Silence and Evolution

If God speaks in gentle whispers, is it any wonder we so often miss it? Our lives are filled with winds and earthquakes and fires.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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I invite any thoughtful discussion about Silence (or silence in general).

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Such a great bible quote in the article… I had never noticed the meta message of this text before!

"… when Elijah had fled into the wilderness to get away from the wicked Queen Jezebel. He came to the mountain of the Lord, [he found refuge in a cave] and,

“The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.

After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.

After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”

Verse: 1 Kings 19

That’s a great post, Jim. The Elijah story has always had a special meaning for me, but your quote of Buechner was even more powerful.
“To have faith is to respond to what we see by longing for it the rest of our days; by trying to live up to it and toward it through all the wonderful and terrible things; by breathing it in like air and growing strong on it; by looking to see it again and see it better. To lose faith is to stop looking.”

The New Atheists ascribe this kind of Faith as mere Wishful Thinking which their superior intellect has allowed them to rise above. When running experiments to support a Ph.D. thesis it is difficult NOT to wish that the data you are collecting turns out favorably. When it doesn’t, and you still have faith that your original premise is correct, you carefully check the experimental design to make sure it really addresses the question correctly. Perhaps the new experiment will yield the desired support. Perhaps not. But that is the way a scientist should use faith and avoid wishful thinking about how the material world operates.

But Life is different. It is unlike a laboratory experiment where one is free to set up the parameters. And the Faith that gives purpose to Life is different. As is evident from the Beuchner quote, it is difficult to justify one’s personal Faith to someone else on a purely rational basis. But anyone who has found a life-guiding Faith can be excused for pitying anyone who has not.
Keep up the good work, Jim.
Al Leo

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I would love to read this article but I didn’t watch the movie yet… I’m allergic to spoilers :frowning: .

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I feel the same way! I read Endo’s book The Samurai a few years back and really liked it. I think I should read the book first, and then watch the movie, and then read this article. :sweat_smile:

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I found this story in some respects exploring similar themes that are found in Job. The question of why God allows his people to suffer for one, the challenge of maintaining faith in spite of the taunts and pressure of those around you for another. It also raised other interesting questions such as the ethics of maintaining dogma at the expense of others’ lives and well being.

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I went to see Silence last night with my son. The two of us were the only two in the theater. Thanks for your comments on this movie, they helped me talk to my son afterward. Excellent movie. I highly recommend with the caveat that viewers should be warned that they have to maintain engaged minds and be prepared to listen to every bit of dialogue to fully appreciate. This movie isn’t there to entertain but to feed the mind.


I have to own up to being an atheist, but I did find your article interesting. The problem is, couldn’t all the tweaks, and ‘ordinary’ miracles God performs, which you concede make finding God quite to find not, in fact, be evidence of the fact he doesn’t exist.

As for solitude, meditation, and the like, I find it great in a world so full of tumult. Most thinking people probably share this view, certainly Sam Harris. But we don’t need, or feel, God present during these quiet times.


Do you believe in Freewill? This is a sincere question. Because I’ve known Atheists who zealously endorse one side, while other Atheists endorse the other side.

Why do you suppose something as fundamentally obvious as one’s ultimate state of volition is not so obvious to even the most self-proclaimed logical people on Earth?

If you don’t want to answer the question specifically, that’s okay. But to me this line of questioning helps Atheists understand that God’s presence or absence is just not an easy question to answer.

I’m a determinist, absolutely, so yes I do deny libertarian free will. It doesn’t affect in any way the manner in which I live my life, being more a theoretical position. This is because every thing we do, every thought that enters our head, has a cause that is in some ways neural, and of course there is an almost infinite set of influences acting on us constantly.

I don’t deny that determinism is a difficult concept to come to terms with. It seems so contrary to everything we’ve been brought up to believe, indeed all societies assume it as a given, and base so much on it.

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I don’t think we’re being unreasonable when we look the scientific data squarely in the eyes and see something more at work. That something more is not in the gaps we don’t understand scientifically, but in the beauty and elegance of it all. -

A perfect statement of the faith I share, and perhaps the central tenet of evolutionary creationism.


Hi Geoff. Thanks for the comment. You ask (in essence) “Couldn’t the silence be evidence for the non-existence of God?” I’d answer: yes, of course it could. There is certainly “evidence” for both sides. But my claim was that the evidence is subtle and ambiguous.

Think of it like this: let’s say there are 4 points on a graph, which are the “evidences”. You could say each of these is evidence for a square that you can draw through them; I could say they are evidence for a circle that I can draw through them. The evidences under-determine the figure.

Of course that is a rather extreme example, but I think something similar is going on with the evidences for and against God. I don’t think either side can present enough objective evidences that would preclude the other side from maintaining their position reasonably. Jerry Coyne wrote rather dismissively about my use of “reasonable” and “unreasonable” in this post, but I think quite obviously that people can both be reasonable in taking contrary positions when the evidence isn’t conclusive (though of course they can’t both be right).

