Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Evolution versus Creation debates

"evolution" is one of my google alerts. Along with "The Evolution of Special Effects" and "The Evolution of Tom Cruise" I see scientific articles/blogs on evolution along with blog posters taking pot shots at evolutionary theory.

One that I took note of was a Jewish Blog called Chabad, which had a short piece on evolution followed by various people agreeing or disagreeing with the original blog entry.

In my mind, the article had nothing to do with evolution and the facts of the theory, but of how morally speaking, believing in God is better than believing in evolution.

I don't actually know if this is true or not. I have no idea (in general, I think truth is superior to delusion). The thing is, does that have anything to do with whether evolution is correct or not? The big, bright, shiny word that springs to mind is "irrelevant".

What if believing the laws of motion allowed you to launch missiles into third world countries? Oh wait! It does! We shouldn't believe in them! My reaction in a posted comment said pretty much that. What does the morality of the question have to do with evolution?

The funniest thing about the blog is that as I tried to post corrections to people's misconceptions, the moderator seemed to get annoyed with me and started disallowing my posts. That was after quoting me incorrectly and then removing the comment when I corrected him.

I guess with a moderated blog, you can allow and disallow whomever you like and colour the responses in a certain light. As obvious as that is, I hadn't considered it before and thought that moderation was more about filtering out bad language and abusive comments.

I have rarely worried about evolution dissenters before, after all, what does scientific illiteracy really matter? These people still use computers, cell phones and cars, all of which were produced through the same science that produced evolution. No one seems to notice that and by posting on line, they are nearly self refuting.


Anonymous said...

True - most of these anti-evolution 'debates' tend to go around in circles since they're not actually based in reason or about evolution per se.

Any decision has already been made on an emotional basis and reason is used for (often specious) rationalisations to support the belief.

The need for a Creator as the only possible basis for morality and meaning is another old theological chestnut.

Theism is a common emotional and intellectual response to the 4 existentialist issues: Death, Meaninglessness, Isolation and Freedom.

This is acchieved by positing their opposite through faith: Eternal life, Transcendent meaning, Spiritual community, and Codified morality.

Actually personally confronting the existential issues 'head-on' is deeply challenging and commonly avoided.

We are psychologically oriented to avoid pain, even when it's true, in fact especially when it's true, something you alluded to in your responses.

But there is a peace through acceptance that comes after having looked at the worst existence has to throw at you.

I think I've already recommended Irvin Yalom's work before, especially 'Staring into the Sun' and 'Existential Psychotherapy' before which both covers this ground but at differing depths.

Personally, I've found that unless a conversation starts addressing the root existential issues underlying such debates (which is something which actually requires trust and intimacy) it just generates more heat than light.

Mind you, I don't know what I'm telling you all this since I'm pretty sure it's all familiar ground to you.

I can't help preaching to the converted I guess :-)

Mea culpa.

Paul said...

Okay, I love your points. I read them to our house--all Christians. I live in a Christian community, and we have about 20 people living in this relatively large house.

However, your point is excellent. Truth is truth. All the "which is better" really does have nothing to do with whether evolution is true.

I liked your comments as well. I think I especially liked "truth is to be preferred to delusion."

Determinist said...

Hey Paul,

Thanks for the comments. I have been away for the last few days, so haven't had a chance to reply until now.

I don't see confronting existential issues head-on as being something that anyone would avoid. I think that is precisely we should do. If we can't actually answer the questions, then fine, we can mark that down on our list of best answers. Which specific questions are you referring to? "Is there a God?"

I have not read any Irvin Yalom, but I have it on my list of books to read - thanks.

Addressing the root existential issues, I think, is quite often a matter of making sure we have the correct definitions. I had a discussion yesterday and again today where the main discussion was not "Does God exist?", but, "What is God?", something that a religious professor mentioned to me when I asked him the first question. His answer, "God is the highest ideals of mankind."

Thanks for your further comments - I will always take a compliment!

My comments on that particular blog post had little to do with "religion versus science", which I think is a false dichotomy, but about what is true versus what isn't. It's good to know that someone appreciates it. Thanks and talk later.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I emphatically agree with you that confronting existential issues is a noble and important endeavour, it's never been a popular one.

Death is just one of the core existential issues but it's a pretty big one :-)

Expanding on the other big three (per Yalom's formulation which isn't universal) is probably at least a blog post each to do them a modicum of justice.

