Evolution Religion Science

Barbara Forrest on Religion and Human Origins/Destiny

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Here is Barbara Forrest’s take on the religious implications of neo-Darwinism and astronomy in her article “The Possibility of Meaning in Human Evolution,” Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 35.4 (Dec 2000), 861-889. She writes (p. 862, notes omitted):

We have established scientifically some disquieting facts: (1) human beings have evolved from nonhuman life forms, meaning that (2) at one time we did not exist, and that (3) according to paleontological and astronomical evidence, at some time in the future we shall cease to exist. Furthermore, from a scientific standpoint, there is no discernible reason that we had to evolve in the first place, and there is no guarantee that we shall continue to evolve successfully; more hominid species have become extinct than have survived. The price of such knowledge has been the gnawing question of whether human existence has genuine meaning if it was constructed with cranes rather than supported by skyhooks, as Daniel Dennett says.

The problem of meaning is easily resolved for those who embrace a preconstructed system of meaning such as religion. However, religion cannot help us find meaning in any honest sense unless it can assimilate the truth about where human beings have come from, and the only real knowledge we have about where we came from we have acquired through science.

27 Replies to “Barbara Forrest on Religion and Human Origins/Destiny

  1. 1
    DaveScot says:

    Heff asked the wrong philosophy professor to appear in his magazine!

  2. 2
    Jedi Deist says:

    Looks to me like she has found a religion – DarwinISM

  3. 3
    Bombadill says:

    Sorry, Barb… wrong. The human conscious with all of it’s metaphysical realities would demonstrate that we are indeed designed with a purpose. And don’t EVEN try to tell me that it’s just an emergent byproduct of an evolved brain.

    “(1) human beings have evolved from nonhuman life forms,”

    I would love to know which nonhuman life forms we evolved from and I would love to see some intermediate forms along the way. Barb, maybe you could produce for me the elusive transition between the amphibian and Lucy. Oh wait, those didn’t die in the right strata, right? That’s the latest tale, right?

    Excuse my sarcasm, I’m just growing impatient with fundamentalists like Forrest.

  4. 4
    jboze3131 says:

    my personal take- i wouldnt doubt if lucy is scrapped some day in the future as an ‘ancestor.’ its not really based on any empirical evidence, just one interpretation of the data. who can say if lucy was half human or even human at all in even the tiniest manner? you only come to that conclusion when you start off with the mud to man theory and lucy is fit into that preconceived idea. same goes for other supposed hominid transitionals. which is why the whole supposed human line keeps changing every few yrs, taking out this one and that…adding this new ape looking creature here, changing the order a bit here…and doing it all over again in a few yrs.

    outside of that- what kind of philosopher attacks religion and says basically that there is no truth to be found in religion and the only think worth finding truth with is science!??

    id assume its her atheism thats overpowering her philosophy?? i have to wonder how shes known at all…im thinking its merely because she IS a militant atheist and anti-IDer? philosophy professors telling their students that religion has nothing to offer and that science has ALL the answers…that’d be hilarious if it weren’t real!

  5. 5
    Lutepisc says:

    Hmmm. A “preconstructed system of meaning such as religion,” eh?

    Where does Barbara suppose that such a preconstructed system came from? Sounds front-loaded to me…but surely she wouldn’t argue this…would she? I’m wondering just what she means by “preconstructed.”

    (Interesting how atheists seem to think religion dropped down from heaven…)

  6. 6
    jboze3131 says:

    ive noticed that humanists and the like always get caught in this dilemma. they make statements that have the hallmark of design, purpose, meaning written all over them but they have to try to explain them away and stick to the notion that all is truly purposeless, goal-less, meaningless, etc.

    wouldnt mud to man be a preconstructed system? the empirical evidence doesnt support the theory, and the evidence can more easily be interpreted along with the design features that are evident in nature as being a case of design, creation of life, purpose, meaning, etc. it can also be interpreted as common design which might ultimately mean the death of the idea of common ancestry. common ancestry and common design- it depends on your worldview…the evidence doesnt solidfy either one, but the evidence of design and complexity in biological systems tends to support common design.

  7. 7
    mtgcsharpguy says:

    First of all, Barbara has made the assumption that “human beings have evolved from nonhuman life forms”. There’s absolutely NO evidence of that whatsoever.

