This being Good Friday, it seems like a good time to set down some of my thoughts about faith. (I’ve already spoken about faith and writing in a general sort of way, in an essay on my web site, Faith and the Difficulty of Writing. But that didn’t focus specifically on faith in God so much as on faith in the Muse, faith in one’s own abilities—with a kind of pointer toward a deeper underlying faith. It’s that deeper faith that I’m thinking of now.)
I once received an email from a reader, who said he’d been stopped cold by a scene in my science fiction novel Eternity’s End, in which a character who happens to be both an alien and a doctor speaks of her Christian faith. It’s just a small point in the book, a bit of characterization, and a low-key way of saying that neither Christ nor religious faith have gone away in the future. Beyond that, the novel says nothing explicitly about Christianity (though the beliefs of the author are probably detectable in other ways). My reader was an avowed atheist, and he couldn’t believe that anyone who took a scientific view of the world could also believe in anything so stupid.
How (the reader asked) could I just dismiss the scientific method, and the evidence for the Big Bang, for evolution, for…well, I forget what else, but you get the idea.*
After picking my jaw up off the floor, I wrote back: Where did you get the idea that any of that was true?
Some considerable exchange followed, but I don’t think he ever got the point that, yes, you can believe in science and in God.
Data points: I believe the scientific method is the best tool we have for understanding how the universe works. It relies on evidence, on cross-checking, on testing hypotheses to see if they stand up, on rational and critical thinking. Sometimes evidence that appears to support one explanation turns out to support a different explanation just as well, or better. I believe in the Big Bang, at least until a better theory comes along. I believe in evolution, same deal. I believe in God, a personal God who created the universe and each of us, and in his son Jesus.
Whoops. That last sentence may be in the wrong paragraph. That’s not about science, that’s about faith. And faith is different from science. But wait—they’re both about ways of knowing, and of forming belief. So I guess they both belong in that paragraph about my beliefs, after all.
It’s all about different ways of knowing:
- I believe in the findings of science because when I read about the research (I’m an avid armchair scientist), I know that people are checking each others’ work and testing for reproducible results. Sometimes scientists lie and fake data, but they’re always caught in the end. Sometimes they’re wrong; sometimes results seem really cool—cold fusion, for example—but then don’t pan out so well in the cross-checking. It’s a continuing, changing story.
- I believe in God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, because of my personal experience of them. Is my belief rational? In part, yes. I was not able to believe, as an adult, until I convinced myself that God was a plausible hypothesis. I arrived at that point through studying the Bible and other books, and through many discussions with people who had knowledge and insights that I didn’t. Only after I could accept the rational possibility was I able to be open to the real presence of God in my life, and to feel that presence. Does it happen that way for everyone? No, but why should it?
The point is, I see no contradiction between my faith and science. Why did God use the Big Bang to create the universe? I don’t know, can you think of a better way? Why did God use evolution to create humans (and dogs, and dolphins and whales, and cats, and rhinos, and dinosaurs)? Maybe it appealed to his sense of artistry. Why did Jackson Pollock make paintings by throwing and dripping paint onto a canvas? I’m pretty sure God has a terrific sense of humor; anyone who’s lived with a cat or a dog (especially a boxer!) knows that.
And so…I’m not sure where I was headed with this, but I wanted to share some thoughts that I’ve been meaning to write up into an essay, but never got around to. Good Friday just seemed like a really good time to start.
Maybe next I’ll write about faith in God and writing.
*Note: my reader didn’t ask if I was a Christian, he just assumed I was because a character in my book was. Guess what! Authors and their characters are not the same people! In this case, the character was a Christian, and so am I; the character was offended by profanity, but I am not; the character was an amphibious Narseil, but I am not. Or I wasn’t, the last time I checked.
That was about the best thing I’ve read in your blog so far.
While I as a Christian, personally disagree with a lot of your conclusions on science and God and the interplay between the two, I respect that you are able to step out and so bluntly wear you faith in this blog. Specifically because of people like the one you mentioned in your post, who will carry a distate for you and your works simply because of your faith.
Here’s a story idea for you. Maybe it’s already been written, of course. Scientists discover a “religion” gene. People who have it experience God in their lives. People who don’t have it end up stinkin’ secular humanists or whatever.
The scientist who discovers the gene (or maybe he’s just a science fiction writer) has been comfortable with his religious beliefs. Now he discovers that there could be a simple biochemical explanation for it. What does he do? What happens to his belief?
You could call it “God of the Gaps.” If you don’t want it, maybe I’ll write it myself, one of these years.
Jeffrey A. Carver
Hi Tim. Thanks for your comments. I’m curious–where do we part company on the interplay of science and faith? (If you feel like talking about it.)
