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Alpha
January 29, 2006 6:59 PM   Subscribe

"Who's afraid of evolutionary biology?" (I've linked Bede before, but this piece bears a much more important message to Christians who feel it their biblical duty to get hot and bothered over evolution and origin-of-life issues.) Also see a Christian response to "Young Earth" apologetics, and the Young Earth Argument Index, both from "Old Earth" Creationists who disagree with 6-Day biblical literalism. (Note that Old Earthers may still be Intelligent Design advocates. Heaping spoonsful of salt all around.) If that's still too "Christian" for you, Talk.Origins has a summary of other Genesis interpretations.
posted by brownpau (49 comments total)

 
I like Daniel Quinn's interpretation of Genesis, in "Ishmael." Man in "the Garden" is a nomadic hunter gatherer who lives at the mercy of the Earth. When man began planting grain and farming the land, he gained the Knowledge of how to use the Earth itself as his tool, and secured his own survival. Of course, God (Earth) took this as a challenge to his authority, and doomed man to a laborious, demoralizing life in the fields.

My first question to anyone who takes the Bible literally is, do you also take Jesus' parables literally? If so, then what do you learn from them?
posted by Laugh_track at 7:11 PM on January 29, 2006


Excellent post, brownpau. Good diverse set of viewpoints, educational as to what's out there, and topical. Thanks!
posted by JekPorkins at 7:18 PM on January 29, 2006



Who's afraid of evolutionary biolgy?
Introduction
Evolution is a topic that is causing lots of people to get very hot under the collar. It has got muddled up with issues that are not necessarily related and caused all sorts of strange ideas to be suggested as an alternative.


This is the funniest thing I have heard this weekend tee hee
posted by longsleeves at 7:49 PM on January 29, 2006


How progressive.
posted by Devils Slide at 8:05 PM on January 29, 2006


With support like this, who needs enemies?
posted by stirfry at 8:09 PM on January 29, 2006


(Emphasis added)
In The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins says he expects the origin of life to be an exceedingly unlikely event that only happened because the universe is so big and old. (He then hedges his bets by saying he would not be disheartened if life actually turned out to be very common which tells us a lot about the intellectual rigor of his arguments).

On the other hand, I expect that under the right conditions, life is going to be a dead cert. Why? Because we know God created this universe precisely so that it should have sentient life in it.
So life is built into the very fabric of the cosmos - it is the very thing that the laws of physics were designed to produce.
. . . .
© James Hannam 2003
How is it that "we know" God created this universe "so that" it should have sentient life in it? Setting aside the credibility of the Bible, does the Bible even make this claim?

And who is James Hannam? Hannam dismisses Richard Dawkins, who is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford University. Dawkins has a Bacchelor's, a Master's and a doctorate in zoology. Hannam also slights Daniel Dennett, who is the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, University Professor, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies (with Ray Jackendoff) at Tufts University. He studied under Gilbert Ryle. Both these men have published several books -- books with hundreds of pages and hundreds of footnotes, not 2547 word web pages -- and numerous essays and peer-reviewed articles.

James Hannam is, according to his blog, a PhD student with a blog. He appears to have "published" some (non-peer reviewed) "articles" on the web -- a medium without any real barriers to entry. He may or may not be the Oxford student with the lowest score in the "The 1990 UK individual diplomacy championship".

Burt perhaps Hannam is an undiscovered genius. Perhaps we shouldn't dismiss him because of his lack of credentials. Let's take a closer look at the conclusion of his parvum opus:
In summary, I would say that Christians need to stop getting so worried about evolution. Some of our opponents are happy to encourage us to reject science but they cannot be allowed to set the agenda. One thinker who has taken part in many debates with both Dawkins and Atkins is Keith Ward, Oxford University's Professor of Divinity. His book God, Chance and Necessity is an academic counter argument to the triumphalism of scientific materialism and shows how evolution is not only compatible with theism but also further enlightens us about the divine plan. It is just a pity that it is not better written.

