Why God used evolution to create humans. Reason #476: He was incompetent.

July 3, 2010 • 11:49 am

Science writer and accommodationist Clay Farris Naff explains why God works through Darwinism:

So, where can we turn for an answer to the puzzle of God? I humbly suggest we look to evolution. The creative power of Darwinian evolution is, evidently, almost without limit. Let’s suppose there’s a Creator out there with limited power. If the Creator wanted to bring about a result like us — life, that is, capable of contemplating, appreciating, and sustaining life — he, she, or they surely might have done worse than to create a Universe with just enough scope and variation to let evolution do all the labor of design. What sort of Creator might do that? One in our own image, of course: An intelligent life seeking to pass the torch of life across the cosmos to a new generation.

There is more to ponder, here, of course, and I’m the first to admit that there is no evidence to tip the balance. But let me stake my claim here: the just-good-enough Universe we inhabit is more consistent with my view than any other rationally acceptable explanation proffered so far. If I’m right, we are the children of loving cosmic parents, and we are charged with becoming what they once were. How cool is that?

Not so cool, actually.

68 thoughts on “Why God used evolution to create humans. Reason #476: He was incompetent.

  1. “Let’s suppose there’s a Creator out there with limited power.”

    Hey, if you want to, but don’t expect it to catch on.

    1. And what limits His/Her/Its power? Why, a Greater Power, obviously! So shouldn’t we be worshipping that? Or at least looking to it to help us get off the booze.

  2. In addition:

    “he, she, or they surely might have done worse than to create a Universe with just enough scope and variation to let evolution do all the labor of design.”

    So God can whittle a world, but he can’t make a monkey?

  3. I suppose most liberal theists just suppose that evolution is “how” God did the creation of modern species.

    I was uncomfortable with the notion even when I was a liberal Christian, because it seemed pretty obvious that evolution — if the theory was accurate, as all evidence indicated that it was — made “God” unnecessary for explaining “how we got here”. It’s like tacking fairies on to explanations of physical phenomena — yeah, no one has ever disproven fairies, but since they are unnecessary no reasonable person really believes in them anymore. It’s the same for God.

  4. I hear an echo of an old Mormon saying:

    “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.”

  5. That is the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.

    Seriously. Someone needs to bang this idiot over the head with a hammer. Because his brain needs a reboot.

    Is it just me, or are the accommodationists become desperate?

    1. Too late – the hammer of religion has hit him too many times. He is wired for Ape-of-Logics™.

    2. “If I’m right, we are the children of loving cosmic parents, and we are charged with becoming what they once were. How cool is that?”

      I think that there exists a portal to a land called “Middle Earth.” It’s a magical land full of wizards and dragons and magic rings and ghosts and elves! Such a place would be the most exciting place in the universe! The magic, the swashbuckling, the epic battles; nothing in our lives compares to it!

      If I’m right, we could visit this place and leave our dreary lives and ho-hum existence behind forever! How cool is that?

      1. If you’re right, when Morgoth was cast beyond the Walls Of Night, (outside the bounds of Middle-Earth), he must have been sent here.

      2. Can I believe this too!
        Guess what I’m watching as I read this? Well actually it’s the director’s commentary on the extended version of Fellowship.

  6. When I ask my 10 year old daughter how God does all these things she’s telling me? … she says “Magic”. I can hardly argue with her magic answer.

    It’s all Magic I tell you … real magic. I’m comforted knowing there is some good magic controlling all the bad shit that’s happening.

  7. A bit of an ad hom, but Naff in the UK is a Polari (gay argot) word that has gone mainstream. Allegedly an acronym of Not Available For Fucking, and therefore originally meaning strait, its meaning broadened into “gauche, tasteless”. Didn’t Princess Anne tell some photographers to “Naff off!”?

  8. If I’m right, we are the children of loving cosmic parents,…

    Sky daddy, not parents, that is what the 3 biggest religions tout. Clearly, all this is a projection of the concept of the human family onto a feel-good fantasy.

    His fantasy of his special parents is not cosmic as it is comic. This doofus probably wouldn’t want the arseholes who he hopes have brought us into being via the extremely excruciating process of evolution for his real parents because he would considered them cruel idiots, and yet he can shoot the bull and pretend that such setters into motion of evolution are swell.

    Theistic evolution believers are nuts, they keep forgetting about how awful evolution is from the standpoint of the zillions of creatures who suffered horribly.

