Ruse on the Pope on Evolution

Update, May 17, 2:35 pm: Many thanks to Jerry Coyne for clearing up the question of Richard Dawkins’s views on human inevitability in evolution. As I thought, Dawkins does not hold the view Ruse attributed to him. Coyne has Dawkins’s response to Ruse’s piece, so follow the link and go have a look.

It’s been all book, all the time around here. The first draft of the BECB (that’s the big evolution/creation book) has benefited mightily from the heroic efforts of a number of proofreaders, but this has meant a certain amount of rewriting to produce the second draft. I’m putting the finishing touches on the revised draft now, and I expect to be handing it off to the publisher in a week or so. Yay!

Alas, that has meant yet another dereliction of my bloggily duties. Sorry about that. But I would like to poke my head up to comment on this recent essay, by Michael Ruse, over at HuffPo,

Ruse is perturbed, and rightly so, by something that arose in the Pope’s recent Easter sermon:

I don’t think anyone would want to say that the present pope, Benedict XVI, has the charisma of his predecessor, John-Paul II. Or the avuncular warmth of John XXIII — or the deep-seated understanding of that prelate about how his institution was in need of reform. But, we are often assured, one place where Benedict does make up is as a theologian. When it comes to understanding and developing what it all means intellectually, he is the very best.

Why then does he have such a blind eye or tin ear — you choose your metaphor — when it comes to modern science? Over Easter, in the most important sermon of them all, he stressed that whatever humans may be, we are not random. We are as we are by design.

If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature. But no, reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine reason.

Ruse now notes that from a Christian perspective it is unacceptable to think that humans are just a chance occurrence unlikely to recur if evolution were played out a second time. He is rather forceful that there is no scientific justification for seeing directionality in evolution. This leads to a problem:

The point I am making is that, as things stand at the moment, there is a flat-out contradiction between the claims of modern biological science and the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. And the fact is that the Pope, for all of his vaulted theological expertise, is either ignoring this fact or is glossing over it, probably because he has made the decision that, when push comes to shove, theology trumps science. Schönborn was not out in left field on this matter. Indeed, he is tipped to be the favorite for the next pope and so he was hardly saying and writing things that would put him out of the running.

Schonborn was a Cardinal from Vienna who expressed very similar thought in op-ed a while back. At the time it provoked great consternation over whether the Catholic Church was withdrawing its support for evolution.

There is certainly much to appreciate in this paragraph. Ruse is absolutely right that there is a serious conflict between what the Pope said and evolution as scientists understand it. And I think he is also right in thinking that for this Pope, theology trumps science.

I would point out, though, that there has always been a conflict between Roman Catholic theology and modern evolutionary science. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we find this:

The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself and with the creation around him, in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ. The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original “state of holiness and justice”. This grace of original holiness was “to share in. . .divine life”

That sure sounds like Adam and Eve are to be treated as actual people, and that they were the only people on the planet at the time. That’s a mighty big point of conflict with science. I suspect no one really calls attention to this because, while the Catechism can say whatever it wants, most Catholics, at least in America, abandoned a literal Adam and Eve a long time ago. The question of human centrality is of far more fundamental importance.

So what are we supposed to do about this conflict?

Note what I am saying and what I am not saying. I am saying that “as things stand at the moment” there is a clash and that the Pope is not helping. I am not saying that the clash could not be resolved. Although as it happens — and I have said this on many occasions — I don’t think the clash can be resolved by trying to get more out of science. Richard Dawkins (following Darwin) seems to think that humans are more than chance because evolution works through “arms races” — the prey gets faster and so the predator gets faster — and that ultimately this will produce human-type brains. Simon Conway Morris thinks that there exist always niches waiting to be occupied, one of these niches is for humans, and so at some point it was bound to be filled. Even Gould thought that complexity increases and so at some point, if not here on earth then somewhere in the universe, humans would appear.

I need a little help here. Can someone direct me to where Dawkins argued that human-type brains are effectively inevitable? He certainly emphasizes arms races frequently enough, but it is a long road from there to human-type brains. As I recall, when he reviewed Gould’s book Full House, he did not take that position. Unfortunately, I can’t find that review online just now. So it is possible my memory is faulty. It’s relevant to something I address in the BECB, so if anyone knows what Ruse is talking about I’d appreciate it if you could let me know.

While we’re at it, where did Gould say that he thinks humans would appear somewhere inevitably? He was always at pains to emphasize contingency, and did not think there was an actual trend towards complexity. So, again, if anyone can direct me to whatever reference Ruse has in mind, I’d appreciate it.

Ruse now argues briefly that the strategies mentioned in this paragraph do not work. Again, quite right. But if the conflict cannot be resolved by getting more out of the science, then where will the hoped for resolution come from?

My own thinking is that if you are going to get anywhere then you need to work on the theology. I have suggested that, since we have appeared, we could appear. Hence, God (being outside time and space) could simply go on creating universes until humans did appear. A bit of a waste admittedly but we have that already in our universe.

