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Intelligent Design - Natural Selection guided by God?
December 18, 2001 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Intelligent Design - Natural Selection guided by God? Is every facet of evolution guided by God then? What about fashion or politics?
posted by hellinskira (77 comments total)

 
If you're interested in this topic, I highly recommend Richard Dawkins's book Climbing Mount Improbable.

Personally, I'm not a fan of intelligent design, philosophically and more simply because humans are poorly designed. If our knees bent the other way we could run faster and support our weight better as we aged... But that's just me.
posted by j.edwards at 2:17 PM on December 18, 2001


yeah, and just what are these nipples of mine for?
posted by badstone at 2:27 PM on December 18, 2001


"When you look to the idea that you and I are basically random events and random happenings, that left me feeling void and empty as a human being," he says. "That says there's no reason for laws, or for moral behavior."

This is the type of logic that personally, i just cannot follow. I mean i guess i just dont see the relevance...

"I was a random event, which makes me empty and says there is no reason to have morals." Why?

It is an interesting article though
posted by skinjob at 2:28 PM on December 18, 2001


I have swollen tonsils right now...back to the drawing board!
posted by hellinskira at 2:28 PM on December 18, 2001


yeah, and just what are these nipples of mine for?

Those are for lactation. You are a mammal.
posted by iceberg273 at 2:35 PM on December 18, 2001


Because in the that case, Skinjob, morals are reduced to mere propaganda, nothing more.
This may well be the case. Unlike Dawkins et al., I think the widespread adoption of this view can bring only disaster.
posted by quercus at 2:46 PM on December 18, 2001


Those are for lactation. You are a mammal.

On the Internet, nobody knows you're an amphibian.

Ken Miller, the Brown professor quoted in the linked article, is a Catholic and a vocal proponent of the compatibility in practicing Christianity and believing in Darwinian evolution. Some of the book reviews and papers are worth reading if you're looking for opponents of intelligent design theory less pugnacious than Dawkins.
posted by snarkout at 2:49 PM on December 18, 2001


Those are for lactation. You are a mammal.

yes but i am a male mammal.

this seems familiar...
posted by o2b at 2:50 PM on December 18, 2001


I think it's funny enough that someone with the nick SkinJob cares anyway... you're not even human. You're a damned replicant.

I have to agree. Humans enforce rules to combat unpredictable, religions to explain the unknown and unknowable. The assumption of intelligent design by a higher force is only part of that.

I have no problem either with the fact that I am a mostly random occurence or that the true meaning of life is that there is no meaning. I actually don't care much, I'm too busy actually being alive.

By the way, I have nipples and I'm suctorial.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:53 PM on December 18, 2001


Because in the that case, Skinjob, morals are reduced to mere propaganda, nothing
more.


So? Why do they need to be "more"? Why aren't they good enough on their own merits? Violence and deception are icky, and nobody really benefits from them. That's a good enough reason for me to live by an ethical code (which is of my own devising, as it should be.)

Honestly, I'm just utterly baffled by this ever-present debate. Life just is. What is wrong with that? Why is that so crushingly depressing to some people? Humans excel at trying to figure out the "why" of things, when it's really completely unnecessary.
posted by Fenriss at 2:53 PM on December 18, 2001


The male nipple thing was brought up in a recent thread.
posted by mrbula at 2:54 PM on December 18, 2001


Fret not. If we feed you the right hormones or mess with your pituitary enough, you'll lactate with the best of them.

Male nipples are analog structures, remnants of a gestational age when we were structurally neither male nor female. Kind of like Matt Drudge.

We could get into a discussion of other analogs, but this is a family web log. I think.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 2:59 PM on December 18, 2001


I see no incompatibilty between science and any religious belief.
Where did the premise originate that the universe has ONE AND ONLY ONE exclusive rational explanation?
Monotheism has apparently transformed into monotruism.
posted by quercus at 3:02 PM on December 18, 2001


I just don't get it. Science as a profession is concerned with descriptions of the natural; of occurrences in nature; of things that can be observed and repeated and understood. Call it "creationism" or "intelligent design" or whatever -- any talk of a "prime mover" creates a problem of causality that cannot be described in natural terms. That's why we call it the "supernatural." By describing something as "outside nature" we are defining it as outside the descriptive powers of science.

It's a more telling indicator of a divine presence that almost all humans -- even scientists -- seem drawn to the search for divinity.

IMO, scientists have as much business discussing the supernatural as, say rock stars have discussing politics. Which is to say, as much right as any of us, but no special authority.
posted by coelecanth at 3:03 PM on December 18, 2001


ugh, yes we are improbable, but there are two things people never think about, and it's weird to me that they don't, as they are central to the argument.

1) The universe is big
We are improbable, but the universe gives lots of chances, what would be really weird is if every planet we landed on had a human civilization...

2) We are the observers
We say, "holy crap, look at us, we're special" but if we weren't here we wouldn't say that. :) ha, what i'm saying is the fact that we observe the uniqueness and *are* the uniqueness makes it seem stranger than it is. what if a machine flips a coin 100 times an hour, but only lets you see it when it lands on the edge, you might think there was a god making it land on it's edge, because it seems improbable. when in actuality it is a sampling problem.

Also, on a bit of a religious side, i think it is important to think about where you came from, to know that you are an integral part of a huge planet that created you in an unimaginably complex system and series of events, to me, is much more satisfying than thinking you're a toy created by some child-god.
posted by rhyax at 3:05 PM on December 18, 2001


how to avoid france... hehe
posted by machaus at 3:08 PM on December 18, 2001


I've always felt that the nonexistence of God would promote a stronger moral code; for if there is no God, then there is no afterlife; if there is no afterlife, what we do in this life is the end product of our existence; similarly, if there is no afterlife, then the value of this life, the mortal coil, increases dramatically, for there is nothing else. Therefore, it is more imperative that we treat each other with more kindness (since we will never have an opportunity to console those against whom we transgress in eternity); and punish those who would treat this life cavalierly more forcefully, since to take another's life here is to send them not to heaven, but to erase them forever.
posted by UncleFes at 3:10 PM on December 18, 2001


Violence and deception are icky, and nobody really benefits from them.

