Does This Image Debunk Evolution?

Photo: This snowflake was photographed in Russia. Is this not a most amazing picture? Let’s see, this is either the result of evolution or a Divine Architect. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……………….What do you think?

A pastor in Colorado apparently thinks the above image scores big points against evolution, writing the following:

This snowflake was photographed in Russia. Is this not a most amazing picture? Let’s see, this is either the result of evolution or a Divine Architect. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……………….What do you think?

Is the pastor right? Is it fair to say that looking at a single snowflake should be sufficient to make one dubious of evolution?

No. Snowflake lattice formation obeys simple physical and chemical laws that result in surprising patterns over time, and that would seem to make a point FOR biological evolution, not against it. Like with snowflake lattice formation, biological evolution also rests on simple principles that build surprising things over time. In evolution’s case, these principles would include natural and sexual selection.

So maybe a snowflake is telling us something very different from what the pastor thinks: simple laws and principles playing out over time are God’s clever way of making things.

And the pastor presents a false choice here (an either-or logical fallacy). Evolution and the existence of God needn’t be mutually exclusive ideas. All of science over the past 150 years points to to an ever-changing and vastly old cosmos making surprising patterns from simpler principles. If God exists and speaks through the Book of Nature, God seems to be saying, “I use simple principles to make new and complex things over time, and I let old things pass away (go extinct). Things come and go, and I’m happy to let them evolve, one thing emerging out of another.”

Why can’t we hear this? We, after all, came out of our mothers (one thing emerging out of another). To believe that God exists, why must God be a magician pulling rabbits out of hats, wholly formed, without processes of development underlying them? (You, like a rabbit out of a hat, were pulled from your mother, but recognize the process of development that preceded it.)

So why can’t God be a birthing mother rather than a magician? Or (to change the metaphor) a supremely clever physicist and evolutionist setting up initial conditions, then letting the dance of energies work out of itself?

Why can’t God, in other words, be playful?

When I was a kid, I used to enjoy a top game–I don’t recall its name–in which I set two tops in a little plastic and concave boxing ring to contend with one another. It was delightful to set the tops to spin in such an arena, watch them clash at the center, grow weary and woozy in battle, and ultimately fall. Which would fall first? That was the game. It was Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic for kids. Which top would overcome and which would be overcome?

Maybe God is like this. Maybe God is a kid playing with clashing tops, introducing energy into an arena possessing set parameters (initial conditions) and delighting in the show. Shakespeare thought something like this was going on with the cosmos when he wrote, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.”

I admit that it’s a little unsettling to think of God in this way (as more Nietzsche than Jesus), but history is important here. The insight of Darwin is that organisms do not just come into the world fully formed, but emerge out of competition in time, in history.

Like each organism, each snowflake is also a product of history, the result of the clash of dynamic energies and law-bound forces in time. A snowflake starts as an atmospheric dust grain around which very particular molecules–water molecules–attach. When the water freezes, its unique crystal formations build out. How the snowflake grows is dependent on numerous factors, from how the ice initially froze around the dust grain to the contingent atmospheric temperatures the snowflake encounters on its descent to earth.

All these things take time.

A snowflake, then, is a birthed thing, the product of a process of development. The cloud is its mother, not its top-hat magician. And so the snowflake may be proclaiming, not just that a supremely clever physicist made the cosmos, but that that physicist did so with evolutionary principles in mind–with play in history in mind, declaring with the poet William Blake that “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.”

__________

Here’s physicist Richard Feynman talking about the emergence of things from simple principles. If the complexity of the cosmos from simple principles is not a miracle, it will do till the miracle gets here.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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11 Responses to Does This Image Debunk Evolution?

  1. Peter Smith says:

    Santi,
    So why can’t God be a birthing mother rather than a magician?
    That is a delightful and insightful metaphore which goes to the heart of the matter.

    Why can’t God, in other words, be playful?
    Good question! But then how do we know the properties of God? If God exists then the most basic thing we can know about him is that he is creative. This may be the most essential part of his nature that we can know with reasonable certainty. If that is the case then we can say that God delights in the process of creation and not just the end result. You call that ‘playful’ and I call it ‘delight’.

    These are anthropomorphic terms and many will object that it is obviously a mythological form of reasoning to assign anthropomorphic properties to God. I turn the problem around and say that a condensing cloud of hydrogen atoms could not, of themselves, acquire these properties of consciousness, thoughful insight and qualia because conscious thought is not material (Feser makes a good argument for this). Along similar lines, David Chalmers and others argue that consciousness is such a ‘hard problem’ that consciousness can only be a fundamental property of the universe. If that is the case, and God exists, then the properties of our consciousness reflect the properties of God, since God is the source of consciousness. Consequently, what we think of as anthopomorphic properties, such as love, aesthetic beauty, delight, playfulness, creativity, etc, are the properties of God’s consciousness that are reflected in our own consciousness. And so they are not really anthropomorphic qualities at all. By looking in at the nature of our own consciousness we gain insight into the nature of God’s consciousness because God’s consciousness is the source of our consciousness.

