Saturday, 12 March 2011

Theistic Evolution, a Case of Special Pleading and a Case of Denying Evidence

Not much in the way of science in this post, just something I had been musing about for a while.

Among people of the religious persuasion, there seem to be three main camps of people when it comes to attitudes towards evolution. There are those who outright deny evolution is possible - the Ken Hams and Ray Comforts of the world - and a large chunk of time is often dedicated to debunking the asinine claims of these nutjobs. There are those creationists who will accept "microevolution" but deny "macroevolution" (whatever such a distinction means, if anything) - individuals who will accept what they see as "just" adaptation within populations but are still diehard creationists at heart. And then there are the "theistic evolutionists" - people who will accept that evolution is completely true but nonetheless insist that life was originally started by God; they posit that God acted as a sort of kickstart for evolution. In a sense, they are still a form of creationist, albeit a "weak creationist", since they still believe that life was created by a supernatural force and evolution proceeded from there. But there is another form of creationist, one that falls in between the last two categories. These are the individuals who will accept evolution in all cases except as it applies to humans. They believe humans to be God's "chosen" species (though, given the plethora of ailments we humans often suffer from, one might begin to wonder what benefit being chosen has, if any), and we were created in cutis by God as mentioned in the Bible and have remained the same ever since. This is a weaker form of theistic evolution (which itself is a weak form of creationism1!), and quite obviously, a case of special pleading.

All of these positions are untenable for a variety of reasons but it is the problems with this last position - that of the "evolution for all but humans" proponents (which I'll refer to as Humans-Only Creationism, or HOC, for simplification) - that I wish to focus on.

Being that those who hold such a view are accepting of the evidence for evolution in all cases except that pertaining to the evolutionary history of hominids, it is perhaps unexpected that evolutionary evidence of the hominid lineage would raise issues for this view point. Let us assume for a moment that humans are a special case - that they were created as is by God, and have remained unchanged since their genesis. What, then, would we make of the other hominid fossils that have been found? Since HOC makes the claim that humans have not evolved, then these fossils could only possibly be either fully "human" or fully "non-human" (or "fully ape", most creationists would claim), as any gradient between the two would indicate evolution. But this is problematic. Firstly, how would one determine which category any particular fossil specimen belonged to? Many fossils have traits that are "human-like" and also other traits that may be described as "ape-like". No one specimen has characteristics of only one or the other - they are an amalgamation of traits both human- and ape-like. Secondly, the record of hominid fossils does show a gradient from more "ape-like" to more "human-like" in many characteristics, and to claim that such a gradient does not exist is to outright deny observable fact.

Also, the "ape-like" hominids create problems for HOC. If they are not hominids, then what, exactly, are they? They are obviously more like humans than any extant primate. Are they supposed to be Gods "failed attempts" at creating humans? But if God is supposedly omnipotent, then how could this be? How could a perfect being create an imperfect creation? He would surely have gotten it correct on the first attempt. Anyone who subscribes to HOC has no choice to claim that God created them for a specific purpose. Why, then, did he create them so similar to humans?

HOC proponents are also guilty of doublethink. They freely admit to accepting evolution for all other species based on the overwhelming evidence in its favour. But in the same breath, they dismiss with a wave of the hand the idea that humans evolved - an idea which is based on the very same sort of evidence that they accept for other species! How one can hold these two beliefs at once and not succumb to crippling cognitive dissonance is beyond me.

When the evidence is examined, of course, the reality shows though - humans, like every other animal in existence, is the product of countless years of evolution.
1) Perhaps we should call this idea "doubleweak creationism".

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