Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Great Evolution Debate


Some years ago I had some well meaning friends who, greatly concerned for my theological failings, used to give me creationist magazines in an attempt to convert me. The magazines were very well produced: large and glossy, with good photos. Each issue contained 20 or so stories each proving without a shadow of doubt the shortcomings and imminent demise of the theory of evolution. Each of the stories was quite convincing. Each of the stories was complete and utter bollocks. A typical story might involve a rock that had been sent to a laboratory for age testing. The age given by the laboratory would be completely at odds with the age calculated by some geologist or other, thus proving, once and for all, the fallacy of the dating process and thus the fallacy of the whole theory of evolution. Of course if the good people at 6 Days R Us want a cover story and send enough samples away to enough different laboratories, they will sooner or later get an aberrant reading, especially if they choose a dating method particularly unsuited to that particular type of rock. The magazines didn't ever convince me, much to the sorrow of my friends, but to try and explain why took a long time, as each of the stories required some research and explanation as to why I thought it was CAUB. They couldn't have been convinced anyway, as no matter what question was asked, which argument was presented, no matter what evidence was shown them, they had already decided on the answer: 6 Days, by God, and oh yes there was a flood.

In the last few days I have had dealings, from a number of sources, with people who hold positions at the other end of the spectrum of this argument. Although the evolutionists are more scientifically astute, I'm afraid that they are no more advanced in their ability to listen or to entertain a position contrary to their own. Their particular modus operandi is to listen tentatively until they hear a trigger phrase - say, irreducible complexity or the names Behe or Dembski - and then out comes a preformed line of argument only incidentally related to anything I have been saying and garnished with equal amounts of vitriol and sputum. The argument runs a course, rather like the lines I used to draw on my desk when I was at school; the more the pencil moves down the line, the less chance there is that in the future the pencil will take any other course than that line. The answer given in any circumstance is: by gradual descent and by natural selection and if there's not a "natural" answer then one will turn up soon, yes really, you plonker.

The pencil, moving down a well worn line over which we originally had control but do no longer; making the line deeper and, with every passage of the sharpened tip, less open to deviation. In all the raging battles over evolution no-one but no-one from either side is ever converted to the other, or even influenced a little. All the arguments do is entrench the other side more and more firmly in their self belief. This is because, in this argument as in so many others, truth is not the objective, argument is the objective. Holding an identifiable position, knowing we hold that position, the emotions which are aroused when we defend it, having recognisable enemies against whom our position can be made distinctive - all contribute to building our sense of self. Unfortunately, the self that we have a sense of is illusory. It is the desire to avoid that knowledge which makes us cling with ferocity to those things which bolster our illusion.

The deep drawn pencil lines are myriad in our psyches: beliefs, habits of behaviour, unvarying ways of reacting emotionally -these are patterns of mind and behaviour over which we may have once had control, but are now so set and so pervasive that they are integral to the way we think of ourselves; to our understanding of who we are. We argue over evolution, and the belief systems called upon, and the feelings evoked in us give us the deep reassurance that we are who we think we are. Of course we don't want the truth - if we got that, we might have to reevaluate everything, and then where would we be?

For the record, my self boosting opinion is that in this particular case, neither side is true and neither side is entirely not true.

We won't find the truth in our entrenched arguments over evolution or gay priests or any other thing. We will only find it when we are able to abandon our reassuring illusions, look within, and understand that I Am.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen to that! When, I wonder, will we learn to get out of our own way?

Tillerman said...

Amen to all that indeed.

To come to a position where we observe that we ourselves are part of this ‘vitriol and sputum’ as you say (notice me raising both my hands) is to come to a realisation that each and every one of us has a hard won position that we are defending whether we are a fundie, a liberal, an atheist an evolutionist or creative design adherent. We have all won our understandings through struggle, spiritual journeying and life experience. (and each individuals insights and context should be honoured and valued). To reflect and re examine and perhaps change or modify our intellectual and spiritual position is to rearrange our very being, our very selves. This is why we defend what we believe so strongly. Each of our arguments is within a context of a certain amount of fear. A fear of change and reassessment.

To be able to stand way, way back and look at all this is I think to have reached a certain level or stage of spiritual development. I do not mean by this some progression like the step on a ladder but to come full circle to the realization that you actually know bugger all. It is a humbling experience believe me. It’s a bit like becoming a child again.

I wonder whether these words are relevant here?:

- Jesus said, “ Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein” – Saint Luke Chpt 18. V.17.

Peter Carrell said...

I like your middle way, Kelvin, as something of an evolutionist-and-intelligent-designist myself (i.d. at least in the grand sense that the universe looks like it has been designed to work and not turn to custard ... I won't get into the question of cellular motors!!).

I particularly like your concern about those evolutionists who try to explain everything by gradualism and natural selection. For a while now I have wondered why with 6 billion people on the earth - apparently doing quite a bit of human biology stuff, 'cause a year or so ago it was 5 billion -we do not see evidence of species jumping appearing before our eyes. Its quite a big sample population to look for evidence ...

Kathryn said...

Wow, there is a lot of Available Light here today! :-)
Out of the darkness.... I like it.

Simon said...

As you say, we tend to argue so vehemently about our beliefs because we have allowed them to define who we are. So if somebody challenges them, we feel that we ourselves are under threat.

If we can try to set all that to one side and look at things objectively, the polarization of this debate doesn't make a lot of sense. If I was God and wanted to create a universe, then the big bang followed by a gradual process of evolution would seem like a pretty good way to do it. So why the need for an argument? You can have your God and your evolution as well.

I've heard 'supporters of evolution' argue that it wouldn't make sense for God to do it that way because He'd have to wait for so long for the interesting stuff (i.e. humans) to come along. As if scientists hadn't already agreed that time doesn't exist outside our universe. And as if God couldn't possibly be interested in dinosaurs...

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