WHY DO YOU BELIEVE WHAT YOU BELIEVE?
A plea for an open debate
Recently I have browsing and reading material looking at the matter of creation versus evolution, sometimes more accurately depicted as a discussion between science and religion. And now, with Richard Dawkins, a militant atheists as he once referred himself as, coming to town to do a lecture it is perhaps good to post some thoughts on how this discussion is actually nothing more a series of orchestrated attempts to polarize two camps that are actually perfectly aligned to work closely together. They are in my view complementary.
No Conclusive Evidence for Either Camp
I guess the big attraction of evolution theory for atheists is the premise that it no longer need a creator. Modern day evolutionists understand evolution to be “design out of chaos” without the aid of a mind or intelligence. In her TED talk Susan Blackmore outlines the simple beauty of this theory and how you don’t need a designer for evolution to work.In all fairness, while that may seem like the beauty of the theory it is important to understand that that is what it is A THEORY! I note that the fact that you don’t need a designer according to the theory does not necessarily mean that there is no designer.
Although often presented as the poster boy for atheism, Darwin himself was not so sure, and in any event later in his life claimed that he was never an Atheist. In one of his letters in 1879, I found published on the web he writes:
It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.
… In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.— I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind. http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-12041
In another letter, writing to the author of “the scientific creed”, he writes:
Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-13230
What has happened though over a long period of time is that the ultimate outcomes of evolution theory are being presented, understood or read as fact and that is where things go wrong. Conclusive evidence for creation out of random change is simply not available. Sure there is a lot of material that could indicate that but the same applies for the existence of a creator, in fact a creator as in God, the God of the Bible. Yet it is good to understand that in that sense atheism, when presented as a factual proposition is in fact just an alternative belief-system.
The other way around, creationists and the intelligent design movement, acting as the other camp, have obscured and unnecessarily polarized the discussion from their end. I do not think that anyone, especially Christians are helped by the critique brought forward by the creationists, ID proponents where they have used false arguments. As was clearly shown in the Kitzmiller v Dover case, the fundamental mistake made by these groups was that they used the argument that since the scientific evidence for the ultimate outcomes of evolution theory is not there, evolution does not exist. I think that no one in his or her right mind will be able to deny that evolution is a fact for sure within species and a there is good evidence for a broader approach. At the same time this does not mean that therefore the ultimate consequence of creation out of nothing and by random chance is proven and also that there is conclusive scientific evidence for a common ancestor: two matters that seem to be at the center of the discussions. Creationists and ID proponents all too often try to make us believe that there are issues with the WHETHER question of evolution as opposed to the HOW which is what the debate really should be about. The falsity of the argument is that absence of evidence is not evidence of evidence!
The other way around no one is helped by anyone asking for scientific proof for the existence of a God creator and for a living God that is present in our current day and time. The issue was addressed by Judge Jones decision in Kitzmiller v Dover. This case concerned the question of whether or not intelligent design should be taught as part of the science curriculum. Inevitably this leads to questions
like is intelligent design theory actually scientific or just the propagation of a religious concept. Judge
Jones, a highly religious man himself, came to the conclusion that ID is not science. According to the National Academy of Science:
- Science is limited to empirical, observable, ultimately testable data.
- There is a requirement of repeatability of process to get the data and if the theory derived from the data is correct similar outcomes should be the result.
- Explanations that can’t be base on empirical data are not part of science.
- The rigorous attachment to natural explanations is an essential attribute to science, by definition and convention.
Causes outside the natural world are a “science stopper.” So, there you go, from a formal strictly scientific point of view, a supernatural explanation is by definition and convention excluded. That does not mean however that such an explanation will ultimately be the one that makes the most sense, it just means that where Intelligent Design proponents try to argue with scientists, within the scientific realm, one will not get anywhere. Although admitted or known, Intelligent Design proponents seem to overlook this important fact or one step further, try to change the rules. This was clearly shown in the Kitzmiller v Dover case in the US:
In deliberately omitting theological or “ultimate” explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world, science does not consider issues of “meaning” and “purpose” in the world.
… While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science.
… Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich acknowledged that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces.
