Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lately I have been pondering evolution, science, human nature and God. Oh....and how to beat level 13 on Zuma.

Leaving Zuma for another day, I'll try to cover the former.

One of the difficulties in accepting an evolutionary process without God is accounting for the universal consciousness of human kind. The very acts of being able to comprehend abstract thoughts, make predictions about future events based on information and not actual experiences, and plumb the depths of thought not directly related to our survival or environment, speak to me as something for which atheistic evolution cannot account.

There have been attempts to do so. Many ideas have been postulated about the social behavior of our "ancestors", implying that moral and cooperative behavior would benefit the species leading to their edge in survival. Dawkins, and many like him, believe that religious beliefs themselves are a result of evolution and the development of the mind, albeit a development they view as faulty or as a "mind virus". They attempt to tie thought-life to biology and neurology, a result of a belief in materialism.

And yet.....

No matter how much I can appreciate science, no matter how elegant the concept of things slowly building upon each other over millions of years might seem, no matter how "logical" evolution may sometimes seem--I don't really believe it.

My unbelief is not specifically tied to my view of God as creator, although that does influence me. Instead it is drawn out by a few simple questions and concepts.

1. If life began in a primordial, chemical soup that was struck by lightning, bringing inanimate matter to "life" what would make this new "living" organism want to reproduce? And not only reproduce, but by what mechanism would it even be able to reproduce itself? If a chain of tiny proteins, which one moment before had simply been floating about, suddenly had the ability to do something other than merely float about, how would that happen? Once it happened, why would it reproduce itself? It's a chain of proteins. It surely would have no consciousness or desire to "survive" or grow. So then we would have to be able to explain the drive, or motivation, for the first life forms to evolve and procreate.

2. Moving ahead millions of years--If humans evolved from primates, was it because of a physical advantage--standing upright, opposable thumbs, stronger immune system--or a mental advantage? For instance, let's say that a primate evolved opposable thumbs, maybe even a more upright stance, all at the same time. While certainly being physically advantageous, how would that translate into intelligence? Maybe they would survive more easily on a daily basis, but would that lead to them being smarter? Would it lead to them developing concepts about their world and universe which had no immediate impact on their lives, environment, or survival? So, instead of wondering how they would catch their next meal or find shelter in inclement weather they would need to be able to plan how they could grow their own food, make tools, build their own shelters, or keep peace in their social group.

From my Christian perspective, this is what I think is meant by "being made in the image of God."

What separates humans from animals is not only a biological advantage, but the agility and ability of the human mind. It is safe to say that humans are the most advanced species on the planet. Why is that? If evolution and natural selection are always at work, why is there only one species on the planet that has achieved the same status as humans? Shouldn't each species be continually improving and getting "smarter" if intelligence is so important to the survival and dominance of a species? Shouldn't there be more than one intelligent, enlightened species after all these billions and millions of years?

3. Compassion/Morals...Are humans the only species to exhibit compassion towards other species? Primates are very social creatures. They care for one another, build relationships, and do show compassion and cooperation within their groups. However, is there another species which collectively cares about other species? Is there another species which would protect predators such as wolves, lions, and bears out of an appreciation for their role in the ecology?

Hate to end abruptly..but I have to get to work! I'll try to finish this later.


Techskeptic said...

Hey terri,

I thought it more appropriate for me to reply here, than continue at amandas where I have already blathered on too much about this..

no matter how "logical" evolution may sometimes seem--I don't really believe it

And hence, the argument from incredulity that is employed oh so often by creationists. It is the type of thing that is endearing to other creationists who don't generally think about it. It doesn't ask for evidence, it assumes that you know everything there is to know and that you don't believe the claim and therefore it is false.

I'm not saying you are using it, I'm saying that it is attractive to you because of your God beliefs.

If life began in a primordial, chemical soup that was struck by lightning, bringing inanimate matter to "life" what would make this new "living" organism want to reproduce?

this, just like the "bomb in a junkyard" analogy, is a creationist story and not an evolutionary one. Evolution says nothing about the origin of life. That is abiogenesis. Abiogenesis does not say that life sprang from soup + lightning. All it says is that complex organic molecules did. These molecules are what may have reproduced. This is evidenced by the Urey-Miller experiments that created amino acids from a variety of different environmental compositions.

so don't think Lightning+soup=life... instead Lighting+soup=complex molecule. Lots of different ones. Then BILLIONS of years later (think about how long that is) we see that some of the molecules have gotten together, to form further complexities and in fact bio-chemical systems.

these proteins don't want to reproduce, they just do. Prions are one example, there are many others. When I take a flame to hydrogen, does it 'want' to combine with oxygen, let out a bunch of heat and form water? It doesnt want to, it just does.

Moving ahead millions of years
You mean billions. Think about how long that is. We as human beings are literally incapable of truly comprehending this timescale.

We discussed the rest of this at amandas blog already. I refer to that for now.

Are humans the only species to exhibit compassion towards other species?
Interesting question. I guess I don't have to go in to how morals are simply a method by which we have become very successful. They are an outcropping of reason and primitive emotions (like fear of death). But you pose an interesting question....Do other species care for species outside of their own?

