Adam, Eve and Evolution

A recent facebook exchange has inspired me to try and put words to some things I have been feeling for a really long time, some things I have been wanting to post for a while.
I believe thoroughly that The Bible expresses a deep truth. I also think science is an incredibly powerful tool of humanity. And I think most of the apparent tensions between science and faith are man-made, silly, and politically motivated.
The big question, it seems, for Christians like myself, is around the beginning of humanity. The test case in how to navigate the science/spirituality question is about the meaning of the book of Genesis and the implications of the Neodarwinian understanding of evolution.
Some people claim that they science and Christian faith can be understood to be compatible. I take a more radical (I think) stance. I believe that the book of Genesis is a pretty amazing confirmation of truths we have arrived at through science. And so, I am going to ponder this idea for this blog post: in what ways does The Book of Genesis confirm the scientific view.
It is tempting to get hung up on a wide variety of chronologies. Others have written about how the universe came to be, and eventually we get things like a planet Earth. There is first an ocean, and then land arises. First there are sea creatures and then there are land creatures.
These developments coincide with the scientific understanding. But they are not as interesting as what happens when people arrive on the scene.

Pretty late in the creation story (and in the evolutionary one) humans arise.
God breathes into these first humans. In the intitial account, it appears that Adam came first. (Later, though, in Genesis 10, comes the implication that both were created at the same time)

The question that people get hung up on is this:
Was there a single beginning to the human race? Was there an Adam?
It seems that most people think if the answer to either of the above is ‘yes’ then we have given up the scientific account.
But I think it’s trickier than that.

What if God set the world up at the beginning of time? What if he tweaked the big bang? What if he fine tuned the universe to give rise to pre-human hominids?

And at some point, these hominids passed a critical point. God had wired the universe such that evolution gave rise to an organism which bore his likeness. And these very first humans could have lived in obedience to God.
But they decided that Wisdom of good and evil was preferable to submission to The Creator. In some sense, those early humans ate of that tree that they had been told not to eat.
Could it have been only two people who had come to resemble God? Two people who might be called Adam, and Eve?
Sure. Why not?

There is so much more to be said here. But I think this is a good place to end for now.

Dear “The Truth”

Dear “The Truth”

As you know, you recently placed this comment in one of my posts:

“There is no God, but good plan. Just be, you know, nice. By the way, you stop existing after death, there is no soul either.

Sorry for the spoiler!

And yes, I do know.”

I realize that it’s unlikely that you ever make it back here to my blog.  But I figured I’d give it a try.

I want you to know that I feel bad for you, but I actually find the whole thing a little bit funny.

It seems like maybe you are having some trouble figuring out just who you are and what you want to be.

I agree with you, that it’s a good idea to be nice.   But I’m wondering how your comment models that behavior… being nice.  It seems like if you truly believe it’s nice to share the truth with people, and if you believe that the truth is that there is no God, then you’d try and spend a little more time being persuasive about it.  Your message doesn’t really give me much in the way of reasons to think that you might be on to something. 

Further, it seems like telling me that I’ve got a good plan must be intended as sarcasm.  And to be honest, it strikes me as rather bitter sarcasm at that.  It certainly seems strange after the whole “be nice” thing.

It was nice of you to apologize for the spoiler, but the truth is,  I think maybe you and are watching different movies.   My “movie” has an ending I’m quite excited about.

Usually, it’s we religious folks who get blamed for being pushy and irrational.  And sometimes, this blame is quite deserved.

But this is a case where you wandered into my blog and decided to share some opinions that really didn’t have much to do with the post at all.  Of course, if I’d had a major issue with your comment I would have simply deleted it.  I want to be clear on this point: it’s o.k. with me if you did that.  But I’d like to ask you, “The Truth”  How would you have felt if I wandered onto a blog sharing atheistic beliefs where the post made a quite specific point, and my comment was just sort-of a vague sharing of basic Christianity?

Part of the reason that I posted this is that I do hope that you’ll come back and I wanted to give you a natural place to do it.  (I have written some other posts that would be more logical places to debate theism versus atheism… but it’d probably be pushy for me to suggest that you ought to hunt around on my blog for them.)  I’m not afraid of disagreeing with people.  Maybe we can learn something from each other.

You’ve given me a little bit to work with in that brief couple sentences you left.  So I’ll pose a few questions for you:

#1) If there is in fact no God, does “the truth” even matter?  As limitied and finite beings, will we ever even arrive at it and recognize it for what it is if something greater than wiser than us isn’t helping us along?

#2) Is there any real reason to being nice if there is no God?  I can see why appearing to be nice might be beneficial sometimes, but when the chips are down and the lights are off, why should we be nice at all in a world without God?

