When Friends are Unkind

One of the most painful and unhelpful experiences I had as a believer was when an online discussion with some friends about Christianity and evolution turned ugly and I ended up feeling ganged up on and very definitely unloved.

For background, this on-line groups of friends is a small cluster of people who, more than a decade ago, got together to talk about cars and meet up on the occasional track day. Most of them I have met on several occasions and all of them are decent people, even if I don’t know them well on a personal level. There are none who I consider unworthy of friendship, though my friendship status with them varies, as it must given that the vast majority of our dealings are on a private on-line forum where much discussion is reduced to humour and sarcasm.

For me, this on-line discussion served a good purpose in that it enabled me to share a common interest, that of cars and track days, and to engage in general random and irreverent chatter outside of my work colleague and church friends. So for these reasons I did not advertise my Christianity, not because of embarrassment; but because I did not consider it relevant to that context. I intended to behave as much as I could as a Christian and let me actions speak.

Of course it eventually came out that I was a Christian, but I still avoided talking about it as much as possible because this was supposed to be my safe place away from that world.

One day, for reasons I no longer remember, a thread was started that ended up talking about creationism and I let my colours fly. I stated my young earth creationist credentials and my objections to evolution. Understandably the flood gates opened and those who were passionate about the science of evolution waded in with facts and evidences. It all started well enough, but it wasn’t long before insults of poor intelligence flew in my direction.

In the end I gave up and made it clear I would not discuss the subject again.

The reality was, I was hurting inside. I was angry that my points were either not understood or misrepresented and that my bigger wish, to have understanding and respect between opposing viewpoints was utterly dashed. No way was I going to open myself up to that torrent of ridicule again.

Hindered Rather than Helped.

The bigger side effect of this discourse was that it hampered my acceptance of evolution.

At that time I was likely open to sensible discussion about evolution, but it didn’t happen. In fact I probably wanted (or needed) one. Sadly the conversation was very uneven, with just me on my side and several on the other. It only took a couple of those people to throw insults to create the offense that happened.

It would be some time before I would be prepared to listen to arguments for evolution again. When it happened it would be on podcasts.

I’ve not come clean to these friends on my acceptance of evolution (or my new found atheism) because I don’t think its fair to be open about it until my personal issue on coming out to with my wife is resolved (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/when-and-how-to-come-clean-on-atheism/).


27 thoughts on “When Friends are Unkind

  1. I see that a lot. Discussions that could be very enlightening turn into barbs and before long the discussion breaks down. No one likes to be made to feel stupid or inferior, so once that happens it is likely that both sides dig in and try to reinforce their own opinion or belief rather than openly listen to other ideas. Insulting someone’s intelligence or character isn’t a very good way to get them to listen. Speaking for myself, it has the same result as with you. I tend to just shrink back, go into a shell, and not wish to discuss it any further.

    • Indeed, it helps no one when a conversation goes that way, because it only encourages entrenchment and that’s a sure fire way of stopping someone from ‘seeing the light’.

      Its also such an easy thing to do, especially when you know you are in the right and the opposing view continue to frustrate you. I must confess to being guilty of it myself when arguing with conspiracy theorists. So I’m not exactly clean and perfect myself, sadly.

      I think its the mark of a better person to be able to have such a discussion and actively make the effort to avoid insult flinging out of frustration.

  2. That’s a shame. I’ve had many discussions with YEC about evolution and never got anywhere, dispite me always remaining polite. I try to clear up one misunderstanding and they just move on to another without acknowledging the first point.

    • Hi Andrew,

      I think it’ll be fair to say that in the past, as a YEC, I’ve done the same as you describe here. Possibly, even in the exchange which I recount above.

      From my personal experience of arguing the YEC point of view, its extremely frustrating to have each and every one of your points dismissed off hand and roundly explained away from the scientific perspective. This will explain the moving onto other subjects, not because of defeat, but because of frustration at the arrogant science guy who simply won’t listen to the points raised.

      The YEC position starts with the existence of God and the young earth and creationism follow. You can’t convince that person of the realities of an old earth and evolution without seriously undermining their religious convictions. This is the crux of the matter. Since their belief in god is unshakable, so too is the acceptance of YECism.

      How you get through will very much depend on who it is. My first suggestion will be to give them something, let them feel that there is something you can agree or even that they are right on. That way they won’t always feel that they have to be defensive to everything you say.

