Re: Evolution's Imperative

Kevin O'Brien (
Thu, 25 Mar 1999 17:37:56 -0700

>I actually would place myself closer to YEC right now. I've considered it
>a lot lately based on some of what's been presented on this list, and
>still consider the issue unproven either way, so until I see what I
>consider conclusive proof the other way....

What would you consider to be conclusive proof of evolution?

>...I'll stick with Genesis, no
>matter how allegorical it happens to be.

So do I, but it is because I consider it allegorical that I do not see it as
contradicting evolution.

>Now, don't you go blast me for
>that, I'm open to other ways, just haven't been convinced.

I don't blast people simply for giving their opinion. I blast them for
being pompous fools; you are no fool.

>>>>Fire away; at least you are more coherent than "Cummings".
>>>Exactly the kind of personal attack I'm warning against! Please focus on
>>>issues and not people.
>>That was meant to be a compliment, not a personal attack.
>I wasn't referring to the apparent compliment to me but the implied insult
>to Cummings. Please argue issues here, not attack people. Doing the latter
>is VERY unchristian, watch out. And personally I don't care who starts it,
>that can be argued, but continuing it is just as bad.

It wasn't even a personal attack against "Cummings". I was critiquing his
argument style and comparing it unfavorably to yours. Or do you consider
ANY criticism of the opposite party in a debate a personal attack? I know a
lot of creationists who feel that way.

>>You seem to be suggesting that the evolution/creation debate is a matter
>>who has the best arguments. It's not. It's a fight between science and
>>pseudoscience, between evidence and data on the one hand and dogmatic
>>on the other. Ignoring evolutionism (which is a philosophy, not a
>>the science of evolution has been verified over and over again through
>>experiments and observational studies, and even in those cases (like the
>>peppered moth) where the specific results are shown to be incorrect, the
>>general results still show the correctness of evolution. This evidence is
>>well documented, so if you want to see it all you have to do is look for
>I happen to see a lot of correct science on both sides. And which side is
>the pseudoscience can be highly debated as well.

Touche'. However, I have yet to see any evidence in support of creation
offered on this list, even when I beg for it, yet lots of evidence is
offered that supports evolution. To my way of thinking that suggests
something significant.

>And I think a
>differentiation should be made between natural selection and
>macroevolution. They really are different arguments altogether, despite
>what definition goes where....

The Graviticist/Seraphimist Debate: A Parable

In a different age, in back of the beyond, there once was a mystical land
called Eire. The Eirens were a highly advanced people, culturally,
scientifically and spiritually, who believed themselves created by Divine
Intelligence, through the natural forces of evolution. But the Eirens had
one serious disgareement. Half the population believed in a phenomenon they
called gravity, which they defined as the mutual attraction of every mass
for every other mass, and which they tried to explain by one of two
competing theories: gravitons (particles exchanged between two interacting
masses) and warped space. They had developed gravity to explain why people
remain attached to the earth despite its rotation, why the earth stayed in
orbit around the sun, where the sun obtained its energy, etc. They called
themselves Graviticists.

The other half of the population called themselves Seraphimists, because
they explained the same phenomena, not with gravity, but by invoking
servants of the Divine Intelligence called seraphims. The Holy Scripture
revered by all Eirens stated in the first chapter of the first book that
when the Divine Intelligence created the universe, She had assigned
seraphims to perform certains tasks. Some held people to the surface of the
earth, some kept the earth in orbit around the sun, some kept the sun
burning, etc. The Seraphimists believed that this part of the Holy
Scripture was literally true, so that what the Graviticists called gravity
was really a number of different seraphims all working cooperatively.

In an otherwise harmonious society, debate between these two groups was
acrimonious. The Graviticists, who interpreted that part of the Holy
Scripture figuratively, accused the Seraphimists of fundamentalism and
literalism, while the Seraphimists accused the Graviticists of blasphemy and
atheism. Both sides claimed to have true science on their sides, while
accusing the other side of pseudoscience. The main contention was over what
gravity really was. The Seraphimists claimed that gravity was only a
theory, of which there were two mutually exclusive scenarios. They denied
that such examples as people being held to earth, the earth in orbit around
the sun, the energy source of the sun, etc. were examples of gravity in
because they could not see how gravitons ("mystical, undetectable,
miraculous particles") or warped space ("pseudoscience at its worst") could
account for any of these. They instead insisted upon direct evidence either
for gravitons or warped space, or a specific phenomenon caused by either.

