My Brethren without Christ, I have to let you know you're all a bunch of Darwinian primates. (Just hit the link below to get the joke.) I just got back from the September 28, 2010, Dinesh D'Souza/Michael Shermer debate at USF in Tampa. They took questions at the end of the session and I got a chance to ask the following question in front of around a thousand attendees.

The opening comments by Dinesh were very similar to the debate a couple of years ago. At first, I was going to ask him about the old Dostoyevsky conjecture he mentions in his opening remarks: there's no morality without God. To an atheist this conviction is an insult and I knew he probably answered it many times, so on the queue I thought of a better question. I knew he couldn't possibly answer without time-lines and equations and a blackboard to write on.

In his opening remarks, Dinesh stated that he “accepts” the theory of evolution as valid, and that there's no conflict with Biblical thought. So I switched my question to, ”Since you accept evolution, could you explain why it took over four billion years for intelligence to arrive on the planet?”

Actually, dinosaurs and early mammals evolved some intelligence in the Cretaceous Period, but I knew he would take a anthropocentric view—being a Christian. For a few seconds he seemed to take the question in stride, as Shermer sat complacently smiling like the Mona Lisa. Dinesh gave it some thought, then squirmed in his armchair and proceeded to get into a circumlocutory rant. I wish the response were recorded because Hamlet somehow got in there (no bull), and I think it all came down to the old catchall “God works in mysterious ways.”

This is a complex technical question. The most conspicuous answer, to me, is the eons it took to progress from prokaryotes (bacteria with the genetic material dispersed throughout the cell) 3.6 billion years ago, to early eukayotes, (bacteria and algae with a distinct nuclear membrane that houses and protects the genetic material) 2.5 billion years ago. That's over 1.1 billion years where our beautiful planet was the habitat for nothing more than germs. The protective nucleus was the springboard to the Cambrian Explosion around 540 million years go. That's another two billion years before complex microorganisms (plants and animals) came on the scene. This is why Carl Sagan in his Cosmos TV serious states that space probes like the Explorer were likely find life in the universe, but only at the microbial level.

I think this is an important question and would bet it shows up again in future debates. This consideration destroys Pope John Paul II's explanation in 1996 that “God infused a soul” as in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel rendition of God and Adam touching index fingers. If humans were the centerpiece of God's plan, why did heck did it take so long? It's pretty evident that evolution moves at it's own speed and the human genome is a digital book that wrote itself. With all the junk in there—around 30%—the human genome manifestly contradicts “intelligent design.”

As always I welcome any comments on this blog. The link is the debate with Shermer from two years ago. It's pretty much what I heard Tuesday night, so I guess these guys have been playing this road show for quite a while. It gives A/N members a chance to discuss and analyze what Christians are trying to put forth as reasons to believe. .

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Comment by Diana Agorio on October 2, 2010 at 1:39am
Read the post below. Glen has a beautiful way of cutting the crap.
Comment by Frankie Dapper on October 2, 2010 at 1:22am
In arguing with theists I think it is a mistake in playing the role of interpreter for God. "Why would God have done the following things? ... therefore God does not make sense." You simply encourage creativity in the theist or you hear the "mysterious ways" cop-out.
Fact is religious texts make statements about the natural world. Science contradicts those statements. Science trumps superstition every time. As for the unknowable posited by religion
burden of proof is on proponent. Extraordinary claims require evidence. All Theists can hang there hat on is faith. I define faith as a self-serving and irrational adherence to superstition that leaves the faithful incapable of critical thinking in this area of thought.
Comment by Brett W. Miller on October 1, 2010 at 8:32pm
"Why start ending slavery with Jesus? If God is all-knowing and perfect, then God must have known all along that slavery was wrong. Why not just nip it in the bud the first time one of Adam and Eve's great-grand kids tried to enslave their cousin?"

It does get very odd with Christians sometimes. I have been having some... discussions with a Christain over the issue of homosexuals, both the marriage issue and don't ask don't tell. He says he loves his gay friends, but homosexuality is wrong and he can't support them gaining marriage rights, or being allowed to openly serve in the military.

I asked him how he justifies watering down the biblical instruction to kill homosexuals, Lev. 20:13, into they just can't get married. He said he wasn't watering anything down, denied that it even said that in the book, or if it did it was merely the law of the land not a direct command from God.

I e-mailed him the passage where it clearly states "And the lord said to Moses, tell this to the Children of Israel." His message back admitted that he misspoke, but said the fact it specifically stated God himself decreed it didn't matter. (Funny it seemed to matter when he were vehemently denying it.) But it was okay because Jesus came to change all of that.

Leaving aside the Biblical case for that, which I find very shaky, if Jesus came to fix it, why exactly did God give them the wrong instruction in the first place? Was he drunk? Did he wake up in heaven with a hangover, look down and go "Oh crap... what the hell did I tell Moses this time?" *Picks up another beer* "I'll fix it later." He has made it very clear that he knows that this is true and he will never admit that any of it is wrong. The complete refusal to think astounds me.
Comment by Matt VDB on October 1, 2010 at 5:12pm
Richard wrote,

So I switched my question to, ”Since you accept evolution, could you explain why it took over four billion years for intelligence to arrive on the planet?”

That's a fantastic point which cannot be overstated. It's for this reason that I think the people who say that there is not a conflict between evolution and theism are deluding themselves. The idea that a God would have had to start and supervise a pseudo-random process which would by necessity involve waste, cruelty and inefficiency over an incredible amount of geological time, and would - even after all that - only produce imperfect results and creatures forever tainted by their lowly origins, is absolutely a point against any concept one might have of a loving God.