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A Human is not just a sack of chemicals mixed into water. We are vulnerable to a host of problems and struggles, including the struggle for meaning.

A Case in Meaning -
Perhaps you saw the DiCaprio movie called “Inception”, which was sometimes a confusing jumble of persons trying to survive and escape the Russian-doll-like realms of a dream-within-a-dream-within yet more dreams. The movie ended with the hero defying all odds and not only escaping the un-real world he had helped create, but also with his safe return to his two children. He pulled out a shiny metal top that he always used to confirm that he was truly in the real world. He spun it on the hard table top, but his interest was distracted by the children’s play that he was eager to join.

The audience follows the camera zooming in on the spinning top. If the top falls, then we are all in the real world. If the top spins forever, then the hero (and the audience) are still hopelessly trapped in a fictional realm with mere impressions of the real children.

The top appears to wobble just a bit! . . . but then it looks l like it might recover and continue spinning so improbably. We just need to watch it for a few more seconds to know for sure. And the picture goes black. Many viewers and critics struggled with that ending to the movie. What does it mean? The best answer I’ve read so far is: the message of the movie’s ending is that the pursuit of absolutely Perfect Truth is not so important when one’s entire experience of meaning is at stake.

Humanity and its God-shaped Hole -
When philosophers or theologians say that humans have a God-shaped hole in their hearts, and only some divine presence (or the story of one) will fill the hole - - I think they are completely correct in their observation. Humans were created to respond to this God-nutrition … just as much as we are born to respond favorably to gatherings of fruit and nuts … or a portion of a chicken tenderized by a small fire.

The Shaming By Atheists -
Atheists belittle those they think are so weak as to require divine nurture and sustenance. But to me the logic For God is just as much about a good mathematical formula as it is a calming influence on individual persons or society at large. Without God, I can’t think of anything in the Universe that really means anything, especially the conscious human mind. To me it is impossible for a Universe without God, without meaning, to create something as amazing, and as otherwise unessential as Consciousness.

All quibbling set aside, take comfort that you and billions of humans like you are on the same side.

Thanks for the response James. I’m obviously not convinced by it, but there is a certain logic to it, and I can understand its appeal.

However, it’s not my place to try and ‘troll’ your blog and I’m grateful that you took the trouble to respond to my comment.

I must admit that I have not read the book, nor have I seen the movie. However, this conversation has brought to mind an important concept that is basic to my faith, my life, and my studies, science, theology, and whatever.

That is the concept of “integrity.” Integrity means honesty, openness, and “being oneself.” Clearly this is not easy at anytime, but in these days of conflict, maybe especially so.

Jesus said, Matthew 16:25-26 (NIV2011)
25 “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.
26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Whoever wants to save his/her life at any cost will lose her/his integrity, but whoever dedicate his//her life to Me by doing what is right, will find their integrity.

What good is it for someone to gain the while world by living a lie? What price one can place on one’s integrity?

There is a question as to what is integrity. Many priests died in Roman persecution because they refused to sacrificed to Caesar. Others compromised and then later returned to their pastoral duties. Humans are commanded not to play God and judge others.

We need to be responsible first to ourselves, our integrity. This does not mean that I must always be “right,” This does not mean I must be consistent to a fault. Being honest means we will not always be right and consistent, but we must try to be open and honest.

I find that to be open and honest, one must find that life has meaning and purpose that is beyond oneself. This is what God is all about. The most serious thing that Richard Dawkins has done is deny that life has meaning and purpose based on his theory of the Selfish Gene.

If life has on meaning and purpose, life is not worth living. That is why the Selfish Gene is wrong from the philosophical and theological point of view. It is also wrong from the scientific point of view.

One does not do right because God will reward her/him, even though God will in the long run, if not in the short run. One does right because of integrity one finds in Jesus Christ and hopes to find in himself/herself. I trust the young priest made his decision, whatever it was, based on integrity.

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Roger, I grant that your way of explaining the deep meaning of Integrity and Purpose will be more easily grasped by the PIP (people in the pews) than any I would propose. However, for a smaller but no less important audience–bright youngsters intrigued by the lure of science and perhaps on the way to accept Scientism as Truth, as Dawkins did and who now tries to lead others on his path–the most effective argument to these inquisitive youths is to show how badly mistaken Dawkins was in expanding a small portion of a mechanism ('selfish genes") as the only driving force in an evolution that has no direction or purpose.

On the other hand, maintaining that there is NO selfishness in the process of passing genes on to the next generation–this is fruitless and counter-productive. If the only reason for taking this position is because we KNOW that God would not countenance such a thing–well, this is the kind of argument that is losing favor with today’s (& tomorrow’s) youth. It is important, and I believe possible, to address an argument to them and still not lose out with the PIP.
Al Leo

I pastor a church in San Jose, CA.

I recently read your blog and got a lot out of it. We have an usual number of engineers in our church so I this is an important topic for them. I used some of your material in a sermon.
Please keep up the good work.

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