Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Friendly Discussion about Evolution ...

... which is, of course, most often an oxymoron.

C. Michael Patton recently opened a discussion on evolution at his website with a quote from John MacArthur (see my earlier post John MacArthur: "The evolutionary lie ..."). The last three posts here at OutsideTheBox grew out of that discussion. I quit reading and interacting in the thread of comments when they numbered 530. By that time, the discussion had become heated, at times, with the traditionalist/anti-evolutionists demanding answers to many questions which, quite frankly, underscored how poorly they understand evolution. They kept demanding that evolutionists make every aspect of evolution fit into traditional evangelical theology, reveling in their “aha” moments each time they found our answers less than satisfying.

Fellow Evolutionary-Creationist Greg (who is still going strong as the comment thread nears 600), at one point (comment 509 and 511) became, shall we say, slightly agitated, and waxed eloquent! Because his comment so profoundly reflected my own thoughts and feelings, I asked Greg if I could repost his comment here; he consented, and it follows:

My Father in Heaven has blessed me with an unquenchable desire to know. To seek out and understand, to teach the glories of his Word and world to those less fortunate than I. Ignorance is bliss, maybe, but in the wonderful wisdom of His will, I have been denied this common curse.

I cannot unsee what I have seen. I do not have the luxury of ignorance to guide me in my life anymore. The church is the greatest sustainer of ignorance I have yet to encounter. As I walk through it I am struck by the childishness of the people, the simplicity they exhibit. At times I long to have again what they have now! Only to fit in, to be of a simple mind again, and not walk this road alone. But in the end, that would be like a man who can now see preferring instead his blindness. I prefer the color of the empty road.

The world is an amazing and complicated place. The Word of God is an amazing and complicated book. Both will confuse you to death. Those who do not see burn one in favor of another. That is not an option for me. Who am I to condemn a work of God to the fire? As God is the author of both, I have to hold one in my right hand and one in the other. I have to accept both no matter how confusing it may seem or how much guessing I may have to do. I am sure in my heart that my God is faithful and true, not one prone to duplicity, as those who do not see will have me believe.

The Word and the world are complicated. I embrace the challenge. I will glory in the magnificent creation my Father has put me in and pity those who do not see what wonders my God has created. Any who wish to see I will gladly help them. Those who refuse, I, ever praying, will leave them to their unrealized misery.

If you are an anti-evolutionary Christian, please, please do not take offense. Wear the shoe only if it fits. And ensure that you understand evolution before you criticize those of us who have become convinced that it must fit into revealed truth, because it is revealed truth.


Tom said...

This comes from the author of the original post:

I am not confused or disturbed about the issue [of evolution], nor does it put any of my faith in jeopardy in any way. I just don’t know whether or not God used evolution as a means to create humanity. Neither do I know how long it took to create the earth. I don’t know if Genesis 1 is meant to be taken literally, metaphorically, symbolically, ideologically, mythologically, or accommodatingly. I simply believe that when it is interpreted rightly, it is true.

Huh? Can I get an opinion here, please? The last sentence just kills me. It is like saying "When you know, you know." I suppose this is what commentor Greg meant when he talked about simplistic thinking. I don't follow this blog so I don't know the typical readership, but with 600 comments, I would say that it remains an important topic and certainly is worth discussion. It is important to a lot of people's faith. It is important to consider why it is such a controversial topic. What is it that keeps scientists so grounded in their opinions (obviously the evidence) and what keeps religious folks against it (obviously the threats to theology).

I agree with Greg that religion tends to speak to the simple-minded. I also yearn sometimes for such simplicity. I hope I don't sound so pompous, though. I think it is nonsense for one to ascribe God as having passed this cup of intellectual curiosity to a few chosen individuals. Certainly the devil can use curiosity to confuse, and maybe it would be more fun just thinking about who is going to be booted off the next reality TV show, but I think it should be readily apparent to all thinking individuals that what the world needs more of is more thinking individuals. And its not that they don't think. It's that they think about stupid stuff!

There are alternatives to believing in strict creationism. One can either choose evolutionary-creationism (or theistic evolution) or one can choose evolution and materialism. With quotes like "I have to accept both no matter how confusing it may seem or how much guessing I may have to do. I am sure in my heart that my God is faithful and true, not one prone to duplicity, as those who do not see will have me believe." you are asking for fundies to enter a world of cognitive dissonance that you admit is difficult and offer nothing entirely fulfilling on the other side. Furthermore, your voice, while sincere, is not the voice of authority. They may be simple-minded, but they're not stupid. You have to carve a path by example. We atheists are in a similar, but opposite boat. In our case, we have reason on our side, but we don't have the ideologies and social structures that appeal to the masses.

Cliff Martin said...

I will respond to Tom later, no time right now.

But I want to offer this quick clarification ...

