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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Discovery of Evolution

From a book I've just finished reading:

While sounding a warning about extracting philosphy from biology, the author goes on to say (p234)

"A common approach among biologists has been to take it for granted that the contingency of evolutionary process provides a simple and direct clue to the ultimate meaning of the universe. This contingency theory shows that organisms are not designed, nor is the course of evolution planned, in any ordinary sense. Hence we must accept that the universe is purposeless and our existence meaningless, so the argument runs...[quoting Simpson in "The Meaning of Evolution"] "Man is the result of a purposeless and materialistic process that did not have him in mind . . . the universe apart from man or before his coming lacks and lacked any purpose."

Now, David Young (Discovery of Evolution: 1992 CUP) goes on to attempt to diffuse such conclusions, and regrets the "cavalier jump from science to philosophy" . . . but not so fast!

In one way, I think I can understand Young's position: the machinery of biology and metaphysics might be miles apart; but I also think that it is inadequately considered. It falls foul of the categorisation error that I think is part of the Sydney Heresy; I mentioned this in the Baddeley Award Citation part 1: reality is not thusly separable, but is of a whole. I think people like Simpson and those who take the 'common approach' have hit on something along these lines; and the common culture has adopted it: if Evolution provides a truthful explanation, then it provides a thorough one; one that does not admit God as a personal creator. Indeed, it is an explanation that denies the personal in a deep sense.

Aside from its tendentious mischief with the Bible, the Sydney Heresy pretends that the personal can be grafted on ex post facto to a machinery doctrine (which, contra Young is not mere machinery, but uncovers a metaphysical assertion) that it is at odds with. The intellectual failure of the Sydney Heresy is to not address this divergence, and subject it to scrutiny, but to buckle under it as it shares, what I think, is Young's latent philosophical idealism: that somehow reality is not metaphysically contiguous, but can be compartmentalised like a university divides into faculties.

But let's come back to the common culture. It has gone the way of Simpson! At the 'gut level' (I refer to the film "Get to Know Your Rabbit" with John Astin) it broadly is not to affirm the creator and turn to him; but quite the opposite, to reject him. The complicated story that attempts to meld materialism and personalism (Christian theisim) of course falls flat with most people: its complicatedness just doesn't ring true, is not easy to communicate, and fails the 'this makes sense' test.

6 comments:

gwen said...

Your argument makes a lot of sense.

Gwen

Eric said...

Gwen, thanks. Nice to see you back on the blog.

John said...

Yes, good points.

One other aspect you didn't mention is that even if it were true that God used evolution, as the Sydney Anglicans profess, they never provide any details how what seems like a random process can be something that God operates. That is, how is possible that an intelligent being will use chance as a creative process when chance is not a creative process.

The best they can say is God being omnipotent can do anything. However, nonsense i.e. chance being creative, is nothing and no thing!

gwen said...

So then Archbishop Peter Jensen and others of the same mind are really only mystics then?

Is that the only conclusion I should reach?

Gwen

Critias said...

This quote is right on the same line:

" "It is very hard to realize that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless. " " (Weinberg 1977 154-55) Quoted in Russell, RJ: "Cosmology and Eschatology: The Impliciations of Tipler's 'Omega-Point' Theory for Pannenberg's Theological Program" in "Beginning with the End" ed Albright, JH.

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