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Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Problem with Evolutionary Theory as a Guide for Understanding Human Life

I don't know how the earth was created and how God transformed unorganized matter to the amazing creations and ecosystems we find on planet earth today. If the process took billions of years and numerous mutations interacting with selective forces, I'm OK with that. I don't believe the Gospel requires believing in a young earth or that dinosaurs were frolicking with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But if they were, I'll be OK with that, too. I'm terribly curious about how the earth came to be, but realize we may have to wait for a lot of details. God will get all the credit as the Creator in my book, even if evolution was a key tool of His in bringing about the majesty of life on earth.

I do have trouble with the theory of evolution, though. Not so much with the facts, extrapolations, interpretations, and guesses that scientists make, but with the applications of evolutionary theory to contemporary human life. When evolutionary theory is used to guide human thought on moral and social issues, the results often are appalling. I just heard the local story of a woman in our part of the world who was told by her husband that it's morally OK for him to have relationships with other women because his evolutionary purpose in life as a male is to spread his genes around, whereas it was her duty to not leave the house and just take care of the kids. Evolution as a justification for immorality has been a factor in so many cases, always making people less than they were meant to be and bringing sorrow. Many vicious and selfish acts are justified with a smug statement like, "Hey, it's survival of the fittest, man." Fidelity, charity, compassion, self-sacrifice, and so much that can be noble about human beings can be dismissed for being out of line with "science." There is a recognition that caring for children and occasionally even self-sacrifice can be explained as (just) a way to fulfill the drive "to pass one's genes along." Ironically, those letting evolutionary thought be their guide are, in my limited experience, more likely to be the ones advocating and practicing abortion on demand and much less likely to be the parents who raise large families. (Yes, there are exceptions, and there are some very loving, wonderful families raised by devout and noble atheists who believe in a purely materialistic, evolutionary existence. I'm talking about trends and averages here.)

When people make decisions that I feel make them more noble and more helpful to the rest of our species--decisions like giving blood, giving a large part of their income or time to a charity, serving on a volunteer mission, or shoveling snow for a widow--it seems to me that they are responding to something within them other than good evolutionary science, even if that's what they say they look to for intellectual explanations about our purpose in life. When evolutionary science is used to inform decision making, too often, in my opinion, we may get things like eugenics, adultery, and violence. Ugly. There's just something about evolution as popularly taught and understood that brings out the beast, not the best, in mankind, if it is not tempered with higher perspectives.

For all its incompleteness on the scientific front, I think the Christian perspective is a much better guide for understanding life and making decisions about how to live and deal with others. We need that foundation of knowing that however life evolved or was created, that there is a loving God and that we are His children, immortal spirit beings in mortal clothing who are and will be accountable to Him for how we live and how we treat others. We need to know that we can overcome the temptations of the flesh and have sin removed from our hearts and lives with the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and become born again--new creatures (or, if you must, more highly "evolved").

Our purpose is not so much to pass our genes along (though still a good thing, within loving family bonds) as it is to pass His love along. In the long run, it is not our physical but our spiritual health that matters most.

69 comments:

Rob Osborn said...

I agree, there is nothing more debasing in human thought than to think we are just part of nature and should be tossed around according to our instincts in the which scientists tell us is just part of our natural evolutionary environment and make-up. Having schools ingrain in our childrens minds that they are nothing more than animals with instincts to survive in any way possible relinquishes our status to that of a pack of wild wolves which feed off the weaknesses of the less fortunate. Before long it will effect our very laws that are still yet "morally" bound in truth. If society ever gets to the point where belief in human evolution is the cause of perceived sin, then sinful natures will be allowed and perhaps even kindled. We have seen all to well the degradation of the marriage covenant and all types of fornications now litter the world.

Who is to blame? Its Satan mostly teaching men to forget their God, forget their divine lineage, and instilling instead a belief that we are mere animals in a dog eat dog world where passions rule and compassion is out.

Agnes said...

Why do you find it impossible to see altruism as anything other than an evolutionary negative? This is not only a disturbingly bleak picture of life but also against pretty much all current evolutionary theory.

Do you really belive that being a decent person make you 'less fit' in evolutionary terms? That's not only deeply sad but also deeply ignorant of the science.

Jeff G said...

First, I will only say that those people who justify infidelity and selfishness with evolution are idiots. Plain and simple.

Second, why in the world would evolution imply that our only purpose is to pass on our genes? Sure, maybe it can be argued that that is what our genetic makeup is designed for, but there is soooooo much more that makes me me than simply my genes.

Anthony said...

Able to leap from is to ought in a single bound, it's scientism man!

I agree with the essence of Jeff's post, that science doesn't create values. Agnes rightly points out, though, that there is an evolutionary explanation for the rise of altruism. People who argue that evolution justifies selfish behavior don't understand 1) evolution and 2) the difference between demonstrating what is and what should be. A lot of scientists don't make that argument because master craftsmen know the limitations of their tools.

Conversely, people who try to argue what is from what should be (e.g. that evolution is false because selfish behavior is wrong) are on mighty thin ice as well. What happens when the evidence doesn't conform to their view of how the world should be? They usually deny the evidence. May I suggest that they instead learn the difference between facts and values and thereby erect a stronger foundation for their morals.

Bookslinger said...

Here's my take:

"The beginning" spoken of in Gnesis 1:1 is not an absolute beginning. In an infinity of time, going backward and forward, there can be no abolute beginning. There are only relative beginnings; beginnings of eras.

I don't believe "the beginning" in Genesis 1:1 is even this planet's beginning. It is more along the lines of our beginning in terms of this planet, or our turn on this planet.

In other words, this is a recycled planet. The dinosaurs lived and died prior to Genesis 1:1.

Abraham 3:24 also hints that the creation started in Genesis 1:1 was not an absolute beginning:

24 ... We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;

"These materials" leaves open the status of those materials, raw unorganized atoms, molecules, or even planetary fragments, or even an old previously used planet.

Stan said...

I don't think the point of this post is if evolution is true or not. The point is, what do we do with that knowledge? Do we base our behavior on the fact that we are simply primates? Or do we base our behavior on the beauty, culture and belief that makes us uniquely human. If some choose poor behavior based on the fact that we are mere mammals descended from a common ancestor to modern chimps, that doesn't change the fact that 1) it's poor behavior and 2) we did indeed evolve from a common ancestor. People who make these poor choices should be taught the gospel, not taught that evolution is false and we shouldn't take their poor choices as evidence that evolution is false.

Mormanity said...

Agnes, I'm discussing the way people interpret and apply what they hear. The science does not require or advocate adultery or violence, and can explain altruism in some cases (kin selection or reciprocal altruism in social groups), but have you ever heard a person on the street apply evolutionary theory to make such a choice for them personally? But we do see many cases of people justifying bad behavior with an appeal to the popular understanding of "science." And certainly the ideas that there is no God and no accountability after death are commonly drawn from the metaphysical and unscientific extrapolations of professors of science teaching that we all began by chance, by evolution alone, and that there is nothing beyond the material vale. Such doctrine is more likely to be lead to selfish behavior than to the altruistic service and charity that helps make saints out of human animals.

Bookslinger said...

One part of human behavior is that horn-dogs will grab on to any excuse to justify horn-dog behavior.

Is there, or has there ever been an anti-religious agenda among some of scientists in the postulation and propagation of evolutionary theory? I think so.

Just look at the example of religion-hater Dawkins. He clearly has an axe to grind. It would be naive of us to assume people like him are new on the scene.

Using "science" or any other beliefs in the non-existence of Deity as an excuse for libertine behavior is nothing new either.

There have always been libertines who have claimed superior knowledge and sophistication. That's one of Satan's tools.

raedyohed said...

"When evolutionary theory is used to guide human thought on moral and social issues..."
I really disagree with the premise of this post. Evolutionary biology, like any other scientific field (physics, chemistry, geology, computer science) is by definition non-moral. It is only when imbued with human perspective that science and our observations of the natural world take on the role of moral allegory. I would suggest it would be better phrasing to say "when evolutionary biology is misused to guide..."

