Purpose and Measuring God

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I have been delinquent in contributing to the Panda’s Thumb, but in my defense, I was busy finishing up a book (Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Confessions of a Liberal Charismatic). It was responses to this book, combined with comments by President Bush and by Cardinal Schönborn, that has led me to get busy and write something about this.

The odd thing is that in my book I spend perhaps four pages out of 128 discussing evolution and intelligent design, with only a passing reference to my objections to the latter, and yet repeatedly people have commented to me that they liked my book but don’t agree with me about evolution. I have taken an unorthodox view of many different things, and spent many pages doing so, but none of those have elicited the kind of response that four pages discussing evolution and intelligent design have.

The combined debate suggests to me that we are dealing with a combination of lack of information, and of gut-level reactions that go well beyond the actual issues presented. But what are those issues?

First, let me note that I am not arguing against design, or God’s involvement, or against God’s plan, or anything of that nature as a religious issue. In reactions to my previous postings, many people seemed to think that I was excluding God, and thus could not understand how I, with my training and vocation in theology, could be making such arguments. But that is not the issue. In my view, the issue is not whether the universe is the product of design, but rather if one can detect such design in an objective way. Oddly enough, the issue comes down to measurement.

Under normal circumstances, the issue of measuring some single characteristic of items or creatures might be debated in the scientific community, but would not become a political issue, or an issue deserving of comment from high ranking clerics in various religious movements. In those cases where such comment has occurred, by colleagues in various religious disciplines and religious movements have a rather poor track record. But even where comment has been made, it has normally been more fundamental than an issue of how we measure a single characteristic of certain systems.

There are two reasons why this issue gets extended beyond that. On the one hand we have the creationist movement, most particularly the young earth movement, who long to get a foot in the door so as to allow the teaching of their particular religious ideas in public schools. Despite the frightening number of people who seem to think that some sort of young earth is scientifically possible, these people know that there are few communities where they can honestly get a vote for their viewpoint. In religious debates, they will speak angrily against old earth creationists and even intelligent design advocates. In political debates, they tend to present everyone short of the most outspoken atheist as an ally.

As an example, in a recent discussion someone told me that in my county, creationism should be taught in schools because the vast majority of the population (he gave a percentage) were Christians. I pointed out that I would be included in the number of Christians in the county, and that I was firmly opposed to the teaching of creationism, or any form of religious education in our county’s public schools. In a very short time, he was questioning whether I should, in fact, be regarded as a Christian because of my views on evolution. Now I really don’t care how he chooses to divide the world, but it’s important to realize that the divisions shift based on the nature of the current debate.

On the other hand, we have people whose discomfort, I believe goes back to the very issue for which Galileo was tried. Looked at in isolation, the issue for Galileo, whether the earth orbitted the sun, or vice-versa, is a minor technical matter. But to the people of his time, it was a question of how important human beings are in the general scheme of things. Intelligent design brings up the same emotions. Even the statements of the Catholic church on evolution are very careful about that issue–they make sure to make it clear that humanity is, in some way, a special creation, even if the human body is the product of evolution. For some people that reservation is adequate.

But we live in a world in which the scientifically measurable has greater force, and so for many religious people the question is not so easily resolved. It is really a question of how they can be certain, absolutely certain, that they are special. They want to know absolutely that they are above and beyond the common, that their existence is not the result of chance, but rather that there is a divine design. And by the standards of our time, that can only be done by producing a scientific way to demonstrate that human beings are designed.

I’m sure someone will point out that the intelligent design movement is not arguing that human beings are designed. It is arguing that various biological systems are designed. True, on the surface. But the final issue is that God, in their view, must have a measurable place in the universe. We must be able to detect and demonstrate God’s existence, otherwise we will be cut adrift, required to see ourselves as simply the product of a random evolutionary process.

It would be quite right to point out to me at this point that the evolutionary process is not, in fact, random. But to the average person, it sounds random, because it is not necessarily designed to produce me, a supposedly reasonably intelligent person. (There are those who doubt this in my case.) Even if the process has strong non-random factors, as selection does, those factors are not obviously designed to produce people.

I don’t have a comforting answer to this. From my own faith point of view, I’m as special as I need to be. But as for purpose, that is something that I must discover for myself. As for design, I simply note that I’m here, and apparently functioning. As for my importance in the universe, I’m afraid that it is unlikely that I am terribly important, or that even my entire species is terribly important in the universal scheme of things. The universe would function in pretty much the same way as it does even if we had never existed.