And Rich — hah, you know I have to write the one about the giant undersea carrot and beautiful oceanographer first. And you’re almost finished with your new novel. So I think you should write this. And then I’ll get to criticize it. (What’s the “gaps” part, though–you mean gap between different belief systems? Different ways of identifying knowledge?)
Hey–Happy Easter, everyone! (Even if you don’t celebrate Easter, celebrate the arrival of Spring.)
I should probably be an agnostic, as it is the only faith with a firm logical footing. It asks, “Is there a god?” and answers, “I don’t know!” But I’m an athiest instead.
Athiesm is my faith. Not only do I not believe in god, I believe there is not a god. I can’t prove it, but I have faith in it. It is no more rational for me to believe there is no god than for you to believe in one. That said, and not to belittle those of faith but, I don’t believe in green dwarves living on the far side of the moon either and I have just as much or as little proof of their reality as I have of the existence of god. I was surprised to speak with the devoutly religious and find that when many of them pray they believe they are in direct communication with god; they believe they have direct evidence of god in that fashion so for them to believe in one is perfectly rational. I have never detected one so I don’t understand what they are saying but they are sincere in their belief; I believe they believe it even though I do not believe in what they believe.
That’s not to say I only believe in things I can detect. I know my detection methods, both innate and technological, are limited to a very thin and veiled view of the world. This brings in all kinds of interesting philosophical discussions about perception and reality. Can we really prove anything exists but ourselves? No. Perhaps I am god?!? Perhaps I created the universe?!? Or perhaps not.
When one thinks about it, and understands existence, there is faith in believing anything and everything. If you believe in evolution you know our senses and our brains were trained for millions of years to give us a highly distorted version of reality, very good at looking for food, predators and mates but not good at objective observation of reality. Our brains are not directly connected to anything; smell is the closest we come. Everything else is a poor closed-circuit TV channel that has been pre- and post-processed umpteen times before we can think about it. As such, “seeing is not believing” after all or it shouldn’t be.
I could believe the manifestation of a god in the basic, “great maker” spiritual sense of it all. I could believe that sort of being but only without the trappings of religion and its writings, its rules, its rituals, and its worship most of all. I cannot fathom a supreme being who created the universe who really cares about me; even moreso, a god who cares if I worship him? The creator of this vast universe (if anything exists outside of me, that is) surely has more important things to do than worry about little old me.
All that said, I understand why others believe in both god and science or just one or the other. I’m not here to ‘convert’ people to athiesm. I love discussing philosophy, the universe, our existence and so on but I try as hard as is humanly possible to stay ‘neutral’ without trying to tell people they are wrong when discussion something for which I have an opposing view.
I love the religion gene idea. I don’t believe in popular supernatural phenomena like ghosts but some who believe in them also believe that some people can detect them and some cannot; perhaps there is a ‘medium’ gene as well.
As for religion in science fiction I dislike the Star Trek idea of humans tossing religion aside as they move out into our galaxy. Most humans like their spirituality and their religion and I don’t see it being dropped any time soon. An SF story with religion is more believable to me than one without it. Alien religions are interesting as well and I can enjoy them even though I don’t believe in one myself. I probably don’t understand them well, being non-religious myself, just as I didn’t understand stories about fathers until I became one myself but I know I’ll never be an amphibian (or am I?) and that doesn’t stop me from reading about them.
I don’t believe in souls either but that’s another discussion for another day…
Jeffrey A. Carver
Now, see, that’s the kind of reply about which we can have a discussion, Harry. Good one. My other correspondent couldn’t see that his atheism was a faith without proof, that absence of proof (of God’s existence) wasn’t proof of absence.
I’d like to respond in detail, but am currently on a tight time-leash.
Dear Mr. Carver,
Well, well, I get a mention in your Blog. Thanks. I hadn’t expected it. It “feels” good.
However, to Tim who said: “Specifically because of people like the one you mentioned in your post, who will carry a distaste for you and your works simply because of your faith.”
I should reply:
My criticism of the Christian Alien in “Eternity’s End” had absolutely nothing to connect to you, Jeffrey, as I did not know much about you, personally, or of your faith. One’s faith is one’s own and not Universal.
I was responding as an Atheist (no god(s) exist)reading a science fiction novel which had an Alien from another part of our Milky Way, a fictional character created by you, could not be a “Earth” type Christian unless, oh my, that “Christ (a fictional character)” would be any extraterrestrial life-form “crucified and resurrected Christ” in other extraterrestrial cultures (that Bruno asserted and was executed by the Catholic Church for in 1600, among other reasons).
I could agree with, perhaps, an extraterrestrial intelligent enough whom met and shared philosophies with Planet Earthians to convert to a “Christian Philosophy”; but, no, I guess not.
