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Evolution Basics: Evolution as a Scientific Theory

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February 21, 2013 Tags: History of Life

Today's entry was written by Dennis Venema. You can read more about what we believe here.

Evolution Basics: Evolution as a Scientific Theory

Note: This series of posts is intended as a basic introduction to the science of evolution for non-specialists. You can see the introduction to this series here. In this post, we discuss what a scientific theory is, and how scientists use them to make predictions about how the world works.

Not a hunch, just a theory

In common English usage, “theory” means something like “guess” or “hunch”. It means something speculative, uncertain. In science, however, the meaning is almost exactly the opposite. In science, a theory is an idea that has stood the test of time. This difference between the common usage and the scientific usage of the word is a frequent source of confusion for nonscientists. In science, a theory is a well-tested idea – an explanatory framework that makes sense of the current facts available, and continues to make accurate predictions about the natural world.

Theories get their start as merely an idea, or hypothesis (plural = hypotheses). This literally means “less than” (hypo) a theory (thesis)”, and the name is appropriate. What scientists call a hypothesis is basically what nonscientists call a “theory” in the common English sense we discussed above. It’s an idea that makes sense, and fits with what we already know, but as such does not yet have much (or even any) experimental support. Here is where science departs from other approaches to knowledge: the key feature that distinguishes science from other activities is hypothesis testing. Rather than merely entertain a hypothesis as an interesting idea, scientists use a hypothesis to make specific predictions about the natural world, and then test to see if these predictions can be supported with experimental evidence. If the prediction is supported by the results of one experiment, scientists will use the same hypothesis to make (and test) more predictions. If the hypothesis is in fact an accurate idea about the way things really are, then this hypothesis will continue to make accurate predictions. Over time, as the idea gains more and more experimental support, scientists eventually drop the “hypo” prefix from hypothesis and start referring to the idea as a theory – a well-tested explanatory framework that continues to make accurate predictions about the natural world.

Theories: well-tested, but provisional

Despite being well-tested ideas, however, theories in science are never accepted as absolutely true. During hypothesis testing, only two results are possible: the scientist can reject the hypothesis if it did not make an accurate prediction, or the scientists can fail to reject the hypothesis if it did make an accurate prediction. The important point is that the scientist cannot accept the hypothesis. Put another way, science can show that certain ideas are “wrong” (in that they cannot be used to make accurate predictions about the natural world), but science cannot show that a given idea is “right” or “true.” To say that a hypothesis is “right” would be to imply that it will withstand all future tests of predictions it makes – something that is not possible, since there are always more tests that can be done. All science can say is that an idea has not yet been shown to be wrong. As such, all theories in science are seen as provisional, and are revised as new information comes in. The point here is this: theories in science remain theories – they don’t graduate to become something else (like a “law” for example).

So, a theory is an interesting entity in science – at the same time it is known to be both a powerful explanatory framework and a provisional one, subject to future revision (or even abandonment, should an even better idea be found). In practice, some scientific theories are so well supported that it is highly unlikely that their core ideas will be significantly changed in the future. These theories are ideas that are very close approximations of the way things really are, and as such they won’t change appreciably.  Once a theory gets to this level, science accepts it as a given and moves on to other areas, nearer the fringes of what we do not know.

Learning from the past

Perhaps an example from history would be useful here. Take the theory of heliocentrism – the idea that the sun is the center of our solar system. (If it surprises you to hear this idea referred to as a theory recall that we are using the scientific meaning for theory here. Obviously heliocentrism is a very well-supported idea, and it’s not likely going to change in the future, but it remains a theory in the scientific sense). When heliocentrism was first conceived as an idea in contrast to an Earth-centered solar system there was precious little evidence to support it. Indeed, it had popularity only among mathematicians, who were attracted to the idea based on its simplicity and elegance. Once the idea was articulated, however, evidence came to light that supported it: Galileo’s observation that Venus had phases, like the moon (an observation incompatible with the standard geocentric model of the time) and his observation that Jupiter was orbited by four moons (a model in the heavens of bodies in motion around a larger body).

