Friday, March 20, 2009

Darwin's dangerous idea?

Over the last few weeks the BBC has been paying homage to Darwin as if he was the only person from the Victorian era who had an impact on the world. He wasn’t – indeed, his idea probably had less real impact than that of many others, but he is, quite probably, the only one whose idea progressives feel they can support.

They feel that way because it gives them a chance to rubbish the thing that they believe holds back their cause; religion - specifically, Christianity.

The trouble is, I don’t believe Darwin’s ideas do rubbish Christianity. If anything, his idea supports the Bible version of creation. It just depends on how you interpret it.

The first thing you have to consider is that The Bible version of creation was written some 3-5000 years before Darwin came along. As very few people even a hundred and fifty years ago had the slightest inkling of the concept of evolution it’s not surprising to find that those who wrote the Bible had even less – and yet they manage to describe it in surprising detail though within the context of the times.

It starts off with the basic idea that God created light. Well, we now think that the universe started with a “Big Bang” – but given the absence of anything for sound to travel through there would not have been a bang – just an awful lot of light. Am I the only one who thinks that for someone to have predicted that 5000 years ago was quite a remarkable achievement?

Perhaps they just got lucky. OK – well, next they say that God created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. Impossible? Of course – if you think of “days” as earthly days. I don’t – instead I believe the “six days” were actually the six major eras which ended with mass extinctions. The seventh day is the modern era which will end with mans extinction – Armageddon. During this “day” God leaves us to our own devices until the time comes when we either blow ourselves to kingdom come or die out naturally.

Again, considering that there is no way that those who wrote the Bible could know about the six major eras and mass extinctions isn’t it natural that they would have put it into a context they understood? And it remains a remarkably accurate overview of the development of the universe and earth.

Still not convinced? Ok – how about the fact that the Bible claims that every living thing came out of the sea – including the birds and insects? We now believe that life did indeed first evolve in the sea and that even the birds and insects evolved from creatures that emerged from the oceans and took some first tentative steps on land for some reason. How did those who wrote the Bible know this?

What about the idea of Adam and Eve being the first man and woman? The Bible doesn’t say they were. Indeed, it clearly says they weren’t. What it does say is that Adam was the first man who God endowed with a “soul” – the first self-conscious, rational thinking human animal. Long before we get to the story of Adam and Eve we hear how God gave man “dominion” over the other creatures – and we know that humans were indeed exploiting animals for their own progression long before the Bible was written. The Bible also tells us that Cain – the surviving son of Adam and Eve – goes out and takes a wife. Where do you think this wife came from if there weren’t any other humans around?

Finally, there is the story of the apple and the “Tree of Knowledge”. You don’t have to be a scientist to work out that the “Tree Of Knowledge” is science. What the Bible is saying is that before we started to use science for advancement of the human race, God “provided” everything we needed – food, shelter and so on. As long as we didn’t use science we would be able to exist quite happily – but by no means as successfully.

As soon as Eve takes a “bite” out of the apple – she starts getting ideas. This is the point at which God says – OK, you don’t need me any more – you’re on your own son. The Bible suggests this was a reproach – but I believe that this was always what God intended. Much like a parent will care for a child, but always intends that that child will, eventually, make their own way in life without their parent.

The Bible gets it right on the “Big Bang”, the six “days” of the major eras ending with mass extinction and life originating in the sea. It also explains how the birth of science – starting with clothing – was the point at which God took a bow and left us to it – he rests on the seventh day and we are living in that day.

Sure, he makes a couple of other appearances to other people – basically to try and keep us on the right path just like any parent would – and when things get real bad he sends his son to remind us of what he is all about, but other than that God lets us pretty much get on with what we want.

Darwin’s dangerous idea? I don’t think he was the first to think of it.


bernard said...


I believe you missed out another good indicator:
At the the time of Christ (and before the telescope of course), it was universally accepted that there was a fixed number of 'stars' in the firmament. That number was around 4000, as could be seen by the naked eye then, but Christ himself remarked (I can't remember the passage) that there were "more stars in heaven than grains of sand on earth".
An extraordinary claim, and one that must have caused some incredulity at the time!, but....
modern astronomy now shows this to be the case.

Stan said...

Good point, bernard - though I was concentrating on Darwin and creation more than anything else.

Anonymous said...

how about the fact that the Bible claims that every living thing came out of the sea – including the birds and insects?

Actually, the Bible says "Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life" and then says, "Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind".

So the Bible says some living things came out of the sea and some came out of the land.

In addition, before the Bible says "let the earth bring forth", it says "And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly." Evolution contends that whales are land animals that returned to the sea. They did originate in the sea like fish. The Bible got that point dead wrong.

Also, I don't see how you can say the 6 days of creation "were actually the six major eras which ended with mass extinctions". Living creatures were only created on the third day, so the first two days could be not end in mass extinctions because there was nothing to go extinct.

Genisis 1:11 says, "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind" but it is not until verse 16 that God creates the sun: "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night."

Clearly you cannot have grass and trees before the sun existed. The Bible's chronology is completely wrong here.

The eeriest echo of evolution in the Bible that I know of is cited by Dawkins in Unweaving the Rainbow. God says to Abraham in Genesis 22, "That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore". Dawkins notes that God does not promise Abraham immortality but promises his genetic material ("thy seed") immortality. As Dawkins says, "Abraham was left in no doubt that the future lay with his seed, not his individuality. God knew his Darwinism."

