Evolving Thoughts

LifeSite has this: Pope Preaches Against Chance Evolution: “Man is Not the Chance Result of Evolution”.

Yep, it’s the old “evolution implies chance and a lack of meaning” trick. Second time we’ve fallen for that this week. Would you believe…?

For reasons that I can’t quite put my finger on, this seems very Controlish. The pope is worried about KAOS. They had a Cone of Silence conversation, which pretty well everyone in the world overheard, and while I’m very pleased that the Catholic Church isn’t about to go ID on our asses, we might perhaps think a little bit about this.

In a homily in Regensburg, Benedict gave his position against “random chance evolution”.

We believe in God. This is a fundamental decision on our part. But is such a thing still possible today? Is it reasonable? From the Enlightenment on, science, at least in part, has applied itself to seeking an explanation of the world in which God would be unnecessary. And if this were so, he would also become unnecessary in our lives. But whenever the attempt seemed to be nearing success – inevitably it would become clear: something is missing from the equation! When God is subtracted, something doesn’t add up for man, the world, the whole vast universe. So we end up with two alternatives. What came first? Creative Reason, the Spirit who makes all things and gives them growth, or Unreason, which, lacking any meaning, yet somehow brings forth a mathematically ordered cosmos, as well as man and his reason. The latter, however, would then be nothing more than a chance result of evolution and thus, in the end, equally meaningless. As Christians, we say: I believe in God the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth – I believe in the Creator Spirit. We believe that at the beginning of everything is the eternal Word, with Reason and not Unreason. With this faith we have no reason to hide, no fear of ending up in a dead end. We rejoice that we can know God! And we try to let others see the reasonableness of our faith, as Saint Peter bids us do in his First Letter (cf. 3:15)!

I can’t quite see the reasonableness of a faith that has no trouble dealing with, say, gravity as a non-divine process but has trouble with evolution. I can’t quite see the reasonableness of a religion that think that if God isn’t involved in every step of evolution, somehow we have no meaning. And for what it’s worth, I can’t see as reasonable erecting a strawman view of evolution so that the only solution is… you guessed!… your own faith. There’s a strong whiff of snakeoil here.

Evolution is emphatically NOT about random chance. It is about the working out of the laws of nature according to determinate principles – and yes, that involves a certain amount of randomness, but if you have problems about that in evolution, you have to have problems about it in physics, chemistry, and gambling. Hey, maybe God really does win football games for those who pray, so they can win their bets…

The meaning of chance in evolution is twofold – variation falls about a mean, and contingent events have an effect on outcomes. You can put God behind such chance, but you can’t put God in front of them, or you undercut all of our knowledge of the world.

This is a philosophical argument, and it should stay there, or in theology (which is a subset of philosophy anyway), but honestly, at least attack the actual science, not some made up theological cardboard cutout.

Comments

  1. #1 Ick of the East
    September 13, 2006

    …..Unreason, which, lacking any meaning, yet somehow brings forth a mathematically ordered cosmos, as well as man and his reason.

    Mathematically ordered cosmos?

    OK, I’d like to order up a plate of colliding galaxies with a side order of extinction-event meteor strikes.
    And a tsunami to wash it all down.

    That’s some order.

  2. #2 Arun Chandrashekar
    September 13, 2006

    I was taught by the Jesuits some thirty years ago. I still am in touch with some of them. Many of them were Ph.Ds and Father Leo D’Souza is a Ph.D. from the MaxPlanck Research Insitute in Germany. They (He) taught us evolution as in Darwin. He seems to have no problems with that. He talked and still talks of tissue culture, evolution, gene transfer etc. and his Lab at the St. Alyosius College, Mangalore is funded by the Jesuits! I also read about some Catholic priests/nuns in the U.S. who set a sequencing Lab. in their school. I think the problem comes when you try to be both pragmatic and ecclesiastical at the same time

  3. #3 TomS
    September 13, 2006

    I can’t quite see the reasonableness of a faith that has no trouble dealing with, say, gravity as a non-divine process but has trouble with evolution.