As the parent of this idea, I am expectedly rather fond of it. But I am not promoting it now because it is right, but simply to say that some solution needs to be found. At least, some solution needs to be found by Christians. Otherwise, the New Atheists are right, and science and religion cannot be reconciled. Hence, you must take your choice, and since science is right the appropriate conclusion follows at once.

To me, saying that since you can’t solve this by getting more out of the science you will have to work on the theology, is tantamount to saying, “You can’t resolve this by gathering facts and evidence so you will have to do it by making stuff up.”

That aside, I would point out that theologians like John Polkinghorne and John Haught are on record saying that talk of multiple universes is just a desperation move invoked by atheists to get around the fine-tuning issue. Somehow I don’t think they will be too pleased with Ruse’s suggestion.

I am impressed that Ruse is so forthright here. I’m also impressed that he managed to get through an entire essay about science and religion without once bashing the New Atheists. (After reading the essay’s opening, I was sure he would claim that the Pope’s anti-evolution sentiments are blowback against the NA’s.) But I would point out that he has just basically admitted that Christians currently lack a satisfactory way of coming to terms with the blow to human significance dealt by evolution. Why, then, is he so disparaging of people who claim it is very difficult, if not outright impossible, to reconcile evolution with Christianity? After all, we could pile on by pointing out that, in addition to this issue, we know that evolution exacerbates the problem of evil, refutes the design argument in biology, and forces us to abandon many traditional understandings of the Bible, among other problems. If someone looks at all this and sees a strong cumulative case against the possibility of harmony between evolution and Christianity, are you really certain they are being unreasonable?

Comments

  1. #1 Deepak Shetty
    May 17, 2011

    Hence, God (being outside time and space) could simply go on creating universes until humans did appear. A bit of a waste admittedly but we have that already in our universe.

    Not very omniscient this God fellow.
    Though Ruse misses the point , it isnt how God could have done it, but why. Why create multiple universes instead of humans directly.

  2. #2 fuzzbutt
    May 17, 2011

    Dawkins wrote something along those lines in The Selfish Gene, I think. I do remember hearing something like it in one of his audiobooks and wrinkling my nose.

  3. #3 Birger Johansson
    May 17, 2011

    News item: “Humans ‘predisposed’ to believe in gods and the afterlife” http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-05-humans-predisposed-gods-afterlife.html

  4. #4 cheglabratjoe
    May 17, 2011

    “I need a little help here. Can someone direct me to where Dawkins argued that human-type brains are effectively inevitable?”

    “While we’re at it, where did Gould say that he thinks humans would appear somewhere inevitably?”

    Both of those things sound to me like stuff SCM would say, and not at all what Dawkins or Gould would say. I’ll be interested to see what people come up with, and if Ruse is taking it out of context.

  5. #5 speedwell
    May 17, 2011

    Deepak Shetty, it’s even worse than that. If God had to wastefully create multiple universes, then the thing that forced him to do so makes him not the Supreme Being after all, doesn’t it?

  6. #6 eric
    May 17, 2011

    That sure sounds like Adam and Eve are to be treated as actual people, and that they were the only people on the planet at the time. That’s a mighty big point of conflict with science.

    It also seems to conflict with stuff JPII said about the genesis stories being an allegory for a spiritual formation/insertion, not a physical formation.

    This is a really easy problem to resolve. What we have here is a human institution in which several components are acting in a contradictory manner (both simultaneously and over time). This is completely understandable and not at all surprising, unless you view the RCC as having some special metaphysical insight. The church’s seemingly contradictory messages are only a problem if you first assume that premise. So my advice to people who consider this issue to be a major concern in their life is: ditch that premise.

    So, again, if anyone can direct me to whatever [SJ Gould] reference Ruse has in mind, I’d appreciate it.

    Perhaps Ruse is extending SJG’s random walk argument to infinity. I.e. given enough time and planets, Gould’s directionless evolution would still be expected to produce highly complex critters.

    I still think Ruse has Gould wrong. AFAIK Gould did not confuse “highly complex” with “intelligence.” A high chance of complexity arising does not mean a high chance of intelligence arising. But I can see how Ruse might have sloppily moved from the former – something Gould probably would’ve agreed with – to the latter – something he probably wouldn’t have.

  7. #7 KeithB
    May 17, 2011

    “While we’re at it, where did Gould say that he thinks humans would appear somewhere inevitably?”

    The whole point of “Wonderful Life” argues against this – which is why Conway objected IIRC. Gould basically says that if that little guy with the notochord had not made it if the tape had been re-wound, we would not be here.

  8. #8 eric
    May 17, 2011

    Right sohbet – but not necessarily intelligent ones. In terms of DNA codes, an onion is far more complex than a human.

