Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin's Omnipost

Because of the amount of ink spilled in the last couple of days, and the fact that I have posted many posts already on the subject, I have decided for one big omnipost covering several facets of Darwin's birthday.

Several editorials have used Darwin's birthday to renew the discussion about the proper relationship between religion and science. Against the memes promoted by the likes of Stephen J. Gould (read: non-overlapping magesteria), science and religion should dialogue and provide a guiding focus for one another. Science is not an enemy of religion. And despite the fact that Darwin, after his studies, rejected his Anglican biblical literalism, he had the humility to recognize that his theory of evolution did not make claims about the existence (or lack thereof) of a transcendent power.

In this light, several religious institutions have lauded the work and findings of Darwin. The Church of England has created a website to honor Darwin and his work (webpage here). The Vatican, in like mind, today is giving Darwin birthday props (h/t RNS Blog). Different religious insitutions are celebrating Darwins birth (see my earlier post on Evolution Sunday), while others, of course, are not (h/t RNS Blog).

Despite this relatively newfound religious embracement of Darwin's ideas, the American public still finds these ideas controversial. A new Gallup poll suggests that only 39% of Americans believe in evolution (25% do not believe, 36% no opinion), a percentage correlated with education, church attendance, and age (h/t RNS Blog). Yet as one editorial points out, Darwin's ideas were very controversial even in his own time (i.e., the great debate between Huxley and Wilberforce).

Our scientific community has greatly advanced the theory of evolution. It goes without saying that this theory is a cornerstone of our scientific understanding of the world and our place in it. And if Darwin was alive today, he would be pleased with the role and the progress of his work.

Finally, several prominent progressive blogs send their birthday remembrances: DailyKos and FireDogLake.


Kent H said...

Not to beat up on the man after his death, but I'd like to rehearse just a couple of things that Darwin has "added" to the human race and our place in it.

"Darwinism removed the whole idea of God as the creator of organisms from the sphere of rational discussion." Julian Huxley

"Life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA ... life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference." Richard Dawkins

"There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death ... There is no ultimate purpose foundation for ethics, not ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans." William Provine

MMM, sounds like a lullaby. Tonight when you lie down or tuck in your precious family, remember to tell them that life is Godless, Purposeless, and Meaningless. There's no reason to be good. You're just a random accident here by cosmic mistake. Nighty night.

No wonder to this poster why so much of what is wrong with America and the world continues to slide further downward.

The next time you want to get outraged about anything -- save it. You have no right to an ethical position. That's what Darwin has added. Rest his soul.

I prefer these:
"This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being." Isaac Newton, Father of Universal Gravitation

"When I study the book of nature, I find myself oftentimes reduced to exlcaim with Psalmist, "How manifold are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom hast Thou made them all!" Robert Boyle, Father of modern Chemistry

Happy Birthday, D.

Darren Staley said...

Hey Kent, me again,

I don't think that Darwin has been too rough on the faithful. There are currently around 7 billion people on the planet (including children).

2 billion define themselves as Christian, 2 billion as Muslim, and 13 million as Jews. Throw in other sects and I would guess that 4.5 billion identify with an organized religion.

Toss in the agnostics and I'd bet that 6 billion out of the 7 billion people on the planet believe in a higher power, and that is likely a conservative estimate.

In your mind, God is still under attack. Even taken the others out, as I assume you believe that only Chirstians are true believers, and take out the rest of the world, since we live in America.

80% of Americans identify as Christians. This is without creationism taught in schools, with the under God pledge in schools, without the 10Cs on the courthouse steps.

I suppose it is the other 20% that fill our jails and live otherwise godless lives.

There are unethical believers and unethical non-believers, and vice versa.

Reasons to be good or bad have nothing to do with faith. You would likely consider me faithless, but you would be hard pressed to find someone who calls me a bad person.

But I digress. Darwin, or evolution, has not put one dent into the faith of the masses. Do athiests use Darwin to further their argument? Sure. Has it worked? Apparently not.

Drew said...

Kent, your anti-God quotes come from the bulldogs of atheism, people with vested sentiment in the debate. While their views are authoritative to some, they don't speak for all, and definitely not for Darwin. Darwin, himself, deeply understood the dissonance created between evolution and biblical literalism, but was humble enough to understand that evolution does not necessarily make claims about the existence of God.

Drew said...

Kent and Darren, I have been pondering something for the last several days, a thought formed from all of the blogospheric reaction to Darwin's birthday.

It seems that the current debates between atheism and fundamentalism over the value and worth of evolution have taken the same form as the great Oxford debate between Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce. And later, the same form as the Scopes Trial. In those debates, each side tried to make a mockery of the other.

