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The Scientist from Iceland

A scientist from Iceland wrote an article favoring evolution over creation. Before he could log off, Sheepandgoats landed an email on his lap, citing evolution’s fatal flaws. But he countered that evolution had no fatal flaws, only points that had not yet been fully explained!

Now….how to proceed? Do you tell the scientist that he doesn’t know his own subject, and that you know it better, even though you lack credentials? It depends on your objective. If you want to blow off steam and make yourself feel good, that is exactly what you do. But if you want to have any sort of discussion with the fellow, you don’t go that route.

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Dear Scientist from Iceland:

“Fatal flaws” are in the eye of the beholder. In the field of science, I have a working knowledge. You are the expert, not I. I would not be so presumptuous to think I have qualifications to instruct you on your own turf. What I can say is that evidence garnered so far in support of evolution is unconvincing to me. It is insufficient to override my belief in creation.

Of course, you might say “that’s because you’re an ignoramus,” which is the answer evolution proponents often give. Or you might, more charitably, say that the problem lies in communication….evolutionists have not properly explained their position and its supporting evidence. This, in fact, is what you did say.

By the way, when I use the term “you,” please understand that I don’t necessarily mean you personally, but only generically, as in the typical evolution proponent. And I know there is a challenge in describing who’s typical. There is a bell curve, I realize. But I will do my best.

I have come to view the Bible as a trustworthy, logical whole, and as a source of satisfying answers to vexing questions which are answered nowhere else. Such questions as …why do we grow old and die? and ….why is there suffering and misery? ….are convincingly addressed in the Bible, and intricately linked to the creation account. It’s the strength of these positive things, rather than perceived difficulties with evolution, that accounts for my position. Put the two on a scale, and I see the Bible as weighing more. It’s not that evolution is weightless. Quite the contrary. There is supporting evidence. But the evidence supporting the Bible weighs more, in my view. Put yourself in my place and you can see how such a view would lead to a focus on “fatal” evolution flaws, a project I would never undertake were it possible for the two ideas to co-exist.

But here is a problem. You are expert in your field. I am expert in mine. I have a working knowledge in your field. But you, I strongly suspect, have not a clue in mine.

A lawyer ought to be able to argue both sides of a case. I can argue your side. Not as convincingly as you, of course, but I can do it. But you couldn’t begin to argue my side. Apologies if I am wrong, but I doubt I am.

At any rate, it would be easy to test. Write me succinctly the Bible’s answers to the two questions I posed: why old age and death; why suffering. I’m not saying you have to believe the answers, just make the arguments. Assuming that you can’t, perhaps now you see the problem; the playing field is not level. And it’s your fault. (generic “you,” remember.) I know your side. You don’t know mine. Thus, the “ignorance” quote from Isaac Asimov (in your main paper) is most condescending. (but not atypical of him) And misleading. Because he doesn’t know our reasoning, he assumes there is none.

Now, two caveats.

First, the “playing field” only has to be level if you want to “play.” And you may not. I can respect that. After all, I read your article and contacted you. Not the reverse.

Second, when I say the fault is yours, that is not to imply any deficiency on your part. Your prior e-mail lamented that proponents of evidence for evolution have insufficiently explained their case. That argument is a thousand times more true in the field of religion than in science.

It’s also not unexpected, by the way. The Bible is full of these type statements:

I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves…….Acts 20: 29

For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, whereas they will be turned aside to false stories……2 Tim 4:3

Suffice it to say that, if you do not know my position, it is religion’s fault, not yours.

As to “fatal” flaws, I won’t discuss any, at least for the time being. You know what points I would likely raise, and you have answers to them all. It often boils down to…..is this or that impossible (my view) or simply astronomically unlikely, (yours) though it has nonetheless come to pass since any other outcome has been culled by natural selection.

Well, okay, here’s one I’ve already written about: http://carriertom.typepad.com/sheep_and_goats/2006/06/science_and_sex.html

Lastly, so as to make my views somewhat more palatable to you, I have no issue with micro-evolution: fruit flies, bacteria, finches, and the like. It is similar to animal husbandry, and has been around forever.

