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Wednesday, 14 April 2010

creationism vs evolution

Thanks to a possibly, slightly heated debate, with my brother I have been looking into evolution and what the standard Christian response to it is. Sadly there seems to be no standard! Even within the church there is a division over who is right and who is wrong. If even the bishops and top scientists can't agree, what chance do I have? I, possibly rather naively, assumed that the biblical account of the 6 day creation is the truth. Ok so some of the bible is symbolic, Jesus taught in parables but really is creation another example of that?
I don't know, but either way I didn't have the knowledge to debunk my brothers theories, hence the research now. What I have discovered, even just in a few hours online is that actually Darwins originally theory is way out of date (not surprising seeing as he wrote it some 150years ago). Even renowned scientists have agreed that many parts of his theory are flawed (and 'theory' should be the key word here). Yet it is in many places still expostulated as 'gospel' ('scuse the pun).
Of course I have come across Richard Dawkins theories too and although I have to be honest and say I have never read one of his books, I have only read articles and theories posted by him, but he does seem to be, frankly, a total prat, who only succeeds in getting his point heard by shouting over everyone else. This is the thing with some scientists and those who find it easy to retain a lot of information, they think they have all the answers and are so smug about it, when in reality all they are doing is fooling themselves. Although I like to think of myself as an intelligent woman, I know I would be no match for Dawkins. Does that make me wrong and him right? No! It just means he is a better communicator and can recall stuff from his brain easily (not something I can do - I always did better in coursework than exams!)

But anyway, back to the point, I'd love to hear other peoples theories on creationism vs evolution, or some recommended reading, to help me out in my research!
thanks :)


Suem said...

I have to say I don't and can't see the bible as a science text book. The world was not literally made in seven days, it is a story or "myth" that Genesis offers us. Now, before anyone gets upset, I am not saying that it is not TRUE, just that it is not scientifically FACTUAL. Stories and myths are the "truest" things we have; they teach us truths that transcend the limits of our knowledge and transcend any particular moment in time. Perhaps that is why Jesus so often taught through stories and parables, he used "fiction" to reveal moral and spiritual truth.

Lesley Fellows said...

I'm with Suem.

However, if I try to answer some of these questions...

It is true that you won't find the Christian answer to this question because there isn't one, but I don't find it sad that we don't agree - I kinda think it is dynamic and authentic. If God created 6000 different species of ant then it is ok to have 6000 different types of Christians. Our beliefs depend on our experiences, cultures and personalities. In the dynamic of all this there is vibrancy in the church, imho.

There is a theory that is called Intelligent Design, which I liked, I think the book I read was 'Darwin's Black Box' by Michael Behe. This allows evolution but says that some steps can't be explained without an intelligent cause rather than the blind one of natural selection. I still like this notion even though I have moved away from the strong evangelical type of churchmanship that promotes it. The book has very concrete examples and is very readable too.

As for six days - got a feeling the sun wasn't created until the fourth day and so what is a 'day' in the myth?

I think science asks the question 'how' and faith the question 'why'.

Richard Dawkins struck me as a very nice guy when I knew him. I think it is good to have a strong atheistic challenge to the church, and I wish he would do it. As you say, lately it is just embarrassing to watch him!

Red said...

hmm... interesting! thanks ladies. Will def look up 'intelligent design'. thanks :)

Ron Murphy said...


Thanks for the open invitation to respond. It's not often I find such genuine queries on what is basically a religious blog. I'll do my best to give you the point of view of an atheist*.

If we can deal with Dawkins first. I don't know which clips you've seen of him, but I do know that there are many posted online by religious people which show him in the middle of some discussion where he's become frustrated by some of the nonsense he's being told about science by religious people who know very little about science. If you saw more of the interviews he has with religious people you'd find he's extremely warm and courteous, listens carefully, and does his best to answer objections to evolution.

If there's one book I would recommend of Dawkins for anyone who is genuinely interested in finding out what evidence exists for evolution its this one:
The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover):

If you don't want to read it yourself I'd strongly recommend it as a gift for your brother. I'm sure he'd appreciate it.

