An evening with Professor Stuart Burgess

Last night i went to a talk given by Professor Stuart Burgess on biblical creationism. It was a public event at Winchester Guildhall, organised by the Hyde Street Chapel, our local congregation of hard-core young-earth creationists. Since anybody is welcome, seven atheists/humanists decided to go along. We weren’t there to cause a fuss, just to ask some questions.

Burgess is a professor of Engineering Design at Bristol university. If you read British Centre for Science Education summary of Stuart Burgess you might get a clue on why we wanted to be there. This guy has some seriously scary beliefs, and uses force and scare tactics to try to make other people believe them too.

The infiltration

After a quick drink and snack at the nearby pub, we went in separately and distributed ourselves throughout the audience. I sat next to a retired minister from Kent and immediately had something to talk about: my dad is a minister and my mum lives in Kent! :) I am sure the minister fully believed i was a Christian. Which meant i was privy to overhearing some interesting pre-talk discussions next to me, chuckling about how anyone could be so stupid to dismiss the beauty of creation. Yup, this crowd was hooked in from the start.

Someone took to the stage to welcome us and introduce the speaker. I smiled as i received a “special welcome to anyone who is here for the first time – we trust you’ll feel at home”.

The talk

Professor Stuart Burgess opened the talk: The Design Argument. Burgess outlined that design reveals a designer. As it does in mechanics, so it does in nature too.

The first slide was a technical diagram of an aeroplane, accompanied by the statement that an aeroplane is designed. We switched to a picture of a bird, then the bone structure. I think Burgess pointed out some kind of a similarity between the bird and the plane and instantly concluded that if an aeroplane is designed, then a bird must be too.

I don’t want to debunk everything, or this will get really long. But feel free to smash any of Burgess’ arguments to pieces in the comments below! :)

You don’t need a PhD to understand the design argument, even a child can understand it.

This quote is interesting in context of later comments that insulted the audience’s intelligence and claimed that you DO need a PhD to understand pretty much anything else.

On the day of judgement there will be no excuses. It’s no good saying that you listened to Dawkins.

Here we get a hint towards Burgess’ real soap box (judgement day) and an introduction to the nemesis of the talk, Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins knows nothing about design.

We were repeatedly told throughout the talk that Dawkins has no qualification to speak about design, never having designed anything. There was a lot of bragging that Burgess tried to cover up with modesty “I don’t really want to bring this up but … I’m a professor of engineering design and Dawkins isn’t” sort of thing.

You often hear from Dawkins, “That giraffe just evolved a long neck and it wasn’t very difficult”.

I don’t know Dawkins’ work well enough to comment, but i suspect this is a gross misrepresentation, a flippant throw-away comment to try and discredit Dawkins.

Having been told what a useless n00b Dawkins is, it was time for us to be impressed by some of Burgess’ designs. Cue complicated technical diagrams and mathematical equations along with casually insulting the intelligence of the audience.

This is something i invented and designed. I don’t expect you to understand it.

I would be very offended if anyone told me that something like that could evolve. It took me many months of hard work to design it.

I really wish Richard Dawkins would take my first year engineering course in design. He would learn that it doesn’t happen by chance.

We were treated to a video of Envisat (Environmental Satellite) going into orbit in 2002. Burgess contributed to the design of the auto-expanding solar array, and paused the video at a few points to draw our attention to its magnificent design. There was a wry quip that some people thought it was called Envisat because they were envious of it.

I am saddened so often to hear Dawkins say that design and creation is easy, that it just happens.

We moved on to another of Burgess’ favourite topics: the irreducible complexity of the human knee joint. This is mostly from a paper written in 1999 that has been heavily criticised. Bristol university list Burgess’ other publications, but omit this one.

It was made clear that we shouldn’t expect to understand any of it. A diagram showed two bones and four ligaments. It looked pretty simple to me, but apparently you’d have to be in your final year at university to appreciate it. I forget whether Burgess said you’d have to be studying biology or engineering.