The Graviticists on the other hand claimed that gravity was a fact that any
fool could see, and that their definition could be applied to any gravitic
phenomenon, even such phenomena as the life cycle of stars, the formation of
the solar system, the creation of the elements and the structure of the
universe. They claimed that either theory could explain any gravitic
phenomenon, and that not only had scientific experiments verified over and
over again the fact of gravity, they had also demonstrated that both
theories were viable, perhaps even complimentary. In any event, they
admitted that they had no good evidence for either gravitons or warped
space, or of a phenomenon that would conclusively demonstrate either, but
they did say that since gravity was a fact, it was only a matter of time
before a theory that could be proven would be developed. They in turn
accused the Seraphimists of believing in things that could never be
investigated scientifically, of trying to force science to accept
explanations that could never be proven. The Seraphimists countered that
yes they did believe that seraphims were unverifiable, but so were gravitons
and space warps, so if science was going to invoke secular explanations that
could never be verified, why could it not accept religious explanations?

The debate raged on for centuries, with neither side winning the upper hand,
when one day a stranger to came Eire. He had heard of their dispute and he
wanted to learn more. He heard and read everything both sides had to say,
them announced he thought the Seraphimists were fools. How could they doubt
the fact of gravity when it was so obvious? How could they create a false
dichotomy among gravitic phenomena when it was clear that the same force
could account for everything? Why couldn't their Divine Intelligence be
using gravity as a tool, just as She used other other natural forces?

But then he said, what he could not understand was how they could accept
evolution as a fact. Didn't they know that the Divine Intelligence created
each kind exactly as it was and that evolution was a blasphemy for
suggesting otherwise? The Graviticists and the Seraphimists looked at each
other, then explained that the Divine Intelligence used it as a tool to
create the diversity seen in living organisms. The stranger said, but
there's no evidence that evolution is real. So the Eirens started to
explain about changing gene frequencies, descent with modification, natural
selection, punctuated equilibrium, etc. The stranger then said, but that's
not evolution; evolution is the development of new organs and new body
plans, it's the increase in genetic information, it's the increase in
complexity in closed systems. The Eirens blinked, then said that that is
part of evolution -- macroevolution, but evolution as a whole also includes
microevolution. Sure, they may not be able to explain exactly how that kind
of stuff occurred yet, but they knew that evolution was a fact, so they knew
that macroevolution must have occurred. They even have evidence of it,
embryological evidence, fossil evidence, gene sequence evidence. Surely
that was enough to show that macroevolution had occurred, even if they could
not explain exactly how.

The stranger stared at them for some moments, his mouth opem, then he slowly
shook his head. I was wrong, he said; you are all fools, every one of you.
Then he turned and walked away, never to be seen again. The Graviticists
and the Seraphimists both agreed that he had just been a crazy stranger and
they should forget him. Then they went back to arguing over what
constituted gravity and whether it was a fact.

There is a moral to this parable, but it cannot be summed up in one phrase,
like "Fish should not ride bicycles." The moral is two-fold. First,
sometimes the parties in a debate are too close to it to see the whole
picture, especially if their concern is not truth, but a specific agenda.
The Seraphimists felt threatened by gravity since it challenged a precious
religious belief, whereas the Graviticists felt threatened by the
Seraphimist insistence that science could not explain a natural phenomenon
without recourse to spiritual forces. Second, because of this, often one or
both sides will try to define the issues in such a way that best benefits
their own position. I believe that I am safe in saying that the vast
majority of people on this list would side with the scientific position of
the Graviticists and affirm that gravity is gravity whether it is keeping
people on a planet or some phenomenon that would demonstrate the existence
of gravitons, and that any attempt to break it up into two separate types of
phenomena would be a distortion.

But then we are not threatened by gravity; we are instead threatened by
evolution. As such, while I'm sure this would be no surprise to anyone, I
believe that if we deliberately divest ourselves of our agendas and stepped
back to look at the whole picture objectively, we would see that, like
gravity, evolution is evolution, whether it is natural selection or
macroevolution. Yes, there are some things about macroevolution that we do
not completely understand yet, but what we do so far understand -- and we
are learning more every day -- is that no matter the specific mechanism, any
attempt to create new organs or new body plans, or increase genetic
information or complexity, will fundamentally boil down to a change in gene
frequency mediated by natural selection.