Many modern thinkers have used evolutionary biology to support notions of altruism; explain, contextualize and manage the urge for infidelity; and draw connections between biology and spirituality, highlighting the healthfulness of 'good' living. While these secular approaches to what we as Mormons tend to view as faith-based and absolute may not always match up with our views, it is a stretch to lay the ills of society and individual rationalization of bad behavior at the feet of Darwin. If it wasn't evolution it would be some other lame excuse. Cheaters are cheaters, as they say.

Ultimately, we extrapolate from nature that which we already believe, imprinting on it our own view of the world. Christ used natural phenomena to teach truths, and Satan may do the same to teach untruths. Personally I try to follow the Savior's example and take a spiritual and positive view of life incorporating my understanding of evolutionary history. It's a story of perseverance and indomitable optimism. A story of overcoming death and competition, yielding instead beauty, diversity, and ultimately a species capable of altruism, self-awareness, and unity. It's really about the triumph of life in spite of death.

Zen said...

If biology and geology teaches us about the creation, then evolutionary psychology teaches us about the Fall. But it sounds like much of your problem with evolution is use of the naturalist fallacy. Just because it is natural or we are born with it, does not necessarily make it any more desirable than snake venom or malaria.

But part of what annoys me about the example used about the wife giving the husband permission to philander, is that that isn't even good science. We each have two contrary instincts for promiscuity AND building families. The science is more complex than that.

Anonymous said...

And human nature is far more complex than the science probably ever will be.

Jack

Jeff G said...

Mormanity,

If that's the case, then your issue seems to be with human nature rather than science. When we do something good, we look for ways to take credit for it ourselves. When we do bad things, we look for reasons why it wasn't our fault. Evolution simply shouldn't be an issue.

Zen said...

Jeff G- That is exactly the problem. Much of what we want to take credit for, is also a result of biological and evolutionary forces. In this case, evolution suggests that genuine righteousness requires more than doing what comes naturally, even if what comes naturally is good.

In other words, evolution suggests we have less to be proud of than we realize.

Rob Osborn said...

The underlying problem that evolution poses in discussions of morality is that evolution does not account for the unseen- that which we cannot see but really exists. For example- we know evil exists, even as an actual entity- Satan and his forces. We also know spirits exist and that we ourselves are housed with both a spirit and a physical body. We also know that our own moral behavior before we came here allowed us to come- some with more moral integrity than others.

The problem with leaving evolution to disect moral behavior is that it just can't. We learn that moral behavior comes froma choice from choosing obedience over lawlessness. Evolution of physical traits does not effect the morality of society, no, it is our own spiritual nature that decides that.

Because the natural sciences like evolutionary biology cannot nor does not account for the unseen then they naturally have to presume that it is strictly the physical body and the physical mind that attributes to everything that is perceived as "moral". Therefore, when you remove the cause of true moral character, then all that is left is morality being the mere substance of the totality of survival of the fittest brought upon by random mutations. It can be strongly argued from a sole evolutionary standpoint that moral decisions made by humans are made only in light of "survival instincts" ingrained in our DNA. The problems are empiracal to society and its downfall with this approach.

If our decisions are merely the sum of our DNA interacting with nature to ensure survival, then the obligation to be morally true in society means nothing. Evolution is all about "survival". According to modern evolutionary theory, only that which is best adapted to survive, at any cost to others, is that which succeeds.

Morality in society hinges off of whether or not we answer to a higher power than nature. If sciencs says that all that exists is "nature", then by default we only have nature to blame for our faults. But, if we understand and realize that it is our spirit in charge of our physical body,then it is to God that we answere to for misconduct with our stewardship.

.

Zen said...

Rob - It is not an either/or situation. Not even science says that. You are making a straw man argument out of evolution.

Truth is, we have two dueling aspects within us. We have the fallen aspect of our character inherent in our bodies and spiritual aspects in our spirits. Much of our battle here on earth is spirits overcoming physical bodies. Evolution just explains exactly what the "natural man" is.

What evolution explains is
a) what those inherited fallen tendencies are
b) how we got them

Do I exaggerate? Consider what the highly antagonistic to religion atheist Richard Dawkins says,

“Much of the message of my first book, “The Selfish Gene,” was that we must understand what it means to be a gene machine, what it means to be programmed by genes, so that we are better equipped to escape, so that we are better equipped to use our big brains, use our conscience intelligence, to depart from the dictates of the selfish genes and to build for ourselves a new kind of life which as far as I am concerned the more un-Darwinian it is the better, because the Darwinian world in which our ancestors were selected is a very unpleasant world. Nature really is red in tooth and claw. And when we sit down together to argue out and discuss and decide upon how we want to run our societies, I think we should hold up Darwinism as an awful warning for how we should not organize our societies.”

I am not overly fond of Dawkins but does know his science and he is making precisely the OPPOSITE point of the parent post.

Rob Osborn said...

Zen,

Evolution doesn't explain anything because it isn't proven we developed from a lower order of species. Evolution only sets up a possible hypothesis on why we exist.

The reason we are fallen is because of our childish tendencies to cave into sin, it has nothing to do with if we evolved from apes or not. Why was Jesus so perfect? Because he is perfect in his spirit. He had no fallen tendencies to overcome- he didn't sin. How does evolution explain why Jesus was perfect yet no one else is? Could it possibly have anything to do with the nature of his moral integrity in spirit form? Absolutely!

Evolution explains no reality, it just relegates man to the species of an animal in a dog eat dog world.

StevenP said...

That the 'natural man is an enemy to God,' discloses no matters of fact on the source of that natural man.

Mormanity said...

Zen, thanks for the terrific quote for Dawkins - one of his most sensible statements. But his call for an escape from Darwinism in building society is not based upon science, but upon his civil and moral recognition that mankind needs something higher than survival of the fittest and promulgation of genes to guide us. The raw science alone does not provide the guideposts needed, and those who look to science to inform them about the nature of man and our moral obligations will, as stated, come up with dismal results such eugenics, various forms of totalitarianism, and an amoral outlook - because science does not inform us as to morality, as others here have noted. But surely you recognize that numerous teachers and shapers of public opinion do draw moral inferences from their interpretation of the science.

To declare that science shows that God is dead or that Christianity is false or that there is no Creator is highly unscientific--these are metaphysical extrapolations and projections of human philosophy rather than conclusions of science--but so many people accept these unscientific statements as the natural results of "science." These teachings allegedly buttressed by science affect how people view the world and help shape their morality, and for some, they find justification for ugly, harmful behavior that benefits them.

Yes, of course it's bad science to do selfish evil in light of evolutionary findings, but is it bad logic? If we are purely material beings, the result of accidents only with no ultimate accountability and no absolute moral principles, that what is illogical about Mao's conclusion that authority comes from the barrel of a gun? What is wrong with doing whatever it takes to succeed? True liberals, in the classical sense, have answered those questions and advocated sensible social norms based on recognizing inherent value in human life, but their enlightened conclusions do not flow naturally from the perspective of humanity offered by what is popularly taught as science. They appeal to something higher in us, something not readily explained or identified by science, but something which a theistic or Christian perspective can more easily provide (in some cases, anyway--I'm not sure the "totally depraved" viewpoints about humanity help that much, nor do viewpoints that largely deny moral agency in man)--and the LDS perspective I find to be especially fascinating when it comes to understanding who we are and why we are here.

I agree that the problems I referred to are not inherent in the science, but in how humans interpret and apply the science.

Paul said...

Jeff, I'd have less of an issue with your OP if your title suggested you were talking about Human Behavior instead of Human Life.

You are right, of course: for a man to justify his immoral behavior for some genetic reason is senseless, just as suggesting that his wife should stay home for some genetic reason.

