Q15: Psychology, evolution, agency and creation

Robin Hood splits the arrow

Robin Hood splits the arrow

This question is too long to be an article title. The title I used just captures the elements involved. Here is the full question:

Question 15: Psychology says evolution has wired people to find “agency” — a personal cause — in everything, even when we know it’s not true. If they think the world and what happens here has a personal cause, it’s just another case of imagining agency when it isn’t really there.

This is a complex question filled with assumptions and bad reasoning. So let’s start by identifying the assumptions and bad reasoning, and then we’ll go on to the core of the question and the answer.

Assumptions and Bad Reasoning

The first assumption this article makes concerns evolution. Let’s start by clarifying which of the various types of evolution is intended. Eric Hovind identifies six ways the word evolution is used in this video.  Of the various types, this question is obviously referencing Darwinian evolution (which Hovind refers to as “macroevolution”) or more precisely Neo-Darwinian evolution. The second assumption the question makes is that either type – Darwinian or neo-Darwinian evolution is true. That is false. This website identifies many reasons why it’s false. There are currently 64 articles under the topic “evolution” on this site explaining why evolution is false so I won’t take the time to explain why here. If you need evidence of the falsity of evolution, please review the articles. With those clarifications, let’s go on to the main assertions in the question.

Questionable and False assertions
The two main assertions made in the question are:

1. Humans are wired to see “agency” even where there is none.

2. The “they” referenced are Christians meaning Christians see “agency” in the creation of the universe, when they should not.

Let’s consider the first item: Humans see “agency” where there is none. This was somewhat applicable to humans before the advent of modern science in that many cultures attributed natural phenomena to “gods”. This point is made in the science documentary “Steven Hawking’s Grand Design: Did God Create the Universe.” In order to ridicule belief in God creating the universe, Hawking points to primitive beliefs in ancient cultures. He uses the Vikings as an example:

To introduce the topic, the question “What or who created and controls the universe” is asked, and the narrator tells us:

“Long ago the answer was almost always the same: gods made everything. The world was a scary place. So even people as tough as the Vikings believed in supernatural beings to make sense of natural phenomena like lightning or storms. The Vikings had many different gods. Thor was the god of lightning. Another god, Aegir, caused stormy seas.” [1]

You can view the clip here.

Trying to apply this argument to modern people who believe in, and use, modern science (like Christians) is essentially a form of the fallacy of suppressed evidence. It would be like accusing a modern-day physicist of seeing all the math involved in physics as an arithmetic problem— accusing him of being ignorant of, or denying, other fields of math such as algebra, trigonometry and calculus. Not only is that untrue but it would be insulting to a physicist to make such an accusation. This also applies to modern people who grew up in the modern world immersed in the products of modern science, which includes Christians. It is untrue that Christians view the world as primitive people did, seeing gods or fairies as causative “agents” everywhere.

So don’t be astonished and dismayed at modern Christians. The one you should be astonished and dismayed at is not the misunderstood Christian but the person who considers himself sophisticated, yet holds such an uninformed, ignorant view of modern people such as Christians.

Turning to the second item concerning seeing agency everywhere: What if you’re justified in seeing agency in certain items? If someone accuses you of being paranoid because you insist that someone is constantly following you but it’s actually true that someone is following you, are you paranoid or just observant?

In this case you might be quite suspicious, but you’d be suspicious with justification. Or it could be you’re an observant realist and know what’s going on. The point is this: If, as an outsider, your perception of a situation is limited to labels others have attached to that situation, then that says more about your lack of digging to find the truth and a tendency to accept stereotypes than it says about the beliefs of the one being stereotyped.

