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'We should be thankful to Charles Darwin'

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William Crawley | 13:01 UK time, Thursday, 17 February 2011

Yesterday's Thought for the Day has started something of a debate (which is always the danger when you think aloud on the radio). The Reverend Simon Henning, minister of Ballyblack Presbyterian Church, near Newtownards, used his two and a half minutes to make the case for theistic evolution -- the claim that God used the processes of biological evolution to bring about the creation of human beings. Here's the full text of his TFTD.

There's an old and apocryphal story that when an old firebrand preacher died people went through his sermon notes, and to their surprise, written in the margins were the words, 'argument weak, shout louder'.

Last Thursday the world celebrated Darwin Day. Here in Northern Ireland I wasn't aware of any such celebrations, and so you might think that Darwin is considered to be irrelevant in this part of the world, but I think that would be a mistake. You might also be forgiven for thinking there are only two sides to the Evolution debate: the radical New Atheists on the one side and the Young Earth Creationists on the other. But that's not the full story. There are many people of faith who fully embrace evolution as scientific fact - many of whom are involved in biology, and the other sciences. Theistic Evolution allows for the truth of evolution through natural selection while still able to embrace a godly component to it.

But wait, I hear you cry. Isn't evolution only a theory? Shouldn't it be treated as merely hypothetical, simply an idea with very little to back it up? The Theory of Evolution has the same scientific standing as Atomic Theory, the Germ Theory of disease, and the Theory of Gravity. If you think that gravity is simply an idea with very little to back it up, then might I suggest taking your most prized possession to the top of a tall building, shouting out loud "it's only a theory", then throwing it off. Don't forgot to record those results now, won't you?

Some people might also tell you about the mass of scientists who deny evolution and they may even produce lists of them. This looks very impressive, but the truth of the matter is even more impressive. Statistically, there are more historians who deny the Holocaust than biologists who deny evolution.

We should be thankful to Charles Darwin. His pioneering work, coupled with the later evidence of DNA, shows not that we were planted on the Earth, but that we come from the earth. We're chemically related to the rocks, and we're biologically related to plants and animals. We're not separate from creation; we're part of it.

Knowing this should transform how we treat one another, because apart from superficial differences like skin colour and facial features, we are all genetically related - and so the people of China, South America, Indonesia, North Africa, and all points in between really are my brothers and sisters. And it should also transform how we treat other animals as well as the ecosystems they reside in.

But to our shame we don't tend to hear that. What we do tend to hear are the noisy calls from those on the extremes. Argument weak, shout louder.


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  • Comment number 1.

    What a thoughtful and balanced comment.

  • Comment number 2.

    This Simon Henning chap is on the right tracks, now all he needs to do is shake off that theistic moniker and accept god has nothing to do with it.

  • Comment number 3.

    It's refreshing to read Rev. Simon Henning's Thought for the Day. I think humanity is often held to ransom by either extreme- both very noisy and draining. A much more measured approach, as Simon Henning's shows, is healthier and it'd be great if this was expressed more. I guess the middle ground is often pulled apart by both extremes.

  • Comment number 4.

    Simon is an intelligent chap, and he makes some good points. It is worth mentioning, perhaps, that evolution works whether there is a "theistic" input into it or not - I am presuming he doesn't make a case for "theistic gravity". In one scenario, you could (I imagine) postulate that a god could get a big old universe chugging along like this one, and wait for an appropriate species to arise perfectly naturally, then decide to decloak when it was smart enough - that would at least avoid the rather silly notions that "god directed evolution" - if he had done that, our retinas and recurrent laryngeal nerves would be more sensibly arranged, as would our spinal columns and genitalia. The point about the mechanism of evolution is not just that we all share a common ancestor (as even Michael Behe acknowledges), but that the changes that occurred in the various lineages occurred without *any* view to long term consequences. No teleology. Purely naturalistic. Endless forms most beautiful - Charlie said it best.

    I think it is unfortunate that some theistic evolutionists feel the need to shoe-horn their deity into a very uncomfortable position of being really smart and really dim at the same time, yet they can't resist a dig at the "New Atheists". Let's face it - there are no "gaps" in evolution that require the presence of a god to fill them. The conclusion that gods do not actually exist is a perfectly reasonable one. The New Atheists, like the old atheists, simply point this out, and refuse to accept really rubbish arguments for the existence of the gods. So it's not new, it's not strident, it's not shrill - it's simply *principled*.

    So by all means continue to believe in a god who harvests the fruits of evolution - if you really *must*, but do not try to pretend that a god is required to *direct* it. If there is a god, it knows this already. Which suggests that any god that might exist is probably not in communication with Christians, at least not on matters of science.

    Happy belated Darwin Day! :-)

  • Comment number 5.

    I did like this bit though:
    We should be thankful to Charles Darwin. His pioneering work, coupled with the later evidence of DNA, shows not that we were planted on the Earth, but that we come from the earth. We're chemically related to the rocks, and we're biologically related to plants and animals. We're not separate from creation; we're part of it.

    I would dispute that this in itself normatively implies how we should conduct our lives - that would be the naturalistic fallacy. But as a species I hope we are grown up and sensible enough to work out for ourselves how we should interact with those we share the planet with. Our very small planet, orbiting one relatively insignificant sun among billions of indistinguishable suns in our pretty bog-standard galaxy, itself only one among billions of virtually indistinguishable galaxies. We are Very Very Very small, but clever wee skitters for all that.

  • Comment number 6.

    Does the good reverend use the royal 'we' here? No biologist worthy of the name denies evolution - none. Not one. There is esoteric debate about the minutiae of how it takes place, but even that is pretty much settled. It's encapsulated in the very public debate that took place between Richard Dawkins and the late Stephen Jay Gould, which Dawkins won.

    I notice this man had the good sense to leave his god out of it, because his particular god is rendered impossible by Darwin's theory. That is why it scares the pants off religious gatekeepers. It is a beautiful theory which shows the cousinship of all life and is infinitely more noble than anything purveyed by the big religions.

    As Darwin himself said in On the Origin of Species: "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

    Why the need to tack theism onto this, other than to keep one's personal god in the picture? From an evolutionary perspective, many different scientific disciplines are examining the possibility of religion and spirituality as evolved traits, and our disposition to religious practice and spiritual experiences as explicable in neurobiological terms. This process has been ongoing for about 30 years, but in the past decade it has got real traction and begun to speed along mightily. It will continue.

    Writ large: Darwinism, and science in general, does not need a god. Notions about god are corrosive to science because once one introduces a god into the picture one tends to stop asking questions, which is pitifully obvious when one looks at the long part of our history when it was unthinkable that he didn't exist.

    The man looks as though he's being conciliatory. He isn't. He's got his heels firmly dug in and he has interest in keeping his god in the picture. So we've had creationism (creationists take note, this man finds you embarrassing), through 'intelligent design' and now 'theistic evolution'. Trash upon trash. Risible and despicable.

  • Comment number 7.

    I like the way that New Atheists are bracketed with Young Earth Creationists. Just plain misleading, also he avoids the issues for Christianity that evolution raises eg Why would a loving God choose a mechanism like evolution which contains so much suffering and waste when he could just as easily avoided it?

  • Comment number 8.

    AF, Gould was an atheist; the debate with Dawkins was really about the unit of selection - the gene or the group. In some ways it was a silly debate, and sadly I think Gould never got the point - that ecology is not the same thing as evolution. I think Gould was a lot less rigorous than Dawkins in sorting out what was really going on, so like most biologists I came down on Dawkins' side, although I liked Gould's attempt to grasp the Big Picture. His Americanisms and baseball fetish were a bit tedious though.

  • Comment number 9.

    Theistic evolution covers quite a broad spectrum. This includes the idea of a personal God to the more Panentheistic impersonal God.

    Previous posters have implied that TE equates with a 'god of the gaps' system of thought. Any worldview that shoehorns god into the inexplicable deserves no-one's respect.

    All I'm saying is that TE comes in a variety of flavours

  • Comment number 10.


    I tip my hat. The good reverend swings the door wide open to the naturalistic fallacy and the joys of pseudoscientific social Darwinism. Look where that got us.

    If he took what he says seriously he could probably foresee that. But he doesn't. It's weedy opportunism. It makes me want to boke.

    And it's just struck me that Darwin refers to "the fixed law of gravity" in the quote above. I think evolution is probably deserving of the same term of reference now.

  • Comment number 11.

    Only so much can be covered in 2 mins 30 secs. Its not surprising things were left out or unanswered. TFTD isn't like Monty Python's sketch about the competition to try and summarise the entire works of Proust in 20 seconds.

    I think the point he was making was that the loudest and most prominent voices in the 'debate' come from the New Atheists and Y E Creationists. There are a huge number of people who populate the middle ground and for whom evolution and faith are not mutually exclusive.

  • Comment number 12.

    I agree with you about the Americanisms and baseball fetish. I've read most of The Richness of Life, which is a great Gould reader, After Darwin and Rocks of Ages in which he sets out, trying to be conciliatory from the science side, his fallacious idea of NOMA, or Non-Overlapping Magisteria. I say fallacious because quite obviously, as the cleric above seems to recognise, these magisteria do overlap.

    I've been very fortunate in my line of work to have interviewed AC Grayling, the head of biomedical science at Queen's, and none other than Ken Ham during his 2008 NI visit about these issues. (Ham didn't accept NOMA, unsurprisingly. I don't see how Gould honestly could either.)

  • Comment number 13.


    Evolution and the god of the Bible are mutually exclusive. There simply are no two ways about that, unless you have a half-baked understanding of one or the other. A half-baked understanding of the god of the Bible isn't going to do too much harm, unless of course you use it as an excuse to commit some atrocity, but I think that to promulgate a half-baked understanding of Darwinism is to do us a very great disservice. It's misleading, it's dishonest and it's corrupting. Rather typical of a religious man, frankly.

  • Comment number 14.

    Henning employs sleigh of hand to present himself as a reasoned moderate. He presents two incompatible views which listeners are supposed to think are equally extreme; but in truth only one of them is irrational. He then offers listeners a "middle" way which could include, although he does not make this explicit, Intelligent Design nonsense.

    AboutFace is right to highlight Henning's opportunism. It is a pincer movement by God's Army.

  • Comment number 15.


    "Notions about god are corrosive to science because once one introduces a god into the picture one tends to stop asking questions, which is pitifully obvious when one looks at the long part of our history when it was unthinkable that he didn't exist."

    The "long part of our history" you refer to was when, with God's help, our ancestors laid down the foundations* for the Christian civilization which suddenly seems so eminently expendable - and in favour of what, exactly?

    "Evolution and the god of the Bible are mutually exclusive."

    This is simply false. Pope John Paul II said that the Book of Genesis is "...as much poetry as it is history", and also that evolution was "more than a theory".

    *ie the schools and universities, political institutions, judicial systems, magnificent Churches and Cathedrals etc. Please, all those people who sneer at the Middle Ages, try looking down your noses at the Cathedral in Chartres.

  • Comment number 16.

    Oops, sorry; Pope John Paul II said "more than a hypothesis".

    'In an October 22, 1996, address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul II updated the Church's position to accept evolution of the human body:

    "In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points....Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies – which was neither planned nor sought – constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory."'

  • Comment number 17.

    What's your point? Very gracious of John Paul to allow that it's "more than a theory". Pity Benedict is rolling that back.

