Atheism Darwinism Evolution

Atheism and the Evolution Requirement

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One of the major difficulties I have as someone with one foot planted in the theistic evolution camp is discussing the general concept of evolution or Darwinism.

A large part of the problem is with the simple definition of the words – where one person takes Darwinism to mean “a process totally unguided and unforeseen by God in anyway”, another means “a process of variation and selection, where both variation and selected may be or (with some TEs) in fact were ultimately or proximately guided and foreseen by God”, still another means “a process of variation and selection, where the ultimate causes of variation and selection are not considered because that’s outside of science” to otherwise, etc. Navigating this is a headache, and one that constantly reappears.

But another conceptual problem is this: The claim that atheism and evolution are utterly intertwined. Now, this comes in a few forms. Sometimes the claim is that if evolution is true – let’s say, if it’s true that the first man had biological precursors – then theism must be false. More popular is the claim that theism and evolution can both be true, but theism can also withstand the falsity of evolution. Atheism, on the other hand, has a dire link to evolution: If atheism is true, then evolution must be true.

This latter view seems popular, both in and out of the ID tent. And it’s a view I deeply disagree with. My reasons follow below the cut.

Before I start in on this, I want to stress that there’s a related, more obvious claim that I’m not denying: That evolution, particularly Darwinism, is used to support atheism, and used to attack certain particular religious claims (that humanity and all life was created fully formed is the obvious example.) Likewise, I’m not denying that atheists make appeals to evolution to support their atheism, or that some would even agree that if atheism is true then evolution must be true. I think they’re as wrong as the theists who make this claim.

What I deny is this: That the assumed truth of atheism makes evolution logically necessary. All you need is a single example of a logically possible world where both atheism is true and evolution is false, and the logical necessity disappears. Here’s a sample of some possibilities.

* Humanity and all living things have been reproducing, producing only like kinds, unto eternity.
* The existence of at least humanity and possibly all other life is simply a brute fact: At some point in the finite or infinite past, humanity and/or life showed up without cause or explanation. They just are.
* Humanity and/or other life popped into existence in a Boltzmann Brain style scenario – one day they just appeared, sans precursors, by utter fortuity.
* Humanity and/or other life was directly caused to exist by a combination of laws and states-of-affairs that are/were themselves brute and inexplicable, yet which for no reason made the sudden appearance of these organisms inevitable.

This list could be expanded in numerous ways: Make the laws of nature subject to inexplicable change if you want. Increase the length of the brute fact chain. Fill the natural world with suspiciously convenient, detailed, life- or human-spawning processes that create directly rather than rely on selection and variation. All this and more are logically compatible with the truth of atheism. And it only takes one compatibility to show that no, evolution and atheism aren’t quite linked that way.

Now, as I said previously, this doesn’t mean that atheists don’t regularly present evolution as some kind of testament to the truth of atheism – but that’s deeply problematic. First, insofar as it relies on the claim that evolution must be true on atheism, it’s open to the same counter-examples I just provided. Second, I’d argue that the rhetorical strengths atheists are often granted by evolution typically derive most of their strength from their opposition to very narrow, particular religious claims – if a theist adheres to an account of origins such that organisms were made whole and without precursors, then an evolutionary account of such organisms is a challenge. But if a theist believes that God could have or did use evolutionary processes in creation, the bulk of the force of the evolutionary argument – in and of itself – dissipates. Insofar as this is true, evolution doesn’t function as an evidence for atheism as much as evidence against some particular claim of one religious view – but theism itself, and religion broadly, does not require the falsity of evolution anyway.

But one problem I have with this misunderstanding is this: It gives credit where credit simply isn’t due.

68 Replies to “Atheism and the Evolution Requirement

  1. 1
    Neil Rickert says:

    But another conceptual problem is this: The claim that atheism and evolution are utterly intertwined.

    I don’t see that claim in ordinary life. My friends and colleagues seem to keep their views on religion separate from their views on evolution. As far as I know, Fred Hoyle was an atheist and he certainly criticized Darwinism.

    There is one place, however, where I do see that intertwining. It is an evolution/creation Internet debate forum. And it is the creationists who repeatedly assert that atheism and evolution are entwined.

  2. 2
    nullasalus says:

    And it is the creationists who repeatedly assert that atheism and evolution are entwined.

    I’ve seen it happen from both angles. My criticism is leveled at both.

  3. 3
    junkdnaforlife says:

    the glory days of atheism are long gone. gone are the days of the eternal universe and the jello cell glob. now time has a beginning and the cell is digital code. All they have left is neo-darwinsim. what is left of the glory days when atheism was the cool high school quarterback is the residual media mess. Instead, atheism is now the shirtless fan watching the game in the stands covered in paint making a lot of noise.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    This is why I try to always put ‘neo’ in front of Darwinism, so as to be very careful to distinguish that it is the atheistic form of Darwinism I’m looking at,, i.e. Myers, Dawkins, Harris, etc.. etc.. etc..,,, But of course, on the other hand, I guess I can see why atheists may find many of my ID arguments to be overtly Theistic in character,,,,

    (God makes) All Things New – Steven Curtis Chapman – music video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_Q3NrB_eHM

    ,,, though ID itself is not based on a Theistic Inference.

  5. 5
    nullasalus says:

    BA77,

    This is why I try to always put ‘neo’ in front of Darwinism, so as to be very careful to distinguish that it is the atheistic form of Darwinism I’m looking at,,

    I’m glad you try to distinguish. I think one point of confusion there could be that ‘neo-Darwinism’ is, if I recall, typically used to single out the modern synthesis / Mendel-inclusive version of ‘Darwinism’.

    But as I said, every conversation seems to require a new explanation of terms.

  6. 6
    Ilion says:

    nullasalus,
    You haven’t solved the “problem” you set yourself — all you’ve done is demonstrate that it’s not logically solvable in a manner you will accept.

    Or, to put it another way, you’re demonstrated the truth of that to which you wich to object and reject.

    Atheism, on the other hand, has a dire link to evolution: If atheism is true, then evolution Darwinism must be true.

    This is the only “rational” thing to say about biological reality in a contingent world. Of course, Darwinism is profoundly irrational — as are most of the silly “possible worlds” you posited (and so one muct use the quote marks around “rational”).

  7. 7
    mike1962 says:

    “Navigating this is a headache, and one that constantly reappears.”

    I’ll add my view: information was put into the system at the start, and at various points in history for the “large” things, like body plans, and random variation and environment selection were utilized to fill the niches.

  8. 8
    nullasalus says:

    Ilion,

    You haven’t solved the “problem” you set yourself — all you’ve done is demonstrate that it’s not logically solvable in a manner you will accept.

    I’m not sure what you’re saying here. I pointed out the claim that atheism logically requires the truth of evolution, fails.

    Of course, Darwinism is profoundly irrational — as are most of the silly “possible worlds” you posited (and so one muct use the quote marks around “rational”).

    I didn’t say the other worlds were ‘rational’, much less that atheism itself is rational – I’m after a far more modest claim than that.

  9. 9
    Graham says:

    one foot planted in the theistic evolution camp

    I think your problem is right there.
    Evolution has nothing to do with Atheism, other than the fact that rational thinkers tend to discard superstition and accept material explanations as a single process.

    If you think there is a god, and he guided evolution along, well, good luck.

  10. 10
    burrito67 says:

    If we really want to promote ID as a scientific directive and disassociate it from Creationism we have to remain objective and refrain from irritating the Atheist population. (The pictures of Pat Robertson and Sarah Pallin aren’t helping the cause.) Is the designer God, Vishnu and Kalli or perhaps beings from the Pleiadian star system?

    The concept of reverse engineering nature is highly beneficial for promoting scientific discovery. But a lot of folks are making it a hard sell to the educational sector. The kids that will become the next generation of scientist need to be better informed about the remarkable advances in molecular biology wherein the medical sector can do a whole hell of a lot better in fixing the sick and disabled.

