On debating

January 20, 2010

I was thinking about something today (no, it didn’t hurt). When I was watching a video by cdk007, blood type was mentioned. It took me back to one of the first things I did at the student Humanist Society. We went to a presentation by the Australian creationist, John McKay, who is the International Director of Creation Research. I think they use the term ‘research’ to mean a google search. And apologies for linking to such an ugly website – I just noticed on the right hand side “What was neanderthal man’s favourite hymn?” which I really hope is the opening line of a joke rather than the title of a serious piece of work.

There, we handed out some flyers with such dandy captions as “And next week: Flat Earth – Final Proof… Electricity: Witchcraft on wires?”, and I remember that a guy came over and asked me to stop handing them out because it was making a joke of the event, and I couldn’t resist replying “I think this event is a joke already”. Then after listening to the talk, we asked some questions, like you would at any presentation (and I promise I’ll get to the point soon). My question was that if we were descended from Adam and Eve, then how can we have the 3 different blood types? Not only were there only 2 created beings to begin with, but one was supposedly made from the rib of the other, so surely they’d both have the same blood type? He was, to my delight, stumped (I suppose he hadn’t googled that one), and I made a note to ask it again in the future. That I did when I went to the Edinburgh Creation Group, when Marc Surtees replied that it’s down to the Fall. Adam and Eve would have been A+ and other groups are degenerations.

So after all that, here’s the point. I’ve never used that argument again. Never. I may look at it again because AFAIK the B antigen is a different protein, not just losing a protein, but until I’ve hammered it out I’m not going near it. There is of course the bigger issue that anyone created from Adam’s rib – if that were possible – would be an exact clone, and therefore a man, not a woman, but whatever. Even though I know that I could probably stump a few creationists who haven’t thought about it, I know that there is a hole in the blood type argument, so I don’t use it. For me, the reason for debate and discussion is usually to get closer to the truth.

This is in complete contrast to the debating style of many theists I’ve encountered, who’ll sometimes not bother responding in any depth to any refutation that you offer, instead just changing their argument in the hope that you’ll find that convincing instead, without any possibility of them changing their mind. Then, the next time you have a similar discussion, they’ll be using the same arguments even though you thoroughly refuted it the last time. This is a generalisation, and there are of course many exceptions. Particularly notable is that Answers in Genesis has a list of arguments that they think creationists should not use. There are also plenty of atheists who will deliberately use a bad argument for a cheap win (Hitch’s challenge is perhaps one, maybe I should save that for another blogpost though).

Dawkins wrote briefly about this in one of his books, although I forget which one. It was the reason that he doesn’t go to debates offered by debates unions. After the debate he asked his opponent how he became a Christian, and he said that he wasn’t a Christian, he’d been assigned that position and didn’t actually believe what he’d been debating for. I’m a member of the debates union at university, but I don’t tend to go, and when one of the committee tried to convince me to come more often, I brought up this point, and the response was that it’s the best way to learn about an opposing viewpoint, if you have to argue in its favour. At first I thought that was fair enough, but now I think I disagree, and this is what I was thinking about today.

You can become familiar with an argument without debating for it. If, in preparation for this debate that you don’t agree with, you genuinely do change your mind on it, then that’s fine. But if, as is usually the case, you prepare for the debate and you don’t change your mind, then you are presenting an argument that you know has a flaw, hoping that your opponent doesn’t notice so that you win the debate. That’s intellectually dishonest, and has nothing to do with getting closer to the truth. Furthermore, people listening to the debate may well be convinced by your flawed argument, and go on to use it again.

Well that was a bit of a ramble.

Back to the ECG… again!

October 15, 2008

So last night kick-started another series of lectures from the Edinburgh Creation Group, hosted at the Greyfriars and Buccleugh Free Church. Take note that I’ve added their blog to my blogroll on the right of your screen. I only discovered it yesterday but it’s good to have a written explanation of a theory. I’ve often said that text such as on websites and forums is a much better medium through which to hold a debate than in person, so maybe it’ll be a catalyst for further blog posts in the future.

