Evangelicalism, Evolution, And The Facts

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So putting aside the bible verses, which are as relevant to me as the wisdom of Yoda, I’ll address the paragraphs one by one.

“Your faith in evolution, and it is faith, is certainly strong”

Here we need to define “faith”. I view faith as the “evidence of things unseen”, or in laymen’s terms, believing in things without empirical evidence to back up your beliefs. This is because there is a fundamental disconnect in most religious people’s beliefs in God and their belief that, say, the sun will come up tomorrow, and yet they use faith to refer to both. I find that fundamentally dishonest as a debate tactic, but I realize most people don’t actually realize that they are talking about two different things when they say faith.

So no, I don’t have faith in evolution; I accept that it is likely true based on the evidence at hand and the fact that, so far, no one’s come up with a better framework.

“fossil record for instance, which doesn’t at all confirm or even hint at the gradual change you put your faith in. I know you’re familiar with Punctuated equilibrium,”

But it does, and the theory CHANGED to accommodate the new evidence of punctuated equilibrium. You might not be up to speed on the current state of the theory. The basic explanation is that evolutionary change speeds up in the presence of heightened selection forces. Sharks haven’t evolved much for millennia because they are perfectly suited to their environment; massively change that environment, and they might start evolving.

“”Evolution fully explains the current shape of life.” I cannot state this any more strongly: This is a complete leap of faith.”

Sorry, that was a bit absolute. I should have written, “the evolutionary framework accounts for all the evidence currently available to us, which includes the current shape of life.” Seriously, there is actually an explanation, on a macro scale for everything we know. The trick is, we might not know exactly HOW the appendix evolved, but we do know that the current theoretical framework is likely to be able to answer that, because it has every time we’ve applied it. Of course, having an explanation doesn’t mean that it’s right; it just means that it’s the best Theory (capital T) currently in existence because no one else has a better one.

“Your faith in “science” is also incredibly naïve. Scientist, you seem to say, are purely rational agents (where does reason come from?) who are completely neutral, objective observers of empirical evidence.”

I’m not claiming that. Science (the process) encompasses scientists (the fallible human being with all the biases inherent to the human condition.) What makes science reliable is that, over time, it weeds out that bias because every scientist is constantly trying to disprove the propositions of other scientists. Over time, the better explanations of reality survive. The process is, of course, NOT complete, and never will be.

“You claim scientists don’t get their information from authority, which ideally and on the whole is true, but to think that scientists are not influenced by bias or predilection to certain conclusions is again, naïve.”

I’m not saying they are not biased, I’m saying that scientists, when following proper procedure, do not believe that gravity works the way it does BECAUSE NEWTON SAID SO. They believe it because people CONFIRMED Newtons propositions experimentally. That’s what I mean about authority. Truth doesn’t come from other people, or books; truth comes from experimentation and independent confirmation. It’s about the PROCESS.

“What I was getting at is that nobody comes to the evidence, whatever that might be, evidence for evolution, or evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, neutrally. Everyone lives in a position of faith because we are finite.”

First sentence, agreed. It is almost impossible to escape our biases. Second sentence, nope. I don’t have faith (per my definition) in anything. I tentatively and temporarily accept propositions when enough evidence has accumulated to make said acceptance realistic. Most people live that way in practice; you don’t have “faith” that your spouse loves you, you have evidence of that fact through the way they look at you, touch you, speak to you, interact with you. From that evidence, you draw a conclusion of love. Yet that is still tentative. ALL conclusions should be tentative. My acceptance of evolution is tentative, in that I would drop it in a second in the face of a better theory. None exists, to my knowledge.

Now if you are using faith to mean acceptance of something as true, then sure I have faith. But by using that definition, you are chastising the English language with scorpions, and the language doesn’t deserve that. 🙂

“You say you are an agnostic, which you define as the inability that we can “objectively know anything for certain.” Really? You sound really, really, certain that evolution is the truth.”

I sound certain because I have a 97% certainty in the veracity of evolution. What I mean by “know anything for certain” is that no one is ever justified in claiming 100% certainty for anything. I’m 99.99% certain the sun will come up tomorrow, but a quasar could fire off a burst of radiation and fry the planet before that happens. Thus I’m not CERTAIN. My agnosticism is philosophical, mainly, in that as a practical matter I live as if I was certain about many things. For an example, as an agnostic atheist I maintain that it’s not justified to say “No deity exists”; but I live as if I believed that because as a practical matter I think its really unlikely that any deity exists. All agnosticism means to me is an acknowledgment that I could be wrong about every single thing I believe.

