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Adoptionism and biology: an interpretation of Darwinism?


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#61 Ryan

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Posted 19 March 2009 - 02:47 AM

The "Talibanesque epistemology" remark was really uncalled for. Please, let's all avoid slippery slopes and caricatures. These things really have no bearing on whether a given argument is true or not, or whether it is Orthodox.

I would like to respond to the point of the "Non-overlapping magisteria" of science and religion. I would argue that Christians can recognize no such concept, as long as they believe that God created the entire universe out of nothing; that God had a purpose for the creation and a particular purpose for each particular creature; that God is continually active in the Creation, guiding it toward its purpose; that the visible and invisible aspects of creation interact and intertwine.

It seems to me that, if we accept such an understanding, then examining the creation, even its material aspects, without any consideration of its origin or divinely ordained purpose, is a kind of self-imposed blindness leading to delusion. To say, "we're just looking at the facts" is a veiled faith statement of its own; a faith that our fallen cognitive and sensory capacities can gain a reliable picture of the universe and its natural workings independently of divine revelation.

The spiritual and material (religious and scientific) realms are divided, cordoned off from one another, and they have little to say about each other without overstepping their bounds- if I am not mistaken, this is the substance of the "non-overlapping magisteria" position. I have certainly seen such a position put forth. For example, Archbishop Lazar Puhalo , in this video, actually says that the Bible does not say anything about the creation. He interprets the entire Genesis creation narrative as pure metaphor, an approach the Fathers, as I understand it, rejected firmly. For the Fathers, the realms were not so divided; they frequently drew conclusions about the spiritual realm from the material and vice versa. In a sense, they employed what modern scientists would consider "pseudo-science," as we do today each time we say "The heavens proclaim the glory of God." Christianity rejects the matter-spirit dualism (or, in some cases, materialist monism) in inherent in the modern scientific methodology.

Which leads me to a last point- the non-overlapping magisteria does not really eliminate the "God of the gaps" problem- it creates what I might call a "God of the receding boundary". As modern science offers explanations for more and more questions that previously had only religious explanations, the faith retreats into metaphor and internal spirituality; it becomes introspective and allegorical, to the eventual point that it has very little to say about the tangible world around us.

And this is because the realms really do overlap. It has long been understood in Christian spirituality that honest contemplation of creation leads one to conclude the existence, wisdom, and goodness of the creator, whereas modern theories are putting forward a picture of the universe that develops without any conscious guidance. We are certainly free to believe, scientists will say, that God oversees the various processes being described, but there is nothing in the "facts" to prove it; such a belief is based on "subjective" perceptions of beauty and order.

As I have mentioned before, in my opinion, modern science produces a distorted picture of nature. Distorted does not mean completely wrong. There are obvious benefits (as well as dangers) in modern technology and medicine. But when the findings of modern science appear to contradict the traditional Orthodox teaching, I think that, instead of revising the Orthodox stance into allegory or dismissing it with words like "well, those Fathers were basing themselves off of the science of their day," we should humbly accept that our human faculties are fallen, and that, furthermore, we are looking at a fallen world.

If "the facts" (in the empiricist sense) give us a picture of an eternal, cyclical, and uncreated universe, of an ancient earth doomed to eventual and final destruction by cosmic forces, of man evolved haphazardly over millions of years because of mutations and natural selection, then perhaps we should acknowledge the serious limitations of "the facts". Some pagan philosophers argued that the universe must be uncreated, since heavenly objects had a circular rather than linear motion, and circles have no beginning. St. Basil responded with the point that, when we draw a circle, it appears to be beginningless, but we do actually begin drawing it at a particular point.

Similarly, phenomena that appear cyclical can have a beginning; things that look very old may be very young. Our senses and cognition are prone to misunderstanding. Not only are we fallen beings looking at a fallen and distorted world, but we are constantly ensnared by passions and tempted by demons. Under such conditions, how can we, individually or collectively, expect to get an objective view of the world without constantly praying for divine mercy?

The divine revelation which the saints imparted conveys a far deeper truth about the world around us and about ourselves than anything empiricist methods can produce- we should not be ashamed of it nor should we qualify it in the face of modern theories. The truest understanding of the natural world emerges for the saints in an advanced stage of prayer- it has always been completely independent of technical or theoretical advances in secular science.

