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Conversion on Mount Improbable: How Evolution Challenges Christian Dogma - Comments

Darwinorlose's Avatar Comment 1 by Darwinorlose

Beautifully written and well-put. I remember when Daniel Dennet's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" came out and I picked it up, I had this intuition that reading this was going to change everything. I did read it and it did change everything for me. I came to see, as you did, that Evolution thought touches everything, or just about everthing. No wonder the fundies hate it so. Darwin's revolution was one of the most important transformative events in my life. I'm still building on it! I hope you'll keep writing.

Sun, 06 May 2012 23:53:59 UTC | #940225

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 2 by Neodarwinian

because new species only emerge extremely gradually, there really is no “first” prototype or model of any species at all—no “first” dog or “first” giraffe and certainly no “first” Homo sapiens

Populations evolve is a concept that even many " supporters " of evolutionary theory never seem to get judging from the many questions framed in a linear fashion I see at the many Q and A sites I frequent. Naturally, creationists can not even understand the ' populations evolve, individuals are selected concept even when carefully explained myriad times a day!

Mon, 07 May 2012 00:01:04 UTC | #940226

alf1200's Avatar Comment 3 by alf1200

The questiion of when the first human came is like asking where the river starts. Or where is the base of the mountain.

Congradulations Mike, You are not a slow learner.

Mon, 07 May 2012 00:04:31 UTC | #940227

Alternative Carpark's Avatar Comment 4 by Alternative Carpark

An interesting piece, indeed.

What I would honestly be interested in is a followup study looking into the effect, if any, the "coming-out" of these ministers as non-believers has had on their congregations. Has the only reaction been one of hostility and ostracism, or has it given some members of the flock real pause? If their, presumably highly-respected, local vicar of Christ, whom they held up as being closer to god than themselves, is no longer convinced, has this set them on their own path towards losing interest in Jewish mythology?

Mon, 07 May 2012 00:37:59 UTC | #940230

Quine's Avatar Comment 5 by Quine

Thank you Mike, beautifully put.

Mon, 07 May 2012 01:16:13 UTC | #940232

Border Collie's Avatar Comment 6 by Border Collie

Amazing mental and emotional gymnastics to rid oneself of the concept of original sin. It seems that one could let go of such a vile, anti-life belief on face value, without so much effort. I always despised the concept, even as a little child. I despise it even more now. Inculcating such ideas and living out of them creates the very despicable human being given as examples of being tainted by original sin.

Mon, 07 May 2012 01:27:10 UTC | #940233

Border Collie's Avatar Comment 7 by Border Collie

"that approach now appears to be a fundamental denial of human nature." Duh ...

"And I also now understand why so many evangelical Christians are hostile to evolution. They too, know that evolution impacts everything" I disagree. Generally they don't know anything about evolution except what their preachers and politicians spew. And, generally what they spew is that "Scientists believe we came from monkeys. I don't know about you, but I didn't come from a monkey! Huh, huh, huh ... Surely, none of you believe we came from monkeys! It's a lie!" (I've heard many versions of essentially this series of statements and questions straight from the pulpit.) Then there's usually a little Darwin bashing, science bashing and scientist bashing along with liberal politics bashing. Many time they'll even resurrect Madalyn Murray O'Hair and bat her about for a few minutes, blaming the ills of the country on her. But, of course, now they have many atheists and scientists to bash at their convenience.

Mon, 07 May 2012 01:53:37 UTC | #940234

mmurray's Avatar Comment 8 by mmurray

There are not different ways of knowing. There is knowing and not knowing, and those are the only two options in this world.

Beautifully put. So good I am going to "borrow" it!


Mon, 07 May 2012 02:24:29 UTC | #940238

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 9 by susanlatimer

Comment 8 by mmurray

There are not different ways of knowing. There is knowing and not knowing, and those are the only two options in this world.

Beautifully put. So good I am going to "borrow" it!


I agree with Michael. You've put it beautifully.

Mon, 07 May 2012 04:25:59 UTC | #940241

MilitantNonStampCollector's Avatar Comment 10 by MilitantNonStampCollector

Comment 9 by susanlatimer

There is knowing and not knowing

You forgot about suspension of belief pending further evidence.

