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Attenborough on Darwin

Tom Feilden | 11:23 UK time, Saturday, 31 January 2009

When Sir David Attenborough announced last year that Life in Cold Blood would be his last major TV series, somehow you knew it wouldn't be the last we'd see of natural history's dominant silverback.

attenborough.jpgWell, now 82-year-old Sir David is back and - if anything - feistier than ever.

Watching Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life you get the impression that "retirement" has been good for him. After a career spent studiously compiling and presenting the evidence, Sir David seems to have shaken off the straightjacket of scholarly impartiality. Finally we get to hear what he really thinks.

It's strong stuff. Like the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, evolution is a fact - if anything it's better supported by the evidence, because there's so much more of it.

"Above all Darwin has shown us that we are not apart from the natural world - we do not have dominion over it," Sir David says. "We are subject to its laws and processes as are all the other animals on earth to which indeed we are related."

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One by one, and using a fair amount of archive footage featuring a familiar - if somewhat younger - presenter, Sir David demolishes the arguments employed to refute Darwin's theory with his usual headmasterly charm.

It's a powerful piece of film making, and you get the impression that only a figure of such stature in the world of natural history could do it justice. Perhaps they should have called it Attenborough on Darwin and left it at that.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Would love to see an audience in bible belt America watching this programme!

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm really looking forward to watching this. Attenborough is a brilliant documentary maker and presenter and his TV series are always well worth watching.

    I'm also glad that a presenter of such kudos could be tempted out of semi-retirement to provide a simple, yet categorical rebuke to those who deny evolution exists.

    There have been far too many people out there who've allowed creationism to slowly creep back into the general consciousness, despite the fact there are reams of evidence against it.

    A man with Attenborough's experience of the animal world is the perfect antidote to all the naysayers who argue against natural selection.

    They may not be happy that evolution exists, but to deny it - and fly in the face of so much evidence - is incredibly churlish.

    It's like saying they know the world must be flat just because they, personally, have never seen the Earth from orbit.

    The fact is that the evidence for evolution is undeniable.

    There is simply too much data to support it - everything from DNA, through to Archaeopteryx.

    And then there's the famous case of evolution in action - the case of the moths who, through natural selection, swiftly changed their wing colour from white to black, and back again, as a result of the pressures of the industrial revolution.

  • Comment number 3.

    I only studied Biology to A level and have not read enough material on evolution to convince myself beyond reasonable doubt so I'm still learning.

    The commentators above are better read than I am.

    What surprises me though is the vast number of the public who are "experts" on evolution even though many of them haven't even studied GCSE science!! If I said I fimly believe in the particle theory of light but had not really read a physics book let alone got a qualification in physics and maths I would be laughed at!

    I am a bit disappointed in the commentators above using this column to have a pop at people who think differently and the comparison of the theory of evolution to saying whether the earth is flat or not is extremely unscientific, there is no comparison in the extremes of complexity between the two.

    A good debator will let the facts speak for themselves, there's no need to belittle people who think differently and I aim that at myself too as I am prone to doing this!

  • Comment number 4.

    Despite the entertainment value of
    Attenborough's previous series, after seeing
    the CBC documentary Cruel Camera
    http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/cruelcamera/
    on fakery in wildlife documentaries, such
    footage, be it archive or otherwise, is off the
    menu for me.

  • Comment number 5.

    Will we get a chance to see this here in the US, on Discovery or BBC America? Please....!

  • Comment number 6.

    I am so eagerly anticipating this programme. Sir David has been a hero of mine since childhood, and it was his influence that significantly shaped my decision to pursue a career in Earth Sciences. I hold a doctorate in Geology and have taught on the Open University's Evolution module so I believe I am somewhat qualified to write on this matter.

    Like other scientists, I am worried by the ever-creeping influence of Creationism and Intelligent Design, with Darwinism cast aside by such flippant comments from naysayers as "well, Science doesn't know everything!" I have yet to personally meet a Creationist who has the faintest grasp of what evolutionary theory really entails, let alone to have objectively viewed the plethora of evidence that supports this hypothesis.

    Please, feel free to practice your own faiths and beliefs (...I do actually consider myself to be a Christian...), but to try and marry Science with Faith is an impossibility which makes a mockery of each of these philosophies.

    Faith is something that you firmly believe in without the need for any supporting evidence: Science provides a hypothesis which must then be tested by further evidence. These two are diametrically opposed; both can harmoniously coexist, but one cannot be used to attempt to prove or disprove the other.

    However, if Faith tries to make a statement about our physical world (such as "all the dinosaurs were wiped out in Noah's flood") then it is perfectly open to examination and critique from Science (and, in this case, is ripped to shreds within a matter of minutes).

    If you believe in the absolute and literal truth of the Bible, then I am afraid you will quickly run into some serious scientific objections. Many Christians (and Muslims) whom I know take a more level-headed approach and view these Texts as more allegorical in nature, intended to give guidance rather than to be read as the literal word of God.

    I sincerely hope that Sir David's programme will help the scales fall from the eyes of those blinded by an unquestioning belief in Creationism; but perhaps they will simply mutter that "David Attenborough was put on Earth to test my faith" and turn once again to seek solace in the opening pages of Genesis.

  • Comment number 7.

    Re: GutoCardi (post #3), I appreciate where you're coming from, but my use of the flat-Earth scenario was not meant to be disingenous.

    The reason I cited it was because, not that long ago, the BBC news site's magazine section did a feature on people who still believe in the flat-Earth theory (a quick search should throw it up).

    This means that there are people out there who are burying their heads in the sand about, as you yourself put it, a much simpler scientific principle than evolution.

    My reasoning for using the flat-Earth theory as an example was that it highlights that people like to ignore what doesn't side with their own personal beliefs - despite the often overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.

    I thought that would be quite a fitting case study considering the evolution debate and the frankly colossal evidence against creationism, and in favour of evolution.

    And as for my 'belittling' others, that certainly was not my intention.

    I respect people who have differing scientific beliefs to me - and that includes creationists - but just because I respect their right to an opinion, and them as an individual, does not mean I also need to respect the flawed methodology and poor 'science' on which that opinion is based.

    You said I should let the science speak for itself. That's fair enough.

    In my first post I cited Arcaheopteryx and the famous moth case study which showed natural selection in action. But there's plenty more where that came from.

    We've got 50 years of DNA research; genetics; mito-chondrial DNA; the evidence of domesticated animals and the countless permutations thereof that mankind has developed through selective breeding.

    It all adds up to proof positive that animals do not exist in a 'vacuum' - never changing - a view that is at the very heart of the creationist mythos.

    And then there are the countless observations from thousands, if not millions, of evolutionary, palaeontological, geological and biological case studies that exist.

    To deny evolution is to deny one of the basic building blocks of life on Earth. Evolution is a fact - it's that simple.

  • Comment number 8.

    It takes as much faith to be an evolutionist as it does a Christian. You see no matter how much evidence is presented in favour of creation, some evolutionists will still ignore it and say evolution is fact and that creation is wrong.

    AngusMiasma:

    "And then there's the famous case of evolution in action - the case of the moths who, through natural selection, swiftly changed their wing colour from white to black, and back again, as a result of the pressures of the industrial revolution."

