Friday, October 20, 2006

A letter wot I wrote

Earlier this month my local rag published a letter that got on my tits somewhat. So much so, in fact, that I decided to send in a letter of my own.
The other chap's letter is reproduced here (italics), together with my rebuttal.

His letter:

With reference to the article, 'Letting go of God', (Saturday 30 September), 10 out of 10 to the Guernsey Press for trying to stimulate debate.
Or perhaps that would be better put as attempting to provoke a reaction.
Helen King's deliberately provocative synopsis of the humanist arguments against belief in God demand a response and I am pleased to add my own reply to the article.
For too long, society has rejected God, whose existence is incontrovertible. We fight, kill and persecute each other in the name of selfish ambition. We discard a moral way of life, instead chasing self-centred satisfaction - often abusing others in the process. But an ageless book aims to put a stop to that. Phil **** affirms his place as a Christian - a believer in Jesus Christ, the greatest revolutionary who will ever exist.
Some people claim that we are nothing but the product of our genes, that our origin, loves, desires and hopes are nothing but the outcome of accidental collisions of atoms. They claim we are nothing but naked apes, the product of accidental chemical processes that by luck alone, against odds that would turn off even the most ardent lottery player, resulted in a world abounding in intelligent life.
Not only that, but had conditions been just ever so slightly different, none of this would ever have existed. It is this that sounds highly improbable to me. Only that hardest-hearted person can fail to be impressed by the complexity of the natural world around us.
Can this really have arisen by accident? I am no scientist, but I observe that the theory of evolution leaves many questions unanswered. Why do seemingly inferior species continue to thrive and why does the fossil record have practically no examples of major transitions between species?
The theory of evolution is precisely that - theory, not fact. In 2001, 100 scientists, headed by five-times Nobel prize nominee chemist Henry Schaefer of the University of Georgia, USA, publicly declared that they 'are sceptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life'. These scientists, who know what they are talking about, are clearly not rushing to affirm that the theory of evolution explains perfectly the origins of life.
My own difficulty with the theory of natural selection, as opposed to a creator God, is more practical. What room would there be in a world view whose mantra is 'survival of the fittest' for the vulnerable in our society? In its most potent form, evolutionary theory demands that we cast out the vulnerable and weak. This is simply something I am not prepared to do.
The humanist philosophy effectively makes mankind his own god, purporting that we can achieve the 'good life' on earth through the development of each individual. Such a self-centred and self-motivated world view does not relieve tyranny, it creates it. The life and teaching of Jesus Christ are as far opposed to tyranny of any sort as it is possible to be.
He taught the opposite of selfishness - compassion and action for the poor, sick and vulnerable. His is a message of life, love and peace, not tyranny and war. 'Love your enemies,' he says, 'and pray for those who persecute you.'
All war and murder is appalling. It is true that religion has sometimes been used as an excuse for war, albeit that the main motivation was arguably the acquisition of land and resources with nothing to do with the teachings of the faith itself. Millions more have died in the name of secularism. The actions of Stalin during the darkest days of the communist era show the result of letting go of God. Twenty million innocent people lost their lives in the name of a system that declared there was no God.
This leads me to the main point. Our society has already substantially let go of God and we are living with the consequences. Two thirds of the world is starving, yet there is enough food produced globally to feed everyone. Our lives in the rich West are dominated by the superficial and selfish. Our culture seems obsessed with appearance, status and power. We seem to be much more bothered about what we have and our position than our inner qualities. We live by the arguably humanist statement, 'if it feels good, do it'.
I totally agree that we need shaking up and should question the status quo. Where are the love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control, honesty, integrity, truth and wisdom? Having considered various alternatives, I have found these qualities only in Jesus Christ. This is not just because the Christian faith is the one I have been brought up with. In fact, Christianity is in decline in the UK. Its strongest growth is in Africa and Asia, cultures that are not traditionally Christian. It is because, like countless millions of people, I have searched for and found that the only answer that truly satisfies is in Jesus Christ. This is not a crutch for an otherwise empty life, it is the crux of all existence.
My faith is not just a tag-on to my life, something relegated to relieve boredom on Sundays. My faith and relationship with God are life itself. Richard Dawkins would have me believe that without Jesus, I would have everything, whereas I know that the exact opposite is true - without Jesus I am nothing. Society has invented a plethora of distractions that can never truly satisfy us - it is these crutches that we need to throw off and embrace Christ as the only way to receive peace with God.
We don't need to let go of God, we need to grab hold of him. Jesus says that he has come that we 'might have life and have it to the full'.
This means putting self aside, recognising our mistakes and receiving His divine forgiveness. Of the books I have read, the only truly challenging book I have discovered and dare to continue to read is the Bible. If people are prepared to be shaken in their search for truth and meaning, it is the Bible they need to read. Start by reading the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and you will find that it is Jesus' life and works that will shine like a beacon in a world suffering under tyranny. You might just find that He revolutionises your life.