Mon, 07 May 2012 04:41:57 UTC | #940242

Macropus's Avatar Comment 11 by Macropus

@ MilitantNonStampCollector

Surely the states of "belief" and "suspension of belief" are subsets of "not knowing"? If you're waiting for further evidence, it can only be because you don't know the answer. To start talking about belief as a way of knowing something and suspension of belief as a half-way house between knowing and not knowing is getting a bit metaphysical for me.

Mon, 07 May 2012 05:17:45 UTC | #940244

MilitantNonStampCollector's Avatar Comment 12 by MilitantNonStampCollector

Comment 9 by susanlatimer

You are right. "Not knowing" is suspension of belief, my apologies. I jumped to a hasty conclusion, as most mammals invariably do.

Mon, 07 May 2012 05:20:06 UTC | #940245

Macropus's Avatar Comment 13 by Macropus

Comment 12 by MilitantNonStampCollector

I jumped to a hasty conclusion, as most mammals invariably do.

Well spotted!

Mon, 07 May 2012 05:30:34 UTC | #940247

matsa's Avatar Comment 14 by matsa

Well put, Mr. Aus.

Especially coming from an ex-pastor, this description of how evolution challenges Christianity, is quite powerful. I know a lot of religious people who insist on including evolution in their world views. They always become mightily annoyed if I challenge their understanding of evolution. They would rather be "liberal christians" who of course understand that their bible is meant metaphorically but they draw the line where Jesus is resurrected. That obviously had to have happened. For many people ignorance is bliss, as you know, so as long as they don't understand evolution, they can keep having the line drawn there and go about their lives pretending their religion is, oh, so important.

Mon, 07 May 2012 06:48:57 UTC | #940251

sbooder's Avatar Comment 15 by sbooder

That was like reading good prose, a very good read indeed!

Mon, 07 May 2012 06:58:15 UTC | #940252

aroundtown's Avatar Comment 16 by aroundtown

Once you scrape the delusion off things get better from that point on. I still remember a strange occurrence in my life and it connects roughly to this story of a pastor loosing his faith. The family pastor of my youth and adulthood, the man who baptized me, came to me while I was still in the delusion and expressed his opinion that he had lost his faith. I tried to comfort him and suggest materials that would bolster his wavering. This admission occurred decades ago. How ludicrous that I became an adamant atheist these many years later on my own discovery path. I doubt that I changed his mind and I am fairly certain he maintained his opinion that is was all bullshit and was only coming clean to someone he felt he had affected. He is passed away now but I feel he got out clean most likely. Religion and faith in the invisible monkey is total horse shit and the greatest affliction that mankind has suffered. When it finally dies the healing will begin.

Mon, 07 May 2012 07:05:18 UTC | #940253

Katy Cordeth's Avatar Comment 17 by Katy Cordeth

I'm still none the wiser as to why so many Christians are hostile to evolution and the idea of an old universe*. Mike Aus is obviously a very smart guy, and his article gets under the skin of why evolutionary theory puts not only the final coffin nail into religion but all the other nails as well. But I don't think it can be denied that most of the rank and file in, particularly, evangelical churches are not as smart as he is; have never read Darwin or Dawkins; and probably know very little about carbon dating and astrophysics.

So from this point of relative ignorance, evolution could be worked into their religion. It could be the way God chose to put the world together. And yet they've chosen instead to cling limpet-like to their literal interpretation of the Bible, paving the way for creation scientists who pervert the ideals of science by manipulating the facts to fit the theory rather than the other way round, and jumping through ever-decreasing hoops to do so. Could this be why evangelicals always seem so filled with rage? Because they know that they've thrown their lot in with a bunch of con artists?

I'd classify myself as about a six on the Dawkins scale: I'm certain that God isn't real, but I can't prove it. But what I do know with absolute certainty is that if God does exist and made us and every other organism on Earth, then the method he used was evolution.

Evangelicals embrace science in every other aspect of their lives: most of them use internal combustion technology, have televisions and i-pods; they employ modern medicine and pharmacology - apart from contraception of course. If we could only get them to drop this intelligent design nonsense and show them that evolution isn't the boogeyman they've been led to believe it is, then their minds might really begin to open to the true beauty of the universe.

All in all, though, a very good article. I give it....four satans out of five.

*I don't buy the final two lines at all.

Mon, 07 May 2012 08:02:19 UTC | #940254

mjwemdee's Avatar Comment 18 by mjwemdee

I think this is brilliant, particularly the paragraph investigating the orthodox Christian definition of sin.

