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Blank slates, babies and beyond: of evolution and epistemology (part I of VIII)

14 Mar

I just listened to a fabulous interview that Albert Mohler did with Steven Pinker, one of the foremost evolutionary thinkers of the day.  Pinker is the author of The Blank Slate, wherein he challenges the idea that when a child is born, they are a “blank slate”, or  “tabula rasa“.  He asserts, correctly, I think, that individuals are not born without “mental content” – their knowledge comes from places other than experience and perception

(WARNING: if you are looking for a strong connection with infants in this series, this might be about it….)

I highly recommend listening to this weekly program Mohler does.  I wish there was someone in the LC-MS who would do something comparable – not even Issues compares with this really.  We really should be paying attention to the intellectual cutting edge, both pastors and laypersons.

So Pinker got me thinking about the issue of evolution again.  One of these days, I really hope to catch up on all the latest and greatest evolutionist and creationist literature (right! – and all the other stuff I want to read).  In the meantime though, I recently assembled my thoughts on the issue for a *theology* class (as some students asked me about this) and now I’m going to do a series of 8 posts on the issue (although my views here are by no means set in absolute concrete – I especially desire conversation with parties who are highly informed and up-to-date on this issue).  I wish I had both more time to read about science – and practice it, really (to the extent that a layperson with a biology and chemistry degree can do that), but again, life only allows us to do so much.

I hope it is helpful to someone out there, even if it kind of strays from this blog’s regular fare.

Here is the first installment:

In short, there are many believing Christians (and theists of all stripes for that matter) who are practicing scientists.  Some think God created the world through evolution (they are the “theistic evolutionists”), some think God did not create by evolution but that the world and universe are old, and some think that the universe is relatively young and recent (they speak of things being created with an appearance of age, and how the world looks old and tired because of the fall) – obviously, these folks are concerned to go with what seems to be the most natural reading of the text.  In the current context, all 3 positions tend to be marginalized in academia (although some, like Francis Collins for instance, can attain great positions of influence), although the last position would be the most marginalized by far.

For my own part, I am willing to concede that evolution is in many respects a successful scientific explanation (see parts 2 and 3 later on), in that, it is a “productive framework for lots of biological research”.  I think it has been useful and produced practical results, driving *some* scientific discoveries (not as many as people claim though).  I think, that as a scientific explanation it, as its proponents say, has not only explanatory, but even some predictive power.  There is evidence for it that, on the face of it, can be quite compelling.

That said, some key points to get you thinking more deeply:

1) This does not mean I think that evolution is true (or that there is not evidence against it).  I think it tends to be useful kind of like the way modern crime fighting techniques – using computers – are useful (I emphasize “kind of like” – we are not talking about repeatable demonstrations here).  In last weekend’s Star Tribune (our local paper) it spoke about how law enforcement was finding it useful to use computers to keep track of the patterns of where criminals had been active, and this could help people predict where they would strike next.  Or, alternatively, think about the success rate of weathermen (and women).  Do models like these make accurate predictions every time?  No, but that doesn’t mean that they are not useful, or important – they are.   Now, regarding evolution, since it does seem to have explanatory power and can make useful predictions, does this mean it might approximate what is true about reality, or be a “pretty accurate” explanation of what is true about life, i.e., getting the big picture mostly right?  It could – but I don’t think this is the case.  I think, if anything, it is what we would call a “useful fiction”.

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Posted by on March 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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