Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving, Evolution, and Design

Thanksgiving In America
Thanksgiving is a holiday that I see has lost a lot of its meaning in American society. I remember being taught that Thanksgiving was a time to stop and thank God for everything that he has bestowed upon us (be it material goods, health, understanding or anything- even suffering).

It seems quite difficult to do such a thing when America has abandoned belief in a personal God who affects our lives or has abandoned belief in God completely. I would hope that I would be able to see people at least showing gratitude to each other for something, but I don't even see that anymore. Instead, I see people calling it "Turkey Day", almost in an effort to remove the idea of being thankful to anyone for anything- which is a direct logical conclusion of America's narcissistic materialism ("its all about me").

I think that Americans have been trained to be unsatisfied with what they have and to always want more. This desire for more is so strong that it minimizes the recognition that the person has many reasons to be thankful to God and other people. Instead, their focus is on what they don't have, thus they don't see a reason to be thankful.

But moving beyond my cultural annoyances with the holiday, I find that the whole idea of "giving thanks" may be difficult (if not impossible) for naturalistic theories of human behavior to explain. If impossible, then it provides a powerful challenge to naturalism. However, whether difficult or impossible for naturalism, it provides evidence for an intelligent designer.

Requirements of Thankfulness
"Thanking" requires two people: one to do the thanking and the other to recognize it. The person doing the thanking needs to have the desire to thank someone, while the person who is being thanked has to have the ability to recognize that the gratitude is present and that it is a good thing (instead of a threatening or neutral thing).

The First Problem for Naturalism
The first challenge comes from the evolution of the abilities. Most naturalists hold that natural selection (the guide behind the evolutionary process) responds only to the present environment. There is no forethought and no specific goal other than simply survival. In order for "thankfulness" as a behavior or posture of the emotions to survive natural selection's lack of forethought, both the person offering the thanks and the one receiving the thanks must have developed (evolved) those complementary abilities simultaneously. The ability for "thanking someone" to improve survival of a person or society relies on a "chicken and egg" system to be in place before it works.

The Second Problem for Naturalism
The second challenge comes from the environment in which the first challenge must take place. The primary goal of any organism is to survive. This goal would be active both before and after the introduction of thankfulness. The problem comes in the reciprocating behavior of one organism if another showed gratitude to the first. Gratitude may be shown in many ways. It can be shown by verbal communication, the gifting of some valuable item, the offering of a useful service, or any other number of ways.

The main attribute that these each hold in common is that they require the thankful member to focus on the other. The change of focus may directly or indirectly affect the first's survival, though. Energy, time, items, or other resources in one organism's possession that are used for another organism's advantage, reduces the advantage of the first and increases the advantage of the second. This vulnerable position of the first makes it quite easy for the second to act further to reduce (or eliminate) the advantage of the first.

It Sounds Orchestrated
Since random mutation would only allow this new behavior to evolve in one person (or a minute number of people), the first would be greatly outnumbered by those who don't have the mutation that allows for complementary reaction to the thankful behavior. One could argue that the others may have mutated genes that provided the emotion of sympathy- but that, again, would only be a single person (or minute number of people). It could also be argued that maybe both sets of people evolved these abilities (respectively, altruism and sympathy) earlier and passed it on to many offspring and the offspring recognized that it would be to their disadvantage to exhibit those traits- which would require the prior evolution of a mind that could make such a determination. But this whole idea is starting to sound orchestrated (not random)- which would require an orchestrator.

Complementary behaviors in humans provide quite the powerful evidence for planned design.  Does this provide evidence for a God? Unless you want to say that this orchestration came from super-intelligent aliens, I would say so. Of course, you can always deny that any orchestration happened at all, and continue to believe that random processes produced something that looks like an elegant system.

Conclusion
As much as I hate the way people are treating the holiday, I love Thanksgiving. Not only do I have many blessings to be thankful to God for, but I have many reasons to show gratitude to my friends and family. Even though many just celebrate Thanksgiving as another reason to eat more food this time of year, it may also be celebrated as providing more evidence for the existence of the Creator of the food.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

1 comment:

  1. Indeed, it is very sad that where I live the Hispanic community knows it as "Dia del pavo" aka "Turkey day." From the get go, they appear to not have a clue as to what the day means.

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