  9. #9 Sam C
    May 17, 2011

    I don’t really disagree with any of the post, but I think perhaps both you and Ruse are missing two key points: (1) that religion comes first to cardinals and the pope, and they are not going to give that religion up, whatever Procrustean logic (or illogic) is required to resolve the mismatch between religion and reality/science, and (2) it’s not a given for (some) religious people that a contradiction necessarily indicates an error – rather it can mean (to them) that either (a) their gods move in mysterious ways, or (b) these are mysteries beyond their understanding and perhaps beyond (cue heavenly music) all human understanding.

    Personally I prefer reality to religion, but I prefer that religious leaders accept a bastardized form of evolution rather than have them reject it completely because it cannot be reconciled completely with their primary beliefs. And I think it’s useful to understand that other people (the other side) are not using the same rules of argumentation as rational people.

    Ruse does seem to have dropped the ball though – I don’t think he appreciates how limited his knowledge is now.

  10. #10 hallucigenia
    May 17, 2011

    Ruse’s claim that Gould though humans might evolve somewhere else is inaccurate. What he meant to say (I know this because he’s said it properly elsewhere) is that Gould though some kind of ‘human-like’ intelligence was probable elsewhere in the universe.

    For example, in The Flamingo’s Smile, Gould wrote that

    “I can present a good argument from ‘evolutionary theory’ against the repetition of anything like a human body elsewhere; I cannot extend it to the general proposition that intelligence in some form might pervade the universe…. does intelligence lie within the class of phenomena too complex and historically conditioned for repetition? I do not think that its uniqueness on earth specifies such a conclusion. Perhaps, in another form on another world, intelligence would be as easy to evolve as flight on ours.”

  11. #11 Marshall
    May 17, 2011

    Besides variation (as random as you like) evolution also requires selection for retainable characteristics, which is non-random even if not divinely directed. If you invert the usual “fitness landscape” and make the vertical axis “cost per unit of production”, you can see adaptation as what engineers call a relaxation algorithm: not directed, but not random. I think in The Blind Watchmaker Dawkins agrees that Paley’s watch is a non-random object, although not “designed”.

    Gould clearly said that evolution rerun is unlikely to produce recognizable humans (Wonderful Life). I think to see that there is a bias towards complex systems you have to look at large systems, such as the global ecosystem or the cosmological environment. For individuals, it seems the simple, efficient organism has an advantage over a complex, multi-functional one… ALMOST always!

  12. #12 Koray
    May 17, 2011

    I don’t quite get why Ruse is so worried. If the ultimate goal is Adam & Eve, one who is AllPowerful(TM) can get there by explicitly designing Adam & Eve or setting up billions of years of evolution that produces Adam & Eve as precisely as one intended. Yes, this is possible when one’s AllPowerful(TM) thanks to the brilliant definition of AllPowerful(TM).

    Why one would choose method 2 with billions of years of bloodsport over method 1 we do not know. But, we do not know a single thing about why any of this is done anyway. Even if one teleports Adam & Eve directly to the earth, Adam could get hit by lightning or drown in a flood. This is not how to treat one’s beloved creatures, either.

    If theologians are to be tasked with anything to clarify their situation, why won’t they start with addressing 1) Really who are the fellows by the names of Luke, Matthew, etc. 2) Why are their gospels accepted while some others are not? 3) Could they have been schizophrenics or con-men who profited from telling their stories?

    Because to scientists the answers to these questions would prove most useful. Afterwards we all can discuss morality, evolution, love, purpose, etc. at length.

  13. #13 SLC
    May 17, 2011

    Re hallucigenia @ #10

    Paleontologist Dale Russell of North Carolina State Un. has speculated that, if the asteroid collision that wiped out the dinosaurs had not occurred, the troodons might have eventually evolved into intelligent bird like creatures. In addition, in the absence of the collision, we wouldn’t be here to speculate about it.

  14. #14 MartyM
    May 17, 2011

    “If theologians are to be tasked with anything to clarify their situation, why won’t they start with addressing 1) Really who are the fellows by the names of Luke, Matthew, etc. 2) Why are their gospels accepted while some others are not? 3) Could they have been schizophrenics or con-men who profited from telling their stories?”

    Exactly right Koray!!

    Religions begin with some basic assumptions. 1) the holy book I read is divine in origin, 2) it’s a unifying story that transcends people, time, place, political environment, etc., and 3) it is above scrutiny and I only accept Authority over personal investigation.

    I think in order for religions to have any standing in what’s truth, they need to start with who/where/when/why and how did their holy book get written and compiled.

  15. #15 Deepak Shetty
    May 17, 2011

    @speedwell – sure.
    I wonder when Ruse will turn his attention to the Virgin Birth thing that the Catholics also believe in.

  16. #16 Alex SL
    May 18, 2011

    Um. Now I haven’t read Gould’s works in the original, but how on earth can such a well-regarded biologist doubt that there is a “trend towards complexity”? Even if it is a pure random walk from the perspective of every single lineage, the lower bound of complexity was effectively touched at abiogenesis, so there was only one way to go.