That science is amoral does not mean it shouldn't be taught in school (in response to Rob O) -- it just means we also need to teach morality. That may not occur in school (though it could), but may also happen in the home and in the church.

We also teach business in schools, and business (the goal of which is to enhance shareholder value) is also inherently amoral. But we can counterbalance that amorality with education on ethics, as well.

Matthew said...

Carumba! Well this thread is interesting if nothing else. Nothing quite stirs a debate like the word 'evolution'. :)

@bookslinger,
You said this, ""These materials" leaves open the status of those materials, raw unorganized atoms, molecules, or even planetary fragments, or even an old previously used planet."

I'm not totally sure what you mean to say as you're being a bit vague but I'm assuming you hold the theory that all the evidence for evolution is us mistaking material from some other planet for our own planet.

If you think that this was once a planet that had evolving creatures and then humans were placed on it (long after some other very hominid looking creatures) then at least your idea would be somewhat in line with the things we see (although still would be argued as being a rather convoluted idea that doesn't come from the evidence but is rather a way of sidestepping things that are uncomfortable.)

The idea that pieces from other planets were mixed into this one and that the fossils of dinos and the like came from it is much more problematic. It would have needed to be carefully set up to retain an unmistakable appearance of evolution and with all these creature from other planets leaving their alien fossils in regions that happen to match up with geographic locations where their body type and apparent abilities would have worked. To say that it's farfetched is an understatement. It's definitely not the most sensible answer to what we find in the earth, or to what we find with our genetics, or what lines up with our knowledge of how ecosystems work.

Matthew said...

The entire premise of this original post is so messed up to me. It's a total straw man argument to try and say that one person's abuse of a scientific theory shows that such a theory is bad. I can just as easily point to any number of atrocities that were done by religious people and state that dogmatic belief in a supreme being causes such things.

@ Rob,
I can see you feel very threatened by the idea of evolution but it's still the BEST (not perfect or finished but best) THEORY (such as the theory of gravitation or any other scientific theory that most people would never think to question.)

Do we know all the details of how any particular animal evolved? No probably not. We may get close in some cases but many of these types of claims have a long ways to go. The idea that animals change and evolve over long periods of time is rather inescapable. One can pull the whole, "micro evolution happens but not Macro evolution" or argue from incredulity (irreducible complexity arguments) but these ideas have yet to hold much power and definitely don't do a better job of describing life and it's diversity on planet earth.

As far as deriving morality from sources where it isn't found the idea that life was created as is by god because he wanted it that way could lead to equally horrible moral stances. It's a fact of life that life amongst all peoples animals and even plants has (and always will be) very brutal. Animals devour one another and take advantage, they even lie and mimic other species in order to get ahead. Couldn't one say, "god is perfect and this is the way he designed the world, so by emulating what I see his creatures doing I'm doing his will!" That would hardly be a good reason for saying that the idea that god created the things on earth needs to be thrown out, or that it leads people to be immoral.

As Zen pointed out above, even the likes of Dawkins (who is about as in love with biology and the theory of evolution as a person can be) is very strongly insisting that doing what is natural is very different then what an ideal community would be. Heck, part of evolution is the development of thinking brains that are capable of finding better solutions that what their mere instinctual drives would warrant.

Final note: biologist /= atheist. also, atheist /= immoral. There are plenty of good people (as Jeff pointed out) that are atheists and completely decent loving human beings, just as there are biologists out there that see evolution as an inescapable part of reality yet still believe in god. (just as people are able to believe that just because objects are attracted by gravitation and not by god pushing them together can reconcile this with their belief in a deity.

I think in a couple of generations most religions will have moved on and the theory of evoltion won't cause such a stir. For some religions this is already the case.

Matthew said...

Sorry, I'll stop after this one. Promise! :)

http://www.theonion.com/articles/evangelical-scientists-refute-gravity-with-new-int,1778/

Hilarious and applicable.

Zen said...

Osborn - What are you talking about Jesus had no tendencies to overcome? The entire point of the book of Hebrews is the exact opposite point. Brigham Young said no one was born with more weaknesses to overcome than Jesus. No only are you doing sloppy science, you are also doing sloppy theology!

Your other comments are taking evolution out of its appropriate context and level of explanation, like using Newton to explain black holes. That is a straw man.

Mormanity - It appears to me that the problem is
a) bad science
b) assuming we only need science in our starting assumptions (axioms).

I think the war between the atheists and the hyper-literal evangelicals do a great disservice to the rest of us. They create a conflict where none need exist. The fact that some people set up Science as an idol god, is no condemnation of science itself.

Matthew - if our earth is mixed from other planets, then most of those fossils should be far under the earth's crust. If we were mixed from other planets finding anything from it would be highly unlikely.

djinn said...

Mormanity, here's a link showing the correlation between "morality" and religion at a country level. They are inversely correlated.

http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html

The pretend fact that you cite, that people rarely cite godlessness as a reason for good behavior is meaningless. Refute the data, and we'll have a point of discussion.

Matthew said...

@zen,
I totally agree. The idea that fossils that seem to go along with the theory of evolution being put there by the mixing of planetary matter is pretty out there. Not only does it require even crazier ideas then evolution to be workable but it isn't substantiate by even the scriptures (saying they don't specifically say it didn't happen that way is NOT the same as saying it did happen that way.)

I also agree that the arguments between biblical literalists and militant atheists is an exaggerated caricature of reality. Fun to watch, but doesn't really ever go anywhere. Both sides tend to get carried away.

S.Faux said...

I am LDS and I am an evolutionist teaching human evolution as one of my courses. But, I must admit my dismay at the strong anti-religious tone coming out of so many evolutionists these days.

For example, Evolutionary Psychology has just recently published a paper by Daniel Dennett, "Preachers who are not believers." The paper is fascinating but has nothing to do with evolution that I can tell. The paper does embarrass religion somewhat. Is embarrassing religion the new purpose of Evolutionary Psychology? I hope not. Science deserves better.

Matthew said...

Yeah, I don't know that Dennet is a very objective source for information on evolutionary psychology. I also don't quite understand the claim that because things evolved that god can't exist.

To me all it would mean is that god uses specific physical characteristics of the universe to bring about his creations. Is that so surprising?

Dale said...

If I'm reading you correctly, you're okay with the scientific concept of evolution but not with the misuse of it as a guide for living. I don't see how anybody could have a problem with that. Many people reject evolution simply on those grounds, not being able to separate the scientific value from what they see as the moral implications of it.

However as others have pointed out here, most of the justification of immoral behavior comes from a misunderstanding of evolution. Even chimpanzees have an understanding of fairness and sharing, which is the beginning of morality. As research in evolution continues, more evidence of the natural origins of morality is being found.

Rob Osborn said...

It was mentioned-

"As research in evolution continues, more evidence of the natural origins of morality is being found."

The natural origins of morality? Are you serious?

This is exactly the point of this whole thread. If the origins of morality comes from evolution then we are all justified in and through our sins. For that matter there can be no sin because after all- we would just be obeying the law of our flesh in how we have evolved. What is it that controls true morality? It certainly isn't the "flesh".

All the flesh does is provide a vehicle in the which our spirits can carry out their personal desires. "morality" itself is a "spiritual" journey. From LDS teachings we learn that this progression in moral truth and obedience began before we came here when we were in spirit form. Some proved to be more faithful than others. these selected individuals were thus set apart to help the less faithful on earth. It has nothing to do with how or even if our bodies evolved. But, the mistake is made constantly that it is the body- our DNA that is solely reponsible for morality. I totally disagree.

Our physical body is more of just a tool for the spirit to operate in. The body itself does not think and make decisions- that is solely up to the spirit. Sure, we can condition our body to produce feelings that our spirit enjoys through physical senses, but it is not the body or mind itself that is responsible for moral obedience- that is left entirely up to the spirit of man.

That is what Jeff is trying to state in this post I believe. He is stating that moral truth and choices made within that realm is not something that has come about through evolution.

