Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Io9 Misses the Point

George Dvorsky at io9 thinks that the new Pope believes in evolution, but then gives us absolutely no evidence to back that claim up. He writes:
The answer is actually yes. And in fact, the Roman Catholic Church has recognized Darwinian evolution for the past 60 years. It openly rejects Intelligent Design and Young Earth Creationism saying that it "pretends to be science." But the Church’s unique take on the theory, what it calls theistic evolution, still shows that Catholics have largely missed the point.
He then proceeds to document the church's position on evolution all the way up through Pope Benedict VI. Consequently, we know no more about Pope Francis then we did. That is not the principle problem with this post, however. The principle problem is a maddening inability to distinguish between proximate and ultimate causes. About theistic evolution, he continues:
But it's here where the Church falls flat. This is the classic argument made by all reconciliationists — the idea that religion and Darwinian natural selection can work in harmony together. It’s a “want my cake and eat it too” proposition that largely ignores the potency of Darwin’s dangerous idea as a God killer.

Darwin’s theory provides for a stand alone system. Evolution is fully autonomous process that does not require any guiding “rationality” (Benedict’s term) to function. It’s an agonizingly slow, brutish, and insanely methodical process, but it works.

Moreover, it has given rise to the concept of scientific naturalism — the idea that the material world and all the phenomena we see around us can be explained without having to invoke an architect or overseer. All the evidence currently points to this conclusion, and until science reveals any hint of supernatural meddling — which it has not – we will continue to have to accept naturalism as the ongoing scientific paradigm.
Here is has invoked Daniel Dennett's argument that acceptance of evolution necessitates a rejection of belief in God, something that Darwin himself never wrote or said at any point in time. The idea that it might be a "God Killer" is unique to modern atheism. He is correct that Darwinian evolution explains past and present biodiversity very well but so what? Modern cosmology explains the universe quite well too and yet there are Christians who practice it. The same is true with geology (Davis Young, Carol Hill) where known laws set out by Lyell and others are the basis for the modern understanding of how the earth behaves. These are no more or less self-contained than evolutionary theory.

By invoking a "Cake and eat it too" dichotomy, Dvorsky has practiced a philosophically naturalistic reductionism that sees the belief in God and evolution as a zero-sum game, which it is not.


  1. I have a lot of sympathy for the reconciliation of science and religion. I know lots of faithful scientists, though I am not a believer myself.

    But I do struggle with theistic evolution. In this way, what discernable difference does the theism make? Could we tell the difference between evolution guided by a god, an alien, and entirely unguided?

    I get that it isn't helpful to imagine God as being a causal factor that could be detected. But if God is a factor that is, by definition, irrelevant in any physical system, is that really something that believers will accept? It would be hard to preach that, I think.

    It strikes me that most believers who talk about theistic evolution seem to imagine that, by God's choice, certain events that might have gone one way, go another. That God's will imposes a non-random direction on evolution. But that, presumably, is detectable. Unless God engineers those choices to be indistinguishable from randomness. In which case how is God not utterly irrelevant? Why do we not just end up with evolution rather than theistic evolution?

  2. In this context, theism doesn't "make any difference." It simply describes a relationship that cannot be quantified by science. Belief in God exists over an above any particular practice of science. The God of the Bible, the way most theistic evolutionists see it, is more concerned with our eternal salvation than with monkeying with how the world works. Are there miracles? Probably but more than anything, they are subservient to God's purpose of calling people to him.

    Because of the way the universe has been created, certain "laws" are in effect, and, in most cases, they make sense in the long run. This is what makes the universe knowable and, to the extent that we can do so, understandable. So evolution and theistic evolution are not diametrically opposed, but as much as anything, orthogonal.

    As I mentioned in another post, this is not a zero-sum game. One need not reject evolution if one believes in God.