    But yeah, what exactly is your point? Make it and then I'll have something to say in response.

  • Comment number 18.

    Benedict XVI, April 11, 2007, on John Paul II's statement:

    "The pope [John Paul] had his reasons for saying this. But it is also true that the theory of evolution is not a complete, scientifically proven theory."

  • Comment number 19.

    The Baltimore Catechism:
    "48. What is man?
    Man is a creature composed of body and soul, and made to the image and likeness of God.

    And God created man to his own image. (Genesis 2:7)

    49. Is this likeness to God in the body or in the soul?
    This likeness to God is chiefly in the soul.

    50. How is the soul like God?
    The soul is like God because it is a spirit having understanding and free will, and is destined to live forever.

    And the dust return into its earth, from whence it was, and the spirit return to God, who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7)"
    It's more about the soul than the body.

  • Comment number 20.

    The point is that you present a conventional but hackneyed view of history, as one long inexorable journey from darkness, when people's lives were "nasty, brutish and short", into light, when all that remains is to "unshackle" ourselves from the restraints which you believe were unthinkingly accepted by previous generations. I don't think you have to be Genghis Khan to see that many if not all of those restraints served the interests of the progress of civilization and we abandon them at our peril.

  • Comment number 21.

    The only thing that I personally have to thank Charles Darwin for is that he has deepened my Christian faith. I believe in creation as is found in the Holy Bible and that's good enough for me.

  • Comment number 22.

    I think you're reading quite a lot into what I said that's not there, and then you get very vague about these "restraints" and "unshacklings" but you know they were good. What were they? And what have they got to do with religion?

    You're not very clear at all.

    And in any case, we have emerged into relative light, and we have managed it in spite of religion, not because of it.

  • Comment number 23.

    Ms Cracker ** It's more about the soul than the body**


  • Comment number 24.

    I myself have doubts about Darwin and his theory: I severely doubt it bears the creationist weight placed upon it by the New Atheists; I gravely doubt the intellectual capacity of people who use the theory as the explanation of absolutely everything from what goes on in a black hole to the psychology of humans to the shape of a gnat's eyelid; I really doubt the integrity of those who claim it diproves the existance of God and finally I doubt that Darwin himself - who wobbled between benign agnosticism and deistic belief - would be too happy about those who celebrate him as the man who killed God.

  • Comment number 25.

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

  • Comment number 26.


    Refering to it as "Darwin and his theory" is as wrong as refering to gravity as "Newton and his theory". Evolutionary theory is so far removed from what Darwin proposed there's very little left of his original idea, save from the over-arching method of natural selection. The continued use by, mainly American, creationists of terms like 'Darwinism' and 'Darwinian evolution' is an attempt to claim evolution is some form of religion (as if being a religion is a bad thing?) and Darwin some latter day prophet.

    It doesn't disprove the existance of god (LSV take note!) but rather it makes the questions of the existance of god irrelevant to questions of origins. We have a robust, well researched and testable theory that explains The Way Things Are without calling on duex ex machina answers like the creationist crowd love to employ (don't know the answer? Goddit!).

  • Comment number 27.

    Nat, I would recommend going back and reading "Origin" - Darwin got a *lot* right. But yes, our understanding of evolution has developed considerably since then, and we know a great deal about how evolution actually works. Yes, creationists and other ignorant commentators do frequently sound off about "Darwin and his theory" without having a clue as to what the word "theory" actually means.

    In this context, "theory" is *categorically* different from "hypothesis". It is NOT even a "well confirmed hypothesis". THEORY is a body of knowledge by which we understand a process. A systematic conceptualisation of the phenomena that we are looking at. Evolution is a fact, and the Theory of Evolution is the conceptual framework by which we understand that fact (or body of facts).

    That's the way this works, people, and in that respect Simon is entirely correct - creationists/cdesign proponentsists are attempting to deny FACTS, not hypotheses. If Christians (or Muslims or Hindus or fans of any other gods) can integrate that into their worldview, well and good. But don't pretend that pixies direct or control evolution - they don't.

    And Casur1, gnats don't have eyelids, and biological evolution is irrelevant to what goes on in black holes. Sheesh! That said, doubt is good. I suggest you start doubting the existence of the gods. That would be a useful start.

  • Comment number 28.

    I must admit that I do feel a certain kind of 'gratitude' to Charles Darwin, or rather to his contemporary disciples. Whatever niggling doubts I may occasionally have had about my beliefs have certainly been put to rest by the performance I have witnessed on this blog.

    So thank you for all the illogicality, failure to understand the theory of probability (weasel fallacy), inability to understand the limits of the scientific method, conflation of totally different concepts of 'testing' (testing gravity - yes; testing macro-evolution - ??), wild extrapolation from observed events that have no bearing on the concluding hypothesis, inability to understand the basics of epistemology, dodging questions about reason and consciousness, circular arguments, special pleading, begging the question, straw men, ad hominems, unjustified association of ideas with accepted absurdities and I could go on...

    It's impressive. And highly reassuring to those who won't be cowed into accepting a desperate and incoherent philosophical construct dressed up in scientific clothes.

    Well done, chaps. You're all doing well. Keep up the good work!

  • Comment number 29.

    I wish this 'Reverend' would read this couple of verses from Timothy

    "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables."

    My Bible is like the highway code to me. I find it best to follow it. I don't accommodate my American friends by driving on the right when they visit me here.

    The mechanics of how my car works interest me just as the science seen in all the creation also tells me much about my life here on Earth. But when it comes to truth I'll stick to the Bible.

  • Comment number 30.

    So, Helio, evolution is irrelevant to what goes on in a black hole? Perhaps you should tell that to one R Dawkins, who seems to be enamoured of Lee Smolin's theory that new galaxies and universes are being created inside black holes even as we speak, and being 'fitted' by evolution for survival. Or at least that's the impression I took from 'The God Delusion'. I suspect, of course, that you know full well the point I'm making, but in the debating-society manner of the New Atheists, you answer the question you want to answer, not the one posed.

    To make it clear, the New Atheists' use of evolution to explain absolutely everything in every sphere and every discipline is reminisent of the old style Communists. Whatever it was, social, economic, political, there was always an explanation in the Communist Manifesto, or Das Kapital; it's just that it took the REALLY smart people to be able to apply it to an individual situation. So when the Nazis marched into Vienna and the workers did not rise up as expected, well, that just shows that bourgeois capitalism is having its last kick. Any day now, comrades, any day...

    Psyco-analysis is another such theory. Whatever ailed you, it's the sexual urge gone wrong (or the will to power, if you're an Adlerian). The point is the total and ridiculous reductionism, the idiot notion that absolutely anything can be explained in terms of the theory. As you might say, sheesh!

    On a wider point, I persistantly fail to understand why NAs go into full Violet Elizabeth Bott mode whenever they can't shove their atheism down somebody else's throat. It's like two men walking across the desert. One decides there's no hope and sits down waiting to die, the other decides to battle on to the last fortified with hope, however delusional one might imagine that hope to be. The second is doing no harm to the first, and even has a chance of survival, but the first demands that he sit down beside him to share his fate. Why ever would he do such a stupid thing? The old Mark I atheists were never like that. What the hell happened to you people?

  • Comment number 31.


    "So thank you for all the illogicality, failure to understand the theory of probability (weasel fallacy), inability to understand the limits of the scientific method, conflation of totally different concepts of 'testing' (testing gravity - yes; testing macro-evolution - ??), wild extrapolation from observed events that have no bearing on the concluding hypothesis, inability to understand the basics of epistemology, dodging questions about reason and consciousness, circular arguments, special pleading, begging the question, straw men, ad hominems, unjustified association of ideas with accepted absurdities and I could go on..."

    Hey, you don't need to thank us all for that list of your character traits. You're more than welcome keeping the stereotype of creationists alive and well.

  • Comment number 32.

    LSV, you're so *adorable*!

    So what is this "weasel fallacy" then? Would you care to enlighten us with your detailed probabilistic analysis thereof? Because I suspect that your mathematical abilities are every bit as marvellous as your philosophical ones. Bless.

  • Comment number 33.


    "What the hell happened to you people?"

    Two things.

    1) We got sick of being told by theists what to believe, how to behave and who to hate.

    2) All the evidence says you're wrong. Get over it.

    Nice analogy, but in my view, the theist is the one sitting down ("It'll all be better in heaven when we die") wheras the one who carries on walking is the atheist ("We need to do well here, as it's all we get").

  • Comment number 34.

    Casur1 (@ 30) -

    "The old Mark I atheists were never like that. What the hell happened to you people?"

    1. Because they know they're wrong - so, when in denial, shout louder.

    2. Because after the fall of communism, they hope we'll all forget the embarrassment of the kind of 'liberated' societies produced by state atheism.

    3. An inability to comprehend the idea of not tarring everyone with the same brush (the kind of simple anti-discrimination moral lesson one usually learns in primary school). Hence 9/11 is the fault of 'religion', ergo belief in God etc. blah blah blah

    4. Poker table envy. They're jealous of people who can bluff with a straight face, so they try it out themselves on blogs, where we can't see their pretty faces. (Errm. This last one was 'tongue in cheek', by the way!)

    I am sure there are many more, but that'll do for now...

  • Comment number 35.

    Helio (@ 32) -

    "So what is this "weasel fallacy" then? Would you care to enlighten us with your detailed probabilistic analysis thereof?"

    Well, my dear sir, in answer to your gracious enquiry: perchance my noble friend may wish to betake himself to another thread and apprise himself of the illuminating offerings therein (#39 onwards). Bon voyage!

    (You may be pleased to know that I put in a little mention for you in #55).

  • Comment number 36.

    1. Because they know they're wrong - so, when in denial, shout louder.

    Citation required.

    2. Because after the fall of communism, they hope we'll all forget the embarrassment of the kind of 'liberated' societies produced by state atheism.

    Strawman #1 - Communism = Atheism
    Strawman #2 - Totalitarianism = Atheism
    Falsehood #1 - Theistic nations have better standards of living and tolerance than secular ones.
    LSV moment #1 - Bringing up points refuted a thousand times (PRATT)

    3. An inability to comprehend the idea of not tarring everyone with the same brush (the kind of simple anti-discrimination moral lesson one usually learns in primary school). Hence 9/11 is the fault of 'religion', ergo belief in God etc. blah blah blah

    Strawman #3 - All atheists hate all religious people.

    Speaking of probability and all that, are you going to comment on my blind men post or quietly ignore it?

  • Comment number 37.

    Natman -

    "Speaking of probability and all that, are you going to comment on my blind men post or quietly ignore it?"

    Goodness me, Natman. I know our 'atoms and molecules' life is short in this material world, but come on, a bit of patience wouldn't go amiss! I can answer your post, and I will do so shortly (probably this evening).

  • Comment number 38.

    LSV, you said a selection element can only be the result of intelligent intervention. That is a grossly silly thing to say. Selection is selection, whether it is artificial or natural. The weasel program is just a demonstrator of the power of selection - that is all. Cretins like John Lennox are the ones seeking to make more of it than it is supposed to demonstrate. Yes, I have read "God's Undertaker"; I have not published my critique of that mess of nonsense, but you never know your luck. Quite why this gentleman should be accorded the label of a "philosopher of science" is not clear, as he is an incompetent philosopher and an even less competent scientist. He is an *apologist*, and that's about it.

  • Comment number 39.