Anyway last night’s presentation was entitled “Chosen Planet: Earth’s Uniqueness for Life” by Dr George Marshall. In many ways it was quite similar to another talk last year but it didn’t go anywhere near as far as that one did. Several things were covered that I wasn’t aware of. For example, I knew that the moon caused the tide but I thought it was just the gravitational pull of the moon which pulled the water towards it, causing deeper water. Apparently there is also a high tide on the opposite side of the earth too! The point was that if the moon was closer it would cause catastrophic floods which would hinder the development of life on earth. Any further away, and the oceans wouldn’t be churned up enough to allow nutrients to come to the surface and feed the algae which are so fundamental to the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But ours is juuust right, so that’s ok (you’ll notice this becomes something of a theme).

Next up is the Earth’s orbit. If it were smaller, we’d be too hot, bigger and we’d be too cold. If our orbit were more elliptical the temperature would be too temperamental, and if other planets had elliptical orbits it would pull ours out of orbit creating the same problem. A bigger orbit would also result in a greater level of vulnerability from comets and asteroids. But ours is just right.

Many stars, including red dwarves, give out massive solar flares which would also make the climate too temperamental to support life. But ours is just right. Our solar system’s location in the galaxy is also idea to support life.

So, as the more astute among you may have noticed, this is no coincidence. We shouldn’t be surprised that, as living beings, we live on a planet that is suitable of supporting life. I was about to point out that the way the world is is exactly as we should expect it if it happened naturally, when someone on the front row came out with “What exactly is your point?” What followed was a very heated discussion whereby the question-asker didn’t at all make himself clear, really annoyed Dr Marshall (who didn’t understand the point he was making at all), and abiogenesis was brought up which has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand (oh, I should mention that halfway through the presentation it emerged that Dr Marshall is a biologist, not an astronomer), and the discussion went nowhere. I kind of brought it back up again in a more polite and clear way, and got the answer we were looking for. Dr Marshall wasn’t arguing that all these parameters amount to such a coincidence that God must have done it, it’s just that you have to step back and say “wow”. He still referred to it as a coincidence though, so I don’t think he grasped the idea that it’s not a coincidence at all.

Anyway, I think this shows the importance of at least appearing to be tolerant of people’s ideas. You don’t get anywhere by shouting and screaming, you just kind of come across as a bit childish. We were both on the same page, he just went about it a different way which I think was detrimental to the discussion.

In short, I’d heard all the arguments before and more along the same vein (which if people would like to bring up here I’m happy to discuss – last time Dr Ross’ 101 quantities was mentioned), so it was nothing new, although some things were mentioned that I hadn’t been aware of. It was also claimed that it takes faith to believe in a multiverse or an oscillating universe just as it does to believe in God. I have my own opinion on that and if anyone wants to discuss it further, drop me a comment here.

Back to the ECG!

January 30, 2008

Last night saw my return to the Edinburgh Creation Group meetings. They started last Tuesday but I was unfortunately at work so I couldn’t go. In any case this week’s talk was by Phil Holden, the group’s secretary, entitled “A Letter to a Pagan City”. At first I thought it would be a response to Sam Harris’ book “Letter to a Christian Nation”, but in fact it was quite unrelated.

The whole talk was based around Romans: 1, particularly verse 18 onwards. Basically St. Paul writes that when people reject God, they become pagans, which leads them to sexual immorality, homosexuality in particular, and the total moral collapse of society. Now Phil went looking for examples of paganism in Edinburgh, and examples of what’s written in Romans in our society. So there were videos of Beltane and the festival, of big parades down the streets with people dressed up as spirits and taking part in a pagan ceremony.

Now I have to say that this was taken right out of context, which was brought up in the Q&A section at the end. This isn’t an example of Paganism rife in Edinburgh, this is a cultural event. Now I’m not saying that there are no pagans around, but the vast majority of people go along to such events just because it’s entertaining, it’s out of the ordinary, and it’s fun.

Next Phil showed us some pictures of “Our Dynamic Earth“, an Edinburgh exhibition which I regret to say I’ve still not visited, and pointed out the “pagan symbolism” such as a circle of stones, and a “pagan female fertility symbol”, as well as the words “Mother Earth” on the outside (also taken out of context. In full it is “the Mother Earth of all adventures”, a play on the term “the mother of all adventures”, so that’s why it’s there, not some sinister paganistic symbolism).

