Thursday, May 27, 2010

Argument from Evolution!

I was wondering when someone would make a move like this. It's an argument that evolution points towards towards the truth of Christianity - not merely theism, but Christianity specifically.

I've only glanced at the argument, and at the moment I think it's very interesting but not strongly persuasive as written. Part of the problem for me is that the author's making a very bold move, which in the process elevates evolution to something that smells like necessity for God. I could be misreading it.

That said, I've actually been waiting for these sorts of arguments to surface for a while - you'd think theistic evolutionists would be making them! Some ID proponents make arguments along these lines, but of course most of them are committed to saying their arguments are scientific rather than philosophical, which means most of the commentary is about the appropriateness of the label rather than the merits of their arguments.

My impression is that most TEs avoid making arguments in that direction largely because so many of them are motivated first and foremost by avoiding conflict, particularly with agnostic to atheist colleagues. The received wisdom on 'avoiding conflict' on that front seems to be to just talk about how awesome science is, how compatible it is with religious belief, and to avoid all greater details about this when possible. (Be sure to wring your hands and talk about how complicated and mysterious everything is!) But make a move to argue how evolution comports with design or theism - or worse, points towards it - and you're pretty much saying "Hello, secularists! I'm here to take your favorite toy away from you and use it in the service of something you dislike and are frankly somewhat afraid of!"

Anyway, it's an interesting move so I thought I'd toss it up here.

7 comments:

Ilíon said...

"My impression is that most TEs avoid making arguments in that direction largely because so many of them are motivated first and foremost by avoiding conflict, particularly with agnostic to atheist colleagues."

Who will be kind to the cruel must, perforce, be cruel to the kind. Who will avoid contention with the contentious must, perforce, be contentious with the foes of the contentious.

Ilíon said...

... perhaps I ought have said "posits," rather than "accepts."

Ilíon said...

"Anyway, it's an interesting move so I thought I'd toss it up here."

Once one accepts "random mutation" as the driver for "evolution," then one's evolutionism can never be compatible with Christianity. Nor with rational discussion/examination of "evolution."

Crude said...

Who will be kind to the cruel must, perforce, be cruel to the kind. Who will avoid contention with the contentious must, perforce, be contentious with the foes of the contentious.

To be fair, some strains of YEC really are a problem. The ones who argue 'If the world isn't 6000+ years old, Christianity is false (!). And if evolution is true, God doesn't exist. (!!!)' I think both views are incorrect, and if someone is convinced they're incorrect - and if these views have at least a sizable number of proponents - I see the importance of engaging it at times.

The problem is, that seems to be all a certain class of TEs want to talk about. Ever. Even ID is discussed with the spoken or unspoken assumption that ID is YEC. Hell, just look at Biologos. It launched as an organization claiming that Christianity is compatible with science, particularly evolution. That's great. In practice, all it is is one long anti-ID apologetic and NCSE booster.

Frankly, I think TEs have better things to do.

Crude said...

Once one accepts "random mutation" as the driver for "evolution," then one's evolutionism can never be compatible with Christianity.

One problem I have with the 'random mutation' thing is that the word gets so many different explanations, and only a few are problems.

As far as science goes, 'random' can only be used in qualified senses, and requires a human perspective. Random meaning 'we are unable to discern a pattern with respect to hypothetical focus X'. Hence 'random with respect to fitness'. Maybe even random in that 'we are unable to discern any pattern or goal at all'. Well, okay. But that never gets past a statement of ignorance on our part as far as whether there really are goals are purposes in evolution. The most we can speak of is how this pattern or that stacks up given what we know.

But there's another sense of random: "Unguided at all." Random in the sense of a positive claim that there is no foresight or guidance in evolution whatsoever. And the problem is, from my readings of Darwin, this -is- what he was going for (among other things, of course) with his theory. But this is an unscientific claim, a big obvious leap into philosophy and (a)theology.

And that's where so many problems pop up. Because 'random mutation' in the former sense is trivial and uninteresting for Christianity/theism (at least the aspect discussed here). 'Random' in the latter sense is not only incompatible with Christianity (with some other kind of theism? I'm less sure of), but it's a claim extraneous to science anyway. But the two are intermingled shamelessly, where discoveries compatible with the former gets passed off as even for or even proof of the latter.

It's doubly difficult because you'll find a lot of people, even scientists (Jerry Coyne is a great example here) who will graduate Darwin's theological and philosophical musings to the level of science on the grounds that "Darwin said it, and Darwin came up with evolution (I know, he didn't, but still...), so that has to be part of the theory!"

Ilíon said...

To speak of randomness to so speak (and assert) a lack of correlation between two or more things. The specific sense one might mean depends upon the things of which one asserts a lack of correlation.

Thus, for instance, to speak of some event as having a "random cause" is literally to speak non-sense, for it is to assert that the event was not caused by its cause.

Thus, for instance, while some persons no doubt do use the term ‘random’ to mean “we are unable to discern a pattern with respect to hypothetical focus X,” what they are literally saying is that there *is* no pattern.

And, in any sense of the word, ‘random’ *always* implies “unguided at all” with respect to the two (or more) things asserted to be random with respect to one another -- for any guidance introduces some sort of correlation.

Crude said...

Thus, for instance, to speak of some event as having a "random cause" is literally to speak non-sense, for it is to assert that the event was not caused by its cause.

Agreed.

And, in any sense of the word, ‘random’ *always* implies “unguided at all” with respect to the two (or more) things asserted to be random with respect to one another -- for any guidance introduces some sort of correlation.

But the only sorts of correlations science can speak of are the exact correlations that simply do not matter for the Christian. Christianity isn't about fitness determining mutations, or benefit to longevity or intelligence or anything else.

The only correlation that matters is God's will. But what test is there for this? Only the ones we insist on, ie, "Well, God would want every mutation to be beneficial. They're not. Ergo, God isn't guiding evolution." "Well, God would want intelligent beings to appear at some point. They did. Ergo, God is guiding evolution." Interesting questions and assertions, maybe, but science? Not by a longshot.

Back to what you said. You say that accepting "random mutation" is not compatible with Christianity. I agree, depending on the sense random is used. 'Mutations happen utterly without guidance, will, or foresight by God'? Sure - that's utterly incompatible, and some "TE"s do try to get away with that. But 'Mutations are not biased towards increasing fitness'? No, I disagree. Or at least I don't see it as any more of a problem than 'If God existed then wasps wouldn't have evolved because man those things hurt' is.