Let me lay some cards on the table, if only to provide a bit of context for what I want to say. I am a strong and unequivocal evolutionist who places Darwin at the very core of my philosophical mindset. My relationship to religion, on the other had, is …. complicated. I don’t think any of the standard categories unambiguously matches up with what I think and feel, and I’m somewhat okay with that. I just hope that these confessions serve to clarify rather than obstruct the conversation I hope to have. (more…)
One popular website running around on Favebook is Isidewith.com. It’s a website which asks you a few questions, then tells you how the candidates answered the same questions. One question is whether you believe in evolution. After you take the survey, you get to see how you align with the candidates. Just to make R. Gary’s head explode, here is Mitt’s response.
Question #1- What does that even mean?
Question #2- Should I be offended that it tells me I should vote Green Party?
A great deal of my thought surrounding the nature of (R)eligious, (S)cientific and (P)ragmatic (or pre-modern, modern and post-modern) approaches to truth is based in the premise that rule-following is the only path to truth. Empirical observation, logical deduction and everything in between only get us anywhere inasmuch as they are normatively constrained by rules of various kinds. In this post I would like to briefly unpack this position in terms of a familiar metaphor. (more…)
I have discussed the problem of evil in the past, and what I feel is the Church’s unique position on how the atonement itself acts as a theodicy, God responding with everything he can to our suffering. I still stand by the general premise of that post, that the universe is governed by eternal laws independent of God  and that man has free agency and thus God is not accountable for him.  I also still hold that through the Atonement of Christ, God is doing all he can to alleviate our suffering.
I’d like to speculate a little bit more about why God isn’t doing more to alleviate suffering. Here is where some theories associated with evolution come in.  (more…)
Stephen Finlan, Author of “Options on Atonement in Christian Thought” ends his book with a modest proposal. It is that our understanding of divine revelation is subject to a form of evolution. Finlan Suggests that “God always seeks to deepen and expand the revelation of truth, but we humans (including the biblical authors) only perceive a part of the message. We adapt and domesticate new ideas to old and familiar ways of thinking. We always pour new wine into old wineskins, but the new wine expands and bursts open our containers (Mark 2:22), our old ways of thinking.”  Finlan calls this “progressive development in religious conceptualization”. (more…)
Continued from here.
For those who are new, click here for all parts.
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet.
No doubt many of you have seen the movie Avatar which is breaking all kinds of box office records this winter. For the three of you who don’t know, in the film humans in the future are mentally connected to test-tube-grown alien bodies and essentially act as pilots to those bodies in the story. This idea of minds powering bodies is pretty common in religions around the world where the assumption is that each of us is a spirit piloting a mortal human body and as soon as our body dies our spirits essentially hit the eject button and move on. This concept is certainly at home in Mormonism where it is not uncommon to hear analogies about hands and gloves to describe the relationship between spirits and mortal bodies.
So with that as a backdrop, it is not entirely clear to me what the theoretical objection to the idea of human evolution among Judeo/Christian religionists would be. The stereotypical objection is that evolution means human bodies “evolved from monkeys”. As far as I can tell the awfulness of this prospect is supposed to be self evident. But of course the awfulness of the idea that our ancient biological ancestors were “monkeys” isn’t self evident. If we are just pilots of these present bodies then why should we care at all how these bodies came into existence in the universe? Now I can understand that Biblical literalists would be concerned about having to give up some hyper-literalism in their interpretations of the Bible to accept human evolution and they might not like that. But beyond that it seems to me humans shouldn’t really care much how our species came to be on this planet.
I am a pro-science guy and I believe in evolution. That said, it seems to me from watching the Discovery channel and reading popular science articles that it is easy to get carried away explaining things based on evolution to the point that we forget what evolution is in the first place.† Evolution is natural selection working on random mutation. Here’s an example from the NYT (hat tip: ZD sidebar) demonstrating how easy it is to slip from sound scientific reasoning into poppycock: (more…)
I have been fascinated by the theories and posts at this guy’s blog. I didn’t know much at all about evolutionary psychology before this week, though I was not surprised that such a field existed. Here is the definition of evolutionary psychology we get from the wiki:
Evolutionary psychology (EP) is a pseudoscience that attempts to explain mental and psychological traitsâ€”such as memory, perception, or languageâ€”as adaptations, that is, as the functional products of natural selection or sexual selection. Adaptationist thinking about physiological mechanisms, such as the heart, lungs, and immune system, is common in evolutionary biology. Evolutionary psychology applies the same thinking to psychology.
Evolutionary psychologists argue that much of human behavior is generated by psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments. They hypothesize, for example, that humans have inherited special mental capacities for acquiring language, making it nearly automatic, while inheriting no capacity specifically for reading and writing. Other adaptations, according to EP, might include the abilities to infer others’ emotions, to discern kin from non-kin, to identify and prefer healthier mates, to cooperate with others, and so on. Consistent with the theory of natural selection, evolutionary psychology sees organisms as often in conflict with others of their species, including mates and relatives. For example, mother mammals and their young offspring sometimes struggle over weaning, which benefits the mother more than the child. Humans, however, have a marked capacity for cooperation as well. (more…)
Satoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist and he blogs over at Psychology Today. Earlier this week he published a post called “How to be happy” (Hat tip to the BCC sideblog). Here are some relevant excerpts:
What can evolutionary psychology say about how to be happy? …
I would say that the best thing for people to do to become happier is to get in touch with their animal nature … Recognize and accept that we are animals. We are all designed by evolution to be certain way, and no amount of denial or fighting will change our evolutionary legacy and its implications.