Next there were lots of pictures of various witchcraft shops and occult suppliers around the city, and a supernatural event organised by the Freemasons, as if this proves that Edinburgh’s become a pagan city. But it’s all irrelevant. Paganism is a cultural and tourist thing rather than religious. Celtic paganism is a big part of Scottish history, and of course that is reflected in what we see around us, and the tourism board is going to promote it actively. So even if it is quite widespread, it’s not genuine.

In any case the point was that this rise in atheism/paganism (I still don’t understand how atheism leads to paganism) is leading to a breakdown of society, with higher levels of paedophilia and divorce rates through the roof, leading to unstable family life and the “total moral collapse” of society, as well as the usual stuff about homosexuality and abortion which I’ve seen in some talks before.

Stuart, a fellow member of the Humanist Society, made a good point, saying that anecdotal evidence is no way to make a hypothesis, and if there was a correlation in a rise in paganism in more atheistic countries like the Czech Republic or Sweden, that would at least be a good start, and meanwhile on the other hand there are studies that suggest that atheists are less likely to get divorced than Christians, particularly fundamentalists, which would throw a spanner in the works for anyone suggesting that atheism is linked to the breakdown in society.

Throughout all of this, there was a suggestion that noone has any excuse for not knowing that God exists, just as it’s written in Romans 1: 19, “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.”, and everyone should just know intuitively somehow that God exists. But a big point was also made that God often punished on a societal level rather than personal, and where in Romans it says “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts”, this is also typical of God’s kind of punishment on earth, that he lets the consequences of people’s actions be their own punishment. I can’t believe people still think divine punishment exists when they freely admit that who gets punished isn’t necessarily who does the evil deed, and that the punishment takes the form of something that would have happened anyway! What kind of judicial procedure is that? Once again, this is an example of God doing absolutely nothing, and yet we’re still supposed to ‘just know’ that he exists! It just doesn’t make sense.

I like Phil. I think he’s a good man, but if he truly believes what he was saying, then he’s also very naive and deluded. He doesn’t appear to have any idea about what paganism really is. I’ve mentioned the talk to a few people and they immediately threw up the objection that generally speaking, pagans are the nicest people in the world, and that in reality they don’t go around having drunken orgies all the time, so they can’t be held responsible for the downfall of society.  I also think it’s slightly ironic that he’ll happily dismiss paganism out of hand as being a load of rubbish, but doesn’t see that the same logic can be applied to Christianity.

Not only am I unconvinced that atheism is linked to paganism at all, but I don’t think if it were, then that would be linked to the downfall of society, which may or may not be happening anyway. It’s all very dubious and circumstantial.

My problem with evolution

December 13, 2007

I have a problem with the theory of evolution, which I was going to bring up in my last post, but I was revising for my exam I had this afternoon (it went quite well, thanks for asking), so I left it until today.

Yes I can hear all you creationists out there, “what’s that you say? A secular humanist doubting evolution? This is surely evidence that we were right all along!” Well screw you all, that’s not what I’m saying. Let me explain my problem.

The issue was brought up by Dr Marc Surtees of the Edinburgh Creation Group during a post-talk discussion. We’re all agreed that small changes through reproduction and mutation, combined with natural selection over a long period of time is why species are different from each other today. Now one difference between species is that they often have different numbers of chromosomes. My problem is how this comes about through mutation and natural selection.

So I’m sure you’re all aware of the similarity in chromosomes between chimps and humans, and that it appears that two of the chimp chromosomes at one point fused together to form one of the modern human chromosomes, I believe it’s the 2nd, but I could be mistaken so don’t quote me. Anyway someone brought up this remarkable similarity, and the fusion, as evidence that humans and chimps are related, but Dr Marc turned the conversation around and showed how this is one of the greatest arguments against evolution.

The way evolution works with mutation, means that at some point one individual human ancestor must have had a mutation which meant the 2 chromosomes that we still find in chimps fused into the one we now see in the modern human. You can’t have half a chromosome, so it must have happened in one stage. Now we have one individual with 23 chromosomes, and all the rest of his/her species has 24. How does s/he reproduce? You need the same number of chromosomes as your mate to produce fertile offspring. How does this mutation get passed on?

