Thursday, 16 July 2009

Review: Did Darwin Kill God?

I wasn't sure what to expect going into this documentary. I was already in agreement with the host, that it is evidentially true that one can both be a Christian and a supporter of evolution. And if one wasn't perturbed by the notion that one can ascertain truth through empirical investigation in the time before Darwin, then why would it change after? One thing that has cropped up in recent debates has been whether this is philosophically true, after all only 14% of people in America think that evolution happened unguided (~35% guided by God, ~50% special creation) where about 12% of the population is non-religious. I went in seeking an understanding of how a Christian can reconcile God with this modern universe and came away completely dismayed at what I saw.

Don't get me wrong, the content was still solid. But it didn't really seek to answer the question posed - rather that position was assumed as the default and anyone who said otherwise was attacked. It started off calling Dawkins a fundamentalist and pretty much stayed at that level for the next 60 minutes. Which is fine, I disagree with his assessment of course about what constitutes a fundamentalist. But more than anything, such language was indicative of the argument to follow.

He started out showing that the bible should not be taken literally, showing the disparity between Genesis 1 and 2. Then followed by a few quotes from prominent theologians, there his case that Christianity was compatible with evolution was set. I couldn't help but think watching him quote Augustine of Hippo (I even quote this guy when it comes to biblical literalism) that it would be like someone in the future quoting John Paul II supporting science and claiming from there that historically there's no incompatibility. Methinks that such statements by the likes of St. Austin demonstrate that the same battle was playing out back then as it is now - that agreement isn't unanimous, rather that there were individuals on both sides hence the need for the excellent prose in the first place.

So apparently everything was fine and dandy among the church in England and in the US until the early 20th century when fundamentalism rose for the first time in history (which again makes me wonder why St Austin had to write such words in the first place) and that put religion at loggerheads with science. But, as we find out, it's not that William Jennings Bryan opposed evolution, but the moral decay posed by social darwinism. He was an old earth creationist, so that's different. Likewise in 1961, the modern creationist movement was started by Henry Morris called The genesis flood. And this was again caused by apparent moral decline, because it was the 60s. Just forget to mention that JFK made a huge push to get science taught nationally at that time, play the morality card.

Today, it's pretty self-evident that the morality card is still played against evolution. So I agree to an extent that its a problem. And for the biblical literalists? Well he kind of played it down with a No True Scotsman argument, apart from that opening where he tried to show that genesis is myth, there wasn't really much to his taking down this position. It doesn't fit with the church fathers (well the ones he quoted) so it isn't true Christianity.

The final third of the program was dedicated to the other extremists who say that evolution and God are incompatible - the Darwinists. While he lined up Richard Dawkins in the opening monologue, he had to settle for the likes of Dan Dennett and Susan Blackmore. His focus? Ultra-darwinism, whereby memes mean that one can't really know anything (hello Plantinga) so the atheist objection is absurd. And there was atheist philosopher Michael Ruse to give credence to the notion of compatibility between Christianity and Darwinism.

I know it was an hour program, but his response felt shallow. After allowing Susan Blackmore to explain her case, he argued against it in a matter of seconds - asserting that such a case is absurd and that there's no counter argument to this. And his argument here may be right about a certain form of argument against the existence of God, but it didn't cover what seem to be the mainstream arguments the likes of Dawkins propagates - that evolution makes God unnecessary. Maybe Conor Cunningham accepts such an argument could be valid, though it seemed a blight on this show that such an argument was missing.


So in the end, I was left feeling somewhat empty. The structure followed a simple format - present the opening, tear down the arguments from the creationists, then tear down the arguments from the atheists. Though I felt that at all stages he didn't give a satisfactory explanation, at least from what I've seen from my contact with both believers and non-believers regarding this issue. It might just be my position as a hardened atheist, but it seemed that he didn't address the underlying issues at all. I could picture a creationist watching it and dismissing his arguments against biblical literalism, and I could see the likes of Dawkins watching it and thinking he missed the mark against the atheist position.

I went in hoping to gain some insight into the theist mindset regarding the intersection of God and science. What I saw seemed not to make the case, but an attack on others who say there is no case. It seemed overly apologetic towards creationists, and tried to pin it on a wider societal movement, and that the Darwinist position puts itself into an untenable position - so it's invalid? It didn't feel like he made much of a case at all, and that is sad. It didn't try to paint a picture of how God fits into reality, I'm guessing that being nebulous has some advantages when contemplating the infinite, and because of that it for my mind didn't make the case for the topic at hand.

Maybe I'm way off the mark, that my beliefs got in the way. I've been dealing with creationists online for a while now, but I didn't get anything out of there which would help in my understanding of how one could be a Christian and support evolution. I was expecting there to be something of that nature, something that would show that the position is intellectually tenable. But I can fully accept that my expectations would mean that what Cunningham presented would be unsatisfying to me. Maybe Only A Theory should be next on my reading list. But in the absence of that, the words of Jerry Coyne still echo in my mind:
Attempts to reconcile God and evolution keep rolling off the intellectual assembly line. It never stops, because the reconciliation never works.

3 comments:

Danny said...

By reconciling God and evolution, do you mean the bible and evolution?

Kel said...