    An interesting article about that:

    http://www.verticalthought.org/issues/vt14/moths.htm

    I quote:

    ""Proof" full of holes
    What are the conclusions today about the supposed proof of the evolution of peppered moths?
    • Both specimens of moths already existed at the time of the experiments—no new species appeared.
    • Only the population ratio of the dark and light moths changed from the 19th and 20th centuries due to a number of conditions, not all well understood. There was no creation of or evolution into a new species.
    • The photographs of moths on tree trunks were staged according to inaccurate assumptions, and further investigation showed these moths do not normally perch on trunks.
    • The increase of the dark moths and the decrease of the light moths were likely due to various environmental factors, including bird predation, but these examples only show how resilient God's creation is.
    • In the beginning of the 20th century, the dark moths predominated due in part to the darkening of the environment through industrial pollution. When the environment was cleaned up, the lighter moths became the dominant type. But there was no change in color or structure of the moths—they both had existed before industrial contamination began."

  • Comment number 9.

    I've been hoping for years that Attenborough would put the evolutionaty boot in to the creationists and bible literalists. About time.
    And I couldn't think of a finer exponent.

  • Comment number 10.

    djbennett999.

    Actually the evidence you quote in your post against the peppered moth partly makes the case for natural selection.

    I never said that they were two distinct species of moth, or in fact, that it led to a new species.

    Rather, I highlighted the case because it is a classic example of natural selection in action - or as Darwin would have put it, survival of the fittest.

    Namely external pressures led to changes in an animal's population, which if they had remained over a longer timeframe, could easily pushed one variety of the same species to the brink of 'extinction'.

    What's more, even though it wasn't killed off, that external factors caused a discernible change in the population ratio of a species is the very essense of natural selection.

    Even though neither variety died off, the dirty air - and lack of lichen for camouflage - suddenly gave the black winged variety an advantage over the white one, which helped it to exploit the situation.

    And your argument that the species hadn't "physically" changed is splitting semantics. If the white winged variety had died off then it would have been evolution in action - even if the black species remained physically identical to the naked eye.

    Why? Because the genes which allowed the species to create white varieties of the same genus would have been lost. Only the black genes would have remained.

    To the naked eye the species would have remained unchanged, but the DNA would have told a very different story. One gene would have been gone, or permanently altered.

    And if one can be altered then evolution, not creationism, is the accurate theory because it shows that the genum of a species can, and does change over time.

    Moving on from that, I would like to add that you talk as if faith and science are mutually exclusive. I'd just like to note that I do believe in a God, I just think that the reams of scientific data rule out the traditional Biblical creation story.

    Or how else do you explain fossils?

    Finally, you say that "no matter how much evidence is presented in favour of creation, some evolutionists will still ignore it and say evolution is fact and that creation is wrong."

    The last I saw, the "evidence" for creationism was incredibly flimsy at best and there wasn't much of it. Whereas the evidence for evolution is extensive and is much more resilient to scrutiny - which kind of flies in the face of the quote I've just cited.

  • Comment number 11.

    I need to correct some of djbennett999's misconceptions regarding the Peppered Moth study.

    This study has never (correctly) been cited as proof of Evolution. Rather, it is posited as a consequence of Natural Selection, the mechanism by which Darwin suggested evolution took place.

    This is a vitally important distinction.

    Darwinian evolution (and there are several other methods of evolution that have been proposed) works on the observation that living organisms produce more offspring than can survive to adulthood, and each of those offspring are subtly different. Those offspring that are best adapted to their environment are more likely to survive to sexual maturity, successfully breed, and so pass on those characteristics that made them more successful to the next generation of offspring.

    Over time, these differences accumulate such that the modified offspring would not be able to viably interbreed with individuals who had kept the same traits as the common ancestor. Hence, a new species is born!

    The Peppered Moth study highlighted the interplay between environment (pre- and post-industrial) and the shifts in the relative percentages of the two colours of these moths. It is vitally important to realise that these two moths are just variants of the same species and can, at least at the moment, freely interbreed.

    The study therefore showed the viability of the theory of Natural Selection as one mechanism through which evolution could occur.

    This is an excellent example of true scientific methodology. A theory is proposed (ie. Natural Selection) and a number of tests or observations are made to either support or refute this theory (ie. is the relative population of Peppered Moths affected by changes in the environment?).

    I am afraid that a Faith-based philosophy lends itself to no such critique. A statement such as "God created all life" does not permit scientific analysis; it is a statement and not a theory. What are the testable outcomes of such a statement? Everything could simply be explained away with a nonchalant flick of the wrist while proclaiming that "God made it that way".

    Creationist Science and its modern-day counterpart, Intelligent Design, suffer from this inability to be tested. Therefore neither can be deemed to be scientifically-valid. They may well be philosophically-valid (and I do not deny that), but they are most certainly not scientific.

    Darwin's theories, on the other hand, do indeed open themselves up for critique, analysis and testing. Given that Darwin's theory of evolution was published before the Mendel's pioneering theory of genetics, let alone the discovery of DNA, it seems to me that much subsequent scientific work has supported his theories.

    Darwinian Evolution stands as one of the most important scientific theories of all time. I am most eagerly awaiting Sir David to review this theory with far more eloquence than I can muster!

  • Comment number 12.

    Evolution could be disproved. That's the way science works. Now if we had evidence (for example) that birds were around before dinosaurs, a new theory would be required, and we would have learned something.

    Faith can never be disproved: creationism can beat all counter-arguments by playing the joker of divine intervention.

    Faith offers certainty; science offers questions. Given the choice, it is hardly surprising that faith has been an effective survival strategy over the ages. One might even say, creationism itself has evolved!

  • Comment number 13.

    I am glad the backlash against the religeous cranks has such a powerful ally in DA.Creationism deserves its place in the dustbin of history along with some of the selfish hypocrites and politicians particularly,who promote it.

  • Comment number 14.

    AngusMiasma: Do you have an example of evolution in action where a completely new species is created? It's just with the moth example both dark and light moths existed before the pollution.

    ---

    Some questions:

    Why are we here?
    What's our purpose in life?
    Where did we come from?
    What are the origins of life?
    What happens after we die?
    How can our problem of sin be solved?

    From an evolutionary point of view, how can an unicellular or small multicellular organism propel itself if the flagellum hasn't evolved?

    If there was an oxygen'less atmosphere with the primeval soup, how could life originate or survive?

    If parents are needed to seed new life, then without God creating the first life on Earth, how could the first life have come into existence? This is another reason why God must have been responsible for the creation of life on this Earth. Unless of course you can show me a creature that came into existence even though it never had any parents. Can you do that?

    Certain creatures need lots of things to be present for them to function fully and without all those things being present they couldn't function properly. Is that not a problem for the theory of evolution?

    In regard to evolution:

    How can really complicated organs develop by an unplanned process?

    How did evolution from simple to complex counter the tendency towards randomness that is so prevalent in nature?

    Is there any mechanism that would explain the origin of complexity?

    Can one really identify the evolutionary relationships of organisms?

    Are evolutionary changes gradual or sudden?

    Is natural selection important to the evolutionary process?

    How does complexity evolve without the advantage of foresight?

    In terms of the fossil evidence, how does the evolutionary scenario deal with the great scarcity of intermediate forms and the lack of geologic time for the major evolutionary changes postulated?

