Thursday, November 10, 2005

Creation, Atheism, and Darwinisms

Zenit reports that Pope Benedict spoke yesterday on the mercy of God and how it is evident in creation:

The first visible sign of this divine charity—says the Psalmist—is to be sought in creation. Then history enters. The gaze, full of admiration and wonder, pauses first of all on creation: the heavens, the earth, the waters, the sun, the moon and the stars.

Even before discovering the God who reveals himself in the history of a people, there is a cosmic revelation, open to all, offered to the whole of humanity by the only Creator, "God of gods" and "Lord of lords" (cf. verses 2-3).

He concluded his official remarks by referencing St. Basil's commentary on the opening of Genesis:

"'In the beginning God created heaven and earth.' My word yields, overcome by the wonder of this thought" [Ref].

In fact, although some, "deceived by the atheism they bear within them, imagined the universe deprived of a guide and order, at the mercy of chance," the sacred writer instead "has immediately enlightened our mind with the name of God at the beginning of the narrative, saying: 'In the beginning God created.' And what beauty this order has!" [Ref].

"Therefore, if the world had a beginning and was created, you have to seek the one who initiated it and who is its Creator ... Moses has prepared you with his teaching, imprinting on our souls as a seal or phylactery the most holy name of God, when he says: 'In the beginning God created.' The blessed nature, goodness free from envy, he who is the object of love on the part of all reasoning beings, the beauty greater than any that can be desired, the beginning of beings, the source of life, the light of understanding, the inaccessible wisdom, in a word, He 'in the beginning created heaven and earth'" [Ref].

At the end of the audience, the Holy Father added extemporaneously:

I believe the words of this fourth-century Father are of amazing timeliness, when he says some, "deceived by the atheism they bear within them, imagined the universe deprived of a guide and order, at the mercy of chance." How many are these "some" today?

Deceived by atheism, they believe and try to demonstrate that it is scientific to think that everything lacks a guide and order, as if they were at the mercy of chance. The Lord, with sacred Scripture, awakens the drowsy reason and says to us: In the beginning is the creative Word. In the beginning the creative Word—this Word that has created everything, which has created this intelligent plan, the cosmos—is also Love.

Let us allow ourselves to be awakened by this Word of God. Let us pray that he clear our minds so that we will be able to perceive the message of creation, inscribed also in our hearts: The beginning of everything is creative Wisdom and this Wisdom is love and goodness: "Eternal is his mercy."

The Popes remarks call for an underscoring of the point I've been making here recently: atheism derives no support from Darwinism, once one understands the scientific claims of Darwinism correctly. The Pope's remarks are not a rejection of science, but of the unwarranted extrapolation of science to say something beyond its authority.

Only by misconceiving evolutionary theory as a complete causal explanation of the origin of species can it be said to support atheism... or have anything at all to say on the subject. The theory's creative source of genetic novelty, "random mutations," makes no claim about the specific cause of those mutations (what precipitates the laws of physics to act just when and how they do) and, indeed, no one expects a scientific theory to specify causality so finely. This dearth of specificity leaves a wide berth for the workings of Providence or whatever sort of cause (space aliens?) one might want to insert into the gap. Moreover it is characteristic of science to mistake the workings of intelligence for chance.

So in summary, the belief that Darwinism has any implications one way or the other (for or against atheism) is a grievous (but all too common) misunderstanding of evolutionary theory and the role of chance in science.

The well intentioned folks who oppose the teaching of Darwin in schools have been deceived into thinking the theory atheistic. The irony is that in their efforts they have unwittingly imbibed the misconception from which so many atheists suffer. The miseducated "brights" who sport Darwin amphibians on their cars have successfully deceived them into drinking from the same punch bowl. Tragic.


" Commentary on Psalm 135(136):1-9: From Created Works One Ascends to the Greatness of God," Zenit (2005-11-09).

"Creation Reveals God and His Love, Says Benedict XVI: Comments on Psalm 135(136) at General Audience," Zenit (2005-11-09).

14 comments:

Anteater said...

Interesting post, but I think that Darwinism and atheism are very highly correlated (whether or not there is a logical chain between them). Your post makes it seem that these two are independent from one another.

Lawrence Gage said...

