Sunday, April 13, 2008

God and Evolution

For those who properly understand the fundamentals of evolution (eg: if the person understands the reasoning and mathematical intuition in the book, "The Selfish Gene"), I think it's very hard to maintain a belief in a personal God and most variations of that. I was fuzzy on God for a while, but still considered myself to mildly theistic since I allowed for the possibility of inherent meaning/purpose in the universe, in particular with regard to life.

A reading of the selfish gene however destroyed all illusions of divinity or inherent meaning from life. The concept of a soul or anything like that looks ridiculous in the light of that understanding. At some level, an understanding of evolution implies that humans (and all life forms) are "automatons", only much more sophisticated than many other life forms and of course non-living objects.

Another strong implication is that the idea of "atomicity" of an individual (which is a cornerstone of all our social interactions) has no more biological basis than the fact that we have a bunch of DNA that were iteratively refined for billions of years and all our body parts happens to work together as "one unit", since it was locally optimal this way from the point of view of natural selection.

Feelings are another thing that we tend to assign a somewhat divine/metaphysical status to, but again they are products of natural selection and it's very easy to see the evolutionary basis of some of the feelings we hold most sacred.
With all this understanding its very hard to believe in a God of some sort.

I find the whole idea of "God did it through evolution" very puzzling. This means that God like emperor Nero, fiddled when the brutal processes of natural selection were at work, implying starvation of several young animals/humans whose genes were not among the best, life-forms carrying sub-optimal genes getting eaten more by predators, a small percentage of males cornering most of the females in a lot of the animal kingdom (4% males corner 100% females in elephant seals), with the majority of males remaining celibate or getting killed in the process of trying to copulate with females in the harems of stronger males.

In other words, most of the beautiful life forms produced have been the result of unbelievable brutality and cruelty of nature with absolutely no divine kindness rendered towards the carriers of sub-optimal genes. The kinds of brutality that shock us today are probably nothing compared to what has been going on in nature for billions of years.

With an understanding of all this, it is very hard to imagine how one could ever imagine a loving, merciful, caring God choosing a method like evolution to spawn off the rich and diverse life forms we see. I suspect most people who say "God did it through evolution" have no idea of how the process works. They probably subscribe to the common misconception that it is some kind of painless process wherein species constantly "improve" themselves with some Goal state such as humans in mind. Indeed, many people seem to think of humans as "more evolved" than other life forms, rather than recognize that the only "evolutionary goal" is to survive and spread your genes and humans are no better at it than others. Humans were pretty competent in their ecological niche and so are other life forms.

People like Francis Collins puzzle me to a much greater degree though. As director of the human genome project, there can be no dearth in his understanding of evolution.
He however professes strong faith to the extent of writing books about it. It comes across multiple times that he keeps his faith largely as a result of how it makes him feel, rather than good scientific arguments. It nevertheless puzzles me as to how belief in a God, who chose evolution as the path for creating life could make one more comfortable with his existence. This implies believing in a God, who chose a path of untold pain and misery for all life-forms, with no generosity towards those lagging behind in the evolutionary arms race.
So a God consistent with evolution would have to be an extremely lazy (since evolution takes care of the whole job, with no need for the God hypothesis)
and malevolent and I don't see how anyone can derive comfort or inspiration from him.


Best Value said...

I agree with you 100%, Vijay.

I have said many times that people who try to reconcile evolution with the God if the Bible understand neither evolution nor the Bible.

But fortunately, there is a way to resolve your dilemma . . .

Because there is virtually NO scientific evidence for MACROevolution and, in fact, plenty to support the Biblical view of history, the choice is easy.

Evolution is WRONG. The Bible is right. 'Nuff said. (That's what the truly scientific evidence says.)

Vijay Krishnan said...

It so happens that there is a mountain of evidence for macroevolution. The following quote captures it pretty neatly:

"It's often said that because evolution happened in the past, and we didn't see it happen, there is no direct evidence for it. That, of course, is nonsense. It's rather like a detective coming on the scene of a crime, obviously after the crime has been committed, and working out what must have happened by looking at the clues that remain. In the story of evolution, the clues are a billionfold" - Richard Dawkins

As for evidence of evolution, check out
books by Dawkins mainly the Selfish Gene etc..

I don't have a dilemma :) As Laplace would say, I have no need for the God Hypothesis.

Best Value said...

I will check out the link. But so far, from what I have seen (in the hundreds of hours of research I have done), the evidence is for MICROevolution and then extrapolated to MACRO.

Any evidence that seems to support MACRO could equally support an Intelligent Designer.

There really isn't the "mountain" of evidence you think there is. Just a few out-dated speculations, many of which have been discredited, in some cases, over 100 years ago.

And if evolution isn't true (and it's not) then the "God Hypothesis" (more accurately called a "theory") requires more serious consideration.

Erdos56 said...

The odd thing to me about the micro/macro evolution distinction held forth by ID proponents is that it depends on fracturing the adaptive topography. For instance, even behavioral or geographic isolation that results in sexual isolation is enough to quickly break-up species into non-interacting groups, resulting in founder effects. In fact, ID proponents often invoke this same style of argument against both molecular/protein evolution and against large-scale functional evolution.

It seems implausible that an algorithm that works so well for locally adaptive change and even for immunocompetence should be completely blocked from evolving large-scale functional structures? Why would best value's god (or gods) not re-use the same algorithm?

AR said...

Interesting blog. Whilst I haven't had the time to read the "Selfish Gene", the underlying theme that I have followed as a result of secondary data- makes it a sexy theory for an agnostic like me. What I find interesting from the foremost proponents of the existence of God, is that the need for God tends to be emotionally driven more than rationally. For example, the most pious people tend to be either struggler trying to rise up the social order or an incumbent trying to protect his existing assets and powers. The people in the middle don't feel the need to believe in God as much.