Well, I don't know about that. Take Stalin - Stalin died wealthy, well fed, of old age, and with the satisfaction of knowing he had no enemies left when he departed this vale, having personally signed over 40,000 death warrants, and he died with no regrets, as he thought morality was only for fools.

If he actually violated no higher moral code, as there is none, why should we not all try to emulate Stalin and congratulate him on a job well done?

Certainly not b/c violence is icky-that has no universal validity-q.e.d.
posted by quercus at 3:13 PM on December 18, 2001


One of the biggest pet peeves I have (as a geologist) is when people refer to the product or processes of evolution as 'random.' In fact, evolution is an iterative algorithmic process that is not entirely random. For a brief discussion, see Ian Musgrave's comments on probability calculations and D. Dennett's book 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea.'
posted by monju_bosatsu at 3:25 PM on December 18, 2001


When I round the street corner and come upon something that just seems astounding to me, a shell game perhaps, or a three-legged frog in a tutu, there are any number of reasons it could exist/work.
*It could be sleight of hand. Something I'm not skilled enough to understand.
*It could be trick equipment.
*It could be a freak of nature (random event but not readily reproducible)
*It could be magic.
*It could be God doing his thing.
I am perfectly willing to concede my abundant ignorance as to why things are the way they are, but I am not willing to resort to divine intervention as an explanation just yet.
My problem with intelligent design theory is not in its intellectual premise that life may not be random -- who really knows -- it's in the delivery by these advocates who are all too willing to explain gaps in our knowledge by God's hand. It's just as likely by their story that it's aliens, but you don't see them suggesting that. Reading their arguments, I'm reminded of the confidence of my nephew, a 7 year old who thinks it's impossible for anyone to slip a tooth out from under a pillow, therefore the tooth fairy must exist. To make an analogy, I agree that I have a 7 year old's ignorance about how the world works, but I figure that by the time I'm 8 or 9, I'll have a few more clues. So I just don't buy the "it's just magic" argument. Currently ignorant does not mean forever ignorant.
I think there's nothing wrong with talking about it in a philosophy of science class, but it doesn't belong in a science curriculum. Since it inevitably devolves into a worldview that includes father figures dictating moral values from on high, I would be very wary of a discussion in a supposedly non-sectarian science class.

"That says there's no reason for laws, or for moral behavior"
If someone needs a God to believe in the importance of morals, that's sad. If there is a God who is paying attention to us, he must be shaking his head and saying 'he doesn't quite get it.' There's a step in childhood when most kids realize they should do the right thing because it's right, not because their parents (or God) are watching. Sounds to me like this guy never made it past this stage.
posted by dness2 at 3:42 PM on December 18, 2001


If someone needs a God to believe in the importance of morals, that's sad.

It's always been the way I've thought of it as well. It seems to me that empathy is a logical response to reality. I don't act like Stalin because I understand that if everyone acted like Stalin (which is a ridiculous analogy by the way... Stalin was an aberration, like bin Laden and Hitler), the world would be a very very shitty place and I wouldn't want to live in it.

That's not to say that I balk others who believe in a "higher power." The supposition of a higher power in or outside the universe can't be proven wrong. I just don't believe in it because I can't prove it right. [People always answer that with, "Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there." My answer to that is, because it can't be seen/proven, chances are pretty good it's not.] It is religious structure that really gets to me. Most religious rules are obviously bound to social beliefs or political power and obviously not handed down by some benevolent/malevolent "god." Yet, people still follow unquestioningly.
posted by eyeballkid at 4:05 PM on December 18, 2001


There's a step in childhood when most kids realize they should do the right thing because it's right

Sort of. But we don't all agree on everything, as far as what is right and wrong. And that's one trouble, I think, that religion is intended to solve -- it aims to set a standard for right and wrong that is independent of what each of us thinks is right.

Of course, the problem then becomes, for any given messiah (or what have you), why should anyone else listen to his version? And his answer is, because it's not mine, it's God's. I think most of us here would prefer an appeal to reason than one to divinity, but, let's face it, the latter is far more effective in getting large numbers of people to adopt a unified stance.

Spontaneously arriving at the understanding that, Hey, I should be good! only works if almost everyone else does, too. Otherwise you need some way to convince people not to each live by their own rules.
posted by mattpfeff at 4:24 PM on December 18, 2001


That's not to say that I balk others who believe in a "higher power."

I agree. In a way, belief in a generic higher power can be a guard against that kind of presumptive hubris that some people have that it IS possible to know everything and that we are THE intelligent life on this planet. I believe in something out there, or in me, or wherever, it really doesn't matter, that is bigger than me, that I will never quite master if I live a billion years. I don't think it necessarily wears white robes or punished women by the pain of childbirth. But hey, I'm willing to be proved wrong. The good in formal religion is the structure it can give to essential humility, which I think is important. The bad can be the acquiescence of any kinds of questions, even the humble ones. Not every religion demands that kind of intellectual servitude, of course. Plenty of intelligent people find a good balance.

But we don't all agree on everything, as far as what is right and wrong.

So true. I do think there is some kind of universal human morals to be found in the common denominators of the world's religions. Once we get beyond definitions about who one's people are that one should care about and when life begins, all the religions that I know about that have lasted for awhile seem to have the same basics. Be nice to each other, don't be self-interested at other's expense, don't be too eager to kill oneself.. So perhaps religion is all about setting up those first definitions.
posted by dness2 at 4:40 PM on December 18, 2001


has it ever occured to any of you that the existence of God is entirely unrelated to whether or not said existence is logical?

He either is or he ain't.

You already know my vote on the topic.



You never had any kids, did you?

posted by bunnyfire at 4:46 PM on December 18, 2001


has it ever occured to any of you that the existence of God is entirely unrelated to whether or not said existence is logical?

He either is or he ain't.

You already know my vote on the topic.



