Sunday, October 04, 2009

Where does Evolution Leave God?

from a discussion from the facebook COEXIST forum, a dude posted this:

The Wall Street Journal asked Richard Dawkins (evolutionary biologist) and Karen Armstrong (Christian apologist) the question "Where does evolution leave God?" I thought folks in this group might find their replies interesting:

My own take is that Armstrong concedes so much ground to evolution that she unintentionally describes the same god as Dawkins does: a god with nothing to do, and one that does not, technically, exist. Somehow Armstrong still derives value and meaning from such a concept.
my response:

Holmes Rolston III in his epic volume "Genes, Genesis and God: Values and their origins in Natural and Human History" takes the reader on a journey from creation of the universe to the rise of homosapiens and our development of culture, ethics, and religions. Stepping back to appreciate the grandeur of it all, Rolston asks "Where is God in this evolutionary saga?"

Nothing that the universe demonstrates entropy (constantly decreasing measure of energy and order leading to its death), Rolston proposes that one entity which is moving in a negentropic direction (increasing in energy and order): life. he states "Nature and energy have been creative, making more out of less." Rolston declares that the information and memory in herent in DNA is needed in such amounts that it could not have floated in from nowhere. therefore: "Over evolutionary history, some thing is going on 'over the heads' of any and all of the local, individual organisms. More comes from less, again and again. A more plausible explanation is taht, complimenting the self-organizing, there is a ground of information, or ambience of information, otherwise known as God."

in Rolston's model, the providence of God, or in imitation of God, provides a negentropic drive against hte unremitting death throes of the universe. God's providence intersects with human and natural history within and around us. i think this is so... but the question still remains of HOW exactly such a God intersects with humans and creation. is this God thinking (like traditional theology states) "Don't sweat it, i got it all under control." or is God thinking (like more progressive/liberation theologies state) "Stop sitting on your hands, get up and do something with yourself and i'll provide the energy and guidance in your work."?

i'm still on the fence but leaning towards progressive, although both are plausible in certain contexts.


Keith H. said...


thanks for the referral here.

Rolston makes a fundamental freshman-level error in his understanding of physics and thermodynamics. While he correctly asserts that life does decrease entropy, he does not acknowledge the crucial caveat to the thermodynamic law of entropy, namely that entropy *can* actually decrease provided an external source of energy is applied.

Only in a closed system must entropy increase. The universe as a whole is a closed system, so the total integrated entropy in the universe must increase, and so it does. But *locally* within the universe there exist many subsystems that are not closed and may thus, for a while, experience a decrease in entropy, provided an external energy source is there to drive it.

Every ounce of life on this planet is ultimately driven by energy from the sun (and, to a small extent, energy from within the earth). The earth's surface is therefore not a closed system - it has an external source of energy - and its level of entropy is therefore permitted to decrease without violating any laws of physics.

Luke said...

"The universe as a whole is a closed system, so the total integrated entropy in the universe must increase, and so it does"

this is a big assumption and largely unproven, merely assumed. Of all closed systems that I , and others, have observed, the Universe is the one system that does not fit the rules.

For one thing, all closed systems have boundaries or extents which are measureable, and the contents of the systems may be easily cataloged and studied. The universe has no measureable boundaries and the contents have never been fully cataloged and studied. That process will take millions of years to come close, and as far as we know will never be completed. The "observable universe" is 40 Billion Light Years in radius in every direction from us. The Milky Way Galaxy alone contains more than 200 Billion stars, each of which may have from 0 to 10 (or more) planets (with their associated moons) circling about them. Beyone the Milky Way Galaxy there are just thousands of other galaxies, each containing billions more stars with their own planets and moons circling about them. So, the universe is really immense beyond belief, and certainly not catalogable in the normal sense. It is not therefore one of your standard closed systems wherein each item may be studied in depth. What we must do in the meanwhile is look at those things within the universe that we can identify and study, one at a time. We can hope to achieve something worthwhile by doing that.

so there is no way to know if it is a closed system or not. Stephen Hawkins postulates that it isn't, and theories like Quantum Vacuum (particles pop'n in and out of existence) stand counter to a closed system theory.

there is a need for a forum for socializing and for taking care of each other. but it's good to point out as Erasmus stated (Catholic theologian in the age of the Reformation) that "What is ritual for one is superstition to another." when he was talking about communion. each group has an enculturated way of passing down traditions and beliefs and religion is a big part of this. now outside of our metaphysical differences, i think we can both affirm a need for structure within a society. however the differences do come back in as to what the source of these structures should be...