  9. Clearly, Naff is very naff. How nice a coincidence is that? Evidence for the incompetent god theory?

  10. The concept of an less-than-omnipotent god actually makes the bible make more sense – making imperfect beings, having to flood the earth to fix stuff rather than just create things anew, being kept away by iron chariots, having to have Jesus die in order to allow him to forgive humanity; that sort of thing.

    But that isn’t the god Christians believe in, is it? They need him to be all-powerful, preferring to have him compromise on the omnibenevolence instead.

    I think it’s telling that people would prefer an omnipotent asshole god than a kindly screwup god.

    1. Well there’s not much that’s kindly about the god of the bible is there? Evil psychopathic screw-up is not quite so alluring is it?

      1. “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” – Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

  11. From the OED:
    naff, a.
    Brit. colloq.
    – Unfashionable, vulgar; lacking in style, inept; worthless, faulty.

  12. Off topic, Dr Coyne, but are you going to cover
    the story of discovery of multicellular life 2.1 billion years ago?
    It was just some months ago that young earth creationist Paul Nelson was trolling us here, claiming the Cambrian explosion contradicted evolution. (He also went through an impressive exercise in mental contortionism, reconciling this claim with the fact that according to him, there was no Cambrian period).
    This won’t exactly make his day.


    1. And this is where, more than anywhere else, the idea of accomidationalism shows just how utterly horrible an idea it really is.

      1. this video ought to be on continuous loop over at biologos … before they make one more quibble with mean ol’ Jerry and the new Athiests, they ought to post their letter to this biology teacher in Dayton TN. I’d like to read it.

    2. “How can an African American person evolve from a white person, we are different skinned?”

      All I can do is cringe. This is wrong in so many ways, not the least of which is the bizarre blend of racism with politically correct, yet utterly incorrect, terminology.

  13. I think you, and your commentators to date, do Naff an injustice. His hypothesis is clearly NOT an attempt to accommodate supernatural religions. It is in fact compatible with atheism in that his proposed creator is simply “an intelligent life” which could have existed in a purely material universe preceding ours.

      1. Possibly in the same general way we did. If there were specific evidence that this universe is fine-tuned for our sort of life, one explanation could be that it was created by beings of a different sort in a previous universe. Such beings could be based on physics rather than chemistry, or on a genetic material which is easier to form naturally than DNA/RNA (perhaps under non-Earth-like conditions). See Hoyle’s The Black Cloud, Blish’s A Clash Of Cymbals and many other SF works.

        1. That might be true, but that story most certainly isn’t going to please anyone other that the Scientologists. It more than absurd to think that “God is an alien” offers some sort of rapprochement with the hardcore religious.

        2. That doesn’t work. The _only_ way a universe can be “fine-tuned” is if it is not a multiverse, since otherwise it is environmentally chosen by us observers. (And you would have no way of testing that ‘fine-tuning’ in such a case, since it could be pure coincidence anyway. It is dud, based on mistaking likelihood for probability.)

          You can’t have the cake and eat it too.

        3. Demi-gods as opposed to God as intelligent designers, but what then? The demi-gods require an explanation so we are into an infinite regression of loving parents. What happpened to “Clay’s clipper”. This is not rational let alone scientific. The multiverse has its opponents but it is not irrational. The multiverse is consistent with the evidence and is a scientific way of treating the anthropic coincidences as being interesting rather than trivial. The concept of a multiverse is mind-boggling. An infinite regression of cosmic Adam and Eves isn’t worth a damn.

    1. Oh geez, this old trick? Then why is the article titled “How Science Can Solve the Puzzle of God?” This seems like classic Intelligent Design trickery: to one audience the speaker says the designer could be ANYTHING, to another audience, it is the God of the Old Testament.

  14. Naff seems to have reinvented the gnostic concept of the demiurge, the imperfect creator of the material world. Of course, in many strands of gnosticism, the Demiurge was opposed to the perfect Supreme Being, so I doubt that many Christians would be on board with the world being created by the devil.

  15. The creative power of Darwinian evolution is, evidently, almost without limit.

    And yet here we are, still trapped in the tetrapod body plan.

  16. I’m flattered to come to the attention of Jerry Coyne and his followers. I readily admit that my essay is far from perfect or complete. However, it seems to me that many of you are so ready to jeer at the first hint of ideological impurity you don’t bother to come to terms with an argument.

    Here’s the gist, shorn of anything you might scorn as romanticism. I argue that the following is a valid, falsifiable scientific hypothesis: The bubble we inhabit is the intentional product of an advanced civilization in another, similar bubble. (I also argue that we have no rationally satisfactory alternative.)