Burgess tried to simplify it for us by demonstrating how 4 pieces of Meccano move when connected together. We were specifically told that the 4-bar compact hinge knee joint “cannot evolve”. It was on the slide and everything. It is Burgess’ belief that the elbow joint could evolve, but the knee joint cannot.

The human knee joint is too wonderful for Richard Dawkins to understand. He will just say it evolved because he thinks everything did.

Burgess successfully omitted all the criticisms of the last twelve years that explain how multiple characteristics can develop simultaneously, and still sticks to the misguided belief that evolution says characteristics develop one at a time.

We were shown a few slides that demonstrate 4-bar mechanisms in birds, fish and dragonflies. It seems that Burgess encourages engineering students to search for these marvellous 4-bar mechanisms in animals.

Burgess made a few more comments disregarding evolution but did not dwell on them. Some sarcastic remark about “evolutionary breakthroughs” triggered a sympathetic chuckle from the audience, who apparently were lapping it all up.

Everywhere i look, i see optimal design. Everything is optimal.

Even the human eye? Our nose and throat connection? The laryngeal nerve? Our sex organs right next to our waste disposal system? One hole for eating, drinking, talking and breathing? You’re telling us these are all optimal design?

All species of bird ALL have optimal wings, and that is true if you look back in the fossil records. Complete optimal design.

As one of my twitter followers pointed out: “Tell that to a penguin.”

Now we moved on to added beauty. A round column can hold up a building, but architects add features such as ridges and elaboration that add to the beauty without providing additional functionality. Apparently we see the same thing happening in nature.

Evolution cannot explain birdsong or the beauty of peacocks.

I know what Burgess is getting at: evolutionary theory has something in it about unnecessary features being lost. I suppose the answer to this lies in competition. The peahen chooses the most attractive peacock to mate with, and that’s how the genes for beauty get preserved and enhanced. I’m guessing here; i should look into this in more detail.

And then we were told we would need a degree in music to understand the beauty of bird song! This whole thing relies on me being too stupid to understand anything, therefore I have to rely on experts to tell me what to believe.

Sadly, millions of people read Dawkins’ books.

This triggered a reminder in me: when i was a Christian i was too scared to read anything by Dawkins. I think we were discouraged from it, though i can’t remember explicitly being told not to. It was more likely from comments like this. Personally, i think i was scared that i might learn something that would cause me to have doubts, and doubts are bad. You must always just believe.

Funnily enough, not knowing anything about Dawkins, i still had an opinion. I remember once, as a Christian, walking into a bookshop with another christian, seeing The God Delusion on promotion and commenting “I feel so sorry for Richard Dawkins”.

Burgess made a smug comparison of credentials in engineering and mechanical design. A table on screen listed Burgess’ credibility: over 100 publications, 30 years experience in the field, 10 years teaching experience and so on. Next to Burgess were Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, with great big triumphant zeroes in their columns. All this was covered with a lot of feigned embarrassment: “I apologise for comparing myself to Dawkins and Dennett … I didn’t really want to show you this …”

The table was carefully constrained to make Burgess look great, and make Dawkins and Dennett look like numpties. In fact it just points out that they specialise in different fields. You could construct a similar table constrained to experience in biology, and Burgess would look like the biggest n00b of them all.

Apparently Dawkins always criticised imperfect design but never suggests a better design. This was mentioned in reference to the human blind spot, something i happen to know a bit about, so i called Burgess out on it later.

In his latest book, The Greatest Show On Earth, Dawkins is more angry than he’s ever been.

Dawkins is trying to make everybody see the world in a very black way.

There were a few off-hand comments about atheists being angry, offensive, arrogant bullies. It was not specifically spelled out, but young ears in particular would have heard a character portrayal that will stick with them.

Right after those comments, we got a perfect example of Burgess being offensive, arrogant, and a bully!

