To a lot of liberal Christians, evolution has become, dare I say, almost a point of identity. Even the Catholic Church has reaffirmed it’s view that evolution is totally compatible with faith and that Intelligent Design is a cruel sham of a belief. A lot of Atheists are keen to encourage this because anything that gets liberal Christians on our side and away from the Fundamentalists is a good thing. Unfortunately, I’m about to take a massive piss into this font of goodwill by stating that I think the belief that evolution is compatible with faith is based on a misunderstanding of evolution that is so prevalent even Atheists are guilty of perpetuating it.

The easy part of evolution to understand is the mechanistic aspect, the “how” of evolution. Mutation happens and features get evolved and some things become more popular because they lead to increased survival and this is how we have the natural world we see around us. Based on an understanding of this how, it’s perfectly plausible to then believe the why comes from God. God works through evolution and gives it a nudge once in a while at the right points. Evolution is just a cog in God’s plan. Of course, this is an unfalsifiable assertion so it falls outside of the domain of science. The scientists are happy, the liberal Christians are happy, why make so much fuss?

But to understand why evolution had the profoundly explosive effect it did on the scientific world and why Darwin was named the most influential scientist of the past millennium by Scientific American, one must move past the mechanistic understanding of evolution and understand the teleological aspect of evolution: the why of evolution.

Imagine for a second that you rolled a pair of dice a million times and noticed that they added up to 7 roughly 1/6th of the time. Why did the dice land the way it did? Why 1/6th and not some other number like 1/3rd or 1/12th? If you were wholly ignorant about probability, then you could believe that God decreed that all dice rolls should fall to his accord and the reason for 1/6th was because it was pleasing to his eye. But what probability does is it not only explains how it is 1/6th, but also to boil the why down to *shrug*, that’s just the way it is. Fundamentally, the why of it is that there is no why, not only is the why not God, it’s not anything. What probability does is explain away the why.

The real impact of evolution was not that it explained the natural world, it was that it provided science with a path to explain it away. Why do birds fly and beasts walk? Why are we the most intelligent of all the animals? Why do we love and war and yearn for the stars? *shrug*, that’s just how the world is. Evolution showed how complex forms and intelligent beings could have arisen following the same natural laws that govern how dice roll and planets move and by doing so, it not only removed the need for an intelligent creator, it removed the need for anything. Even 200 years after Darwin this is the basic point of evolution that is still misunderstood and this is why evolution is far more of a dilemma to faith than most people will admit.

It’s important to note though that this process is far from complete. Darwin only put humanity on the first step towards this understanding and in the last 200 years, scientists have been steadily working away towards this goal. Our understanding of how is still gradually improving every year but none of this could have happened unless Darwin had the stroke of insight that there could be no why.

Is it possible to believe in evolution and still in God? Sure, but It would be akin to showing how you could bend a spoon via sleight of hand and still believing that Uri Geller is bending them with his mind. If that’s the way it’s done, then he’s doing it the hard way.

Responses

  1. Evolution is not compatible with God | UW's Secular Student Union says:

    February 13th, 2009 at 7:36 am (#)

    […] Cross-posted from the blog Figuring Shit Out […]

  2. Zaki says:

    February 13th, 2009 at 3:59 pm (#)

    Good stuff Hang. I thought about writing something on the whole issue of “why”, but I just never got around to it. I tend to think religion necessitates an explanation of “why”, even more than our natural curiosity. In other words, I think atheists that have never been religious aren’t really concerned with the why’s of things. Religion gives you a why, and for a lot of religious folks, for them to leave their religion, they have to have a secular “why” to replace their religious one. If they can’t find a secular “why” they don’t see the worth of non-belief. But if they hadn’t been given this fake explanation of “why” from their religion, they wouldn’t have this crutch in the first place.