    Helio (@ 38) -

    "LSV, you said a selection element can only be the result of intelligent intervention. That is a grossly silly thing to say. Selection is selection, whether it is artificial or natural. The weasel program is just a demonstrator of the power of selection - that is all."

    Oh dear. I seem to have had a little 'telling off'! Will I ever get over this bombshell?

    Uhmm. Yeah, I think I will, actually, because the concept of selection proposed by the weasel programme postulates a mechanism, which is able to define a target letter (how is that done randomly? Answer: it isn't.), recognise when the target letter has been hit (again something that could not happen in a blind random process, because there is no recognition at all, since there is no guiding plan or guiding mechanism), this letter is then retained (in other words, some outside mechanism has come in and isolated that letter according to some preconceived plan - again a total violation of a fully random process) and then 'joined' it to the next correct letter (again something that could not happen except in a consciously controlled, planned and interactive environment, which relies on a function absent within randomness). And don't start coming out with the Turing argument, because, as I have pointed out (and anyone with two brain cells can see this) the Turing machine had to be first intelligently set up and calibrated in order to go on its merry way (its 'merry way' occurring within an environment thoroughly conducive to its efficient functioning, having been intelligently constructed for this purpose).

    What Dawkins calls his algorithm is actually the function of a process of intelligence (where did the algorithm come from?). It's a very cute device, and it's a vain attempt to get round the fact that he recognises how nonsensical the random formation of life is: "You don't need to be a mathematician or a physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck." (The Blind Watchmaker, p.9).

    "The weasel program is just a demonstrator of the power of selection - that is all."

    Ah yes, of course. You realise that randomness won't cut it as far as the development of life is concerned, so an 'algorithm' is conceived as a model to attempt to prove a point about non-randomness in nature, and then when it is shown to be a fallacy, you then say: "Ah, but this is just a model and nothing to do with the development of life anyway!" Fine. So we're back to randomness then.

    The problem is that you are reading teleology into nature, when it doesn't exist, and then using all sorts of devices to give the impression that nature possesses some kind of inherent 'intelligence' (selection ability), when in fact it does not. I don't think you and your fellow naturalists can actually conceive of the implications of a total lack of intelligence behind the formation of life. In a truly mindless universe there are no algorithms, no plans, no purpose, no survival agenda, no reason, no choice of one thing over another, no meaningful information, no selection mechanism. Of course we cannot conceive of such a reality, because such absolute mindlessness doesn't exist. It's a dark fantasy that our minds simply cannot comprehend (since our minds were not created to comprehend such a thing), and so we pretend that nature isn't really as mindless as all that, hence all the guff about the anthropic principle.

    "Cretins like John Lennox..."

    What was I saying about ad hominems? Thank you for that. Very reassuring. And extremely revealing! (Although I don't how you got away with it, since I used a similar word recently concerning the Christian leader of a particular vociferous pressure group and it was modded away!)

    It's clear to me that the only reason you refer to John Lennox in this unscholarly fashion is due to the fact that he reaches conclusions that are not to your liking. So instead of taking the intellectual challenge 'like a man', you resort to insults. I am sure that you must realise - in your better moments - that you can do much better than that.

  • Comment number 40.

    *Responding to 29 (LuxFuit): Those who will have no truck with faith may choose to skip the following paragraph since it is entirely, and unapologetically, a matter of faith/belief.

    The same attempt to claim higher spiritual ground (bible v science approach) was presumably argued about the earth being/not being the centre of the universe in Galileo's/Kepler's day. Why are some more offended by the notion that God constructed us from a common ancestor with other primates than that He did so directly from dirt? Believers who treasure the Bible must approach it with humility and be ready to question what misunderstandings or assumptions they may be bringing to the reading of the Word, and be truly open to the Spirit's guiding. God does not confine himself to revealing himself through scripture, as scripture itself testifies (burning bush, talking ass, finger writing on a wall, star in the East....heck, Astrologers!). God is not in a battle with bona fide scientific investigation (nor does He call us to be)- he rules over it, and who is to say that He does not reveal more of himself through it (if we are prepared to see Him do so). "The heaven's declare..." So why,as Father, would He not be anything other than delighted in his children (using the abilities He has given us) exploring the heavens, and the earth. The issue is whether there is a reading of scripture which is valid and consistent with what appears to be new (or not-so-new!)information emerging from other quarters; even better if a contextual understanding of the writer and original reader leads us in the same direction. If we rigidly maintain what subsequently proves to be an erroneous understanding, we do justice neither to the authority of scripture, nor to the faith we profess.

    *Responding to 4 (Heliopolitan) & 6 (AboutFace):
    I readily concur with Rev Henning, and altho devoid of theological training, have delivered a very similar talk, albeit not one which was broadcast. Mine lasted an hour and touched on physics and cosmology as well as evolution, and included some music.

    Accusations/questions of "shoehorning" God into evolution, "why not theistic gravity," "why the need to tack theism onto" evolution, are brilliant examples of missing the point entirely. I agree that neither 'science' nor 'darwinism' need a God, but I contend that people and the cosmos do - not to explain them/it mechanistically but to achieve their full potential. Theists DO believe in theistic gravity, theistic electromagnetic radiation (let there be light!), theistic chemistry, theistic biology, theistic love.... in a God of the the entire cosmos. What else do the opening lines of the early creeds of the Church teach?! The point is that it's only THIS realm of scientific findings that needs qualified by the adjective Theistic - since atheists (and sadly some theists) presume that it can only be accepted in an atheistic worldview. In my view, among theists this is because of a theologically impoverished view of creation (a) as a once only event in the past, when in fact it's ongoing (b) to the detriment of God's role as Sustainer. God does not sustain his creation with a straight jacket, but gives it freedom. The text is NOT 'in Him we live and sit still and merely continue existing' but "in Him we live and move and have our being." Creation is carrying out the ordinance to be fruitful, and indeed is still groaning with new possibilities... and we (theists in particular) need to grow up and realise it's not just all about us....

    Both atheists and some theists can't seem to shake off the binary approach of "natural processes" v God. With greater understanding of nature, those who persist with this approach, constrain God (whether He's an imaginary concept or a divine being) to the gaps in knowledge. I consider both groups to have set out from the wrong starting position. God is more concerned with relationship, purpose, meaning, and destination than with knowledge. However, the latter arguably can enrich the others, and perhaps is one component of "abundant life." It is a mistake to attempt to prove God's existence on the back of ignorance of the mechanisms of natural processes, and an equal mistake to conclude there is no (or progressively less) need for God on the back of increasing knowledge of the same. It is nothing less than arrogant for this generation to conclude that those in previous generations/centuries had more "need" for God because they had less knowledge of natural processes.

    As has been often said, the issue is one of choice of how to perceive things. The scientific method builds a model which seems to fit the facts. As new facts emerge, the model gets either scrapped or modified. We can perceive music as the product of mechanical vibrations of specific frequencies, propagated as sound waves through air, or we can perceive it as being art produced by a musician. The overarching truth is that it is both.... and that it isn't a single note played once in the past, but an ongoing tune...

  • Comment number 41.

    Hi Slicer, then why not "theistic cosmology", because the gods take a pretty serious hammering there (Thor included ;-)? I accept that you may have a point that *you* may hold consistently, but that is not what most theistic evolutionists (or people who style themselves as such) actually propose - they suggest that evolution needs nudges to head it in some pre-determined direction. That, as you will probably agree, is not the case. Evolution works whether there are gods or not (and this is one of the reasons I slagged off John Lennox, much to poor wee LSV's chagrin - Lennox does not know a great deal about biology, but hey). If you have a scientific model, and you wish to introduce a new factor, you need to demonstrate what deficiencies the current model possesses when compared with empirical observation, and show how the factor addresses those problems. Whatever way you want to introduce a deity, whether as a live/move/have-being type pantheistic gameboard, or a theistic tinkerer, it remains completely obscure to me what it brings to the party.

    The bottom line is that Simon (and fair play to him) and you (and fair play to you too!) have smelt the coffee - science works - but you are trying to find loopholes to maintain certain beliefs that you view as core to Christianity. I understand that process, and worked through it for a while myself, before it dawned on me that any god that *might* exist certainly did not demand my belief or loyalty, and would have *wanted* me to be an atheist. Jesus (if the reports of him are to be accepted) was certainly happy to challenge the religious beliefs of those around him, and to be honest the people who are picking up this mantle nowadays are not the theistic Christians, but the so-called militant atheists.

    I would strongly recommend atheism on that basis alone. As Ernst Bloch said, only a Christian can make a good Atheist, and only an Atheist can make a good Christian.

  • Comment number 42.

    Hi Helio, in answer to your question 'why not "theistic cosmology"?': no reason whatsoever to strip God from a cosmological understanding. My list of theistic disciplines wasn't meant to be exhaustive. In general the any scientific discipline with the suffix 'ology' can be described by the term theistic (astrology not being a scientific discipline ). Yes, evolution "works" as a concept & method, whether or not it's instigator is God - but so what? So does maths.... and maybe biology is just "chemistry with legs," chemistry just "physics with social graces" and physics just "big maths," and maths the "language of God." On my own blog, I have previously asked the question why does the universe have a language at all?

    Your own argument based on scientific method/modelling can be used in the opposite direction. Any valid scientific process starts by acknowledging its underlying assumptions, which determine the limits of confidence which lie around the 'finding' of the experiment/model which results. By definition these assumptions are just that, ie unproven. The theist starts from a position of faith/assumption that God exists; the atheist from a position of faith/assumption that He doesn't. However, the atheist challenging the theist to demonstrate the need for God in the mechanisms of the cosmos (as you have done) is inherently and objectively no more valid than the theist challenging the atheist to prove God's non-existence. One is not demonstrably more correct than the other in objective scientific terms. Hence my music metaphor. There is no scientific validity in the physicist studying music with an oscilloscope and microphone and concluding there is no musician, merely a propagating waveform. What you are doing in suggesting theists "want to introduce a deity" is akin to the experimenter in his closed system (closed in that the musicians are outside the box where the experiment is being conducted) suggesting that those who credit the tune to a composer, musician or conductor are "introducing" those individuals... (and one individual capable of all 3 is feasible).

    It's just as valid, given the limitations of the scientific method, for me to ask as I did in the opening sentence of this reply, "why strip God from our cosmological understanding?" The notion of the place for deity/deities in a worldview/cosmosview is the long-dominant view so arguably the onus of proof is on those who want to scrap that model rather than the other way around. That notwithstanding, I suggest that objective proof of God/no God, using the scientific method, is a futile exercise - but every time folk suggest that the scientific method has rendered redundant the need for God, I think it needs to (and can) be refuted. God will not bring anything to the party if He's not invited/welcome.. It's not just theists who can be tinkerers..... ;-)

    Neither Simon nor I need to find loopholes to squeeze through - we are working with an overarching (if incomplete) Theory of Everything, perhaps analogous to Grand Unifying Theory of Physics. And our overarching picture may contain paradox, as does modern physics (as I understand it anyway). Heck, orthodox Christianity holds free will and pre-destination side by side as paradoxical but complimentary theological truths, so why should I have a problem with seeing God achieving his purposes now and in the future mostly through the natural processes he has ordained? Jesus himself taught that looking for a supernatural sign could be evidence of a lack of faith. This isn't just my view - Polkinghorne described it before I came to that position (altho' I didn't reach it through him).

