God, Maybe – the sequel

Standard

Let’s talk about evidence. Hard physical evidence.

Can we prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that God does or does not exist? Can we prove it so conclusively that a jury would convict or acquit by unanimous verdict?

And that means we need to talk about Richard Dawkins.

I have a love/hate relationship with Dawkins. I admire the fact that he has opened up the question about whether god exists. The God Delusion has been a fantastic sales success. He has got people interested in the subject and thinking for themselves. It is now more okay than ever to talk about atheism.

All of which is very good. I just wish he had come up with better arguments.

Dawkins main argument is that evolution is a better explanation of the world than creationism, therefore the Bible is wrong, therefore God doesn’t exist.

What do you think of that line of argument? For me, there is one part I can agree with (evolution) but I struggle to see the logic of the two therefores. In logical terms, we would call this a syllogism:

A fish is an animal

I am an animal

Therefore I am a fish.

Let’s start from the beginning. Dawkins says that evolution is a better explanation of the world than the idea of a six day creation.

You have to admit that he has a point. Dinosaurs are a bit of a problem for people who believe in a literal reading of the Bible. It’s not exactly clear if there is a corner of the Garden of Eden set aside for the T-Rexes and the diplodoci. And if you add up all the Fred begat Bill’s in the Book of Genesis, it’s hard to see how you fit in the Neanderthals. Or the stone age. Or the bronze age.

There seems to be an awful lot of begetting that gets missed out of Genesis.

If the Bible was a truly accurate account, you would expect to read about several thousand Ugs begetting several thousand little Uglings.

Score one for Dawkins. Don’t worry – the anti Dawkin’s argument is going to equalise in a moment. Have faith.

You see, we have a problem with eyeballs.

For some bizarre reason, there is something very special about eyeballs in the great argument about whether god exists. Sooner or later everyone talks about eyeballs.

The Dawkin’s argument is that the eyeball is such a complicated thing that no sentient being could possibly have created it. It must have evolved.

The anti-Dawkins argument is that the eyeball is such a complicated thing that it could not possibly have happened by chance. It must have been designed.

When you put those two lines of arguments next to each other, you have to marvel at how similar they are. And how similarly silly.

Both are arguing that something I do not understand (how an eyeball came to be) proves that I am right. It is an argument by negatives. Because X can’t be right, Y has to be correct.

If there is an omnipotent God, then he could be so much more powerful than us that we could not comprehend what is capable of doing. The only way to say that he could not possibly have designed the eyeball is by comparing his abilities and powers to our own. I can’t design an eyeball, therefore an entity a gazillion times smarter than me couldn’t either.

That is plainly stupid. An ant can’t design a computer, but a human can. What if God is as far ahead of us as we are ahead of an ant?

Oops.

The same objection applies to the anti-evolutionary lobby. They look at the wonder of the world around them and declare that this could not have been created by chance. It is too wonderful and too complex.

What they are failing to understand is the huge amount of time that evolution has had to do its thang. Fossil records show that there has been life on earth for more than 3.5 billion years. That is one heck of a long time. It is as hard to comprehend that amount of time as it is to understand the difference between mankind and a possible omnipotent deity.

We can safely dismiss the “I can’t believe it” arguments on both sides of the debate. You can’t reach a conclusion about the existence or the non-existence of God based on things that you don’t understand.

Two ants are crawling up a massive thing.

“This can’t be a mountain,” said the first ant. “Nature could not make something this big. It’s a tower block.”

“It can’t be a tower block,” said the second ant. “No ant could make anything this big. It’s a mountain.”

There is proof for evolution, but we are not going to find it in the “I can’t believe it” argument.

The proof is historical. We can look at the Earth and find unequivocal fossil records showing that evolution does happen. The dinosaurs didn’t all disappear. Some evolved into birds and are with us today. We can now see the progression from one animal to another.

There has been a lot of begetting going on – it just didn’t get written up in the Bible.

Eyeballs evolved. Get over it.

And yes I know that a tiny minority are trying to squirm by casting doubt on the fossil records. They are at the lower end of the credibility scale, next door to the flat Earthers.

Take a trip to the nearest museum, guys. Have a look at the fossils. Where do they fit into your world view, hmm?

Is that game, set and match for Dawkins – job done, God doesn’t exist?

No – not by a long shot. Disproving six day creationism doesn’t disprove God. It simply disproves six day creationism.

The world wasn’t created in six days. Adam and Eve weren’t the first humans. Genesis is wrong. I’m sorry, guys, but that’s just the way it is.

But maybe that doesn’t matter. As we have said, if there is a God he will be so much more powerful than us that we would struggle to understand him. Maybe the book of Genesis, the rest of the Bible, all religious texts – they are all instances of primitive people trying to understand and explain something much bigger than themselves.

And sure they get things wrong. Sometimes the writers of the Bible speak in metaphors. Sometimes they misinterpret. But let’s not be too hard on them. The scientific writings of 2,000 years ago were pretty ropey too. But where science has carried on developing and evolving, religious texts have become stuck in stone.

If there is a God that we don’t understand, we don’t yet know what part he might have played in creation. The author of the book of Genesis may have imagined God in human terms – physically creating Adam as a potter would make a bowl. That now seems unrealistic, but who is not to say that a powerful entity didn’t bring life to earth and then let evolution do its “survival of the fittest” thing? Or maybe god caused the big bang from which everything else came?

The six days of the book of genesis may be six literal days. Or it could be a metaphor for a much longer period of time. A day for God is like a thousand years. Apparently.

God may still be part of creation. We just don’t yet know how or where.

Let’s go back to our starting point: we summarised Dawkins as saying evolution is a better explanation of the world than creationism, therefore the Bible is wrong, therefore God doesn’t exist.

I think we can now correct this to:

Evolution is a better explanation of the world than literal six day creationism, therefore some parts of the bible may be wrong or metaphorical – but that doesn’t tell us whether God exists or not.

There is also one other nugget we should hold on to. The Bible may be wrong but that doesn’t disprove the existence of God. That thought will come in handy later on, I’m sure.

Next time we are going to tackle the elephant in the room – faith. God exists because I believe in him. And that turns out to be a more complicated and interesting topic than might first appear.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “God, Maybe – the sequel

  1. Whilst the religious texts are ‘stuck in stone’ as you say, interpretation changes. You can see this if you read a biblical commentary on Genesis (Calvin wrote on which has remained in print for about four hundred years so let’s chose his)
    Calvin comments that (and I paraphrase) ‘Moses wrote so simple people could understand. If you want to understand astronomy ask an astronomer.’
    The concept of ‘Biblical Inerrancy’ which states that every word of the bible is absolutely literally true, so that creation occurred in six days etc is a relatively modern concept, it seems to have developed in the USA about 1840 in response to ‘Liberal thinking’ within the Anglican communion.
    It’s still largely a US phenomena and hasn’t spread much into Europe

    Like

  2. Ah, but that gets us into issues that I was saving for part 3!

    I fully agree that there is a difference in approach on either side of the Atlantic. However there does seem to be a universality about the atheist argument that apparent mistakes in the bible disprove the existence of God. It’s one of Dawkins main arguments.

    Not so sure about it being a modern phenomenon though. Prior to the Reformation didn’t nearly everyone take the Bible literally? Apart from those selling indulgences, that is.

    Like

  3. Tidlidim

    I never really pondered on creation and evolution because it’s stuff that’s much bigger than me, but this is a very clever post. Moving on to the next one 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s