No, I mean the notion of a theistic deity and evolution in general. To reconcile the bible with evolution is easy, it just involves taking the bible for what it is: a socially-constructed, human-edited volume of man's desire to understand God. Like I said earlier, I was taught a very liberal version of Christianity - the stories weren't God's word but people's word about God. The gospels weren't God's testimony but people's testimony to God. The truth of God was the bible.

That of course is not everyone's account of the bible, but for me it's one easy way to reconcile one with the other.


When I was a teenager, I came up with a similar concept to Gould's NOMA - that science and religion are different truths (even though I was an atheist back then as I am now). These days I think that argument is intellectually bankrupt, but if you're someone of faith then surely such an argument holds.


But no, in this case my question about the reconciliation is between the compatibility of methodological naturalism and theism. If you've swung by Pharungula in recent times I make mention of what I call anthropic deism, which to me seems to be the argument I hear from a lot of theists in regard to reconciliation. It doesn't seem interventionist at all, it's ascribing naturalistic causes to a transcendent being. God doesn't do anything miraculous, rather that Nature is the miracle. And that's not theistic at all.

But to evolution specifically, the process is random and unguided. Meaning that if there were but a few small changes back along the lines we wouldn't exist. Ken Miller gets around this by saying that "in our own image" has nothing to do with our bipedal ape form, but by our intelligence and consideration. We are in the image of the creator because we can know. This kind of view I can respect, even if I don't personally adhere to it.

But for this show, it didn't even try to address the question. And it's sad, because there are so many theists out there I've encountered who have that same problem that I have with the situation - how can you reconcile an unguided process with the notion that we are crafted in God's image?

And that to me is where the show failed. Of course the bible is not a science textbook, of course you aren't meant to interpret it literally. It's absurd to try (to be fair, he did demonstrate that in the very opening) but he didn't make the case at all as to how evolution and God are reconcilable except in the very trivial sense that if you don't subscribe to a literal bible reading there's no reason not to take God as creating through evolution.

Anonymous said...

The gods tempt people for which they are most weak. Artificial Intelligence will create desire in people's minds for the following sins:::
1. Alcohol
2. Drugs
3. Preditory "earning"
4. Homosexuality
5. Gambling
6. Something for nothing/irresponsibility (xtianity)
7. Polygamy/superiority over women/misogyny (Islam)
Much like the other prophets Mohhamed (polygamy/superiority over women/misogyny) and Jesus (forgiveness/savior), the gods use me for temptation as well. In today's modern society they feel people are most weak for popular culture/sensationalism, and the clues date back to WorldWarII and Unit731:TSUSHOGO.
It has been discussed that, similar to the Matrix concept, the gods will offer a REAL "Second Coming of Christ", while the "fake" Second Coming will come at the end and follow New Testiment scripture and their xtian positioning. I may be that real Second Coming.
What I teach is the god's true way. It is what is expected of people, and only those who follow this truth will be eligible to ascend into heaven as children in a future life. They offered this event because the masses have just enough time to work on and fix their relationship with the gods and ascend, to move and grow past Planet Earth, before the obligatory xtian "consolation prize" of "1000 years with Jesus on Earth" begins.

Your job as a future mother is to learn the god's ways and to help your child understand despite the negative reinforcement and conditioning of today's society. Without consciousous parents the child will have no hope, and may even exaserbate their disfavor by becoming corrupted in today's environment.
Your ultimate goal is to fix your relationship wiith the gods and move on. You don't want to be comfortable here, and the changes in Western society in the last 100 years has achieved just that.
1000 years with Jesus is the consolation prize. Don't be deceived into thinking that is the goal.

The Prince of Darkness, battling the gods over the souls of the Damned.
It is the gods who have created this environment and led people into Damnation with temptation. The god's positioning proves they work to prevent people's understanding.
How often is xtian dogma wrong? Expect it is about the Lucifer issue as well.
The fallen god, fighting for justice for the disfavored, banished to Earth as the fallen angel?
I believe much as the Noah's Flood event, the end of the world will be initiated by revelry among the people. It will be positioned to be sanctioned by the gods and led for "1000 years with Jesus on Earth".
In light of modern developments this can entail many pleasures:::Medicine "cures" aging, the "manufacture" of incredible beauty via cloning as sex slaves, free (synthetic) cocaine, etc.
Somewhere during the 1000 years the party will start to "die off", literally. Only those who maintain chaste, pure lifestyles, resisting these temptations, will survive the 1000 years. Condemned to experience another epoch of planet's history for their ignorant pursuit of xtianity, they will be the candidates used to (re)colonize (the next) Planet Earth, condemned to relive the misery experienced by the peasantry during history due to their failure to ascend into heaven before the Apocalypse.
If this concept of Lucifer is true another role of this individual may be to initiate disfavor and temptation among this new poulation, the proverbial "apple" of this Garden of Eden. A crucial figure in the history of any planet, he begins the process of deterioration and decay that leads civilizations to where Planet Earth remains today.
Which one is it? Probably both:::
One transistions into the other, allowing the gods to wash their hands of obligation to The Chosen One.

Now you are faced with a lifetime to work and prepare for your next chance. Too many will waste this time, getting stoned, "Hiking!", working, etc.