In my last blog I bemoaned the pressure being put on American education by the Creationist movement. As I was writing that, I was having a debate in another forum on the validity of evolution. The debate led, naturally enough, to the biggest question of them all: “so where does everything come from then?” It’s the question that best delineates the difference between science and religion, so I’m reproducing the debate here without names or pack drill, simply because it illustrates the divide so neatly.
It began over a comment made by Carl Sagan in which he said that the very fact that we could breed dogs showed an evolutionary mechanism in action. This provoked one particular question that I felt I could answer:
Q: Sagan uses the variety of dogs through artificial selection as an example for the process of natural selection? Yet someone had to decide which traits to re-enforce in order to get the desired skill set, shape, etcetera in the pooch. So how do you extrapolate a decision maker to no decision maker?
A: The driver in that instance would be the choice of the breeder, hence “artificial selection”. In other instances the driver may be changing ecological conditions, hence “natural selection”. The point Sagan was making so eloquently was that we see the mechanism exposed, a mechanism that Creationists seek to refute. In natural selection there is no requirement for a decision maker.
Q: But even under natural selection there is a decision made. You’re saying there is no need for a driver, but there must be one, why does “nature” continue to attempt to evolve new species, new variants. It seems the process of selection itself is a driver of sorts in its seemingly endless attempts at variation. One has to ask why does this continue to occur?
A: Why ascribe a decision to natural selection? Does an apple choose to fall from a tree? When it does, does it opt to fall downwards? These are not decisions, they are outcomes of physical laws in operation.
Q: And where did the laws come from?
A: That is a very good question to which, as yet, science only has some theories which remain to be tested. That’s what science does: it seeks to explain the facts through testing. That there is/was a Creator is a possible answer, but it poses the immediate question “where did the Creator come from?” Is there an infinitely regressing set of Creators? Seems unlikely, but it is possible. Science is trying to find out. Religion tells us it already knows. I prefer science’s stance on the matter. I draw the line when someone tries to convince me over something for which the evidence amounts to “well it’s what I believe”.
I love your answers, Captain. I really couldn’t have said better myself. When I have a free couple of years I plan to develop my “Bear Theory of Everything” which will attempt to explain what it means to be human, and why we’ve evolved the way we have. I have the core ideas, which even explain consciousness, but I need to bolster the arguments before release on an unsuspecting public.
I look forward to that! I see consciousness as an emergent quality of complexity. There’s a book called “The Mind’s I” which has collected together some interesting perspectives on the subject.