Nothing in Biology Makes Sense…

February 21, 2009 at 3:40 pm (Articles, religion) (, , , , , , , , )

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.

These are the words of Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founding fathers of the quantitative study of evolution. He wrote an essay about why evolution is so important, and also discussed how he reconciled his Christian faith and the scientific theory of evolution.

The evidence for evolution is overwhelming, if you accept scientific reasoning. There is mathematically no way that evolution could not occur if just three things are true: more creatures are born than get to reproduce; they can vary in new ways; and that these variations are inherited. The first is trivially true as any look in the garden will show, as is the third: for example people take after their parents. The second is more difficult because although all individuals do vary, they mostly do so in an uncreative way by mixing up the traits of their parents. But it does occur: mutations are the source of these creative changes and it has been demonstrated many times that novel abilities (at the microscopic level) can arise.

There is a resurgence recently, particularly in America, to doubt evolution for religious reasons. However, this doesn’t have anything to do with the religion per se, but is a cultural phenomenon. Dobzhansky quite powerfully argues that to deny evolution on religious grounds is verging on blasphemous: it implies that the creator deliberately set out to deceive us. We have the ability to reason about the origins of fossils, or of finches in the Galapogos, and explain why they are there. There is no hole in the theory that has yet been found. To believe that this is some elaborate charade is absurd.

Dobzhansky believed in creation: that god created the world such that we would be here today.  It is a matter of philosophy whether this happened by divine will or by chance.  It is beyond science to answer the question of whether we were “created” in this way, or arose by chance, because there is only one universe from which to draw evidence. But in this Universe, we have surely evolved, and this is not evidencef or or against God in the slightest.

Check out his essay for details of the above discussion.

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Joseph and the amazing moral lesson

January 18, 2009 at 10:56 pm (religion, thinking) (, , , , , )

We just saw Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat this evening, and it was pretty good.  The songs are fun and and fit together cleverly.  Its too short with many repeated songs at the end but that didn’t stop me enjoying it.

However, I wonder if there is a worse lesson commonly told from the Bible.  Its very old testament, of course, but still.

The plot: Joseph is the favourite son of Israel, better than all his other brothers.  He tells them all about how his dreams of the future make him better than them and he lords it over them.  He gets his technicolour coat, which he runs in their faces – and they get jealous.  So they sell him to slavers who take him to Egypt.

Joseph has a sucky time for a bit but his knowledge of dreams leads him to power with the pharoah by predicting and preventing a terrible famine.  The brothers come begging for food, so Joseph lords it over them.  He demands his technicolour coat, which he rubs in their faces – and they have to put up with it this time!

So what was learned in this story?

  • Don’t disbelieve people who claim to have God helping them predict the future, because they might be right
  • Its OK to be arrogant if you are in fact favoured by God
  • Things, such as a coat, are very important and should be put first over your family
  • You should forgive others if you can make them eat a really huge slice of humble pie

This is simply bizarre.  Why, for example, did Joseph not realise how meaningless the coat was, and why he shouldn’t consider himself better than his brothers simply for getting Gods help with a few dreams?  How come the brothers learned an important lesson about humility, but Joseph could not?  Why was he rewarded for being an ass and staying an ass?

I really see why Christians are a bit skeptical of the Old Testament.  Are there no better lessons to popularise than this?

May I return to the beginning
The light is dimming, and the dream is too
The world and I, we are still waiting
Still hesitating
Any dream will do.

It is mighty meaningful – although I don’t know what it means.

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