Well, don't dogs protect the humans that take care of them? don't cats stay with owners that 'mother' them?

In the end you are trying to anthropomorphize animals by asking if they would protect other animals out of appreciation for their role in ecology. The shark protects the sucker fish, and the sea anemonae protects the clownfish in symbiotic relationships. We have a symbiotic relationship with many of the creatures and plants of this planet. We need them to survive. Just because we are prone to call up emotion for their protection doesn't mean that the real driving force for doing so isn't our own survival.

terri said...


Over at Amanda's you said that thinking that humans are superior is anthropomorphic. I am confused by this statement because anthropomorphism means attributing uniquely human characteristics to animals or objects.'re saying that humans are attributing uniquely human characteristics, which we actually have, to humans. Do you see what I am getting at?

Part of my beliefs are partly due to the argument from incredulity, but I don't feel bad about that, as if that's some sort of defect. Dawkins pretty much believes the same thing about the non-existence of God. He just labels it the argument from improbability.

Regarding soup+lightning=life:

There is a vast difference between simple chemical reactions and purposeful reproduction. Hydrogen atoms, whether they are burning or combining with oxygen to form water, are simply forming or releasing bonds. They are not forming new Hydrogen atoms or making exact copies of themselves.

TO be classified as living an organism must be able to reproduce, metabolize, grow, produce waste products...etc. Those are very complex processes, even at the cellular level. So the leap from electrified molecules to living being is quite a large one.

Your link to abiogenesis does a fair job of laying out the criticisms of it, so I feel no need to add to it. Evolution has to start somewhere. Abiogenesis is just another term for natural selection at the molecular level. The article even describes it in such terms when it refers to some molecules having attributes that would make them more likely to be favored in the "primeval soup". I kind of feel like this is semantics.

RE millions/billions: I was typing fast. I think I wrote billions later or earlier in the post. That's simply my rushing through things. (I realize the irony of that statement)

I don't think that saying that humans are the most advanced species on the planet is egotisitical or even strange. I am a little perplexed that you would say they are not. Even if you don't think humans are "special", surely you can appreciate that there is no other species that comes within miles of human intellect or complexity.

If aliens visited the planet, do you think they would talk to the mice--a la Douglas Adams?

I am not trying to anthropomorphize animals as much as point out the "big picture" thinking that humans are capable of. Thinking about things that have no immediacy is a direct sign of intelligence.

Techskeptic said...

you said that thinking that humans are superior is anthropomorphic

Yes and that is what I meant. If you compare our traits to other species like happiness, intellectual capabilities, creation of art and music, advancement of science is to anthropomorphize the other species.

Cockroaches don't need all that stuff to be successful. They just use superior breeding capabilities.

Most other species have offspring that can fend for themselves in days or weeks. We have to wait years!

But look what happens as as a result of our intellectual prowess.. we have almost eliminated many of our food stock (swordfish is just one that comes to mind right now), much of the earths CO2-O2 converters, increase the heat load from the sun, and are in the process of destroying much of our own species (because most humans live near or at sea level). cockroaches didn't do that. Neither did octopuses (hmmm my spell checker corrected 'octopi' is it right?).

So when you compare our species to other species in terms of human traits like happiness, forgiveness, honesty and respect, you are trying to apply these traits to species than don't need them and never had them.

I'm not saying we are a bad species, I'm not saying we aren't supremely better at adapting than many other species. I am saying that we have one or a few superior traits than monkeys

Dawkins pretty much believes the same thing about non-existence of God

No he doesn't. He says that the likelihood of it is so small, that to believe such a hypothesis would require a great amount of evidence. Sagan discusses this in detail in "Demon Haunted World". Dawkin's never once says "God doesn't exist and here is the proof". He says that we should create hypotheses and use evidence to turn these hypotheses into theories. The god hypothesis remains just so, because there are so many better explanations for almost everything. as I said before the box of items that the god hypothesis explained is getting smaller every year. that is the opposite effect of what you want to have happen if you want to strengthen a hypothesis.

I'll give you this: Dawkins incessant referral to another made up hypothesis of the multi verse drives me nuts. It may drive me nuts because I don't know what evidence there is to support such a hypothesis, but he keep referring to it as an alternative hypothesis to God. Its just another story with no evidence also.

living organism Right... (BTW.. burning hydrogen is the same thing as combining with water to form water). but your text said you didn't understand how things would want to reproduce after a lightning zap. I was trying to explain that 'wanting' had nothing to do with it. It just does because that is how the physics works out. I was pointing out that many organic non-life molecules, like prions reproduce.

Waste is just one of the products of a chemical reaction. for example, If I want to get energy out of natural gas, then both water and CO2 are waste products. If I use the water for something, then CO2 is a waste product. and so on.

Again, its billions of years. of perhaps trillions or quadrillions of lightning strikes. the likelihood of creating complex molecules that later form proteins is very high, since we can do it, in just a few short weeks.

I totally agree that humans are special. To us, we are hot shit. Why shouldn't we think that? I'm pretty sure that wild deer in hunting season don't admire us as much as our dogs do though.

