An Interview with Confessing Scientists

Hi. Ive recently started to accept atheism as i left Islam, but im very intrigued with the small community of Christian evolutionists, especially Dr. Swamidass.
So let me ask some questions so i can get the general scope of your beliefs:
-Is evolution as presented in text books, a accurate description of your beliefs?
-How does your beliefs differ and compare to atheist or agnostic interpretations of evolution (I.E. Abiogenesis is unknown and unproven, or the statments of classical atheists like Aron Ra)
-What evidence do you commonly present as evidence of evolution?
-How do you interpret common decent?
-What comments do you think are the best way to describe the earths age?
-How does cosmological evolution fit in your beliefs and is it an attainable advantage to debate it against YEC creationism?
-What is the most convincing argument for and against Creationistism(Either Yec, Oec or TE)
-Is natural selection evidence for evolution even if its accepted by other creationists not proof of evolution?
-Why is YEC creationism so attractive to people in our day and age? Why do you think theistic evolutionists isnt more prominent?
-Which is stronger, A titanium horned unicorn, or a elastic/plastic like gorilla?
:smiley:

Edit: Grammatical errors

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Welcome @Wenlok. It is a pleasure to meet you. You have some great questions. The most important one, of course, is…

Considering :unicorn: Vs. :gorilla::

As a scientist, I’d request that you produce them, and we test them to find out. My hypothesis is that it depends how we define “stronger,” which is a far more nuanced term than one might expect. By some definitions, the unicorn will win, by others the gorilla will.

Not a Theistic Evolutionist

Next, I want to emphasize that I am not a theistic evolutionist. I am a Christian that affirms evolutionary science, which is a mouthful. So you can just call me a confessing scientist if you like. As I’ve explained before:

I still affirm evolutionary science, but I no longer am a theistic evolutionist . Since I first became public in my work, I have never been intent on evangelizing evolution. For this reason, I am not well defined as an “ evolutionist .” My worldview does not rest on evolution; it rests on Jesus, the one who rose from the dead. I am not well defined as a “ theist ” either, because I see great evil in this world justified by generic (and specific) theism; and I follow Jesus, who is much greater than theism.
http://peacefulscience.org/confessing-scientist/

I Respect Your Path

You write:

In addition to me, take a moment to talk to @sygarte too. He was a scientist with this happened to him:

Any how, the step you are taking to move away from a man-made faith is risky, brave and honorable. I wrote recently to a high schooler:

I do not know where your journey will lead you, but I have great respect for those that leave the religion of their parents. It is a difficult thing to do, and in some parts of the world comes with severe consequences.

With those key preliminaries stated, I’ll try and hit some (or all?) of your questions in the next post.

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Depends on the quality of the textbook. I affirm evolutionary science as it is understood by scientists in the field, and is being published on all the time. Many textbooks are very out of date, and leave out the mathematical theory of evolution: The Neutral Theory of Evolution. This is very unfortunate, because the mathematical theory made sense of it for me, but I only first heard of it in college, far to late.

That being said, I am going to largely agree with most textbooks as a partial account of the story. Largely correct, but part of the story.

In science, there should really be no difference. Any disagreements we have will come down to subtle differences in our read of the literature. Though I am probably more attuned to avoid overstating the findings of science, and I am happy to acknowledge when we do not know yet. That is what good scientists do any ways, so it is not something specific to my faith.

Outside of science, however, as a whole person making sense of the world, there may be big differences. I do not think anything science tells us is the whole story. For example, nothing in evolution tells us that murder is wrong, or that injustice is real, or that racism is evil. Yet these things are so central to the fundamental question: what does mean to be human? Science might tell us part of the story, but is obviously not the whole story.

You can read that here: Common Descent: Humans and Chimps / Mice and Rats and…

Common descent is the most stable definition of “evolution.” Outside science, i understand it as the process by which God created everything, including us.

About 4.5 billion years olds, just as it appears to be and modern science claims.

Cosmic evolution is the process by which God created the universe, including light and matter, stars, galaxies and planets. I do not think it helps to start with this with YECs. Though the evidence is strong, like most things in science, it is not rhetorically strong. Other things are at play.

I’ve seen no good scientific argument against the belief that God created everything. Science is silent on God. Anyone who says different does not know what science is, or is not being honest with you.