>...I see both sides talking right past the other
>all the time. Most or all YECs would agree with nat. sel. wholeheartedly.
>That is one issue no one really can debate, seriously anyway.

Did you see "Cummings" latest post about that, by any chance?

Cute thing about that, though. Even as little as ten years ago most
creationists argued that natural selection was an untestable tautology that
had been falsified by experiments that the evolutionists were too afraid to
reveal. Many creationists still argue that, in fact. Yet slowly mainstream
creationists began reversing themselves. At no time during this process did
I ever hear any creationist admit they had been wrong about natural
selection. Instead, they started saying that natural selection was indeed
real, even speciation was real, but that it wasn't evolution. Even those
who used to claim that natural selection was not real were now saying it
was, and they would deny that they ever said otherwise.

This is what I mean by pseudoscience. In contrast, no evolutionary
scientist that I am aware of has ever played this game. Yes, atheists who
believe in evolutionism, some of them scientists, have done so, but not
anyone who actually does research in evolutionary science. If they find
evidence that contradicts some aspect of evolution they admit they were
wrong and publish the evidence. We've had an example of that with this
peppered moth affair. I have yet to read any creationist retract any error,
even on this list.

>>In contrast there is virtually no evidence in support of creationism.
>>Creationists claim they have evidence, but most of it is evidence for
>>evolution that has been distorted and reinterpreted to fit a creationist
>>model. Or it consists of purely negative evidence, such as pointing out
>>the supposed flaws of evolution.
>At which point creationists can say exactly the same thing about
>evolutionists, leading to yet another strawman argument.

Except that any perusal of the archive of this listserv, plus the scientific
literature, would prove them wrong.

>And don't respond
>with "but they're wrong, I'm not" because that's a bit arrogant first of
>all, and second of all doesn't convince anyone.

Alright, then how about this. I have begged people on this list to provide
evidence to support their creationist claims. The vast majority refuse;
those that do not either discuss supposed problems with evolution or offer
evidence that supports evolution but has been distorted to support their
claim. And I'm not the only one who has has noticed this (I'm just the only
one who makes an issue of it).

>>Since you seem eager to learn both sides, my suggestion to you is that you
>>expend a greater effort to learn the true scientific basis of evolution.
>>that end I would encourage you to read textbooks and reference books (NOT
>>popularizations, but actual scientific texts) that describe and explain
>>evolution, in addition to journal articles, or at least articles from
>>_Scientific American_.
>Unfortunately there is the slight limiting matter of time. This happens to
>doom many college students to pleading ignorance for a couple years. I
>joined this list to somewhat avoid that. Once I graduate I'll be able to
>solve that a bit more.

If you cannot make the time now, I doubt you will when you graduate, only in
that case it will be job/family/life rather than studies. If you have
access to the internet it really wouldn't take much time to run down a few
basic articles using an electronic journal database. Or seek out a
professor who teaches evolution and ask him/her for some references.

>>Genesis 1 was written some centuries after the Garden of Eden story, by
>>priests who were trying to explain the origin of the universe in that way
>>which made the most sense to them. As such, the account is more learned,
>>more poetic, more complicated than GofE. The priests of YHWY were mystics
>>as well as religious leaders, so we should expect Genesis 1 to contain
>>symbolism, such as when they conclude their account by saying that it had
>>been an account of the "generations" of creation. That word is normally
>>in the Bible to describe the birth lineages of men; could its use in
>>1 be even a slight hint that each "day" was in fact a stage that was
>>from a previous stage and would in turn produce the next stage from
>>itself, sort of a quasi-evolutionary doctrine?
>I actually was not aware that any definite dates on authorship were fixed.

They are not fixed in the sense that we can place an exact date on them, but
the original Hebrew shows the same kinds of differences in writing style and
grammatical use that are used to date English prose. In other words,
suppose I chose one English prose story from each of the 16th, 17th, 18th,
19th and 20th centuries, randomly fitted them together, then added modern
prose filler between the stories to make the collection into one story, but
did not alter the writing style of any story accept to change some spelling
and some grammer. Any English-speaking person would immediately be able to
recognize that each portion was written in a different time, and even if the
reader could not assign the correct century to each section, he or she could
still assemble the sections in order from oldest to youngest. However, if
the patchwork novel were translated into French, no Frenchman could
recognize the different ages of the sections, because the entire story would
be translated into contemporary French. Hence all clues based on writing
style would be lost.