Anonymous said...

Rob, why is it surprising that our bodies influence us? And why does influence, good or bad, justify anything?

If I do not eat, then I become hungry. None of us would argue that. And it does not mean our agency is automatically negated.

We are not only spirits, but you come strangely close to the ancient herasy of neo-platonism. Our bodies ARE part of us - that is what a soul is.

Zen

Andrew said...

The examples of people using evolution as a justification are people who don't fully understand evolution.

Lots of people use the religious books you believe in to justify things you probably think are wrong too (unless you believe in slavery and stoning people for wearing mixed fibre clothes).

Evolution is an explanation of how we got here. It is not a moral code. Taking an explanation of nature and naively treating it like a moral code is the problem. For example, I could say 'gravity pulls us down, so we must now lie down together' - so by the same logic, you should also criticise the theory of gravitation.

Evolution does explain human behaviours, so there is no to invoke a god to explain them. Altruism can make evolutionary sense for several reasons.

Firstly, and most importantly, evolution is survival of the fittest gene. Genes which support their own reproduction are fit, those which don't are not. The genes in me which make me altruistic are helping themselves reproduce when they make me help my relatives out (and ultimately, all humans are related).

Secondly, people (and many other animals) evolved to behave using a tit-for-tat strategy. You treat someone nice, and they normally treat you nice back. You hurt someone, and they'll hurt you back (not necessarily in the same way). Furthermore, in human societies, we stand up for each other and collectively get back at aggressors on each other's behalf. This strategy evolved because it deters aggression against someone with the gene in the short-term amongst rational players. A long term effect of this strategy is that altruism is selected for.

Nathan S said...

Evolution is a word, an idea, and either a fantasy or true. But what does it mean? My body evolved from two cells in my mother. One of those evolved from reproductive tissue in her and the other from reproductive tissue in my dad. The same story plays out many times since Adam and Eve. We each evolved from evolved materials but each were human.

A 200 pound adult dog and a 2 pound adult dog are different breeds of the same species but if each were first discovered long after their deaths, they would be regarded as different species. That's "science." I have the quote marks because it isn't "knowledge" but deduction.

The scientific process is about testing a hyposthesis. The two dogs mentioned can't even breed each other so experiments could be set up to confirm that they are in fact of different species, even though we know they are not. But if fossilized bones were all we had of them, we couldn't even set up an experiment. That means you wouldn't be able to accurately call such probable conclusions "science."

The word "science" is being wrongly used to describe conclusions that cannot be supported by the "scientific methhod." As indendent thinkers, we cannot catch society, or ourselves, in this error unless we know what the scientific method is and recognize that for something to be something, it must be a product of that which produces that something.

Science is a product of the scientific method. The classification of species took place long before DNA analyses was invented and long after the DNA strands became unavailable.

True science is true and may be embraced as part of the religion of all who recognize it but not all "science" is truly science or true.

Whether or not two breeds of finches are as genetically linked as two breeds of dog, let's quit putting the misnomer "science" as a god before the God of Christian scripture. To keep the misnomer as a higher god/God seems perhaps unscientic (in light of other evidence and arguments) and certainly unchristian.

Bookslinger said...

Matthew,

You're still not envisioning the assembling of fragments the way that I am. Basically, it's all been one ball since life was put on it. But before life was started, it may have been smaller balls. You need to step back even further and get outside the box of thinking that this ball has always orbited around this sun.

Plus, it's possible that if there were additions of balls of mass after Genesis, or after a pre-genesis "start", those additional balls were lifeless, or were separate "layers" that were added on top of pre-existing layers or cycles of creation.

God could have accumulated the earth in sections like a mandarin orange, or perhaps built it like the layers of an onion. I dunno.

My postulates don't require the jumps and convolutions you're thinking off. It's must my lack of ability of putting my thoughts into words that others can turn back into picture-thoughts.

The various epochs or eras of this planet's 4 billion year history may indeed be "do overs" perhaps like Genesis 1:1 (Abraham 3:24) represented a "do over". There's nothing in the archeological record to require that today's life forms are descendents of the first life forms upon the planet. There could indeed be gaps in which God "re-seeded" the planet with life forms without a genetic descent connection from one era to the next.

Personally, I think Genesis is just the last of a long series of "re-seeding" with life. And I do not believe evolution from lower to higher life forms has ever happened. The only sense in which "evolution" is true is evolution of one sub-species to another, more along the lines of favorable mutations, but never a higher life form.

Genesis and Abraham are very condensed shortcut descriptions. When the true history of earth is revealed, it will then be seen that Genesis 1:1 was not the "absolute" beginning of the planet.

However, "parts" of the scientific view of the history of the earth will then be able to be fitted into the overall true history, and religionists will be very surprised when they finally get the whole story. And also science-"ists" will be greatly surprised at the gaps in their knowledge, and the true correction of some of their incorrection assumptions.

Rob Osborn said...

Andrew,

The problem with letting evolution be the claim for how we act is problematic. It would mean literally that our choices are based upon an algorithim locked into our DNA. Do you see the problem of this? It would mean that true intelligence is nothing more than a complex math equation in our DNA. If this were true, then all we would need to make consciousness work in artificial intelligence would be this equation. Of course that is totally ludicrous. Intelligence (why we make decisions) cannot be summed up with an equation, no matter how complex it would be.

As I understand it, our DNA is merely a computer program that creates new living reproducable tissue in all the right places at all the right times. It is not responsible for generating intelligence (making decisions). Our spirits however are responsible for generating intelligence.

Morality in the world is based entirely upon the nature and progress of our spirits, not how many of our genes are screwed up or perfect.

Matthew said...

@ bookslinger,
Thanks for the explanation. It's very possible that I'm still not seeing your explanation in the way that you have it invisioned but I think I see what you're saying. I guess here would be my issue though. Let's say one particular layer came form some other planetoid. Say this particular planetoid had what we know as the dinosaurs that lived on it (before they died on this planet and then it's material was used to create our own. If this is the case it would need some rather meticulous sculpting (as near as I can tell) to get all of the fossils to line up with all the other data that we find about out planet. For example dinos with a phenotype that would favor a marshland happen to be found in geographic locations where this sort of environment would be plausible along with plains dwelling dinos, or forest dwellers, etc. This does not seem to me to be very likely if one was grabing material from several planets to make this one. I also don't quite understand why in a universe where (near as we can tell) the vast majority of planets are completely lifeless he would use only peices of planets that had life to make his new planet.

The idea of seeding the planet in intervals is interesting, and seems to fit better to what we see, but still has issues from my POV. Firstly it's a very round about way to explain things which have a much simpler (and common explanation.) Secondly we find some animals that are still around today in rather similar form to their ancient ancestors because their form is extremely successful (contrary to some common though, evolution does not state that things must become more complex over time, only that genetic change can and does happen, and that the most apt to survive does. Many simple designs are very very good at propogating themselves like bacteria.)

There are any number of ideas that one can come up with to try to tie what we find on our planet with what one wants to believe. Evolution seems to be the most rational logical answer given the evidence, but if one chooses to come up with alternate theories then they are more then welcome to do so.

You mention that you think we have evidence of species change but never of a higher life form. What do we mean by higher life form? Do we mean an increase of complexity in an animal? Do you believe that bats with enlarged claws on their feet and aberrant behavior from other bats (that can swoop down and catch fish out of the water. It's amazing to watch) were created that way, or do you deem it possible that this arose by natural causes? This is kind of the, "I believe that micro evolution occurs (small changes within a species) but not in macro evolution (a cat will never give birth to a dog.) The problem with this out look is that it's akin to looking at a redwood sapling and noting under a microscope over a course of several days that there is cell growth and saying, "Sure the sapling certainly grows. That's impossible to ignore, but there is no way this tiny plant can go into giant redwood tree. No person has ever seen that happen! I can't see it turning into one!"