The Christian New Testament is a Orthodox Christian religious philosophy of several Hebrew-Christian groups of which the Roman Catholic Church “chose” as its Rock and Foundation. Christians tend not to have much knowledge of their history nor have read the Gnostic Gospels of other Christian Mystics the Church banned, burned, or destroyed. Nor do Christians know of their brutal and bloody history through the 19th Century.
I became an Atheist in 1970 when I self-discovered that a god did not exist and was imaginary and created just as all of the gods/goddesses ever imagined and created and worshipped by our species with similarities because we all have the similar fears–like mortality and dying. A mythical “son of a god” dying and resurrecting is not just a Christian concept–the ancients also had dying and resurrrecting gods.
I am very glad to inform you and the other bloggers, like Tim, that the only object “resurrecting” on Easter Sunday was this star we call “Sun” Or “Sol” (ever read of the “Sol Evictus” religious beliefs of King Constatine?)–it “dies and descends to the underworld in the West at sunset and resurrects, is reborn, from the underworld in the East at dawn, every day.
Easter is not based on a historical happenstance. It is determined to be the First Sunday on or after the First Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox–also associated with the Hebrew Passover Celebration.
I’ve written enough. If there was a god, I wouldn’t be an Atheist. And, I am not “closed-minded”–just well informed. If a god should “exist” someday, I would consider the evidence first. As yet, there is none.
Jeffrey A. Carver
Actually, Chet, the alien you reacted to in Eternity’s End was a doctor who had served a medical residency on Earth. (It’s right there in the scene.) She and the other Narseil Christians owe their faith to humans.
As I have noted before, and as Harry said above, atheism is a statement of belief (faith), not of fact or logic.
Agnosticism is a statement of fact.
Hello Mister Chester Twarog. (This is Jeff’s daughter)
You intigued me by mentioning that you “self-discovered that a God did not exist.” Was there a certain event in your life that convinced you of the nonexistence of God?
I just wanted to take a moment and say “Thank you” for your writings. You may or may not remember me (though I do shoot off an email every couple of years or so asking where the fourth book of Chaos Chronicles is), but around 1995 I emailed you. I wrote that I liked your works and I wanted to be a writer as well. I did have some difficulty with such trivial (ha!) things as grammar, but you said that I needed to keep trying and to always reach for the best that I could do.
It is 10 years later and my life’s dream has (somewhat) come true. I was just ordained last Sunday as a Southern Baptist Minister. I am responsible for a small church in rural Illinois. I love the church and the people and myself seem to be getting along great. I am now a writer in the sense that I compose my sermons–one for sunday morning and the other for sunday evening. All through high school, college and post college I have held your words in my mind. You talked with a young boy, never wrote a harsh word or empty criticism and you encouraged him to try the best he could. And for that I thank you.
Now, on to the juicy bits. I wanted to post a couple of points dealing with religion and evolution and the like because it is one of my passions. Science has always fascinated me and the universe is more beautiful when I really consider the wonders that God has made.
One of the main hurdles many agnostics and others face when presented with the Christian religion is they may feel that to become a Christian means to reject, in total, all of the scientific advances and laws that can be seen and proved. This is not true. Truely, Sir William Bragg was correct when he stated, “Religion and science are opposed…but only in the same sense as that in which my thumb and forefinger are opposed – and between the two, one can grasp anything.”
Darwinian Evolution (the standard under which most agnostics stand) is a 150 year old theory that was based on observations, not molecular biology. Darwin wrote long before DNA was discovered. Unfortunately most scientific discoveries have been interpreted to fit the evolution model and not the other way around.
Now, I pick on evolution here because either it is correct or God is correct. Either a god made the first life or life formed on its own. If life formed on its own then there is no need for a god, and in fact if there is no need for a god then we do not have to that god. However, if a god did form the first life then we had best get to know what he/she/it wants.
So the question really is: can life form on its own? My answer is no and here are a few reasons why.
First, we have learned that we are complex creatures. The human has DNA pairs measuring in the tens of millions. But the first life wouldn’t be as advanced as humans. It would be simple. It would be a very simple organism. Molecular Biologists have concluded that the fewest number of DNA base pairs needed to have life is around 100,000. Any fewer than that, they say, and the cell won’t have enough information to function properly.
Now, one of the problems with getting DNA is that the molecules have a certain chirality. Chirality refers to the molecules being right and left handed. All DNA molecules are right handed and all RNA molecules are left handed. However, these molecules exist in a homogenus mixture in nature. There is no way of purifying the mixture short of someone with intelligence actually looking at the molecules and picking them out.
Compound onto that the need for having some way for the cell to send instructions to the other parts of the cell that is necessary to continue life. That is where RNA comes in. RNA is like a reverse copy of DNA that carries the instructions of the DNA to the various parts of the cell. Unlike DNA, you only need around 10,000 pairs of RNA for a very basic life form.