I also agree with you - and not with the fundamentalists - that it is nonsense to suppose all was created in literal 24-hour days. The Bible doesn’t insist on this. There is no reason “day” can’t be viewed more broadly, such as an old-timer talking about life “in his day.” Scientists speak of millions, even billions of years, in life’s origin. In general, I have no issue with this.

I don’t count myself a fundamentalist, nor does the faith I am a part of, Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Does this address the points you raised in your e-mail?

Sheepandgoats

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The scientist from Iceland sent back a nice reply. In true scientific fashion, he dissected my email and addressed it point by point. (his remarks are bold and in italics)

Dear Sheepandgoats:

First of all I'd like to say that I respect your approach, and opinions, and think your letter is very well written.

I'm going to answer each of these points, but would also like to point out that we have now ventured out of my article's dominion — which was that science and religion are opposite approaches to explaining life and that they can't be mixed. I usually leave discussions of which one is "better" or "more true" up to scientists that are inclined to do so — but on account of your friendly approach and obvious thought you've given to each argument, here is my reply.

Dear Scientist from Iceland:

“Fatal flaws” are in the eye of the beholder. In the field of science, I have a working knowledge. You are the expert, not I. I would not be so presumptuous to think I have qualifications to instruct you on your own turf.
What I can say is that evidence garnered so far in support of evolution is unconvincing to me. It is insufficient to override my belief in creation.

I respect and relate to that. It's my exact response to why I don't believe in a god.

Of course, you might say “that’s because you’re an ignoramus,” which is the answer evolution proponents often give.

I'm sorry to hear that — and apologize on behalf of my colleagues.

Or you might, more charitably, say that the problem lies in communication….evolutionists have not properly explained their position and its supporting evidence. This, in fact, is what you did say.
By the way, when I use the term “you,” please understand that I don’t necessarily mean you personally, but only generically, as in the typical evolution proponent. And I know there is a challenge in describing who’s typical. There is a bell curve, I realize. But I will do my best.

Of course — thank you for explicitly pointing that out. Please also consider any such remarks on my behalf the same way, and believe me when I say that nothing I write here is supposed to be insulting. If you feel it is, then it is not intentional and I apologize beforehand.

I have come to view the Bible as a trustworthy, logical whole, and as a source of satisfying answers to vexing questions which are answered nowhere else. Such questions as …why do we grow old and die? and ….why is there suffering and misery? ….are convincingly addressed in the Bible, and intricately linked to the creation account. It’s the strength of these positive things, rather than perceived difficulties with evolution, that accounts for my position.

Indeed. I can truthfully say that I at least partially understand your stance. Science, at this point, has no answer to those questions. However, to explain my position — I'm okay with not having all the answers. I accept that scientific knowledge is, and will remain for a very long time, a work in progress. Until then, I will continue using the scientific method to support or disprove what I believe or question — until one day all questions will be answered, or we will have answered the question of whether science can really answer all the questions (more on this further below).

Put the two on a scale, and I see the Bible as weighing more. It’s not that evolution is weightless. Quite the contrary. There is supporting evidence. But the evidence supporting the Bible weighs more, in my view. Put yourself in my place and you can see how such a view would lead to a focus on “fatal” evolution flaws, a project I would never undertake were it possible for the two ideas to co-exist.

I'm not sure we share the same definition of "evidence". Do you mean scientific evidence that godly powers exist, or some kind of different evidence? Or perhaps mainly a lack of evidence on behalf of evolutionists?

I have a question that might seem strange, one that contains a point that allows the two to co-exist: Considering how little is said about god's methods of creation in the bible, or other scriptures — don't you ever consider the possibility that god created evolution? There is nothing to suggest that evolution isn't part of god's methods to create humans (except for the story of Adam and Eve, but I gather that you're not a fundamentalist).
I'm interested in hearing your take on this; is there something that you feel is wrong or disconcerting about this notion?
To clear any confusion, I don't believe this for my obvious agnostic atheist tendencies. But I do, of course, continually reason with myself — and this is a thought I've been longing to ask someone religious as I've never heard it used as an argument.