We theists also have a duty to ensure that scientific enquiry does not take place in the moral vacuum some would like. Just because we can do something never means that we should. But science has been of enormous help to mankind and now even to religion. The evidence for the design of the universe that science has given us has reinvented teleology in a way that we could not have dreamed of a few years ago. Indeed, my the intellectual underpinning of my own conversion came directly from what I learned doing a physics degree.
Hmm, I see that the essay is directed solely at Christians. Perhaps the poster believes that all MetaFilter readers are Christians?

Hmm, rather than actually giving us his conclusory remarks, wunderkind Hannam refers us to an actual academic's book, while telling us with a wink that even his co-religionist isn't such a good writer. I suppose it's hard to achieve the standard set by Mr. Hannam.

Hannam goes on to address the duty of "we theists"; if Hannam sees his audience as limited to "we theists" I'm not sure why page was linked to here? Does the poster think that MetaFilter is the "Best of the Christian Web?"

Hannam goes on to tell us that "science has been of enormous help to mankind" -- that's a novel argument that I've never seen before, and certainly not a trite empty generality. Bravo Mr. Hannam, you truly are a public intellectual!

Hannam finally concludes his 2547 words by explaining that "Indeed, my the intellectual underpinning of my own conversion came directly from what I learned doing a physics degree." Ah, excellent: on a web dominated by vain bloggers who labor under the impression that their every hot flash and belch should be published to the world, Mr. Hannam also make it all about himself. How could we not be fascinated?
posted by orthogonality at 8:17 PM on January 29, 2006


What, nonchristians should be kept in the dark about what Christians are telling each other? No link is welcome on metafilter unless the material linked to was specifically targeted toward metafilterians?

I guess there really are people who would rather not know what other people believe, so they can keep thinking that the strawman they keep burning down really represents others' views.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:23 PM on January 29, 2006


Thanks JekPorkins. I was just thinking the same thing. I am not a Christian, and don't go looking for these sorts of links. So I found the links interesting because they come from people who think differently than I. I may not agree with them, but as I would not otherwise find these links on my own, it was interesting to read them.

I found it interesting to see that even Christians are debating ideas amongst themselves. I didn't know that.
posted by terrapin at 8:35 PM on January 29, 2006


What's with the title of this post, "Alpha"? Will the next one be "Beta" or "Omega"?
posted by orthogonality at 8:48 PM on January 29, 2006


orthogonality, what was the point of your comment? I don't get it. He agrees with your stance on evolution, discusses why it fits into his conception of faith, and encourages people like him to agree with your stance due to his reasons. Why spin around and bite at him? Will nobody be left to rest until they're purified into a secular humanist atheistic mold?
posted by Firas at 8:51 PM on January 29, 2006


MeTa
posted by brownpau at 8:54 PM on January 29, 2006


Yeah, why is this titled alpha? Making fun of people in a metatalk thread is one thing, brownpau, trolling mefi by exciting people over random hints is another. Stop it.
posted by Firas at 8:54 PM on January 29, 2006


But, from a Christian perspective, what's really the point of all this argumentation? After all, if God exists, then there's absolutely no reason he couldn't have created the universe 6,000 years ago in 6 actual days, regardless of what the scientists think or the evidence suggests. Heck, he could have created the universe yesterday, with all our memories up to that point exactly as he wanted. So, what's the point of the mental gymnastics, redefining 'day', adding eons here and there, etc.? Shouldn't the default state of a Christian be believing the Bible?
posted by boaz at 9:03 PM on January 29, 2006


What, nonchristians should be kept in the dark about what Christians are telling each other?

Yeah, one of the big problems with life in America is that we just get too little information about what Christians think.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 9:03 PM on January 29, 2006


Yeah, one of the big problems with life in America is that we just get too little information about what Christians think.

While I recognize the sarcasm, I submit to you that only yesterday more than one metafilterian tried to tell me that Jesus is believed to be INVISIBLE, and that Christians don't believe that anyone has actually SEEN him.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:08 PM on January 29, 2006


Firas writes "orthogonality, what was the point of your comment?"

