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Origin of Species vs the Bible

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 4 months ago

"You criticised reason. It's bad theology" - Father Brown 

 

You don't have to be a Creationist to believe in the Bible, or an Evolutionist to believe in science. You can even read both the Bible and Origin of Species and find yourself believing both, as many of us have and do.

 

But those who read only one of them, or more likely neither of them, are in danger in their ignorance of becoming Creationists and Evolutionists. And it probably doesn't matter which, as they're very similar beliefs.

 

(See the glossary below for the definition of these terms.)

 

I am astounded that it has taken me so long to create (or more properly, recreate) this page.

 

It has so much that attracts me! Most of all, the deep ironical humour of the patently illogical positions taken by both sides, and the obvious opportunity this represents for a logician to lend a hand... if anyone will listen.

 

Let me first disclose my point of view. I'm in some ways a fairly conventional Christian. My personal theology would be seen by most as fairly conservative, several of my ancestors were clergy, and I grew up following in their footsteps. However I don't see any hope of genuinely following Jesus ever being conservative.

 

But I'm also deeply in love with science. For my first two and a bit decades of life everyone including me more or less assumed I would become a more than competent scientist, following in the footsteps of my father who was an extremely good scientist. My childhood bedroom was decorated with the Chart of the Nuclides and a Geological map of Australia, and was divided into three sections of roughly equal sizes: Bed and clothes, Library (all non-fiction), and Laboratory. I collected rocks, memorised the Periodic Table, and in primary school had my non-fiction library card confiscated as a punishment for not reading fiction. In High School I spent several days preparing, purifying and testing an aromatic ester; The Science master later confessed that the task he had set me was a joke, he'd taken it from the honours section of one of his university texts and never suspected that I would complete it.

 

I later realised that I'm actually more interested in humanities and probably a lot better at them as a result, but I have a smattering of scientific competence even so. Fortunately computers came along in time to save my career, and Formal Logic in time to save my degree!

 

So I have always been fascinated by the debate between Evolutionists on one hand and Creationists on the other. But it was not until I was in my twenties that I read either Origin of Species or the Bible cover to cover. And I'm not alone. Many Christians spend little time reading the Bible, and many scientists are far too busy to read anything as old and wordy as Origin of Species.

 

Which is rather ironical, and a great shame, and explains a lot. Because on one hand, if even Christians don't know first hand what the Bible says, it's a bit hard to expect scientists to read it for them, and similarly a bit strange, if scientists are going to assert how great Origin of Species is. that so few of them have in turn bothered to read it either. But that's not the irony I mentioned above. It's sad, and ironical but not to the point of being very funny.

 

It would be bad enough, but it's just the beginning. Some Christians, whom I call Creationists (not because that's a good term but because it's the common one) maintain that the Bible and Origin of Species are incompatible. And some scientists (whom I similarly call Evolutionists) make exactly the same claim. And I have talked to many of both camps.

 

And they have a lot more in common than either side will readily admit. Which is where it starts to get hilariously funny.

 

Now. it would be reasonable, if you were an activist of some sort promoting the idea that these two books were somehow in conflict, to read those two books, would it not? It would similarly be reasonable to assume, if someone writes a blog or a whole website describing at length the conflict between these two books, that they'd have read both of them, not just read one (if that)? That they'd base their comments on their knowledge of the subject, rather than on the comments of others who were similarly ignorant of the data?

 

Evidently not. All the Creationists I have spoken to... or most often listened more than spoken... have read the Bible, but not one has read Origin of Species. Some are not even aware that it is in print. Several have confidently assured me that all Darwin's data concerns pigeons... this appears to have been a chinese whisper that took off, in fact one chapter deals entirely with pigeons, and there are other references to them. But probably the most impressive thing about the whole book is the modesty of the conclusions it draws from an enormous amount and variety of data that Darwin presents. And similarly, while some... by no means all but some.... of the Evolutionists to whom I have listened at length have read Origin of Species, not one has read the Bible, or seemed to think that there was any need to do so.

 

As I said above, they have a lot in common.

 

The conflict between the two, as far as I can tell, was invented by Thomas Huxley, who also invented Agnosticism of course. And just as Creationism is a sect of Christianity, so Evolutionism appears to be a sect of Agnosticism. I imagine there have been PhDs written on why Huxley so hated the Church, and I hope one day to find time to find and read some of them. But I do know that he called Agnosticism a "religion". These days we would probably describe it as a "mock religion" in its original formulation, perhaps even as the original and prototypical mock religion. But exploring that is probably best left to another essay.

 

Meantime, I recommend both the Bible and Origin of Species. They are darned good reads. Both of them. But be warned, both are longish, and to read either properly you need to be prepared to take some time and take some notes (and don't feel bad when you ignore the note-taking advice and have to start over again, I think everyone does). The Bible took me almost three months, but that was as a full-time intense effort. Origin took about the same, but that was only for a few hours each evening after work.

 

And perhaps more important, if you do read both properly and with an open mind, you are likely to laugh in the face of the next Creationist or Evolutionist who talks to you. This can be particularly upsetting to a spouse or parent. You have been warned.

 

Glossary

 

Creationism: The belief that the Bible and Origin of Species can't both be true, and that the Bible is true, and that Origin of Species is therefore false.

 

Evolutionism: The belief that the Bible and Origin of Species can't both be true, and that Origin of Species is true, and that the Bible is therefore false.

 

Dawinism: A rather vague insult (both to Darwin and to those to whom it is applied) invented by Creationists, and a term best avoided.

 

Fundamentalism: Originally a positive term invented as a self-description, now a derogatory term but useful just as long as you bear in mind that the problem is the -ism and not necessarily the fundamentals.

 

Christian: Originally a negative term for members of what was seen as a heretical sect of Judaism, now used as a self-description by the followers of Jesus Christ. 

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