The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c Marilynne Robinsonwww.thedailyshow.comDaily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party Advertisement Show Comments (22)Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.8 years 1 month agoMr. Nickol, There is no conflict with any finding by any scientists in any discipline with Catholicism. As I said some religions will have conflicts, the best example is young earth creationism. So to use the general topic of religion and compare it with science on the issue that there is conflict or there isn't is inappropriate. It is like saying that there is no conflict between human nature and politics. That is an absurd statement since politics can mean almost anything in our world and there are certainly some politics that seem to be in conflict with human nature or will even say there is no such thing as human nature. Notice I said ''finding'' in the preceding paragraph. When a typical scientific study is presented, there are four parts; background, methodology, findings and conclusions. Where the ideology comes into play is the fourth part, conclusions. If particular scientists have an ideology that must be satisfied, then the scientists are limited to what conclusions they can make. If one has a ideology that there is no God, and that all phenomena since the beginning of the universe, or if they postulate other universes, are only due to natural causes, then the conclusions section will only contain such considerations. If one is not hampered by such an ideological straight jacket, then one can consider other conclusions that may best fit the findings and are a lot more logical. There is a lot of bait and switch techniques in the evolution debate. I will give you two based on some comments that you use. The first is that evolution is considered a fact. If you take this comment literally, I know of no one who objects to that, even young earth creationists. It just means that different biological forms appeared at different times and many of them disappeared. The young earth creationist will constrict the time period to the last 6,000-10,000 years. Others will use a different time period. The best guess now is that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old and life first appeared about 3.5 billion years ago. This says nothing about what caused them to appear or disappear. So evolution is a fact. But we are also conditioned to believe that the mechanism that explains the appearance and changes of organisms is due to Darwinian processes because in fact it does occur in some circumstances. So many will take the evolution is fact statement and then say that Darwinian processes (a fact in some instances) are then a fact for the appearance of all new species over the last 3.5 billion years. Not a very good logical process and not one supported by the data. The other statement that you made was that Behe and Meyers are creationists. I assume you are a creationist and I admit I am one too. But what does it mean to be a creationist? I believe God created the world, therefore I am a creationist. If you do not believe in God, then you can say you are not a creationist. So in that respect, I am not different from Behe and Meyers and most people who read this blog. But the three of us and the other blog readers are different from atheists. Behe is a practicing Catholic and I know of no religious belief that he holds that I do not hold and that any Jesuit who is alive does not hold. They are all creationists too. Meyer is not a Catholic but I do not believe he is a young earth creationist and as such he is no different than any Catholic is on this criteria. I have never seen Meyer discuss his religion so I do not know what he actually believes. By the way there are some young earth creationist Catholics. Now given that I believe that God created the world, what do I say about how life came to be. My assessment is that this is a mystery. There is absolutely no proof that it didn't happen naturally given the nature of the universe that God created. But there is no proof that it happened naturally either. I can assess the natural processes and what we know and speculate as to what is the most likely answer but I have no good explanation for choosing any specific process. Either way, natural or not natural, it does not affect Catholicism one iota. As far as the origin of new species, once life appeared, I make the same assessment. It is a mystery. There is no evidence that supports it all happened through Darwinian processes. Behe wrote a book about it and thus, says the same thing and it is the only reasonable answer I know. I am aware of many Catholics who do think it makes a difference and will argue for a certain scientific point of view because of their own personal theology. In other words their personal theology which is not necessarily Catholic theology determines what they believe about science. In this respect they are not much different from the young earth creationists or atheists. I wouldn't be surprised if many of the Jesuits take this position but there is no official position of the Church on this. The Church carefully avoids this pitfall and well they should even though they hold conferences on the topic. This can get very complicated and even these very general comments may not be appropriate for this blog. 8 years 1 month agoI have a background in science having received