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 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 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.
Comment by Rich Goss on October 1, 2010 at 10:40am
Brett, on the slavery issue, I remember a lecture series some years ago by a UCLA history professor. I think his name was Dr. Ruis.

Here's the logic and rationalization of the Conquistadors used when they landed in West Africa.

1. The land belongs to God.
2. These half-naked savages are not living in God's grace.
3. We are living with God because we celebrate mass, take Holy Communion and give gold to the church.
4. God would want us to take these primitives and show them the way to heaven. The soul is what counts.
5. We have the right and moral obligation to enslave them.
Comment by Brett W. Miller on October 1, 2010 at 10:01am
What do you want to bet that someday Christians will be bragging about their few leaders who supported gay rights and excuse their historic homophobia, just like they excuse their historic support of slavery?

Looking back through history that does seem to be the pattern: Deny it until it become undeniable, then claim credit. To be fair the church was divided over the issue of slavery, the difference between the two being the pro slavery side could use scripture, Collossians 3:22 for example, (Slaves obey your masters) the other side had more trouble with biblical support.
Comment by Jo Jerome on September 30, 2010 at 11:21pm
If god set it up what does a 99% extinction rate say about his quality control department? How did all of these faulty designs evolve in the first place?

Ooh, good question Brett.

Plus, if I'm so intelligently designed, explain my 20/400 vision and the fact that we run slower than just about any other animal.

And where are my mutant superpowers dammit? A little telekinesis or the ability to walk through walls. Is that so much to ask? But I digress.
Comment by Brett W. Miller on September 30, 2010 at 10:50pm
If I might play Christains advocate for a moment. *Shudder* Dinesh could have responed with "Well who are we to say what is a long time to a timeless being? True to our puny flawed human view of time 4 billion years seems like a while, but to god a day is like a thousand years, so 4 billion years is nothing to him."

Instead of focussing specifically on the amount of time taken I would suggest all focus being put on the obviously meandering stumbling path of evolution. If god set it up what does a 99% extinction rate say about his quality control department? How did all of these faulty designs evolve in the first place?

Every debate I see with Dinesh makes me wonder why Christains invite him to defend the faith at all. You'd think it would have gotten embarrassing by now.



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