these later days, as may be seen by consulting a book like R. Otto’s “Naturalism and Religion,” published in “The Crown Library,” that prestige has greatly declined. A newer evolution has arisen which breaks with Darwin on the three points most essential to his theory: 1. The fortuitous character of the variations on which “natural selection” works. Variations are now felt to be along definite lines, and to be guided to definite ends. 2. The insufficiency of “natural selection” (on which Darwin almost wholly relied) to accomplish the tasks Darwin assigned to it. 3. The slow and insensible rate of the changes by which new species were supposed to be produced. Instead of this the newer tendency is to seek the origin of new species in rapid and sudden changes, the causes of which lie within the organism — in “mutations,” as they are coming to be called — so that the process may be as brief as formerly it was supposed to belong. “Evolution,” in short, is coming to be recognized as but a new name for “creation,” only that the creative power now works from within, instead of, as in the old conception, in an external, plastic fashion. It is, however, creation none the less.

Orr goes on for several more paragraphs in this vein. He is perfectly clear that he will accept only the most limited sort of evolution, one that is a far cry from the way any scientist views the subject today. He even makes clear his preference for a young-Earth view of things, even though he does not take an explicit stance on the subject. And he is quite unambiguous that an evolutionary process driven primarily by natural selection is not compatible with Christianity. But that is precisely the view that triumphed with the Neo-Darwinian synthesis of the thirties and forties, and it remains the dominant view today.

Morris and Whitcomb were so successful, I believe, because they were tapping into a deep well of popular support for their views. It wasn’t primarily that the strength of their arguments fundamentally changed the way Christians viewed the matter. Rather, they were giving voice to widely held beliefs that most people lacked the education and eloquence to express themselves.

After all, it is not hard to see why Christians would be uncomfortable with a modern understanding of evolution. Biologist George Williams expressed the basic problem well in his book Plan and Purpose in Nature:

With what other than condemnation is a person with any moral sense supposed to respond to a system in which the ultimate purpose in life is to be better than your neighbor at getting genes into future generations, in which those successful genes provide the message that instructs the development of the next generation, in which that message is always “exploit your environment, including your friends and relatives, so as to maximize our (genes’) success,” in which the closest thing to a golden rule is “don’t cheat, unless it is likely to provide a net benefit.”

This, for me, is the fundamental difficulty that a theology of evolution must address. It’s hardly the only difficulty, but it’s an especially big one. A resolution to this problem is always what I am looking for in books by theistic evolutionists.

Giberson does not provide one. He acknowledges the problem. At one point he even offers an analogy between the evolutionary process and a newspaper photograph. Zoom in too close to the photograph and all you see are a lot of meaningless dots. But pull back and those dots resolve themselves into a picture. Likewise for evolution. Zoom in too close and all you see is suffering, pain, bloodshed, death and extinction. But pull back a ways and you see a grand story of a biosphere creating itself as if by the unfolding of a grand plan.

It’s nice that you can see beauty in the process if you pull back far enough, but that hardly changes the nastiness of the facts on the ground. It doesn’t change the fact that a God of love and justice nonetheless chose to do his creating through a singularly awful process. Why did He do that?

Perhaps Giberson is content to leave this as a mystery. He writes:

God’s creative activity must not be confined to a six-day period “in the beginning” or the occasional intervention along the evolutionary path. God’s role in creation must be more universal — so universal it cannot be circumscribed by the contours of individual phenomena or events. We must resist the temptation to make God a “superengineer” or “master craftsman” or “grand artist.” God may indeed have all of these attributes, but we ought not to suppose that any of them capture more than the tiniest intuition about God’s role in creation. It seems to me a more hopeful perspective to step back as far as we can and examine the biggest possible picture in the hopes of getting a glimpse of what it means to say that God created the world. (p. 216-217).

Fair enough. Perhaps we just have to accept a big heaping of mystery in our religion. The trouble is that Giberson is perfectly happy to employ “Why would God do this?” style arguments against the ID proponents. His primary argument against ID is theological, not scientific. He believes that ID founders on the problem of bad design. Indeed it does. But if it’s reasonable to ask ID folks how they reconcile God’s benificence with his bad design, it is also reasonable to ask theistic evolutionists how they reconcile God’s benificence with his setting in motion a process that inevitably leads to suffering, cruelty and bad design.

Instead of answering that question, Giberson writes things like this:

We can agree, perhaps, that the inspection of natural history per se provides no certain indication that we are the “expected results” of some hidden patterns. However, there is another way to look at this. As a believer in God, I am convinced in advance that the world is not an accident and that, in some mysterious way, our existence is an “expected”result. Thus, I do not look at natural history as a source of data to determine whether or not the world has purpose. Rather, my approach is to anticipate that the facts of natural history will be compatible with the purpose and meaning I have encountered elsewhere. And my understanding of science does nothing to dissuade me from this conviction. (p. 213)

Giberson, of course, can believe whatever he likes. But I find it a bit rich that a person who believes that his view represents the voice of reason, who criticizes Dawkins, Dennett, Morris and Johnson for holding to unreasonable extremes while ignoring a more reasonable middle ground, then boasts of his willingness to declare by fiat that God exists. It is hard to imagine anything more literally “unreasonable” (that is, not based on reason) than what Giberson presents in this paragraph.

Those are my primary philosophical objections to Giberson’s argument. In the end I think a great many Christians will not recognize their religion in the view that he presents.

In addition to these difficulties, I fear there are some other places where Giberson gets some pretty big things wrong. Since this review is already getting quite long, I will only mention one of them. In discussing the Santorum amendment (an attempted amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act offered by Rick Santorum to force schools to “teach the controversy”) he writes:

Because creationists hailed the language as something of a victory, the champions of evolution became alarmed. Anything that makes creationists happy must be bad. (p. 170)

Giberson, you see, thinks the Santorum amendment was perfectly reasonable. He thinks that in part because this is his view of the controversies being referred to:

In contrast, evolution is vibrant and challenging, with tremendous activity and daily breakthroughs. And although it is technically true that the scientific community is reasonably united behind evolutionary theory, there are significant controversies within the field about details. Two of its leading theorists, Dawkins and Gould, both penned massive works within the past few years defending very different explanations of how evolution works. Conway Morris thinks they both got it wrong. Evolution contains plenty of controversy. The combatants agree that evolution is true, but that is not the same as agreeing on how it occurred. But we don’t want students to know this, of course, lest it make them vulnerable to creationism. Never mind that the controversy about how evolution works is the single most interesting topic in all of science. (p. 171)

Right. Evolution defenders were angry about the Santorum amendment because they were worried students would learn about the arcane disputes among Gould, Dawkins and Conway Morris. Makes perfect sense.

The Santorum amendment was exiled to the conference committee attached to the report, where it had no force of law. This did not stop Ohio representatives John Boehner and Steve Chabot from using the amendment to try to pressure the Ohio Board of Education to teach the controversy (code for ID) in science classes. Sample lesson plans for that purpose were drawn up and, oddly enough, they didn’t discuss Gould, Dawkins and Conway Morris.

That’s why evolution defenders were angered by the amendment. It was strictly a trojan horse for getting creationism into the classroom. Giberson seems to have missed that point.

I have often commented that it is theistic evolutionists, not fundamentalists, who have convinced me that evolution and Christianity can not be reconciled in any reasonable way. Giberson’s view of the matter requires us to view scripture as a complex cipher that cannot be properly understood without the benefits of some college-level science courses. He has no explanation to offer for why God employs such a savage method of creation. He offers little beyond a declaration of blind faith and his awe at the mystery of it all for why we should believe in anything beyond the physical world.

I don’t think that those of us who reject his arguments are the ones being unreasonable.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike O'Risal
    June 25, 2008

    I’ve just started Miller’s book and haven’t read Dowd’s. I did recently attend one of Dowd’s presentations, though. Based on what he said, I don’t think “theistic evolution” describes it quite correctly. He calls himself an “evolutionary theist” and doesn’t intentionally posit a teleology behind evolution. Perhaps my critique of his presentation will make the point clearer. Check the comments on that entry as well; Dowd found it himself and replied. We’ve been in touch since.

    He’s an interesting guy in some ways. I would class him as far more of a mystic than a theologian. I disagree with him on some points and he’s definitely not a scientist, but the ways in which he’s wrong turn out to be positive ones that leave the door open to religious types embracing science. That could turn out to be important, I think.

  2. #2 James F
    June 25, 2008

    Books like Giberson’s, despite the sorts of weaknesses you outline, are nonetheless invaluable because they provide a voice of support for evolution from an evangelical Christian viewpoint. I’m reminded of the “What About God?” segment from NOVA’s Evolution series, where Keith B. Miller lectures to a group of students at Wheaton College. In the interviews afterward, there was a palpable sense of relief among these kids that someone could be an evangelical Christian and accept evolution. It was clear that the contradictions of creationism with scientific evidence were troubling them, but fear of contradicting their faith loomed even larger. Ultimately, evangelical Christian scientists hold the key to winning over their co-religionists, who will be more inclined to listen to them than to Ken Miller or Michael Dowd, let alone anyone they perceive as an advocate for atheism. I highly recommend this recent short essay from Giberson – the comments are very illuminating, and the entire blog series is excellent.

  3. #3 Steve
    June 25, 2008

    I agree totality with your excellent review. I would add only a small note of caution: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Even if the support for evolution is weak and rife with conceptual flaws, it is still *support*. Given the fact the resurgent fundy loonies seem to be breeding like cockroachs in the slums, we may need all the help we can get holding them off.

    In the ongoing religious battles I’ve fought in my lifetime (I’m an Agnostic) the one that stands out in my mind is a debate I had with a Bapitist about the belief in “Hell” and how to reconcile that with the idea of a “loving Heavenly Father”. In that debate of about a half-a-dozen people, the one that came down strongest on my side was a *Jehovah’s Witness*. Sometimes some help is better than nothing.

  4. #4 Wes
    June 25, 2008

    I have often commented that it is theistic evolutionists, not fundamentalists, who have convinced me that evolution and Christianity can not be reconciled in any reasonable way.

    I often feel the same way. While I’m glad we have such moderate Christians on our side (their presence helps to placate the masses, to some degree) I don’t find theistic evolution any more convincing that ID or young Earth creationism.

    All of these theistic “theories” simply presuppose a loving, perfect, all-powerful personal God and try to shoe-horn the scientific facts into that idea. The theistic evolutionists are better insofar as they are honest about what the scientific facts are (whereas creationists lie through their teeth about the facts), but the theistic evolutionist God doesn’t seem any more likely to be real than the fundamentalist God.

    Whether fundamentalist creationist or moderate theistic evolution, they’re both merely presupposing an idea, based on no evidence whatsoever, and then declaring that the facts of the world must somehow fit in with this unproven idea. Though the theistic evolutionist’s ideas regarding science are much more enlightened and reasonable, I fail to see how his God is any more reasonable. And I disagree strongly with people who say that atheists should bite their tongues and not point out just how illogical theistic evolutionist arguments are.

  5. #5 James F
    June 25, 2008

    *edit* This link.

