Archive for April, 2011


Posted in Primary on April 28, 2011 by RWZero

Traveling to Ireland from April 29 – May 11.

When I return, I will have nothing ahead of me again.

I don’t know how I’m going to keep on doing this.


Evolution – II/II

Posted in Faith and Science on April 24, 2011 by RWZero

II – The Reasons

On a day-to-day basis, we do not see creatures evolving. We do not see millions of years going by, planets being formed, or any such thing. So it makes quite a bit of sense that there are Christians today who do not believe in evolution. But if you are a Christian who does not accept the age of the earth, and does not accept evolution, then your faith is in vain. It is in vain because these things are not just vaguely possible things that might be true—they are as firmly established as any other basic fact, such as the sky being blue, or the roundness of the earth. They are as true as anything is true. If you cannot be a Christian and accept the truth, then how can you say that Christianity is true?

I have grappled with whether I ought to argue with Christians about evolution. I do not want to force it on a person who cannot handle it, and I do not want to destroy people’s belief in God, if they feel that evolution precludes the existence of God (though that is a bit of a jump). But I have decided that I must tell Christians about evolution. This is not because I feel it is important for people to “know the truth.” I believe that if ignorance makes people happy, loving and charitable (and it makes all of us happy to some extent), then there is no reason to destroy it. The reason I must tell Christians about evolution is that if I don’t, then someone who is less sensitive to their faith will. If nobody at all tells them about it, then their children will find out about it, and their children will tell them. If their children do not tell them about it, then their grandchildren will tell their children. This has all changed because of the Internet. The advent of universal high speed Internet access, and masses of aggregated information, is a recent development. The evidence is just a click away, and there is no longer a way to hide it.

I did not accept evolution overnight. I understand that it is a very emotional thing, if you have not been desensitized to it. You are not stupid for doubting it. Unlike most good scientists (but in line with a few good philosophers), I believe that it is the most terrible discovery we have ever made, and I can understand why one may not want to accept it. If you know, somewhere inside, that you really cannot bring yourself to believe in evolution, then I believe you should not read about it and argue about it. But I do not want Christians to raise children believing definite lies, and I do not want people to suffer when they discover that they were lied to. This is the only reason why I spread information about evolution.

* * *

Because the alternatives to evolution and an old earth are often ambiguous and supernatural, it is difficult to say what evidence really “proves” things. I realize that God’s supernatural intervention can be inserted anywhere, for any reason. It is not a question of what God could do, but what he did do, and the evidence strongly suggests that he didn’t create us in 6 days without using evolution. Rather than framing the evidence in conclusive statements, I will primarily use questions.

II.I – Age of the Earth (Skip if Necessary)

Let us start with the age of the earth. If you do not accept the age of the earth (approximately 4.5 billion years), instead believing it to be approximately 6000 years old, I first encourage you to think back to the last time you had a discussion with an intelligent non-Christian about this belief. Do you talk to anyone else about this (perhaps at the office), or do you only discuss it amongst Christians? If you have ever voiced this belief to non-Christians, what did they say? What did they think? Are you afraid to admit that you believe this in public? Ask yourself how confident you are in this belief. If you would not confess this belief at the office, or in a class, then perhaps you are not really sure of it, and perhaps you should not deny that the earth is old.

It is difficult to know where to begin, but perhaps the circumstantial evidence is better than factual evidence. Namely, if the earth is young, why do 99.9%+ of scientists believe it is old? Why does almost everyone who obtains some form of scientific training (including myself) abandon belief in a young earth?

Think about this one for a while. Has every single person who is exposed to, and understands scientific evidence, been tricked into denying God’s revelation? Do you really believe that exposing people to the evidence will lead them all to the wrong conclusion, and that keeping away from it will lead you to the right conclusion? You may say that scientific education is anti-Christian and atheistic, relying on natural assumptions and ignoring the Bible. But what about the ~40% of scientists who believe in a personal God? Clearly there are a number of scientists who are comfortable having Christian beliefs. But almost none of them have young earth beliefs. If believing in an old earth means “ignoring the Bible,” then why do all Christians in science ignore the Bible? Why do only non-scientific Christians “take the Bible seriously”? If the earth really is young, then the scientists are all prey to deception. Why would God choose to specifically punish scientists by creating such an overwhelmingly high chance of them going astray? He does not punish people in other disciplines nearly so harshly.

Now, some evidence.

First of all, notice the stars, and all that other stuff in space. Look at pictures on the Internet. It’s all there, and much of it is millions of light years away (that is, they are far enough away that it takes light millions of years to reach us). If the universe was created just thousands of years ago, why can we see this light, and why are the stars millions of light years away? It’s a very simple question. If you search for a creationist answer, you may find something about how the speed of light may have changed in the past, time may have flowed differently. But why say this? No scientists believe this, nor do they have any idea how such a thing might have happened, or why it would have happened. Some even suggest that God created light “on the way”! When we see an object that is 10 light years away, we accept that the light we are seeing left the object 10 years ago. The sun is ~8 light minutes away, and we accept that we are seeing the sun as it was 8 minutes ago. Is it not sensible to accept that we are seeing the stars, which are millions of light years away, as they were millions of years ago?

If you are curious as to how we know that the stars are far away, please note that even young earth creationists accept the distances of the stars, and they don’t even try to argue that light was created on the way.

I am not sure what age you think the earth is, but you cannot believe it is 6000 years old, because we have trees that are nearly 12,000 years old. These can be dated using tree rings. Do you believe that a drastic change has taken place in the way that trees form? Why would you think this? Would God create a tree in a distant continent (where there are no humans) that looks 6000 years old, and then let it finish growing, so that it looks 12,000 years old by the time we find it?

You also cannot believe that the earth is 12,000 years old, because we have such things as ice cores that give us dates back to approximately 160,000 years. Every year, the seasonal changes produce some difference in the layers of ice that are laid down in arctic regions. For example, the bubbles in the summer layer may be larger than in the spring layer, or a layer of dust may be laid down each summer. You can count these layers, and they add up to the number of years that this has been going on. We know that these layers are added each year, because we can observe this. Why would there be hundreds of thousands of layers, unless this has been happening for hundreds of thousands of years?