    Can you give examples of changes in organisms that have occurred by the addition of new information?

    Is there available a scientifically observable process in nature which on a long-term basis is tending to carry its products upward to higher and higher levels of complexity?

    Considering that DNA carries precise information regarding most aspects of plant life, how did the original DNA come to process these intricate instructions?

    Considering there is no such thing as a simple cell, is it really credible that random processes could have constructed a reality, the smallest element of which a functional gene or protein is complex beyond our own creative capacities, a reality which is the very antithesis of chance, which excels in every sense anything produced by the intelligence of man?

    Where does new information come from?

    —-

    Who or what provided the material for the big bang?

    Why did it not implode rather that explode?

    How could it coagulate into stars and how could these generate planets?

    How could life appear spontaneously?

    How could one kind of living creature change into another when the fossil record shows no evidence of such changes?

    ---

    On a side topic, what do evolutionists base their morality on?

    http://www.bethinking.org/suffering/intermediate/the-absurdity-of-life-without-god.htm

    I quote:

    "But the problem becomes even worse. For, regardless of immortality, if there is no God, then there can be no objective standards of right and wrong. All we are confronted with is, in Jean-Paul Sartre’s words, the bare, valueless fact of existence. Moral values are either just expressions of personal taste or the by-products of socio-biological evolution and conditioning. In the words of one humanist philosopher, “The moral principles that govern our behavior are rooted in habit and custom, feeling and fashion.”8 In a world without God, who is to say which values are right and which are wrong? Who is to judge that the values of Adolf Hitler are inferior to those of a saint? The concept of morality loses all meaning in a universe without God. As one contemporary atheistic ethicist points out, “to say that something is wrong because . . . it is forbidden by God, is . . . perfectly understandable to anyone who believes in a law-giving God. But to say that something is wrong . . . even though no God exists to forbid it, is not understandable. . . .” “The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone.”9 In a world without God, there can be no objective right and wrong, only our culturally and personally relative, subjective judgments. This means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, and love as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist—there is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say you are right and I am wrong."

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm with Desktopcynic, hoping to see this latest effort from Sir David here in the US. His other explorations are so wonderful! He's made science appealing and understandable to the general public (that small portion of folks that can tear themselves away from texting, Britney Spears, sitcoms, and other mind numbing crap). It's also my fervent hope to see the demise of cultural terrorism perpetrated by the cult of fundamental Xtianity. Religious extremism doesn't work. Just look at the various extremist factions of Islam. Yeah there's a societal success story.

  • Comment number 16.

    The theory of evolution rests on a reasonable body of evidence. Although I am not unsympathetic to some creationists, I have found after much reading that some of their arguments against evolution do not stand up to scrutiny. The real problem that the more radical creationists have however is not with the concept of biological change but with the age of the earth, since a school of thought using the concept of "days" in Genesis 1 as 24 hour periods and then the later genealogies from Adam onwards would require the created order to be only a few thousand years old. Ironically some of the same school claim that all the different species on earth derived from a few "kinds" that were protected on the Ark, which is really another form of evolution.

    Having said that I am glad that the BBC chose to use Sir David rather than Professor Dawkins, who is guilty of the equal error of trying to stretch evolution (a scientific theory) to cover other areas (philosophy and religion) which it is not equipped for. The theory of evolution may be scientifically true, but I suggest that of itself it cannot give philosophical or religious meaning to life.

  • Comment number 17.

    If it wasn't so sad, I'd be amused by the never ending stream of would-be's who seek to gain an audience, however small, by objecting to whatever has been shown to be broadly true by science.

    Fortunately information is too freely available now to make the majority believe the earth is a disk and that there's an eminence gris driving the destiny of this monkey we call homo sapiens. Let's just make sure it stays that way.

  • Comment number 18.

    In reply to djbennett999:

    That was long post, and you brought up some interesting and relevant (and otherwise) points.

    Much of what you ask, however, has been asked before. For example, plants and anaerobic bacteria do not require an oxygen-rich atmosphere to survive. In fact, such an atmosphere is the by-product of photosynthesis.

    Evolutionary changes are slow. You are of course correct in saying that many animals which exist today need lots of organs and systems to survive. However, those systems did not need to evolve all at once. For example, a simpler animal might not have as complex a digestion or lung system as a current human, but may evolve more complicate systems over time.

    By asking if natural selection is important to evolution, you seem to be suggesting that you havent dont your homework. Natural selection is a fundamental component of evolution.

    To answer some more of your questions, gravity is the force which allows matter to 'coagulate into stars' and other heavenly bodies.

    The answers to many of your scientific questions are in fact known. If you truly are interested in learning more about evolution, do read Darwins book before leaping to any conclusions. You will find it both interesting and inspiring.


  • Comment number 19.

    djbennett999 certainly does raise a lot of questions...too many to answer within the confines of the column of a BBC forum.

    As DrHair (Post 18) pointed out, most of these questions have been asked of science before (many back in the 19th Century), and all have been addressed to one degree or other.

    In addition to the pages of such esteemed publications as "The New Scientist", "Science" and "Nature", I really would refer readers to those most excellent books from the late and sadly-missed Prof. Stephen Jay Gould. You will find these very topics covered within his volumes.

    I will use my limited space here to expand upon one of djbennet999's queries..."In terms of the fossil evidence, how does the evolutionary scenario deal with the great scarcity of intermediate forms and the lack of geologic time for the major evolutionary changes postulated?"

    I am not sure what is truly meant by "lack of geological time". It was the very realisation that geological processes could not be fitted into a Biblical time scale (in which luminaries such as Archbishop Ussher famously pronounced that the Earth was created on the night preceding October 23, 4004 BC) that led to the concept of Deep Time and a comprehension of an Earth that was vastly older than previously thought. Several lines of evidence point to the Earth being around 4.54 billion years old. Analysis of chemicals that have a biological signature suggest that the life had appeared on Earth by about 3.85 billion years. This is plenty of time, even for a process as slow as Darwinian natural selection, to produce diverse speciation.

    The geological record contains a vast history of species changes, extinctions and new appearances. Many intermediate forms are indeed found in the rock record and anyone who has studied Earth Science cannot fail to see these changes.

    Where current scientific debate focuses is not on whether these changes have taken place (which scientifically is absolutely undeniable) but on the exact mechanisms and rates at which they occur. DNA, our building block of life, is a far more malleable molecule than previously thought and there may indeed be many parallel mechanisms by which changes can occur. Neo-Darwinian Phyletic Gradualism (a slow rate of change brought about by the accumulation of small changes) is just one mechanism through which evolution progresses; other authors such as Gould and Eldredge proposed a theory of Punctuated Equilibrium in which evolutionary change occurred in sudden bursts, followed by periods of relative genome stability.

    Almost certainly, both mechanisms (in addition to others, such as viral transfer of DNA strands) are at work. Creationists love to highlight these differences of opinion between scientists, and think that healthy scientific debate somehow negates the whole concept of evolution.

    In 1687, Sir Isaac Newton published his book “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica”, outlining his law of universal gravitation. This seminal work provided the mathematics necessary to predict, amongst other things, planetary motions and the tide charts that were so necessary to the Admiralty. These mathematical concepts of gravity remained essentially unchanged until 1916 with the publication of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity which modified our understanding of gravity.

