In reply to Ron’s comments on my blog on creation and evolution... It’s a rather lengthy reply so I’ve posted it as a new post rather than lots of comments. Feel free to add further comments. I am genuinely interested. I have just read back what I’ve written and I do rather go off the point a bit, but there you go… Must do further reading on the subject then re-post!
Thanks for you lengthy (!) reply. And actually I found it very interesting. It’s always good to be challenged and to learn from other peoples points of view. I am actually interested as to what your profession is – looking at your own blog there are many religious references, presumably related to your self-professed atheism? (although, and I don’t wish to be pedantic, from what you say it seems like you are more agnostic than an atheist, from my understanding an atheist is someone who actively denies the existence of God, you seem to say there is no evidence either way).
But back to the point, the way you word your scientific references seem to have an educational touch to them, put in simpler English than any scientist, so I presume you must be interested in science rather than having it as a profession? Do correct me if I’m wrong – I’m simply interested.
I must admit first of all that I haven’t studied this subject enough to know the answers to many points, but I have actually just ordered Darwin’s Theory of evolution and intend to read it for myself. So my response to your post is mainly from a personal point of view rather than any kind of academic one. I am not, as you can probably tell, someone who finds science an easy subject but I am interested in it and would like to get a better handle on this and other issues.
Dawkins first, as you say... I haven’t actually seen him speak, all I know of him is from his own writings, articles and such like, so I have not been biased by anyone other than myself. I’m not sure I will read his book but thanks for the recommendation, simply because from the things I have read of his, I don’t like the way he writes and I’m sure there are plenty of other writings on evolution and so on to look at instead.
I liked your point about theories/facts/truth. One of my own arguments about many scientific discoveries is that some scientists and ‘experts’ refer to theories as if they are the truth, which in many cases is misleading, particularly to those not able to tell the difference, the media is very guilty of promoting this attitude and it does irritate me, but that’s for another discussion!
In terms of Christian belief, you are right in saying that theists hold their truths to be absolutely true, but indeed there are Christians out there who hold beliefs that are not true, whether it’s from religious dogma, mental imbalances or otherwise. (I don't think it's fair to put all those who call themslevs Christians in the same bracket - rather like we cannot say that all Muslims are fundamentalists). My point of view is that all 'Truth' in a Christian sense comes from the Word of God, the Bible. Again we could get into a lengthy discussion about the validity of the Bible, but that is not for now. What I mean is that as far as I see it, any Christian truth I believe has to be backed up by scripture. For example those who kill in the name of Christ in my opinion cannot be true believers. Jesus did not preach this – he told us to love our enemies. So undoubtedly there are those that call themselves Christians who would not be deemed to be so by God himself.
Equally I agree there are ’facts’ that many would disagree about, and this can only come from their own minds. The individual mind, which is of course a product of every individuals experiences of life, whether a Christian or not. However again I say that often those who believe a point fervently as a fact are not in fact as well informed as they should be (the Daily Mail brigade come to mind). And sometimes those who believe so fervently cannot be dissuaded in any way from their belief that a fact is true or untrue in a certain situation. I am aware of course that this sentence could equally be applied to Christians, but I prefer to think of that in terms of a spiritual relationship between Jesus and the individual, rather than that person being swayed by outside influences or the media.
I accept that in general scientists like to have hard evidence or proof to make theories become ‘fact’. However science and Christianity need not be exclusive of each other, there are some well known Christians who use science in their ministry very well (Louie Giglio springs to mind). And in fact I am an example of someone who takes on both. I absolutely believe in Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, and to do that I need faith, but in science terms I am quite an analytical person – I will not accept one side of an argument or debate without listening to the other. Many Christians are the same – because they accept Jesus in faith it doesn’t mean they just accept any old theory by faith too!
I am grateful for your admission that ‘science can never prove something beyond all doubt’, indeed I’m sure there are many ‘facts’ from previous scientific discoveries that can now be disproved by more modern methods of testing. In fact your phrase below was particularly interesting:
‘…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’.
Because in a sense that same sentence could be applied to Christianity. There is actually an abundance of evidence supporting it, and by this I mean ‘Evidence as: ones basis for belief or disbelief; knowledge on which to base belief’. Historically it is agreed to be a ‘fact’ (by non-believing historians) that a man called Jesus of Nazareth existed, and I do not mean in the Bible, there are historical and contemporary references to a man of this name being sentenced by Pontius Pilate for blasphemy in more than one place. So in terms of the man, we can assume that he existed. There is also evidence that he was a Holy man with a band of followers. The Bible whether you believe it as the word of God or not, is also a useful historical document. It stands up against other contemporary writings and if I recall correctly (will try to remember where I read this!) there are more copies of the early Bible than any other historical document of this era. I won’t go into reams of info here but you can see that in historical terms certainly there is a lot of evidence to show that Jesus certainly existed, that he had a band of followers and those who wrote about him. So either he was who he says he was or he was ‘deluded.’ an early schizophrenic maybe? I for one chose to believe the former. So in that sense you could say that as the ‘theory’ of Christianity has much evidence supporting it, and no reasonable evidence against it (is there? I don’t know of any – that’s the point of faith, you can’t prove or disprove it) that we would be prepared to call it true?