At this point you may adjust the chronology, claiming that the Genesis story could have taken place 12,000 years ago, or perhaps even 100,000 years ago. But the only reason to believe in the Genesis story is because you believe the Bible must be literal. If you are not willing to be flexible with the Genesis story, why are you willing to be flexible with the dates that you get from reading the Bible literally?

Consider radiometric dating. It may seem incredible that we can really know how old a rock is just by performing some hocus-pocus on it. But it’s important to think of this in the right way. First of all, it is not just a few old rocks we’re talking about. There are many rocks on earth, and many places where people date rocks. Furthermore, there are many dating methods. All these different dating methods agree that the rocks are really old, and they all agree on what the dates ought to be. At any point you can confirm what I’m saying by looking it up.

Radiometric dating involves observing the decay of radioactive isotopes. Isotopes decay at a predictable rate, and when they decay, they turn into something else. When a rock is formed, it contains a certain amount of a particular isotope (the “parent”), which over time decays and turns into the “daughter.” By looking at the ratio of the parent to the daughter, we can tell how old the rock is.

It doesn’t matter how much parent there was at the beginning. Only the ratio matters. You may point out that the rock could have been contaminated by extra daughter. This can cause some error, but there are many ways of accurately correcting for it, which you can also look up.

It’s also important to remember, with radioactive dating, that we are not just looking at one lump of material. When we dig up a rock, the rock has various isolated mineral samples in it. Think raisins in a bun. These separate raisins can all have their isotope ratios compared, and in a good rock, they will all match.

Let us forget the question of whether radiometric dating works, and ask something much more basic: if these old igneous rocks were not formed from magma millions of years ago, then where did they come from? If you believe in a young earth, and you believe that radiometric dating is wrong, perhaps you believe that the dating of the rock should yield an age of 5000, or 6000 years. But igneous rocks come from lava that cools off and forms the rock. So to get a rock with a “date” of 6000 years, God has to create the earth, and then he has to fill it with an enormous pile of igneous rock that look like they cooled off from magma (but they really didn’t, because God created them from thin air). This is like creating dried, pitted apricots from thin air, and expecting people not to believe that they ever came from trees. Do you think that God did this? Remember that God also has to pick a random ratio of Rubidium-Strontium to put in the rock. In fact, he has to pick a random look of the rock, every rock on earth, right down to the little nicks in the side, erosion marks, and so on. It isn’t just a decision to create a rock. It’s a decision to create countless billions of tiny hidden details that allude to a past that never happened. Scratches from boulders that never tumbled down hills, residual stresses in soil from glaciers that never rested on top of the soil, and so on. Then he has to fix things up so that humans get their dating methods wrong, and nobody can ever find the true age of the rock. Thousands of years later, everyone who studies rocks is convinced that they are millions of years old, and God is disappointed in them for not taking his Word seriously. Do you believe this?

You may have heard that “carbon dating” is relevant to the age of the earth. Carbon dating only works on things that used to be alive, and it works by measuring the slowly decaying supply of C14 (which is in the atmosphere, and hence makes its way into living things). Carbon dating still produces ages that defy a young earth (~50,000-60,000 years), but it does not deal in millions or billions of years. You may have heard a story about a live elephant that was carbon dated and came out millions of years old. This is impossible, because of the above, and it is also ridiculous, because you are not supposed to carbon-date things that are alive.

But this is almost beside the point. There is so much evidence for the age of the earth that it would take a week to type it all out. There is evidence that I do not even really understand because it is used to answer questions that I do not even understand. Rather than getting caught up in the individual facts, perhaps the most persuasive evidence involves a simple look around you.

If you’ve traveled anywhere, looked out your window, or looked at a map, you will notice that there is a lot of stuff on the earth. There are mountains, hills, islands, and so on. Where did all this come from? We know that mountains are formed when tectonic plates ram into each other. We know that some islands can be formed when plates move over volcanic hot spots. We know that petroleum is formed by a slow process that involves dead organic material. And we know that all these things happen very slowly. So why do you not think that these same things have been happening slowly for a long time?

If you walked into a factory and saw a pile of toys, you would deduce that it is a toy factory. If you saw millions of toys in various stages of assembly (some finished, some halfway finished, and some just beginning), you would deduce that the factory is still making toys today. You could even figure out how the toys are made. And if you watched how fast the machines were assembling the toys, you would figure out how long it takes to make a toy. Why do you think differently with the earth? Do you think that God scattered all sorts of mountains around the earth from thin air, some of them half done, some of them done, and some of them beginning to form? Why do the heavier elements conveniently form in the bellies of stars, giving us an explanation for their existence, if we are meant to believe they were created from nothing on earth? Does it not stand to reason that all the things you see out your window had to be formed by things before them? You may say that God did not create the earth out of nothing; he formed it progressively. But if he formed it progressively, then you have to believe that he pressed fast forward and accelerated all of the plate movements, all of the decay, all of the volcanic eruptions, and all of the rivers, 1,000,000 times faster than it is happening today, and then slowed it right back down to its normal speed.

As there is too much evidence to cite, I leave you with a simple example that requires only a pair of eyes: the Grand Canyon. If you cannot afford to visit the Grand Canyon, look at pictures of it on the Internet. At the bottom, there is a river. You can see, plainly, that the flow of the water formed the Canyon. Now ask yourself: do you honestly think this in a few thousand years? If canyons were created purely for our pleasure, why go through the trouble of making them look old?

II.II – Evolution

Many Christians accept an old earth (though they are vague on how exactly is came about), but they do not accept evolution. This is because an old earth merely requires some non-literal verses in Genesis, whereas evolution completely destroys long-standing Christian ideas about original sin, a world without death, and more. From a theological perspective, these two issues are different. But from a scientific perspective, it is no more possible to deny evolution than to deny an old earth. Once you have accepted one, you have to eventually come to terms with the other.