  6. #6 JimV
    June 25, 2008

    Theistic evolution seems conceivable in principle to me, but it depends on what sort of theo one is an ist of. Standard Christianity seems a bad fit to me (despite what the Catholic church claims), for the reasons you have given. Like you, I have yet to hear a reconcilation that doesn’t sound like an intelligent person trying to rationalize a premise that has been imprinted on them, rather than a position they have arrived at due to independent thought.

  7. #7 Albatrossity
    June 25, 2008

    Common descent was a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s the idea of natural selection as the primary mechanism of evolution that really causes problems.

    I’m not so sure about that. The notion that we descended from apes is a thorn in the sides of many anti-evolutionists. More importantly, the reality that there were apes BEFORE there were humans is just anathema for many fundamentalists.

    Common descent means that there was Death before The Fall. For many fundamentalists, whose personal relationship with Jesus is a bedrock principle of their faith, this means (gasp) that Jesus did not have to die to redeem mankind from the evils (death, disease, increased numbers of pygmies and dwarves, etc.) brought about by Original Sin. Christ becomes irrelevant if the Fall did not cause Death and all of its attendant horrors. And if you accept common descent, you have to accept that Death happened before The Fall.

    I am pretty certain that common descent is more than a bitter pill. It is seen as a faith-killer for many fundamentalists.

  8. #8 miller
    June 25, 2008

    Every time you talk about theistic evolution you say the main problem is that natural selection is horribly inefficient, and involves “suffering, pain, bloodshed, death and extinction”. In other words, evolution implies evil, which is incompatible with theism. I think this is a rather weird complaint to make. Yes, there is the problem of evil, but what does that have to do with theistic evolution specifically? Evil pretty obviously exists whether one believes in evolution or not. One does not have to accept evolution to see that there is much pain, suffering, and extinction. I might add that all those Creationists who only accept “microevolution” have not reduced this problem in the slightest.

    So is this really a problem with theistic evolution, or with theism in general?

  9. #9 raven
    June 25, 2008

    Giberson is a professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College.

    Giberson might be taking a big risk here. Richard Colling, at the Nazarene Olivet college, holds similar views and even wrote a book about evolution. For it, he has been relieved of teaching duties and persecuted unmercifully by his college. My best guess is they would fire him in a heartbeat if they thought no one was watching and they could get away with it.

    Most xian sects have already reconciled themselves to evolution worldwide. Creationism is mostly south central USA fundies. Strangely enough, not all evangelicals, pentecostals, or fundies have a problem with evolution. It is taught at Calvin college as well as other Evangelical xian colleges.

    The fundie xian variety will have to make its peace sooner or later. Probably later. Just like the geocentrists did when Copernicus shocked the world. They don’t have any choice, reality is what it is and isn’t going away. IMO, they make a huge mistake making creationism a litmus test for faith. They lose people all the time that way, usually the young and the best and brightest they have.

  10. #10 harold
    June 25, 2008

    What I don’t get is why all you guys CARE about some other guy’s religious beliefs and practices.

    I care deeply if someone violates the rights of all Americans by teaching sectarian views as “science”.

    I care if science teaching in the US is distorted or sabotaged for political reasons.

    I may even care a tiny bit if my fellow citizens are ignorant enough to be creationists, although if they mind their own business and don’t do the above, it’s their perfect right to believe any crap they want, and by supporting their right, I support my own right to believe what I believe and express it freely.

    But you guys seem to care if some guy does none of the above, and accepts scientific reality, but also, in his spare time, and completely without molesting you, follows some religion you don’t believe in.

    Look, I don’t follow a formal religion either, certainly not the one of the ones that Ken Miller or Francis Collins follow. Obviously, I don’t find their religions “convincing”. So what? If you don’t find some other guy’s religion convincing, don’t follow it.

    By any behavioral standard, I’m as unreligious (*not unethical, unreligious*) as anyone. I used to call myself an “altruistic nihilist”. Some people would call me an atheist, but I developed some respect for some concepts of dharmic thought, I liked the people in the church I was raised in (and never really believed in, but half of us didn’t) and I always kind of liked the Quakers and the Unitarian Universalists, so I’m not crazy about that label. And I don’t like Dawkins, Hitchens, and crew. I’m particularly put off by their false dichotomy, as I perceive it, in which Oxford is the universe, “religion” is C.S. Lewis, and atheism is what Dawkins explains must be followed by anyone who wants to be cool, at least until he has another conversion back to Anglicanism and writes his own book on theistic evolution, which I genuinely expect to happen sooner or later.

    I personally can’t imagine wasting my time reading a book on theistic evolution. But if it works for Ken Miller, more power to him, and let’s hope he keeps up the great work in science education.

    I mean seriously, some guy is a scientist and he’s also a Catholic or Jew or Muslim or Hindu or Wiccan or whatever. So what???

    And I know, I know, atheists are oppressed. I agree that open atheists are somewhat oppressed, and I oppose that. I have no problem with atheism whatsoever, duh, in fact it would violate all my ethical principles to have a problem with it, and as far as I’m concerned, it was always possible to be an “intellectually fulfilled atheist”, long before Darwin. My best friends are mainly avowed atheists, although a subset of them are into dharmic stuff and some follow a formal religion.

    However, the solution to that problem is for people to stop treating atheists unfairly, not to treat Catholics (or whatever) equally unfairly.

  11. #11 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 25, 2008

    Mike –

    Thanks for the link and for the information about Dowd.

    Steve –

    Thanks for the kind words about my review. I’m sensitive to the problem you mention. The way I see it there are two separate issues: one is the issue of science education, the other is the issue of the role of religion in society. Sometimes working for one can conflict with the goals of the other. In the end, though, this blog is about discussing ideas and arguments that I find interesting. My only solution is to try to be reasonably temperate when dealing with serious people like Giberson (as opposed to nonserious people like, say, William Dembski) and let the arguments speak for themselves.

    Albatrossity –

    I agree that common descent is already a problem, which is why I referred to it as a bitter pill. But I think common descent with a mechanism more palatable than natural selection, as suggested in the Orr quote from the post, would be easier for people to accept.

    harold –

    Why do you care so much that I care?

  12. #12 Ichthyic
    June 25, 2008

    But you guys seem to care if some guy does none of the above, and accepts scientific reality, but also, in his spare time, and completely without molesting you, follows some religion you don’t believe in.

    It’s a matter of formulating ill-conceived rationalizations that are then pounced upon and inevitably misused by those who DO have a direct effect on science education.

    consider it necessary critique in order to help curtail the inevitable quotemining by the creobots.

    aside from that, why shouldn’t any particular person in the blogosphere concern themselves with critiquing poorly conceived ideas to begin with?

    it’s not personal, harold.

    The ideas, being published in the public sector, are defacto open to critique.

  13. #13 raven
    June 25, 2008

    What I don’t get is why all you guys CARE about some other guy’s religious beliefs and practices.

    Really most of us don’t or wouldn’t care. I sort of woke up when the xian terrorists starting assassinating my colleagues. But what did it was discovering that they controlled the government, were making a mess, and wanted to destroy the US and set up a theocracy. The creationism in public schools is just a means to an end and I doubt they care one bit about it.

    So far the personal toll isn’t too bad. I now live in a banana republic that many around the world refer to as a “former superpower”. Gas is 4.50/gallon and food is getting a bit scarce worldwide. Two of my friends are dead in Iraq.

    If the fundie Death Cultists just sat around in their trailer parks and back woods cabins and waved their rattlesnakes around and told everyone satan is busy planting fossils over much of the earth’s surface, no one would care about these guys. The Amish reject much of modern technology. Since they aren’t out blowing up power plants and cutting electricity and phone lines, everyone just thinks they are quaint and interesting.

  14. #14 Frank Hagan
    June 25, 2008

    Great review; I may pick up this book to add to my library. I’m a lay Christian who accepts science, including standing on the side of evolution in the creation/evolution debate. But I still see this issue a bit differently when I read these books.

    Most of the reviews, this one included, approach the book from a scientific point of view, and have a faint tinge of disappointment that the book didn’t answer the scientist’s concerns. But the audience is the conservative Christian lay person.

    This matters because the objections you find in not explaining theology are not a problem reserved just for this debate among Christians, and therefore, naturally not addressed. For example, the “problem of pain” is a tried and true topic among people of faith, and evolution doesn’t paint any worse a picture in that regard than creation. We see animals eating each other, and our friends die horrible, painful deaths. The “problem of pain” encompasses both the “singularly awful process” and the “selection of the most fit” in your quote from Biologist Williams. Neither adds any more stress to the Christian than the idea that God has created a world in 6 days with these attributes. The problem of pain exists, and is one every Christian struggles with, but it isn’t necessary to re-examine it in every book dealing with every issue.

    I think its fine to criticize the science in such books, but I would keep in mind the intended audience when criticizing what is omitted. I don’t think these books are intended as an apologetic to convince skeptics, but as a guide for Christians to come to terms with yet another inconsistency between what they believe and what they find in the modern world.

    BTW – you quote Orr at length … was he featured in the book or was that used just as an example? I wasn’t sure from the context.

  15. #15 baboo
    June 25, 2008

    Miller writes: ‘Every time you talk about theistic evolution you say the main problem is that natural selection is horribly inefficient, and involves “suffering, pain, bloodshed, death and extinction”. In other words, evolution implies evil, which is incompatible with theism.’

    I think you’ll find that the opposite is true, that evil is a concept that is fully consistent with the foundations of theism. There would arguably be no theism if the ancients had not seen evil as a force of nature that had to come from a purposeful entity – as they saw no other tenable explanation, and unless it had been applied intentionally, there would be little hope in countering that force. Hope, after all, is part of the stuff that myths are made of.

    Evolution in fact explains where the theistic notions of evil actually come from – that evil as a consequence is not in the exclusive domain of the supernatural.

  16. #16 Larry Boy
    June 26, 2008

    “…which the closest thing to a golden rule is don’t cheat, unless it is likely to provide a net benefit.”

    This, for me, is the fundamental difficulty that a theology of evolution must address. It’s hardly the only difficulty, but it’s an especially big one. A resolution to this problem is always what I am looking for in books by theistic evolutionists. “

    Well, I would think that the obvious solution is that the anthropomorphism of the mechanisms by which nature operates is entirely irrelevant to human morality, and that fundamental physical process are value free. Is there some great moral lesson in the fact that protons release energy when forming helium? Does that mean that the fundamental mater fundamentally loves itself?

    While the benevolent design of life was originally seen as an argument for the existence of a creator, and hence the loss of this argument did represent a weakening of the theistic position, I do not an atheist can find a natural morality to turn against theists. Natural morality does not exist for atheist or theist.

  17. #17 BobC
    June 26, 2008

    “I have often commented that it is theistic evolutionists, not fundamentalists, who have convinced me that evolution and Christianity can not be reconciled in any reasonable way.”

    It should be obvious to everyone that evolution is the greatest threat there is to Christianity and most other religions. Many Christians say they accept evolution, but why they continue to be Christians I don’t understand. If people are just one small branch on the tree of life, there is not one single Christian belief that makes any sense.