That problem is one that we will find difficult to overcome. I don’t think there is some good answer that will convince people that future scientific progress is going to be safe, and that they aren’t going to learn things they really wish were not so. But it is a point that needs to be overcome. At the same time, the fact that people are so anxiously looking for a scientific answer is quite promising. It means that people are not willing to accept just any old answer. It means that in a sense the scientific approach to life on earth is gaining a great deal of ground.

Because of my belief in a creator, I regard that as a good thing. In fact, I would think that the best designed universe there could be would be one in which there were no seams, one that worked consistently and in which scientists could look as much as they wanted to, and not find any signs of tinkering, precisely because such tinkering had never occurred. Such a universe would also lack scientific proof for the existence of its designer, but perhaps a designer capable of doing so wouldn’t need the acknowledgement that he had done so.

The most common remaining question that I hear is why intelligent design should not be taught alongside evolution as a theory of origins. This puts the issue in the category of free speech. Sure, let intelligent design be debated. Let free speech prevail. Let publishers publish and people buy works that support or opposed intelligent design. But our high school classrooms are not the general market of ideas. They are places where our young people need to learn the basic skills and the knowledge that they need to succeed in the modern world. We don’t have time to teach them every idea, so why would we take the time to teach them untested ideas? But time is not the only problem, or even the major problem. High school students need to learn good scientific judgment. They do not need to be spending their time hearing about an idea that is rejected by the vast majority of the scientific community.

The good news is that the market of ideas is working, and it is free. People are hearing about intelligent design, and others are presenting the arguments against it. Those most qualified to judge are overwhelmingly opposed to the concept. Let’s leave God to me and to people like me–those who spend their time on religious issues. Let the religious discussions be financed by money paid or donated for the purpose of supporting religious discussion. Let the tax money paid to educate our children be used to educate.

37 Comments

This statement: “As for my importance in the universe, I’m afraid that it is unlikely that I am terribly important, or that even my entire species is terribly important in the universal scheme of things. The universe would function in pretty much the same way as it does even if we had never existed.” and this one: “Because of my belief in a creator…” don’t sit well with the roman catholic Church doctrine, as far as I remember. It solemnly declares that we may come from other species (Vienna’s cardinal notwithstanding) but we are totally and definitely special. Not just our souls, be we as a species. The universe has been built around us. And if the universe has a purpose, this is to have Homo sapiens has a dominant species. There are too many passages in the Books that say so. And, BTW, this is reason I quit the aforementioned roman catholic Church. Can you reconcile the scientific status of our species (last and marginal twig of a solitary clade, said Gould) to the doctrine (most important entity in the entire universe, goal and crown of creation?)

Marco

Now now, alot of IDers and Creation-groupies are very special. That why they want their own special education, so that they can make everybody special.

Marco Ferrari Wrote:

Can you reconcile the scientific status of our species (last and marginal twig of a solitary clade, said Gould) to the doctrine (most important entity in the entire universe, goal and crown of creation?)

No, I can’t reconcile those statements. In addition, I am not Roman Catholic, so I don’t feel the need to. I think, however, that many Christians would agree with the Roman Catholic position, so your question is more relevant.

I believe that science, and particularly evolutionary theory, can conflict with quite a number of beliefs, and where there is conflict, one must modify something. I tend to rely on science to deal with the physical universe, and to find my goals, my ethics, and my purpose from religious philosophy. But the fact is that the universe does not appear to conform to the idea that humanity is the greatest thing going. I’m not sure of that, but I tend to doubt it is true, and holding a religious belief that conflicts with the physical universe is questionable, in my view.

I tend to agree with Gould about the last and marginal twig of a solitary clade. My suggestion is that if one’s religious beliefs conflict with something one is convinced is true otherwise, perhaps the religious beliefs need modification.

Marco Ferrari Wrote:

And if the universe has a purpose, this is to have Homo sapiens has a dominant species. There are too many passages in the Books that say so.

I think that the books may contain comments on things that their authors did not know. I do not accept the notion that the books are without error. I believe that faith can grow and be modified, and that it is quite appropriate that where one’s faith is found to conflict with fact (and you as an individual have to decide what is factual in this sense, hopefully with valid reasons) then one needs to look at what one believes.

