A basic point about evolution

Evolution is an entirely natural process. It occurs through well understood mechanisms for which we are gaining ever improving detail. The belief in theistic evolution runs counter to all this; it is not compatible with the theory. Yes, yes, there are people who say they accept both their interventionist god and evolution and therefore their views are not contradictory, but that holds no relevance here. Things don’t become compatible simply because a lot of people believe them simultaneously.

In order for one’s views to be consistent with evolution, one can only hold two positions: atheism or a sort of deism. By “a sort of deism” I mean either exactly deism or something where, okay, there is a god who intervenes in human affairs, dictates our morality, and does all that other magic bigoted thought-crime sort of thing, but this god does so incidentally. That is, since no particular form of life, much less characteristic, much less species, was ever destined to exist by any law of biology, a god which it is believed made humans (or intelligent life, a la Miller) inevitable is necessarily false. Only a god which had no part in evolution is tenable; evolution is a miracle free process.

So let’s break it down:

Atheism: Entirely compatible with the theory of evolution. The process of natural selection is miracle free and excludes all directed intervention.

Traditional Deism: Compatible, but likely unsatisfying. By “traditional” I mean the deism which says there was a creator with intention that began the Universe, but that creator’s interest ended there.

Other Deism: Compatible, but still unsatisfying. I use “other” because there is no particular name for this sort of deism as far as I am aware. This is the deism which says we have a moral lawgiver and all that swell BS, but it can only be incidental. The theory of evolution tells us that humans were not destined to exist, therefore we cannot say that this interventionist god planned on us, as if we’re somehow special.

Theistic evolution: Not compatible. No species are destined to exist. That includes humans.

Creationism: Moronic anti-science nonsense. It isn’t compatible with any major branch of science.

I have excluded agnosticism because it doesn’t mean much to say that this or that is or is not compatible with “idunno”.

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Thought of the day

There are some phrases, refrains, points, etc that will work for a person or group for awhile, but when the opposition starts making a mockery of them, they pretty much have to be dropped, if only for the sake of quality rhetoric. For example, President Obama pointed out for a long time that he inherited a terrible economy. He’s right, of course. And, in fact, we still have to blame Bush and Republican policies (deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, etc) for getting us in this mess. But that isn’t something the President can do very easily anymore because conservative pundits have made an issue out of the idea of blaming Bush.

But religion has some pretty good ones, too. The one I have in mind is when dozens or hundreds of people die in some horrific accident, but one person survives. Often it will be a small child, but not always. Religious people will look to what happened and proclaim it a miracle! that that one person did not perish. Of course, even if miracles did exist (and the belief that they do is in conflict with science), I can’t see how that would be one. What about all the others that died? What about all the families that have lost loved ones? The fact that not everyone is dead doesn’t strike me as something to cheer. So I wonder: When can we all start making enough of a mockery of this religious refrain in order to get people to drop it?

On the conflict between science and religion

It’s often said, ‘Sure, other people’s religion conflicts with science, but they aren’t representative of the majority. Besides, my religion isn’t in conflict with science!”

Here’s a simple test to find out if your religion conflicts with science:

1) Do you believe in miracles?
2) Do you believe in a creator who directed evolution?
3) Do you believe prayers work? (And why doesn’t your god heal amputees?)
4) Do you think faith is a virtue?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these, and you derive your answer(s) from your religion, then your religion does conflict with science. Let me explain.

1) A miracle is a suspension or interruption of a physical law or constant. The whole idea in science is that physical laws and constants are true at all times and in all places. If you believe they can be arbitrarily interrupted, your belief is in conflict with science; science does not allow for the interruption of, say, the speed of light in a vacuum. You can believe that the speed of light in a vacuum can be changed by your god, but (aside from having no evidence for such a claim) your belief is one that is anti-scientific.

2) Evolution is a natural process that is based upon the changing of allelic frequencies within a population over time. It happens as a result of genetic change and interaction with the environment. It is a natural process that is contingent upon a long series of chance happening and natural selection; under the same environmental conditions, a re-running of the history of life would give different results. You can believe your god made it so humans (or any other animal) would be inevitable, but your belief is anti-scientific.

3) The science is in and prayer does not work. You can still believe it does, but your belief is anti-scientific.

