I often write posts arguing that it is difficult to reconcile evolution and Christianity. When you consider that evolution challenges certain claims of the Bible, refutes the traditional design argument, exacerbates the problem of evil, and suggests that humanity does not play any central role in creation, you have a pretty strong cumulative case. But I always stop short of saying bluntly that you cannot accept both evolution and Christianity. That is not for political reasons or out of fear of offending anyone. It is simply that I do not believe that the question “Can a Darwinian be a Christian?” is the sort of query to which a definitive answer can be given. Your answer to it depends, at a minimum, on what you believe is essential to Christian faith and on what you consider it plausible to believe.

As it happens, the YEC’s generally take a similar line. They argue passionately that theirs is the only interpretation of the Bible that makes sense, and they believe that once you start “compromising” on scripture its a steep, slippery slope leading you to outright apostasy. But for all of that they are generally clear that your status as a Christian does not ride on whether you get it right about the age of the Earth.

Writing at HuffPo, Jonathan Dudley takes a different view. He argues that Christians are actually required to accept evolution. I’m sure that will come as a surprise to large numbers of conservative Christians. Let’s consider his argument.

In the evangelical community, the year 2011 has brought a resurgence of debate over evolution. The current issue of Christianity Today asks if genetic discoveries preclude an historical Adam. While BioLogos, the brainchild of NIH director Francis Collins, is seeking to promote theistic evolution among evangelicals, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently argued that true Christians should believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old.

As someone raised evangelical, I realize anti-evolutionists believe they are defending the Christian tradition. But as a seminary graduate now training to be a medical scientist, I can say that, in reality, they’ve abandoned it.

Really? How so?

In theory, if not always in practice, past Christian theologians valued science out of the belief that God created the world scientists study. Augustine castigated those who made the Bible teach bad science, John Calvin argued that Genesis reflects a commoner’s view of the physical world, and the Belgic confession likened scripture and nature to two books written by the same author.

These beliefs encouraged past Christians to accept the best science of their day, and these beliefs persisted even into the evangelical tradition. As Princeton Seminary’s Charles Hodge, widely considered the father of modern evangelical theology, put it in 1859: “Nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible; and we only interpret the Word of God by the Word of God when we interpret the Bible by science.”

Even taking this at face value I’m not sure how helpful it is. Creationists, after all, are adamant that they love science and quite agree that we come closer to God by studying His creation. They just don’t agree that evolution represents the best science of our day.

More to the point, however, the creationists can make a strong argument that their views regarding the relationship between science and religion is actually far more in keeping with tradition than Dudley would have us believe. For example, there was more to Augustine’s view than the claim that the Bible should not be made to teach bad science. His basic view has been ably summarized by theologian Edmund Hill:

In the course of his commentary Augustine repeatedly tells the reader his principles on the relationship between faith and science. … If there are scientific positions justified by sure arguments, the exegete has the task of showing that these positions do not in any way contradict the sacred scriptures. If, on the contrary, there are unambiguous truths of faith that contradict the theses of science, the exegete must, as far as he can, show the falsity of such theses or at least be convinced of their falsity.

In arguments on this topic, it is common to note that Augustine did not believe the days in Genesis 1 were twenty-four hour periods of time. Indeed, but his interpretation of Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 was far more literal. Hill writes:

Whereas Augustine gave a strictly figurative interpretation of the first account (while regarding this as the literal sense), his exegesis of the second account sticks very close to the meaning of the letter. … For him, paradise was a real garden, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge were real trees, the rivers were real rivers. He thought that by maintaining the reality of the spatio-temporal framework of the paradise story he could best safeguard the truths of faith implied in the story. In his view, sticking to the literal meaning of external details also made other points certain: the state of spiritual and bodily integrity in which human beings were originally created; the reality of the first sin; finally, the punishment that followed the sin and that explains the present state of humanity.

Those spiritual truths given by Hill as being so important to Augustine are precisely the ones that are challenged by evolution (and its related sciences). It would seem, then, that this is an example of science contradicting central tenets of the faith. And we have seen what Augustine thought about that

Furthermore, the traditional view among theologians certainly was not that science had carte blanche to explain the natural world, with religion left to accept passively what the scientists said. Historian David Lindberg summarizes the common view:

In Augustine’s influential view, then, knowledge of the things of this world is not a legitimate end in itself, but as a means to other ends it is indispensable. The classical sciences must accept a subordinate position as the handmaiden of theology and religion — the temporal serving the eternal. The knowledge contained in classical sciences is not to be loved, but it may legitimately be used. This attitude toward scientific knowledge came to prevail throughout the Middle Ages and survived well into the modern period.

That is a near perfect summary of how modern creationists view things. Dudley will have to work much harder if he is to convince us that it is the creationists who have abandoned the Christian tradition.

Incidentally, I would add that Dudley has a lot of nerve quoting Hodge in this context without mentioning that it was Hodge who famously titled his final book What is Darwinism?, and answered It is atheism. In Hodge’s time, there were legitimate scientific objections to Darwin’s theory. It was clear, though, that Hodge found it utterly contrary to Christianity as he understood it.

Most of what Dudley now writes looks pretty good to me.

But beyond a certain point, this reasoning breaks down. Because no amount of talk about “worldviews” and “presuppositions” can change a simple fact: creationism has failed to provide an alternative explanation for the vast majority of evidence explained by evolution.

It has failed to explain why birds still carry genes to make teeth, whales to make legs, and humans to make tails.

It has failed to explain why the fossil record proposed by modern scientists can be used to make precise and accurate predictions about the location of transition fossils.

It has failed to explain why the fossil record demonstrates a precise order, with simple organisms in the deepest rocks and more complex ones toward the surface.

It has failed to explain why today’s animals live in the same geographical area as fossils of similar species.

It has failed to explain why, if carnivorous dinosaurs lived at the same time as modern animals, we don’t find the fossils of modern animals in the stomachs of fossilized dinosaurs.

It has failed to explain the broken genes that litter the DNA of humans and apes but are functional in lower vertebrates.

It has failed to explain how the genetic diversity we observe among humans could have arisen in a few thousand years from two biological ancestors.

A pretty good list! Of course, its length could be multiplied easily.

I also liked this:

But the belief that scientists can discover truth, and that, once sufficiently debated, challenged and modified, it should be accepted even if it creates tensions for familiar belief systems, has an obvious impact on decisions that are made everyday. And it is that belief Christians reject when they reject evolution.

Again, hard to argue with that.

I see that Dudley has a book out arguing that the majorities of evangelical Christians who reject evolution, gay marriage, abortion and environmentalism are wrong for specifically religious reasons. I look forward to reading it. I wish him luck making his case, since it certainly would be a great advance in our civil life if more evangelicals could be persuaded to take reasonable positions on these issue. But Dudley is not playing a strong hand. The creationists can make a persuasive case that it is he, not they, who have abandoned orthodoxy.

Comments

  1. #1 David
    June 21, 2011

    “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s. ”

    just so. render unto science the things that are science’s….

  2. #2 Russell
    June 21, 2011

    It is not clear to me that the faith of St. Augustine or Jonathan Dudley is any less self-deceptive than the most literal of fundamentalists. All seek to defend their faith, their only question how to do that most robustly.

  3. #3 Balstrome
    June 21, 2011

    Is there any passage in the Christian bible, that shows beyond a doubt that what it is talking about could only come from the Christian God. If there is a simple explain for it, then it fails to be what it claims. By this, I would suggest that there is no basis to use the bible to support the claim that a god was involved at any point in time with the universe as we know it now. This blog post’s title should go further and suggest that along with accepting evolution, Christians should reject Christianity, because of the above reasons.