    Obviously there is enough contingency in evolution that we cannot expect the exact same forms to reappear if we wound the tape back and started all over (or if we finally found life on other planets, for that matter). It might well be that other worlds have brown land plants instead of green ones, because of other accessory pigments, that the dominant land animals there have six legs and their nose openings behind the shoulders. There would be no humans, of course.

    But with (1) the constraints that are also obviously part of the picture, and (2) all the parallel evolution going on, can anybody really doubt that some adaptations are so useful that they are virtually guaranteed to be evolved? Plants for example face some certain constraints that essentially guarantee that every larger species growing in a mesic habitat will have to have some kind of root analogue, some kind of stem analogue, and flat thingies to function as solar panels. As for parallelism, a body structure with upper and lower side, head and after is just so obviously advantageous that it pops up all over the animal kingdom; circulatory systems and some kind of kidneys for detox, ditto; eyes, evolved literally dozens of times; wings and active flight, at least thrice in vertebrates and once in arthropods, and that is not mentioning a gazillion other cases of ballooning or gliding; finally, brain size increased in both the mammalian and dinosaur/bird lineage over the last 300 Mio years.

    So why would we not expect human-caliber intelligence to be a virtually unavoidable outcome of evolution; virtually unavoidable, of course, only given the intuitively incomprehensibly deep time that is available for that to happen? Those who think we are a unique outcome seem to have their own kind of exceptionalism that is maybe not too different from the theist one.

  17. #17 Collin Brendemuehl
    May 18, 2011

    Why is the problem of directionality itself so easily avoided?
    Look at its history — it comes straight out of 19th c. progrssive/postmill optimism that the human condition is improving. It represents an ideal and is not “science” in any sense. Yet it seems 90%+ of evolutionists hold to it. I would appear that “bias” and “non-random” are, in a limited sense, teleologically necessary. I would challenge the evolutionist to remove this religious assumption and then examine what remains.

  18. #18 eric
    May 18, 2011

    Alex SL: haven’t read Gould’s works in the original, but how on earth can such a well-regarded biologist doubt that there is a “trend towards complexity”? Even if it is a pure random walk from the perspective of every single lineage, the lower bound of complexity was effectively touched at abiogenesis, so there was only one way to go.

    Alex, Gould was not arguing about complexity per se. He was trying to explain to laymen why the existence of complexity doesn’t imply an evolutionary ‘ladder’ or directionality. As you can see from post @17, many people still hold to the whole ladder notion.

    Collin Brendenmeuhl: I would challenge the evolutionist to remove this religious assumption and then examine what remains.

    The distribution of single-celled and multi-celled organisms on this planet matches exactly what one would expect if complexity is a random walk; huge amounts of single-celled organisms, relatively few more complex ones, with number decreasing with complexity. It does not at all match what one would predict if evolution was directed or if complexity itself had some inherent advantage, because those hypotheses would predict that a larger % of organisms would be relatively complex. So your model does not fit the data; Gould’s does.

    Gould’s other point in that argument was to say that we, as humans, suffer from a confirmation bias in our estimates of the importance and amount of complexity. We tend to discount microrganisms because we don’t see them, but in fact they are the vast, vast majority of life. We see the tip of the iceberg, and we think it’s the important part/mistake it for the whole thing.

  19. #19 Max
    May 18, 2011

    “…theologians like John Polkinghorne and John Haught are on record saying that talk of multiple universes is just a desperation move invoked by atheists to get around the fine-tuning issue.”

    I’ve never really understood the fine-tuning claim as evidence for God. If God created the universe and us, why bother fine-tuning? For example, he could make the earth closer or farther from the sun but miraculously have no effect on us. Pick any supposed bit of fine-tuning, heck, pick them ALL, and God could have created us so those things would be irrelevant. So how does fine-tuning point to a God???

    Far from being an issue that science is desperate to “get around,” I say that if you think fine-tuning is evidence of God, prove it.

    I’ve always liked Douglas Adams’ take on fine-tuning, where– and I’m paraphrasing– he talks about a puddle who is sure that his hole in the dirt must have been made specifically for him, because how else to account for its perfect fit?

  20. #20 eric
    May 18, 2011

    I’ve always liked Douglas Adams’ take on fine-tuning…

    Indeed. Going along with that, if the fit of the puddle is a sign of divine favor, then a better fit means more divine favor, right? If there’s an organism that requires more stringent conditions to exist than we humans do, the fine tuning argument would seem to imply that the universe is made for them, not us.

    But there are many. Just a simple example – any human parasite requires every physics and chemistry condition we do…with one more biological condition on top of all that: they require a universe with us in it. So however finely tuned someone argues the universe is for humans, you can always point out that it is more finely tuned for our parasites.