    America is behind every European country except Muslim Turkey in the acceptance of evolution. The only possible solution to this disgraceful ignorance of Americans is the eradication of Christianity. Unfortunately getting rid of Christianity in America might be a bit difficult.

  18. #18 miller
    June 26, 2008

    baboo said,
    “I think you’ll find that the opposite is true, that evil is a concept that is fully consistent with the foundations of theism.”
    I actually agree, but Rosenhouse obviously does not, and I felt it was extraneous to my point.

  19. #19 Turcano
    June 26, 2008

    The fact is that a great many youthful creationists hold the views they do simply because they have never been exposed to any alternative.

    I’m one as well. In a great example of irony, my final break with creationism was during grad school at Biola (for linguistics, incidentally).

    It’s nice that you can see beauty in the process if you pull back far enough, but that hardly changes the nastiness of the facts on the ground. It doesn’t change the fact that a God of love and justice nonetheless chose to do his creating through a singularly awful process. Why did He do that?

    To me, that’s a lot like asking why God created gravity, since people can be killed or injured by falling from a distance. Your mileage may vary, I guess.

  20. #20 Sprocket
    June 26, 2008

    Looking at history, I think a change in the way Americans view Christianity is far more likely than the decay of Christianity in the USA. As BobC said, European Christians as a whole have no problem whatsoever with evolution or a 14 billion year old Universe. Newton’s view of God as a creator who set up the rules, then sat back (and somehow suspended omniscience, hey, he’s omnipotent too) to see how things would work out is probably the partly-consciously accepted consensus here. So religion seldom interferes with scientific debate.

    That said, they still wheel out Biblical justification in social debates (homosexuality, abortion etc.) and the minority of rich, noisy fundies that we do have use this as a lever to get Biblical literalism back on the agenda- one particular nutcase has control of a Government- funded school here.

    I wouldn’t feel tempted to undermine the general religious synthesis here just for the sake of an argument- I’d rather argue directly about the social issues, and support attempts to export their attitude to the USA.

    As my mother said when she was dying, if she’s right she’ll be happy, and if I’m right she wouldn’t notice.

  21. #21 Frank J
    June 26, 2008

    “Theistic evolutionists have a bumper crop of books to choose from this summer.”

    I have read “Only A Theory” and Francis Collins’ “The Language of God.” I have yet to read any book by anyone of my particular faith. And I won’t anytime soon because I’m not a good writer.

    I realize that none of these books will resolve the debates on whether evolution and America’s favorite religion are compatible, but everyone keeps missing the bigger point. At most 25% of the public is beyond hope at accepting evolution, but another ~50% still doubts it, or accepts it but falls for “it’s fair to teach the controversy.” Many people from that group (mostly Christian) will read these books and think more favorably of science. IMO, that’s priority 1, and nothing else comes close. If it means eventually redefining the word “Christian” to exclude anti-science fundamentalists, or to include only them, so be it.

  22. #22 David Marjanovi?
    June 26, 2008

    Giberson, like many theistic evolutionists, seems genuinely baffled that his views are not more popular among Christians.

    Outside the US, they are much more popular. Fideism included.

    Christ becomes irrelevant if the Fall did not cause Death and all of its attendant horrors.

    I think I should mention the Catholic way out of this: because we are descended from mere apes, we have a Sinful Nature™ and too need a Savior.

    I think you’ll find that the opposite is true, that evil is a concept that is fully consistent with the foundations of theism. There would arguably be no theism if the ancients had not seen evil as a force of nature that had to come from a purposeful entity – as they saw no other tenable explanation, and unless it had been applied intentionally, there would be little hope in countering that force. Hope, after all, is part of the stuff that myths are made of.

    Evolution in fact explains where the theistic notions of evil actually come from – that evil as a consequence is not in the exclusive domain of the supernatural.

    Very interesting point.

    As my mother said when she was dying, if she’s right she’ll be happy, and if I’m right she wouldn’t notice.

    Pascal’s Wager assumes that there is only one religion in the whole world. One has to wonder whether Pascal was actually making a joke.

    I realize that none of these books will resolve the debates on whether evolution and America’s favorite religion are compatible, but everyone keeps missing the bigger point. At most 25% of the public is beyond hope at accepting evolution, but another ~50% still doubts it, or accepts it but falls for “it’s fair to teach the controversy.” Many people from that group (mostly Christian) will read these books and think more favorably of science. IMO, that’s priority 1, and nothing else comes close. If it means eventually redefining the word “Christian” to exclude anti-science fundamentalists, or to include only them, so be it.

    Agreed.

  23. #23 Albatrossity
    June 26, 2008

    Jason – “I agree that common descent is already a problem, which is why I referred to it as a bitter pill. But I think common descent with a mechanism more palatable than natural selection, as suggested in the Orr quote from the post, would be easier for people to accept.”

    Maybe. But I’ve met very few creationists who cared very much about mechanisms :-)

    It seems to me that someone who could accept a god who drowned most of creation should be able to accept natural selection. But that would be true only if logic was involved in the thought processes. That never seems to be the case.

  24. #24 Rob W
    June 26, 2008

    @Turcano:

    To me, that’s a lot like asking why God created gravity, since people can be killed or injured by falling from a distance. Your mileage may vary, I guess.

    It’s hard for us to imagine tweaking the “design” of the universe to remove gravity, and all sources of danger. On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine how certain types of bacteria/viruses might never have evolved. Likewise certain particularly nasty parasites, likewise we might easily have evolved simple changes that would end cancer. Or try some larger changes: suppose humans had evolved with fewer violent impulses (couldn’t we have been more bonobo than chimp)? Heck, suppose all animals were herbivores? There are a lot of places in evolution where it really seems like a designer with any heart at all might have intervened even in a tiny way. Some tiny tweaks to the design of the retina would have saved me a lot of trouble, personally.

  25. #25 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    June 26, 2008

    But you guys seem to care if some guy does none of the above, and accepts scientific reality, but also, in his spare time, and completely without molesting you, follows some religion you don’t believe in.

    But you seem to care if some guy does none of the above, and accepts scientific reality, but also, in his spare time, and completely without molesting you, rejects some religion you don’t believe in.

    I’m particularly put off by their false dichotomy, as I perceive it,

    Well, I don’t perceive your purported dichotomy.

    First, because if religion makes an empirical claim that is inconsistent with science, say by claiming creationism, there isn’t an empirical choice. That is why we don’t call ID et cetera a theory, it can’t be put as one.

    Second and more importantly because empirical claims aren’t equivalent to formal truths, and can never be. For example, Dawkins discuss an empirical model, on a probability. You can’t shoehorn this into a qualitative frame of a boolean answer without further ado.

  26. #26 Mike
    June 26, 2008

    “‘With what other than condemnation is a person with any moral sense supposed to respond to a system in which the ultimate purpose in life is to be better than your neighbor'” …
    “This, for me, is the fundamental difficulty that a theology of evolution must address. ”

    You’re making the same arbitrary mistake of a creation scientist in assigning moral value to something that has none. What is the moral message of gravity?! Stand under the SUNY Stony Brook hospital, a concrete slap falls off, and splat, you’re dead! Not a good messsage for the kids. The simple fact is that God could direct natural selection in any of an infinite number of ways, as little or as often as necessary, and because its supernatural there’s no way we could tell. The fact that mutations are random doesn’t matter to this religious belief any more than objective observation matters to a belief that God created a universe that just appears to be old. I’m sure you’re aware that some theology postulates that God is withdrawn from the universe in order to see how we get on with free will. Natural selection doesn’t have any more problems for serious theology than evolution.

    I don’t understand what you’re hoping to accomplish by linking evolution education and atheism. I suspect you don’t either. There’s a huge difference between positively asserting an atheistic philosophy, and poking at someone else’s religious belief with a stick. No one is trying to muzzle atheists’ legitimate expression. But … someone who has taken up the cause of science education of the general public has some responsibility to not purposely set about screwing things up. A clear understanding of what science is, something that is lacking in the general public, plainly reveals that it is a completely different beast than religious belief. You can claim that it is better, or worse, but that’s completely beside the point of where science knowledge is at the present time. We have an overwhelming crisis in science education caused by politics. Shouldn’t this be the immediate concern?

    Intolerance is clearly on the upswing, but that doesn’t change the fact that our culture in the US is based on the presumption of tolerance. A group of people can have any spiritual or philosophical belief that doesn’t harm anyone(space alien masters as opposed to sex with teenagers) without fear that some government proxy is going to tell them they’re not allowed to believe that. At the same time that group has to be tolerant enough to recognize that not all of human experience is going to agree with them. We need good science education regardless of whether the community its being taught in accepts it as absolute truth, or not, and it should not be taught with any hint of a goal of converting someone’s children.

    As someone with some responsibility for shaping opinion on science education, can’t you blog about atheism without making it a subject of science education policy? It doesn’t hide anything. The two are not the same thing.

  27. #27 Rob W
    June 26, 2008

    You quoted George Williams:

    With what other than condemnation is a person with any moral sense supposed to respond to a system in which the ultimate purpose in life is to be better than your neighbor at getting genes into future generations, in which those successful genes provide the message that instructs the development of the next generation, in which that message is always “exploit your environment, including your friends and relatives, so as to maximize our (genes’) success,” in which the closest thing to a golden rule is “don’t cheat, unless it is likely to provide a net benefit.”

    Then said:

    This, for me, is the fundamental difficulty that a theology of evolution must address. It’s hardly the only difficulty, but it’s an especially big one.

    I’ve kicked this one around for awhile, and it seems like one of those problems that only seems large as a side-effect of the way it’s worded.

    First, I’d say this is NOT the “ultimate purpose in life”. Life has no purpose in and of itself, just as evolution has no end goal — genes that survive have not fulfilled any greater purpose; they are simply still around. There’s no universal truth that it’s “better” to stick around than not (though of course we tend to feel that way, because we evolved self-preservation instincts… it’s just a big self-enforcing circle).

    Second, our moral system is NOT dependent on the functioning of genetic natural selection. Our ideas “evolve” and spread much faster than our genes possibly can, and have far broader scope and influence over human behavior and suffering in the world.

    Evolution and natural selection are part of the environment that we operate in, as moral beings, but they don’t present us with any goal. Rather, if we want to work towards the goals that come with morality — loosely, reducing unnecessary suffering and increasing fairness — we can do that much more successfully by using mechanisms far faster moving than genetics.

    Think about it — imagine 100 adolescents bearing your genetic material who were raised and instructed as child soldiers in Uganda, and 100 adolescents of unknown parentage who were raised and well-educated in a peaceful, reasonable environment by loving, sensible and moral caretakers. Which group will do the most good for the world? Which group would you rather have settle in your neighborhood?

    This is a far bigger subject than I can cover in a comment, but it’s worth a lot of thought.

  28. #28 Flint
    June 26, 2008

    Hats off to JimV for saying

    I have yet to hear a reconcilation that doesn’t sound like an intelligent person trying to rationalize a premise that has been imprinted on them, rather than a position they have arrived at due to independent thought.

