A] God created the world. B] A combination of random mutation and natural selection gives rise to new species.
There seems to be a persistent assumption that A implies not B. Even worse, there is a minor industry based on the false corollary that B implies not A, which really has no logical basis at all. This annoys me, because a lot of energy is being expended on debates which are logically stupid, but which also have harmful effects.
A is of course commonly known as creationism, and B is commonly referred to as the theory of evolution. I would argue that the two statements are almost independent. Without violating logic, a person could easily assent to both statements, or hold that both statements are false, as well as the more typical configuration of assenting to A and not B (the stereotypical fundamentalist Christian creationist), or not A and B (the stereotypical strictly materialist atheist).
Consider, for example, a Buddhist who does not believe statement A, because he holds that the world has always existed, and that there is no supreme being who could reasonably described by the English word God. I don't think we can predict anything about what this person believes about whether or not new species evolve by mutation and natural selection. Consider also a positivist materialist type who is absolutely convinced that no such thing as a deity could possibly exist (not A). There is no reason to assume that this person believes in Darwinian evolution (B); she could for example be a strict neutralist, who believes that the persistence of some variants in a population is totally stochastic and natural selection has no significant effect. As for someone who assents to both A and B, I don't have to make up an example; I myself hold both statements to be true (though my attitude towards the two statements is not at all identical).
Clearly the root of the problem is not in fact poor logic, it's the existence of a very vocal group of people who say that they believe A, when in fact they also believe α, namely that the creation account in the book of Genesis is "literally" true. α can reasonably be said to imply not B, because if all the species were there at the moment of creation, then there is no speciation and no evolution. In fact, it's not totally unreasonable to say that α and B are fully mutually exclusive; B doesn't strictly imply not α (because Genesis could be literally true, but the standard interpretation of its literal truth could be wrong), but it's close enough.
The people who are putting serious effort into convincing everybody of α and not B are, I believe, rather dangerous. Let's call them political Creationists (to distinguish them from the much larger group of everybody in the world who believes A; that distinction is going to be important for the development of this argument). I don't think that ultimately, political Creationists really care whether the account in Genesis is literally true. The originators of this philosophy are American fundamentalist Christians, and they have two rather unsavoury aims. The first is to force their brand of Christianity into a position of direct political influence, including in public schools. That means they're working to undermine the US Constitution whose First Amendment prohibits establishment of any religion. In one way that's kind of a local issue, but American politics does tend to spill over into the rest of the world.
The second aim is to undermine the credibility of science in general. In order to increase the powerbase of a fundamentalist religion, political Creationists are trying to make critical thinking more difficult. That's what makes it really scary for those of us who are not Americans. It also explains why people who are not at all American fundamentalist Christians are getting involved in this, including a growing minority of Muslims and a few rather wacky Jews, as well as some other Christian groups. It seems like these other groups want a slice of the power that fundamentalists in the US are accumulating, and political Creationism looks like a way to achieve that.
It's understandable that people are worried about this phenomenon. But I find there's a big problem with the measures being taken to combat it. I think the people who are writing books and making TV programmes in which they eagerly try to convince people that evolution really does happen, claiming that this shows all religion is false, are actually allowing the unpleasant element to frame the debate. I am not saying that arguing with them gives them legitimacy, exactly, but more that arguing with them on their terms is already giving them a significant advantage, even if their arguments are weaker. (There's also the fact that the militant atheist crowd annoy me because of the lack of logic mentioned at the start of this post; there's no good reason to assume that all people with any religious views at all necessarily believe α, and it's entirely fallacious to claim that evidence in favour of evolution is evidence in favour of atheism.) But more seriously, arguing as if verifying the Darwinian view somehow "proves" that God doesn't exist (B implies not A), is only encouraging people who don't understand or don't find the theory of evolution satisfying towards the theist, creationist view (not B implies A). For one thing the theory of evolution is hard to understand and not at all intuitive. For a second thing, Darwin himself said some things that were wrong, and other evolutionary biologists have also occasionally said wrong things. Nobody sensible is claiming that scientists are infallible. But the way the debate is being framed by the political Creationists, and the way that framing is accepted by the militant atheists, make it tempting to infer that if Darwin was wrong, then fundamentalist Christians must be right.