    So, does Einstein’s mathematics invalidate the work of Newton? Most certainly not! And gravity most certainly did not stop existing just because it was now modelled with a new set of equations!

    That change has occurred in geological history is as immutable a fact as the observation that an apple falling from a tree will be attracted towards the larger mass of the Earth. To deny this would be akin to saying that the apple falls only because God wills it to do so.

    Stephen Jay Gould himself proposed that Science and Religion should be considered two distinct fields whose authority does not overlap. Science does not invalidate the existence of God. Rather, it invalidates the necessity of a supernatural God to explain our own universe and all the changes within.

  • Comment number 20.

    Kudos to David,

    his way of explaining evolution in a simple way yesterday in his program on Darwin was unrivaled.

    Philippe

  • Comment number 21.

    The sooner mankind realises the Earth and the biosystem it supports is not beneath him the better.

  • Comment number 22.

    David
    Thank you for making a trully wonderful programme, utterly utterly brilliant
    Always the masterly communicator... you were simply superb.



  • Comment number 23.

    I have to admit that David is one of the few humans that I truly respect for his work and dedication. Natures ambassador.

    As for the Science vs Religion arguement.
    Science will win eventually as Science can and does evolve with new ideas and changes and the correction of errors where religions only change in a small way whey they assimilate other religions and cultures.

    Sadly both science and religion are occasionally blinkered by greed and glory but such is the way of our rather pathetic species.

  • Comment number 24.

    Djbennet - Oxygen is not a prerequisite for life. I suggest you read up on anaerobic respiration (i.e. respiratory pathways that do not use oxygen). Many molecules can act as terminal electron acceptors in prokaryotic respiratory pathways, and this is very common in many bacterial species.

    Cyanobacterial photosynthesis was responsible for oxygenating the atmosphere of the early Earth, allowing the development of eukaryotic cells some 2 billion years ago.

  • Comment number 25.

    An additional point - why do modern whales have vestigial hind limb bones? Could it be because they evolved from land-dwelling ancestors?


  • Comment number 26.

    In response to some of your earlier questions.

    1. Why are we here?
    That's up to you.
    2. What's our purpose in life?
    What ever you decide.
    3. Where did we come from?
    Probably here.
    4.What are the origins of life?
    We're working on the exact details as non-theists are not taking, "by magic" as an answer.
    5.What happens after we die?
    Nothing. Sweet restful nothing.
    6.How can our problem of sin be solved?
    Not sure I understand the question. What problem of sin do you mean? You either do what you believe to be right or you don't.


    Is there available a scientifically observable process in nature which on a long-term basis is tending to carry its products upward to higher and higher levels of complexity?

    I would say that religion counts. From old testament eye for an eye morality and two of every kind of animal tales, to the modern day turn the other cheek Christianity talking of allegorical stories rather than the actual word of god. A perfect example of a system of belief evolving to deal with a competitor - science.

  • Comment number 27.

    In legal terms, the argument has changed dramatically since Darwins' day. Evolution was once the prosecution argument against the church, testing its' doctrine and accusing the doctrine of fraud.

    Evolution today is a defence argument. Science stands accused of belittling God, and fraud.

    But the debate was never between "science' and "religion". It was between freedom and doctrine. Science, that is the scientific method of reasoning a way through evidence, was the method employed by people wishing to refute doctrine.

    And that forces one to wonder, if one wonders much at all, what will happen if Evolution is declared a fraud. Will the scientific method also be discarded?

    I can live without the explanation of evolution, but god help us all if we are compelled by the faithful to abandon the scientific method of reason.

    Do people really want to switch off the lights and sit around in mud huts, waiting for the great sky fairy to bring the rains so that half our children will live until the age of 28 years?

  • Comment number 28.

    I see that Djbennet's lengthy post, in which he queried some of my earlier comments, has already been more than eloquently rebuffed by other posters, so I will refrain from repeating things.

    However, moving on slightly, I've noticed that a few of the posts made so far have raised the spectre of science v religion.

    It's a debate that seems to have been running since time immemorial - with everyone from Gallileo to Darwin accused of blasphemy for merely discovering more about the nature of the universe.

    But what has always fascinated me about it all is the pointlessness in the argument that science and religion have to be mutually exclusive.

    I like to think that science is trying to discover the fundamental truth to the external universe, while religion, or belief, is trying to unmask the truth within ourselves.

    In that sense, they are working towards a mutual goal - understanding our place in the universe.

    I'm always reminded of the excellent Carl Sagan novel 'Contact'. In it he postulated that science and religion weren't mutually exclusive concepts.

    Instead he suggested that they were coming at the big questions from opposite sides of the same coin and that they were both working towards the same goal.

    The book ends with his protagonist working on a project which aims to uncover more of the infinite decimal places in the number Pi - a universal constant that was set at the moment of the Big Bang.

    The lead character discovers that Pi stops being a random number after so many decimal places - in essence proving that there is an intelligent hand at work which created the universe.

    In effect science and mathematics, rather than destroying God, prove that a God exists.

    What's more, because Pi is infinite, no matter how advanced a society became there'd always be more to learn.

    I've always loved that idea.

    Yes, it is a work of fiction, but it postulates that science and religion don't have to be at loggerheads.

    Just because science has rewritten some of the minor details in the world's religious texts, it doesn't mean that the fundamental truths contained within those texts, such as being kind to your fellow man, have to be discarded.

    To sum up - Religion, please stop fearing science; and science, please stop sneering at belief.

  • Comment number 29.

    Debates on evolution theory often annoyingly lead to an 'Evolution' vs 'Creationism' argument. There are those of us who do not (at least not literally) believe Creationism but do feel that there must exist some driving force outside of mere chance mutations. Evolutionists must be able to deal with these beliefs (perhaps more than belief as it is perhaps even sensible to refute a strict evolutionist argument. Even if we ignore the philosophical points against Evolution Theory, these points below need a response:

    1) Although some evolution seems possible at the level of what can be achieved by combining genes (i.e. breeding) any evolution via mutations is extremely unlikely to be beneficial and even more unlikely at the extent necessary for whole functioning organisms except for minor changes. The timescale involved is far greater than any estimates of the age of the universe. The most viable life forms would be those that are already established.

    2) Evolution at the lowest level (i.e. of basic life forms and of life itself) has massive problems of un-viability, dependent processes etc. Evolutionists are fond of terms like 'appeared' or 'sprung up' etc but what is needed is a full explanation of how it could have occurred in micro-biological terms.

    3) Even if it can be proved that evolution as above is technically possible it cannot be proved that it actually happened that way. It's still just a theory (as Darwin titles it and by the way Darwin himself believed that life was created by God).

    4) And even if evolution could all be proved to have happened, it still doesn't prove that it was not directed to happen this way.

    5) All the arguments ignore the question of where the original matter came from. And what is Time and when did it start? Who provided the 'rules' for our physics and chemistry? Can Time and space go on for ever? And if not, what is there at the end of it? Where does this universe exist? We cannot comprehend infinity; there must be something outside of all this that we cannot comprehend because it is not as this universe. This may be a 'God' or may not and we may or may not be part of any other existence. Who knows? But there has to be something else.