Ok so on to the issue in hand – evolution – something which Christians all over the world disagree on! As I said I haven’t yet read Darwin but I am looking forward to. My understanding so far is that the main point of ‘natural selection’ cannot be proved to the extent which the theory implies. eg: an animals tail length or markings could be changed over generations with the right breeding, but that for a new breed entirely it is simply ‘impossible’ (probably not the best word to use in a science discussion…:) ). And indeed I accept that evolution happens and has happened over the centuries, but not that everything came from the 'big bang' and that we are all descendants of organic matter, all of us, every living thing on this planet. I mean really? I think the example that is often used is that of the human eye – that there are so many different aspects of it, in order for it to work, it needs every single on of these parts, so what could it have evolved from? In order to be a functioning eye it had to have so many bits even initially. I liken it to people who say that if you put a bunch of monkeys in a room with a typewriter eventually they will produce the works of Shakespeare. I don’t care how many theories of probability that you can produce, does anyone actually believe that could happen? And even then they only have one goal – with one typewriter. Evolution assumes that we all, every living thing evolved from organic matter. So that’s not just producing the works of Shakespeare, that’s like writing out all of his works in every language known to man 10 times over (or possibly more…) Do you see where I am going? Am I rambling..?!
And on Shakespeare:
You said: ‘If we ever think we have found an underlying reality, how would we know there isn't something else just beyond our scientific reach’ which makes me think of a line from Hamlet:
‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy’
Which is one of my favourite lines from Shakespeare, and links in to your line above. No matter what we discover there is so much we can’t possibly know and we would be foolish to think that we did.
In terms of evolution as I said I don’t have a problem accepting that things evolve, what I struggle with is the beginning – the creation – so how did everything evolve from the big bang? That’s what I would like to know from a scientific point of view. Can you help me out? I have read arguments disputing bits of the original research but until I have read it for myself I will hold fire on repeating those.
So on to Chrisitanity (again!). You said:
‘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?’
I think this is slightly unfair! Of course ‘the church’ at large does have a lot to answer for and 'The Church' and Christianity should be thought of in separate frames really. I don’t know what your knowledge or experience of church or theology is, but as in anything there are good and bad theologians and priests out there. Anything that theologians tell us should, as I said before, relate to scripture. And mainly this relates to a good moral code and not 'God is telling me you must give all your money to the church' or ' we must go to war against that nation...' or other notions which have been used in history... I won’t get into denomination, but I am an Anglican, so I don’t go in for confession or anything along those lines. I don't go in for the dogma or rhetoric that surround Christianity other then what I have personally experienced. Anything that comes from the church should, as I said before, refer back to scripture and not from individuals. Being a Christian is about having a personal relationship with Christ, Christ as part of the Trinity of God the Father, God the son, God the Holy Spirit. It is perfectly possible to have a relationship with him, and I do mean personal. And that is through prayer and studying the Bible. I believe there are things that only I and God know about me and that has been demonstrated to me any number of times recently. A non-believer might say well that’s just coincidence, but I can tell you if that’s the case I must be particularly lucky at the moment.
Of course there are things that are just too unimaginable to be able to understand, just as there are in life in general. For example if you look at the universe, scientists just have no idea how far it extends, it is talked of as ‘infinite’, because we simply don’t know yet how far it extends. Future generations of scientists may have made probes or space craft that can travel further and faster than we have been able to yet, but for now, it is unfathomable. Equally the human mind – we can only know so much – but to really delve into how it works in great detail – scientists only have part of it sussed out. And imagine if you’d said to someone 100 years ago, ‘in your life time, we will see man on the moon’ – what would they have thought? Probably they would have found it unthinkable too. So I don’t think it is wrong in essence to say that parts of God and the way he works are unknowable, because there are many things in life like that too and we cannot understand them all. But you can know him through his Son Jesus Christ, who is a part of him too. Happy to expand on this if you are interested…
You said: ‘Theists often claim scientists are arrogant, that scientists claim to know stuff as fact.’
True, but then some of them do… :) as with any large group of people, one can make generalisations: Atheists often claim that Christians are deluded, doesn’t mean they are…!!
I seem to have rather gone off the point – but I hope I have answered some of the points you made without being argumentative! I really am genuinely interested in the subject of creation vs evolution and as I said, I know I need to read further (haven’t looked at your other suggestions yet but will do.) I also do not wish to be one of those Christians who make it their personal mission to argue with any non-Christian point of view. That is not where I am coming from, so I hope it doesn’t come across that way. A good debate should be just that – good conversation, and an interesting debate.