But here is a problem. You are expert in your field. I am expert in mine. I have a working knowledge in your field. But you, I strongly suspect, have not a clue in mine.
A lawyer ought to be able to argue both sides of a case. I can argue your side. Not as convincingly as you, of course, but I can do it. But you couldn’t begin to argue my side. Apologies if I am wrong, but I doubt I am.

Actually — my mother is a christian fundamentalist, and she did indeed try to raise me as one as well. My atheism was not brought about by ignorance of religious scriptures — but was the result of many years of learning and thinking during my childhood, and today still. I went to Sunday school regularly, and to church. As of yet, none of the arguments I've heard have been convincing enough to change my mind.
On the other hand, you're partially right. Even though I was raised in a christian home — I admit I have not for many years made an effort to study the Bible, Koran or any other religious doctrine. But it isn't what's said *in* the Bible that's my reason for disbelief, please see my next paragraphs.

At any rate, it would be easy to test. Write me succinctly the Bible’s answers to the two questions I posed: why old age and death; why suffering. I’m not saying you have to believe the answers, just make the arguments.

Assuming that you can’t, perhaps now you see the problem; the playing field is not level. And it’s your fault. (generic “you,” remember.) I know your side. You don’t know mine. Thus, the “ignorance” quote from Isaac Asimov (in your main paper) is most condescending. (but not atypical of him) And misleading. Because he doesn’t know our reasoning, he assumes there is none.

I could attempt to answer these questions, but I do not see how this is relevant. The reason that I don't believe in religious doctrines is not because the arguments aren't convincing, or that they don't make sense in their own way. The reason is that there is no way for me to prove or refute their validity. No matter how much sense it makes that suffering is due to original sin — there is no way to find evidence to support it, we can't investigate the notion. This is what Asimov meant by ignorance: If anyone chooses to decide something without any way to support or disprove it — there is no rational way to make us change our mind, no way that we can embetter our ways or reach new horizons.
How would you, for example, propose that we decide whether the Bible is the right scripture, or the Koran? While scientists inevitably contradict eachother's theories and hypotheses, they eventually come to agreements through the gradual accumulation of knowledge/mutually supporting evidence (and thereby enter new domains of disagreement). People of religion always depend on the same unprovable scriptures, and hence, can never come to agreement. How do we know or reason which one is right? We will never be able to, unless there's some kind of divine intervention. Even though science today doesn't have all the answers, I can rely on constant development and the possibility that one day it might. And indeed, I am starting repeating myself because this is a difference implied in my article.

Now, if you ask me why I would want to lead a life of consistent reason aside from what I've already mentioned — I can't answer in a single sentence, but an important point is that I've seen what rationality and science can do to better the world. To rid us of witch burnings, or beliefs that the mentally ill are possessed by devils, or creating better medication based on our knowledge of biology, for example. Also, as I noted before — I have no problem with accepting that at this point we can't answer everything. But there is no logical reason to believe continued scientific research will one day stop providing answers or improving our lives. At this point, I'd like to point out that the theory of evolution was conceived of around 1840, which makes it's lifespan very short in terms of research, development and substantiation — but I'm sure you realize that.

Now, two caveats.

First, the “playing field” only has to be level if you want to “play.” And you may not. I can respect that. After all, I read your article and contacted you. Not the reverse.

Second, when I say the fault is yours, that is not to imply any deficiency on your part. Your prior e-mail lamented that proponents of evidence for evolution have insufficiently explained their case. That argument is a thousand times more true in the field of religion than in science.

If I understand you correctly, it seems to me that we are very close to having the same approach to these matters — just on opposite ends.