    Regarding your own citing of Jesus' actions, his attack on the religious of his day centred on hypocrisy, pride and the fact that their religion was on the surface rather than transforming them as people - it hadn't prompted humility and appropriate treatment of others; He didn't challenge the Hebrew belief system - in fact He said He had come as its fulfilment.

  • Comment number 43.

    ... forgot to include the link to my blog article in which I presented (from various sources) how things are different than they seem to our senses, and the puzzle regarding why maths works at all.....

    The website is Slicer's Slivers of Being, and the post to which I referred is

  • Comment number 44.

    Hi Slicer, thanks for coming along :-) I'll have to take a skip over to your blog and have a crack at why maths works - my contention is that mathematics *is* the ground of all "existence", and god can't change Pi. There is an objective "reality" that no matter how you cut the Pi(e) *cannot* be subsumed by a theistic god, therefore a theistic god cannot be basal. Tegmark rocks. Anyhoo...

    What you are putting forward is a *rationalisation* or an *excuse*, not an argument. As I said, the model works whether there is a godsystem in there or not. So as an atheist or a theist, I have no basis for using evolution to support my contentions regarding the existence of the gods.

    Of course for the atheist this causes no problems (and I was previously a theist as you know); what it *does* cause a massive problem for is that plucky little band of theists who pretend that biology *does* provide positive evidence for their particular godsystem (and I am not saying this is necessarily *your* godsystem). You cannot deny that this pretension exists - it is enshrined in hymns, psalms etc, and ill-informed preachers prattle on about it interminably.

    The kicker point here is that in approaching biology, physics, chemistry, psychology, whatever, there is NO need to have a god or gods as part of your starting assumptions. Gods are simply irrelevant.

    But worse than that, certain types of godsystem *do* carry over consequences, and the utter *absence* of those predictable consequences in our data stream *does* count as evidence that they do not actually exist. I would suggest that the variant of Christianity that imposes a "theistic" flavour of god, and insists on the bible being "scripture" is such a view. It has never been smart to insist on a godsystem that carries observable consequences, because one gets engaged in a constant game of shifting it from one gap to another when nasty old science shows that those consequences have not occurred.

  • Comment number 45.

    In terms of the objective use of any of these tools - biology, chemistry, maths - I've already suggested that they work as tools whether or not we give a deity credit for either (i) them or (ii) that they work, or (iii) what they measure, so I'm not arguing with you there. I also recognise (and regularly use in my line of work) the benefits of the black box approach: excluding external influences from the system under study. However, I see that as simply a way to break things down into bite-sized chunks - where the size of the chunk has to be limited by the (limited) capacity of the experiment. From a Christian viewpoint, the notion that the tool can be used by those who reject the notion of a divine being is no different from the Biblical acknowledgements that (i) it rains on the just and the unjust (or believer/non-believer), and (ii) that God's grace (unmerited favour) is open to all.

    I'm no academic physicist or mathematician, but my understanding is that one of the important things these 2 disciplines demonstrated for us in the 20th Century is that objectivity may be an illusion. In terms of time, there is no universal "now." In terms of concrete building blocks of matter - they've disappeared back into the ether from which they condense. The degree of success which physicists have achieved in unifying fundamental forces has used the principle of mathematical symmetry. My understanding of this (happy to be corrected by experts if it's wrong) is that it is a way of mathematically transposing things which appear to be different such that they are shown (from a particular mathematical perspective) to be the same. SUSY is then further extension of this method.

    You're quite right stating that what I've put forward is a rationalisation, but I don't accept your assertion that it's not an argument. It's not a proof - but then neither is your argument. I'll not diss yours by making a pejorative statement that it's not an argument.

    Please do engage with the maths question I've raised on my blog, or indeed with anything else there. I gather (from a mathematician) that there been a debate within academic mathematics on this very issue, and that the debate is ongoing. Hence I doubt that the two of us will resolve it on my modest blog, whether by argument or by rationalisation. Remember that point that I'm making is not that it objectively demonstrates that there is a God - but rather, given that it is logical, why is that logic there at all? Why does Pi always have the same value? Why does 2+2 always equal 4 (at least at a macro level even if it all becomes a bit cloudy at quantum level)? Why does this hold true not just in our immediate neighbourhood, but also apparently right out to our observable horizon in the universe? Why are the fundamental cosmological constants the (improbably fortuitous) values that they are and why are they constant? I've yet to hear a response from a non-theist better than "they just are what they are." It's a good thing that maths, and repeatability of experience/experiment, exist; otherwise we wouldn't have the scientific tools we have - but why do they exist? This is nothing close to an objective proof to sceptics of the existence of a Divine Being, but it's a question deserving of a good answer - no?

    It'll come as no surprise to you that I consider that the term "godsystem" to be a poor description of what Christians hold (by faith) to be a personal (tri-personal), transcendent but immanent Being.

    Regarding "positive evidence" - the whole concept and terminology of 'evidence' often used in this kind of discussion is simplistic and unrepresentative of how we as human beings normally function, both (a) interpersonally and (b) in the proper application of scientific "knowledge."

    I'll take the second of these first. I'm a huge fan of the scientific method, and have been for decades - I haven't just "woken up and smelt the coffee" as if that coffee was made so generously by those of a group of congenial atheists. The scientific method (historically developed and employed successfully by many people of faith) has allowed us to develop and create so many things which are of benefit. Physicians (good ones anyway) use the available scientific evidence to help them choose which treatment options are better than others. However, you will find (good) doctors differing because of interpretation of the available evidence. This is because, very often, limitations of the scientific evidence render it not definitive. This is usually because, while the findings may approach being definitive (conventionally & arbitrarily 2 standard deviations from the mean) in the context of the experiment, we have to try to apply them to a different population of patients than those available for the original scientific experiment ie we have to try to extrapolate the black box findings outside the black box. Yet the atheist challenge to those who embrace the notion of God is so often to ask them provide evidence, which is not accepted as evidence at all, or is termed "not positive evidence," when it's not definitive. If we were dealing in definitive evidence, then faith would not be required, and if the scientific evidence in medicine was definitive, we wouldn't need docs to interpret it and I'd be out of a job (but that's not the real world!)

    Back to (a), and the limitations of the scientific method in the context of how we function as human beings interpersonally. This is the area of life where many find their quality of life resides (or sadly find that quality does not reside). There is a famous quote attributed to Niels Bohr: "It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature." That is, let's recognise that some things may fall outside ready measurement by science (at least as we currently have it). As humans, there is more to us than just cognitive thought. We commonly interact and derive our quality of life from how we FEEL about things. We are a Head & Heart Collective. OK, feelings may not actually reside location-wise in the cardac chambers, but they are very much part of what makes us up. I don't use the scientific method to determine how I should relate to my wife or kids, or colleagues and friends for that matter; I don't use it to determine whether my wife loves me or not - nor should I. I suspect you don't either, Helio. In living that way we demonstrate that science and scientific evidence, or maths for that matter, don't trump everything else when it comes to evidence. Furthermore, we actually cope living with nuances and shades of grey rather than pretending everything black and white.

    Just because "we see through a glass, darkly" doesn't mean we should be registered as blind... and neither should the faith we profess.

  • Comment number 46.

    Is it just 'me', or do I get the eerie feeling that a certain Mr Heliopolitan is carefully dodging the points I have raised on this and the other thread I linked to?

    No disrespect to The Slicer, but, Helio, do be a good boy and finish your starter before tucking into the main course. (Manners, now, manners!)

  • Comment number 47.


    Sorry for the delay in replying. I must admit that the reference to "unshackling" was prompted by an indirectly related reference you made to "chains" on another thread. The "restraints" i'm talking about are broadly set out in this letter which (almost miraculously, given the content) appeared in the Guardian on the 17th September last year;

    "We welcome His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the UK as both head of state of the Holy See and as leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics and to the Catholic community of this country. We believe that his presence here comes at an urgent and pressing time, highlighting the trends in our country that serve only to denigrate human rights and human dignity. We support him wholeheartedly because in guarding the Deposit of Faith he:

    Opposes the destruction of human life in the womb and values human life from conception to natural death.

    Opposes the trend towards refashioning the institution of marriage, thereby denigrating its inherent stability, rooted in the natural order, as being between one man and one woman.

    Opposes the trend in the UK towards testing on human embryos, experimenting upon them and stripping the unborn of dignity, under a deceitful justification that this form of experimentation will yield medical benefits for mankind.

    Has worked tirelessly to change the culture of the Catholic church to take very seriously allegations or incidences of child abuse, setting up child protection procedures and policies which now make the Catholic church the safest place for a child to be.

    Promotes a vision of humanity which advocates a culture of life, stability, marriage, lifelong fidelity and love in which children are welcomed, rather than destroyed, in which human beings are open to new life, opposing vigorously a culture that treats the possibility of new life with contempt.

    Upholds the innate, God-given dignity of all human beings regardless of their sexual orientation or social background and upholds the rights and dignity of society's most vulnerable, the poor, the starving, the outcasts, prisoners, the mentally ill and distressed, the disabled, elderly, sick and all those who are so often disregarded by the rest of society."

    You write that;

    "...we have emerged into relative light, and we have managed it in spite of religion, not because of it."

    This is more or less the so-called "Whig" theory of history, putting everything in terms of, as it were, 'inevitable' progress, which was discernable from your earlier posts. There are more 'conservative' alternatives, at least equally valid, which accommodate a belief in God, who is the same "yesterday, today and forever".

  • Comment number 48.

    If I may refer back to the original post the problem I have with Mr Henning and other christian scientific apologists is they, as LSV puts it, put forward "a desperate and incoherent philosophical construct dressed up in scientific clothes." this is why NOMA fails because it gives equal validity to supernaturalism. Stick with your "study of nothing" chaps and accept your place as the gaudy incense burning remnant of the fears of walking apes.

  • Comment number 49.

    paul james (@ 48) -

    "Stick with your "study of nothing" chaps and accept your place as the gaudy incense burning remnant of the fears of walking apes."

    Oh, I will certainly be taking your advice, Mr James, since I can see that you really know what you're talking about. How could any sensible person possibly be so audacious as to attempt to refute your perspicacious utterances?

    I will indeed stick with my 'study of nothing', as you say. It's amazing really, how interesting and real this 'nothing' can be. It sures beats the insane "ever increasing improbability theory", that's for sure.

    In fact, why don't you try studying 'nothing' yourself? After all, I understand that a great many people imagine that this wonderful thing called 'nothing' caused the Big Bang. So it must be good!

  • Comment number 50.

    Forgive me joinung he discussion at this late stage, but in my opinion both the tone and content of Simon Henning's piece were inappropriate for the TFTD slot. (Can't help wondering if someone taking the Christian view according to Scripture would have been allowed such freedom?)

    Anyway, putting that to one side: Its a pity he trotted out Dawkins' tired and inaccurate line that 'no reputable scientist believes in Creation' This of course is arrogant nonsense - though Dawkins and his pals will never admit it.

    However, I believe Dr Dawkins is right in one respect - ie that you cannot marry evolution with the Biblical account. Theistic evolution is not only scientifically unsound, it is also Biblically inconsistent.
    It is unfortunate that Simon Henning is - albeit unwittingly - lending support to those whose real agenda is getting God out of the way.

    Perhaps he is ignorant of the body of scientific evidence which is consistent with the Creation model - no surprise really, since it is censored from the media at every opportunity while the Evolutionary Myth invariably gets prime time!