    This is really central, I think. The Christian god, above all else, is a god that DOES things. It answers prayers, burns down cities, supports armies, provides eternal life, poofs ‘kinds’ into existence, watches over us, breeds with mortals producing demigods who perform miracles, etc. HOW the Christian god does these things has always been a mystery, and attempts to flatter or bribe it to do a better job, despite millennia of dedication, have had no better success than not making any such attempt would have produced.

    Science has rendered this god almost entirely moot. Science has enabled us not only to do nearly everything the Christian god was supposed to do, but do it a LOT more reliably, and not at all mysteriously. As an agent of physical action, the Christian god has been pretty much replaced, and put out to pasture as a generic provider of spiritual comfort to those imprinted to need it.

    So the question of why some god or another would “do” something or other no gods are needed either to do or to explain, seems like the canonical dispute about angels on pinheads. One must grant the unnecessary (and irrational) even to enter the discussion.

    The Christian faith (I can’t speak about others) is in large part a set of knowledge-substitutes about the nature and dynamics of the world we live in, perpetuated by a combination of ignorance and poor parenting, and gussied up with a byzantine encrustation of theological angel-counting.

    JimV is exactly correct.

  29. #29 harold
    June 26, 2008

    Tobjorn –

    But you seem to care if some guy does none of the above, and accepts scientific reality, but also, in his spare time, and completely without molesting you, rejects some religion you don’t believe in.

    Not to a great degree, but my personal default is very much on the side of tolerance except where other peoples’ actions impact me or the common environment in a significant way.

    I like to keep the issues clear, too. First of all, it’s a violation of human rights and the law to preach any sectarian ideology in public schools. Second of all, the theory of evolution is scientific reality, and although people are free to deny that, it is ignorant and harmfully misleading to make false statements to the contrary, and such anti-science statements are best rebutted, for the public good. If someone agrees with me on those issues, we’re on the same side (on those issues), regardless of their religion.

    I recognize that philosophical debates about the validity of various positions within the science-and-human-rights-accepting camp is of great interest to some, but I personally think it is more important to focus on those who are actually trying to violate our rights and mislead the public about science.

    However, you’ll note that I’m not trying to stop people from debating about theistic evolution, just stating my own views as part of the mix.

    Well, I don’t perceive your purported dichotomy.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree. This is mainly a subjective thing, although I suppose I could undertake some laborious study to support it. I perceive followers of Oxford atheism and political western Christianity as constantly implying that they represent “atheism” and “religion”, respectively, when they actually represent their own specific versions of each. Again, though, this is subjective.

    First, because if religion makes an empirical claim that is inconsistent with science, say by claiming creationism, there isn’t an empirical choice. That is why we don’t call ID et cetera a theory, it can’t be put as one.

    You must know that I agree completely with this. If an empirical claim about physical reality can be definitively refuted by science, the claim is wrong.

    Second and more importantly because empirical claims aren’t equivalent to formal truths, and can never be. For example, Dawkins discuss an empirical model, on a probability. You can’t shoehorn this into a qualitative frame of a boolean answer without further ado.

    I suppose I may have to take a closer look at Dawkins’ probability thing, as it seems to come up quite a bit.

    I’m not sure I need it. The probability of YEC being correct is zero (unless we resort to Last Thursdayism and claim that it “only looks” as if science can describe physical reality).

    The probability of ID being correct is always zero, because it is internally incoherent and illogical.

    Dawkins is being too generous if he assigns a probability of greater than zero in either case. “Last Thursdayism” can only be assigned a subjectively imagined probability of being true, but I think the reasonable one would be something so close to zero as to be zero at almost any scale of approximation.

    The probability that some magical thing which is by definition unmeasurable exists or does not exist cannot be determined.

  30. #30 Iain Walker
    June 26, 2008

    raven:

    Strangely enough, not all evangelicals, pentecostals, or fundies have a problem with evolution. It is taught at Calvin college as well as other Evangelical xian colleges.

    If I remember correctly, at least some 19th century Calvinists were willing to accept natural selection as a mechanism for evolutionary change because it seemed to conform with the harsh and pessimistic world-view implicit in Calvinism.

    Don’t have a source for this to hand, but I think it was Peter J. Bowler’s “Evolution”.

  31. #31 mufi
    June 26, 2008

    At least to my mind, Christianity *as reinterpreted by some liberal theologians* (see, for example: process theology) ? is logically compatible with natural selection.

    But being logically compatible is not the same thing as being convincing or persuasive. After all, of all the unsubstantiated beliefs abounding in the global marketplace of ideas, why should I espouse these, in particular?

    That’s more of a motivational problem, however, when confronting religious skeptics like myself – and there are enough Christians (or Jews or Muslims) with vested emotional interests in remaining connected to their faiths that it’s not really a significant one for them.

    Adherents to classical theology, let alone biblical inerrancy, are another story. I assume they are Giberson’s primary audience?

  32. #32 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 26, 2008

    Frank Hagan –

    Giberson does not specifically mention Orr. I brought him up because I think he provides a useful counter to the argument Giberson was making. On the one hand, Giberson could describe him as an evolutionist, and if you take Orr’s argument at face value he does try to reconcile evolution with Christianity. But it’s pretty clear that what he is defending bears little relationship to evolution as that term is understood today, and he certainly expresses a preference for a young-Earth view of the matter.

    Mike –

    What do I hope to accomplish? I merely wanted to provoke a discussion about topics that I think are interesting and important. Judging from the activity in this thread I seem to have succeeded.

  33. #33 Mike Elzinga
    June 26, 2008

    I agree with JimV and Flint. All of the problems of reconciling religion with science (in the United States, at least) revolve around the historical preconceptions about the nature of the deity. These historical notions can no longer be bent to fit what we know about the universe from science. Even other religions have these difficulties if the attempts at reconciliation are pressed too far.

    If someone still wants to search for some form of deity behind what we know about this universe, they should expect that the deity (or deities) will be nothing like any that have been envisioned in our past. Such a deity or deities will likely have none of the human attributes that have been attached to historical deities (e.g., why couldn’t it have attributes analogous to any of the other creatures that exist or have existed on this planet or anywhere else in the universe?). Why should any such deity have any human attributes at all? For example, why would such a deity be desirous of worship or adoration?

    And given the history of life on this planet, why should any such deity have any special “feelings” for a particular creature that currently exists on this planet but may not exist in a few thousand or a few million years?

    The current deities are simply projections of our own human history and attempts at understanding. Growing up may well mean getting along without them.

  34. #34 mufi
    June 26, 2008

    BTW, I realize that the major opposition to Darwinian evolution (at least in the US) comes from Christian fundamentalists. But as long as we’re critiquing Darwin-friendly Christians, it seems at least as appropriate to mention *secular* opponents to Darwinism, or even proponents of ID.

    For example, philosopher-sociologist Steve Fuller has endorsed ID on the basis of his post-modernist views of science. And David Berlinski of the Discovery Institute, describes himself as an agnostic.

    I have also encountered open rejection (or at least strong doubts) of natural selection among secular thinkers in other forums, who tend to espouse radical leftist views (e.g. orthodox Marxists and anarchists — one of whom was big on quoting Berlinski).

    Just thought it was worth a reminder.

  35. #35 windy
    June 26, 2008

    Pascal’s Wager assumes that there is only one religion in the whole world. One has to wonder whether Pascal was actually making a joke.

    Or he was too far gone by that point to care. It’s interesting that Pascal, who is often touted as an exemplary religious scientist/mathematician, apparently did experience a conflict between science and religion, according to his sister:

    “When he was not yet twenty-four years old, Divine Providence induced him to read pious books, and God enlightened him so much by this reading of holy works that he saw clearly that the Christian religion requires us to live only for God and to have no other goal but Him. And this truth seemed to him so enlightening, so necessary and so useful, that it put an end to all his investigations.”

  36. #36 baboo
    June 26, 2008

    I like what rob w has to say on the subject of morality as an abstract concept and the goals that thus come with it (rather than intrinsic to our genetic makeup), and it IS something to think more about.
    I don’t agree with the general acceptance here of the quoted conclusion that the closest thing to a genetic golden rule is “don’t cheat, unless it is likely to provide a net benefit.”
    There’s really nothing in that “rule” that begins with “don’t cheat unless.” The rule in my view is a lot like the one humans observe almost universally: Cheat whenever the prospective rewards outweigh the disadvantages of being caught at it.
    We humans do have a corresponding rule that says “don’t cheat unless you would like being caught at it,” but I don’t think that corollary is in our genes.

  37. #37 Tulse
    June 26, 2008

    The rule in my view is a lot like the one humans observe almost universally: Cheat whenever the prospective rewards outweigh the disadvantages of being caught at it.

    But that’s not really the “rule” either, since the whole notion of “cheating”, or any other moral concept, doesn’t really exist in the purely biological world. The closest approximation to a “rule” would be “Act to maximize your inclusive fitness”, but that’s only a “rule” because those organisms who didn’t act in that manner generally didn’t do very well.

  38. #38 baboo
    June 26, 2008

    Tulse, I disagree. Organisms have strategies that are mechanical versions of our concepts – the difference is that we have been able to conceptualize these strategies as abstractions.

    We then have an advantage, as I believe Rob W was pointing out, to use these concepts to a better purpose than we would have otherwise, assuming we can reach a consensus as to what those purposes should be.

  39. #39 Tulse
    June 26, 2008

    Organisms have strategies that are mechanical versions of our concepts – the difference is that we have been able to conceptualize these strategies as abstractions.

    Perhaps I misunderstand your point, but I think that’s completely backwards — we have concepts that we have ascribed to organisms, but those principles don’t exist in some Platonic form in their behaviour. I don’t disagree that we can ascribe strategies and concepts, and abstract out principles, from the behaviour of organisms, but I disagree that organisms have such “rules”, expressible as some moral dictum, somehow inherently. A cuckoo isn’t “cheating” in some objective, universal sense when it lays its eggs in another bird’s nest — the notion of cheating comes purely from our human perspective (and only from a certain historically limited human perspective, as I doubt that Vikings would have seen the cuckoo as behaving badly).

    We then have an advantage, as I believe Rob W was pointing out, to use these concepts to a better purpose than we would have otherwise, assuming we can reach a consensus as to what those purposes should be.

    “Better purpose” simply begs the question — it assumes the existence of the very concepts and principles that are being debated. Nature can’t give us our normative ethics; at best it can only tell us how humans have behaved in the past, and how that behaviour has been shaped by evolution. But that isn’t going to get us to what most of us think of as reasonable rules for living.

  40. #40 Ichthyic
    June 26, 2008

    I don’t think these books are intended as an apologetic to convince skeptics, but as a guide for Christians to come to terms with yet another inconsistency between what they believe and what they find in the modern world.

    I would rather suggest a visit to a therapist would be a more productive way of dealing with cognitive dissonance, than handing someone an artificial crutch.

  41. #41 Ichthyic
    June 26, 2008

    But that’s not really the “rule” either, since the whole notion of “cheating”, or any other moral concept, doesn’t really exist in the purely biological world.

    I think you should rephrase that.

    the behavior, well-defined as “cheating”, does indeed exist and has been documented many times in various populations of organisms. It’s the moral conclusions that only exist within the minds of humans that are inappropriate to project on to the behavior itself.