So I guess I am wondering, what would this debate look like if those earlier, formative debates were constructive and cordially inquisitive? It seems to me that the mentalities fostered from those early formative debates have been handed down, and we relate to each other using those previously used and developed strategies. Or said again, the way in which we engage the debate today is informed by the way those debates were engaged in their earliest forms. The anger and mockery displayed on those earliest international stages are played out on much smaller and personal stages today.

Basically, each side, because of epistemological starting points and logical progressions, cannot grant the conclusions of the other side, even well meaning and intended individuals. So, because of how the dialogue between both sides historically developed is currently maintained, they get frustrated and start lobbing grenades; it becomes the futile war of the "imbeciles" versus the "infidels."

Now, I am not saying you both are doing this. I have read a lot of Darwin stuff in the last several days, and this thought came to my mind. Since both of you have been the vocal proponents of each side of thought, I wanted to get your thoughts.

Matt F. said...

Interesting, Kent, that none of the quotes you posted were by Darwin. Darwin was actually very concerned with the possible religious effects and reactions to his theory, but felt that he could not deny its validity. So I have two points as far as the meaning of life/morality.

1. I don't for a second believe that the only, or even best, way to find meaning and moral judgement is through a literal anti-evolution view of the bible. And for someone who refers to us as condescending it seems fairly condescending to suggest that our lives are meaningless because we believe that evolution is a fact. That there is "no reason to be good" if it isn't your reason to be good. We all find meaning in our lives in different ways. I find it preferable to be able to judge morality using reason rather than biblical texts, for instance. Is it a perfect method? Of course not. But neither is yours. Does it create a great deal of room for the justification of immoral acts?Of course. But of course your method does as well. I would just hope that in the future we could refrain from flip denials that other people's meaning and morality have no basis. I'll try to do the same.

I would imagine most of the quotes you lay out could be counterbalanced by these thinkers with different ways of coming to meaning or morality. I know that neither Dawkins nor Huxley are nihilists. Anyway, I am a very fulfilled and moral atheist, at least as far as philosophy goes. I am not a moral relativist or someone who thinks nothing has any meaning.

2. Even if I thought that a literal interpretation of the Bible and a complete rejection of evolution were the only way to live a fulfilled and moral life, which I clearly don't, that would not in any way make that point of view true.

Cheers to Abe, Charles, and The NAACP.

Darren Staley said...


It really boils down to one point. I can agree that Darwin was correct and that there may also be a God.

Kent's position is that because there is God Darwin could not be correct.

This does not make my position superior in and of itself. But I am willing to believe that there could be a God. Kent will never, ever agree that human evolution occurred.

While it would be a great debate, it would not be productive. In the end, Kent would accuse me of blindly following science and I would accuse him of blindly following faith.

Perhaps Kent and I could debate on something like capital punishment. But even then it is difficult to debate a literalist on anything, from his end or mine.

Drew said...

I guess oddly enough, that is kinda what I am wondering. If the early great debates between fundamentalism and athiesm posited the vast commonality between the two sides before positing the differences, would the form of the debate be different today? What effect has the form of the early great debates had on the argumentation style today? That is what I am wondering.

Kent H said...

Wow, post at night - wake up in an avalanche-
To start, Drew, these blogs have never, in my mind, entered the level of an actual debate as such. Though God knows I've tried. And you're right, from where both sides come in this discussion ends up at bipolar ends of the spectrum. I just often wonder if some on our board would want to be told if what they believe is wrong.
Darren, frankly, I am not too worried about God being under attack. He created all the matter in the universe from nothing and sustains it all today "by the word of His power." I believe he can handle Himself. My thread merely pointed out that those who follow the theories of evolution to their logical conclusions have made the statements, hold the views, and spread the message of worthlessness. The fact that, as of yet, they are losing the public view debate does not diminish the effect their views have had on some who are trying to seek their path through the fog.
The fact that jails are filled with believers and unbelievers alike is irrelevant. But it is interesting that the point is made. You see someone with a biblical worldview breaking the law and living poorly is an inconsistency (hypocrisy even), morally speaking. But one who believes he's just a glorified animal with no moral reason to conform to any social or religious norms would not be questioned on that basis at all.

Matt (good to have you back, by the way), I understand that some (most in fact) who hold to a evolutionary worldview may be moral and upstanding citizens. And evolution is most certainly not all the Bible speaks to. But there can be no justification for immoral acts from Scripture while from evolution - and a full and logical outworking of its tenets- can fully justify any injustice.