    I can’t understand why there is no concern about the element of chance and natural law involved in genetics, which is up-close and personal, but there is about long-ago and far-away when a particular general body-type arose.

  4. #4 bob koepp
    September 13, 2006

    Since I’m not a theistically inclined person, perhaps I’m missing some nuance of the Pope’s statement. Strip away the obligatory appeal to faith and what remains? He doesn’t believe what we treat as random events _for purposes of evolutionary theory_ would still appear random if we were able to assume a “god’s eye view,” i.e., if it were not for our epistemic limitations.

    That doesn’t strike me as crazy, and I know any number of philosophers of biology who believe similarly. No, they don’t try to fill their epistemic gap with a statement of faith, but that has no bearing on the science anyway.

  5. #5 Julia
    September 13, 2006

    I usually enjoy and learn from your posts, but I’m having trouble understanding this one. What, exactly, in the quote you give is not “the actual science” but a “made up theological cardboard cutout”?

    Whether there is theological meaningfulness or not is surely not a matter of science, so I don’t see how the concern expressed about meaning could be a distortion of the science. And as for humans being “a chance result of evolution,” aren’t we? I mean if the universe started over again, wouldn’t there be only a very small chance that things would work just the same way so that human beings would evolve?

    Theology aside, I can’t make out what there is here about science that is not “actual science.”

  6. #6 John Wilkins
    September 13, 2006

    What’s wrong is the slide from “evolution lacks a prespecified direction” to “evolution is not caused” in the first instance. he processes of evolution are not random in a causal sense. Even random genetic drift is caused by determinate processes – mutations may be caused in ways we can’t predict, but that doesn’t make them “just chance”, and natural selection is the very opposite of chance.

    But even if it were true that the processs of evolution were purely random, this would still not mean that we would have no meaning in our lives – it just wouldn’t be based on evolution. Which is Hume’s point about not deriving an ought from an is.

  7. #7 Julia
    September 13, 2006

    What’s wrong is the slide from “evolution lacks a prespecified direction” to “evolution is not caused” in the first instance.

    Oh. That’s a very clear distinction, one that I had not been giving sufficient weight. Thanks.

  8. #8 bob koepp
    September 13, 2006

    John – I can’t open the links you provided in your post, so I’m not able to locate where the slide you mention occurs. Again, I’m not familiar with the fine points of Roman Catholic Theology, but I doubt that the Pope thinks that if only causal determinism could be established in evolutionary trajectories, meaningfulness would follow as a matter of course. In other words, I think it likely that he’s using ‘chance’ somewhat differently than you do in your comments.

  9. #9 TomS
    September 13, 2006

    But even if it were true that the processs of evolution were purely random, this would still not mean that we would have no meaning in our lives – it just wouldn’t be based on evolution. Which is Hume’s point about not deriving an ought from an is.

    While I haven’t seen the whole of the Pope’s remarks, from what I have seen in the news reports it seems as though evolution was singled out for this treatment. It is difficult for me to see how anyone would want to look to evolution as a source of meaning in their life. Even aside from Hume’s gap between “is” and “ought”. Why would anyone think that the origins of the bacterial flagellum were a critical issue for a meaningful life? There are plenty of other things in science that I can imagine making someone feel insignificant, but hardly evolution.

  10. #10 Joe Shelby
    September 13, 2006

    From the Enlightenment on, science, at least in part, has applied itself to seeking an explanation of the world in which God would be unnecessary. And if this were so, he would also become unnecessary in our lives.

    And he doesn’t even get the first sentence there right, either!

    Science seeks the best explanation for the world given the objective facts available. science doesn’t seek to find God to be unnecessary. Science found that the claims of believers didn’t fit the evidence, and subsequent claims to fit God into the evidence either are shown invalid due to the existing (or new) evidence, or work just as fine without the God in the picture and Occam says from a scientific standpoint to leave Him out.

    The second sentence is a leap that totally defies philosophical argument and logic. He makes a sensationalist claim supposedly based on the first sentence (that’s wrong to start with) and then doesn’t even support it properly.