#3) If in fact there is no soul, how would you account for the differences between what is detectable by science and what is observed from within our personality?  More specifically: Science might be able to trace a certain synapses firing with certain brain activity… But there’s no good reason to think that we’ll ever be able to analyze those synaptic firings in such a way that we’re finding out what someones thoughts are simply by looking at the biological artifacts. 

#4) If there is no soul, how do you account for the existence of so many constructs which aren’t related for biological survival?  I have no problem with the Neodarwinian account of how we phyiscally evolved, but do you seriously hold to the evolutionary accounts of how art, altruistic love, religious impulses, the universality of conscience and taboos against muder, nudity, and incest?  And if you do hold to the evolutionary accounts, whose do you hold to?  And how do you explain the neodarwinism has had a fairly easy time explaining physical structures but can’t arrive at the most fundamental agreements in explaining how these cultural constructs arrive.

I realize that this debate has been going on for milenia.  But each of these was a can of worms that you opened in some part in your response.  I hope that you (or someone like minded) will try and explain how you see these things.

Who was Adam?

It would be easy to take the entire book of Genesis literally.  Assume six literal days.  Assume Adam was a single person.  Assume it all happened in a straight foreward manner.

It would be equally easy to dismiss it all as nonsense.  We know that man evolved.  We know that some elements of the chronology are out of order.  We know that the age that literalists have given us for the Earth doesn’t match up with what we know from other disciplines.

Of course, there is a third option.  Though the first two options are easy, they don’t satisfy.   I believe firmly and completely that the biblical account is divienly inspired.  I believe that God works through the evolutionary process. 

I wanted to explore this, this morning.  I wanted to offer some things that maybe God is trying to share with us through the book of Genesis. 

There are some interesting paralells in the chronology between the scientific and biblical accounts.  Both have the Earth start off a lifeless husk.   First come the waters and oceans.  Animal life begins in the oceans.  Land pops up.  Animals make it to the land.   The first human arrives pretty late on the scene.

(I want to be open about the fact that I have omitted some discrepancies.  I believe that the scientific and biblical accounts are remarkably consistent.  God didn’t want to write a science book when he wrote the bible, though.  They aren’t perfect.)

With the coming of Adam, things get particularly interesting,  Those who don’t see God as having a hand in the writing of the bible have to explain away a remarkable number of coincidences.  One of these is this: Clearly, the ancient Hebrews couldn’t have known much about our evolutionary ancestors.  And yet virtually every major differentiation between us and the ealier hominids is covered in Genesis: the development of language, nudity taboos, the development of monogamy, the use of tools for tilling the land, different social gender expectations.

On the other hand, people like myself who are skeptical about the literal-ness of all this owe an explanation: What does original sin mean?  What do the trees stand for?  What does the serpent represent?

These are huge questions.  I don’t know that I have them fully answered.  But we can’t just sweep them aside.  If we think that Jesus redeemed us from the Fall at the Garden of Eden, we can’t really understand His redemption if we don’t understand what that fall really was.

The best I can do with answering these questions is more vague than I’d like.  But for whatever it’s worth, here it is:

God used the evolutionary process with the inent of creating humankind.  He had incredibly special plans for us that included a much closer communion to Him than we currently enjoy.

This communion, like any communion, was a relationship.  The garden might have been a place.  But it was more importantly a way of existing in harmony with God. 

I’ll side with the traditionalists on the idea that the serpent represents Satan.  The understanding that Satan wanted to strike out at God by hurting him, that humanity itself was the closest thing to a weakness of God’s makes sense to me.  Satan couldn’t get at God directly.   So he went after God’s kids.

A relationship isn’t a relationship if both people can’t opt out.  A paradise is a prison if there’s not a door.  By definition, God could not have forced us into the sort of existence he wanted for us.  He had to give us a back door, a way out, or he would have had a prison, not perfection for us.

Satan and human weakness conspired.  We walked out the door that God had to leave open. 

And so God begins a string of statements about how the world is going to be.  He prophecies the coming of Jesus; Satan will try to strike at Jesus heel and Jesus will succesfully stomp on the serpent’s head.  

The other thing I think about, as I think about Genesis, is that in at least one way, Adam is one person.  Adam is me.

I have been offered amazing riches.  I have turned these down for foolish reasons.  I have disobeyed God and followed the serpent.

Anti-evolutionary critique #?: evolution is called a theory

There are two, kind-of related criticisms of evolution that I want to adress here.  This is the last of the attempts that anti-evolutionists make to underut Neodarwinism on a scientific level, that I am aware of.  If somebody else knows of any other arguments, I’d be interested to hear them… the way I see it, none of the them work.