In total you would need 100,000 pairs of Right Handed DNA molecules and 10,000 Left Handed RNA molecules in order to form the most basic life form. And they must be in the correct sequence in order to form a working cell.
What is the “chance” that would happen? As an exercise, take a coin and start flipping. You can choose which side you want to come up, but the side you do choose must show every single time for 110,000 times straight. The odds of that happening is close to winning 7 state lotteries with a single, one line ticket for each.
It just won’t happen any time soon. Now, there are a few still out there who will say, “But given an infinite amount of time, and infinite number of monkeys could produce the works of Shakespere”. This is not true. Since the 1950s we have learned that time and space are, in fact, not infinite. They have definite beginnings. Science has shown the universe to be around 14 billions years old (give or take). There isn’t enough time or material in existence for spontaneous generation to occure.
And this would be for a simple, single celled prokaryote organism.
Oh, and out of the 80 or so protines that exist, only 20 of them are conducive for life. The rest form a life-killing tar.
I wanted to make this a seperate post since it deals with a seperate issue: the trustworthiness of the Bible.
One of the most used criticisims of the Bible is that it was “chosen” by the Catholic church and edited in order to show that Jesus was the Messiah. They will say that most Christians do not know their history. Heaven help the agnostics and athiests when they meet one who does.
The question “Is the Bible trustworthy” is a good question that needs to be examined. My answer to this question is, of course, yes. And here is why.
The Old Testament (or the TaNaKh) is the Jewish Scriptures. Can we trust them? Well, for starters we must realize that the Jewish nation was a Theocracy. Any law given to the people by God was extremely important. The people memorized huge blocks of scripture and taught what they learned to their students.
But how do we know what laws were from God? Simple: any prophecy spoken was to be tested (this was also a command from God) and if what was spoken did not come to pass then the person who told the prophecy was to be stoned. The Jews would not tolerate errors in their laws and in their prophecy.
So when it came time for the books to actually be written, there were many strict guidelines for copying scripture. Now, in 1947 the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The scrolls, totaling around 15,000 complete and partial scrolls, ranged in date from around 250 B.C. to 50 A.D. (or so). What they found was that the Hebrew texts we used for our modern translations were, with only a handful of exceptions, exactly the same as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Now, if someone had wanted to edit the scripture, one would have to change all of the master scrolls, all of the scrolls copied off those masters, and change the memories of every single person who had ever memorized scripture.
They also found copies of the Septugiant, that is the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible. What this showed us was that the interpretation of the Hebrew prophecies concerning the Messiah had not changed before the life and time of Jesus.
Now, concerning the New Testament. The NT was cannonized in the 390s, but the books were accepted as being scripture long before that. This would have been far before the Catholic Church had “edited” the NT to fit their means. And, just like the OT, we have several copies of extremely old pieces of scrolls and codices that show modern translations of the Bible to be near 100% accurate.
As far as the gnostic gospels, the Gospel of Thomas and the like…we only have evidence of those after 200 AD while we have pieces of the Synoptic Gospels and John from much earlier. Those were not included in the current canon by God-fearing, educated men who had strict standards and methods when they formed the New Testament Canon.
I do not have the time here to discuss this further, but if you would like you may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if anyone has any questions. I may not know everything, but I know where to look.
Have a good day!
za gal on ze mat
Chad – Congratulations on your ordination! Hope your church thrives. I believe in the existence of god, but I disagree with your points about evolution.
“Religion and science are opposed…but only in the same sense as that in which my thumb and forefinger are opposed – and between the two, one can grasp anything.”
I emphasize the last line of this sentence, in which Sir William Bragg said that one can grasp anything between the two. Later, you appear to contradict this: either evolution is correct, or God is correct. But how do we know that God did not let evolution happen? I don’t believe God controls every little thing on Earth like puppets, but I do believe that he created everything. Could he not have created, and then allowed the continued changes that evolution claims?
-Lexi, daughter of author
Jeffrey A. Carver
Hey Chad! Great to hear from you! (Of course I remember you; you were one of my earliest and most loyal online fans.) Congratulations on your ordination. I’m gratified that things I said to you were actually helpful.
Theoretically, I’m working on my taxes right now, not my blog (ahem), so I don’t have time to respond in detail to your other comments, except to thank you for taking the time to post them. Oh, okay–I differ with your take on evolution (for example, I strongly suspect that there are chemical “strange attractors” that bring molecules together in ways that pure chance would not, including the matter of chirality), but this is something about which one can have a scientific debate. My own, purely subjective image, is of God sprinkling various forms of stardust into a great pot and stirring it all up with supernovas and black holes to juice things along, and watching with great interest to see what comes out–maybe adding a little iron here, taking out a little salt there, guiding the process the way an artist would who was experimenting.