    “Furthermore, from a scientific standpoint, there is no discernible reason that we had to evolve in the first place,”

    That’s a philosophical opinion, and not a scientific one. What the reason is for life forms existing is currently beyond our scientific understanding and is subject to subjective conclusions. There is no discernible reason that the irreducibly complex bacterial flagellum had to “evolve” in the first place. There is no discernible reason that the irreducibly complex blood clotting cascade had to “evolve” in the first place. There is no discernible reason that the irreducibly complex bombardier beetle’s defensive apparatus had to “evolve” in the first place. And yet they exist and help keep us alive. And yet they have no trasnitional fossils to prove they “evolved”.

    “and there is no guarantee that we shall continue to evolve successfully;”

    Well, is there any evidence that macroevolution is occurring today? I rest my case!

    “However, religion cannot help us find meaning in any honest sense unless it can assimilate the truth about where human beings have come from, and the only real knowledge we have about where we came from we have acquired through science.”

    Well, if that’s the case then evolution has the same problem: evolution can’t explain hominid origins with scientific facts (unless of course you consider fragments of bones and skulls which look similar to apes’ to be evidence). The only “real” knowledge we have comes from a flawed theory that ignores scientific facts. Did we evolve? Prove it! Until then, I will continue to believe we were “desgined” (note that I am open to believing in evolution should the evidence support it one day; if that day ever comes or not who knows).

  8. 8
    jboze3131 says:

    off topic to this particular thread, but i thought you guys might be interested- (i apologize in advance if this is inappropriate to post here)

    http://www.breitbart.com/news/.....sbn1j.html

    our good militant atheist friend, richard dawkins was named the 3rd top intellectual by a british magazine. number 1 was the anti-american conspiracy theory loving crackpot, noam chomsky!

    good to see the UK going deeper into its moral decline by embracing militant atheists, anti-americans, and other members of the fringe (youve got to wonder whats wrong with people today).

  9. 9
    Deuce says:

    The essence of Forrest’s problem is this. On the one hand, she argues that science must be restricted to methodological naturalism (a vague term, but as most proponents use it, it essentially boils down to the idea that science can’t consider anything that would make Daniel Dennett feel philosophically uncomfortable). You can do this, but then you can’t claim that the findings of science, so defined, are objectively true, as opposed to simply more pragmatic than other conclusions within the naturalistic paradigm (because in order to make this claim, you would need to compare them to non-“naturalistic” logical possibilities, something which the MN rule doesn’t allow).

    On the other hand, however, Forrest then turns around and invokes science not only as a guide to truth, which already contradicts the first premise on its own, but as the guide to truth. Thus, she has simply declared philosophical naturalism (ie, atheism) as axiomatic to reality by a two-step definitional fiat: 1) Define naturalism as science, and 2) Define science as objective truth.

    As a philosopher, she ought to be able to see the logical fallacy without much trouble, but perhaps a long day of witch-hunting leaves the poor gal too tuckered out for any real intellectual introspection.

    You see the same reasoning all the time. For instance, Richard Dawkins, in some instances, has argued that “naturalistic” explanations (ie, ones he’s philosophically comfortable with) must always be taken over non-naturalistic ones in science, regardless of whether or not there is evidence for them (MN). However, in other instances, he has denounced Gould’s concept of a “non-overlapping magisteria” between science and religion (“religion” being defined as those explanations with which he’s not philosophically comfortable) on the grounds that science and religion are both vying for the same objective reality. As with Forrest, he’s trying to set up the rules of the philosophical “boxing match” so that he’s allowed to punch the other guy, but it’s out of bounds for the other guy to hit back.

    You even see this reasoning from some theistic evolutionists, but they aren’t consistent with it. Kenneth Miller subscribes to MN in science, but he goes outside the rule when he argues for design of the universe. Now, I suppose he could justify this by saying that his case for a designed universe isn’t “science” under his definition, but that it is still a rational inference about reality, and can be objectively compared on the same playing field with more “scientific” explanations. But then, to be consistent, he should allow the same in biology. However, there he argues not just that science is restricted to ateleology, but also that science, so defined, is the rational way to infer about biological reality.

  10. 10
    Ilib says:

    “The problem of meaning is easily resolved for those who embrace a preconstructed system of meaning such as religion”

    Arguably, religion is an extension of philosophy; spiritual musing pared down to doctrine and directives. Belief in the respective faiths relies heavily on historical records of revelation and divine intervention. The ‘historical evidence’ is the ‘construct’. If we look at Christianity for example, the ‘doctrine’ was established somewhere around 2000 years ago. It still holds to a rigid view of ‘meaning’ in ‘human’ life.
    Anyone entering into such a faith would be accepting the

    “preconstructed system of meaning such as religion”.