4) Science is a valuing of reason, experiment, and, ultimately, evidence. Faith is the anti-thesis of this. You can still believe faith is a good thing, but your belief is anti-scientific; it is not a belief that is found within science.

Bonus conflict: Philosophy

Do you believe in the philosophical reasoning of the First Cause? This is the argument that says everything has a cause and thus the Universe has a cause. (And then it is randomly declared that God is eternal.) This goes against science because Newton told us that everything which has a force has an opposite and equal force. This is dependent upon observations made within the Universe. Your philosophy goes beyond this evidence and makes a conclusion which is independent of the sort of reasoning Newton used. In other words, if you say the Universe has a cause because everything else has a cause, you aren’t making sense. Everything within the Universe has a cause. That’s all science tells us. We can presume a reason for the Universe since it, well, exists, but we cannot use the scientific reasoning used by Newton; he was talking about forces within the Universe.

To play the miracle game

Miracles do conflict with science. But we can still discuss them. Well, most of us.

1. All theologies that accept miracles admit they are exceptional events. That’s what “miracle” means. So if there’s a possible natural explanation of an phenomenon, we go with the natural explanation.
2. If you stand to gain from explaining something away as a miracle, you don’t get to play.
* If you’re from Enron, you don’t get to claim your documents disappeared miraculously. It only happened if the FBI and the SEC said it did.
* If you’re a defendant, you don’t get to claim your fingerprints miraculously appeared at a crime scene. Only the DA is allowed to say that.
* If you’re a bookkeeper, you don’t get to say money miraculously disappeared from your company. If the auditors conclude that’s what happened, all right, but not you.
* If your religion needs to postulate a miracle to keep some doctrine from going south, guess what? You don’t get to do that. Only someone with nothing to gain from claiming a miracle can say that.

‘The Grand Design’

I just got my copy of Stephen Hawking’s “The Grand Design”. I’ve only looked at it briefly, so a full report is not possible at this time. However, I think it’s worth quoting a section he has on miracles.

It is Laplace who is usually credited with first clearly postulating scientific determinism: Given the state of the universe at one time, a complete set of laws fully determines both the future and the past. This would exclude the possibility or miracles or an active role for God. The scientific determinism that Laplace formulated is the modern scientists’s answer to question two (‘Are there any exceptions to the laws, i.e., miracles?’). It is, in fact, the basis of all modern science, and a principle that is important throughout this book. A scientific law is not a scientific law if it holds only when some supernatural being decides not to intervene. (Page 30)

Emphasis mine.

This is a concise account of why the belief in miracles is so anti-science: science tells us ‘These are laws which are true at all points and all times within the observable Universe’ whereas a believer in miracles inherently says, ‘No, no. These aren’t laws at all. They can be made untrue at any point and any time, and in fact some of them have not been valid in certain places and at certain times.’ Of course, the believer doesn’t actually say that. But his belief in miracles means that.

Anti-science stances

One of the indicators that science is the best way of knowing is how everyone clamors to claim their views are in line with its findings. Of course, it can’t be so that anyone’s views are entirely in line with science, even for those who, ya know, actually accept scientific findings. That’s simply because it isn’t possible to be familiar with every ounce of science out there. Anyone who is smart enough to constantly be considering what science has to say on the issues around us will have discovered this time and time again; if you haven’t had to change a preconceived view in light of learning something new within science, then you can hardly be aware that, no, not everything you believe is in line with science.

That said, it is possible to hold a vast majority of one’s views in line with science. Evolutionists do this, as do most atheists. But one group that can’t possibly do this is theists who believe in miracles.

It is a basic fact of physics that for something to be considered a “law”, a consistent, discernible pattern must be exhibited. We call gravity a law, in part, because it is true everywhere and at all times. If it could be suspended at the whims of a supernatural being, it wouldn’t be worth calling a law. All we could say is “Gravity is true. Probably. Maybe. Who knows?” And what more is a miracle than a claim that any given physical law or constant can be altered without regard to what science tells us can happen?

This is one of the dangerous of religion. The belief that science isn’t really describing the Universe because, hey, miracles can contradict all we know, sows unjustified seeds of doubt. But religion encourages such belief. It says it is okay to claim any random thing can happen – and it’s okay that it isn’t possible to describe why. Such an insane fostering of promoted and celebrated ignorance has no scientific backing; belief in miracles is about as anti-science as it gets.