Monday, February 06, 2006

Clergy for Darwin

While I'm on the subject, here's an interesting piece by way of Dispatches From the Culture Wars, which looks like my kind of site.

This post links to a letter signed by clergy at several Christian churches around the country, defending evolution on the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birthday. Is it sad this is necessary? Of course. Is it a gesture worth noticing? I think so. Would it be nice if some faithful scientists got together and said the same -- basically: "Um, people, we're talking about different things"? Sure. (Maybe they already have.)

Mostly, though, this open letter is pretty eloquent (brief, too, which doesn't hurt). Here's an excerpt:
We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris.

We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.
OK, OK, if pressed (or gently nudged, or even just awake), I think the "faculty of reason" is not the best news for God as he/she/it is posited by most people, but I still find that final thought, about different forms of truth, to be far more useful than the usual attempts by each side to negate the other.

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17 Comments:

Anonymous Pirate said...

The problem is that faith and fact can never exist on the same plane. These same clergy who want to make peace with science also on some level want to make peace with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddists but at the end of the day those same clergy feel that they are correct and that everyone else is wrong. For them to be truly accepting of anyone else's ideals would be a denial of their own faith. So while the letter is a nice olive branch, it is ultimately a useless one.

There is an interesting idea in a book by Dilbert creator Scott Adams called God's Debris that essentially states that no one truly believes in God because doing so would require a never ending search for the "true God" and that true believers could never live with the thought that their religion could be wrong.

Religion, God, whatever, really only ever works on a personal level - as a way to release yourself from the weight of responsibility of things outside of your control. Its when we start trying to convert our neighbor that things get tricky. Yet all religion requires the believer to convert the heretic and thus our problem - Christian Johnny is not allowed to entertain that the earth is more than 6000 years old and that man was not a divine creation by the hand of God, clergy letter or not. In turn, Johnny cannot allow you to believe it either.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

But is there at least some possibility of compatability there? Sort of an acceptance of evolution and its timetable and course, but a belief that it was "guided" by a Divine Hand of some sort. Or at the very least the catalyst of the whole thing was something Divine? Or is that basically the whole Intelligent Design theory that most intellectuals reject? Seriously, I'm asking, I don't really follow this debate all too closely.

I guess what has always bothered me about a purely scientific explanation for all existence is the beginning of it. I mean, we live in a world of cause and effect. This came from that, this change caused this effect historically, this evolutionary development caused this change, etc. Fine, I can accept a purely scientific explanation all along the line until you get to the first event. Infinity is an impossible concept to really accept or fathom, so what was the First Cause that started the ball rolling, so to speak? Is that the Divine where we move over into faith? But then you go back to what caused God...

F*ck it.

10:37 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

I've been meaning to post something longer (but equally tiresome) about the ID vs. evolution debate. To my mind, the only problem comes when either side tries to adopt the nature of the other: Science is fact-gathering; religion is philosophy. Rarely the twain shall meet. To me, religion is interesting as philosophy (and might even provide consolation as such, though I don't feel that way myself), but infuriating as almost anything else.

Dezmond, I'd say there are two kinds of anti-ID intellectuals in the recent debate (about whether it should be taught in science class!): The kind that abhor religion and just find the whole notion of intelligent design ridiculous; and the kind that don't really care one way or another, but get their dander up when ID proponents argue that Biblical claims about the earth and man's origins are literally true despite the scientific record. (Obviously, I'm firmly in the latter camp, and used to be just as firmly in the former camp but am now just wandering around the grounds checking things out for a while before pitching another tent.)

First cause is tricky, of course, and I think there's something poignant about wanting it to be god. Granted, I don't think the biologists know the very first cause, and philosophically I don't think they're capable of discovering it, and so that's why they'll never satisfy people who choose to believe in larger, more consoling theories. Of course, your final question is perfectly right, and millions of stoned underclassmen are currently echoing it: If you trace everything back to god, what caused god?

11:10 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

But is that Intelligent Design? You say ID-proponents who claim that the Bible is literal about man's origins and the creation of the earth. Isn't that Creationism? I thought that Intelligent Design was a genuine compromise between Creationism and Darwinism...accepting evolution and the scientific timetables and such, but believing there is a Divine presence "causing" or pushing these events along. I that was what ID was all about. Or at least taking the whole clockmaker theory of God...that a God was the First Cause and started it all, but then stepped back, so to speak, and let it all take its course.