    I’m also concerned with some of the links promoting corporate deregulation. The pharmaceutical industry seems to be more concerned with fiscal responsibility by keeping the sick, sick and medicated.

    Shouldn’t the real objective be about curing desease?

  11. 11

    As Philip Johnson has so ably demonstrated, defining the terms is a huge part of the battle. The word “evolution” has numerous meanings and is used (both in the literature and popularly) to describe a whole range of ideas, from the obvious and well-supported at one end of the spectrum to the outrageous and wildly-speculative at the other end.

    Any kind of rational debate necessarily starts with defining terms and ascertaining what is being debated. Unfortunately, this takes time and effort and many folks prefer to scream their pet theories loudly before establishing a rational basis for discussion. The internet (quick comments, other people jumping in at various points, off-topic tangents, stale threads, etc.) makes it all the more difficult, so we have to sift through a lot of stuff for gems. Still, though, lots of good stuff out there for the patient!

  12. 12
    Barry Arrington says:

    nullasalus, you are correct. As a matter of pure logic, atheism does not necessarily entail materialist evolution. Unfortunately, you are correct in only a trivial way. Let me explain.

    Yes, as a matter of strict logic, all of our perceptions could be the product of a Boltzmann Brain, or we could be in the Matrix or in the grip of a Cartesian demon. All of these concepts are closely related and are perhaps epitomized by Bishop Berkeley’s idealism. Berkeley argued that we cannot really “know” an object outside of our mind and that the only reality we can really experience is our perception of things, not the things themselves. Boswell records Dr. Johnson’s response to Berkeley:

    “After we came out of the church, we stood and spoke some time together of Bishop Berkeley’ sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it – ‘I refute it thus.’”

    Johnson’s point was NOT that he had disproved Berkeley as a strictly logical matter. Boswell was quite correct; this is impossible. Johnson’s point is that FIRST PRINCIPLES cannot be demonstrated. They must be assumed. In philosophy-speak we accept first principles a priori. And one of the first principles we all accept is that things exist independently of our perception of them, even though we cannot demonstrate this principle as a matter of pure logic.

    Turning to your examples, none of them bears up in any system of reasonable first principles. Berkeley’s idealism is possible as a matter of pure logic, but we are all, like Dr. Johnson, stone kickers. In the same way, none of your scenarios is, strictly speaking, logically impossible, but none of them bears up in any reasonable system of first principles.

    Where does this lead us with respect to the question you set out to examine (i.e., does atheism logically entail materialist evolution?) It means that under any reasonable set of first principles, as a matter of all but irrefutable practical reason, atheism does in fact entail materialist evolution.

  13. 13
    nullasalus says:

    Barry,

    Yes, as a matter of strict logic, all of our perceptions could be the product of a Boltzmann Brain, or we could be in the Matrix or in the grip of a Cartesian demon.

    But a Boltzmann Brain is just one of the possibilities. I didn’t bring up matrixes or cartesians demons at all, interesting as they’d be to put in the running.

    Now, I did appeal to various brute, inexplicable facts (inexplicable not in that we lack the explanation for them, but that there is no explanation.) But these are pretty common in atheist views now, to say nothing of the past. Granted, these brute, inexplicable facts are usually deployed elsewhere nowadays (at the big bang, at the sheer existence of the universe, at the regularity of nature, etc) – but brute facts they are.

    More on this below.

    Turning to your examples, none of them bears up in any system of reasonable first principles.

    Are any first principles that make allowances for brute facts and things that are utterly inexplicable ‘reasonable’? Is it somehow more reasonable to say the universe began to exist without cause, or exists inexplicably, as opposed to eternally existing species, brutely existing creatures, inexplicably convenient laws + initial states, etc?

    Please keep in mind I ask these questions in an age where multiverse speculations – even infinite multiverse speculations – are fairly popular. Including infinite multiverses where in a single universe examples far more outlandish than I gave would be actual. (As I said, I tried to keep my possibilities relatively tame, but we’re talking ‘tame’ in a scenario where brute facts are accepted.) To say nothing of other, equally outlandish views, usually quantum-inspired.

    In other words, you say that none of my examples follow from a reasonable set of first principles. My reply is that people have shown themselves very comfortable with accepting unreasonable first principles, if they even bother with them at all – and I’d question the suggestion that atheist first principles are all that reasonable, even ones which allow for evolution.

    Really, I can even imagine a hypothetical reply: “Who says reality has to be reasonable?” That assumption alone at least gestures in the direction of theism, when considering the universe and nature.

  14. 14
    burrito67 says:

    The initiatives for ID are so moderate and rational and researchers are actually pushing through more indepth discoveries while being applied with objectivity.

    Concluding that something evolved randomly can be just as scientifically unmotivated as giving God full credit for our existence. Atheism and Creationism are just two extreme polar opposites. The definition of ID is that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process” which I think is big motivator to keep on doing research, but instead it is motivating people to keep arguing.

    The moderate proponents of ID don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water in terms of evolution. They want to keep scientific research alive. The universe can appear messy and out of balance, but we cannot conclude that there is no method to the madness.

    The real big problem is that academia can be stubborn whenever a new discovery conflicts with an existing paradigm.

    I could have sworn that mainstream society was excited with the paradigm shift that we are now dealing with a multidimensional reality back in the “90s. What the hell happened?

  15. 15
    myname says:

    What is curious about this post is that it seems to run against the ID intelligentsia’s strong interest to influence how evolution is taught in high school biology classrooms. If what nullasalus says was widely accepted why would anyone bother?

  16. 16
    nullasalus says:

    myname,

    What is curious about this post is that it seems to run against the ID intelligentsia’s strong interest to influence how evolution is taught in high school biology classrooms. If what nullasalus says was widely accepted why would anyone bother?

    Why would anything I’m saying impact the argument to teach ID in schools, or even change how evolution is taught? If someone believes that design can be and has been inferred via scientific means, that seems to be all that’s necessary to start mounting the relevant ID argument.

    Maybe you mean teaching the current failings and problems of Darwinism, but again, I don’t see where what I’ve said impacts that – any supposed failings and problems of and for Darwinism would be so in a scientific sense. I’m talking about philosophy and metaphysics here, by anyone’s measure.

  17. 17
    burrito67 says:

    The reason I’m here yammerin’ away is because I’m not a scientist. I’m an artist with a background in marketing strategies and advertising. It really bothers me that ID has become wrongfully synonymous with Creationism. Sheldon’s mother made reference to it on “the Big Bang Theory” It’s all over youTube and the Kitzmiller v Dover descision which are all killing ID as having any real scientific merit in the eyes of popular culture.

    I just want to be constructive but I don’t think this website is doing a good job of promoting ID either. Aside from web 2.0 being so hostile at times, are you guys really in the business to win anybody over? Okay so maybe Darwinian theorists and atheists can sometime put a bug up your butt, however when your popularity is this bad and misunderstood, you’re not in any position to try and marginalize these people.

    This is a really exciting time for scientific discovery. I just wish I knew who to talk to about launching a media campaign to gather more support for ID. I don’t have any money, so I’m not volunteering.

  18. 18
    Joseph says:

    Hey Neil Rickert-

    As if it had to be said-

    In other words, religion is compatible with modern evolutionary biology (and indeed all of modern science) if the religion is effectively indistinguishable from atheism.1

    The frequently made assertion that modern biology and the assumptions of the Judaeo-Christian tradition are fully compatible is false.2

    Evolution is the greatest engine of atheism ever invented.

    Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.3

    As the creationists claim, belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people. One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism.4

    click here for a hint:

    ‘Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear … There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.’ 5

    Thank you for your honesty Will Provine.

    1- Academe January 1987 pp.51-52 †

    2-Evolutionary Progress (1988) p. 65 †

    3- “Evolution: Free will and punishment and meaning in life” 1998 Darwin Day Keynote Address 1 2 †

    4- No Free Will (1999) p.123

    5- Provine, W.B., Origins Research 16(1), p.9, 1994.