One of the things that evolution has done is to make men and women very different. … One of the ways that men and women are different is in what makes them happy.
Forget what feminists, hippies, and liberals have told you in the last half century. They are all lies based on political ideology and conviction, not on science. Contrary to what they may have told you, it is very unlikely that money, promotions, the corner office, social status, and political power will make women happy. Similarly, it is very unlikely that quitting their jobs, dropping out of the rat race, and becoming stay-at-home dads to spend all their times with their children will make men happy.
The point of this post is not to give opportunity to arguing whether evolution or no death before the fall (NDBF)is correct. It is not to look at whether S. McMurrin and H. Eyring Sr. or J. Fielding Smith and B. Packer more accurately state the official position of the Church. If you have perspectives along those lines, table them, because those sorts of comments will be deleted here, even if you do have a fancy ™ on the end of your name.
The attempt here is to take the two positions, or for the sake of this post, assume BOTH are true. Then we can look at possible ways that both can work together.
(Edit: Like Abraham of old, we are sometimes required by the Lord or His messengers to do utterly immoral things. In other words, sometimes we have an obligation to act immorally. This post is aimed at explaining why this sounds like a contradiction in terms to our modern ears.)
Democracy is horrible and Aristocracy is fantastic. While there is much to disagree with in this claim of Nietzsche’s (he has nothing but condemnation to say regarding all forms of inter-personal obligations and authority), there is also a great deal of truth that we Mormons would do well to address. After all, the secular world clearly exalts the values and morality of the former while the church is quite obviously an Aristocracy (of sorts) that repeatedly insists that it is not a democracy in which “the people” rule. What are the tensions between these two moralities and to what extent to these tension manifest themselves within the modern, Mormon mind?
Nietzsche sees stratification as a normal and health aspect of life which Democrats, Moderns, Utilitarians, Kantians, Socialists, Classical Liberals, Capitalists, Proletariats, Materialists, Christians and a whole slew of others conspire against. Whereas Kierkegaard objected to the ways in which these various movements where making faith cheap, easy and weak, Nietzsche rejects them since they make life itself cheap, easy and weak. Both of these men had nothing but contempt for “the world” and it just so happened that “the world” at their time was largely Christian. When framed in these terms, that Mormons might also harbor a similar contempt for the now less-Christian world that we see around us. (more…)
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time… But I say unto you..”
“Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment… For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name.”
Passages like those above seriously call into question the idea that “eternal laws” are ahistorical, self-existent or totally independent of God’s creative will. Indeed, scriptural support for such a claim becomes nigh impossible once we acknowledge that
- the council of the gods might be the source of any allegedly external laws, or
- the Lord, as a flawless self-legislator, is subject to the laws that He gives Himself, or
- calling a law “endless” or “eternal” does not necessarily entail their timeless ahistoricity.
It is within such a perspective – that rejects any timeless, self-existent laws before which each and every god must bow – that revelation becomes a process of – to borrow Joseph Schumpeter’s term – creative destruction. Nietzsche’s term for the person who embodies creative destruction is the “overman” – a man who is able to overcome the moral commands of those around and before him/her. In this post I will defend the idea that the church is itself (or ought to be) a collective overman of sorts. (more…)
And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches… And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up. – 3 Ne. 6:12, 14
Distinction is based upon a massive survey which Bourdieu and his assistants administered in Paris during the 1960’s regarding the impact of people’s economic and educational backgrounds upon their tastes in kinds of food, quantity of food, table manners, dress, posture, vocabulary, accents, stores, furniture, wall décor, entertainment, singers, instruments, reading material, politics, etc. This amount of empirical research sets him apart from most other critical theorists with which he tends to be associated. That said, the specific context in which this data was gathered does place certain limitations upon the extent to which his results can be generalized to today’s American culture in which I currently find myself. Indeed, Bourdieu fully acknowledges that aesthetic tastes evolve across time and place in never-ending quest for distinction. (more…)
The strange thing about the enlightenment was that the better policies and institutions worked, the more people took them for granted and criticized them for their imperfections. (This tendency is still very much with us.) Koselleck thus argues, in Crisis and Critique, that the Enlightenment was an inevitably hypocritical process in which various societies – both secret and formal as well as public and informal – attacked absolute monarchism by willfully ignoring the concrete historical problems to which it was a solution. Absolute monarchism had ended the civil and religious wars by placing a strong division between politics and morality/religion, and it was only within such a context of relative peace that Enlightenment criticisms were able to maintain an air of plausibility.
Thus, while Hobbes saw the authoritarian state as protecting our very lives within a civil war of all against all, 38 years later, Locke would argue that the state was a mechanism for protecting property and happiness within an otherwise peaceful environment populated by people who were both rational and tolerant. Locke had thus fallen into the traditionally British snare of taking the peace and tolerance which he then observed in his own society as timeless, natural and thus in little need of vigilant safe-guarding when it had actually been the historical product of authoritarian state control. The historical transition from a Hobbesian to a Lockean idea of the state thus lies at the heart of Koselleck’s argument, it being the antidote to such timeless and quintessentially British thinking. (more…)