With all of my recent travels, I feel like most of the last few weeks have been spent either on the road or preparing to go on the road. I will be making another pilgrimage to New York next week, mostly business this time, but some pleasure as well. As a result, a lot of good blog fodder has been falling through the cracks.

So, let’s try to get caught up on a few things. The first orders of business are two recent posts from Michael Ruse. In the first, he once more offers his thoughts on the question of human inevitability in evolution. He writes:

The problem is this. If Christianity is true, then the existence of humans cannot be a contingent matter. Perhaps we could have had green skin and twelve fingers. Perhaps even we could have had three sexes. But we had to exist. The whole story is meaningless if creatures made in the image of God – that is creatures with intelligence and a sense of morality – never appeared or will appear.

But Darwinian evolutionary theory flatly denies that any species, including humans, must appear. The process is random, not in the sense of uncaused, but in the sense of unguided, without direction. Natural selection gives no guarantee that any particular direction will be taken, and Mendelian/molecular genetics backs this up, by insisting that new variations, mutations, do not appear to needed order.

Yes, that is the problem. It’s a big one, too.

Ruse continues:

Now there are ways you can try to get around this clash, starting with the supposition that somehow God puts in enough guidance to get the job done. Perhaps down at the quantum level, God gives mutation a shove every now and then.

Logically, given the existence of God, I suppose this is possible. But it is to make religion mess with science, and Coyne is rightfully scornful of such a move. As was Charles Darwin a century and a half ago when his American chum, Asa Gray, professor of botany at Harvard, put forwards such a theistic take on evolution. Darwin simply said that this takes evolution out of science. (Emphasis Added)

That boldface remark is interesting. It is clearly directed at Elliott Sober, who, as we saw in two recent posts here and here, has argued that evolutionary science does not rule out the possibility of God-guided mutations. Ruse’s point here, that God-guided mutations are a logically possible but not very satisfying solution, is precisely the one that I made in my own reply to Sober. I’m glad Ruse agrees with my argument.

My bigger issue with Sober, and with many other non-believing philosophers who try to reconcile science and religion, is that they seem to think their job is done when they provide a logically possible scenario in which evolution and Christianity are both true. They never seem to worry too much about whether their scenario is plausible, or consistent with the traditions of the religion to which they are addressed. Sober himself was perfectly forthright that he does not find the idea of God-guided mutations plausible. He nonetheless seemed sincere in his belief that he had made a serious contribution to reconciling science and religion.

In this paragraph Ruse is properly dismissive of such invented-from-whole-cloth reconciliations of science and religion. Which is interesting, because, after several paragraphs in which he (correctly, in my view) discards other popular arguments on this point, he then offers his own solution:

I think, along with Augustine and Aquinas, at times like this, because it is a theological problem and not a science one, we need a theological solution not a scientific one. So if I invoke, as I will, the notion of multiverses – other universes either parallel to ours or sequential – I am doing so not on scientific grounds (although I know there are those who would defend them on scientific grounds) but on theological grounds. The God of Christianity can create these if He has a mind to.

Since we humans have evolved by Darwinian processes, then we could have evolved by Darwinian processes. Just keep creating universes until it happens! And don’t put any direction into the process.

You might think that this is an awful waste, but as God told Job, His ways are not our ways. In any case, as philosopher William Whewell pointed out in 1853 in his Plurality of Worlds, judged this way there is already an awful lot of waste in this universe. Think of the zillions of uninhabited globes out there.

You might think that God is going to get pretty bored waiting for us to come along. Well, he could try reading The Critique of Pure Reason. He might just get through it. More seriously, this is not a problem for the Christian God, because this being is outside time and space.

But is this not to admit a limitation on God’s powers? He cannot guarantee that we will appear the first time around? But no one – except possibly Descartes – has ever said that God can do the impossible, make 2+2=5 or Darwinian evolution guarantee a result first time around. So there is no real limitation.

Do I believe any of this? Not really, but that is not the point. The real point is that New Atheists like Jerry Coyne have some good arguments but before they declare the case closed they should let the philosophers and theologians have their turn to fight back. That is what a doppelganger is good for.

