Tuesday, June 30, 2015

William Lane Craig accepts Evolution

Good news! William Lane Craig accepts evolution.

What’s notable is that William Lane Craig also accepts Biblical inerrancy. Hopefully this will help some religious people move closer to science. Craig also helpfully distinguishes the fact of evolution from the mechanism of evolution (something creationists have been notorious for not doing a sufficiently good job of). If you’re wondering how that squares with his religion, Craig talks about figurative use of creation myths in one of his theology lectures:

The critical question, I think though, in assessing their interpretation is how were these ancient creation myths understood? How did ancient people look at these creation stories? During the 19th century, literary scholars tended to regard these ancient creation myths as a kind of proto-science; that is to say, a sort of crude pre-scientific attempt to explain how the world and the things in it came about. Accounts that are now rendered obsolete in light of modern science. So the 19th century had a rather unsympathetic view toward these ancient creation myths. They were regarded as basically obsolete and crude science. But during the 20th century, scholars of mythology do not see them as a kind of crude proto-science. Rather, they tend to be seen as symbolic or figurative accounts of the creation of the world or of various things in it. So they weren’t intended to be taken literally. These were symbolic accounts. These were figurative or metaphorical accounts that shouldn’t be understood as pre-scientific attempts to explain the way the world is.

With our evolution (pun intended) of our understanding of ancient history, this better opens the door for the Christian to adopt a more figurative view of the Genesis creation myth and accept evolution.

Craig notes that he finds the genetic evidence particularly powerful, and I have to agree with him (and I’m probably not the only person arguing for atheism who does so!). Because this is a pro-science pro-evolution blog, I’d like to take some time to give one specific example of such evidence. From a blog entry of Discover magazine speaking of viruses that can insert genes into organisms:

It turned out that syncytin was not unique to humans. Chimpanzees had the same virus gene at the same spot in their genome. So did gorillas. So did monkeys. What’s more, the gene was strikingly similar from one species to the next. The best way to explain this pattern was that the virus that gave us syncytin infected a common ancestor of primates, and it carried out an important function that has been favored ever since by natural selection.

The virus gene that infected our ancestors wasn’t the result of a creator; it was the result of a virus that then passed on the virus gene to its descendants (albeit not necessarily without any modifications over the eons). The thesis of common descent powerfully explains this genetic similarity across these different species. Regardless of what the mechanisms are of common descent, it’s pretty clear that gorillas, monkeys, and humans are of common descent.