    Seems to me it is long past time for some respect and honesty to be allowed into this whole dabate.

  • Comment number 51.

    pastorphilip -

    Whatever (predictable) responses you may get from certain other people, be assured that at least one person on this blog agrees with you, and that is me.

  • Comment number 52.

    Sorry LSV
    I'm far too busy starting into the vast "body of scientific evidence that is consistent with the creation model" to get round to spending any more time on "The Study of Nothing" (Thomas Paine)

  • Comment number 53.

    Pastorphilip -
    I agree with your second paragraph but I'm afraid probably not much more. What exactly do you mean by "THE Creation model?" I have a high view of the authority of Scripture, and I believe in Creation.

    Setting aside for a moment atheist argument, for those who take the Bible seriously the issue is the whether or not the Bible is particularly concerned with spelling out the mechanics of the process God used. For those of us who hold to Creation as reality, it seems to me that there are several Creation "models," not least the difference between a "young earth" model and an "old earth" model. Where exactly is the body of scientific evidence that is consistent with a YEC model?

    For me, clinging rigidly to assumptions we may bring to Scripture that, eg a Genesis 1 day is (and was always) understood as literal 24 hour days before some of those 24 hr days could be observed or described by the presence of a sun requires us either to cover our eyes and ears, or deliberately ignore what the senses and intelligence God gave us are telling us when we open them and use them to investigate honestly. I fear that those who do cling to a YEC model are the folk who sadly are - albeit unwittingly - lending support to those whose real agenda is getting God out of the way.

  • Comment number 54.

    LSV, I the Lord thy God am One. And I have a life. So I refer you back to our many previous discussions where I eviscerated every one of your points, and demonstrated quite clearly that you were in the wrong. There are other folks on this occasional blog apart from your good self, and they make better arguments - even Phil.

    But, dear Phil, that is no consolation for you. The universe is billions of years old, life evolved, and you are an ape. These are facts not in any serious scientific dispute. Yes, there are some "scientists" who are apologists for the ancient Genesis folklore *actually* being how the universe arose, but these people are held in ridicule, and, more importantly, they have no arguments. You would do well to listen to Simon Henning.

    Slicer, a "high view of scripture" - that phrase always makes me laugh. It is really a *crazy* view, as it denies the cultural and historical context within which these documents arose, were edited/redacted/copied/altered/etc, and tries to make them into something they were never intended to be. It's all rather tragic, and the word "high" would perhaps indicate a state of neurological detachment from the real world, man, whether induced by chemicals or by other psychological factors. Me, I take a historical view.

    As to the other points you raise, none of this helps you out. Of course I cannot disprove a god, but who really cares? Why would a god want me to believe in it anyway? For thousands of years, really *really* rubbish arguments for believing in gods have been promulgated by demagogues, popes, ministers and scoundrels of all sorts - and even by a few good but deluded people - and nowadays we can recognise that these arguments were pants. Aquinas's Five Ways were interesting for their time, but hopelessly invalid. Anselm's ontological argument is just foolish wordplay. I recognise that few theologians put much store by any of these, but the point remains - none of them *work*.

    So why *disbelieve*? The answer to that one goes back to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Priest and Levite were obeying their religion by walking on by. Their religion (which was based on a high view of Leviticus! Nutters!) meant that they had to act immorally towards someone in need. The Samaritan had no such hangups - a person was in need, and he went to help. Jesus did not call people to "believe", but to love. In that respect, I even find myself agreeing a little bit with Eunice! Lawks-a-marcy! *Not* believing in god leaves you free to look around you. I am not arguing that theists do not do this - quite clearly many do, and quite clearly there are many theists and atheists alike who do not. But what I *am* saying is that theistic belief is pointless, and theistic apologetics are an exercise in deception.

  • Comment number 55.

    What's this you say? young earth creationism, old earth creationism, there's only one way to sort this out.......


  • Comment number 56.

    Helio (@ 54) -

    "LSV, I the Lord thy God am One. And I have a life. So I refer you back to our many previous discussions where I eviscerated every one of your points, and demonstrated quite clearly that you were in the wrong. There are other folks on this occasional blog apart from your good self, and they make better arguments - even Phil."

    Well, thank you for rousing yourself from your 'life' to respond to my small reminder. I hope you're enjoying your meal, even though you did rush the starter. I see you're on to the waffles now! (I notice that the waffle seems to be your favourite food, as you partake of quite a quantity of it!).

    Thanks for skating over the discussion about probability. I do understand. The subject can induce headaches, and so, of course, you would not want that to spoil a good meal and an even better 'life', eh?

    Keep up the solid impression of sound reasoning. Remember... appearances are all that matter in this world (and why let logic and facts spoil the party?). It's all atoms, molecules, waffles and profiteroles. Meaning? Facts? Logic? Bah, humbug!!

  • Comment number 57.

    Perhaps he is ignorant of the body of scientific evidence which is consistent with the Creation model

    Maybe you could tell us what this evidence is Philip ?

    Or are you simply going to rattle off some well and truly debunked YEC claims ?

  • Comment number 58.


    Amongst the Pope's all encompassing love for the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, the elderly et al, is there a place for "hand wringing liberals"? Or maybe even the millions of decent Catholics he is presently disenfranchising and chasing from the Church?

    Would the tens of thousands of abuse victims he ignored over a 25 year period be part of his kingdom? Or the hundreds of priests who wish to serve but be married (like the Anglican ones he welcomed)? Are women to be welcomed to the party as equals or only if they are accompanied with a mop and bucket?

    Seems to me like the very ones Jesus would have welcomed and rubbed shoulders with are the very ones who are excluded from this increasingly exclusive 'club.'

  • Comment number 59.

    LSV, if you want a discussion regarding the probabilities involved in the Weasel model (which has been completely misunderstood by creationists like your good self), then kindly ask your question and I will attempt to answer it. As I have pointed out before, your understanding of mathematics is pretty paltry.

    As a bit of a primer, it is worth pointing out that the Weasel algorithm does NOT wait until one letter is correct, then move on. The strings randomly mutate, and then they are compared *as a whole* against the fitness function, which is entirely hidden from the strings themselves. They do not know what they are evolving towards. It is a bit like the system saying "warmer... colder... warm... cold... freezing..." - and in that respect it is somewhat similar to natural selection. All the Weasel setup does is define the shape of the fitness landscape, and the strings are free to explore that landscape.

    It is a very very simplistic model however - real fitness landscapes are very very complex and dynamic, as the landscape itself updates to incorporate all the other organisms in it, as well as genetic changes in the organisms themselves. I accept a lot of people who are verbal thinkers as opposed to visual thinkers find this difficult to conceptualise, and in that respect, LSV, you would be in the company of quite a lot of otherwise intelligent people that I know.

  • Comment number 60.

    Hi again Helio

    I had no expectation that you would have any sympathy with someone holding scripture in high regard - but your comment is misinformed - a high view of scripture ACTIVELY PURSUES the cultural and historical context within which these documents arose. There is such a thing as Biblical scholarship, whether you choose to diss it or not. Militant atheists (I know you love that term ;-)) are either ignorant of, or regularly choose to ignore, such scholarship when quoting biblical passages for their own purposes. I'm not labelling you a militant atheist, but your (a)quoting of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and Leviticus, and (b) reporting what Jesus said, each share those tendencies of misrepresentation:

    (a) The author of that parable was well informed regarding the Old Testament books of the Law, of which Leviticus is one. He saw no conflict between what he was teaching and the Law - he said he hadn't come to destroy the Latter, but to fulfill it.

    ***Perhaps you would point out in Leviticus exactly where, as you infer, the Hebrew people were instructed to act immorally toward someone in need, like the guy in the parable.

    (b)"Jesus did not call people to believe, but to love." Sorry - he called them to do both, and warned of the consequences of lack of belief [John 3 v 18]. True that he had particularly fierce criticism for religious hypocrisy [Matt 23 - where he also endorsed the Law(!), and summarises what he deems to be the more important elements of it: justice, mercy and faithfulness. See also Mark 12 vv 28-31; John 9 vv 40-41] His criticism was often because their 'worship' of God disregarded their responsibility to their fellow man [Matt 25 v 34-46]. John the Baptist's teaching was entirely consistent, as he paved the way for Jesus [Matt 3 vv 7-9]. The book of James teaches the same thing. Jesus didn't introduce a new concept when he required them to believe - it was an OT concept. Back in Genesis 15 v 6: "Abram believed God, and he credited it to him as righteousness." When Jesus commissioned the early Church, he didn't leave any ambiguity what their job was - Mark 16 vv 15-17: He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Feel free not to believe, but please.... if you're going to report what Jesus said, be accurate (unless you intend to mislead). Personally, I find what he actually said to the Pharisees and others very challenging to live up to.... even a little scary. You are of course, perfectly entitled to regard all of the above as rubbish - but then don't misquote the biblical text to make a point. There are difficult passages, and perhaps you'll produce some things for me that I can't answer (I don't claim to be a biblical scholar) but the main message is pretty clear and consistent... it's important to not to miss the wood for the trees.....

    ***I'm interested in your "Me, I take a historical view" claim. Perhaps you would share with us what contemporaneous historical documents you're referring to and explain how they stack up so much better historically against the biblical texts (with which they presumably must conflict).

    Thanks for the psychoanalysis.... I might supplement Simon Hennings' "When argument weak, shout louder" with "when that doesn't work, try ridicule.... maybe suggest the other guy is psychologically deficient..."

    Anyhow, I wouldn't want you getting distracted from the issues I raised previously with you, which make no requirement of you to become a Bible scholar :-D

    If you've forgotten what those are, here's a wee reminder - the misapplication of scientific findings (extrapolation outside the black box), and the misapplication of science to areas in which it has no jurisdiction - how we relate to our family and friends. And don't start quoting the deficiencies of NOMA at me.... I do think there's overlap - I just don't accept that there is complete overlap.

    Best wishes (seriously)

  • Comment number 61.

    Why does the BBC site not have a LIKE button (as per Facebook)? I'm a TV Burp fan and would have appreciated showing that I did laugh at Paul James' post, without having to make another post

  • Comment number 62.

    Hi Slicer,
    Yep - the BBC commenting system really is poor; there are plenty of posts I would like to like too, but it cannae happen :-(
    Wrt biblical scholarship, I think you are wrong there - your "high" view of scripture is starting with an unsupportable and disingenuous loading of the dice - even by calling it "scripture", and what has often passed for "biblical scholarship" over the years is nothing short of appallingly poor history. Yet rubbish (like the sort of Matthew Henry nonsense that gets recycled in churches up and down the country every Sunday) remains unchallenged. No, I'm sorry - the best biblical analyses are not coming from the ranks of people bearing a "high" view of "scripture", but from people who are comparing it in an unbiased way against similar writings from ancient cultures, and comparing it with what we know from ancient history. In the bible we can see myths, spin, propaganda, fiction, erotica (you've heard the hilarious reinterpretations of the lovely Song of Songs as emblematic of Christ's love for his church? LOL!!!!!!), you name it. There are of course errors and outright lies (e.g. the death of Sennacherib). I mentioned before that you are engaged in a process of rationalisation, not understanding. If you wish to do the latter, you really do need to get beyond the primitive notion of "scripture" - if such a class of literature does exist, I can tell you that the various books of the bible do not qualify.