People who read Hebrew can see the differences in prose style that are due
to age, differences that are lost in the English translation. And the prose
style of Genesis 1 places it several centuries younger than the prose style
of the GofE story, for example.

>Where did you obtain that information?

Specifically from a series of recorded lectures given by Hebrew scholar
Robert Oden, but it is a common way of studying the Bible from a literary
point of view.

>My religion prof said w/in the last
>month or so that they aren't sure when exactly much of the Pentateuch was
>written originally, only that there are about 5 different authors.

Not exactly, no, and much of the original material has been re-edited in
later times, but unless he/she rejects the documentary hypothesis I'm sure
he/she would agree that there are portions whose literary style are clear
enough to date relatively if not absolutely. For example, there are at
least two places in the Bible -- Exodus 15 and Judges 5 -- where you have
what are perhaps some of the oldest material in the Bible (13th century or
older) but are immediately preceeded by much younger material (9th or 10th
century). Here we can be more certain of the dates because the old material
is poetic while the younger material is a prose retelling of the storyline
of the poem. The difference in literary style under those circumstance is

>>Your attempts to interpret these passages allegorically, or based on the
>>knowledge of the contemporary writers of the Bible is the same method I
>>would use, but would be seen by Vernon as an attempt to judge God's word
>>on the basis of human knowledge and understanding.
>Except that I happen to agree with a little of what he does. Not at all
>how he presents it (or how you present some of your points for that
>matter) but that's a different issue.

Then I am curious as to what you agree with, since much of what you have
told me contradicts Vernon's claims.

>>I had asked that question because I thought you supported Vernon and
>>believed as he did. Now that I know otherwise, you gave me the answer I
>>would have expected from you.
>Now that you know what I believe, at least a little, does my answer to
>"why can't God use ..." surprise you still?

It would have surprised me only if you had otherwise claimed to believe
everything that Vernon believed, since Vernon would reject the possibility
that God would have used evolution as a tool for creation.

>Oh, and the way you worded
>that question shows you are being quite stereotypical of me and others,
>especially since you now find out I somewhat agree with Vernon.

Vernon set the tone of the debate; you initially appeared to be agreeing
with him. When you then claimed that gravity could be a tool of God, it
sounded like you were being hypocritical in an attempt to avoid having to
concede that "your" position was wrong. The way I worded the question was
meant to call attention to that hypocrisy. I apologize for misconstruing
your position, but next time you should make your position more clear.

>>That's fair enough. Again, I would encourage you to read the scientific
>>literature for the evidence that establishes the fact of evolution.
>Which I think hinges on what is considered evolution.

Shouldn't we allow evolutionary scientists to define what evolution is, just
as we permit physicists to define what gravity is?

>Different levels of
>evolution (don't go into this!) are at different levels of proof.

You brought it up; besides while hypothetically it is true, practically it
is not.

>I said
>it before, and say again that many many things are yet unestablished about
>macro evolution, so THAT cannot be considered fact.

There are lots of things we do not yet understand about gravity or lightning
or tornadoes or cancer or....etc, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Should we
therefore state that these too cannot be considered fact? The problem is
that you miss one of the most basic points about science: first you
recognize the phenomenon, then you try to explain it. Evolution, even
so-called "macroevolution", is a readily observable phenomenon. Any
observable phenomenon can be considered to be a fact; hence evolution is a
fact. These phenomena are then specifically defined so that they can be
readily recognized whenever they occur; evolution is defined in one of two
ways, which I like to combine as the change in the frequency of one or more
genes in a population that leads to diversification (descent with
modification). Theories are then developed to explain these phenomena;
since evolution is a complex phenomenon composed of many interacting
phenomena, a number of mechanisms need to be developed, such as natural
selection, genetic drift and punctuated equilibrium, to name a few.

>Possible or probable maybe, but not fact.

If you insist upon treating so-called "macroevolution" as a separate
phenomenon from so-called "microevolution", then macroevolution as a fact
has been established by the fossil record, by embryological evidence, by
protein and gene sequence evidence and by recent work into the genetic
apparatus that controls ontogeny. At present, macroevolution has the same
status as tornadoes and lightning. We know they are real, we have some good
ideas of how they work and what causes them, but since at present our
ability to reproduce them in a laboratory or study them in the field is
extremely limited, we have difficulty testing our ideas.