Now I was going to email some experts and ask them (if I can find Dawkins’ email on RDF I’ll probably ask him too, hehe), but it appears I’ve already found the answer. Once again it seems the creationist camp has been very short sighted again (either that or Dr Marc was lying, but it looks like other people have made the same mistake). The reason people think you need the same number of chromosomes to reproduce fertile offspring is because of the well known example that if you cross a horse with a donkey, you get a mule, which is infertile. Apparently this isn’t true across the board as creationists seem to think. This article says (a third down the page, paragraph starts “some may raise the objection”), that a Przewalski’s Wild Horse, the closest wild relative of the domesticated horse, has 66 chromosomes, in comparison with the 64 of the domesticated horse, but they can produce fertile offspring. I’d be interested in finding out more about the genetic make-up of the offspring though. So it’s not such a problem.

I think I’m still going to email around anyway, just in case there’s another explanation.

Listening to: Coheed and Cambria – Blood Red Summer

The Blind Leading the Stupid

December 12, 2007

I went to the Edinburgh Creation Group talk last night as I do most Tuesdays, where they were showing a 67-minute DVD called “Unlocking the Mystery of Life“, which the ECG describes as “a revolutionary DVD showing evidence for Intelligent Design in molecular biology”. It was not revolutionary in the slightest. It was obviously biased and one sided, emotive and often patronizing. There was very little counter-argument.

I’ll sum the video up in a couple of paragraphs or so. A group of scientists, including notably Paul Nelson, Stephen Meyer (who I particularly ended up despising) and Michael Behe, met up at Pajaro Dunes in Monterey Bay, USA, to “discuss alternatives to evolution”. Basically they all wanted to come up with evidence for ID. The first half of the video was based on the very origin of life and how really really unlikely it is. It was full of dramatic and sometimes very sensitive music, as if these guys are crusaders for truth and justice, but victims of scientific prejudice at the same time. They tried to show how complex and beautiful life is, and several times referred to evolution as “chance”, something that always annoys me profusely. It also tried to show how we can tell things are designed (apparently complexity+familiarity=evidence of design, news to me), and then applied that to animals and plants, which of course isn’t relevant in the slightest, it just explains why we perceive (in this case mistakenly) things as designed.

The second half was about the Bacterial Flagellum. For those of you who understandably haven’t heard about this, take a look at that wiki page. It’s basically a biological outboard motor on certain bacteria, which creationists often use as evidence of Intelligent Design, through something known as Irreducible Complexity. Note that the eye and the wing were previously most commonly used as examples of Irreducible Complexity, until Dawkins replied and explained it. Of course the video went to extreme lengths to compare it to a designed outboard motor, and exaggerated saying it’s “the most efficient machine in the known universe”. If you take a look at it you can clearly see just from the shape of the “propellor” that it isn’t, it would be much more efficient if it had a propellor shape instead of a whip shape. Anywho they explained the problem of the flagellum, said a bit about how complex DNA is, and then left it at that really, saying how once we accept Intelligent Design Theory, then we can carry on with science as a way of exploring the miracle of life.

Now the first section I’m going to only comment on briefly, mainly because I know very little about the origin of life, and anyone who claims to know how it happened is probably mistaken and relying on speculation. There was an analogy I particularly objected to, about how the probability of amino acids randomly joining together to form proteins is like dropping a load of scrabble pieces on the floor and hoping it’ll spell out specific lines from Shakespeare. Well it is, but only if you do it millions and millions of times (because these amino acids didn’t just come together once, but many times), with millions and millions of scrabble pieces (because I’m guessing there were more amino acids than just the number of tiles you get with one scrabble set).

Plus, although I’m no geneticist, it seems plausible to me that there are some other combinations of amino acids that could have created life other than our one, it would perhaps create a different kind of life, but just because the combination we see here creates life, that doesn’t mean other combinations couldn’t have done a similar thing in very simple cells. I know I’m not articulating myself very well, and if anyone knows something to contrary I’d welcome a comment. To continue the scrabble analogy, it would be like not knowing in advance which line from Shakespeare it’s supposed to spell out, so you’d be equally impressed if it spelt out any line from Shakespeare. To use Dawkin’s term from ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’, this increases the PETWHAC (population of events that would have appeared coincidental) quite significantly. Then when you see that all this might have been happening on any number of possible life-supporting planets out there, not just our little Earth, then you see that any mind-boggling coincidence can be reduced to real odds, without stretching the imagination too much. It’s no coincidence that we, as living beings, live on a planet that is one of the ones that has seen an origin of life. I’m no expert, I don’t claim to be, but to me it doesn’t seem as unlikely as they’re making out.

