Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Christian Man's Evolution or God the Abortionist

Francisco J. Ayala is an esteemed geneticist and evolutionary biologist who teaches at University of California. He's also ordained as a Dominican priest and has been proselytizing about evolution to Christian believers for the past 30 years. Ayala is dismayed that "despite outreach efforts by scientists and constitutional rulings against them, creationists and intelligent design advocates are not getting weaker. If anything, they’re more visible."

A common assertion by both OrthoFundies and Uber-Skeptics is that one must choose between Darwin or God. How many have lost their faith because of this false dilemma?
Ayala thinks that scientists who attack religion and ridicule the faithful — most notably, Richard Dawkins of the University of Oxford — are making a mistake. It is destructive and gives fodder to the preachers who insist followers must choose either Darwin or God. Often students in Ayala’s introductory biology class tell him that they will answer test questions as he wishes, but in truth they reject evolution because of their Christian beliefs. Then, a couple of years later, when they have learned more science, they decide to abandon their religion. The two, students seem to think, are incompatible.
One suggestion of Ayala's that I find particular fascinating is how Darwin solved the problem of evil in the world by introducing the concept of (undirected) natural selection!
Ayala... would like believers to reconcile their faith with science. Drawing on five years of study in preparation for ordination as a Dominican priest, Ayala uses evolution to help answer a central paradox of Christianity — namely, how can a loving, all-knowing God allow evil and suffering?

Nature is poorly designed—with oddities such as blind spots built into the human eye and an excess of teeth jammed into our jaws. Parasites are sadists. Predators are cruel. Natural selection can explain the ruthlessness of nature, Ayala argues, and remove the "evil" — requiring an intentional act of free will — from the living world. "Darwin solved the problem," Ayala concludes. He refers to science-savvy Christian theologians who present a God that is continuously engaged in the creative process through undirected natural selection. By addressing religious people on their own terms, Ayala aims to offer a better answer than intelligent design or creationism.
I took some liberties with the title (the original is called "The Christian Man's Evolution: How Darwinism and Faith Can Coexist") based on one of Ayala's favorite shock tactics:
One out of five pregnancies ends in spontaneous miscarriage, he often reminds audiences. Next he will pointedly ask, as in an interview with U.S. Catholic magazine last year, "If God explicitly designed the human reproductive system, is God the biggest abortionist of them all?" Through such examples, he explains, "I want to turn around their arguments."
The full article from the October 2008 issue of Scientific American (written by Sally Lehrman) can be found here.


Baal Habos said...

I think the flaw in this thinking is that it leaves us with God the watchmaker who then left. Not quite the Judeo-Christian God...

Frum Heretic said...

Yep, it certainly doesn't seem to square with an immanent God that constantly sustains the universe and directly choreographs history. And I don't know anything about his personal theology or other writings that would explain how he reconciles this problem. But for one who accepts evolution and believes in God (as I do) it still seems a more rational approach than the "guided evolution" notion which would have God continually extinguishing and creating millions of species (although that does have a certain Chassishe feel to it!)

Baal Habos said...

What kind of God do you believe in, a personal God? And if you do, can I ask what you base your belief on? Looking back, I have to say that the only reason I ever had a believ in God, was because of Revelation. Check out this old post.

(I'm getting burned out now. My old posts were way more thoughtful back then and had much more user commenting. The comments are in Blogger and I can't seem to get new formatting to display Blogger and haloscan comments.)

Frum Heretic said...

That is really a question that I would need to devote a whole post to, and which I hope to eventually write. Suffice it to say that even though my ideas related to God constantly change, the "existence" of such an "entity" was never a major problem for me. And this wasn't a result of childhood brainwashing since my formative years were mostly secular. Stay tuned...

Jewish Sceptic said...

I like the idea of turning their arguments backwards against them. People often don't think "in reverse" - people who convert from Judaism to Christianity are still Jewish, but are people who convert from Christianity to Judaism still Chrsitians? Clearly not, but it's up to the people to understand the inerent flaws of their argument, and reversing their own ideas is a great way to help them there.

Orthoprax said...

I'm not sure how 'good' it is to leave creation and evolution to its own devices when it would without doubt (especially for the omniscient) lead to the agony of untold billions of organisms - and men.

The issue is less why evil exists in the first place - but more why doesn't God intervene to stop it?

'Darwin's solution' only works if you can accept a 'hands off' deity.

Baal Habos said...

>'Darwin's solution' only works if you can accept a 'hands off' deity.

Or an imperfect deity.

Anonymous said...

"'Darwin's solution' only works if you can accept a 'hands off' deity."

It doesn't work. Why is a passive "hands off" approach any less culpable than an active one?

Do we really draw such a big distinction between someone who pushes another off a cliff and another who refuses to save a cliff hanger?

At least with the active model one can argue that there is a greater purpose we cannot relate to.

And as I understood it this question always gnawed at Darwin, there was not "solution".

"If God explicitly designed the human reproductive system, is God the biggest abortionist of them all?" Through such examples, he explains, "I want to turn around their arguments."

So since everyone dies we can infer that God doesn't care if we kill people?

Perhaps this guy should stick with science and leave theology to those who can think a little more coherently about it.

Frum Heretic said...

I think that Ayala's approach to evolution and faith is an intriguing one, but really know nothing about the sophistication with which he addresses some of the criticisms pointed out in the comments here (i.e., the "hands-off deity" approach). I've just ordered a couple of his recent popular books on the subject to see if he is more specific with this conundrum and will post an update at a later time.

Pete Klein said...

I come to this a little late but here goes.
People don't like death. Surprise. Surprise.
What they refuse to see is God likes life better than they do. The only way you can have new life is by getting rid of the old. The method is death.
Yes, God is the number one abortionist. Live with it.
The problem as it so often is with humans is how humans seem to think they have higher moral values than God. Here we have the number one sin, Original Sin, the sin of pride.
We know better than God.

Frum Heretic said...

Ayala's point relates to how he views the reproductive system as not being intelligently designed. That's why it is "shocking" to religious fundamentalists. But I don't think that any believer should be shocked at the notion that God controls life and death, even in the pre-natal stages.

(As an aside, one could adapt his factoid to support both an "anti-abortion" stance (e.g., only God can decide when to kill or let live) and a "pro-choice" stance (abortion - at least the earliest stages of it - is no different than natural processes that are constantly occurring.)