Friday, June 24, 2005

Evolution and Religion, where is the overlap?

I do not understand the ruckus about how evolution threatens faith (or visa verse). Evolution is based on the following axioms:
  • Organisms have offspring.
  • Offspring share some traits from the parents and differ from one and other.
  • Some differences help the offspring to have more of their own offspring.
  • Over generations some traits spread throughout a population while others do not.
Religion seems to operate on these axioms:
  • Some entity, that is usually called god, created the universe and all that is in it.
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • You are here for a reason.
The first set of axioms means that if I mate a dachshund and a Great Dane, I may wind up a Great Dane mother with a bunch of very short puppies who will produce very short prodgeny of their own. I can test this first set. I can test it by making high yield varieties of wheat and corn. I can test it by accidentally making drug resistant bacteria if I misuse antibiotics. I can test it by looking over the history in the fossil record since humans domesticated animals, and I can test it much further back. As for the second set, it I cannot test. I can choose to believe in god or not, but I cannot prove it one way or the other. This seems to be prime reason why the belief in god is a matter of faith.

When I look at natural selection and evolution I see a mountain range of evidence both in the historical record and in the lab and field today. What I do not see is any information about the existence or lack of a god. Because god is not described by the system cannot be taken to mean that god doesn't exist or is uninvolved. If I study how a faucet works by the washer being squeezed into place to stop the water flow, I may not talk about the municipal water authority. There may be one and it may deliver water to that faucet. There may not be one and the faucet may be attached to a bucket full of rain water. Its outside of my focus.

Science tends to be pragmatic and focus on what can be proved even if it may take some effort. When science leaves god out of it, it is not an attack, it is recognition that science isn't the right tool to explore this aspect of the human experience. Evolution describes a mechanism nothing more. If there is randomness or a god behind it, it is outside of the realm to which the natural selection is focused.

Given this situation, why and how could science threaten faith? It would seems akin to addition or subtraction threatening faith?


meetoo said...

I have to say that I agree with what you are saying here. What I would like to add may seem elementary to you and that is why you didn't mention it, or perhaps this is the point of your article.

Science does threaten faith. It threatens faith in religions where parables are taken at face value.

As you mentioned trying to prove God exists is very difficult to say the least. So is just speaking about the subject. So many religions resort to farfetched stories to help people understand very deep and intellectually challenging material. But lets face it...many folks are lazy, or just lack the juice to think these tales through and they become "truth".

So that is why there are still folks employing sherpas to lead them to Noah's ark.

Allan S. Lyons said...

On the new Monkey Trial:

In Chaim Potak’s book, "My Name is Asher Lev," we are slyly amused by the bickerings of the learned scholars over interpretations of the torah, Pilpul as it is known, exhaustive arguments no more productive than the debate, How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin? questions that can no more be resolved than: Is there a God? or, if you prefer, Were we put here by grand design or by happenstance?

Whether we teach that evolution occurred by Grand Design or in the absence of a higher power is similarly of little import. The debate should be not whether there is a God, something that can never be proved, but assuming His or Her existence, whether there is evidence that He or She responds to prayers or, indeed, is concerned about the fate of any individual or any group.

Yes, it is a comfort to those who believe to continue in their belief, even in the knowledge that God must be very busy, indeed, in view of the fact that each of us is just a one of billions here on this planet in this solar system which is just one of a billion such solar systems in the Universe.