My letter:

On 12 October the Guernsey Press printed a letter entitled “Bible shines in a world blighted by tyranny”. The correspondent, Mr ****, claims that the world would be a better place if Christianity were at the helm. I must say that I find that very hard to believe, and I’m not entirely sure how one would go about proving such a claim. Nevertheless, that is Mr ****’s opinion and he’s entitled to it. However, it is his supporting arguments, specifically those regarding evolution, that cause me concern.
Mr **** appears to be a proponent of the current trend in religious circles to concentrate on finding fault with the theory of evolution, rather than putting forward a cogent argument for their own beliefs. This approach implies that the issue is a question of Either/Or, when that simply is not the case. Merely knocking down the opposition isn’t enough. If someone were to prove unequivocally that the theory of evolution is entirely wrong, this would not in turn prove that Christianity is fact. After all, both approaches could be wrong.
Mr **** is right when he says that evolution “leaves many questions unanswered”, but this in itself is not an argument for God. I am not a Christian; neither do I accept evolutionary theory wholesale, but the problem, as I see it, is that as far as a Christian is concerned, they have it all worked out and everybody else is wrong. It is this implied arrogance that I find distasteful and some of Mr ****’s comments were so wide of the mark that I feel some kind of response is required, in the interests of a balanced debate.

1. “For too long, society has rejected God, whose existence is incontrovertible.
Not only is this bold statement fundamentally untrue, it also implies that there is a body of evidence out there that supports the existence of God. There is not.
For something to be incontrovertible it must be beyond doubt or dispute i.e. proven. Whilst there is a fair amount independent evidence to support the existence of a man called Jesus Christ 2, 000 odd years ago, the same cannot be said of God himself. There is in fact NO evidence, in the scientific sense, to support the notion of God and this is why believers are forced to rely on Faith. It has always been my understanding that Faith is a cornerstone of Christianity and so it is puzzling to me why a Christian would describe the existence of God as incontrovertible. If this were the case then the concept of Faith would be redundant.

2. “Some people claim that we are…the product of accidental chemical processes that by luck alone, against odds that would turn off even the most ardent lottery player, resulted in a world abounding in intelligent life. Not only that, but had conditions been just slightly different, none of this would have even existed. It is this that sounds highly improbable to me.
Here Mr **** falls into the easy trap of mistaking the odds against a single event occurring locally, with the probability of such an event occurring within the wider universe. For instance, using the lottery analogy, it is true that the chances of winning the lottery are vanishingly small, yet every week somebody wins. This is because, by having millions of people playing it and by repeating the process on a weekly basis, it would be extremely surprising if nobody ever won. Likewise, when you consider the huge size of the universe as well as the huge age, it would be even more surprising if the universe were completely devoid of life. In short, given the vast parameters involved, the chances of life not arising somewhere in the universe are practically nil.

3. “What room would there be in a world view whose mantra is 'survival of the fittest' for the vulnerable in our society? In its most potent form, evolutionary theory demands that we cast out the vulnerable and weak. This is simply something I am not prepared to do.
First of all, it is necessary here to clear up what is meant by the phrase “survival of the fittest”. I should point out that far from being a “mantra”, the term is not generally used in the scientific community because it tends to cause more confusion than clarification. The term “survival of the fittest” was coined in the mid 1800’s, not by a scientist but by an economist, and has been used ever since as a kind of shorthand explanation of evolutionary theory. At the time it was introduced the word “fit” meant “suited” or “appropriate” rather than “physically robust” and so a better phrase would be “survival of those best suited to their environment”. This however is a tautology and scientists generally use the term “natural selection” instead.
With this in mind it should be clear that the statement “…evolutionary theory demands that we cast out the vulnerable and weak” is nonsense. Evolutionary theory does not demand that we cast out anybody; it does not demand anything at all. Evolution is not a matter of choice, it is the natural result of heritable genetic mutations, and it is governed only by an organism’s ability to survive, reproduce and therefore pass on its genes to its offspring. It is important to remember that natural selection is not something that happens to individuals, but to populations over many generations.

4. “The theory of evolution is precisely that – theory, not fact”.
This statement implies that the two terms are mutually exclusive, which they most certainly are not. This problem arises from a misunderstanding of scientific terminology. Two terms that are often confused are Law and Theory. A Scientific Law is a statement of fact used to describe an action or set of actions, such as the laws of gravity or thermodynamics, things which can always be observed to be true. A Scientific Theory describes something that is much more complex and dynamic such as the theory of relativity or evolution. In common usage the word theory often implies mere speculation or guesswork, but in scientific terms a theory is something that has been proven and is generally accepted as being true. The point here is that if evolution is ‘only a theory’ then that is all it has to be.

It is not my wish to belittle anyone’s beliefs but this insistence by Christians to use science against itself in this way is becoming ridiculous. Furthermore, Mr **** should be careful that he does not end up damaging his own cause. If he uses ‘lack of evidence’ to dismiss evolution as ‘only a theory’ then he should not be surprised if the same argument is used to dismiss the existence of God as ‘only a myth’.