Now, Galileo’s observations allowed science to discard the standard geocentric model, but not an alternative geocentric model advanced by Tycho Brahe. Heliocentrism did make a key prediction, however. In Brahe’s model, like all geocentric models, the earth was predicted to be stationary. In the heliocentric model, the earth was in motion, orbiting the sun. This key prediction (and, at the time, the lack of evidence supporting it) was not lost on those commenting on this issue in the years after Galileo:

Again, I argue thus, the Motion of the Earth can be felt, or it cannot: If they hold it cannot, they are confuted by Earth-quakes … I mean the gentler Tremblings of the Earth, of which there are abundant Instances in History, and we our selves have had one not long since; so that by too true an experiment we are taught that the Earth’s Motion may be felt. If this were not a thing that had been frequently experienc’d, I confess they might have something to say, they put us off with this, that it is not possible to perceive the moving of the Earth: But now they cannot evade it thus; they must be forc’d to ackowlegd the motion of it is sensible. If then they hold this, I ask why this Motion also which they speak of is not perceived by us? Can a Man perswade himself that the light Trepidation of this Element can be felt, and yet the rapid Circumvolution of it cannot? Are we presently apprehensive of the Earth’s shaking never so little under us? And yet have no apprehension at all of our continual capering about the Sun?1

Unfortunately for Galileo, direct physical evidence of the earth’s motion would have to wait until the 1720s, when stellar aberration (the effect of the earth’s motion on starlight) was first observed. It would take over hundred years more (the 1830s) for the first successful measurement of stellar parallax, the slight shifting of the relative positions of stars as observed from earth due to our change in perspective as the earth moves through space. By the time this observation was made, heliocentrism was a theory—a well-tested framework that made accurate predictions, including predicting stellar parallax. Of course, by the 1830s, heliocentrism had come a long way from its humble beginnings, and it continued to be modified in accordance with new evidence afterwards as well. Still, as an idea, it stood the test of time since it was a reasonably accurate representation of the way things really are. We accept it (yes, provisionally) since it is a productive, useful framework. Its core ideas are not likely to change, even if we add nuances to it now that Galileo could not have imagined. While it’s difficult to imagine, we might even discard it some day, should an even better framework come along—but any competition will have a very tough battle ahead of it. 

Evolution as theory

So, what does any of this have to do with evolution? Simply this: despite what many evangelical Christians have been told, evolution is a theory in the scientific sense. It started off as a hypothesis, and scientists have been trying to reject that hypothesis to no avail. In the present day evolution is an explanatory framework that has withstood 150 years of testing, and continues to make accurate predictions about the natural world. Like heliocentrism, our ideas about evolution have developed significantly since the 1850s. In the next post in this series, we’ll sketch out some of the lines of evidence that Darwin offered in his Origin of Species, before going on to examine the state of the evidence in the present day.

Notes

  1.  Edwards, John. A Demonstration of the Existence and Providence of God From the Contemplation of the Visible Structure of the Greater and Lesser World. London, 1696, pp. 45-47. 

 


Dennis Venema is professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. He holds a B.Sc. (with Honors) from the University of British Columbia (1996), and received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2003. His research is focused on the genetics of pattern formation and signaling using the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. Dennis is a gifted thinker and writer on matters of science and faith, but also an award-winning biology teacher—he won the 2008 College Biology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers. He and his family enjoy numerous outdoor activities that the Canadian Pacific coast region has to offer. Dennis writes regularly for the BioLogos Forum about the biological evidence for evolution.

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hanan-d - #77374

March 11th 2013

So TE is trying to harmonize “science and religion” with a “science” that, according to some leading practitioners, is out of date!

Right, Ok, but let us say the entire mechanism was overhauled in our understanding. How would this help the overall greater discussion in how it relates to design (or guided evolution)? 

I thought—perhaps mistakenly—that your original questions here on this site indicated a certain existential struggle

No, you understood me right. Except I am not a Christian. I am Jewish. There no Jewish sites that deal with such issues so I piggyback with you guys . My existential angst really does come about the issue of whether evolution has purpose or not. From a scientific point of view, it does not. From a theistic point of view it does. So what does the “final” product suggest to us? The argument from design seems to have been squashed given there is so much bad design. Did God really create every single organism out there? Or was evolution on some sort of auto-course? 

