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Skeptic puzzled by ‘Question Evolution’ campaign

Atheist is both appreciative, but perplexed over CMI’s use of science

Published: 11 February 2012 (GMT+10)

Sam B. emailed us, having spent some hours reading articles on creation.com, after being alerted to CMI’s Question Evolution campaign by an atheist blog site. Sam’s email is presented in its entirety and then Philip Bell responds.

After spending the better part of 4 hours reading through mounds of information that is presented on your website, I stand extremely confused. I am a member of Reddit, another online community and an atheist. From one of the sub-threads, I came here to read about the ‘Question Evolution’ campaign that you are running. As well as an atheist, I am also an evolutionist and a neuroscientist and viewing the qualifications of your main contributors as fellow scientists is personally quite alarming to me that they hold such staunch creationist viewpoints in spite of their scientific backgrounds. In my opinion, creation belief and science are two completely incompatible things. And before you say, ‘of course they aren’t!’ let me explain why I think they are. I understand how many different people from all walks of life indulge in their own ideas about the origins of life. I think it is completely acceptable for someone to say that they do not know how life or the universe originated, but they believe some form of higher being may have got everything started. Although I do not share this particular view, I will accept this view from others as a natural human response to wanting answers per se. What I do not believe is acceptable however, is refuting evolution in favour of what is said in the bible. The bible was written more than 2 millennia ago, by men. It was not physically written by God, but by men. From your own statement of faith you admit that men (or women!) are fallible and subject to mistake making (in my personal view contributors of the writings in the bible were fulfilling prophecies made earlier on). Another flaw I seem to keep thinking of is that of-who was there to witness Noah building his ark and a great flood? I would assume it to be highly improbable that there were several scribes present at the time taking notes. Again, even if these happenings were described to someone by God in a dream etc, who is this man to say this? We have no proof whatsoever that what this man is saying is true. He could be making the entire thing up, and it is extremely scary that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists any other religion you wish to name (but namely for the sake of argument here on a Christian website the Judao-Christian bible) would base their entire life, way of life, views, behaviours-on what you have heard from nothing more than fellow man. I do not wish to come here to bowl you over with my egotistical atheistic views, but more to engage your logical and reasonable side. You are all (mostly) scientists. You understand the vast complexities in the universe. You understand that science is based on experimental observable facts, painstakingly peer reviewed. Why oh why, would you after receiving Masters degrees and other things, then refer to an archaic text for scientific fact? You must know deep down that it is not true. I fear for the future of evolution. I believe that it does not in any way contradict a belief in God. Or even as I have stated before the start of the universe. Please, more than anything, just reconsider basing so much of your belief system on a book for which there is not a shred of proof for the contents. Again-not saying not for the existence of God-but for events and anti-evolutionary standpoints. Evolution is an innately beautiful mechanism that has lead to the existence of every single species on the planet. The complexity of the human brain is owed to millions-not thousands-of year of evolutionary processes and it would be a complete waste to think your complexity just appeared out of thin air. It saddens me deeply.

Lastly, I would like to thank your for your site not being a usual creationist dogmatic-shove it down my throat-kind of affair. I appreciate that you actually use science in your justifications rather than push against it. I would love to hear back from somebody, to possibly answer or refute anything I have said. I send this message out of good spirit and do not wish to cause offence or upset to anyone.

Many thanks-

Sam

Dear Sam,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on CMI’s Question Evolution campaign with us.

First, let me say that I appreciate that you have taken time to do some reading on our website. Unfortunately, many are quick to disagree and criticise without checking out what we actually believe and teach.

Please see my response below, interspersed with your comments.

Note: The links I give below are generally to category lists rather than individual articles. I have taken this approach with you so that you can see the wealth of thoughtful discussion of the many issues raised. Even to view the subtopics covered, by merely browsing the many article titles, should highlight that we do not shrink from active engagement over details. Read one or two articles from each page of links and I am sure you will have a better grasp of what creationists actually believe.

