Tuesday, December 20, 2005

More on Evolution

I get everyone mad at


  1. Ahh, I feel like the villain in the latest King Arthur movie, who (after Arthur tells him he's gonna die) says something like, "Finally, a man worth killing."

    Gene, what in the world do you mean when you say that the case for common descent is just about the most corroborated that any empirical proposition could be? (I'm paraphrasing since I'm on a dial up connection.) Do you think there's more evidence for that proposition than for the following?

    (a) Energy is conserved.
    (b) Entropy increases in a closed system.
    (c) Bowling balls do not start singing Beatles songs at 1:00 am every night.

  2. Whoops--I am commenting on Gene's next LRC article. Since he titled this blog post "More on Evolution," I thought it was the follow-up.

    Anyway, Gene, my other major problem with your 151 article is your example of Ezekiel. In that passage, it seems obvious (to me at least) that the writer is speaking figuratively, just as if you or I used the phrase "the four corners of the earth."

    What if I wrote you an email saying, "Gene, sorry about getting you that money I owe. On Monday I was sick with the flu, and just lied around the house. But on Tuesday I mailed you the check." ?

    Now suppose you find out later that I was barhopping on Monday and accuse me of lying. Could I say in my defense, "Whoa, you took me literally? Did you really think I could lie around the house? How small do you think my house is?"

    In case you're missing my analogy, I'm saying that the Ezekiel verse doesn't vindicate Genesis. I.e. I can believe that the Genesis story should be interpreted literally but not that the Bible claims the earth has four corners.

    Maybe there are better Bible verses to illustrate your point; I'm just saying the one you chose doesn't work for me.

  3. I don't think energy conservation is an empirical law at all -- it is an axiom, and was declared as such by the fellow who proposed it. The same may be true of entropy -- I'll have to give that some thought. The bowling bowl example is not a scientific theory.

    With the "four corners" you're illustrating my point -- you don't take every word of the Bible literally. Other people have taken flat earth portions of the Bible literally, and geocentric portions, etc., etc. The point is, once you allow people top exercise judgment about interpreting some passage metaphorically, then why is there a principled objection or an important point of doctrine about some other passage, except those that are central to Christian faith? Or, to put it another way, what difference would it make to one's obligations as a Christian whether "six days" in Genesis is taken literally or not?

  4. Gene,

    I don't know who proposed the conservation of energy, but I do think it's empirical. If there were a repeatable experiment in which energy didn't seem conserved, it's true, scientists would probably look long and hard to find where the "missing" energy is going. But if they couldn't find it after years and years, that would be a serious problem.

    As far as the Bible, are you saying you agree with my analogy? I.e. if someone says "On Monday I lied around the house, and on Tuesday I mailed the check," then this is obviously figurative?

    I don't think so. It is clearly figurative in Ezekiel when it says the four corners, but it is not clearly figurative when it says "On the first day God did such and such."

    In any event, it seemed in your article you went far beyond the length of "day." No one who believes that the Bible is at all a source of historical truths can believe in the theory of common descent. (I would have to review Genesis but I'm pretty sure I'd stand by that statement.) I.e. even if "day" really means "long period of time of variable length" I don't think you could say the Genesis story accurately describes the origin and evolution of life in the Darwinian account.

    Now that's fine; maybe you think it's good evidence that the Bible can't be taken literally. But my point is that the Ezekiel quote isn't another example of this. I, for example, take the Bible literally. I am not a dogmatist on this; I am prepared to consider an alternative interpretation if you show me something. (E.g. I think the account of the centurion is slightly different in two of the gospels, and so you'd have to say one of the writers screwed up.) As the centurion example demonstrates, I don't think the writers were infallible, but I don't (right now) think any of the stories are metaphors. I think David really did kill Goliath, Jonah really was swallowed by a fish/whale, etc. And the Ezekiel quote doesn't alter that the slightest, since that is obviously figurative.

  5. But why is "four corners" "obviously figurative"? I'm sure that it wasn't obvious to people at the time! Many people thought the earth was flat and might have had corners. And how about the passages that imply that the earth is still and the sun circles it? Are they "obviously figurative"? They were taken quite literally, and as strong evidence against heliocentrism, in the 15th and 16th century.

  6. Gene,

    Oh, okay, I didn't realize you were saying that perhaps the writer really thought the earth had four corners. (Presumably that phrase comes from somewhere, I grant you...)

    Anyway, what are the strongest pieces of evidence for common descent? And are you still saying it's the most corroborated of all empirical theories? E.g. the physicists like to say that QED is. Are they wrong (and the biologists right), or (as I suspect) is that just a phrase scientists use to make sure the masses believe their counterintuitive theories (quantum physics and common descent)?

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