Thursday, March 02, 2006

Why I believe in evolution

Why do I believe in biological evolution? Well, if you ask some apologists, they are definitely not short of answers. The following references are from Lee Strobel's book, The Case for a Creator, and Norman Geisler and Frank Tureks’s book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. They provide many answers, but in this article I will focus only on those regarding morality. According to them, I - an atheist - believe in evolution because:
  • I can sleep with whomever I like, because if evolution is true, there are no standards of right and wrong (Atheist - pg 163);
  • I fear encroachment of God in my personal life (Atheist – pg 164);
  • Evolution eliminates any need for God (Creator – pg 77);
  • Evolution frees me from somebody being accountable for my actions (Creator – pg 25, 41);
    Evolution allows me to pursue personal happiness and pleasures at all costs (Creator – pg 77); and
  • I can remain free from the perceived moral restraints of God (Atheist – pg 164, see also Strobel’s Case for Faith, pg 91).

Do I use evolution as an excuse to be immoral? When I was a Christian, I did not smoke, I did not abuse drink, I did not take drugs, and I was in a happy monogamous relationship with a wonderful girlfriend. Now that I’m an atheist, I do not smoke, I do not abuse drink, I don’t take drugs, and I am in a happy monogamous relationship with a wonderful wife (for those who are wondering: the girlfriend and wife are the same person). Morally, I haven’t changed that much since I left the faith. I’m still, well, basically me.

So if a desire to be immoral is not the reason for my belief in evolution, what is? It’s not a result of my non-belief in God, as I’ve explained here. Rather, I believe in evolution because (1) the evidence for it is extremely good, and (2) to quote the famous evolutionist, Theodosius Dobzhansky (who was a Christian, by the way): “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”.

Let’s briefly explore these two reasons:

Evidence for evolution: who can ignore the many lines of evidence from the large variety fields such as botany, zoology, geology, palaeontology and anthropology. There are many clues from the fossil record, atavisms, biogeography, pseudogenes, and endogenous retroviral infections, that point to the idea of common decent. For a more detailed discussion of the evidence for evolution, read 29 Evidences for Macroevolution at the TalkOrigins site.

Making sense of the living world: why do animals, including humans, have ‘design’ flaws in their bodies? Why do some whales grow hind limbs, and in some cases even feet, within their bodies? Why do most marsupials live on the isolated landmass of Australia? Without evolution, these questions don’t have answers. When I finally accepted the idea of common decent, the entire field of biology became all the more wonderful and beautiful – simply because, using the paradigm of evolution, I could begin to understand some of the intricacies and mysteries of the living world.

13 comments:

Dar said...

Yay! (clapping) I just love a beautifully written rebuttal. When I was going through "losing faith" years ago, I researched everything I could get my hands on. The world opened up to me, my mind expanded, and so did my heart...I felt GOOD about myself for once, even though I was already a good person (by Christian morality standards). Sadly, I faced alot of criticism (from even my own family) when I "came out". Change is difficult on just about everyone, so I understand. I relied on all the research I did so that I could point quite a few things out to those nay-sayers and open their minds a bit. It didn't happen overnight, but I have a wonderful support system, and my father (who is the best thing that ever happened to me) has even become interested in celebrating Solstices with me. We call it "extended christmas". I hope the Christians in your life come to understand and support you as well. I can tell from your writing style that you are a kind-hearted person with immeasurable intelligence, they and you will be fine with time.
I'm still working on my blog - sincerely SWAMPED at work and the last thing I want to do when I get home is be anywhere near a computer.
Take care,
Dar

JustinOther said...

Excellent post and wonderful thoughts.

The problem that I have found in trying to have a rational argument over evolution vs. creation is this:

If there is an omnipotent god, he/she created everything that you as an evolutionist thinks proves evolution. In other words, when you are all powerful and allknowing, you can make reality be what you want it to be. How do you argue with someone who believes that?