After spending the better part of 4 hours reading through mounds of information that is presented on your website, I stand extremely confused. I am a member of Reddit, another online community and an atheist. From one of the sub-threads, I came here to read about the ‘Question Evolution’ campaign that you are running. As well as an atheist, I am also an evolutionist and a neuroscientist and viewing the qualifications of your main contributors as fellow scientists is personally quite alarming to me that they hold such staunch creationist viewpoints in spite of their scientific backgrounds.

I assume that your confusion arises from your puzzlement that qualified scientists and thinking people (who “use science in [our] justifications rather than push against it” to quote from near the end of your feedback) are also people with strong Christian faith. But the faith versus science dichotomy is a false one (as this helpful article shows comprehensively), as is the idea that logic and reason are incompatible with Christianity.

In my opinion, creation belief and science are two completely incompatible things. And before you say, ‘of course they aren’t!’ let me explain why I think they are. I understand how many different people from all walks of life indulge in their own ideas about the origins of life. I think it is completely acceptable for someone to say that they do not know how life or the universe originated, but they believe some form of higher being may have got everything started. Although I do not share this particular view, I will accept this view from others as a natural human response to wanting answers per se. What I do not believe is acceptable however, is refuting evolution in favour of what is said in the bible.

CMI’s position is to acknowledge and insist on the role of world-views in shaping everyone’s understanding of past history. This includes a person’s belief in events which are hypothesised to have taken place but which none of us can observe, whether from our perspective as evolutionists, creationists, Intelligent Design advocates or whatever. Thus, we completely agree that “creation belief and science” are completely different things, where the latter is empirical science (of the sort that you are engaged in as a neuroscientist). However, in just the same way, belief in past evolution and empirical science are completely different things. Definitions are as slippery as eels so let me explain that, by evolution, I mean that all organic life has descended by modification over millions of years from a common ancestor. Thus CMI has no issue with natural selection but we dispute that this is the same as evolution as just defined. If you browse CMI’s website further you will find ample evidence, running to literally thousands of articles, showing what we actually teach, as opposed to what many anti-theists believe and/or claim we teach, including that we do not dispute that much biological change has occurred, can and continues to occur. This includes an explicit belief in speciation (based on our understanding of history, informed by the Bible). We acknowledge the role of mutations in biological variation but show how Neo-Darwinism falls far short of solving the arrival (origin) of the first species of living organisms, as opposed to their survival. The latter points of disagreement, note, can be discussed purely on a logic/science level, without any recourse to belief or disbelief in Scripture.

Evolution, if it happened (on this we disagree) happened in the dim and distant past and is not observable today. Our contention is that it is entirely justifiable to Question Evolution because the mechanisms offered to supposedly explain how it happened (remember the definition of evolution that I am using) are wanting. The issue of the needed incrementally added de novo genetic information (to effect large-scale morphological change) cannot simply be ignored by those who profess to be empiricists. Neither can the many sound arguments for the improbability of biogenesis to form self-reproducing cells in the first place—the necessary units of Darwinian natural selection.

The bible was written more than 2 millennia ago, by men. It was not physically written by God, but by men. From your own statement of faith you admit that men (or women!) are fallible and subject to mistake making (in my personal view contributors of the writings in the bible were fulfilling prophecies made earlier on).

While human beings were the agents God used to physically write the Bible, this does not mean that God was not the ultimate writer/author—the hallmarks of Divine authorship of the Bible are found throughout Scripture.