The best arguments against God? I suppose things like suffering in the world, the fantastical absurdity we find in scientific YEC sometimes, and brokenness of the world. That being said, I encountered Jesus, and he makes sense of these things. He is the reason I believe God exists, and that a Good God created the world. Jesus, it seems to me, makes sense of it all to me.

It is weak evidence, and certainly not sufficient. If you look at my links on evidence for evolution, you will see that natural selection does not even come up. There is much much stronger evidence.

Complex question. There is a general distrust of authority, including science. That is all true, but I know well trained scientists that are YECs too. How do we explain that? Well, first off, I think they are wrong in their interpretation of Scripture and of science. However, I can give an account of why they take such a surprising path. In the best examples, I think they encountered Jesus, and they know He is real. That reordered everything, and they came to trust in Him and believed obedience meant YEC for them. I write about Kurt Wise here, and hope it helps make sense of them:

The evidence for evolution has been equivocal till recently. Until maybe the last 20 years, there were no public scientists that affirmed evolution who were also orthodox Christians. People like me did not exist in public until very recently. Give it a decade or two, and there be many more like myself. There already is Francis Collins (read his book: https://www.amazon.com/Language-God-Scientist-Presents-Evidence/dp/1416542744), and @sygarte, @cwhenderson, @AndyWalsh, and others. Confessing scientists are rising.

Hope that answers your questions @Wenlok. Thanks for joining us, and I hope you stick around. More questions welcome too.

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Also, if you want to know what that cryptic section means, you can find evidence for the Resurrection here: Peace Be With You, and my personal story here http://peacefulscience.org/swamidass-confident-fatih.pdf. Peace.

Finally, this is my attempt to explain how I know God is good, even though there is suffering the world:

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Thank you for the well thought out reply. I appreciate you taking the time at answering my questions, and i do wish to continue asking a few more questions in response.

What do you think common decent is? I ask this because i read your work on our relation to Adam or AAdam, and i guess im a little confused on your actual beliefs and how it relates to the Mitochondrial Eve, which to my understanding is not the biblical Eve.

Do you think the Big Bang is a rational explanation for the expansion of matter? Also, do you think any theory on the origin of matter is plausible and could have been the mechanism God used to introduce matter in a seemingly natural manner?

That brings me to my next question, is it rational to conclude any of the fallowing and why?:

  • That religion and science are compatible
  • That religion motivates science
  • That religion created science

As for Jesus, ive only been an atheist for 12 months, or more accurately agnostic atheist, but im skeptical of the resurrection as its commonly described, mostly because to me id expect many first and second century non christain accounts of this siting or his many miracles. Dont get me wrong, im not a mythist, I believe Jesus existed as historically documented.

I would like to reiterate my deep respect for your work and i am thankful in you taking the time to respond to my questions.

Cheers:)

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Thank you for the kind engagement and the questions. I gave you a lot. How about I give you a couple days to process all that before going further? You ask about the Resurrection. Look at the links I’ve already given you, and the links therein. Sit on it for a bit. We can pick up the conversation again when you have had a chance to process. I’ll look forward to it:

This is the most important part of puzzle if you want to understand me. It turns out there were many first century accounts of him. It will make more sense when you look at the links. Jesus, at least for me, ends up being the cornerstone.

Until we pick this up again, which will be soon I hope, Peace.

Thank you for the complement.

As for the resurrection, ive read your citations(And the works of Josephus, Tactius, William lane craig, Quadratus, Polycarp, etc) but its still leaves a lot of uncertainty and unanswered questions(especially in the case of Josephus), but i digress as this isn’t something I currently am not eager to debate on, and will definitely continue to research more and more as i graduate highschool.

Anywho, im wondering if you are open to discuss more of your beliefs on evolution and theology on a live platform, if the opportunity ever arises. I believe this will bring attention to accredited “confessing scientists” who believe in evolution. I think thats the main reason YEC is progressing and getting more fallowers even when its theories are just getting to plain bizarre.

Cheers:)

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@Wenlok, I did not realize you were a high school student. You come off much more mature. All the more pleased to meet you.

I am open to that. If you ever have an idea, let me know. Peace.

:relaxed: I had a premature encounter with critical thinking when i was 13, been on a bullet train of accelerated research ever since.

Alright, ill try to find a platform and see what we can work out.