Right, now to the Bacterial Flagellum. I was very surprised that this came up in a supposedly “revolutionary” DVD, seeing as evolutionists have owned this example countless times. The argument is that the flagellum couldn’t have evolved through tiny incrementations in natural selection because it’s irreducibly complex, that is, any one of the parts is useless on its own and would be erased from the gene pool through natural selection, so the whole mechanism wouldn’t evolve.

Now this is interesting for evolutionists, but it’s not impossible. The scientists in the video (particularly Michael Behe) who claim it’s irreducibly complex are blind. Take the example of the wing, which has been used in the past but has since been abandoned by ID theorists. There is an assumption that because something doesn’t function properly without a part, it is useless. To quote Stephen Gould;

“You can’t fly with 2% of a wing or gain much protection from an iota’s similarity with a potentially concealing piece of vegetation. How, in other words, can natural selection explain these incipient stages of structures that can only be used (as we now observe them) in much more elaborated form?”

This is blind ignorance, just like Behe’s claim that the flagellum is irreducibly complex. The 2% of a wing doesn’t have to make the bird ancestor fly, but if it fell out of a large tree, it would be marginally more likely to survive if it had 2% of a wing to slow its fall than if it had nothing at all. 3% of a wing would be even more advantageous, and so on.

The same can be said of the eye (which for some reason Behe still upholds as an example of irreducible complexity). Although you can’t see like we can with just one part of the eye, it’s not difficult to see how it’s easier to avoid predators or catch prey with some kind of visual sense, even if it’s literally just a blurred flash of darkness a second before it’s too late. So you can see how one part of the eye could be advantageous, even if it doesn’t lend sight.

So now how do we apply this to the flagellum? There (that’s evo wiki btw, a resource I found last night) are numerous theories, one of which involves symbiosis between two other forms of bacteria, which seems possible. Another theory says that some of the parts of the flagellum are also present in other parts of the bacterium, so they could have been ‘borrowed’ to form a primitive form of the flagellum which evolved from there.

But in my mind, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched that even one part of the flagellum, say the whip part, could be advantageous on its own. Remember that it doesn’t have to be used for the same purpose, natural selection doesn’t know what future mutations will take place. So the whip could have another advantageous function like increasing the surface area of the bacterium, attaching the bacterium to a solid surface similarly to a bouy’s chain or a plant’s stalk, or aiding its suspension in water, or any number of other possible uses for a big long floppy thing. Then another mutation comes along which allows it to be moved, and then that develops from there by natural selection, making it more and more efficient until it reaches its modern form. Applying Occam’s Razor, the simplest explanation is usually the most true. It’s not difficult to see. I mean come on, there’s even a wiki page about this! If it’s such common knowledge on the Internet, why is Behe, a supposed expert on the subject, unaware or ignorant of it, and why doesn’t he address such explanations in this DVD? As it stands it was pretty much a totally one-sided argument.

I also think it’s ridiculous that just because these scientists think they’ve found a hole in evolutionary theory, they immediately jump to the conclusion that if evolution didn’t do it, it must have been God! Goddidit!!

But what’s really frustrating for me is that while I was sitting at the back of the room, laughing to myself at how stupid the whole thing was, I looked around and saw many people who seemed to be taken in by this rubbish. These were people who in previous talks I could tell were undecided on the issue, but this DVD, made by a reputable source (let’s not forget that, worryingly, many of these scientists are University Professors at good universities in the US), has them duped. There was no question and answer section at the end either (understandably because the film-makers weren’t present), so I couldn’t even try to dispute any of the claims made.

Now there was another issue I wanted to bring up here, but this post is already really really long so I think I’ll make a separate post about it tomorrow after my exam (:s). Thanks for reading.