Anyways, I'm probably getting off topic here anyways, but needless to say I welcome people to believe what they will, but the combined planet theory is not one that seems to hold up well to empirical scrutiny and I still don't quite see where this idea came from as it certainly is not explicitly laid out in scripture as being the source of fossil diversity.

Matthew said...

It's been said many times before, but evolutionary theory is not a moral guidebook. It doesn't tell us how to live, or what we should do. It's merely a scientific observation on the most probable source of the physical form we find ourselves in using the physical evidence we find around ourselves.

Perhaps this is what Jeff was getting at from the beginning, but what confuses me about this post and many of the comments here is why one would think that the theory of evolution is a moral teacher in the first place. Is it just the assumption that the 'origin of species' is the atheist bible? Since Christians assume their morals to come from god's holy books (which is definitely arguable) do they also sometimes assume that atheists must have a similar book or idea by which they derive their sense of right and wrong?

I do find it odd that religion often claims a monopoly on 'good' behavior when so much of the behavior we speak of as being of high moral caliber doesn't come from scripture. In fact some of it is portrayed in scripture to be the opposite of what modern day man sees as 'good'. Such as the way men should treat their wives.

At the end of the day people make altruistic choices because it improves their lives and the lives of others and this is a desirable thing in a society, and (near as I can tell) not because they are fearful of what god will do to them. To me it's a much more horrific idea to think that the only reason people don't steal from or kill one another is that they fear some sort of eternal punishment for doing so.

Matthew said...

@ rob,
Morality is way more complex then you're showing it to be. There are any number of things that you find morally repulsive due to cultural teaching then you may be aware of.

Even trying to define what one means by 'moral' is extremely difficult.

As for intelligence and whether it's reproducible, you're making accusations about a subject that as of yet the only real answer is, "we don't know." There are lots of things in the universe that are so complex and have so many pieces that we can't predict what an outcome will be. It may feel like a choice is being made by a system even though we know that system is made up of lots of little pieces that are not making that choice.

Take for example an ant colony. the colony can be viewed (and often is viewed this way) as an organism that is made of of many ants. There is no master intelligence deciding what the ant colony will do yet the ant colony does react in a way that is similar to how a single organism would react. There is not single ant that makes an intelligent decision of, "move the colony to this section of the house" yet it happens just the same. We see a similar phenomenon with entities like 'the stock market' knowing exactly what the market will do at any given moment is impossible. Some people believe this MAY (obviously nobody knows with certainty yet) be similar to what happens with the human mind.

None of this is meant to convince anyone that they don't have free will or that they should start ignoring what they feel is the 'right' thing to do. I'm just trying to point out that people can sometimes take a position like the one you've just put forth and try to oversimplify things in order to make the universe appear more comfortable and understandable.

jamy said...

Evolution is not a philosophy or a way of life but its a SCIENTIFIC THEORY. You either accept it or you dont, its either bad for you or it isnt. None of this would make it anymore or less true.
You could blame evolution for human suffering but lets turn it around.
Lets thank evolution for giving us an oversized brain instead of a pair of vicious claws and teeth in combination with a bloodthirsty instinct.

Maybe the theory of a skydaddy creator is a bad combination but you have to acknowledge that the skydaddy theory isnt a scientific theory but more of an ancient myth. whereas evolution on the other hand is something you can be quite sure of that it really happened.

Rob Osborn said...

Matthew,

As I understand it, intelligence is the "spirit" part of man and all other living things. Our physical bodies by themselves (devoid of spirit) has no ability whatsoever to think and make decisions. A spiritless body is thus lifeless. As said before, DNA is nothing more than a code for the replication of living organs and parts which will make up a living body. No part of the DNA strand is a code for how to make intelligence- how to make decisions, etc. If that were so, then nature is to blame for my sinfulness and not my spirit.

Its not rocket science, the physical properties of life do communicate with each other, but why do they communicate? Because they are housed with spirits which are "intelligences". Our bodies are just robots that work according to program inputs.

Matthew said...

@rob,
You're making a lot of assumptions here that simply aren't verifiable. We DON'T know that intelligence is not a byproduct of physical bodies. Religion makes that assumption but it's not a verifiable hypothesis yet. Again, just as there is an overarching intelligence that can be seen with an ant colony or any other large group of creatures or even inanimate objects (what makes the wind decide to blow in a certain direction at a given time?) there isn't an actual spirit or intelligence that is controlling the ant colony. As weird as it may seem the idea of an ant colony making decisions as a whole is illusionary. There is not particular intelligence that tells the colony to move to a specific spot in the house it's the product of thousands of ants reacting in the way ants react to a number of variables.

I'm not saying that we have any evidence to prove that there is NOT a spirit which controls human beings like you are describing. I'm merely pointing out that your way of looking at things is not the obvious answer, and that there are any number of equally plausible answers to the question of what is consciousness.

This is a subject that is getting quite far from the original topic and I'm probably mostly to blame for that. Needless to say, it is not the theory of evolution that causes people to be immoral, and there are plenty of people out there that question whether there is even such thing as a spirit yet they are still what you would probably categorize as a 'good' or 'moral' person. Religious ideals simply are not a prerequisite to moral behavior. We have no evidence to contradict that claim other then obvious straw man arguments which can be used to discredit religious philosophies just as easily as any others.

Zen said...

Rob - Intelligence in modern scripture is a fantastically under-defined subject, which to me, suggests greater complexity and nuance than you suggest.

My spirit moves my body, but my muscles do all the heavy lifting. My spirit might be in command of my mind, but my brain and nerves do all the computational work and signal sending.

Are you so horrified of our bodies to think we are debased by having it influence us?

The body influences the spirit, and the spirit influences the body.

The body is not evil by itself, not at all, but it does have some tendencies and weaknesses that must be taken into account and overruled.

But we certainly have some automatic responses in our bodies. I don't have to take much thought to remember to breathe. (good thing) If I get too busy to eat, it reminds me by getting hungry.

If I burn myself, I automatically recoil my hand. The body is can act by itself, and that can be good. Now, perhaps I need, for some reason, to keep my hand in a fire - I can over-rule my body.

To deny this Rob, is (as Nibley would put it) zeal without knowledge.

Matthew said...

going along with what zen just posted it's also interesting to note things such as tourette's syndrome. I have a friend that has this and due to it he's a pretty impulsive guy. Tourettes colors in both good and bad ways what kind of a personality he has. He would quite literally be a different person I think were it not for this. When we talk about spirit it needs to be noted that if there is a non corporeal entity (and this is certainly not something that can be proven or disproven) then this entity outside of the body would act and behave in a very different manner then it would when combined with the body. There is very little about who we are, and how we behave that is not dictated to a strong degree (some would suggest entirely) by both our physical make up and the things we have been taught (environment.) I have similar issues with the idea that the spirit looks just like the body it inhabits as a person's physical characteristics are hinged on billions and billions of different variables that are affected by human decisions prior to my birth (if my parents hadn't married there is no way I could be alive with this particular set of characteristics. To say that the spirit looks like the body would require that everything work out a certain way and church leaders have stated that the idea of a soul mate (only one particular person that you are supposed to marry and that was determined in the preexistance) is not correct. That there are any number of people a person could marry and lead a happy, healthy, righteous life with.

If this is the case it throws up lots of issues with the idea that my spirit looks or acts like I do today. For the concept to work logically in my head the spirit (outside of the body) would be almost unrecognizable as 'me'.

Matthew said...

Ouch! Sorry for the wall of text. My fingers seem to despise the 'enter' button, it would seem. :)

Rob Osborn said...

The body is a motor- it is conditioned and programmed to move in certain ways none of which generate intelligence. Physical disabilities can and do often hinder conscious thoughts and actions- some lets sy, have better processors while others may have short circuits.