    And in relation to "NOMA" (aaarrghh!) - if you wish to require science and critical thinking to not overlap into areas of religion, then you should also suggest that religion keep itself out of areas of scientific and historical inquiry, and indeed out of the business of making claims about facts. It is not science that over-stretches itself, but belief-based religion.

    Have you read "The Unauthorised Version" by Robin Lane Fox? I would recommend it. I don't know that I accept everything he says, but it's a very good book (if a little thread-droppy at times).


  • Comment number 63.

    Sorry Helio
    that's opinion, and not coherent argument... and exactly what credentials do you have to define/determine what are "the best Biblical analyses?" I don't claim to have credentials to do that but perhaps you do. You haven't even read properly what I posted (Is a pattern beginning to emerge?). I already stated that I DON'T subscribe to NOMA -I subscribe to overlap. I just don't think science can cover all bases.... and I note your ongoing silence to my questions on its misapplication, and its role in matters of relationship.

  • Comment number 64.

    Theophany. I said nothing whatsoever about progress being "inevitable". Would that it were. I think nothing of the sort. In fact I'm slightly terrified if I spend more than five minutes thinking about our great capacity for self-destruction. Particularly when there's religious fervour involved. And I stand by my statement that we have emerged into relative light and that the intellectual progress of the past 300 years has been civilising.

    And, thinking aloud... Reading this thread has been somewhat wearying. It just seems that people don't seem to know the rules of debate. They employ cheap, transparent rhetorical tactics. They cheat. Or else they don't know how to do it at all and offer up cringe-worthy nonsenses.

    The arguments above are so tired. Over the course of two years I watched a poster called Newdwr patiently explain science to a creationist called Beecefromsuff. The creationist simply didn't want to know. I never saw patience like that which New displayed. He was extremely clear and articulate. It was simply that Beece did not want to know.

    The religious bang on about PC-gone-mad. Here's a bit of un-PC-ness for you. The older I get the more I'm for an enlightened dictatorship by an elite trained for it from childhood, rather like lamas, or as in Plato, and which ruthlessly casts out people of insufficient intelligence and who are not able to cut it as roughly speaking polymaths, but each with specialisms.

    Pie in the sky this idea but I am sick of the tyranny of the majority that democracy throws up, because the majority in the West are stupid and getting stupider as far as I can see. And we're getting the rulers we deserve. Nowhere is that more true than this place, but also the UK and definitely America.

  • Comment number 65.

    AboutFace (@ 64) -

    "And I stand by my statement that we have emerged into relative light and that the intellectual progress of the past 300 years has been civilising."

    Yeah sure. As long as you're not, for example, a resident of Hiroshima or Nagasaki or an unwanted baby in the womb (not to mention millions and millions of other people who have fallen foul of 'progress').

    "Reading this thread has been somewhat wearying. It just seems that people don't seem to know the rules of debate. They employ cheap, transparent rhetorical tactics. They cheat. Or else they don't know how to do it at all and offer up cringe-worthy nonsenses."

    There often seems to be only one rule of debate on this thread: "Thou must always accept the philosophy of naturalism and its offspring, the theory of evolution." Anyone who dares to question this 'sacred cow' is automatically deemed to be a cheat. A wonderful oasis of intellectual integrity, dontcha think?!

    "It was simply that Beece did not want to know."

    Or could it possibly be that Beece was not prepared to be railroaded into performing the mental acrobatics required to believe in the impossible, namely, the 'idea' that life self-assembled naturally (are you aware of the probabilities?).

    Carry on with your expressions of weariness and anger. The only thing I am interested in is a coherent argument instead of incessant special pleading to 'convince' people that a totally unproven far-fetched hypothesis should be accepted as 'fact'.

    Some of us are not going to capitulate like Winston Smith did in the 'Ministry of Love' in Orwell's novel 1984 (if you've not read it, it's worth a read). I will never believe that 2+2=5 no matter how many atheists rant and rave, stamp their feet, gnash their teeth, foam at the mouth or fire off volleys of childish ad hominems.

    So do carry on being weary with other people's right to freedom of speech.

    See, I can get passionate and angry as well!

  • Comment number 66.

    My post #65 -

    "one rule of debate on this thread" should read "one rule of debate on this blog"

  • Comment number 67.

    Yes, wearying. Hiroshima... Nagasaki... Stalin!... Hitler...

    "Yeah sure. As long as you're not, for example, a resident of Hiroshima or Nagasaki or an unwanted baby in the womb (not to mention millions and millions of other people who have fallen foul of 'progress')."

    Look, I know the box in the corner would have you believe otherwise, but there has never been a period in history when we have been less likely to die a violent death than now. This is supported by a mountain of evidence. There is more to support the argument that the knowledge accumulated in the past 300 years has been civilising, but that is the main plank supporting my claim for my purposes. See Stephen Pinker on the myth of violence and rational optimism if you're interested.

    As to unwanted "babies" I think population control is crucial, and has been for some time. I think the band is playing on as the ship goes down regarding population. Particularly, as suggested by Eric Kauffman, religious people are probably going to demographically swamp more sensible people - it is they who are doing all the gratuitous breeding - and they seem quite content to speed on an apocalypse, because that will fulfil... Oh, you know the cant.

    "There often seems to be only one rule of debate on this thread: "Thou must always accept the philosophy of naturalism and its offspring, the theory of evolution." Anyone who dares to question this 'sacred cow' is automatically deemed to be a cheat. A wonderful oasis of intellectual integrity, dontcha think?!"

    Well go you you daring trailblazer. Arff.

    That's enough really. New's patience was an absolute credit to him. He never railroaded the guy. He was clear, and articulate, and rigorous.

    Now, you've just come up with Hirshima, Nagasaki, and every other tired cliched argument I just mentioned were becoming so wearisome. And you've accused ME of special pleading when the evidence for the naturalistic argument is demonstrable. Where is your evidence for your god?

    "Or could it possibly be that Beece was not prepared to be railroaded into performing the mental acrobatics required to believe in the impossible, namely, the 'idea' that life self-assembled naturally (are you aware of the probabilities?)."

    The probabilities are slim, but the universe is so big and time so long that we can safely say improbable is not anywhere near impossible. And why insert a god? Are you aware of the probabilities? Have you seen the work of Craig Venter in creating "synthetic life"?

    Freedom of speech! Freedom of speech!


  • Comment number 68.

    Helio: you are right - the Samaritan followed the goodness or love in his heart for his fellow human being.....no religion as such is required to do this. And if there was one it would be the religion of love (where religion is relationship with God, with love). Religion as it is today separates people - arguing over who is right/wrong, beliefs etc and as a whole package therefore is not based on love although many of the teachings within each do contain messages of love.

    Slicer made the point about dealing with one's family and relationships and that science doesn't have the answers for that and also mentioned the role of feeling and the heart/mind distinction. The latter is key - distinguishing the heart/feeling and the mind/thinking. Society/education/science etc all emphasise the latter to the detriment of the former - and yet - the former is where the real gold lies.

    Rumi said words along the lines of - there are no believers or unbelievers in the religion of love. Love embraces all.

    Through love - God is known, not believed in.

  • Comment number 69.


    "...the intellectual progress of the last 300 years has been civilizing."

    I won't pretend it's easy to get to the heart of this matter, but the Whig interpretation of history sees progress as, in some sense, inevitable, and this sort of statement of yours leads one to believe that you subscribe to it - even allowing for the occasional bout of pessimism you refer to. Voltaire, i believe, had part of the reason why the Whigs are wrong, when he stated that history is the debt which the living owe to the dead. This presupposes that we do not owe more to those who are chronologically closer to us.

  • Comment number 70.

    Hi folks! I'm Back! Sorry to have been away for a while, but the 'pastor' in my blog name is in fact a job description!

    The scientific evidence consistent with the Biblcal account is available...for any who have the motivation to look. (This may well be lacking in one or two correspondents!) As my old pal Helio has pointed out, Christian views on this topic tend to be treated with ridicule (sure beats having to engage in a reasoned argument!) - like I say, a bit of mutual respect would go a long way.

    I appreciate Slicer's point about 'a high view of Scripture'- but it seems very clear to me that a choice needs to be made between evolution and the Bible. The 4th Commandment affirms a 6-Day creation, and Romans 5v12 teaches that death only came into the world when Adam sinned. Difficult to fit 'millions of years'into the Theistic Evolutionary position.

    Just a few thoughts before I turn in. (Believe it or not, preaching really takes it out of you!) Night, night all.

  • Comment number 71.

    Thanks for the lesson in Whig history. It does not take away from the mountain of evidence which establishes the fact that today, our era, now, contrary to much trumpeted claims that we're in perilous decline, is the time when humans are least likely to die a violent death at the hands of other humans.

    Tell that to the people of Hiroshima, says yer man above (yawn).

    *Correction to #67. I said see Stephen Pinker and rational optimism for the extensive research which suggests our progress has been civilising. I meant Matt Ridley. Sorry!

  • Comment number 72.


    "Christian views on this topic tend to be treated with ridicule (sure beats having to engage in a reasoned argument!) - like I say, a bit of mutual respect would go a long way."

    Respect where it's due. You deserve ridicule. And don't you have that base covered? Aren't you supposed to expect scorn? Doesn't that give you some assurance of a comfier chair in heaven or something?

  • Comment number 73.

    @Phil, Simon Henning's view is a Christian view. Creationism is not Christian - it is bibliolatry. You have made an idol of your interpretation of the Hebrew folklore found in Genesis.

    @Slicer, while it is nice to know that we agree that religion and science overlap, it *appears* that you think where they inevitably conflict, that religion deserves respect. No - religion needs to change. Religion also needs to change to respect the findings of biblical scholarship that very often what is described in these books is not what actually happened. These are not just "different perspectives", but flat-out errors, fibs, contradictions - call them what you will. In that respect, the bible is no different from any other ancient literature. Why put it on a pedestal? And why do you continue to be evasive on this issue while accusing *me* of not answering *your* questions?? Sort it out! :-)

  • Comment number 74.


    That is a good point you make about the death of Sennacharib.

    Neil MacGregor discussed this in the Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 Objects and in his book accompanying the series. The Lachish Reliefs directly contradict what is written about Hezekiah in the Book of Kings. MacGregor writes:

    "The Bible understandably glosses over the disagreeable fact that Sennacherib responded by brutally seizing the cities of Judah until Hezekiah was crushed, gave in and paid up."

    Taxpayers should not be paying for kids to be brainwashed with religion.

  • Comment number 75.

    AboutFace (@ 72) -

    "You deserve ridicule."

    The word 'deserve' implies the existence of some moral standard that has been wilfully transgressed, for which 'ridicule' is then the punishment.

    So, what is this 'moral standard' and where is it within the philosophy of materialism? And if you feel like saying 'reason', then wonderful! We can have a little discussion about epistemology. I assume you've heard of epistemology? Judging by your offerings so far, I am beginning to wonder!

    Anyway, I am sure Pastor Philip, being far more sensible than me (and calmly refusing to take the bait offered by 'the philosophically challenged') probably couldn't care less about your ridicule. But I am sure Phil can speak for himself!

    Helio (@ 73) -

    "No - religion needs to change."

    What I think needs to change is Helio's practice of seemingly deliberately forgetting to qualify his dogmatic and unsubstantiated ex cathedra statements with the phrase "in my opinion". Do please remember to stick that proviso in, every once in a while. It will make you look just a tad more reasonable - perhaps even scholarly!