Well done, Mr. Aus.

Mon, 07 May 2012 08:41:32 UTC | #940257

jbkaffe's Avatar Comment 19 by jbkaffe

Conversion on Mount Improbable: How Evolution Challenges Christian Dogma

Bad headline. It's not a challenge and it's not just christian. It's reality that challenges judea christian dogma. In other words: Facts and religion does not compute. Simple truth will always come out on top and evolution is simply the way the we evolved. Nothing to do with religion.

Jesper ( Danish, not the pastry ;-)

Mon, 07 May 2012 09:04:22 UTC | #940262

mmurray's Avatar Comment 20 by mmurray

I thought the point of creation science was not to challenge evolution but just to find a backdoor for religion into US schools which avoided running into the constitution.

But maybe I'm a cynic.

Michael (from Aus but not Mike Aus!)

Mon, 07 May 2012 09:54:32 UTC | #940268

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 21 by Alan4discussion

@OP I ran across Richard Dawkins’ analogy of natural selection as “climbing Mount Improbable.” In that memorable and vivid metaphor, Dawkins illustrates the truly incremental and gradual nature of the evolutionary process. Opponents of evolution have contended that, while change within species can occur, the leap from one species to a new species is just too improbably great to have happened by purely natural processes. Outside assistance must have been involved.

I was just refuting this assertion on the "Unbelief in the Pews" discussion, Where one of the best arguments countering claims based on the absence of fossils in sediment layers, and a misinterpretation of "Punctuated Equilibrium", is to look at present-day on-going divergent evolution. Ring species such as Gulls are a very good example: - A classic example of ring species is the Larus gulls' circumpolar species "ring". The range of these gulls forms a ring around the North Pole, which is not normally transited by individual gulls.

  • The Herring Gull L. argentatus, which lives primarily in Great Britain and Ireland, can hybridize with the American Herring Gull L. smithsonianus, (living in North America), which can also hybridize with the Vega or East Siberian Herring Gull L. vegae, the western subspecies of which, Birula's Gull L. vegae birulai, can hybridize with Heuglin's gull L. heuglini, which in turn can hybridize with the Siberian Lesser Black-backed Gull L. fuscus. All four of these live across the north of Siberia. The last is the eastern representative of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls back in north-western Europe, including Great Britain.
  • The Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls are sufficiently different that they do not normally hybridize; thus the group of gulls forms a continuum except where the two lineages meet in Europe.

    If at some time in the future fossils of Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls were found at a single location, no intermediate forms would be found at that location - they would be hundreds or thousands of miles away!

    Mon, 07 May 2012 10:26:46 UTC | #940270

    Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 22 by Alan4discussion

    The OP gives a very good analysis, based on a clear understanding of the conflicting issues between bronze-age claims and evolutionary science.

    Mon, 07 May 2012 10:31:03 UTC | #940271

    AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 23 by AtheistEgbert

    Christianity ought to be understood as systematic brainwashing involving obedience, authority and ignorance, rather than the beliefs themselves as being central to it. We (atheists) are constantly attacking the beliefs as if they are the origin of religion, when it is the coercive institutions and communities that create religion.

    We can see that clergy at the top are as oppressed and trapped as those at the bottom, unable to really express their real selves, or thoughts and feelings. Breaking free requires an existential overcoming of obedience.

    What evolution does is offer an alternate authority, the authority of science, to challenge the authority of Christian institutions. Why are Christian (or other religions) institutions so anti-science? Because the authority of science will destroy them. Sinister institutions like Templeton try to destroy science from the inside, by trying to mix religious authority with scientific authority.

    So it really is not about evolutionary theory itself, as a persuasive force, but the institution of science and its authority that destroys the authority of Christianity.

    Of course, science is not an institution of obedience, and the understanding and knowledge it gives us are tools of freedom.

    Mon, 07 May 2012 10:55:01 UTC | #940274

    Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 24 by Mr DArcy

    Really, without a doctrine of original sin there is not much left for the Christian program. If there is no original ancestor who transmitted hereditary sin to the whole species, then there is no Fall, no need for redemption, and Jesus’ death as a sacrifice efficacious for the salvation of humanity is pointless. The whole raison d’etre for the Christian plan of salvation disappears.