    I recall one Carol Clouser who often visited PT, who for several weeks went on a rant about how hyenas were more evil than lions because of the way they kill zebras for food.

    boils down to just eliminating anthropomorphism.

  42. #42 baboo
    June 26, 2008

    Tulse, what is a strategy if not some form of a rule? Organisms act according to expectations, and strategy results from a pattern of successful “satisfactions” of these expectations – which are altered in turn by feedback, etc. These patterns are the basis of rules, whether in simple organisms or in humans (although humans aren’t necessarily the least simple).

    We have concepts that are DERIVED from the rules or strategies of organisms. We don’t ASCRIBE the “concepts” to organisms. The whole point is that we are among the few that can look at the various degrees of success that these strategies have had over the ages or eons, and try to discern how they affect our own natures and behaviors – as after all they ARE in our bones, so to speak. We act on their instructions with varying degrees of awareness in calculating every move we make.
    To believe otherwise is to be caught in the confirmation bias trap of religious or mystical dogma. Try to think outside of that particular box and see what happens.

    Take note of what Ichthyic has just posted as well.

  43. #43 Tulse
    June 26, 2008

    I think you should rephrase that. the behavior, well-defined as “cheating”, does indeed exist and has been documented many times in various populations of organisms.

    I agree — of course the behaviour exists, and we as humans have labelled it “cheating”. I was simply suggesting, and I think you agree, that the ethical connotation of that term is pure anthropomorphism. It could have been called something else that had no ethical overtones (e.g., “advantaging”, or “achieving”, or for that matter, “gorgonzola”) and it wouldn’t have mattered to the actual description of the behaviour. In other words, there is absolutely nothing “good” or “evil” about “cheating” in organisms; there is no morality there.

    boils down to just eliminating anthropomorphism.

    I completely agree.

  44. #44 Karl Giberson
    June 26, 2008

    Thanks for your review of my book, much of which I agree with. You have joined Dembski in critiquing the title, although he was much less charitable. The truth is that the title came from the marketing dept at the publisher, not my head. I agree that the subtitle is inaccurate.

    I think you misread a couple of things or maybe I was vague to all readers save myself. Regarding the Santorum amendment, I understand that it was bad. But it is bad only because of the role in plays in the culture war context. There is nothing whatsoever INTRINSICALLY bad about it, on its own terms. I agree though, that the context made it a Trojan Horse and tried to state that.

    Regarding belief in God, I think my argument is different than you construe. I was simply trying to say that Christians should look for evolution to be consistent with a theism already embraced for other reasons. I am not suggesting any particular route to that theism, and certainly not saying that theism should just be assumed. I am writing to Christians and am making assumptions consistent with that audience.

    And do you really think I argued that my position is the obvious one? I didn’t mean to imply that. I think the obvious ones are the extremes and the middle positions are complex and inarticulate, and now mired in controversy.

    Nice review though. I enjoyed reading it.

  45. #45 Tulse
    June 26, 2008

    Tulse, what is a strategy if not some form of a rule? Organisms act according to expectations, and strategy results from a pattern of successful “satisfactions” of these expectations – which are altered in turn by feedback, etc. These patterns are the basis of rules, whether in simple organisms or in humans (although humans aren’t necessarily the least simple).

    I think it is very easy to slip into anthropomorphism when talking in this way. You’ll note we don’t say that comets have “strategies” to avoid crashing into the sun — it just turns out that the comets that are still around had orbits that didn’t take them so close to our star that they burned up. Likewise, organisms that have been successful have had certain patterns of behaviour that have increased their inclusive fitness. We can use “strategies” as shorthand for these patterns, but we must be careful about reading too much into that term. For example, perhaps it just because of my psychology background, but I think it is a bit much to talk about “expectations” in most organisms. Trees may very well have “strategies” to increase their likelihood of propagation, but I think it is stretching things beyond reason to say they have “expectations”.

    All of this may be just semantics, and in the present discussion its main relevance was regarding ethics, where I think the case is fairly clear — we may talk of “strategies” and “rules” in organisms, but that does not warrant seeing these as moral dictums to follow, or as a source for such ethical principles.

  46. #46 Ichthyic
    June 26, 2008

    I think you agree, that the ethical connotation of that term is pure anthropomorphism.

    well, that was exactly my point.

    It could have been called something else that had no ethical overtones

    “ethical overtones” being entirely relative, what it should have been called is rather irrelevant, IMO.

    However, I recognize that it’s often the case that biologists will choose terms that strike a familiar chord (“sneaking”, “cheating”, “piracy”, etc.). Whether that’s a good practice or not in general is certainly open to debate, but in no case I know of have terms been adopted specifically with the relative moral implications of a given society at a given time in mind.

  47. #47 baboo
    June 26, 2008

    Tulei writes: ‘For example, perhaps it just because of my psychology background, but I think it is a bit much to talk about “expectations” in most organisms. Trees may very well have “strategies” to increase their likelihood of propagation, but I think it is stretching things beyond reason to say they have “expectations”‘

    Jesus H Christ, are you on his crutch or what? What is the definition of life itself but a self-sustaining chemical reaction with expectations. Can’t you wrap your head around the fact that at bottom our calculative functions are mechanical, and all life forms have them? That to calculate the prospects of any actions, these forms must first probe, must have and use probes, or be probes in and of themselves, get sensory feedback, store it to form patterns, act according to expectations of possible or probable success based on those patterns, etc., etc.

    What is a probe for, but to “expect” to find a response to that probe?

    This is biology 101, which trumps psychology 101 when it comes to dealing with evolutionary questions at least.

  48. #48 Tulse
    June 26, 2008

    Ichthyic:

    I recognize that it’s often the case that biologists will choose terms that strike a familiar chord (“sneaking”, “cheating”, “piracy”, etc.). Whether that’s a good practice or not in general is certainly open to debate, but in no case I know of have terms been adopted specifically with the relative moral implications of a given society at a given time in mind.

    I didn’t mean to imply that I thought so — indeed, my point was the reverse. I was responding were remarks like baboo’s:

    I don’t agree with the general acceptance here of the quoted conclusion that the closest thing to a genetic golden rule is “don’t cheat, unless it is likely to provide a net benefit.”
    There’s really nothing in that “rule” that begins with “don’t cheat unless.” The rule in my view is a lot like the one humans observe almost universally: Cheat whenever the prospective rewards outweigh the disadvantages of being caught at it.

    My point (which isn’t all that profound, I’ll grant) is that one shouldn’t conflate terms like “cheat”, that are simply handy labels for particular behaviours, with morally-tinged descriptors of human actions. One should especially avoid drawing some sort of naturalistic morality from them.

    baboo:

    What is the definition of life itself but a self-sustaining chemical reaction with expectations. […] What is a probe for, but to “expect” to find a response to that probe?

    In my view, that broadens the meaning of the term “expect” far out of all meaning. My thermostat doesn’t “expect” to find the room warmer or colder, and a plant doesn’t “expect” that the sun will provide a particular amount of light, and my digestive system doesn’t “expect” to modulate its actions based on the food it receives. Once we are using terms that usually refer to intentionality in this sweeping fashion, then “expectations” are everywhere, which means nowhere.

    This could be a simple semantic quibble, except that when we begin to use other terms with intentional implications, like “goals” and “rules” (and, for that matter, “ethics”), it becomes far too easy to anthropomorphize. Specifically in regards to this discussion, it becomes far too easy to seek ethical guidance from the behaviour of other organisms.

  49. #49 NP
    June 26, 2008

    Jason, you’re taking a glass half-empty approach here. You are taking evolution to be a nasty process, whereas it more than that.

  50. #50 baboo
    June 26, 2008

    Tulse, you are hiding in what appears to be a little theological box in your refusal to accept he meaning and derivation of one of the most commonly used words and concepts in our language. A thermostat doesn’t expect anything, as it’s not a life form, but the people who fashioned the thermostat expect a lot from it.

    And in fact plants do have expectations and move themselves to different yet predictable positions to obtain required amounts of light accordingly. But especially check out this recent article in New Scientist, Jun 7-13, 2008 issue, entitled “Gotcha! Flesh eating pitcher plants are proving more devious hunters than anyone imagined.” That they have accomplished the means and methods referred to in very diverse and complicated fashions, with backup plans as well, makes it clear that expectations, and yes, intentions, and certainly cheating in the most predatory sense, had a major role to play in the development and operation of these functions.

    And nobody except you has said we’re seeking ethical guidance from behavior of other organisms. We seek only understanding of our own natures by discovering what we have in common with all other life forms. We seek not just to understand what we do, but why we do it. And we have in fact learned, contrary to your theological doctrine, that the very impulse to act in a moral or ethical sense, comes to us via an evolutionary process, and not because we reached the stage where we were entitled to receive this sensibility as some sort of a blessing from the heavens.
    We are among those few beings on earth with a capacity for abstract thought, and with that capacity, can use these insights for our betterment, whereas life forms without such insight or capacity, are essentially captives of their inherent natures. Evolution may eventually free them, as it has given a modicum of freedom to such as us. It’s to our benefit to understand where our freedom comes from, and why the differences between ourselves and the pitcher plants, for example, are not due to some divine intervention, but simply (or not so simply) a matter of understandable degree.

  51. #51 baboo
    June 26, 2008

    And I should have added what I had otherwise thought would be obvious: That we have learned that it’s still in our nature as life forms to “cheat whenever the prospective rewards outweigh the disadvantages of being caught at it.” In other words we weren’t taught to cheat by some talking snake in an ancient garden. And if we didn’t learn where these instinctive behaviors came from, we would be at some disadvantage in using the capacities of our rational brains to better understand that the disadvantages of cheating far outweigh the advantages, at least in the type of human society we have long aspired to achieve.

  52. #52 ApeApeMan
    June 27, 2008

    Any attempt to reconcile theistic evolution with the scientific study of the evolutionary process can’t possibly work if the theistic evolutionist believes that the christian bible describes the underlying reality. “Theistic evolution” is nothing more than the theft of a proven engine for a vehicle that doesn’t exist…”Hey Clyde…got me an engine that works…just need some tires and a steering wheel”.

  53. #53 Tulse
    June 27, 2008

    Tulse, you are hiding in what appears to be a little theological box

    We’re clearly miscommunicating, and I’m afraid you’ve grossly misunderstood me if you think my aim was to defend a supernatural account of ethics, as I am as hardcore atheist as they come. That is not at all my purpose.

    What I was taking exception to was the use intentionality talk (such as plants having “expectations”) in such a loose fashion. That was my only real point, that talk of “cheating” implies some notion of “fairness”, and of “good” and “evil”, which are thoroughly human (not supernatural) concepts, and simply don’t apply to organisms other than humans. And that also means that, while we can learn from other organisms about what evolved behaviours they do, and thus speculate as to what behavioural tendencies we might have evolved, that really only tells us, at best, how we “naturally” behave, and not what our ethics should be. In other words, ethology/evolutionary biology is not a guide to morality.

    I too may have misunderstood your position, and if so, you have my apologies.