I am not a person that will go out and check out the evidence has Melongaster suggests. For one thing, I will not understand it. I did pretty poorly in science class. Second, I am far too busy in my regular life to start devoting to investigating all the evidence. That is why at the end of the day, I feel one must trust the scientific consesus. I have nothing personal against ID, but one does start scratching ones head when you start reading how ID explanations are always refuted on any number of basis. 


lancelot10 - #77378

March 11th 2013

Hanan - evolution needs 12 billion years - TE’s say the geologic column is billions of years old but they have no way of knowing this so they date it by circular reasoning based on simple to complex fossils - however there are no simple creatures - a fish living at 4 miles down with navigation lights can be just as or more “complex” as a human as far as biology goes.

So if you can prove the geologic column is young then evolution theory is dead.

A young earth is now obvious due to C14 dating in the column and in oil diamonds and gas.

Plus radiometric dating is proven nonsense with mt st helens lava dated at over a million years and many other such “non conformities” with rock dating- now the lab asks you which date you would like , sir.

So these fossils and the geologic column were formed in the flood of Noah as the sediments testify to.

 

Francis Crick [co-discoverer of DNA’s structure] said that the odds of synthesizing
the long amino acid chains is impossible. 
“If a particular amino acid sequence was selected by chance, how rare an event would this be?
“This is an easy exercise in combinatorials. Suppose the chain is about two hundred amino acids long; this is, if anything rather less than the average length of proteins of all types. Since we have just twenty possibilities at each place, the number of possibilities is twenty multiplied by itself some two hundred times. This is conveniently written 20 ^200 and is approximately equal to 10 ^260, that is, a one followed by
260 zeros.  
” Moreover, we have only considered a polypeptide chain of rather modest length. Had we considered longer ones as well, the figure would have been even more immense. 


Eddie - #77384

March 11th 2013

hanan-d:

On your first point, I’ll give you two examples.  (1) If Michael Denton is right about how evolution works, it’s something like gigantic organic computer program that spits out certain results over time.  There is only slight room for deviation from the program, and so the programmer—God—is in control through the initial instructions.  His view is thus a cross between theistic evolution and intelligent design.  (2) If Shapiro is right, organisms have some abilities to re-engineer their own genomes.  If that’s the case, evolution doesn’t have to rely on luck for good mutations to come along; it can be partly self-directed.  One can imagine God giving the first organisms the power to “feel” their way to higher levels of organization.  That’s not Shapiro’s interest—he doesn’t discuss religious aspects—but I can imagine his view being integrated into orthodox religious thinking.  The Darwinian view of evolution is the hardest one to integrate with traditional theologies—but unfortunately, it’s the one that most TEs embrace.  And if the Darwinian view were irrefutable science, I could understand that.  But I don’t think it’s particularly good as science, and since it’s a poor fit with theology, it makes sense to me to look at alternative scientific accounts of evolution.  That’s all I will say on this point.

I’m more interested in your other comments.  I’m not Jewish, but I studied Hebrew, and and some aspects of Judaism, and had many Jewish teachers in my university courses, and have great respect for Jewish tradition.  I don’t know any Jewish sites devoted to evolution, but I do know two Jewish authors who might be of some help to you in thinking out these things.  (1) David Klinghoffer, a rabbi who writes for the Jerusalem Post and in other venues, has written much about ID and evolution etc.; (2) Leon Kass, a leading Jewish physician and ethical philosopher, has written much about the biology/ethics/theology interface; I feel pretty sure he has said a few things about evolution.  I can’t tell you where to find them offhand, but if you start searching in the internet, you will turn up some things.

You speak of design and purpose.  They aren’t always the same thing.  Suppose that I could prove that a whale was “designed” (meaning, not the product of accidental changes)—that doesn’t tell me whales are for.  It doesn’t tell me their purpose in the universe.  Suppose I could prove that the entire evolutionary process was no accident, but was (as Denton argues) designed to have man as its ultimate output.  I still wouldn’t know the purpose of man—why whoever set up evolution would want a being such as man to exist.  I think it’s important to understand that the ID people are interested in trying to establish that there is design in nature, but are not trying to establish the purpose of the things in nature.  ID doesn’t try to answer questions of ultimate purpose, meaning, value, etc.