I actually find that somewhat plausible and a good compromise between religious faith and scientific facts. Accept science, but believe that a Higher Power is behind it all. Why exactly is that not logical? I mean, the one thing scientifically that we have never been able to explain is something so intangible yet so central our existence: our consciousness, or what religious people refer to as "soul". You can look at chemistry and biology all day and explain oxygen and nitrogen components, etc...but nobody has ever been able to approach a scientific explanation of or self-awareness, our consciousness, our "soul". Perhaps through our free will and brainpower given is, our Creator has allowed us to slowly figure out the building blocks He used, but there comes a point where scientific explanation can go no further.

I'm not even that religious, but I have at least come that far in my "faith".

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think that scientists are debating whether or not there was a "first cause", and they might even call it "god" (since it doesn't matter), but their definition would differ from the traditional definition, in that instead of being a great, omniscient, omnipotent being who pointedly created man in his own image, the scientific "god" would be a lot less exciting and soapopera-esque: some pre-atom pseudo-particle busting apart by chance and forming the entire universe... or what-have-you. Doesn't appeal to us as much, and that's why most people take the easier, heavenly-father-definition way out.

And why can't self-awareness, consciousness -- and, yes, "soul" -- be learned traits? Maybe the earliest creatures had none of that, and then one day some essentially characterless caveman started noticing that he could gather nuts & berries more easily by the light of the sun... and eventually, over the ages, light/warmth became a happy/positive thing. Similarly, our sense of beauty can easily be connected to rarity -- i.e., why do we perceive rainbows as beautiful? Many aspects of what we consider the "soul" can, I think, be traced back biologically, psychologically, genetically.

But, of course, the whole draw of religion is that the soul is this mysterious, un-pinpointable entity, so there's that to contend with.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Pirate said...

Dez - the problem with Intelligent Design and Creationism is that it is a red herring. You may want to slip the idea of intelligent design into a science class but really what you are saying (especially here in the states) is that the God who created Jesus also had a hand in creating the world. While ID may be generic, the underlying idea is that a Christian God is the true God.

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Sorry this is so long, but I've got a lot to respond to, and I'm a blabbermouth)

dezmond:
Infinity is an impossible concept to really accept or fathom, so what was the First Cause that started the ball rolling, so to speak? Is that the Divine where we move over into faith?

The First Cause is often where IDers bring God into the picture. And the reason is that no one knows what happened before the Big Bang. None of our current scientific theories apply before the Big Bang, when all the matter in the entire universe was compressed into an area smaller than the head of a pen. So not only do we not have any explanation for why the universe suddenly exploded at a time when all matter would seem to be pressing ever-inward with a force at least equal to a universe-sized black hole, but we don’t have a framework for formulating an explanation. And even more troubling, before the Big Bang, time wasn't running forward. And when the Big Bang happened, it didn't blow out into empty space; rather, it created the space into which it flowed.

So before the Big Bang, there was apparently nothing other than this tiny pin-prick of matter. Then, the Big Bang was an explosion so violent that it not only defied the laws of physics, but it tore into being both Time and the empty space into which the universe flowered.

I know, it's wicked to think about.

But the point is that we don't know what things were like before and during the Big Bang, so we can't explain it. None of the laws of physics as we understand them apply during that period. And the temptation is to argue that if science can’t explain it right now, then the only possible cause is supernatural (i.e., God).

But arguing that it couldn’t have happened naturally if we can’t explain it is what’s known as an argument of ignorance. Arguments of ignorance are inherently flawed because our current ignorance does not mean that the phenomenon can never be explained, it just means we haven’t yet figured out what the explanation is.

We can inject God in there as a placeholder -- if it makes us feel better -- but that doesn't mean that God's will is the only explanation for what happened.

jmw:
Of course, your final question is perfectly right, and millions of stoned underclassmen are currently echoing it: If you trace everything back to god, what caused god?

But that's the beauty of bringing in God: He's not bound by our natural laws, therefore, He needs no prior cause. In other words, if we accept that God exists, we also have to accept the possibility that God always existed, and nothing caused God. And if we say that God needs a cause, then we’re not really talking about God.

Jmw:
The kind that abhor religion and just find the whole notion of intelligent design ridiculous; and the kind that don't really care one way or another, but get their dander up when ID proponents argue that Biblical claims about the earth and man's origins are literally true despite the scientific record.

I’m with dezmond. I’m with you on the first category, but the 2nd category only works as a counterpoint to Creationists. I’d posit that the 2nd category should be “the kind that don’t really care either way, but don’t really think ID helps anything because it’s not a scientific explanation for what occurred.”

pirate:
You may want to slip the idea of intelligent design into a science class but really what you are saying (especially here in the states) is that the God who created Jesus also had a hand in creating the world. While ID may be generic, the underlying idea is that a Christian God is the true God.