You never had any kids, did you?

posted by bunnyfire at 4:51 PM on December 18, 2001


I had a son, but the Lord made me sacrifice him.
posted by hellinskira at 4:51 PM on December 18, 2001


okay, i am darning myself to metaheck-for some reason not only did i double post but my quote of the other post is missing.....
it made sense on this end tho.
posted by bunnyfire at 4:55 PM on December 18, 2001


the existence of God is entirely unrelated to whether or not said existence is logical?

Of course if he exists he exists. It's the belief in the existence that we're arguing. And what exactly that existence means. One can't argue pure faith, so we're working with logic.
How do kids come into this? Kids believe in things that we adults "know" don't exist, but they believe them mightily. Childlike faith is powerful, and can be good, but as adults we can argue its merits.

I don't plant the seeds of doubt in my nephew's heads -- their parents are pretty devout and that's disrespectful -- but we're allowed to be curious here. If God made me he made me to ask questions.
posted by dness2 at 5:07 PM on December 18, 2001


I'd like to share with everyone an interesting opinion about god (not God) that got posted in my guestbook the other day. He makes certain assumptions about what god is, though.

"god is always a supremely pure and perfect being. for me, this would make it unbiased. absolutely so. completely objective. ungendered, as well. god would be so objective that it would not care about good or evil. as soon as it took action, i.e creation, divine intervention, it would have to do that for some sort of biased reason, and therefore would not be god, just a being that could see a lot. effectively, such a god would not think at all, or even process the information it recieves, as thought requires bias to exist. god is a computer. scary, no? all this means that, if there is a god, it dosn't matter because it dosn't do anything, and it never did or will. it just observes absolutely every variable, every quark to every thought of every being, including all the theorectical realms of dimesions and other universes, etc. it would be cool to tap in to god, then."

As for myself, I think that world events over the last 70 or so years pretty much destroyed any argument for a compassionate, loving god. And if people really wanted to be moral, why do they need God as a justification?
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 5:28 PM on December 18, 2001


Truth trumps respect.
posted by rushmc at 5:29 PM on December 18, 2001


all this means that, if there is a god, it dosn't matter because it dosn't do anything, and it never did or will.

Is what he's rejecting a "personal God" or even more extremely an impersonal but active God? Seems to me that a purely observational god isn't really the God that Bunnyfire believes in. Is this a way of fixing cognitive dissonance from believing in God but not really believing that anything happens because of God? If God doesn't do ANYTHING, does he exist?
posted by dness2 at 5:47 PM on December 18, 2001


Truth trumps respect.

~OK, but no leading truth until after first blood then.~
posted by rodii at 5:52 PM on December 18, 2001


Religion: The planets revolve around the earth
Science: Um, no. We looked it up and its the other way around
Religion: Yeah, we knew that. God was just foolin' ya. It was a test. But we know God created the entire world as it is now.
Science: Um, no. We looked it up, our pal Darwin says there's this whole "evolution" thing.
Religion: Oh, yeah? Um, well, God did that too.
Science: How come you didn't say that before?
Religion: 'Nother one-a them wacky tests.

Repeat, stir, repeat --- until the end of humanity.
posted by owillis at 6:00 PM on December 18, 2001


Given small bands of hunter-gatherers- where every member's contribution was crucial - those populated with humans quick to murder would rapidly dwindle and be outcompeted by tribes more successful at restraining the innate urge to retaliate (even today some people kick the door that stubbed their toe).
So in that sense morality has evolved because it has evolutionary advantage. Evolution, however, is dead.
The age of designer genes, and perhaps even designer species, is upon us. Everything still has to bow to the overall algorithm, but the genuflection mechanics are changing.
So yes, away with the old morality too. We live now with this watered down drugged out hippy like Judeo-Christian morality of love thy neighbor pussy-ness that ancient Romans could only marvel at in horror and contempt.
Personally, I'd like to get some Aztec style human sacrifice rituals kicking again.
Who knows what else awaits us in this rudderless world.
posted by quercus at 6:01 PM on December 18, 2001


quercus, you forgot to put the <brooding cynical uberdark angst> tags around your post.
posted by dness2 at 6:32 PM on December 18, 2001


effectively, such a god would not think at all, or even process the information it recieves, as thought requires bias to exist...it just observes absolutely every variable, every quark to every thought of every being, including all the theorectical realms of dimesions and other universes, etc.

Hmm. Has your visitor been reading Thomas Hardy's The Dynasts lately? E.g., Part III, "After Scene":

SEMICHORUS I OF THE YEARS:

O Immanence, That reasonest not
In putting forth all things begot,
Thou build'st Thy house in space--for what?

SEMICHORUS II

O Loveless, Hateless!--past the sense
Of kindly eyed benevolence,
To what tune danceth this Immense?

[...]

SEMICHORUS I OF THE YEARS:

Last as first the question rings
Of the Will's long travailings;
Why the All-mover,
Why the All-prover
Ever urges on and measures the chordless chime of Things.

SEMICHORUS II:

Heaving dumbly
As we deem,
Moulding numbly
As in dream,
Apprehending not how fare the sentient subjects of Its scheme.

[Ends with the vague possibility that It may become conscious one day.]
posted by thomas j wise at 6:37 PM on December 18, 2001


[Ends with the vague possibility that It may become conscious one day.]

Just like the Internet!!!!
posted by hellinskira at 7:32 PM on December 18, 2001


And I thought that we evolved through our interactions with viruses, like HERV's.
posted by bragadocchio at 10:32 PM on December 18, 2001


In my opinion, science and religion are fundamentally at odds.

Science is the quest of intelligent beings to understand and control the unintelligent and often very unpleasant system they are a part of, and religion is an outgrowth of that system.
posted by Flimsy_Parkins at 12:10 AM on December 19, 2001


If you move beyond the "guy in the sky" idea, this whole topic becomes a semantic argument. (and everybody wins)

Literalism is the stumbling point.
posted by joemaller at 1:21 AM on December 19, 2001


if there is no God, then there is no afterlife [...]