  4. #4 Martin
    June 22, 2011

    I am a Dominican priest (as Edmund [RIP] was), and teach the Hebrew Scriptures to future ordinands in the South African context.

    Firstly, the paradigm of scientific enquiry which Augustine followed was platonic. He had no other frame of reference for his statements, so we cannot, with the advantage of over a millennium judge him to harshly. He did well enough in that framework.

    Since I am most clearly not an Evangelical Christian I cannot answer for their world view. I can for mine, which uses contemporary literary and historical analysis, as well as archeological evidence of the society which produced the texts, to understand the texts in their context and across contexts – an ever evolving enquiry.

    Gen 1 and 2 are separated in time and represent two myths of origin. Gen 1 is the older and confronts the myths of Babylon in a fairly robust way – for example the creation of lights on the third day, after plants, is a demythologization of the stellar array.

    The Hebrew myths focus on the primacy of the human experience and its meaning in the context of the bronze and iron age societies which produced them. The primacy and dignity given to the human person is at the core, and somewhat revolutionary given the context of other myths which saw human beings as the slaves and playthings of capricious deities.

    The fact that the authors of Gen 1 and 2 conceive reality as ordered, rational, material and comprehensible in the light of a few basic principles is enough of an “aha” moment to give one pause for contemplation.

    I see no conflict with the etiology which evolution offers. My own understanding is that there is some conflict with regard to any teleology in evolution. Faith tries to answer that positively, most scientists (as I understand it) would dismiss teleology as irrelevant. As far as I understand it the predictive value of evolution lies simply in the concept that life will fit and adapt more fittingly to its environmental niche or perish. Religious teleology makes more sweeping claims about value and purpose and responsibility in the unfolding of reality towards (in much of Christianity) a positive goal. Both irrelevance and goal are matters of faith – there is no proof, beyond a doubt, for either at the moment.

    I am grateful for the humility which evolution imparts and the understanding of the fragility of the interplay between life and environment. I believe it calls me to a greater responsibility toward the world and what is in it. Evolution helps us confront the stupidity of irresponsible exploitation of natural resources and the harm we visit on our environment, and the ridiculousness of any “human exceptionalism” as regards nature. If we poison our niche, we die, no exception.

  5. #5 Martin
    June 22, 2011

    How come you only see the bloopers after posting?

    Gen 1 is the younger of the two narratives – my apologies.

  6. #6 csrster
    June 22, 2011

    Martin,
    I think trying to draw moral conclusions from scientific observations is a dangerous game.

    In his book “The Fabric of Reality”, Theoretical Physicist/Computer Scientist David Deutsch suggests that, as measured in the quantum multiverse, the human brain may actually be the largest and most complex structure in the known universe. If correct, this would tend to undermine human humility. Does that mean that Deutsch is less likely to be correct than Darwin?

  7. #7 Russell
    June 22, 2011

    Martin writes:

    My own understanding is that there is some conflict with regard to any teleology in evolution. Faith tries to answer that positively, most scientists (as I understand it) would dismiss teleology as irrelevant. …

    There is an ambiguity in what you write, and a common mistake to be avoided. The mistake is the notion that teleology can somehow be inserted into the theory of evolution. Common examples of this are that evolution has as its goal producing intelligence in life, or that animals (in contrast to perverse humans) act with the purpose of achieving the greatest fitness. Not only do neither of those follow from evolution, they are contrary to it.

    Now, one can speculate that some god created the universe we know for some purpose, including the sort of universe that would lead to biological evolution. But that has nothing to do with evolution, per se, and the speculation usually seems not to turn on any factual matter regarding evolution.

    Both irrelevance and goal are matters of faith…

    Then the rational thing is not to believe either one.

  8. #8 Neil Craig
    June 22, 2011

    The problem with the anti-creationist argument is that most of those doing it are not trying to promote science but merely trying to make themselves look smarter than the rednecks. No wonder they antagonise these people.

    The damage, financial, cultural & scientific done by creationism is tiny and can be easily avoided. The damage done by the catastrophic global warming scam runs into trillions and cannot be avoided by anybody. The cultural and scientific damage can be shown by the fact that most blogs on “scienceblogs” feel the need to censor any discussion to promote, what the very act of censorship proves they know to be, this pseudoscientific fraud.

    “Fighting” creationism is shooying fich in a barrel while ignoring sharks killing people.

  9. #9 GregH
    June 22, 2011

    Neil C.: “The damage, financial, cultural & scientific done by creationism is tiny and can be easily avoided.”

    Well, except that it teaches people to believe anti-scientific nonsense. Creationism become normalized; it’s accepted by the average person who believes that Science is too complicated for them to understand. Boy, I wish there was an obvious example handy… WAIT! What about this one:

    “The damage done by the catastrophic global warming scam runs into trillions and cannot be avoided by anybody.”

    This is exactly the kind of magic thinking promoted by Creationists: if you find it too difficult to understand, it must be wrong.

    In the words of one of my associates, talking about evolution and climate change: “Science has failed.” Nonsense. What has failed is his (and Neil Craig’s) imagination. There’s plenty of reliable evidence for both evolution and climate change. The fact that you are unable to come to terms with this evidence by either a) refuting it, or b) understanding the science, only demonstrates YOUR inability to learn the material.

  10. #10 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 22, 2011

    Okay folks. Let’s stay on topic. This post had nothing to do with global warming.

  11. #11 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 22, 2011

    Martin –

    Firstly, the paradigm of scientific enquiry which Augustine followed was platonic. He had no other frame of reference for his statements, so we cannot, with the advantage of over a millennium judge him to harshly. He did well enough in that framework.

    For the purposes of this post I was not judging him at all. I was merely trying to present his views accurately. Dudley was being very cavalier, I felt, in presenting Augustine’s opinions as justification for the idea that Christians must accept the best science of the day. Actually, Augustine believed there were certain unambiguous truths of the faith, and if science challenged those truths then so much the worse for science. Moreover, some of the things he considered essential to the faith are things that are, indeed, challenged by evolution. It would be pointless to speculate about what Augustine would have believed were he alive today, but the fact remains that his clearly stated views do not support Dudley’s interpretation.

    I see no conflict with the etiology which evolution offers. My own understanding is that there is some conflict with regard to any teleology in evolution. Faith tries to answer that positively, most scientists (as I understand it) would dismiss teleology as irrelevant. As far as I understand it the predictive value of evolution lies simply in the concept that life will fit and adapt more fittingly to its environmental niche or perish.

    I would agree that the lack of teleology in evolution is probably the biggest stumbling block for people trying to reconcile evolution with Christian faith, though it is not the only issue, as I noted at the start of the post. I would point out, though, that it’s not just that scientists think that teleology is irrelevant, it is that our current best understanding of evolution simply does not allow for any directing principle. Natural selection works on chance variations, in randomly changing environments, occasionally redirected by mass extinctions or asteroid collisions or what not, and it is hard to see how any of this is heading towards some goal. People like paleontologist Simon Conway Morris argue that it is meaningful to speak of teleology in the evolutionary process, and there’s an interesting argument to be had there. But most evolutionary biologists do not agree with his view.

    I would also add that the predictive value of evolution goes a lot farther than you suggest. Evolution makes very definite predictions about paleontology, genetics, anatomy, biogeography, and embryology, among other fields. That evolutionary thinking has so often proved itself useful in practical, scientific research is probably the biggest argument in its favor.

