Saturday, September 17, 2011

Evolution: a response

Today we take a break from our regularly scheduled posts. I'll be responding to:

The medium of text doesn't do a good job of transmitting inflections. I do believe what I believe passionately when I have good reasons for believing it. Please don't mistake my passion for intentional offensiveness or disrespect. This post is somewhat long. I'm sorry.

On with the show. Quote:
It would seem from what I am gathering that there are several reasons creation is being rejected in favor of evolution. Some of the reasons include: rejection of the Bible as a source of reliable truth; scientific evidence that points to evolution as the source of origins; proponents of creationism all too often also embrace radical Christian positions that are offensive or untenable; or the idea that there could possibly be a God at all is a superstitious notion absurd to the modern mind.
No. There is one reason. There is only one reason. We did the homework, and the evidence for the occurrence of evolution is insurmountable. Some of us (me!) reached this conclusion while trying our damndest not to! I don't care how extreme anyone on either side is, how offensive or nonoffensive they are, or anything else. All I care about is the truth. I researched carefully, from both side's point of view.
My first point is this. There are proponents on both sides of this issue (and all issues) that have a narrow-minded bias. Everybody comes to the table with a bias of some sort. There is bad science and bad theology on both sides. And there are always some who purposely mislead to further their own agendas. On both sides. But that in itself doesn’t make one side or the other automatically wrong. If there are only two possible answers to origins, then one of them must be correct regardless or who does or does not support it.
Interpreting evidence is subject to our ability to see things clearly without a bias and without conveniently jumping to conclusions because it supports our particular idea of how we want the world to work.
I really don't appreciate the insinuation that I reached the positions I hold because I wanted to. I did not have any particular way I wanted the world to work when I started out. If I live in a world created by a deity, I wish to believe that I live in a world created by a deity. If I live in a world where life evolved, I wish to believe that I live in a world where life evolved. I don't have a pre-commitment to the world working a certain way. It's the other way around; I've done the homework, and found that, despite my best efforts, I was forced by the evidence to believe things about the way the world works.
And regardless of whether or not we can understand the mechanics of exactly how things came to be or not, there must ultimately be the truth of what actually took place.
Nobody was around at the beginning to see it happen regardless of whether you think the universe is young or old.
So? I know this is a favorite trope of Ken Ham, but it's silly. We have tons of evidence. The evidence, including a rough timeline, is written across the DNA of all living organisms.
And, if there is a God, I would suspect that He would give us some evidence that He was the Creator.
Anthropomorphic bias. You're modeling god with circuits in your own brain. What you think about god is a fact about you, not god.
How our physical surroundings came to be is not knowable with any degree of accuracy unless someone reliable was there when it happened and gave us an account.
I'm sorry, but this is just plain not true.
To some the vastness and complexity of the universe is a sure indicator that chance and time account for it all.
I don't believe it, I've never heard anyone argue that.
To others the same vastness and complexity points to a creator.
"Vastness" and "complexity" are way too vague to support an argument like that.
I do not understand the mechanics of how all of this came to be. I do realize that there is a conundrum here—that we seem to have a deep need to figure it out, but we also desperately want the answer to agree with our world view at any cost.
If you write down the conclusion first, all the research you do afterwards won't make it any truer or falser. I had written down the conclusion. Then I found evidence. And more evidence. And more. And finally, for my own sanity, I had to change my conclusion. I say this to my own chagrin; had I truely been a rational person, I would have changed my mind at the slightest hint of where the evidence led, instead of waiting until it beat me into submission.
For sure this will get me into trouble.
On September 11, 2001 the Twin Towers came down ...
Omitting this section, because I have no dog in that race.
... There is an actual reason why the buildings came down, even if I don’t know what it is for sure. The evolution verses creation issue is similar in that there are people on both sides of the debate that are not credible.
Which is why you should ignore the personalities and examine the actual arguments.
In other words, it’s hard to allow yourself to express your own conclusion because those around you will categorize you as either someone who will believe and go along with all and any mainstream politically-correct thinking, or as a paranoid conspiracist nutjob. Similarly if you think that God created everything, then you are in the camp with all of the fundamentalist nutjobs.
There's a spectrum. You're definitely in the fundamentalist end of it, but that doesn't make you a nutjob, and I think most people realize that there are multiple degrees.
If you think that evolution is true, then, well you’re OK because nearly everybody will agree with you.
This is just plain not true. 45% of the American public do not agree that evolution has occurred. Something like 7 or 8 out of 10 Americans are some variety of Christian. You are not in the minority.
Just because the creation versus evolution debate has extremists in both camps has nothing to do with the truth.
You can decide to align yourself with one camp or another for whatever reason. That’s up to you.
No. There's only one valid reason for joining a "camp". Is their position correct? You can't just believe whatever you want for whatever reason. Well, actually, it turns out people do that all the time. But they shouldn't, and I personally can't do that.
But it’s more important to figure out what the truth is regardless of the camp that it seemingly puts you into. This is an issue that you need to stand alone on if need be.
Of course.
Because the stand you take has consequences. If someone thinks that I am in the camp with the fundamentalist nutjobs because I think that God created everything, I can’t help that. And I don’t really care. It’s not my problem.
Likewise, if people hear I agree that evolution occurred and decide I must be an immoral, godless, blinded, biased denier of reality, I can't help that. But it really makes me sad, and causes me to write posts like this one.
In 62 years I’ve never observed anything that created itself. I have observed that unless a design has redundant back-up systems, if one component of the system fails the thing stops functioning. And in the creating of something, if one part is left out the thing won’t work right or probably not at all.
Programming is the same thing. If there is a small mistake in the code the program will either not run, will crash, or will produce unexpected and undesired results. And it won’t fix itself. The programmer has to go back into the code and find and fix the error, often not a simple job.
A computer program is pretty complicated. Lots of things man makes are very complex. But the most complex man-made systems pale in comparison to the creation seen around us.
Not all complexity is of the same kind. Evolution has two requirements: heritablitiy with variation, and a non-random selective environment. Computers, cars, watches-- none of these are heritable (they don't have children) and they don't live in a selective environment (nature doesn't kill them if they do something stupid). You're comparing apples and oranges.