    Obviously, if confirmed this would not answer every ontological question. But nor would any other scientific hypothesis that I’m aware of.

    How would we confirm it? In all likelihood we cannot ever find definitive evidence, but consider an analogy: those of us who accept the scientific narrative (myself included) think that life originated with some sort of self-assembly. However, we lack any direct evidence. The best we have so far is self-assembly under experimental conditions of some components. If biochemists succeed in creating from scratch a self-reproducing cell, we will have evidence that will satisfy all but the most ideologically opposed critics.

    Similarly, if physicists are able to demonstrate one day that a bubble universe can be created from within our own, we will have support for my hypothesis. On the other hand, if they establish that it is not possible in principle, we will have to dismiss my idea. As for why a civilization would want to do that, you have only to follow the logic of what I call the Darwinian Imperative: keep live alive.

    Last but not least, you may wonder what my motive to tie this to religion. Long story short: the survival of civilization requires the peaceful reconciliation of religions with each other and with science. Before you shout me down, ask yourselves if a) there is a genetic propensity to religion and b) if that propensity plus all its cultural and institutional baggage can be overcome in time to resolve the challenges global civilization faces. If so, I’d be glad to hear how.

    Warmest regards,


    1. I’m puzzled by what you mean by no rationally satisfactory alternative.

      Long story short: the survival of civilization requires the peaceful reconciliation of religions with each other and with science.

      Our experience with being human teaches us that such reconciliation is utterly impossible until people accept that they cannot possess extraordinary knowledge. I do not regard reassuring us that we really are extra special to be helpful.

    2. From your article:

      “If I’m right, we are the children of loving cosmic parents, and we are charged with becoming what they once were.”

      From your post:

      “Here’s the gist, shorn of anything you might scorn as romanticism. […] The bubble we inhabit is the intentional product of an advanced civilization in another, similar bubble.”

      That’s not just shorn of romanticism. That’s something else entirely. The first implies powerful creator beings who care about us and wish us to achieve specific things. The second suggests we might be an experiment in an extra-universal science lab by beings who may neither care about us nor even be aware we exist. If this is what you really mean, then your use of uppercase “God” and “Creator” in your article is at least a little equivocating, since “an advanced civilization in another, similar bubble” is far removed from how most people use those terms.

    3. As with the more religious version, this only moves the problem one step back: what caused the “advanced civilization in another, similar bubble” to come into being?

      Is it bubbles all the way down?

      1. Just what I was going to ask. The old familiar regress again. All this is too komplikated to have just happened so an intelligent something must have created it. But then the intelligent something is even more komplikated so where did the i.s. come from? Etc.

    4. you don’t bother to come to terms with an argument.

      Not true, since it is a religious argument I bothered to answer on its own terms above: it doesn’t resolve the religious problem of observing what they call ‘evil’. (Suffering.)

      As for your pretense of your argument being non-religious:
      – It is not a falsifiable theory, since it is based on infinite regress. Therefore it has no place in science.
      – Despite that you claim “no rationally satisfactory alternative”, whatever that means, we have many empirical theories of how the universe come to be. The standard cosmology is an inflationary universe theory, and those have many possible pathways to come into being. Being eternal, the exact opposite of infinite regress, is one of them.

      Btw, there is no such thing as “the Darwinian Imperative” in biology (but there is selection et cetera), that is confusing simple causality of process with non-existent teleology of religion. Maybe you should study evolution before inventing and presenting such stupidities on a biology blog?

      Finally, no one is trying to shout you down, but are engaging with your argument fairly. Your suggestion that we should discuss the phenomena of religion and accommodationism instead of a simple, but tedious and many times answered, religious argument is however neither pertinent nor conducive to such a discussion. I would let that go.

      1. “It is not a falsifiable theory, since it is based on infinite regress. Therefore it has no place in science.”

        I think in this case falsifiability may not be the best criterion. Suppose we found, embedded in our DNA or in some artifact, a complete description of just how a previous species had created this universe. Wouldn’t that fall within science’s sphere of interest?

  17. That’s his answer to why God would bother to use evolution? That God ‘could’ve done worse’? Oh please.

  18. Anyway…

    Let’s suppose there’s a Creator out there with limited power. If the Creator wanted to bring about a result like us — life, that is, capable of contemplating, appreciating, and sustaining life — he, she, or they surely might have done worse than to create a Universe with just enough scope and variation to let evolution do all the labor of design.