  12. #12 DRK
    June 22, 2011

    Just delurking to say I’m Christian, though not an evangelical Christian. And I completely accept that evolution is the best explanation for how species came to develop. And that science is the best way to discover truths about the physical universe. God gave us brains to use, after all.

    So for me, this whole discussion of can Christians believe in evolution…meh. Of course they can. ‘Cause I am, and I do. (“But “required”? By whom? My conscience? Again I say “meh”.)

    There is so much heat and light from fundamentalists out there, (and not just Christians either, fundamentalist Muslims are of course also creationist) — that I think other people of faith tend to be overlooked. “Meh” is just not very sensational, compared to loons talking about cavemen with pet dinosaurs.

    Going back to lurking now…

  13. #13 SLC
    June 22, 2011

    Based on the excerpts posted by Prof. Rosenhouse, Mr. Dudley fails to mention some of the findings of DNA analysis that strongly support common descent, particularly the descent of apes and humans from a common ancestor. In particular, examples include:

    1. The broken vitamin C gene which is common to apes and humans but is active in nearly all other mammals.

    2. The observed fusion of ape chromosomes 12 and 13 to form human chromosome 2.

  14. #14 I. Snarlalot
    June 22, 2011

    Christians can and do believe anything they want to believe. It’s just that the dogmatic way it’s often practiced specifically mitigates against developing a body of followers sophisticated enough to understand that any religion is basically just a cultural support system that is always changing and evolving.

    Look, there are atheist Hindus and atheist Jews, and there are atheist Christians though they no doubt feel pressure to hide it. Certainly plenty of atheists celebrate Christmas. Evolution wouldn’t even be a blip of a problem for Christians, who over the centuries have managed to use the Bible to justify not only reason and good works but just about every kind of violence and exploitation imaginable; except that there is embedded in its history an hysterical literalism promulgated by the desperate and enabled by the power hungry.

    It can change slowly (“Oh, hmm, gee, the sun really is at the center of the solar system”), and it can change quickly under the right circumstance — that is to say hopefully more peacefully than during the reformation.

  15. #15 eric
    June 22, 2011

    Granting for sake of argument that Augustine thought Christians must accept good science, so what? Augustine is not Christianity. If there’s nothing definitive on the subject in the primary documentation, how could anyone say “must?”

    One would think that God or Jesus would have explicitly mentioned any and all the “musts” to get into heaven. A theological argument that implies that they didn’t has much more serious ramifications than just accepting evolution.

  16. #16 John Farrell
    June 22, 2011

    I would be interested to know what (Fr.) Martin thinks about the Church’s (thus far) puzzling silence on the issue of monogenism.

    Jason is quite right to bring up Augustine, as it is from Augustine (though not exclusively) the Church derived its very specific dogmatic statements about the nature of original sin.

    Not just that there is such a thing as OS, but that the Council of Trent, Vatican I and Pope Pius XII were all quite explicit about OS being a state that is inherited by propagation from an individual, Adam, whom Catholics *must* regard as the single progenitor of the human race.

    This is quite simply no longer tenable in light of evolution, and more importantly, in light of genomics.

    When people allude to Pope John Paul II’s 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, as evidence for the Church’s acceptance of evolution, they fail to note that he passed over the issue of monogenism in utter silence–didn’t say a word.

    Now, try bringing up evolution with traditionalist Catholics, and they will cite Humani Generis chapter and verse as absolute, binding and there’s an end of all discussion about evolution as far as they’re concerned (circa 1950). Allusions to the 2004 Theological Commission’s tacit acceptance of a polygenic origin of the human species is met with, ‘well, sorry, that’s not an authoritative statement.’

    So you see where the Vatican is. I’ve had conversations with officials in the Curia about this, and the general line is: we don’t need to address this right now.

    Needless to say, this is not a situation to inspire confidence in the Magisterium. Or the usual platitudes about the harmony between science and faith.

    So Jason’s point is spot on.

  17. #17 Dan L.
    June 22, 2011

    I see no conflict with the etiology which evolution offers. My own understanding is that there is some conflict with regard to any teleology in evolution. Faith tries to answer that positively, most scientists (as I understand it) would dismiss teleology as irrelevant. As far as I understand it the predictive value of evolution lies simply in the concept that life will fit and adapt more fittingly to its environmental niche or perish. Religious teleology makes more sweeping claims about value and purpose and responsibility in the unfolding of reality towards (in much of Christianity) a positive goal. Both irrelevance and goal are matters of faith – there is no proof, beyond a doubt, for either at the moment.

    You are presenting “irrelevant” and “factual” as diametrically opposed — you’re presenting the question of what to believe as symmetric, and this is simply not true.

    When a biologist describes teleology as “irrelevant” to evolution, he’s not asserting that there is definitely no teleology. He’s simply pointing out that no assumption of teleology is required to get everything we need out of evolution — it explains the diversity of life and the patterns by which that diversity was derived over geological time without recourse to purpose or agency. The biologist can remain perfectly agnostic about whether there is such a purpose or agency.

    That is, asserting that teleology is irrelevant is a statement of scientific fact, not of faith. This is not the negation of teleology being factual — the irrelevance of teleology has no direct bearing on its truth. However, since agency is not required, the diversity and complexity of life cannot be taken as evidence for teleology or agency. Thus, if one believes only assertions for which at least some positive evidence can be adduced and no significant negative evidence can be adduced, the observation that teleology is irrelevant to evolution undermines the positive evidence for teleology (rather than directly providing negative evidence).

    On the other hand, if we don’t need teleology to explain biological life then why should we invoke it in the first place? This is the point of Occam’s razor: there are many more ways to be wrong than to be right, and so assuming the truth of an assertion without having positive evidence for the assertion will be much more likely to lead to incorrect results than to correct ones. Thus if one’s goal is reliable knowledge one should assume that any assertion for which strong evidence cannot be adduced is false.

    From a skeptic’s point of view, the fact that teleology is irrelevant to the mechanism of biological evolution is itself a reason to disbelieve that teleology is involved — this is, to some extent, a matter of faith, but as I tried to explain in the previous paragraph, it’s not so much like faith in God as it is like faith that a coin flipped 30 times will not show heads every time. It’s more of a wager than a belief — if heads comes up 30 times, the skeptic won’t insist that this is impossible. She will simply admit that her wager did not pan out — and probably begin to suspect that there’s something a little strange about that coin.

    Speaking for myself, I don’t consider this a situation in which both sides are attached to premises for which no evidence, positive or negative, can be adduced. I haven’t made any hard ontological commitments — I don’t assume that materialism is true in the way that theists assume it’s false. Rather, I think of the premises of religious belief as hypotheses for which little or no positive evidence has been adduced. It’s not that I believe that God COULDN’T exist. It’s simply that I’ve never seen any reason to believe God exists and I try not to believe things that I don’t have good reasons to believe.

  18. #18 Jackson Stacey
    June 22, 2011

    You’re not quite right about Augustine or Hodge and Dudley’s case is much stronger than you acknowledge. Just consider these two quotes, one from Augustine and one from Hodge:

    Augustine: “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]”

    Hodge did call Darwinism atheism but he also said that “A man…may be an evolutionist without being a Darwinian….there is a theistic and an atheistic form of the nebular hypothesis as the the origin of the universe; so there may be a theistic interpretation of the Darwinian theory.”

  19. #19 Jackson Stacey
    June 22, 2011

    Likewise, Hodge Princeton Colleague B.B. Warfield wrote: “I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Gen. I&II or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution. [John Calvin] would have been a precursor of the modern evolutionary theorists…for he teaches, as they teach, the modification of the original world-stuff into the varied forms which constitute the ordered world”

    These quotes are all from Dudley’s book, which I just finished reading, and he makes a strong case.