>>And we determine that by studying natural history for evidence of what
>>methods were used. So far, the methodology appears to be 100% natural.
>So far the methodology for much of it hasn't been established, so is
>unknown, not natural for sure.

By natural history I mean all the basic science: biology, chemistry,
geology, physics, meteorology, oceanography, astronomy, and all their
offshoots. 99.9% of what we see in nature (including the universe as a
whole) has not only been explained, it is explained by natural mechanisms.

You were probably refering to the historical sciences. Are you one of these
people who believes that we can understand only what we witness directly?

>>>What if I think God being the source implies sometimes or
>>>mostly using natural proxies?
>>Now that I know you do not believe as Vernon does, I would consider that
>>an extremely reasonable idea.
>So does reasonability vary with background ideas?

Oh, please Jason, you know better than that. What I meant was that your
claim would be unreasonable compared to Vernon's beliefs, which at first I
thought you endorsed completely, but now I know you do not. I apologize --
again! -- for getting you wrong, but in the future please make your beliefs
more clear.

>Why is it more
>reasonable now that I appear to believe something different from Vernon?

Stop beating this dead horse, Jason. You should be able to figure that out
on your own, based on what I have already said. I do not want to give you
any more opportunity to distort my meanings.

>>>>I arrived at my assessment with help from the Holy Spirit. If I am
>>>>wrong, then the Holy Spirit is wrong as well.
>>>Otherwise called "Name-Dropping" or "appeal to authority".
>>Hardly. I did not say that I must be right because the Holy Spirit says
>>right (though what authority would you accept if not the Holy Spirit?); my
>>point was that my assessment that those who claim that you cannot believe
>>in both Christ and evolution are wrong is based in part on my religious
>>beliefs, which I acquired through the counsel of the Holy Spirit. I would
>>assume that the Holy Spirit has counseled you in the same way since you
>>allow for the possbility that God could have worked through evolution.
>So you're saying that how the Spirit works depends on what you believe?

That must be the most ridiculous question I have ever heard. If you know
the Holy Spirit then you already know the answer to that question. By
asking it of me, you either assume that I am lying or you are simply trying
to harrass me. Either why, you are violating your own good-conduct stance.

>Again, what if you happen to have interpreted the Holy Spirit incorrectly.

Again, if you know the Holy Spirit you already know the answer to that

>How have you tested the Spirit you're receiving counsel from?

Again, if you know the Holy Spirit you already know the answer to that

>Don't forget Satan's on the loose.

Try reading the _Screwtape Letters_ by CS Lewis; it will give you quite an
insight into the way in which devils try to to influence people. Then
compare it to how the Holy Spirit guides you; I think you'll have your
answers then, if you do not have them already.

>I'm not accusing you of anything, but be
>cautious about these 'divine' revelations.

I'm beginning to wonder if you really do know the Holy Spirit. Either that,
or you feel you are someone to whom I should justify my beliefs. I need
justify myself to no one but God; your only choice is to either accept or
reject what I say.

>>I know, in the same way you know that accepting evolution as a tool of God
>>no different from gavity does not violate your Christian beliefs. I
>>convince others of that knowledge, but as Christians we should not demand
>>proof from our Brothers and Sisters, just accept what they say until their
>>actions prove otherwise. In my opinion, Vernon's actions have disproved
>>the sincerity of his words.
>As rational beings we should indeed demand proof. Not of their salvation,
>but of revelations or scientific issues, yes. We may need to be trusting,
>but we also need to be cautious. Do you believe everything you read? If
>so, why? If not, why not? What if the author's Christian?

More demands for justification? Are you not aware of what Paul said when
people demanded he provide them with proof that he had the authority to
speak for Christ? He said that the only proof anyone needs is to look into
their heart to see if Christ resides there. That's all. And since no one
can look into anyone else's heart, only their own, all any of us can do is
accept or reject what others tell us. I cannot prove to you that the Holy
Spirit guides me; I can only prove it to myself. You either accept that or
you do not. It's as simple as that.

>>I did not say what I said as any kind of criticism towards you. It seems
>>have both jumped to conclusions here. Now that we understand each other
>>better, perhaps we can avoid this problem in the future.
>Again, I wasn't referring to criticism towards me, but to insincere
>comments made by a number of people on this list about others, and not
>issues. THERE is my problem.

In my opinion you have come very close to this yourself in this post.

Kevin L. O'Brien