my degree in mathematics and physics from a Jesuit institution and have remained a science junkie ever since despite most of my work experience in other areas. There is zero conflict between religion and science since there is one truth and the truth of one can not contradict truth of the other. Now having said that there are definitely dogmas of some religions and dogmas of many scientists that are false. And it is in this realm that there is conflict. I have seen atheist defend their position and it is intellectually bankrupt. I find it amazing how they will distort what is known by science to justify their positions. Did you notice the statement by Jon Stewart saying that the scientist often base their beliefs on faith. That is absolutely true. When push comes to shove that is what they will do. I have also seen the claims made by the young earth creationists about the nature of the universe and the time since creation and they are also equally intellectually bankrupt scientifically. I have met a few and they are extremely nice people but do not ever get into a science discussion with them. The Catholic Church takes no position on much of science other than it cannot contradict God's plan and so far nothing has or even comes close. So there is no problem there for the Church. Enjoy science. It is an amazing area whether it be cosmology, particle physics, micro biology, ecology, geology or the weather. A last comment. Some science has become extremely politicized and as such one has to be careful with what is claimed. Especially with hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually on research and often this research is used to justify political positions. The Teaching Company has a short course on this topic by Lawrence Principe. http://www.teach12.com/ttcx/coursedesclong2.aspx?cid=4691 And in this course you will find it was the pope that was in the right in the Galileo Affair and not Galileo as we all have been carefully taught for a long while. David Nickol8 years 1 month agoJR Cosgrove (or anyone who would like to answer), It seems to me there are very profound conflicts between modern science and Catholicism (and religion in general). If evolution has occurred because of random mutations and natural selection, in order to claim God has really shaped the living world, it difficult to know how those mutations could be purely random. Also, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, although the story of Adam and Eve is in figurative language, "Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents." Does modern science affirm or contradict the idea of the human race originating from two parents? I would say it contradicts the idea of humankind descending from two "parents." There are, of course, many other profound questions. Certainly it cannot be denied that as modern science has advanced in some areas, religion has retreated, and the "God of the gaps" has grown smaller. Who is to say this trend won't continue indefinitely? 8 years 1 month agoMr. Nickol, I am certainly not a theologian so I do not want to tread on anything that makes anything definitive claims about Adam and Eve. From what I understand, Catholicism is a revealed religion, that is a number of its precepts are based on revelation, as opposed to reasoning from observed data. Adam and Eve are central to these revelations. I am sure some can express it much better than I. There is nothing in science that precludes a first couple in some way consistent with an Adam and Eve. It could not have happened 6,000 years ago since humans were all over the planet by then and certainly woman did not come from Adam's rib. But there is nothing to indicate that God could not have infused some pair with a soul and tested them in a way similar to that described in Genesis. Modern day genetics is great as tracing ancient lines but it cannot rule out that there was an intervention at some time in the past by God as revealed by scripture. These are one time events and science is very poor at identifying and describing one time events or ruling them out. This is not the place to have a discussion on evolution. It is an enormously complicated topic. I have been reading about it for years and the best I can say is that it is a mystery as to what happened. New species certainly appeared at various times in the past 3.5 billion years but the mechanism for a lot of these appearances is still very much in doubt. It is a topic that generates a lot of passion, as much as any political or religious topic I have seen. If you want to see serious ad hominems thrown about, monitor an evolution debate.Barbara DeLorenzi8 years 1 month agoThat conversation with Jon Stewart and Marilynne Robinson reminded me of a course I took on theoretical inorganic chemistry in grad school. The professor told us that the principle quantum number had different values depending on the dimension in n-dimensional space. This was something I could not comprehend, although in the mathematical language of quantum mechanics, it is conceivable. One of my classmates, then a Daughter of Charity, passed me a note - do you think Dr. F believes in God, she asked. I replied, if he believes what he is teaching us, then believing in God is easy.It always seemed to me that the same epistemological problem encounters the theoretical physicist/chemist as the believer. Both are attempting, in a limping fashion, to describe