Let us be clear on the meaning of “evolution.” It means that you, me, the mailman, Stephen Harper, Barack Obama, and everyone alive on earth is descended from what we would call animals. It means that if you were to watch a slideshow that started with you, and moved backwards up your family tree, you would see your mother, your grandmother, your great-grandmother, and eventually, after many, many slides, you would see a creature that looked much more similar to an ape than you or I. If you continued the slideshow, you would see smaller and stranger looking animals, until eventually you reached a microscopic thing, and the beginning of life on earth (remember that evolution does not explain where life came from in the first place; we do not know this yet). This all seems very hard to believe if you are not told about it as a child. But unfortunately, it is true.

Let us start with the circumstantial evidence, once again. Please remember the first three paragraphs that I wrote at the beginning of the last section, but think about them in terms of evolution. The situation is the same. It is estimated that around 99.9% (and absolutely no less than 95%, including non-biologists) of scientists accept evolution. Ask yourself the same question. Why do so many Christians doubt evolution, but almost every single scientist (and especially those who have training in biology) accept it as true? Why do all the people who know the most about biology end up accepting evolution? Again, notice that around 40% of these scientists believe in a personal God, and many are Christians. If mixing evolution and Christianity is blasphemy, then why are so many of the blasphemers scientists? Why is God only punishing the scientists, and people who research the conclusions, with this deception?

If evolution is not true, why did I change my mind about it, especially when I did not want to believe it?

Another circumstantial piece of evidence is the theory itself. If evolution is not true, how do you think people came up with it? Notice that for hundreds of years there have been people who spurned Christianity. There have been atheists, libertines, and people who ignored and disdained the Bible. They never needed the theory of evolution. So why, in the late 19th century, would godless people suddenly manufacture this random, untrue explanation for human origins? Why would the theory catch on, and become the cornerstone of biological science 100 years later, if it is not based on anything true? Why do so many new discoveries in science agree with evolution, if the theory was falsely invented long beforehand?

Once again, the evidence. Stop for a moment.

Take a look at yourself. Look at your hand on the mouse (or on the page). You have been in your body for some time now, and have likely gotten used to it. But if you think about it from a distance, it is actually quite strange. A fist-sized blob pulses and throbs on your left side, shooting a red fluid through the tangled network of tubes that thread through your limbs. All the blood, meat, guts and nerves is supported by a frame of bones, the sight of which disturbs you. When you run out of energy, you cram objects down the same hole that you speak out of. Your day is filled with the background noise of your sucking in, and puffing out, of the air around you. You cannot go a minute without doing this. Every few seconds, the scene in front of you flashes black, as your eyelids lick the surface of the glassy orbs that provide you your sight. You scarcely notice this anymore. In the early years of your life, all your teeth fell out, and new ones grew in. You accepted that this is just something that happens. As you got older, your friends (and perhaps you yourself) grew some extra useless teeth at the back of your mouth and had to have them taken out. Every 16 hours or so, a sensation washes over you, and you are compelled to lie down. Everything goes black. Hours later, you find yourself in the same position, and feeling much better. When you look down between your legs, you see something that only half of world’s people see when they look between theirs. Is this all caprice? What are the reasons for all these things?

You and everyone in your family have spent hours in sterile rooms while a man in a coat probes you with steel tools. During these visits you are given pills in bottles, soft lenses that correct your blurry vision, surgeries that adjust misaligned parts, and advice about how to prolong your relatively short life. When you asked where you came from, it was explained that you were pulled from inside a women. One day, you can marry someone, and that can happen again. You may believe that God created your ancestors from thin air. You may even think you know why he made you. But if you do not believe in evolution, you have probably not thought much about why he made you like this. Whence this design? Whence this heaving, sputtering, blinking, grunting, chewing, throbbing, sleeping and blinking? The lesson of evolution is that these bodies are not really designed. They are adapted.

Even a city-dweller is reminded, daily, that the world is filled with animals. There are cats and dogs in people’s houses, pigeons on the sidewalk, and insects in the air. Where did they all come from? In the story of Genesis, God creates the animals, and Adam gives them their names. They are simply made from thin air, for no clear reason (except perhaps for fun, and to “provide a helper” for Adam). Later in the same book, God packs them all into a boat, floods the earth, and unloads them again! Writing this, I cannot anticipate what you believe about the animals, because when it comes to the creation story, everyone has their own version. But consider some questions. Do you think that God made all the animals on the earth from nothing? Did he start out with two of each kind? Three? Ten? On my shelf I have binders upon binders of the Wildlife Fact Files. If you do not have Wildlife Fact Files, find a site on the Internet where you can scroll through all the different types of animals (there are more than you probably ever knew you didn’t know existed). Visit the zoo. Do you think that God made them all, in the beginning, in this present form, from scratch? If so, permit yourself to ask (though it may seem blasphemous): What possible point could there be to all that? There are hundreds of thousands of insect species. Why not one more, or one less? Why so many ridiculous-looking animals, many of which people never even found in the past? The scientific answer is that these things were not decided. They “ended up” in this specific way, in the same way that a splash of paint across a canvas produces a specific number of dots and spots. The artist made a single decision to splash the canvas, but he did not decide to paint each individual splash dot in its place.

You have probably noticed that although the world is filled with different types of animals, they can be lumped into general groups. There are birds, insects, fish, mammals, and so on. If you look closer, you’ll notice that there are sub-groups that look a lot like each other. There are “families” of eels, whales, and rabbits, all slightly different from one another. Some of these animals look a lot like each other, and some of them look a lot like you. They have hearts, lungs, bones, veins, and all the same things that are inside of you. In fact, the only physical difference between you and them is the shape of your body, and the size of your brain.

If you have never watched a chimpanzee, you should do so. Watch it move around. Watch it eat with its hands. Watch it answer pictorial questions from a trainer. Watch it climb. It is true that you are not a chimpanzee, but you look, and even sometimes move, like one. Look at pictures of bonobos. Perhaps you have reasons for believing that God made seagulls, chipmunks and crabs. But think harder about why God would create chimpanzees and bonobos. Why would he create these creatures that look almost exactly the same as us?

