Monday, 9 February 2009

More Anti-Darwinian Rhetoric

Theists calling atheists Darwinians is a straw-man that has persisted for much longer than I have been alive, and in the days leading up to Darwin200 (the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth) it's expected that the link between Darwinism and atheism will only intensify. So why should I care when one theologian happens to spew his anti-atheist rhetoric in a national newspaper? Well it turns out he's a theologian at the university I attended. So in the interests of salvaging a personal piece of university pride, I want to expose and debunk his absolute inanity.

The limits of knowing
As an educator and an intellectual surely Tom Frame would know what the limits of evolutionary theory are. So when he makes the same argument as Ben Stein or Ray Comfort, one wonders if he is building up a straw-man against atheism.
There is, in my view, a range of other positions.Evolutionary theory does not explain everything we want to know about the natural world or human life, and some of what evolutionary theory purports to explain it hardly elucidates at all. While we might know how some things occurred we still want to know why. Most importantly, why is there something rather than nothing?
Evolution is a theory that explains how we got here, how life emerged, adapted and diversified over billions of years. To apply it to all of nature would be to misuse the theory. Likewise, why there is something rather than nothing has nothing to do at all with evolutionary theory. The limitation of evolution is that it can only apply to existing imperfectly-replicating life, beyond that it's impotent to explain anything.

The way Tom Frame rationalises creation in the face of evolution is much like the means of Ken Miller and Francis Collins:
Evolutionary theory requires creation to be understood as a continuous process rather than an isolated act in the distant past. In this view, God creates in and through natural processes.
This is fair enough, but if he thinks that is a valid objection to atheism then he is mistaken. Rather, it seems, that there's a dichotomy between the creationism and evolution where if you don't believe in creation then you must be an atheist. Dawkins puts it best in The Blind Watchmaker:
An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
Note the distinction, it's not a rejection of God purely on the grounds of evolution being true. Rather evolution is an answer to the complex question of how we came to be, which everyone would be in agreement needs answering. One could ask 200 years ago where life came from without God as an answer, these days it's asking where did the universe come from.

There's always going to be a question of recursion in any explanation of our origins, the theist in this case is arguing that before the universe the question of recursion can be solved with "God did it" while many atheists will again take the Hume position that we don't know but God is not a good answer. It does have a feeling of dissatisfaction, it would be nice to have a theory of everything. But there are observational limitations like the big bang and limitations of testing equipment. The atheist contention is that positing a god as an answer is really a non-answer as all it does it add one more layer of complexity to explain.

Fear of an atheist planet
This paragraph is possibly the most alarming in the article:
The problem I face is weariness with science-based dialogue partners like Richard Dawkins. It surprises me he is not chided for his innate scientific conservatism and metaphysical complacency. He won't take his depiction of Darwinism to logical conclusions. A dedicated Darwinian would welcome imperialism, genocide, mass deportation, ethnic cleansing, eugenics, euthanasia, forced sterilisations and infanticide. Publicly, he advocates none of them.
Are those the obvious conclusions of Darwinism? It seems the opposite, evolution calls for none of those, and indeed any understanding of modern evolution would show that these are bad ideas. I wonder how Frame came to them as the obvious conclusions, or if it's just scaremongering in the face of the notion that without God there is chaos. Darwin would not have advocated any of it, and it was his opposition to slavery that partly drove the development of the theory.

Of course there seems to be means to check out a claim such as this, after all there are plenty of statistics floating about where some may have some relevance. Maybe in countries where the acceptance of evolution is high would correlate with these kinds of behaviours, and especially where atheism is in higher concentrations. And luckily there have been such studies done, here's one on acceptance of evolution among European nations. There's also a larger amount of atheists in Europe than in the US, Sweden alone is reportedly 80% atheist. So with these statistics we should at least see some societal correlation between the social ills that are the apparent logical conclusion of Darwinism and societies where atheism and acceptance of evolution is high. Correlation does not imply causation, but if there is no correlation then there's no reason to assume causation either.

Funnily enough, those same objections to Darwinism I have heard about atheism in general. That without the objective morality that God provides, then there is chaos. It feels like nothing more than scaremongering, using the FUD principle to cast atheism in a bad light - that it's bad for society and bad for individuals. Does Tom Frame truly believe that atheism would lead to the social ills described? Perhaps. It does feel as if he's trying every trick short of "eats babies" in order to portray materialism as an immediate threat. In this way he doesn't even have to make the case for God, all he has to do is cast enough doubt on atheists not only in a philosophical sense but in a societal sense, and it makes the case for him.

Materialism and evolution
I find the materialist atheism of some rational sceptics harder to accept than theistic belief, and cannot make sense of my life in this world without believing in God and providence. Crudely naturalistic science leaves no room for poetic truth, refuses to honour any spiritual element in physical things and cannot accept the existence of a human soul.
If the existence of the soul is truth, then why doesn't Tom Frame show an experiment to detect it? Likewise, why isn't Tom Frame calling up the Templeton Institution and looking at funding for experiments that will show the Judeo-Christian deity in all its glory? It's all well and good to sit back and complain that science sticks to the natural, but there's a good reason that science doesn't test God. God is unfalsifiable as a construct, even in it's absence it's rationalised that God works in mysterious ways. Tests like checking the effectiveness of prayer turns out to be as useful as not praying, is that enough to falsify God (Mark 11:24)? No matter what test there is for God, there's always a reason why that test doesn't work. I've had my "Water turning into Vodka experiment" running for months with a 0% success rate after over 100 experiments.

Tom Frame may talk like God creates through evolution, but how is that any different than God not being there at all? Just how did God work through the process, did God directly intervene, or is the way that atoms work geared towards building humans given the right selection conditions that again atoms are primed for? How did the soul become part of the human body? Is it also a material construct? At what point did the soul become attached? For all the talk of inadequacy of Darwinism it seems as though the explanations that Frame puts through really is saying nothing more than "God did it" and asserting wild speculations on unfounded properties as if they are indisputable fact. The nebulous nature of the speculation precludes it from being useful.

Evolution does have consequences for God, but not more so than cosmology, or geology, or any other science that doesn't fit the biblical account of reality. Darwin knew of the implications when he wrote the theory and it's said that it was mainly that reason as to why it took him 20 years to publish. The 150 years following has seen the main opponents to evolution coming from religious circles, just as 400 years before the objection to heliocentrism was centred in religious circles. Evolution does ask hard questions of theism and those aren't going to go away by attacking materialism. It's not enough to say "God did it" any more, the question of how "God did it" can be answered and that gives us insight into the mind of God. (to rehash Hawking's words for the biological)

1 comment:

Reasonably Aaron said...

If we take gravity to its logical conclusion then we will have people throwing people off bridges...

(Word verification: blessess)