Cheers:)

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Welcome, @Wenlok! Allow me to echo Dr. Swamidass’ appreciation for your questions, your willingness to share your journey, and your desire to understand other perspectives better.

I wasn’t sure if you were looking for a range of answers to your questions from multiple community members, so I won’t dive in just yet with answers to all of them. However, since my niche in this community (or perhaps I’m just a spandrel?) seems to include a heavy dose of whimsical speculation, perhaps you will permit me some musing on one of your questions while you process Dr. Swamidass’ more substantive answers (many of which are similar to my own).

1 horsepower is the power to lift 550 pounds one foot in one second. Given their anatomical and taxonomic similarity, we’ll assume that 1 unicorn power is roughly equivalent to 1 horsepower. (Although we should note that James Watt was using heavy draught horses, while unicorns typically resemble lighter horses. Are there draught unicorns?) We may also need to take into account the fact that the unicorn has to devote some strength to carrying around a titanium horn, which is roughly 1.5x denser than a bone or tooth horn (what is the composition of a standard unicorn horn?).

Silverback gorillas can lift 1800-2000 pounds. If they can do so to a height of 1 foot in 1 second, that’s roughly 3-4 horsepower. However, that’s a normal gorilla. Muscle is already fairly elastic, so an elastic gorilla may not be all that dissimilar to a standard gorilla. A plastic gorilla seems like another proposition altogether. Most plastic gorillas I’ve seen were unarticulated children’s toys, incapable of lifting much of anything.

In a more combative test of strength, I’m concerned about the unicorn’s skull and its ability to support the use of a titanium horn as a melee weapon. Is the skull also titanium? The entire skeleton of the unicorn? If so, we may need to reevaluate the strength of the unicorn which clearly must be adapted to moving a denser overall skeleton.

Also, how does the unicorn produce a titanium horn? The metabolism of eukaryotic cells is not that flexible; secreting titanium deposits would be quite the evolutionary feat for a large, multicellular animal. A more plausible scenario is that the unicorn has a symbiotic relationship with a microbe that has evolved a metabolism that can deal with titanium; there is already a precedent for bacteria that can process and deposit gold, for example. In that case, we may be dealing with a rather distinctive microbiome. And so the unicorn may not need to bludgeon the gorilla with its horn, but simple scratch it enough to break the skin and cause an infection for which the gorilla has no natural immunity.

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Sure, go right on ahead! It would be pretty selfish of me to only ask for one man opinion, even though a mans opinion is often shaped by those around him.

I just probably wont respond to all of them.

Now getting to the really important stuff, lets assume the Unicorn is a pilot clone for the federal government created by using unicorn DNA found in embers. As such, they were able to manipulate many aspects of its genetics, such at its build, strength, durability etc. These all have very similar characteristics to a normal unicornas depicted in modern culture, except it has a titanium horn which is supported by an equally strong skull and spine, which can support it even while charging. The gorilla is basically mr.fantastic, but…like…a gorilla.

:hugs::yum::stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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A couple of things to unpack here. First, does belief adequately reflect how we (or I) interaction with scientific models and inferences? I accept or perhaps even affirm that evolutionary biology represents our best (but still incomplete) explanation for observable biological diversity. That includes common descent of all living things, humans included, from a population of bacteria. Are those beliefs or something else?

Second, there is the expectation that textbooks are the definitive accounting of the body of knowledge in a given field or discipline. As @swamidass pointed out, in reality textbooks lag behind primary literature. It might be helpful to think of textbooks as fossils. Ideas emerging from active scientists and laboratories take time to harden or crystallize sufficiently to appear in textbooks. So textbooks represent a snapshot of local understanding at a specific point in the past.

I acknowledge that no complete account of abiogenesis currently exists, and that even if we had a thorough description of how to get from chemistry to biology, there might not be enough data to prove that is what actually happened historically. At the same time, I recognize that there has been a lot of fruitful research in these areas lately, so I see no reason to conclude abiogenesis is impossible in principle. Further, my theological expectation is that God’s mechanisms of creation are in principle knowable.

