Evolution, a good theory

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There is an aweful lot of energy wasted discussing the theory of evolution by natural selection.   Most of this is generated by fundamentalist protestants based in the USA (e.g. baptists), or on the other side by atheist followerers of scientism as a belief system (again often based in the USA).

Its difficult to tell whether the US is in the driving seat because it’s leading a discussion that is spreading across the world, or if its because the US is a fundamentally polarised society.  Some may say that the rest of the world drew a line under this discussion a century ago, and that US politics is evidence of extreme polarisation.  However I think its a mixture of the two.  Part of the discussion spreading around the world is a new wave of popularism against ‘experts’.  In fact I think this debate on evolution is to some extent helping to drive the whole anti-expert phenomena.   If someone has good reason to consider their religious experience to be fundamentally real, and self styled “experts” tell them its not, then all other experts are presumably full of crap too.  Admitedly there are several related factors, one being the global drive by the consultants to the corporate world to ‘offshore’ jobs and skills to wherever it cheapest (making the rich richer, but impacting domestic industries ), the other being the oil industries attempts to discredit global warming in various ways.

For the evolution driven side of this populist phenomenon, the extremists on both sides have managed to crush out the middle ground.  This middle ground is not the truth (truth is not wishy washy), but the truth contains elements from both sides of the argument in this case.  So all we are left with are lies on one side (shaming christianity) and a series epistemologically unsound assumptions on the other.

WHY ?

When else does christianity ever get into the technical details of the mechanism by which god acts, whether on a macro or micro scale ?  Have you ever seen a paper on Jesus walking on water, trying to discern whether he created an anti gravitation field from his feet, versus local suppression of the Higgs field, versus warping spacetime etc ?  It may be an interesting excercise for people now and then, but it generates no tears of fury.

Of course the reason why evolution causes such controversy is that its fairly close to a complete theory of why we have the creatures that we do, in particular the creature called man.  One of the most hoary mysteries through time, apparently answered by a simple concept spread over huge amounts of time.  When you put this up against over-simplistic and arogant interpretations of the creation stories in Genesis, it can appear as if there is a conflict.   As with the argument that religion causes war, this is another case of humans trying to blame anything but ourselves.   Wars are caused by tribal, greedy humans quick to blame others for their problems, not by religions.  The confusion on evolution is caused by arrogance on both sides.

Evolution by natural selection works better than any other theory to explain the development of species. From a scientific perspective its a damn good theory.  There are some areas where the theory makes assumptions where there is no other NATURAL explanation.  So for example, the process is seen as completely blind. It doesn’t have any aspect working towards a goal in terms of form or function. If any combination of genes results in survival of the wider group carrying the genes, its selected for plain and simple.  The built-in perfect balance of the whole such that one organism doesn’t dominate everything else, and the sheer beauty of the forms and creatures produced by it, may seem unlikely to be chance, but the science finds no place for that type of gut instinct.

Behind evolution, there is clearly some kind of map that gets followed by this process – like a template formed by the underlying physics and chemistry.  The eye developed many times and often completely independently.  Re-run evolution from scratch on earth, you will no doubt end up with creatures with eyes.   Where that ‘map’ (the Fitness Landscape) came from is a discussion that goes down rabbit holes, and thats just one example, one where the science will no doubt develop more and more plausible explanations that avoid God.  But the point is that science is deliberately supposed to avoid coming to the conclusion “God did it”.  The process is supposed to analyse the evidence to find possible mechanisms that are intelligible.  Likewise when the early universe is freakily tuned to allow life to exist in it, the answer from science should not be “God did it”, and so you have theories like the multiverse where they invent billions of other universes, making ours seem less freaky!   In that case its likely the theory is wrong, as the evidence for other universes is non existent.  However the evidence for evolution by natural selection is good.

The key thing for people who believe in god is not to be afraid.  Truth cannot contradict truth.  We know that god set the foundations of the universe, and we know that we are made in his image.  As he is spirit, its not our bodies that are made in his image (accepting the incarnation).   There is no need to see evolution theory as a threat to christianity, its part of the process of science starting to uncover god’s creation from the outside.

If you are comfortable in your relationship with god, but are worried about the indoctrination effect of the arrogant “we understand everything” version of evolution from scientism, then the answer is not to create nonsense facts, or to invent nonsense scientific theories.  All that does is make the militant atheists think that they must be right, and makes the rest of the believing world embarrassed about the words you are putting in gods mouth, in our name as christians.  In fact you reduce god to a mechanic or engineer, spreading your small view of him.

It worth repeating the often quoted words of St. Augustine from nearly 2000 years ago;

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.

Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

Categories: Religion, Science

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