“but your dogmatism about evolution completely undermines this assertion. Completely.”

See above statements. What I’m saying is that smarter men and women than me have answered all of the objections to evolution; I’m prepared to accept their judgement as long as they are practicing good science, and until they are proven wrong. I’ve read the objections to evolution, and I’ve read the people who’ve answered and disproved those objections, so I accept the theory as true for the moment.

“Our grasp of truth is tenuous, not that we cannot know truth certainly.”

These are THE SAME THING. Since we know our grasp on truth is tenuous, humility dictates that we never assume that we know anything certainly.

“They ONLY follow based on one absolutely unprovable assumption: that we live in a closed, material universe.”

We don’t live in a closed universe. Scientists have demonstrated that matter is popping into existence, absent any other causes, which proves that our universe is not closed. I don’t know where you get the idea that evolution or the fallibility of human minds depend on a closed universe. That’s not part of those theories.

As for material, refer back to the scientific method. To demonstrate something, it must be built on all the things that have been demonstrated before. We can’t demonstrate the spiritual, ergo science can’t take it into account even if it might exist. But yes, science does assume a material universe. If you DEMONSTRATE the spiritual realm, in a repeatable, reliable fashion, then science can start to investigate. Once again, though, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, as the many religious scientists will point out to you. Just that “God Did It” has zero explanatory power for the purpose of making predictions, machines, pills, and theorems.

“Let me explain to you as a Christian, how Christianity has superior explanatory power to any other worldview of the universe as we find it and we who inhabit it.”

All of it based on the uncritical acceptance of the bible as a source of truth. To which I say, meh. My worldview is based on demonstrable facts, evidence, and inquiry, and guess which heuristic has produced all the wonders and terrors of the modern age?

“Atheism or agnosticism cannot explain human nature as we find it. It cannot explain goodness and beauty and truth, nor evil and ugliness and lies.”

While technically true, you are mistaking atheism and agnosticism for worldviews. Atheism explains nothing, and has no dogmas; it simply answers the question “Does God exist” by saying “no one’s proved it to me yet.” Likewise, agnosticism simply is a statement of uncertainty, with no explanatory value.

SCIENCE, on the other hand, can explain goodness (adapted social morality and empathy), beauty (symmetry is pleasing as an evolutionary byproduct), truth (more the realm of philosophy, and still open for debate), evil (selfishness, errant genes, and rage), ugliness (really? Evolutionary hiccups and prejudice), and lies (telling something one does not believe in.). These are my layman’s understanding, by the way; talk to a psychologist, evolutionary biologist, philosopher etc. to see the secular answers to these questions. Even love is explained via Oxytocin, adaptive pair bonding and social empathy. The trick is, THESE THINGS ARE STILL AWESOME AND BEAUTIFUL WITHOUT RELIGION. Watch the Cosmos show to see how science revels in the glories of our universe. Human nature is explicable in many respects. We are still learning, but we aren’t arrogantly asserting (as religion does) that we have all the answers. We do have many of them, however.

“One more thing I forgot to add. We do not lived in a closed system according to Christianity. We can know through natural means, but we can also know because God has revealed himself and knowledge to us through his Word and through Jesus Christ. These have come from outside of the box, as it were, to give us knowledge we could not know otherwise. And I find this knowledge and all the evidence for it incredibly persuasive.”

I don’t find that knowledge persuasive at all for a large variety of reasons. The earth has never been a closed system (the sun!) and the universe, we are now learning, is not a closed system, which may contradict some assumptions about entropy. None of this points to a God (nor precludes it), but to me the manifest harms of the Christian religious worldview, particularly the fact that it has been on BOTH sides of questions such as slavery, homosexuality, war, torture etc. make it unpersuasive to me as a moral barometer. And of course I’ve never seen a good explanation of how knowledge comes from outside our universe (partially because I don’t accept your view of knowledge as a thing that exists r.e. agnosticism)

A word to the wise. Quoting the bible is useless when talking to atheists, because we view it as ancient literature with limited truthfulness. As an explanation of WHY you believe something, sure, but when you try to use it as evidence for the superiority of your worldview I just start to laugh because it isn’t good historical evidence. I have a masters in history (meaning I am trained in how to verify the veracity of historical claims), and the level of confirmation of biblical claims is substandard at best compared to other texts in history. We could have a whole debate on the veracity of the bible, but I think that would take this thread off topic massively.

Source : http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2014/08/evangelicalism-evolution-and-the-facts/

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