Keith H. said...


You may be right that the universe is not a closed system. What we *do* know is that the earth certainly is not a closed system. Thus, the decrease in entropy we observe on its surface is not in violation of any physical laws, and Rolston needn't invoke a god to explain it.

Luke said...

hmmm... well i guess then my question would be why doesn't Rolston not need to invoke God to explain it? is invoking God a cop-out to you? does it automatically invalidate any wisdom to be gained? is all God-talk supersitition, no matter how smartly put?

Anonymous said...


From the postings I've seen by atheists' blogs, your post seemed like a candle in the darkness. I think the traditional concept of God is dated.

My belief is that the universe was created for a beautiful reason, and that we are all like water molecules that got separated from the ocean by evaporation when we came to earth, you know, like a nudge of energy separated us from that ocean of water we were a part of. We then live our lives floating around among clouds of other vapor molecules, we're just in a different state of matter(awareness?) and when we die we rain down and eventually make it back to the ocean to become a part of our origin again.

If you think about it, you're always that same molecule of water regardless of whether you are in a cloud, a river, a lake, an iceberg, or in the ocean. You're just in different states of matter.

Atheists will think otherwise, but to me it doesn't matter how many fallacies they see in analogies such as this one. It is again just an analogy of my belief, and logical and scientific fallacies are meaningless in this sense.

As for where does evolution leave God? To me it does not change anything. I don't know exactly what God may be. I just know there's more to the Cosmos and to Life than meets the eye.

Keith H. said...

"is invoking God a cop-out to you? "

To say god caused entropy to decrease is not really a cop-out (although it may be worse than that!). A cop-out is when you resort to a personally favored answer in the absence of an answer that has been vetted by the evidence. But with the decreasing entropy on the earth, there already exists a very reasonable, very accurate explanation involving simple laws of physics. In this case, to resort to god is to deliberately reject a logical and parsimonious explanation in favor of a highly extravagant one unsupported by any evidence. It makes no sense.

"does it automatically invalidate any wisdom to be gained?"

I'm not really sure what you mean by this. If you're asking if scientists are going to be bothered by a religious believer's interpretation of the earth's decreasing entropy as an act of god, then probably not, unless it somehow makes its way (like creationism has) into science classrooms.

If you're asking that, if we were to discover somehow that god really did decrease the entropy on the earth, would it affect the way we understand the universe and how we move on to explain other things, then most definitely yes, that would be quite the game changer!

"is all God-talk supersitition, no matter how smartly put?"

This question cannot be answered with 100% confidence, since the existence of god cannot be proven or disproven.

Luke said...

i don't read Rolston saying God caused entropy.. rather that God is not entropic and that something is ordering existence. empowering it to keep going. he upholds evolution and doesn't fall into creationism.

entropy is a fact, one day we will all die. now i have a choice to live just for me and my family... or i can reach out to others and try to connect, to work as a chaplain or feed the homeless or give hope to the hopeless. those, my friend, are miracles! (not the small kind like parting the red sea.. that's theatrics and hollywood did it better than Israel). so for me, religion is a way to connect those those who share this life we share. it's absurd that i even get to play a small part in the whole narrative of existence, but i do and will try to be an agent of hope and order out of a response of wonder that i have named God (but like i said, if you're uncomfy with that, call it existence).

now the real question then becomes is this existence friendly or not, is it involved personally or not, and does it order all things? i have my hunches and these questions can't be answered with 100% confidence since it can't be proven one way or another... but that doesn't stop me from try'n ;-)

Anonymous said...

Where does evolution leave God? Depends on one's view of God...but Nietzsche thought it would 'kill him'...and I postulate (to some degree) this has happened. Science seems to be the new indicator of wisdom (for many on this planet).

What Nietzsche was worried about was faith falling into nihilism - or the falling away of unobjectable morality for objectionale morality. There would be no more authoritative morality was his prediction...I am not sure if he based this totally on Darwinism but he seemed to think science was part n parcel with the idea.

For me, evolution doesn't do much because I just don't think there is enough evidence yet for such a claim...of no God I mean.

But then where is God? I found Him in a still, small voice and amongst the toll humanity has taken in it's sufferings.