The difference between a TE and an ID-evolutionist (like Behe) is that TEs deny that science can uncover either purpose or design in nature, whereas ID people agree that science cannot uncover purpose, but think it can uncover design in some cases.  So for TEs, to affirm that anything in nature is designed—the lungs, the heart, the flagellum, the fine-tuning of nature—is an act of faith, not of science or even of philosophy.  For ID people, certain conclusions of design are legitimately scientific.

Finally, you don’t have to either accept or reject the scientific consensus.  You aren’t required to have an opinion on every subject under the sun.  If you don’t know whether or not the evolutionary process is guided, you can plead ignorance.  If you aren’t sure whether the arguments for design in nature are persuasive, you can plead ignorance.  You don’t have to go along with the consensus of anybody.  If you feel that science is not a subject you have any natural feel for, then you can say:  “I understand the the majority of scientists say X and that a minority says Y, but I’m not competent to judge, so I remain neutral until such time as I have greater understanding.”  Why feel pressed to take one side or the other?

This is where theoretical debates are different from practical debates.  If your town is voting on fluoridating the water supply, you have to take a side.  If you are trying to decide whether there is a meaning to life, there is no particular day on which you have to vote.  You can await clarity.  If you are trying to decide whether Darwinian mechanisms could have produced a butterfly from an amoeba, or whether some design would somewhere have to be involved beyond those mechanisms, you don’t have to vote on it tomorrow.  You can take as long as you like to think about it.

If you were a biologist it would be different—you would be virtually forced by your profession to go with the flow.  But from your description, you aren’t involved in the sciences; you don’t make your living in them.  You therefore don’t have to conform to any scientific orthodoxy.  Form your own opinions, when you are ready.  Remain agnostic when you aren’t sure.  And tell people who are bullying you to accept a certain account of evolution to go take a hike.  It’s your mind, your thought, your judgment that you are trying to cultivate.  You don’t owe it to anyone—not even to a huge majority of scientists—to defer to any view.  So relax.  Read, browse, listen—and if you don’t come to any resolution on some of the questions for years, that’s OK—it’s nobody’s business but your own.


hanan-d - #77387

March 11th 2013

Why feel pressed to take one side or the other?

Why? Because I want some solace. I am not confortable having this angst. My children go to religious schools, and i Do want to feel confortable in giving them answers to questions that they may have. I also live in a religious community.  As I asked a rabbi, if there is a God, why is it the more we find out about the universe, the more skeptical of Him we become? 


Eddie - #77388

March 11th 2013

hanan-d:

Have you asked your rabbi to recommend to you some readings specifically on the subject of evolution?  Or on the subject of God and natural science?  If not, why not start there?

Your last question does not resonate for me.  As I find out more about the universe, the more convinced of God’s existence I become.

It is true that in my youth, when I was a clever young buck and planned to become a scientist, and read lots of popular books on science, I inclined toward the view you are expressing here.  I thought that the discoveries of science were one by one shutting out the need for God.  All could be explained by natural causes, I believed; or if that was not true yet, it soon would be.  There was nothing left for God to do.  Astrophysics explained the origin of the universe and galaxies and stars and planets; geology explained the history of the earth; chemistry explained the origin of life; biology explained the origin of species; anthropology explained the origin of man.  We no longer needed the God hypothesis.  But I later came to reject this view (which in my day was articulated by people like Sagan, and in later years by people like Dawkins).  I later came to see that the structure of life and the structure of the cosmos were rich with order, an order of a kind which made sense only in the light of an ordering intelligence; thus, a God of some kind had to exist.

Compare one of the works of Sagan from 1960s/1970s with Michael Denton’s Nature’s Destiny from 1998.  Both give an evolutionary account of the cosmos.  Both give a fully natural account of how things progressed “from molecules to man”—even “from Big Bang to man.”  Both think that things can be explained without miraculous interventions.  Yet there is a world of difference between them.  For Sagan, all of this happened due to the interaction of mechanical necessities and blind chance interactions.  For Denton, all of this happened because the whole universe was fine-tuned from the beginning to produce, through an evolutionary process, stars, planets, life, the whole variety of species, and man.  For the one, necessity and chance do all the work, and there is no real design, only apparent design.  For the other, design is the single most important causal factor, with necessity (natural laws) being design’s servant, and chance playing only a minor and ancillary role.   