You probably know that evolution describes life as a “tree.” All living things are descended from a common source, and so you will see resemblances among close relatives, and fewer resemblances among distant sources, in the same way that you see close resemblances in your immediate family, and fewer resemblances in your extended family. This fits precisely with what we see in the world. Why did God create all life in such a way that it looks just like a giant family tree, if it is not really a giant family tree?

Notice languages. People around the world speak many languages, some of which are dead, some of which are unknown, and some of which are living. We know that languages evolve, because we have clear examples of it happening. Languages leave their parents, and become so different that the speakers cannot understand each other at all. Is it so impossible to imagine that species have diverged in the same way?

Consider the types of animals that exist. Some of them are cute and fluffy, but many of them are nasty, violent, and malicious. Why did God make so many terrible killing machines? One might say that they did not exist before the Fall, or that they changed after the Fall. But neither of these options really works. All the kind, pleasant animals have specific defence mechanisms that allow them to outrun predators, blind them, hide from them, and so on. It is hard to imagine why they should have all these defences, if there is nothing to be afraid of. How did the populations stay under control? Moreover, if there was no death, would everything not have simply filled up the earth in mere days? (Of course, this is another issue). It is also very hard to suggest that these animals changed, because they are perfectly designed to kill. You can imagine bears with duller claws, perhaps, but you cannot imagine benign tapeworms, tame mosquitoes, herbivorous cheetahs (all that running power to catch plants?), seaweed-eating sharks, and so on. To change these creatures is to do away with them entirely.

Another thing to consider is the types of animals that existed in the past. You may or may not know what trilobites are, but you do know what dinosaurs are. People are not very interested in reconciling trilobites with Genesis, but they try very hard to reconcile dinosaurs with Genesis. This is because dinosaurs are impossible to ignore. Dinosaurs lived millions of years before we did (if you believe that dinosaurs co-existed with humans, you have either not accepted the age of the earth, or you have some other ideas that I have not heard of before). Why are the life forms that existed in the distant past so different from the ones that exist today? Why specially create an entire category of creature if it is just going to go extinct? And if dinosaurs were created alongside humans, why did only they go extinct, and get buried really deep in the ground, while the rest of creation was left largely intact, and is buried much higher up? Evolution tells us that the life forms in the past were different because they changed over time, and the types of life on the planet were different in ages past.

Rather than thinking about the distant past, consider the evidence right in front of you. If you are white, you likely have some friends or acquaintances who are black (and vice versa). Place your hand next to your friend’s, and look at the difference. How did this happen? Why do people in sunny lands have darker skin (which protects them from the sun), and people in cloudy lands have pale skin (which more easily makes sun vitamins)? If this is not an adaptation, then what is?

“I believe in microevolution,” you might say, “but I don’t believe in macroevolution.” But this is like saying “I believe in steps, but I don’t believe in walks.” Many small changes eventually add up to large changes. Evolution does not suggest that fish turned into frogs, or even that apes turned into humans. It suggests that at one point, humans and apes diverged from a common ancestor, and through many small changes, began to drift apart. At one point, you and your differently-coloured friend shared a common ancestor, and the same thing has already begun to happen since people have been on this planet.

If God created animals in their present forms, why are there birds that cannot fly? Why are there cave salamanders with deteriorated and useless eyes? It is obvious that eyes are for seeing, and wings and feathers are for flying. Yet there are feathered birds such as chickens and ostriches that cannot fly. This is a particularly glaring point: there exist birds that have wings, feathers, beaks, and all the characteristics of flying birds, but they cannot fly. If this is an intentional design, it must be purely for our amusement (and to lead us astray)! But this makes sense if we accept that these birds evolved from flying ancestors, and lost the full use of their wings because they no longer needed them.

Take a look at your cat, if you have one. Why are there no such cats in the wild? We have countless cute, domesticated animals that could never exist in the wild, and they are cute because we tamed them, and consistently bred them with the cutest ones. Perhaps you know about selective breeding, and that it can be used to make animals cuter, or softer. Why do you doubt that natural circumstances can do the same thing?

Look at the way that animals are distributed around the globe. There are white polar bears in the arctic, black bears in the forests, rattlesnakes in the deserts, and kangaroos in Australia. On islands, there are often found exotic animals that do not exist on the mainland. Why is this? If animals did not evolve, but were specially created, why were so many of the strange and exotic ones placed on islands? Why are they similar to populations that exist on the mainland in that area? Evolution tells us that some of the animals became separated from their ancestors on these islands, and evolved into completely different species on these islands, without any chance of the changes being reabsorbed into the original population.

It would be one thing if DNA did not tell us anything one way or the other about evolution, but this is not the case. DNA evidence is the strongest evidence for evolution. Sequencing of DNA shows that creatures (including you) share DNA sequences with the creatures that are expected to be related. Creatures do not just share gene sequences, but small random mutations as well. It is one thing to suggest that two students just happened to write papers on the same subject without cheating off each other (the analogy here is humans and chimpanzees). It is another thing to suggest that they made exactly the same spelling and grammatical errors. This is almost impossible unless they are derived from a common source that contained these same errors. For what reason would God have given us exactly the same little genetic mutations as those creatures that share our appearance? Why would he have given other creatures the same little genetic mutations as the ones that share their appearances? Nobody even knew about these little mutations until DNA was discovered. If you deny that the DNA evidence can demonstrate evolution, how can you possibly rely on it to convict criminals?

What about the hominids? You may have heard that certain hominid fossils (Piltdown Man) were fake. But Neanderthals, Homo Erectus, Homo Habilis, and all the various hominid species are not fake. They were real, living creatures that were not apes, and they were not humans. If you doubt this, you can look at the skeletons (particularly of Turkana Boy). What do you think these are?