Edited by Ryan, 19 March 2009 - 03:09 AM.


#62 Owen Jones

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Posted 19 March 2009 - 12:44 PM

Thanks, Ryan. You have stated it much better than I could. But let me try to elaborate just a little on the problem of "objective science." There is no Archimedian point from which you can examine reality that is extraneous to it. That includes but is not limited to material things. It also involves processes and relationships. We are part of the reality that we seek to examine. It's not simply that we bring prejudice and beliefs into the picture. But the very structure of reality includes mind. So the mind is not a detached observer but is part and parcel of what is observed and in some mysterious way incorporates all of reality. This is not a metaphor for anything, but a scientific evaluation of reality and its intelligible structures.

#63 Owen Jones

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Posted 19 March 2009 - 01:13 PM

Evan,

When you pose the question, what is at stake here, I hesitate, because it seems as though you imply that I am taking a position to defend a stake that I have in something, like a piece of property, from encroachment. You have already implied that I am psychologically a weak person because if feel that my faith is threatened by Darwinism, and I assume that this issue of what I have at stake is part and parcel of this same assumption.

But this is not the way I look at things.

But if I were to grant your premise, it works both ways. Most Darwinists view belief in God as a threat to their system, and treat religion the same way Marx treated it, or, his theory of the withering away of the state. What seems to be at stake for the Darwinist is that as long as "religionists" stick to their own private business there is no problem, but once they start mucking about with science, they see themselves to be threatened. So they must not be allowed to influence science, or public expenditures on science, or classroom curricula, etc.

Now, back to the question. The primary reasons I am a skeptic as to common ancestry is that a) there seems to be no evidence for it, only inferences that can be drawn only when one assumes naturalism as one's starting point and 2) both theology and philosophy bring to bear any number of questions and objections that Darwinism cannot answer, 3) Orthodox Christianity is more scientific in its treatment of the idea of the human, our nature, origins, purpose, end. It is not only the most sublime vision that we have of the nature of the human, but it also works in practice. The Darwinistic vision is inherently reductionistic and does not work in practical applications.

#64 Evan

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Posted 19 March 2009 - 01:42 PM

Ryan,

I think we can all agree that unfortunate things were said by all concerned. It is my hope that we can continue this discussion in a charitable and mutually productive way.

"I would like to respond to the point of the "Non-overlapping magisteria" of science and religion. I would argue that Christians can recognize no such concept, as long as they believe that God created the entire universe out of nothing; that God had a purpose for the creation and a particular purpose for each particular creature; that God is continually active in the Creation, guiding it toward its purpose; that the visible and invisible aspects of creation interact and intertwine."


The NOMA comment was not intended to cordon off science from religion, only to raise the question of whether evolutionary theory is necessarily in conflict with the Christian doctrine concerning creation. That's the context in which Gould defined NOMA; a limited one, that didn't necessitate that one accept the proposition that religion and science have nothing to offer one another. Perhaps it was unfortunate to use the term here, as it seems to have brought in unnecessary baggage.

"When you pose the question, what is at stake here, I hesitate, because it seems as though you imply that I am taking a position to defend a stake that I have in something, like a piece of property, from encroachment. You have already implied that I am psychologically a weak person because if feel that my faith is threatened by Darwinism, and I assume that this issue of what I have at stake is part and parcel of this same assumption."

If I seem to have implied any such thing, I retract it. We are working with asymmetric information here; you know more about what you think than I do, and in trying to engage with you, I've tried to connect things you've said with arguments I've heard elsewhere. If in doing so, I've made certain assumptions, I've done so fully prepared to reject them as I learn more about your specific positions.

"The primary reasons I am a skeptic as to common ancestry is that a) there seems to be no evidence for it, only inferences that can be drawn only when one assumes naturalism as one's starting point and 2) both theology and philosophy bring to bear any number of questions and objections that Darwinism cannot answer, 3) Orthodox Christianity is more scientific in its treatment of the idea of the human, our nature, origins, purpose, end. It is not only the most sublime vision that we have of the nature of the human, but it also works in practice. The Darwinistic vision is inherently reductionistic and does not work in practical applications."

