Evolution and Belief

Must resist urge to post about religion/evolution…. Must resist urge to post religion/evolution….

Arg… I’ve failed.

This started as a comment on one of D’Arcy’s recent postings, but grew to such a length that I figured it would be better to put it here….

Oh and this isn’t an attack on D’Arcy’s beliefs… he’s a good guy, and to have that kind of faith is enviable. We just don’t quite see eye to eye on this point.

First for those who don’t know… D’Arcy and I come from completely different backgrounds…. Mine wasn’t religious, but I was raised by two university level evolutionists (who actually taught evolution). They’ve been attacked by religious believers about their “theories”, just as much as I’m sure religious people have been attacked about their ideas. (In this case, the worst attacks coming from my own grandparents one set Catholic and one set Protestant… as far as I know the only time they met was during the wedding, and the choice of the church still spawns stories about Family Feuds… another reason religion wasn’t big in my family)

And that’s the paragraph which will cause most people to dismiss my post….

Evolution is nothing more than the biological equivalent of bubble sort. (a repetitive iterative process to which betters suits conditions demanded of it), or for D’Arcy’s more management types, it’s the equivalent of Test driven design. For the economics majors out there it’s the equivalent of an open market (capitalistic) system. None of these precludes the exsistance of a God or higher force, the computer metaphors specifically… seeing how as there’s a programmer involved, and debate about requirement documents ;). It’s really about how literally you take the bible- but that part will come later.

The part of evolution that everybody forgets is that it doesn’t just “happen”, though random mutations do-the question is where the random part comes from. Evolution evolves traits to fill “niches”, just as in capitalism your product won’t make you a millionaire if there’s no market for it. You can keep making your product, but there’s no guarantee people will buy it, just as in evolution mutations will occur, but they don’t become dominant until they’re needed. (this is my only complaint against open source 😉 — ooohhhh was that D’Arcy bait… I do believe it was…. ;))

First if you want to base you belief about evolution on a “perfect” body part, the eye is a “better” choice. It’s alot more complex than the ear- which is basically a tube with hair in it, though alot more elegant, and we know from coding that elegant solutions are easier to debug and change to make better. The Eye as opposed to the Ear has a lot more press and articles about such as http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/1/l_011_01.html which has a great video explaining the evolution of an eye.

Evolution is a really hard thing to get your head around, mainly because of the time involved to see it happen. One of the only real “experiments” that people can do to show how it works is the famous fruit fly experiment, and that isn’t usually done until 3rd year Uni. mainly because of how difficult it is (by that point you only really have true “believers” left in class). Experimentation is only one part of how you prove scientific theories, the other is empirical evidence, and we’ve seen evolution at work in every place we look at it. There is no place we’ve been able to show that evolution isn’t working… But disproof of your theory doesn’t mean it is actually true… See Pastafarians and Babblefish for examples.

Your physics instructor in highschool can show you how Newton figured out gravity, by rolling balls down ramps in class so you can see it in action, but the biology is usually taught on faith because A) you can’t see Darwin’s finches just everywhere and B) the difficulty of the experiments. My dad taught the fruit fly experiment, and my sister had to do this experiment when she was at Uni, so I’ll try to explain it.

For those of you who don’t know the fruit fly experiment is one that takes alot of time and effort to do. You start with a population of fruit flys and allow them to breed and you manually select from the population the ones that you want to propagate… (basically applying an evolutionary constraint) In most cases this is the color of their eyes or wings. You use fruit flys because they have short lives and are genetically simple creatures. Because fruit flys mature so quickly you can do this experiment in ~a month, but you have to apply your constraints on every generation, which means every 6 hours. This means that sleep deprived and grumpy Evolution students have to come in at midnight, 6 am, noon, and 6 pm, and stare though a microscope for an hour or two to sort the fruit flys and decide which ones are going to breed. It’s tedious, tiring, and from a schooling perspective expensive to do (keys and access to a building to do it). But by the end of the month (several hundred generations) you have a population which for the most part will be comprised of only those individuals who have the trait you’re looking for. In the wild this would mean that they’re the ones who survived the pressures of living, breeding, and avoiding predators and filled the niche you’ve artificially created.

It’s called a theory because in science you go with the best repeatable solution. In reality the gravity experiments shown to you high school are wrong, but to see it fail takes a lot of effort. (Have you timed the rotations of Mercury and noticed they’re off by 6 minutes? that’s where Einstein noticed a discrepancy and formed his solution, and now we’re noticing the movement of galaxies may mean that Einstein is wrong – or may have been right and changed it to wrong because he couldn’t prove it). But everyone accepts the theory of gravity, because if you jump in the air, you’re going to fall right down afterwards, and it wasn’t mentioned specifically in the bible. Why you fall down (literally not spiritually) isn’t really that spiritual of a question- you just do, but where we come from is.