Think about your body again. You may think that the facts above sound distant, uncertain, and dubious. There is, however, one thing that you cannot fail to notice, and that is sex. Many Christians think that sex is a holy and precious gift from God, to be enjoyed within marriage. But there are a lot of ways to provide people with holy and precious gifts. Why is it that he specifically chose to reward men with this constant, burning desire to take off a woman’s clothes and stick his erect member into her (a desire that often cannot be satisfied)? Why do women want commitment from men before allowing them to do this? Why does it just so happen that this intensely pleasurable action is the same action that produces children? None of these things are coincidences.

Evolution is complicated, but the basic idea is simple. There are many living things, but only some survive and have children, and they pass along the traits that helped them survive. We are here because our ancestors had us, and they were there because their ancestors had them. Sex is a tremendously critical aspect of evolution. The people and the creatures with strong sexual desires produced children. They passed those intense desires on to their children, and those children are us.

Women want commitment because they are the ones who have the child, and can be abandoned by the man. Men feel a desire to have sex with everyone because their genes “want” to be passed on as much as possible. Men who want sex with everyone pass their genes on a lot more often than men who don’t, and pretty soon the world is full of men who want sex with everyone. A woman who wanted sex with everyone, however, would be no more likely to pass her genes on than if she just married a nice guy and had a big family.

Evolution is everywhere in your daily life. You feel a tingling, warning sensation when your back is exposed to an open room that you cannot see. You find high-calorie foods tasty because they are good for survival in the wild (not in civilization). When you are frightened, adrenaline shoots into your system and prepares you to run, or fight. You have hair on your body that you do not need, and it stands on end when you are creeped out (why? It makes animals with lots of hair look bigger and scarier, but it doesn’t change anything for you). Babies are sometimes born with vestigial gills and tails. And above all, evolution predicts that large parts of our lives will revolve around the desire to have sex, and they very much do. If sex were a free and simple gift, we might choose our partners solely based on personality and quality of character. But we are strongly attracted to people of the opposite sex who show qualities of having “good” genes. When we follow these instincts, we are accused of being shallow.

A final word on the evidence: even if you ignore all the facts above, there remains the question of why God would allow so much evidence for evolution to exist if it were not true (I am borrowing this observation from someone else; it is not my own). Why create so much evidence that evolution happened? Was it to mislead scientists, so that they would all turn away from Him within the last century? Presumably God could have created things any way he wanted. He didn’t have to put dinosaurs and trilobites in the lower fossil layers, and apes in the upper layers. He didn’t have to give us the same little genetic mutations as our mammal relatives. He didn’t have to create bonobos, which look so much like us. So why would he do such things when he could have just slightly adjusted the world and not made it look so much like evolution happened? In the past nobody knew about all this evidence for evolution. Why would he save this nasty surprise just for us, in the last 100 years? Did he want to test our faith more than anyone else’s beforehand?

Perhaps you accept that the earth is very old, and that we are descended from lower life forms. But this means nothing if you still believe that there was a Garden of Eden, an Adam, an Eve, and a world without death. There was no Adam and Eve because we evolved as a small group, and not from a single pair (if we were all descended from a single contemporaneous pair of humans a few thousand years ago, genetics would tell us). There was no Adam and Eve because our ancestors trail back for hundreds of thousands of years, until we are no longer human. There was no Garden of Eden because death was always in the world. It did not come into the world because of humanity, because there are a million dead things buried in the ground before humans ever came into being. Humans are breakable, killable creatures. There is evidence of the universe being the exactly the same before life even began, and a world without death would break every single law of physics, so much so that it would have to be a completely different world. Perhaps there might be a completely different world, but that world is not this present world, nor has it ever been.

If this has not made an impression upon you, you must ask yourself one final question: why don’t you trust scientists? You trust them for everything else. When they do DNA testing for criminal or medical results (or even paternity results!), you trust them completely. When they do DNA testing for evolutionary results, you don’t. When they unearth and identify the remains of Jericho, you trust them completely. When they dig up and identify the remains of dinosaurs or hominids, you don’t. When they tell you that you have sickle-cell anaemia, you trust them. When they tell you it is an evolutionary response to malaria, you don’t. When they tell you that the world is made of tiny particles that nobody can see, you believe it. When they tell you that we know about the distant past on earth, you cast doubt on whether we can really know such things. You take liberal advantage of every product of modern scientific research, from medicine to surgery to hip replacements to iPods, but you believe that it is based on ideas that are totally wrong. Many of the methods used to prove theories about evolution, and the age of the earth, are very simple compared to the theories that were needed to build your iPods and computers.

Finally, in your home is a Bible (perhaps). This Bible was pieced together from thousands of crumbling, ancient pieces of paper that were sorted, discriminated between, translated, and contextualized in order to provide a good picture of what was written in the past. You trusted the professionals to reconstruct the Bible in its most original form, and you are right to do so. If you cannot trust the professionals to reconstruct the past, then how can you trust the professionals to reconstruct the past from the Bible?

How, then, can you really believe that you know anything at all?

If you believe that evolution is incompatible with your faith, and therefore cannot believe it, I am not the right person to come to for the answers. I used to be a member of the American Scientific Affiliation – they’re Christians, and perhaps they can help you. I could tell you that the image of God is spiritual, that the Fall can be construed as the point at which sentience and rationality dawned upon mankind, that the greater birth pains in Genesis are a result of increased cranial size (the knowledge of good and evil), and so forth, but for the time being I would rather not.

…Happy Easter

Posted in Primary on April 24, 2011 by RWZero


Evolution – I/II

Posted in Faith and Science on April 23, 2011 by RWZero

The following is written primarily for readers who do not (yet) believe in the theory of evolution. But it is also written for anyone else. I have written this in a simpler and more personal tone than usual. I am not trying to be condescending or patronizing; I am only trying to be accessible and clear.

I have started by telling a story about my experience with this issue, and have briefly discussed some evidence in the second section. Most readers will wonder why I have bothered discussing this stuff at all. But I have written it for more general purposes; not just for a blog, and that’s why it reads the way it does.

