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11.1.05

Evolution's Purview, and The Devil's Tsunami

Here's a letter from today's Morning Call that raises a couple of interesting issues:

No Justification To Teach Evolution

If you are going to teach evolution in schools, then will you please explain how nothing can be made out of nothing? I find it extremely difficult not to believe in a most high intelligence and power.

The recent tsunami brings the wrath of God to mind. How does evolution explain the wrath of God? It's impossible.

V.M. Dotter
Whitehall Township


The first thing to note is the mistaken parallelism that Dotter, like many creationists, draws between religion and evolution. They take their own philosophical viewpoint as a template for their opponents' viewpoint. Religion is an all-encompassing theory of everything. Evolution, on the other hand, is a theory that deals only with a specific subset of events in the world -- the development of one species into others. The origin of the universe and the cause of tsunamis are outside evolution's purview, so it's no wonder it has nothing to say about them. Further, the absolutist and integrated nature of a Biblical literalist worldview (though it's possible this writer is a non-literalist creationist) is susceptible to being completely destroyed by the falsification of any one of its parts. On the other hand, scientific theories are more loosely connected. So even if we were to disprove the secular scientific theories of the origin of the universe and plate tectonics, that would not necessarily say anything about the validity of evolution.

The second thing to note is the use Dotter attempts to make of describing the tsunami as the wrath of God. Debates over religion usually set atheism against religion, with the question being whether God exists. In so doing, they tend to beg the question of God's nature, specifically whether God deserves love and worship. There is often an assumption -- which I criticized before -- that if God exists, he must be the loving God of the Christian tradition. Indeed, it's sometimes implied that if God can be shown to be a disreputable character, that's proof that he doesn't exist. Yet I think it's a quite plausible position to say that God exists, but he's a bad guy. (Note that "God is a bad guy" is not a position I actually hold.)

Attributing the tsunami to God seems to me to support the "God is a bad guy" theory. I'm not interested in worshipping (except perhaps in an insincere way in order to stay out of hell) a God who is so callous and ham-handed in dealing out punishment. Yet it's interesting, in reading about religious perspectives on the tsunami, that there are only two basic positions. Either God had nothing to do with it and it was the product of blind geophysical forces (a view I agree with), or it was an act of justice by God. Nobody seems willing to say it was an act of justice by God, or an act of the devil (since the existence of an evil deity does not preclude the existence of a good deity, or vice versa). Partly this may be a reluctance to attribute so much power to the devil. The Zoroastrian-style view of balanced good and evil powers is much less common than the Christian-style view that God is supreme (particularly in the natural world) and the devil only nibbles around the edges.

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