Why We are Scared to Death of Evolution

There has been much talk lately about the recent research conducted at the University of British Columbia and Union College concerning the impact of ‘death anxiety’ on their acceptance of Intelligent Design. As the article on ScienceDaily quotes Prof. Jessica Tracey on the findings of the paper published in PLoS One:

“Our results suggest that when confronted with existential concerns, people respond by searching for a sense of meaning and purpose in life,” saysTracy. “For many, it appears that evolutionary theory doesn’t offer enough of a compelling answer to deal with these big questions.”

As a Christian such a result isn’t surprising, and comports with a result we would expect to see if it were true that humans are spiritual creatures with inherent meaning and purpose, as well as an eternal existence – for such persons considering beliefs to the contrary would cause cognitive dissonance.

Of course, as they find spiritual explanations contrary to their own beliefs the researchers ignore the obvious implications and come up with a possible solution to overcome the dissonance – indoctrination with naturalism:

Tracy says, “These findings suggest that individuals can come to see evolution as a meaningful solution to existential concerns, but may need to be explicitly taught that taking a naturalistic approach to understanding life can be highly meaningful.”

Here one sees a new strategy emerging. The researchers are essentially saying it is not sufficient to merely present the science – we have to present a metaphysical motivation for belief in the science.

It is a progression I have seen a number of times before – there is a beginning to unbelief which is claimed to be merely the product of scientific rationality and lack of an evidence for the immaterial or divine, then when it is apparent this isn’t sufficient for rational thought they adopt ontological naturalism or materialism – a framework on which he or she can construct metaphysical beliefs. Then ideas about existence and meaning and morality are built on this metaphysical framework. Eventually the ‘unbeliever’ has come full circle and is no less driven by a dogmatic faith than the most fundamentalist religionist.

This is part of the reason we know atheism to be false – there is no such thing as a mere ‘unbeliever’. Humans invariably gravitate toward metaphysical constructs in which they find meaning and purpose. And we know that doing so has nothing to do with mere survival and reproduction – such intentions and compulsions transcend mere physicality. This is why can confidently say that atheism is inherently contradictory and self-defeating. We are all religious creatures, and this fact comports with the idea that a transcendent and immaterial reality exists.

We seek meaning and purpose for a very simple reason; we are here for a reason and we have been endowed with a purpose by the intention of a Creator.

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12 Responses to Why We are Scared to Death of Evolution

  1. Mike D says:

    Sigh. It’s remarkable how many non-sequiturs you were able to cram into such a small space.

    Evolution demonstrates that life evolved without teleology. This a central tenet of evolution, and is a hurdle for “theistic evolutionists” like Francis Collins and Ken Miller, because one of the most important implications of evolution is that if we rewound the clock and started over, odds are that humans would never exist. Theologians, in claiming that the odds of human life existing are small, simply commit the lottery fallacy. Evolution’s blind, algorithmic process dispels much of our wishful thinking that we were put here on purpose.

    Secondly, you assert one of the most absurd non-sequiturs possible: that the fact that we are pattern-seeking animals proves that certain patterns exist. “Meaning” and “purpose” are simply abstractions contingent on the existence of human brains, and no theist, least of all you, has ever been able to demonstrate that they are objectively existing ontological truths at all, much less that they must be derived from a deity, and much less your particular brand of deity.

    Evolution is the unifying theory of all modern biology and has 150+ years of mountains of supportive evidence not only from all fields of biology but from several other major fields of science, including geology and cosmology – your God, on the other hand, is a logically incoherent and implausible hypothesis for which you have not an ounce of actual evidence. The fact that you dislike evolution’s implications and will go to such great lengths to rationalize your discomfort is evidence of your own wishful thinking, and nothing more.

  2. jackhudson says:

    Actually, from a rational perspective, there is no coherence between materialistic evolution and the idea that what we believe about evolution (or anything else for that matter) is particularly reliable, so inherently there is a contradiction between materialistic evolution and the notion that materialistic evolution is a true description of the origin of our cognitive facilities.

    However belief in God is perfectly consistent with the ability to know whether one’s beliefs are true because such a belief is consistent with the idea that our cognitive facilities are designed for understanding and reliable knowledge.

    Of course a belief in God is consistent with a unique universe that appears to be designed for life, an apparently unique planet that appears designed for life, living systems which consist of information system driven nano-machinery, the universal inherent spiritual sense of all humans, the inherent desire for meaning and purpose (which far exceeds mere ‘pattern seeking’ which many organisms have) and the necessity of moral laws to govern our behavior. Taken together these provide ample evidence of the existence of a transcendent reality.