  54. #54 baboo
    June 27, 2008

    Tulse,
    Cheating with most organisms implies a violation of trust, not a notion of good and evil, although with humans at least, it can amount to the same thing. But violations of trust (or its mechanistic equivalent) are common, as far as we’ve observed, to all species. (Which again you are expected to dispute.)
    And your concept of where anthropomorphism starts to apply is remarkably similar to concepts promoted in religion-based cultures, as your line separating human and other organisms’ traits is much too abruptly placed.

    And knowledge of what our evolved behavioral tendencies are is much more than speculative – and as I already alluded to, it’s not just about how we behave, but why.
    So are you advocating an ethical code that will quite possibly be in conflict with our natural tendencies, or one that attempts to avoid such conflict by dealing with those tendencies in a rational manner?
    Because both atheists and theists in the past have found common ground in fashioning behavioral systems that essentially sought to control natural tendencies by force and censure, rather than by the reason that comes from knowing in advance the whats, hows and whys of the matter.
    And how do we decide what our ethics should be when we until recently have had little knowledge of what they in fact could be. Ethics are relative to a variety of circumstances and influences, the most common being ways our shared natures tend to react to uncommon situations.
    As someone said earlier, there are no Platonic forms to follow here. And in the absence of such standards, “could’ has always been a conditional requirement of ‘should.’ The inference there is clear.

  55. #55 Tulse
    June 27, 2008

    But violations of trust (or its mechanistic equivalent) are common, as far as we’ve observed, to all species. (Which again you are expected to dispute.)

    Well, yeah, a blanket statement like that I will dispute, because a) I doubt that E. coli worry about trust, and b) it is precisely the conflation of “trust” and “its mechanistic equivalent” that I am arguing against. Plants don’t trust — in fact, nothing without a pretty advanced cortex is likely to have such a notion in any meaningful sense. Yes, plants may act as if they anticipate that, say, the seasons will occur at a particular time, but that is no more “trust” than a planet “trusting” that it will appear at a certain spot in its orbit. It is indeed mechanistic.

    And your concept of where anthropomorphism starts to apply is remarkably similar to concepts promoted in religion-based cultures, as your line separating human and other organisms’ traits is much too abruptly placed.

    Once again, this is in no way about religion — it is about thinking clearly regarding labelling behaviour, and not implicitly importing unjustified meaning into terms. As for your specific point about humans and other organisms, I completely agree that there is a continuity there. However, notions of “trust” and “cheating” and similar social concepts require a “theory of mind”, an understanding that other organisms may have beliefs, and that, as far as we know, is only possessed by organisms with big brains — we have it (although autistic individuals may not), some other primate may, and that’s about it for hard evidence. Cuckoos don’t “cheat” — they may have behaviour that takes advantage of resources provided by other birds, but that in itself isn’t really “cheating”. (Indeed, in many human cultures, analogous behaviour by members of the culture towards outsiders isn’t considered “cheating” either.)

    are you advocating an ethical code that will quite possibly be in conflict with our natural tendencies, or one that attempts to avoid such conflict by dealing with those tendencies in a rational manner?

    As you’ve already alluded, our ethical codes in practice do conflict with our natural tendencies, which are to cheat unless it is advantageous not to. I’m not saying that understanding “human nature” (however one might define that) would not be useful, but that a rationally constructed ethics wouldn’t rely on our evolutionarily-shaped behaviour for guidance. (For example, just because humanity historically practiced slavery doesn’t mean that it’s ethical.)

    And how do we decide what our ethics should be when we until recently have had little knowledge of what they in fact could be.

    Again, do you want to construct your ethics based on our evolutionary history? If it in fact turns out that slavery, or rape, or racism, or sexism, is a genetically-facilitated tendency in humans (as some sociobiologists and evo-psych folks have argued), do we just throw up our hands and say “Well I guess that makes it moral — there’s nothing we can do?”

  56. #56 baboo
    June 27, 2008

    Well, after this brief post, I’m going to stop commenting on your remarks because you clearly read into my comments only what you want to hear. Any rationally constructed ethics that didn’t rely on some knowledge and understanding of evolutionally shaped wants, needs, expectations, emotional reactions, and unavoidable instinctive strategies that we are only now barely conscious of, would be an almost idiotic fabrication. Guidance is the using of information to best advantage – you seem to be advocating a form of deliberate ignorance.

    Do you in fact have the rational type of brain that, if it learned that we had a genetic disposition for practicing slavery, which we have already rationally decided is incompatible with a cooperative and progressive society, would therefor abandon all reason and go with the natural flow that we have already learned is NOT ultimately satisfying? if not, then to argue that others would find that a rational way to deal with such self-knowledge is just foolishness.

    Oh and read Carl Zimmer’s newest book, Microcosm, and learn that in fact E-coli cannot operate without a mutuality of trust, whether they have the capacity to worry about it or not.

    And your idea that comparing life forms and their calculating mechanisms with planets and such – that arguably have none – is in some fashion a proper use of analogy is about as far off the mark as silliness can get one.

    Treat any questions hat appear implicit in these remarks as rhetorical – there is no way I can foresee the possibility of our agreement on any of these issues. You are the type of atheist who thinks with the mind of a true believer, regardless.

    if you need the last word, be my guest. This is it for me.

  57. #57 randy
    June 27, 2008

    With what other than condemnation is a person with any moral sense supposed to respond to a system in which the ultimate purpose in life is to be better than your neighbor at getting genes into future generations, in which those successful genes provide the message that instructs the development of the next generation, in which that message is always “exploit your environment, including your friends and relatives, so as to maximize our (genes’) success,” in which the closest thing to a golden rule is “don’t cheat, unless it is likely to provide a net benefit.”

    except that we know INDIVIDUALS don’t evolve, populations do. there is also important gene/environment interactions. so the message of evolution is not exploit the environment or friends or relatives.

  58. #58 Martin LaBar
    June 27, 2008

    Thoughtful review.

    Your paragraph beginning “Whitcomb and Morris. . .” hits the nail on the head, I’m afraid.

  59. #59 Wes
    June 27, 2008

    Karl Giberson:

    I think you misread a couple of things or maybe I was vague to all readers save myself. Regarding the Santorum amendment, I understand that it was bad. But it is bad only because of the role in plays in the culture war context. There is nothing whatsoever INTRINSICALLY bad about it, on its own terms. I agree though, that the context made it a Trojan Horse and tried to state that.

    I’m not sure if I agree with this. Such laws are intrinsically vague, and I think that does make them intrinsically bad. When a law is written with the express purpose of being vague enough that it makes it possible to slip something through which had long ago been declared unconstitutional, I would say that the law is intrinsically bad. This is the text of the amendment:

    (1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and
    (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.

    Note that it singles out evolution for its “controversies”, but provides no clarity on just what is mean by including these “controversies” in the classroom, and makes no distinction between scientific controversy and cultural controversy (in fact, it muddles them together). It could be construed as a harmless nod towards the culture wars, or it could be construed as “teach the controversy”, in which bogus, totally discredited objections from creationists are taught as if they were legitimate scientific controversy in class.

    It’s that very vagueness, and the muddling of public controversy with scientific “controversy”, which makes the law intrinsically bad. I would say any law which contains language which confuses political controversy with scientific controversy is a bad thing.

  60. #60 ctw
    June 27, 2008

    “Any rationally [sic] constructed ethics that didn’t rely on some knowledge and understanding of evolutionally shaped wants, needs, expectations, emotional reactions, and unavoidable instinctive strategies that we are only now barely conscious of, would be an almost idiotic fabrication.”

    But isn’t that a pretty apt description of the “ethics” (or perhaps “morality”) that we have in the US, at least vis-a-vis sex?

    And FWIW, I tend to agree with tulse that notwithstanding their possible meaning in fora frequented mostly by biology sophisticates, words like “trust” and “cheat” suggest to the biology-challenged (eg, me) levels of consciousness commonly attributed to “higher” animals. In particular, they suggest mutual agreement which I assume (quite possibly incorrectly) requires at least second order consciousness.

    – Charles

  61. #61 baboo
    June 27, 2008

    Charles, do you really believe the moral code in the US vis-a-vis sex was or could have been constructed by purportedly rational individuals with any insight into our natural needs and strategies, etc.?

    Do you really think that we furnish some sort of example of what would likely happen if ethics were to be influenced by scientifically oriented rationality?

    A better example of what could likely happen would be to mimic Bonobo societies, which to our knowledge have not been influenced by deliberate rational calculation – yet show what rational calculators might find quite informative as a viable candidate for exhaustive study.

    And my eyes have been opened a bit by the realization that otherwise intelligent people continue to look at the origins of their more abstract concepts as having no more connection with their content than having sparked some glimmer of their inspiration.

  62. #62 ctw
    June 27, 2008

    “Do you really believe …”

    No, which is why I inserted the “sic” in my quote of your comment, which is in a somewhat subjunctive mood (“any … didn’t”) – for which I was just teasing you a little since there is nothing hypothetical about the moral code in the US, IMO an excellent example of the “idiotic fabrication” you describe.

    -c

  63. #63 baboo
    June 27, 2008

    Ok, and I assume you were also teasing abut the level of consciousness required in an organism before one can observe that its behavior is remarkably similar to what in a more intelligent species would be considered as cheating.
    Next you’ll be teasing me about mentioning feedback as integral to the success of a probing mechanism, because our concept of feedback would seem to require some sort of conscious acknowledgment of its existence.

  64. #64 Daniel
    June 27, 2008

    I’m sorry, but I really don’t see what all this fuss is about evolution. There really is no such thing as evolution. Just a list of creatures that Chuck Norris has allowed to live.

  65. #65 ctw
    June 27, 2008

    “I assume you were also teasing abut the level of consciousness required in an organism …”

    No, although I agree that some behavioral descriptors (eg, “purposeful” per earlier comments) can be reasonably argued to apply to lower life forms – or perhaps even to “intelligent” machines, it just seems to me that mutual agreement between two organisms might arguably involve higher orders of consciousness. But I’m just playing devil’s advocate here. Probably few participants on this blog know less about these concepts than I.

    “Next you’ll be teasing me about mentioning feedback as integral to the success of a probing mechanism, because our concept of feedback …”

    Not at all. As a systems engineer I am keenly aware of the importance of feedback, even in purely “mechanical” systems.

    My “teasing” was meant to be friendly, not dismissive. As I may have noted before, I don’t take blog discussions all that seriously. For me they’re just a way to have some pleasant exchanges with clever people and to learn from them.

    – Charles

  66. #66 baboo
    June 27, 2008

    OK, but people who speak blithely of higher orders of consciousness, and necessity for a theory of mind to kick in concurrently, are as far as I’m concerned parroting something that, when pressed to elucidate, have only the fuzziest idea of what it is they’re talking about. Yet they use these references as if they somehow invalidated some concepts that someone else is seriously trying to either explain of propose as an explanation. When you back up one of these silly people, you pretty much take their place in the silly line. Sorry about that.