I've been meaning to do that for a while. Maybe I'm avoiding talking about death too :-)

Anyway, denying the reality of your own unavoidable death and other suffering is a national pass time (Pardon the pun :-).

Many people delay it until their sunset years (or their deathbeds) and some deny the reality of death right until the moment it snatches them.

Magical thinking or a belief in a kind of personal specialness (i.e. other old and sick people die, but I won't) often lingers past childhood in the unconscious, only to be replaced by a belief in some form of divine rescuer.

This is essentially transferring the initial god-like status of your parents to a stronger entity once you see their clay feet and fallibility. Your parents can't save you from death, so stronger magic is necessary.

For me, honestly facing the reality of death and my finite term here only increases the value of living an authentic and creative life and supporting others to do likewise.

And it underlines the importance of not living a life of increasing regrets about roads not taken or things you wished you'd done or tried.

The fear of death shrinks in the face of knowing you have lived fully and expressed the real you.

Ahem. Preach mode: off

Anyway, getting back to your other points, you're right that definitions matter. Arguing about whether there is a God is indeed meaningless if you don't agree on what God is (and isn't).

Also, I didn't mean to imply that you were making a 'religion vs. science' argument, just that others were dragging the discussion in that direction, as often happens when talking about evolution with creationists.

Uncharitably, you might think this is a 'if losing on one front, change the topic and try a different tack' gambit, but I think it actually indicates that 'evolution vs. creation' is just a shadow of a much bigger issue under the surface for many Christians.

A common saying amongst counsellors and therapists: the problem is not the problem which is a reference to the fact that the presenting issue is almost never the real issue.

You are attacking their ward against death anxiety, so you've got to expect that they'll vigorously defend that any way they can.

Determinist said...

"Death is just one of the core existential issues but it's a pretty big one :-) "

I don't see this as a problem though, and atheists have been answering this one satisfactorily for a long time.

Or are you saying that religion is created by a fear of death? It obviously can't be only thing, since why create a hell?

"'evolution vs. creation' is just a shadow of a much bigger issue under the surface for many Christians."

Indeed - it's a materialism thing. Is nature all there is? Materialism is not hard to refute, since information, separate from the materials is a factor. However, is it just material and information?

Can the material world create information? Information also needs a definition and it isn't intuitive, since random stuff has more information in it - that's if you go by information theory definitions.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am saying that I believe religion is partly a response to fear of death.

As for Hell, that's part of another existential issue: Freedom (and with that Responsibility for everything you do, unintended consequences and all).

This is the big 'How am I supposed to behave?' and 'How do I resolve moral dilemmas (i.e. what is right and wrong, good and evil)?' issue.

Heaven is the carrot, Hell is the stick to enforce the Biblical moral code (or should I say codes - there is more than one).

One of the psychological attractions of religion is Freedom from Choice: If I'm just following God's laws, I'm not responsible for justifying them and their less attractive outcomes.

Moral reasoning is hard since Life is so good at bringing you to points of contradiction in any set of codified rules. Gödel's theorem applies to morality and ethics too :-)

As for the centrality of Materialism, I think you're essentially right but with the caveat that I believe psychological and emotional issues are part of that picture - i.e. grounded in materialism too just higher levels of encoded quanta. But I suspect we're likely in violent agreement on that point anyway :-)

And yes, the universe does naturally create information per Information Theory - entropy just keeps increasing after all.

But I think the real question you're alluding to is that information to most people implies meaning and meaning actually comes from less entropy.

Due to co-relation and computation i.e. fewer output quantum bits that depend on other greater input quantum bits.

Total entropy - pure meaningless noise. Total lack of entropy - pure meaningless stasis and vacuum. Meaning lies in the middle: The information integration model of consciousness and cognition.

But we're straying into serious Information Theory and Cognition turf (another fascination of mine).

Tor Norretrander's 'The User Illusion' and Seth Lloyd's 'Computing the Universe' have fascinating coverage of the place of entropy, information and exfomation.

I think the Universe may well be a quantum computer as Lloyd posits, computing or evaluating itself.

I'm an ultra-darwinist per Dennett in that I believe evolution is a substrate neutral search algorithm that repeats at different fractal scales throughout the Universe.

But then I sit on the boundary between being an strong existential atheist and naturalistic deist.

Most days, I flip a coin :-)