I've heard this before, many times, but I just don't see the logic in it. Why are these two ideas inextricably linked? Why would the non-existence of God necessarily preclude the existence of an afterlife? Mind you, I can see why the strict rationalist might well resist both claims, but I can't see why one might not believe in one and not the other.

for any given messiah (or what have you), why should anyone else listen to his version? And his answer is, because it's not mine, it's God's.

This is another one I just don't get. Okay, suppose there is a giant invisible superhero in outer space who wears white robes and who created every single last one of us. Got it. And let's say He does have some idea of what he thinks good and bad behavior are; He does have a code of ethics he think we all ought to follow.

My question is -- so what? What makes Him right? The fact that He created us? I don't buy it. My own mortal parents quite demonstrably created me, as well, but that doesn't mean I have to unquestioningly accept their code of ethics, either. Or is it because he has the power to send us to heaven or hell? Again -- so what? How does that make him any more of a moral arbiter than any thug with a gun?

Any messiah is going to have to do a hell of a lot more work convincing me about how I should live my life than simply "'Cause God sez so."
posted by webmutant at 1:31 AM on December 19, 2001



posted by y2karl at 2:23 AM on December 19, 2001


"What I want to see is some science being done based on that paradigm that produces results that could not be produced by the Darwinian paradigm."

Here's the real rub. As a Christian I have some interest in the Intellegent Design stuff (although I fear that it all boils down to the Argument from Incredulity: I can't think of how evolution could have done this, therefore, it didn't).

But the real test is whether this new perspective produces scientific results that you can't get from Darwinism. Until that happens, I don't think you can call it science.
posted by straight at 5:59 AM on December 19, 2001


I haven't heard this mentioned, but it seems to me that the argument lies within the first assumption, i.e. either God is eternal or matter is eternal. In other words, either God exists or He doesn't, and if He doesn't, then there cannot be divine intervention. If He does exist, and He is God, then he probably had a hand in Creation.

That being said, I want to go back to an argument made by monju_bosatsu relating to Ian Musgrave's comments. I understand the basic theory of protobacterial evolution, but what I do not understand is how the protobacteria evolves from that to a highly complex being such as humans. Not only is the evolutionary chain extremely long, it is also highly complex and highly ordered. In fact, the chain (which stems from genetic similarities from species) demonstrates organismal heirarchy rather than demonstrating proof for the evolotion theory. Evolutionist will then point to the fossils for proof, and say "See, these orginisms no longer exist," but this is also something we see every day, it is called extinction. A problem with evolutional theory is that it rests wholly on time and space and more time. Whenever the probability calculation for evolution comes up, evolutionists tend to throw more and more time into the calculation. A second question I have is in regards to the evolution of the cellular membrane. In a natural environment, there are chemicals that destroy the polypeptide chains proposed by Ian Musgrave. The cellular membrane protects these chains so that they can go on and do what they do, (forming the backbones of RNA, DNA, and all the other organelles in the cell). How did that occur? Furthermore, even prokaryotic cells need protiens embedded in the cellular membrane for survival (they act as the cellular gatekeeper for the cell, disallowing certain chemicals while welcoming others). When these are considered, the probability of cellular genesis from nothing is still so improbable as to be impossible. But then again, given enough time and space, anything can happen, right?
posted by Uncle Joe's Brother at 8:19 AM on December 19, 2001


Any messiah is going to have to do a hell of a lot more work convincing me about how I should live my life than simply "'Cause God sez so."

The point isn't that he can thusly convince you, it's that he can convince millions of other people. And it's pretty obvious that that has worked in the past, I think. But, if you're wondering, no, I don't find messiahs all that convincing, either....
posted by mattpfeff at 8:25 AM on December 19, 2001


But then again, given enough time and space, anything can happen, right?

That is exactly the point. If you want to roll a billion-sided dice to get a 1, just hire the entire population of China and you'll roll it in no time.

The article mentioned that there was an insane amount (something like billions of billions) of simple living cells evolving together in parallel. Even if the process is truly random, a lot of good things can happen givin a few million years.
posted by VeGiTo at 8:33 AM on December 19, 2001


Matt, I think what you are refering to is a testimony. I know God exists and Jesus is my saviour because of the work he has done in me, and therefore will do through me. I think that is where and why people are convicted and convinced, rather than lightning bolts and such. Also, when you hear other people's testimony, your willingness to accept it, and therefore your own knowledge of God will be a testimony onto your own heart. If your heart says to you "you know, this is striking a cord" and your mind accepts it, you will also have the experience of God, the knowledge that He exists, and a testimony to share with other people around you. I think that many people misunderstand Christians and their reasons for sharing their own testimonies with people around them. They do it because their heart is screaming to speak, they want people to hear, even if it may sound offensive to the audience. I think that is acceptable. What the world is beleiving is that Christians are like the wackjobs on t.v., i.e. Jack Van Impe, Benny Hinn, et. all, and we are not. We are exactly like everyone else, except that we have a testimony on our hearts that longs to be heard.
posted by Uncle Joe's Brother at 8:35 AM on December 19, 2001


. . .a lot of good things can happen givin a few million years.

Yeah, but all in the same place?
posted by Uncle Joe's Brother at 8:36 AM on December 19, 2001


Yeah, but all in the same place?

What made that a requirement? One superior organism only needs to evolve in one place before it self-divides and overwhelm all the others.

But even if a bunch of them have to occur at the same place. Rolling 3 one's consecutively on some billions-sided dice seems very improbable, but if you roll a billion-billion dice simultaneously, you can get that in very little time.
posted by VeGiTo at 8:43 AM on December 19, 2001


before it self-divides and overwhelm all the others.

But even if a bunch of them have to occur at the same place. Rolling 3 one's consecutively on some billions-sided dice seems very improbable, but if you roll a billion-billion dice simultaneously, you can get that in very little time.


How about rolling a billion one's at the same time at the same place? The probability has been done, and what you are attempting to do is reduce the probability. I didn't calculate it, you didn't, mathemeticians did. We can't change what the probability is by talking about dice, the truth is that it is highly improbable (probably impossible).
posted by Uncle Joe's Brother at 8:49 AM on December 19, 2001


You are simply the perfect example of why people need to believe in a god.