    So the Creator wanted to bring about life capable of contemplating, appreciating, and sustaining life. But the Creator itself must be life capable of contemplating, appreciating, and sustaining life. So why bother to create a Universe in which evolution would do all the labor of design and end up with [drum roll] us? Why not just copy itself in some way? And how do we know there was only one of it anyway? Maybe there was a whole population of it. So why would it want to create (or should that be Create?) a Universe that would whelp us? We must be very inadequate compared to a Creator that created the Universe.

    I think the problem is the usual one – starting with us, and thinking gosh we’re special, and reasoning backward from that. But if you reason forward from these Creators…the whole thing breaks down instantly. The Creators are way too big to play with us, so what would they want us for?

    1. Always a good point. What if some alien beings did create our universe for the purpose of evolving intelligent life, but we’re nowhere near what they had in mind? What if they’re planning to scrap the whole project tomorrow?

    2. Actually, judging by the results, the Creators were trying for a Universe of empty space at 3K. If they even realized that some bits of carbon were sentient, they’d be just as annoyed as we are at mold in the fridge.

    3. the Creators were trying for a Universe of empty space at 3K.

      The problem with that argument is that the 3 K dilute radiation is actually the environmental condition most conducive to life in a universe. So either the creators knew that they were doing, or they messed up.

      This also goes back to Ophelia’s suggestion, maybe these universe building entities simply copied the (parameters for the) universe they lived in. Or they just had a stochastic process like the one inflation suggest, in which case they were guaranteed to find some “mold”.

      The real problem with Naff’s argument besides that it doesn’t really help the religious (doesn’t answer the problem of evil) is that it is totally unsatisfactory for empiricists too. Infinite regress withdraw the idea from falsification, so it is not a natural theory; in a problem which we already have simpler, and falsifiable so satisfactory, theories for.

      It is moreover unsatisfactory in the social setting given. Naff wave about a stupidly named and invented “the Darwinian Imperative” which is nothing but the opposite of a scientific observation on biology. But it doesn’t explain what he pretends it explains, _why_ would anyone try to make a bubble universe?

      Such a universe would immediately, at the speed of light, consume the existing universe which still has life in it in the very volume where life exists. It would _kill_ life, for the off chance (small, if multiverse theory is correct) that it creates life!

      [Note, again, how religion never gets around to answer _why_! While science in the end seem to give fully satisfactory answers.]

      There is another way to make universes though. As universes are zero energy, they can safely tunnel out of existing universes.

      The zero energy condition means precisely that no third part creator god can create universes, it is thermodynamically forbidden, we _know_ that non-natural creators of infinite regress doesn’t exist. But one could feasibly affect the tunnel probability inside one’s own universe to make _more_ universes than it already creates on its own. How that is falsifiable I haven’t been able to figure out though, how do you measure the tunnel rate, so it is likely not a concern for explaining our universe at all. Indeed, if one accept tunneling one knows the physics already.

      Also, note that the solution tears down Naff’s very proposal. Our zero energy universe exclude his non-natural gods, and it excludes his natural universe creators as responsible for the chain. The simplest solution is that such a chain is eternal (but there are other natural alternatives too).

      1. Ouch, sorry about the language; my excuse is that we are suffering a rare heat wave:

        “the creators knew that they were doing” – the creators knew what they were doing.

        “simply copied the (parameters for the) universe” – simply copied (the parameters for) the universe.

        … and more.

  19. LOL! Not to poison the well, but as a revealing observation:

    Naff claims to be a science writer. Nevertheless he links to Metanexus institute, which was BioLogos even before there _were_ a BioLogos. I assume if they had been successful, there would be no BioLogos right now.

    For those in the know, concerning the post, is he even an accommodationist? I can’t square that with the link.

    1. OK, thinking about it Naff’s page is a “self” page, so it doesn’t have to pretend the neutrality like NCSE fails in. However, my curiousness about the “accommodationism” part remains:

      I didn’t comment on it above since it is biology. But one couldn’t fail to notice that “the bubble universe creator” idea is Hoyle’s panspermia in another guise. (A guise which gets around the big bang but not the infinite regress problem.)

      Likewise, one immediately notes that the “cell self-assembly” idea is The Hoyle Junkyard Fallacy in another guise. No one seriously believes cells were entirely self-assembled. And for that matter I don’t believe no one seriously believes that it is possible, or that even if it was such a lab demonstration would bear on the natural process.