*atheist - I am not an atheist first, and therefore anti-religious and pro-science and evolution. It's the other way round. What I've learned about science, and how we can know stuff leads me to conclude that there is zero evidence for a God, and thereforre I live my life as if there isn't one. You'll see later why I give such a tentative conclusion. I cannot be absolutely certain there is no God; or multiple gods, or other possible causes of creation.


Ron Murphy said...

Before addressing evolution in particular I think it's essential to understand what science is, what it's able to tell us, and what scientists mean when they claim theories like evolution are true, and why creationists don't get science and evolution. I find the main problem in this type of discussion is the different understanding of what certain words like 'fact', 'theory' and 'truth' mean for the theist and the scientist.

Theists generally holds their truths to be absolutely true, as if they are somehow solid and out there in the universe, maybe in addition to God or created by God or part of God. I agree that there are many Christianities out there and the details do vary. But generally there is an absolute nature to the meaning of these words to a theist.

Scientists have a quite different view. The best I can do to sum it up is in a sequence of reasoning as follows.

Descatres had the good idea of trying to figure out what we can know, and the barest bones of an idea was his famous 'cogito ergo sum', 'I think therefore I am' - basically, because I am thinking I must exist in some way; there must be something, call it 'me' or 'I' or 'mind', that is doing the thinking.

From there I, the mind, can observe, using my thinking mind, that I have senses that show me the external world - that is external to my mind, I feel my mind is encapsulated in a body. We all discover that outside our heads our senses tell us there are other objects, other people, just like us, who appear to think and have senses. We can't read their minds, but based on what we say and what they say, how we come to communicate with each other, it seems pretty reliable that we as individuals are real, that we do think and we do have senses. This experience, this 'evidence' that we exist in this way is there all the time, and it's all we have.

Despite the fact that we generally find our mind and senses to be quite reliable, we do observe occasions when either or both are extremely unreliable. It's most obvious in cases like Schizophrenia, where the sufferer can have delusions that to the rest of us are so clearly not real. It is less obvious in other cases when people who are 'normal' have opinions about themselves or others that are not consistent across society. So when normal people disagree about something, whether some 'fact' or other is true or not, we need some process by which we can examine this 'fact', scrutinise it, test it, to see if we can come to a consensus on whether the 'fact' is true or not.


Ron Murphy said...


This is where science comes in. Science, in principle, is nothing more than a set of methods that have been found to be the most reliable in collecting supporting evidence for a fact or a theory. Really it's nothing more than the application of our senses and our reason; but uses replication of tests and rigorous conditions to overcome some of the problems we have with our fallible minds and our raw senses. Repeating experiments, by different people in different places and different times, ensures that the results are valid everywhere and that local single test conditions and the scientist's own fallible senses aren't fooling him. Scientific instruments are used to measure properties that are beyond our senses - the instruments transpose some property that is inaccessible to our senses into something our senses can detect, such as a reading on a meter.

It's important to realise that science can never prove something beyond all doubt. It can do no more than collect abundant supporting evidence that suggests a fact or theory is true. Scientists make a point of constructing tests that attempt to show a fact or theory is false - the more they do this and fail the more they feel confident that the theory is true.

True in this sense means nothing more than currently not shown to be false. It does not mean, that if a fact is true, that it is absolutely true in some form of basic reality. But when a fact or theory has such an abundance of evidence supporting it, and no reasonable evidence against it, then scientists are prepared to call it true.

This is the position currently with evolution. All the evidence supports evolution, it's basic mechanisms and the time scales involved. There is no test that shows evolution to be false or doubtful.

All of the 'evidence' that creationists have offered as disproving evolution do not stand up to scrutiny. If there's any particular evidence you like me to address I'd be glad to if I can. Evidence, which we perceive through our senses and scrutinise with our reason, is all we have to go on.


Ron Murphy said...


