Book Review – Creation or Evolution: Do We Have To Choose?

Cover of "Creation or Evolution: Do We Ha...

Cover via Amazon

More than a year ago I was lent this book by the pastor and I have eventually finished it (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Creation-Evolution-Do-Have-Choose/dp/1854247468). The book is held up by some as a refreshing view on the relationship between Christianity and Evolution.

I found the book mixed and ultimately disappointing, but there are some good bits in it.

On first handling the book it is clear that the intent is going to be to show how acceptance of evolution does not have to be at the expense of religious belief, specifically Christianity. This aspect interested me, given my journey, so I started the book specifically looking for how it would answer that specific challenge.

Evolution

Most of the book is devoted to explanations of various bits of evolution. By necessity they have to contain a certain amount of technical language. However, I found on the whole that the passages on evolution are lay friendly and do a good job of explaining why evolution is not only a valid theory, but an accurate description of observed fact as best we know it.

The book explains well how evolution is a naturalised process and our knowledge of it has no pre-requisite of any god. The processes we understand are fully explained and there are no missing bits that require the invocation of the supernatural.

Creationism and ID

Creationism and ID are also dealt with effectively, albeit with far fewer pages. They are accurately shown to be scientifically deficient and their need to have a god directly be involved to ‘push the process along’ is shown to be a limiting factor for which there is nothing to show.

One good point that is made in the book is the argument for beauty. Many creationists will look at the world we see now and argue that the beauty there can only have been put there directly by god. I once made precisely those arguments. The book counters by saying that the processes that made us and all we see around us are no less beautiful and they too came from god. When a creationist views the world and sees beauty and says it must come from god, they are by implication saying that the long processes that made the beauty they see can not be beautiful because they don’t believe god did it that way.

This is a dangerous way of thinking because it creates a closed mind and stops that believer from fully appreciating the glory of their god’s creation.

The book explains well why creationism and ID are not valid.

Tying Evolution and Christianity

So the big question I wanted to book to answer was, given the above, how does the author, who professes his faith at several points throughout the book, demonstrate that belief in god is consistent with evolution and, more specifically, show that there is a logical reason to hold that view. Sadly, the answer just doesn’t come.

No matter how much I wanted to see an argument for god, it just didn’t happen.

Conclusion

The book successfully argues for the science of evolution and against the god of creationism. As a result it has confirmed my position as an atheist and done nothing at all to tempt me back to faith. I suspect the author would be disappointed, but he should not be surprised.

Advertisements

Creationism on my doorstep

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a leaflet in our church advertising a discussion on origins that would be held at the local secondary school.

Curious, I read a bit more and a couple of points on it rang alarm bells for me.

Discussion on origins is Philosophical?

The heading on the leaflet bill it as a philosophical discussion. This bothered me because how we came about is surely in the realm of science. Granted the religious aspects of origins could arguably fall under the umbrella of philosophy. What concerned me was that billing it as philosophical and omitting reference to science immediately sets the tone as religious in nature, more specifically, creationist.

Reading further the noticed mentioned a UK creationism organisation and one of its key people by name.

I looked up the organisation to try and find some more detail on the specific discussion in question. The website listed a couple of events that they have representation at. What really grabbed my attention though was a note that said they will on occasion to talks or discussions at schools but that they will not be publicised on the site.

Flying Under the Radar?

The cynic in me wonders if the reason for this is so as to not attract too much attention from those who directly and actively oppose creationism through direct scientific argument.

Hosting such events at a school and having some local churches advertise it seem to me a safe way of getting enough doubt in science sown to impressionable people without having any credible argument or evidence shown.

Sadly for me, the event was a mid-week afternoon and I was unable to attend due to commitments in London.

After the event, my wife mentioned it to some friends we were entertaining for dinner and it turns out that one of the more elderly members of our church is very pro creationism and makes a good philosophical argument was very involved in this event, so maybe I’ll get an opportunity to challenge creationism directly in the future. Until then, I shall remain disappointed that this event happened and had very little publicity outside of a specific circle.

Countering Creationist Arguments

I have just found out about this page on the Rational Wiki (http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/101_evidences_for_a_young_age_of_the_Earth_and_the_universe)

Its a point by point refutation of a post on creation.com giving, as the title suggests, 101 reasons for believing creationism.

I’ve not been through it all, there is a lot of stuff there if you read about all 101 points, but I am putting it here to add my little bit to the publicity machine.

The Coming Out Begins

I’ve mentioned that a conversation on membership at our new church will be had soon (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/two-things-that-happened-last-sunday/). Well, its happened.

