Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A View From the Pulpit - Tom Harris

From Tom's personal political blog - And Another Thing . . .

It’s not God v science; it’s sliderule v the Bible

THURSDAY will mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. It is a matter of profound disappointment on my part that the celebration of the achievements of such a great man is being overshadowed  (albeit only marginally) by creationists.

Much has been made of the recent survey which showed, apparently, that everyone thinks God created the universe in six days, from about the 3rd to the 9th of October 6,118 years ago. On a Wednesday. Or something.

Now, given that similar proportions of the Great British Public also believe that Princess Diana was murdered, that the moon landings were faked and that 9/11 was mostly special effects (seriously - that is actually a “genuine” conspiracy theory), I won’t lose too much sleep over it. Creationism is just the latest silly fad that’s been imported from America and one day it will fade away, just as previous fads - hula hoops, Baywatch and David Blaine, for example - have done.

Even for Christians, the literal truth, or otherwise, of the book of Genesis has no bearing on our faith. Or it shouldn’t have. Too often, a blind and unthinking adherance to this particular dogma is simply a way of establishing their assumed superiority over other Christians: “I’m courageous enough to believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, against all social convention and scientific fact. That means my faith is stronger than yours.” Or words to that effect. It’s the sin of pride (which, to many evangelical Christians I know, isn’t nearly as serious as any other sin involving sex).

As a student, my first (and only) Christian Union meeting was sullied by a meeting with an older student who was a member of an Elim Pentecostal Church and who was very loud and arrogant in his promotion of his own views, which included creationism. I had never met anyone like this before and I was fascinated, much as Victorians were fascinated and unnerved by travelling freak shows. At one point he said that Christians shouldn’t watch TV or listen to music unless it was Christian music. “But what about Genesis?” I asked in an ill-judged attempt at levity.

“Love the book, hate the band,” replied Mark (for thus was he named).

You can imagine it was quite a swinging night. I never returned to the Christian Union and, thankfully, never came across old Mark again. But a couple of years later I found myself, as a student journalist, attending a public lecture by an American scientist who, as a Christian, had revisited the science of evolution and found it wanting. He put up quite a plausible case, I seem to remember, but I left unconvinced. My view then, as now, was “Why does this matter to you so much that you’ve got to tell other people?”

Christianity is about faith, but it’s primarily about an individual’s relationship with God. If that relationship is stronger for believing in the literal truth of the whole Bible, well, knock yourself out, mate. But most people don’t need to believe in six-day creation to have faith in God.

As for the science, I’ve written on this site before that evolution remains a theory, not a fact, though it remains the most plausible scientific theory on offer to explain the development of life on this particular, small planet. Our good friend, Stewart Cowan, insists that his own arguments in favour of creationism are scientifically-based.

Two important points: if your interpretation of science is founded on faith, then no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary will ever change your mind.

Secondly, if a scientist had absolutely no knowledge whatever of any of the main religions’ creation stories, he would not, under any circumstances, conclude that the earth was a few thousand years old. That conclusion, in creationists’ minds, is reached first, with the appropriate “scientific” data subsequently arranged in a reverse process to justify the conclusion they want to reach.

Darwin’s life and work should be celebrated. It’s quite possible that much of his research and conclusions will be overtaken one day by other scientists with access to more information and resources than Darwin had. But his work remains the most solid foundation on which to base further expansion of our knowledge of the origin and development of species.

When it comes to matters of faith, the Bible can’t be beaten.

When it comes to science, I will trust the judgment of someone who prefers a sliderule over a Bible every time.

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