The two related points:

A) Even Neo-darwinians call it the theory of evolution; notice the contrast between the word “theory” and the use of the word “law” as in “the law of gravity.”  This indicates that main stream science isn’t nearly as confident in Darwinian principles as it claims. 

B) If you read the journals, darwinians fight violently over the details of this science.  This similarly implies a lack of confidence in the fundamentals of neodarwinian theory.

The reasons that neither of these work:

Response to A) Though some people attempt to draw a distinction between science’s use of terms like “law” and “theory”, these are mostly just matters of convention…. Ultimately, in science, everything is a theory.  If an account popped up that better explained why stuff falls than gravity, we’d accept this account.  What we call “gravity” is quite beside the point. 

But suppose I’m wrong…  I’ll consider the possibility that maybe the fact that evolution is referred to as a theory is significant.  If this were the case, the anti-evolutionary folks ought to see this as a sign of respect.  With a tiny handful of overplayed exceptions, the only people who really doubt that evolution is a law is the creationists themselves.

The creationists often lament the fact that mainstream science gives them no respect, credit, etc.  If the creationists are correct, if the fact that evolution is referred to as a theory has some level of significance, it’s actually quite a show of respect to the creationists themselves… The creationists are having their cake and eating to; are they going to play the “we get no respect” Rodeney Dangerfield card, or are they going to play the “there are serious doubts about evolution and where the one’s causing those doubts” card; because playing both cards at the same time simply makes no sense.

B) The fact that there are debates within the evolutionary community does not indicate that the science is shaky… In fact, debate is a sign of robust science.  There aren’t many who doubt whether evolution is occuring, nearly all of the debate is around comparitively insignificant details…

Sometimes quotes seem to imply otherwise.  This is sometimes because the quotes are taken out of context, and other times, because overemphasing the significance of disagreements sells books, articles, and journals. 

Who’d really read an explanation that said “Such-and-such a belief is 99.9% correct.”  Wouldn’t we be much more likely to read something which said “I’ve discovered a fundamental problem with the traditional account of such-and-such a thing.”

Before we get to holier-than-though around those Godless, deceptive bioligist, we religious folks would do well to look at our own history… We could teach science a thing or two about overstating fairly insiginicant differences in beliefs.  And our beliefs are supposed to have a moral component!  If a scientist behaves in poor character, it doesn’t impugn his science!

So there we are.  I guess I’m all done with the topic of evolution for now. 

Creationist critique #4: Evolution violates the law of entropy

I’ve been surveying the creationist attempts at undercutting evolutionary theory on a scientific basis.  I’m interested in this topic because I think there’s a lot of misinformation.  A large number of people have been duped into thinking that these attacks are much more scientific than they are.

The claim that evolution violates the law of entropy is one that particularly annoys me.  I think this is because it’s the most irresponsible attack.  After taking an advanced high school physics course or a basic college one, a student ought to have enough information to understand why this critique is meaningless.  The folks propogating this myth are guilty of incompetence at best… Even if they don’t know better they should have done their homework before claiming to understand this topic.

O.K.  on to the issue:

Entropy is the energy that is lost in any interaction.  For example, some of the energy in gasoline is actually used for what we want it to be used for… moving the pistons which move the wheels.  But some of the energy goes to heating up the engine, which in turn heats up the hood, which in turn heats up the air.  Similarly, most of the electricity that runs through a light bulb turns into light.  But some is lost in the wires along the way; some is converted to heat energy, etc… The bottom line is that the energy we got out of a thing is less than the energy that goes into a thing.

A different way of stating this same principle is to state that a closed system will move in the direction of disorder.  At the end of the day, we have less energy than we started with.

An often cited example is that if we begin with a well-organized desk or cleaned room and leave that room alone, it will grow messy.  The overall order decreases.

Creationists and other anti-evolutionists begin with these principles… which are correct. 

They state that the Earth began as a chaotic state and the abundunce of life forms on it are clearly more organized than the system’s original condition.  Life could not have popped and grown increasingly complex, they say, because systems don’t grow more complex.

They leave out the fact that this all only applies to a closed system.  If more energy comes into a system than is lost to entropy, then the system can increase an order.  We pour more gasoline into the tank and mantain the engines orderly use of energy.  We clean the messy room.  We organize the desk.  In the latter two examples, the energy poured into the system comes from the person doing the cleaning.  The energy to organize the desk-system or room-system comes from the food eaten by the person doing the cleaning.

A different way of looking at the closed system-open system thing is to widen the view of the system itself.  If all the relevant factors are included in the system, we see a total increase in the ammount of energy lost.

If the person is included in the system that was previously considered only as a room, the total energy is lost not gained.   Just to keep the math easy, let’s suppose the person eats 1000 calories before cleaning his room.  (10 of those silly little 100 calorie bags of oreos or something.)

