Jim Manzi's random dispute by mattsteinglass
September 15, 2009, 6:57 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Jim Manzi wrote a response to my post, which I missed until now. He argues that I was wrong to write that Darwin had shown that life can evolve through “random” processes, since “Evolution, contrary to frequent claims in the public square, does not act randomly.” Right. Neither does gravity. But we don’t argue that because a rock smacks into the ground every time I drop it, there must be a God. (Think about it–every single time! What are the odds?) Manzi wants to dispute terms, so I’ll go along: change “random” to “non-purposive”. What Darwin showed is that life can and, in fact, does evolve to tremendous degrees of sophistication through non-purposive processes. And that means you don’t need to posit a Creator.

Manzi is still arguing that it doesn’t mean there can’t be a Creator. And he’s right. But there is simply no evidence whatsoever for the existence of one, and I mean “no evidence whatsoever” in the same sense in which there is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of leprechauns.

If you want to talk about the idea of God in a moral context, or about the mysteries of consciousness and perception and what kind of vision of God jibes best with your experience of the world, that’s really fine with me. As I’ve written before, I don’t think that the goodness of a Stanley Kubrick movie is reducible to meaningful explanations at either a genomic or a particle-physics level, and yet I’m still happy to discuss how a given Stanley Kubrick movie is good. And in the same way, I don’t think there’s any point mixing evolution or physics and God talk, but that doesn’t mean there’s no way to talk about God. It’s just that the way Manzi is doing it is a particularly sterile and tortuous dead end that takes a whole lot of time to say something that would be better off as an introductory conceit for a Charles Stross novel, one which would get zipped through pretty quickly as the plot moved on to other, more fiendishly wacked-out ideas.

Speaking of which, there’s a really good illustration of the vision of God that Manzi is proposing in a Victor Pelevin short story about these beings who live on a giant flat plain under several burning-hot suns, contemplating the meaning of their existence. Various cults and religions evolve as they try to explain what’s going on to themselves. Spoiler alert: about two-thirds of the way through the readers realizes they’re fryer chickens who spend their lives on a slowly moving conveyor belt, advancing towards the slaughtering machine.


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