6/02/2005

Evolution & the Gods of Disbelief

After his having thoroughly demonished the three most prominent forms of creationism, one gets the feelings that Miller probably doesn't really believe in God the same way most people do, if he believes at all. It is this second option which he considers next in his book. Does evolution prove that there is no God? Now of course the most obvious response to this would be 'no,' but it's not so simple as we shall see. It certainly discounts any Gods that created species individually or created the earth without any death on it until about 6,000 years ago. Does evolution allow for a God? Yes, but not just any God. Does evolution allow for a God that created Human beings, us? That's a tough question which should be addressed with some care and length, which Miller does.

Between Newton and Galileo the latter is certainly more well known for his conflict with the church. He offered strong evidence that man was not at the center of the universe and therefore God's attention (in one interpretation). In response the church offered Galileo two options: 1) take back what you have said or 2) suffer, both in the next life and this one. Thankfully most churches learned from this unpleasant encounter by the time Darwin rolled around with his further displacement of man from center stage. While most held strong suspicions and disbeliefs regarding Darwin's ideas, few were willing to come out in full fledged opposition. This was a good thing, since in the long run they would have lost.

Newton's ideas also came in conflict with many notions of 'folk relgion' although when I say Newton I mean many of the pioneers of the Enlightenment who began to promote and embrace a materialism which varied between being merely methodoligical and fully ontological. With the discovery of mindless physical law, the jobs previously held by God began to disappear. God doesn't make things fall on earth and make the planet go around the sun, gravity does. Rain is not water from heaven, but water which had been evaporated off the earth's surface. God doesn't make the sun rise, shine and set for us each day, this is accomplished by the earth's rotating and 'nuclear fusion.' Like I said, I'm not only referring to Newton.

It was because of this that westerners began to adopt various forms of natural religion, culminating in deism. God didn't do these things anymore, but He did create the laws and materials which did do these things. It was because of natural relgion that people began to embrace the argument from design so strongly. And nowhere was the argument from design so powerful as in what we now call biology, the one area which still hadn't been taken over by the laws of nature as discovered by science. God still had a job, namely creating each form of life in it's vast complexity and wonderful design.

In the early 19th century people accepted the existence of God principally because of the argument from design. Life was uniquely designed and just as a wonderfully designed watch must have a watch maker, wonderfully designed life must have a life Maker. Even if the earth, its continents and weather systems were created more by physical laws than by God, life was different. That was His main concern, and that was His main occupation. How else could we account for the obvious design we see in life? Again, the argument from ignorance. Hume had already thoroughly destroyed the basic tenets of natural relgion, but this is precisely the place were he too fell short. He could come up with no alternative explanation to account for life and its various examples of design.

Enter Darwin. Life too is controlled by physical laws, 1) self-replication, 2) random variation and 3) a struggle for survival. From these three, design not only can but will emerge, not perfect design mind you, but design nonetheless. In one fell swoop, Darwin not only found himself in a Galileo event, but also threw down the religious dams placed by religion to hold materialism at bay. The consequences fo this application of materialism to biology can hardly be exaggerated:
The application of materialist science has transformed biology from the observational discipline of the nineteenth century into a predictive and manipulative science that enters the twenty-first century as the most dynamic and far-reaching of all scientific disciplines. (Miller, p. 168)

Thus there are physical laws everywhere, even in biology. Just as gravity had no fore-sight or teleological purpose in its creation of the earth, evolution had no fore-sight or purpose in its creation of us. Thus, according to some, God is left unemployed and we are left without meaing.
Dawkins draws directly on evolution to say that life is without meaning. Wilson finds that evolution can explain God away as an artifact of sociobiology. And Dennett is ready to dig quarantine fences around zoos in which religions, held safely in check, can be appreciated from a distance. (p. 185)

What gets really obnoxious is when the defenders of creationism back these claims up.
The griddy irony of this situation is that intelluctual opposites like Johnson and Lewtonian [who lies in the same camp as Dawkins & co.] actually find themselves in a symbiotic relationship - each insisting vigorously that evolution implies an absolute materialism that in not compatible with religion. This means, in a curious way, that each validates the most extreme viewpoints of the other.
Johnson's willingness to dismiss scientific evidence confirms Lewtonians fear that someone "who could believe in God could believe in anything." Anything clearly includes the nonsense of creationism.

Well, what about Mormonism? Are the fears of Johnson, the very fears which Dawkins exploits so willingly, the same fears which we Mormons should have? I don't think so.

First of all, what of God's creating the world and especially life? This is a question which he haven't discussed too much yet, if only out of sheer ignorance. While it is clear that evolution could have produced us all by our selves and Dawkins, Wilson and Dennett could be absolutely right, it is even more clear that evolution didn't have to produce us by itself. Gould insists that if we rewind the tape, the change that humans would reevolve is basically zero. Out of faith we believe that God meant for us creations in His image to be here. This He did not by creating the laws of evolution and then sittin back, but in accordance with the laws of evolution. Evolution did a lot of the creative work, but this doesn't some how disqualify God as a guide in the process.

What about the fears of materialism? What interesting is that Mormon are materialists in a certain sense. We believe that intelligence, element and laws are all self-existent. Materialism doesn't disprove God's use of these things and more than it disproves my use of this computer. Is a spiritual reality superfluous? It depends on whether we view human life as an accidental by-product of evolution (in which case the answer is yes) or as an intended goal of somebody working within the bounds of evolution (in which case the answer is no). Either way, the existence of a spiritual reality is not disproved.

What about the meaninglessness of life according to evolution? I have addressed this issue in a previous post. To ask what's the meaning of life can be better phrased what's the meaning of our existence? If we can answer what the meaning of our eternal existence is without appealing to God, since we exist independant of Him, I imagine it won't be that different from the meaning which Dennett gives to his life. We believe the laws of math, physics and ,where proper conditions exist, evolution to be eternal and uncreated, before which even God Himself must bow. This doesn't mean that there is no purpose in our eternal existence, let alone in this temporal existence.

If there we have any worries about materialism, meaning to our existence or God's part in creation, these worries stem not from evolution, but from Mormon doctrine itself. If anything we should be grateful that evolution has helped enlist so manhy other people in the quest to find answers to these questions with us. Evolution is not the bogey man some take it to be, especially for Mormons.

Summary: The worries which creationists and naturalists alike see in evolution are worries which Mormons must deal with even in evolution is false. While evolution may make belief in a spiritual reality superfluous, based on a particular view of human life, it certainly doesn't disprove a spiritual existence. Our belief in God and an eternal existence should not be based in the argument from design.

2 Comments:

While it is clear that evolution could have produced us all by our selves and Dawkins, Wilson and Dennett could be absolutely right, it is even more clear that evolution didn't have to produce us by itself.... Evolution did a lot of the creative work, but this doesn't some how disqualify God as a guide in the process. 

Jeffrey, this is where naturalists will bring Occam's original formulation into play: "entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity." If evolution could have produced us, the argument goes, one ought not postulate the existence of additional entities---God, in this case---to explain our existence here on earth.  

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

6/04/2005 12:35:00 PM  

Exactly. This is the exact reason why creationism is bad science and should not be taught as science. Not yet anyways. Our belief that God created us is not based on science at all, but in faith. We each think that we have good reason to believe in God, and He tells us that He created us. Looking for more evidence than this isn't bad, but let's not try to construe the evidence which we observe to fit our personal faith claims. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

6/06/2005 09:52:00 AM  

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