So here we have two scientists, more or less agreeing on a broad scientific account of origins, but poles apart in orientation.  The one says that because we have nature we don’t need God; the other says that because of the way nature is, there must be God.  So it’s not as if the one is an atheist/agnostic because he knows his science, and the other is religious because he is ignorant of science.  Far from it.  Both men know their science in great detail, but they look at the results of science in quite a different light.

Denton is not particularly Christian, as far as anyone can tell.  His view appears to be Deistic more than anything else.  But still, his fundamental argument is in the tradition of natural theology, a tradition which was highly developed by Christians, especially from the 17th through 19th centuries.  He is writing in the spirit of William Paley but also in the spirit of Isaac Newton, who also saw, in the order of the heavens, the mind and hand of an intelligent Being.  And many other top scientists, from Boyle through to Clerk Maxwell and beyond, were deeply committed religious believers.  The idea that scientists find it hard to believe in God is simply wrong.

It is true that scientists find it hard to accept a literal reading of Genesis as a substitute for what cosmology and geology and biology tell us.  But so what?  I see no reason to read Genesis literally in any case.  The point is that the scientific enterprise investigates the amazing order of nature, an order whose existence I cannot explain without the notion of an intelligent agency behind the universe.

More detailed information about God, science cannot supply.  But religious traditions can.  That is where your rabbi comes in.  It’s his job to provide you, if you ask, with intelligent, sophisticated religious writing which preserves the truth of Tanakh and Talmud while doing justice to the natural world as revealed in science.  If your rabbi can’t do this, ask another rabbi—or another learned Jew in your congregation—doctor, lawyer, scientist, whatever—who thinks deeply about both scientific and spiritual matters.  And if the teaching of Reformed Jews isn’t helping you, don’t hesitate to seek advice from Conservative or Orthodox Jews.  There are resources within your tradition for coping with the difficulties you feel.  As there are within the Christian tradition as well.

I hope this helps. 


Jon Garvey - #77416

March 12th 2013

A quick note on “bad design”: the default human position has always been that nature seems purposeful, though there are things in it that appear fortuitous or even evil. The torah and the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures are written on that basis (try the end of the Book of Job, for example).

Post Darwinian skeptics like Dawkins say, “Ah, the appearance of purpose is just an illusion. What’s more, scrape beneath the surface and you see signs of purposelessness!”

The first part is, of course, mere opinion (he sees through the illusion - I see through his skepticism). The second says no more than men have known since they first knew anything: lions eat your cattle (but God feeds them), diseases eat your bones (but healing is a frequent gift), some of your sacrificial lambs won’t do because they’re blemished (but God increases your flock with good ones). Nothing is in the least new in all that.

So why should it be more scientific (or even correct) to say that design is illusory because of apparent defect, than to say that accident is illusory because of obvious design (and by “design” I include not just wonderful things, but the interactions of wonderful things from cosmic fine tuning to astonishingly balanced eco-systems)?

Plus, of course, if science has no place for teleology or for God on principle, it can make no authoritative comment either on purpose or purposelessness. To find the purpose of a book you have to read it, not analyse it. The “bad design” argument is pure emotional rhetoric - sometimes it’s even manipulation.

I’m just looking out of my window - I don’t know about yours, but my view is a sheer masterpiece, not a bad design.


hanan-d - #77418

March 12th 2013

The point is this Jon. We KNOW God didn’t create any animals. You can say, he used evolution for species to come into being. But through that, you get bad design. Wisdom teeth? Flightless birds? So the question is, is this a sign of a diety or a sign of random evolution that is blind and just does what it does whatever the outcome. 


Jon Garvey - #77422

March 12th 2013

But hanan-d, so much of that is subjective. Evidence: flightless birds were known about in Bible times, and actually given as an example of God’s creation - down to their stupidity.