I’m working on, but far from finished with an essay on just what Genesis was saying anyhow. I’m not certain at this point that it will be appropriate for the Panda’s Thumb, as it may be too theological. Here I’m interested in advancing the cause of science.

I often point out that science and religion do have a nexus: humility. Contrast the humility of Newton picking up a pebble on the beach, on the one hand, or the sacrifices of , e.g., Gandhi or Bonhoeffer, on the other, with the jabberings of the creationists who believe that their own interpretation of a bunch of stories told to illiterate goatherders is the Truth. It’s hard to tell which is worse, their science [sic] or their theology [sic(k)].

These folks really do want to feel “special.” The same human instinct helps members of our species move up in the pack, extirpate other cultures, commit serial murders and deny the obvious. One might even say it’s been selected for.

“Can you reconcile the scientific status of our species (last and marginal twig of a solitary clade, said Gould) to the doctrine (most important entity in the entire universe, goal and crown of creation?)”

I’m an atheist, but there would seem to be an easy answer to this one: for God, we are the most important entity, etc. the goal and crown of creation. Just like the starfish. (And remember, “scientific status” isn’t like social status. Gould emphasized this point of view at least partially, I think, as a counterbalance to popular ideas. )

I’ve never got this whole thing. Of course, people are concerned that evolution will hurt or oppose their beliefs. It’s my probably befuddled understanding that even actual (not just apparent) chance might be understood, according to the Catholic Church, as part of a greater plan - but let’s pretend that evolution requires one to dump all thought that they might be part of any sort of divine plan or intention. It makes sense that people would be afraid of *losing* that belief - what I don’t understand is their reaction to the belief that we’re just here. I mean, you still have to do the work of the world - loving people, raising children, fixing what’s broken.

I guess it’s a variant of the “you mean you would kill, steal, and eat little babies if you didn’t belive in an absolute and God-given moral standard???” issue. That does seem to be one of those big gulfs where you can drop a penny in and never hear it hit bottom …

There was a version of the whole ‘but you can’t be a Christian!!’ silliness in that odious Slate article - 2 paragraphs after reporting how over a third over Americans were theistic evolutionists according to Gallup, Weisberg’s insisting that not many people can ‘believe’ in both God and evolution, and talking about “Darwinists who call themselves Christians” (linked to a Ken Miller article). Mirror image (I assume) of the other guy.

“The good news is that the market of ideas is working” I just read somebody saying how ID had it’s go in the free market of ideas (and failed) - now it’s asking for gov’t subsidies? or something like that, but better. Very catchy.

Because of my belief in a creator, I regard that as a good thing. In fact, I would think that the best designed universe there could be would be one in which there were no seams, one that worked consistently and in which scientists could look as much as they wanted to, and not find any signs of tinkering, precisely because such tinkering had never occurred. Such a universe would also lack scientific proof for the existence of its designer, but perhaps a designer capable of doing so wouldn’t need the acknowledgement that he had done so.

I disagree with this statement for several reasons:

You make the claim, “perhaps a designer capable of doing so wouldn’t need the acknowledgement that he had done so.” Well, that’s nice, but doesn’t the Bible credit God with creating the earth, sun, stars, and all the life on earth? If God didn’t need the acknowledgement of being a creator, why mention it in the Bible?

You also say, “In fact, I would think that the best designed universe there could be would be one in which there were no seams… such a universe would also lack scientific proof for the existence of its designer”. I don’t really see how “no seams” can be turned into “lack scientific proof for the existence of its designer”. “No seams” to me means that things work well together in an ecological balance and animals have the traits that they need to survive. But, what we see in the biological world is that animals’ biology is often a slight variation of other existing creatures’ biology. For example, whales and dolphins are air-breathing mammals (a testament to their air-breathing ancestry). In many ways, this is a half-solution. Since whales and dolphins live in the water, why didn’t God give them gills? The evolutionary answer is that whales and dolphins, lacking a designer, we not lucky enough to evolve water-breathing abilities (at least not yet). This speaks about the gap between the ideal solution and the solution evolution can come up with. So, you end up with a situation where you say, “The ideal solution is x, the actual solution is y.” Why didn’t God use the ideal solution? Why is the actual solution y? Did God use solution y in order to give the appearance of undirected evolution (“without seams”) rather than giving animals the best solution for their situation (but might reveal the existence of a designer)? Seems like God is actually going out of his way to hide his creative activity even when doing that results in less capable animals. It seems illogical to make “hiding evidence for his creative activity” such a high priority. Similar arguments can be made about biology in other areas.