My point is, regardless of "Bede's" opinions, the linked page is a trite and uninteresting hand-waving by a kid with a blog who dismisses real scientists and real philosophers whose writings are a lot more interesting and competent than the 2547-word web rant by the callow youth criticizing them.

My point is, the page is a waste of time, doesn't increase our knowledge (unless you believe some kid with a blog speaks for a substantial portion of Christians) and definitely not the best of the web. I'd feel the same way if they lined-to page was some kid talking about how much he liked Dawkins and Dennett.

It's a waste of time. It's a bad FPP. It's the latest in a series of axe-grinding posts, part of one mefite's "crusade", and that shows.
posted by orthogonality at 9:10 PM on January 29, 2006


Shouldn't the default state of a Christian be believing the Bible?

Why? Religious stories are as often self-consciously allegorical as they are thought to be literal truth.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:10 PM on January 29, 2006


"But, from a liberal perspective, what's the point of all this argumentation? After all, if the individual is supreme, then there's absolutely no reason for everyone to not carry automatic machine guns around. Heck, that's what a liberal says to justify free speech. So, what's the point of the mental gymanstics, redefining 'responsibility to society', adding qualifications to individual freedom here and there, etc.? Shouldn't the default state of a liberal be trusting in rationality?"

It's a nonsensical question. People don't believe in what doesn't make sense, hence theological argumentation.
posted by Firas at 9:10 PM on January 29, 2006


Why? Religious stories are as often self-consciously allegorical as they are thought to be literal truth.

Well, sure, if you're an atheist, they are. But there's nothing I'm aware of in the Bible that God couldn't do. So, what's the argument about? Some people say they're allegorical, some people say they're literal, but, since God could do them, isn't it a bit bold to claim that God didn't based solely on the writing style of that section?
posted by boaz at 9:22 PM on January 29, 2006


In fact, I'd make the opposite argument. Since God had thousands of years and millions of people to work with, couldn't he just choose, say, the thousand that fit his allegorical model best and used their actual stories. Of course they sound allegorical, because they were chosen from a much greater sample of mostly non-allegorical stories.
posted by boaz at 9:27 PM on January 29, 2006


boaz: But there's nothing I'm aware of in the Bible that God couldn't do.

The problem is that God had people do seemingly impossible things. Do you think Noah was able to fit 10s or 100s of thousands animals into his ark? Was Noah able to sail to Austrailia and the Artic to pick up and drop off kangaroos and polar bears in the allotted time?
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:34 PM on January 29, 2006


Some people say they're allegorical, some people say they're literal, but, since God could do them, isn't it a bit bold to claim that God didn't based solely on the writing style of that section?

That's a peculiar kind of circular logic, isn't? The text posits an omnipotent being, and therefore, the feats ascribed to it by the remainder of the text must necessarily have actually occured, precisely because that being was capable of such feats?

In any case, putting aside that issue, the claim isn't based "solely on the writing style," but on an understanding that religious stories, like the parables, are often told to convey moral truth through allegory. To deny that truth, simply because you believe in a God that could have accomplished the feats described seems kind of silly and intentionally ahistorical. Moreover, a similar objection could be made based on a philosophy of interpreting the Bible in consonance with our observations of the world around us: science as a tool to understand God's creation, so to speak. Isn't God's own handiwork better evidence of his creation than the science-deficient words of those living in the time of Christ?

Since God had thousands of years and millions of people to work with, couldn't he just choose, say, the thousand that fit his allegorical model best and used their actual stories.

Ah, but we're not talking about people's stories here, are we? We're talking about the creation story, a story that is quintessentially about nature itself, and not some miracles supposed to have happened in the lives of those living a few thousand years ago. There is no population of stories from which to choose; there is only one story, and it is either right or wrong.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:36 PM on January 29, 2006


Boaz: But there's nothing I'm aware of in the Bible that God couldn't do.

James 1:13 " . . . for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man . . . ."

Romans 5:5 "If we cannot keep His commandments, God cannot create His character in us, and He will not allow us to enter His Kingdom."

