20.10.05

The Lost Boys Survey takes up the gauntlet!

Darwin is a problem because every ambitious attempt to read the Bible starts at Genesis, instead of where it really should which is the Book of John. So most people stop halfway through Exodus when the reading gets dense... and there is no mercy for those who wade into the unforgiveable morass that is Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Those who go at it with the King James are in even more trouble, because archaic English is really tough to read.

AR: ‘Origin of Species’ isn’t exactly a riveting potboiler.

So, everyone who orthodoxly attempts to read the bible absorbs one key point: In the beginning there was God, who created the earth and all there is in six days, etc. Key lesson: we are special creations, albeit imperfect, and must live up to what our creator expects of us; after all, we're created in his image. As far as personal philosophies go, I think this is a grand starting place.

It's also disastrously undermined by Darwin. All I can compare it to is Western capitalism unleashed in Confucian China; and that mess is still sorting itself out. Learning Darwin, when you keenly believe Genesis Chapters 1-5 tells you that everything you have personally investigated and invested in about God is false. The values around which you've built your life are fictional and meaningless. The code of rules by which you live and conduct yourself are based on nothing. Einstein and Freud are equally disturbing, but aren't taught in Grade 10, and aren't that confrontational to core beliefs.

AR: I don’t dispute your characterization of the world views in collision – I think they certainly are, but I also recognize two areas you touch on where I think the problems are deepest; when you mention ‘orthodox readers’ or biblical literalists, and that the animus to Darwin is motivated by the investment in a literal Genesis reading as key to the values expressed in it.

Two solutions present themselves, both of which are painful but necessary;

  1. Abandon biblical literalism – it is a discipline that is circular, archaic, and ultimately patently false. I suspect that this will happen. The bible as written is simply too askew from basic facts (Helio-centrism for example) to be held as absolutely factually true. Most churches have already long ago developed sophisticated theologies, clerical experts, interpreters, committees, mixed with other historical and authoritarian sources to interpret the words in the bible ‘correctly’, and they for the most part, treat science as the means of exploring God’s world, rather than as a threat to their world view. All that biblical literalism does is force it’s adherents into a purely defensive intellectual stance – and the end result is ‘Creationism’ and the updated post-modern transvestite version of it ‘Intelligent Design’. Now as theological exercises go, they are first rate. As philosophy they are third rate, and as science they are complete failures. Since they seek to have their ideas canonized as of the same quality as ‘science’, rather than confining their ideas to being of the realm of theology, or perhaps worse, as philosophy, it is absolutely vital that they be opposed.

  1. Biblical literalists should understand that the values of Genesis as you recount them are actually upheld by Darwin.

“we are special creations, albeit imperfect, and must live up to what our creator expects of us; after all, we're created in his image.”

Genetics (interesting root word, eh?) tells us that no two human beings are exactly alike – not even identical twins. Nor are we perfect – which anyone who suffers from sore knees, diabetes, or appendicitis will confirm. Darwin makes no comment about what our creator expects of us, but it is fair to say that he solves whose image we bear. Perhaps it will sound too facetious, but if we do bear the face of ‘God’ than wouldn’t a fair reading of Darwin conclude that ‘God’ is a common genetic ancestor, and isn’t that ultimately compatible with all of humanity being ‘His children?’ Or am I taking that ‘His Children’ thing too literally?


An equally comparable situation: Islamic fundamentalists unleashed in Red America. The local moral code just has no way of dealing with it other than lashing out and back in horror and fear; and that is exadctly what they do.

AR: I think you are being far too harsh on Red America. Americans ‘on the ground’ haven’t been the ones to demonstrate problems with fundamentalist Islam. Muslims in the US aren’t being routinely hassled, arrested, or tortured by their neighbours, it’s the current government in power that is doing that.

There is, therefore, to the holder of these beleifs, no difference between the scientific method used by atheism and the atheism itself. Both are equally destructive. It's like asking which death is worse: One at the hands of muslim fundamentalists, or one in an explosion caused by muslim fundamentalists? Remember, the explosion is ethically neutral. That's a pretty stupid distinction, isn't it? Well, that's the distinction you're asking the Christians to make.


AR: My thesis though is exactly your point – they either, can’t or won’t make the distinction between what they propose, and science and philosophy – indeed I believe their stated purpose is to get religious ideas taught as science. If they can’t make the distinction more is the pity, but I notice the Amish seem to be doing just fine and they live in a quasi-pastoral dream world of hook and eye clothing and V-8 Hemi trucks. Not coincidentally, I don’t want the Amish way of life taught as science either.


I don't know enough about Soviet atheism, but it seems rather spurious of you to say atheism abjures the scientific method, when you then proceed to hammer Christianity as wrong and atheism as right with scientific method as your very methodical and precise tool. It's kind of like saying, "I don't need to break your knees with a hammer, I could use a baseball bat. The hammer is in fact, a very useful tool for other purposes."

AR: Soviet atheism looks remarkably like Mongolian, Australian and Canadian atheism, with the chief distinctions being cartographical. What I was saying was that being atheist (lack of belief in Gods) is a philosophical position, whereas science is a practice. Atheism, as powerful a force for good in the universe as it is, is not going to discover a new method for extracting energy from aluminum, or place men on Mars, and being a scientist is by no means the same thing as being an atheist.

As for scientists, evolution and God, again, I emphasize that this crisis of Darwin becomes a very real and acute problem for anyone when your definition of God begins and consists primarily of the first 20 chapters of Genesis. Similar problems would arise for anyone who took an equally narrow proportion of text of any body of work and based their personal philosophy on it. The solution however, is sympathy, empathy and education, not antipathy, insults and denigration.

AR: Gimme a break. You can’t be seriously suggesting that the real problem of people who subscribe to biblical literalism is that these self-professed passionate enthusiasts of the bible have, as a group, gotten behind in their reading?!?!


Finally, you should be aware that the scientific method, no matter who is wielding it, has a very real flaw: "Start with the answer you want to find, and you will eventually ask the right question." It doesn't matter who is wielding it, if they already know what answer they want to find, they will.

AR: Which is why good scientists aren’t guided by expected results, but instead by hypothesis. A good scientist understands that a negative result – even if disappointing, is still valuable science. It’s in theology that you start with the answers and then argue to prove them.

4 comments:

Richard said...

http://alomo.blogspot.com/2005/10/yet-more-replying-to-cameron.html

moriarty said...

Read Einstein in Gr12 in high school physics. Read Eccliesiates [?sp] or the book of Job. If your faith can't handle those challenges or if you are 'believer', what is taught by evolution should not threaten you.

Jennifer said...

First: Ecclesiastes.

Second: True about the good scientists wanting knowledge without necessarily positive results. A friend of mine did his ph.d. in particle physics, and his results apparently directly contradicted the results of some big whig Italian scientists. He went to meet them and they told him he could use his results for his thesis (mighty white of them, I say) but he can't publish it because it will affect their reputation or some such. The thing is, his results were "null results" but as he put it "at least they're *my* null results."

Jennifer said...

re: Soviet atheism.

If you were discussing actual individual Soviet citizens who claimed to be atheist, then you could say that it looks the same as atheism in other parts of the world, but "Soviet Atheism" was more of an official stance, like Lutheranism is the official religion of Finland. Atheism was imposed on the citizenry, whether they liked it or not. People don't become atheist just because they're labeled that way by the government.