I’ll provide you a suggestion to help you out of this conundrum. If you are inclined to believe in God, perhaps God created the universe with the capability to create and evolve life. It’s not that life itself was ever directed or shaped by God. God watched as his universe sprang up life across a variety of planets and galaxies. In this view, it’s not simply that there is no scientific evidence that God created life on earth, but it goes one step further and says that God really did not create life on earth. It says that there will be no evidence of God’s intervention because there was no intervention. As a “first cause”, God is still there as a creator of the universe and of the laws that make life and evolution possible. But, there was never any earth-specific intervention, and if earth failed to ever evolve life, that’s no problem because it is evolving in plenty of other places in the universe.

Actually, that Miller piece linked in the Slate article is pretty darn good! For folks familar with what he says, it’s nothing *new,* I think, but very well said. It’s a brilliant counterargument to Weisberg’s meanderings; I just wish he showed some sign of having read or thought about it before lobbing that kind of rhetorical hand grenade onto the internet …

“. Contrast the humility of Newton …or the sacrifices of , e.g., Gandhi or Bonhoeffer … with … the creationists”

It’s ironic there’s a Thumb-related post on Uncommon Descent titled “Ignorance and Arrogance,” with people who are unfamilar with evolutionary theory, and someone else saying how they love science, but in a way that sounds to me a lot less like ‘wow, look at that!’ and more like ‘haha! we’re proving you wrong! [sic]’. Ignorance - now, ignorance is a gift, if you can recognize it. We’re all astonishingly, humblingly ignorant (I know I am!). Arrogance, though - perhaps that’s a gift too, but if so it’s the kind given out by disgruntled fairy godmothers, or patient Greek gods …

BC, I think that your suggestion is what Neufeld’s saying? Perhaps?

“If God didn’t need the acknowledgement of being a creator, why mention it in the Bible?” Maybe he didn’t. Now, the fine details of reconciling a non-tinkering God with human intimations of the divine - now that gets interesting. I’m going to back out of that issue slowly, waving my little white “International observer from Atheistan” sign, and go back to the much easier task of finding info on peach evolution. And change the cat’s litter …

This is a excellent article, and I’m really glad that you’re talking about why people (the majority of Americans) resist evolution, rather than claiming, as someone did hereabouts recently, that “It is a fight between a tiny lunatic fringe of ayatollah-wanna-be’s and … well … everyone else”, and how specific religious views clash, or are seen to clash, with evolution. Certainly, if we want to convince people of evolution, and have some effect on students after they’ve regurgitated just enough material to get a grade, we need to consider their objections and have some way to respond to them. And very few people, methinks, have the sort of rarefied concept of God and malleable set of beliefs that folks such as yourself or Kenneth Miller have. So here’s a question to ponder: you say that “I would think that the best designed universe there could be would be one in which there were no seams, one that worked consistently and in which scientists could look as much as they wanted to, and not find any signs of tinkering, precisely because such tinkering had never occurred”. And you say that you are a Christian. So how do you reconcile all the empirical claims about Christ, his life, his actions, as well as the prophesies of his coming and all the material preceding that, empirical claims about God guiding the Israelites, speaking to Moses, giving the law, etc. etc. with a non-tinkering God? After all, for many or most Christians these claims are how they came to learn of and believe in God or are intricately entwined with such belief. It seems to me that your notion of a non-tinkering God would be fantastic and unacceptable for most Christians – or Jews, for that matter. (I personally was raised by not-very-Jewish parents and lost any remnant of belief when I attended Hebrew school while I was in the middle of a mythology reading phase – after my fairy tale reading phase and before my sci-fi reading phase – and found that I could not discern a significant difference between the tales I was taught in Hebrew school and those I was reading in the library).

Dan S. Wrote:

Weisberg’s insisting that not many people can ‘believe’ in both God and evolution

He didn’t do that:

Weisberg Wrote:

You can believe in both—but not many people do.