  19. 19
    Joseph says:

    What that means is that teaching the theory of evolution in US public school classrooms violates the establishment clause in the US constitution.

  20. 20
    allanius says:

    This must be a very clever post, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why.

  21. 21
    kairosfocus says:

    Null:

    Do you see why I stress the descriptive term, [Lewontin-Sagan style] evolutionary materialism?

    As in:

    To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists, it is self-evident that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality, and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test . . . .

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

    [From: “Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997.]

    Such and their fellow travellers are advancing the indefensible. And, they richly merit the riposte of Johnson:

    For scientific materialists the materialism comes first; the science comes thereafter. [[Emphasis original] We might more accurately term them “materialists employing science.” And if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence. That theory will necessarily be at least roughly like neo-Darwinism, in that it will have to involve some combination of random changes and law-like processes capable of producing complicated organisms that (in Dawkins’ words) “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”

    . . . . The debate about creation and evolution is not deadlocked . . . Biblical literalism is not the issue. The issue is whether materialism and rationality are the same thing. Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses. [[Emphasis added.] [[The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism, First Things, 77 (Nov. 1997), pp. 22 – 25.]

    And that is before we get to the issue that there is serious reason to doubt that chance variation and trial and error based culling can account for the origin of life or of body plans. Which is where the rationale for the design inference bites deepest.

    GEM of TKI

  22. 22
    Barry Arrington says:

    In [13] Nat writes: “In other words, you say that none of my examples follow from a reasonable set of first principles. My reply is that people have shown themselves very comfortable with accepting unreasonable first principles, if they even bother with them at all – and I’d question the suggestion that atheist first principles are all that reasonable, even ones which allow for evolution.”

    Well, I can’t disagree with you there. All thinking people must, sooner or later, address the Leibnitzean question: “Why is there something rather than nothing”? You are right. Atheists go through some pretty fantastic intellectual contortions when addressing this question. The atheist consensus seems to be “pretty much any outlandish nonsense will do for an answer so long as the answer isn’t ‘God'” But, as I said before, this is only trivially true when addressing your original question.

  23. 23
    Charles says:

    nullasalus:

    Are any first principles that make allowances for brute facts and things that are utterly inexplicable ‘reasonable’? Is it somehow more reasonable to say the universe began to exist without cause, or exists inexplicably, as opposed to eternally existing species, brutely existing creatures, inexplicably convenient laws + initial states, etc?

    More to Barry’s point (I suspect), is that the first principles of atheism and of “macro evolution” (excluding speciation or micro evolution) conflict with the first principles of theism and hence of theistic evolution.

    I assume we define “Theist” to exclude Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc. since Theistic Evolution has a largely Christian Catholic following, yes?, and therefore Theistic (macro)Evolution seems an oxymoron.

    Keep in mind Jesus himself was a literal creationist. A first principle of anyone who professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour is that Jesus spoke truth, whereas a first principle of atheism and/or macro evolution is the human life form evolved (or descended) from lower-order lifeforms.

    How does any Theist reconcile evolution with Jesus claim:

    Mar 10:6 NASB “But from the beginning of creation, God MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE.

    without doing violence to the first principles of either Theism or of Evolution?

    Unless you can show how Theistic first principles can reconcile with macro evolution first principles, then macro evolution’s first principles remain in the atheist camp. While Theistic Evolutionists often claim to reconcile their faith with evolution, in point of fact their statements of faith are often at odds with the very scripture from which they ostensibly inform their faith. A credible reconciliation will demonstrate conformity with both scripture and with evolutionary theory.

  24. 24
    nullasalus says:

    Some quick replies.

    Charles,

    I assume we define “Theist” to exclude Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc. since Theistic Evolution has a largely Christian Catholic following, yes?, and therefore Theistic (macro)Evolution seems an oxymoron.

    Actually, no. I’m defining ‘theism’ here broadly, not restraining it to any particular religion. I’d disagree about your views regarding even specifically Christian TE, but an atheist does not merely reject Christianity, but any God/god(s). Questions of Christianity in particular just aren’t on my radar in this thread.

    Joseph,

    Provine’s comments require a lot more than evolution – they require evolution fitted with atheistic presumptions grafted on. Now, if evolution is defined as ‘a process no God either foresaw nor guides in any way’, a decent amount of what he says would follow. But then, it’s the (philosophical, extra-scientific) stipulations he’s adding that are doing the work, not evolution itself.

    burrito67,

    I agree that ID has a big PR problem. I’m interested in it since I think, at the end of the day, ID is handled in a very unfair and biased manner, that various ID concerns are legitimate, and because I think it’s an important part of the variety of answers to the greater design question (which itself goes beyond ID).

    But either way, the PR problem isn’t something I’m concerned with here. I’d be saying this even if ID’s PR was stellar.

  25. 25
    Charles says:

    nullasalus:

    I’m defining ‘theism’ here broadly, not restraining it to any particular religion. … an atheist does not merely reject Christianity, but any God/god(s). Questions of Christianity in particular just aren’t on my radar in this thread.

    Ok, but what other religions (broadly) have tenets that intersect evolution’s tenets? What non-Christian Theistic claims regarding creation of life and humans do religions (broadly) make? I’m not aware of any serious claims (from religion broadly, that aren’t rooted more narrowly in Judeo-Christianity) that require a defense of theistic evolution against atheistic evolution. Is it not true that only Judeo-Christianity strongly asserts specific Theistic claims that oppose evolution?

    I’d disagree about your views regarding even specifically Christian TE

    To be specific, do you disagree that Christian Theistic Evolutionists ostensibly profess Jesus as Lord and Savior and inform their faith from scripture? Do you disagree with Mar 10:6 or interpret it to mean other than literal creation by God?

  26. 26
    nullasalus says:

    Charles,

    Ok, but what other religions (broadly) have tenets that intersect evolution’s tenets?

    If by this you mean ‘What other religions hold it as dogma that evolution is true’, I’d say that’s the wrong question to ask. Better would be wondering what other theistic religions and beliefs are compatible with God creating, using evolution as a tool. Quite a lot, I’d say. And certainly theism itself, which I focused on, is compatible with evolution fully.

    Either way, I’m not interested in arguing scripture here. Some other time I may devote a thread to it – right now, I’m happy to stick to the OP.

  27. 27
    Charles says:

    nullasalus:

    If by this you mean ‘What other religions hold it as dogma that evolution is true’, I’d say that’s the wrong question to ask. Better would be wondering what other theistic religions and beliefs are compatible with God creating, using evolution as a tool.

    Neither.

    I’m simply asking what religions specifically (beyond Judeo-Christianity) make what specific assertions about what their diety/theos created or evolved, regardless of whether such assertions are compatibile with current prevailing evolutionary theory. I’m interested firstly in what religions you include more broadly in “Theism” and your criteria for their inclusion.

  28. 28
    Mung says:

    Keep in mind Jesus himself was a literal creationist.

    Yeah. In the science classes that Jesus took religion wasn’t prohibited. So why can’t we teach ID in science classese today?

  29. 29
    nullasalus says:

    Charles,

    I’m simply asking what religions specifically (beyond Judeo-Christianity) make what specific assertions about what their diety/theos created or evolved, regardless of whether such assertions are compatibile with current prevailing evolutionary theory.

    Theism itself is not a religion per se – it’s a belief in God or gods. You’ve already given a few theistic religions (Buddhism is a trickier case), but any religion that asserts the existence of a God or gods would be theistic.

    I’ve also left aside more delicate atheist claims out of my list of examples. For instance, Nick Bostrom and John Gribbin toy with views that we live in a simulated universe or in a created non-simulated universe, respectively. Both seem to suggest such a view is compatible with atheism, certainly Darwinism. I’d question both claims, but I put those aside to keep things simple.

  30. 30
    Charles says:

    nullasalus:
    but any religion that asserts the existence of a God or gods would be theistic.