  21. #21 Alex SL
    May 18, 2011

    eric:

    Well, then Gould is surprisingly often misrepresented or misunderstood. I should really read him – if we only had enough time for everything we ought to find it for…

    As for your argument about the number of species, I find that a bit problematic. It is simply much easier to fit tons of species into the single-celled life form space than into, for example, the tree life form space, because you need a certain effective population size to have a long term viable species. And of course you can fit many more individual unicellular organisms in the same space than elephants. Number of species or individuals will thus always be a fairly poor indicator, although interestingly, in land plants the best measure of complexity is the number of different cell types in an organism, and there the most complex lineage, the angiosperms, is also by far the most species rich.

    Obviously it is silly to say that being complex is in some case advantageous or “better” – a hyperthermophile archaebacterium is much better adapted to living at 100°C than we complex, clever animals are, for example, and if there were no procaryotes, more complex life simply could not exist due to its limitations in the biochemical department. But:

    I still think that there are a few isolated cases where it makes sense to talk of primitive and advanced, to have a somewhat ladder-like view of things. And those are cases where life explores a completely new part of the fitness landscape that was previously inaccessible, and then the most successful lineages fairly obviously move up towards the new local maximum. Best example: early vascular plants. The ones in the Rhynie chert had just started adapting to dry land; mostly, their sporophytes were just branched systems of green stems with sporangia at the ends. They had no roots and no leaves. In this case it seem justified to say that this is a primitive state because it is so clearly maladaptive compared to what came later, and it is striking that all those morphologies were wiped out once leaves and roots evolved.

  22. #22 Collin Brendemuehl
    May 19, 2011

    Eric,
    Your spelling needs some work.
    “Matches exactly” is hardly a scientific statement.
    How many working evolutionary models are there today?
    You write off directionality as “confirmation bias” but scientists who know much more than either of us still employ it. But it seems to be a requirement if the models contain the requisite sense of direction. You quote Gould, but he also required directionality:
    “However, when we move to the species level, the analogous driving phenomenon of directional speciation suffers no constraint or suppression – and may represent one of the most common modes of macroevolution. Two major reasons underlie the high potential frequency for directional
    speciation as opposed to the rarity of its analog in the organismal level – see line III2a on the chart). First, as noted in several other context, the species-individual does not maintain integrity (as the organism does so by
    suppressing differential proliferation of some parts over others. … Second, since new species-individuals must arise with sufficient heritable novelty to win reproductive isolation from their parent … all species births include genetic change as an automatic consequence. Any statistical directionality in such changes among species in a clade will produce a trend by drive.” (Gould, 725)

  23. #23 Richard Wein
    May 19, 2011

    I don’t think Ruse has thought this through.

    1. If–as I think some physicists claim–the universe is infinite, with infinite opportunities for intelligent life to evolve, then–arguably–it is bound to evolve somewhere (and indeed to evolve an infinite number of times), regardless of how unlikely it may be on each planet.

    2. If the universe is finite, there must be a non-zero probability (however small) that every opportunity for intelligent life to evolve turns out unsuccessful. We don’t need Ruse’s ruminations about evolutionary theory to see that the Pope cannot have the “iron-clad guarantee” (probability precisely 1) which Ruse thinks he needs.

    3. But I don’t see why the Pope shouldn’t settle for less than an iron-clad guarantee. Perhaps he would settle for a 0.99 probability of intelligent life evolving somewhere in this universe. He can then still suppose that this universe is God’s first and only attempt.

    4. We cannot estimate the probability of life evolving somewhere in the universe without making some sort of estimate/assumption about the size of the universe. Without that, claims about the size of this probability are utterly unfounded.

    5. I doubt that we know enough even to make a sensible estimate about the probability of intelligent life evolving on a single planet. Some people like to point to the fact that eyes have evolved independently 40 times (IIRC) on Earth, while intelligence (at the human level) has evolved only once. But that only tells us something about the _relative_ probability of intelligence evolving, relative to that of eyes. It could still be the case that both are very likely to evolve.

    I think there is so much uncertainty in such estimates that theologians can really help themselves to any probability figure they like (apart from probability 1 in a finite universe), without being demonstrably in conflict with science.

  24. #24 Jud
    May 19, 2011

    Collin Brendemuehl writes:

    You quote Gould, but he also required directionality

    No. You are misunderstanding him in exactly the way Eric explains. To understand him correctly, please read Gould’s “Full House: The Spread of Excellence…,” whose dominant theme is this very misunderstanding.

    To try to summarize another way:

    Think of a bush growing right up against the south side of a house. It will spread in all directions away from the house, but cannot spread toward it.

    Now think of the evolution of life. A form less complex than the simplest life form would no longer be life. Consequently, as life evolved from its starting point, only forms equally as complex or more complex than the simplest form were possible, just as the bush could only spread to the south, away from the house. Saying evolution has directionality toward complexity is as wrong as saying the growth of all bushes has directionality toward the south. The bush and evolving life are merely expanding in all directions available to them.