  67. #67 ctw
    June 28, 2008

    I’m referring to the orders of the “intentional stance”, IIRC discussed by Dennett in “Breaking the Spell”. I thought he also described these as “orders of consciousness”, but I’ve loaned out my copy and couldn’t check. In any event, I rather thought my comments suggested what I had in mind even if the lingo was wrong, so it’s not entirely clear who’s being “blithe” here.

    Repeatedly insulting people who have gone out of their way to be civil is quite juvenile. Notwithstanding your high opinion of your insights, they aren’t quite worth that price. Ciao.

    – Charles

  68. #68 bobyu
    June 28, 2008

    The blithe person was the one you joined with in talking out of her psychologically indoctrinated dark place. And your so-called teasing simply added injury to her ultimately insulting comments. Gone out of your way to be civil? Why should being civil have been out of your way to begin with? Your opinion of your own insights (or should I say borrowed insights) could use some readjustment. Of course that’s just an opinion.

    But as to borrowed insights, check this out (from Wikipedia on Dennett): “The rationale behind the intentional stance is based on evolutionary theory, particularly the notion that the ability to make quick predictions of a system�s behaviour based on what we think it might be thinking was an evolutionary adaptive advantage.”
    So when pray tell do you who believe consciousness developed in stages (rather than in a more continuous fashion) think this adaptive advantage started to kick in on the evolutionary scale? Concurrent only with the big brain capable of theories of mind, perhaps?
    Rhetorically commenting of course. But perhaps another example of referencing some concept as a rebuttal that you didn’t really understand the meaning of to begin with.

  69. #69 baboo
    June 28, 2008

    Thank you, bobyu, but if I had wanted to defend myself, I would have. As to insights, my talent, if any, is to sort out the obvious from these profusive and intellectually dishonest attempts at equivocacy. Everything I’ve said has been said before by my betters.

  70. #70 Mats
    June 29, 2008

    If only more CHristians were to read this review, and see that darwinsm and Christianity don’t mix.

  71. #71 Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth[ skeptic griggsy]
    June 29, 2008

    As natural selection is without purpose and is its own boss , to add teleology in the form of God is to contradict it: that would be the new Omphalos argument that albeit ,nature shows no teleology [atelic,dysteological], God hides Himself behind natural causes so people can freely accept Him. That is John Hick’s aspect notion which JohnL.Schellenberg finds to be part of the hiddenness problem.

  72. #72 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    June 29, 2008

    @ harold:

    Not to a great degree, but my personal default is very much on the side of tolerance except where other peoples’ actions impact me or the common environment in a significant way.

    I note the contradiction, as others noted before me.

    I recognize that philosophical debates about the validity of various positions within the science-and-human-rights-accepting camp is of great interest to some,

    Fundamentalist creationism shows where the demarcation between science and cherry-picking of facts or outright lying crackpottery goes.

    However I can’t call those who will accept facts and mechanisms but not theories, and more over cherry pick gaps (in place of facts) to stuff their imaginary friends in, as bona fide science-accepting.

    I perceive followers of Oxford atheism and political western Christianity as constantly implying that they represent “atheism” and “religion”, respectively, when they actually represent their own specific versions of each. Again, though, this is subjective.

    I don’t know what Oxford atheism is, or indeed any form of organized atheism. Care to enlighten me?

    But this wasn’t about atheism contra religion, this is as it was formulated a conflict between science and religion, albeit pronounced by atheists. And you agreed that there isn’t a comparable “theory” to make a choice dichotomy out of.

    The reasons I react strongly is that I don’t believe it is constructive to view this as a dichotomy if it isn’t, it makes it a difficult subject to discuss. I think the best view is to accept that if we agree that science is a validated method to get to knowledge there isn’t a dichotomy here.

    Atheism rides on this fact as regards theistic evolution, but that is because the latter is wrong. And it isn’t sufficient to imply atheism, not by a long shot.

    As for the probabilities, I’ll let you study up on Dawkins. But I note again that it is very hard to switch between probabilities and boolean values ad hoc. As I noted, not many atheists are prepared to assign absolute zero probability here. For a physical realization of a “Last Thursdays” type scenario, see “Boltzmann Brain”.

  73. #73 bobyu
    June 30, 2008

    “But I note again that it is very hard to switch between probabilities and boolean values ad hoc.”
    Why, because we aren’t dealing with a counterfactual conundrum? Or simply because it’s impossible to find a form of valid inference that can prove your garden variety negative?

  74. #74 baboo
    June 30, 2008

    No it’s because of the neutrality required for any fair discussion of the atelic, not to mention the dysteological.

  75. #75 ctw
    June 30, 2008

    “you who believe consciousness developed in stages (rather than in a more continuous fashion)”

    Just out of curiosity, how did you come to the conclusion that I’m one of the “you who”? I’m not sure what distinction you intend in dichotomizing development into “stages” and “continuous”, so I’m not sure which camp I might be in, notwithstanding that you apparently are.

    As to “civil”, before initially commenting I reread the full exchange between tulse and baboo. It is, as you suggest, merely a matter of opinion, but my opinion is that as in my case, tulse made no insulting statements whereas baboo did. Unless, of course, one considers disagreeing being insulting – in which case, one needs to grow up.

    – Charles

    – Charles

  76. #76 bobyu
    June 30, 2008

    Why don’t YOU grow up and quit picking at your scabs? Weren’t you the one who made reference to Dennett as supporting your move to become a Tulse advocate in that regard?

    Easy to sit back and snipe when you keep your own beliefs hidden behind the veil of advocacy.

    But just of curiosity, what camp do you think you might like to be in?

  77. #77 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    June 30, 2008

    @ bobyu:

    Why,

    I gave several examples of reasons in my comments, even if I didn’t spell them out in the interest of brevity – the problems of evaluation functions mapping between them, the resulting fuzzy borders, the problem that there is no such thing as “zero probability” in statistics and/or empiricism, et cetera.

    because we aren’t dealing with a counterfactual conundrum? Or simply because it’s impossible to find a form of valid inference that can prove your garden variety negative?

    ? Could you expand on this, please.

    I’m especially curious what my “garden variety negative” is. I’m arguing that atheism doesn’t deal in fundamentalist absolutes (for most people), and that there are several claims (perhaps as many as there are atheists), and I have given examples of such atheism.

    So if I’m not mistaken, you need to demonstrate that every atheist argument uses the same premises to reach the same conclusion. But unless I’m further mistaken, agnostics in general doesn’t need to have a negative, and philosophic agnostics specifically put an ad hoc universal negative on the argument (“it is impossible to know”) but not the conclusion.

  78. #78 bobyu
    June 30, 2008

    Torbj�rn,
    If you simplify the language, so we can know that by “boolean values,” you are referring to a true or false (some call it syllogistic) method of deduction, then the statement that “it is very hard to switch between probabilities and boolean values ad hoc” becomes questionable, as it merely requires reference to a form of induction that supplements rather than contradicts deductive methods.

    And as far as I’m aware there is no ad hoc or custom designed negative that applies specifically to agnosticism, boolean wise or other. But perhaps there’s one that applies to all previously stated conclusions.

  79. #79 ctw
    June 30, 2008

    “there is no such thing as “zero probability” in statistics and/or empiricism”

    A bit OT, but I wonder what do you mean by this? I fancy myself to be fairly knowledgable about probability theory, and I’m quite sure there IS such a thing as zero probability, eg in the measure theory sense.

    Of course, if what you mean to suggest is that we can’t be certain about things like the existence of “god” (however defined), then I agree. And, as you point out, Dawkins was careful to acknowledge this in TGD by phrasing his disbelief in terms of low probability.

    BTW, I agree with the gist of your comments re “atheism”. I and every one of my friends is an “atheist” in the narrow sense of “a-theist”, but presumably each has their individual perspective on the broader question of the existence of “god” in general since that concept is typically underspecified. I therefore consider any statement along the lines of “atheists do/believe/think X” to be proof positive of ignorance with respect to “atheism”.

    – Charles

  80. #80 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    June 30, 2008

    @ bobyu:

    as it merely requires reference to a form of induction

    Induction, whether supplemented by deductive methods or not, is used to propose theories but not to test them. They are an idealization which needs an agreement between us to map to logical (boolean) values. For example, when is a probability low enough to warrant rejection as “false”? Note that Dembski can’t make a general UPB either.

    And as far as I’m aware there is no ad hoc or custom designed negative

    So are we going to argue ignorance to each other? IIRC I gave examples to the contrary. Let me see now, yes, Dawkins, “layman” agnostics, and philosophical agnostics.

    I’m still waiting for your definition of “negative”. Has it anything to do with boolean values?

  81. #81 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    June 30, 2008

    ctw:

    A bit OT, but I wonder what do you mean by this? I fancy myself to be fairly knowledgable about probability theory, and I’m quite sure there IS such a thing as zero probability, eg in the measure theory sense.

    Oh, measure theoretically in probability theory we can define 0 probability as the measure of the empty set (which must be included in such a sigma-algebra; I had to check that in my old Cohn “Measure Theory”). Any intersection of sets that converges on the empty set will have limit 0.

    I was thinking of actual non-empty distributions in statistics.

    I’m confusing matters a bit I think, because I forgot that outside idealized (gaussian) distributions you could possibly use approximate distributions with bounded support, but that is way beyond my experience in these matters.

    But OTOH then you have the problem that our finite measurements can never exclude a small probability, which is another outcome of that these distributions are approximate.

    So for all practical purposes we don’t have zero probabilities when we measure (distributions of) physical parameters.

    And as you noted, in the end we want to avoid claiming certainty, at least outside theories. For example, I can claim that the universe will always expand. But what if the universe undergoes a string phase transition to lower energy? And this is the type of uncertainty that IMHO prohibits us from claiming fundamental “truths”.

  82. #82 bobyu
    June 30, 2008

    You may find boolean methods sufficient to test evolutionary theories, but I don’t. Neither do I think they add anything to meaningful philosophical proposals, except to offer somewhat illusory help in assessing the viability of such a proposal, assuming you put faith in “booleanism.” Assessments are at best educated guesses without experimentation, regardless of what you feel you need as a crutch to help with your inferential abilities.

    And a definition of negative has to depend on the context, which was exceedingly vague in your reference. For example: “and philosophic agnostics specifically put an ad hoc universal negative on the argument (“it is impossible to know”) but not the conclusion.”
    Ad hoc universal seems a bit of an oxymoron. I do confess I wasn’t specific enough in pointing that out earlier.
    You might want to drop another name like Russell, who got along quite well without either booleanism or an ad hoc universal negative.

  83. #83 bobyu
    June 30, 2008

    Oh and what does this mean? “For example, when is a probability low enough to warrant rejection as “false”? Note that Dembski can’t make a general UPB either.”

    There can be nothing but a subjective answer to that question, which never stands alone in any case, and I couldn’t care less what Dembski can or can’t do in defending the untenable from any perspective.

    The best use of boolean logic is to irritate the hell out of the classicists – otherwise most of us can communicate quite well and effectively without such pretentious references.

    Did you hear the one about the boolean, the rabbi, and the duck who went into a bar and ordered drinks. When it was his turn to pay for a round, the boolean took a pass as he said to himself, in all probability this scenario couldn’t exist.