I had a student come to me and say he thought he had designed a perpetual motion machine. I said to him, “You are a fresher! You have only been here for one week. You have unconscious ignorance. You don’t even know what your ignorances are. Come back to me in your final year and then we’ll see if you have designed a perpetual motion machine!”

I don’t think this was a one-off occurrence of belittling students. I can’t remember the specifics, but there was a definite “This is what i tell my students” to do with unconscious ignorance, and after a few years they might get conscious ignorance, followed by unconscious knowledge and maybe finally conscious knowledge.

I think you know where Richard Dawkins fits into that!

Sniggers from the audience. In case we didn’t get it, Burgess spelled it out.

Richard Dawkins doesn’t even know what he is ignorant of.

We were coming to the end and the pace picked up with ever more absurd statements.

I could find a billion arguments that prove God exists but they would be ignored because they are not the evidence science is looking for.

It got more religious in theme. Burgess started going on about The Curse, that we live in cursed times. Everything bad was blamed on this Curse, including sore throats (Burgess had a sore throat last night).

We came back to the original scare tactics, clearly Burgess’ real passion: Judgement Day. Again we were told that there would be no excuses on the day of judgement. You can’t stand before God and say you ignored all the evidence of creation.

People have to remember that they will be in trouble on the day of reckoning. We have a duty to inform our friends and neighbours.

And don’t worry if you don’t understand anything about logic or reasoning, or science at all:

The way you argue can be more important than what you’re saying. It’s a spiritual argument. God works in people’s hearts.

The questions

Due to Burgess’ cursed throat, there was only opportunity for three questions. I put my hand up straight away and talked about the human eye and the blind spot. Burgess had said that Dawkins never provides a better design, but i suggested that the octopus eye was an example of a better design. Their light receptors are in front of the nerves, whereas ours are behind. We have this gap where the nerves go through the retina to the brain, giving us this blind spot so our brain basically has to hallucinate to make up the picture. This can be shown with a few optical illusions. Octopuses, and all cephalopods, don’t have this design flaw. So my question: “Do you think God prefers octopuses to humans?”

Burgess said that octopuses are very different and have different requirements for vision. “I stand in front of you now looking in the audience and i’m not aware of any blind spot” (No, because our brains are pretty awesome at inventing what it thinks might be in the blind spot – see these blind spot tests and map your blind spot.)

Burgess ended the answer by stating that we can’t always understand why God designed something in a certain way, but it is always perfect.

Jon, another infiltrator, picked up the question and pushed Burgess a little further on the design of octopus eyes. A teenager in front of me whispered “Oooh, i hate him! He was here last time!”

Burgess allowed for one last question. And it was Clio, another infiltrator! Actually, i don’t think the Christians there had any questions; maybe they were just there to pick up creationist arguments to tell to their evolutionist friends.

Clio is a medical doctor and was successfully able to push back and forth with Burgess. I was delighted that Clio brought up the laryngeal nerve which i only learned about yesterday, and found fascinating. It provides a good indication that we evolved from something like a fish.

In fish, this nerve goes straight down from the brain, past the heart to the gills. In all mammals, the laryngeal nerve still exists, still loops round the heart, and comes back up the neck to the larynx (voice box). It enables us to talk and swallow. In giraffes, this nerve travels 4 metres from the brain, down the neck to the heart, then comes back up again to a point 2 inches from where it started. An intelligent designer would presumably have chosen the optimum 2 inches route rather than 4 metres. In designing you have the opportunity of starting from scratch. Evolution makes more sense for gradually stretching this nerve over the course of millennia.