The point is that it is not the body that is responsible for the generation of intelligence. This is analogous to a person using a typewriter. the typewriter is not responsible for writing a book, no, it is only responsible for conveying the intelligence that th euser is trying to convey. that is much the same how our bodies work- it conveys the way our intelligence thinks. In some people who are disabled (all of us?) wires are crossed and the body does not convey the same signals and process information in the right ways as was designed.

Matthew said...

Rob,
I understand the analogy you're making. The problem is that we have no reason to suggest that this is how it works. In the case of brain chemicals and the way people act we see a lot of changes when chemicals are altered. Saying that these changes are merely and inhibition of what the spirit is trying to carry out is impossible to say. Again, if there is a spirit that controls everything very little of who you are and how you act would be seen by this inner spirit if you were to look at it because nearly every action you make is painted to a very high degree by your physical makeup, your upbringing and your physical environment. You are oversimplifying the issue with this sort of an analogy because with chemical alterations of the brain, often times the person who has been chemically altered really feels that their emotions are not coming from some outside source but that it is part of themselves. Again, not saying that spirits don't exist, merely that the way that you're portraying them does not seem to be something that we have good reason to suppose. As zen has pointed out, even from a religious outlook this view has issues.

Matthew said...

an example of thoughts that don't come from the spirit would be subconscious ideas. Your brain is aware of a lot more then what you consider to be 'yourself' is aware of. People will be searching for a lost item and then 'boom' they get a message from the non conscious (not what we term the 'self') part of the brain that reminds us that we have left our wallet on the kitchen counter and sure enough, there it is.

Does the spirit have a subconscious then? If not where do these types of thoughts come from? When dreaming there are oftentimes lots of elements of the dream that I feel I have no control over. Science tells us that these are the machinations of the subconscious. If thought can only come from a spirit then what are dreams? Where do the elements I didn't consciously think up come from?

Rob Osborn said...

Matthew,

I see what you are saying and I am not arguing that the brain is very complex in how it functions. I am of the firm belief however that the brain is just a sensory bank that files and tags events to sensory memory events. obvious stimulation to the brain in certain areas will bring certain memories or pictures into your consciousness. I would however have a hard time believeing that the brain functions in a manner by itself that generates problem solving skills or decisions.

raedyohed said...

Re-posting my comment from http://sciencebysteve.net/?p=1780 since this discussion is following more or less the same track.

"Just thought this might be a good place to insert a link to some interesting talks given at an excellent university with which I may or may not be affiliated.

Dr. Rebecca Saxe of MIT discusses the neurology of moral reasoning and the methodologies used to uncover the connection between morality and biology. The fMRI talk is more technical and, therefore, better.
http://tinyurl.com/y2tlrq5

While “LDS theology posits that consciousness is conferred by a preexistent spirit,” scientific inquiry generally presumes a material, biological explanation for thought and behavior, including consciousness and moral reasoning. The linked talks give some indication of how the field of neurology is progressing on the topic.

I also highly recommend the talks given by VS Ramachandran (towards the bottom of the page) who is a renowned neurologist studying the connections between consciousness, the body, synesthesia, and creativity. Enjoy!"

Matthew said...

@ raedyohed,
Thanks for the links. I'm stoked to read through all that. Looks really interesting. Is that a link to your own site or stuff you've stumbled across.

@ Rob,
There is most definitely creativity and new formations of ideas coming form the subconcious mind. Many artists and musicians use a number of ways to unlock the interesting ways in which this part of the mind seems to create things. We look at people like Einstein, Richard Feynman, or Issac Newton and the concept that they came across a good number of their biggest ideas without any conscious understanding of what they were doing. Likewise the world class athlete can't really describe to you how he catches a ball or give you a description of how this all works. I don't see how these are not examples of intelligence that dwells outside of the 'spirit' unless the spirit has a subconscious as well.

I guess another question I have is whether spirits have a brain that controls the spirit arms and spirit legs.

For me personally the religious explanations seem very circular. They answer questions on a superficial level, but the same logic that is used to require the metaphysical explanation in many cases also undermines the explanation. To give an example, some people will posit that complexity must have a creator in order to exist, but yet at the same time they do NOT require a creator for the creator, even though he is also highly complex and would by this logic follow the same rules. This is not so much an LDS outlook as much as it is an evangelical outlook, but works as a quick example.

Rob Osborn said...

Matthew,

I am in the same ballpark as the intelligent desin and creationism guys. I am kind of a mix of the two. Putting logic with religion, intelligence in nature is explained best because God exists and he is a "creator". Evolution fails where it needs it most- explaining how life got started. Many scenerios have been drawn up and as of yet nothing at all has panned out. Life is just too complex for "nature" to have randomly generated it. DNA is so complex in it's design and purpose that scientists haven't a clue on how nature could have ever produced such a magnificant specimen. So instead they build that "mount improbable" with these hypothetical little steps until they are there. The problem is however that we do not see any evidence that nature can or does do this.

After 50 years in the lab, scientists have yet to create life from non-life material in a "natural" type of setting. they are not even close- it just isn't happening. As for "intelligence", it is the most unique and yet perplexing mystery in nature. There is no code or equation known to man that explains how intelligence works. Artificial intelligence is the closest we come and it is all just a complex set of math equations that a computer runs through- there is no real intelligence in it.

The natural laws of nature just do not create intelligent things on their own. I have had many a scientist and like say that there are many examples but in fact, there is absolutely no evidence that nature can produce something intelligent, or something that is meant to be used with an intelligent agent. They have been in the lab over 50 years trying to do just that and have come up completely blank! It just does not happen.

There are many complex mysteries yet to be discovered in biology. How cells interact and communicate with each other is just one perplexing mystery. The DNA code is another perplexing mystery because it is formed in a way that only an intelligence can even read it and know what it means.

If there is a code in the DNA that explains intelligence I am all ears. If you could find (if it really exists)it you would be by far the most powerful man on earth.

BTW, The creator exists because someone who was also intelligent created him.

Matthew said...

@ Rob,
Your opinion is understandable. For me personally the lack of knowledge as to how life came about (as far as all the details are concerned) is not a good reason to suggest that a god, or more specifically the god referred to in LDS theology, must have created it. While the theory of evolution does certainly imply that there must have been a point where life came into existence and it does not use a deity to explain this, the science is based off of what we are observing. That species evolve is not an argument that any rational person can have going off what we know about the world. Whether these small changes can lead, over time, to large changes is where all the argument comes from. Science as I see it has given us pretty amazingly good reason to suggest that it does even if the process is such a drawn out one that we can't witness it happening before our eyes (there are lots of scientific theories that are like this by the way, but they don't received this sort of argument from the religious.)

Much like the expanding universe is a good evidence that at one time the universe was infinitely small. The changes in life, natural selection, genetic changes, the fossil record, etc seem to suggest that things are changing over time and that if we were going back in time we would see separate species converging to some common ancestor. Saying that the theory of evolution is false because humans, in their short span of existence, haven't figured out how all the details work is quite frankly rather silly. It's an attempt to ignore all the reasons why science believes evolution to be a good explanation for life on earth, or at least the hows and whys of life.

Frankly I don't get why religion has any issue with evolution at all. Nature and natural laws came about through god didn't they? Why wouldn't god use the same laws to bring about his creations? People seem to think that god is not powerfull unless he's magically creating things or poofing them into existence. When you look at it, theists argue that god made Adam out of mud, and science argues that man was also made out of mud. The only difference is the details of how this change happened. Details which the bible and all religious prophecy that I'm aware of are completely silent about. Essentially, I don't understand why anyone would take issue with the ideas that science presents regarding evolution.

For some the idea of endless gods creating a never ending lineage may be sensible (I'm assuming it must otherwise why would the believe it?) For me personally the idea doesn't make anything clearer and just seems rather silly.

Paul said...

Matthew, I do not believe in God because evolution does not adequately explain the beginning of life or because scientists have so far failed to create life.

I believe in God because He reveals Himself to me through His teachings, His gospel and His blessings in my life.

