Monday, February 18, 2008

Truth Fish Eats Darwin Fish. Huh?

You’re familiar with the expression “You learn something new everyday.” Well, I don’t know about that, but I suppose one could learn something new everyday, or nearly everyday if one was sufficiently attentive. Yesterday I learned something new. It’s something everyone else apparently already knew. Not me. I am a ridiculously slow learner.

You know the Ichthus, the ancient symbol of the Christian faith that is a simple line drawing of a fish and that scores of very rude and bad drivers affix to their bumpers? Well, I always thought the Ichthus with legs and the word “Darwin” emblazoned inside it was a statement by those Christians who accept both the Christian faith and evolutionary creation. Since I have been such a person for quite a long time I just assumed that there were lots of us and some of us—those into bumper stickers—decided we’d announce it to the world just to let the world know that the two—Christian faith and evolutionary creation—are not at odds. I was wrong, of course. Apparently, as everyone but me knew, the Ichthus with legs and “Darwin” emblazoned inside it is supposed to signal the ridiculously false view that the Christian faith (a supposedly ridiculously silly and dangerously false view of the world) has been replaced by atheistic naturalism (a supremely enlightened and wonderfully liberating) view of the world.

That’s pathetic, really. It is surpassed in its pathetic-ness only by the “Truth” fish (which I just became acquainted with yesterday) swallowing whole the “Darwin” fish (whose true meaning I just became acquainted with yesterday, too). The messages of both of these pathetic bumper stickers make the same mistake. (I know, I know—they’re BUMPER STICKERS for cyrin’ out loud. Don't take them so seriously. Right. But did you watch any of the coverage of the Republican Party National Convention during the last election? There are lots of bumper sticker-loving, bumper sticker-believing, bumper sticker personality types making really important decisions about our future and the future of our planet. It’s scary!) Anyway, as I was saying, the messages of both these pathetic bumper stickers make the same mistake. They falsely imply that Christian theism and evolutionary creation are alternative and mutually exclusive explanations of the natural world. They’re not. And it doesn’t take a genius to see this.

In my kick off blog (when was that? Oh, yeah, just yesterday) I pointed out even if very briefly how we came to be. We develop from a small, hollow sphere through a natural process of cell-division and growth. Things begin with a single celled zygote and through a series of cleavages and divisions we get what biologists refer to as a morula, then a blastocyst, then there’s the development of body form, and eventually a fetus. Then, after more development, we get you! Now who made you? Well, God, of course. But my description of your biological origins didn’t mention God. Yet I bet not a single one (of the two or three of you) who read that description said to yourself, "Oh, did he just say I wasn't made by God?" Of course not. That's because the natural facts and biological processes causally responsible for your coming to be do not in any way exclude God from being the author of your being. They're perfectly compatible.

Alright. ‘nuff said. I had to get that off my chest. My colleague Steve Matheson is a biologist. He’s a much quicker learner than me, too. And he’s got an amazing blog that deals with all these sort of issues. Every Christian whose undies get in a bunch when they read or hear about the facts of common descent and evolutionary creation should read his blog. Every dim-witted naturalistic atheist should read his blog, too. Both might then stop saying the same sorts of silly things. You can visit Steve’s blog here:

Peace, Love and Good Sense to All,

[NB: The comment above about the Republican National Convention refers to the infamous slogan "Flip-Flop" raucously chanted by throngs of flip-flop carrying conventioneers during one of the speeches I saw. It is not meant as an indictment of Republicans as such. No doubt bumper-sticker-deep thinking is an equal opportunity employer and scores of rabid Demoncrats are also in its employ.]


Jack said...

Here is the rub. The current model of evolution requires random mutation followed by natural selection. Both the terms random and natural imply no supernatural intervention, i.e. they take God out of the picture. I dont believe that of course, I am what one would call, for lack of a better term, a theistic evolutionist. This simiply means that I believe evolution happens just as the scientific model says that it did, but that somehow God is in control of this.

But this leads to the question of what does the word random actually mean, and where in a series of random events does God act?


Kevin Corcoran said...


What you say here:

"I am what one would call, for lack of a better term, a theistic evolutionist. This simiply means that I believe evolution happens just as the scientific model says that it did, but that somehow God is in control of this"

contradicts what you say here:

"...the current model of evolution requires random mutation followed by natural selection. Both the terms random and natural imply no supernatural intervention, i.e. they take God out of the picture."

I'm worried about the little word "imply" here. If "random" and "natual" really do imply no supernatural intervention, then you shouldn't believe the evolutionary story.