  11. #11 Rhampton
    September 13, 2006

    I’ve argued with a fair number of moderate to strongly anti-science types and they too defend their position from “meaningless-existence.” They also equate moral guidance and self-regulation with literally interpreted religion.

    On more than on occassion I’ve challenged them with the following: I do not need a traditional Christian God (or religion for that matter) to appreciate that value of good behavior (cooperation, honesty, and selflessness) and to act accordingly.

    I’ve come to realize that for a portion of our population this act of reason is, literally, beyond belief. I believe such people do need a simplified system of eternal reward and punishment (heaven & hell) to check their behavior. Furthermore, these behaviorially-limited people seem to be incapable of believing and/or conceiving that others are not so limited. Thus the “moral relativism” exemplified by more mature adults produces great personal anxiety and an unfounded fear of societal anarchy.

  12. #12 Pascal's bookie
    September 13, 2006

    I recall that when this Pope was given his hat much was made of what a brilliant mind he had. Profound theologian I was told.
    Now he pulls this ‘the church is right ’cause if we weren’t it would be icky’ schtick.
    bummer

  13. #13 Christopher Gwyn
    September 13, 2006

    I am always amazed at how the major advocates of Theism assume that ‘The Creator of the Universe’ is only of mediocre power. They want everyone to believe in a ‘god’ who creates by placing every atom in a specific spot with a specific vector and velocity. But a God who creates universal laws so elegant that even with a multiplicity of random factors involved the resulting Universe fulfills “God’s Plan”. I’m pretty much an athiest, but the latter god sounds much more powerful and creative to me, and makes most of the ‘science vs. religion’ noise go away. [I wonder why it takes an athiest to imagine a truly powerful and creative God?]

  14. #14 Mike Haubrich
    September 13, 2006

    Christopher, you are describing the major ideas of deism; the idea that a creator set the universe in motion and then distanced itself from the meddlings of the minutiae.

    Such a belief also encourages science, because curiosity allows us to dig ever deeper into the details to find what lies beneath.

    Have you ever read Paine’s *Age of Reason*?

    The Pope is sliding into apologetics, and whatever enlightenment the catholics claim will never advance while they remain catholics.

  15. #15 somnilista, FCD
    September 15, 2006

    The latter, however, would then be nothing more than a chance result of evolution and thus, in the end, equally meaningless.

    Looks like an argument from consequences. We want our world to have meaning, so we will prefer the explanation that provides it.

  16. #16 DarwinCatholic
    September 15, 2006

    I’d tend to discount any reporting from LifeSite on the evolution issue, given some of the extreme twisting of the truth they’ve been responsible for in the past, as in the case of their reporting on the retirement of Vatican Observatory director Fr. Coyne. LifeSite has a couple of specific axes to grind (one of which is making it sound as if the Church is specifically anti-evolution) which it appears to have no problem bending the truth to support.

  17. #17 John Wilkins
    September 15, 2006

    True, LifeSite has an agenda. But the link to Benedict’s homily was off-site.

  18. #18 L.i.Radovsky
    September 25, 2006

    Hi,
    This is beside the point, but I have “evolving thoughts” on google alert (since that is the name of my web space and forum at http://forum.evolvingthoughts.com/)… I think it’s fascinating that you also chose to put those two words together as it is not very common. I had thought about calling my forum “shifting paradigms” but that was too clinical and is used more in the medical and computer fields now than anything else. I find that odd since I’ve always thought of paradigm shifts as philosophical things, but there you are.

    Anyway, my forum is not high-traffic as I don’t have the time to deal with it right now, (I’m hoping it picks up over time) but you’re welcome to check it out and post in it if you wish. I like people who think.

    Best Wishes,
    L.i. Radovsky

  19. #19 L.i.Radovsky
    September 25, 2006

    That above link got messed up, it is:

    http://forum.evolvingthoughts.com

  20. #20 John Wilkins
    September 25, 2006

    Mine! All Mine! You must pay me fees…

    Seriously, we have so little overlap that I don’t think it matters. But if you do get someone seeking me, I’d appreciate it if you could pass them along.