Galatians 6:7 "God cannot be fooled."
posted by JekPorkins at 9:40 PM on January 29, 2006


feats ascribed to it by the remainder of the text must necessarily have actually occured,

Not to belabor this, but I didn't say they must have occurred; I said the bible claimed they occurred. So, what is the actual evidence that they didn't?

there is only one story, and it is either right or wrong.

That's a nice binary view, but there's some really long essays linked in this FPP that argue otherwise.

On preview: I phrased that awkwardly Jek. What I meant was, 'There's nothing the Bible claims did happen, that he was incapable of doing." In other words, your examples are besides the point since God was never fooled, God was never tempted with evil and God never created his character in anyone in the Bible.
posted by boaz at 9:51 PM on January 29, 2006


Not to belabor this, but I didn't say they must have occurred; I said the bible claimed they occurred.

No, the Bible tells stories in which these events occured. Not to engage in that old trope of calling the Bible a work of fiction, but stating that the Bible "claims" that all the events therein actually happened is an exaggeration.

That's a nice binary view, but there's some really long essays linked in this FPP that argue otherwise.

I should have clarified. With respect to biblical literalism, there is only one story: the earth was created in 6 days sometime between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, evolution did not and does not happen, there was a big flood, &c. That story is either right or wrong.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:56 PM on January 29, 2006


stating that the Bible "claims" that all the events therein actually happened is an exaggeration.

I'm a bit confused by this distinction. For example, in, say, Matthew, there are loads of situations where Jesus, i.e. God, i.e. The Big Kahuna, tells stories, and they start like, "And then Jesus told the story of....". That seems like a good dividing line between claims and stories. Now, in the OT, they've got some psalms, but in general, all these claims/stories are just placed side-by-side without the NT's literary device. So how does one go about deciding which is literally true and which are not, since, presupposing God exists, any of them could be literally true? And just to bust out the Bible for this:
Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
evolution did not and does not happen

Well, I'm not sure that follows. After all, young-earth creationism doesn't have to posit whether evolution currently happens or not, just what date it started happening on.
posted by boaz at 10:36 PM on January 29, 2006


So how does one go about deciding which is literally true and which are not, since, presupposing God exists, any of them could be literally true?

Very carefully? I don't really have an answer to that question outside my own naturalistic and materialistic perspective. I'd say you decide which are true in the same way that you'd decide whether stories from any other religion or mythology are true: examine the historical and scientific record. That approach, on the other hand, fails your threshold condition that we presuppose the existence of God.

After all, young-earth creationism doesn't have to posit whether evolution currently happens or not, just what date it started happening on.

You're correct that the conclusion that evolution does not now occur doesn't necessarily follow from the young earth argument; however, the young earth creationists I've talked with all argued not merely that evolution didn't play a part in human creation, but also that evolution, and more specificially, speciation, could not occur.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:44 PM on January 29, 2006


In summary, I would say that Christians need to stop getting so worried about evolution.

Funny how the Catholic Pope seems to have gotten this point just fine. Anyway, this is a valiant salvo in your attempt at a "Christians can be smart, too!" crusade, brownpau - far better than your last crappy post. But please stop soon, ok? The example you're setting for the site (5 posts in 10 days on the same fucking topic) is a shitty one.
posted by mediareport at 11:03 PM on January 29, 2006


Metafilter: still too "Christian" for you.
posted by eustacescrubb at 3:37 AM on January 30, 2006


Well, this started out as an interesting discussion until a few jerks decided to turn it into the same old RELIGION SUX! thread we all can recite by heart. Thanks, guys!

The example you're setting for the site (5 posts in 10 days on the same fucking topic) is a shitty one.

Bullshit. Somebody once posted every day for a week or more on, if I remember correctly, Asian art. I doubt you would have thought that was destroying the site. You just don't like the topic.

And people getting bent out of shape because he titled the post "Alpha"? Are you kidding me? This place is getting more intolerant every day.

*waits for chorus of "No, it's the CHRISTIANS who are intolerant!!*
posted by languagehat at 5:31 AM on January 30, 2006


the same old RELIGION SUX! thread we all can recite by heart.

Well, thanks for showing up. They don't feel complete without your same old-same old either.