Of course computers don't build themselves. There's no mechanism by which they could. But all life we observe does build itself, via live birth, or seeds, or eggs, or sometimes, asexual cloning. Further, the offspring are like the parents, with slight differences (heritability with variation). And finally, if an organism does something stupid, it will die (non-random selective environment).

Anything that meets those two requirements will experience evolution. It's as unavoidable as gravity. I personally have set up computer programs that perform evolution on fragments of code by supplying those two requirements.

I hope this doesn't offend you, but anyone who could write what I just quoted does not have even a basic grasp on what evolution does or how it works. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is.
How all of what we see was created is beyond me. But that it just happened is not reasonable.
If you haven't done the homework and given both sides a fair shake, how can you possibly make a statement like that with a straight face?
It is obvious to me that a design must have a designer. What is around me has obviously been designed. The vastness and complexity of all of the integrated systems we see and experience points to a designer, not random chance and time.
It's a good thing evolution is not "random chance" then. The variations are random, yeah, but the selection is most certainly not, and that's the important bit. It's extremely non-random in any given environment which organisms are most successful at having offspring.
... [more on 9/11]... Collectively the scientific community can’t (or won’t) conclusively explain what happened. Yet I’m to trust supposedly unbiased scientists to unravel the origins of the universe that supposedly happened a gazillion years ago?
Science is not a unified mass. Evolutionary biology and structural engineering are not remotely related fields. This is like me criticizing you for something in the Quaran because Islam and Christianity are both religions; it makes no sense.
Scientists have to eat. To get funded through higher educational institutions or government grants they need to go along with mainstream ideas. Researching global warming or searching the universe for water and signs of life gets funding. Peer pressure to conform to popular ideas that get funding is pretty high. The scientific community must continue to be funded. What they propose is in your best interest only if your best interest coincides with theirs.
As I said before, so examine the actual evidence, and then it doesn't matter so much what the biases of the individuals are. I can make exactly the same statement about Creationists. You freely admitted earlier that there were biases on both sides; therefore, it doesn't advance your argument to harp on various possible sources of bias on the opposite side.
Cave Men
I remember as a kid trying to reconcile what I had come to understand about creation and how that conflicted with what I heard about evolution. For example, if Adam and Eve were the first humans, where do cave men fit into the timeline? It was a real problem because there were credible sources of information on both sides. I thought at first that perhaps scientists were discovering the mechanism of creation. But the more I came to understand what both camps were saying, I began to see that they were expounding on mutually exclusive ideas.
I've posted in the past on ways to reconcile evolution and the bible. But the subject no longer holds a lot of interest for me. Regardless, Catholics, as well as most of the main-line Protestant denominations manage to (officially, anyway) agree with evolution and the bible at the same time. The fact that you can't see how to reconcile the two is a fact about you, not a fact about whether they can be reconciled or not.
Then I further started to understand that they represented very different theologies.
There is no theology behind evolution. Evolution requires no deity; there can be no theology without a deity. This is like talking about the theology of nuclear physics. What would that even mean?
The belief in Evolution is a religion that requires a lot of faith in man’s interpretation of what he thinks he’s observing.
Evolution is not a religion. It might require faith from you, but that's because you haven't done the homework. I have done the homework. I do not have "faith" in evolution. I have evidence.
It has been my experience not to put any faith in my fellow man to tell me the truth.
So do the homework.
The scientific community seems to be desperately trying to prove that there is no God by inventing processes to explain how extremely complex mechanisms can self generate without a Designer.
Only in the mind of Ken Ham. Science isn't "desperately" doing any of those things. We looked, and found we don't need a designer.
Why? I thought science was suppose to observe and record things, form theories from observations, see if the theories as experiments could be replicated, and let the results dictate conclusions or eliminate the theory.
Yup. And the result of that is that evolution has won.