  3. Zaki says:

    February 13th, 2009 at 7:59 am (#)

    Good stuff Hang. I thought about writing something on the whole issue of “why”, but I just never got around to it. I tend to think religion necessitates an explanation of “why”, even more than our natural curiosity. In other words, I think atheists that have never been religious aren’t really concerned with the why’s of things. Religion gives you a why, and for a lot of religious folks, for them to leave their religion, they have to have a secular “why” to replace their religious one. If they can’t find a secular “why” they don’t see the worth of non-belief. But if they hadn’t been given this fake explanation of “why” from their religion, they wouldn’t have this crutch in the first place.

  4. Marco says:

    February 14th, 2009 at 9:05 pm (#)

    G’day Hang…

    I think it is true that a believe in a god that intervenes into the process of evolutino is more or less equivalent to just believing in creationism, it would just mean that god is doing it the long way rather than in one go.

    However, i think an interesting point is the differentiation between WHY and HOW questions. Science can strictly spoken by its nature never answer questions that start with WHY. For example, the laws of gravity do not explain why things fall, they just allow to predict on which trajectory they will fall. Why is there such thing as gravity and why does it act this way and not in another way remains a religious question – forever, definitely!
    The same applies to the mechanism of evolution – we can understand better and better how mutations arise etc, but that just means getting a handle on the laws of nature. You can alwys ask “why are these laws this way and not different?”. And the laws of nature that govern our universe plus the initial conditinos given at some early time (which by the way are also not accessible to science) more or less determine the outcome of evolution (maybe modulo some quantum uncertainty).

    On top of that, there are far from being understood, e.g. the appearance of what one usually cals consciesness. A lot of moderate people claim that god only intervenes by giving his creatures “ideas”. Given the poor understannding of the connectino between mind and matter it seems currentlyimpossible to rule out such ideas.

    Finally, if god is not to be understood in the framework of space and time, one could argue that he created the world as one fourdimensjional entity, even though that leads to big trouble with the concept of free will.

    Interesting topic anyways….

  5. Marco says:

    February 14th, 2009 at 1:05 pm (#)

    G’day Hang…

    I think it is true that a believe in a god that intervenes into the process of evolutino is more or less equivalent to just believing in creationism, it would just mean that god is doing it the long way rather than in one go.

    However, i think an interesting point is the differentiation between WHY and HOW questions. Science can strictly spoken by its nature never answer questions that start with WHY. For example, the laws of gravity do not explain why things fall, they just allow to predict on which trajectory they will fall. Why is there such thing as gravity and why does it act this way and not in another way remains a religious question – forever, definitely!
    The same applies to the mechanism of evolution – we can understand better and better how mutations arise etc, but that just means getting a handle on the laws of nature. You can alwys ask “why are these laws this way and not different?”. And the laws of nature that govern our universe plus the initial conditinos given at some early time (which by the way are also not accessible to science) more or less determine the outcome of evolution (maybe modulo some quantum uncertainty).

    On top of that, there are far from being understood, e.g. the appearance of what one usually cals consciesness. A lot of moderate people claim that god only intervenes by giving his creatures “ideas”. Given the poor understannding of the connectino between mind and matter it seems currentlyimpossible to rule out such ideas.

    Finally, if god is not to be understood in the framework of space and time, one could argue that he created the world as one fourdimensjional entity, even though that leads to big trouble with the concept of free will.

    Interesting topic anyways….

  6. Ted Burrett says:

    April 24th, 2009 at 11:02 am (#)

    This topic is quite trendy in the net at the moment. What do you pay attention to while choosing what to write ?

  7. Ted Burrett says:

    April 24th, 2009 at 3:02 am (#)

    This topic is quite trendy in the net at the moment. What do you pay attention to while choosing what to write ?

  8. Richard Wright says:

    March 16th, 2015 at 7:55 pm (#)

    hang, this is the most intellectually honest take i have ever read regarding evolution. it is so true that evolution is far more of a dilemma than people think. i have been kicked out of evolution/creation chat rooms because i dared to say that social darwinism and eugenics are philosophies that could be justified by evolution. if evolutionists are offended it is only because of their moral sentiment. Darwin believed any stripe of morality is a byproduct of evolution. Slavery is no more or less moral than anything else because life after all is meaningless and deterministic.

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