  84. #84 bobyu
    July 1, 2008

    But rather than sit back and try to sandbag you I’d like to inject a serious note – that it’s my opinion that in dealing with questions of evolution and its direction or lack thereof, we need to consider not only how humans arrive at conclusions without the assistance of the divine, but how life forms in general have done this – and our development of mathematical systems has been essential to this determination. But even more than essential, certain philosophical methods of analysis are crucial. And these philosophies tell us (or have let us see) that at bottom, all of our calculative mechanisms have developed to use indirect inference as preferred methodology.

    So while boolean logic may be critical to the operation of computers and search engines, it just isn’t working out as a way to simulate human logical processes, and while you may protest that even if not, it can certainly augment those processes, I just don’t “feel” that there’s a satisfactory mesh there – and in the end, the necessary tinkering to make things fit ultimately destroys the effectiveness that was the initial goal.

    You might check this out as a reference, or if not you, someone else might find something new here:
    http://www.philosophy.unimelb.edu.au/ajl/2005/2005_6.pdf

  85. #85 ctw
    July 1, 2008

    One last OT comment:

    “we can define 0 probability as the measure of the empty set”

    A set doesn’t have to be empty to have zero probability (measure). Eg, the ternary Cantor set has measure zero but is – being uncountable – decidedly non-empty.

    Anyway, I don’t see why any of this is relevant to why one should avoid claiming fundamental “truths”, which seems to have been adequately argued by philosophers without reference to probability theory.

    – Charles

  86. #86 shan
    July 1, 2008

    There’s a new book out there this summer.

    “Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion” by Stuart Kauffman, a complexity theorist…

    You might want to review it.

    http://www.amazon.com/Reinventing-Sacred-Science-Reason-Religion/dp/0465003001

    “Consider the woven integrated complexity of a living cell after 3.8 billion years of evolution. Is it more awe-inspiring to suppose that a transcendent God fashioned the cell, or to consider that the living organism was created by the evolving biosphere? As the eminent complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman explains in this ambitious and groundbreaking new book, people who do not believe in God have largely lost their sense of the sacred and the deep human legitimacy of our inherited spirituality. For those who believe in a Creator God, no science will ever disprove that belief. In Reinventing the Sacred, Kauffman argues that the science of complexity provides a way to move beyond reductionist science to something new: a unified culture where we see God in the creativity of the universe, biosphere, and humanity. Kauffman explains that the ceaseless natural creativity of the world can be a profound source of meaning, wonder, and further grounding of our place in the universe. His theory carries with it a new ethic for an emerging civilization and a reinterpretation of the divine. He asserts that we are impelled by the imperative of life itself to live with faith and courage-and the fact that we do so is indeed sublime. Reinventing the Sacred will change the way we all think about the evolution of humanity, the universe, faith, and reason.

    About the Author
    Stuart A. Kauffman is the founding director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics and a professor of biological sciences, physics, and astronomy at the University of Calgary. He is Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, a MacArthur Fellow, and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. His books include The Origins of Order and At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. He lives in Calgary, Canada.”

  87. #87 temizlik
    July 1, 2008

    Thank you, bobyu, but if I had wanted to defend myself, I would have. As to insights, my talent, if any, is to sort out the obvious from these profusive and intellectually dishonest attempts at equivocacy. Everything I’ve said has been said before by my betters

  88. #88 temizlik
    July 1, 2008

    Just kidding. But I really didn’t like the boolean joke.

  89. #89 heddle
    July 2, 2008

    Jason,

    I’ll claim, once again, that your opposition to theistic evolution is actually an opposition to Old Earth Creationism. That is, you claim, IIRC, that evolution injects an insoluble escalation of the theodicy problem. This is the argument of fundamentalists as well, who, as Albatrossity pointed out, argue (without theological merit or scriptural support) that a pre-fall dead mouse renders Christ incapable of redeeming lost men.

    Back to my point, which I’ve made before. Theistic evolutionists affirm a nature red-in-tooth-and-claw prior to the fall of man. Tremendous killing and bloodshed. This you see as a problem for Christianity. However anti-evolutionary old earth creationists such as Hugh Ross also propose the same cruel natural world prior to the fall. Why is that not the same serious problem for Christianity? In either case God is “culpable.” For theistic evolutionists, he planned the carnage to fuel evolution. For OECs like Ross, he permitted it to create biodeposits for man’s use. Is that the distinction you are relying on?

    I am convinced, just as in your insistence that the only plausible interpretation of yom in Genesis 1 is as the YECs interpret it, that your actual agenda is that you simply are repulsed by the idea of a reconciliation of science and Christianity. The YECs and the OECs are non-threatening, but someone who claims that evolution and Christianity are compatible–well this you just cannot accept.

  90. #90 temizlik
    July 3, 2008

    I’m like zese jook whoever:

    As far as the laws of boolean mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.

    Boole, when asked how soon he expected to reach certain mathematical conclusions, said that he had them long ago, all he was worrying about was how to reach them!

  91. #91 veritas36
    July 6, 2008

    I’ve known lots of Christians who look to the New Testament for spiritual guidance and do not — would not — think the Old Testament as literal truth. (If you ever read sections of the Old T you would understand why.) “Christian|” refers to followers of Christ.
    It was the Southern ignoramuses who brewed up this the fervent bible-was-written–by-
    God and every word must be believed literally. The medieval Catholic position was that people shouldn’t read the Bible: it might confuse the faithful.
    Although I don’t believe in following any dogma or any one interpretation of religion, I knew many scientists who were sincere Christians (and only one rigid fundamentalist).
    I think equating all Christians with those from the tradition of illiterate hicks who follwed untrained preachers is unfair.

  92. #92 Firri_Triah
    July 7, 2008

    Being both a Christian and scientist, I have to agree with vertias36 on the point of all Christian’s being lumped in as illiterate hicks. I personally would not toss out the entire old testament as non-literal. However some of the ideas and problems by Higher Criticism should not have been cast aside so flippantly.

    In any case I want to disagree with a number of the posters here and the original reviewer that evolution is somehow a bad process, dominated by death and destruction. I agree with Giberson that the overall picture of evolution is the dominance and success of life. We should also remember that evolution has not stopped simply because man has arrived. I don’t know about the rest of you but when I go out into a natural environment, I don’t think to myself what a horrible place of death and suffering this is. No, I can go to any American inner city for that. Instead I see animals and plants living out their lives, happily for the most part. Is there death, killing and destruction, of course, but is that the oppressive and overarching feature of the natural world? No.

    As much press as “survival of the fittest” gets you’d think all animals and plants were constantly racing, competing against one another for every scrap of food and ground. The reality is more “Survival of the not un-fit”. Individuals that are truly poorly adapted may fail, but most of those that are mid-range in adaptation will survive. Their genes may become less common if something else is more beneficial but this isn’t a always a violent confrontation. Genetic drift and the founder effect are just as important in changing genetic composition.

    Christian morality doesn’t depend on the surrounding world being perfect, if it did we would have much bigger problems. Humans are the only species capable of making truly informed choices on the basis of morality. Sin is defined as making a choice against the moral command of God. There can be no sin without a sentient being which is capable of understanding the command. This is why the idea of the original sin of man still functions under evolution. There can be no sin until a sentient being has formed.

    I see nothing wrong with God allowing the natural processes to form man, especially since He likely formed the laws and constants of the universe itself, this still amounts to creation, albeit very slowly for our perspective. Christians frequently point to the providence of God, working invisibly through history towards various ends. But for some reason when this same concept is applied to the natural world, many Christians want to see all of life appearing fully formed at the mere thought of God. If the process of birth death and rebirth is so terrible, why doesn’t God bring Christ into the world immediately after Adam sins? Why wait the thousands of generations for Jesus to be born? Why does He continue to wait for the return? Because none of these processes are evil.

  93. #93 baboo
    July 7, 2008

    Firri says: “Sin is defined as making a choice against the moral command of God. There can be no sin without a sentient being which is capable of understanding the command. This is why the idea of the original sin of man still functions under evolution. There can be no sin until a sentient being has formed.”

    Two or three small problems here. Do sentient beings other than humans know about these moral commands from God? And where does sentience start and non-sentience leave off?
    But if sentience is a matter of degree (which is much more likely) why aren’t all organisms in some small way at one time or another sinners?

    Rather than help his/her case, this “scientist” has shown the silliness of the Christian view in a nutshell.

  94. #94 Firri_Triah
    July 7, 2008

    By sentience I mean the capability of understanding the concept of a higher being and being able to receive such a command. I’m fully aware the many intelligent animals possess some basic concepts of what we could term social morality or what is socially acceptable for their species, assuming they are raised properly to understand such things. The beginnings of a moral consciousness are there but not quite enough to accomplish the choices I’m talking about. Surely you aren’t going to tell me that you can train, even a chimpanzee, to understand what a higher being could be like or expect of him/her. Even human children are not fully capable until a certain age. Most people even refer to children as “innocent”, then so much more for animals, who can at best attain the levels of young human children.

    This is the point I’m trying to make, nice that you got hung up on terminology and made assumptions.

  95. #95 Frank Hagan
    July 8, 2008

    Thanks for the great, insightful comment, Firri. I think you have it just right. Your comment is very helpful.

    On the only other response to it: What you will find is that the debate quickly moves from the consideration of scientific principles and how a Christian can accept them to a muddier conversation about faith and rational thought. The result is usually these conversations devolve into arguments between rationalists/brights/atheists and believers about the rationality of faith, rather than the topic at hand. I’ve taken the bait far too often myself, but I think it blunts the impact for the less impassioned readers who are trying to decide which side … creation or evolution … to come down on.

    I am happy to debate faith vs. reason via email, or better yet, face to face. Or even in a forum dedicated to that. But those side debates only serve to mute the impact and harm the pro-science side of the argument, and laws like the Louisiana “Academic Freedom” bill get passed in their wake. Giving the average Joe a choice between evolution and faith, and not the more reasonable middle ground of “both”, and faith will win among 96% of the population.

  96. #96 kpss
    September 3, 2008

    If only more CHristians were to read this review, and see that darwinsm and Christianity don’t mix.

  97. #97 baboo
    September 3, 2008

    Firri says: “Sin is defined as making a choice against the moral command of God. There can be no sin without a sentient being which is capable of understanding the command.”
    And:
    “By sentience I mean the capability of understanding the concept of a higher being and being able to receive such a command.”

    With this, Firri has gone on to exclude other than humans as potential or capable sinners.

    But what of the humans who live in primitive areas, such as deep in the Amazon, and who have an entirely different concept of a God’s commands than do those of us who would want to “civilize” them in that respect? Are they capable of sin, even though their commands in that area are more consistent with the behavioral commands that other sentient beings have developed for themselves than with ours?

    Or are such as Firri (and Frank above) going to say that this is exactly why they need to be saved, as they have reached the stage between animals and humans where they are damned by simple ignorance, and by being otherwise inaccessible to the true God that will have to reach them only with the aid of the other humans he will have sent to do his bidding. Because their Gods, if they have spoken at all, have not been truthful.

    So it also seems the true God didn’t speak a language that other than Hebrews could understand. But no, that would be just too silly to contemplate.

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