Burgess had no answer to this, which is a shame because some people have made good points about this nerve also branching off to other organs, and suggesting that maybe the brain needs to know about what the stomach is doing in order to decide how to control the larynx. But Burgess, not being a biologist, merely made reference to “some people” who thought the laryngeal nerve was poorly designed but later realised it was perfectly designed after all! :D

After a few more questions from Clio about sickle-cell anaemia it all came back to simply blaming every bad thing on The Curse … and praising God for everything good! Whoopee! :D

Having sussed that some people in the audience were not christians, the host came back on stage and encouraged us to read our Bibles “and if you haven’t got one we’ll give you one!” :)

The infiltrator chats

The best part came at the end, where we talked to the people there. I firstly went to challenge Stuart Burgess on the billion proofs of God’s existence that would supposedly be ignored. I think that if there were even one undeniable proof that God exists, everyone would want to know about it. I’d certainly change my mind straight away if someone had indisputable evidence.

Burgess disagreed. “People don’t want to know” … “Essentially there are a billion proofs all around us and people just ignore them”. I tried to press my point even harder – “Because there are alternative explanations. I’m talking about something that provided absolute proof with no other explanation”. Burgess still thought that people would just ignore it.

I later got chatting with a group of people who admitted to having doubts, but just chose to trust God in all of it. I encouraged them to think in terms of knowledge vs belief: “You don’t know for a fact that God exists, but you believe God exists. I don’t know for a fact that God does not exist, but i don’t believe in God.”

We had a very nice conversation, very respectful of each other. It basically came to this: we had the same doubts and the same questions. They chose to go to their bibles, and i chose to go to science. I said i like things that can make predictions, that you can experiment and test, and multiple people can come to the same conclusions from the evidence.

Somebody told me there are no contradictions in the bible. I got the Skeptics Annotated Bible up on my tablet PC and turned to just the short list of contradictions in the bible. I can respect their faith and beliefs, but if they tell me the bible has no contradictions, i will tell them that it does. We just looked at the first question: the grandfather of Jesus. They looked it up on their Blackberry and said “Oh yeah! I never noticed that!” and then said something about the genealogy of Jesus being important. I suggested that maybe Matthew elaborated a little to put Jesus in the right family to match the prophecies.

I hope i showed that there are questions to be asked, and that atheists are not all angry, arrogant, offensive, bullying.

I was actually thanked for coming: so often it’s all one-sided and they found it interesting to have another point of view to consider. I know i would have loved it if something like that had happened when i was young and brainwashed, and having doubts. It would have been really good for me to see that someone can come to alternative explanations and be happy about it. That’s really the reason we were there.

The end

Now i have written far too much! But i hope if some skeptics find this blog post in the future they will be prepared for an evening with Stuart Burgess. I have no reason to suspect that the content matter will change much: it seems Burgess has been rehashing this stuff about the knee joint for the last twelve years and will continue to do so for a lot longer yet.

Now bring on the comments! Let’s see if i get an army of arrogant offensive bullying christians! :)

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28 comments on “An evening with Professor Stuart Burgess

  1. I’ve sent the following e-mail to Professor Burgess:-

    “Dear Professor

    Thank you very much for your lecture “The Design Argument” which I attended at Winchester on Saturday. The Q & As were curtailed by your state of voice (I wish you a speedy recovery) but there was some lively discussion among the audience afterwards, at a very high intellectual level, from which arose the following question.

    What is “design”? There are several different (and sometimes conflated) usages but what is required is a conceptual definition of the abstract mass noun “design” as used in the design argument. You offered a set of “hallmarks of design” but these do not amount to such a definition.

    Best wishes

    RICHARD GREEN”

    • “Richard

      “Good question.

      “In engineering design the question sometimes comes up. Also in the origins debate.

      “The common question is whether design is a noun or verb. But even when constraining the question to a noun or a verb it is not easy to define the word design.

      “Sometimes an evolutionist uses the word design but then explains it is a noun not a verb.

      “In my engineering degree I was taught that design involves creating a solution to a problem that had not been conceived before.

      “Sometimes engineers joke that “whilst scientists discover what is, engineers design what has never been!”.

      “I believe that a complex system always needs a designer because a complex system requires specific information that cannot be created by chance.

      “In contrast, evolution argues that a complex system can self-organise. But as an engineer, I have never seen any complex system self organise.