    (But, as I have said before, if naturalism is true, then it doesn't matter what anyone believes, and it doesn't matter whether anything 'changes' or not, since there is apparently no meaning to life anyway. I mean, if it helps religious people's 'survival' to remain obstinately in a theologically conservative groove, then that's fine - evolutionally speaking. Why, oh why do you people always seem to break the rules of your own nihilism? If we are all just mindlessly assembled specks of dust, then who cares? Just live and let live, for goodness sake. If people want to be religious, then that is obviously just their evolutionary pathway.

    I've really taken it upon myself to teach you people the logical implications of your own rather confused and benighted philosophy. Someone's got to do it, I'm afraid, 'cos you obviously won't do it for yourselves!)

  • Comment number 76.

    S'easy done my research.
    Creation on the night preceding Sunday, 23 October 4004 BC, evil established a few weeks later due to eating some fruit, painful childbirth, farming, and death follow, god has a laugh. Done.

  • Comment number 77.

    Dear Helio
    Forgive me if I gave the appearance that 'where they inevitably conflict, that religion deserves respect.' (I don't think I did but I'll not argue over it - instead I'll seek forgiveness). That's not my position for the following reasons:
    1. I dispute that conflict between results of well-conducted scientific work and an informed/correct reading of the Bible is 'inevitable.'
    2. I wouldn't confuse the Bible with religion (as you have done in the last post). Much religion is inconsistent with the Bible (as Jesus himself demonstrated in his own criticism, which you have already cited). As I've already explained, well-conducted scientific work defines the limitations of the experiment/methodology. I'm still waiting to hear you recognise any limitations in either the application of science or the fruits of scientific experiment.
    3. Scholars differ (as do scientists) - no-one is truly objective - all bring baggage and bias. (Need for double blinding of scientific studies demonstrates recognition of that). You gotta pick your side.... and try to do so with self-integrity.

    With regard to "putting the Bible on a pedestal," that's a bit like the "introducing God" argument we had earlier [41-42] - I need to be convinced to take it off the pedestal that I believe it's already on - science has not yet convinced me of that - rather it's deepened my respect for the Bible, given the age of the age & setting of the documents and the absence of conflict I've found to date - often apparent initial conflict has disappeared when I've drawn from the reservoir of the biblical scholarship you're keen to malign. It is also fair to say that I believe that God may reveal new information to us through the results of good science, which should prompt us to reassess whether we have read scripture correctly - it has enlightened my reading - but I still conform to the old mainstream view (in old language) that 'scripture contains all things necessary to salvation.' I know many Christians are uneasy about allowing science to enlighten their reading, and I understand why (see below), but they'll get there eventually - earth-centric universe isn't a popular notion these days, but some thought it a distortion of biblical teaching in their day. Having said that, I know only too well from my own arena that there is a huge amount of poor science out there - which gets ditched within 10 years of it being "the big thing." Sometimes the same 'objective' scientists get double the publications or travel the world speaking on the new work which demonstrates that the old work was wrong! So maybe those who don't work in the scientific arena are right to be cautious. The recent retraction from The Lancet of Andrew Wakefield's work is a high-profile example of the limitations of the peer-reviewed scientific literature. I'm not about to modify my biblical understanding lightly either in that context. I don't fear the scientific method since I believe it's a good tool - it is a pretty impressive Swiss Army Knife, and has served us extremely well - we're very 'blessed' to have it ;-).... but it can't do everything.

    I also don't fit your caricature of Christians (and there are many who don't) in that, from what you've written I think we can agree that the Bible contains erotic literature, fiction (parables being one example), poetry, figurative/allegorical/symbolic writing, apocalyptic writing, hyperbole (a term I prefer to spin, but we'll not fall out over that) alongside history and prophecy (by which I don't necessarily mean foretelling the future). I gather all of these styles of writing were also present in other literature at the time. God used ordinary (humble) people in their day, in their context, and still does. That in itself is no reason to take the Bible of its pedestal.... it's the central narrative from start to finish that is the whole point, and why I perceive it's still on that pedestal. I don't worship the Bible... I aim to worship the God it describes, and who I believe speaks through all the various styles of writing it contains, and who I believe crashed into history on this planet in person. I concede that I often don't make a particularly good job of that worship.

    Now, you may or may not like my answer - but that definitely qualifies as an answer - how about you giving me some at this juncture? Go on, buddy, do it.... demonstrate that you haven't got the scientific method on too high a pedestal... I'll not ask you to take it off, but maybe lower it a wee bit, and consider some complementary options :-D

    The Slicer

  • Comment number 78.

    The scientific evidence consistent with the Biblcal account is available...for any who have the motivation to look.

    Where Philip ? Perhaps you could link to some peerr reviewed scientific research that :

    (a) demostrates aa 6,000 year old Earth/Universe.

    (b) 6/24hr creation

    (c) a global flood 4,500 years ago.

    I know of no scientific research that confirms any of the above.

    (This may well be lacking in one or two correspondents!) As my old pal Helio has pointed out, Christian views on this topic tend to be treated with ridicule

    Only the ridiculous YEC position and silly nonsense such as dinos roaming around the Grden of Eden alongside Adam ad Eve.

    (sure beats having to engage in a reasoned argument!) - like I say, a bit of mutual respect would go a long way.

    That'll be the day Philip:


    "Over the next few months, we will be doing a lot more to call compromising Christian academics to account, so keep watch."

  • Comment number 79.

    Having said that, I know only too well from my own arena that there is a huge amount of poor science out there - which gets ditched within 10 years of it being "the big thing.

    Pehaps you can give us some eamples Slicer ?

    The very nature of science means that some theories are discarded when new evidence comes to light. However, I know of no field of research that is demonstrating:

    (a) a 6,000 year old Earth/Universe.

    (b) 6/24 hr creation.

    (c) a global flood 4,500 years ago.

    Creationism on the other hand, has been shown to be universally poor science time and time again. So why hasn't it been ditched and confineed to the scrap heap ?

  • Comment number 80.

    for clarity (you likely worked it out already) - middle of 2nd paragraph should have read "earth-centric universe isn't a popular notion these days amongst Christians, but most thought a heliocentric solar system a distortion of biblical teaching when it was first presented."

    I might add, that recognition hasn't altered one iota the nature of the message the Church is supposed to convey - and I would contend neither does a position on YEC v theist evolution (or evolutionary creation, if you prefer) - tho' some trying to convey the message might be trying to pass it on with an unnecessarily unpalatable coating.

  • Comment number 81.

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

  • Comment number 82.

    I gave some examples from my own area - seem to be stuck in moderation - maybe cos of the F word (5 letters), maybe because they need to verify whether the info is correct and not defamatory.... I can assure the moderators that the F word is in the public domain (eg BMJ & GMC) and the examples of invalid scientific conclusions are all widely accepted both in the UK and internationally - I didn't list the controversial ones....

    The comment also said "you mistake me for a YEC.."

  • Comment number 83.

    Slicer I don't understand your Wakefield eg. He deceived the Lancet about some aspects of his research but his peers eventually demolished his theory and so science corrected itself. In fact Wakefield even had to go through some kind of professional review because of his actions, as far as I remember.

  • Comment number 84.

    yes... and just look how much damage was done in the meantime... with folk who believed the 'science' and didn't vaccinate their kids. With science the truth will 'out' in the end, provided science has jurisdiction in the territory it investigates - a further example of survival of the fittest. However, as we know that process takes considerable time, and requires quite a few wrong turns along the way. Most of us need to make life decisions faster than that process allows.

    just received an email that my previous post was modded away. I'm still keen to answer your question, beyond Wakefield. Suffice it to say that retraction from a scientific journal is quite rare and the Wakefield case had extreme reasons which you can read about elsewhere.

    I'll copy below the second half of my prior attempt. The examples given are not disputed, either in the UK or internationally. Hopefully, by removing that F-word, it'll not cause the moderators difficulty:

    In case you've missed it from my posts, I'm not only a fan of science, I have the privilege of using it regularly, and recognise that most of us benefit from the enormous advances it has brought.

    You asked for specific examples of what proved to be bad scientific conclusions from my own arena (all of which influenced clinical practice for a time, and some of which seem to have caused harm):

    Benefit of corticosteroids in head injury
    Harm from albumin in critically ill patients (Cochrane Meta-analysis)
    Benefit from recombinant HA-1A monoclonal antibody
    Supply-dependent oxygen consumption targets
    Growth hormone therapy in the critically ill
    Non-conservative blood transfusion targets
    Benefit from Pulmonary Artery Catheterisation

    These are just those that spring immediately to mind, and these are from one very specialised field.... I hardly think it's unique.

    The Slicer

  • Comment number 85.

    How old do you think the Earth is Slicer ? Do you believe there was a global flood 4,500 years ago and that the fossilrecord is a result of that flood ?

    That the Earth isn't 6,000 years old, that there was no global flood 4,500 years ago, or that dinos didn't co exist with humans are well established facts in science. As certain as the heliocentricity of the solar system or the fact that the Earth is round.

  • Comment number 86.

    Read my posts, Peter!!! How many times do I have to say the same thing. I'M NOT GOING TO DEFEND YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM!!!!

  • Comment number 87.

    Peter, I think Slicer agrees with Simon that the earth is 4.6billion (give or take) yrs old and humans evolved from earlier primates etc. What I can't quite understand is why there needs to be a god in the process at all. 2+2=4 whether you use theistic mathematics or atheistic mathematics. I accept that some scientists hint that evolution disproves the existence of the gods; of course it *doesn't*, but it does disprove some claims made for the gods, e.g. the people who claim that Adam and Eve and Noah were real people partaking in the stories about them in the Hebrew folklore compendium known as "Genesis". I think we can all be happy about that and cut Slicer some slack (see what I did there?)

    Where I think Slicer slips up is in the Wakefield reference. I am astonished the Beeb should have a problem with *that* F-word, as it was iterated and reiterated in the BMJ, which published a series of articles demonstrating Wakefield's conduct. But people did *not* pull away from vaccines because of the *science* but because of the scare. I remember very well when that paper came out, and I remember very well discussing it with colleagues and even *without* knowing what was going on with Wakefield in the background we thought it was trash. And we were not alone in this assessment. It has taken us years to put things back on track, but that is part of the *success* of science. Similarly, all the things that Slicer lists from the world of intensive care are correct, but we only know they are correct because people decided to look at them *scientifically* rather than (in each and every case!) accepting the authority of senior people. In each case, doctors (often rather junior) wanted to know whether these things actually *work*.

    In some circumstances, tech came to our rescue, for example easier access to MRI, or one of the most significant and underrated medical advances ever - pulse oximetry. I'm old enough to remember when we only had two of these devices on the general medical ward, and we had to make a pretty good case for borrowing one from cardiac if we had to. Yet now they are cheap as dirt. Yet they revolutionised care, and allowed us to properly assess things like supply-dependent oxygen (which we were pretty sure didn't work anyway, despite the blurb from the manufacturers of expensive masks).

    But does science have limits? That is a tricky question. Science excels at addressing truth claims where the claim has an effect on the real world. Are there any other questions that are important, or are we back to meaningless twaddle like "why are we here" and "what is the colour of evil"?

  • Comment number 88.