    Add to that the historical evidence for God’s work in humans and the consistent personal experience of billions of human beings, and the fact that religious belief has been the foundation of our greatest works of art, culture, and civilization itself , it is quite easy to be an intellectually satisfied Christian.

    And we have the advantage of not having to convince people their lives have purpose and meaning contrary to scientific beliefs which insist this is complete nonsense.

  3. Justin says:

    Evolution demonstrates that life evolved without teleology.

    That’s hilarious (and a huge falsehood, to boot). No shame, eh Mike?

  4. Mike D says:

    Actually, from a rational perspective, there is no coherence between materialistic evolution and the idea that what we believe about evolution (or anything else for that matter) is particularly reliable

    That’s another absurd non-sequitur. What’s your basis for this nonsense?

    However belief in God is perfectly consistent with the ability to know whether one’s beliefs are true because such a belief is consistent with the idea that our cognitive facilities are designed for understanding and reliable knowledge.

    If that’s true, then why are our minds so damn unreliable? We make a litany of cognition errors on a daily basis. [link]

    Of course a belief in God is consistent with a unique universe that appears to be designed for life

    So we’re in a universe in which life didn’t arise for 14 billion years after it began, took 3.5 billion years to evolve intelligent life on a small, frequently hostile planet in a sub-microscopic corner of one out of hundreds of billions of galaxies, and you think it was all put here for you?

    Sorry, but the universe we observe is much more consistent with the idea that life can occasionally emerge as a byproduct of the properties of the universe. If the universe were designed for life, it’s the most horribly inefficient, sloppy design imaginable.

    living systems which consist of information system driven nano-machinery

    … whose complexity is fully explained through the material algorithms of evolution…

    the universal inherent spiritual sense of all humans

    Except for all the atheists….

    the inherent desire for meaning and purpose (which far exceeds mere ‘pattern seeking’ which many organisms have)

    Okay, here’s something actually worth talking about. You are arguing that simply because we can conceptualize meaning and purpose, that they must exist as ontological facts. That’s another non-sequitur. It’s far more parsimonious to suggest that we simply associate such abstractions with certain emotional states, which are accounted for by our biology.

    and the necessity of moral laws to govern our behavior.

    Who says?

    Taken together these provide ample evidence of the existence of a transcendent reality.

    Construction a bunch of half-bridges does not give you an actual bridge.

    You’ve done a wonderful job of straying off-topic though, which is more evidence you haven’t really thought this through. So, back to the point at hand: If science gives us knowledge that causes us to re-think some of our most cherished beliefs, like the idea that life was put here on purpose, then we go where the evidence leads.

    Evolution is blind. It’s indifferent to suffering. But most of all, it’s algorithmic. Kind of like Conway’s Game of Life. And one of its most profound and important implications is that thought was not required to produce people, fish, lions, venus fly-traps or anything else that is alive or has ever lived. That might not jive with your faith and it might be discomforting, but it’s reality. It’s up to you whether to accept reality and deal with it, or stubbornly persist in rationalizing your denial of it.

  5. kenetiks says:

    @Justin

    That’s hilarious (and a huge falsehood, to boot). No shame, eh Mike?

    Um, what?

  6. jackhudson says:

    That’s another absurd non-sequitur. What’s your basis for this nonsense?

    I don’t think non-sequitor means what you think it does.
    There is nothing inherent in materialistic evolution to suggest we can reliably discern true beliefs.

    If that’s true, then why are our minds so damn unreliable? We make a litany of cognition errors on a daily basis.

    If they are that unreliable, then there is no basis to say any belief derived via our minds is reliable.

    So we’re in a universe in which life didn’t arise for 14 billion years after it began, took 3.5 billion years to evolve intelligent life on a small, frequently hostile planet in a sub-microscopic corner of one out of hundreds of billions of galaxies, and you think it was all put here for you?
    Sorry, but the universe we observe is much more consistent with the idea that life can occasionally emerge as a byproduct of the properties of the universe. If the universe were designed for life, it’s the most horribly inefficient, sloppy design imaginable.

    The amount of time life existed doesn’t change the fact that the universe and our planet have parameters that are precisely tuned to the existence of life.

    … whose complexity is fully explained through the material algorithms of evolution…

    Now you are just making stuff up; there are no such algorithms.

    Except for all the atheists….