And now I really must get back to figuring out what I must render unto Caesar (or, I hope, what Caesar must render unto me)! Thanks for posting!
Have I ever asked you what you think of the anthropic cosmological principle? I have this long, dense book with that title by Barrow and Tipler. I’ll lend it to you, although you’ll never have time to read it.
This is apropos of nothing, except that Barrow is a physicist who purports to have used physics to prove the existence of God. I don’t think most physicists have been convinced.
Chad, what you describe is one of the many arguments in the creationism belief system called “Intelligent Design”. Many others have argued for and against intelligent design all over the internet and in books. A simple web search will point you to both sides of the argument quite effectively. I will not repeat those arguments here, I just thought I’d put a name to your philosophy in case others want to look them up. Here is one fairly neutral look at the chirality question, http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/dec97/877305678.Bc.r.html
Jeffrey A. Carver
The anthropic cosmological principle is certainly more interesting than the tax code, which is what I spent most of today, I mean Sunday, on. (In case anyone reading this is unfamiliar with the term, the gist of the anthropic principle is that the reason we’re sitting here shooting the breeze in a universe that–against all odds–has just the right conditions [physical constants, etc.] to support life, is that there might have been a million other universes that couldn’t support life, and it wasn’t until one appeared that could sustain life that people like us showed up to comment on it.)
I find it an intriguing theory, but mostly irrelevant to the question of God’s existence, unless you consider the crucial proof of God to be the fine-tuned universe that we’re in. I guess I consider the fine-tuned universe to be suggestive, but hardly proof.
Tipler wrote a book that I never got past the leafing-through phase called “The Physics of Immortality.” Always meant to read it. I’m not sure how much respect it has garnered from the physics community, but anyone who is curious about it can learn more at http://math.tulane.edu/~tipler/.
I still stand by my statement with a clairification that I should have made but I did not.
Either evolution (and with it the idea of spontaneous generation or abiogenesis) is true or a hither power (in my reasoning the Judeo/Christian God) created life. The reason I say this is because if life randomly assembled itself together then we have no power than ourselves to affirm or answer to. However, if a higher power or god or what have you created life then that god would have the power to claim authority over us (and this is what the Judeo/Christian God claims).
I should have substituted spontaneous generation/abiogenesis but evolutionists who insist there is no god/higher power have nothing else in which to believe.
So my statement still stands firm. Between the finger of religion and the thumb of science, we can grasp the wonders of the universe. And to me (and many others) the fact that there is a God who thinks us worthy enough to construct a whole universe that is made for life is just astounding. What greater love is there, aside from God sending his Son to die for us, than to make a heavens that supports our life?
Now, if a god or higher power came along after life had already began, could that god or higher power claim authority over the lives of the beings already formed? Yes, it could if it used only force, but YHWH claims authority and power of us because he created us.
As far as evolution happeining after a god or higher power created life…to me it seems the evidence is stacked against Darwinian evolution. It is not observable in today’s current world, and the fossil records do not seem to support evolution (all fossils we have unearthed have been of completely formed animals…there are no half formed feathers, no elephants with non-functional trunks, etc..). Add to that the problem of irreducible complexity and many people (including a large number of molecular biologists and other disciplines) are starting to question the century and a half old evolution idea based on outward appearances.
Could have a god or higher power first created life and then let evolution happen? Maybe a question for you to consider is how could evolution work in the first place? If, as it is currently believed, mutations could be the driving force behind evolution we must first consider the idea that mutations could lead to a better adapted species.
To do that a mutation would have to add information to the animal or plant’s DNA (the simplest form of life would have around 100,000 pairs of DNA, while humans have over 32 million pairs). Could mutation add information to the DNA? As it stands, it is unlikely that any mutation could add helpful information to the DNA. For example, studies done on bacteria have shown that over time they become resistant to certain drugs. To some this shows the evolutionary mechanics at work. However, after looking at the bacteria’s DNA we find that the areas of DNA where the drug attacks were actually removed from the bacteria’s genetic makeup. The mutation has actually removed information from the DNA! On top of that, the resulting bacteria would not reproduce as fast or would lose a resistance to something else.
Even if something were to evolve through mutation, the mutation would have to be in the reproductive cells as well as the parent. If the information is not in the cells that become the sperm and egg the mutation will not be passed on, if the mutated plant/animal could reproduce at all.
But let us consider that a specific mutation could reproduce. If it was changed enough would it have something to reproduce with? For a specific mutation to progress it would have to mate with other plants/animals and have the mutation pass through every generation….and not once be “corrected” by the DNA’s built-in proofreading system.
Could naturalistic evolution happen without the interference of a higher power/god? Not by mutation.
