Saturday, November 28, 2009

A presentation I did on the 150th Anniversary of Darwin at Glendale Community College

I was supposed to do a presentation on the religious implications of evolution.

Evolution and Religion


Is there a conflict?

An Early Memory

I grew up in a United Methodist church in Phoenix. In the early 1960s, a local fundamentalist pastor was gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would have prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools.

This is something of a contrast with “equal time” laws that were developed subsequently, according to which school had to teach creationism alongside evolution. No, he wanted to re-enact something like the law Scopes violated in Tennessee.

Our pastor’s response

Was to publicly criticize this effort. Dr. Long thought that a battle with the theory of evolution was ill-advised, and said so from the pulpit. The Huntley-Brinkley report, then the big competitor with Walter Cronkite on CBS, picked up the story, and an excerpt from Dr. Long’s sermon was on the national news.

Do you believe in evolution?

That is not as straightforward a question as it appears. There are a diverse set of claims which are bundled under the umbrella of “evolution.” Philosopher Alvin Plantinga mentions five, which I call the five points of Darwinism:

Plantinga’s Five Points of Darwinism

Five points of evolutionism

1. The earth is ancient, millions of years old.

2. Species appeared gradually over time.

3. All life on earth comes from a common, single-celled creature.

4. The process of speciation occurred naturalistically, that is, without intelligent direction. Random variation and natural selection were sufficient to produce all life forms.

5. The origin of life also occurred without intelligent direction.

Five points of creationism

1. The earth is young, only thousands of years old.

2. Species appeared in the space of six literal days.

3. Life on earth did not come from a common ancestor. Rather, acts of special creation brought many species into existence.

4. The process of speciation occurred largely as a result of intelligent design on the part of an intelligent agent (God), not in any blind manner.

5. The origin of life was also the product of direct divine activity.

It’s not a package deal

Many people who have doubts about other aspects of evolution think we have good evidence for the first two points of Darwinism, including conservative Christian philosophers J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. These are people who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, but don’t think it requires believing in a young earth.

Young Earth Creationism

Young Earth Creationism, or YEC, holds that biblical chronologies are to be taken literally, and that not only the earth, but also the “heavens,” that is, the universe, came into existence relatively recently. The traditional date of creation according to Archbishop Ussher, places the creation of the entire universe at 4004 B. C. Still advocated by the Institute for Creation Research and by Answers in Genesis.

Scientific problems for YEC

YEC appears to fly in the face of science long before you get to Darwin. If you remember your basic astronomy, the standard measure of astronomic distance is the light year. That is the length of time light travels in a year. (186,000 miles per second isn’t just a good idea. It’s the law.) So if there are galaxies in space millions of light years away, as astronomy tells us, that means we shouldn’t be able to see them with our telescopes, since the universe has been only in existence for 6000 years, and therefore light can have only traveled 6000 light years since the beginning of the universe.

Hyper-literalism and Copernicus

Historically, hyper-literalism has had other battles with science, such as the contention, of both the Catholic Church and Luther, that the Copernican theory cannot be accepted because it conflicts with a literal reading of the Book of Joshua, in which the sun is said to have stood still for Joshua. This implies, of course that it is ordinarily moving. However, no one objects to Copernican astronomy these days.

Must a five-point evolutionist be an atheist?

No. One can believe that the evolutionary process on earth was as the evolutionists say, and still believe that the basic structure of the universe, as it came into being at, say, the Big Bang, required intelligent design, or in fact included intelligent design.

Some Recent Developments

1) The evolution-based atheism movement.

2) The intelligent design movement.

The evolution-based atheism movement

Major figure: Richard Dawkins. Dawkins has attempted to explain evolution to the general public, and has done so in such a way as to put a case for atheism on the back of evolutionary biology. Many scientists have insisted on the relative religious neutrality of evolution, Dawkins and those like him have said no, science has proven fully naturalistic evolution to be true, and that it leaves us with no room for God. Many scientists are in fact atheists, but Dawkins wants to use evolutionary biology to push for atheism. Other supporters of evolution are not happy with this. Dawkins’ most famous book: The God Delusion.