So, if (as theistic evolution is at least supposed to say), evolution is God’s means of creation, then stupid flightless birds aren’t any more a sign of bad design than they were when the God of Job said they were wise design. Whether the flightlessness or the stupidity were the product of evolution or whatever secondary  means the Bible writers might have envisaged makes no difference: if they were bad design or signs of God’s inscrutable wisdom then they are bad design or signs of God’s inscrutable wisdom now. It depends entiorely on the metaphysical prejudice.

Wisdom teeth are not, so far as I know, mentioned in the Bible. But the same consideration applies, because everybody who ever wrote or read the Bible or worshipped God as Creator has had wisdom teeth. They’re hardly a novel discovery, even if some genetic mechanisms are now proposed for them.


hanan-d - #77417

March 12th 2013

Regarding science and religion. 

Think about it like this. Science has decimated genesis in every which way possible. The fact that you say it isn’t literal is most likely due to science. I mean, if you don’t take it literally, when DO you take it literally. Neoroscience is on the verge of knocking out Free will. The age of the earth and universe seriously undermines any purpose to man as being THE point of it all. Afterall, why would God make dinosaurs to roam for millions of years? Biologos likes to keep the Morality as a sacred cow as proof of some divinity, even though its still just a god of the gaps. They still can’t decide if evolution is guided or not. Afterall, if you accept natural selection, why believe in God?

Ok, so there is order in the universe, what does that show?

And even if you have no problem with any of this, none of this has any relevence towards the God of the bible. 

 

<end rant>


Eddie - #77420

March 12th 2013

hanan-d:

I look forward to Jon’s further reply.  Let me throw in a few things in the meantime.

First of all, I am not defending “BioLogos” here.  I disagree with probably 90% of the columnists here, on at least parts of their columns.  I speak only for myself.

Second, notice that you have shifted grounds.  In your earlier remarks, you argued that on scientific questions, the lay person ought to go with the consensus of scientists, rather than take a risk by siding with the minority of scientists.  But now you are making arguments against religion that are not scientific at all, but are metaphysics, philosophy, or antitheology trying to claim the authority of science.

For example, “Neuroscience is on the verge of knocking out Free will” is not a scientific statement.  It indicates that you believe (or that the popular writers you have been reading believe) that the question of free will is a question of the sort that natural science can settle.  But many neuroscientists, and many philosophers of science, would deny that such a question is even within science’s province.  On what grounds do you affirm that science can deal with the question of free will?  It can’t be on your own knowledge of neuroscience—you have said yourself that science was not your intellectual forte.  So it must be on hearsay.  Certain loud, publicity-seeking neuroscientists have claimed that science will one day disprove (or has disproved) free will, and certain journalists have repeated these claims.  But they are not scientific claims.  Not unless “free will” is first scientifically defined.  And how would you propose to do that?

Similarly, any inference from the age of the earth or universe to “whether or not there is any point to it all” is not a scientific inference, but a philosophical or theological inference.  Science has no competence to make such inferences.

You are falling into the trap of “scientism”—the view that science can answer all questions.  But belief in scientism is not itself scientific.  Scientism is a metaphysical or theological commitment from which certain people interpret the results of science, but it cannot itself ever be established by science.

It also sounds to me as if your Jewish teachers—if I may be so blunt—have not been very competent.  Your view of Genesis, and of the Bible—the view you seem to be criticizing—seems to me much more like the view of Protestant fundamentalism than the view that obtains in the deeper forms of Jewish religion that I am familiar with.  Maimonides, for example, did not read Genesis like a Christian fundamentalist.  And none of my Jewish professors read the Bible in the simplistic way that you are suggesting.  Can you not “network” your way to better Jewish teachers of the Bible?  If not, I can suggest some readings on Genesis etc., some by Jewish scholars, which do not require any scientific knowledge at all, and should be accessible to you.  Best wishes.


hanan-d - #77423

March 12th 2013

Yes, I know I am falling into scientism. But I am falling into it BECAUSE of what is being discovered. Therefore, I ask myself, DOES there appear to be purpose? So yes, I start off looking into the science, and then get into the philosophical implications. Even if one does accept God, why should I accept Yahweh?