In order to "win", all the political Creationists need to do is to convince people that there's a legitimate controversy about the theory of evolution. They don't have to convince people that their version of the origins of life is correct, simply that the standard scientific model is "just a theory", and it's a matter of pure personal preference whether you decide to "believe" in evolution or in literal-according-to-the-fundamentalist-interpretation-of-Genesis Creationism. That's enough to challenge the scientific edifice. Once this false controversy is legitimized, it's easy to promote other similar false controversies, because you've encouraged an atmosphere where the scientific method is worthless, and it's all just a matter of what view seems most appealing. There are similar bits of propaganda about climate change, with a false controversy about whether human activity is altering the global environment or whether God promised there would never be another flood so no person of faith needs to worry about sea levels rising. And about the effectiveness of various kinds of contraception and exactly how certain medical procedures work. If there's believed to be a controversy, most people's sense of fairness means that they want to give equal consideration to the two "sides", even if in fact one side is utterly disingenuous and will say anything until they come up with something that sounds plausible, while the other is based on empirical evidence and entirely open to legitimate challenges.
Let me make a note about the different values of belief for the two statements. A is clearly a statement of religious belief. You can try to challenge it on logical or empirical grounds if you really want to, but you're probably just going to end up annoying the people who hold the belief. I would venture that the vast majority of people who hold religious beliefs do not hold them because they are completely convinced by some practical evidence or some irrefutable logic. They hold the beliefs because they find them emotionally appealing, or perhaps because they come from a community where those beliefs are common currency. That goes for a lot of atheism too, I would argue. People who hold a particular philosophical or religious belief may try to rationalize it by presenting arguments and evidence, but in the end the justification is primarily a way to make them feel better about themselves, it's not the reason for believing a certain way. (My personal opinion is that anyone who claims they can "prove" God's existence is believing in something that isn't God, and anyone who claims they can prove God's non-existence has misunderstood the nature of religion.)
B is a scientific theory. I happen to think the evidence for it is pretty solid at this point, and it does seem to make good predictions about how biology works. Rationalists defending the theory of evolution often make pious (sic) pronouncements about how scientific theory can always be challenged by new evidence or a better interpretation of current evidence. In principle that's true, but really, how many people have personally examined all the evidence in favour of Darwinian evolution and found it satisfactory? I know I haven't, and I'm a professional biologist! So to some extent people believe B as a matter of trust; we believe in the scientific method, with its empiricism, its peer review, its assumption of induction. And we believe in the scientific establishment as people who are true to the principles of the scientific method, and who genuinely are willing to revise their models when new evidence appears. We accept things as being true because scientists have come to a consensus on them, which is essentially an argument from authority, when it comes down to it.
Now, I do happen to think that science is about the best method we have of understanding the world. But I also think that we shouldn't go too far in assuming that "Science" has access to the Ultimate Truth, and we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that there is an element of trust and assumptions involved. This situation also implies that scientists have a responsibility to communicate their results clearly and honestly to the non-scientific world, and people who are not scientists have a responsibility to be educated enough to maintain a reasonable level of skepticism.
Anyway, the main conclusion is that statements A and B are independent because they are different kinds of statements. If people want to argue for or against one, they shouldn't muddy the waters by trying to talk about the other. The secondary conclusion is that there are some extremely unpleasant people who have a vested interest in convincing people of not B, and that decent people should be very careful in how they argue against such unpleasant elements, to avoid accidentally playing to their hidden aims.
I have other things to say about this topic but this is insanely long anyway. It's prompted by various conversations on the topic, both around LJ and in person. So thanks to smhwpf, pw201, pseudomonas, rysmiel and anybody else I might have forgotten who's been going over this stuff with me. See also, if you're not exhausted by now!
As I think you already know, I'm broadly in agreement with you. A couple of minor quibbles, though:
Without violating logic, a person could easily assent to both statements, or hold that both statements are false, as well as the more typical configuration of assenting to A and not B (the stereotypical fundamentalist Christian creationist), or not A and B (the stereotypical strictly materialist atheist).
I'm not totally convinced that holding either A and not-B or not-A and B is more typical. As far as I'm aware, a majority of people (in the UK, anyway - not sure about elsewhere) would still say they believe in God, even if for many of them it's a rather vague belief. I'm also fairly sure that the majority of people believe (again possibly rather vaguely) in evolution. Hence I suspect that a lot of people do actually believe both A and B, if only as a result of never having really thought deeply about the issue. (Among those who have thought about the question, I have no idea which view is more typical - my personal social circle includes quite a large number of people who believe some form of both (perhaps with the addition of an 'apparently' before the 'random' in B), but I'm aware my social circle is hardly representative of the population at large!)
I don't think that ultimately, political Creationists really care whether the account in Genesis is literally true.