    Atheists have a spiritual nature, which is why they insist that there is inherent meaning and purpose to our existence.

    Okay, here’s something actually worth talking about. You are arguing that simply because we can conceptualize meaning and purpose, that they must exist as ontological facts. That’s another non-sequitur. It’s far more parsimonious to suggest that we simply associate such abstractions with certain emotional states, which are accounted for by our biology.

    No, I am arguing that the fact that we consider meaning and purpose necessary to our lives is consistent with the objective existence of meaning and purpose.

    Who says?

    Can you name a society that didn’t have such laws or rules?

    Construction a bunch of half-bridges does not give you an actual bridge.

    If you lay two of them end-to-end it does. 🙂

    You’ve done a wonderful job of straying off-topic though, which is more evidence you haven’t really thought this through. So, back to the point at hand: If science gives us knowledge that causes us to re-think some of our most cherished beliefs, like the idea that life was put here on purpose, then we go where the evidence leads.

    I posted the topic, who are you to say I strayed off it? And I don’t have a problem with that contention, but that isn’t what the researchers are suggesting. They are suggesting that scientists offer a metaphysical interpretation of evolution in order to allay the anxiety the theory causes. Making something up to ease concerns isn’t ‘going where the evidence leads’.

    Evolution is blind. It’s indifferent to suffering. But most of all, it’s algorithmic. Kind of like Conway’s Game of Life. And one of its most profound and important implications is that thought was not required to produce people, fish, lions, venus fly-traps or anything else that is alive or has ever lived. That might not jive with your faith and it might be discomforting, but it’s reality. It’s up to you whether to accept reality and deal with it, or stubbornly persist in rationalizing your denial of it.

    Evolution doesn’t produce life. And the information to produce various organisms appears to be as old as life itself. So while evolution certainly provides an explanation for why the organisms that exist today exist as they do, it does nothing to explain their origin. I don’t find theory ‘discomforting’ because I don’t believe it to be an accurate description of reality.

  7. Actually, from a rational perspective, there is no coherence between materialistic evolution and the idea that what we believe about evolution (or anything else for that matter) is particularly reliable.

    Mike, Jack is attempting to invoke Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. It’s a garbage argument, and I have thoroughly destroyed it here.

    In short, the problem with the argument is easily exposed when one considers why the majority of us hold the belief “fire is hot.” Not too many of us would consider this belief even remotely false. And if we did encounter a fire which was not hot, that would require a good deal of explanation.

    Why do we place confidence in our belief that fire is hot? One word: Evidence. “Fire is hot” is not a random belief. It is based on objective evidence. So is evolution. It is a conclusion drawn from a mass of evidence provided by disparate disciplines such as comparative morphology, paleontology, cladistics, embryology, geology, genetics, evolutionary development, animal husbandry, etc. which all points to common descent. Plantinga’s gone senile, as a professor of philosophy acquaintance once told me. This argument is strong evidence of that.

    So, yes. We do have good reason to place confidence in our belief that evolution is true. Theories of natural selection, sexual selection and genetic drift have all passed risky hypothesis testing, which gives us a great deal of reason to hold that evolution has occurred (and is occurring) and that these are the mechanisms by which it occurs.

    Evolution doesn’t produce life. And the information to produce various organisms appears to be as old as life itself. So while evolution certainly provides an explanation for why the organisms that exist today exist as they do, it does nothing to explain their origin.

    No one is claiming that evolution is an explanation for the existence of life ex nihilo. However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that abiogenesis occurred through natural means. There is nothing in the chemistry of living organisms that is special. There is no elan vital as there was once thought. Jack Szostak and others are on the verge of producing protolife (some would say that they have) from nothing which wouldn’t have been available and by means which occur in nature.

  8. jackhudson says:

    In short, the problem with the argument is easily exposed when one considers why the majority of us hold the belief “fire is hot.” Not too many of us would consider this belief even remotely false. And if we did encounter a fire which was not hot, that would require a good deal of explanation.

    The fact that you seem to completely misunderstand the argument makes it unlikely that you ‘destroyed it’. We don’t ‘believe’ fire is hot, we feel that fire is hot. We don’t even need a belief about fire to know it is hot – a dog can know a fire is hot. Beliefs come into play when we develop ideas about fire that aren’t directly experiencable – for instance, “Where did fire come from?” Then we depend on our cognitive ability to accurately assess beliefs.