  20. #20 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 22, 2011

    Jackson Stacey –

    Your quotation from Augustine simply doesn’t contradict anything I said. As Hill explains in the quotes I presented, Augustine was happy to give science its due on matters that were of secondary importance, but believed that science had to yield on unambiguous truths of the faith. Among those truths are those presented in Genesis 2 and 3, which are directly challenged by evolution. So there’s no justification for using Augustine to argue that Christians are required to accept evolution.

    As for Hodge, yes, of course, there are non-Darwinian theories of evolution. But the fact remains that evolution as it’s understood by scientists today is Darwinism in precisely the nonteleological form Hodge derided as atheism. B. B. Warfield was more moderate on evolution than a lot of his contemporaries, but even he was carving out exceptions for humanity, assumed that God was guiding the process, and was generally skeptical of the whole thing. Still, people like him are the reason I opened this post by saying explicitly that no definitive answer could be given to the question of whether a Darwinian could be a Christian.

    As I said in the post, I still look forward to reading Dudley’s book. But in the essay I was discussing he argues that Christians are required to accept evolution because there is a tradition in Christianity of accepting the best science of the day. In fact there is no such tradition, as I showed. In terms of the relationship between science and faith, the creationists can fairly claim to be well within the bounds of traditional understandings.

  21. #21 H.H.
    June 22, 2011

    Martin wrote:

    The fact that the authors of Gen 1 and 2 conceive reality as ordered, rational, material and comprehensible in the light of a few basic principles is enough of an “aha” moment to give one pause for contemplation.

    Could you clarify this? What are the “basic principles” which can be found in Genesis 1 that offer such important insights?

    Both irrelevance and goal are matters of faith – there is no proof, beyond a doubt, for either at the moment.

    What would you accept as proof, or even evidence, against the notion of teleology in evolution?

  22. #22 Jackson Stacey
    June 22, 2011

    You’re entire argument hinges on your assertion, which nearly all mainstream (i.e. non-fundamentalist) Christian theologians reject, that evolution does indeed contradict central tenets of Christian faith. And if it does not, using Augustine is entirely appropriate.

    Also, your presentation of the mainstream scientific understanding of evolution incorporates non-scientific philosophical beliefs that can’t be proven by science (i.e. that evolution is non-teleological). Sure, most mainstream scientists may accept those assumptions, but that doesn’t mean that accepting scientific data on evolution requires them too.

    In fact, Dudley’s position is basically the same as the position of all the most sophisticated theologians operating today, including the Christian Reformed Church, the Catholic Church, most scholars at places like Calvin College or Wheaton College, etc… and he’s not the first to argue that creationist have departed from the Christian tradition in their valuation of science. It’s also been argued, in different forms, by such giants as Mark Noll (Notre Dame), Ronald Numbers (Wisconsin), and David Livingstone (who showed in Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders that nearly all evangelical leaders actually accepted evolution when it first appeared.)

  23. #23 H.H.
    June 22, 2011

    Also, your presentation of the mainstream scientific understanding of evolution incorporates non-scientific philosophical beliefs that can’t be proven by science (i.e. that evolution is non-teleological).

    First of all, proofs exist only in mathematics and logic, not in science. The primary criterion and standard of evaluation of a scientific theory is evidence, not proof. And all the available evidence is consistent with the view that evolution is unguided and inconsistent with the view that it is. Therefore, the only “non-scientific” belief is the assumption of an inherent teleology in evolution, not the conclusion that it’s unguided, since that’s what the evidence unequivocally suggests.

    In fact, Dudley’s position is basically the same as the position of all the most sophisticated theologians operating today…

    You are confusing sophistry with sophistication.

  24. #24 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 22, 2011

    Jackson Stacey –

    You’re entire argument hinges on your assertion, which nearly all mainstream (i.e. non-fundamentalist) Christian theologians reject, that evolution does indeed contradict central tenets of Christian faith. And if it does not, using Augustine is entirely appropriate.

    My argument is that Dudley’s argument is wrong. That claim has nothing to do with what modern Christian theologians believe. It also has nothing to do with whether evolution contradicts central tenets of the Christian faith (a claim I specifically abjured in the opening paragraph of the post, incidentally).

    Dudley’s argument is that Christians are required to accept evolution, because tradition teaches that Christians are required to accept the best science of their day. He specifically referred to Augustine as supportive of that view. So I thought it reasonable to point out that, actually, Augustine did not support that view. Science that contradicted unambiguous truths of the faith could be rejected on that basis, he argued. Moreover, Augustine, not me, included among those unambiguous truths certain claims, about Adam and Eve and original sin, that are directly challenged by evolution and its related sciences.

    I then pointed to David Lindberg’s statement saying that the dominant view through much of Christian history was that science was subservient to theology. As it happens, his statement was a perfect description of how modern creationists view this issue. Once again, that makes it hard to argue that the creationists have abandoned tradition.

    You have offered nothing to challenge any of this.

    In fact, Dudley’s position is basically the same as the position of all the most sophisticated theologians operating today, including the Christian Reformed Church, the Catholic Church, most scholars at places like Calvin College or Wheaton College, etc… and he’s not the first to argue that creationist have departed from the Christian tradition in their valuation of science. It’s also been argued, in different forms, by such giants as Mark Noll (Notre Dame), Ronald Numbers (Wisconsin), and David Livingstone (who showed in Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders that nearly all evangelical leaders actually accepted evolution when it first appeared.)

    This is inaccurate in important ways. First of all, virtually no evangelical leaders in the decades after Darwin accepted evolution as Darwin presented it. Livingstone certainly did not show otherwise. Charles Hodge’s view mostly won the day among Christians. Historian Frederick Gregory writes:

    Unquestionably, the attempt to reconcile evolution and Christianity depended on a rejection of natural selection as the mechanism of evolution. A few writers, for example Asa Gray and George Frederick Wright, claimed that natural selection was not incompatible with a divinely ordered creation, but after Hodge, theologians for the most part abandoned the attempt to reconcile natural selection and design.

    “Evolution” is a vague term that can mean different things. But if it means what Darwin had in mind, and what modern scientists mean when they use the term, and what Dudley is saying that modern Christians are required to accept, then the major theologians of Darwin’s time, both Catholic and Protestant, wanted little to nothing to do with it. Their main objections were the nonteleological character of Darwin’s theory, and the fact that it contradicted traditional accounts of Adam and Eve and the Fall. Precisely the objections most anti-evolutionists have today, as it happens.

    Ronald Numbers has argued that religious anti-evolutionism of the late nineteenth century was not motivated by a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. Thus, modern young-Earth creationism is a break from the views held by religious intellectuals in the late nineteenth century. That is true but irrelevant to this discussion. I was not aware that he argued that tradition required that Christians accept the best science of their time even when that science contradicted central tenets of the faith. That, after all, was the claim Dudley made and the claim I challenged in the post. If you can show me a quote to that effect, I’d be grateful.

    Moreover, while it’s nice that so many Christian denominations officially accept evolution, their views sometimes get murkier when probed. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church continues to teach entirely traditional understandings of Adam and Eve and original sin. These beliefs are specifically at odds with modern science.