      Stuart”

  2. Thanks for mentioning the penguin!

    The Greatest Show on Earth and The Ancestor’s Tale, particularly, are comprehensive and life-affirming!

    • I shall have to read The Greatest Show On Earth soon. I agree, since i became fascinated in what science and logic have to offer, i have appreciated the natural world more than ever before! :)

  3. I wonder how God would explain what he was doing for the first 2 billion years of creation, messing about with cyanobacteria. Come on, bring on the humans! Oh hang on, presumably the good Professor doesn’t believe the Earth is that old.

    I watched a documentary recently on sex development disorders. I don’t know what sort of God would design a continuum of sexes, making lives painful and tragic for the unfortunates who suffer from being born with ambiguous sexual characteristics. Presumably a wrathful one.

    I find the ‘perfect design’ theory most amusing when watching ‘Songs of Praise’ in which a significant percentage of the congregation appear to be wearing glasses in front of their ‘perfect’ eyes! Lots of creatures have better eyes than we have. Are we not meant to be the pinnacle of God’s achievement? Why didn’t he give us eyes that can see in the dark or have better acuity like other animals?

    I am currently reading Richard Dawkins’ book ‘The Magic of Reality’ which is actually rather a gentle (for him!) exposition of some interesting questions. The chapters usually start with what people used to believe (i.e. myths) and go on to explain the science. Also, Bill Bryson’s book ‘A Short History Of Nearly Everything’ makes some marvellously subtle points and he is of course very humorous. Bryson ‘predicts’, writing in 2004, the Japanese tsunami in his book so should we now start worshipping him as a ‘seer’? :P
    Heartily recommended reading if you haven’t already.

    • Hi Roger, thank you.

      The age of the earth question was out of the scope of last night’s talk, but i think it’s safe to assume that Burgess subscribes to the literal interpretation of the creation story and the number of generations since then.

      Funny you mention the glasses — I actually saw someone celebrating the fact that we have a ridge on our noses as if God knew one day some of us would have to wear glasses, and kindly provided a convenient place for us to put them. It’s all ridiculously backwards.

      Thanks for your suggestions of books to read, i will get to them one day!

  4. What an interesting account – well done to you and your crew for maintaining decorum while at the same time putting some pressure on.

    It’s so important that people making these kinds of arguments don’t always go unchallenged, and the most important reason for that is not to try to convince the person making the argument, but rather to be seen to be challenging; seen by others who may be undecided about the issue. If even one person finds the debate caused by your presence useful in their own thought processes, then you have done some good. I commend you!

    I don’t know whether Dawkins said that evolution was ‘easy’ at any point, but my opinion is that this description depends on whether you take into account they enormous amount of time that has elapsed. Evolving a giraffe’s neck may be difficult if you have a thousand years – but not if you have tens of millions, or billions.

    By the way, I would LOVE to know what Professor Burgess – as an experienced engineer of undoubted authority – thinks about evolutionary design algorithms.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_algorithm#Evolutionary_algorithms

    • Thanks Mike! It was a fun evening :)

      I agree about the time thing, and i suspect most of the crowd there don’t believe there was enough time for everything to evolve because they take a biblically literal view on the timespan of the earth. Someone was talking about the chances of throwing four dice and having them land in a perfect square formation. I said if you did it for long enough it would eventually happen. If you recorded it every time and only uploaded the successful attempt to youtube you’d look very clever. But that argument is lost if you don’t first agree on the time frame available.

      I am interested in evolutionary algorithms in computing, including mutation, selection and cross pollination. There are examples where it works really well; the Mona Lisa in 50 polygons experiment is a good one that i know of.

  5. I’ve realised that there might have been a very strong argument against evolution at the Professor’s talk; that being the existence of the Prof himself. I’m just not sure either whether he’s also evidence against intelligent design…

    • Taking things on trust without questioning them is part of our evolutionary advantage. So is our tendency to give love and devotion to someone who we consider to rank above us. Sometimes these things that helped our evolution for millions of years are not so necessary anymore, but they still persist or get attached to new concepts.