There is much to comment on here. First, to judge from these paragraphs it seems that “providing a theological solution” is just a euphemism for “making it up as you go along.” At no point does Ruse refer to some prior body of theological writing, or to the traditional teachings of the Church, or to anything else along these lines. He just tosses it off. Maybe God created multiple universes, confident that humans would appear in one of them. Problem solved! One wonders how long it took him to come up with this suggestion. Did it arise from his careful study of theology or from his many years of deep contemplation of the philosophy of religion? Or did he just make it up in the shower one morning?

(Incidentally, no fair arguing that this was just a short blog post with no room for specifics. If you would care to read his book Science and Spirituality, where he also floats this argument, you will find he provides no further detail there.)

The second point is that Ruse does not include, among the few counterpoints he considers, what is the most obvious and critical issue. One of the reasons Darwinian evolution is tough for a religious person to accept is the awesome amount of suffering and cruelty it entails. It seems like a horrible way of creating anything, especially when God could presumably have created everything all at once just as the Bible says He did. But if it’s hard enough to explain why God would set the process in motion once, how much harder is it to explain why God would set the process in motion multiple times, just waiting for humans to appear at least once?

We next note Ruse’s statement that it is beside the point that he does not believe it himself. The important question, though, is whether religious people should believe it. This is only a serious contribution to science/religion compatibility if it is true, or at least plausible. Ruse understood this point a few paragraphs ago, but seems to have forgotten it here.

The final point involves Ruse’s plea that the philosophers and theologians should be given their chance to fight back. Well, what are they waiting for? The issues here haven’t changed since Darwin’s time, and the philosophers have had a century and a half to find a good argument. Ruse seems to agree that they have failed in that regard. People like Jerry Coyne (and myself) are simply responding to the arguments we have seen from the philosophers and theologians, the same arguments for which Ruse himself has little use.

Now let us move briefly to Ruse’s follow-up post. He concludes with:

I see major similarities between the Tea Party and the New Atheists. There is a moral absolutism about both movements. It scares me. Always I think of Cromwell and the Church of Scotland. “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.” Perhaps it is not so much a question of being mistaken, but of realizing and recognizing that others do not share your views, and that while you have the right – and the obligation – to oppose them, you must live with them.

And if I – a non-believer – can show the world that it is possible to be both a Darwinian and a Christian, that is all of the political motivation I want.

I won’t even bother with Ruse’s standard twaddle comparing the New Atheists and the Tea Party. Instead, it’s that final statement that really caught my eye.

Ruse is perfectly forthright about his nonbelief, but anyone reading a few pages at random from Can a Darwinian be a Christian would quickly figure it out for themselves. He doesn’t write like someone who has any emotional energy invested in this issue. He treats it like a philosophical game.

His writing on this subject reminds me of the punchline to the joke Jane Fonda told in a recent episode of The Newsroom (video here):

Moses and Jesus are playing golf. Moses steps up to the tee and hits a beautiful shot 250 yards straight down the middle of the fairway. Jesus steps up to the tee and hooks one into the trees. Jesus looks up to the heavens and raises his arms. Suddenly the sky darkens. A thunderclap rings out. Rain pours down and a stream rises among the trees. The golf ball, floating on top, finds its way into the mouth of a fish. Then a bird flies down and takes the fish and the ball out over the green and drops it in the cup for a hole in one. Jesus turns to Moses with a satisfied grin.

And Moses says, “Look. Do you want to play golf or do you want to f*ck around?”

That’s how so much of Ruse’s writing on this topic seems to me. Do you want to reconcile science and religion or do you want to f*ck around? Offhand suggestions about God-guided mutations or about God creating multiple universes just so humans could appear in one of them are examples of the latter. Ruse will have to work harder if he wants to make a serious contribution to the former.

Comments

  1. #1 Charles Sullivan
    July 31, 2012

    Someone should write a humorous piece on the many ways that religion and science are not logically incompatible.

    God drives a miniature immaterial pick-up truck into sub-atomic particles, pulls out his logically possible immaterial handgun, and puts a cap in some DNAs ass, making a mutation.