I've spoken w/my friend Steve about this and I think the thing to say is something similar to what some say about the problem of evil and suffering. Some say that just b/c we cannot see what justifying reason God might have for allowing some horrific chunk of evil does not imply that there is no justifying reason God has. It's a sort of noseeum move that gets one from noseeum to no God--i.e., b/c I can see no justifying reason God has there is no justifying reason God has and so no God.

Well, maybe "random" functions in these discussions in just the same way. Granted a sort of epistemological blindness on our part--i.e., for all we know or maybe even could have known we could never have predicted things would go (evolutionarily) the way they have gone--we say that evolution is "random". This just means we can't see God's hand directing, we can't detect a pattern. It doesn't follow from any of this that there is no pattern, no supernatural direction.

I'm inclined to think that most people who employ the term "random" mean to imply that for all we know there is no predicting. The move from that claim to "God is therefore taken out of the picture" is a very large and bold move indeed. And it's one we needn't make.

BTW: On this understanding of "random" the incarnation is sheer random beauty! Who would have, could have, predicted that God's rescue would come wrapped in fragile human skin. Love it!!


Jack said...

I am aware of the contradiction, that was the point of my post. There is a gap between what one as a theistic evolutionist would claim, and what a naturalist would claim. But, there is no possible scientific evidence that would bridge that gap. Science ends with the documentation of mutations, and there is no way to scientifically describe them as other than random. Your appeal to beauty, is akin to claiming that there is evidence for intelligent design in the universe. You can no more claim that these qualities prove the existence of an intelligent designer than an atheist can claim that the randomness of evolution proves that there isnt one.

But you brought up the other problem with evolution in a universe with an omnipotent creator. The vast majority of mutations are harmful. This brings up the issue that God's mechanim of creation, necessarily causes suffering, and death. And, I think the answer to this question is more complex than just claiming we dont understand God well enough.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Two short things. First, I do not align myself w/the intelligent design movement. One might use "beauty" to go ID, but I wouldn't. As for mutations, evolution, sufering and death, those are genuine and genuinely difficult issues. Somewhere down the road maybe I'll blog about it. But, nothing wrong w/saying "You know, I don't know" if someone asks "How do God and deadly mutations fit together?". I'll tell you right now, though, I don't know; I don't have it figured out.

Kevin Corcoran said...

A quick correction to something you said in your last comment, Jack. There should be no gap b/w what an evolutionary creation (EC) defender would say and what a naturalist would say, since a defender of EC is a naturalist! The conflict is b/w what an EC says and what an atheistic naturalist says. So there's a difference b/w a naturalist and an atheistic naturalist. (And who said analytic philosophers were useless?)

Jack said...

I was using the term naturalist in the sense of metaphysical naturalism, which is nearly the same thing as atheistic naturalism. To be precise, I suppose I should have specified that I was not referring to methodological naturalism, which of course is what science and the study of evolution is. The point of this distinction is the same of your blog, which is that one can be a methodological naturalist without being a metaphysical naturalist. Or, believing in God, and believing in science (including evolution), are not mutually exclusive.

Maria said...

I love your (rather optimistic) interpretation of the Christian Darwin fish! Makes me almost want to go get one (but then I'd be accountable for my rude driving).

One of my seminary profs had an interesting take on randomness and God's action. It was based on the fundamental uncertainty of everything at the quantum level, and her claim was that that uncertainty offered an opening for top-down (e.g., God's) causality in natural systems.

Stephen said...

A word about bumper stickers:

First, allow me to set up my story. It four years ago. I was driving along the road in my red 1988 (or was it 87?) Chevy Comaro. This thing was hardly road worthy at the time and likely had never been. The wheels were as bald as the day I was born, because I was an undergraduate was unable to cough up the 300 dollars it would cost to replace them. My final point to set up is that I was living in Sioux Falls, SD at the time and it was February (there was snow and ice all around). Ok, the story...

I was driving very slowly down a relatively busy road in Sioux Falls, because of the aforementioned snow and ice covering the trees, sidewalks,and the road, was making driving difficult. It turns out that I have a somewhat irrational and pathological fear of car accidents. I say pathological, because I take care to avoid them every time I get into a vehicle. I say irrational, because apparently I am the only one (I was on this day, anyway) who has this fear; everyone else was driving quite fast, and (shockingly) ending up on the roadside, wide-eyed, shell shocked, cold and carless, to be so brave... I was taking extra precaution, because of the red 16-year-old, practically tractionless hearse I was commanding.