    • Andrew Furst says:

      Peter, I appreciate your voice and evolved formulation of a “God”, so I don’t wish to offend, but I see a pattern here that is typical of non-critical thinkers. The layering a series of problematic hypothesis is used build to a beautiful but ultimately misleading conclusion.

      Your opening is wonderfully skeptical – “how do we know the properties of God?” but you offer an answer that drops your skeptical pants quicker than an Amsterdam street walker. In your comments God takes on attributes like a high powered electromagnet attracts nails. God is assigned gender, creativity, consciousness, and emotions.

      I suspect you have the aptitude for critical thinking, and your comments express an optimistic positive voice, but be careful. Don’t look past whats truly sacred (the visible, tangible world that unfolds before us every day) to look for something better.

      • Peter Smith says:

        Andrew, thank you for your kind words. With that out of the way, let’s have a closer look at some of your comments:
        typical of non-critical thinker
        drops your skeptical pants quicker than an Amsterdam street walker
        problematic hypothesis
        suspect you have the aptitude for critical thinking‘ (why, thank you)
        Don’t look past whats truly sacred … to look for something better‘ (did I?)

        So you disagree, but more than that you disapprove. Unfortunately we never quite find out why you disagree because you are too busy expressing your disapproval.

        But, in any case, you do make one concrete statement:
        whats truly sacred … the visible, tangible world

        I had just given up hope when I find that you and I agree after all. Though we would never have known that if you had not accused me of failing to see the sacred in the visible, tangible world.

        I know why I find the sacred in the visible, tangible world, but do you? Do you know why? Your very use of the word ‘sacred’ is suggestive in itself. You should follow up on that. It could be a fruitful subject for discussion.

        Everyone’s favourite skeptical naturalist, Alex Rosenberg, is in complete denial about the subject of sacredness, see The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality. A word from you might help.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Peter,

      I like your thought on God being in love with process–delighting in process. And your reflection on consciousness reduces the problem of anthropomorphism a bit.

      Sorry I’m slow on the uptake of your comments; I’ve just been very busy this week.

      –Santi

  2. Andrew Furst says:

    Again I don’t mean to offend, and yes I do disapprove of the violation of logic. My stance is from a yogic\Buddhist perspective. My uneasiness with the conversation is centered on the assignment attributes to God, and of course presume a God, The statements immediately follow a perfectly reasonable question “how do we know the properties of God?” without considering how difficult, if not impossible it is to leap from that question to the answers that you provide.

    I am guilty of these types of leaps of faith when I deliver Buddhist doctrine to people unfamiliar with the Dharma. It is so easy to depart from valid logic because if faith or familiarity. It’s casual, well meaning, but serves to feed ignorance as people look for validation of a particular point of view.

    The classic formulation of this type of fallacious faith driven argument goes like this.

    Hypothesis: God Exists
    Assumption: The Bible says God exists
    Assumption: The Bible is true, because God is the source of the Bible
    Ergo: God exists

    The hypothesis is baked right into the assumptions.

    You asked a useful question – Do you know WHY [I find the sacred in the visible, tangible world sacred]?

    The response to this question is the perfect “tell” on most peoples faith persuasion. My response hearkens to a story attributed to Siddhartha Gautama. Does knowing WHY offer anything of value in appreciating the sacredness of the here and now? Does postulating a God or a demon inform anyone of anything? Or does it only distract from our day to day appreciation of the present moment? It seems to create a dualism that categorizes things into the sacred and the mundane. a Kingdom of God and our current life. This seems to only devalue what we might otherwise see as beautiful, sacred and precious..

    I’ll look at the Alex Rosenberg reference you mentioned when I get a chance. Thank you.

    • Peter Smith says:

      Andrew, I suspect you have lost the thread.
      Lets recap.
      Santi states, in outline, ‘that organisms do not just come into the world fully formed, but emerge out of competition in time, in history‘, contrary to what certain theist sects believe. No controversy here, we are all on board on this one.

      He then goes on to use this delightful metaphor ‘So why can’t God be a birthing mother rather than a magician?‘ and I nod approvingly in my comment. I thought that was a genuinely interesting way of looking at it(Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women, etc).

      He carries on to say ‘Why can’t God, in other words, be playful?‘ which is a very novel idea and in my comment I nod with vigorous approval, because this is an even more interesting way of looking at it..