What's troubling to me here is how we go from common ancestry to Darwinism. We both know that there are scientists (Francis Collins, among others) that have accepted the former without embracing the latter, endorsing theistic evolution. When I ask what's at stake here, I do so because I'm uncertain as to how it's problematic to embrace evolution in this qualified way, rather than rejecting it altogether-- doing the latter suggests that there's something inconsistent about Collins' perspective, that allowing for common ancestry admits too much, from a Christian perspective. I want to understand why you think that's so. Or do you simply believe that there's not enough evidence as of yet?

#65 Owen Jones

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Posted 19 March 2009 - 03:40 PM

For the sake of accuracy, Darwin believed in theistic evolution. He clearly states that there was a Creator who breathed life into matter. He states that quite clearly in print. He does not believe that God could have created specificity and diversity as it exists. He does not believe that is possible. Rather, he thinks it is far more likely that the complexity and diversity in nature is the result of natural causality, based on randomness, gradual change, and the competitive nature of things. The latter theory is based on 19th century liberal economics.

So when one is critiquing Darwinism, one is inevitably critiquing "theistic evolution."

The problem with common ancestry, again and again we pray, is that there is not a shred of actual evidence supporting it. And it is impossible to imagine any kind of experiment that could be conducted that would either validate or falsify it. It's inherently unfalsifiable.

It is an inference -- Darwin repeated uses that term -- that uses the model of naturalism as its starting point. The fact that there are human-like creatures that existed millions of years ago and died out is hardly proof of common ancestry. Homology is clearly not a proof, because all nature is homologous and it only stands to reason that it would be so. My bio-chemical structure is not alien to that of the rest of the world. Why should it be? This is not ipso facto a proof of common ancestry.

So for those and a host of other reasons, that leaves me a certifiable skeptic regarding common origins, quite apart from what Christian dogma has to say. But when you add Christian dogma into the mix, it strikes me as a more rational and intelligible explanation for existence, and a more accurate description of what human beings were, are and can become. It is much more comprehensive, and when applied to actual cases, it actually works, whereas when you apply the principles of Darwinism in actual, specific cases, you get all kinds of bad consequences. I do think there is a certainly credibility and validity in critiquing ideas based on their consequences. Don't you?

#66 Evan

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Posted 19 March 2009 - 11:58 PM

"I do think there is a certainly credibility and validity in critiquing ideas based on their consequences. Don't you?"

I think most rational people would agree with you. However, as I have stated, I am yet unconvinced that I need to be a Darwinian to draw anything of value from what Darwin contributed to the scientific corpus. In particular, I see no reason to follow Darwin in his conclusion that because he believes that evolution is in effect (forgive the Dawkinism) a blind watchmaker, all God needed to do was breathe life into being at the outset, and dumb, senseless natural processes would take over and, given enough time and permutations, we'd get you and me, and we can go about our business look good Deists and love only those who love us and trample the weak and sterilize the "feeble-minded" and do all sorts of cool progressive stuff (good ol' Oliver Wendell Holmes).

Obviously, no Christian can accept such a picture. But can we not say that the development Darwin pointed us towards is, in fact, a reality, while at the same time denying that it took place, as Darwin concluded, as a consequence of blind luck? That what he saw as impossible is possible with God, as indeed are all things? That his very inability to perceive God in the evidence of randomness, gradual change, and competition reflects not God's absence but the limits of the human understanding?

#67 Owen Jones

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Posted 20 March 2009 - 03:09 PM

Are we bartering now? Is that what it comes down to? I can pick and choose and negotiate what is scientific, what is philosophically and theologically sound?

You know, we have a whole series of trends over the last several hundred hears as Christians have absorbed liberalism into their ethos and mind set. It's been pretty disastrous, all in all. Darwinism is part of the liberal world view. Nothing more, nothing less. The opposite of liberalism is not fundamentalism and literalism. It is reason and true faith, which is what Orthodoxy represents. It not only is the True Faith, but it is the last remaining bulwark against liberal ideology in the world today. Which means it stands for Reason as opposed to magic. This has practical consequences. As more and more psychologists go to work on people, using the Darwinian mindset as the foundation for their theories, we are told that there are more and more mentally sick people. It is time that we recover our Biblical and Patristic heritage regarding the nature of the soul, the relationship between soul and body, and the relationship between the Creator and the created. None of that is contained in Darwinism, because they don't need it. When it comes down to practical application, tts claims are bogus, because the Darwinian paradigm of the human simply doesn't work. Infusing it with Christianity cannot save it, it only corrupts Christianity.




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