Re: [asa] Re: (religious memes?) [christians_in_science] Brilliant article by Dawkins

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Fri Aug 28 2009 - 18:31:37 EDT

Hi Bill,

I don't see it as unreasonable to suggest that the theory of biological evolution is imposed on the data by the scientist - after all, it's acknowledged that theorems are never inherent in data.

So the real question is how reasonable is it to impose an evolutionary framework on the biological data as opposed to imposing an evolutionary framework on the biblical data concerning Hebrew/Christian religion.

As respects the first, the conclusion of contemporary science is that an evolutionary interpretation of biological data is very reasonable.

As respects the second, the conclusion of contemporary Biblical studies is that evolutionary interpretations of the Biblical data - and of early Christianity in particular - should be met with some measure of reserve.

It's worth pointing out that, on the one hand, the data set in the case of biological evolution is far more extensive, whilst, on the other, the theological and philosophical presuppositions of the history of religion school are now widely recognized.

So it's not strictly kosher to try to argue that both are identical instances of theorists attempting to impose a pre-conceived framework on limited data sets.

And it's also worth asking what the contrary data might be in each instance. In the case of biological evolution there are some good grounds for arguing that contemporary evolutionary theory isn't telling the full story - but we honestly have to admit that things get a bit opaque when we try to discern the implications of some of the less convenient data (e.g. Hebert's findings in mitochondrial DNA recently discussed). In the case of biological evolution there's not, I would submit, an overwhelming preponderance of contrary data and the implications of such as does exist is not entirely clear - certainly it's not proving fatal to the standard evolutionary paradigm.

In the case of the Biblical data, however, there are plenty of contrary data to the thesis that Hebrew and Christian religion "evolved" from already extant pre-cursors. Indeed, a major criticism of the history of religions school - and certainly of Bultmann's attempts to link the Gospel of John with Gnosticism - is the tendency to ignore swathes of biblical data in order to promote a particular historical (evolutionary) thesis. The Bible tells us, with no uncertainty, that certain Hebrew and Christian beliefs arose in light of divine disclosure, and to dismiss that point is to distort Hebrew and Christian religion beyond all recognition. To dismiss it without any real argument (and let's be clear that the history of religions school provided no real argument for their dismissal of revelation) is simply unacceptable.

Finally, whilst the claim that "theorems are never inherent in the data" is a good maxim in the physical sciences (where data do not come with explanatory labels) it breaks down in the case of Biblical religion. The fact is that the acts of God recorded in scripture DO come with explanatory labels attached. Unlike biological data we are not left to figure out the implications on our own, but are told, with some degree of certainty, that certain acts were done by God and we are told, with some degree of certainty, for what purpose.

So, yes, both biological evolution and the history of religions view points are cases of imposing theorems on data, but there are some pretty significant distinctions which one would want to recognize if one wanted to avoid false parallels.

Perhaps one final remark. I see no reason to deny the possibility that God appropriated extant religious practices, giving them a new interpretation to fit a new religious context. Christianity does precisely this with baptism and the Lord's Supper. It could, of course, be argued that such are instances of "evolutionary" development - but we'd merely be getting back into that argument of whether "evolution" is the best term to use for a process which bears within it the clear mark of intelligent purpose. Like Greg Arago, I think that using the term "evolution" in respects of human social achievements is not the most helpful and leads to an inevitable confusion. Better to say religion progresses under divine guidance than to say it "evolves" as though nobody, God included, gave religious developments any conscious thought.


Bill Powers wrote:
> Murray:
> It seems to me that what you say below is exactly the issue in
> perceiving something like common descent from the "data."
>> Here the old maxim "similarity does not prove copying" applies. That
>> the ancients widely practice animal sacrifice is recognized. It does
>> not follow that all cultures - or even any culture - practising animal
>> sacrifice borrowed it from elsewhere.
>> All a similarity between the OT/NT and surrounding cultures proves is
>> that there is a similarity. Period. It's the exegete who has to
>> provide the evolutionary glue to arrive at an evolutionary conclusion.
> bill
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Received on Fri Aug 28 18:33:15 2009

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