The Intelligent Design Movement

The intelligent design movement doesn’t necessarily buy in on all 5 points of creationism, but does think that our best science will show that you can’t exclude design from an account of how life developed. Thus, claims on behalf of a designer can and should be explicitly made by science, and children in public schools should be made aware of the fact that some people in the scientific community think this way. Many scientists are Christians (such as Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, and Kenneth Miller), but ID people want an intelligent designer, (which need not necessarily be God) to be brought into scientific discourse. Recent book on Intelligent Design: The Signature In the Cell.

Controversies

Both of these movements, I think, are attempts to undermine the religious neutrality of evolutionary biology. One group wants to bring religion into biological science, the other wants to use science aggressively to get rid of God. However, I think both of these viewpoints are in the minority within the scientific community.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see your scientfic argument against Jesus turning water into wine. After all he did it quickly and wine grapes take a long tome to ferment.

Same with Adam's descended testicles. He had them the first day he was born.

6 day creationism has its problems, but objections that undermine miracles seem problematic when used by Christians.

Jeremy said...

And towing the party line when it becomes apparent that our current understanding of something may be deeply flawed isn't problematic?

There is absolutely nothing undermining about considering the idea that God may act in more ways than abracadabra sorts of magic tricks. He's displayed great patience in guiding the course of human history, so I fail to see how an eternal being would have any problem with taking a few million years to make something happen. It's not like he's in a hurry or has anything to prove.

If anything, the Christian insistence on insisting on miracles when maybe none exist, is more undermining of legitimate miracle claims than detrimental. (Note: I think the existence of the universe is one heck of a miracle. I just don't see how it needs to be poofed into existence to qualify.)

Jeremy said...

insistence on insisting...oh what I'd give for an edit button.

Gregory said...

I think what is often stated by Evolution advocates is that ID proponents, and/or Creationists, are trying to sneak God into science.

I think that the writings of William Dembski and Phillip Johnson---among others---have demonstrated that God was pushed out of science with the advent of Darwin. That's why this quip from Dawkins is very significant:

"Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."

Darwin, contrary to the long intellectual heritage of teleology, was proposing a non-teleological understanding of biology. In fact, his teachings have been scrupulously applied to the whole of nature. Nowadays, the teachings of Darwin have extended into, and permeated, every aspect of culture. So it would true to say that Darwin was as much a Prophet as he was a Scientist. You see, his theory has not been restricted to the realm of mere empirical observation. Indeed, his theory has mandated the "truth" in every vital area of culture....whether ethics, politics, the social sciences or religion.

Darwin's theory is much more than a humble observation. It is both the Philosopher's Stone and the Rosetta Stone. It is not only the most respectable and acquiesced theory of Alchemy to date, but it has also become the "seer stone" by which everything can be seen, understood and interpreted. Daniel Dennett's comment about the "universal acid" is quite true.

And someone will say:

"Darwin a Prophet, you say? Nonsense."

Ah, but he was. As that cackling diviner of DNA, James Watson, told Charlie Rose:

"Nothing of real importance had been said until Darwin."

and

"Darwin is the most important person who ever lived."

Darwin is a Prophet....a Diviner of Mysteries.....a man holding the Crystal Ball, and having in his possession the Keys to Pandora's Box....to some ancient kingdom of "light". But what door has he opened?

"Now, when the 1000 years have expired...."

Anonymous said...

Of course Jeremy's reactionary post did nothing to undermine the point I made, rhetoric aside.

Marcia Earth said...

The most notable point of Darwinism (note that I did not say "evolution" is that it says that life evolved without the aid of any supernatural intelligence.

Many religious people are able to easily reconcile the idea of religion with evolution - the idea that life evolved over a very long time - directed by God.

There is also Deism, the idea that God created the physical laws of the universe and then stepped away, and that evolution was an inevitable progression of the laws of physics. (Not that far from the Darwinist, no-God-necessary-at-all viewpoint).

The views of fundamentalist Christians are not representative of the views of all religious people on Earth.

Marcia Earth said...

The most notable point of Darwinism (note that I did not say "evolution" is that it says that life evolved without the aid of any supernatural intelligence.

Many religious people are able to easily reconcile the idea of religion with evolution - the idea that life evolved over a very long time - directed by God.

There is also Deism, the idea that God created the physical laws of the universe and then stepped away, and that evolution was an inevitable progression of the laws of physics. (Not that far from the Darwinist, no-God-necessary-at-all viewpoint).

The views of fundamentalist Christians are not representative of the views of all religious people on Earth.