As I was driving, two people in two separate cars, both immediately behind me, decided that my speed was not sufficient. They also decided that simply passing me was not sufficient, either. Upon passing me the driver of the first car, a mustard yellow oldsmobile station wagon with the faux wood trim running along the side(I am pretty sure of the make, because my family owned one when I was a child, though ours was brown)looked me straight in the face, hers being red as a beet, raised her hand, extended a finger, which has a very specific meaning, and yelled something, which by my estimation was 'First use' or 'Frank Juice' or some such nonsense (I've never been a good lip reader). As her car passed in front of mine what really caught my attention was a bumper sticker attached to the bumper (appropriately enough), which said 'Abortion stops a beating heart.' I am not sure why I noticed the bumper sticker at all (typically I ignore them) but I think my knuckle-white-kung-fu-grip on the steering wheel provided for me a state of hyper perception.

After having only a second to take in the moment (the woman's compassion for the unborn juxtaposed with her complete lack of compassion for me) the second car, a purple dodge minivan, began to pass and as sure as I am typing this to you, the driver (this time a male) was in the process of raising a hand, extending a finger and yelling something, which I can only imagine were concerns about my car. Was I ok? Why was I driving so cautiously? As he came in front of me, I noticed a bumper sticker pasted on the back window of his minivan, which read 'If you can't trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?'

Upon reading the second bumper sticker, I experienced a moment of Nirvana, ecstasy, a beatific vision of sorts. It was surreal. Here in front of me were two people who likely would not agree with much in this life reaching an accord, if only for a moment, in regards to how they ought to handle my driving. I was struck with the beauty of the moment. Nothing else mattered. As they drove away into the distance, I hoped that the one had the chance to pass the other so they both knew where the other stood on the issue of abortion,a n important enough issue to both that they felt the world needed to hear their views in bumper sticker form. I'd like to think that they became comrades at arms as they got to know each other in the ditch in which they both landed just a few miles up the road. I passed them only 10 minutes later. I don't think they noticed; they were probably trying to stay warm. Slow and steady wins the race.

My story does have a moral. How could it not? I cannot imagine that such a perfect scenario would unfold before me without the hand of the almighty Himself at work behind it. I'm not sure what it is, yet, but I've had 4 years to think it over and so I am getting close. Your story reminded me of it, and I don't think I've actually told it to many people. It is late and I am beginning to ramble so I'll leave with you the hope that some day the Jesus fish people and the Darwin fish people can come together in a snowy ditch and huddle towards each other for warmth. I'll happily take the finger pointing and slander to act as the catalyst, or maybe God has that in mind for you?

Dan Brennan said...


I could do Darwin fish bumper sticker. I haven't the slightest clue how to integrate a supernatural God who intervenes in time and space and mutations from an evolutionary schema (oops schema probably shows my psychological language!). Loved your post and thoughts.

Kevin Corcoran said...


That is one HILARIOUS story. Thanks for sharing it!!!

Kevin Corcoran said...


Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which, if I'm remembering this right, has it that at the level of quanta a particle has neither a definite position nor a definite momentum, has been used (and misused) to make all sorts of claims in the philosophy of mind. And it is in the philosophy of mind that "top down causation" gets a lot of use. The idea being that mental events (my willing to raise my right arm, say) can have causal effects in the physical realm (my muscles being moved, contracted, etc. and my arm rising). Anyway, I'd never heard of top-down causation used in connection with creation, but I kinda like it. It clearly is playing on the same idea, namely, that there is no so-called "causal closure" of the physical domain.
Thanks for sharing!

Maria said...

Yes, I think the context was philosophy of mind rather than biological evolution... my mind makes all sorts of uncalled for leaps like that, and it's been a good decade since I heard that lecture.

Cindy said...

well apparently i also misunderstood the darwin fish. maybe there should be an explanatory bumper sticker to display beneath it!

Jack said...

Kevin, the uncertainty principle is not about whether a particle has certain properties of position or momentum, (or spin, or charge etc.) The uncertainty principle is about limitations on what we can know. If we know one property we cant know the other. In fact if we know nothing about one property, then we can know everything about the other, or if we can know the location of a particle within a certain range, then we can know its momentum within a certain range also, but the precision of each is inversely proportional to the other. This is actually more profound than a "fuzzy" particle, because it is the act of observation that causes the particle to flip into one state or the other. The spooky action at a distance that Einstein spoke about, and illustrated famously by Schrodingers cat.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Hey Jack,

Historically, I don't think the principle was introduced as a piece of epistemology (although its name would suggest as much). I thought it was introduced actually as a bit of physics (or even metaphysics). The idea being that out there in the world (not in our heads) there is "uncertainty", that it is physically impossible to measure both the properties of position and momentum of a particle any more precisely than quantum mechanics allow.

It seems to me that the principle is not about limitations on knowledge, therefore. Rather, it's about how the world putatively is and that has epistemological consequences, one might say.