      Now please, please, please note that Santi is exploring ideas. This is after all a blog post and not a formal philosophical paper. To come in and declaim about faulty logic, leaps of faith, etc, etc is wholly inappropriate. You are not going to get a formal proof from Santi because that is not what he is trying to do. He is playfully exploring ideas, which I think is a jolly good thing to do(tm).

      I respond in a similar vein, exploring the ideas and extending them, which is all a lot of fun. I note that this is all very anthropomorphic and give a possible explanation(but this seems to outrage you).

      Now you leap in with large boots, trampling on all the exploratory arguments, condemning fallacious leaps of faith and introducing a faulty circular argument about God’s existence that none of us made. To what end?

      I am accused of a lack of critical thinking, an inability to see the sacred in our wonderful world, violation of logic, leaps of faith, fallacious faith driven argument(but, no, you don’t mean to offend. Really!!). Again I ask, to what end? It seems utterly irrelevant to Santi’s posting.

      Once again, I remind you that this is not a formal philosophical paper where one should be held to careful standards of argument. This is Santi, exploring in a playful manner, some interesting ideas. You should read it in this spirit and respond in this spirit(for heavens sake).

      And please don’t project your strange arguments about God’s existence onto others. There is a large body of really sophisticated arguments that you have simply ignored. Why on earth did you drag it in when none of us even implied that argument? And in any case, Santi’s post is not about that at all, so you should rather stay away from the subject.

      Does postulating a God … inform anyone of anything?
      A great deal, as it happens.

      does it only distract from our day to day appreciation of the present moment?
      Not at all, why should it? Our appreciation becomes deeper and more intimate.

      This seems to only devalue what we might otherwise see as beautiful, sacred and precious.
      Really, why should it be devalued? That might be true for you but I can assure you that it is not true for myself and millions of others from the same faith persuasion. For us it deepens our perception of the sacred.

      You are projecting your perceptions onto others and elevating them to the status of the truth. I am sure your perceptions are true for yourself but to elevate your perceptions to a truth that is binding on others is a mistake.

  3. Cynthia says:

    Here’s something on another idea that tries to eliminate God from creation… The big bang theory… My (ex) boyfriend used to throw the big bang theory (not the t.v. show!) into the conversation whenever I started talking about my beliefs in the Bible and Heaven, etc. I got smart on him one day and told him, “Ok, if the world really was created by a “big bang”, as you keep saying, then believe me it was God who made the bang big enough to create the world!”
    That shut him about big bang.
    When I was in high school, a very looooonnng time ago, we had a speaker come to our church youth group who was a scientist. If I remember right he was an archeaologist but that’s not important. He told us he was an atheist determined to set out (with a whole crew of other like-minded scientists) to disprove the Bible once and for all. He told my youth group that the more he tried to disprove the Bible the more it was proven to him that the Bible was true and factual. One of the examples he gave us – not proving the Bible was true but that science is pretty much theoretical when it comes to archeaology – this example stuck in my head for some reason all these years (don’t ask how many!!!): He said the crew were on a dig (sorry I don’t recall the dig location) and had found a skull they were very excited about, certain it would be a piece of the puzzle that would prove evolution at last. The scientists used their testing (carbon dating I think it was back then, and other ways) to determine the age of the skull. They had decided that this was what the world was waiting for, “the missing link”. Turned out, after they brought their prize “missing link” skull back to their laboratories in their home country, that it was actually a pig’s skull that was no more than a few years old. He said it made sense because there had been a farm down the road, not far from where the crew had been digging for “ancient” bones and aritfacts.
    The speaker told us that after many years of denying God and trying to prove the Bible was a book of fairy tales, he became a Christian and dedicated his life to telling others about God.
    I wish I could remember the scientists name and give you links to his web site and all that but when I was in high school there was no internet, we didn’t have cell phones or even beepers. We typed on a type writer with paper in it and if we were lucky we got to use a word processor that was pretty cool, back in the day.
    All I have to do, whenever I question the existence of God and wonder if He truly is my Creator, is to look at my hand and move my fingers and realize the complexity, the genius, the amazing design and scientific knowledge it took my Creator to make me the way I am, to give me the ability to pick up a cup with my hand, to hold the hand of a friend and make a connection to him with love, to point at a beautiful sunset, or to flip off a bad driver when I forget I’m a Christian and ought to smile and shout “I’ll pray for you!” instead (that really freaks people out by the way, lol)… I can do almost anything I want with my hand and I find that facinating, knowing how my brain processes what I want to do and sends signals down my arm nerves to my finger nerves which tell my finger muscles what to do (it’s a hell of a lot more complicated than that I know!), and everything responds accordingly, and dang it – if that ain’t enough to make someone realize that our Creator can’t be anything less than a God greater than we can imagine, then I don’t know what.

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