It’s also not unexpected, by the way. The Bible is full of these type statements:

I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves…….Acts 20: 29

For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, whereas they will be turned aside to false stories……2 Tim 4:3

Suffice it to say that, if you do not know my position, it is religion’s fault, not yours.

Well, I don't like assuming when it comes to people's opinions, so

As to “fatal” flaws, I won’t discuss any, at least for the time being. You know what points I would likely raise, and you have answers to them all. It often boils down to…..is this or that impossible (my view) or simply astronomically unlikely, (yours) though it has nonetheless come to pass since any other outcome has been culled by natural selection.

Excellent position. Regardless of if I would have had answers to them all — I probably wouldn't have ventured into those discussions. My argument provided in the article still stands: that religious beliefs and scientific beliefs are uncomparable. The existance of god, at this point in time, is something that can't be explored through scientific means, and hence — any attempt at arguing it at this point eventually leads nowhere if we restrict ourselves to scientific reasoning.

Well, okay, here’s one I’ve already written about: http://carriertom.typepad.com/sheep_and_goats/2006/06/science_and_sex.html

Bearing in mind that I've acknowledged that scientific knowledge is a work in progress — here is some information that might be of interest to you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macroevolution

[I was a little surprised how quickly he rolled over on this one. I had figured he would have some sort of answer.]

Lastly, so as to make my views somewhat more palatable to you, I have no issue with micro-evolution: fruit flies, bacteria, finches, and the like. It is similar to animal husbandry, and has been around forever.

I can understand how the uniqueness of the human species can make one think that we have come to exist differently than fruit flies and bacteria, even though I don't believe it.

I also agree with you - and not with the fundamentalists - that it is nonsense to suppose all was created in literal 24-hour days. The Bible doesn’t insist on this. There is no reason “day” can’t be viewed more broadly, such as an old-timer talking about life “in his day.” Scientists speak of millions, even billions of years, in life’s origin. In general, I have no issue with this.

I don’t count myself a fundamentalist, nor does the faith I am a part of, Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As I've noticed, you do like being informed on scientific issues as well as religious ones, so here's a bit of information: You mentioned mathematicians using the disproving of one hypothesis to prove another. This is possible when we are talking about an hypothesis and it's null-hypothesis. For example, we state the hypothesis that 1+1=2, then the null-hypothesis is that 1+1 does not equal 2. If we can prove that the null-hypothesis is true, then we have proven that 1+1=2 is not true. This is usually only applicable to very simple hypotheses and not to complex systems such as human existance or the theory of evolution — as they are complex theories built on hundreds or millions of smaller hypotheses and subsystems.

Does this address the points you raised in your e-mail?

In part, yes. You have a very sensible approach to these matters and, like I said, I appreciate that. I hope my arguments have come across as well as you conveyed yours. As I mentioned at the beginning of this letter — I try to avoid these discussions. My article on scientific- and religious beliefs was one that I felt compelled to write, not to argue existential issues, or to convince people to take sides, but to point out their differences.
In final word, I'd like to emphasize that I am not inclined towards trying and convert you to atheism, or to belittle your beliefs. I consider our conversation a general exchange of information between two humans in a complex world.
Thank you for challenging us, and providing an insight into your world.

Sincerely,
-Hrafn Th.

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He liked this exchange and so did I, because both of us were nice and neither of us came to blows. He put the entire conversation on his website, which has better artwork than mine. He also stuck me with the cross and took the cool helix for himself! I told him I too might post the exchange someday when I was too lazy to think of anything new.

Today’s the day.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me                  No Fake News but Plenty of Hardship

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Comments

BeReasonable

And now I'm all late and I cant see his web-site... No fun!

tom sheepandgoats

Bummer. He took it down. I hate when that happens. But it was almost five years ago. And even then he wasn't really a blogger, but a scientist fully immersed in whatever he was doing (AI, as I recall) with blogging very much an afterthought.

Sometimes I cache sites if they seem critical to support this or that point. But this was just a pleasant online conversation, and i didn't bother.

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