My wife mentioned that she’d spoken to the pastor about prospective membership and that he was due to come round and have a preliminary chat with us. Well I couldn’t hold it off any longer, there was only one thing I could do and that was indicate my concerns.

So we had a discussion about how I was having doubts in my faith. That my increased scientific understanding had led me to doubt significant biblical events to the point where I now questioned the reliability of the bible.

We talked around a few things and my wife mentioned that at least I hadn’t rejected it all completely and gone atheist on her. Ouch. I guess that was my cue to fess up completely, but I couldn’t do it. She did confirm that she had strongly suspected the situation for a while.

My justification for not going the full confession with her is that, the news is still new to her and that to go straight to the end point would be a bit much. I know its dishonest, but I think its better than full disclosure at the moment. My journey to atheism was not short and I think exposing it as a short journey might not be that helpful. So there is more to discuss.

Membership won’t happen for me

So upshot of the discussion is that my wife suggested that I don’t go for membership of the church, but that she still will.

There were other things she said too. She expressed a desire for us to continue to have conversations on religion. She also said she wanted us to continue to go to church as a family and it was important to her that I supported what she wants to do within the church, especially as I do know what it is like to be committed to the church as a Christian. This is all fine with me. I can’t expect support for my position if I can’t support hers.

The next day, the pastor came round to chat about membership and before he chatted to my wife, I went for a short walk with him to explain my position. He understood and took it on board, he thanked me for my honesty and explained that given that information there is no way he could accept me into membership. The conversation ended positively and we continue to build what I think is going to be a good friendship.

The pastor has lent me a book called, “Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?” I think its clear from the title that the conclusion will be acceptance of evolution, likely to be guided with a divine hand. I have started reading it and the opening chapter makes it clear that its primarily aimed at Christians who wish to answer further questions on evolution. Maybe this isn’t the right sort of book for me, but I’m going to read it anyway and see where it goes.

Where next?

Given the open and honest conversations we’ve had, I am positive for the future for my wife and I. I had built up a lot of fear in myself on how I could tell her and what would happen. It turns out that fear was unfounded.

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/).

Creationism is just denialism

Its easy to say this now that I have stepped away from my creationist beliefs, but that doesn’t stop it being true. All that creationism does is look for things in science that are not clearly defined and try to punch holes in them in an effort to create doubt and therefore, by association, add credence to creationism.

I acknowledge that I’ve just been very negative about creationism and so now sound like every other sceptic or atheist on the internet. The thing is, I’ve been there and I know its true.

When I think about the things convinced me that the world was created in 7 days, its things like the falsehood known as Piltdown Man that had me believing that evolutionary science was misguided at best and fraudulent at worst.

The trouble with creationism is that it starts with an assumption; that the world (and therefore the universe) was created in 7 days and then looks for the evidence to support that. This active searching for supporting evidence means that there is an already agenda, this is very bad science and its cynical religion.

When you are that person, as I was for many years, you just don’t see it. People brought up in church hear time and time again of the changeless God, the same, yesterday, today and forever. For me, this unchanging mindset was a problem because it created in me an assumption that the world was created as described in Genesis and had not changed since.

This made it very easy to be critical of the scientific method.

Science revels in change, science loves the hard to explain, science even likes to be wrong. Without any of these things, scientific knowledge would never advance. In science, assumptions are only made when there is a conclusion to be drawn from the gathered evidence.

Creationism never has and never will do that.

As a creationist I scoffed at what I described as the mind changing that scientists did in trying to explain our existence. As if arrogant little me knew any better. When I peruse creationist posts I see in them the same attitude I had, the looking for the small thing that could make the scientific description even slightly questionable and then exclaim ‘Aha! See, its all wrong’.

The thing is, when all you do is look for the tiny imperfections, you miss the much bigger picture. Just because science can’t absolutely explain how the Hippo and the Whale descended from the same ancestor, doesn’t mean its not true. It is true because DNA profiling shows the relationship and anatomical similarities help with the evidence. We know the end result with certainty, even if we don’t know exactly how.

Yet as a creationist I would not and could not accept that. The dynamic world of science with new discoveries and evolving theories did not fit with my creationist worldview of a static and unchanging world where we already knew how it happened because the good book said so.

When I look back on those days I genuinely shudder with embarrassment; yet I also empathise with those who still hold that view, because I understand why they do. If only they too would open their eyes and realise that their hole picking will get harder and harder as the scientific community discovers more and more about the wonderful world in which we live.