Sunday, October 09, 2005

Gradual Evolution or Punctured Equilibrium?

One of the oddities in the fossil record is referred to as the "Cambrian explosion." It is a brief period of time - if 10 million years can be called brief - in which an unusually number of new species appeared. It is a difficult to explain when you think that evolution happens in a very slow way, over geological eras.

So Stephen J. Gould came up with the idea of punctured equilibrium, the idea that sometimes, Evolution takes a short cut. Sometimes, species just leap into another stage. It explains the gaps in the fossil record, and the Cambrien Explosion. This started a controversy; is evolution always a matter of small steps, or is it spiced with big leaps? Are species that appear seperate taxonomically actually related to each other on the evolutionary chain?

Before your eyes glaze over, let me say one thing: this isn't another post about Evolution. Bear* with me.

Similar things can happen with people. Someone can believe X one day, and the next day, it appears as if they believe non-X. How to explain this apparent disjuncture? Was the person's change in views a barely perceptable, gradution evolution, or did they make a leap from one view to another totally disparate view?

Once you are finished reading this post, you'll have to answer that question for yourself.

Here's the mystery, my Cambrien Explosion. One month ago, if you had asked me if I was a Christian, I would have said no. If you had asked if God exists, I would have said no.

Today, if you ask me if I am a Christian, I will say yes.

Interesting, yes? Is this change a matter of gradual evolution, or is it a leap from one system of thought into another?

Here's a clue: If you should ask me today if I believe God exists, I will say "no."

Ah-ha! Curiouser and curiouser. A self-identified Christian saying that God does not exist? What up with that?

Well, it is about the nature of statements. Positive statements like "God exists" are necassarily made in language. Language is necassarily limited and finite; the finite cannot convey adequate information about the infinite. So positive statements about God are inevitably tinged with ultimate failure. They may express facts about God's acts within our world, but they can never properly express facts about God's nature.

So instead of saying what God is, it is better to say what God isn't. This practice is known as negative theology. Clicky to learn everything I know about it.

Now, rather than discuss the nature of negative theology, I am going to talk about my attraction to it.

Actually, there's an essay on that explains it well. Apophaticism, Idolotry and the Claims of Reason by Denys Turner. Pay attention to his description of atheism as nothing more than a rejection of a specific theology.

Which is totally true. The atheism I espoused could only ever be a reaction to particular doctrines. I've known this for as long as I can remember; I just never knew about an alternative.

Philosophical atheism (as opposed to the "my mommy died of cancer so therefore God doesn't exist" brand of causal atheism) can only ever be a parasitical position. It is ultimately shallow and half-assed. I knew this; I just didn't know an alternative.

Here's the alternative. Instead of rejecting some positive claims about God, reject them all. Outflank Nietzsche. Head Michael Martin off at the pass. If a philosophical atheist finds nothing to object to... then they can't be a philosophical atheist anymore.

Yeah, I know you're all confused. I would be too. Consider this an incomplete post. But sit tight. I've got some learning to do, and you might as well come with me.

*Thanks to Joel for telling me if this word should be spelled "bare" or "bear."


The_Mindless_Sheepinator said...

*Thanks to Joel for telling me if this word should be spelled "bare" or "bear."

It's because YOU are a half-assed idiot!

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