  6. “In his latest book, The Greatest Show On Earth, Dawkins is more angry than he’s ever been.”

    No. He’s been angrier.

    I’ve read both ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ and the young Earth creationist ‘rebuttal’ ‘The Greatest Hoax on Earth?’ by Jonathan Sarfati. Sarfati sounds rather angry from time to time and also has a habit of accusing Dawkins of ‘equivocation’ and ‘bait-and-switch’. I’ve not read anything by Burgess.

  7. Hi Sermoa.

    An interesting report with some good answers to Burgess’ claims.

    However, there are many, many Christians (myself included) who reject YECism and don’t see a conflict between science and faith. Do you not recognise this fact sermoa ? Where there no christians of this view in the audience ? Were the Christians at the end having a problem with their faith or YECism ?

    To turn this into a discussion about whether or not God does or doesn’t exist is a mistake and only plays into the hands of YECs (i.e they’ll claim to accept evolution ultimately results in Atheism etc. etc. etc.). Science takes NO position on the supernatural and to use science to promote Atheism harms the pro science cause as much as the YECs misrepresentation of it.

    I agree with Roger that the age of the Earth should have been brought up at some point.

    • Hi Peter.

      I happen not to believe in God, so my conversations will naturally be influenced by that. It was science that helped me to discard my religious beliefs, so i personally have a connection between science and my atheism.

      I have no problem with people believing in God … it’s just the ones with the irrational beliefs about literal interpretations of the bible that i have a problem with.

      • No problem sermoa.

        It’s just that it was a pity there were no Christians who object to Burgess’ beliefs in the audience.

        From your report, it appeared to be pro science Atheists/Humanists/Sceptics on the one side, and irrational anti science Christians on the other.

        That isn’t how this so called debate plays out in reality of course. It’s how the YECs would like it to be, but there are many Christians still on the pro science side, much to their (the YECs) dismay. Young Earth creationism isn’t Christianity.

        As you no doubt well know, there are many involved within this battle who are pro science and also people of faith. As an example, both Kenneth R. Miller, who testified at the Dover trial, and Tammy Kitzmiller (the plaintiff at the trial) are both Christians so the division is not clear cut (nor should it be).

        The important thing is that science should be defended against, as you quite rightly say, irrationality, irrespective of anyone’s faith (or lack thereof).

        Had I encountered the doubting Christians at the end I’d have drawn their intention to Glenn Morton’s story, a YEC who, when he went to work in the oil industry almost became an Atheist because of what he saw with his very own eyes.

        You don’t say if they were having doubts about thir faith because of YECism, or just YECism, but Morton’s story is well worth reading.

      • Thanks Peter, it’s good to hear your opinions. You’re right, the debate was very polarised. The talk was arranged by the only church in Winchester (that i know of) that teaches young earth creationism. It attracted people from as far as Salisbury and Kent. It’s good to remember that these are the minority christians. It would have been good for some pro-science christians to be there too, but i don’t think there were any.

        The people i spoke to talked about questions much broader than the age of the earth and whether God designed everything that we see today. They talked about suffering and sin and guilt, the accuracy of the bible, and the horrific brutality of the murder of Jesus.

        aimee x

  8. I don’t buy into “theistic evolution” at all. It is not evolution PROPERLY UNDERSTOOD; it is merely mutability of species. Even creationists concede this to a small degree: “micro-evolution”.

    Evolution, properly understood, is something far more profound; it is a UNIVERSAL ALGORITHM, the engine of which is self-replication and the power of exponential growth. Dennett said of it, in “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”:-

    “The key to understanding Darwin’s contribution is GRANTING the premise of the Argument from Design. What conclusion ought one to draw if one found a watch lying on the heath in the wilderness? … Paley was right in saying not just that Design was a wonderful thing to explain, but also that Design took Intelligence. All he missed – and Darwin provided – was the idea that this Intelligence could be broken into bits so tiny and stupid that they didn’t count as intelligence at all, and then distributed through space and time in a gigantic, connected network of algorithmic process.”