    That is a tautology, and while tautologies can be true, they are useless in proving anything.

    While theism is a generic term encompassing all deistic religions, in practice there are no generic theists who actually adhere to all deistic religions except maybe agnostics, and hence practicing generic theistic evolutionists would be essentially agnostic evolutionists. There is little difference between an all-inclusive amorphous theology and agnosticism, which is only one step removed from atheism.

    I don’t see validity in arguing the inherent compatibility of evolution with theism when the definition of “theism” is so broadly amorphous that it has no broad adherents but only opponents broadly adverse to any/all dieties. I.e., unsurprisingly, there are no genuine theists who affirm any and all theologies broadly (except agnostics), while there are many genuine atheists who reject any and all theologies broadly.

    It would seem that whatever conclusions you assert for such a broad theistic evolution will not generally translate to most actual (narrower) theologies. I.e. specific theologies will reject one or more points of theistic (macro)evolution, while atheism (or agnosticism) will embrace them all.

    So I don’t see how you’ll prove your point, but I’ll quietly observe henceforth. Thank you for your clarification.

  31. 31
    Charles says:

    Correction:

    while atheism (or agnosticism) will embrace them all.

    Well, all except a diety having any initial or occasional involvement, however indirectly.

  32. 32
    nullasalus says:

    Charles,

    That is a tautology, and while tautologies can be true, they are useless in proving anything.

    If you think I’m trying to ‘prove’ that any religion which believes in a God or gods is theistic, I’ve gotta ask what you’re drinking.

    While theism is a generic term encompassing all deistic religions, in practice there are no generic theists who actually adhere to all deistic religions except maybe agnostics, and hence practicing generic theistic evolutionists would be essentially agnostic evolutionists.

    Theism is a minimal commitment to a belief in a God or gods. Now, particular religions or religious beliefs can include or reject various evolutionary claims, and those would be argued and investigated on a case by case basis. This just isn’t the thread for that.

    Further, you’re incorrect to regard a generic theist as being ‘essentially’ agnostic evolutionists. Most apologists of those specific religions would also disagree, since getting someone to ‘generic’ theism is something a lot of effort is devoted to, historically and in this age. Not to mention how bizarre it is to say ‘atheism will embrace all the points of theistic evolution’. Biologos is a downright meek TE outfit, and they still manage to enrage atheists now and then. (Then again, what doesn’t enrage the cult of gnu.)

    It would seem that whatever conclusions you assert for such a broad theistic evolution will not generally translate to most actual (narrower) theologies. I.e. specific theologies will reject one or more points of theistic (macro)evolution,

    Yes, except for those religions that accept (macro)evolution, religions will reject (macro)evolution. Tautologies indeed.

    It also depends on what’s being asserted about evolution. If the claim is that God has no role in the process – not ultimately, not proximately – then that’s going to conflict with far more religions. The problem would be that such a claim would go right beyond science and into philosophy and theology. But if you add on those riders, then something akin to creationism is unacceptable too.

    Most of all, my point with this post wasn’t to argue for theistic evolution. It was to point out that evolution is not necessitated by atheism. Atheism in and of itself is a broad position, compatible with all manner of universes, even (perhaps particularly) irrational ones.

    Edit: Well, all except a diety having any initial or occasional involvement, however indirectly.

    Well… yeah. Kind of a big deal, that.

  33. 33
    uoflcard says:

    null,

    I agree with you, although it is my opinion that most atheists, if convinced that life as we know it on this Earth could not have evolved in the few billion years it’s been here, would either undergo a dramatic transformation in their worldview or would have to resort to fantastical natural creation tales to preserve their atheism. Evolution is not completely necessitated by atheism, but atheism sure doesn’t make a lot of sense without it.

    More generally, though, atheism DOES necessitate a non-ID explanation of all information in all of the universe/multiverse. Life is too complex to be explained by the probabiblistic resources of this planet/unvierse? If atheism is to remain a viable worldview, it must then resort to even greater probabilistic resources to explain our current exception…like 10^500 universes or infinite/eternal universes.

    There might be no essential change from standard evolutionary theory to a massive/infinite multiverse resulting in the probable construction of a wildly fortunate universe that results in Earth and humans and peanut butter and prayer and Metallica, but at least in common, present-day rationality, the collapse of a standard, all-encompassing, naturalistic evolutionary theory would most likely devastate the intellectual viability of atheism as most know it.

  34. 34
    Charles says:

    nullasalus:

    If you think I’m trying to ‘prove’ that any religion which believes in a God or gods is theistic, I’ve gotta ask what you’re drinking.

    You haven’t proven it, no, rather you have presumed it as your starting definition. Your exact words again were:

    but any religion that asserts the existence of a God or gods would be theistic.

    Unless of course you’re going to quibble that “asserts the existence of” doesn’t mean “believes in”.

    Yes, except for those religions that accept (macro)evolution, religions will reject (macro)evolution. Tautologies indeed.
    That would be your tautology again, as I didn’t make the above claim.

    When I asked you what non-Judeo-Christian religions made what claims of creation or evolution by their deities, you declined to answer. You made the broad tautological definition that “any religion that asserts the existence of a God or gods would be theistic”. You declined to specify what the claims are, so you are in no position to accuse me of not understanding your intent (I did ask, you declined) or to presume “religions that accept (macro)evolution” until you demonstrate which religions so accept.

    As for “religions will reject (macro)evolution” my exact words were:

    specific theologies will reject one or more points of theistic (macro)evolution

    I didn’t say religion (unqualified) nor did I say reject (macro)evolution (unqualified), did I. That was your gloss.

    Further, you’re incorrect to regard a generic theist as being ‘essentially’ agnostic evolutionists.

    By your definition a theist is “someone who believes in any God or gods” whereas an actual theist “believes in a particular God or gods” and if the term “theist” herein is to encompass all people who believe in any God or gods as oppposed to a particular God or gods, the only “theists” who are so imprecise and amorphous as to believe in any God or gods are those who don’t know for sure what they believe or if the God or gods in which they believe actually exist, and such people are agnostic – they are unsure.

    While there are theists who believe in a particular God or gods, again when asked for specifics in your definition you declined to specify which God or gods you included and said instead broadly any (i.e. all encompassing) God or gods without qualification. My point was that as you’re not being specific but rather all encompassing in your definition, the only people who in practice believe in any God or gods without specificity, are essentially agnostic because of their uncertainty about the God or gods in which they believe.

    My quarrel is with using “theism” both to imply theologies which may be indifferent to and therefor compatible with evolution’s tenets and to imply theologies which have tenets incompatible with evolution, but declining in this discussion to be specific. I find the level of generality to be as useless as the tautologies. Accordingly, agnostics have a general “theism” which fits both implications because of their uncertainty about the specifics of their beliefs.

    If the claim is that God has no role in the process – not ultimately, not proximately – then that’s going to conflict with far more religions.

    Until you are specific about what religions and God (or gods) role in the process, I’m in no position to disagree, nor to agree.

    Most of all, my point with this post wasn’t to argue for theistic evolution. It was to point out that evolution is not necessitated by atheism.

    I don’t see how you make the following statements:

    Second, I’d argue that the rhetorical strengths atheists are often granted by evolution typically derive most of their strength from their opposition to very narrow, particular religious claims – if a theist adheres to an account of origins such that organisms were made whole and without precursors, then an evolutionary account of such organisms is a challenge. But if a theist believes that God could have or did use evolutionary processes in creation, the bulk of the force of the evolutionary argument – in and of itself – dissipates. Insofar as this is true, evolution doesn’t function as an evidence for atheism as much as evidence against some particular claim of one religious view – but theism itself, and religion broadly, does not require the falsity of evolution anyway.

    and then decline being specific about which religions and how their tenets intersect or not with evolution’s tenets.

  35. 35
    nullasalus says:

    Charles,

    You haven’t proven it, no, rather you have presumed it as your starting definition.

    Why is this controversial to you? You seem to be upset because my views on the compatibility of theism with evolution is a broad compatibility. But I’m admitting that at the outset.