For personal empowerment.

Still doesn't mean that one exists, though...

I might get the same knowledge and experience, and even provide a testimonial from my watching of sick, twisted, perverted pornography. Shall I share that with everyone and ask them to see the 'light'?
posted by eas98 at 8:51 AM on December 19, 2001


I didn't calculate it, you didn't, mathemeticians did. We can't change what the probability is by talking about dice, the truth is that it is highly improbable (probably impossible)

I'm a CS major under the faculty of mathematics, and you can say I am quite proficient in Math and Stats. I might not be an expert in biology and chemistry, but once you scientists work out the numbers, I can crunch them and tell you if it's indeed probably impossible.

Locality of time and locality of space will yield the same probability result. Also, You missed the point of the article. The problem was that those "mathematicians" were wrong. Either they miscalculated the chances by making the jumps in evolution unrealisitically big, or they assumed that evolution occurs sequentially. If cells mutate one at a time, then yes, it will take forever. But they mutate in parallel.
posted by VeGiTo at 8:58 AM on December 19, 2001


The problem was that those "mathematicians" were wrong.

That still doesn't make it improbable. Also, after reading the particular article, I believe Musgrave to be oversimplifying the process. He doesn't account for RNA synthesis, he is looking at polypeptide formation, which does occur, and can be reproduced. Polypeptides are not life, they cannot reproduce themselves (one of the conditions of something being "alive"), they are readily found in nature. His argument is that the chemicals naturally come together, therefore the evolution of the first cell wasn't as improbable as people are making it seem. But to leap from where he starts to even the simplest form of life on the planet today (the prokaryote which has no nucleus, no DNA, basically it is just RNA rings floating around in a cellular sac) doesn't make sense. RNA self-replicates, it recreates itself over and over again. He doesn't explain how that is any less probable than before in his article.
posted by Uncle Joe's Brother at 9:07 AM on December 19, 2001


In my opinion, science and religion are fundamentally at odds.

Science is the quest of intelligent beings to understand and control the unintelligent and often very unpleasant system they are a part of, and religion is an outgrowth of that system.


A lot of people who have a grudge against religion and who aren't directly involved in the "hard" science fields, assume that all scientists must be atheists. However, the reverse is actually true. If you survey academic departments in colleges, you find that professors who self-identify as religious most often come from the "hard" sciences - physics, mathematics, chemistry, and yes even biology. The least religious professors at your local college will likely be in the "soft" science departments - sociology, psychology, political science, etc.

Now I don't think that this presents any sort of proof of religion, i.e., "Physicists are real smart and if they believe in God, well then, golly, it must be true." Personally I think it might have to do with scientists working with absolute systems, while sociologists et. al. who work with messy, organic, and psychological systems see first hand how easily malleable the human mind is. But it does represent an interesting case in which the stereotype is a reverse of the actual situation.
posted by edlark at 9:58 AM on December 19, 2001


Uncle Joe's Brother: He didn't say that the process itself is more probable than before. He said that the sheer number of trials happening simultaneously makes even the most improbable probable.
posted by VeGiTo at 10:12 AM on December 19, 2001


While I'm still a pagan, reading Robert J. Sawyer's novel "Calculating God" made me think about intelligent design as a possibility. Entertaining book.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:03 AM on December 19, 2001


While I'm still an athiest, I find most "proofs" of the existence of god to be rather ludicrous, filled with logical leaps of Knievelesque proportions and enough a priori assumptions to fill Noah's own ark.

Here's the question that has stumped the Jesuits for centuries: "If God is indeed all-powerful, omniscient and wholly good, why is natural evil (ie. disease, or natural disaster, not human evil) routinely visited upon children who, according to His own Word, are innocent?"

Lotta head-rubbing going on over at Jesuit Hall over that one. Until they answer it - or until He appears to me personally - I'm keeping my Bible in the "legends and mythology" section of my library.
posted by UncleFes at 12:44 PM on December 19, 2001


PS: It's a trickier question than it looks.
posted by UncleFes at 12:45 PM on December 19, 2001


UncleFes - omg that's easy, the answer to your question is Satan - of course...

;)
posted by skinjob at 2:51 PM on December 19, 2001


Ah! finally someone piped up...

Not Satan. A God that was wholly good would not allow Satan to to perpetrate evil on innocents. An omniscient God would see it coming, and an all-powerful God would arrange for the innocents to be spared. Further, we are talking about innocents, and levying physical/emotional pain unto death on them - original sin does not yet apply, and even if it did, the punished are not capable of understanding the concept. Also remember that Satan is not as powerful as God (if he was, then the Trinity would be invalidated), and Satan is not allowed to act freely. The story of Job is the text typically discussed with regard to Satan's free action, since he is reported to have coaxed God's permission to assail Job. The Job story is a very interesting insight into the mind of God.

Like I said, tricky. Believe me, you should see a couple of Jesuits schooled in history and scripture go at it about this, it's 10x better than WWF, no shit.

Question #2: If Satan repented, would God be forced to allow His Infernal Majesty back into heaven? And if so, and that occurred, what becomes of sin itself, since sin springs from free will, which is the purvey of Satan through the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil...?

Nothing breeds atheism like a good schooling in religious philosphy :)
posted by UncleFes at 3:31 PM on December 19, 2001


Okay, fes, I'll take a crack at it...

It seems to me that your trouble springs from your a priori assumption that the innocent, by virtue of their innocence, deserve life and joy and happiness. They do not. Every breath, every moment of happiness, is a gift from God. Granted, they are gifts that God gives generously to most people. But He owes us nothing at all, and thus there is no injustice if he chooses to end a human life, even an innocent life, prematurely. He is the Creator, after all.

Why would he do such a thing? I can think of two reasons. First, everything that happens in life has a purpose in God's plan. Romans 8:28. Perhaps a mother, out of grief from the death of her child, will turn to Christ. What is one physical life, which God never owed you anyway, next to the salvation of a mother's soul? Or, maybe that child would have turned out to be the next Hitler, and his premature death saved thousands of lives. Who knows?