    6) So, why then do Evolution Theorists all seem to be atheists? Is it just because they see their opposition as being the easy targets of Creation Theorists who tend to want to literally believe scripture. To me, there is no reason why an Evolution Theorist cannot also believe in God. The two can exist together with no contradiction. The problems come when Evolutionists debate with those who believe in Intelligent Design and, as above, to me they are both theories with the Intelligent Design one being probably the more believable. The main problem being that atheists tend to have an almost vitriolic attachment to their own belief.

  • Comment number 30.

    In response to gd9999:

    "Debates on evolution theory often annoyingly lead to an 'Evolution' vs 'Creationism' argument." That's true but only when creationists join in.

    It's also true that God cannot be proved to have set the evolutionary ball rolling - this is an example of what I mentioned in an earlier post about the evolution of religion. Religions that have to face secular science are increasingly having to push their deus ex machina creator into smaller and less personalised roles.

    The problem with intelligent design (and it's a humdinger) is this: Who designed the designer? Where did the vast and obviously superior entity come from? It strikes me that if you are balking at a lucky first spark of some replicating chemical structure then you really shouldn't be postulating a supreme being/alien meddler who for some reason is exempt from having to explain their own fully formed genesis. Evolution makes a good case for complexity from simplicity whereas ID and religion imply, or state, simple from complex.

    Work on evolution will continue and it will always be possible to credit its creation to a Magical/Mythical being (over 4,000 potential candidates that are currently worshiped). Sounds a bit like goal poaching to me.



  • Comment number 31.

    Some fair comments here.

    I can't answer for the other major world beliefs, but Christians (including evangelicals) tend to span a wide range of attitudes towards evolution, from young earth creationists to theistic evolutionists (ie combining belief in God with the belief that God might use evolution as a mechanism of creation). So the issue is not simply one of "science vs religion" as some would appear to think. Interestingly, despite the impression given by "Inherit The Wind", many so-called fundamentalists at the turn of the 20th century (including leading theologians such as B B Warfield) were sympathetic to or supportive of the idea of evolution. Warfield in particular seemed to sympathise with Darwin for the rough treatment he had received for his ideas.

    Although I'm not sure I completely agree with Stephen Jay Gould's theory of "non-overlapping magisteria", his book Rock of Ages is worth reading if only to see why some early commentators were suspicious of evolution, given the claims that were made for it (eg support for eugenics) which properly speaking were outside its domain as a scientic theory.

  • Comment number 32.

    Attack is, of course, the best form of defence. So perhaps it should be no surprise that the djbennetts of this world tediously demand, ad nauseum, proof of and evidence for evolution. (Much of which has actually been provided over the years by scientists, thinkers and men of great reason like DA.) It is a cunning strategy they adopt, as by putting the onus for proof and evidence on others, it precludes themselves from having to offer one single shred of the same to support their own increasingly discredited beliefs. And they never will, because they have none. Or I'm pretty sure they would have shown it to us by now.

  • Comment number 33.

    onegiantleap: You might find the following interesting:

    http://www.ucg.org/booklets/GE/evidenceinsight.htm

    Evidence in Plain Sight

    In recent centuries philosophers have tried to answer the major questions about mankind’s existence and place in the universe. What approach have they taken?

    Their fundamental premise has been that there is no God. Leaving no room for anything we cannot see, hear or feel, or measure through scientific methods, they have believed the answers could be found through human reason. Using man’s ability to reason, with its natural prejudice against God (see “Man’s Natural Hostility Toward God,” page 24), they concluded that the universe came from nothing, life evolved from inert matter, and reason itself is our best guide to finding our way.

    In his recent book A Quest for God, historian Paul Johnson observes: “The existence or non-existence of God is the most important question we humans are ever asked to answer. If God does exist, and if in consequence we are called to another life when this one ends, a momentous set of consequences follows, which should affect every day, every moment almost, of our earthly existence. Our life then becomes a mere preparation for eternity and must be conducted throughout with our future in view” (1996, p. 1, emphasis added).

    Can we really understand the answers to the most important questions of life without at least being willing to examine the question of the existence of God, who is described in the Bible as having given us life and having created us in His own image? (Genesis 1:26-27). Human reason, however, automatically dismisses the idea of God as the Creator who has a purpose for man and the universe. With that utter disregard for God have come unforeseen—and tragic—consequences.

    Can we find solid evidence of God’s existence? If so, where do we look for it, and what is the nature of that evidence? What is our attitude toward the evidence, and how does that influence the way we live?

    Evaluating the evidence

    How does the evidence for God’s existence measure up to the evidence presented against it? How any evidence is weighed and evaluated is critical to the validity of any conclusions we reach on this most important matter. We must look at arguments for and against God’s existence without resorting to prejudiced premises or illogical conclusions.

    Prejudice works both ways. Many people who believe in God’s existence feel compelled to defend their point of view in irrational ways. They hurt their cause by doing so. In like manner, many who believe there is no God refuse to give the evidence of His existence a fair hearing. In both instances, shallow prejudice is the real enemy.

    Richard Dawkins, professor of zoology at Oxford University and an aggressive proponent of the theory of evolution, wrote The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. He sums up the atheistic view toward human origins and existence:

    “Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, nor foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker” (1986, p. 5, emphasis in original).

    However, to avoid accepting uncomfortable evidence of God’s existence, he reasons, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose” (Dawkins, p. 1, emphasis added).

    While admitting that living things give the appearance of purposeful design, Professor Dawkins does not consider the obvious—that, if they appear to have been designed, maybe they were designed.

    Denying or recognizing the obvious?

    Professor Dawkins’ backhanded acknowledgment that living organisms “overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker,” as he put it (p. 21), is not dismissed so lightly by many other scientists. They see the overwhelming presence of intricate design in the universe as a powerful indicator of an intelligent Designer.

    A growing trend among researchers in biology, physics, astronomy, botany, chemistry and other major disciplines is study and debate over the complexity and orderliness they find at every level throughout the universe. Writers and scientists use the term anthropic principle to describe what, from all observations and appearances, are a universe and planet finely tuned for life—human life in particular.

    Paul Davies, professor of mathematical physics at Australia’s University of Adelaide, summarizes the growing findings of scientists from many fields: “A long list of additional ‘lucky accidents’ and ‘coincidences’ has been compiled . . . Taken together, they provide impressive evidence that life as we know it depends very sensitively on the form of the laws of physics, and on some seemingly fortuitous accidents in the actual values that nature has chosen for various particle masses, force strengths, and so on . . .

    “Suffice it to say that, if we could play God, and select values for these quantities at whim by twiddling a set of knobs, we would find that almost all knob settings would render the universe uninhabitable. In some cases it seems as if the different knobs have to be fine-tuned to enormous precision if the universe is to be such that life will flourish” (The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World, 1992, pp. 199-200, emphasis added).

    A world of design and purpose

    Is our complex universe really the work of a blind watchmaker, as some contend? Is that what we view about us every day? Is life on earth simply the product of chance, with no purpose and planning, no control or consequences?

    Accumulating evidence to the contrary is leading more and more scientists to question assumptions popular in scientific circles for years. Although few are willing to admit compelling evidence of God’s existence, many are admitting that everywhere they look they see evidence of a world that gives the appearance of intricate design down to the tiniest details (see “A Planet Perfect for Life”).