Thanks for the comment. You have a good point, and I don't disagree, but you might consider reading the posts that lead up to this one.

My argument is that it is only this ignorance of atheistic Darwinists that creates this correlation.

MJ

Anonymous said...

While I agree that evolutionary theory is compatible with theism, it is certainly not correct that it has no atheistic implications. Firstly, it weakens, and perhaps kills, the argument from design as used by Paley and others. Secondly, it stands in contradiction to the origin accounts of many religions, for instance the first chapter of Genesis. It is no surprise that many people find Darwin profoundly callenging to their faith.

Lawrence Gage said...

My claim is that evolution, properly interpreted, says nothing and can say nothing about design's absence or presence. Please consider reading my previous posts on this topic in which I have discussed the silence of evolutionary science (not philosophical extrapolation) on the cause (intelligent or not) of genetic novelty.

It's always possible to find a religion whose tenets are at odds with some observation of the world, whether scientific or not, but that is not an absolute argument against God's existence. Such a collision is inevitable if one's holy book works not only to delineate man's relationship to God, but also moonlights as a science text.

Say a sect held that the sky was as solid as earth—that would certainly be hard to reconcile with the findings of modern science. And yet that is "the firmament" of Genesis.

I've never understood—but perhaps you can explain to me—how anyone can vehemently insist on a strict literal interpretation of certain passages of Sacred writ and then arbitrarily (or so it would seem) ignore other passages, e.g., that on the surface seem to specify that the Earth does not move (remember the Galileo incident?), that day and night existed before the Sun and Earth.

MJ

Anonymous said...

I agree that evolution ic compatible with design, but the old arguments from design argued that the existence of a designer was a priori obvious. Evolution, in providing an alternative explanation, weakens this argument. Design is not ruled out, as you say, but it is no longer obvious either.

Second, I agree that many statements in Genesis are in contradiction with modern science. Surely you agree that many people would find this problematic for their faith? If you don't believe the Bible when it speaks of earthly things, why believe it when it speaks of heavenly things?

Finally, inerrancy is the strangest possible doctrine, but it is not only inerrantists who have a problem when their holy book starts off with incorrect statements.

Lawrence Gage said...

I agree that evolution ic compatible with design, but the old arguments from design argued that the existence of a designer was a priori obvious.

Really? If it was supposed to be a priori obvious, then why the need to base the argument on observation? And indeed if obvious in any sense, why the need for an argument at all?

(Since you've undoubtedly been considerate enough to read what I've previously written, it must be evidence of the poverty of my writing skills that you don't yet understand.) Historical questions aside, what I'm saying is that design is obvious, but that science is methodologically blind to anything beyond numbers. Perhaps it will not confuse the matter too much to quote my previous post:

The difference turns on what one means by "biology."

On the one hand, the design in nature is evident to anyone who looks at the order in the natural world with an open mind: the merest child spontaneously asks who made the world. Biology, in this broad, traditional sense, can't help but see design.

On the other hand, biology—like everything else these days—is following physics in becoming uniformly quantitative. Concentrating purely on quantity strips the world of the living enfleshment of qualities. This is not to say that quantities are not important (could I be a physicist and believe that?), but simply that they don't suffice to explain the world completely. It is biology in this narrow, quantitative sense that is blind to order and design. After all, how does one reduce to mere numbers a multi-faceted, metaphysical reality like order?


You wrote:
Evolution, in providing an alternative explanation, weakens this argument.

Please understand me: I'm saying that evolution does not provide an alternative to design: never did and never will. You don't agree with my point while you insist on this idea.

Surely you agree that many people would find this problematic for their faith?

Sure. But just because some people choose to let it trouble them doesn't make it truly troubling. Descartes can doubt the existence of the world all he wants, but his subjective doubt doesn't make the world any less objectively real.

If you don't believe the Bible when it speaks of earthly things, why believe it when it speaks of heavenly things?

One can believe the Bible to be true without it being literally true. When I tell you, "the sun rose this morning", do I intend this statement to be true? Obviously, yes. But do I mean the the statement to be literally true? Obviously no: it's not the sun that rises, but the Earth that revolves.