But this is partly why I'm asking this too. It seems to me that these sites are doing the same thing to Biblical Literalists that Christians complain get done to them. After all, Biblical Literalism is an honest belief held by many, many people. So, if us big, bad Atheists should just STFU and respect Christian beliefs, why is it that Christians feel they can write long essays attacking Biblical Literalism? After all, that's the honest faith of a lot of real people being disrespected.
posted by boaz at 5:58 AM on January 30, 2006


what languagehat said.

If it is the topic one doesn't like, then don't read it. If it breaks the guidelines, then flag it and move on.
posted by terrapin at 5:59 AM on January 30, 2006


The initial link seems sloppily written; surely there would be more meat in a discussion of theistic evolutionists like Wes Elsberry, Howard Van Till, or Keith Miller?
posted by thomas j wise at 6:03 AM on January 30, 2006


thomas j wise - Thank you for those names and links; that's stuff I need to read up on too.
posted by brownpau at 6:06 AM on January 30, 2006


Laugh_track > do you also take Jesus' parables literally?

Just to answer your question at the risk of a derail, nope. What I learned in [liberal] Sunday School was that a lot of his parables were meant to be allegorical stories of strange and outrageous logic, illustrating things about the Kingdom of Heaven which went against all common sense at the time, and yet revealed a loving God who would turn common sense on its head for his children: a shepherd leaving a whole flock for a single sheep, a father throwing a party for the return of his wasteful son, a woman finding a single coin and telling her neighbors to rejoice for it, that kind of thing. But that's not really connected to creationism and evolution.

posted by brownpau at 6:30 AM on January 30, 2006


And now we see that even when Christians argue something that should bring us all closer together and toward at least a modicum of mutual respect, that the well has been poisoned beyond antidote (and that often it's the percieved agenda of the Christians that does the poisoning).
posted by klangklangston at 7:25 AM on January 30, 2006


"There is no evolutionary pathway we know of that could have led to the cell." - None may be needed. This writer seems unaware of the revolution work of biologist Lynn Margulis.

Short version of Margulis' theory : Living things ( such as proto-cells ) eat other living things but the digestion is ineffective. Usually this causes the death of both organisms but occasionally it leads to symbiosis - "aquired complexity by accidental accretion" one might call it - At least one contemporary example of this mechanism has been discovered.
posted by troutfishing at 7:30 AM on January 30, 2006


Indeed, troutfishing, both mitochondria AND chloroplasts appear to be remnants of an incomplete digestion leading to symbiosis. South America sure does fit well into Africa. The Sun is the center of the solar system. Abortion is not murder. Miracles are fallacy. Religions continue ignoring facts. They have a long history of providing very thick blinders to acolytes. Cults are hard to get out of. I encourage all practicing cultists to try.
posted by sydnius at 8:14 AM on January 30, 2006


You're concentrating on the first text, a very basic, very awkward attempt at something (bad-mouthing Dawkins, apparently - nothing much else gets through). Please consider the funny "Christian debate" between Young and Old Earth. It is indeed extremely funny to see a more level-headed crackpot trying desperately ("It is not with much joy that I have created this page") to hammer some sense ("I do feel it is important that those who are adamant that the young-earth position is the only biblical interpretation of Genesis look at the rather formidable scriptural problems in their interpretation before judging others on their "non-scriptural" views") into the small Young Earther brains of his fellows. That's precious - see, it is even worth suffering brownpau's witnessing for the occasional laugh. The rest of the site is just another confirmation that judge Judge John Jones III decision on the case of the Dover Board of Education vs. All Sensible People was exactly right.
posted by nkyad at 8:51 AM on January 30, 2006


I remember watching a documentary on skinheads when I was younger, and in an interview, one of them said something like, 'I agree with my fellow skinheads about blacks and hispanics, but I don't know about all this talk about jews controlling the US, the banks, all that shit. That just sounds like crazy talk to me.' Though he didn't use the words 'blacks' and 'hispanics' obviously.
posted by boaz at 9:00 AM on January 30, 2006


I apologize for the cussing and the derail, brownpau; it was wrong. But I did read the first two links, and note that the Catholic Pope comment was indeed relevant. The existence of "old earth" christians is hardly news.
posted by mediareport at 9:07 AM on January 30, 2006


Metafilter: still too "Christian" for you.