something that makes no sense in the Newtonian, earthy world in which we exist. Both make use of special language that attempts to bridge the gap, but both fall quite short of closing the gap and, we are told, always will.I was famous for telling my students, who thought I was deluded when attempting to describe the nature of the matter, ''an electron's gotta do what an electron's gotta do.'' It is not up to the electron to live up to our more comfortable planetary system models. Rather it is our lot as intelligible hunks of bulk matter to come up with a workable theory to describe reality as we see it.I doubt science would support a ''first parents'' scenario. If the Genesis story is using figurative language, then I suspect theology, created by ensouled and intelligible hunks of bulk matter, leaves some wiggle room as well.Stanley Kopacz8 years 1 month agoThe story of the first parents tells me we are all related to one another, all of us, and related to God. That is just as true given a small group moving into sapience.As for quantum mechanics, it tells me that the rules of the universe, conservation of matter/energy, momentum, etc. are there but with wiggle room, the uncertainty represented by Planck's constant. For two subatomic particles to interact requires the exchange of particles, for example, two electrons must exchange photons, the carriers of the electromagnetic force. This entails the brief, but within the limits of uncertainty, violation of energy and momentum conservation. After the interaction, the books of the universe are set right again. Without this wiggle room, there would be no interaction in the unvierse, nothing interesting would happen.I sometimes think this way about rules of morality. Very good things to have around, structuring our lies and keeping things from going crazy. But then, there's that little bit of wiggle room that might help everything really work and live. A little Planck's constant worth of mercy and compassion to make things go.Stanley Kopacz8 years 1 month agoMake that "structuring our LIVES"Dale Rodrigue8 years 1 month agoYes, it has been shown scientifically that we are decended from either one female or possibly few females and their mates. Recently maternal RNA which can only be transmitted by females was traced to one or a few females. David Nickol8 years 1 month agoEvolution is a very complex topic, but it seems to me there is a rather simple aspect of it. Evolution takes place, according to the contemporary understanding, because random mutations cause changes in organisms, and natural selection determines which random mutations are weeded out and which are incorporated into life forms. If religion accepts the theory of evolution but claims that it is guided by God, then either the random mutations aren't really random, or the mutations are random but natural selection is determined by God and is not natural. The contemporary understanding of evolution is that it is not goal-directed. It was not a process that began billions of years ago so that organisms would be come more and more complex and eventually lead to the existence of humans. The religious view (it seems to me) is that the book of Genesis is essentially correct, but that God chose to create humankind in a slow, incremental process that culminated in the human race. This is at odds with the scientific understanding of mutations being random and evolution not being goal directed. David Nickol8 years 1 month agoDale, According to what I have read (and I admit to finding it difficult to grasp), genetic research has indicated that everyone alive today has a common female ancestor (called Mitochondrial Eve) who lived about 200,000 years ago. There is also believed to be a man (called Y-chromosomal Adam) who lived between 90,000 and 60,000 years ago. One of the grave problems is that these two individuals can't be the parents of the human race, because they never met! Stanley Kopacz8 years 1 month agoDavid, a third approach is that the universe is already imbued with the coherence and creativity of God. In evolution, we have an "annealing" process that reveals possibilities, pulling them out of a Platonic well. That a human or even a roach is possible is a source of amazement to me. Also, that random mutations can achieve such levels of order tells me that there is an atmosphere of orderliness that it takes place in.I do some optical design in my field of work. I set up a starting optical design in a computer program, and assign a figure of merit telling the program what performance and physical configuration I desire. Then I let a genetic algorithm generate mutations of the design and the mutated designs are evaluated against the merit function, the best performers are combined (mated) and so on and so forth until a deent design is arrived at. If the merit function is properly set up, a viable design is arrived at. But a bad merit function generates absurdities.ANyway, there are boundary conditions to the universe. Do these constitute a merit function? Random occurrences in the universe does not mean the whole thing is not meant, IMHO.8 years 1 month agoMr. Nickol, Random mutations and natural selection are not thought to be the main driver of evolution. Certainly changes happen as a result of these processes but it is far from obvious what really has happened over time. The whole discussion has turned toward the analysis of information in