God writes straight with crooked lines. He uses finite humans and their finite language limited by their times to reveal himself to us. There's no evidence that God intended us to take incidental primitive cosmological observations included in the Bible as absolute statements about the structure of the physical world. The point of Genesis is not that the sky is a big tent and the earth a big platter, but that God created everything, that he loves us humans, and that we are the ones who messed everything up.

Sad to say, but if you need to cling to the "letter of the law" over the spirit, then you might be more comfortable with the pharisees of whom our Lord complains so vehemently.

MJ

Previous posts on this subject:
Intelligence Transcends Science
Providence and Chance

Anonymous said...

I guess I really don't understand your position on the design. All I'm saying is: Paley and others said "Look at all the variety of complicated creatures! They must have been created by a really smart designer!". Then Darwin comes along, and now the argument seems to be "Evolution doesn't explain the details of the mutations! They could be engineered by Providence!". (Sorry if I'm oversimplifying.) Now it seems clear to me that this is a much weaker conclusion: evolution is compatible with Providence, but there is no longer a direct evidence of a designer.

Now it is true that claiming that mutations occur by chance rather than by providence is a metaphysical move. However, this metaphysical alternative is based on the existence of evolutionary proesses; without them it wouldn't even get off the ground. In the words of Dawkins, "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist"- one could now provide a consistent metaphysics that didn't require God. In this sense we have an alternative to design.

You say "There's no evidence that God intended us to take incidental primitive cosmological observations included in the Bible as absolute statements about the structure of the physical world". What evidence could one possibly provide? What evidence is there that God intended us to believe that Jesus was resurrected? For that matter, what evidence is there that "The point of Genesis is not that the sky is a big tent and the earth a big platter, but that God created everything, that he loves us humans, and that we are the ones who messed everything up."? Could the "finite humans" who wrote these things have gotten all this other stuff wrong too?

Lawrence Gage said...

I guess I really don't understand your position on the design.

Someone more prudent (or sensitive to shame) would have stopped his comments right there, or else asked for clarification. How can you comment on what you don't understand?

On the metaphysical consequences of Dawinism, Dawkins is an imbecile, as even many Darwinists recognize. Just because he claims justification for his "lifestyle" from Darwinism, doesn't make it an actual justification. Why take the word of a man who has no knowledge of Truth?

What evidence is there that God intended us to believe that Jesus was resurrected? For that matter, what evidence is there that "The point of Genesis is not that the sky is a big tent and the earth a big platter, but that God created everything, that he loves us humans, and that we are the ones who messed everything up."?

The point of the Incarnation was for God to communicate with us on our level: in a human way. Any person of normal intelligence can tell a living person from a dead person, so it's pretty clear that the sacred writers intended "Jesus is risen" to mean exactly that, and that he could well tell the difference. And it is equally clear that this fact makes a tremendous difference in how we see God and how we conceive our relationship with him.

On the other hand, it's clear that an unformed perception of the world is not necessarily the full truth. The sky is not in fact a big tent and the Earth is not in fact a plate; man has known for millenia now that the Earth is round, contrary to the literal reading of Genesis. Additionally I have trouble imagining how the question of whether the Earth orbits the Sun or vice-versa can have any significant impact on one's relationship with God, so I fail to see how the question can have been central to the message that the sacred author was trying to communicate.

There's a big difference between the two types of facts. The sacred author was clearly trying to give us knowledge of salvation, not knowledge of the material structure of the world.

If I called out to you, "Look out, there's a Learjet about to crash into your home!", you wouldn't quibble if the plane was actually a Cesna; you'd simply get your family out. Similarly, anyone who won't listen to Sacred Scripture's message of salvation because of scientific "blunders" is either superficial or simply looking for an excuse not to listen.

St. Paul uses bad grammar. So what? He's not trying to teach grammar and he doesn't claim to be an authority on Koine Greek!

MJ

Lawrence Gage said...

Also, I should note that Dawkins latches onto Darwinism to justify himself because it is plausible, even though not true. By going along with his argument, you are letting him get away with it.

MJ

Anonymous said...

"Someone more prudent (or sensitive to shame) would have stopped his comments right there, or else asked for clarification. How can you comment on what you don't understand?"

And if you had actually read my post instead of going into insult mode, you might have noticed that I went on to describe my own point of view, not your position. And I did notice your only response was an ad hominem on Dawkins.