Stan said...

Lol, anon - I never said that the Bible got it 100% right, just that I personally find it remarkable that the writers managed to come up with ideas which we now believe but they could not possibly have known anything about!

I know that some people believe the Bible to be "perfect" - I'm not one of them. Indeed, as one of the reasons God sent his son to earth was to end the corruption of his "word" by people claiming to be saying and doing things in the name of God I'm pretty sure that the Bible is full of stuff which isn't accurate. It's full of people making claims that God came to them in some "vision" and telling them to do things, but those ought to be treated with some scepticism in my view. The onl things God is actually reported to have directly written are the 10 commandments - other than that, the only thing I take as the direct "word of God" are things reported to have been said by Jesus. Essentially, the Bible is an historical text. I don't know about you, but I've read dozens - maybe a hundred or more - historical texts and I haven't come across a single writer - ancient or modern - who hasn't added their own embellishment to the historical events they have covered. It's been near on thirty years since I "read" Darwin's Origin of Species, but I'm pretty sure that he wasn't 100% accurate either. Indeed, I believe there are assumptions made by Darwin which we now know are complete rubbish. Given that the Bible was written thousands of years before Darwin why do we hold those who wrote that impressive book to higher standards than Darwin or even Dawkins?

I have no idea how the revelation of crdeation came to those who wrote about it in the Bible, but like I said in the post - you have to bear in mind the context of the times in which the Bible was written and that it was written by people who, quite naturally, put what they discovered into a context they could understand. Hence the six days equating to the six mass extinctions. They had no idea what a mass extinction was! What they did was take what was revealed to them and put it into a context they could understand - hence the "six days". What is clear is that certain things they could not possibly have known, but somehow got spot on - such as the "let there be light" and the fact that life began in the seas. You might scoff at their embellishments, but why don't you instead marvel at how they could have made such accurate assessments of the origins of the universe and life on earth! I think it is amazing that they could do this when they could not have had the slightest inkling of the reality which we now hold to be accurate.

You can not hold those who wrote the Bible to standards of accuracy which you don't then hold modern historical writers to. Just the opposite, in fact - you have to judge them by what we know they could have known. In that sense, the Bible's account of creation starts to make sense and given that they could not possibly have known the reality it becomes a staggering account of the origins of life.

The Bible is a book requiring interpretation in my view. Dawkins tries to interpret it to support his beliefs, I interpret it to support mine - and it works both ways. But given that the Bible was written thousands of years before Dawkins came along I think his preference for finding fault rather than favour is pretty petty.

Anonymous said...

If you want a LOL moment, here's one: "Given that the Bible was written thousands of years before Darwin why do we hold those who wrote that impressive book to higher standards than Darwin or even Dawkins?"

The answer is that the Bible is supposedly in some sense or other, the Holy Word of God. We hold the Holy Word of God to a higher standard than any collection of human words. In fact, we hold His words to an infinitely higher standard and base all our actions and hope for Heaven on those words, which we do not do on Darwin's words.

Now, if the writers of the Genesis can not get the order of the events of creation right, it is clear that they are not getting those words from God, who would know that the sun came before grass and trees and whales came after the creation of land. So the question naturally arises, if Genesis is not the Word of God, what words in the Bible do come from God? If we hold God to a higher standard than Darwin, then "none" would be a plausible answer.

You say, "why don't you instead marvel at how they could have made such accurate assessments of the origins of the universe and life on earth!" There is strong evidence that the creation story in Genesis is a reworking of events in the Babylonian text Enuma Elish, which has the same order for the events of creation and concludes with the gods resting.

Given that source, any similarities between Genesis and scientific fact are purely coincidental.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to respond to my post.

Stan said...

But as I've already explained, those who wrote about the creation wrote in a context they could understand - just as Darwin did and Dawkins does. You say they should have known - why? However the revelation of creation came to them, they could no more understand the mechanics and physics behind it than a two year old can understand quantum physics - let alone describe it accurately. And yet - somehow, they manage to get so much right.

The most likely way they got that revelation is through a dream. Ever had a dream? Remember how confused and chaotic they can be? Remember how you can pack whole weeks. months and even years worths of events into a single short dream? Remember how hard it then is to recount every event of that dream in the exact order and progression? Imagine trying to pack 4 billion years worth of events which you have no understanding of into a single or series of dreams and then trying to write down those events. How would you have explained them? How would you have interpreted them? You would have doen exactly what they did - interpreted them the way they could understand.

And yet you think they should know everything exactly right even though we ourselves don't know for sure despite our advances in knowledge over those thousands of years.


Also - as I explained in my previous comment, the Bible is not the Holy Word of God - it is the Holy Word of God as interpreted by men thousands of years ago. At least some of that must be dubious because that is one of the reasons Christ came to earth - to try to end the corruption of God's word by men! The only things God is reported to have written down are the 10 commandments which, unlike the rest of the Bible, are pretty unambiguous.

Finally, the fact that you believe that any similarities between the Bible and scientfic fact are "purely coincidental" reveals to me that you are not a scientist, but a science believer. What makes me think that? Simple - men of science are men of logic - they don't believe in coincidence unless it is proven.

You base your faith in science which doesn't have all the answers. I put mine in God - who does.