Now, regarding the topic of finding agency. There is often a good reason to see agency. A friend of mine, a PhD scientist, signs all his emails “Show me a message that didn’t come from a mind.” A message is the intentional construction of a series of symbols, according to a formalized set of rules of communication—like the English language—arranged to convey an idea and expressed in physical form, whether through writing or verbally speaking (thus affecting the physical air you communicate the message through), in order to convey your thought to another mind. Given the intentional, specified complexity nature of a message, it is ludicrous to think genuine messages just pop into existence out of nowhere (the way secularists believe the universe came into being). As Aquinas points out, just as there is necessarily an archer behind every arrow that causes it to hit the mark (arrows don’t shoot themselves, and certainly not accurately)[2], clearly there is an agent behind every message who constructed it and expressed it. So it is proper and correct to understand that an agent is behind the shooting of an arrow or the conveying of a message. There is a reason every time we see a movie about someone stranded on an island with sandy beaches, one of the first things they do is write a message in the sand. (See Tom Hanks do so in Castaway here, or Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked here.) Why do that unless they expect people to interpret that as the work of an agent – who in this case needs rescuing? Likewise, when we look around the created universe, we see clear signs of agency as surely as we see them behind a message, a well-placed arrow shot, or letters on a beach.

Thus, the question should not be: “Why do Christians assume there is agency behind the creation when there is none?” The appropriate question is: “Is there an agent responsible for the creation of the universe and all we see?” To answer that we should first ask if you are a person who believes in the findings of modern science.

If you are not like the Vikings, who saw gods everywhere, and instead believe in the value of modern science, you should believe in fundamental laws of science such as the law of causality, the law of conservation of energy and the law of biogenesis.

These laws state that:
Causality: The cause always precedes the effect. You cannot have an effect that precedes the cause. This law has always been observed to be true. Yet modern science believes the Big Bang, their explanation for the origin of the universe, is an uncaused effect. In spite of the fact that we know better concerning causality, many people—including scientists—think like primitive people who have no better explanation. Many people today still believe the Big Bang theory, which defies that fundamental law of science that they claim to believe.

Conservation of Energy: Energy (and thus matter since Einstein showed there is an equivalence between the two with his famous equation E=mc2) in a closed system can neither be created nor destroyed. Yet the Big Bang theory states the “singularity” at the beginning of the Big Bang created all the matter and energy that will ever exist. Again, this is believed although it defies the “science” people claim to accept.

Biogenesis: Life comes only from life. Nonetheless, evolutionists believe that somehow, someway, at some point in time, non-living chemicals became living chemicals. They claim they’ve abandoned belief in “spontaneous generation” which Louis Pasteur disproved in the 19th century, yet what else can we can conclude except that, despite their protestations, they really do believe in spontaneous generation, since the theory of evolution, which they firmly believe, requires it.

Here are just three examples where modern people believe things that modern science has proven to be untrue. I could give you many more examples, but this is sufficient to make the point. Are these modern people actually primitive people who don’t know better? No, that is not the case. The science is well understood, so clearly they should know better. What’s happening here is there is a clear denial of scientific laws.

Atheists accuse Christians of making up God—the agent of creation—because we’re afraid of the dark. I say it is precisely the other way around. Atheists pretend there is no God (though they know better—Romans 1.19-20) because they’re afraid of the light. They’re afraid of a holy, just God to whom we’re all responsible. Scripture tells us:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,”
Romans 1.18

Such wrath will ultimately be expressed at the judgment against those who have not accepted God’s forgiveness, which is only found in accepting Christ.

Atheists like to pretend such a judgment will never happen. That is a foolish belief and a foolish course to follow since scripture is clear:

“… man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…”
(Hebrews 9.27)

God has foreshadowed that judgment with a global flood—which secularists also deny— because they don’t want to face that terrifying prospect. As my pastor has pointed out more than once, the percentage of people who ultimately die stands at about 100%. As Pascal observed, encountering death unprepared to face God and his wrath, not protected by the forgiveness found only in Christ because you’re betting there is no God, is a very foolish wager – with your eternal future hanging in the balance.

Duane Caldwell | May 10, 2024 | Printer Friendly version

1. Stephen Hawking’s Grand Design episode: “Did God Create The Universe?” Discovery Channel Documentary, 2011
2. See Aquinas’ Fifth way of knowing God exists (A Teleological argument):
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Volume 1 The Existence of God, Part One: Questions 1-13, Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1969, p.70

In an amazing display of marksmanship, Robin Hood splits an arrow already in the center of the bullseye in “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” (1938)

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