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Evolution as Metaphor II

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Evolution is absurd. Even as a biological process with the weight of scientific authority behind it, it is still absurd. It may be that we live in an absurd world where our actions have no significance beyond what we give them ourselves. I confess I do not like the idea of such a world, but my dislike does not constitute an argument against it. Since evolution has taken such hold on the postmodern consciouness, we should understand what an evolutionistic understanding of life really means, beyond the science.

If all life developed from non-living matter without the aid of an intelligent designer, then we would have to conclude (following Ray Kurzweil) that the universe has a minimal intelligence (or at least that eddies of minimal intelligence have occurred with sufficient strength and durability to produce intelligent life on this planet). Through evolution the inherent intelligence in the universe has increased, culminating on earth so far in human beings. Kurzweil proposes that the next stage in the evolution of intelligence will leap from humans to intelligent machines. Thus humans will make themselves obsolete by constructing machines more powerful and intelligent than they are themselves. If humans can transfer their consciousness to the machines, then the result will be the end of humanity as we know it. No longer dependent on biology and guided by the superintelligence of machines, evolution could proceed at a pace far exceeding anything the universe has seen so far. Unfettered by the need to protect fragile biological bodies, these conscious machines could roam the galaxy, colonize other worlds, and spread throughout the universe as long as the universe keeps expanding, always increasing their intelligence.

What would happen to desire? So much of human behavior depends on desire, and desire is so very intertwined with our bodies. Machines would still need resources: raw materials for repairing themselves and constructing new machines. They would still need fuel, sources of energy on which to run. Would these needs become desires? Could a machine feel the satisfaction of a having a good dinner after exploiting an especially good power source? Would they ever know the joys of intimate contact: holding hands, hugging, kissing, or having sex?

Desire is such a strange nexus of good and evil. For there are evil desires. The desire to dominate others has led to all kinds of violence. The desire for money and possessions—greed—has led to destruction and cruelty. Even the desire for love has been twisted into a drive to self-humiliation, even self-abnegation, in order to obtain the love of another. It’s hard to imagine machines having such desires. It’s hard to imagine machines having any morality that is not strictly utilitarian and self-serving. (By the way, Isaac Asimov’s robot fiction provides a glimpse into the behavior of man-made machines designed to improve the lives of humans. It’s not quite the same as the future Kurzweil imagines, but the morality is comparable.)

What will be the meaning of desire without bodies that require air and food and warmth and love?

For evolutionists this vision of the future is possible because intention is merely a chimera. The driving force behind evolution is a blind intelligence that continues to expand and grow, not because growth is good, but only because it is the nature of intelligence to increase. Machines will replace humans because they will be more intelligent. Questions of morality involve intention. But there is no good or evil and no intention. Our behaviors are not chosen; they result from genetic and environmental influences. Choice and freedom are comforting illusions. (Exactly what the comfort is in believing that my everyday choices have eternal consequences remains a mystery to me. I find the prospect terrifying. It’s much safer and more comforting to believe that my choices matter only to me and only for the present. Thus, it seems to me comforting that choice has no ultimate significance.) From an evolutionary perspective, we are observers only, with a persistent fancy that we matter.

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Evolution as Metaphor

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Biological evolution is controversial, but it at least has the imprimatur of science. The same cannot be said for all the ways in which evolution has infected our thinking about everything from sociology to economics. For example, it has become common to refer to almost any kind of progress as evolution. We might talk about the evolution of the computer or the evolution of a software application. In doing so, we tacitly remove intelligent intention from the understanding of progress. Evolution purports to describe a process by which all living things arose from inanimate matter with only three principles to drive it: 1. sufficient time (billions of years) to make highly improbable events likely, 2. a mechanism of variation (mutation), and 3. a mechanism to drive toward increasing complexity (natural selection). There is no intelligence (or at most a very minimal intelligence) in this process and certainly no intention.

Proponents of intelligent design don’t find these three principles sufficient. It’s not hard to see why. The first principle is not controversial. If I flip a coin 20 times, the chances that it will come up heads every time are a bit less than one in a million. If I flip a coin 1,000,000 times, though, the chances of having a string of 20 heads somewhere in there is a bit more than 60%. If I flip the coin billions of times, the chances of a string of 20 heads approaches certainty. The probability of life arising from non-living matter is considerably smaller by several orders of magnitude. Scientists have been unable to produce any self-replicating organisms from lifeless matter despite doing their best to stack the odds in their favor.

Mutation is also not controversial. Everyone agrees that mutation occurs, and has a variety of causes. There is one little sticking point, however. Nearly all mutations that we have been able to cause or observe make a species less likely to survive, not more likely. The odds against a variation caused by mutation being useful are very high, and they become higher still the more complex the organism is. Moreover, in mammals at least, mutations that significantly alter an individual often leave it sterile. Mutation may be necessary for evolution, but it hardly seems sufficient to expalin the actual diversity of life.

Natural selection is by far the most controversial and least observable of the drivers for evolution. The idea seems simple enough. Individuals well-suited to their environment will thrive and reproduce. Ill-suited individuals will die, and with them the genes that make them ill-suited will be lost. One commonly cited example is that of the peppered moth. During the industrialization of Britain, pollutants darkened the trees where the peppered moth commonly rested. Most moths were light colored, and birds could easily spot them against the soot-stained bark of the trees. After a few years, most peppered moths were dark; the light variety had all but vanished. As time passed, Britain cleaned up its pollution. The trees were no longer stained by soot, and the bark became lighter. The color of the moths changed again from dark to light.

The problem with this example is twofold. It does not demonstrate a change in the genetic makeup of peppered moths, only in the characteristics of a population. Nor does it provide the kind of dramatic change that must occur for natural selection to be a sufficient driver for evolution.

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faith

Persuasion and Conviction

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There are two ways of being convinced. You can be convinced by argument or by experience. Of the two, experience is the more powerful. Someone once said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still,” and I think that applies more to persuasion by argument than by experience.
The fact is, no one has ever been argued into the kingdom of God. Faith is not without its reasons, but reason alone is insufficient to produce faith, and without faith it is impossible to please God. Salvation can only occur in a heart (and mind) made alive to the possibilities of the kingdom of God. This living faith comes from hearing the Word of God, but it does not stop with hearing. The hearer is brought inexorably closer to the presence of God. Once in His presence, he or she can only bow down and acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. The experience of God’s presence brings a conviction that mere words cannot supply.
If in our testimony about Christ we use only persuasion we will fail to penetrate the veil of darkness that surrounds the hearts of those who are being held captive by the god of this world. But if we proclaim the truth in the power of the Spirit, then the Spirit will pierce the veil and bring conviction to the hearts of those who hear. Such conviction more powerfully convinces them, and they repent from their sins and turn to the living God who is able to save them.

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