He may well be wrong – how can we even tell, since he doesn’t define “many” – but he didn’t say what you claim he said. Before we start calling what other people write “odious”, we ought to get straight on what they actually wrote.

ts Wrote:

It seems to me that your notion of a non-tinkering God would be fantastic and unacceptable for most Christians — or Jews, for that matter.

You are quite right on this point. My argument is that the appearance of the universe is one in which there is very little tinkering, or that such tinkering is not measurable thus far. Thus for me, I must adjust my theological views to deal with the physical reality, assuming that I accept this point as true–and I do believe that there must be very, very little tinkering based on what I know of the physical universe.

I do not, however, maintain that there is necessarily no divine involvement at all. I struggle with this point in a series of essays on my web site titled The Hand of God. At the moment I do see room for the spiritual connection, but the physical effect would be only on a person’s own “soul” so to speak. I don’t see how such a thing could be measurable, though one never knows with the progress of our undertanding of the function of the mind.

But there’s another point on which many religious people would disagree with me: I’m perfectly willing to say that I don’t know, and that further study will possibly clarify. Advances in science could always force me to change my views further, a situation I anticipate with pleasure rather than concern.

ts, I don’t think Weisberg’s odious, I think the article is. He started with a conclusion - religion and evolution are not compatible - and fixed everything around it, whether or not they supported it. Lately I’ve become downright allergic to that sort of thing - can’t think why …

But you’re completely right about the can/do issue; I misspoke. Thank you for catching that. Ok, he’s saying that you can believe in both, but not many people do. Except for the 38% of Americans that claim to (granted, polls). He doesn’t define many, but I think it would think that to most people that would imply something smaller than a third. Could be wrong, though …

“So how do you reconcile all the empirical claims [of the Bible] … with a non-tinkering God?”

Hey, I said I wasn’t involved in this one. But just when I think I got out, they pull me back in …! Mythos and Logos (in the classical, pre-John sense). But that pretty much makes your point, of course - which is an excellent one …

I’m not sure you’re right about the non-tinkering God’s reception among Jews (defined how?). Now, a God you couldn’t *argue* with, that’s different …

Hmm. You’re talking about how Christians come to learn of and believe in God through such claims, Sanchez (as posted up-blog) is arguing that most people form their (initial, at least) religious views as rational empiricists … there’s something really interesting here, but my flickering, popping lightbulb of a mind is not quite bright enough for me to see it. Darn. That’s it, I’m gonna blog* about this. Except I still have to change the cat’s litter. Speaking of odor …

*I’ve always assumed that to blog about something is used to refer to posting instead of commenting - that’s right, right?

You are quite right on this point.

Ok, but

a) I don’t see any guidance for how respond to people who think that evolution and science have the same implications as you do but are unwilling to change their Christian empirical beliefs (e.g., resurrection) and thus reject evolution.

b) You apparently reject all those empirical claims that most people associate with the word “Christian”, because those would be physically measurable. If so, what makes you a Christian rather than a non-Christian theist? Is it that you believe Christ had some God-aspect without physical effect? Or perhaps there was just enough tinkering to make Christ an otherwise ordinary human who carried God’s message? Or, perhaps you don’t reject the empirical claims, but think God stopped doing stuff we could physically detect some time between Christ and us. This might not be the best place to get into such a discussion, but I’m curious, and it connects to (a) in terms of how Christians might adjust their views so as to avoid inconsistencies.

ts, I don’t think Weisberg’s odious, I think the article is.

That’s exactly what I said; read/parse it again.

“That’s exactly what I said; read/parse it again.”

(reads again) Man, I have no reading comprehension skills. (hangs head)

My bad.

Couldn’t some Christians be defining themselves as Christian through thinking Jesus was a really nice bloke with some pretty neat ideas for his time. Much as certain Christians try to characterise people as Darwinists. Note the parallel there with other things of which they inappropriately accuse people because they know the characterisations better fit themselves (or some members of their own group).

Couldn’t some Christians be defining themselves as Christian through thinking Jesus was a really nice bloke with some pretty neat ideas for his time.

Ok, but then even an atheist can be that sort of Christian (and quite a few are). It seems rather odd for someone to be a theist with completely non-theistic beliefs about Christ, and call themselves a Christian. It reminds me of the epistemic conundrum where you see in a field a life-like picture of a cow and think “there’s a cow in the field”, and you’re right but only because there’s a cow hidden behind the picture.

