Thursday, June 26, 2014

More thoughts on evolution

Many years ago I had plans on doing a post about the ideology of "evolutionism" and the problems of interpreting the fact of evolution (if referring to evolution as a fact in the fossil record and natural selection and common descent the theory explaining it) and how, even with complete information of all of history, the problem of interpretation could never, of course, say anything at all about the existence and activity of God or even, and this was the salient bit for the conversations with "meat puppets"[1], any positive statement about ethics or morality based solely on those data. I never got around to it, otherwise I would not have written the above summary. I still stand by that most adamantly: science says nothing at all about morality or theology. I don't quite hold to "non-overlapping magisteria" or whatever those people say, this is more of a Wittgenstein-ian thing (late Wittgenstein). Science can inform moral decisions when those moral decisions rely in some way on facts (eg, if somebody wrongly thinks that the morality of abortion depends on whether or not the heart is beating or the fetus could survive outside the womb, Science will tell you directly when those two events occur). Pretending, or, worse, actually believing, science implies moral conclusions can lead to some very dangerous conclusions.

If you are coming to moral conclusions informed by science and by ancient theological thought, this becomes more important, since it requires knowing several things: old scientific thought, current scientific thought, old theological thinkers, and the relation of the theologian to the schools of old scientific thought. A common pitfall here is again in the unfortunate case of abortion. People who don't read very well sometimes come across the notion that some Christian thinkers allowed abortion until a certain point of the pregnancy, and therefore modern opposition is ahistorical. A familiarity with Aristotle's Biology and what was meant by anima (sorry, we're discussing the Latin) in that context would immediately make clear the concern of the theologians involved and the application of modern knowledge of the processes of life would have two results: horrifying the theologians at how wrong their previous conclusion was (how many murders occurred because of their opinion?) and having them revise their opinion toward not allowing it after significantly earlier point - I would think to the sperm meeting the egg, but I cannot speak for them, as the parties involved have generally been dead for many, many centuries.

[1] "Meat puppets" referring to those who believe they are basically puppets made of meat.

My thoughts on evolution.

I have gotten over 100 responses so far to the survey after I posted it a couple places and then a couple other people posted it in other places. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten much feedback in terms of how people would rather have phrased the questions and what other questions they are interested in or think would be better than the questions I wrote. As I mentioned, it's a poorly-written survey and needs plenty of work before even most takers would be happy about it.

Of course, it goes without saying that, despite our many disagreements about many things, both Young Earth Creationists and those who don't dismiss the mountain of scientific evidence are earnest followers of Christ acting in good faith and are both capable of being holy and pious Orthodox Christians, no matter how wrong one of the sides is.

With that said, however, this video is rather amusing:

Professor Farnsworth debates Creaturism from PhilM on Vimeo.

My personal thoughts on evolution are that the Young Earth folks, particularly those following Fr Seraphim, are significantly overstating the patristic case for their view and their reasons for dismissing the idea of a 14-ish billion year old universe with a 4.5-ish billion year old Earth and the evolution of life as we know it over the course of hundreds of millions of years from single-celled organisms simply won't stand up. However, a wholly Orthodox position consistent with the mind of the Fathers will be able to be integrated with this understanding. I hate to disappoint, however: I am not the one to do so. There are some people who have done some things in this regard and there are certainly several prominent bishops, priests, and theologians who are working on it. I am also not the one to dismantle Fr Seraphim's arguments or those of his followers. I mean, one of the prominent ones is a seminarian who has spent several years thinking about this and compiling a giant pile of patrtistic YEC proof texts. I have neither the time nor the inclination nor the training. Nor the desire. And especially not the gift.

EDIT: I don't think "batting for the right team" makes me any smarter or a better person than other people or that "batting for the wrong team" makes other people any less intelligent or worse human beings. Fr Seraphim was a very bright fellow and very holy, to boot. His followers are also right that there are a lot of theological issues to hash out if an evolutionary perspective is going to carry the day. I mean, heck, I'm not smart enough to do it. But, somebody will have to do it, and it's a pity that these earnest and intelligent folks are not going to be the ones to do so, because the evolutionary position is correct and the Young Earth position is simply wrong, albeit very attractive.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Orthodoxy and evolution

After running into somebody who was essentially implying that the unanimous consensus of the Fathers was a literal 7-day creation some 7000-ish years ago - and this includes all modern saints and elders - I wondered about what other people say about this. Their principal objection to an older earth and specifically evolution was what becomes of death. Namely, nothing at all, not plants or animals or humans, could die before the Fall. According to this unanimous consensus. Anyway, I whipped together very quickly and unscientifically a survey meant for Orthodox Christians - entertainment purposes only - here: survey on evolution and Orthodoxy.

There are some definite flaws.

Personally, I think, beyond the obvious flaws, that the age of man deserves some thought. I put in 200,000 years as the appearance of biologically modern homo sapiens. But, you know, if God grabbed existing homo sapiens and then endowed him with a "rational soul" as some 'kind of' think, maybe the point should be "behaviorally modern man", which is on the order of 50,000 years ago (the "thousands of years" response). In that case, perhaps different questions should be written that distinguish the two. The "thousands of years" response was there more for "old earth creationists" of the stripe that believe the account of events as historical and literal, but that Adam and Eve were further in the past than Genesis seems to indicate, given archaeological finds that can be believed. And that's just one issue that nobody else has mentioned to me yet. There are several that have been mentioned on other questions.

Like I said, not a very well-written survey.

If you want to browse the results, you can look at the preliminary graphs.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Young Earth Creationists are wrong.

Doesn't matter how many holy elders you have backing you up. The world is billions of years old.