    I think your sights are poorly fixed here.

    You declined to specify what the claims are, so you are in no position to accuse me of not understanding your intent (I did ask, you declined) or to presume “religions that accept (macro)evolution” until you demonstrate which religions so accept.

    No, not really. I understand you really, really want to talk about something, and I’m making a different point. If that upsets you, oh well. We’ll all live.

    My point was that as you’re not being specific but rather all encompassing in your definition, the only people who in practice believe in any God or gods without specificity, are essentially agnostic because of their uncertainty about the God or gods in which they believe.

    I dispute your association of even broad theists and deists with agnostic (“Essentially”? If they were “essentially agnostic”, their attitude towards God would be agnostic, not theist), and my lack of specificity is a feature, not a bug. I’ve already said that particular cases of religion being compatible with evolution would need to be argued on their particular grounds, and that it’s of no interest here.

    Are you one of those people who gets all upset at the Kalam cosmological argument because “Even if it’s true it doesn’t prove Christianity! You shouldn’t use arguments like that!”?

    I don’t see how you make the following statements:

    Easily. It’s called “sticking to the topic”. I’m talking about theism, you want to talk about specific religions. The two are not the same thing.

    Really Charles, I get it: You want to talk about Christian Theistic Evolutionists, or other particular religions. It’s important to you. Fantastic – maybe another time.

    If your response is to cross your arms over your chest and say “Well, then what you’re saying is very broad and I’ll just have to be agnostic about whether Christianity or Islam is compatible with evolution!”, my response is, “Great, glad we could settle that. Have a nice day.”

  36. 36
    nullasalus says:

    uoflcard,

    I agree with you, although it is my opinion that most atheists, if convinced that life as we know it on this Earth could not have evolved in the few billion years it’s been here, would either undergo a dramatic transformation in their worldview or would have to resort to fantastical natural creation tales to preserve their atheism.

    Sure, but what I’ve outlined are “fantastical natural creation tales” anyway. And I’d agree that if evolution were proven false to someone who believed it, that would result in a dramatic change of their worldview. But I think that’s a distinct question from atheism itself.

    Evolution is not completely necessitated by atheism, but atheism sure doesn’t make a lot of sense without it.

    I’d argue that atheism doesn’t make a lot of sense with it – see again the issues with brute facts or the inexplicable, or on the lack of a need for anything to ‘make sense’ given atheism.

    Now, I would not doubt that modern atheism has a lot of emotional and political investment in evolution – I granted that right in the OP. But I also think that’s an artifact of time and place, rather than a necessary requirement of atheism.

    Think of it this way. Prior to the Big Bang, you probably could have told me that atheism was fundamentally committed to a past-eternal universe – that atheism would make no sense, be highly untenable, if it were believed that the universe had a temporal beginning. Well, now that view is popular and – lo and behold – atheists have acclimated. Likewise, when Crick was convinced that an Origin of Life on earth was just not likely, he didn’t consider theism for a moment – he dove for directed panspermia.

    Atheism is flexible.

    More generally, though, atheism DOES necessitate a non-ID explanation of all information in all of the universe/multiverse. Life is too complex to be explained by the probabiblistic resources of this planet/unvierse? If atheism is to remain a viable worldview, it must then resort to even greater probabilistic resources to explain our current exception…like 10^500 universes or infinite/eternal universes.

    Or they can discount talk of probabilities altogether – brute facts, the inexplicable, etc. Again, things many atheists are entirely comfortable with doing even now, in different areas.

    I want to stress: I do not deny that the collapse of evolution as a tenable view would have quite an effect on many atheists in a personal sense. But I think that has far less to do with atheism itself, and more to do with one of a multitude of logically possible atheist creation stories. Really, even logically possible may be restricting it too much – I’ve bumped into atheists denying that the universe has to be logical, or that we should presume it to be so.

  37. 37
    Charles says:

    nullasalus:

    I’m talking about theism, you want to talk about specific religions. The two are not the same thing.

    Sincerely, your definition of theism being any religion that asserts the existence of a God or gods, makes them the same thing. That is the problem with tautologies.

    I didn’t understand the substance of your claims. Nor more, no less. I’m willing to be confused.

    It’s ok that you never intended to delve into the points on which I am confused, but your reaction to being pressed I find surprising. Especially in light of my erroneously presuming I understood what you meant by “theistic evolution” and upon your correction I was unedified by how broadly you applied the term in the context of your concluding claim that “theism itself, and religion broadly, does not require the falsity of evolution anyway”. It seemed minimally a conflation of first principles. Your mistating my arguments/questions didn’t clarify any and so I pressed on.

    I apologize for having asked and even pressed unduly. It won’t happen again.

  38. 38
    nullasalus says:

    Charles,

    Sincerely, your definition of theism being any religion that asserts the existence of a God or gods, makes them the same thing. That is the problem with tautologies.

    That’s not how I defined theism – in fact, I specifically said that theism was not itself entwined with ‘religion’: Theism itself is not a religion per se – it’s a belief in God or gods. You’ve already given a few theistic religions (Buddhism is a trickier case), but any religion that asserts the existence of a God or gods would be theistic.

  39. 39
    bevets says:

    The Darwinian revolution was not merely the replacement of one scientific theory by another, as had been the scientific revolutions in the physical sciences, but rather the replacement of a world view, in which the supernatural was accepted as a normal and relevant explanatory principle, by a new world view in which there was no room for supernatural forces. ~ Ernst Mayr

    I have a certain niggling sympathy for the creationists, because I think, in a way, the writing is on the wall for the religious view that says it’s fully compatible with evolution. I think there’s a kind of incompatibility, which the creationists see clearly. ~ Richard Dawkins

  40. 40
    nullasalus says:

    bevets,

    I’d agree with Mayr. In fact, put that way, I think the lesson is important: The problem isn’t the scientific theory as a scientific theory. The problem is what’s plastered onto it above and beyond science – the philosophy, the metaphysics.

    As for Dawkins, sorry – I have no respect for the man’s opinion. And I think the fact that he and other atheists have bristled heavily at Biologos, not exactly the most aggressive TE outfit, is instructive. TE is downright threatening to atheists, unless that TE is so watered down as to be something akin to Ruse’s nonsense.

    I wouldn’t trust Dawkins to give me straight talk on young earth creationism either.

  41. 41
    Mung says:

    In the science classes that Jesus took religion wasn’t prohibited. So why can’t we teach ID in science classes today?

    We can, as soon as the mustard seed becomes the smallest seed of all seeds.

  42. 42
    nullasalus says:

    Just to clarify one thing here.

    While I do have TE leanings, the purpose of this post isn’t to defend TE. It’s to critique what I think is a view that’s gives far too much to atheism from the outset, more than is warranted. I would think someone could reject TE entirely, yet at the same time appreciate the point I’m making here.

    (At the same time, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me either. But hopefully where I’m coming from at least can be seen.)

  43. 43
    mike1962 says:

    Charles: Sincerely, your definition of theism being any religion that asserts the existence of a God or gods, makes them the same thing.

    It sure makes them same thing with regards to their belief in God. Duh.

    That is the problem with tautologies.

    *All* definitions of words are tautologies. But you’re missing the point. Null was defining and delimiting his usage of the term. If someone didn’t know what the term “theism” meant, how else would you define it if not “the belief in god or God”?

    Shut up Charles. You’re wasting peoples’ time.

  44. 44
    nullasalus says:

    One last comment before I take care of business today.

    mike1962,

    Yes, that’s pretty much what I was going for, so thanks for stating you can see what I was saying here.

    Still, I’d request no telling people to shut up, etc. I got snippy with Charles, he got snippy with me, but let’s try to keep things polite here. (And that goes for myself as well, I ain’t perfect.)

  45. 45
    mike1962 says:

    OK, Charles, I’m sorry for telling you to shut up 🙂

  46. 46
    Charles says:

    mike1962:

    Null was defining and delimiting his usage of the term. If someone didn’t know what the term “theism” meant, how else would you define it if not “the belief in god or God”?

