Tuesday, June 21, 2005

god and Evolution

A few days ago, Yazad had a post about preposterous arguments such as "It's God that does the curing, doctors are just His tools"; and, there were interesting comments trying to grapple with definitions of god, atheism, agnosticism, etc.

Over at Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok has started an even more interesting debate about the currently raging (in the US, not here!) conflict between evolution and creationism (as I said earlier, this is something that we have not had to worry about in India). His main point is that for someone who starts with the existence of god as a premise, creationism is a perfectly rational conclusion. He makes another point, that follows from the previous one: theism and creationism coexist happily, just as atheism and evolution do; it is only the muddled middle -- modern theists who also believe in science, evolution, etc. who have trouble reconciling their conflicting beliefs.

Tabarrok has started a lively thread, and he is getting a lot of very interesting feedback through comments (this is one of those rare posts at MR that has comments switched on; Tabarrok has explicitly asked his commenters to be civil!). Several bloggers have also commented on his post; I will cite -- again, approvingly! -- the post by my favourite debunker of creationism cranks, P.Z. Myers. A point he makes is about the difference in the quality of two types 'knowing' (which is central to Tabarrok's argument): 'knowing' god through a subjective revelation, and the 'knowing' that is embedded in the theory of evolution, which is built upon objective evidence after objective evidence, and which now forms a part of our knowledge system (aka science). Along the way, he points out that atheism and evolution, while happy to coexist, have really nothing to do with each other.

Several commenters at MR have pointed out that a scientific explanation makes so much more sense (and is worth striving for) than the kind of explanations based on 'god must have willed it so' or 'it's all a mystery that man is not meant to understand'.

Go to Tabarrok's post. It's great fun.


  1. Anonymous said...

    The next post at Pharyngula on the same topic is a piece of gem. In response to Tabarrok's followup asking what if god himself comes down from the heaven to prove his existence, PZ writes:

    I can say confidently that it would probably change my views of theism, but nothing in that scenario challenges evolution. All the evidence is still there; a century and a half worth of steadily growing, internally consistent detailed information and analysis wouldn't just vanish. I think we'd be sidling up to the wine-swilling thunderer and asking for more details and explanations, and working to reconcile (and question!) his accounts with the known data.

    Some loons will call it rigid, dogmatic adherence; I call it belief in the proof that 150 years of painstaking research has shown. Such a clarity of thought. Great stuff!

  2. Anonymous said...

    I wish I had come up with a post as readable as Tabarrok, on evolution. Mine was a little long winded....:-).

  3. Anonymous said...

    Niket, I think Tabarrok just wanted to provoke people into reacting, and have some fun doing that. Remember, he opened it up for comments! Having said that, I think it also brought out the best in the scientists, in general, and Myers, in particular. This god thingy truly is a red herring.

    Sunil, you are right about Tabarrok's writing. It is simple, to the point and very, very effective. More to the point, you were effective too, in your own way. I found your post very well argued.

    You might be interested in what Chad Orzel said sometime ago about the number of people who believe in creationism (yeah, it is very large, particularly for a technologically advanced country), and how their proportion has not seen much of an increase in years.