    Why do we place confidence in our belief that fire is hot? One word: Evidence. “Fire is hot” is not a random belief. It is based on objective evidence. So is evolution. It is a conclusion drawn from a mass of evidence provided by disparate disciplines such as comparative morphology, paleontology, cladistics, embryology, geology, genetics, evolutionary development, animal husbandry, etc. which all points to common descent. Plantinga’s gone senile, as a professor of philosophy acquaintance once told me. This argument is strong evidence of that.

    Well, no, again, we don’t have a ‘belief’ that fire is hot. We place confidence in our senses to tell us that information – which incidentally, is consistent with evolution. You are again showing you don’t understand the critique.

    So, yes. We do have good reason to place confidence in our belief that evolution is true. Theories of natural selection, sexual selection and genetic drift have all passed risky hypothesis testing, which gives us a great deal of reason to hold that evolution has occurred (and is occurring) and that these are the mechanisms by which it occurs.

    We could have confidence that evolution gave us accurate sensory apparatus – not necessarily that our cognitive apparatus allows us to discern true beliefs. I can feel fire is hot, and if I ignore that sensory information it can be detrimental to my survival – so NS would select for accurate sensory apparatus. However if I believe Prometheus gave man fire, it doesn’t necessarily effect my survival, and so we can’t say NS necessarily selects for the ability to reliably assess beliefs – because it doesn’t need to.

    No one is claiming that evolution is an explanation for the existence of life ex nihilo. However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that abiogenesis occurred through natural means. There is nothing in the chemistry of living organisms that is special. There is no elan vital as there was once thought. Jack Szostak and others are on the verge of producing protolife (some would say that they have) from nothing which wouldn’t have been available and by means which occur in nature.

    There is no reliable experimental, repeatable, observable evidence that abiogenesis occurred. Lots of speculation (in fact there is perhaps more speculation about this than any other idea, which demonstrates the weakness of the theories on this subject). When Szostak writes a paper on the life he produced and others reliably verify the methods he used to produce it could have occurred in nature, then the idea that life can’t occur through unguided natural processes will be falsified.

  9. I suggest you read up on how beliefs are formed. You are clearly the one lacking understanding. “Fire is hot” most certainly is a belief, one supported by evidence. You are now just using the special pleading ploy to say it is not.

    I agree with Plantinga that RANDOM, UNSUPPORTED beliefs are likely to be wrong. Well, except that he doesn’t think that this is the case. Beliefs unsupported by evidence (i.e., faith) are very likely to be wrong, which is exactly why faith fails. But why it fails Plantinga clearly gets wrong. But it fails not because evolution didn’t give us the faculties to produce true beliefs, but because random, unsupported beliefs are products purely of human imagination and reality is under no obligation to conform to them.

    The biggest problem with Plantinga’s argument is that Plantinga thinks (for some inexplicable reason) that naturalism is one of these random, unsupported beleifs. Tihs is obviously not so. It is a belief based on evidence, just like we believe “fire is hot” because we can demonstrate that fire produces heat. In point of fact, it is naturalism that explains heat. Ironic, no? Naturalism is a wildly successful view that has supplanted pretty much every supernatural explanation for any phenomenon. The supernatural is simply a placeholder for ignorance. Since naturalism clearly works (any protestations to the contrary are laughable), Plantinga’s argument is nonsense. Does he believe, for instance, that the computer he used to write that argument operates supernaturally? I understand the argument fully. And in doing so I agree with my philosophy colleague.

    Szostak has a number of papers on abiogenesis published in the journal Science. I suggest you start there. The idea that this is just supposition is preposterous.

    You are correct that the burden of proof for life arising from natural processes is on those claiming this. However, that life can not arise through natural processes is a claim that has its own burden of proof (it is NOT the null hypothesis).

  10. jackhudson says:

     

    I suggest you read up on how beliefs are formed. You are clearly the one lacking understanding. “Fire is hot” most certainly is a belief, one supported by evidence. You are now just using the special pleading ploy to say it is not.

    A belief is an idea about something that can’t be directly experienced. I don’t ‘believe’ my wife exists – I do have beliefs about why she chose to be my wife. Heat is sensory experience – we only to to place our hand next to a fire to know it is hot.

     I agree with Plantinga that RANDOM, UNSUPPORTED beliefs are likely to be wrong. Well, except that he doesn’t think that this is the case. Beliefs unsupported by evidence (i.e., faith) are very likely to be wrong, which is exactly why faith fails. But why it fails Plantinga clearly gets wrong. But it fails not because evolution didn’t give us the faculties to produce true beliefs, but because random, unsupported beliefs are products purely of human imagination and reality is under no obligation to conform to them.