Believing in Him, I also then have certain views about the beginning of life.

That said, I think that your comments about the fact that there may be acceptance of evolutionary theory among believers is reasonable, as long as that acceptance does not dictate the rejection of God.

I believe the two can coexist.

Matthew said...

@ paul,
My non belief in god is likewise not based on what science finds. I don't believe in him/it because I don't find any influence in my life by it. I could of course be completely wrong.

I agree that science cannot tell us that god doesn't exist. For me personally the god explanation does not fit what we see in life unless we're extremely selective about what we view, but that is my own opinion and not something that is provable.

There are often times claims of a scientific nature that are made to try to support the idea that god exists but these are, of the ones I've seen anyways, just as easily explained by any number of other things. Things like out of body experiences, revelation, prayer, etc. are what I'm referring to here.)

I really do try to think critcally about all things, which is why don't say that god does not exist, merely that I have not ever seen a good reason to suggest that he does exist in any of the ways that people describe it.

Mormanity said...

Matthew, I appreciate your perspectives, though I disagree at times. But thanks for helping to keep us on our toes and see things differently.

Matthew said...

:)

I definitely enjoy the topics on this site. It's interesting to see how different people look at these subjects.

Rob Osborn said...

Matthew,

For me I have known no other belief other than that God exists- its what I was raised to believe. Can I question that, or should I question that? You bet. But I do so not in doubt so much as it is a means to better my faith. What i see from this view is that there is definately purpose in life. I see the difference in what nature can do and what intelligence can do within that nature, But I do not see nature as being responsible for creating intelligence. How can it even know what intelligence is? How can some random chain of events build something into this very complex system of life where intelligence abounds? Because we see no proof of this happening anywhere in our environment we are truly left to conclude that intelligence in living things is an anomaly of gigantic proportions. The known laws we have of nature do not explain the existance of life. We disect whats already happened and wonder in amazement how nature could have produced somthing so complex.

Evolution is void of God. They are not compatible even though some within the Christian community insist they are. The quest for them is to find what if any role the creator plays in lifes origins, Its always the same for them- put God in the credits but leave off what he actually did...because frankly he doesn't do anything for them.

I do not believe in a God the "poofs" stuff into existance. i believe in a God who works within laws, whatever they may be. If we could understand everything God does it would all make scientific perfect sense. I do not believe however in a "singularity" event at some time in the past in how our universe came into existance from an infinitely small amount of matter. To me that is worse than the proverbial "who was the first God". I find it interesting that science places an age on the universe, of the which, they cannot even see the ends of. Talk about pulling numbers out of a hat and calling it sound science. the evidence behind evolution is just the same- they claim to say we came from a long line of lower species when their only evidence is in similarities of biological structure. There is no actual documentation of evolutions claims, just mere conjecture. So is my belief in God also conjecture then? Sure it is, but at least in my world of thinking I will actually be resurrected and be something of importance in eternity. If I hang on to evolution then all i have is this little speck of life to live and exist and when i die- nothing!

Tell me, what would you rather believe??

Matthew said...

@ rob,
Thanks for the explanation. I can definitely see where you're coming from.

I also find value and meaning in life. A whole lot of it. Family ties, love, helping others, learning and exploring our awesome universe (as much as I'm capable) are all things that are very very important to me. For me personally I don't see good reason to believe in a god, but I don't begrudge others that do. As far as purpose goes I think the idea that a deity or promise of eternal life are needed to have one, or to be moral, or to have peace in one's life is false.

With the theory of evolution and it's clash with a belief in god, I think you are being over critical of it. The theory of evolution is not the first theory to be accused of relegating god to more of an observer then an active player. Ancient people most likely attributed to god any number of natural occurences. Even today many people attribute earthquakes and flooding to the anger of god. Does knowing that earthquakes, floods, gravitational attraction, stellar motion, or the prismatic effect have natural causes take away god's power? Every one of these things has at some time and even in some places today, been attributed to a magical type of control by god.

The question that arrises in my mind, is why people must believe that god does not just work through his natural created forces when 1. all evidence we have points in the direction of natural laws governing the evolution of species the gravitaional systems, the prismatic effect, etc. and 2. the vast, vast majority of us never experience anything beyond the natural in our lives and most people that I've met only claim to have had what they refer to as 'spiritual' experiences. Experiences that are not verifiable by a second party and that COULD (not saying I KNOW they are false) be incorrect. It should be noted that this same phenomenon appears amongst UFO believers, Astrologers, and just about anyone that believes in something that can not be verified.

I am perhaps overly skeptical of religion, but I still don't see how the theory of evolution is any different then any other scientific discovery other then the fact that is fairly new and that it clashes with a literal interpretation of the first few versus of the bible.

To me there are much bigger clashes with science in the first chapters of Genesis then evolution. The lack of talking snakes found anywhere on earth would be a prime one. ;)

If the theory of evolution is false then a better theory needs to be created. As of yet this has not been found. If god did create things more or less as is (perhaps allowing for small amounts of natural micro evolution.) then he has done a superb job of hiding this from us for some reason and leaving lots of false breadcrumbs so that the most logical understanding of the evidence leads us in the wrong direction.

Rob Osborn said...

Matthew,


I guess it is all in how one sees the glass- half full or half empty. I see evidence everywhere of Gods physical actions with nature. The evidence you see for evolution is the same evidence I see of a global catastrophic flood in Noah's day (the eviedence of the rocks). Now certainly both could not have happened. Many geology books will even give a diatribe about how the ancienst would blame a mythical god for the things they couldn't understand- the fossils in the rocks being one of such. But, in so doing, they themselves leave themselves wide open to the same conjecture because they are no better at explaining the rock formations.

The Grand Canyon alone is one such example- not in how it was cut but rather in how the many rock layers were built up. Science will state that they grew layer upon layer over millions of years with shallow seas coming and retreating inbetween each successive layer. The problem with this is that their "present is the key to the past" does not work here. Anyone with any brains at all should know that the majority of the layers int he Grand Canyon (minus perhaps the basement rocks) caould have only been deposited at one general time in order for them to be so uniform and parallel. That is just one example of science making up a scenerio for something they themselves can't explain, or chosse to explain void of God.

As for UFO's, I and my wife have been one of the lucky few to have actually witnessed a UFO up close in person. There was no denying what we saw, it was very close (100-200 feet overhead). But who is going to believe me? People who know my character believe me because they know I wouldn't lie. I have also had other "spiritual" experiences in the which cannot be rationally explained by known laws we teach and know about.

The evidence for evolution is very weak in my opinion, at least from the standpoint of major evolutionary changes across taxa lines. Micro-biologists and mathmaticians have even concluded to a high degree of accuracy that evolution of new functioning parts in a life-form is so highly unlikely that to suppose we evolved through this process in our past is highly unlikely. You know what evolutions answer to this is though? Time and space- lots of it. Nothing like having the magical time to make anything happen- even the most complex form of life can be developed given enough time and space. This is the best answer science has for explaining "intelligence" in nature.

Matthew said...

Rob,
Hmmm... well at this point it's probably just going to be best to agree to disagree.

I don't see the slightest bit of evidence for a global flood. You can find creationist claims that this is backed up but none of the claims stand up to scrutiny that I've seen.

As far as UFOs are concerned its more of the same as far as my beliefs go. I don't see any trustworthy evidence (something that is verifiable) it's always anecdotal evidence that isn't at all trustworthy. Don't get me wrong. I'm not calling you a liar. It's been shown time and time again that people can be extemely mistaken when they witness an event that is peculiar. For example if someone witnesses a mugging, or an accident it's been found that the reports on what exactly happened will often times be all over the place. When these events are staged people are often CERTAIN that they saw a bald white man when it was actually someone that doesn't fit the description in the slightest. I guess what I'm saying is that you are most likely mistaken. I can't prove that of course, but there isn't good reason to suggest that your experience was an accurate portrayal of what really happened.