There was a MeFite called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:56 AM on January 30, 2006


what languagehat said.

what terrapin said.

and, what joe lisboa said, too.
posted by eustacescrubb at 11:38 AM on January 30, 2006


Y'know - I found this to be a great post. Lots of good information, and it shows the side of the theists that work alongside science, as opposed to calling evolution's sole purpose to preach the religion of atheism.

I've been having a long discourse with a YEC (young Earth Creationist) via email and he would do well to read the links that brownpau provided.

The main argument continues to hinge, in my mind, upon the area that religion has always been used to 'fill in' - namely the unanswerable, the vastly complex concepts that we, as humans, at this point in time cannot answer.

It used to be lightning, the rise and set of the sun, floods, disease, death.

As we answer each question, new ones arise - how is it possible that a simple cell can be so vastly complex? The easy answer is the God designed it. It's affirmating in light of another answer that can be positively proven and asserted.

Of course, everything could be explained by the belief that God created the world yesterday and we just remember all this stuff because God created it so. But then, we can turn more philosophical and ask why would God do that, what would be the purpose (as it wouldn't make sense, even Biblically).

One thing the religious should note is that answers are lacking because maybe we just aren't smart enough (yet) to figure it out. Lack of the ability to prove something that has considerable evidence (circumstancial or not) does not provide a negative assertation necessary to actually disprove that circumstantially supported theory (such as evolution, that pi is infinate, and so forth).

Again, good links that should provide believers and non-believes much to chew on and force both sides to think a bit more deeply about why they believe what they do.
posted by rich at 12:03 PM on January 30, 2006


Probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience; . . . Or, to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose the "days" of creation to be long eras of time, the figures of years not to be chronological, and the flood to be a merely local Mesopotamian flood, are not taken seriously by any such professors, as far as I know. ~ James Barr Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University in England
posted by bevets at 6:46 PM on January 30, 2006


So... Bevets...
No, nevermind.
Don't feed... don't feed...
posted by klangklangston at 7:25 PM on January 30, 2006


some phd student: So life is built into the very fabric of the cosmos - it is the very thing that the laws of physics were designed to produce.

Oh really? On a large scale you have dying and exploding stars, which can destroy a good portion of life in the system they're in. You also have cosmological events that can spread deadly radiation across parsecs (err don't remember what that was called). Now toss in all the debris flying around the universe being drawn to planets. How many times has earth been hit by an armageddon asteroid in its history? How man high risk asteroids exist right now?

On a smaller scale the environment required for life is very rare, if our solar system is typical. There's one planet in this system that could support life as we know it. If its physics job is to create life then its done a horrible job as even planets similar to ours have no life. Think Mars or Venus. Extra-solar detection thus far has found very few planets around Earth's size. Even then you might have a Mars or Venus situation where nothing could ever live there.

On an even smaller scale, no planet is stable. Earthquakes, floods, volcanos, climate changes, etc.

On an even tinier scale life itself is cannibalizing. Viruses take hosts. Animals eat animals. If physics creates life then it doors a poor job of creating life that sustains itself. Not to mention the glaring philosophical problem of death. Why can't this physics make immortal life?

If anything the universe is very against life. The Drake equation touches on this and this little app is fun to play with.

Drake of course prefers pen and paper. And colorful ties.

posted by skallas at 10:22 PM on January 30, 2006


bevets, I think its worth mentioning that what theologians say and what everyday religious people believe are two very, very different things. Someone may address everyday religion beliefs and not be purposely disingenuous. I think people who play the "but scholars say" when dealing with popular cultural issues/beliefs are being somewhat disingenuous.
posted by skallas at 10:24 PM on January 30, 2006


rich, the attitude you're describing is usually called the god of the gaps argument.
posted by skallas at 10:26 PM on January 30, 2006


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