The order of the system of the room might be increased: One hundred calories are spent straightening it up.  The room has, in some sense, gained 100 calories.

But while cleaning the room, the person burned 900 calories through his exertions.  The total person-room system has lost 800.

Here’s why evolution does not violate the law of entropy:

The metaphorical person in the system that includes the biosphere is the sun.  It pours unimaginable amounts of energy to the earth.  Plants capture a small amount of energy through photosynethesis.  Virtually everything else that’s  alive  eats the plants or eats the plant-eaters, basically we’re all stealing energy from the plants who stole energy from the sun.

The important issue is that there is a net loss of energy in the sun-Earth system.    The sun begins as a battery, drawing on it’s limited (though massive) stores of energy.  Though some of this energy is captured most ends up being unusable.  The equation works in the direction it’s supposed to, and evolution is still not disproven.

Creationist Critique #3: There is a lack of transitional fossils

Folks who oppose evolution on scientific grounds often point out that Darwin himself said we should expect to find countless fossils between species.  They further point out that we haven’t.

There are serveral reasons why Darwin’s predictions were incorrect… In short, we should not expect to find an evenly distrubuted range of fossils showing gradual and steady movement toward an adaption.  More significantly, we shouldn’t expect to see a huge number of fossils which skirt the divide between two species.

There is some wiggle room between what differentiates two different species.  Whether or not two animals count as being part of the same species or not is partially a human construct.

The distinctions between species are constructed to quite intentionally not leave anything out.  If for example, two closely related primate species were defined in terms of skull size, we’d call group A any organism which has a skull radius of say 20-30 cm… The related species might have a skull radius of 30.1 cm – 40 cm.

The fact that all organisms either count as one species or the other doesn’t, therefore, imply unity within the species.  It’s a function of how these man-made labels are applied.

Additionally, much development of new species happens because new pressures are exerted… either the population moves somewhere new (goats climbing up a mountain) or new things happen (an ice age, a new predator, etc)

either way the rate of development speeds up… More unfit organisms die at a faster rate.  The process of fossilization is a random event.   All organisms have a roughly equal rate of fosillization.  If a change is happening quickly we should expect to see fewer instances of these transitions within the fossil record.  As the population becomes increasingly adapted to it’s new environment the rate of change slows, and we see more fossils. 

Creationist Critique #2: There is a problem with irreducible complexity

So I continue to run through the anti-evolutionary arguments.    I’m just staying focused on the critiques which claim to be scientifically based.   I can understand why people would dispute NeoDarwinian evolution on theological grounds.  (Though I don’t agree with them.) I’m focused on the scientific arguments because I believe these are mostly wrong-headed, resulting from misunderstandings.

This particularly critique of evolution goes like this:

Natural selection is based on the idea that every little tiny baby step along the way confers some advantage.  It can not delay gratification.  If it takes 1000 generations to achieve a given structure each step toward that structure must be better than the step before.

Opponents of evolution observe that there appears to be no benefit from half an eye.  They state that each individual cell is much more complex than an eye, and that no intermediate steps are apparent that get us part way toward the development of many organelles.

It is true that each tiny little variation between generations must be a benefit in order for structures to grow increasingly complex.  But I don’t see that the case has yet been made that organisms are irreducibly complex for the following reasons:

A) This argument usually picks on three structures: the eye, the cell, and the wing.  It is interesting to note that the first two don’t leave fossils.  The eye is soft tissue and the cell is too small.  It would be basically impossible for biologists to decisevely answer these questions based on the fact that we have no evidence in either direction. 

The book Darwin’s Black Box, huge in the 1980’s, focused on the cilia and how half a cillia provides no apparent advantage.  Recent developments in microbiology have helped us understand that cells used organelles quite similar to cillia for other functions entirely.  These proto-cillia were around, and evolution made use of them in whole new ways.

As for eyes and wings, it’s only half-true to state that half an eye or half a wing confers no advantage.  It is quite true that we don’t see ancestors of modern human eyes or modern bird wings lurking about the animal kingdom.  But there are organisms with quite different light-detecting mechanisms that have little resolution.  The ability to see light and darkness does convey advantage.  It’s not hard to imagine our eyes’ ancestors developing with similar ancestors, that initially allow us to tell day from night, for example.  Similarly, there are animals such as “flying” squirells that appear to be evolving toward increasingly long leaps.  Contemporary wings might have evolved as a result of the increased advantage of increasingly long leaps.

B) As mentioned for the cillia, an advantage doesn’t need to mantain it’s original purpose or function.  Spiders began simply excreting waste.  Slowly, this took on a new function and became an elaborate fly trap.  (Sorry, I guess that example is kind-of gross.)