I'm curious as to why you say this. I can't think of any plausible reason for devoting so much time and effort to the cause if they don't believe it's literally true; even if it is mostly about power for at least some of them, a significant part of that is power to impose your viewpoint on other people, and I can't see why anyone would want to do that if it wasn't actually their viewpoint - though possibly I've misunderstood this part of your argument.
Thanks, it's good to have a real philosopher of religion in the discussion, and you don't seem to be too horrified by my amateur attempts!
I think you may be right that accepting both A and B may be the more common view in the UK. But the American meme is encroaching, as American cultural stuff tends to do. And your contention doesn't seem to explain why the whole trying to prove atheism by talking about biology seems to be at least as popular this side of the Atlantic as in the US.
Do the people who are orchestrating the political Creationist movement actually believe in the literal interpretation of Genesis? I don't know; I suspect that some of them have talked themselves into believing their own propaganda, and some are being deliberately Machiavellian. (I expect that most of the people who buy into the propaganda, as opposed to the originators of it, are sincere in their beliefs, but that's almost a truism.)
My point is not so much that they don't believe that, say, there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark, or the fossil record was planted by the Devil or a capricious God as a test of faith. My point is that that's not their highest priority, they don't care about that theological point as passionately as they claim to. Their highest priority is to create a context in which people unquestioningly obey religious leaders, and where their particular brand of religion has political influence, and where they're in a good position to proselytize. I don't deny that they do have some honest motivations for all this; I'm sure they sincerely believe that the world would be a vastly better place if everyone were a fundamentalist Christian, and that it is their moral duty to save people from eternal damnation by any means whatever.
I haven't really come across people saying G*d created the world and everything in it; that's a kind of odd stitching together of two different Bible verses. And I still don't see the contradiction; what is wrong (logically, I mean, I'm not talking about factually) with the contention that God created everything in the world, including all the different organisms with their evolutionary relationships?
Buddhism, I am so shamefully ignorant about Buddhism. I think it's fair to say that it's a loose collective of different philosophies, some of which look more like what we think of as religions than others. The reason I gave that example was because the Amy Tan book I was just reading was saying something about a form of Buddhism (specifically in Burma) where there is no beginning and everything's just an endless cycle. But it's possible I misunderstood Tan, and it's possible that Tan is just making shit up, and it's extremely likely that other forms of Buddhism don't have this philosophy. I have come across a similar idea in Hinduism, but Hinduism is more obviously theist, and there does seem to be a concept of a creator.
possibly the confusion is from the way buddhism is mostly practiced and held in conjunction with other beliefs and in many cases mixed in. the different strands also look quite different (just as for religions you are more familiar with). one interesting point is the idea of plurality that exists in buddhism, that essentially discourages a not whatever approach. also, the fundamental questions to a large extent remain unanswered questions. so there is no doctrine on a certain view of how the world was created, for instance. (at least, that is my understanding, which is rather informal.)
α can reasonably be said to imply not B, because if all the species were there at the moment of creation, then there is no speciation and no evolution.
Well, I suppose one could believe α and B, if B is limited to time since creation (which would be at least 6000 years even for most literalists) -- for example, the moderately famous moths which changed dominant colour as air pollution increased and caused walls that were previously mostly-white to be mostly-black (or similar): something which happened in the space of a comparatively short time.
Though I suppose they wouldn't accept that e.g. land mammals and whales had a common ancestor, etc.
I have come across Christians who prepared to accept that mutation and natural selection occur, but these processes can only account for minor adaptations of particular species, like those moths, and can't account for the appearance of new species. (Such people tend to argue against abiogenesis too, but I'm not convinced that abiogenesis is a necessary facet of evolution.) With a bit of handwaving about what's going on with timescales, it's at least a vaguely coherent position.
Where it falls down is that the definition of different species is actually somewhat arbitrary, particularly for organisms which are not animals. It ends up being a heap of sand kind of paradox, basically.
It could be argued that 'both A and B' does God the most credit. A universe which has, governed by the laws God imbued in it, unfolded on its own according to his plan, without the need for further interference, is both more elegant and a greater testament to God than one which requires personal adjustment, whether at the beginning or at every stage.
This is, to me, the greatest conceptual weakness of both Creationism and ID, that they actually detract from the power and wisdom of an omnipotent and omniscient God. We honour him most, surely, as the architect of a universe created, in all its potential and complexity, by a single act of will?
I agree, the fundamentalist view of God is an extremely limited one. A world which could be completely described in a few tens of thousands of words comprehensible to people in the Iron Age is a pretty poor sort of creation, compared to the actual world in all its complexity and diversity. The sort of argument which says that evolution is improbable or hard to understand, therefore God couldn't possibly have created the world that way, is not a view that honours God.
