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Some arguments with my old pastor

True to my last post, I’ve got a bit of something here from my 750words writing. This weekend my old church, where my family still attends, had a sermon on “The Atheist Christian” or something like that, and had a little handout from the pastor with his conclusions (more liberal than many theologies, but…). I’m addressing a few of his point here because… well I guess because I can.

Conclusion #8 (the first one) – Evolutionism isn’t contrary to Creationism. They don’t answer the same questions. In order for evolution to occur, created matter had to already exist. Therefore the theory of evolution can’t argue against the existence of a God. (interestingly, the title of Darwin’s famous book, On the Origin of Species, isn’t about their origin at all, at least in terms of the creation of matter. It’s about Darwin’s view of the origin of the contemporary species from other species.)

This is a horrible case of mis-definition of both things. Evolution describes how things evolve, change, grow, modify and is not the story of abiogenesis (beginning of life) OR that of the big bang (beginning of space, time, and matter/energy as we know it). Creationism is the concept that things were created, not just “stuff” was created at the big bang, but individual creatures, planets, stars, and galaxies. One can take a bit of a catholic dodge and say that “god created the universe with the big bang” and then “evolution is the means by which species grew and evolved” and then jump in with the theistic evolutionist (Francis Collins for example) idea that at some point in the evolutionary process humanity was “ensouled” and then became fully human. Furthermore, evolution isn’t an argument against the existence of God. Evolution can be, and has been, used as an argument against the necessity of supernatural intervention to explain the diversity of species.

Conclusion #8 (apparently the 2nd #8) Atheists have a self-contradicting logic. This is a paraphrase from Timothy Keller: “Atheistic evolutionists say that people believe in God not because he really exists, but because that belief has helped humans survive and thrive. Thus, they say, we are ‘hard wired’ for belief in God. But if we cannot trust our ‘belief-forming faculties’ to tell us the truth about God, then how can we trust them to tell us the truth about anything, including evolutionary science?” For the evolutionist, the theory of evolution can only be trusted to give us the kind of mind that will help us survive, thrive, and reproduce, not discover truth.

This is the quintessential straw man. That paraphrase in no way characterizes an atheist view point that virtually anybody who is an atheist based on reason has *ever* espoused. Let me fix it a bit, which will reflect something closer to what many atheist believe and unsurprisingly is no longer a self-contradicting logic (nor is it as pithy and quotable, but reality isn’t often that pithy).

People believe in God, whether or not he actually exists, because the propensity to interpret things and events as evidence of some other entity is adaptively beneficial. When you assume a rustle in the grass is a predator and you react accordingly you only lose a little energy from running away if you’re wrong. When you assume a rustle in the grass is not a predator and you’re wrong you lose your life (and most often the chance to pass on your disbelieving genes). Likewise the propensity to believe in a *higher power* in a primitive society allows for development of religion and politics which allow for further organizational cohesiveness and the development of more advanced societies which can then create surplus and more chances for breeding and passing on of genes.

The assumption though that we can not trust our belief-forming faculties is true (as everybody in advertising knows), but the assumption that because of that we can’t ever trust anything is functionally false (though there are philosophical arguments to the contrary, there is a point at which the philosophical arguments cease to be useful in any real sense). We can’t trust our faculties and that is precisely why we do science. We test and retest, and account for bias and attempt to remove it, and account for the placebo effect, and any number of other statistical problems. We do this because when we don’t form our beliefs properly we use blood-letting for an infection and exorcism for psychosis instead of antibiotics and psychological drugs and treatment. Our belief-forming faculties are what tell us that the earth is flat, and everything revolves around it. It is the curiosity and will to test these beliefs that push us past those poor intuitions into experimentation that can be duplicated and replicated and repeated and ultimately achieve something that resembles certainty (though it isn’t actual certainty, just a close approximation of it) that we’ve reached something like truth.


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