    Whether one agrees with the ‘implications’ or not, Religion found its ‘niche’ somewhere between philosophy and grandiose virtuosity, moral enlightenment and biological exclusivity, many, many centuries ago. The torch has been passed on through historical record (Biblical Scripture). The doctrine has changed little, some additions over the recent century, but no amendments or addenda. Christianity, the religion, has stood the test of time; so far.

  11. 11
    Borne says:

    i wouldnt doubt if lucy is scrapped some day in the future as an ‘ancestor.’ Adieu Lucy (farewell Lucy). Australopithecus afarensis – She was scrapped, as possible human ancestor, publicly in 1999 by french magazine Science et Vie. Adieu lucy was the cover article – sorry can’t remember the mag. number.

    The magazine provided evidence from various scientists demonstrating, in no uncertain, terms why Lucy cannot be a human ancestor. Of course staunch Darwinist fundamentalists even today, after more than 5 years since publication, still either do not admit it or are ignorant of the public debunking of Lucy. One need only meander on over to the livescience site to witness the stupidity involved in persisting links between man and Australopithecus

  12. 12

    “However, religion cannot help us find meaning in any honest sense unless it can assimilate the truth about where human beings have come from, and the only real knowledge we have about where we came from we have acquired through science.”

    This is an assumption. How does she know the only real knowledge about where we have come from is through science? Are other sources ruled out a priori? If so, why?

    “Because we can only get real knowledge through science” would be the probable answer. Well, did you learn that statement from science or from a philosophical assumption? It is self-refuting.

  13. 13
    DonaldM says:

    methodological naturalism (a vague term, but as most proponents use it, it essentially boils down to the idea that science can’t consider anything that would make Daniel Dennett feel philosophically uncomfortable)

    Deuce, this is the best definition of MN I’ve ever read. I will quote you often with this one!

  14. 14
    petro says:

    After our friend Eugenie’s recent comments would love to get her and Barbara together for a chat and be a fly on the wall!

  15. 15
    PhilVaz says:

    Not good when Christians dismiss the scientific evidence for human evolution. It is very strong, a few good books below, they are all available at your local university library:

    Bones, Stones, and Molecules: “Out of Africa” and Human Origins by David W. Cameron and Colin P. Groves (Elsevier, 2004)
    Where Do We Come From? The Molecular Evidence for Human Descent by Jan Klein and Naoyuki Takahata (Springer, 2002)
    The Human Fossil Record (volume 1, forthcoming in 4 volumes) by Schwartz / Tattersall (John Wiley and Sons, 2002)
    Extinct Humans by Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey H. Schwartz (Westview Press / Perseus Books, 2000)
    The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution edited by Steve Jones, Robert Martin, David Pilbeam (Cambridge Univ Press, 1992)
    The Search for Eve by Michael H. Brown (Harper and Row, 1990)
    Guide to Fossil Man by Michael H. Day (Univ of Chicago Press, 1986, 4th edition)
    Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind by Donald C. Johanson and Maitland A. Edey (Simon and Schuster, 1981)

    And from a Catholic or Christian view, three more books:

    Perspectives on an Evolving Creation edited by Keith Miller (Eerdmans, 2003)
    Origin of the Human Species by Dennis Bonnette (Sapientia Press, 2003, 2nd edition)
    Adam, Apes, and Anthropology by Glenn R. Morton (DMD Publications, 1997)

    To quote Pope Benedict XVI: “We cannot say: creation or evolution, inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities. The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, which we just heard, does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are. It explains their inmost origin and casts light on the project that they are. And, vice versa, the theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments. But in so doing it cannot explain where the ‘project’ of human persons comes from, nor their inner origin, nor their particular nature. To that extent we are faced here with two complementary — rather than mutually exclusive — realities.” (from In The Beginning….)

    How honest Christians are dealing with this science here:

    http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/p87.htm

    Phil P

  16. 16
    mtgcsharpguy says:

    “Not good when Christians dismiss the scientific evidence for human evolution. It is very strong…”

    Typical evolutionist argument against ID: using religion in an attempt to invalidate ID. Religion has nothing to do with ID. Religion does not provide evidence for evolution or ID.

    I pretty much stopped at that sentence and didn’t read any further (no point really).

  17. 17
    avocationist says:

    Religion has nothing to say about human origins. Only science can find out about human origins. Science by definition cannot come to any religious conclusion. Her reasoning is a circular as those Christians who say only the Bible contains truth about God, and we know that because, after all, the Bible says so.