Miamonides from what I remember said one MAY read it metaphoroically, but opted out. But even if he did, that just shows me that Miamonides wasn’t thinking too deep. If Adam is metaphoric, maybe Abraham is too. Also, our knowledge today of ancient near east myths are much more comprehesive then anything Miamonides had. 


Jon Garvey - #77424

March 12th 2013

It’s late here and I have an early journey tomorrow. So just a couple of responses.

(1) Science hasn’t decimated Genesis is any way. What it has done is provoke a deeper quest into what the creation story originally meant, and what it means now. Not that either Jewish or Christian writers have failed to see the essential truths therein for millennia: Young Earth Creationism is a modern invention prompted by the failure both of unbelievers and believers to escape the materialistic blinkers that accompanied the Enlightenment: neither can read a profound spiritual account without seeing a mere science textbook, as if anyone in the ANE were bothered about material origins.

I could (and have) written tens of thousands of words on this, but if you’re serious you could do worse than read John Walton’s “Lost World of Genesis 1” (who knows ANE literature backwards)  to begin to unlearn the stunted one-dimensional worldview to which scientism reduces the human spirit. Or for an older Jewish view the commentary by Casuto.

(2)  The scale of the Universe in size and duration has no bearing whatsoever on the importance of man, if there be a Creator God. As physicist John Polkinghorne describes very nicely, the possibility of life on our scale depends entirely on the size and duration of the universe being what it is. I’ve forgottten who it was, but someone put it well: “It has to be this big to enable us to be this small.” Marie Curie needed a ton of pitchblende to obtain 1/7 g of radium - does that imply that radium is that much less important than rock? And there are scientists interested in activity at molecular level - so why would we doubt that God would care about creatures like us, maybe halfway up the cosmic size scale?

If you accept natural selection, you can believe in God (a) because it’s never been denied that God acts through secondary causes - that was at the heart of even mediaeval theology (b) because you discover that he loves you, sorts your life out and gives new meaning to everything (c) because its natural to do so: and only after that because of numerous philosophical and other rational grounds for his existence and character being more probable than his non-existence. For example, order in the universe, when explored closely, is a remarkable and unlikely thing. Being able to understand its order is even stranger, as Einstein realised. Science went astray when it stopped thinking God’s thought after him and thought it was about finding evidence for God, when it can’t even find evidence for its own reliability (see Nagel. Plantinga etc).

It’s sad to be drawn towards materialist scientism when, as I go through my 7th decade, for the first time in my life it’s clearly becoming a busted flush intellectually. I would never have believed that people like Flew and Nagel  would be deserting the ship, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg.


Eddie - #77425

March 12th 2013

hanan-d:

There is no reason for you to accept YHWH based on science.  But the discoveries of science about the integrated complexity of life, and the fine-tuning of the universe, give strong hints that there was an intelligent designer, and it is possible that this designer was YHWH.  

I do not see how anything we have learned from ancient near eastern myths rules out the possibility that the creator of the universe might have chosen to interact with his creation, or with a particular people such as Israel.  The myths might help us to understand the literary forms and motifs of the Bible—as I believe they do.  And what we learn from that might help us to avoid a mechanical, fundamentalist reading of the Bible—which is all to the good.  But I don’t see how anything we learn from comparative mythology proves that the teaching of the Bible is false.

Originally it sounded to me as if you were disposed toward belief, but troubled by some things, and hoping someone could help you with those things; now it is starting to sound to me as if you are disposed toward non-belief, and trying to make excuses for that non-belief.  

Another way of putting it is this:  at first I thought that your existential position was “faith seeking understanding” (Augustine); but now you are sounding as if your position is “faith has to justify itself in the court of understanding, by understanding’s rules.”  If that is the case, there is little I or anyone can do to help you in the short run.  You are just going to have to “bottom out” before you can begin the ascent again.

The fact that you have not been able to get help on these matters from within your own tradition tells me that many Jewish congregations, rabbis, and intellectuals these days are infected with the same Enlightenment disease that has gutted the faith of the mainstream Protestant denominations.  Still, if you are genuinely seeking truth, and not simply eager to surrender to scientism and secular humanism, you will find the wiser and deeper Jewish teachers—and there are many of them in America, if you look hard enough.  I already mentioned some.  The rest is up to you.  