The quote Tom begins with are the words of C. Michael Patton, at Pen & Parchment. And I agree with Tom, the quote is a real zinger!

But I wanted it to be clear that Greg did not say that, nor did I, but Mr. Patton.

Cliff Martin said...


"What is it that keeps scientists so grounded in their opinions (obviously the evidence) and what keeps religious folks against it (obviously the threats to theology)."

Agreed. Though I might have said "the perceived threats to theology."

"you are asking for fundies to enter a world of cognitive dissonance that you admit is difficult and offer nothing entirely fulfilling on the other side."

I think Greg (whom you are quoting in this final paragraph) was attempting to be candid and transparent, and thus may have came across as unsure of himself. I don't know Greg well, but I believe he is far surer of his opinions than he lets on, but chose not to steam-roll the other side. Nevertheless, I agree with you about offering something fulfilling on the other side, which is something I continually try to do; this is, in fact, a major part of my purpose at OutsideTheBox.

I often wonder: if someone like me had beckoned the young believer, Tom McTavish, to come over and help explore the exciting vistas of theistic evolution, I wonder whether would Tom have ever apostatized. And this precisely because I take exception to your assumption that materialists "have reason on [their] side."

Isaac Gouy said...

> Tom The last sentence just kills me. It is like saying "When you know, you know."

Can you be sure you mean the same thing by "true" as the writer?

Psiloiordinary said...

It all depends on what the meaning of is is.



Isaac Gouy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Isaac Gouy said...

Given that the writer lists all those ways in which they don't know - what they mean here by "true" seems unlikely to be factual correspondence.

Greg said...

Greg here.

Cliff, honored to have a post quoted by you, so thank you.

Kinda bummed CMP closed down the thread though...had a few replies written down and ready to post that would have said some much needed things!

Oh well though, I was spending too much time on it anyway!

Tom, you say good things, and I agree. Plowing things through isn't the way to win these types. While I've got most of my theology figured out, I don't have as complete a picture as I did when I was a YEC. This unnerves most people, and when that happens they'd rather stick to tradition than anything else.

I can understand that, but I don't like it. Hence why I called them color-blind and in denial. Simple-minded because they prefer simple explanations. "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it".

Bringing in Ancient Near Eastern cosmology is too much for many people raised on a heavy dose of strict inerrancy. It's kinda like the kid that's always afraid to go out and get a little dirty or scrap a knee or something. The world is so much more exciting than four walls and a chair!

I didn't change my opinion on these matters in a few short days. It took years. I don't know what the other contributors are going to end up doing. I hope the sideline reader who's sitting on the fence comes across it one day and gets something good from it.

Then, I think, it would be worth it. I knew no one would change their stance while posting. I hope they got enough from it so when they lay awake at night thinking about it, things will start to fall into place.

That is where the real change always occurs.

Tom said...

Thanks Greg for your comment. I did not mean to comment and run, but I'm on vacation and when I have a good internet connection I don't have the time to resume and when I have the time I seem to not have an internet connection....

I understand that these issues are often dealt with knee-jerk reactions, that they are sensitive, and that they take years to work through. As for me, I gave up and turned apostate. Either way it isn't easy. (It may seem easy to have simply tossed the theology, but the shedding of a belief system of having a personal redeemer and creator to the belief that yes indeed we are simply the result of the evolution of organic compounds and that there is no master designer and driver -- this also takes years to get comfortable with). Anyway, I hope to converse with you more in the blogosphere. Good luck in your endeavors.

Rich G. said...

While researching the following quote:

"In my youth I was an agnostic. But as I did research , I was terribly impressed that the universe really was intelligible. So why does nature always turn out to be more intellectually coherent than anything we can conceive before we do the studies? I now believe the universe is rational because there is a supra-rational Being behind it." Dr. Arthur Peacocke, Monecular Biologist, Oxford University.

Then I found this video link:

Rich G.

Tom said...

Sounds like Peacocke didn't understand basic self organization. In addition to seeing patterns where none really exist, just because the world is organized and displays patterns does not mean there is a supernatural mechanism behind it.

Cliff Martin said...


"... just because the world is organized and displays patterns does not mean there is a supernatural mechanism behind it."

No, it does not mean that with any certainty. But it does provide reasonable evidence that such a supernatural mechanism may be behind it. Enough to convince a rational scientist like Peacocke. And many others. Enough to convince me to continue to pursue a deeper understanding of God.

Tom, I find your easy dismissal of such phenomena to be cavalier and blasé. Scientists of earlier generations were absolutely astounded to discover the level of sophistication, complex organization, predictability, etc. that we find the more deeply we look into the natural world and cosmos. Their rhapsodizing language is inspiring! And it contrasts markedly with your casual "Oh, don't they know that things are bound to self-organize?"

I wish my desk would self-organize.