Listening to: Led Zeppelin: I Can’t Quit You Baby

A Question of Ethics

December 7, 2007

After the ECG talk on Tuesday, a little, middle-aged Christian lady in a wheelchair came up to me and asked me a few questions, which I obliged to answer. First of all was the usual one about how I became an atheist. I explained my story (which can be found… 2 posts ago here I think), and she replied with “oh, so you were basically angry at God after he didn’t answer your questions and your friend died”. I found this quite patronizing, actually, but I didn’t want to offend her, so I refrained from replying “well, actually I just realised it’s a load of bullshit”, and opted for the more diplomatic “it was more of a general disillusionment than that”. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask her how she became a Christian, which I suspect would have been quite illuminating.

Anyway the next question was the good old classic, “so where do you get your morality from?” Again, I didn’t want to offend her, so I didn’t use Roger’s favourite question “so, if God wasn’t watching your every move, would you be out there stealing, raping and killing people?”, instead I said “well how come you know that ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is something good in the Bible that you should follow, but that stoning homosexuals is a bad commandment and you shouldn’t follow it?”

She really didn’t answer my question, instead deciding to tell me that homosexuality is a perversion. My favourite part of this discourse was when she told me she’s got nothing against homosexuals, she was about to say “I know some homosexual people”, but corrected herself to say “I’ve met some homosexual people”, as if knowing them would be too sinful.

Anyway she didn’t answer the question so I approached it a different way and said “do you not think it’s possible for me to be moral without being a Christian?”, and she replied that it was possible for me but only because there are vestiges of Christianity remaining in me from my parents’ influence. She went on to say that the world is getting more immoral because people are more selfish, and this is because they’re turning away from Christianity. Now people put themselves first instead of God first and themselves second, so we’re all getting more selfish.

During that entire discourse she seemed to use ‘Christianity’ as a synonym for ‘religion’, so I asked her the old classic, “so there are so many other religions out there, what makes Christianity the true religion?” She said that in other religions, their God hasn’t come down to us in human form, and in other religions their God doesn’t love them like the Christian God does. “Well,” I said “that’s what makes Christianity different from other religions, but it doesn’t make it any more legitimate or true than the other religions, does it?”

– Stumped.

“And do you not realise that if you were living in another part of the world, you would be saying the exact same thing about another religion, giving me other reasons why Islam, for example, is the true religion.” She waffled on for a couple of minutes about how other religions can be partly moral too because they have some things in common with Christianity, which of course wasn’t the question I asked.

“And do you not think the ancient Athenians, for example, had at least some morals, centuries before Christianity even existed? So that’s proof that our morals don’t really come from the Christian Bible.”

– Stumped.

And my final question was “don’t you think it’s better that people think about their actions, and their consequences for other people, and make their morals that way, rather than just read their morals in a book and simply do things because God says so?” Her reply was “ah, but you have to remember that God made those rules, laws and commandments with the consequences for other people in mind.”

Our conversation was interrupted there, but I’d like to discuss that here for a little while. I’m aware this post is already quite extensive, so I won’t go on for too long. One of the most common secular ways of assessing whether something is moral or not is to decide if it causes the least suffering possible to the least amount of people. Now generally speaking the morals of Christianity do that, but there are exception, mainly to do with sexual immorality.

Why is it ok to kill homosexuals, or even just to judge them, when all it is is two people who love each other? Surely judging them inflicts more suffering on more people than the ‘sin’ itself does? On abortion, scientists go to a lot of effort to make sure that feotuses aren’t aborted once they’ve reached an age where they would suffer physically by it, but having the baby born could inflict a lot of pain on the mother in many different ways which I’m sure you’re all aware of. Stem cell research could alleviate suffering for countless thousands of people in the future, but the Church opposes it because it involves chopping up a human blastocyst (or very very young embryo). Now blastocysts are little clumps of about 150 cells. They don’t even have any specialised cells, never mind brains or anything as complex as that, so we can be relatively sure that they do not suffer. To quote Sam Harris, we should be more troubled by people swatting flies than we are about the suffering of blastocysts in stem cell research.

So if God really does make these laws with the consequences for other people in mind, then he’s made some pretty grave errors here, for an omniscient God. To quote the late George Carlin, “mistakes like these do not belong on the resume of a supreme being”.