    As he also said:-

    “Its [“Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”] being the idea of an algorithmic process makes it all the more powerful, since the substrate neutrality it thereby possesses permits us to consider its application to just about anything. It is no respecter of material boundaries. It applies, as we have already begun to see, even to itself. The most common fear about Darwin’s idea is that it will not just explain but EXPLAIN AWAY the Minds and Purposes and Meanings that we all hold dear.”

    Applying to itself, the evolutionary algorithm has gathered together, in space and time, those tiny and stupid bits of intelligence to form the organized complexity of Mind – intelligence that does count as Intelligence. But theistic evolutionists postulate Mind – the Mind of God – as the designer of those tiny and stupid bits of intelligence that do not count as Intelligence. As Dawkins said, in “The Blind Watchmaker”:-

    “At first sight there is an important distinction to be made between what might be called ‘instantaneous creation’ and ‘guided evolution’. Modern theologians of any sophistication have given up believing in instantaneous creation. The evidence for some sort of evolution has become too overwhelming. But many theologians who call themselves evolutionists smuggle God in by the back door: they allow him some sort of supervisory role over the course that evolution has taken, either influencing key moments in evolutionary history (especially, of course, human evolutionary history), or even meddling more comprehensively in the day-to-day events that add up to evolutionary change.

    “We cannot disprove beliefs like these, especially if it is assumed that God took care that his interventions always closely mimicked what would be expected from evolution by natural selection. All that we can say about such beliefs is, firstly, that they are superfluous and, secondly, that they assume the existence of the main thing we want to explain, namely organized complexity. The one thing that makes evolution such a neat theory is that it explains how organized complexity can arise out of primeval simplicity.”

    I would add, incidentally, that that this careful divine mimicking has only been called for since 1859 (when “On the Origin of Species” was published). Before then, nothing could have been expected from evolution by natural selection.

    So, the division is absolutely clear-cut; there is no true common ground (or half-way house) between evolution, understood as a universal algorithm, and theism. Theistic evolutionists don’t understand evolution.

    Best wishes

    RICHARD

    • Richard, that’s a very cogent summary, and I’m with you on this one.

      I see many questions answered by science, and many still to be answered: perhaps some can never be answered fully. Such a cosmos does allow for an external deity in my view, and I don’t deny the possibility, although I see no need to consider it in my everyday life. I find other explanations of why there is something rather than nothing to be more elegant, though probably no less difficult to investigate!

      Personally, I’m as certain as I can be of the non-existence of the Christian God, as depicted in the Bible. Such a character has so many hallmarks of being the myth of an ancient people that I find it impossible to ignore this as the most likely explanation (see Ockham/Occam’s razor).

      A constant process of learning and scientific growth, in my opinion, makes it ever-clearer to any who enquire, that almost everything previously explained by myth actually came about via a most wonderful and fascinating route. I find the mathematics of evolution particularly compelling, and I often think that an inability to grasp the behaviour of numbers is at the root of a lot of doubt when it comes to this topic.

  9. Richard
    Others may comment further, but I think there are some who consider themselves Christians but have come to understand and accept something of evolutionary theory subsequently – without abandoning or losing faith. The theory of evolution, or modern evolutionary synthesis, may suggest how you can achieve complexity without a need for prior intelligence, but such Christians probably think that an intelligence – the Christian God – fine-tuned everything and also caused the (possibly rare) conditions that allowed simple life to first get started on Earth,
    Ashley H-R

    • I would suggest that those who think a god fine-tuned the universe (or even the planet) for evolution and then stepped out of the way should consider themselves Deists, not Christians.

  10. Richard:

    Seems to me you’re stating, in no uncertain terms, that if you are pro science you cannot be a Christian and that Christianity and science are incompatible.