    God orders a mutation maker (TM) from his own personally created Amazon account on his own personally created internets. When the package arrives (instantly), God plugs it in and gets to work, fixing it so that humans arrive on the scene, made in his image.

    Well, you get the point.

  2. #2 David Evans
    July 31, 2012

    When God wants to know what those uppity humans are doing at Babel, he has togo and look:

    “And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower”, Genesis 11:5.

    Wonder how long it takes him to find out which universe the humans evolved in, then which galaxy, then which star….

  3. #3 NewGuy
    July 31, 2012

    He also had to have someone pop down to find one good man in Soddom.

    You’d have thought an omniescent and omnipresent deity would already have known.

  4. #4 eric
    July 31, 2012

    Sober himself was perfectly forthright that he does not find the idea of God-guided mutations plausible. He nonetheless seemed sincere in his belief that he had made a serious contribution to reconciling science and religion

    I think one part of the problem is that the word “religion” is use to refer to both a category containing a wide range of beliefs (i.e. religion includes Buddhism, Scientology, etc…), and more colloquially to the more specific beliefs a local population has.

    Sober, Ruse, and those like them might be finding a set of beliefs within that wide category that are consistent with science, but they are not demonstrating any consistency or compatibility between science and the actual religious beliefs of their audience population.

    Its sort of like we have asked them: “does Shakespeare ever mention the Americas?” And they’ve answered: “well, we can think of many playwrights that have mentioned the Americas.” That may be true information, but it is not what we asked.

    Ruse:

    The real point is that New Atheists like Jerry Coyne have some good arguments but before they declare the case closed they should let the philosophers and theologians have their turn to fight back. That is what a doppelganger is good for.

    A doppelganger is a shapeshifter. Which is very apt, because what’s happening here is that Ruse et al. are trying to shift religious claims around until they find some group of them which ftt with science. The problem is, real believers will not do that. A doppelganger will never be a satisfactory answer to those outside academic circles, and is unlikely to be a satisfactory answer to academics who are concerned with a particular beast (i.e. set of sectarian beliefs), rather than a mypthical shapeshifter.

  5. #5 Wow
    July 31, 2012

    Just like “god”.

    When used it is “allowed” to be inferred as “My God”, but when “sophisticated theists” debate the issue, it means “something that isn’t the sort of thing that people think of as God because that version is indefensible, so I will pretend it’s something else”.

    Similarly, the godbotherer will be absolutely happy to say “I know God exists”, but absolutely livid if you say “I know God doesn’t exist”. You’re supposed to prove your case, they don’t have to prove theirs.

  6. #6 MNb
    July 31, 2012

    “I think we need a theological solution”
    Nope. I don’t need a theological solution at all. It’s already there. Mano Singham gave it. The solution applies to any thinkable theological problem.

    There is no god.

    “One of the reasons Darwinian evolution is tough for a religious person to accept”
    Fyi: the majority of West-European christians doesn’t find it tough to accept Darwinian evolution at all.
    The theodicy, that’s a tough problem.

  7. #7 Kevin
    July 31, 2012

    Actually, I would have preferred a posting that discussed reconciling evolutionary theory with the practise of law. Coyne’s site seems to take for granted the non-existence of free will, which on face value I find implausible, as you might put it. His site, however, seems less rigorous than this one.

  8. #8 Wow
    July 31, 2012

    Either free will exists in which case the trial is punishing the acts of another, or there is no free will and we had no choice about having a trial.

  9. #9 JimV
    July 31, 2012

    Once you start imagining a god who creates multiverses, planning thereby to eventually breed some species that said god will consider worth bothering with, it seems to me that you must conclude: we ain’t that species. I mean, just look around you. A god with multiverses and eternity to play with couldn’t do better than this? If random evolution could produce us (which it could), it could also produce something much better, both intellectually and morally.

    I have that same problem with a god that could create this universe and also consider humans as anything to brag about, but an infinite multiverse makes the problem, already vast, infinitely bigger. In a multiverse, or even in this universe, there ought to creatures who would appear to us as gods – yet still not be capable of universe-creation.

