Monday, March 20, 2006

Bioessays journal editorial and reflections

Thanks to PZ Myers, I was introduced to a journal I had not encountered before called Bioessays that I've become a dedicated reader of ever since. They often publish some interesting evolutionary hypotheses, particularly on subjects of my interest such as the immune system and origins of vertebrates. Recently, the editor Adam S. Wilkins has decided to write a piece about Intelligent Design and how scientists should approach the subject. I particularly like his concluding paragraphs, which I'll quote here as the paper probably isn't free and I think he's made a very pertinent point:

Furthermore, those scientists with passionate anti-religious convictions should accept that Science can no more disprove the existence of a Deity or immortal souls than religious people can prove the existence of either. More tolerance of private religious belief, coupled with insistence on what scientific evidence does actually tell us about the history of the world and living things, would be appropriate.

If, in contrast, scientists insist on atheism as the only ‘‘logical’’ belief system or demand that people choose between ‘‘evolutionism’’—the quasi-philosophic belief in evolution as a guide to what should be—and belief in God, the outcome is not in doubt. More than half the people in the
U.S. would choose religion and reject the science. The consequences of this would be far wider than simply the confusion of school children about the history of life on this planet. Once one has rejected scientific evidence for an ancient Earth and a long evolutionary history of living things, it becomes correspondingly easy to start denying other scientific evidence, for instance evidence on climate change, resource depletion, the nature of pandemics, the causes of species extinction and much more.

I fully agree with this with the caveats that we shouldn't be afraid to admit that many prominent atheists do think that evolution strengthens their position. For example, Richard Dawkins (who always seems to come up) has stated that "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist" and Paul Myers from Pharyngula has written several pieces on how he feels, which I recommend reading incidentally. This is usually used as some sort of launching point that all evolutionists are atheists and that evolution degrades religious beliefs blah blah blah froth at the mouth blah blah whatever. I think some introspection here might be of some use.

Here's a little story for those who are interested in reading a bit of (probably somewhat incoherent in places) rambling about my reasons for my faith. About 6-7 years ago after probably one of the worst years of my entire life, I lost my faith in God and rejected Christianity completely. I really was a very bitter and angry fellow at the time, having felt that God had deliberately tried to do me in, my family, my friends and virtually everyone else I knew. Because of these rather bad experiences and my already considerable dislike of religion that had been building for a while, I became what most would identify as a "strong atheist". My atheism at the time was directly the result of what I saw around me, such as problems with family members and friends, the world in general and my general angst as an angry young man (And I mean angry).

Science never really came into the picture for my rejection of Christianity and God at the time. You could attribute that to more to general angst and general disillusionment with religion. In fact, I probably wouldn't have cared less about what science had to say on the nature of God because having gone to a Catholic school, nobody ever introduced me to the concept that religious concepts would be directly contrary to science anyway. This of course never became overly relevant, because even with my initial introductions to creationism of the full YEC variety on university bulletin boards and with someone handing me Behes Black Box in my first year of university. Although I only had a relatively poor grasp of science at the time, there was something that never quite made sense with the arguments of the YEC creationists/stealth creationists that I debated with.

I have to concede that creationism merely reinforced my atheism at the time. In fact, I thought Christianity was more ridiculous after encountering creationism than I ever had before. Yet, although this might sound somewhat odd after what I have written just now, I did inevitably regain my faith in God and am unashamed to admit that I'm Christian. Bearing in mind that I was formerly Christian, then became an atheist and now went back, this would seem to make me a 'flip-flopper' I guess one could say. The main thing that made me rethink about things was the Christians I met at University during my second year (and beyond).

I've always been one for actions rather than anything else and I was very impressed with the Christians I met. I found they weren't the general hate mongers that I had frequently come to associate with Christianity like Fred Phelps and Pat Robertson. Many of them are among my best friends still and people who I probably get along best with. I also lost my impression of general Christian bloody minded fundamentalism from my association with these people. I found that many Christians hold a wide range of views on various topics, including scientific ones like evolution, social issues and about the bible itself. Most importantly, I liked the attitudes of many Christians I met, the way they treated others and the fact they still retained a genuinely held belief in God that I once had.

After a lot of reconsideration, I came back to God after careful introspection and decided that many of the core beliefs of Christianity still made sense to me. I should point out that I've never regarded the bible as literal and in particular I've always regarded many stories in the bible as being allegorical or poetic in nature to demonstrate a point, but not be literal history (where they simply fail to make sense, despite what creationists may protest about). In many regards however, I never allow my faith in God, based entirely on reasons from my own introspection to hinder how I view or observe the world around myself. I keep my science as science and God as faith, which I soon found after asking various Christians I met was not an uncommon view.

And so in the end I came back to God and I can even say that I have a more strongly held faith than I did before I lost it originally. This is probably because of the fact I've had a longer time to think about things, but also because my knowledge and general opinions have matured a lot more than what they were. Plus, I'm not as angry anymore, well except when debating where I still can dish out a bit of sass.

I suppose after such a lengthy rant, which was entirely unplanned so it has no real particular point, I should get to whatever it is I'm trying to say. Quite frankly, I don't care if Dawkins (or any atheist) says that evolution allows them to be certain about their atheism. It doesn't particularly bother me, because science isn't something I regard as being in conflict with my belief in God. If I held my belief in God as something that is in conflict with science, maybe I would regard the statements from the likes of Dawkins as threatening and proof of evolution destroying Christianity or some similar nonsense. We shouldn't hide the fact that knowing what is good science is something that a lot of groups, such as atheists, will claim as something that supports their view. Personally, I think evolution and the way nature works is a testament to the power and creative ability of God. Like Adam points out in his editorial that I agree with so much, I can't prove to Dawkins what I believe and Dawkins would have a [probably] impossible time using science to convince me God doesn't exist.

Of course, atheists are almost the 'boogeyman' for Christianity and have been promoted to that spot far too prematurely. I find that it's Christians that are degrading Christianity more than anything else. Those who want to hold concepts like creationism/ID being opposed to decent actual science are doing more harm than they are good, but probably only minimal damage in the end. It's individuals who proclaim that Christians should follow their general bilge and rhetoric like Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, Kent Hovind and Anne Coulter that do more damage to Christianity than any science ever could. If you ask atheists or those who reject Christians beliefs about the sorts of 'Christians' they have in their minds, they'll tell you about the loud mouthed dribbling of the likes of the above as what their impression of general Christianity is.

The response of numerous Christians demonstrates that not even 'we' like them overly much. There are not many Christians who would like to concede that Fred Phelps, who protests at the funerals of soldiers with his band of escaped lobotomy patients, is a Christian himself. We just shove aside the fact he publicly claims he is Christian, because we know that he isn't following the tenants of Christ in spitting out his virulent spiels about homosexuals or whatever. Unfortunately, he's loud, he's very much in the media spotlight with his antics and these actions speak almost as loudly as the failure of the general majority of Christians to oppose and publicly criticize their ridiculous assertations.

If you ask me what is driving people from churches, making people question their faith and generally degrading the position of Christianity as being relevant in today’s world, it's the lack of moderate Christian voices against fundamentalism.