Hi Henry, I’m glad you’re back. If I read you right I think you would agree with this: It’s good to learn how the world works through the scientific approach; The Bible is not a science text; it has a different purpose; and disbelieving the creation (as revealed by science) would be a lousy way to honor the creator. It’s like saying “The way the universe appears to have been made isn’t good enough for me.” Let God be God. If he didn’t do it the way you would have, too bad.

Couldn’t some Christians be defining themselves as Christian through thinking Jesus was a really nice bloke with some pretty neat ideas for his time.

They’re called Unitarians. :)

You guys know there was a pretty wide range of belief in early Christianity over exactly who or what Jesus was, right?

” It reminds me of the epistemic conundrum where you see in a field a life-like picture of a cow and think “there’s a cow in the field”, and you’re right but only because there’s a cow hidden behind the picture.””

Oh wow. That’s … astonishing. Don’t you see how perfect that is for what we’re discussing?

Wow. Just … wow.

I may have to go around now saying “God is the cow behind the picture,” which is even odder than the magic-marker scrawled missive on the cart of the guy I used to pass on the way to work. Darn.

Hi Henry,

Welcome back and thanks - a very nice essay. Your presence and input here is validating. I look forward to your next contribution.

Bob

Dan S. Wrote:

I may have to go around now saying “God is the cow behind the picture,”

But Dan, you don’t get to say it. In the conundrum, you genuinely think the picture is the cow and have no idea that there’s a cow behind it because there’s no reason to think so, and would be loonie toons to claim that the cow’s not real but there’s a real cow behind it. Just try it – look around the room you’re in and imagine all the objects, or some of the objects, that you see are really incredibly realistic images but there’s a real object completely hidden behind the image. Imagine yourself really believing that. Then think about how others would think of you if you were share your belief. That’s a bit like how I think of folks who believe there’s an undetectable God behind a seamless universe. (That’s not where I was heading when I started writing this, but it does seem to fit).

P.S. The conundrum was invented by Edmund Gettier. It’s “the Gettier counterexample to JTB”, where JTB is “justified true belief”, the standard philosophical definition of knowledge since Plato, until Gettier came along and gummed up the works. You believe there’s a cow in the field and the belief is justified by that image that looks just like a cow and the belief is true because there’s a cow there, but it shouldn’t count as knowledge because the justification is wrong – there isn’t a cow there for the reason you think there is, and the cow could just as well not be there or there could be a donkey behind the image but you would still believe there was a cow there for the same reason.

Pete Dunkelberg Wrote:

If I read you right I think you would agree with this: It’s good to learn how the world works through the scientific approach; The Bible is not a science text; it has a different purpose; and disbelieving the creation (as revealed by science) would be a lousy way to honor the creator.

Precisely. In addition, I’d like to point out that the fear that many religious people have of certain scientific discoveries is because they are discovering that the universe may not have been put together they way they had always assumed. (Note that I’m not saying only religious people have fears related to science, merely that this is one source of religious fears of scientific theories.

Pete Dunkelberg Wrote:

Quoting: Couldn’t some Christians be defining themselves as Christian through thinking Jesus was a really nice bloke with some pretty neat ideas for his time.

They’re called Unitarians. :)

Some Unitarians are Christians in this sense. There are a wide variety of Christians and Unitarians today are very open. I’ll be speaking at the local UU church in a few weeks, something I find is always a great privelege. The feedback from the congregation is an extraordinary educational experience in itself.

How did the Bible come to reflect God in any way at all if God doesn’t tinker?

I’m working on, but far from finished with an essay on just what Genesis was saying anyhow.

I enjoyed reading your point of view. I question your logic on mnay fronts but that is neither here nor there.

As per the quote above, your assuming it’s saying anything at all. You are starting from an unproven and in all likelyhood untenable starting point and attempting to build a substantive argument on something with the weakest of foundations if indeed it is a founation at all.

You basically concocting an opinion based on your own beliefs to support your own beliefs. In this respect you would be like any of the 1000’s or millions of people trying to make sense of a book that likely wasn’t meant to be what some say it is.

And I like what you say. It just saddens me to some degree to see smart men running around spending their life in pursuit of such matters. One wonders if the priests in Apollo and Zeus’s day did the same.

And I like what you say. It just saddens me to some degree to see smart men running around spending their life in pursuit of such matters. One wonders if the priests in Apollo and Zeus’s day did the same.