  18. 18
    jboze3131 says:

    i dont know many people who say that the bible is true merely because this and that are written in the bible- so it must be true. the bible is backed up by the historical and manuscript evidence absent every other piece of ancient work in the world. to say ‘its written’ so it must be true is completely ignorant. one must go off the fact that early church fathers wrote of the same topics…as did the jewish writers of the time of christ (for the NT), and the jewish writers themselves, internally and externally from the bible (for the OT).

    as for religion and human origins- of course religion can say a lot about human origins. science has very little to say about human origins in a sense that were dealing more with history than science. the science isnt nearly empirical in any manner, and youre simply working with data that can be interpreted ten differrnt ways (common design, common ancestry, supernatural, natural, etc)

  19. 19
    DaveScot says:

    PhilVaz

    “Not good when Christians dismiss the scientific evidence for human evolution. It is very strong, a few good books below, they are all available at your local university library:”

    So how much DNA and epigenetic information do we have in common with, say, Lucy. Is it more or less than us and chimps? How many chromosomes does Lucy have – the same number as we do or the same number as chimps?

    Get back to me when you know. Otherwise, don’t tell me how strong the evidence is because it’s a bit on lame side once you don’t have living tissue and/or intact DNA to examine. It’s really a history. A narrative.

    We are clearly related to all other living things from bacteria to baboons. That’s pure experimental biology on living tissue and you can take it to the bank given how many organisms have the genetic code in common. How the relationship was established is theoretical biology. You know the difference between experimental and theoretical science, right? Random mutation plus natural selection is dead in the water. A bit player. Stephen J. Gould was right about that much and so is Lynn Margulis. Nobody knows quite what the hell is going on yet. Get used to it.

  20. 20
    higgity says:

    “the bible is backed up by the historical and manuscript evidence absent every other piece of ancient work in the world.”

    Are you saying there was a global flood? Ahem.

    “good to see the UK going deeper into its moral decline by embracing militant atheists, anti-americans, and other members of the fringe (youve got to wonder whats wrong with people today).”

    This is awful. How can you call someone a “militant atheist?” Is Richard Dawkins taking up arms and burning down churches (like this guy: http://www.al.com/news/huntsvi.....038;coll=1

  21. 21
    higgity says:

    I guess my post ends after an HTML tag. The rest:

    Is Noam Chomsky helping terrorists plan attacks on America? This is crazy and it makes it nearly impossible to ever take you seriously.

    If there’s no evidence that humans evolved from nonhuman life forms, then why wasn’t Barbara Forrest called on that little tidbit during the trial?

  22. 22
    jboze3131 says:

    davescot, when you say that were all clearly related…im wondering, do you personally buy into the concept of common descent with modification? i, myself, dont. i think the various types of life were created and have changed but within limits. scientists cannot break the barrier that leads to new types, shapes, forms, body segments, etc…i think you find the same thing in nature. 12, 000+ yrs of breeding dogs and no one has created anything BUT another dog. you get into species, and thats when it gets all muddled. scientists cannot even agree to the ultimate definition of species- many say animals that cannot breed and have viable offspring, others say that they must be unable to breed and must be isolated.

    theyve tried to breed irish setters and beagles but find that they cannot get any live pups to be born. theyve no idea why but they come back to the trust argument from ignorance and proclaim it must be “junk dna” (we now know that much of the dna considered “junk” has been shown to have function- and its only a matter of time before we find even MORE “junk” dna that isn’t really junk at all. so, dogs of the same “species” cannot interbreed sometimes. yet a dog can breed with a wolf and a coyote and coyotes and wolves can breed…but theyre of different “species”.

    the article on dog breeding mentioned:

    So the fact that most dog breeds can easily interbreed isn’t reason enough to consider them all the same species, although that’s a large part of it. It comes down to how you define “species.” Many scientists use the rule of thumb that if two organisms can interbreed, they are of the same species. But that doesn’t apply in every case, to say nothing of species like bacteria that don’t “breed” at all, but reproduce asexually. The fact is that there are many definitions of “species” accepted and debated in the scientific community, and each has its exceptions.

    we cant even agree on what a species is, yet scientists proclaim the FACT that lucy was an ancestor of ours and very closely related based on some bone fragments of ONE single animal? now were talking about hypothetical fairy tales with no support to back them up. i think scientists need to answer the small questions first (like what exactly defines a species) before they claim they can answer the much bigger questions.