    A very reasonable assumption, and nearly the one I made initially, though in the context of “theistic evolution” and the usual UD threads, I assumed the Judeo-Christian God and theism. But I was wrong.

    Outside of Judeo-Christianity, I was not (and still am not) aware of any “religion” or any “theism” that holds tenets which intersect with evolution’s tenets, pro or con. And so I had erroneously presumed Judeo-Christian theism in the context of “theistic evolution”.

    I wrote:

    I assume we define “Theist” to exclude Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc. since Theistic Evolution has a largely Christian Catholic following, yes?,

    But having been corrected that a broader definition was intended, I then asked:

    Ok, but what other religions (broadly) have tenets that intersect evolution’s tenets?

    and not getting a direct answer I restated my question as:

    I’m simply asking what religions specifically (beyond Judeo-Christianity) make what specific assertions about what their diety/theos created or evolved, regardless of whether such assertions are compatibile with current prevailing evolutionary theory. I’m interested firstly in what religions you include more broadly in “Theism” and your criteria for their inclusion.

    To which the answer was:

    Theism itself is not a religion per se – it’s a belief in God or gods. You’ve already given a few theistic religions (Buddhism is a trickier case), but any religion that asserts the existence of a God or gods would be theistic.

    So instead of being told what specific religions had tenets that intersected evolution’s in some fashion, the definition given was “any religion that asserts the existence of a God or gods would be theistic”.

    Given then theism defined as simply “belief in God or gods”, then a definition that “any religion that asserts the existence of a God or gods would be [of God or gods]” is a tautology and certainly of little help in clarifying what religions or theisms held tenets related (pro or con) to evolution, as I repeatedly asked. To bandy about terminology meaning merely “[of any God or gods] evolution” seems rather hollow.

    So by the broad context of theism, e.g. Zeus being a god or Mammon being a god, etc., Zeusistic or Mammonistic evolution makes little sense, doesn’t it. I further submit if you run thru the pantheon of gods, there is only one context in which “Theistic evolution” makes any sense worth discussing. Yet I’m told only the broader context applies (somehow) in this discussion. So I stand corrected.

    You’re wasting peoples’ time.

    Yes. Twould seem so.

  47. 47
    nullasalus says:

    Charles,

    It’s as simple as this: I’m not interested in discussing the particulars of any religion here. Is evolution compatible with Islam? Hinduism? Deism? Christianity? Judaism? Some other unmentioned theistic religion? Good questions – for another thread, where people can make their case for whichever side of the equation. What I touched on regarding non-atheism in this thread, I limited to mere theism intentionally.

    “But that’s so broad!” you may cry.

    “Deal with it,” I reply.

  48. 48
    Clive Hayden says:

    mike1962,

    yes, let’s not tell folks to shut up, or you will be shut up in moderation.

  49. 49
    Clive Hayden says:

    Mung,

    We can, as soon as the mustard seed becomes the smallest seed of all seeds.

    Nah, we can do it right now.

  50. 50
    StephenB says:

    I would argue that atheism does, indeed, require some kind of unguided evolutionary scheme to explain the origins of life. Theism is committed to the proposition that matter arose from mind by design; atheism is committed to the proposition that mind arose from matter by coincidence. If we are talking about a rational universe, I don’t think a third option is available to us.

  51. 51
    Charles says:

    nullasalus:

    What I touched on regarding non-atheism in this thread, I limited to mere theism intentionally. … “But that’s so broad!” you may cry.

    No, my cry is “But you’ve been inconsistent!!!”.

    Here are 4 claims intertwining theism and evolution you made in your original post which ostenisbly are up for discussion and not off-topic:

    More popular is the claim that theism and evolution can both be true, but theism can also withstand the falsity of evolution.

    if a theist adheres to an account of origins such that organisms were made whole and without precursors, then an evolutionary account of such organisms is a challenge.

    But if a theist believes that God could have or did use evolutionary processes in creation, the bulk of the force of the evolutionary argument – in and of itself – dissipates.

    but theism itself, and religion broadly, does not require the falsity of evolution anyway

    When your claim presumes the falsity of evolution, it is juxtaposed against theism itself (the mere belief in God or gods). But when your claim presumes the truth of evolution, it is juxtaposed against not theism again, but rather against specific theist beliefs about how God originated or created.

    Having limited yourself to mere theism (simply a belief in God or gods), from where did you extract specific beliefs of origin or creation accounts that are challenged by evolution?

    And while you may claim to be “sticking to the topic” when declining to be specific about which religions and how their tenets intersect or not with evolution’s tenets, you plainly went off topic in your last 3 conclusory statements above. But declining to explain in what theistic systems (religions) you generally find theists believing accounts of origin or creation vs evolution while simultaneously relying implicitly on such religions when it suits your claim is plainly inconsistent, to be charitable.

  52. 52
    nullasalus says:

    Charles,

    But when your claim presumes the truth of evolution, it is juxtaposed against not theism again, but rather against specific theist beliefs about how God originated or created.

    No, it’s not. It is, for my purposes, “juxtaposed against theism”. Not specific religious beliefs. In the portion you quote of me, my point was simply that evolution was compatible with the existence of God or gods in and of itself – and granted that, if someone’s belief about God requires them to reject evolution, then evolution is a threat. By the same token, if their belief doesn’t require that, it is no threat.

    Pretty basic. Turning that into “Well now you have to talk about what religions can accept evolution!” is just a great topic – but not this one. Really, you played your hand there by rolling in with “Jesus was a creationist!” immediately. Not interested, not in this thread. But apparently that doesn’t matter to you, so just keep up the little game if you want. I’m about ready to just ignore it.

    But declining to explain in what theistic systems (religions) you generally find theists believing accounts of origin or creation vs evolution while simultaneously relying implicitly on such religions when it suits your claim is plainly inconsistent, to be charitable.

    In your crazy, combox-warrior world, I’m sure it is. One more time: Deal with it.

    StephenB,

    atheism is committed to the proposition that mind arose from matter by coincidence. If we are talking about a rational universe, I don’t think a third option is available to us.

    If you’re saying atheists have to be materialists about the mind, that seems flatly false. Chalmers is an agnostic/atheist, and he explicitly rejects materialism. He’s not alone in that.

    Now, how mind arises is a distinct question from evolution, I think it’s fair to say. But more than that, I’m surprised you of all people would claim that the atheist universe – whatever the truth of evolution – is a rational one, at least if I’m reading you right. I’ve seen you in enough discussions about the big bang, the prime mover, etc to have thought your opinion was different than that. How many times have you firsthand witnessed atheists deny causality, or speculate that maybe things stop making sense at the Big Bang, or at the quantum level, etc? Because frankly, I’ve lost count.

    As I said previously, what part of atheism requires that the universe be rational? On theism, particularly classical theism, it follows automatically from there being a God who is Himself rational. Unless you consider inexplicable regularities, the rejection of the PSR, brute facts, etc to be reasonable, it seems more likely that on atheism/materialism, the universe (at least in part) not only doesn’t have to be reasonable, but it should be expected not to be.

  53. 53
    StephenB says:

    —nullasalus: “But more than that, I’m surprised you of all people would claim that the atheist universe – whatever the truth of evolution – is a rational one, at least if I’m reading you right.”

    I think the problem is that I actually misread your argument because, as you say, it is a sociological fact that some atheists, though in the minority, have rejected evolution in the name of a higher minded atheism. So you are right about that. A fact is a fact.

    On the subject of mind arising from matter or matter arising from mind, those are still the ruling paradigms but, again, as you say, a trend does not constitute a logical necessity. On the other hand, a consistent trend is a consistent trend. I don’t think it should be de-emphasized on the grounds that we can find exceptions to it.