    As eric noted above, the astronomically greater total numbers, and numbers of species, of the simplest life forms versus the more complex ones makes utterly absurd any claim that life has a preferred evolutionary direction toward complexity.

  25. #25 Michael
    May 19, 2011

    Separate two issues first: (1) whether we are “merely” chance products of evolution and (2) the Genesis story and a literal Adam and Eve.

    The first is trivial. There is nothing to conflict between the Pope’s claim — we are intended by God who has created this universe — and the scientific claim that we are the product of a process involving “randomness”. The conflict only comes in if you add “merely,” which I can’t see any scientific justification for adding. The Pope puts this word in with some care, I think.

    That is: it is nothing new to say that God can cause random events and cause them for a reason. That view was held by, for example, Aquinas. The randomness of the events is something we see from within the natural order. The reason for which God causes them is not within the natural order. If God causes the universe to exist and causes everything in it, then he causes those things that are random, and causes also that they are random.

    The second concerning the literal Adam and Eve is more complicated. The essential claim here is that all living human beings are descendants at some point of some original couple. Is there scientific evidence that this is not the case? What would that evidence be? (Note that on at least one interpretation this claim need not require that our entire ancestry can be traced back to that one couple — in other words we could be descended from Adam, Eve, and some other creatures with whom the children and grandchildren of Adam and Eve bred. At least on this weak interpretation I seriously doubt there is strong scientific evidence against it. I don’t mean that there is evidence for it, mind you.)

  26. #26 snafu
    May 19, 2011

    Jason, a bit more for you on the literal Adam & Eve…seeing as I happen to know about it.

    It’s absolutely required Catholic dogma to believe that we are descended from one literal couple who performed the act that lead to Original Sin (we can call them Adam & Eve for the sake of argument).

    Therefore, when you say the following

    That sure sounds like Adam and Eve are to be treated as actual people, and that they were the only people on the planet at the time.

    you’re correct in the former part. But the latter is not strictly required: you can find gung-ho traditionalists who will eagerly suck it up; they are science-deniers along the lines of the rest of the creationist world. However, for those nuanced, educated Catholics who wish to reconcile their faith with science, they’ll usually accept the existence of other “people” on earth at the same time.

    Right, so why is “people” in quotes, then? This is where the tricksy stuff starts. Adam and Eve were the first Fully Human People, having had a soul divinely injected into them independent of the evolutionary process. All the other people were functionally identical but not Truly People. Using omnipotency and being handily outside of time, God ensured that we all descended from Adam and Eve, the real guys.

    So: as far as I can tell, all Church pronouncements from relatively authoritative sources will be along these lines, quoting things like “first couple” and “fully human” as appropriate.

    In this way, Catholic teaching is logically fully compatible with science. Pretty thin, given the utter absence of evidence for the truth of substance dualism, but it’s what they have to run with. Catholics are pretty good at ironing out logical inconsistencies – they’ve had some smart minds doing it over the years. However, they still have a huge problem finding evidence to support their positions.

  27. #27 J.J.E.
    May 19, 2011

    In this way, Catholic teaching is logically fully compatible with science.

    No, this is most certainly not the case unless the CC makes a few other concessions to population genetics. Modern science has shown to a very high degree of certainty that is as close to “truth” as we ever get, that contemporary humans cannot trace their ancestry to a pair of people, even if that pair of people is hypothesized to live along side other “not quite fully human” people. In order to allow that all humans today have a soul, the CC would have to posit that the soul was injected into at least thousands of Adams and Eves at some point, not just two. Or horizontal soul transfer. Or that the soulless could have souled offspring simply by mating with souled people. Or other ridiculous hypotheses that would contort the concept of a soul to fit the requirements of population genetics.

  28. #28 Michael
    May 20, 2011

    JJE: Actually the doctrine is not that souls are genetically passed on as if they were somehow part of the physical endowment of a human being. The doctrine is that every individual soul is a special creation.

    http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/366.htm

  29. #29 snafu
    May 20, 2011

    Or that the soulless could have souled offspring simply by mating with souled people

    This is probably the closest of your options. More accurately, as someone else said, souls are created by God whenever (and in whomever) he wants. In contrast, original sin *has* to be inherited. So all we need is *some* common ancestral pair that we arbitrarily label Adam & Eve that everyone alive today shares genetic material with. Not necessarily the most recent. But necessarily the most distant that is Truly Human(TM), albeit living in a population of other creatures that are Not Quite Truly Human(TM).

    Note that the ‘Truly’ part (ie the soul) is defined so loosely as to be beyond criticism. In the catechism, I believe it’s something along the lines of “the spiritual principle in man”. It’s so vague it doesn’t even make clear if it’s causally efficacious or not. In an official teaching document, I suspect this is intentional…though it’s commonplace in Catholic circles to align with substance dualism, ie a non-physical causally-active basis to the mind.