Dan Dennett advises us that evolution could be seen as “design out of chaos. But what is chaos really? Personally I think that chaos is nothing more than a part of the divine creation of which we do not have a full grasp or understanding. Just as scientists may refer to religious people as non-rational because they use God as an explanation for what we do not understand, the same could be said about scientists that use chaos as an argument or explanation: chaos is nothing more than an implicit admission that “we do not know (yet) how certain matters exactly work. And that is how a religious person could look at chaos: part of God’s creation we have not been able to understand in naturalist or materialist terms.
Science and Religion as Complementary Disciplines
The great thing about science is in it’s limitation to looking at the natural and natural explanations only. That is the strength of science that we do not want to jeopardize. By this limitation we are continuously driven to find explanations i the natural world. Allowing the supernatural into the equation could easily lead to scientific slackness. The scientific drive could easily be taken away if we considered everything we cannot explain naturally as supernatural, why bother looking for answers if you can just back and call things supernatural and therefore not understandable. We would not have been where we are today, regardless of what value we put on that, i we had allowed the supernatural explanation into science.
However the non-scientific nature of Intelligent Design evidence does not say anything about the intrinsic value of the arguments brought forward by those that support the theory that God created the universe and all that is was and will be in it. Where it concerns evolution; by Message of 22 October 1996 of Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church made the announcement that evolution is compatible with a Christian Belief. Some fundamentalist Christians may not want to support this proposition but on average there is the Christian option of supporting evolution as a process without subscribing to “philosophical naturalism” which encompasses the view that everything has a natural cause an that organic life is nothing more than the result of unguided random forces. When evolution is turned into such an all encompassing theory we are no longer talking about science but about philosophy and one could even argue that such a theory is nothing more or less than an alternative belief system. It is good to understand that Dawkins and others have, like creationists and ID proponents a conflict model in which one camp excludes the other. While these conflicts attract the attention and are probably great for the sales of books and for publicity reasons, it does not necessarily represent the large field in between these two polarities in which there is room to consider dialogue and even integration.
In the end it is personal
In my professional capacity I have often said: “it is the law that guides a case but it is the facts that make a case.” Another way of looking at it is that you will need to go where the evidence takes you and not try to have the evidence take you where you want to go.That however is not what is being presented in the media which needs to sell and therefore ignores this middle field to focus on the extremes of the continuum where the attention grabbing “battles” are fought with all the fundamentalist dirtiness that comes with that. There is a well known saying that “all is fair in love and war.” Somehow I think that has been taken to new levels up to a point where we may need to rethink this piece of common “wisdom.”
For me personally the body of evidence leads me to a God creator, in fact the God of the Bible and Christianity. The body of evidence is coming from a wide range of sources and are both of a direct and indirect nature. At the same time I am well aware that this same body of evidence could just as easy be used to disprove God and Christianity. I guess there is a subjective element in weighing the evidence. At the same time that is a fact of life we will have to live with. What would be great if that is not used as a reason to draw swords but as a reason to reason, on the basis of mutual respect and a willingness to learn and develop. For fundamentalist Christians I suggest trying to open up to the world of science and do not judge but listen and learn, an for the militant atheist, do exactly the same. We all have each other a lot to offer. And on an individual level it is important to consider the body of evidence and not just that which you want to hear. All too often I hear people cry out from a position of ignorance make claims about the camp they emotionally do not want to be in, atheists and Christians alike.
While I do believe that weighing the evidence has a subjective element to it, I also believe that it is important to consider all the evidence and whatever happens do not judge those that come to different conclusions, especially if you are a Christian. For both the atheist and the Christian it is good to ask yourself:
CAN YOU CONVINCINGLY EXPLAIN WHY YOU BELIEVE WHAT YOU BELIEVE?
I know I can and I will so keep coming back if you want to hear my take on all of this. Did you check the evidence? I know I did an still do. I suggest you do the same. A good start is checking out the other posts in the religion and spirituality category or the renaissance and journey sub category. And keep in mind when you read any of the other posts in these categories that I was once out there on a mission to prove that religion was a fraud and now writing from a Christian perspective. Science and experience got me to believe again.