I do think that religious people are likely to want to argue that God continues to act in the world today, and is not only the Prime Mover kind of creator that you're alluding to here. I think that's part of why some people want to argue for anti-scientific forms of creationism, they want to believe that God does continue to intervene all the time. Otherwise what would be the point of worshipping God or acting in a religious way? Simply honouring God for the act of creation would be equivalent to worshipping the world itself: pretty deist or even Spinozan. I don't actually think that denying that evolution occurs actually gets you to the point of sustaining a belief in a personal God with whom humans can have a relationship, but I think that might be part of the motivation behind it.
Point very much taken. I think a giant weakness in my argument, from a theist point of view, is that if God has intervened over the span of human history, through some combination of prophets, Christ, miracles, vocation &c, why should he not have done so before? Is micromanagement of evolution (viz. ID) actually more consistent with the level of God's presence and personal action shown in the Bible?
Unless his intervention is limited to the span of recorded (or human) history, in which case, what marks the difference? Why sit back for fourteen billion years and then take an active role? This seems to suggest either that God has played a hands-on role in the growth of the universe as we know it or that humanity (beings with souls???) somehow changed the situation. These can't be the only options, surely?
What is your, or anyone else's, take on this? From a theist perspective (rather than a scientific one), what grounds are there for rejecting God's active role in the evolution of humanity (not literal Creationism, but something more along the lines suggested by ID)?
This isn't supposed to be a challenge - I'm trying to engage with the theological side of the debate as well.
I see your point, but why would said intervention involve messing around with evolution? Why would God bother to create all species individually, and then try to make it look like they're the result of evolution, when creating a world with the necessary self-replicating mutating organisms that actually undergo evolution would produce the same end but in a much more elegant way?
You have correctly identified the other Big Lie of creationists and, perhaps, the most dangerous one.
Public scrutiny has focused on creationists denying evolution (and, increasingly, geology and cosmology) and either suppressing them entirely or replacing parts of the schools science curriculum with religious dogma presented with the language and trappings of science.
But the other lie is that all who believe in evolution are Atheists and slanderers of religion, Christ-haters and un-American. A not B indeed. How many people in the American Midwest know that Evolution is not contrary to Catholic doctrine? Or, indeed, the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of Christians? Even a Baptist need not examine his or her conscience before teaching children the proven fact that we are descended from monkeys.
Proponents of evolution, and the scientific endeavour in general, are not in opposition to Christianity.
That the fundamentalists have succeeded in setting the media agenda in these terms is one of the great propaganda successes of the modern age. The Big Lie, indeed. And militant atheists might be considered a godsend to them in their mission of slander and deceit.
Yes, this is a slightly different angle on what the real aim of the propaganda is. It's not just trying to discredit science, it's trying to make it look as if scientists and the scientific world actively oppose Christianity. (I think it goes along with the trope that people who are not the right sort of fundamentalist Christian are all moral relativists to a ludicrous extent and have no sense of right and wrong.) You're absolutely right that this means the militant atheists are playing into the hands of the people they're trying to fight, even more than the extent I suggested in my original post.
That's part of why I'm trying to talk round the debate, not actually participate in it, because the whole premise is false in the first place.
Have you read Dawkins' The God Delusion? I'm in the process of reading it and have just a few chapters left. A lot of it is arguing for B not A, but a lot of the reasoning is convincing. I agree with a lot of what he's written and the arguments he presents, and while his more militant arguments (religion, even moderate religion, is bad, because it leaves the way open for dangerous fundamentalist thinking and acting, and tries to undermine science and critical thought) are probably close to my "natural position", I've mellowed a bit and am more respectful and open to religion and people's beliefs than Dawkins is. I haven't re-read your other linked post, other than to catch sight of a comment criticising Dawkins, so you probably either haven't read the book and don't want to, or read it and were annoyed at him!
I think Dawkins is arguing that B makes it plausible to accept not-A, from what I remember. His project is to show that the existence of God is unlikely, rather than making foolish attempts to disprove God's existence. There's some talk about this on a recent post of mine.
There are a lot of reasons I find Dawkins annoying, and none of them are the reason that he expects me to find him annoying, namely being insecure and offended because he attacked my precious beliefs. I have nothing against atheism; I do have a big problem with trying to create a fundamentalist religion with overtones of personality cult out of science, because I think that's extremely damaging to what science is supposed to be.
I don't want to get into a detailed discussion of why I find Dawkins annoying, though, because basically he isn't that important, he's just one aspect of a more general phenomenon of reaction to the agenda that some fundamentalist Christians are setting. I probably won't bother with The God Delusion, because I've read several of his earlier books and found his explanations of biology to be of high quality, but spoiled by his ill-informed rants about religion, so I'm not particularly keen to read a whole book of rants about religion!