Why do I not simply provide a link to some anti-creationist sources that will lay out all the information? Because I think this is an incredibly rude and impersonal approach to the issue. Anyone can search for the evidence for evolution on the Internet, and thousands of people (who are better studied than I am) have carefully compiled it better than I have. My purpose is to provide a personal appeal to Christians based on my own experience.

I – My Story, in Short

Every so often, a conversation with a colleague or an acquaintance will wander, and he (it’s usually a he) will find himself in want of an example to prove some point of his. Perhaps it has to do with human gullibility, psychological motivation, scientific inquiry, or something of the sort. He will look up at me and say, blithely as anything:

“Well, you know there are people who think the earth is 6000 years old.”

Sometimes there are denigrating adjectives for the “people.” They may be “religious people,” or “whackos,” or “those crazies in the States.” On none of these occasions, however, does my acquaintance realize the critical fact: I used to be one of those people.

This is an understandable mistake. I have done nothing (over the past 6 or so years) to give off the impression that I ever was such a person. My demeanour, profession, educational background, and most importantly, the types of comments that come out of my mouth, strongly indicate that I belong to the same line of thinking as my acquaintance. I do not want to embarrass him, so I don’t reveal the critical facts about myself. Sometimes, however, I do try to probe his assumptions.

“There’s a reason for that,” I might say. This usually gets a puzzled look. What am I talking about? Of course there’s a reason. They’re crazy.

“People have reasons for the things they believe,” I might continue. This never gets me very far, and it usually ends with my acquaintance going back to his work, or his food, thinking to himself that the world’s just full of crazy people (and that’s all there is to it). He never considers that he might be the crazy person in someone else’s conversation, somewhere across town. And he never considers that this lack of consideration is a key piece of the puzzle.

I was raised believing in the Genesis creation story. The world was created in six days, and on the seventh day God rested. We were formed from the dust of the earth, and God breathed the breath of life into our nostrils. He saw that it was good. He created all the animals, and man gave them their names, but there was no suitable helper found for him. When man sinned in the eyes of God by taking from the tree of good and evil, sin and death entered the world, and man was cast out from the Garden. That is how it all began. My mother told me that there were, admittedly, scientists and unbelievers who proposed alternatives: that the universe burst from nothing with a “Big Bang,” and that we were descended from monkeys. I laughed, just as I was meant to. This was sensational! Who could be so desperate to deny the living God that it had come to this? The world exists, and so there must have been a really BIG BANG! We look like monkeys, so they must have turned into us! Throughout my childhood, and throughout the years prior to my entering university, I never saw any reason to examine such views. It seemed that some embittered souls had done everything possible to deny the Biblical truth, and this was the best they could come up with.

I showed an affinity for math, chess, language, and logic in those years, but I did not show much interest in the practice of science. The grainy educational videos on CRT televisions, the unimpressed voices of the old men, and the talk of the earth’s “natural history” were disenchanting. It seemed that many of them were looking for certain answers about the world and its origin—but why look so hard for these answers, when we already have them? Was this whole enterprise dedicated to finding alternatives to God’s revelation? What could be the purpose of stitching together such a picture of the world? So I did not, initially, pay much attention to these disciplines. I was much more interested in solving puzzles, drawing perfectly straight lines, writing stories, and knowing the mind of God.

The story of creation was reinforced primarily by my mother. My father, who might aptly be described as a scholarly, eccentric man, was silent on these types of things. He speaks almost entirely in parables, and it is rare to get direct statements out of him. So it was surprising, one day, when he answered a question of mine by describing Genesis as a “Creation Myth.” He did not put a special emphasis on the words. He just said it. My mother turned towards him questioningly, and asked: “What? What do you mean, a Creation Myth?” I realized, then, that they simply didn’t talk about these things. My father did not necessarily care what, exactly, had happened at the beginning of the world. Perhaps he did not think that much could be known about it. But I had seen him reading the Bible every day, and I never imagined that he would have married my mother if they had not been in full agreement upon it. For a time, however, I brushed this memory aside.

When I think back to the beginning of university, these memories seem to bunch up. In high school I had vaguely begun to mix some old-earth views into the Genesis story. I had heard many people discuss scientific conclusions that depended on the earth being old, and I reasoned that perhaps the initial chapters were meant to denote longer periods of time. Perhaps a “day” was really something quite longer, or the periods of time were completely irrelevant to the point of the story.

During a geology course in first year, I asked the instructor briefly whether it was necessary to make a certain assumption about how much daughter product was in the rock at its formation. “Yes,” he said. For a moment, I felt content; he had admitted that the method was based on certain unproven assumptions, and this was enough for me. “You have to make that assumption,” he continued. And minutes later I realized that it was a perfectly reasonable assumption.

I had read some small anecdotes about fresh rocks being dated to 10,000,000 years old, and of live elephants being carbon-dated to 10,000 years old. When I followed up on these, however, I discovered that they were mere misreporting of some mistake or another, and that this could not account for the millions of rocks, in thousands of laboratories all over the world, that were consistently dated correctly, with methods that agreed with each other. I read the website for “Answers in Genesis,” which had an essay written by an intelligent man who had a PhD in chemistry. He discussed the problems with radiometric dating, and he seemed quite convincing. Many months later, I saw an old book on the family bookshelf from the 70’s. It was a bit dusty, but it discussed questions about radiometric dating. I was interested to read another essay on the topic, but after a few sentences, I pulled back in shock. It was the same essay! Over 30 years later, this essay from a random Christian book had received only minor edits, and had been posted on a completely different website to discredit radiometric dating! Was there only one of them out there?

I decided to read what other people, who were not Christian, said about the age of the earth. One of the most obvious questions is: if the earth is only 6000 years old, why can we see the light from the distant stars? For even such simple questions as these, they did not have an answer. Some of them suggested that God had created the light “on the way.” Answers in Genesis simply admitted that this was difficult to explain, but claimed that they did not need to explain it, because there were also some hard-to-explain problems with modern cosmological theories. I could not survive on explanations like this, and after considering the other evidence for the age of the earth, I accepted that it had to be as old as they said it was. I knew that there must be other Christians who had had this conclusion forced upon them, and I discovered that they called themselves “Old-Earth Creationists.”