As far as having a 'glass is half empty' mentality, that's kind of how I see the religious POV. It just seems way too petty and small to me. Life is way more interesting, diverse and full of wonder then what I've experienced from religion. This is of course my personal opinion and not one that I would expect others to follow or that my point of view is even the most common or obvious outlook.

Dave Hale said...

I'm currently taking course on Evolutionary Psychology as an elective for my major (graduate this spring). Yes, evolutionary theory is basically about passing down our genes but I'm really pleased that my prof. has stressed several times that we're not trying to pass judgement or say we should live a certain way because of evolution. His key phrase is "it is what it is".

Additionally, my wife was a little concerned about me taking the class but we discussed it quite a bit and realized that, perhaps we are "naturally" supposed to be polygynous (example) in order to pass as many of our genes down as possible, but the BofM declares that "the natural man is an enemy to God" and one of our trials on earth is to overcome our "natural man" and live by the spirit and strive for a holier sphere.

Anonymous said...

@ Robb "Who is to blame? Its Satan mostly teaching men to forget their God, forget their divine lineage, and instilling instead a belief that we are mere animals in a dog eat dog world where passions rule and compassion is out."

Can you please show your source for this? I would like to to see some evidence that it is Satan doing this. I would be very interested in knowing what evidence leads you to believe that.
As for your UFO claims, wow, that is pretty amazing.

Tony said...

This has been quite an interesting and enlightening post and discussion. I agree in general with much of what Jeff L. has said, and think that there are people who cast both morality and evolution in a bad and false light when they seek to use it as an excuse for their own behavior. We can always determine how we act. Agency is a powerful and wonderful gift, and one that should be exercised with care.

I look forward to learning more about evolutionary theory as I am able. I will surely come upon part of it as a psych major.

mkprr said...

A lot of good points have been made here! It seems to me that no matter how you look at it, 6,000 year old earth, or billions of years old, either way mankind has lived in a dog eat dog world for a long time and we are the offspring of only those who have succeeded in surviving long enough to have children and raise them to maturity. All of us are the offspring of those who in hard times still survived and many of our ancestors undoubtedly did some horrible things. We have inherited their genetic makeup and tendencies, therefore if we are going to love one another, be humble, live in monogamous relationships and follow the councils of God we are likely to clash at times with the nature of those who survived well enough to be our ancestors. I think evolutionary psychology should be relevant to helping us understand our natural selves whether we evolved over billions of years or whether we were created by the literal hand of God 6 thousand years ago.
It is of course still never a valid argument to suggest that betrayal and wickedness is ok because we have a natural tendency towards it.
My favorite scripture on this topic is Alma 38:12 “See that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.” As men of God we don’t smother our passions, or dismiss our passions we bridle them like a rider would bridle a horse. The horse loses none of it’s strength or power but simply puts that power to controlled use. We are left without excuse no matter how evil, our ancestors may have been or what they had to do to survive.
As for how old the earth really is and how evolution played a role in Gods creation, The question seems spiritually unimportant in light of the fact that in the book of Moses we learn that the creation account was given Moses in response to the question “Why” not “How”. Further more in LDS scripture it is plain that God is not the God of merely the unexplainable but he is the creator of every law that governs our sphere of existence. No discovery will ever remove the hand of God from his creation because with each discovery we are simply learning more about the laws and Principles God has created for us in mortality. If we do discover how to make life out of non life we would simply prove the plausibility of the statement that God created man out of the dust of the earth. In D&C 121:29-31 and in other places the Lord states that He will eventually reveal all about this earth and the laws that govern it but by saying that He is also by default stating that He hasn’t yet revealed these things. I don’t see the merit in being dogmatic about any theory that God hasn’t yet fully revealed. I look forward to the day when these things are made know but in the mean time I think we should encourage looking into many possible theories and sorting out the best ones always being ready to let go of anything false when and if we find further light and knowlege.

Matthew said...

@mdprr,
Excellent points. I agree completely.

As I stated before, I don't understand why this issue causes such a stir amongst people. That people would try to use the theory of evolution to justify doing things which are of a brutal or lustful nature is just silly. It's not like man just suddently started having these sorts of temptations and drives when the theory came about. Heck, scripture refers to it as the 'natural man which is an enemy to god' so it's obvious that humans have felt for a long time that they have natural desires and passions that must be tamed and focused in order for us to live the good life.

The idea that it is a sick perversion to state that man evolved through a slow process from other animals in the past just doesn't make any sense to me. I don't see how it denies the existence, or ability to believe in, god. Both explanations state that man came about from the dust of the earth, neither is explicity laid out as being the 'correct' explanation by god, and one of them is backed up by mountains and mountains of observational evidence.

For those that seem appalled at the idea that man is just 'another type of filthy animal' or that this evolutionary heritage would somehow destroy any inherent worth or beauty that the human race has, I would suggest you take a closer look around you. I don't personally have a belief in god for other reasons but a lack of majesty in the natural world is not one of them. Watch a nature documentary, go for a walk in the woods, or just pay closer attention to you dog and it seems difficult to not stand in awe of all of it. Whether you come to the conclusion that evolution played a part in this grand flora and fauna, or it was created as is, I don't see how one can find it an ugly thing to note that man seems to be deeply one with all other forms of life on the planet.

What I'm saying is that even the animals aren't just 'stupid animals'. When we observe more intelligent life such as chimpanzees we see profound social interactions going on, we see what seems to be love, and altruism acting within them. We also see warfare and strife and social hierarchies. Humanity is not alone in many of the things which we often assume we are.

I could go on much more about this but I've probably already written much more then anyone cares to read. :)

James Hoggatt said...

The guy you heard about doesn't even understand evolutionary psychology, which is the theory he is basing his actions on.

In fact, evolutionary psych would say monogamy is preferable bc of social standards that alter the natural calculus. If Humans lacked evolved methods of though then polygamy would be the norm, but since we expect monogamy, monogamy is what will better the survival of our genes for multiple generations.

Humans don't function under survival of the fittest concepts. No evolutionary psychologist would ever suggest such a thing.

Please don't mistake stupid people for people who understand evolutionary theory, lest christians be mistaken for imposters as well.

Flavius Noseephus said...

The question of evolution has been one that has torn the secular and religious worlds apart, Mormon church included. Since the days of B.H Roberts and Joseph Fielding Smith members have argued over the concept of evolution. I was always comforted by the Church leaders ability to relegate matters of science to the scientific community and the matters of faith to their own. And the First Presidency has repeatedly made it clear that this is a matter for science, not faith and is not pertinent to mans salvation. Of course that didn't stop Joseph Fielding Smith from publishing his Flintstones quality book, "Man his origin and destiny" or the "Thousand Years" series but at least the First Presidency set folks straight.

That it took billions of years for the earth to form in no way impacts my belief in a God, nor should it impact anyone's. In fact, when we ponder the vastness of time, it seems to strengthen it.

With regards to the evolutionary excuses for poor behavior I can only point out that this individual is confusing evolution with human nature. Its human nature to crap in our pants, but we "learn" to do better as we grow. And while it might be human nature to behave badly, we learn to do better over time, and evolve.

Flavius Noseephus said...

And speaking of evolving, my comment needs to evolve to correctly identify Skousen, and not Smith as the author of the Thousand years series, lol.

Flavius Noseephus said...

One final thought.

Mormonism is a belief system bathed in the concept of evolution. Mormons believe as it is done on earth, so it is done in heaven. And thus for a God who nurtures our evolving spirits through the vastness of the eternities it makes perfect sense for him to use a similar process with the creation of our temporal bodies.

The concept of evolution is a core fundamental from a spiritual standpoint as Mormons believe in "Eternal Progression", which is by definition an evolutionary process.

So no, evolution is not the stumbling block to peoples faith as Joseph Fielding Smith and Cleon Skousen, and others believed. The First Presidency made that clear.

Matthew said...

@flavius,
Excellent points, sir!