When I said science can never prove something beyond all doubt, that applies to people in general. This is important. This limitation on science exists because science is a method humans have developed, and humans are fallible. We have limited reasoning capacities and limited senses. It appears we cannot know anything about reality. It's so bad that we can't even tell if there is some underlying reality there for us to find. If we ever think we have found an underlying reality, how would we know there isn't something else just beyond our scientific reach.

Many theists and philosophers emphasise this last point - that there is something beyond what science can tell us. Well, if it's beyond the best that science can do it's definitely beyond what theists and philosophers can do - because science is the current state of our best attempts to figure out how to know stuff. And this is a problem for theists and other types of mystics and philosophers that claim they know something from beyond the here and now of what science can show us. For example, theologians are keen to tell us what God wants from us, but when we enquire about God we are told he is unknowable, beyond our capacity to know. Well, if that's the case how come theologians feel at liberty to claim to know just enough for their purpose of determining how we act? we are all basically the same. Nothing has been found in any human that demonstrates they have some magical capacity to know stuff that other humans don't possess - nothing!

Even when theists claim that some people have had a Revelation from God, how, as ordinary humans themselves, can these theologians tell the difference between a true revelation and a delusion? There is simply no way to test this to figure out which is the case. If anything, the broad range of incompatible claims made by different religions should make anyone with common sense realise that it must all be internally generated. But as I've said above, common sense, that is the use of our reason and senses is fallible, and subject to indoctrination and persuasion, and many people actually believe these revelation claims are real.

As far as we can tell there is no other method of finding out whether something is true, or to what extent it is true. Our reason and senses, applied rigorously in the methods of science, is the very best we can do.

Theists often claim scientists are arrogant, that scientists claim to know stuff as fact. I hope you see from the above that scientists are far from arrogant. All they are saying is that given the history of what science has shown us about the world, ourselves, how our brains work, how easily we can fool ourselves, and how methods must be employed to compensate for our fallibilities, we are very very confident that the most reliable way of finding stuff out is through science.

Scepticism is an important part of science. If someone makes a claim, we need to ask "How do you know that?" What we are really asking is, "Where is your evidence?" Scientists ask this of each other all the time. This is what you see happening now with evolution. Some of the details of the theory are in dispute. But you are mistaken if you think that the whole theory is in dispute. The general ideas proposed by Darwin are still valid today, and have even more supporting evidence now.

But many creationists don't like this approach. They make claims about the age of the Earth, but don't back them up. What they are really saying is that all we have learnt about how to find stuff out is being thrown out the window. Some creationists come up with some ideas that they promote, but these ideas don't stand up to scrutiny.


Ron Murphy said...


As I said, I'd be happy to go into any specific details if I can. For now, try these sources.

This clip is a very brief summary of evolution:

Here's another:

This is far more detailed, and will take you some time to get through, but it should be worth it:


Lesley Fellows said...

That is a very clear view of your position Ron, and I respect it - I was an atheist myself and in some ways I remember it as a very pure set of beliefs, since I have become convinced there is a God life seems more complex, although also immeasurably rich. I am also a scientist and abhor 'creationism' for the reasons you state.

I too have found Dawkins to be kind, warm and thoughtful but I do feel Dawkins attacks the most extremist views and then claims more moderate views to be not Christian.. don't you think? eg here: http://revdlesley.blogspot.com/2010/02/my-issues-with-zealous-atheists.html

I think none of us need God to fill the gaps. I think those of us who have found God feel we have happened upon a living relationship that has transported us in some way.

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Lesley,
I'd say you have issues with zealots in general, religious or atheist, which is fair enough. I don't see Dawkins as a zealot, in the pejorative sense of being over zealous, in the sense of being so committed as to be irrational; though he can be a bit direct sometimes, that is he does sometimes display zeal in his defence of science and evolution.

You're blog looks interesting. I'll have a look around...


Lesley Fellows said...