    Here endeth my attempt to align Catholicism with modern science. Don’t know why I bother really, given that I don’t believe a word of it.

  30. #30 eric
    May 20, 2011

    Collin: You write off directionality as “confirmation bias” but scientists who know much more than either of us still employ it. But it seems to be a requirement if the models contain the requisite sense of direction. You quote Gould, but he also required directionality: [long quote omitted; if you want it, it’s in @22]

    That is from The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. I assume the “725” at the end of your quote is a page number? Unfortunately, I don’t have that book, and, it being a fairly big biology text, I have no cheap or fast way of getting it and looking it up.

    Googling that quote shows several hits on christian apologetics web sites , so it seems they’ve latched on to the same quote you have. Without the primary source in front of me, I can’t say much more than this:

    (1) Given all his other writing, and the historically known propensity of creationist web sites to misquote Gould, I do not think it means what you think it means.

    (2) Did you get this from Structure directly, or from a secondary source? Are you willing to personally attest that this passage is saying Gould thinks evolution is directed towards greater complexity? If you’re telling me that you’ve read the original, and yes, this is what Gould means, you Collin are telling me eric that there’s no quote mining from a secondary source going on here, then I might be willing to shell out a few bucks for the book to see for myself. But if you pulled this quote from some christian apologetics web site, I probably won’t bother.

  31. #31 J.J.E.
    May 22, 2011

    @ snafu & Michael:

    Yeah, I conflated original sin with ensoulment. I suppose this just pushes the ridiculousness to a different level. What happens to the souls of those who descended entirely from humans uninvolved in original sin?

    This is exhibit A why there is no such thing as “sophisticated” theology. It is all premised on unsupportable propositions to begin with.

  32. #32 Collin Brendemuehl
    May 22, 2011

    Eric,
    Try Amazon “Search Inside”. I have the book. Useful information and fully door-stop-capable. Took a long time to get through it, but finally …

    Do you think it’s somehow a mis-quote or misrepresentation because of who quotes it? So what? That’s what critcism is all about.

    I’ve never, to my recollection, looked @ any apologetics sites or read any apologetics books, who quoted that piece. I gleaned it myself for my own project on the topic.

    I’m still waiting for an answer to the historical question: If evolutionary theory answers the progressive question of how we got here, what happens if we remove that plainly religious concept from the model structures?
    (But I think it will be a loooooong wait for a substantive answer to that one.)

  33. #33 Collin Brendemuehl
    May 22, 2011

    As eric noted above, the astronomically greater total numbers, and numbers of species, of the simplest life forms versus the more complex ones makes utterly absurd any claim that life has a preferred evolutionary direction toward complexity.

    Well, now we go away from science and into the obscurity that Polanyi pointed out decades ago.
    And if you don’t accept that, then suspect you reject the hypothesis (Coyne, et al) that negative traits will always be rejected in favor of beneficial traits. That’s directionality. And, again, a real problem.

  34. #34 Jud
    May 22, 2011

    Collin Brendemuehl writes:

    Well, now we go away from science….

    Really? Gould seemed to feel it was a scientific argument, which he uses repeatedly in Full House.

    But you know better, eh?

  35. #35 Collin Brendemuehl
    May 23, 2011

    Jud,
    So you think Gould was correct, but Coyne, Mayr, & Prothero and others are wrong? Why?
    What I’m saying is that it is not normally considered good “science” to pick and choose from the various models what suits your fancy at the moment.

  36. #36 eric
    May 23, 2011

    If evolutionary theory answers the progressive question of how we got here, what happens if we remove that plainly religious concept from the model structures?

    What religious concept? Any directionality should be supported by evidence. Acting as though there is no directionality until someone proves a directionality exists is not religious. Its just good science.

    “No directionality” is like “No fairies in my garden.”

  37. #37 Pierce R. Butler
    May 23, 2011

    Ruse: … the Pope is not helping.

    If somebody were to set up a blog by that name, how many commenters might have something to contribute, and how often would they be cited approvingly at The Intersection?

  38. #38 Jud
    May 23, 2011

    Collin Brendemuehl writes:

    What I’m saying is that it is not normally considered good “science” to pick and choose from the various models what suits your fancy at the moment.

    Well that’s a good thing, since Gould’s position was consistent throughout his career and was also consistent with those of Coyne, Mayr, & Prothero – there is no overall direction of progress toward greater complexity in evolution.

  39. #39 Collin Brendemuehl
    May 24, 2011

    there is no overall direction of progress toward greater complexity in evolution

    It is always fruitless to discuss these things with those who know nothing about their own position. I earlier quoted Gould on directionality. More, you ask?
    Robyn Conder Broyles says

    Evolution works the same
    way. The rare, random beneficial mutations are kept, because those individuals with such mutations survive better. The detrimental mutations go away in one generation because the individuals with those mutations die quickly. After many generations, the result is a collection of beneficial mutations, without the detrimental ones which arise more frequently but are not preserved.