      I don’t know if anyone thinks Hoyle’s beliefs were initially fueled by his religion; Hoyle was AFAIU pretty insane or at least self-isolated in the end, not able to understand that big bang was in evidence. But I would label such beliefs “hoylean”.

  20. “Let’s suppose there’s a Creator out there with limited power.”

    That’s heresy. Burn baby burn (for all eternity).

  21. It is disappointing, but not especially surprising, to see how many of you are eager to label me, rather than come to terms with my argument. “Is he an accommodationist?” “No, wait, he appears on the Metanexus site — he must be a religionist!” Actually, I’m neither.

    Take a deep breath and ask yourselves what you are engaged in here: a defense of science or a political battle? If it’s the former, respect the principles of intellectual honesty — why should it matter what label someone pastes on me? An argument’s valid or not for all that.

    If it’s all politics to you, fine, join the shit-slinging that passes for political discourse. Call me names. Feed on cynicism if it makes you happy, though I doubt it.

    On the assumption that many of you are not just looking for easy excuses to dismiss anything you’re not already completely comfortable with, let me clear up a little confusion about me, and then see if I can add a little more clarity to the context of my argument.

    I am a science writer, a member of NASW, published most recently in Sci Am. Among my subjects is evolutionary biology, about which I have produced an anthology (Greenhaven Press, 2005). I fully, unreservedly embrace evolution as the most complete theory in science. (I love Newton, relativity and QM, but there’s much work yet to be done there.)

    I am not a stealth agent for any sort of religion. It’s been my good fortune never to have had to reject religion, because I was raised without it, by enlightened parents who shed the religions they were raised in. I have never had a day in my life when I was a theist. Rather, I am an atheist and a hopeful agnostic. It was as such that I was hired by Metanexus as a columnist — they at least were interested in hearing from people with ideas that differed from their own.

    How can I be both an atheist and and agnostic? Easy. It’s clear to me beyond all doubt that claims about a supremely perfect deity are false. And as a rationalist, I have no truck with supernaturalism of any sort. That said, just as I am agnostic about the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in our bubble Universe, I am agnostic about its existence beyond.

    I would expect that would be the position of any rationalist — at least until some evidence develops one way or the other. But no, so many angry atheists have built up such a head of steam that they can only imagine a Colbertian dyad: It’s Yaweh or No Way!

    Some of you fault me for pushing the regress back another step. That may be true. I’m a thinker, not a prophet. However, that is not sufficient reason to reject my hypothesis. Consider: the panspermia hypothesis pushes the abiogenesis question back a step and would probably put it out of reach forever, but that does not make it untrue. As of today, we do not know whether life originated on Earth or began somewhere else and arrived here.

    Similarly, life may have originated in our bubble Universe or in another. If another and *if* it is possible for one bubble to give “birth” to another, and *if* that process can be influenced by intelligent life, then it follows that we *may* exist because of the actions of life in a “parent” bubble. The Principle of Mediocrity suggests that a proof of concept for deliberate bubble creation would lend credence to the idea that we are here because of the intentional actions of others. And that might change our entire existential outlook — even though it would not answer the ultimate origins questions.

    Why not just accept the simpler cosmic landscape conjecture? It *may* be true, but if so there’s no explanation for anything, just brute fact. (See Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics for more on this, or ask Steven Weinberg why he’s not satisfied.) Physicists aren’t permitted, by the rules of their discipline, to introduce conjectures of intelligent action into theory. That’s a good thing for science as a process. But it may not be a good thing for the goal of science: the fullest understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit consistent with the evidence. And, coincidentally, it may not be good for the reform of religion if we limit our questions to theism/materialism. Hence, my hypothesis.

    Some of you say, Hah! Religionists will never adopt that view. Maybe you’re right. But maybe not. Ideologies can change and adapt very fast. On the march to Selma, it probably looked like racism would never change.

    Unless you are ready to abandon all hope and let the ship sink, you’ve got to try. As I said earlier, if you think you can get the three billion or so committed religionists in the world to leap over to your side in a single bound, how else but reform? You have to, pardon the expression, have faith.
    By which, I hope you now understand, I mean nothing supernatural.



    P.S. My thanks to Mr. Evans for his kind comments.

  22. I figure God wanted to have some fun in-between making his little microcosm. It definitely looks like it would be fun, assembling such a fantastic, vast, bleak, beautiful, disgusting, dangerous, wild, intriguing, peculiar, and mind-blowingly complex system as this one.

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