    I’ve said something similar to Ruse’s idea, I think at this blog: I can imagine the possibility of some being creating this universe, with its rules, and letting evolution run its course to see what happens. But where I differ from Ruse is the notion that such a being could possible be the basis of any human-centric religion.

  10. #10 Raging Bee
    August 1, 2012

    A god with multiverses and eternity to play with couldn’t do better than this?

    Just because a god could do better than us, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not worth bothering with. London, Paris, Chicago, Philly and San Diego all beat the piss out of Richmond, but that doesn’t mean Richmond has nothing good to offer.

  11. #11 Dan L.
    August 2, 2012

    Actually, I would have preferred a posting that discussed reconciling evolutionary theory with the practise of law. Coyne’s site seems to take for granted the non-existence of free will, which on face value I find implausible, as you might put it. His site, however, seems less rigorous than this one.

    Instead of thinking about this as the “non-existence of free will” I think you should think about it in Dennett’s terms:
    “There is such a thing as free will. But it’s not what you think it is.”

    Coyne rightly points out that traditional/common/popular concepts of “free will” are, at best, incoherent. He argues this very successfully in my opinion. But he doesn’t think humans don’t make choices or experience the application of will, he just thinks that the nature of those phenomena is not what it is assumed to be under the doctrine of “free will”. I’m almost sure he’s correct.

    But just because choice and will aren’t the result of some magical “free will” doesn’t mean they aren’t real, significant phenomena in their own right. It does not follow that because traditional notions of free will are incoherent that law is a bad way to order society. In fact, based purely on empirical evidence, law seems to be a pretty good solution to the problem.

  12. #12 Michael Fugate
    August 2, 2012

    Thanks Dan. Well said.

  13. #13 Anonymous
    August 3, 2012

    DNA, RNA, and proteins all need each other as an integrated unit. Even if only one of them existed, the many parts needed for lfe could not sit idle and wait for the other parts to evolve because they would dissolve or deteriorate. Is there any compelling and observable evidence for how all tese components evolved at the same time or separately over time?

  14. #14 Wow
    August 3, 2012

    They do now. But they didn’t have to always be that way.

    The spring and weight in your mechanical clock need the rest of the clock to be the clock you have. But just those two things could make something that can beat out a time.

  15. #15 eric
    August 3, 2012

    Is there any compelling and observable evidence for how all tese components evolved at the same time or separately over time?

    AFAIK, biologists observe co-evolution all the time, and have for at least 150 years. For example, Darwin commented on the co-evolution of fig wasps and figs. Two systems within a body can do the same thing.

    As long as there is more compelling and more observable evidnece for evolution than there is for any other hypothesis, biologists will continue to accept evolution.

    If you want to supplant evolution, you’re going to have to come up with compelling and observable evidence of your alternative hypothesis. ‘Evolution can’t explain X” is not that.

  16. #16 Lenoxus
    August 4, 2012

    Ruse:

    Perhaps it is not so much a question of being mistaken, but of realizing and recognizing that others do not share your views, and that while you have the right – and the obligation – to oppose them, you must live with them.

    I can’t think of a single New Atheist who would disagree with this. It’s a waste of words that borders on strawmanning, like saying “Well at least we can agree that Governor Smith, whether or not he’s right about the minimum wage, doesn’t deserve to be beheaded.”

    Wow:

    Either free will exists in which case the trial is punishing the acts of another, or there is no free will and we had no choice about having a trial.

    Good point. It has also been argued that we don’t punish criminals Because They Deserve It (and thus the punishment is a good unto itself, balancing the universe’s karma) but as a disincentive against future crime. That’s my feeling anyway, and I’m simply undecided about the free will question. If you could somehow magically guarentee that no one would commit a crime again (by means that are also magically unproblematic in any way), I would see no point to throwing “past” criminals in jail (though there is a good argument that the state should carry out most of its promises).