Whatever. I'm done here.

Lawrence Gage said...

Yes, you're so full of your own (un-informed) point of view and so slow to understand the point of others that I should have given up trying to get through to you instead of letting my frustration seethe.

You're right: I did wrong.

MJ

Karen Norrell said...

Joining the argument late, but I was wondering when someone else would notice the logical difficulties in the current debate over origins. If one is discussing the scientific theory of evolution, in point of fact there is no real conflict between evolution as a theory to explain the means by which life developed (though I think the theory provides a poor explanation of means) and intelligent design, which explores the cause of the life and the universe (using the term in the truly universal sense).

I've been reading The History of Scientific Revolutions. Because of the philosophical baggage it has to carry and its own inherent weaknesses, evolution is beginning to show signs of a paradigm in crisis.

So, what exactly has so many humanists riled up? I think it's because scientists and non-scientists alike are not discussing a scientific theory called evolution. They are discussing the dogmatic humanist narrative of origins called evolution, which is ideological rather than scientific, and which is explicitly atheistic.

Again, because scientists (like everyone else) operate from their own ideological perspectives, a number of scientists don't even seem willing to add two and two together for fear of coming up with four. Doesn't chaos theory suggest that there is nothing truly random? Rather the universe is composed of patterns within patterns. We recognize the simpler patterns; as we become more sophisticated in our understanding, we begin to perceive more complex patterns. It would be logical to suppose that there are other, more complex patterns beyond our current ability to perceive.

Several years ago, as a new believer, I had very little difficulty in understanding that God could have used the mechanics of evolution to accomplish the miracle of creation as easily as he could have done it in strict accordance witht the six-day account in Genesis. If one imagines one of those domino artists who spends days or even weeks setting up rows of dominos in complex arrays, only to tap one on the end and set the whole thing in breath-taking motion, it's not too hard to picture God designing the universe in the same way. Either way, it's the same miracle.

However, as I mentioned before, I find inherent weaknesses in the scientific theory of evolution. I don't think our intelligent designer accomplished His miracle in that way at all. It may be that there's a great deal more in Genesis than we have yet comprehended.

Anonymous said...

The problem is not that evolution is incompatible with God but that evolution is incompatible with the Bible. It is clear that whoever wrote the account of creation in Genesis didn't know what he was talking about, thereby undermining any claim to divine inspiration. As the anonymous poster above stated: "If you don't believe the Bible when it speaks of earthly things, why believe it when it speaks of heavenly things?"

No one faults the Bible for what it doesn't say, but for what it does say. The Bible doesn't have to say that God created the world in six days. But it does. It doesn't have to say that the sky is a solid dome. But it does. It doesn't have to say that God created Adam from the dust of the earth, and Eve from Adam's rib. But it does. Why does the Bible tell us these things if they are not true? Limitations of human understanding and language may justify withholding certain truths, but they cannot justify telling outright falsehoods.

If the Bible is the word of God -- and if God is the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Creator of the universe -- then we should expect the Bible to stand the test of time and to ring true as man's scientific knowledge advances. Sadly, the exact opposite has happened, and we must conclude that the Bible is not the divinely inspired scripture that we once thought it to be.

Anonymous said...

I would argue that Evolution is incompatible with any concept of god or an intelligent designer whose intended end result was modern man.

Evolution was an extremely inefficient process to reach that end result. Why would a limitless intelligence design a process requiring the convergence of phenotypically expressed genetic mutations with environmental circumstances favoring such mutations? Its a crapshoot, and resulted in more failures than successes, if modern man is defined as a success. Its a wonder modern man ever showed up at all. What role did pre homo sapien hominids play in God's plan? Did homo erectus or neanderthal have a soul? When exactly did the soul evolve?

Not to mention the fact that the phenomenon of genetic mutation, one of the drivers of evolution, can also result in crippling deformities and fatal diseases in modern man. This consequence seems incongruous with an evolutionary plan designed by an omnipotent being, and looks more like a negative by product of an unguided process.

It makes more sense that an omnipotent god with the intention to create modern man would do so in a manner similar to what was described in the bible. However since we know evolution explains the origins of modern man, it seems unreasonable to associate an omnipotent, omniscient god with the process