For a site that has a much more information (as well as links to buy books that explains this and much more better than I ever could) go to http://www.evidenceofgod.com
And I never said that God controls everything or everyone like puppets on strings. But I do believe that God possesses creative powers and used them to create everything we see today.
So, what is it like having a father who is a famous writer?
It honors me that you do remember me! And by all means get your taxes done. Any major distraction that takes you away from writing is a mean and horrible thing.
And while I respect your views, my personal view of God is a God with a definite plan that was laid out before the foundation of the universe was laid. To me that shows more love than cosmic chance.
And as far as the “strange attractors”…I haven’t read anything concerning such forces…but that does not mean they do not or cannot exist. I was merely stating that currenty scientific study has shown that there is no natural way of purifying the molecules that make up DNA.
But enough about that, get back to editing!
Have a good day!
Yes, of course I should have stated that it was intelligent design. And you are right in saying that this is a much debated idea online and in print.
And here is a website for you: http://www.evidenceofgod.com The author was once a hard-line atheist and through 15 years of intense study came to find that there is a god and that god is the God of the Jews and Christians. So it will be a bit more jaded in that respect…but I would rather a person state their beliefs than to try to balance on the fence.
Have a good day!
Chad, like you I prefer people who state their beliefs rather than sitting on the fence.
You are wrong on several of your accounts:
Elephants with short trunks? See http://allelephants.com/allinfo/evol.php Also note that trunks are fleshy parts which are often not well preserved.
Other examples of forms which show good progression are horses. See http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/horses/horse_evol.html They evolved from tiny creatures much like little dogs into the large stallions and smaller ponies we see today.
Mutations cannot add information, they can only take it away? While mutations by definition do not add to the code itself they can certainly change how and how much of the genetic code is expressed and mutations are not the only way the code changes. Our genetic code contains a lot of material that is not currently expressed which is why we are more different than other mammals than it would appear from just looking at the difference in the codes. Small changes to individual pieces can make large changes in the way the code is expressed. See introns and transposons http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/T/Transposons.html
Things other than mutations happen to the genetic code. Transcription errors can cause more code than normal to be transcribed; it can even cause changes in the number of chromosomes of offspring. This can happen naturally or because of viral infection and other causes. Some of these errors can be tracked through evolution: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/molgen/
Bacteria regularly add to their genetic code using plasmids. Plasmids are strands of DNA which can contain cila-forming instructions, drug resistance, etc. The plasmids can either remain free or can be incorporated into the bacteria’s DNA. http://lsvl.la.asu.edu/resources/mamajis/plasmids/plasmids.html Eukaryots may also receive plasmids.
The study of evolution is not finished. Nothing in science is finished, it is ongoing. Scientists freely admit that what they understand today will likely be highly modified if not discarded in the future. That doesn’t make current scientific knowledge false or necessarily even wrong, it is just that it is the best they have today. Science is highly political, just like religion. Popular but incorrect ideas can stick around for a long time while more correct notions are pushed to the side because they are unpopular but eventually the evidence will turn the tide. What Darwin laid out is not the current theory; the theory itself and all scientific theories evolve over time as more is discovered. Religions change too but not for the same reasons, though the resistance to change in both camps has some similarities.
I had a quick look at the website you mention. I will take a closer look later but for now the answers on creation vs. evolution are seriously lacking and offer no real insight to me. He offers some scientific explanations but most are extrapolations and combinations and he does not explain them or link to places which do, he simply states them. He uses bible references to answer most questions. For example:
‘Couldn’t God have simply started the Evolutionary process?
Certainly he COULD have? A God creating the Universe could use virtually any means. BUT, Evolution triggered by God is NOT consistent with his nature – since God would not have “lied” to Moses by telling us that he created all creatures [Genesis 1]. Perhaps you feel Moses wasn’t inspired by God, and just “got lucky.” How “lucky” would that be? If Moses somehow knew the steps of creation listed in the Bible, just guessing the correct order would be as difficult as winning a state lottery… incredibly lucky.’
Saying that god wouldn’t lie to Moses about starting life and then letting it evolve is not a very convincing reason to an athiest. Bible quotes won’t make me a believer.
As I mentioned above in my first response, one of the main reasons I don’t believe in a creator like the god of jews and christians is that I cannot fathom a supreme being capable of creating the universe caring about me, much less loving me or wanting me to worship it. I don’t require my universe to have been created by anyone, and I don’t need the love of a supreme being. This really seems to be the crux of our two beliefs, not whether or not evolution occured. It is something which requires faith as there is no more evidence of the love of god then there is of god.
I won’t bother jumping into the debate because these things tend to go on forever with no one’s perspective being changed and people being more steadfast in their beliefs than before regardless of the validity of those beliefs.