    I am not suggesting that atheists are rational (we know that I would never argue that way) but rather that their matter-to-mind-emergence syndrome, illogical though it is, is no less illogical than one of their alternative explanations, namely the notion that a cosmic “law” can “create” anything. (Translate that as Taoism). Laws do not have the flexibility to create; they just do what they do over and over again.

    A source can create only if it possesses the flexibility, imagination, and power of will to decide whether to create or not create. Also, physical laws, like everything else, require an explanation. Wherever we find a law, we must acknowledge a lawgiver. Sometimes the most important points get missed because we hear them so often that they no longer impress us.

    Nor can we argue that a law could be a part of the universe that it is alleged to be governing. If the law was, indeed, part of the universe, it, too, would be changing right along with the universe’s other parts, which means that it would no longer be a law. To be sure, that which we call a law may influence the way things change, but it must be separate from and outside them, and, as I already indicated, a law lacks the potential to create anything.

    No doubt there are some who may put their imagination to work and posit circumstances in which the universe is not necessarily a rational place at all, leaving open the possibility that laws, or at least the behavior that we characterize as laws, could change their nature in mid flight and become another kind of thing–or that things could just pop into existence without a cause –or that the ordered nature of the universe’s behavior would not correspond to our logically and mathematically ordered understanding of it. But once we grant such assumptions, all things become possible in principle. Thus, rational discussions, which seek to distinguish the possible from the impossible, would serve no purpose, and there would be no reason to discuss anything with anyone.

  54. 54
    Charles says:

    nullasalus:

    Really, you played your hand there by rolling in with “Jesus was a creationist!” immediately. Not interested, not in this thread.

    lol. Did you seriously think I was trying to hide an agenda by asking you to clarify what religions qualified for inclusion in theistic evolution? After I had mistakenly presumed the usual suspect, you find it disingenuous I should ask what you did mean?

    No, it’s not. It is, for my purposes, “juxtaposed against theism”. Not specific religious beliefs.

    Oh please. Your words stand as-is and they plainly state “if a theist adheres to an account of origins” and “if a theist believes that God could have or did use evolutionary processes in creation”, and you find it suspect someone should ask what theists you meant if not Judeo-Christian thesists? Words actually do have precise meanings. They are not interchangable.

    “Well now you have to talk about what religions can accept evolution!”

    No, I simply asked which religions you meant to include in “theistic evolution” if not Judeo-Christian. No more no less.

    But this is where I came in to this movie, so I’m done.

    In your crazy, combox-warrior world, I’m sure it is [plainly inconsistent].

    Your coherence is exceeded only by your civility.

  55. 55
    Ilion says:

    StephenB:I think the problem is that I actually misread your argument because, as you say, it is a sociological fact that some atheists, though in the minority, have rejected evolution in the name of a higher minded atheism. So you are right about that. A fact is a fact.

    I am going to make a point that very few seem ever to grasp — it doesn’t matter in the least what ad hoc mish-mash of propositions this or that so-called atheist (*) deigns to advocate as being ‘atheism.’ What matters is rightly seeing which propositions do or do not logically follow from the assertion that God is not.

    And, one of the things logically entailed by the assertion that there is no Creator-God is Darwinism, or something indistinguishable from it.

    Just as Christianity entails a ‘this’ but not ‘that,’ so ,too, does atheism entail a ‘this’ but not ‘that.’ It changes reality not a whit that some self-proclaimed Christians assert some ‘that’ or other and try to call it Christianity. It changes reality not a whit that some self-proclaimed atheists assert some ‘that’ or other and try to call it atheism.

    (*) for, in truth, while there are millions of God-haters in the world, there are precious few actual atheists

  56. 56
    nullasalus says:

    StephenB,

    I don’t think it should be de-emphasized on the grounds that we can find exceptions to it.

    I don’t want to de-emphasize it. That’s why I immediately copped to the, for lack of a better way to put it, state of the game right now with regards to atheists and evolution. I just worry about what I see is a tremendous exaggeration on that front, and some fundamental misconceptions.

    Again, I point at the Big Bang as an example. What was considered anathema to atheism previously (a universe with a temporal beginning) was incorporated in a ridiculously short amount of time – would that count as a trend? I maintain that if tomorrow evolution were somehow flatly proved untrue, a similar shrugging off could and would occur.

    A source can create only if it possesses the flexibility, imagination, and power of will to decide whether to create or not create. Also, physical laws, like everything else, require an explanation.

    I’d agree. But here’s a great example: I have, and I’m positive you have, run into atheists who will disagree there. Many will dive for the brute fact, the inexplicable, in a heartbeat. For the laws, for the universe, for the Big Bang – for whatever they have to.

    Thus, rational discussions, which seek to distinguish the possible from the impossible, would serve no purpose, and there would be no reason to discuss anything with anyone.

    C’mon, now. If nothing else, it can be kind of funny. Didn’t you like Alice in Wonderland?

    Pardon the joking. Either way, hopefully you get where I’m coming from here, even if you may not fully agree.

  57. 57
    Ilion says:

    StephenB @ 53No doubt there are some who may put their imagination to work and posit circumstances in which the universe is not necessarily a rational place at all, leaving open the possibility that laws, or at least the behavior that we characterize as laws, could change their nature in mid flight and become another kind of thing–or that things could just pop into existence without a cause …

    As to the main thrust of post #53, that’s old hat by now. The God-haters do, indeed, assert that anything at all may happen at any time and for no reason at all — they do, indeed, assert nothing has a nature, and that true mat become false and false true … well, except that God be; they’re still adamant on that one.

    Here, I discuss just one example of this common phenomenon.

  58. 58
    Timaeus says:

    nullasalus:

    An interesting post.

    I’m inclined to agree at least partly with Barry and StephenB.

    If you are an atheist, meaning you believe in no gods at all — no polytheism, not monotheism, no pantheism, no nature-sprits, no deities period — you have to face the question of origins.

    Either you deny that there were any origins, i.e., you go along with Aristotle and say that the world is eternal, and so there were always men, anteaters, bees, roses, etc., or you accept the apparent conclusions of modern science that the universe (at least, the one we live in now) had a definite origin in time, as did the earth, as did life on earth, as did man, etc.

    If you accept that there was a time when man was not, and earlier when mammals were not, and earlier when life was not, then you have to explain the origin of these things. Why did they at one time not exist, and then start existing?

    Broadly speaking there seem to be two possibilities; either life, and species, can come into being abruptly, through accidents or unknown natural processes; or life, and species, came into being gradually, through a sort of accumulation of properties from previous concatenations of matter or life.

    So it seems to me that an atheist has to posit either a form of spontaneous generation (which was at one time a scientifically respectable position, at least for lower animals, though it’s now quite out of fashion), or some sort of evolutionary scheme.

    Now, to come back to your point: is evolution *logically* necessary for an atheist?

    No, not strictly logically necessary. The atheist can choose to say “No Comment” regarding origins; or he can say that the current world is eternal and therefore origins are not a problem; or he can say that life or various species “popped up” due to unknown biochemical or geological forces. He doesn’t *have* to be an evolutionist.

    But in practical terms:

    1 — The price of saying “No Comment” is high; it makes atheists look either evasive, or very lacking in the human virtue of curiosity; it doesn’t look good on the atheists; this may be why so few atheists take this route:

    2 — The price of saying that the world is eternal is that the atheist must show the falsity of all the main conclusions of all the historical sciences (cosmology, geology, evolutionary biology); and not only is this a huge order of business, it is precisely *not* the tactic that modern atheists take. They generally warmly embrace the conclusions of the historical sciences. And even among the few pure Aristotelians left alive, surviving in dusty old philosophy departments somewhere, do any of them seriously contend that man has been around forever?

    3 — The price of defending spontaneous generation is higher than any respectable atheist is willing to pay. Sure, some of them might go for the freak, spontaneous generation of the first life; but then how do you get to man? Without evolution, you have to have an endless chain of these spontaneous generations. And there is no empirical evidence that whole new species could pop up without antecedents. Such a view would be laughed out of the scientific community. And again, no atheist holds it.