P3T3RK3Y5 said...

hi. non-religious but spiritual christian here. new to your conversation. applaud your honesty. also don't mean to rain on anyone's parade here. like everyone here i hate stupidity - so i’m here for the good people and good conversation.

justinother's point is a good one. i read in paul davies "the 5th miracle" where paul doesn’t think the universe’ design requires intervention / a creator (his thesis is matter by its own character lends itself to becoming organic). by contrast, i see precisely God's design - and all the more elegantly in the continuity of that thesis.

i think christianity (the religion) has shot itself in the ass - by requiring "gaps" to be able to see / (lend a witness to) God. not many christians see this though. i see God in the continuities - including the elegance you describe within Darwin's evolution - which from my perspective would then be God’s evolution. just because i know how the grass grows doesn't mean it's not God at work.

peace

Dar said...

The one truth that we know for sure...is that we don't know.

Nacho said...

Kevin, nice post. I will cite it in my blog and add it to the conversation over evolution and ID. You know, in many ways the "controversy" is not really about belief. I've met and know many nice people who hold both beliefs, and being theists they assign ultimate causality to a universal order put in motion by their god. But, as you note, at some point some believers come to think and fear that the world loses meaning and morality is lost, if not seen in light of religious faith (and often a specific religious faith). That idea, as precarious as it is, really moves them to oppose alternative explanations. The problem lies in that they seek that meaning outside of themselves and outside of us as human beings. A second related issue is that of whether we should teach ID (a revamped creationism) in the public schools biology curriculum. That move is the political offshoot of the fear mentioned first -- hence it is an attempt to confront and stem the challenge of a pluralistic society that requires them to be one among many other beliefs.

The possibility of accepting both evolution and theism exists. To be sure, choices have to be made that scientific models of causal reality might not support, but nonetheless, theologians of evolution like John Haught (Georgetown University) have delineated such positions (God after Darwin, and Deeper than Darwin) quite nicely (and based on novelty and a theology of hope and love, not one of fear).

I wish that more theists would see their way to a theology of love and hope and not of fear.

Thanks again Kevin!

noell said...

Ditto!

I have the 29 Reasons article bookmarked to use in an upcoming post too! It's a good one. Now I see you beat me to it. We must be reading the same stuff.

Great post.

r10b said...

Kevin,

***
NOTE: Please accept these comments in the friendly manner in which they were intended. If anything seems inappropriately confrontational I apologize in advance and I will be more careful in the future.
***

The question isn't that you as an atheist or evolutionist are not or can not be moral according to generally accepted standards. The questions are:

1) How have you set those standards?
2) Why do you still adhere to Christian standards in your post-Christian life?
3) Why did you adhere to them as a Christian?

If your answer to Q1 is anything other than, "by my own god-free conscience" then you've merely swapped out one external standard for another. And if your answer is by your god-free conscience I would argue that there is rarely such a thing.

If the answers to Q's 2 & 3 are both "it makes society function better" or "it makes me feel better," then your morality, as appreciated as it may have been by those around you, was not true Christian morality for that is obedience to (i.e., love for) God. You remember that the Scribes and Pharisees kept the Laws and tithed the mint and cumin, but they were not considered moral. They kept the law to benefit their own social standing not to be more like God. But if there is no God then the Pharisees were the cream of the crop, and "morality" is doing what you think is best for yourself, even if that is being nice to others at times. Of course if it's best to be nasty then go right ahead. After all isn't that what natural selection mandates?

And more fundamentally, why call it morality at all if you are just another animal? The lower animals don't exhibit morality only instinct. They don't ponder the moral significance of their actions, and unless God has put his nature into Man we don't either. Morality is just a word we made up for the set of instincts the human animals have developed.

You are monogamous but a friend of yours is not. So what? You are just a better example of the current (fading) standard in human instincts. Maybe your friend is part of the group that is moving humanity forward evolutionally. Monogamy and sexual virtue in general is loosing ground quickly you must admit. It's laughed at in most circles here in America. If you think about it, maybe you and your wife should get with the program or your seed will miss the evolutionary boat.

If we are a souless animals we really should obey our instincts just like the other animals and abandon all vestiges of religiosity* which are, according to Richard Dawkins et al, the greatest evil to befall humanity.