    The Bible acknowledges the obvious when it presents us with an explanation of life quite different from that espoused by Professor Dawkins. It presents the universe as the handiwork of a Creator.

    “Whence arises all the order and beauty we see in the world?” asked Sir Isaac Newton. The question is natural, and it was asked by a believing scientist who recognized the necessity of a cause for every effect. Actions have consequences. An intricately crafted universe points to an intelligent Designer.

    Albert Einstein also marveled at the order and harmony he and his fellow scientists observed throughout the universe. He noted that the religious feeling of the scientist “takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection” (The Quotable Einstein, Alice Calaprice, editor, 1996, p. 151).

    Martin Rees, professor of astronomy at Cambridge University, and science writer John Gribbin, discussing how finely tuned scientists have found the universe to be, note that “the conditions in our Universe really do seem to be uniquely suitable for life forms like ourselves, and perhaps even for any form of organic complexity . . . Is the Universe tailor-made for man?” (Cosmic Coincidences: Dark Matter, Mankind, and Anthropic Cosmology, 1989, p. 269, emphasis in original).

    Professor Davies expressed it this way: “Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as brute fact. There must, it seems to me, be a deeper level of explanation. Whether one wishes to call that deeper level ‘God’ is a matter of taste and definition . . . [I] believe that we human beings are built into the scheme of things in a very basic way” (The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World, p. 16).

    No wonder British astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle says: “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question” (Fred Heeren, Show Me God: What the Message From Space Is Telling Us About God, 1997, frontispiece, emphasis added).

    The persistence of unbelief

    Yet the belief stubbornly persists that God is not needed. Harvard University paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould summarizes his atheistic viewpoint: “No intervening spirit watches lovingly over the affairs [of mankind]. No vital forces propel evolutionary change. And whatever we think of God, his existence is not manifest in the products of nature” (Darwin’s Legacy, Charles Hamrum, editor, 1983, pp. 6-7).

    Supporters of evolution like to point out that acceptance of the idea of a divine Creator requires faith in someone or something we cannot see. Yet they are far from comfortable admitting that all who believe that life evolved from inert matter have faith in a theory that cannot be proven—and is founded on far more fragile evidence than that which supports the faith of believers in a Creator.

    Evolutionists’ faith assumes that our unimaginably complex universe created itself or somehow came to exist from nothing. They firmly believe in a chain of circumstances that defies not only logic, but also fundamental laws of physics and biology. (For a closer look at the creation-evolution controversy, be sure to request your free copy of the booklet Creation or Evolution: Does It Matter What You Believe?)

    Evolution has become, in a real sense, another religion. The faith of its followers is rooted in an unsubstantiated belief that the incredible universe, including the world around us teeming with an intricate variety of life, is the result of blind, random chance. It can offer no rational explanation for where the matter came from that made possible the universe and the supposed evolution of life.

    Sidestepping the issue of where matter and the universe originated, proponents of evolution begin with an existing universe operating according to harmonious and predictable laws. They recognize that those laws exist and function flawlessly. Yet they haven’t the slightest idea of their origin. They choose to ignore the overwhelming evidence that a great intelligence is behind these orderly and harmonious laws.

    Our universe works like a giant watch. The last 40 years of space exploration has shown the precision of the universe. It is because of this predictability that NASA can rely on split-second timing when launching men into space and sending spacecraft to explore planets so far away that it sometimes takes years to reach them even at speeds of thousands of miles per hour.

    Evidence of natural laws

    Astonishingly precise physical laws govern the universe. As Einstein put it: “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God” (The Quotable Einstein, p. 161).

    Astronomers can predict with amazing precision when a comet will return to our sky. Scientists can send spacecraft to land on other planets or orbit bodies millions of miles away. The heavenly bodies move in a thoroughly predictable fashion.

    On earth we can chart the position of stars and planets for any given day, month and year, forward or backward, with incredible accuracy. Calendars are useful because of the universe’s immutable laws. We can rely on the timing and position of the heavenly bodies because of the laws that govern their relationship. In a sense, the story of mankind is a story of our discovery of more and more of the laws that govern the cosmos.

    For example, we experience the effects of the law of gravity. Though gravity is something we can’t see, we know it exists. We know that it functions consistently. It is one of the fundamental laws of the universe. Similar laws govern every aspect of the universe—laws of energy, motion, mass, matter and life itself.

    What about evolution? Evolutionary theory holds that life arose from nonliving matter and over countless eons changed to form the astounding variety of life on earth.

    That very concept is contrary to one of the most basic of all natural laws: the law of biogenesis. Throughout nature biogenesis is abundantly evident: Life can come only from existing life, just as your life was conceived by living parents. Evolutionists, of course, argue against this principle but can produce no concrete evidence to the contrary.

    Evidence of a Grand Designer

    Let’s get to the crux of the matter: Why do we find so many dependable, predictable, finely tuned laws governing our existence? What is their origin? Did life arise by chance, or is something larger at work? There must be an explanation for the existence of everything. The number, precision and perfection of natural laws cannot be explained away as an accident. Such reasoning is irrational.

    Common sense tells us that the existence of an unimaginably magnificent universe structured on and sustained by innumerable laws of physics requires the existence of a Creator of those laws, a Designer of those structures.

    Some of the clearest evidence of God’s existence is in the awesome presence of design in the universe. Australian scientist Paul Davies put it well in his book The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World:

    “Human beings have always been awestruck by the subtlety, majesty, and intricate organization of the physical world. The march of the heavenly bodies across the sky, the rhythms of the seasons, the pattern of a snowflake, the myriads of living creatures so well adapted to their environment—all these things seem too well arranged to be a mindless accident. There is a natural tendency to attribute the elaborate order of the universe to the purposeful workings of a Deity” (p. 194).

    Another writer who saw clear proof of creation all around him was King David. Looking into the heavens 3,000 years ago, he discerned that he was viewing the handiwork of the Creator and that we can discern much about Him by that handiwork: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4, New International Version).

    The splendor of the night sky still moves us to wonder and awe. What are those tiny specks of light sparkling in the darkness of space? How did they get there? Why are they there? What lies beyond them in the unimaginable reaches of the universe? The grandeur of the shimmering heavens raises questions not just about the universe but about our part in it.

    The same is true of the intricate patterns in all things on earth, not just the world we see around us but the unseen world we can explore only through microscopes.

    A thousand years after King David expressed his awe at these marvels, the apostle Paul told Christians in Rome that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made . . .” (Romans 1:20, NIV).

    The writers of the Bible recognized in the creation much evidence of a great, all-wise Creator. They understood that the wonders we see around us shout the same message: Such astonishing design demands a Master Designer! Whether we are moved by the power of the sea, the grandeur of a mountain range, the delicate beauty of the first spring flowers or the birth of a child, as we look at the world around us we naturally conclude: This is the handiwork of a great Designer.

    Creation reveals the Creator

    Wrote theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne, president of Queens College, Cambridge, and a member of Britain’s Royal Society: “The intellectual beauty of the order discovered by science is consistent with the physical world’s having behind it the mind of the divine Creator . . . The finely tuned balance built into the laws determining the very physical fabric of the universe is consistent with its fruitful history being the expression of divine purpose” (Serious Talk: Science and Religion in Dialogue, 1995, p. viii).