Not every death will serve such an obvious purpose, of course. These are the extreme examples, and there are many more subtle variations. Sometimes the purpose may well be invisible to an observer. I'm arguing here from an assumption that the precepts of Christianity are true, to see if they can, as a philosophy, withstand your challenge while remaining consistent.

Of course, there are other "bad things" besides death. Perhaps the handicap of the crippled child will make him into person-type X rather than person-type Y, which will cause him to influence person Z to do A. It's all very speculative, I know, but if you've established a foundation for faith elsewhere, then you accept the Bible at it's word.

Now that probably sounds pretty cold and inhuman to you. It almost does to me, too. Which brings me to the second justification. The death of an innocent, like the death of a Christian, is a release into Heaven. Phillipians 1:21-23. If you believe that Christianity is true, then the death of an innocent is not a punishment, but a release from the pain of life and a reward. With his foreknowledge, God can see what the life of the child will be like and weigh the greater good according to his justice.

Third possible justification: since the fall of man, and as punishment for Adam's original sin, God put us into a world of constant suffering at the hands of nature. Why? Because, absent suffering, we would never draw close to God. He doesn't intervene more because the "randomness" of natural events was the natural consequence of being kicked out of the Garden.

Okay, this is all very off of the top of my head. I didn't even proffread it for validity. So I should probably stop now, before I embarress myself further.. But, aside from personal distaste, can you find a flaw in my reasoning?
posted by gd779 at 4:12 PM on December 19, 2001


Actually no such thing as innocence any more. Creation has been corrupted by man's sin. God had given people legal jurisdiction here and we screwed it up.


Folks, it 's our fault. God told us how to fix it, and we tell Him to cram it up His left nostril.
posted by bunnyfire at 5:06 PM on December 19, 2001


God told us how to fix it, and we tell Him to cram it up His left nostril

Glory Grease anyone?
posted by crasspastor at 6:11 PM on December 19, 2001


So I should probably stop now, before I embarress myself further..

Pfui. Your arguments are excellent and based solidly in Christian theory (unlike Bunnyfire's logic-free self-flagellation).

a priori assumption that the innocent, by virtue of their innocence, deserve life and joy and happiness. They do not. Every breath, every moment of happiness, is a gift from God. Granted, they are gifts that God gives generously to most people. But He owes us nothing at all, and thus there is no injustice if he chooses to end a human life, even an innocent life, prematurely. He is the Creator, after all.

Not exactly; I assume that the innocent are without sin, or at least free of the taint of willful sin. But the question assumes god’s nature: all-powerful, omniscient, wholly good – indeed, the opposite of evil, the platonic Form of Goodness. For God to be so casual with with his gifts, giving and taking them (including his greatest gift, life itself) indiscriminately from his creations – this is not considered to be Good, or even indicative of Love (of which God is also considered to be the Platonic form). The argument could be made that is a level of Goodness that we sinful flawed creations cannot comprehend – but if that is the case, then God’s omniscience would have realized this to be the case eons ago, in which case he would have designed us more fully, provided a greater potency to the Tree, or simply elevated us to better ken His will.

First, everything that happens in life has a purpose in God's plan…. Sometimes the purpose may well be invisible to an observer.

All of which may very well be true (and as I understand it, this is the central thesis of the Jesuit answer to this question); but it does not make much sense to be so. Why would God design a flawed creature who would be doomed to fail understand his work and therefore either be damned, be sinful, or remain ignorant enough to willfully deny His very existence. His all-powerfulness would preclude such action, and the capriciousness inherent performing such action anyway would not be wholly Good.

the death of an innocent is not a punishment, but a release from the pain of life and a reward. With his foreknowledge, God can see what the life of the child will be like and weigh the greater good according to his justice.

I’m not talking so much about death as I am about suffering. Death could be justified under the conditions you describe – indeed, the martyrs suffered similar such deaths, and were named Saints for it.

But is the purpose similarly worthy if the child, the innocent, is not outrightly killed but suffers for a period instead – say, with a slow-moving, painful but eventually terminal cancer. Or is wounded grievously in a natural occurrence (a fire, perhaps) but does not die immediately? How could a wholly Good God, knowing the results and intimate with the pain His actions must certainly cause, still allow such actions to proceed? Or are the ways of God so alien to our thinking that His Good may mimic our Evil? In which case, must we not question whether we are truly made in His image?

Why? Because, absent suffering, we would never draw close to God. He doesn't intervene more because the "randomness" of natural events was the natural consequence of being kicked out of the Garden

But, with suffering, do not MORE turn from God? Job is the exception, not the rule. For every one that seeks God through suffering, I’d wager there are 10 who curse and spit His name – else the parable of Job would not have been necessary to scripturalize.

And it is right for you to put “randomness” in quotes, for as we become more learned in the ways of science, the less random we see these events becoming – earthquakes may be predicted and tracked, carcinogens identified, genetic anomalies therapied. And as we learn the causes and predictors of such events, we must also assume an omniscient God not only knew of these things as well but created them – His earthquakes and house fires are no more random, therefore, then the bullet from a hunter’s rifle.

It is a difficult argument, gd779, and neither of us are theologians. But in the end, does not the question itself beggar our assumptions as to His nature?
posted by UncleFes at 9:02 PM on December 19, 2001


ah, Fes, you have assumed an unassailable position, and you know it. But I would draw out one point you touch upon, that to me (though I am no theologian, either) is the key:

If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, then he could have made the world such that any aspect he wished to keep were kept, but without any innocent humans suffering.

(One natural (skeptical) response to this is, "But it wouldn't be the same if we (humans) didn't ourselves arrive at our belief in Him" (or something analagous to that response). But this response admits that God is not all-powerful: It's essentially equivalent to admitting, No, God couldn't make it so, only we could.)
posted by mattpfeff at 9:55 PM on December 19, 2001


Fes, you have assumed an unassailable position, and you know it.

