Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Evolution of God

(In the video above, Robert Wright is interviewed by Bill Moyers about his new book, The Evolution of God.)

PREACHER: I would like to commend Robert Wright on his definition of religion. It fits well with what I have always thought, that no one is really non-religious, because we all value something. I see religion simply as a way of valuing. And, since that way of valuing inevitably includes presuppositions about reality that can't be proven true or false for the time being, it also includes faith or believing something without conclusive evidence. The word non-religious can only be ascribed in the sense that one is not an adherent to a particular religious organization or tradition. Even Richard Dawkins materialistic belief system is compellingly religious and he is deluding himself to say it is not.

I also appreciate Robert's air of humility in admitting the inability of the human mind to really comprehend ultimate reality. It is too bad though that he has exchanged the One who communicates quite clearly about Himself for the meditation techniques of some Buddhist monks and a vague recognition that there might be something out there. He is a textbook case of a person who went through the motions of becoming a Christian at an early age and then rejected that tradition after he was exposed to "education". If when he was struggling with the creation vs. evolution issue, some real scientists with PhDs instead of a preacher with a Bible school education had come to talk with him about the issue he might have remained a Christian.

When we use such phrases as "the evolution of God", it assumes that God really doesn't exist, or if He does he has no connection with us. All our thoughts about Him start with us. And, those thoughts have evolved over the years to what they are today and they will continue to develop through a process of natural selection. This is a religious statement in the faith of a god that only exists in the minds of men. I choose to have faith in the One who has revealed Himself apart from the limitations of our minds, and He has progressivily revealed Himself to mankind at certain times in history, and will continue to do so in the future.

SKEPTIC: I think your definition of religion is interesting, but seems overly broad. I think the more common definition would be something like "a set of beliefs that are accompanied by certain dogma and usually has some sort of sacred text." So if that's the definition, it's clear that there are lots of non-religious people in the world. Beyond that, I'm not sure exactly what purpose is served in trying to delineate the matter further.

I'm confused when you talk about the Christian God as "the One who communicates quite clearly," when it's pretty obvious that the meaning of God's message is seen differently even within the Christian community, from denomination to denomination - a point Wright was eager to make in the video. If God has given us such a clear message, it's a mystery to me why there is such an abundance of different understandings of it.

I'm confounded by your third paragraph. First, you seem to denigrate "education," implying that it's fatally flawed or something, then you claim Wright might have remained a Christian if only some real scientists had explained evolution to him, instead of a preacher. Am I to understand that by "real" scientists, you mean scientists who have twisted themselves in knots in an attempt to reconcile scientific evolution with biblical creationism?

I think Wright's book sounds intriguing, and I plan to pick up a copy. I think it's clear that his bottom line is that he believes that Man created God and not vice versa. His explanation that religion first appeared on the scene as an attempt by Man to try to "explain to people why good things happen and why bad things happen, and how you increase the number of good things and the number of bad things" sounds pretty reasonable to me. More generally, I think it's a fair statement to say that religion came out of man's desire to understand those things that seemed incomprehensible to him. These days, when we have a much higher level of understanding, our need for religion is decreasing. Wright's purpose appears to be to explain how man's perception of God has changed as our understanding of the world and the culture has changed.

PREACHER: I would contend that your atheism does fit your definition of religion. It is a set of beliefs and dogma that claim that God doesn't exist. One of many sacred texts would be Darwin's Origin of Species. Since it attempts to explain the origin of life forms apart from a creator, it is your account that replaces the first chapter of Genesis.

I would agree that there are parts of the Bible that are hard to understand and Christians differ on the what they mean. However, my point is that there are doctrines in the Bible that are very clear and Christians who still accept the Bible as their rule of faith and don't twist what it says agree on them. I suppose though, for someone who chooses to be blind, even that which is clear seems unclear.

I would consider any education that leaves out the Creator is fatally flawed from the start. I have listened to scientists who are from all sorts of persuasions within those who accept evolution (atheist to progressive creationism). They don't speak so confidently about evolution as you do. You are expressing a faith factor there, so that is what I call your religion. To say, "These days, when we have a much higher level of understanding, our need for religion is decreasing," assumes that the ancients were all ignorant superstitious people. I don't believe that. Man's need for religion hasn't decreased, but its content (including what G(g)od is supposed to be like) has changed. Isn't that what Wright is writing about?

SKEPTIC: I'm not sure exactly why it's so important for you to believe that atheism is a "religion." How does that bolster your position? To me, calling atheism a "religion" is a bit like calling baldness a hairstyle. And it seems rather Orwellian on your part to call me "blind" because I choose not to believe in fairy tales and then label my belief in evolution "faith." My dictionary says that "faith" is believing something to be true without evidence. I've got plenty of evidence to back up my belief. You have none. In fact, what you demonstrate is "blind faith."

As to your belief that ancient people were not ignorant and superstitious, I think it's pretty clear that they were. Not ignorant in the sense of being stupid, but ignorant in that they lacked a very large body of knowledge that we are fortunate enough to possess in the times we live in. And they certainly were superstitious in the way that they created the different religious myths, although perhaps not that much more than many people today.

PREACHER: I call atheism a religion because that is what it really is by the definition that I use. It is the definition that I have used ever since I took college level courses in comparative religions. It is a definition that fits all, so I like it and will continue to use it. My faith is not blind. Blind faith twists reality. True faith should and will be in alignment with reality. As for evidence, I use the same evidence that you use. The difference in our conclusions is based on the interpretation of that evidence. We both look at this visible world: I see an invisible Cause and you see nothing. We both look at science: I see a difference between scientific fact and scientific speculation, you lump them both together (not very scientific). We both look at history: I accept what it says unless proven wrong, you rewrite anything that doesn't fit neatly into your limited world view. Another aspect that we would consider to be more subjective would be personal experience. I can honestly say that I have experienced God. You can claim that I am deceived, but all you have is your inexperience.

1 comment:

  1. A few questions for thought:

    1. "I think it's a fair statement to say that
    religion came out of man's desire to understand those things that seemed incomprehensible to him."

    Why do we have this desire to understand the incomprehensible? Where does it come from?

    2. "I've got plenty of evidence to back up my belief. You have none."

    Creationists also use science to backup there claims. I think I may venture the claim: you have evidence, but no proof. Evidence in court does not prove a person guilty. Similarly, there is limits to what evidence can actually prove. Macro-evolution is not repeatable for observation. We can only observe historical evidence and interpret. You find the evidence compelling, but it doesn't prove anything to me.

    3. A college professor of zoology told me "Evolution doesn't answer the question of origin, but answers the question of where the diversity of life came from today."

    Do you have a desire to know this universe's origin? To use words you said earlier, to understand the incomprehensible? If so, how do you explain the existence of all that is around us? You may claim matter, space, and time have always existed. Which is a claim that would be supported by the Laws of Conservation ASSUMING the universe is a closed system. But can we be sure the universe is truly a closed system?

    I was thinking about this the other day, and the following statement seems fairly reasonable to me: If the universe is a closed system, there CAN be no god. If the universe isn't a closed system, there MUST be a god.


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