I'll wager the biochemist Peacocke did understand the principles of self organization. He believed life plays out through natural processes, was a full-on Darwinist, argued against I.D. and doubtless would have included the principles of self organization as being part of what he called God's "front loading" of Creation! But he was no less impressed.

Something in me is sad to think that you can look at nature and not be overcome by jaw-dropping awe. Perhaps not full-blown theism, but at least something akin to the awe and wonder Einstein so often expressed with wildly effusive language.

Rich G. said...

Aw, c'mon, Tom!

Saying "Sounds like Peacocke didn't understand basic self organization." about a working molecular biologist, is like telling me that I don't know the first thing about fluid mechanics, knowing that I am a working civil engineer.

Rich G.

Tom said...


I also wish my desk would self-organize, so I guess we have that in common! ;-)

My previous comment was sent from my iphone so I was trying to be succinct and not cavalier and blasé. You also expose my ignorance of Peacocke, which I concede. Since I’m interested in the intersection/collision of science and religion, I’ll look him up.

That being said, I stand by my words. Peacocke obviously believed that nature required front loading, and so while he may have understood the basics of self organization mechanistically, it seems that to suppose a supernatural just because there is self-organization is down the road of god-of-the-gaps. I perpetually fail to see the distinction you have with I.D. and what you dub little i.d., which it seems you advocate here. You and Peacocke believe that there is at least front loading or massaging needed to the natural process to have life as we know it today. As you note many scientists also believe the complexity argument.

I too am amazed at how complex and detailed it all is, but I take the opposite tack, which you may find faulty. I am what you have dubbed an atheist-of-the-gaps – that in the absence of a proof of a supernatural, I assume no supernatural. However, here is the reason for my atheism. It is not that I am looking for a proof of God and can’t find it or need proof to be convinced. It is that within the natural order, there is no God I can conjure up that I want to believe in and worship.

I am amazed at nature and that is why I have pursued a career in biology. My awe and curiosity are part of my day-to-day, which I’m grateful. Just because I don’t romanticize it with a Creator or write poetically about it does not mean I am not blown away.

…Enough to convince me to continue to pursue a deeper understanding of God.

This is good. This gives us something to work with in that as opposed to Psi who is always asking you for proof of God, I’m wondering more about the theology. That is, given this or that natural phenomenon, and given a belief in God, how can the two merge. The stance I will argue, obviously, is that they can’t. However, I won’t simply say that they can’t (in my usual cavalier tone ;-)), but I would like to debate the theology. This is where I’ll be going when I get my blog up and running, which I hope to be before the end of the year.

Cliff Martin said...


I am relieved (though not surprised) by your response. I know you are more thoughtful than the impression left by the earlier comment.

Peacocke would probably not agree with your statement that “nature required front loading.” I would not say that. And I’m certain neither he nor I would agree than any massaging was necessary along the way. We just don’t know. And when we consider the alternative (no front loading) we come face to face to what I think is by far the most daunting problem left for science to solve.

We must all face the immensity of the mysteries surrounding abiogenesis. We must all theorize some mechanism for the initial structures of DNA. If you want to believe in “self-organizing” principles, I would humbly suggest that such a notion is nor more, and certainly no less preposterous than the idea that some outside source of intelligence was at work.

I’m sure you are aware that one of the foremost proponents of front loading is Michael Denton, who is an atheist. It does not require a wide-eyed theist to entertain extreme doubt that “self-organization” will ever account for the DNA language.

When I am accused of using a god-of-the-gaps approach, I like to refer to this Denish D’Souza quote: “I'm not making a god-of-the-gaps argument arguing that because evolution can't account for it, therefore God did it. But neither should we submit to the atheism-of-the-gaps, that holds since science explains some things, it can surely explain everything.”

The thing that separate a scientist like Peacocke and myself from I.D. is that we do not argue for the necessity of intelligent intervention. We merely hold open the possibility. And it appears to us that abiogenesis remains a likely candidate. On the other hand, I root for the scientists who are trying to find natural mechanisms for abiogenesis. I’m sure Peacocke did too. Our faith does not rest upon God’s intervention at any point along the path of natural history.

But how long do we hold out for a scientific explanation for abiogenesis? Another 10 years? 100 years? 1000? Does science ever humbly admit that there will likely never be a meaningful natural explanation? Ever? 2000 years from now, will scientist still be crying “God-of-the-gaps!!” whenever folks suggest that maybe someone or something front loaded the evolutionary process?

I'm looking forward to the revival of your blogging!

Tom said...

My point is not really to say this or that is or is not a gaps argument. My line of questioning is (or will be), "Given the acceptance of scientific evidence, what are the theological implications?" This is your question, too. We're just going to approach it from opposite sides.

Cliff Martin said...


Well, again, I look forward to continuing to pursue this with you!