Checking in on the Past

Its getting close to the first anniversary of the limey family move to a coastal location (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/settling-into-a-new-location/).

A lot has happened in that year, yet it feels like its flown past. On the whole we are very happy with the choice we made. We like where we live, we have made some good friends, our daughter is doing very well at her new school, better than we think she would have done had we not moved. We are more relaxed and happiness is up.

There has been one big negative. A dear friend from our last church lost his fight with cancer and we were unable to attend the funeral. Accounts say the church was packed and I am not surprised, he was an immensely popular man and was hugely respected by many of the young people. It was very upsetting not being able to attend but things conspired against us and it simply wasn’t possible.

On a more positive note; other good friends held their regular start of the summer BBQ and we made the trip back to our old town. That was a far more appropriate occasion to catch up with many familiar faces and share stories and updates on the past 10 months. Before the BBQ we stopped by to see the wife of good friend mentioned above. We were pleased to see that she’s being cared for, but adjustment to losing a spouse after all those years and having to deal with an empty house must be hard.

One of the inevitable conversation pieces during the BBQ would be the state of the church we left behind. Some more of our friends have left since we moved, yet the church continues to attract new members so the loss does not appear to be affecting the membership; though the demographic has been affected.

One of the friends who left is cancer survivor. She left because she didn’t like seeing people in corners obvious talking about her in hushed tones. Her illness and survival seemed to change the way some people approached her, specifically those who didn’t know her so well. Her friends of course treated her and loved her just the same and it really was good to see her again. One specific person in the church, who is now a deacon, has very strong literal and creationist views. On one occasion he had intimated something to her husband about sin and illness and the couple were left feeling that they were being judged for her not having claimed her full healing in the Name of Christ!

I think that would likely make me leave a church. I don’t know what the exact conversation was, but I do know that if I’d been the husband on the receiving end of such wisdom I’d have been far less gracious than that husband was.

There was one more shocking account of our previous church to come; this time involving the pastor. In a conversation with another couple where the subject of leaving the church came up (again I don’t know the exact details of the conversation) the pastor’s attitude was that he wasn’t bothered if people left the church. This was especially the case if the issue was on differences of theology. The pastor’s attitude was plainly that he was right and people leaving was because they were not on his side and if it was a theology issue it was an attempt by the devil to devide.

His arrogance in these matters appears to know no bounds. Sadly I am not surprised that this is his view, but I am deeply saddened.

By way of contrast, many years ago, in the early days of our marriage; my wife and I went to our Vicar (this was a Church of England Church) and explained that for all the good church did. It didn’t meet the needs of a young couple without children. He shed a tear and expressed his sadness. That is how one should react when people talk about leaving your church.

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The Christian (Theist) Challenge

 

To follow on from the atheist challenge (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/10-questions-for-atheists/), thebiblereader (http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/the-atheist-challenge/) has created 10 questions for Christians.

The 10 questions can be found here: http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/the-christian-theist-challenge/ and rather than repe4at the questions I’ll let you pop over there to read them and I’ll provide the answers below that I think my former Christian self would have replied. This will be an interesting challenge for me as it will provide me with an opportunity to attempt to think as I once did about God and salvation and examine those thoughts through my new eyes.

 

1)      Religion is a man made concept and as such there will be elements of religiosity that do conflict with God and the Bible. Those conflicts would be entirely the fault of the people involved and not at all to do with God. God and His word, however, do not conflict.

2)      A lot depends on the context of this, I can recall certain situations where immediate danger to my family could have resulted in this sort of interpretation out of a desire for retribution. However, in the cold light of day in my western life in glorious England, I really can’t see how that might happen. Even with absolute certainty that it was an instruction from God I can’t see myself going ahead with it.

3)      God always was and since he created the laws of physics when he created the universe, there is no violation as he is outside of those laws.

4)      Yes, of course its inerrant. Perceived errancy is down to misunderstanding the context of the situation.