Mmm.. I think you are spot on - good spot - I have issues with zealots in general - the type that pedal their beliefs and are unwilling to genuinely debate because the alternative view would be unthinkable. Ironically, I think both as an atheist and a Christian I have spent time in that camp! Perhaps I should be more understanding.

Your blog looks interesting too, I will do likewise.


Ron Murphy said...

Hi Lesley,

I agree, we can all be a bit strident at times, as you'll see from my blog. I think the best we can hope to do is be reasonable ourselves when we can, and be understanding of others who don't quite make it by looking at their message and not the mode of delivery. I'd be interested to know how you lost your atheism. If I find an appropriate post on your blog I'll ask you there.


Ron Murphy said...

ID has been demonstrated to be a cover for creationism in the battle to counter the teaching of evolution in some schools of the USA, though some ID proponents say they aren't participating in that agenda.

ID plus creationism relies on the young earth view (i.e. less than 10,00 years old). General ID that doesn't require young earth creationism may accept that the earth is older than this, but still disputes a lot of evolution.

Michael Behe's objections to evolution have been answered many times - basically they come from misconceptions about what evolution is doing and how it is achieving it. Try the Dawkins book I flagged earlier, or try this link:

Ken Miller on ID:

Ken Miller on irreducible complexity:

Ken Miller is an evolution proponent, but he's also a Roman Catholic. So evolution can be accommodated by religion.

General view of ID/Creationism:

Irreducible complexity in the eye?

The extent to which creationists/ID'ers try to outs science:

Lesley Fellows said...

Mmmm... well there you go. To be honest I don't know why one would particularly read books by Christians if one wanted to understand something biological. I know there is a poem about creation in Genesis but it is very clearly poetic and speaks to me about God's attitude towards us rather than anything else. My doctorate was on fatigue crack growth, I think I would be unimpressed if a Buddhist told me there was poem in their literature that explained how cracks grow.

As you say Ron, science works incrementally, this theory is slightly better than that theory, this model holds together with the data more than that, there is no overarching truth. Darwin had a theory that has been considered carefully and dispassionately by some and built upon.. it may collapse entirely if a different model supercedes it, but as I said before, science is the how, religion is the why..

Red said...

interesting debate going on. I have posted a lengthy reply to you Ron in a separate post, but I am reading your exchange with interest!

Lesley Fellows said...

Just realised you wanted to know how I lost my atheist beliefs, Ron. I went to a youth club and met some Christians, and they blew away my presuppositions about Christians being weak and illogical. I knew nothing of Christianity so I went to church with them to learn enough to explain to them in words of one syllable why they were wrong. And when I was at church, gradually, week by week, a sort of tuning fork rang inside of me and I had a strong sense it was true. As soon as I admitted to myself that I could no longer keep saying there was no God, things changed radically. It was as if I was seeing things in 3D rather than 2D. I could make connections that I couldn't before and things like reading the Bible suddenly became easy and interesting. A few strange things happened in prayer, one where I was in a prayer group and prayed for someone because I was convinced God was telling me to, only to find that my prayer was very timely and that they were having a major crisis. Three or four things like this happened that were very weird. I also found I had a hope and a future that I had not had before. I accept it could all be delusional. Some days I truly believe I have got it wrong. But other days I truly believe I know the living God.

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Lesley,

Based on what little I know about the brain and how it works I'd say that the circumstances were just right to convince you, but a different set at a different time could have made you accept some other way.

So, for example, there are many Christians that question their beliefs and with enough exposure get to see the point of atheism. They have their enlightenment moment too. As we've been talking about Richard Dawkins here's a link that gives a better feel for his personality and his views, in which he includes a couple of anecdotes about the enlightenment possible in atheism:
You may want to skip through some of the stuff before his interview - it's promo stuff for POI. RD starts about 1:30 into the mp3.

Lesley Fellows said...

ok, posted something on Muntjacs and Wild Boar for tomorrow in response to this..

Listening to him now. I do like Richard Dawkins - shared a common room with him for three years and he was the colleague I most liked.