Shalom u’vracha.


hanan-d - #77452

March 13th 2013

Eddie,

Please email me hanand815 at yahoo


Eddie - #77455

March 14th 2013

hanan-d:

I’d be glad to talk with you privately if it would help you in any way.  The only thing I ask for is complete confidentiality, regarding anything revealed, intentionally or unintentionally, about myself.  Is that agreeable?  If so, let me know and I’ll send off an initial note.


hanan-d - #77463

March 14th 2013

Of course. You have nothing to worry about. 


Darwin Guy Dan - #77515

March 16th 2013


Eddie,

This comment doesn’t address hanen-d’s concerns regards the veracity of the OT as a historical record.  (My own view is that the particular collection of ancient documents that have been assembled as the Bible is a mix of various types of writings: myth, poetry, history, etc.)  Rather, I thought he might be interested in a book that discusses purposes, teleonomy, and teleology.  The author, AddyPross, also discusses Jacques Monad’s CHANCE AND NECESSITY.  Pross teaches at Ben Gurion University.

Pross’s book, WHAT IS LIFE? HOW CHEMISTRY BECOMES BIOLOGY (2012), provides a good discussion regards the distinction between teleonomy and teleology.  Biological processes that fall under the former label have generally been well accepted by most scientists while processes entailing teleological views have long been excluded.  Pross provides an interesting history in this regards.  As a Professor of Organic Chemistry, the primary theme of the book is as the title indicates.

Well, have a good Phycocyanobilin Day.  But, quite frankly, I am at a loss to see how you all are going to accomplish much in Natural History Studies without a good grounding in Quantum Field studies.

a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy

 

 

lancelot10 - #77379

March 11th 2013

Also geocentrism is possible if you study what einstein hoyle and hubble said.  The universe

could be spinning round the earth in matrix form - there is a lot of discussion on “galileo was wrong the church was right”

Ironically, aerospace engineers assume an “earth-centered, earth-fixed” coordinate system when launching and flying satellites. The Global Positioning System (GPS) does the same for navigation on earth and in space. In Galileo Was Wrong, Sungenis and Bennett examine the ‘anomalies’ that arise from the Copernican model, anomalies that are swept under the rug by the same scientists who assume the earth is mobile in order to ‘simplify’ complex problems. A must read for those who can set aside prejudices and a priori assumptions. 

Joseph A. Strada, Ph.D.
Aerospace Engineer, NRO


lancelot10 - #77380

March 11th 2013

“Thine are the heavens, and thine is the earth: the world and the fulness thereof thou hast founded: the north and the sea thou hast created.” —Psalm 88:12-13

“For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.” —2 Timothy 4:3-4

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were established; and all the power of them by the spirit of his mouth: gathering together the waters of the sea, as in a vessel; laying up the depths in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord, and let all the inhabitants of the world be in awe of him. For he spoke and they were made: he commanded and they were created.” —Psalm 32:6-9

“Thou in the beginning, O Lord, didst found the earth: and the works of thy hands are the heavens. They shall perish, but thou shalt continue: and they shall all grow old as a garment. And as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: but thou art the selfsame, and thy years shall not fail.” —Hebrews 1:10-12


Darwin Guy Dan - #77480

March 15th 2013

“Theories get their start as merely an idea, or hypothesis (plural = hypothesis).  This literally means “less than” (hypo) a theory (thesis), and the name is appropriate.  What scientists call a hypothesis is basically what nonscientests call a “theory” [.....].

Venema’s explication of “hypothesis” is the best that I have come across in decades of reading.  Many Natural Historians, while repeatedly discussing “just a theory” have generally failed to discuss “hypothesis” (and other types of scientific statements).  I had previously not been aware that “hypo” actually has a meaning!

 

 

Jon Perry - Stated Clearly - #77686

March 21st 2013

This series is wonderful. Possibly the best and most simple explanation I have heard and it is friendly to Bibilical beliefs. Props!


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