We have traits that allow us to admire our work, our surrounding, art, music, beautiful things. Why wouldn't we appreciate the things we do more than an ant appreciates its anthill (something we would have great difficulty making).

Don't forget I'm not saying we aren't smarter than every other creature on the planet. If we weren't, we'd be extinct by now, or subject to other animals. think about how far we would come if sever Downs syndrome were the highest intellect we could achieve.

But just because I recognize this, doesn't mean that I am missing the very same traits I am talking about here, or that those very same traits affect me differently than other people. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, its because of these very traits and my perspective on them, I choose not to waste time believing in nonexistent things, dont go to things that waste my time, do things that bring most happiness to me and those around me, and try to live with and as close to my family the the people I love, because they are the strongest source of happiness.

Techskeptic said...

oops combining with oxygen to form water...

terri said...

Re: anthropomorphism

So...if I understand what you are saying that comparing species is indirectly anthropomorphizing them by "expecting" them to be like us. Except, I don't expect them to be like us. I still think the term is misused in this case. There are traits which are unique to humans. If I started reading those traits into animal behavior, then I would be anthropomorphizing. Like if I thought a bird defecated on my windshield because I had cut down its tree, I would be anthropomorphizing the event and the bird's behavior.

Re: waste

Yes chemical reactions produce "waste" but not through internal metabolization. The traits I mentioned here are only ones that are taught in basic biology class. I am not trying to make up characteristics of living things.

I think it is important to note that my beliefs about humans, in respect to other species, is not based on simply "success" at surviving. Cockroaches are very adept at being cockroaches. They are very "successful" organisms. I am not meaning to take away from other species by saying that humans are different or special in a very significant way. We obviously have a part of us that is really screwed up. We don't always do what's best for ourselves, the planet, or other people.

Something that just occurred to me....if religious beliefs/moral beliefs are what helped give us an edge over the selfish desire of the individual or species surviving, without regard to other members of our own group, shouldn't we be moving more towards that instead of further away from it? Isn't that what environmentalists are ultimately appealing to when they ask us to reduce our carbon footprint and help stop global warming? Isn't that another form of a human desire to sacrifice for the greater good over the immediate benefit to the individual?

terri said...

Tech...BTW I remembered why I had written millions instead of billions. At first, I thought that I had just made a mistake because I was in a rush, but then I remembered that I used Millions because I was speaking of the evolution of humans from primates--not evolution from single-celled organisms to humans

Lifewish said...

There is a vast difference between simple chemical reactions and purposeful reproduction.

Interesting factoid: you can get self-replicators constructed of only 20-odd bases. They're called palindromic replicators. However, they're not considered a good candidate for the origin of life because they're... well... palindromic. DNA isn't like that, and there's no obvious way to dispose of that symmetry.

This is pretty much characteristic of OOL research. It's not that we don't have any ideas; it's that we have too many, and clearly there are thousands of possibilities we haven't even considered, and we don't honestly know which barriers could be hurdled by evolution. Very frustrating, but rewarding when you find a clue.

However, is there another species which collectively cares about other species?

"Dolphins saved me from sharks" says fisherman. Plus similar story for lifeguards. So dolphins clearly care about non-dolphin critters. Obviously there's no way of knowing if they conceptualise that caring in the same way we do.

Techskeptic said...

There are traits which are unique to humans. If I started reading those traits into animal behavior, then I would be anthropomorphizing.

Exactly. so when you question how complex molecules or single cell organisms could "want" to reproduce, you are anthropomorphizing these things by giving them a human trait of "wanting" or even a motivation. They don't want, they just do. That is why I used the case of H2 and O2, and them wanting to combine. They don't, its just the way the physics works.

When you say something like: we are most advanced because we are so smart, you are trying to assign anthropomorphic reasons as to why there are few gorrilas than humans, without recognizing that there are far more cockroaches than humans without our intellectual abilities.

Our advancement is just a human perception, we value our species and its products. Nature could give a crap. Species evolve in in response to their environments and genetic history.

if religious beliefs/moral beliefs are what helped give us an edge over the selfish desire of the individual or species surviving, without regard to other members of our own group, shouldn't we be moving more towards that instead of further away from it

Gosh I hope not. I don't see how, in a global environment, religion is anything but destructive and a constant source of conflict to our species. This does not mean it doesn't help some individuals, surely it does. But until there is only one religion, with one interpretation, like Pastafarianism, its a destructive force, not a constructive force.

Quick example: What major piece of architecture, art, music, or toher item that provides a binding influence to humans has recently been made in the name of religion recently? Big Box churches don't count. I can name quite a few from a pre-globalization era, from Pyramids to St. Peters Cathedral and the sistine chapel ceiling to some of Mozarts most famous works.

sure, sure, i agree that it may be easier to build these things with a religious despot and hordes of slaves.

As a species, we have a relatively new environment and in time we will adjust, either intellectually or physically. In the meantime we can expect conflict and environmental damage.

The only thing that saddens me is that I will not see the conflict ameliorated nor the environment fixed in my lifetime. My daughter probably won't either.