Faithful to Science

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Category: evolution (page 1 of 2)

Adam and Eve, part 2

This follows on from the previous post.

The account of the “Garden of Eden” in Genesis chapters 2 and 3 is, I suggest, primarily offering a way of seeing the human condition wisely.

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Adam and Eve, part 1

This is a summary of thoughts on Genesis chapters two and three (the Garden of Eden). I simply present a list of propositions. I hope it is helpful.

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The image and the days (Genesis 1)

Recently I was invited to speak at church about the passage in Genesis chapter 1 where the human race is introduced, and the much-pondered words “in the image of God” are written. You can find the text and some accompanying pictures here:

imagodei_blog           [3 MegaBytes; Microsoft Word file]

Our church web-site also has recordings of the sermons, and this one will be there for a while. The link is here (click ‘Talks’):

Talks

In this post I will simply share a few images and brief comments.

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Beautiful evolution

I am posting a thought on Darwinian evolution. There is already quite a lot of material on this subject on this site. This week I am sharing a thought which might help as a way in for teachers or pastors who wish to gain, and hence offer to others, a brief impression of the big picture.

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Minerals and monsters

This week I decided to write about something I feel strongly about, but I am going to try to keep the tone light. The issue I have in mind is the attempt to forge a marriage between science and atheism, as if the former implied the latter, or as if science was more naturally compatible with atheism than with theism.

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Talking about faith and science

This post is mainly to announce that I have now added a further talk to the resources section. You can find it here:

http://grievingturtle.com/resources/talks/faith-and-science-hbc-oxford-0915/

Here is an extract from the talk:

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A transparently feeble argument

Photo: Richard Arculus, www.flickr.com/photos/29261553@N08/2742916836

I begin with a lengthy quotation:

“So, cumulative selection can manufacture complexity while single-step selection cannot. But cumulative selection cannot work unless there is some minimal machinery of replication and replicator power, and the only machinery of replication that we know seems too complicated to have come into existence by means of anything less than many generations of cumulative selection! Some people see this as a fundamental flaw in the whole theory of the blind watchmaker. They see it as the ultimate proof that there must originally have been a designer, not a blind watchmaker but a far-sighted supernatural watchmaker. Maybe, it is argued, the Creator does not control the day-to-day succession of evolutionary events; maybe he did not frame the tiger and the lamb, maybe he did not make a tree, but he did set up the original machinery of replication and replicator power, the original machinery of DNA and protein that made cumulative selection, and hence all of evolution, possible.

“This is a transparently feeble argument, indeed it is obviously self-defeating. Organized complexity is the thing that we are having difficulty in explaining. Once we are allowed simply to postulate organized complexity, if only the organized complexity of the DNA/protein replicating engine, it is relatively easy to invoke it as a generator of yet more organized complexity. That, indeed, is what most of this book is about. But of course any God capable of intelligently designing something as complex as the DNA/protein replicating machine must have been at least as complex and organized as that machine itself. Far more so if we suppose him additionally capable of such advanced functions as listening to prayers and forgiving sins. To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer. You have to say something like ‘God was always there’, and if you allow yourself that kind of lazy way out, you might as well just say ‘DNA was always there’, or ‘Life was always there’, and be done with it.

“The more we can get away from miracles, major improbabilities, fantastic coincidences, large chance events, and the more thoroughly we can break large chance events up into a cumulative series of small chance events, the more satisfying to rational minds our explanations will be.”

— Dawkins R., “The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design,” W. W. Norton & Co: New York NY, 1986, p.141.

 

This passage from a book by Richard Dawkins is the subject of this essay. I have quoted it at length in order to be fair to the original and in order that the present essay can be self-contained.

When I first read this passage, many years ago, I remember being puzzled by it. It sort of “threw” me. It seems at first as if it is a display of lucid rational argument, and it appears to carry the sort of force which a good argument carries. But, as I will explain, once you look at it more carefully both the lucidity and even the very notion that the above quotation is a reasoned argument become questionable.

There are several strands of thought that have become tangled to create this muddle. In order to untangle them, the following is divided up into sub-headings.

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Does the universe suggest design, purpose, goodness or concern?

“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

 ― Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995)

 

This widely quoted paragraph is the subject of this essay. I am mostly concerned with the last sentence, but let me first briefly comment on the opening that builds up the dramatic power. When you read the comment on suffering, it seems at first like a valid observation, one that “sees through” the “illusion” of the goodness of the world to all the harshness of “the truth of things”. But think a little. If you had to write a couple of sentences in which you tried to capture a fair portrait of what happens in the natural world during the minute it takes to compose a sentence, would this be the portrait? Of course not. The suffering is not to be set aside, but it is less than half the story of most life, and it is less than half the story of life on Earth. Are all the careful, sympathetic and fulfilling studies presented by naturalists such as Sir David Attenborough just some sort of rose-tinted spectacles and wishful thinking? No. Go and look in your garden, or in the forest, or the jungle, or in the river, or the ocean, or on the African plain. Is it the case that starvation and misery is the “natural state” of affairs? Or are they part of a natural state of affairs which has here been grossly miss-represented?

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The recurrent laryngeal nerve

Image by Miroslav Duchacek, Wikimedia Commons, File:Giraffe_standing.jpg.

 
 
The recurrent laryngeal nerve
 
You sleek, fit, timorous, towering beast,
Enormous swan, or mis-shaped horse,
I saw your stately, tall progress
And thought, a triffid, or Queen Bess.
 
Puzzled, or puzzling, as you munch
You seem absorbed, not on your lunch
But on some hint, some alien hunch
That your slim brain-power cannot crunch.
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Sleepy Dust

This post is about biological evolution, and about the abuse of education and the abuse of the public promotion of science.

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