    Plantinga doesn’t say anything about random, unsupported beliefs, so I am not sure what you are agreeing with. Any idea we have that isn’t the result of direct experience is a belief, and unless it can be shown to be necessary to our survival, there is no reason why it would matter if it were accurate or not, and thus we can’t expect that evolution would cause us to reliably discern such beliefs.

      

    The biggest problem with Plantinga’s argument is that Plantinga thinks (for some inexplicable reason) that naturalism is one of these random, unsupported beleifs. Tihs is obviously not so. It is a belief based on evidence, just like we believe “fire is hot” because we can demonstrate that fire produces heat. In point of fact, it is naturalism that explains heat. Ironic, no? Naturalism is a wildly successful view that has supplanted pretty much every supernatural explanation for any phenomenon. The supernatural is simply a placeholder for ignorance. Since naturalism clearly works (any protestations to the contrary are laughable), Plantinga’s argument is nonsense. Does he believe, for instance, that the computer he used to write that argument operates supernaturally? I understand the argument fully. And in doing so I agree with my philosophy colleague.

    Plantinga doesn’t say anything about naturalism being the result of ‘random, unsupported beliefs’. Naturalism, like all beliefs, is a product of our cognitive equipment. There is no evidence that beliefs (ideas that are derived, not directly experienced) can be reliably discerned by our cognitive equipment if naturalism is true. You should really know what Plantinga has said before you respond to his arguments

    Szostak has a number of papers on abiogenesis published in the journal Science. I suggest you start there. The idea that this is just supposition is preposterous.

    Well if you are familiar with a paper where he demonstrates the life arising from non-life through undirected mechanisms, I am open to reading it. 

    You are correct that the burden of proof for life arising from natural processes is on those claiming this. However, that life can not arise through natural processes is a claim that has its own burden of proof (it is NOT the null hypothesis).

    It is a wholly falsifiable statement. It is not unlike the claim that germs do not arise due to biogenesis. 

  11. jackhudson says:

    This comment is obviously meant as a snarky series of irreverent descriptions of certain theological tenets rather than a serious question or concern about Christian claims. In fact I think there is evidence New Atheists are inadvertently creating a new logical fallacy – argument ad blasphēmiae. Yet the comment contains somewhat serious question – why did God take great lengths of time to act in certain ways?

    I think the first problem with the question is that it assumes that God was only acting at certain points in time n history. For example in the above comment the implication is that God didn’t act in history between the origin of the universe and the incarnation. Now obviously anyone who would make this claim is ignorant Of Christian claims and Scripture says (not unusual in the New Atheist crowd) but as the claim arises so often it bears a response.

    First it needs to be noted that the Christian understanding of God’s activity in the universe and history is not one of a series of discreet acts, but of continual sustenance and interaction. As the Old and New Testaments depict the activity God, He is not merely a Creator punctuating history with occasional activities, but He has created the universe to unfold in a certain order such that events culminate in the result God desires. Thus contained within the first moments of creation is the intention of the eventuality of human existence however distant in the future this might occur. Also God is not distant from His creation, but continually acting with purpose in it and through it.

    Therefore the facetious ‘question’ about God’s inactivity before the birth of Christ is simply ignorance of the clear claim of Scripture that God was and is continually active in history, part of which is chronicled in Scripture, most of which could never be contained in a record we could fully comprehend.

    As to the related question about why life and humans appear so late and recently in the history of the universe, such a question assumes that God’s only purpose for creation is human life. While it appears God’s primary creative purpose is humanity, it is not His only purpose. In fact most of creation exists quite apart from human perception, but not God’s. Scripture makes it clear God is concerned with every creature, from sparrows to the grass of the field. He is concerned with the movements of stars and their identities.

    So in the Christian purview the universe isn’t empty and lifeless for eons until humans come into existence briefly on this planet, but the universe is a living creation full of purpose and beauty, and has inherent worth in and of itself. We as creatures are part of it but we are not the center of it; God is the center of it. So while there is absolutely no evidence life emerged as a mere ‘byproduct of the properties of the universe’ as an earlier commenter claimed it is also true the universe isn’t merely for human existence – it exists for the glory of God, and it’s vastness and beauty and intricacy are indicative of His greatness quite apart from our observation of it.

  12. @Jack

    Maybe God equals dark energy?

    Just Kidding.

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