    Finally, the idea that evolution is nonteleological is well-supported by our best current understanding of the relevant science. That is why most evolutionary biologists take that view. It is not some arbitrary philosophical assumption. I would also note that the theory works perfectly well without any notion of teleology. Sure, you can graft teleology onto the theory, say by suggesting that God is taking advantage of quantum indeterminacy to guide the process or some such. Science cannot rule that out, but that’s why I opened the post by saying specifically that whether evolution and Christianity could be reconciled depended in part on what you find it plausible to believe.

    But since this is a digression from the main point of this post, I won’t discuss this further here.

  25. #25 Jr
    June 22, 2011

    Great post Jason!

    Would you like to comment on this http://www.scienceandreligiontoday.com/2011/06/22/why-can-judaism-embrace-science-so-easily/ article? It is about Judaism and its relation with science.

  26. #26 Jackson Stacey
    June 22, 2011

    I should emphasize that I respect your views and the gracious tone of your post, but I don’t see how it’s a digression when it’s a discussion completely focused on your posting.

    ” I was not aware that he argued that tradition required that Christians accept the best science of their time even when that science contradicted central tenets of the faith. That, after all, was the claim Dudley made and the claim I challenged in the post.”

    Actually Dudley didn’t argue that at all. He basically assumes, as again virtually all mainstream, non-fundamentalist theologians today do, that evolution doesn’t contradict central tenets of the faith. Your suggestion that evolution necessarily rules out an historical fall and Adam and Eve and original sin is also highly controversial, if not flat-out wrong (one can believe humanity originated with more than 2 people and still believe a God singled out two people to attain consciousness of sin), and you simply assert it with no argument. And again, most mainstream theologians wouldn’t agree. So even if we accept Augustine as saying those things are required of Christians, your argument still doesn’t follow. And Dudley’s point then still stands. Sure, Christians may not be required to accept science that contradicts essential elements of the faith, but they are required to accept science that doesn’t, as Augustine so vociferously insisted in the quote I provided above.

    “the idea that evolution is nonteleological is well-supported by our best current understanding of the relevant science.”

    I don’t see how you can say this and then add that evolution can be interpreted in a teleological way. If science proves it’s nonteleological, then that’s the only way it could be interpreted. But science doesn’t prove it’s nonteleological. To do that, it would need to prove that a being like God doesn’t exist that guided evolution through, say, quantum indeterminacy. And since science is, by definition, confined to explaining the physical world, it can’t do that.

    And it’s misleading to say most evangelicals didn’t accept evolution “as Darwin presented it” in the late 1800s because you are again defining evolution as non-teleological, which we’ve seen science doesn’t require. In reality, virtually all evangelical theologians accepted evolution but didn’t interpret it in a non-teleological way.

  27. #27 Dan L.
    June 22, 2011

    Jackson Stacey:

    Please see my post above about how teleology can be IRRELEVANT without being FALSE. We are not assuming or asserting that it is FALSE. We are asserting that it is IRRELEVANT to the mechanics of evolution, and on that basis that evolution provides no positive evidence of teleology.

    As Jason says, you can graft teleology on, but it doesn’t make the theory fit the data any better when you do so.

    But we’re not the one making the assumption here. We’re saying, “it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not there’s a purpose,” not “there is no purpose.” We’re simply NOT assuming there is a purpose, not assuming that there’s NOT a purpose. Do you see the difference?

    Also I don’t see how you can reconcile original sin (a central tenet of the Christian faith, as far as I understand) with the fact that there was no Adam and Eve. I imagine you can half-bake some allegorical interpretation to CYA, but in that case why did we need Jesus to save use from an allegory?

  28. #28 H.H.
    June 22, 2011

    Sure, Christians may not be required to accept science that contradicts essential elements of the faith, but they are required to accept science that doesn’t, as Augustine so vociferously insisted in the quote I provided above.

    What are the essential elements of the Christian faith which could be falsified, at least in principle, by science?

  29. #29 Dan L.
    June 22, 2011

    Scratch the last paragraph of my last post, that’s just going to get ridiculous.

    The difference between “NOT assuming” and “assuming NOT” stands, though.

  30. #30 Dan L.
    June 22, 2011

    I don’t see how you can say this and then add that evolution can be interpreted in a teleological way. If science proves it’s nonteleological, then that’s the only way it could be interpreted. But science doesn’t prove it’s nonteleological. To do that, it would need to prove that a being like God doesn’t exist that guided evolution through, say, quantum indeterminacy. And since science is, by definition, confined to explaining the physical world, it can’t do that.

    Oh, and let me introduce you to Dr. Sagan’s magic dragon:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot

    Proving universal negatives empirically is essentially impossible and it’s unreasonable to demand that anyone do so. That’s why evolutionary science can’t rule out teleology, not because of some abstract argument about what is or isn’t “physical.”

    Fact is, we see no evidence of teleology at work in evolution. You’re the one making the claim that teleology is at work, and so the onus of adducing evidence for teleology is on you. I’m making no claim whatsoever about teleology (I don’t even claim to know whether or not it makes sense to do so).

  31. #31 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 22, 2011

    Jackson –

    I don’t see how you can say this and then add that evolution can be interpreted in a teleological way. If science proves it’s nonteleological, then that’s the only way it could be interpreted. But science doesn’t prove it’s nonteleological. To do that, it would need to prove that a being like God doesn’t exist that guided evolution through, say, quantum indeterminacy. And since science is, by definition, confined to explaining the physical world, it can’t do that.

    But science certainly can say that there is no evidence of any teleology in the evolutionary process, and that the theory works perfectly well without that assumption. And it can say that our best current understandings of subjects like genetics and quantum mechanics, which include large elements of randomness, would have to be fundamentally wrong to accommodate a supernatural entity working behind the scenes.

    More generally, providing a naturalistic explanation for some phenomenon never rules out the possibility of supernatural entities acting behind the scenes in nondetectable ways. But it can certainly make such beliefs seem superfluous and unjustified. Our best understanding of gravity does not absolutely prove that gravity gremlins don’t exist, but if I said the evidence is against their existence based on our complete inability to find any trace of them and the superfluity of hypothesizing them I doubt you would challenge me on the point.

    And it’s misleading to say most evangelicals didn’t accept evolution “as Darwin presented it” in the late 1800s because you are again defining evolution as non-teleological, which we’ve seen science doesn’t require. In reality, virtually all evangelical theologians accepted evolution but didn’t interpret it in a non-teleological way.

    I’m afraid I don’t see anything misleading in what I said. Note that in my last comment I showed that the dominant position, held by nearly all theologians of the time, rejected natural selection as the primary mechanism of evolution. That was the centerpiece of Darwin’s theory, and it is the centerpiece of evolution today. They rejected it not because there was a flat-out logical contradiction between natural selection and teleology, but because it made notions of teleology just seem like a pointless add-on to the theory. Moreover, this was not their only objection. Nearly everyone also objected to a fully naturalistic account of human evolution, and endlessly carved out exceptions for humans. And they also worried about the damage done to the story of Adam and Eve, as I’ve noted.

    As I said in my last comment, “evolution” is a vague term. But the simple fact is that people holding to the forms of evolution that were acceptable to these nineteenth century thinkers would today be considered a creationist. To say that they accepted evolution, when in most cases their views were indistinguishable from, or to the right of, modern ID proponents, is, indeed, misleading.

    As for Dudley’s argument, he wrote this:

    In this analysis, Christians must accept sound science, not because they don’t believe God created the world, but precisely because they do.

    I don’t see anything there that carves out an exception for unambiguous truths of the faith. Later he writes this:

    But the belief that scientists can discover truth, and that, once sufficiently debated, challenged and modified, it should be accepted even if it creates tensions for familiar belief systems, has an obvious impact on decisions that are made everyday. And it is that belief Christians reject when they reject evolution.