    When the story comes into conflict with the facts, you don't believe the story any longer. No wonder Darwin was a bit shamefaced about publishing, especially with his devout Christian wife and his "respectable" position in Victorian society. If his daughter hadn't died, he may never have published Origin.

    Mon, 07 May 2012 11:02:57 UTC | #940276

    Anvil's Avatar Comment 25 by Anvil

    Thanks, Mike. A really nice and enjoyable read.

    Jesus came just two thousand years ago. What took him so long to show up? Humans must not have needed salvation all that badly if he left them without it for 198,000 years or so.

    He meant to get there earlier. The traffic was terrible - apparently.

    There is knowing and not knowing, and those are the only two options in this world. Religion, even “enlightened” liberal religion, is generally not interested in the facts on the ground. Religion is really not about “knowing” anything; it is about speculation not based on reality.

    Loved this para'. I can picture Jesus sat on a rock surrounded by young expectant, beaming children. Jesus utters the immortal words "There is knowing and not knowing..." In his left hand is a book. The title visible: 'On the Origin of Species'

    It took me a long time but when I finally came to appreciate the explanatory power of Darwin’s theory, I could no longer claim that it was irrelevant to religion. Evolution impacts everything. I have traded Mount Calvary for Mount Improbable, and life is now a far more interesting journey.

    Isn't it just. I laugh when the religious tell me how unfortunate I am not to have faith for how, without faith, can one have spirituality?


    Isn't knowing just simply wonderful!

    Thanks again, Mike.


    Mon, 07 May 2012 11:33:06 UTC | #940282

    QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 26 by QuestioningKat

    This is beautifully written. I'm sure many will "borrow" your words for debates with theists.

    Raised as a Catholic, evolution was accepted, taught in the schools of my Catholic dominant community, and I never thought of Genesis as fact. It read like a story and I figured that it was. Your correct, evolution flies in the face of Christianity. Traditional Christianity should collapse if these views are properly considered, but they are not. They are either condemned or ignored like the elephant in the living room.

    Some liberal or more new agey beliefs consider evolution as fact because it falls in alignment with the concept of expanding our Consciousness. To them we are not born of original sin, but evolved - of our own "volition." The quote you identified “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells in me.” (Romans 7:19-20) is reframed into a label "ego" to explain this contradiction. Essentially we have separated ourselves from God and have forgotten who we are. The ego is the human aspect of us while our Higher Consciousness if our connection to God which propels us onward to evolve and do good. You may be asking when and how did this separation occur? Why "in the Garden" ---a metaphysical, metaphorical one of course! It is interesting that a belief system that has adapted over the past couple of hundred of years, possibly in response to discoveries and science of the day, still holds to pieces/parts of the Bible which as you, Mike has so eloquently written, challenges the belief system. Without having some sort of "leaving the garden" story, much of this New Thought belief is also on unsteady ground, but I'm sure there is another explanation that has been thought up.

    Edit: Oh wait, there is one...We are living in the matrix believing this Christian story. We never left the garden.

    Mon, 07 May 2012 11:42:07 UTC | #940283

    papa lazaru's Avatar Comment 27 by papa lazaru

    they know that humanity will inevitably leave religion behind.

    Well there you go. And the battle starts with education. Hence all that creationist nonsense, and their obsession with early indoctrination. Mystical stories peddled as absolute truths, These have no place in a modern society. They take root in ignorance, and what better place than a child's mind. A child knows nothing, but wants to know everything.

    Mon, 07 May 2012 12:04:11 UTC | #940285

    strangebrew's Avatar Comment 28 by strangebrew

    Respect!...You have mine!

    Mon, 07 May 2012 12:41:02 UTC | #940289

    jbkaffe's Avatar Comment 29 by jbkaffe

    If creationism is supposed to be true, I'm guessing the "virgin" Mary was psychotic and hence a pathological liar.

    Mon, 07 May 2012 12:47:34 UTC | #940290

    quarecuss's Avatar Comment 30 by quarecuss

    Ministers bravely coming out as non-believers and writing with such clarity about it like this, play a large part in real education. Mike, you seem, looking back, almost shocked that evolution was never mentioned in your seminary, exactly as I was shocked when I looked back and saw that evolution was not once mentioned in my 3 years of teacher training in an Irish Catholic post-secondary institution in the 1960s.

    Mon, 07 May 2012 12:53:09 UTC | #940292