Indeed I do :) but I admitted such in my initial post: "...question that has stumped the Jesuits for centuries." The Jesuits are the brains of the Catholic church, and I've heard them argue about this very question in conference. The point: if mere Man can ask an unassailable question of God, what does that say about God? My answer was: taking with the distinct lack of physical evidence indicative of his presence coupled with the increasing ability of science to demystify His creation, He probably doesn't exist.
posted by UncleFes at 7:51 AM on December 20, 2001


but I admitted such in my initial post

True, true -- I was just observing....

He probably doesn't exist

This is the troubling part. While I don't see much positive evidence of His existence, I must admit I'm reluctant to go much further than that. Mainly, I'm not sure we've got the definition right -- if all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good are essential qualities, then, ugh, it seems very unlikely that He exists, but need they be essential qualities? They aren't in Judaism, for instance -- the Jewish God makes mistakes and relies on us (humans) to do some things for ourselves.

There are other problems, of course. But, at this point in my thinking at least, they more raise questions than answers (one way or the other), and, lacking a means of resolving them, it makes most sense to me to leave them open.
posted by mattpfeff at 9:56 AM on December 20, 2001


it makes most sense to me to leave them open.

It would to me, if science and reason did not address those issues formerly considered the purview of God so well, while continually failing to uncover even the slightest quantifiable evidence for the presence of a diety.

That said, if in the event that when I die I find myself before His throne and charged with defending my actions in life, I will do so as best I can - and then ask Him why he remained so aloof to his creations, so prone to deception, and so willing to allow his Fallen to act without restraint. And then I will ask him, did he really think that, under these conditions, his rational beings would forgo their senses and inclinations and embrace a system predicated on faith without evidence, and that actively challenged a logic and science that were obviously repeatable and verifiable.

But I believe those questions will go both unasked and unanswered.
posted by UncleFes at 11:19 AM on December 20, 2001


the Jewish God makes mistakes

What mistakes? Where does it say that in the Bible?

his rational beings would forgo their senses and inclinations and embrace a system predicated on faith without evidence, and that actively challenged a logic and science that were obviously repeatable and verifiable.

Where does God actively challenge logic and science? I disagree, the order in the universe and within our own planet point toward the Creator. One of the arguments I have heard is based on the physical reality of entropy, higher levels of energy are constantly seeking out lower levels of energy. When you look at the natural world around you, sure, that is what you see, but you also see perfect order. How did this perfect order orgiginate? Did it originally come from disorder? The problem with the question is that science fails to explain it where Christianity does, that there is God, and He created us.

As far as being held accountable for our actions, and accountable for our refusal to accept God as God, and His Son as our Redeemer from Original Sin, I can't answer you because I am wrestling with that question myself. What I do know is that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ as savior. What I mean is that I know that I am part of who is being referred to in relation to Original Sin, and I know that because of that sinful nature I am separated by God. In Romans it is written that the wages of sin is death, but that through Christ's life, death, and ressurection there is salvation.

As to convincing people that these things are true, I believe it to be impossible. What I am taught is that the Holy Spirit works within people, softening their hearts to the Word of God. That is why it is written "He who seeks shall find, he who knocks the door shall be opened," because it is referring to the individual's responsibility to find God. In Adam humankind separated itself from God through disobedience. In response to this, God gave his Son so that we can be reunited with the Father, so that we will not suffer death as a result of our sin. So, to make a long post even longer, it seems that individuals are responsible for seeking out God, and if you seek Him, He shall find you.
posted by Uncle Joe's Brother at 11:41 AM on December 20, 2001


Where does God actively challenge logic and science?

God does nothing actively; he is the ultimate passive viewer. But his agents, and his words, actively challenge logic and science. If they didn't, there would be no intelligent creation movement, or "creation science." But the Bible describes a creation process that disallows evolution, that disagrees with what we've found out about the makeup of celestial objects and how they interact with each other, and that actively proclaims in several places that faith (by definition, the belief in something that cannot be tested or verified) is the only way to salvation and that to embrace other modes of thinking (reason, for example) is to be condemn onself to damnation.

How did this perfect order orgiginate?

Nobody knows. And there was never any such thing (suns and planets being evidence of imperfections within the process of the big bang). But as the ancients believe that the thunder was the hammer of Thor on his anvil, we have learned differently. There is no reason to assume that will not eventually learn diffierently in this case, since the evidence (in this case, history) suggests this to be correct.

What I do know is that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ as savior.

You faith tells you this is so, without evidence. But this has yet to be known in any verifiable manner.

it seems that individuals are responsible for seeking out God, and if you seek Him, He shall find you.

That seems to me to be a remarkably inefficient manner for dealing with intelligent beings you purport to love and care for. It also smacks of Newspeak.
posted by UncleFes at 12:14 PM on December 20, 2001


"He who seeks shall find..."

I cant help but think of those pictures of satan's face in the smoke from the WTC tradgedy of 9/11...
posted by skinjob at 12:50 PM on December 20, 2001


What mistakes? Where does it say that in the Bible?

Well, it's open to interpretation, of course. But there's the whole thing about telling Abraham to kill Isaac (if it was a test, then God obviously ain't omniscient, and it wasn't no test, then, well, wtf?) I'm also unaware of where it says God is perfect (but I could just be forgetting).

Otherwise (argh), it's been too long since I've studied this, I'm unable to recollect my evidence for this thesis. I will look into it; until then, my apologies....
posted by mattpfeff at 1:14 PM on December 20, 2001


But the Bible describes a creation process that disallows evolution..

I used to think that, too. But it may not be true.

As it happens, at this point in my understanding I do reject evolution, but I'm not at all sure that a literal interpretation of the Bible precludes it. There are strong indications that the first couple of chapters of Genesis were originally intended to be an obvious allegory.

First of all, the hebrew word translated as day (as in, "the evening and the morning were the first day") can also be used to mean "era" or "epoch". Of course, most of the time it means day, so that, in itself, obviously isn't enough to assume that it wasn't intended to mean a literal day.

But then you read Genesis, and you find the first day occurring (complete with evening and morning) before the creation of the sun or the moon. What does that mean? Did Moses believe that we had a morning before we had a sun? The literalist answer here is that God provided the light before the sun, but that's an assumption that they're making to support their view. Doesn't it seem more likely that Moses was trying to make it clear that this was symbolic?