It is sad how much time and energy the human race has spent reading and writing and fretting and bowing and scraping and suffering and killing over something as real as the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Some Unitarians are Christians in this sense.

I’ve had this sort of thing before from some snide ignoramus on IIDB. It’s about time Americans (and any other under-educated inhabitants of the modern world) learned some history as well as some science.

All Unitarians were Christian. That’s how the name came about - Uni as a contrast to signify rejection of the Trinity for which they had noticed there wasn’t any genuine doctrinal “evidence”. Newton was one of the earliest Unitarians - something which he had to conceal for a bit because embarrassingly he was at Trinity and he didn’t want to lose his position there. As a result of the origins of Unitarianism, in the UK the Unitarian rituals have always been basically Christian. However, they have gradually become more watered down - particularly in the last century. So, as Unitarianism has spread, it has become pretty much open to all faiths and points of view - adopting people from other faiths as well as merely claiming to have a one-ness with the essence of their various ancestral versions of gods too.

Now, while those more nondescript Unitarians may be the only ones certain Americans have ever met or heard about, it doesn’t really make their inaccurate pontifications on what Unitarians actually are any better. It’s like theists insisting atheism is a religion - offensively ignorant and arrogant in the extreme. By default, Unitarians are of Christian origin unless it can be shown that a particular individual came to the minimalistic faith some other way and with different rituals.

[ end rant/aside ]

Marco wrote:

It solemnly declares that we may come from other species (Vienna’s cardinal notwithstanding) but we are totally and definitely special. Not just our souls, be we as a species. The universe has been built around us.

Ken Miller, reconciles this belief with science quite nicely. He asserts that God designed the laws of the nature such that they would ultimately produce, somewhere, a speices that could come to know God and love Him. The fact that this species only exists in one tiny section of the universe is immaterial to the notion that the universe was created specifically with this purpose in mind.

Sorry for being so late, but I’ve been swamped by other posts and comments. Anyway :

Adam said:

He [Miller] asserts that God designed the laws of the nature such that they would ultimately produce, somewhere, a species that could come to know God and love Him

Maybe is just my being obtuse, but does that mean that evolution is teleological? And the products and processes of evolution itself are given well in advance, cosmic rays, mutations and all that stuff? And how does Miller cope with the objective random nature of mutations? Really, I can’t really understand how the roman catholics live with this (apparent) contradiction? And, as a last remark, he’s not really far from cardinal Schonbörn, with his opposition to “unguided” evolution. Is seems to me that Miller evolution is everything but unguided. Can you help me?

Marco

Re “but does that mean that evolution is teleological? “

Not in my opinion. Teleology as I understand it means the details have to be preordained. If the goal doesn’t depend on details, but only on getting an intelligent species of some sort, then that isn’t asserting teleology.

Henry

Henry J said:

If the goal doesn’t depend on details, but only on getting an intelligent species of some sort, then that isn’t asserting teleology.

You mean that, according to Miller (or any other roman catholic) they can be content with the existence of an intelligent and god fearing octopus? That the evolution, unguided but with a goal (though this statement looks like a contradiction to me) must “produce” something, but not necessarly us? This is not far from the thoughts of Tehillard de Chardin, as far as I can remember, though he thought that the omega point of the evolution was the human species. And he was almost thrown out of the Church.

Marco

Re “according to Miller (or any other roman catholic) they can be content with the existence of an intelligent and god fearing octopus?”

Um. I wouldn’t count on religious people being content with that. But that’s not the point. We’re here now as we are, but if we were here with tentacles instead of hands, then that would (in that situation) seem natural and hands would seem weird. Erect biped seems right to us because we’re used to it.

Henry

“But if cattle and horses or lions had hands, or were able to draw with their hands and do the works that men can do, horses would draw the forms of the Gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make their bodies such as they each had themselves.” –Xenophanes 6th Century B.C.E.

That makes the ancient Egyptians just a little bit strange then …

Teleology as I understand it means the details have to be preordained.

Then, you misunderstand it: “Belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in nature or history.”

I’ve got it! TS stands for TediouS. Now it all makes sense.

Re “Then, you misunderstand it: “Belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in nature or history.””

Um. That is another way of saying what I said.

Henry

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This page contains a single entry by Henry Neufeld published on August 13, 2005 10:04 AM.

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