Another flaw I seem to keep thinking of is that of-who was there to witness Noah building his ark and a great flood? I would assume it to be highly improbable that there were several scribes present at the time taking notes. Again, even if these happenings were described to someone by God in a dream etc, who is this man to say this? We have no proof whatsoever that what this man is saying is true. He could be making the entire thing up,

Please read articles from the previous link to see what we say about the authority of the Bible, how it was written and so on. While we agree with the testimony of no less than Jesus Himself regarding Moses’ authorship (c. 1500 BC) of the Pentateuch (the first five books), which includes Genesis (see here), it seems he acted also as a compiler of existing written records. This is strongly supported by a consideration of the toledoth (in the Hebrew) of the Genesis record as being subscript statements (colophons). Thus, we believe Noah was one of those who wrote material (that Moses later utilised under the inspiration of God), including information about God’s communications to him, the building of the Ark, the timing and events of the Flood and so on. The test of the veracity of such written records is in considerations of the internal consistency of the Bible and researching the effects of such a global destructive event on the world’s geology, biology and anthropology. All of these areas and more are dealt with exhaustively in numerous other articles on CMI’s website.

and it is extremely scary that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists any other religion you wish to name (but namely for the sake of argument here on a Christian website the Judeo-Christian bible) would base their entire life, way of life, views, behaviours-on what you have heard from nothing more than fellow man.

But, why “scary”? With respect, what can such a value statement really mean within an atheistic worldview? Whether something is scary, good, evil, worrying, logical (or whatever) doesn’t really follow from a belief that human beings are the product of a universe that didn’t have us in mind and doesn’t care that we’re here; within which—to quote Richard Dawkins—there’s “nothing but blind pitiless indifference”. On what basis does anything matter from this perspective? To quote from this article from one of my colleagues:

Purpose for the atheist?

If we are merely a complex arrangement of atoms emanating from the cosmic fluke called the big bang, from whence come purpose and meaning for the atheist? The Humanist Manifesto III tries to find meaning in some nice-sounding words:

“Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. … Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. … Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.”

But why should anyone serve humane ideals? If we are just atoms, mere matter, what does it matter that people are humane or not humane; whether people suffer or don’t suffer? Whether we have good relationships or bad? Whether people are happy or unhappy? Ultimately we will all become fertilizer anyway, so why should anything matter for these few short years of life?

Furthermore, you base your life on what you have heard from your fellow man. Your thoughts about almost everything derive from what others have said. The big question of course is which is the most reliable source of authority for what we believe? Even from a purely human level the Bible is the distillation of thousands of years of human experience. But it claims to be more than that, from the very Creator of the Universe; the One who knows all there is to know—and if it is that, we neglect it to our peril.

I do not wish to come here to bowl you over with my egotistical atheistic views, but more to engage your logical and reasonable side. You are all (mostly) scientists. You understand the vast complexities in the universe. You understand that science is based on experimental observable facts, painstakingly peer reviewed. Why oh why, would you after receiving Masters degrees and other things, then refer to an archaic text for scientific fact?

This is a misunderstanding. Informed Christians do not rely on the Bible to verify that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius at sea level, to understand the principles of the internal combustion engine or to explore the potential of a new anti-cancer drug. Operational/experimental science (such as I and other scientifically trained CMI staff have, like you, been involved in) is limited to the present world. Yet, all of us, regardless of our worldview or beliefs/non-beliefs form opinions about past earth history. Since we are not in a position to jump into a time machine (except in thought experiments) and actually go back and observe and test past events, we are limited to speculation (however reasonable and well-informed). Thus, questions about evolution (not just how it may have happened, but whether it did happen) are a matter of historical (or origins) science, explained comprehensively in chapter 2 of Refuting evolution 2.

You must know deep down that it is not true.

Au contraire, having some gut feeling or knowing something “deep down” doesn’t come into true science—and that applies to all of us, whether professed Christians or atheists, or anyone else. If evolution really is scientific, consider why it is that you have slipped into using such language—for you imply by this statement that you yourself know deep down that evolution is true. I could tell you (very truthfully) that I “know deep down” that the Bible is the very Word of God—the Creator of all that exists, myself included; moreover that He stepped into history as my Saviour in the person of Jesus Christ. This involves the realm of my personal experience of God in my own life, in the lives of my own family and friends, of answered prayer, of experiencing the incredible relevance and accuracy of Scripture in numerous instances, and so on. None of those things are necessarily of any consequence to other people, of course.