I'm hardly the first person to hold this view. Francis Schaefer, for example, believes that the story is allegory, with days 1-3 lining up symbolically with days 4-6. Now Schaefer has been accused of many things (and I am by no means endorsing his ideology), but I'm pretty sure that nobody ever accused him of being anything but a biblical literalist!
posted by gd779 at 2:20 PM on December 20, 2001


For God to be so casual with with his gifts, giving and taking them (including his greatest gift, life itself) indiscriminately from his creations – this is not considered to be Good, or even indicative of Love (of which God is also considered to be the Platonic form).

I guess that depends upon your conception of God. God is Love, that is true, but before that he is Justice, and before that he is God. Let's not forget (as you point out indirectly), that this is a God who created mankind knowing full well that a great many of them would reject him and spend eternity in Hell. Curse him or love him, he is God; as such, he gives and takes freely. I don't see that as unjust.

On this point, the story of Job (short but illustrative excerpt) might be informative. In Job's words, ""Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD."

Why would God design a flawed creature who would be doomed to fail understand his work and therefore either be damned, be sinful, or remain ignorant enough to willfully deny His very existence. His all- powerfulness would preclude such action, and the capriciousness inherent performing such action anyway would not be wholly Good.

I'm surprised you don't know the obvious answer to this one. (Or, more likely, you probably know it but reject it for some unspecified reason). The solution is, of course, free will: God gave us the capacity for sin in order to give us the capacity to choose him. He is all-powerful, yes, but the alternative (robots) was not what he wanted.

But why are we flawed, doomed to never fully understand his work? Perhaps it's because the more powerful He made us, the less likely we would be to turn to him for help. It's human nature; if we don't need God, we tend to forget him. He could have built us to always trust him and obey him, but that gets us closer to being robots than humans.

Now, did God deliberately mislead us by creating reason and then making a belief in God unreasonable? I don't think so. But I doubt that I'm going to change your mind on that one. Heh.

But is the purpose similarly worthy if the child, the innocent, is not outrightly killed but suffers for a period instead – say, with a slow-moving, painful but eventually terminal cancer.

The same analysis applies. What if that terminally ill child influences a mother or an uncle to accept Christ? What if the mentally-disabled child teaches his father how to cope with difficult circumstances in life, and then that father is able to go on and help another father face his burden? And there are many more subtle variations.

For every one that seeks God through suffering, I’d wager there are 10 who curse and spit His name – else the parable of Job would not have been necessary to scripturalize.

But, of those who curse God, how many would have cursed him anyway? Did the tradgedy change their minds? Did it do some good elsewhere that you don't see? I'm speculating, of course. But I think there's truth, depending on your flavor of Christianity, to the idea that those who reject Christ would reject him regardless of life's circumstances; that's why Christians are refered to as "called".
posted by gd779 at 2:42 PM on December 20, 2001


Or maybe god is like a spoiled rich kid playing with a toy he didn't have the wisdom to handle appropriately (our planet), and since this whole mess started his parents have been running around after him trying to clean up his mess...

Or maybe he's been put on trial in the Tribunal of Naughty Deities, and as penance has had to go out and create all sorts of evidence pointing to the fact that it's not very likely that he exists...

(or any one of a number of other scenarios)
posted by beth at 3:26 AM on December 21, 2001


Doesn't it seem more likely that Moses was trying to make it clear that this was symbolic?

Perhaps; but if this is the case, why then liberally salt the earth with dinosaur bones, in an era from which no true Man (h. sapiens) could have lived? And not address them in your Word? Were they God’s rough draft? Are they made in his image, not us? My point being that the time frame or the presence of allegory is not necessarily the most difficult questions with reconciling Genesis and the scientific evidence we now hold.

Curse him or love him, he is God; as such, he gives and takes freely. I don't see that as unjust.

It is absolutely unjust! He gives and takes freely according to his whim. That’s the antithesis of justice – it’s tyranny.

free will: the alternative (robots) was not what he wanted ::: Perhaps it's because the more powerful He made us, the less likely we would be to turn to him for help.

Those two statements are somewhat contradictory, I think. Is it actually free will if we are too ignorant to exercise it fully? Do children truly exercise free will? Why does God fear intelligence in his creations

The same analysis applies. What if that terminally ill child influences a mother or an uncle to accept Christ? What if the mentally-disabled child teaches his father how to cope with difficult circumstances in life, and then that father is able to go on and help another father face his burden? And there are many more subtle variations.

All of which presumes that one life is less valuable than another, a direct contradiction to Luke 9:48. Using the suffering of one to gain the obeisance of another is, assuming overall beneficence, rather utilitarian, and if we eliminate the ‘for your own good’ aspect, it’s tantamount to torture.
posted by UncleFes at 8:47 AM on December 21, 2001


Fes: Thanks for the discussion. Incidentially, I've been "testing" my faith recently, trying to see if it stands up to close, intellectual scrutiny. If you have any more of these though issues up your sleeve, please email them to me. I want to examine the strongest challenges to Christianity that I can find, to see if the religion I was brought up with is actually true.

Though I believe that God is both unequivically just and wonderously loving, far beyond our desert, that's not the real issue here. If God is indeed real, and all-powerful, then his justice is almost an academic question; indeed, the existence of a good, caring, and just God would be, in a way, wonderously unexpected. For me, the key questions are: does God exist? If so, what does he want from me? There's a reason that the Bible talks about the "fear of the Lord"; he is not cruel, but he is God. As near as I can remember, the first name that God gives for himself in the Bible is "I Am That I Am".

Fortunately, God is not only just and good, he is also loving. In fact, I believe that he loved us enough to die for us. When you begin to fully internalize the depth of God's power, and you see that he could easily be a real tryant , and then you realize that he voluntarily submitted to personal suffering in order to save you personally... well. After having walked with God for several years now, I can only say that, in my life, he's been good to me far beyond what I ever expected.
posted by gd779 at 9:00 PM on December 21, 2001


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