    One man’s “familiar belief system” is another man’s “unambiguous truths of faith.” I think Dudley’s argument is perfectly clear. When science has spoken, theology must yield. But that was not at all Augustine’s view. And it is not the view that held sway for most of Christian history.

    Your suggestion that evolution necessarily rules out an historical fall and Adam and Eve and original sin is also highly controversial, if not flat-out wrong (one can believe humanity originated with more than 2 people and still believe a God singled out two people to attain consciousness of sin), and you simply assert it with no argument.

    In context I think it was clear that I was talking about the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve and the Fall. Augustine’s understanding of these topics, and the version of them that is presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is, indeed, flatly contradicted by modern science.

    But certainly, just as you can graft teleology onto a body of evolutionary research that has no need of that hypothesis, you can dutifully reconceptualize the Adam and Eve story, or the meaning of original sin, or any other theological doctrine to bring it into line with modern science. The fact that you can play these games (and I do consider them games) is precisely why I said at the start that I stop short of saying a Darwinian flatly can’t be a Christian. The problem comes when you try to persuade yourself that any of it is true. The story of Adam and Eve, for example, seems pretty clear, and plainly implies that Adam and Eve were the only humans on the planet. Now that we know that to be false, we can consider the possibility that a more elaborate interpretation of the text is necessary. It’s just that the possibility that the story is just a complete fabrication also comes to seem distinctly plausible.

  32. #32 Deepak Shetty
    June 22, 2011

    @Jackson Stacey
    Your suggestion that evolution necessarily rules out an historical fall and Adam and Eve and original sin is also highly controversial, if not flat-out wrong (one can believe humanity originated with more than 2 people and still believe a God singled out two people to attain consciousness of sin),
    Have you been studying the BioLogos website?
    The question still remains are all of us descendants of these singled out two people?.

  33. #33 Jackson Stacey
    June 23, 2011

    “science certainly can say that there is no evidence of any teleology in the evolutionary process, and that the theory works perfectly well without that assumption. ”

    I totally agree with this statement and that God may be superfluous to evolution (although you can’t just assume this as you do; figures like Alvin Plantinga have made a strong case that it actually is inconsistent to accept evolution and think our beliefs can be true without accepting a God who guided evolution), I just think that’s a bad argument against God. I don’t need evolutionary theory to explain how my toaster oven works. Does that mean evolution isn’t true? Saying belief A is unnecessary to explain process B doesn’t make belief A false, or even less likely.

    The reality is that most Christian theologians accept God for other reasons (ex. cosmological argument, ontological, moral arguments, etc…) and, given that they are convinced God exists on other grounds, they seek to explain other data in light of their belief that God exists. It’s not like the only possible way to argue for God’s existence is to say God is required for human origins, so that if God is unnecessary for that process, there is no reason to think he exists.

    “And it can say that our best current understandings of subjects like genetics and quantum mechanics, which include large elements of randomness, would have to be fundamentally wrong to accommodate a supernatural entity working behind the scenes.”

    How would they have to be fundamentally wrong? Please elaborate, because I’ve never heard that argument made and I’m skeptical that it could be made successfully.

    “I showed that the dominant position, held by nearly all theologians of the time, rejected natural selection as the primary mechanism of evolution.”

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but wasn’t natural selection controversial among mainstream scientists at the time? My sense is that these theologians weren’t rejecting something that was unanimously agreed upon by scientists, as natural selection is agreed upon today.

    “I think Dudley’s argument is perfectly clear. When science has spoken, theology must yield.”

    Maybe his article allows for that interpretation, but his book doesn’t. He’s saying that there is in the Christian tradition as sense that Christians have an obligation to take sound science seriously and to accept as much as they can. You seem to be arguing that Christians have never argued for such an obligation to science or that science was never valued in a way that would force a reinterpretation of important Christian beliefs, which is simply wrong. Christians no longer believe the Sun revolves around the Earth, even though it was tied to important assumptions about the centrality of humans as God’s crown of creation.

    I think he would include in the category of science that’s been “sufficiently debated” the assumption that it’s been sufficiently debated by Christians and the fact that it is based on presuppositions they can accept. Heck, he even acknowledges YECs point that the interpretation of science is governed by presuppositions, he just doesn’t think that in the case of evolution that gets YECs off the hook. But maybe it would lead Christians to interpret other science differently. In any case, his article shows that he doesn’t think science is a value-neutral enterprise, and really, few philosophers do today.

    “In context I think it was clear that I was talking about the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve and the Fall. Augustine’s understanding of these topics, and the version of them that is presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is, indeed, flatly contradicted by modern science.”

    I’m not sure what exactly you have in mind as “the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve and the fall,” as there really isn’t a single “traditional understanding.” But I would be interested in hearing you elaborate both on that point and on how science contradicts said understanding.

    And I should say that I’m not disagreeing here because I’m a Christian. I’m actually an atheist, for other reasons, but I just think that most “non-believers” think the case for their position is way stronger than it actually is.

  34. #34 Martin
    June 23, 2011

    Thank you all for the comments and challenges. I really am no more than in interested layperson when it comes to nitty-gritty of science, and welcome it when I am corrected on matters of detail. I have found the comments with regard to my statements on teleology refreshing and challenging. A good feeling!

    To tackle some things closer to my own field. Monogenism and original sin. Yes, it is a stumbling block. Yes we do say we appreciate the Genesis narratives as myth, while the Catechism uses the text in a more literal way. What it means to me is that the monogenism statement of Pius XII was shortsighted. Hamhanded as it appears to us now, it was an attempt to reconcile science, the Biblical narrative and the theological tradition. And he and his advisors learned from the experience. Pius XII was, personally, convinced that the theory of the big bang was the fingerprint of the Creator, wisely any statement was on that matter was discouraged by his advisors.

    On yet another hand, the Biblical narrative, itself, does not seem too concerned about monogenism and original sin in Genesis People other than his family group are, inexplicably, present when Cain asks for protection after killing Abel. He presumes they are capable of justice, miscarriages of justice and of killing him. Unless human gestation and maturation had a microwave mode (done in half the time) and incest is not a horror, we have the fact that the Canon is not helpful in itself in the narrative of human origins.

    The tradition has used the Pauline texts to envisage a direct transmission of Original Sin through the sexual act. However, the articulation of that assumption is based on the Aristotelean description of human generation, which assumes that sperm and seed are analogues. We know better, the process of articulating our better knowledge with the insights to the human experience of moral confusion and contradiction is ongoing. I do not think there is any consensus emerging from the discipline of moral theology dealing with a contemporary articulation of original sin.

    As an aside, one of my brother Dominicans, Thomas Aquinas, has a discussion with regard to Original Sin, in which he refers to the generation of a human being from a part of a human being, such as a finger. He holds that a person so generated (and he cannot envisage that it would be possible by any means other than a miracle) would not have Original Sin. Human clones are yet another challenge, if and when that reality arises.

    An approach to the question would be to cut through the accretions of the ages to get to the core of the intuition around human nature. We are capable of much good and do so much evil – why?

    With regard to the ‘basic principles’ in Genesis on which I was challenged by H.H. (21). Reality as fundamentally ordered, comprehensible and void of deities who itch to frustrate and manipulate everything capriciously is certainly a basic principle. I also appreciate the principle that irony is woven into the fabric of the narrative and I certainly rejoice in that as a basic principle.