    Mayr said:

    Darwin also saw clearly that there are two aspects to evolution. One is the “upward” movement of a phyletic lineage, its gradual change from an ancestral to a derived condition. This is referred to as anagenesis. The other consists of the splitting of evolutionary lineages or, more broadly, of the origin of new branches (clades) of the phylogenetic tree. This process of the origin of biodiversity is called cladogenesis. It always begins with an event of speciation, but the new clade may become, in time, an important branch of the phylogenetic tree by diverging increasingly from the ancestral type.

    and

    Almost everything in the inanimate universe is also evolving, that is, it is changing in a distinctly directional sequence.

    Want more? Or will you continue to play pick-and-choose “science”?

  40. #40 J.J.E.
    May 26, 2011

    Collin, you aren’t making any sense. You are picking and choosing from vastly different and unrelated ideas that just happen to share a word in the English language: “directionality”. You seem to invoke complexity, then forget about it for example.

  41. #41 Collin Brendemuehl
    May 27, 2011

    jje
    Directionality is a necessary theme and subtext of all evolutionary models and it is expressed in a variety of senses. Whether it is in molecular biology, geology, or just theory structures, any time that principle is expressed, or in whatever context the principle takes place, the situation remains.

  42. #42 Jud
    May 27, 2011

    Collin Brendemuehl writes:

    Want more? Or will you continue to play pick-and-choose “science”?

    Not a single comment you quoted referred to an overall direction of evolution toward greater complexity.

    Next time you wish to try to contradict a point someone else has made using a batch of diverse quotes (I’m saying nothing at the moment about this tactic as a means of argumentation), do try to make them relevant.

  43. #43 Collin Brendemuehl
    May 29, 2011

    Jud,

    Huh?

    What do you think defines the difference between “beneficial mutations” and the “detrimental mutations” which “go away”?

    Or “the ‘upward’ movement of a phyletic lineage, its gradual change from an ancestral to a derived condition”?

    If you are going to support naturalistic evolution, at least learn your own system.

  44. #44 eric
    May 31, 2011

    What do you think defines the difference between “beneficial mutations” and the “detrimental mutations” which “go away”?

    Local ecology. Your notion of directionality completely misses the point that the value of a mutation can be positive or negative depending on where you live, what you eat, what you compete with, etc…

    This is why the ladder concept fails and why there is no absolute directionality to evolution; because fitness is a local concept.

  45. #45 Collin Brendemuehl
    June 1, 2011

    Oh, Eric. How selective can you get?

    Why do you think things “go away” except that the direction must be beneficial. This applies to both global and local concerns. And when the real scientist says that detrimental traits go away then the direction is toward complexity. Even if it is local only, the process still necessitates directionality.

    Directionality is not simply about fitness. It is about the purpose of fitness. It is about survival and the development of greater complexity.

    I don’t know what you mean by “absolute directionality” except perhaps for the idea that humans were somehow inevitable, which is not my point. That concerns me less than directionality as a general principle. The principle is everywhere and, as I said previously, is historically a religious concept which ought not be a part of “science”.

  46. #46 Jud
    June 3, 2011

    @Collin Brendemuehl:

    A direction toward complexity (or any other overall direction, strategy, or plan to evolution) may be what you believe in, and what you think “real scientists” believe, but it is decidedly not a fair reading of Gould or anyone else I’d consider an authority on modern evolutionary theory.

    Please try to distinguish your own anomalous beliefs from the mainstream. That means not confusing terms like “beneficial” or “detrimental” mutations, which in mainstream evolutionary theory refer only to adaptation to current environmental conditions, with any sort of overall strategy or direction that would imply looking toward the future.

    There are any number of real world examples of animals losing entire biochemical pathways, morphologies, etc., and thus becoming less “complex” in lay terms – I’m not sure it’s a term that a scientist would or should use. There are also any number of real world examples showing that evolution is not forward-looking, and thus cannot have any overall direction whatever toward “complexity” or any other goal you want to posit.

  47. #47 Collin Brendemuehl
    June 5, 2011

    Jud,

    There are also any number of real world examples showing that evolution is not forward-looking, and thus cannot have any overall direction whatever toward “complexity” or any other goal you want to posit.

    Anomalous? What I want to posit? Read Fodor/Piatelli-Palmarini? They thought Darwin’s simple adaptationism was inadequate. Mayr? His synthesis was a declaration that Darwin’s simple adaptationism was inadequate. Wonder why Gould was specifically arguing against Dawkins? It was because they disagreed on the mechanism. It is not I who has an anomaly. Don’t blame me for their work.
    And just a couple notes of concern here: (1) If a negative direction is normative and not exceptional then the evolutionary model fails intrinsically. (2) If you remove positive directionality then there is no evolution.

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