But I did one to use this debate to bridge into another topic. I believe in God and the accuracy and truth of the Bible. That being said what does the idea of space travel and space colonization do to the Christian belief? The book of Revelation deals with God’s reign and judgement of everyone on the Earth. If that is taken literally then what can be said of people that live on a colony on some other planet? Obviously if one believes that God created the universe then God has power over the universe and it won’t matter where people are, they are still under God’s authority and judgement. But Revelation specifically just deals with judgement poured out on the Earth. So if someday there is a permanent colony of humans somewhere other than Earth, that would certainly raise some serious implications for the Christian faith:
1. The assumption could be made that the events of Revelation will take place before such technology exists to permanently house people elsewhere in the galaxy.
2. If a large portion of the human race eventually lives elsewhere, the entire validity of the Bible would then become suspect, since Revelation oly deals with judgement of the inhabitants of the Earth
3. Since the Bible claims God to be all powerful that when Revelation talks about judgement on the people of Earth, it could very well include any “children of the earth”. But my problem with this idea is that Revelation seems very location specific.
Could the writers of the bible envision planets elsewhere?
Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for, among other heretical beliefs and teachings, imagining that there were an infinite number of other inhabited worlds in the universe and wondering how Jesus could have visited them all and died for all of them if he died for us. He was the last man burned at the stake during the roman inquisition: http://chi.gospelcom.net/DAILYF/2002/02/daily-02-17-2002.shtml
At first the ‘wandering stars’ that are planets were just thought of as strange stars. Later they were named for gods so I don’t think they envisioned the possibility of people colonising the god of war. Interstellar travel and colonization is not a concept in the heads of the people who wrote old religious texts. If you believe in the complete truth of those texts then, like Bruno, you may have a problem with the infinite worlds idea.
Jeffrey A. Carver
So many interesting things to comment on. I believe Harry’s steering us in the right direction on the creationism versus evolution discussion. To me it seems indisputable that evolution is occurring today–I don’t understand why you say it isn’t, Chad–organisms are mutating and adapting all the time, and passing the changes on to their offspring. And evolution not in the fossil record? That just leaves me scratching my head.
This is, of course, more than an academic subject for late-night BS sessions: as we speak, school science curricula are being weakened by spineless textbook publishers kowtowing to a few large states, where evolution cannot be considered in a purely scientific context where it belongs. Evolution ought to be taught as the scientific theory that it is (theory not being a pejorative term here, any more than it is in connection with the theory of relativity; it just means a model that has strong supporting evidence), and creationism ought to be taught as religion. To the extent that creationism raises valid scientific points, those points should be considered in the science curriculum. Not gonna happen anytime soon, though.
However, I disagree with Harry on whether God would be likely to use evolution as a way to populate his worlds, because I believe that’s exactly what he did. And does. No, I can’t prove that; it’s my best guess, based on the overwhelming evidence that evolution is real (which is accepted by Christian denominations ranging from Catholic to Congregational), and my own personal evidence that God is real.
That’s the other place where I differ with Harry. I believe that evidence of God’s love abounds. It’s not scientific, though; it’s personal, written large across the lives of billions of people.
Jeffrey A. Carver
Note that I referred above to God populating his worlds, plural. I would be shocked, shocked, to learn that intelligent life exists only on our own planet. If there are people, like or unlike us, on other worlds, why does that pose a conundrun for Christians? Tim, why would the Bible become suspect if people (human or otherwise) lived on other worlds? I just don’t understand the fuss.
Now, for starters, I think the Book of Revelation is a very complex allegory, not a literal prediction of the future (just as I think the Book of Job is a long parable, not a literal telling of history). I certainly don’t pretend to understand it all. But it was almost certainly written by someone who had not even the vaguest notion of other inhabited planets. So why would it be surprising that other worlds were not brought into the story?
I think we get into all kinds of trouble when we take the Bible literally in areas where (in my opinion) it was never meant to be taken literally. The Bible is a story about God’s relationship with people; it’s not a science textbook, or even a work of popular cosmology. Genesis tells us that God created us; it doesn’t describe the physics or literal time scale. In fact, I’ll even go out on a limb and guess that the whole Garden of Eden story, and the fallen world image, is a vivid metaphor for the creation of a universe with free will–for both good and ill. I don’t imagine that the author literally anticipated evolutionary theory, but in a literary sense, he kind of did. The sins and mutations of the father are visited upon the children, and so on.
I forget where I was going with this. Oh yeah–Revelation, and the end times, and so forth. To me, that’s an anticipation of when the whole party closes down and everyone’s called out of the pool. I used to think it meant the Big Crunch, but now it looks as if the universe is accelerating outward, which puts the kibosh on the Big Crunch. But that could be wrong, too. If brane theory is correct, there may be another kind of crunch. In any event, I lay odds on the end times vision applying to the whole universe. And think about it–if you knew nothing about astronomy or cosmology, and you had a vision about the end of the universe, wouldn’t you likely interpret it in terrestrial terms? I would.