5)      Its not right or justifiable by today’s standards. Life in those times were different and the rules of war and engagement. God wasn’t ordering killing for killings sake. Nasty killings were going to happen anyway, wars of that nature in those times would have been very brutal. God’s instruction on dispatching the enemy did not make the end result any worse than it would have been anyway. This was a kill or be killed scenario and utter oblivion of the enemy reduces the chance of a repeat performance later on.

6)      God did not make a mistake. He intentionally gave us the option of following him or not. The choice had to be ours to make. Having a creation of adorable puppies that mindlessly stick to his heals and wishing to please at every one of his whims is not what he intended to create. Through a free will choice, comes imperfection as a consequence of those choices, when they are made truly and freely. Would a creation of those puppy-like followers be perfect? I would say not.

7)      Yes he will hear. God might help that person get find the way again, or he might know that they will manage it anyway and so not intervene. The Christian might never know which.

8)      I never considered that this could even be an option. I can’t imagine what I would do.

9)      Being a creationist. The proof would have been that creation was wrong and evolution right after all because the unpacking of that would mean so much of the bible simply can’t be true and that kills the foundation of the gospels dead. (As it turns out, this is precisely what happened)

10)   I had always been happy to admit to indoctrination. I was happy with that because I was secure in my faith. Other Gods were not compatible and so they could not be believed in. Other religions were violent, cultish or a bit New Age and fluffy. None of which were attractive.

A monkey can’t give birth to a human

One of the daftest objections I had of evolution was the notion that an animal of one species cannot give birth to an animal of another. Now that I understand evolution a bit more I can happily laugh at my past beliefs, yet I do see creationists making the same criticism, so I was obviously not alone in my errant ideas.

My thinking basically went along the lines of, species A lives and exists for some time, for evolution to be true species A will eventually evolve into species B. This will happen when one animal in the species randomly gives birth to an offspring that is somehow not species A but actually species B. However, there are no other species B specimens about so the lone animal of species B has to hope that another member of species A gives births to another species B within its lifetime. Since this is obvious nonsense, evolution must be false.

(Go on, have a good chuckle, I know you want to)

Sadly, I very often see hints that I was not alone in this line of logic and that it really is how creationists often portray evolution.

This creationist idea of evolution is utterly utterly wrong.

Creationists who believe this really do need to take a step back and pay attention to what is being said. No scientist has ever suggested that evolution works by one species giving birth to another. To suggest otherwise is to be either wilfully deceptive or unwilling to be educated; and yes I include my former self in the second one of those.

When pondering evolution and how it could work, I would spend ages imagining scenarios where one species morphs into another. Generally my thinking boiled down to an individual member and how it could be the parent of another species. I always hit a dead end because my thinking was too narrow.

Eventually I hit the bigger picture and grasped the understanding that if a groups of species A splits into two smaller groups and the two become separated to the point that there is no mixing between the two; there will eventually become a point where those two groups are classed as distinct species. This happens because the random variations that happen with each new generation have mixed among each group to the point where the two groups have a wholly different set of variations and so become independent species in their own right.

Its so easy and obvious to understand, it’s a wonder it took me so long to get it.

That’s not all the story of course

There are complications though. The idea above does not explain how you get huge differences like a duplication of the entire DNA sequence or a difference in the number of chromosomes. My understanding does not yet extending to grasping those concepts and how they would impact the first individual to receive the change. However, my lack of understanding does not negate the bigger concept.

Back to the Species idea

The best explanation for me was the example of a ring species, this is where you get a source species and a group splits off and relocates to form group B (leaving the source group as group A). Eventually group C splits from group B and so it goes until you have groups A through H. Now let’s say the groups create a large circle and group H ends up next to the original group A. Each group would be able to mate with its neighbours, so would be counted as variations within a single species. Yet groups H and A would not. Where do you define the difference between species?

This is not an impossible idea. Biologists have had many challenges and problems in drawing the boundaries between species. There is only one possible explanation for these issues; evolution.

If the creationist idea was right, then there would be easy definable differences between species. This would be because each species would have been created as unique and fully formed. Yet the basic idea of categorising species is very problematic. This is very strong evidence for common ancestry and evolution.