The creationists have a couple of things right when they are talking about evolution versus theism, and one of them is that it makes much more sense for a loving God to have created the world ex nihilo 6000 years ago, than to go through the slow process described above. At the very least a loving God would have spared the dinosaurs of all the pain of a meteorite impact and would have simply not gone through that whole evolutionairy tangent at all. Only a capricious, incompetent, malevolent being (or one which has some combination of the above) would do such a thing.

I also think this realisation touches on and is a very efficient counter to the fine-tuning argument, but that's a topic for another day.
Comment by Jo Jerome on October 1, 2010 at 4:01pm
It's all good Brett. I enjoyed your snarky rant.

And I hadn't heard that (painfully stupid) rationale before for why God didn't just end slavery. What a pussy cop-out. I'd ask, "Why start ending slavery with Jesus? If God is all-knowing and perfect, then God must have known all along that slavery was wrong. Why not just nip it in the bud the first time one of Adam and Eve's great-grand kids tried to enslave their cousin?"

Whenever I hear the excuse, "The church was misguided/misinterpreting God's word then. We know better now," I want to say, "So if the church was wrong before, what makes you think they can't be wrong today?"

Richard - Dinesh went to Dartmouth? Did he write a book or teach? Because that would make him a "scholar" by definitions put forth in other threads.
Comment by Brett W. Miller on October 1, 2010 at 12:10pm
Okay that wasn't really a question so much as a snarky rant, my apologies.
Comment by Brett W. Miller on October 1, 2010 at 12:04pm
True sir on the slavery lecture, (Well I haven't seen it but the thought process sounds about right). A Christain today would have no problem simply brushing that aside as "They were wrong" or "They misinterpreted Gods word", or the most bizzare "Biblical slavery was so very different from that kind of slavery."

I saw a debate between Dinesh and Dan Barker where D'souza claimed credit for Christianity for ending slavery, women's rights, and even the very existence of science. Barker, one of my favorite Bible thumping heathens, held up the book and asked D'souza to connect the dots. Where are any of these things in the Bible? No where does it treat slavery as anything but one more social institution.

Dinesh's response was to make a vague statement about Jesus preaching of love, that God knew that he couldn't just end slavery because it was too deeply entrenched in the economy. So instead he gently put the idea of love in their heads knowing that eventually, after a millenia or two of people being owned and whipped, people would figure it out. I wish I would have been there to ask a question:

"Of course Mr. D'souza, it's not like God can just appear and declare a law expecting people to follow it immediately on pain of eternal damnation. He has to work carefully so as not to disturb the economy. It's not like God's a God or anything." Although oddly Jesus' call to sell all of your belongings and give everything to the poor does seem like a fairly uneconomical idea. D'souza is such a tool.
Comment by Diana Agorio on October 1, 2010 at 11:49am
And, I should add that it was with Christianity that race-based slavery was invented. Ancient slavery was not kind; but, race-based slavery was even worse. Race-based slavery was a direct result of Church doctrine. By the 13th century, slavery was incorporated into Church cannon law, protecting the rights of slave owners. They began specifically recommending the enslavement of muslims. That doctrine became the rationale for the concepts of slavery outlined by Richard, justifying the enslavement of "naked savages."

In 1537, a pope did make a statement against the enslavement of indigenous people in the Americas, because he decided they actually were human and capable of becoming Christian. This papal statement is held up with pride by the Church, claiming it as evidence of an anti-slavery Church. However, the Church annulled the statement the following year.
Comment by Diana Agorio on October 1, 2010 at 11:38am
Dinesh tells an outright lie about slavery turning into serfdom, during the 4th and 5th centuries. Slavery continued, with the addition of serfdom. The church certainly did not introduce any restrictions on slavery. Their only improvement to the status of slaves was that they demanded that owners respect the marriages of slaves. There was a massive economic breakdown in 5th century Europe and lots of people died, which makes it seem like slavery reduced. Later, there was actually a larger percentage of the population in slavery during the medieval period than under the Roman Empire. The church consistently defended slavery. It was secular governments that outlawed slavery, with the shamefaced church eventually following.
Comment by Rich Goss on October 1, 2010 at 11:21am
Thanks all for such astute and fun comments.

Diana,Dinesh poorly educated or just a liar? His bias and distortions of history are outrageous.

I think he said he went to Dartmouth. It proves you're educated when you mention Emanuel Kant, Rene Descartes and hold on to your hat, Tomas de Torquemada.

Jo, I'd love to get with someone more coherent and clarify exactly what this hypothesis and supposed evidence is.

Great question. The important thing to know about the Paleozoic Era, 545 million years ago, is that Gondwanaland and the northern continents form and move apart. This allows great plant and animal diversify because shore lines increase. Amphibians invade the land.

In the great sea, called Tethys, a small lamprey-like creature called pikia, forms a notochord (our vertebral column) which allows nervous impulses to travel from head to tail instantaneously. The nervous system allows bony fishes to grow to great size.

Also, photosynthesis plays a big role in this, because the blue-green and green algae began to soak the air and water with oxygen. It all happens gradually or else they would have poisoned the waters. Animals concomitantly consumed the oxygen so many processes were occurring at the same time.

This is part of it as I remember from teaching days. Hope it helps.

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