  23. 23
    jboze3131 says:

    higgity please. thats absurd- youre defending a nutjob anti-semite like noam chomsky (a man who said the US deserved to be attacked on 9.11) yet IM the one who shouldnt be taken seriously? lol.

    dawkins isnt a militant atheist? no one said militant in the sense that hes violent. hes militant in the sense that he despises religion, despises those who practice religion, hates all forms of it. he is most usually referred to as a militant atheist.

    am i saying there was a global flood? well, ifthere was a global flood 10 million yrs ago, scientists certainly couldnt say one way or another whether it occurred. same goes for 10, 000 yrs ago. ive no idea. nor does anyone else with any certainty. scientists cant even agree what killed the dinosaurs (did a meteor hit the planet and plunge it into eternal winter for thousands of yrs, blocking the sun…or is that all a fantasy as many other scientists believe?) so, scientists cant decide whether a massive meteor hit the earth, but they can say with certainty that geology is uniform in the way it works and that no global flood could have ever occurred. now THATS so absurd as to not be taken seriously. its funny how of the two events, the only one theyre CERTAIN of is the flood. hmmm. bias? anybody?

    there IS evidence humans evolved from nonhuman forms. BUT, only when you start out with the preconceived idea of mud to man evolution. you can look at the data and clearly see common design as opposed to common ancestry. guess what? we STILL have yet to find the missing links between those nonhumans and humans. as paleontologists will point out- humans seem to appear in the fossil record fully formed without any ancestors. heck, apes themselves appear in the record with no ancestors and fully formed.

    so, no…when going into the issue without a presupposition of goo to you macroevo. the evidence isnt there. thats why scientists are often accused of fitting the evidence into their own preconceived story of evolution. if you start out with mud to man in mind, you can make any fossil fit anywhere. same goes for body plans that are similar, similar dna, etc. these would all be hallmarks of common design, but the dogma of mud to man has ruled so long, no evidence would overturn it in the minds of most scientists.

  24. 24
    jboze3131 says:

    also- as the case of a global flood. im sure you are aware of the very ancient dispute as to whether the flood was global or local. science couldnt tell us either way which one were true if EITHER were true at all. thats the role of history. science cant even tell us what causes lightning (as mentioned on tonights episode of NOVA), yet science proclaims to know all the rest of this stuff? thats rich!

  25. 25
    DaveScot says:

    “do you personally buy into the concept of common descent with modification”

    It’s a reasonable explanation for the relatedness of all living things and fits well with the fossil record. I wouldn’t bet my life on it being the truth.

    What evidence is there there that life only originated one time? How may the universal common ancestor hypothesis be falsified?

    Keep in mind perfectly sober biologists like Richard Sternberg are structuralists that believe that life self-organizes according to physical laws as do crystals. Maybe everything has similarity at the molecular scale because that’s just the way the crystals form and they’ve formed independently more than once – perhaps WAY more than once.

  26. 26
    jboze3131 says:

    im sort of confused as to what youre thoughts are.

    the basic descent with modification theory posits that life only started once. so youre saying that that doesnt logical to you? that it probably originated many times? i dont know about a one time deal- but i do know that you can see common design as easily as common descent, would you not agree? i see the limits to change within the certain life forms, and no one has been able to break past that barrier (if scientists cant do it, i have a hard time buying that chance and NS could do it- esp. given that NS has been shown to do next to nothing in the wild).

    as for similarity on the molecular level. if were talking about a mulitple origins of life scenario- we only have two real choices, no? special creation or a front-loaded plan that would have to have been designed. or else, life forms wouldnt share traits at the molecular level if they had formed independently from numerous origin events.

    as for the fossil record. how do you reconcile the idea of common descent with stasis in the record? if things were forever evolving into new forms from other forms- why the lack of millions upon millions of transitionals- and why the big gaps between groups. when i research the topic, the main examples i see used time and time again are horses and whales…tho, i also see quotes from many whale experts that say the evidence doesnt reall back up the theory of whale evolution, and who was it quoted that mentioned the horse exhibit (he said something about the exhibit still being downstairs in the museum), but that it was based on a fantasy. i see a lot of flimsy just-so evidence but not a lot that is all that solid.

  27. 27
    jboze3131 says:

    okay. i read sternbergs section of his site on process structuralism and im totally clueless as to what any of it meant!

    http://www.rsternberg.net/Structuralism.htm

    anyone know what this says in layman terms?

    is he saying that the theory supports common descent or that it doesnt? that it supports numerous origins of life events or just one?

    i see this explanation:
    Although process structuralism does not necessitate the denial of common ancestors and evolving lineages, structuralists see such concepts simply as irrelevant in explaining the forms of organisms.

    but that doesnt make much sense overall either. well, to me i mean…he says that the theory has little stake in the origins debate, but i thought the idea itself WAS a question of origins…then how does it have little stake in the subject?

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