The only other possibility is that God created everything intentionally confusing. Why on earth would he do that?

So a monkey gives birth to a human.

Well not really, but a common ancestor did once give birth offspring that would eventually lead to monkeys and humans, I wonder if they were twins.

Interpretation or valid conclusion?

Over at A Different God (http://adifferentgod.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/a-response-to-a-creationist-part-3/) Jesse has written a decent four part series answering a creationist.

On part three, poster Ryan responds to me by saying that the evolutionary conclusions that scientists have come to are merely a different interpretation of the evidence.

Rather than dump a long reply on Jesse’s blog I felt it would be more appropriate to make it into a blog posting of its own because it accurately describes how I once thought.

Creationists will argue that their viewpoint is a valid interpretation of the scientific evidence that is gathered from the world around us. The trouble with this viewpoint is that it presupposes the correctness of creationism and then seeks to validate it by seeking confirmation in specific pieces of scientific evidence. Items that conflict creationism are disregarded and explained away.

The big issue that is consistently ignored is that the evidence of evolution is wide ranging and bountiful. Its not just in the visibly similar anatomy of animals, its not just in the skeletal structure too. As scientific advances continued over the years we have seen DNA evidence join the fray and confirm many of the ideas that scientists already had, as well as throw up a few surprises and clarifications.

What’s more, there is nothing in the anatomical or genetic evidence that cannot be explained through evolutionary theory, which means that there is nothing that a creationist can point and say it is evidence for God and not evolution.

Which is where we get onto the subject of interpretation.

The creationist will insist that all the evidence we see could be the result of how God did it. Whilst that is true, its not actually evidence in and of itself. Defaulting to the ‘God did it’ position is not starting from a neutral position, its starting from an already formed conclusion and choosing to read the facts in a way that confirms the starting point. What’s more, this is not a scientific argument because it does not offer anything that joins the evidence together.

To be scientific, a theory has to stitch the observed evidence together in a way that explains the detail. The theory also has to be testable; not necessarily there and then, but the concept and idea has be such that a test is possible. Claiming God does not meet that criteria and so interpreting scientific evidence as confirming creationism is not valid. The pieces simply don’t fit.

Science does offer a valid conclusion.

When a scientific theory is proposed it undergoes very rigorous tests. One thing that creationists often fail to grasp is that proving something wrong in science is a very good thing. I remember having some very real issues with this one. The idea that something in science could be wrong created all sorts of problems and typically meant to me that science was unreliable and the whole field could be systematically undermined by a single wrong idea. It took me a long time to grasp the concept that a wrong result is still a scientific result and evidence for what would be right.

The theory of evolution is very well tested and over the years it has been broken down into so many small pieces, that any one of them could be overturned with the right evidence. Yet none has.

I can’t remember exactly what I used to believe on the subject of how so many scientists had managed to come to the conclusion that evolution is true. I am pretty sure it was along the lines of; they were misguided or interpreted wrong. However, if that was truly the case, then someone would have shown that to be the case by now. It is only ignorance of the scientific method that enables someone to still believe what I believed.

The conclusions that scientists have come to when viewing the evidence of life around has been subject to much debate and testing. If there was any chance at all that there were holes in the theory of evolution, then they would most certainly have been found and exposed. Any scientist that can genuinely show that evolution is false would be pretty much guaranteed a Nobel Prize, and more. Many scientists have examined various facets of evolution and subjected them to stringent test and scrutiny.

This is something that is easily forgotten by the creationist. I know I did.

 

Another creation debate missed

Isn’t it typical, I’ve spent the past six months staying in London during the week and I don’t hear about a youth earth debate until after the event. What makes it worse is that the post-debate report was on a creationist blog I follow, yet the announcement of it seems not to be. It is almost as though there is a higher power conspiring against me!

If I’d known about it, I certainly would have made an effort to go, as it was on a night I was in London and would have loved to attend. Instead I have to make do with the after show report and a recording; available here:  http://www.premierradio.org.uk/listen/ondemand.aspx?mediaid={E0E337F0-020C-4FB3-AACC-8A87996207C0}