the genome and how this has changed over time and how it varies from species to species. Random mutations can/do change the information but no one has shown how the very complex information processing capabilities in the genome have developed or can be modified to produce something truly new. There are some simple examples of changes that have happened but the reality of the whole coding part of the genome is staggeringly convoluted. One evolutionary biologist said it would take 10,000 pages to list the instructions that describe the various options or switches that take place within the human genome which controls the various processes. They are only beginning to understand these processes and haven't a clue how such systems could have developed though they do speculate a great deal. To just say random mutations and natural selection did it is at best simplistic. As I said this blog is not the place to discuss this topic. It is enormously complex and very divisive because many people's world view depend upon certain answers being correct. This is an area of science where one's ideology may be dictating what science one ascribes to and will defend. Bill Collier8 years 1 month agoI enjoy Marilynne Robinson's writing, but Stewart's comedy show seems something of a strange venue for a discussion (5 minutes in length!) about a weighty subject like the interaction of science and religion. He does have a young audience, however, and hopefully many of Stewart's listeners will read Robinson's book. Anyone else disagree with Robinson's affirmance of Stewart's observation that both science and religion are creations of the mind?John Polkinghorne, the British physicist, Anglican priest, and past winner of the Templeton Religion Prize, has written extensively on the relationship between religion and science, including the evolution issue mentioned by some other posters in this thread. (The short of it for Templeton: random mutations are certainly an important part of the evolutionary process, but a "fertile world" needs both randomness and some framework of order.) See, for example, his 2009 book, "Questions of Truth," which takes on evolution, the existence of God, the problem of evil, and a host of other vexing issues. Margaret Riordan8 years 1 month agoRe the (Mitochondrial) Eve: It is important to understand that although females alive today all seem to trace their mitochondrial DNA back to this "Eve", it does not mean she was the only female alive in her time. It simply means that "Eve" has had an unbroken lineage of female descendants- since mitochondrial DNA is only passed through the female line.And Stanley rightly points out the constraints that are placed on 'random' mutations: they happen within the boundaries of what is already present.MargaretDavid Nickol8 years 1 month agoJR Cosgrove says: ''Random mutations and natural selection are not thought to be the main driver of evolution.'' Of course they are. The standard textbook on the subject is Evolution, Second Edition, by Douglas J. Futuyma (Sinaur Associates, Inc., 2009). Here is a quote from page 10: **********The rate of mutation is too low for mutation by itself to shift a population from one genotype to another. Instead, the change in genotype proportions within a population can occur by either of two principal processes: random fluctuations in proportions (genetic drift), or nonrandom changes due to the superior survival and/or reproduction of some genotypes compared with others (i.e., natural selection). Natural selection and random genetic drift can operate simultaneously. ********** That is the contemporary understanding of evolution in a nutshell. Of course the process of evolution is enormously complex, and much is not understood in detail. However, to try to put random mutation and natural selection off to the sidelines is to attempt to come up with an alternative theory of evolution. It sounds to me like you are reading critiques of neo-Darwinism from those who see ''irreducible complexity'' in nature and/or advocate Intelligent Design. That's fine, but to try to argue that there is no conflict between science and religion by arguing that reigning scientific theories are incorrect because they are not in harmony with religion is merely to confirm the conflict between science and religion. David Nickol8 years 1 month agoStanley, Combining what you said with ideas of the existence of multiple parallel universes - in which everything that can happen does happen somewhere - does, it seems to me, put God entirely back in the driver's seat. It would mean he didn't just create possibilities and sit back and watch as some of them played out. Rather, he created possibilities and all of them were realized. But I don't know what Catholic thought is on the topic of parallel universes!Stanley Kopacz8 years 1 month agoWell, David, at this point my Physics B.S, is rather taxed. I am an engineer now and not a theoretical physicist. I suppose I have problems with the idea of things just "happening". Quantum level occurences certainly seem to and you can imagine microscopic quantum fluctuations playing out in the nonlinear macroscopic world systems through chaos theory. This could play out in the weather through the "butterfly effect".I guess I think of God more in the future, as an "attractor", than as Prime Cause. Looking toward the past, I would consider God's act of creation (like the Cabbalists) to