  17. #17 Anonymous
    August 4, 2012

    1. A clock out of time can not lose information and spawn forth a generation of perfectly organized and well porforming clocks
    2.And True. There may not be enough sufficient evidence for an alternate hypothesis from a Creation viewpoint. But, in this Creation viewpoint, when all DNA and RNA was created as perfect as it could get, and there was the most information as there would ever be, theoretically, this does align with the facts that everything is losing information through time more than evolution does, considering that everything since Adam sinned has been losing information and becoming less organized ever since.
    3. The “evolution” of the two harmonious parts isn’t sufficient enough change to bring forth new creatures.

  18. #18 Anonymous
    August 4, 2012

    There can be no mix of religion and science because, many evolutionists only look through a “the-world-is-millions-of-years-old” looking glass and sometimes poorly try to fit the information they see into what they can to try to angrily and ignorantly stomp out Christianity with, and some certain Christian scientists are not bold, intelligent, and/or faithfull enough (not questioning their Christianity) to look at facts through their own “Creation” looking glass. Instead they resort to reasoning and settle with fitting in their religion to others’ evolution. As I said, Christians today are not what they used to be. MANY of them compromise. However, when looked at from either side (evolution or Creation), the many theories that have been cowardly conjured up, they simply do not work, especially in a Christian point of view. In this point of view, the Great Physician masterfull produced all of… well, EVERYHING in six LITERAL days which He claimed Himself to be very good. According God’s Word, when Adam and Eve fell into temptation and sinned, they put an expiration date on their own bodies AND everyone else’s. Also, God cursed the land at that time (6000 years ago) to make man work for a living, to bring forth pests like thorns and wasps, and to make woman’s childbirth painful as punishment. As soon as the curse was placed plants, animals, and people started dying for the first time, making the oldest possible fossils only that old. Furthermore, comprimising and placing evolution into religion is unacceptable. Doing so, is to place fossils (OBVIOUSLY death, pests, and thorns) millions of years before the curse, thereby voiding God’s claim of his creation as “very good” on the 7th day.

  19. #19 Wow
    August 5, 2012

    Sorry, anon, your iseas on the universe are hokum.

  20. #20 Anonymous
    August 5, 2012

    To interperet my standpoint as “hokum” does not, in any way, support your standpoint. It is only a brash and unintelligable insult (sincerely: no offense) whose sole purpose is to try to hurt my standpoint.

    An insult just as this is the equivelent to children getting stuck in an argument that they are not winning. Usually they blurt out something like, “I HATE YOU!!!!!”, or “OH, YEAH?! WELL… YOU’RE STUPID!!!!!!”

    Also, when I stumbled upon this website, I was hoping that we all could keep our opinions at a professional level without stooping so low as to slinging brash insults. I honestly don’t wish any body harm or to hurt any ones feelings. I only want to express my opinion.

  21. #21 Wow
    August 5, 2012

    Your ideas being hokum doesn’t make my ideas correct is true. It does mean that your ideas are hokum.

    A point you failed to adress.

    Ridicule is about the only response to your ridiculous posings they warrant and deserve.

  22. #22 Anonymous
    August 5, 2012

    Please eleborate exactly how they are ridiculous and PROVE me wrong.

  23. #23 Wow
    August 6, 2012

    You have only to go to your library, look at the geology books to find the evidence that the world is far older than 6000 years.

  24. #24 Anonymous
    August 6, 2012

    could i possibly get your email? the comment im trying to send is not big enough.

  25. #25 Anonymous
    August 6, 2012

    nevermind. I will continue my posts on the blog entitled “The only Reasonable Reply to The Problem of Evil”

  26. #26 eric
    August 6, 2012

    Anonymous:

    when all DNA and RNA was created as perfect as it could get, and there was the most information as there would ever be, theoretically, this does align with the facts that everything is losing information through time more than evolution does,

    I have never heard of this ‘fact’ or the evidence for it. Could you enlighten me? What evidence do you have that the information content of the universe is (a) objectively measurable and (b) decreasing?

    If you’re talking about thermodynamic entropy, that is a measurement of the distribution of energy among available states. It has little or nothing to do with information. If you’re talking about Shannon information, that increases every time there is a duplication mutation.

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