    Michael Behe, associate professor of biochemistry at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University, concluded from his intensive study of the cell, the basic building block of life, that such tremendous complexity can be explained only by the existence of an intelligent Designer:

    “To a person who does not feel obliged to restrict his search to unintelligent causes, the straightforward conclusion is that many biochemical systems were designed. They were designed not by the laws of nature, not by chance and necessity; rather they were planned. The designer knew what the systems would look like when they were completed, then took steps to bring the systems about” (Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, 1996, p. 193, emphasis in original).

    His conclusion: “Life on earth at its most fundamental level, in its most critical components, is the product of intelligent design” (ibid.).

    The precision of our universe is not the result of an accident. It is the product of a meticulous Creator and Lawgiver, the universe’s Master Watchmaker.

  • Comment number 34.

    Djbennet -

    None of what you have just posited as proof, actually is.

    Here are two scientific concepts which instantly throw a spanner in the works of most of what you've said.

    - Chaos theory;
    and
    - An 'infinite' universe.

    Our universe is infinite. And in an infinite universe, there are an inifinite number of possibilities - ergo, intelligent design isn't the only theory which fits.

    And that means citing the wondrous minutiae of the universe isn't in itself proof of a God because those same minutiae can and do arise purely by chance.

    Random chance - however remote - is just as likely a possibility as intelligent design in an infinite universe.

    That's because in an infinite universe there are infinite chances for something to arise.

    The odds of something happening may be billions or even trillions to one, but because that number will always be less than infinity it can, and does, happen.

    Therefore, life spontaneously beginning, and adapting to its environment, however remote a possibility you believe it to be, is still just that - a possibility.

    That means that an intelligent creator isn't the only possibility out there - and thus, saying there must be a God simply because the universe is so magnificent, isn't in itself proof.

    You'll have to find evidence to hang your theory on, and you don't have any - or at least none which stands up to scientific scrutiny.

    There may or may not be a God - I personally believe that there may be - but in an infinite universe it is just as likely there isn't, and that means you can't just point at a flower, say how wonderful it is, and then say "that means there must be a God who designed it".

    That isn't evidence, because it does not disprove the infinite universe in which we exist.

  • Comment number 35.

    Having enjoyed the debate re God vs Science, Evolution vs Creationism, atheistism vs evangelical I would like to make a few points.

    1. Science does not have all the answers, if it did there would be nothing left for researchers to do. But science never offered all the answers what it has is a method for discovering and understanding answers around us. If there was real scientifically valid evidence to support ID or creationism then Science would be the first to support it.

    2. Science does not have a definitive answer to the first cause of the universe but is working on it. That doesn't automatically mean that any theory which states they know the answer without any proof, other than a book says so, is correct. You don't know so I must be right is an argument for the play-ground.

    3. The amazing fit of the Universe to support life, as we know it, is a valid area of study but remember you can always turn the argument around from 'the Universe was designed to fit us' to 'we wouldn't be here to say anything if the universe wasn't suitable for our kind of life'.

    4. Many of the arguments against evolution or indeed the scientific method ignore the great inter-connectedness (hope that is a real word) between all of science. Evolution for example is supported by Paleontology, Biology, Genetics & Geology and probably by other science disciplines.

    Anyway let the debate continue :)

  • Comment number 36.

    AngusMiasma:

    What about answered prayer? When God answers prayers that proves He exists. If God is powerful enough to answer prayers, then we can conclude that He is also powerful enough to have been responsible for creation.

  • Comment number 37.

    Just because something seems too infinitely complex, too incredible, too amazing, too beautiful, too momentous, too intricate, too utterly perfect for our human minds to currently comprehend, what gives one the inalienable right to automatically attribute its creation to some supernatural being for which there is no evidence or proof? It is a default mechanism of such arrogance that it beggars belief (or reinforces it, I guess, depending on your point of view). There was a time - not that long ago - when earthquakes, lightning, eclipses, even rainfall were utterly beyond our comprehension. (They were certainly way beyond our reasoning when the supposed creator of everything, including, seemingly, himself, apparently decided to reveal himself, his rules and his demands to mankind, then little more than illiterate, bloodthirsty Iron-Age tribes.) But mankind's insatiable thirst for knowledge continues to unravel the mysteries of the universe - slowly, bit by tiny bit. Not by looking for ways to make the evidence fit a foregone assumption, but by following the evidence wherever it may lead - making adjustments and corrections to fit what we know, not what we blindly believe. And with each progressive step we make, superstition and the outdated dependence of some on wishful thinking are diminished exponentially. (And by the way, Einstein also famously said: 'It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it'.)

  • Comment number 38.

    Proof that prayers are answered? Go on, I can't wait for this.

  • Comment number 39.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 40.

    Many fallaciously cite the enormous improbability of life arising on our planet, quoting odds of billions to one against it. However, they are mathematically in error, in the same way that a person having tossed a coin several times with a string of heads somehow thinks he is more likely to spin a tails on the next throw...

    The probability of life arising on Earth is 1.000 exactly!

    It has happened. Therefore its probability is unity.

    The Universe, as we understand it, may or may not be infinite; certainly the amount of matter in it is finite, though extremely large. Physically, we are not sure about the edges of our Universe, whether it can be modelled as a bubble that will continue to expand forever or will eventually contract inward under its own gravitational attraction (and much of that is determined by how much matter there truly is in the Universe).

    That the Universe is a wondrous breathtaking spectacle is undeniable. Beautiful it is, with or without a divine creator. And we are detecting various mathematical harmonies within its structure, but these are no more than is to be expected in a system that obeys the physical laws that came into existence several milliseconds after the Big Bang. Fractal mathematical relationships abound in nature, following not some artistic hand of an individual creator but the consequence of those pre-defined laws of physics and biology.

    Our own world is beautiful, containing some most intricate organisms and complex structures. Yet they are not perfect. Evolution by natural selection will always go for a fit-for-the-job solution to a problem, namely the endowment of a particular genome with the greater potential for successful reproduction.

    Stephen Jay Gould loved to cite the case of the Panda's thumb as an excellent example of a fit-for-purpose biological structure. The Giant Panda has a crude partially-flexible thumb, quite unlike the elegant structures of many primates, which it uses to grasp bamboo while eating. This thumb is not a true digit but rather a crude elongation of one of the wrist bones. One would expect that were such a creature to be specially designed by an omnipotent and benevolent Creator that He would have been kind enough to have given the panda a proper opposable thumb rather than the makeshift structure that it has!

    Surely, a far more logical explanation is that the panda's thumb evolved in response to evolutionary pressures; those proto-pandas that could better grasp bamboo with slightly elongated radial bones would have had a higher calorific intake, so would have been more likely to survive to sexual maturity and thus pass on this trait to the next generation.

    There are countless examples of fit-for-purpose biological solutions all around us. Many animals are not perfect, but are very well suited for our environment.

    The human species has, though the leverage of its vast intelligence, managed to detach itself from many of the constraints of nature and we find ourselves living in a time of biological disequilibrium.

    The gift, and curse, of our intellect has given us a great responsibility. We now need to acknowledge our position as part of Earth's natural ecosystem and use our stewardship to ensure the survival of not only our own race but of all those species borne from the same primordial soup.


  • Comment number 41.

    I know I'm a wee bit late for this thread but nonetheless!