    With teleology – something remains in my intuition about it. I am aware that the religious articulation of it is mythos and that is irrelevant to science. On the other hand if teleology is intrinsic, it cannot be seen as ‘outside influence’ in our regular and minute examination of the constituent parts of reality, it involves the whole as a whole, from its origin to whatever is its final form or destruction — but that is too close to sophistry for me to be entirely happy with it.

    Contradictions with modern science are bound to exist. Modern science moves so fast in so many various disciplines which sometimes overarch to give a coherent picture to the non-specialist, that the science of this morning is contradicted by the science of this evening (allow me the limping image). Jump too readily to articulate a harmony with modern science and next week’s findings will have us theologians being laughed at again. Once something has hung around for two centuries with some consistency we can work on the integration of the fields. We are teetering on the edge of that time span with evolution (since Darwin’s mechanism for change over time supplied something concrete to the previous attempts arising and we must accept the notion did not start with him, the science did). Although my two centuries are arbitrary – I admit.

  35. #35 Neil Craig
    June 23, 2011

    Since I am requested I will not push the evidence that we are not experiencing catastrophic global warming. However it is clearly disingenous of GregH to say that anybody who disputes that is engaged in “magic thinking” or being incapable of “a) refuting it, or b) understanding the science, only demonstrates YOUR inability to learn the material”.

    This is simply gratuitous insults and lying by somebody who either (a) knows nothing about my ability to refute but doesn’t care about the truth or (b) does know and doesn’t care. Either way he shouldn’t do it. He should debate on the facts or not at all.

  36. #36 John Farrell
    June 23, 2011

    Martin,
    What it means to me is that the monogenism statement of Pius XII was shortsighted. Hamhanded as it appears to us now, it was an attempt to reconcile science, the Biblical narrative and the theological tradition. And he and his advisors learned from the experience. Pius XII was, personally, convinced that the theory of the big bang was the fingerprint of the Creator, wisely any statement was on that matter was discouraged by his advisors.

    Just so there’s no misunderstanding, I actually think it speaks well of Pius XII (however else he is remembered for an entirely different issue) that he decided the topic was worth discussing in an encyclical at the time. (And if you read the encyclical closely, he worded it carefully to allow some room to change position for the future.) Indeed, the more I read about him, the more I think if he were alive and Pope now, he’d be appointing a commission of scientists and theologians to study the issue precisely for the purpose of coming to a new position on the whole issue. He would have acknowledged the need, whereas the Vatican today is content with “Go read the books by Cardinal Schonborn…”

  37. #37 eric
    June 23, 2011

    Jackson Stacey: Saying belief A is unnecessary to explain process B doesn’t make belief A false, or even less likely.

    Except that in this case, “A” represents a religion that has indeed claimed (at times and in some forms) to explain process B, how species arose. So the fact that A doesn’t do what it has claimed to do is relevant evidence that A might be wrong. This is not evolution and toasters, this is a wrong theory of heat exchange and toasters.

    I’m not sure what exactly you have in mind as “the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve and the fall,” as there really isn’t a single “traditional understanding.” But I would be interested in hearing you elaborate both on that point and on how science contradicts said understanding.

    Modern genetics tells us that the last population bottleneck occurred about 70,000 years ago and reduced the population to a few tens of thousands. This is directly contradictory to any hypothesis that a bottleneck occurred in the last 6,000 years, or that it reduced the human population to 2 (Adam and Eve) or 7-8 (Noah’s ark).

    More subtly, looking at the ‘last common ancestor’ for different genes yields very different ages. This observation is fully consistent with an evolving population but completely inconsistent with the idea that all of humanity got their genes from two people living together, regardless of when one hypothesizes they lived.

  38. #38 H.H.
    June 23, 2011

    Jackson Stacey wrote:

    …figures like Alvin Plantinga have made a strong case that it actually is inconsistent to accept evolution and think our beliefs can be true without accepting a God who guided evolution)

    Strong case? Not remotely. Plantinga’s argument fails spectacularly if given even moderate consideration. First, he fails to account for the many cognitive errors to which humans are known to be susceptible, thus conveniently ignoring facts which would undercut his argument that our perceptions can be thought of as trustworthy so long as we assume god. Second, he gives no reason beyond blind faith why we should assume the gods would never deceive us, so his solution doesn’t really fix the problem. From top to bottom, it’s horrible thinking which can only appeal to someone already desperate to rationalize a belief in magical spirits.

  39. #39 eric
    June 23, 2011

    Martin: As an aside, one of my brother Dominicans, Thomas Aquinas, has a discussion with regard to Original Sin, in which he refers to the generation of a human being from a part of a human being, such as a finger. He holds that a person so generated (and he cannot envisage that it would be possible by any means other than a miracle) would not have Original Sin. Human clones are yet another challenge, if and when that reality arises.

    Very interesting that Aquinas talked about that. But for the record Martin, human clones already exist. That is what identical multiplets are; one zygote, cloned. Assuming the church rejects the notion of (N-1) identicals out of each set of N being sinless, they’ve got to reject Aquinas’ notion.

    I vaguely recall being told at some point that zygote cloning actually happens in a LOT of pregnancies. But in most cases a single birth results because either one of the clones or the original attacks and absorbs all the others. I have no idea where I heard that though so can’t really say whether its right or not.

  40. #40 H.H.
    June 23, 2011

    With regard to the ‘basic principles’ in Genesis on which I was challenged by H.H. (21). Reality as fundamentally ordered, comprehensible and void of deities who itch to frustrate and manipulate everything capriciously is certainly a basic principle.

    That’s it? “Reality is comprehensible” is the “insight” you find so special? That it is “ordered,” even if the text gets all the ordering wrong? And Genesis does contain a manipulative supernatural trickster agent, unless for some reason you ignore the talking serpent.

    There would appear to be a huge gulf between what the text actually reveals and what you are choosing to read into it.

  41. #41 386sx
    June 24, 2011

    (one can believe humanity originated with more than 2 people and still believe a God singled out two people to attain consciousness of sin)

    Yeah if we “hide it in the cave”, so to speak. We take the part where there are only supposed to be two people, and then we hide it in the cave along with the other things that got stuffed in there because science made them look like caveman superstition. Oogie boogie!

  42. #42 386sx
    June 24, 2011

    Your suggestion that evolution necessarily rules out an historical fall and Adam and Eve and original sin is also highly controversial, if not flat-out wrong (one can believe humanity originated with more than 2 people and still believe a God singled out two people to attain consciousness of sin)

    You’re theory is highly controversial if not flat-out wrong, because it might mean two gazillion. God could have singled out two gazillion people, and then magic faeries came and carted them off to la-la land. Please note how I’m using the word “controversial” in order to give my theory a dignified patina thereby pretending to make it look like it isn’t a freaking joke.

  43. #43 Lenoxus
    June 24, 2011

    Technically, two people can be — and in fact were — common ancestors to all humans alive today, without having been the only people alive at the time. That’s just a consequence of descent in any sexually reproducing species. Of course, that status does not belong uniquely to one couple in history; the last universal common ancestor shifts as time passes, and in several thousand years, if our children keep having children, then any one of us could have that privlege.

    If the story of Original Sin is seen as referring to two hominids that God “singled out”, yet sin is still understood as something heritable which crucially explains the modern condition and requires Jesus to amend, then we have some very odd situations that I sure some theologian has mused over.

    Did the other people at the time tell their children not to mingle with those no-good descendents of Adam and Eve? Is the sin gene dominant? Did it in fact manage to propagate to the whole population by the time of Noah (assuming the Flood isn’t a complete myth)? Were Neanderthals sin-free, and did sin provide Homo Sapiens the competitive advantage to supplant them in Europe? Inquiring minds want to know.