(I know the principle is sometimes explained in term of something called "The Observer Effect", but I still thought it was about the world out there.)

But, I'm a lowly philosopher who is happy to defer to the scientists on this matter.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Jack, et. al,

I called in the special artillery
to adjudicate the Heisenberg Principle disagreement b/w Jack and myself. The father of one of the students in my metaphysics seminar this semester is a physicist at Stanford. This is what he had to say, after reading our exchange:

"Quantum mechanics pretty quickly blurs the lines between physics and
metaphysics. If I properly understand the issue you and Jack are
discussing, I think you both actually have it correct. Insofar as physics describes the actual world, the uncertainty is intrinsic to the physical system and the ambiguity is only resolved when there is some
kind of 'observation.' As Jack says, this is a profound thing.

You are correct that it is an inherent limitation in the world, not in our heads. Heisenberg et al. derived the principle to quantitatively define
the limits of what is fundamentally knowable, so in that sense I suppose it is epistemological, but the motivation was at least initially driven
by empirical limitations.

For example, a particle has a location and momentum that is described in quantum mechanical terms as a probability density function. There are
experiments that show conclusively that it is NOT that a single particle'really' has a unique location and momentum, but that a physicist can, because of limited knowledge, only assign a probability reflecting where
it is likely to be. Rather, the individual particle truly is diffuse and really exists with all of the allowed locations and momenta according to
the probability density. It's only when the particle interacts, i.e. is observed, that location and momentum are resolved. Very strange."

There you have it, sports fans. Is it great to be part of an academic community or what?

Don said...

From Kevin's original post:
“…do not in any way exclude God.”
OK, but that does not provide a reason to include God with just a wave of your hand. In your example of fetal development, you can introduce God, but it strikes me as a non sequitur. Why are you introducing it? Does it advance the understanding of this particular subject? Nope. This is why there’s a negative correlation between scientific training and religious belief. Science will make you at least indifferent to religion because it’s such a useless concept in understanding our world.

Later on in a comment from Kevin:
“Some say that just b/c we cannot see what justifying reason God might have for allowing some horrific chunk of evil does not imply that there is no justifying reason God has.”
But it surely makes sense if I can’t think of a reason that would justify some particularly nasty piece of evil and no one else can, then the reasonable working assumption would be that there is no reason. This is not an argument from personal incredulity. This is being practical. Anything else is simply self-delusion.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Well, Don, methinks from the feel of your comment that you're not much interested in a dialogue. So, I'll be brief. Re: the first part of your response, in the account of fetal development I don't introduce God anywhere in the story or explanation. Read it again and agree w/me. So, when you say that my introduction of God is a non-sequitor you're mistaken, given the fact that God isn't introduced at any point in the explanation by me. That was, in fact, my point. The biological explanation is a natural explanation. And, again, it's perfectly compatible with the claim that God made us. Who made us? God. How? Well, I say, read the little story I told about our biological development. That's how.

Now as to the uselessness of the concept of religion for understanding the world, well, that's just bald assertion, said w/a hint of religious zeal. I will say that religion doesn't seem to me methodologically very useful in the biology lab, for example. So if that's your point, we agree. But, it's a pretty big world and religion helps me understand parts and facets of it. Science helps me understand parts and facets too. Religion doesn't help me understand how proteins are made. Granted.

Anyway, as to the second part of your comment re: the noseeum line w/respect to a justifying reason God might have for some nasty bit of evil, you claim that from the fact that you and every other human being fails to see a reason it's reasonable to conclude that there isn't a reason. Well, I suppose if you start from a position of naturalistic atheism, I would have to agree. But, some of us don't start there. We start from a position of theism. So, for us that's not a reasonable conclusion to draw at all.

But if I understand you correctly, what I have just said will be dismissed by you as "simply self-delusion" on my part. And that, my friend, is nothing more (again)than bald assertion, with a heaping teaspoon of ad hominem tossed in to sweeten the drink. Sounds, in fact, very much like Richard Dawkins. And I have little tolerance for fundamentalist atheists like Dawkins and his ilk. To my mind, they're just inside-out religious zealots. And just as dangerous too.

Don said...

Sorry for the tone. Didn't mean for the brevity to be interpreted as being strident or that the situation was binary...

What bugged me about the "fetal development to God" jump was that we were focused on the petri dish and suddenly this religious superstructure appeared overhead. You might not be introducing God as an explanation, but the connection is there. If this framework allows you to say that God made this fetus, it's reasonable for me to ask how. Were His hands in the goo? I don't think anyone will take this position today. Were there a few touch points? If so, where? We can play in safe and say some ineffable, mysterious something made us in some unknowable sense, but that concept doesn't have enough bite to be very interesting or useful.