    So the only practical position for an atheist is some form of evolutionism. It doesn’t have to be Darwinian; it could be Lamarckian, it could some sort of necessitarian front-loaded scheme (without any God to do the initial front-loading, which was just a lucky break of the primeval oceans or of the Big Bang). But it has to be evolutionary — the later must derived by physical descent from the earlier.

    So I think that atheists, at least, those who wish to be thought of as scientifically up-to-date (and who therefore must reject the eternity of the world and spontaneous generation), must be evolutionists.

    Of course, the converse is not true. One does not have to be an atheist to be an evolutionist. But you have already conceded that, so I have no disagreement on that point.

    T.

  59. 59
    nullasalus says:

    Timaeus,

    Thanks for your reply.

    I want to stress something here. I agree with most of what you say. But your points 1, 2 and 3 are, I think it’s fair to say, contingent on the current climate, the current state of scientific knowledge, current cultural forces. This I grant, and I granted it in the OP as well – that’s what I alluded to when I spoke of very heavy intellectual, political and emotional investment.

    But, consider this. Let’s say a prominent biologist tomorrow decides that there’s no way natural, unguided forces could account for the origin of life on earth. He investigates the matter, decides it’s hopeless. Will he sacrifice his atheism?

    Well, we have an example of that in Francis Crick. He did no such thing – he went for Directed Panspermia. Likewise for the Big Bang – that time had an apparent temporal beginning hasn’t stood in tension with many atheist’s atheism, even though I’d bet most would have guessed that it would prior to the theory’s rise to prominence. (Now, you can come up with an example here and there of an atheist who found himself limping towards theism due to this or that discovery – Hoyle’s one. But there’s also numerous examples of atheists who stood their ground and just interpreted the data in some new imagined atheistic way.)

    Another way of thinking about this is: An atheist can stay resilient in the face of all manner of scientific data, all kinds of broadly logical possible worlds, even ones where evolution by natural selection flat out doesn’t take place. As such, it’s misleading to suggest (and I think it’s often suggested) that, logically speaking, atheism requires the truth of evolution – and what do you know, of all the possible universes we live in, we live in the one where the only option for the atheist is one which many scientists claim is the explanation. It’s a little – but not exactly – like saying, ‘Look at this, we live in a universe where time began with a Big Bang. Just as would be necessary given atheism!’, as if a past-eternal universe were incompatible with the belief.

  60. 60
    Eugene S says:

    Darwin was not Darwinist and would have been ostracised by the likes of Dawkins for not being a true scientist, had he been alive today.

  61. 61
    Timaeus says:

    nullasalus:

    I agree with you that the atheist, driven by prior religious commitments, will wiggle and squirm, in order to avoid inferring divine design, but he has an insurmountable problem. For example, Crick can postulate an alien rather than an indigenous origin for life, and thus deny any terrestrial chemical evolutionary scenario. But then, where did the alien seeds come from? Some life-form must have produced them, and where did that life-form come from? Eventually — if the universe is not eternal, and I assume that Crick accepted the Big Bang and a finite age of the universe — Crick must come back to a first set of alien seeds, which themselves arose through blind chemical evolution on some planet or other. So Crick must then say that conditions were right on some planet *other* than Earth for such a process. But then, if he grants that, there is only a difference in detail, not a difference in principle, in believing that it could have happened on earth. So Crick would be desperately dodging the bullet. Ultimately, to deny evolution, he would be faced with one of my three choices, two of which fly in the face of modern scientific consensus, and one of which abdicates scientific explanation altogether.

    So I’d say that, while Crick could be a non-evolutionist regarding the indigenous origin of earth life, he couldn’t ultimately be a non-evolutionist in the absolute sense.

    The bottom line is that if you reject the existence of any deities or spirit-beings, if you believe that matter and energy account for all that exists, then origins must be explained in terms of unintelligent rearrangements of matter an energy, i.e., naturalistically. So either you opt for spontaneous generation (contrary to all evidence) or you have to derive later species from earlier species, and the earliest species ultimately from non-living chemicals. An atheist, if he accepts a universe finite in time and space, has little choice but to adopt some sort of naturalistic evolutionary scenario for origins.

    And indeed, insofar as atheists have speculated on origins, they’ve come up with variations on these two themes, spontaneous generation (usually couched in terms of lucky collisions of atoms that happen to form something useful), or various versions of evolutionary theory.

    Can you think of an atheist who has tried to explain origins (in terms of what passed for the natural science of his day) who hasn’t relied on (a) atoms coming together into something new and useful by sheer dumb luck; (b) a gradual evolutionary process of one sort or another?

    T.

  62. 62
    Eugene S says:

    I do not agree with the Author because scientifically we cannot deny logically coherent reasoning originating in ANY system of axioms. We simply have no power to deny this by means of science alone. All intellectual exercises to do with “imaginary worlds” are scientifically nonsensical and futile.

    On the contrary, what the Author is talking about is a matter of Faith. Atheists believe in the absence of God, theists do in the opposite. And everyone will face the consequences of their faith in the end of time.

  63. 63
    StephenB says:

    —ilion: “And, one of the things logically entailed by the assertion that there is no Creator-God is Darwinism, or something indistinguishable from it.”

    Here, I think you have successfully bridged the gap between what nullasalus was saying and what I was saying. He says that what atheists have come up with [in some cases] qualifies as a meaningful alternative to and is significantly different from, matter to mind Darwinism. I say that even it is different, it isn’t different enough to count for much. [As in the proposition that some inexplicable Taoist first “principle” can serve in the role as Creator (How is that so different from some inexplicable principle called “spontaneous generation” or “emergence” playing the role of Creator?)]. In every case, no real explanation has been given and reason has been abandoned.

    Also, as Timaeus has pointed out, the problem of origins must, at some point, be faced, even if means explaining the origin of little green men depositing their seeds. Once that reality if confronted, some evolutionary oriented solution will be the result.

  64. 64
    StephenB says:

    A source can create only if it possesses the flexibility, imagination, and power of will to decide whether to create or not create. Also, physical laws, like everything else, require an explanation.

    –nullasalus: “I’d agree. But here’s a great example: I have, and I’m positive you have, run into atheists who will disagree there. Many will dive for the brute fact, the inexplicable, in a heartbeat. For the laws, for the universe, for the Big Bang – for whatever they have to.”

    The point, though, is not whether they disagree but rather if their disagreement is rational. The argument for a personal, unchanging, eternal, immaterial first cause is unassailable.

    Suppose person A walks into a room with person B and both of them notice a red ball on the kitchen table.

    A: Look there is a red ball on the table. I wonder how it got there.

    B: What are you wondering about? Obviously, someone put it there.

    A: I disagree

    B: You may disagree all you like, but your disagreement is not rational.

    Now, blow the ball up the size of a house, a city, a planet, a universe. Has the argument changed? No, only the size of the ball.

    From a public relations standpoint, it may count for something if atheists try to dispute the point, but from a logical perspective, it doesn’t matter a whit. Whenever atheism confronts reason; atheism will lose.

  65. 65
    Mung says:

    Atheists believe in the absence of God, theists do in the opposite. And everyone will face the consequences of their faith in the end of time.

    Where does the idea come from, that there will come a time When Time Shall Be No More? Is it biblical?

  66. 66
    Mung says:

    But another conceptual problem is this: The claim that atheism and evolution are utterly intertwined.

    If nothing at all existed, would atheism be a rational positon?

    What must be true (or false) for one to even consider the proposition, “there is no god”?

    What must be true (or false) for one to even consider whether the proposition “there is no god,” is either true or false?

    If atheism is inherently irrational, can it be true that anything at all is logically entailed by atheism?

    I think not.

  67. 67
    tgpeeler says:

    Is anyone still reading this post? If so, I have some comments to make. If not, I’ll save them. 🙂

  68. 68
    Mung says:

    I am, but I’m not interested in anything you have to say 😉

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