* Given that we are just an evolutionary step away from our fellow animals, it is very odd that there is no evidence (that I'm aware of) that our creative and worshipful nature exists in any other living creature in even the most rudimentary sense.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi R10b

You raise very important points in your comment. One of the reasons that I wrote this article was to highlight that humans have indeed evolved from lower life forms. The evidence for this fact is overwhelming. To reject evolution because it raises problems for morality is the same as rejecting the idea of a heliocentric solar system because it upsets our idea that man is the centre of the universe.

In other words, we have to find answers to the question of morality that accept the idea of evolution, even if they don’t appeal to it directly. I don’t think Christians will have a problem doing this, simply because biological evolution doesn’t disprove the existence of God. So the question of whether one believes that morals are a result of a Moral Law Giver does not depend on the validity of evolution – it depends on belief in the existence of God.

I don’t believe that God exists, so what is the basis of my moral system? I think this is what you were asking in your comment, and it is a very good question. To be honest, this is something that I’m still working out, and have not yet reached steadfast conclusions.

Why do I still hold onto some ‘Christian’ morals? Why don’t I abuse drink and drugs, and why don’t I sleep around? Simply because is reasonable not to do these things. I can see the effects of drug abuse, the pain and hardship that it causes. I value my body, and I don’t like pain; so the reasonable thing to do is not to abuse drugs. I’ve seen how infidelity has caused families to break apart; so I don’t sleep around because I value the relationship I have with my wife. The same can be said of my financial savings: I don’t go blowing all my hard-earned savings on clothes simply because this will negatively affect me at a later stage when I retire. In other words, I don’t do certain things because – although they might provide some form of instant gratification – those actions will eventually destroy those things that I value. I don’t see how God enters the picture here.

But what is reasonable? Something that seems ‘reasonable’ to me might not seem ‘reasonable’ to someone else. I guess this is the problem with what I've written above.

I know this isn’t very clear. I’m still thinking through the whole morality question, but I would like to know of any thoughts you might have to what I’ve said.

By the way, do you have a blog online? I’ve tried accessing the one on your profile, but it comes back with a ‘can’t find URL’ error.

Kevin

tichius said...

This topic is of immense interest to me and I appreciate how you have shared, initiating this discussion so freely.

May I ask just a few questions?

What led you to your decision to leave the Christian faith?

Who was Jesus Christ to you when you were a Christian, and who is he to you now?

Sorry I do not have my blog site set up yet... you can email me or post it on here.

carole_design@yahoo.com

Thanks!

nicj said...

your belief or not in god does not change him . he does not depend on you to exist. he just is . all this need for "proof" is just for us and our itellectual arrogence (sp) . get past the spelling to the thought. pride is the first and biggest stumbiling block to the truth. Its all around you if only one can get over themselves. evolution is truly a theory in crisis. read the "origin of the species" to see just how breathtakingly racsist and lacking in modern cellular understanding darwin was.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi nicj

Thank you for your comment. I just want to ask if you can elaborate on some of your comments, if you don't mind.

nicj wrote
evolution is truly a theory in crisis

In what way do you think it is in crisis? Can you provide some examples? I see evolution as theory that is still taught in almost every university around the world, and it forms the foundation of the life sciences (Botany, Zoology, etc). Evolution is still going strong, in my view.

nicj wrote
read the "origin of the species" to see just how breathtakingly racsist and lacking in modern cellular understanding darwin was.

I have a copy, and have been slowly working through the book myself. Can you provide examples from the text that relate to racism? And in what way does modern cellular understanding pose a problem to Darwin? From my understanding, Darwin's theory is confirmed by molecular science. But I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning GOD...

tex norman said...

I just added you to my favorites and I am so pleased to have found your blog. I was first a minister in a blackbelt fundamentalist church, and lost my faith. Then I tried again with the Eposcipal Chruch, I thought they were more liberal and open, but they kicked me out for being too liberal and not following the party line.

I consider myself a atheist, and sometimes I feel almost like an antitheist. I try not to, but I have received a lot of criticism from family, and believers.
http://searchwarp.com/swa402974.htm