I think the reasonable position for theist to take here is to raise above it. He or she has made the personal connection to God (and vice versa), end of story. I certainly agree the only god of interest is a personal god, the one who would know and care about me, as an individual person. The problem is that a personal god is rooted in the notion that we humans are special, in some cosmic sense. God made us as His special creation, gave us special abilities, filled us with a moral sense. This sense of being special has been around for thousands of years, but everything we've discovered in the last 400 years indicates this sense is not justified. The Earth is not the center of the universe. Our origins and makeup are as they are with all of life. If we're not special, then the notion of a special relationship with God or a special destiny seems implausible.

So I just take the facts as I understand them and draw the reasonable conclusion. If the facts leave me incomplete or unsatisfied, then that's my problem. Creating or pulling in some other superstructure to fill in the gaps is suspect to me because it can so easily be rooted in self-deception or group-think.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Don, Your question assumes that there’s some move FROM the biological details TO God. But, on my view, there is no such move. So when you ask HOW God made us I want to say “I’ve already told you—just read you biology text book; it tells you HOW God did it.” And if you say, “But…but where is the place where God reaches in, as it were?”, I want to say, you’ve misunderstood. It’s like the visitor to the U.S. who wants to be shown Yale University. His host takes him around New Haven, pointing out the Sterling Memorial Library, the various colleges, Connecticut Hall, etc. and at the end of the tour the visitor, very disappointed, says “But…but you’ve just shown me a bunch of buildings. I want to see the University.”

Now as to your second paragraph, here’s how I see it. Human beings are certainly DIFFERENT in extremely interesting ways from other things in the natural world. Special? Well, I dunno. Depends on what you mean by special. If one means by ‘special’ that God cares only for US and for our SOULS of all things God created, well…then…I say no. No, we’re not special. In fact, I completely agree with you, we are of a piece with the rest of the natural world. Hold on to your hat….I don’t even believe we have immaterial souls. But in virtue of certain, defining features of ours I do believe we have SPECIAL God given responsibilities. Like, for example, taking care of this earth and each other.

Might I encourage you to go to the “Heaven is Not UP” post and click on the first “here” in that post, between the first set of parentheses. That will link you to a popular article I published called “A New Way to be Human”. I think you will find the view I sketch there to be quite a bit different from other Christian views you’re probably more familiar with. And if you’re really interested in engaging with Christians who take science seriously, then visit my colleague and friend Steve Matheson’s blog regularly: Also, read my book (click the second “here” in Heaven is Not Up)--especially the section on various sorts of naturalisms: metaphysical, methodological and chastened-- and email me if you want to talk further.


SFMatheson said...


What I liked about the "fetal development to God" jump was that there wasn't one.

Plenty of Christians make that mistake. Kevin's not one of them.

I can't even figure out how you got there. I hope you'll feel welcome to frequent this blog, and mine, but please read what we actually write.

Don said...

"...please read what we actually write"

I'm trying. The position that you and Kevin take (being a theistic evolutionist) is so alien to my way of thinking that it's taking time.

Auzziegob said...

a bumper sticker of a fuckin fish can cause you to literally spit chips.
you poor cunt,get a new hobby,ya silly fuckwit!

UR_Mortal said...

Auzziegob your such a tough person.

Eli Johnsrud said...

Billions of years don't fit in with Biblical teaching. So if you believe the Bible is God's divine infallible word and yet twist your beliefs to fit a flawed human theory, you're absolutely insane. You can't believe bits and pieces of the Bible and interpret them how you wish. God speaks of blinded eyes and false prophets. What better way to be a false prophet then to prove "scientifically" that God didn't exist or didn't create the world as it is.

Anonymous said...

I think the "true meanings" of the two fish are a bit simpler:

Darwin fish: Fish evolved.

Truth eating Darwin fish: Darwin lied.

I think when you identify the Darwin fish as signalling 'pathetic' and 'ridiculously false view', you are pushing a strawman. At the minimum, the Darwin Fish signals a rejection of the idea that evolution did not happen.

At the minimum, the Truth-Eating-Darwin Fish signals a rejection of Darwin.

Anonymous said...

Some of the greatest truths are in and of themselves both quite simple and astoundingly complex. A bumper sticker is a means of expression, the message is what is important or not or somewhere in between and one thing to you and another to me. If we have ears let us hear or in the case of the stickers if we have eyes let us see. The messages are out there, if we are wise we will not so easily discount them, they do have something to tell us...are we listening?

Anonymous said...

You sir are an idiot