I'm sure it's what some Christians think. But a) not all IDers think that; b) not all IDers are Christians; and c) ID does not rely on Christianity. If the God turned out to be Muslim or Hindu or something totally different, it wouldn't change ID one iota.

So I don't think it's fair to condemn ID just because some of its advocates have impure motives. By that same token, I could say that evolution is flawed because what you're really saying is that there is no God, just because some atheists use evolution to argue against the existence of God.

-- The Comish (sic)

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Pirate said...

Commish - my problem with ID is that it has no place in a science class - and those advocates of ID with "pure" motives are simply placating Christians.

Flying Spagehtti Monster - that is what I believe.

7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No argument there. I don't think ID has any place in a science class. It's simply not a scientific theory. (I guess that places me firmly in the aforementioned Camp #2.)

And I respect your belief in the spaghetti monster. Any god that's so delicious with butter and meat sauce can't be all bad.

-- The Comish (sic)

1:39 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

Peace and butter sauce be upon the Flying Spaghetting Monster.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Great stuff, I appreciate the efforts. You are right, perhaps we just need to keep advancing in our scientific discoveries to be able to explain these currently unexplainable-by-natural-causes things. But if we do, I feel it is a long way off. With all of your excellent scientific explanation, we still come to the point of basically: "uh, it just happened" to start this whole party. That is a hell of a thing to just happen randomly. The only other part that still can't be adequately explained away with biology etc. is the self-consciousness / soul thing. (Although you did an excellent job trying).

You responded for me to Pirate on ID not necessarily being linked exclusively to Christians. At this point, I subscribe to the view of a Supreme Being existing. Still haven't decided whether I believe that Being is active in our every day existence or whether it was more of a clockmaker theory. But I don't necessarily come at it from a Christian perspective. I haven't even gotten that far yet in my beliefs.

9:43 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

I'm a big fan of Mystery. I actually agree that soul/consciousness is not much fun if it's completely reduced to science. (And I don't think science has adequately reduced it yet, though I agree to give it a fair chance to do so...) None of us will ever go back and be present at the moment of the Big Bang. Guesses about what happened when will never go out of style, because they will never be fully disproved. I just find specific religions boring, because instead of saying "let's revel in the grand mystery of it all," they say, "I know the exact answer to this giant mystery." Really? First of all, no you don't. Second of all, if you did, you just made the largest questions in life about as exciting as the Tuesday night lineup on CBS. So, be quiet.

1:11 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

But I've always wondered: what if one of these specific religions is the answered, and everyone else is wrong and screwed (the science folks, athiests, other religions, etc.) That has always really bothered me, because I want to be on the winning team, you know? For instance, what if the Sunni Muslims are actually totally right on with The Truth, and the rest of us really are heathens destined to punishment for our nonbelief? I don't want to be eternally damned because I made the wrong choice. That is what has always bothered me.

And I'm not convinced that isn't so. A lot of modern people (myself included) like to take the buffet approach to religion, pick and choose aspects of different faiths that makes you feel good, and conveniently ignore the more difficult aspects. A lot of "catholics" are that way with the abortion issue, for instance. That seems such a cop-out. Faith and following the right path, I don't think, is supposed to be easy and convenient. It is supposed to be f*ckin' hard.

So, we are all screwed if we don't figure out which way is the true way.

10:08 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

Dezmond, you're wondering if one group, among the many that have come up with compelling metaphorical representations of God, actually and accidentally deduced the entire truth of the universe and the afterlife (if it exists)? I've never wondered that. I mean, what if God really wants us to see through all the explicitly "religious" stuff and sell our belongings and follow Christina Aguilera around on tour? What then??! (In other words, you can drive yourself crazy thinking such things, and I'd rather not.)

10:31 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

No, not "accidentally" stumbled on the right path, perhaps they were the most righteous and so recognized the path that already existed, and the rest of us are just too distracted or not holy enough to recognize what this group of people has already recognized. I'd like to be on the right path, whatever that may end up being. That's all I'm saying. And the whole "I'm OK, you're OK" approach to religion seems too easy, like a cop-out.

11:52 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

Let's get down to brass tacks: You're insane. Or else you're just being purposefully provocative, which is much more likely, knowing you as well as I do.

I agree that the buffet approach to religion is a bit silly, and that people who have real convictions at least get points for consistency (if not rationality). But...

More righteous, so they know the path? OK, Mr. Chopra.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

I am neither insane nor being provacative. This is serious sh*t here...saving our souls and such.

3:59 PM  

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