Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Misguided Evolution

Here's a strange claim from theologian and Christian apologist, Alvin Plantinga. One seriously wonders if he thought it through before writing it down, or whether, as with so many religious apologists, he wasn't writing to persuade doubters and convert non-believers but to help believers cope with the cognitive dissonance caused by trying to hold on to faith in the teeth of reality.

Plantinga is one of the Christian apologists who has accepted the overwhelming evidence for Darwinian Evolution but has also accepted, unlike some other apologists like Francis Collins, that Darwinian Evolution, properly understood, abolishes the need for a god in any theory of the origins of life - that in turn utterly destroys the nonsensical doctrine of original sin and causes the entire Christian religion to collapse under the weight of its own absurdity in fact.

But Plantiga has a vested interest to defend, so that logic can't be allowed to get in the way; a work-around has to be found, even if that work-around is as absurd as the superstition it is designed to defend.

The claim that God created human beings in his image… is clearly consistent with evolution…. God could have caused the right mutation to arise at the right time. He could have preserved populations from perils of various sorts, and so on; in this way, by orchestrating the course of evolution, he could have ensured that there come to be creatures of the kind he intends. What is not consistent with Christian belief, however, is the claim that evolution and Darwinism are unguided — where I'll take that to include being unplanned and unintended.

What is not consistent with Christian belief is the claim that no personal agent, not even God, has guided, planned, intended, orchestrated, or shaped the process. Yet precisely this claim is made by a large number of contemporary scientists and philosophers who write on this topic.

Dennett, Daniel & Plantinga, Alvin; Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 4.
(Quoted in Stenger, Victor J. (2012-04-03); God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion
(Prometheus Books. Kindle Edition), p. 110.)

Laughable though Plantinga's daft notion might be, we shouldn't forget that he is by no means alone in believing it. These notions are actually mainstream opinion in modern-day USA.

The United States is a remarkable anomaly on the question of the public acceptance of evolution. In a 2005 survey of thirty-four nations and their beliefs in evolution, only Muslim Turkey scored lower.[26] Unfortunately, this survey did not ask the key question: guided or unguided evolution? Perhaps the most telling response in the survey was to the question of whether evolution was “definitely true, probably true, probably false, definitely false.” Only 14 percent of American adults thought that evolution is “definitely true.” A third said it was “definitely false,” compared to just 7 percent in Denmark, France, and Great Britain, to 15 percent in the Netherlands who said evolution was definitely false.

Stenger, Victor J. (2012-04-03). God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion (p. 111).
Prometheus Books. Kindle Edition.

These 2005 US figures were born out by a June 2012 Gallup poll:

Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. About a third of Americans believe that humans evolved, but with God's guidance; 15% say humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process.

Do believers in this most idiotic of views on the established scientific principle of evolution by descent with modification from a common ancestor never consider what it would mean?

Apparently, Plantinga's intelligent designer merely gave a little nudge here and there, ensuring just the right mutation happened in the right place and the carrier of the mutation somehow lived a charmed life, somehow avoiding getting eaten and managing to find a mate and reproduce. The descendants of this favoured organism also all managed to produce more offspring than carriers of the non-mutated form of the gene.

Did this process start way back with the first replicators, or did God just pick a random phylum of the animal kingdom for special favour? And what about all the other evolving classes, orders, geni, etc? Did they somehow manage to evolve unaided, or was Plantinga's god nudging them along too? If so, in what way were humans special?

But more to the point, given the very gradual nature of evolution, where exactly did the evolving humans become Plantinga's god's special creation with the special responsibility to worship this god, and worthy of being given souls and free will and so committing the 'original sin' so essential for the Christian dogma to work? Did all of them commit this original sin or was it only necessary for one pair of them to eat some 'forbidden fruit'?

Early Christians?
Was this when they were marine vertebrates, mammal-like reptiles, tree-dwelling tarsier-like animals, early simians, proto-apes? Did 'Lucy' (Australopithicus afarensis) have a soul? How about Homo habilis or H. erectus? Had humans acquired a soul and original sin before Neaderthals evolved or did this only happen some time after H. heidelbergensis diverged to become H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis (or should that be H. sapiens neanderthalensis?)

In other words, did other, more primitive species need to accept Jesus to get into Heaven, or did that only become necessary recently? If earlier, why did Plantinga's god wait until just 2000 years ago before telling anyone and then do it in such a way that it took another almost 2000 years before everyone could know about it, and why is there no record of this god giving them this news?

If the latter, when exactly, and how did Plantinga's god decide when evolving humans had reached the right stage? Did it happen one day when all members of the evolving species had all got all the right mutations or did it include some who still carried the non-mutated form of the final mutation which turned us at last into the H. sapiens which this intelligent designer had always intended?

So many questions and no hope of an answer ever coming from the 'guided evolution' notion which is untestable, therefore unfalsifiable, hence not a scientific hypothesis.

Compare the above figures to those for Americans who have received a scientific education to degree level:

The vast majority of the scientific community and academia supports evolutionary theory as the only explanation that can fully account for observations in the fields of biology, paleontology, molecular biology, genetics, anthropology, and others.[22][23][24][25][26] One 1987 estimate found that "700 scientists ... (out of a total of 480,000 U.S. earth and life scientists) ... give credence to creation-science".[27] An expert in the evolution-creationism controversy, professor and author Brian Alters, states that "99.9 percent of scientists accept evolution".[28] A 1991 Gallup poll of Americans found that about 5% of scientists (including those with training outside biology) identified themselves as creationists.[29][30]

Clearly, what's happening here is that apologists like Plantinga are catering for a market in books to 'confirm' prejudice for those who aren't really interested in truth so much as wanting to feel superior to those who bother with learning. But then who would buy a book by a theologian if they wanted to learn about biology anyway?

For theologians, there is nothing to be gained by trying to educate people in science when, for many of their readers, that's the last thing they want. In America, for many people, it's almost as though ignorance is considered a virtue. It's almost as though the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of opinion have become confused with the idea that one opinion is just as good as another, no matter on what that opinion is based. An opinion based on complete ignorance is considered just as valid as one based on learning, reason, logic and evidence - so what's the point of bothering with the learning, reason, logic and evidence?

It's a strange view of reality which can only be produced by the distorting lens of religion and especially a religion which considers it a sin to question dogma and whose founding fathers had such contempt for reason. (See Christians! Should You Be Reading This?)

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  1. Fourteen percent, really? No wonder Americans are concerned for their future. If a population like that is depended on to make political choices, no wonder people lose faith in each other.

    I have to spread this around...

  2. I have been "booted" off my Twitter account (Ssneedamole) and am getting no joy from Twitter admin - they do not even reply - so I NEED some sanity and logical reading. Thank you!!!


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