Edinburgh Creation Group

December 5, 2007

I think now is a good time to introduce the Edinburgh Creation Group, seeing as I’ve just come back from one of their talks. I got involved through the Humanist Society, which had some copies of their leaflets, including this amazing piece of reading (notice how both Communism AND Capitalism are both a product of evolution, as well as student debt and STD’s, apparently). Basically each week someone with a scientific background will give a presentation on how science fits into religious interpretation in one way or other. Often several of our members will go to listen to the talk, and then ask awkward questions at the end, which is often quite a good way to get into the nitty-gritty of creationist theory which doesn’t come up in normal conversation.

Previous weeks’ talks have been on very fundamental things like “geological proof for the global flood” (apparently, trees can survive a year underwater) and “the cosmos: hallmarks of design?” (or how much of a coincidence life on this planet is, which when you think about it, is really a statistical certainty), which are easily disputable, but in the last few weeks I must admit that the talks have been very much geared towards a Christian audience, in that they already assume the existence of God, or they make no premise about evolution or creation, so there’s really nothing to dispute from my point of view. Tonight’s talk, for example, was just on Persian history and how it fits in quite well with what the Bible says in the Old Testament, supposedly proving that we should treat it as a historical document. My one question at the end was whether the speaker, Dr Mark Woolmer, thought that what we know is true about the Bible lends authority to the things that are harder to believe, like the miracles. He said yes. Surely that’s like saying that Harry Potter’s all true, just because it mentions real places like King’s Cross Station? The logic doesn’t follow.

In any case, there are a few things I’ve learned, thought about, or gained a new appreciation for during this series of talks, the last of which is happening next week (a new series will begin next semester):

First of all, although I was aware of the dogma of the Fall of Man in Genesis, I never knew that so many creationists think it has real, physical consequences in the real world. When I was a Catholic, people didn’t talk about the Fall like it was something that’s still happening, but like it happened in Genesis but has since stopped. Many of the creationists I’ve met believe that the fall means we are all genetic degenerates, and we will continue to degenerate until Christ comes again to save us. It might be easy to dismiss this, as life expectancy has consistently risen in the past rather than declined as you might expect, but it’s strange that this view isn’t more common among Christians, seeing as it’s necessary to explain a multitude of things from a creationist point of view, such as how we now have more than one blood type if we’re all descendants of two people (according to Dr Marc Surtees, a member of ECG with degrees in Zoology and Geology, and who owns a shop on Leith Walk, Adam and Eve were both A+. B, O and rhesus negative blood types are all degenerations which mean you’ve lost one, two or all of the proteins on your blood cells, which is only compatible with religion if you believe in a physical degeneration of humankind).

Another big point I’ve made to the group is that if all of this evidence is true, and science really does point to the Bible being true, then why aren’t we seeing a mass exodus of scientists converting to Christianity? The answer, I suspect, is that what’s been presented to the group is actually bad science, and that science actually doesn’t support the Bible and Christianity. I’m no scientist and I can’t dispute it very well, so that I leave to the more qualified, such as Dr Richard Dawkins, who I must say does a good job, on the whole.

Thirdly, I have a newfound respect for creationists, such as Dr Marc Surtees from the ECG, who actually think about their beliefs and why they hold them. As a humanist I find this much more palatable than the everyday Christian who doesn’t know why they believe, and doesn’t really even know what they believe. Many Christians nowadays see the Genesis story as a giant metaphor that didn’t really happen, but shows how much God loves us. But if Adam and Eve didn’t really exist, and original sin and the Fall didn’t really happen, then Jesus came to Earth and sacrificed himself for a nonexistent sin to save us all from nothing, so if you don’t believe in Genesis as it happened, they you undermine the entire Christian faith. So if you’re going to be a Christian, be a proper one.

One thing that does annoy me about Dr Marc is that he himself has said that when his science clashes with his religion, he always chooses his religion. So effectively he’s saying he chooses his unfounded beliefs over his rational knowledge. And this isn’t unique among creationists, either. Some people would rather believe what a book tells them than what they discover themselves. Ok, science isn’t perfect and it’s always being revised, but just because religion doesn’t change, that doesn’t make it better or more reliable than science. In fact I’d say it makes it much worse, outdated and old-fashioned. But that’s just me.