Initially, this was exciting. The gates of interpretation had been opened, and it was now possible to speculate at the meaning of many small passages in the book of Genesis. When had life been created? What were the hominid fossils that evolutionists believed in? Were they another race that had failed God, prior to the creation of mankind? Who were the Nephilim? DNA testing of hominids had shown that we were not descended from any of them! With so many possibilities, I imagined there was an endless supply of interesting discussion to be had.

This phase did not last very long, however. Most of the Old-Earth Creationists had some background in geology or earth science, and they rejected evolution (as did I). When they spoke about the age of the earth, their expertise shined through, and they made the old ideas about a young earth seem ridiculous as they typed out the mountains of facts. But when it came to evolution, they sounded almost exactly the same as the young earth creationists who were confronted with an old earth. They dismissed and cast doubt on the theory without really explaining why. And their explanations for when and how God created life were quite strange. One Old-Earth believer propounded a view called “Ruin- Reconstruction,” suggesting that all life on the earth had been wiped out, and that new life had been created after a cataclysmic event that had displeased the Lord. This explained why prehistoric life forms were so different from present-day life forms. On his website, however, he listed his responses to some questions that readers had asked him. One reader had confronted him with the true story of a fisherman who had caught a prehistoric fish—one long-thought to be extinct. To my astonishment, he wrote that God, in all his wisdom, must have decided to reintroduce the mighty [fish species] into the second round of creation! He called this unusual, because most other creatures were not given such a privilege! It became more and more difficult to deny what I suspected from the beginning. The Old-Earth Creationists were just Christians, born and raised, who had studied the earth sciences and discovered that the earth was old. They had changed their minds about this because they had no choice. But they would not change their minds about anything else.

My program had nothing to do with biology, and hence, I was taught nothing about evolution. Biology was the only science I had not studied since grade 10, because I found it boring, lacking in mathematics, and full of memorization. But everyone who worked in the sciences seemed to talk about evolution as if it was true. I still did not believe this, of course. I read a book by Lee Strobel called “The Case for Faith,” which dealt with 10 major objections to Christianity, and I nearly skipped the chapter on evolution because I did not think it was a dangerous objection. Evolution seemed so impossible that I recall saying to myself, quite adamantly, that if evolution truly occurred I would only believe in God more strongly, because it would take a miracle for such a thing to happen.

Quite soon afterwards, however, I began to research evolution on my own. If I were confronted with an argument about it, I wanted to be able to participate. But the more I looked, the fewer Christian answers I found. I would find a claim made by some atheists, and then I would find a Christian answer. I would then search for the atheist’s response to the Christian’s answer. When I searched for the response to the response, however, there was never anything there. The Christian arguments never lasted more than one round. After some time, I began to accept that perhaps humanity, and indeed all life on the planet, had really evolved from a common ancestry. Unlike many enthusiastic scientists, I thought this was a terrible discovery. There was nothing grand or uplifting about this. For many months I could not bring myself to accept evolution, because I perceived that it did away with core aspects of Christian doctrine. Not just the uniqueness and immutability of man, but of a world that was once perfect, and of original sin. I was not yet sure how I would fix this.

It took me perhaps an entire year to get used to believing in evolution. I knew that there must be other Christians who had had this conclusion forced upon them, and I discovered that they were called “Theistic Evolutionists.” I then convinced my mother that evolution was true, though she decided that God must have gotten directly involved in it, and that it could not be too clear how it happened. My sister independently came to the conclusion that it was true. My father just sat there, and continued to read his Greek New Testament in silence.

I began a quest to reconcile these facts with the Christian worldview, and God’s plan for the world. After a few months, and reading all of the 2 books that had been written on the subject I began to fear that the reason nobody talked about this was because it might not actually be possible. But there were Christians who had done it (though they never talked about how they did it), and I placed my stock with them. I even joined an association of Christians in scientific disciplines and attended one of their annual meetings. I received their quarterly journal. On all my evenings and weekends, I made time to study the facts, hoping that I might turn up something new. I knew that I had a long ordeal ahead of me. At church, I enjoyed the feeling that I knew something that my fellow Christians did not know. But I considered that perhaps my calling was to strengthen these people by helping them come to terms with the facts, just as I had.

Atheists were always suggesting that Christianity was incompatible with evolution. But I was now a living counterexample to this, and I resolved that some time, when I got around to it, I would create more living counterexamples. I would explain to other Christians that these two things could be rendered compatible. I just needed more time to figure out what to say when they asked me how. Somewhere in between, I would find and marry a nice girl who had accepted these conclusions, but had not decided to go ahead and become an atheist. Deep down, I feared that this may not be possible either.

Years passed.


Posted in The Facts and Ideas on April 17, 2011 by RWZero

Agnostics are just Atheists without balls. Moving on.” – Stephen Colbert

In case you’re wondering, my current position is probably best described as Agnostic. This is because my beliefs (or lack thereof) are better described by a lack of knowledge (a-gnosis) than a lack of God (a-theist).

I have probably had a lot more atheistic and nihilistic thoughts than many of the atheists and nihilists out there. I came to a place recently where I was 100% confident that having children should be made illegal and the world should be immediately brought to an end in order to prevent new minds from being dragged into the absolute horror of existence. How I escaped this conclusion, I’m not sure, (perhaps it will come back later, when I allow myself to think about it again) but I now realize that I can’t afford to think about existence too strongly, so long as I am employed in a profession that does not pay me to think about it. If I have a heart attack, lose my job, or end up on the street, things will not be easy. So for the time being I’ve decided to artificially stunt my thinking, distract myself with trivialities, and act like my old self again, with a few differences (more on the inside than on the outside).