I can’t resist responding, quite sincerely, by saying “You must know deep down that evolution is not true.” Yet, such a statement finds no place in unadulterated scientific reasoning, as mentioned. However, consider that the evolution of the myriad forms of life on this planet is supposed to have happened during deep time, long before human beings (as we know them today) existed. Therefore, it should be acceptable to question whether it is true; any other position concedes that evolution has become a dogma. Quite apart from faith considerations, it is precisely because of CMI’s understanding of how science works and of the evidence at our disposal, that we are convinced that evolution is not true—our conclusion is not based on feelings, good or bad.

I fear for the future of evolution. I believe that it does not in any way contradict a belief in God.

With respect Sam, this is a little rich, coming from a professed disbeliever in God, though, to be fair to you, it does very much depend on one’s concept of God. Please see some of our articles listed under theistic evolution on this page. The character of the ‘god’ who would allegedly have put evolution to work to create life would logically be poles apart from the God of the Bible, not least because of the issue of death and suffering. In short, a god who superintended evolution, nature red in tooth and claw (Tennyson), as a “very good” process of Creation (see Genesis 1:31) is hardly a Being to whom one would logically be inclined to pray for help in the face of death and suffering. Atheist philosopher and molecular biologist Jacques Monod wrote:

“The more cruel because it is a process of elimination, of destruction. The struggle for life and elimination of the weakest is a horrible process, against which our whole modern ethics revolts. An ideal society is a non-selective society, is one where the weak is protected; which is exactly the reverse of the so-called natural law. I am surprised that a Christian would defend the idea that this is the process which God more or less set up in order to have evolution (emphasis added).” From Chance and Necessity, 1970.

Or even as I have stated before the start of the universe. Please, more than anything, just reconsider basing so much of your belief system on a book for which there is not a shred of proof for the contents. Again-not saying not for the existence of God-but for events and anti-evolutionary standpoints. Evolution is an innately beautiful mechanism

Yes, Darwin claimed “there is grandeur in this view of life” (near the end of the Origin) but soon afterwards admits that “the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving” (humankind, though he was being coy at this stage in his career) owed itself to “the war of nature, famine and death”. As a biologist, I can admit to the fascination of watching how a bird of prey targets and seizes its hapless victim—yet I doubt that too many people, biologists included, would argue that this is beautiful. Perhaps you had other aspects of the supposed mechanics of evolution in mind—but death is very much part of the engine room of evolution and cannot be divorced from the other aspects of how evolution supposedly produced the astonishing variety of living organisms.

that has lead to the existence of every single species on the planet. The complexity of the human brain is owed to millions-not thousands-of year of evolutionary processes

Think for a moment—How do you know this to be true? (Search on our website to find many articles on this issue too).

and it would be a complete waste to think your complexity just appeared out of thin air. It saddens me deeply.

At risk of sounding like a scratched record, sadness, like being ‘scared’, has no meaning within the framework of a godless, purposeless universe. To the extent that you feel sad, even you—if you are to be a consistent atheist—would have to admit that such feelings amount to just so many synaptic firings of your brain. And reduced further, the actions of acetylcholine, dopamine and all the other neurotransmitters are ultimately just the fortuitous (or not) assemblies of so many atoms, all of these things ‘ungloriously’ purposeless.

Lastly, I would like to thank you for your site not being a usual creationist dogmatic-shove it down my throat-kind of affair. I appreciate that you actually use science in your justifications rather than push against it. I would love to hear back from somebody, to possibly answer or refute anything I have said. I send this message out of good spirit and do not wish to cause offence or upset to anyone.

This response is sent is the same good spirit. Nevertheless, it is my sincere hope that you go beyond the back-and-forth rhetoric that inevitably characterises such discussions, between those of opposing points of view, and dig deeper.

Many thanks-

Sam

Sincere regards,

Philip Bell

Helpful Resources

Should Christians Embrace Evolution?
by Norman C Nevin (Editor)
US $15.00
Soft Cover
Refuting Evolution 2, updated
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $10.00
Soft Cover
Evolution: Good Science?
by Dominic Statham
US $13.00
Soft Cover