But they seem to start off with a theory and then come up with proofs often relying on more theories and conjecture.
It might seem that way if you don't investigate fully.
Why do they do this? Are they biased because of their education, peer pressure, and the need for funding?
Possibly, but who cares? Evaluate the actual arguments. Ignore the personalities.
Interpreting New Discoveries
Man continues to invent increasingly complex systems to explore our world and universe. We can now see images from deep space and observe the tiniest forms of life doing their thing with high speed video (check out the video at the end of this post). And at every increase in resolution there is yet more complexity. It’s like trying to get to the end of a Mandelbrot set. The scientific community explains what they show us in evolutionary terms.
Huh? Evolution is a really narrow field: change in living organisms over time. Deep space has nothing to do with it. (I know creationists tend to lump cosmology and evolution together, but they really are very separate.)
I am constantly amazed with the discoveries, videos, and images. But I don’t buy the propaganda.
So don't. If it's really that important to you, go do the homework.
I’m just really blessed to live in an age to be able to observe what God has created in exponentially greater detail than at any prior time. How He did it, I couldn’t guess. But to think that it self-generated no matter how much time is allowed just seems completely implausible.
That ("seems ... implausible") is a statement about you, not a statement about reality. Relativity seems implausible to me (passage of time depends on how fast you're moving? Come on, that's ridiculous...) but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.—Romans 1:20.
The idea that order and design could ever self-generate after a colossal (and unexplained) explosion is a real stretch of the imagination. 
For you.
Demolition creates chaos that needs to be shoveled up and thrown out. Order comes from correctly engineering and assembling new materials from Home Depot. I learned that from remodeling a house.
The next time you see a Mommy house have a little baby house, let me know, and then you can compare hoses to living organisms.
“A man believes what he wants to believe and disregards the rest.” Simon and Garfunkle.
Most people do exactly that. However, I care passionately that my beliefs be correct. This means that I take great care to not disregard anything. I will go to great lengths to ensure that I don't believe nonsense, up to and including changing my mind when I'm wrong. I've even been posting here some about techniques of rationality, the art of changing your mind until your beliefs are correct.

I don't care what you believe about it, honestly. If it makes you happy, go for it. I don't even care if you think I'm incorrect. But if you want to talk about it (and putting up a public post indicates you do), then be prepared. Don't tell me that I'm wrong; tell me why I'm wrong. On this topic, I'm familiar with level 1, 2, and 3 arguments on both sides. I know level 4 arguments for evolution. I don't believe there are level 4 arguments for creationists, but I would be happy to be proved wrong. The post I'm responding to raised a single level 1 argument (that complexity doesn't "just happen"), and said a lot about biases, which is not really an argument either way.

I've put a lot of sweat and tears into researching this over the years. What offends me is the implication that my research was biased, that I wanted to come to the conclusion I did, that I'm incapable of researching and coming to the correct conclusion. I don't know how to emphasize enough that if my research was biased, it was biased in your favor, and that I certainly did not want to reach the conclusions I did.

I said a lot about evidence, but I didn't reference any in particular. That's because there's too much for me to even give an overview in this already way-too-long post. Present me with specific arguments and I will supply the evidence that caused me to reach my conclusions.

Oh. I have one more thing to say: if I were to put on my evil hat, I could almost hope you don't change your mind. Why? Because people noticing that evolution actually happened despite what Christianity teaches is probably the single most effective cause of deconversions. Refusing to integrate your worldview with the actual facts of the world is the worst thing you can do to your own religion; people eventually notice that science works. I was able to reconcile evolution and the bible, for a time; but many won't be motivated to do so when they figure out how wrong the creationists were. When religious people insist it can't be done, they are shooting themselves in the foot. But it's hard for me to wear the evil hat, and I don't actually want that. I'm just saying, by defending evolution to religious people, and trying to get them to believe both the bible and the facts of reality, I'm not actually serving my own best interests.

Anyway. Peace.

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