If you really want to get a bunch of scientists rilled up is to ask a bunch of physicists about string theory. It may be an amazingly elegant mathematical solution to the ‘theory of everything‘, (why Einstein’s laws about planets and galaxies don’t work when dealing with atoms and vice versa). It’s a really new theory, in science terms (like 10 years old or so), that doesn’t have any experiments to prove it yet, and may actually be un-provable. Is that a belief or a theory? Is it science or religion?

Then there’s the hoopla about another relatively new theory that belief in a god, may itself be evolutionarily derived. Belief itself may be the expression of evolution working on us as social animals. People don’t like to think that belief may be a trait that evolution is giving us, but by the same token the joy we feel at having and raising children (and the pleasure in their creation) is evolutionarily derived (otherwise humans as a species wouldn’t have survived and not procreated as much -given our current population density issues that might have been a good idea). In this evolved god theory, organized religion is just an extension of the family grouping. In evolutionary terms we care for our relatives because they have part of our genetic code (even if it’s not exactly our copy… it’s very similar)… Even if we don’t survive, our genetic legacy will be passed on though our family’s children. You care for your nieces and nephews because they may not be your children, but they have part of your genetic make up. Organized religions are just a larger family group… Does your religion mention orphans… they’re part of your religious ‘family’, therefore we take care of them. Finally there’s the species family group… if we had to choose between saving a child or killing an animal, we choose the child because they’re our species.. and maintain some sort of genetic heritage to you.

Then there’s the literal truth of the bible.

I know both french and english and know that there are problems when you try and translate one to the other. And these are two languages that have been neighbors for thousands of years, which have been cross pollinating for millenias. There are hundreds of words that are directly available in both, or have a root in the other that have been accepted into the other language, yet it isn’t always possible to have a direct translation between the two. Now try and take the original texts of the bible from ancient Greek, or Hebrew and try and translate them to english… it just doesn’t work that well. If the bible was ever directly transcribed from God, it’s been mistranslated/copied so many times over the years that the original text is probably no longer the literal truth.

If you believe the literal truth of the bible, I don’t really care, but you should give the same respect to all the laws in the bible as opposed to the ones which are currently PC, or have been pushed on you in a sermon. Have you eaten red meat on Fridays? Have you stoned children to death for disrespecting their parents? Have you tended a fire on the sabbath (which allot of modern orthodox jews interpret as making an electrical connection)? Have the women in your life taken 2 birds to church for a sacrifice a week after their period so that they may be cleansed? Have you buried your dead relatives outside of the bounds of the city in which you live? Have you destroyed all the people, and property in cities where they teach religions other than that of your God?

The fact that you’re already ignoring some of the teachings of the bible, means that you should look at all of them with the same critical eye. I’m not saying you should ignore all of them… There’s allot of good teachings in all religious texts, they wouldn’t have survived with out them. Kosher food, and Muslim bathing rituals are still more healthy and good for you than the way most people live today. It’s just that the literal word for word truth in them is suspect. When the Bible says that the earth is only 6000 years old, but between all the cultures and religions we have 8000 to 10000 years of recorded history (let alone more than a million years of tree rings on record) The majority of the evidence says that the ancient jews got it wrong, which means the Christians got it wrong. Who hasn’t added or forgotten a 0, or switched a 9 for a 7 when hand copying something. Now imagine that over 4000 years.

Do I believe that Jesus was the literal son of God? No. Do I believe he died on the Cross for our sins? No.

I believe he was an amazing man who helped reform the Jewish faith to allow it to better survive in an urban setting as opposed to the nomadic desert environment it had been based on (all that time in Exodus in the desert was there for a reason… basically how to survive as a civilization in the desert). His teachings allowed Christianity to flourish in Europe and abroad as opposed to the deserts of the middle east, leading it to be one of the dominant religions in the world. It has worked for the most part as well (the exception so far being the European middle ages, where western civilization was basically preserved by Muslims until the Renaissance).

Weather I believe Jesus’s teachings came from God, depends on if I’m feeling agnostic, or atheistic. The whole miracles part of the new testament (both the miracles Jesus performed, and his resurrection) seems to me to be glitzy PR tacked on by the early Christians to wow others to their cause. It doesn’t negate the teachings of Jesus, but it does cause one to question the whole ‘organized’ part of the Christian faith.