be an act of withdrawal. Perhaps the two are reconcialable.As for parallel universes, they would be, last I heard, unobservable and therefore failing one of the scientific criteria. If they become observable, they would no longer be parallel. Sorry, my 61 year old brain is starting to smoke.Before I put my head in the refrigerator, I would just like to say that science does not provide, for me, at least , any moral gudance or motivation. I don't see how I could use science to guide me in my goals. If my goals are to preserve the environment, science certainly is there in the way of photovoltaic technology and Stirling engines. Otherwise, we can also burn fossil fuels until the party is over and science is there for that, also, in the form of internal combustion engines. The question is, does any of this matter? My religious side says it does. 8 years 1 month agoMr. Nichol, If you actually read Dr. Futuyma's book, you will find he does not provide evidence to back up any claim that random mutation and natural selection leads to the origin of complex novelties. ( I don't have the edition you mention but his previous one and I expect there is little difference) If you read Dawkin's books you will not find any evidence of this either. Extremely well written, very informative but little to explain how the complicated things happened other than assertion and conjecture. If you read ''Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life'' by Jablonka and Lamb you will see they are struggling to find other ideas to explain what happened. If you read ''Macroevolution: Diversity, Disparity, Contingency: Essays in Honor of Stephen Jay Gould'' edited by Elisabeth S. Vrba you will find they are exploring lots of models that are not Darwinian in order to try to explain what they cannot explain. On the other side of the argument against naturalistic evolution alone explaining everything, read Behe's Edge of Evolution which explores the limitations of the Darwinian model of mutations and natural selection. And if you are interested in the Origin of Life debate read Meyer's Signature in the Cell which explores the chemical and physics of cell creation and the origin of information. As I said this debate creates a lot of passion. You said ''That's fine, but to try to argue that there is no conflict between science and religion by arguing that reigning scientific theories are incorrect because they are not in harmony with religion is merely to confirm the conflict between science and religion. '' I never said any such thing or try to argue any such thing. I said science and religion are not in conflict. I definitely hold that. In addition to this, I pointed out that Darwin's ideas in evolution cannot explain all especially the origin of complex capabilities. Even, if they could, there still would not be a conflict between this or any other aspect of science and religion. You brought up the idea of mutations and natural selection, I didn't. I responded to your comments based on what I know about the science involved not because I thought it was any threat to religious beliefs. It is a threat to young earth creationist beliefs but not to Catholicism. And Catholicism is a threat to the beliefs of most scientists who claim to be atheists or agnostics. But Catholicism is not a threat to science, only to the ideology of most scientists. David Nickol8 years 1 month agoJR Cosgrove, Your reading list is impressive, but I am taking a very simple position that doesn't require a great deal of knowledge, and that is that in contemporary science, most consider evolution (neo-Darwinism, "the modern synthesis," or whatever you want to call it) to be a fact. They would not criticize Futuyma or Dawkins for not providing evidence to back up their claims about random mutations and natural selection. Their claims are accepted as facts. Stephen C. Meyer and Michael J. Behe are proponents of intelligent design, which evolutionists consider to be false. I am not arguing who is right and who is wrong here. I am saying that I see a conflict between science and religion when it comes to the matter of evolution, because contemporary science sees evolution as random and directed toward no goal, and religion sees evolution (to the extent it accepts it) as God's way of creating life. The fact that there are a few voices in the scientific community arguing in favor of intelligent design does not mean that modern science considers evolution by random mutation and natural selection to be in doubt. People like Stephen C. Meyer and Michael J. Behe are considered to be creationists taking a new tack to accommodate their religious beliefs, not scientists who have stumbled upon flaws in the contemporary understanding of evolution. David Nickol8 years 1 month agoStanley, My brain is two years older than yours, and it's smoking too. I agree with you that science cannot guide us in our goals. However, if religion makes claims that are incompatible with science - say, that the earth was created in 4004 B.C - we can know that religious claim is wrong. And if a particular religion has more than its fair share of claims that turn out to be verifiably false, it might be wise to be skeptical about claims that haven't been thoroughly investigated yet. Also, if a religion is based on historical events, and it turns out those events never happened, there are obvious problems. The following statement, it seems to