    For me, my wife , family & friends and all my relationships, and indeed how we conduct ourselves as a nation in relationship with other nations are very much part of the real world, Helio... and not easily dismissed by lumping them in with "meaningless twaddle" or caricaturisations (very unreal ones, self-evidently) such as the colour of evil, in an apparent suggestion that science has all the important bases of the real world covered. Indeed, thanks for introducing evil... an entity which is hard to define in concrete terms (and hence difficult to investigate scientifically) but again, like pornography, most can recognise when they see it, and most agree is very much part of the real world.

    I would also correct your take on supply-dependent oxygen consumption (so much so that I find it hard to believe you were part of the "we" who you claim "were pretty sure [it] didn't work anyway"):
    - It had nothing to do with "expensive masks" - the patient population which received it were intubated, attached to mechanical ventilators
    - it was to do with convective oxygen delivery to the tissues, and the therapy was primarily targeted at the cardiovascular system, rather than the respiratory system.
    - it wasn't just junior doctors who wanted to know whether or not these things really work... the therapies had to be authorised by the consultant leading the team ( are you suggesting they didn't want to know?), who had to make decisions in real patients in real time on the basis of the apparent science at that time.... with multiple publications in the peer-reviewed scientific literature apparently demonstrating benefit. As with Wakefield, it took years for the truth to out. I've already commented in replying to Nobledeebee on the harm that can be done whilst waiting for that process to run its course.

    I also didn't realise you were part of the "us" that "properly asssessed things like supply-dependent oxygen [sic]." I was, in a small way, and got a higher degree on the back of my thesis on the subject. I don't make claims that my humble research led the field - it certainly didn't, but it was published in respectable peer-reviewed international journals and the findings of the research team that I was part of (which wasn't restricted to junior doctors) have not been refuted. They were part of a wider body of work which successfully demonstrated the lack of benefit of supply-dependent oxygen consumption.

    I'm not damning science, I'm just being real about its limitations.... something you clearly feel is "tricky" to do, but which is a necessary attribute for scientific conclusions to be truly scientific, rather than merely have the appearance of being scientific.

    You didn't comment on knowing in advance of the rest of us about the other scientific findings I listed, so I presume you make no claims to that effect. I have no desire to get into a peeing contest about scientific credibility in narrow fields... I imagine you have credibility too in some areas, but I'm highlighting your recurrent use of the word "we" and "us" (as you did for the Wakefield situation too) by which you create/reinforce the impression that "we" are scientists who all think the same thing, and it's more informed than and incompatible with a faith position.

    We may all be descended from a common primate ancestor, but those of a faith position can work with tools too. Present day science is considerably better than a "digging stick" or a "hitting stick' but please... it's not incorrect to view it as a tool, albeit a very powerful tool. Let's make sure we pick the right tool for the right job, eh? ...

  • Comment number 89.

    ooops.....that's the thanks you get for the appeal to Peter to cut me some slack ;-)

  • Comment number 90.

    Helio (@ 87) -

    "What I can't quite understand is why there needs to be a god in the process at all."

    Oh, of course you can! Don't take us all for fools, Helio.

    Any thoughts about this article which is a review of Paul Davies' book The Fifth Miracle? It seems that 'law and chance' won't cut it as far as the origin of life is concerned. What could be 'the third factor', that is needed, I wonder? Doesn't take much to work it out.

    Chance cannot create life (I think that's pretty obvious, as Davies states: "It has been estimated that, left to its own devices, a concentrated solution of amino acids would need a volume of fluid the size of the observable universe, to go against the thermodynamic tide, to create a single small polypeptide spontaneously.") and natural law is too simple, since whatever algorithms it can utilise cannot create meaningful information, but only simple repetitive order (such as in crystals) not adequate for the complex systems of life.

    The law of probability shows us that any process of the development of order within a closed system, which is subject to even a very small factor of entropy, involves exponentially increasing improbability (as I argued on another thread).

    So, yes, there needs to be an intelligent creator and sustainer of life. Only die hard materialistic dogmatists can't see this, and such blind faith is not what truth - or science - is about.

    One reason why I am not an atheist: I simply don't have enough 'faith' to be one.

  • Comment number 91.


    "So, what is this 'moral standard' and where is it within the philosophy of materialism? And if you feel like saying 'reason', then wonderful! We can have a little discussion about epistemology. I assume you've heard of epistemology? Judging by your offerings so far, I am beginning to wonder!

    Anyway, I am sure Pastor Philip, being far more sensible than me..."

    You are a YEC-er too? Am I correct? Well then this will be our last exchange because your "views" are beneath contempt.

    The moral transgression is in the corruption of knowledge, the obstruction of people from accessing it, the promulgation of lies about it, the misleading of young people from it, suggesting that some of our highest knowledge has the whiff of Satan about it, lying about it (I remain to be convinced that people really believe the Bible is the last word on creation - I think it's showy piety).

    I could go on but I think I've said enough to stand the case that YEC-ers are guilty of moral transgression. Arguing with them, bizarrely, gives them succour. I have no intention of giving them succour. I might lower myself to dish out a little of the contempt I have for them once in a while. I'm certainly not going to get into silly arguments about talking snakes though.

  • Comment number 92.

    And Paul Davies is a believer. I enjoyed his book, God and the New Physics. But his god is a long way - a cosmos away - from that of Bible literalists. He quite famously wrote an article in the NY Times called Taking Science on Faith. You can read it here: https://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/24/opinion/24davies.html?_r=1

    The Edge Foundation presented a series of responses from Jerry Coyne, Nathan Myhrvold, Lawrence Krauss, Scott Atran, Sean Carroll, Jeremy Bernstein, PZ Myers, Lee Smolin, John Horgan, Alan Sokal, and Davies responds to them in turn.

    You can find that exchange here: https://www.edge.org/discourse/science_faith.html

  • Comment number 93.


    Still plugging away at the probability thing? Given up on bashing materialistic methodology?

    A few points to consider:

    1. The calculation of odds assumes that the protein molecule formed by chance. However, biochemistry is not chance, making the calculated odds meaningless. Biochemistry produces complex products, and the products themselves interact in complex ways. For example, complex organic molecules are observed to form in the conditions that exist in space, and it is possible that they played a role in the formation of the first life.

    2. The calculation of odds assumes that the protein molecule must take one certain form. However, there are innumerable possible proteins that promote biological activity. Any calculation of odds must take into account all possible molecules (not just proteins) that might function to promote life.

    3. The calculation of odds assumes the creation of life in its present form. The first life would have been very much simpler.

    4. The calculation of odds ignores the fact that innumerable trials would have been occurring simultaneously.

  • Comment number 94.

    Yeah guys... I have a sense that the uncertainties around predictions are so ridiculously large as to render the current predictive power of the maths meaningless. I'm no mathematician, but I do engage with statistical predictive power from time to time and, (maybe it's time to move to art)... I respectively suggest that attempts at mathematical prediction on this matter, with present knowledge are, in the words of David Byrne.... a "road to nowhere."

    As someone else sang:
    "We are stardust
    Billion year old carbon"

    but where Joni got it not quite right is that we can't get ourselves "back to the garden" (that's a faith position but there's yet another area science has no particular authority/jurisdiction - art! Yes, sometimes I wish it had - I'd love there to be objective proof that the blues is a superior musical form to disco but, to quote Porgy & Bess (or, if you prefer, Jimmy Somerville), "It ain't necessarily so."

    The Slicer is signing out:
    Thanks guys n galls... I think we shed light on a few things and hopefully dispelled a few stereotypes. Even if we continue to disagree on some or many things, we probably can agree that the truth will out in the end (unless you're a raving postmodernist who doesn't believe there's any such thing as The Truth). I appreciate the engagement, esp with Helio. Ciao, and if it's not too offensive as a concept, God Bless ;-)

  • Comment number 95.


    You may not have been aware of any Darwin Day celebrations in Belfast, but if you checked the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland website, you would see that we celebrated Darwin Day on Friday 18th, with a lecture by Dr Joe Vyle on The Origin of Life, and dinner afterwards. This an annual event. Indeed, you have been invited to it before.


    The date of 18th was chosen so as not to clash with the Humanist Association of Ireland Darwin Day Lecture, which was given in TCD on 11th February by Janet Radcliffe Richards (author of The Sceptical Feminist), who talked on Darwinian Metaphysics and the Managament of Sex.

    Both these Darwin Day lectures in Belfast and Dublin are annual events and listed on the Humani and HAI websites.

  • Comment number 96.

    Darwin...the great god of the atheist.

    Evolution is biologically impossible and mathmatically impossible.

    Take, for example,the earth's magnetic field.The strength of the earth's magnetic field has been measured for well over a century. This provides scientists with exceptionally good records. In a recent study, Dr. Thomas G. Barnew has shown that the strength of the earth's magnetic field is decaying exponentially at a rate corresponding to a half-life of 1,400 years. That is to say, 1,400 years ago the magnetic field of the earth was twice as strong as it is now.

    If we extrapolate back as far as 10,000 years, we find that the earth would have had a magnetic field as strong as that of a magnetic star! and this is impossible.Based on the present decay of the earth's magnetic field, 10,000 years appears to be an upper limit for the age of the earth. Evolutionists believe that the earth's magnetic field is due to circulating electric currents in its core but if were to go back around 20,000 years, we would find that the estimated heat produced by the currents would have melted the earth. Clearly, the testimony of the earth's magnetic field is strongly in favor of a relatively young earth, not an ancient one.

  • Comment number 97.


    I also hear that Darwin recanted on his deathbed, that the eye couldn't ever have possibly evolved due to its complexity and that the depth of the moon dust shows that it's only 6000 years old!

    In related news, pigs can fly, if the wind changes you'll look like that forever and touching a toad will give you warts.

  • Comment number 98.

    Post 96 by Newthornley makes for a refreshing change from LSVs posts, in that Newthornley brings up an argument that is connected to something observable, rather than LSVs 'evidence from reason' which you could turn around 180 degrees and it wouldn't make a bit of difference as to how well it fits what we see around us.

    Unfortunately for Newthornley, his statement about the earth's magnetic field appears to be very wrong. The magnetic field of the earth does not decay exponentially over long periods of time. The overall net alignment breaks down in a periodic cycle and then reforms (not necessarily in the exact same orientation). If you were to extrapolate back the magnetic field based on exponential decay then a few billion years ago it would indeed have been tremendously strong at the time, but that exponential extrapolation over the life time of the earth is unfounded.

    Some history of the science surrounding the earths magnetism can be read at


    It's in simple language, no prior physics knowledge required.

  • Comment number 99.

    In other words, Newthornley read something somewhere (probably a creationist site) that only covered part of the science, picked it up like a banner and went waving it around without actually delving too much into the theory.

    Typical creationist methods and something they should avoid. LSV, for all my disagreements with him, has a good grounding in (most) of his assertions and can at least claim to be well versed in his area of expertise.

  • Comment number 100.

    PK (@ 98) -

    "... Newthornley brings up an argument that is connected to something observable, rather than LSVs 'evidence from reason' which you could turn around 180 degrees and it wouldn't make a bit of difference as to how well it fits what we see around us."

    Thus saith the diehard empiricist. Fine. I understand where you're coming from - you have to be true to your own 'faith' position.

    Natman -

    I'm having problems with this site at the moment. I could only load up to #89 on the thread where we were discussing probability (as it was locked in my user name, and I couldn't sign out), although I saw there were supposed to be 91 posts. I managed to find a way to read posts #90 and 91 by a roundabout method, so if you don't get a response from me on that thread, you'll know why. All very weird!

    I'm away for a few days, so... what a relief for you all!


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