I strongly doubt anyone becomes an atheist because they read Dawkins. I think what happens is people who are already atheists get to feel good about themselves because someone intelligent and charismatic is providing enthusiastic arguments for atheism. In the same way, I wouldn't expect anyone to become religious by reading, say, Buber or Kushner, but rather people who are already in sympathy with their views find their writing appealing.
*blush* It's not often I get applause for my posts, thank you so much! I think there is something very odd about a theology which explicitly claims that God couldn't possibly have created the world as it is, because it's too complicated and weird, and instead God must have created some simplistic toy version. What can I say, theology can be weird sometimes.
It doesn't help any that while "species" is not a precisely defined concept, "God" is much less so. Or, perhaps, the question is "which god?/what are the attributes of this god other than being the creator of the world?" It's easy to assume that God the creator is necessarily all-powerful over what has been created; that God the creator is both inherently moral and the source of a morality suitable for humans; and/or that everyone who talks about "God" without giving her/him/them a specific name is referring to the same concept. The first two would, I think, be subject to debate and rational argument among those who believe in a creator; the third is questionable at best, and leads to some amount of confusion, I think. A reasonable person could believe in a creator god without thinking any of Genesis was literal truth (though it's not possible to believe Genesis literally without believing in a creator God).
You know, you are absolutely one of my favourite atheists. It's part of the point I was trying to make that you can't really make simple true or false statements about God. Partly for theological reasons, but also partly for social and semantic reasons: any statement about God assumes many centuries of development of thought, and in order to get anywhere useful you need to start to unpack some of that, rather than naively trying to "prove" the statement false.
I think part of the problem here is that a certain numerically minor Christian sect is trying to promote the idea that their view of God and the Bible is the only possible understanding anyone could have of any religion at all, and by writing screeds and screeds of argument against that particular set of theological assumptions, the militant atheists are in fact giving credence to that.
Statements about God are fuzzy and subjective and emotional. Some people have a problem with making any such statements, which is fine, but that doesn't make it sensible to argue as if the claims in my original post are in any way equivalent.
Wow. OK, I think I agree with all your analysis (well done, by the way, that was well written).
I'm not sure about the terminology. *Does* "creationism" mean A rather than alpha? I would have thought I've heard it used to mean alpha more often. Which is no doubt due to the sort of confusion we're objecting to, but still.
That would mean there was no good word for the believing "A&B" (which maybe includes most non-fundamentalist Christians?) Which would be useful, for, as you point out, having a name makes it easier to be vocal.
BTW, does "created the world" include both "set the universe in motion and only guiding thereafter" and "designed and created earth directly"? I didn't want to argue about details, but wasn't sure.
I think one still needs to be aware that the scientific method is not invunerable to subjectivity and biases. Scientists are human and need to interpret evidence and sort through competing possible explanations and as much as they try to guard against it, a whole lot of assumptions about the way the world is are likely to influence which interpretations they feel are most likely. Peer review isn't going to eliminate this if all of the peers doing the reviewing have similar assumptions themselves.
You can see this most clearly in medicine where there is a lot of room for subjectivity because definitions of illness, wellness and pathology are to some extent social contructs e.g. how heavy does menstrual bleeding have to be before it's a medical condition.
I don't want to sound like some anti-science crack pot, it's just that the more interested I become in stand point theory and methodology, the more I realise that, whilst objectivity should be strived for, it can never be completely achieved.
I suspect that what people find difficult isn't the natural selection part, which is easier to fit under "things have consequences," but the randomness: both that mutations themselves are random (and the ways that randomness can play out) and things like speciation caused by geographic separation and genetic drift. When we're teaching, or learning, "things have consequences," "don't touch the hot stove or you'll be burned" and "if you don't tell people you like strawberry shortcake they won't give you any" are easier to grasp than "if you hadn't happened to stop to talk to X, you wouldn't have met Y, who later introduced you to that really cool person who taught you to play the saxophone [and further consequences from those saxophone lessons]." There's no endpoint to it; many people like stories with endings (at least in the sense of "here's a reasonable place to stop telling you about this place/people/set of events").
I don't know really what bright thoughts I could put here. I liked your post as well.
I was told that even scientists believe in God in some way. There are lots of things which can't be proofed or explained. Scientists know their limits and that they sometimes are wrong. They declared Pluto for example for a long time as a planet but it wasn't. This is just an example not really related to your post.