By the way, I never called any "us" condescending. My earlier post was simply a reply to one comment made on this blog. (The fact that pop-science is being most impacted by academic elitists who simply call names and try to destroy every dissenting voice is a coincidence). But to the point, I never suggested that your life is meaningless because of evolutionary theory -- DAWKINS, HUXLEY, and PROVINE did. I simply reported without editing what they had to say. Their view is simply incorrect and every person reading this blog should know that God does exist, does care about them dearly, and has given a means of knowing Him and themselves quite profoundly. The fact that evolution as a theory exists does not in one iota diminish the truth. It just mocks it.

The fact that many without a moral compass choose to be moral does not dilute the fact that a godless, materialistic, evolutionary model - when followed to its natural conclusions - does produce moral relativism and existential meaningless. And Darwin did eventually come to these views himself. Hope I've covered all the basis. Later

Kent H said...

P.S. Drew, to correct Darren's assessment of my view -- I do not say that because there is a God, Darwin must be wrong. I say that because there is a God Who told us how the universe was created and how man came to its current condition, Darwin must be wrong. Just a symantic correction. Thanks.

Matt F. said...

"There can be no justification for immoral acts from scripture?" Really? I can think of many immoral acts that were justified form scripture. You would most likely say that they misunderstood scripture. I would say that anyone who uses scientific knowledge to justify their own immoral behaviors misunderstands both what science tells us and what the role of science is.

Kent H said...

That's interesting, but those who claim that the meaninglessness of life and basisless of ethics are the highest level evolutionists with highest level of understanding in the field (Huxley, Dawkins, etc). Those who have used Scripture to justify immorality or injustice were of no particular biblical education or understanding. Just a thought.

Darren Staley said...

"Those who have used Scripture to justify immorality or injustice were of no particular biblical education or understanding. Just a thought."

Rick Warren, MDiv, PhD
James Dobson, PhD
Jerry Falwell, Honorary PhD
John Hagee, Honorary PhD
Pat Robertson, LLB

This group (although not in totality) have been pro-war, anti-semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-gay, etc.

Kent H said...

It isn't "anti" something to disagree with policies, views, or statements. Not one of those men is anti-semitic - that's simply ridiculous. Hagee holds to dual-covenant for crying-out-loud.
Warren is the only biblical studies, theology higher degree on your list. Further stressing my point even if I granted yours (which I don't). "Honorary" doesn't make a man an expert to anyone but the institution granting the degree.
And each of the church-men you mention all have ministries to help people of all stripes and types - regardless of race, orientation, gender, or faith.
You're simply out of your wheelhouse and in mine. The list you have gives encouragement and help to families, churches, mothers, Israel, our nation, etc., etc., etc. The fact that you are overtly biased against their conservative views proves nothing and certainly does not represent injustices or immorality justified.

P.S. What could you possibly have against Warren? He helped get the "messiah" elected.

Darren Staley said...

First, let me go here:

"Many well meaning Christians today have embraced a dual covenant approach to the Jewish people without even realizing it due to their unflinching support for national Israel. Preachers like Falwell and Hagee lead God’s people into these types of errors with their constant political proselytizing as well as their faulty interpretation of scripture. There are many reasons for America to support Israel politically but unconditional support for unsaved Jews is antithetical to the teachings of Christ.

Falwell, to his credit quickly repudiated the story in a statement on his website which said in part,

Earlier today, reports began circulating across the globe that I have recently stated that Jews can go to heaven without being converted to Jesus Christ. This is categorically untrue…………While I am a strong supporter of the State of Israel and dearly love the Jewish people and believe them to be the chosen people of God, I continue to stand on the foundational biblical principle that all people — Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Jews, Muslims, etc. — must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to enter heaven.

Hagee too issued a denial of sorts. While claiming that he neither believed or taught a dual covenant theology, he added that he had;

"made it a practice for 25 years not to target Jews for conversion" at any "Night to Honor Israel" events. If Jews "inquire about our faith at a later time, we give them a full scriptural presentation of redemption."

And of course there is the case of Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson, who has degrees from Winchester and Cambridge.

On your last point, however, I was never a blind supporter of Obama. John Edwards was my first choice and I wrestled for some time between Clinton or Obama. Had Colin Powell been the GOP nominee, I would have strongly considered pulling the lever for him.

Am I biased to the left, sure. But not to the point that you may think. I also supported Obama asking Warren to speak at the inauguration. I didn't like it, but I supported it.

I am much more for coming together than growing apart. If it seems differently in this forum it is because we have been discussing specifics rather than broad strokes. On the latter, I think you would find our discussions much more amenable.

Kent H said...

That's a relief.