    "14. At 11:03pm on 01 Feb 2009, djbennett999 wrote:

    Some questions:

    Why are we here?
    What's our purpose in life?
    Where did we come from?
    What are the origins of life?
    What happens after we die?
    How can our problem of sin be solved?"

    1. Chance. Simple as that.
    2. To live, survive, in some cases reproduce
    3. we evolved from simpler creatures.
    4. "Goo"
    5. Nothing. We are dead.(Part of me hopes I'm REALLY wrong about that I'll give you but I'm not thinking St Peter will be at a set of gates awaiting my arrival, or likewise the Man himself downstairs is awaiting me!)
    6. There is no problem with "sin". Murder, rape etc I don't think should be allowed to happen but sin as it is in the scriptures is a Human concept.

    The human species isn't all that special, and to think that some Divine being is taking a particular interest in us and attempting to guide us as incredibley narcissistic!

  • Comment number 42.

    Post # 30 said

    ""Debates on evolution theory often annoyingly lead to an 'Evolution' vs 'Creationism' argument." That's true but only when creationists join in."

    Looking at the debate it is noticible that the early posts were definitely raising the issue. But they were predominantly anti creationism, anti religious. It didn't need the creationists to join in to become polarised. It is not only creationist who twist the data and report what they want to hear.

    But, in fact that should hardly be surprising to anyone. The paradigm under which we all operate is not that of science operating under the burden of disproof but rather of science finding ways to make the data fit the paradigm. It is quite clear that the 'big' parts of the model are not up for rational discussion. Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Evolution, to name just three are not up for grabs. It is inconceivale to suggest that they might be and if anyone does question them then scorn is pured upon their intelectual ability and often on their moral culpability.

    I am not standing anywhere in this debate. I am merely pointing out that the paragraph above could easily be rewritten - indeed it already has been rewritten frequently - with the three centres replaced by religion generally and christianity in particular, creationism and Intelligent design

    Until people are prepared to question their basic presuppositions then the debates between the "sides" can go nowhere because no one is being very honest. In no way am I denying that I too am a child of this age and as such I accept that science works but I do not raise it to the level of a religion with unquestionable in the sense of "can not be questioned" assumptions.

  • Comment number 43.

    Bonnyjars, you make pertinent points about accepting things without question. And I agree that nothing should ever be beyond debate or accepted on face value.

    I also note that you are coming from a neutral point of view, so what I now write is not intended as a rebuttal of what you say, it's merely my take on the subject.

    My own personal view is this. A lot of those who hold evolution dear to their heart aren't doing so from a near 'religious' belief in the concept, or because it's been drilled into them from birth, or because they accept it on face value.

    Instead they accept it because of the evidence around them - it has a sound scientific basis with reams of supporting documentation that stands up to closer examination.

    And when creationists then wander into the debate and deny 150 years of solid evidence with nary a wave of their hand, and without any solid evidence of their own, it naturally puts people's backs up.

    It's an understandable human response to such a blatant lack of respect for the evidence.

    I'm sure most people can relate to it as well. Who here hasn't at one time put forward a well rounded, clear and concise argument only for the person they are addressing to dismiss it out of hand and offer the peremptory response "because", when asked to back up their own opinion?

    That is what many people in the scientific community believe creationists are doing, and this in turn makes scientists understandably 'proprietorial' towards the concept of evolution.

    You only need to read some of this thread to see that very same thing in its own self-contained microcosm.

    After numerous posts between himself and evolutionists on this thread, Djbennett's various examples had all been rebuffed through measured debate, and he resorted instead to citing "answered prayers" as proof that creationism exists.

    The incredulous responses that followed speak for themselves.

    God answering one's prayers is a concept which can never be comprehensively proven one way or another - and as such has no place in science, which is the study of the physical world and relies on quantifiable observation.

    At its heart creationism is alien to science because it relies too heavily on faith alone, and as such is at loggerheads with the very cornerstone of sound scientific investigation.

    That is why scientists get 'tetchy' over the debate - and I totally understand why.

    It does not, however, mean that scientists have accepted evolution without question. You only need to look at Darwin's initial reticence in publishing the Origin of Species to see this for itself.

    I'd like to stress that I'm not saying science has all the answers - it doesn't, and in an infinite universe it never could.

    I also believe faith can, and does, play a big role for every single person, but there is no space for it in a discipline which, by its very nature, needs to remain dispassionate and let the evidence alone do the talking.

    Faith is subjective, which is something that good science should never be; and creationism and intelligent design are concepts that are based on faith.

  • Comment number 44.

    AngusMiasma:

    "God answering one's prayers is a concept which can never be comprehensively proven one way or another - and as such has no place in science, which is the study of the physical world and relies on quantifiable observation."

    I can give examples of God answering prayer:

    When Peter was put in prison the church prayed about the situation:

    Acts 12:5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.

    They were making big requests to God. And what happened? An angel of the Lord came and rescued Peter from prison:

    ACTS 12
    6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
    7 And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.
    8 And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
    9 And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.
    10 When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.

    That is an example of answered prayer proving that God exists and that He does in fact answer prayer.

    For a modern day example of this, read the story of Brother Yun in China. God helped him escape from prison.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brother_Yun

    I quote:

    After many years in prison, he escaped from Zhengzhou Maximum Security prison from which it is reported that nobody had previously escaped[citation needed]. He described how he heard the voice of the Holy Spirit, telling him to simply walk out the heavily guarded prison gate. Risking being shot to death on the spot, he wrote later that he obeyed the voice, and walked straight through several prison doors that were somehow left open in front of many prison guards, across the prison yard and finally out of the main gate. Yun stated that it was as if he had become invisible to the guards who stared straight through him. Although many expressed doubts that such a thing could happen, some prison guards had apparently lost their jobs for this 'embarrassing mishap.' It is reported that the official investigation by the Chinese Government concluded that "Yun received no human help in his escape." It is claimed that these reports have been also confirmed by numerous prisoners who occupied the same prison cell as Yun. Apparently, he remains the only person to have escaped from this notorious maximum security prison.

    ---
    When God answers these prayers that proves He exists and if He can answer prayers I have no problem in believing He could have been responsible for Creation.

  • Comment number 45.

    Djbennett.

    I'll try to keep this as brief as possible because people are probably sick to the back teeth of my meanderings.

    While I admire your belief and your faith, quoting passages from the Bible is not 'evidence' in itself.

    These are passages written down hundreds of years ago and which cannot be verified by impartial witnesses or to a watertight standard.

    Scientific evidence is evidence in which methodology and findings are both required and both equally important.

    How a scientist reached their conclusions is just as important as what they've discovered. The Bible doesn't show how those 'conclusions' you cite were reached.

    When Peter or Paul writes that God heard their prayers, science has to look at what they say as only their word - they don't supply proof that what they say actually happened.

    And while I wouldn't dream of saying that they made it up - and please believe me when I say I wouldn't - science has to look at these things dispassionately and impartially.

    And without corroborating evidence science simply can't give a disciple's word any more weight than that of the man on the street's.

    Science is the ultimate leveller. Without the necessary methodology and evidence to back up an assertion - any assertion - they cannot be used in a measured scientific debate.

    As soon as science accepts something purely on face value the very bedrock of scientific investigation falls away.

 

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