However, when I think of interpretations of evolution, I don’t immediately go to abiogenesis. Instead, I think of assertions about the fundamental meaninglessness of life, or the wastefulness or intrinsic selfishness of life & evolution. Those are areas where I might differ from an atheist or agnostic. I don’t think life is meaningless just because evolutionary biology doesn’t provide a complete meaning—although I think evolutionary biology does paint a picture of fruitfulness that tells us something about purpose or meaning. I don’t think evolution is wasteful simply because not all species persist indefinitely; a thing or a person can have purpose and value and dignity without lasting forever. I don’t think humans are just hairless chimps simply because we share ancestors; the real biological differences between us are significant and meaningful.

I think about evolution this way. We observe children are not identical to parents, so phenotype change is possible. We observe that some phenotype changes are inherited via genotype changes. What are the limits of these changes?

We observe a universal genetic code across all organisms. That suggests at a very abstract level that a wide range of changes are possible. Comparative genomics provides a catalog of actual changes that would be necessary to go from one genome to another. We then observe biological mechanisms capable of generating all of those different changes.

So now we have genomes of a wide range of organisms, from bacteria to humans, that can theoretically be transformed one to another via a series of changes that are biologically possible. But all of those changes don’t happen all at once; would the necessary intermediate organisms actually be viable? That’s where the fossil record comes in. For a variety of phenotypes, we see a range of intermediates, suggesting those steps actually could produce viable organisms.

That’s all very generic. Once that broad framework is in place, one can get into the specifics of particular genome comparisons, fossil sequences, and quantitative predictions of timing and divergence.

All living organisms and all known organisms represented by fossils ultimately share a lineage from a population of primeval bacteria. Or to put it another way, every living organism is a cousin of some distance from every other living organism, including me and the Actinobacteria colonizing my skin.

This is an intriguing question. It is easy to say the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. But how to describe that in a meaningful way is trickier. There’s a meme making the rounds on social media at the moment about this problem of wrapping your mind around the scale of billions. It points out that 1 million seconds is 11 days, while 1 billion seconds is 31.5 years. Maybe there’s something there to help. The lifespan of the Earth is to your lifespan (~100 years) as 1.5 years is to 1 second.

Just as I think evolutionary biology is our best description of how God created biological diversity, Big Bang cosmology is our best description of how God created atomic and astronomical diversity.

I’m not much for debates or advantages therein. Big Bang cosmology and the evidence for it is not news to anyone involved in such conversations, and there are standard responses to all of it from within a young earth framework.

Personally, I think creationism of any form is compelling because Jesus attests to God’s role in creating the world. And I think Jesus’ testimony on such matters is reliable because he was God’s incarnation as flesh, demonstrated most compellingly in his resurrection.

Natural selection is a necessary component of complete explanation of extant biological diversity and adaptation to ecological niches. However, it is not a sufficient one. It contributes to the plausibility of common descent, but does not directly speak to it. Consequently, it can be part of multiple distinct frameworks for understanding the origin of species, including those where natural selection is confined within taxonomic boundaries.

A theology constructed to account for a young earth, where suffering, predation and death are all consequences of human sin, is a solved problem. It has stabilized over many generations. It has well-established answers to many questions. It can be taken off the shelf and used as-is. That has real value which cannot be discounted.

A theology which accounts for an old earth and a shared ancestry of all living things can build on older traditions, but only became a necessity relatively recently. It, or rather an ensemble of such theologies, is a work in progress. No consensus has emerged to a number of questions which are important to people. Individuals may have to do their own work to arrive at answers, or live with the tension of unresolved questions. Some may see that as a feature, but many see it as a bug.

Given this description, perhaps we are more in the narrative realm of science fiction rather than the empirical realm of science. In that case, we can apply a different set of rules. Among them is the ‘rule of cool’—any plot development deemed sufficiently cool will be acceptable regardless of plausibility. This is a subjective assessment. My sense is that unicorns are currently having a moment, while gorillas sometimes receive our projected fears about our own capacity for violence and savagery. So I think the current zeitgeist gives the unicorn added power, as a unicorn victory would be more palatable.

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I guess i should ask the most important question of all…do you believe in irreducible complexity as commonly presented by YEC/OEC outlets? Why or why not?

I’ve written about this extensively. There are several versions of the argument. The best defined version (the first version) has been definitively falsified. The revised versions are not easy to test, are best described as hypotheses that have not been validated. Which Irreducible Complexity Argument?

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@Wenlok, you might also appreciate this thread:

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