“Agnostic” always used to make me think of “Apathetic” (perhaps because it begins with A, ends in C, and denotes a state of mind wherein one is not committed to anything). This is not true in my case. I don’t think I have met anyone live and in the flesh who thinks more intensely, and intentionally, about this stuff than I do. Not even at the front of a lecture hall (though I studied engineering, so this doesn’t say much). Nor have I met anyone else who reports being a pale, nauseous, shivering wreck in the middle of a sunny day due to pure, unadulterated existential panic. In my experience most people just pick a few arbitrary beliefs, rules, and desires and stick with them without ever really questioning them in the same way that they question other people’s beliefs. I don’t blame them. I’m not sure there’s anything else we can do.

I’m not an atheist for a couple of reasons. First, I am not really so sure that “there is no God.” This uncertainty isn’t wishful thinking or fear of divine wrath; it’s just what I actually think. I do not agree with the conclusions of my staunch materialist contemporaries, because I think their conclusions are incomplete and insufficient to account for the world in the way that they would have me believe. If I thought they accounted for the world, I would accept them (at least, then, I’d know what I believed). But as Sir Anthony Kenny puts it, atheism makes the stronger claim that there is no definition that makes “God exists” true, whereas theism only claims that there is one definition that makes “God exists” true. Agnosticism is the true default position, because ignorance need only be confessed. Second, I believe that people need God, whether he exists or not (and even if they think he has a lot to answer for). As a human being I am compelled to keep on searching for something transcendent, so I cannot adopt a position that outright denies such a thing.

The most striking thing about the world, to me, is not that there is no God, but that nobody has any idea what’s going on. Moreover, everyone has such strong opinions about what’s going on that it really quite blows my mind. Christians (with whom I have had the most experience) believe themselves to be in the company of millions of fellow believers, but in reality they all have their own special ideas and lifestyles that are specifically suited to them. They agree only on paper, and oftentimes not even then. The vocal atheists are almost as intolerable as charismatic Christians (if that were possible), as they are defined almost entirely by a blithe lack of belief in the “supernatural” (whatever that means). It isn’t even a worldview at all. Add in the rest of the globe’s population, and the world is just jam-packed with certainty. It is a simple consequence of logic that most people, living and dead, were fundamentally mistaken about existence. We know this, but we are unable to take that next logical step, and consider that we may also be fundamentally mistaken. We have no problems understanding why the rest of the world is deceived, but we do not consider that we may also be deceived.

I believe it is possible to discuss specific questions with high degrees of accuracy and insight, transcending even the human tendency to be wrong about everything. I believe that we may be able to learn deep things about the truth. But I cannot think of any number of facts–not even a book of all the secrets about life in a world to come–that could possibly account for this as a whole. It is all so fundamentally inconceivable. I would deny that it is even happening, except that it must be happening in order for me to talk about it.

The most fundamental tenet of my worldview, right now, is that the evidence does not add up in any one direction, and we do not have any of the answers to any of the important questions. And perhaps later on I will explain why I think this.

Ulterior Motives for Abandoning Christianity

Posted in The Narrow Path on April 13, 2011 by RWZero

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: there aren’t any.

From a purely rational standpoint, being a Christian is the best bet. Christianity is the only religion that has a hell, and threatens all other belief systems with this hell. Let’s take a look at what happens to you, as a good Christian, depending on which belief system turns out to be true:

Christianity: Saved.

Islam: You are a “person of the book,” and so long as you’re a good one, you can go to heaven (Sura 2:62).

Atheism: Nothing. All the sex, drugs and rock and roll you missed out on? Erased. Regrets? None.

Anything Else: The Same Thing Happens to You as Happens to Everyone Else

There is no scenario in which Christians suffer one scintilla of damage for being Christians… except that one scenario in which Christianity is true, and you run around quoting Bible verses and proclaiming your faith, but choose to enjoy your nice Christian life without actually being selfless and loving (Matthew 25:31–46).

The moral of the story is that there are no legitimate ulterior motives for throwing away Christianity, because there are no better bets out there. So anyone who throws it away must be pretty strongly convinced of something. And if Christianity is true, heaven will have a good fistful of atheists, and hell will be jam-packed with plenty of Christians, based on my observations.

On Open-Mindedness

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on April 11, 2011 by RWZero

Throughout my life, I’ve encountered people who seem to think I’m opinionated. When I start a discussion on a topic (particularly about the bigger questions), they often throw up a few trite opinions. And oftentimes I shoot them down.

“Oh, whatever,” they might say, “it’s no use arguing with you; you’re so sure about your ideas.”

No, I’m not.

The fact of the matter is that I think about these things all the time (that’s why I’m having a discussion about them). I think about them in bed, on the bus to work, on the bus on the way back from work, and when I’m reading books written by other people who think about them. YOU (in the case of most people) have spent a grand total of a few hours thinking about this topic during your entire life, and yet you want me to concede that you have some good points, and that you might be right. But the opinions you formed in the back of your mind are probably ones that I’ve already thought about a million times over, and that’s why I have ready-made formulas for shooting them down. It isn’t that I’m opinionated, that I disrespect you, or that I have some kind of disdain for your intellect. It’s just that you cannot pull vaguely formed ideas out of your back pocket and expect them to carry an enormous weight with me, because if I am arguing with you (or even having some kind of a forceful exchange on the subject), I have probably thought about it for hundreds of hours, read numerous books and articles about it, and talked to other people about it as well. I will likely have heard your vaguely-formed idea before.

I sometimes do try to sustain an argument about subjects upon which I am ignorant, in order to appear knowledgeable, or what not, but in most cases I concede the boundaries of my knowledge and confess ignorance.

You can change my mind about anything, if you’ll just give me a reason to change it. Do I have unreasonable standards for what is reasonable? You can convince me of that too. I’m listening.

Lately I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things. Occasionally, when I change my mind, people will point out that I used to have arguments with them about that topic from the other side. Does this prove that I was wrong to argue in the past? Not exactly. I now happen to think that your position is correct… but at the time, your arguments were poor. I think there are plenty of good arguments for positions that are incorrect, and plenty of bad arguments for positions that are correct.

In any case, if you want to convince me of your worldview, now is probably the best time to make a run at it.