  44. #44 JohnK
    June 24, 2011

    Jackson Stacey:
    Dudley’s position is basically the same as the position of all the most sophisticated theologians operating today, including the Christian Reformed Church, …most scholars at places like Calvin College or Wheaton College, etc

    Calvin is anticipating the possibility of holding heretical two religion professors who advocate an evolutionary view of Adam & Eve as mythos. The CRC school drummed Howard Van Till out years ago. Wheaton has nearly the same statement of faith re A&E.
    “However stylized, literary, or symbolic the stories of Genesis may be, they are clearly meant to refer to real events. Especially in God’s acts of creation, Adam and Eve as first parents, the fall of humanity into sin, and the giving of the so-called “mother promise” (Gen. 3:15), the reality of the events described is of foundational importance for the entire history of redemption.”

  45. #45 Glenn Davey
    June 25, 2011

    I would like to see a longer and more exhaustive list of what creationism has failed to explain in the natural world that evolution has answered.

  46. #46 Glenn Davey
    June 25, 2011

    It also seems to me that some people have a God who has nothing left to do and no-where to hide behind. Why have a god at all? He now occupies an almighty space in your skull, but that’s about all he rules over.

  47. #47 eric
    June 25, 2011

    Glenn Davey: I would like to see a longer and more exhaustive list of what creationism has failed to explain in the natural world that evolution has answered.

    Sure thing; here you go.

  48. #48 Iain Walker
    July 3, 2011

    Jackson Stacey (#33):

    figures like Alvin Plantinga have made a strong case that it actually is inconsistent to accept evolution and think our beliefs can be true without accepting a God who guided evolution

    Er, no. Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism fails on many levels. Firstly, he relies on cartoonish strawman accounts of belief formation in order to bolster his claim that the reliability of our beliefs is improbable (given evolution+naturalism), and his account of the relationship between our behaviour and the semantic content of our beliefs “assumed” by naturalism is problematic at best.

    Furthermore, he engages in a breathtaking degree of special pleading when it comes to stacking the deck in favour of theism, allowing theism any number of additional ad hoc assumptions in order to make our beliefs more reliable on a theistic account. He allows no such additional assumptions for naturalism.

    Finally, unlike naturalism+evolution, which can provide an internally coherent account of cognitive error (i.e., it can explain why our cognitive faculties are generally reliable and why they sometimes go wrong), Plantinga has no such account. The best he can come up with is “sin”.

  49. #49 Elfabet Super
    July 15, 2011

    If God created people and instructed them not to judge one another, or in other words, not judge HIS creations, or even better, his work, them how come people constantly assess, or, as I put it – SS one another. Wouldn’t that mean judging HIM and his competence in creativity?

    It’s funny, well sort of, but that’s all people do all day long, while the Bible and, probably other holy scriptures, say that you’re are not supposed to judge God.

    P.S. (instead of SS)
    What makes you want to not ignore my question?

    If God exists, how are supposed to survive in this world by following just these 2 commandments?

    What do you usually do when somebody calls you crazy?

  50. #50 First was the random letters...
    July 15, 2011

    …Then the random letters (metaphorically speaking) started getting ordered into words.

    Evolution implies rating one species against another through the mechanism of natural, or in the case of humans artificial and, if you’re lucky to find a mate, who happens to “love” you for your essence, semi-natural selection.

    According to this principle, the ones that are supposed to survive are supposed to be the strongest, the most beautiful and the most intelligent. Who would want to select and reproduce with the ugly, dumn and weak, right?, to produce the kind of offsprings that no one will select.

    My impression is that the meanest and the most predatory humans are doing pretty well.

    Question: Is God pro the freedom of the speech or against it? If he is, then how come the Bible says that you’re not supposed to question him? Shouldn’t God be understanding loving and forgiving everything even judging his creation, which obviously seems to be the work of evolution, or some pretty outrageous, not yet discovered, phenomenon.

    This is getting scarier and scarier everyday.

    Crazy? OK, then, what would be the evolutionary advantage of the survival of the crazy?

    God’s creation? What the hell is the creator’s problem and what’s the purpose?

  51. #51 In case you listen
    July 20, 2011

    Christians should definitely accept evolution because even though they believe in God, they act like true evolutionists. Christians hate evolutionary teachings because they think it’s something you’re supposed to believe in. The theory of evolution is not a belief system.
    It’s an observation of the reality. It’s not wishful thinking. Unless Darwin’s observations were severely scewed due to some type of undiagnosed, at the time, mental disorder.

    But then faith in God could be a mere delusion as well.

    Are there any sane people out there you can trust?

  52. #52 Crazy Adaptation
    July 21, 2011

    The reason why so many modern humans suffer from mental illness is because it’s a useful evolutionary adaptation. It can be viewed as a great repellant mechanism of the unwanted human predators, and, probably, an indication that it’s time for humans to start isolating themselves in order to eliminate the reliance on one another in order to be able to survive.

    Chimpanzees, our closest cousins, live in groups and depend on one another. I am sick and tired of following their exam-ple. Even God or Jesus, if he exists, even as a fictional character, is supposedly a self-sufficient and self-reliant loner, who knows how harmful humans can be, particularly, in situations of interdependence.

  53. #53 Don't Focus on Me. I don't like you anyway.
    July 25, 2011

    Upon conversion to Christianity, Christians and other religious people give you only 2 options – either believe in God or else you’ll go to hell for eternal damnation.

    How do atheists take such conditions – do they take them as a threat (if you don’t believe in God – you’re dead) or do they take this as a warning?

    How can Christians explain the fact that people are created so unequal biologically and intellectually? What would be the reason for God to create life so painful? At least, evolution recognize these differences and the cruelty of such inequality.

  54. #54 Wow
    July 25, 2011

    You can believe in God without having to believe God Did It on everything.

    Actually, according to some xian apologists, Christians only believe in Jesus Christ and the New Testament, where nothing is said about God creating the world and all the animals and stuff therein, so evolution SHOULDN’T be a problem, should it.

    It should only be a problem for Old Testamentists like Jews.

    Oddly enough, the Jewish faith has less of an apparent problem with evolution.

  55. #55 Could it be Satan?
    July 25, 2011

    @54

    “You can believe in God without having to believe God Did It on everything.”

    All righty then! What deeds exactly was “God” responsible for?

    Can all human knowledge and ideas be attributed to the revelations of the Holy Ghost or God or Jesus? If not, which idea are you supposed to reward people for financially and which you should consider a gift from above?

    Simple example: You get promoted at work for a great idea. Your salary goes up because everbody thinks you’re a genious, when in reality this idea is not even yours. It was downloaded in to your brain by the Almighty or transfered into your mind by means not understood by modern scientists.

    Shouldn’t there be, at least, a little bit consistency in these type of beliefs? Or you can come up with everything in the shoes of an atheist because you’re hard-working and intelligent, and then you’re religious co-worker, who attributes all efforts to the forces of some conscious intelligent designer, is absolutely convinced that you’re nothing but a tool for God to build this world for someone better.

    You have to remember that in capitalism, people are rewarded for their ideas accordingly. How can you reward people for illegally appropriated intellectual property? You either attribute everything to people or God. As simple as that.

    Furthermore, people can take advantage of this type of inconsistency, and take all YOUR ideas away from you while telling you that someone like you can never produce anything decent. It must be from God. Don’t you think it’s a little unfair and absolutely ridiculous?

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