      The next best thing is to stop the dependency between god and creationism. If they can be convinced that their faith does not require the rejection of evolution, then the acceptance of those ideas will become more palatable. Until that point, arguing good science is pretty much a wasted effort as it’ll likely fall on deaf ears.

  3. Perhaps something I said earlier can contribute to this conversation. I uhm . . .have recently begun to doubt my faith in general because of problems with prayer and Biblical infallibility. I’m actually seriously questioning things right now. I figured reason can’t be against the truth so . . . why not see where reason goes? Perhaps this doesn’t happen all the time in Christian circles. But I really love science, reason and truth. I figured that if what I believed was true then I had better be sure it is. The best way to make sure is reason. So right now, already with some doubts about prayer and the Bible, I am questioning the whole evolution vs creation thing. For me my current doubt of evolution, and here is your connection to this convo, is that is seems to have logical problems . . at least so far. I must grapple with several issues .. . codependance of parts, increase in complexity, the need for simultaneous parts. All this will be true for almost any living organism. Certainly abiogenesis might generate viruses and perhaps some incredibly simple creatures . . . but . . . I’m not sure how we get from their to a frog without something interfering with the system in a systematic way. This is not really a problem of theology but a problem of reason for me.

  4. Yes, I regret it when people decide to do name calling and anger instead of real polite and open minded discussion. I think we have both experienced the same problem.

  5. Mike, you get from simple organisms to complicated ones in very, very, very small steps over a very, very, very long period of time. When I look at my daughter running about and talking, I find it hard to believe that nine or so months before she was born, she was just a single cell. And yet I know that it is true.

    The different parts of a creatures bodies will most likely have evolved with each other. Another thing to remember is that just because a particular body part may be essential to that creature NOW, it wasn’t necessarily essential millions of years ago as it evolved. That answers the objection that it couldn’t have evolved because for millions of years the creature would have had a ‘half-formed’ version of that body part. For example, a wing that doesn’t allow flight might not be useful to a bird now, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have given an advantage before.

  6. Yes but an important point is being missed and is very complicated to consider. Two actually . . .firstly by what mechanism are all these changes happening and is it really able to make all of these changes? And the second is . . given these different variations of the species … . how might each individual variation actually be constructed and survive? I’m not saying you have to think of them as designed, but it helps to think of how they would be built IF one were to design them. My thinking on this is concrete and detailed and perhaps complicated. I’m trying to figure out what kind of complex chemical systems and processes would have to be involved. For that I may very well need to study a bit more biology I’m afraid. But as far as advantage goes chemicals don’t care about survival. It is either a physically and chemically possible process or it is not. And that ultimately is what I’m grappling with. I’m trying to convince myself that it is physically and chemically plausible.

    • Mike,

      That is the very same point that held me back for many years.

      To be honest, I still don’t have an answer for it, and I suspect neither do many scientists. The key thing is here, is that the evidence we do have, both physical and from what we can establish through DNA relationships, is that all animals have evolved from the same origin.

      Diferent animals broke off at various points and the DNA sequencing helps to determine when animals seperated. Its the DNA that has told us that the hippo’s closest relation is the whale.

      Then there is physical evidence like the structure of our arms and hands, compare the number of bones and joints we have in our arms, with apes, then with four legged animals, then with bats wings and then with birds wings. Why such correlation? The evidence implies single source.

      Another thing, while most mamals will have five toes or fingers, the domestic cat has a gene mutation that regularly develops more than five toes, seven toes are not unusal in cats. We’re not entirely certain why, but scientists have identified the gene responsible and if the same gene in humans gets mutated, the affected human will get an extra thumb. The same gene in cats and humans does the same thing. There is evidence of single source again.

      While I can’t answer the specifics of the question you asked, I can at least demonstrate that evidence indicates common ancesters. The challenge is working it all out and this study is still on-going.

  7. You make a good point about humans starting out as a cell. But the real question is how this whole birth process changed over billions of years.

  8. It changed very slowly. If you want to see what a simpler version would have looked like, or what a simpler eye or hand or whatever would look like, you can look around in nature and invariably find an example that fits the bill.

    That aside, Mike, have you tried reading a biology book on the subject?