    (1) Many scientists who are Christians (and I’m not talking about YECs) would beg to differ

    (2) Stuart Brurgess agrees with you.

    (3) science takes no position on the supernatural.

  11. “Theistic evolutionists don’t understand evolution”.

    Or perhaps some Atheists don’t understand science

    • Peter I agree. As part of my preparation for the talk I contacted Professor Ken Miller via email and he was very supportive of confronting YEC’s and he gave me a quote to use. I also read his book ‘Finding Darwin’s God’ which is an excellent summary of the Theory.
      For me Creationism is where the rubber meets the road and I wish we’d had some Christians in our group.

      • RELIGIOUS FAITH makes people believe things that are demonstrably false and deny things that are demonstrably true. Creationism is but one case of this. To quote Dawkins, probably at his most outspoken:-

        “It’s easy to regard those 19 men – the murderers of September the 11th, 2001 – as evil barbarians.

        “But I hope I shall not give offence if I say that those 19 men were not evil. By the lights of their own religion, they were righteous, good, striking a blow for Allah, securing for themselves a fast track to paradise by martyring themselves for Allah. An alarmingly high percentage of young Muslims, living in Britain, agree with them. If we extrapolate from those figures for British Muslims, it seems quite likely that millions, tens of millions maybe even hundreds of millions of people in this world believe it follows from their cherished RELIGIOUS FAITH that to murder 3,000 New York office workers was the right, the good, the dutiful thing to do. They believe that the 19 men, whom we regard as unforgivable thugs and barbarians, the epitome of evil, are even now relaxing by the ever-flowing streams of the gardens of paradise, being served and granted their every wish by dark-eyed maidens.

        “These 19 men, and others like them, were not uneducated, not stupid. Some of them were trained as engineers. They know some mathematics, physics, scientific method. The men who plotted the more recent suicide missions in Britain were doctors. Their heads were filled with detailed facts about anatomy, physiology, cellular biochemistry. They knew the precise anatomical details of the arms and legs that they hoped to sever from bodies – their own included. They had good brains, capable of passing difficult medical examinations.

        “But those good brains had been hijacked by FAITH, just like an airliner hijacked by terrorists.

        “They’re not stupid. They’re not unpleasant people to know. After the London bombings of the 7th of July 2005, the British newspapers were full of stories of the astonishment of the neighbours and acquaintances of the bombers. These were nice, decent young men, friendly, worked in youth clubs, loved playing cricket. They were not social misfits but friendly young men, the sort of young man you’d enjoy spending an evening with.

        “But nice as they were, their brains had been hijacked by a terrible parasite, the virus called RELIGIOUS FAITH.”

        RELIGIOUS FAITH is “where the rubber meets the road”. It is CHALLENGING RELIGIOUS FAITH that is the imperative.

        Best wishes

        RICHARD

      • The black and white world of the dogmatist is seldom an accurate reflection of reality. Do all creationists actually believe what they are peddling? The desperate need for certainty exhibited by some seems to indicate a lack of “faith” as defined in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Some creationist organisations also seem to be remarkably keen on money for belonging to a religion that has a low regard for the acquisition of wealth enshrined within its writings.

        Where the rubber truly meets the road is where humans start to believe that their culture, politics and even religion, in so far as it can actually be separated from the first two, make them of greater worth than their fellows or indeed make them believe others are of lesser worth.

  12. A definition – “Theistic evolution holds that the theist’s acceptance of evolutionary biology is not fundamentally different from the acceptance of other sciences.”

    Though in common usage it does seem to represent a spectrum of view points from those on the edge of the design argument right up to people who fit the above definition and don’t feel any need to graft unnecessary philosophical meaning to the explanatory power of a scientific theory.

    There is also something disconcerting cynical about taking the argument of an opponent, often characterized as intellectually deficient, and using it against another body of people you happen to disagree with.

  13. What exactly does it mean to be “pro-science” or, indeed, “anti-science”? I’ve never thought in these terms.

    Best wishes

    Richard

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