Sunday, February 19, 2012

It seems to me ...

... that this whole evolution vs. religion debate is fundamentally askew. I can't see how any reasonably informed person can doubt that some process of continuous change has been going on among living things. So the debate would seem to come down to whether or not this process is absolutely random or utterly purposeful (the question of its being a fruitful mix of both we shall bracket for now).
Now it would seem that the only basis one would have for deciding this is the manner in which one experiences things oneself. I – and, I believe, most people – experience life as purposeful. From this it seems reasonable – though not necessarily correct – to infer that we feel that way because that is the way it is.
To premise your thesis – as I'm afraid the random folk must – on a denial of a common, well-nigh universal experience is to build your theoretical house on sand. This is not, by the way, comparable to thinking the earth flat and discovering later that it's a sphere. You can only have an experience when you have it. We have learned to perceive better. But both perceptions – of a flat or round earth – are grounded in experience. It is simply that a subsequent experience has proved corrective to the earlier one. It is a larger experience, as it were.
So to argue that the sense of purposefulness that we feel inner-mostly is an illusion seems to me very difficult to demonstrate, since it involves a denial of what people count on to verify things, namely, their experience of them.
After all, if we can't trust our sense of purpose, the feeling we have that we have a choice – in short, our sense of self-hood – exactly why should we trust our powers of reasoning?


  1. I'm afraid you left me at "I – and, I believe, most people – experience life as purposeful."

    While I can see in my choices a need to find a purpose to my life, a life that I want to lead and look back on and not regret, I've never felt that there was a discoverable purpose in it, except to breed.

  2. But did you not have a purpose in writing that comment? You certainly weren't driven to writing it by the forces of the universe, or whatever. You had something to say and decided to say it ... because you feel, deep down, that you are a free individual, don't you think? I certainly have always felt myself to be a more or less autonomous individual, not a blind outcome of the big bang. But that's only me, I admit. Maybe I'm more egocentric that I thought.

  3. Hi Bill, seriously? No discoverable purpose except to breed? Hell, I never heard a sadder remark!

  4. Do we actually experience the Earth as a sphere? Do we experience the solar system as heliocentric? Surely not. These are things we know in another way, contradictory to our actual experience. (I entirely agree about the primacy of experience though.)

  5. Very good point, Nige. So what it is we learn is that experience -- at least primary experience -- can be deceptive. But that learning is itself still an experience of some sort.