  9. Not yet, I’m sure Ill get around to it though as soon as I can look at a book on molecular evolution. Lately I have been getting side tracked by near death experience. It is increasingly obvious to me that such experiences, unless they could demonstrate externality, are merely hallucinations. It has been interesting to research these hallucinations as well as comparing them to others caused by different factors. I do feel I am waking up to a bigger more real reality. But the creation question will probably keep me puzzled for a while yet. In fact I have run into yet another problem . . . how is it possible that the brain has prestored memories . . ie such as the desire for order and social interaction. This memory is there despite the fact that there are only a few basic types of nuerons. If it was just the chemicals I should have been born as a blank slate. I’m stumped on that one. As for biology books on this subject not yet but I am planing on it at some point. Right now I am mostly dealing with probability . .the most abstract aspect. I’m certainly open to new possibilities as a lot has already been brought into question in my mind.

  10. prayer – things just seem to happen actually
    near death – hallucinations
    Bible – not perfect and contains some flat earth material. Has differing stories.

    In fact the only real question I’m dealing with right now is whether or not intelligent design is true regardless of how or why it might have happened.

  11. Right. Perhaps I just don’t comprehend how molecules could generate instincts. But I am working with some concepts on randomness that help lend some credibility to evolution. Random chemical reaction would predict that there is more of the simple species than the complex. This turns out to be true. It would also predict organisms having very chemical shapes like circles and branching out. This also fits. Certain kinds of randomness might explain this behavior of chemistry. I’m finding that you really have to understand chemistry to know how it could be randomized. The more I learn the more I see how . . . maybe . . . . chemicals could assemble.

  12. I suppose so. But it depends on whether or not chemicals alone could do it. If they can’t then it could not be just chemicals. I don’t really know enough yet to say one way or the other for sure.

  13. Well one could equally claim that the supernatural is required to ‘aid’ anything we see in the natural world. “Yes, we have a scientific explanation, but there must be magic involved too in some way”

    But if there’s no evidence to support the notion that the supernatural is involved too, why propose it?

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  16. Wow.

    First, “I still don’t have an answer for it, and I suspect neither do many scientists.”

    Very few, if many, of evolutionists I have met can stomach such truth. Be careful how and where you post that.

    But, before you go forward, you really need to straighten things out with your wife ….

    It is sad for me to see you leave the faith, but it is sadder for me to see you keep this from the most important person in your life.


    • Hi Wayne,

      Thank you for your thoughts and concerns, given the number of comments you’ve made this weekend, I take it you have recently found my blog and you are working through it. Welcome.

      “Very few, if many, of evolutionists I have met can stomach such truth.”

      I’m don’t agree with this sentiment. I understand that you say its your experience, but its not mine. When I read items by evolutionary scientists and on their study and results I see and understand why they come to the conclusion of evolution. Not fully understanding the minutia of every individual evolutionary progression is not a barrier to that conclusion. In fact its probably fair to say that level of knowledge could never happen.

      However, there are other ways of confirming the result. Not being able to demonstrate the exact mechanism doesn’t prove the conclusion wrong.

  17. Mike,

    There are a series of concepts to look at as you evaluate “Evolution.”

    First, it is NOT evolution. It is Cosmology, or better Cosmogony. The Theory of Evolution is truly a small part of the overall question.

    Therefore, ask why is it we are taught that the speed of light cannot be exceeded? Until you get an honest answer on that level, do not trust any other answer.

    The current Big Bang theory postulates that during the first 1/100th of a second the Universe grew from nothing into a size about that of the Milky Way Galaxy. In less than a second, most of everything traveled over 100,000 light years ….

    At that speed, you fill the known Universe in less than 20 minutes ….

    The Universe still violates the Speed of Light in two significant ways (maybe three). (1) The known Universe is still traveling at a speed greater than the Laws of the Speed of Light should allow; (2) the outer Universe is three times farther out in space …. and is most likely traveling three times faster; and (3) the CERN particle accelerator has broken the speed of light ….

    Interestingly enough, “Science” has shown that darkness came first …. Then there was light …. sound familiar?

    Gen 1: 1-3 … should be more interesting now.

    • Hi Wayne,

      1) its not quite that simple. the objects are not moving at greater than the speed of light, its the net effect of their movement and the fabric of the universe expanding (see ‘inflation’) that makes the gap between them and us increase at greater than light speed. But no object is actually moving that fast.

      2) see 1)

      3) that is not at all confirmed, if you read what the scientists are saying, they are saying they are sure there is a mistake or error and the reason for the announcement is that they are seeking help in finding it.

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