Saturday, October 12, 2013

Slow change and redundancies

I got it all, looking back, how the world was created in 6 literal days, how the world was oh so new, when my world was new too, being all of 11 years old. The Bible believing summer camp where time still passes slow in my memory, like a southern drawl in a long skirt on a summer's day, and this Canadian kid trying to understand why people looked at me funny when I said I was Catholic. But for one week in the then summer my days were filled with big ball volleyball and sermons to make you fear God and man and rock and roll. It's a long time ago now, though it left a mark on my psyche and a spark in my imagination, a hope of something more and though new conversations seem to have found me over the years, an old debate still catches my ear now and then.

But I've grown up, and everything is complicated when you grow up, at least that's how it seems to me, answers elude and venom ignites, but compromise seems to sit snugly in the middle of my newfound balance. I don't care anymore if Darwin was right, in fact I could not care less. I'm not threatened by whether the earth is thousands or billions of years old-it matters not, because all time and material process really demonstrate on a theistic worldview is what a friendly greeter at a local church door who's walked with the Lord for 40 years will tell you when you're down, that the Lord's mill grinds slow but it grinds fine. Or something like that, but in other words, often God takes his time. Unless you talk to a Biblical literalist, but then you'd have to go looking for one of those, but most of us I expect have mellowed on the age old controversy. But if you stop to think about it, evolution was never a threat to theism, though an anti-intellectual strain of American culture may have felt so in another time. Whether God created in billions of years or thousands of years, what difference does it make to the average theist now?

I've heard it said though, that prior to Darwin, atheism was not taken all that seriously, could that be true, that atheists once kept quiet? It's hard to imagine isn't it, those of us that have grown up in a hardened secular culture, but when Dawkins says that evolution made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, what would happen if it was demonstrated that there were problems with evolutionary theory? How would the now secular institution respond? After decades of making the rest of us feel like we're all bumbling idiots for believing our senses, that if it looks like a designed duck, well it simply cannot be...even if that duck is no longer assumed to be constituted by simple self-assembling 19th century inspired blobs. That duck has DNA, a self-assembling library of genetic code. Code... as in programming? Now this would be the part where I get all sheepish, as opposed to ducky, because I know that I'm just another baa in the barnyard of a very complicated subject, but does it not seem like the upwardly mobile specimens of courtly opinion have some splainin' to do?

Coming down to earth, I'm not going to pretend to be equipped to discuss this controversy in full, but here's what I don't understand, why is it always assumed that theists are the only ones who could possibly have an agenda? A lot has changed since the 19th century, since the HMS Beagle expedition, not to mention a famous caricature of a 1925 trial, but no amount of new evidence seems to shake our commitment to a Darwinian view. I try to keep an open mind, maybe the answer is somewhere in the middle. I try to listen to both sides, but I'm acknowledging what has been an overlooked truth for a very long time, that a sophisticated theism has nothing to fear of evolution, but evolution remains the lifeline of a secular worldview, a secular worldview that has quite arguably become institutionalized. It's not a scientific argument, I know that, but I think the emotional and personal and spiritual nature of this discussion is often overlooked.  And there is no neutral ground, contrary to popular opinion, materialism has metaphysical implications too. I say this while qualified academics are being punished for seeing the obvious implications of systematic complexity in the building blocks of life. But interestingly, they are only noting what most of us observe consciously or unconsciously all the time, the intelligibility and apparent design of an ordered, predictable universe, the same order and predictability that makes science itself possible.

So, theists are not the ones whose worldview would be shaken by the possibility of problems with evolutionary theory. And yet it is theists or any theory with possible design implications that is assumed to be false from the get-go, not that ID's critics are stopping to think about it long enough to understand ID before dismissing it. As for me, I'm an example of what I suspect is the real reason why evolution has never gained the unquestioning acceptance of the masses. It's not about fundamentalist religion, it's about the conundrum of something coming from nothing and the mystery of how one species could morph into another. To the common, it makes no sense. We just don't see it happening in the barnyard. No sensible person would deny that micro evolution is a fact, varieties of plants and animals, variation within a species, but supporters of evolution seem to care little about distinguishing between small changes or variety within a species and the enormity of what macro evolution would entail. To my knowledge there remains to be no lab-demonstrated, predictably repeated evidence of macro-evolution. Please correct me if I am wrong.

I remember a minister saying with sympathy once, that it would have been hard for people to realize that the sun didn't revolve around the earth, that it would have shaken people's views about so much, about themselves, about a human being's place in an insecure world. As theists we've been analyzed, put on the couch, summed up and diagnosed. It's not hard to imagine that people might seek comfort in an insecure world, but neither is it hard to imagine that some people might seek comfort of another kind, the thought that they will never be summed up themselves, that there are no absolutes by which to be measured or need to be forgiven...and maybe if this life is not so bad as human history has often been, is it that unlikely that some people might prefer to live it out in relative western ease, without the thought of an overseer or accountability to an ultimate moral authority? In other words, often the psychological arguments that are used against theists are a double-edged sword that cuts though our mutual subjectivity.

In nearing end, I was watching this clip the other weekend and I might have been sickened by it, if I hadn't seen so much of this sort of thing, that I just rolled by eyes. Stephen Meyer, I.D. proponent, trying to talk about science of all things, while a Darwin advocate had the usual rapt attention of listener support and sympathy, while she/they typically choose to limit scientific findings to suit her/their naturalistic expectations. Just once, I'd like to see a reporter question an evolutionist's motives, their worldview assumptions or potential bias. A few suggestions when broaching a subject with potential secular worldview implications, please stick to the science, just the facts please, what does a 1925 trail have to do with present day research, are you familiar with the latest research? What do you say to Dr. Meyer's point?

It's sad, but just once, I wish that the shoe could be on the other foot, that some of the questions along the road could be directed to the other side. It shouldn't be hard to explain the emergence of a duck, a simple duck to an audience that has long been taught to assume that a duck would just naturally emerge on a very long arduous evolutionary sideroad, but is it quite so easy to explain to an educated audience, the emergence of specified assembly directions inside the duck? The audience wants to know, where did the information come from? How was it assembled? What is the likelihood of complex machinery occurring from an unguided natural process? And finally, we might ask, at what point is a positive case for design characteristics, considered alongside the best evidence for evolution?

But you know, for me personally the sad thing about this discussion is that our present culture of slow change and institutionalized redundancies is that it is limiting the scope of human imagination and inquiry. When Dawkins says that some questions are the questions of a three year old he is right, they are, but those same unbridled questions represent the explorations of many of the greatest minds in human history, many of whom were theists whose personal convictions lead to the development of western science. The fact that it is no longer acceptable to ask unbridled questions, what does that say about our present day culture? If I may suggest, it's a teleological self-portrait, a purposeless design of a postmodern mind.

Thanks for listening,

M.A. Harvey

DNA image:

A few interesting links as starting points:

Finally, here's that Myers/ Scott interview:

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