me, presents real problems: ''Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.'' Assuming the Catechism of the Catholic Church is not using figurative language there, in order for the statement to be true, the ''first parents'' have to have existed. This means you and I and everyone living have to be descendants of two individuals who lived recently enough to have the intellectual capacity to make a moral decision that was deliberate enough and grave enough to taint not only them, but all of their descendants. The story of Adam and Eve is rich enough and subtle enough so that it may contain a great deal of truth and wisdom. But one of the things it cannot teach us (in my opinion) is that there were two individuals who were the parents of the human race. So whatever hinges on the human race having two individuals as parents of the race is called into question.David Nickol8 years 1 month agoJR Cosgrove says: "There is no conflict with any finding by any scientists in any discipline with Catholicism." So you would say, apparently, that it is not the finding of scientists that life originated in a very simple form on earth approximately 3.8 billion years ago, and that everything living today can be traced back to that original life, and that the mechanisms that got us from there to here were - in very large part - random mutation and natural selection. I gather you would say that this is a theory, but it has not been proven. How do we know what a scientific finding is?8 years 1 month agoMr. Nickol, you asked above ''So you would say, apparently, that it is not the finding of scientists that life originated in a very simple form on earth approximately 3.8 billion years ago, and that everything living today can be traced back to that original life, and that the mechanisms that got us from there to here were - in very large part - random mutation and natural selection. I gather you would say that this is a theory, but it has not been proven.'' There should be distinctions between findings and conclusions. First, the finding is that there some type of fossil evidence in a rock that has been dated to 3.8 million years ago. There may be good evidence for this. I thought it was 3.5 million years but it makes no difference. Second, the next part is a conclusion and not a finding. Namely, ''that everything living today can be traced back to that original life.'' There is no evidence for this that I have ever seen but it might be true. It is highly speculative but whether true or not true it is of no consequence for Catholicism. I am going to restrict my comments to Catholicism. To use the term religion becomes meaningless because it would then be necessary to consider every possible religion on the planet. Missing from this conclusion that was just made is a lot of findings of specific organisms from the fossil record that existed at various times in the past. People then try to make sense of these organisms and these organism seem to form a progression which is also a finding. They ask what is their possible origin and then they make some conclusions. One is that each descended from a predecessor right on back to 3.8 billion years ago. But it is not the only explanation out there. Another is that there was more than one origin of life and if this is so, then the tracing back to one cell a long time ago is very problematic. I do not know if this really makes any difference to anyone except the scientists who contest it. It certainly has no religious implications that I know of. Another is there were multiple origins due to unknown circumstances. The next claim is also a conclusion, ''that the mechanisms that got us from there to here were - in very large part - random mutation and natural selection.'' This is speculative and there is no evidence that all happened this way or that it could have happened. The last part is crucial, ''could have happened.'' That is why it is at best speculative and why evolutionary biologist are pursuing other mechanisms. I can point you to other natural explanations for biological changes and each is speculative. The first is endosymbiosis, another is horizontal gene transfer and a third is gene or partial genomic duplication. In reality evolutionary biologists don't care as long as the process is natural because the bogey man to be defeated is not some alternative theory but God. So any explanation that does not assume God, is ok to them. Young earth creationists are a convenient foil because their science is so bizarre. So just associate all objectors to the current synthesis with them and you are home free. Every rational person knows their science is screwy. What evolutionary biologist dread more than anything is a rational scientist that accurately analyzes the data. That is why they hate Michael Behe. Just refer to him as a creationist. But there is a problem. He is not a creationist in the typical use of the word. You should see some of the vitriol sent his way. And whatever the explanation is, there must be no God. That is the water the wicked witches (atheistic scientists) are deathly afraid of. So they yell creationist every time they are challenged and everyone then assumes anyone who challenges them is a looney. Michael Behe as a scientist does not say God did it. He just says it didn't happen by any natural means we know of. But personally he thinks God had a hand in it but that is not an opinion based on science.