Jeff, what do you think of Bruno’s conundrum? If you believe there must be life on other worlds, what happens if we go out there and they worship other gods? Is that a problem for you or is that no different than accepting that here on earth people believe in different faiths and thus different gods or at least different manifestations of god? If you worship the wrong god, or if you worship incorrectly is that good enough? Is it the thought that counts?
Personal evidence that god is real is all we have or don’t have, unfortunately. It would sure be easier if gods were like in Greek Mythology and “Clash of the Titans” where they literally walked among mortals and did horrible things to them, leaving no doubt of their existence.
So would you then like to discuss the nature of god?
I will leave you with this thought: The most unselfish thing a perfect God could do would be to create beings that could, of their own free will, worship that God.
Here’s my two cents on the whole space colony deal.
The whole of creation will be destroyed at the end times. God judges the soul, not the body. Your location in space won’t really matter because the entire universe belongs to God.
And on life elsewhere on other planets.
I find it very interesting to think about what life would be like on other planets. But until we see another inhabited planet or are visited by beings from another world…
Once more: the completeness of Jesus’ death.
The greek word we translate as “saved” is used in the perfect tense. This means that the act of salvation is completed for all time. Would Jesus have to die on every planet (if there were actually life on other worlds)? No. Jesus only had to die once. Time and space doesn’t matter.
Oh, and Harry…the reason why the arguements on that website are lacking is because, just like any businessman, he wants you to buy his book (he’s got to make a living just like the rest of us). If you don’t feel like shelling out the money to buy a book I would be happy to lend you one of mine (or I will send you one as a gift. I would rather spend the money…think of it as a proof that god does love you).
I would really love to continue this and I intend to, but I must warn you: I do not have an interent connection at my home. If I am silent for a while it is because of the stated reason and not because I do not wish to continue.
Have a good day!
So out of all the inhabited planets, he chose THIS one for him to die for the sins of all the souls in the universe. How lucky for us! The bibles about this strange man who died for their sins on another far away world must be difficult to explain to worshippers on Tau Ceti V.
“The most unselfish thing a perfect God could do would be to create beings that could, of their own free will, worship that God.” But why worship god at all? Even if worship is not demanded, it still seems to be expected. Expecting worship seems selfish. If you really have free will, you should be able to do whatever you want, and worship or not without consequences. According to most religions, this is not the case.
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Jeffrey A. Carver
Harry — You asked:
“If you believe there must be life on other worlds, what happens if we go out there and they worship other gods? Is that a problem for you or is that no different than accepting that here on earth people believe in different faiths and thus different gods or at least different manifestations of god? If you worship the wrong god, or if you worship incorrectly is that good enough? Is it the thought that counts?”
Answer: I don’t spend a lot of time trying to judge what other peoples’ relationship with God is. (Human, alien, or AI. Unless it’s for a story, of course!) Better we should spend that time and energy trying to figure out how to get along with each other.
I think God seeks people out in his own time and manner and doesn’t need us to render judgment on his behalf. It’s inconceivable to me that the God I believe in, who for whatever reason has chosen to make himself unseen, would condemn someone for not seeing him in some doctrinal, orthodox fashion. To me, the most important words in the Bible, which appear over and over, are, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
It grieves me that the church, from the neoconservative evangelical wing to the Catholic hierarchy that covered up child-abuse, doesn’t remember those words more often.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Is that a version of the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or is it different?
Lexi–I answered your inquiry about my “self-discovery of a non-existant god” on your blog under the “Ech” commentary.
Jeff wrote: “Now, for starters, I think the Book of Revelation is a very complex allegory, not a literal prediction of the future (just as I think the Book of Job is a long parable, not a literal telling of history). I certainly don’t pretend to understand it all.”
It sometimes surprises me, as an Atheist, that I have more “deeply and throughly” researched Biblical (revisionist) history than most Christians and Catholics!
For instance, I have read, twice, a very detailed book (just one of several) : “Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth” by Burton L. Mack, Harper Collins, 1995, ISBN: 0-06-065517-8 (cloth) 0-06-065518-6 (paper).
“The Revelation to John” is described on pages 193-197. Yes, Jeff, it is symbolic, allegoric, but also a description of events occurring during the time of John [just as Nostradamus was writing his Quatrains of events happening in his time for his supporters] and not of some future time (history).
page 194 “John was worried about two things: false teachings and what he called ‘affliction’ (thlipsis), sometimes translated as “persecution (of Christians).” These churches (mentioned) … were not behaving properly from his point of view. Some were not taking their Christian vows as seriously as they once did. Others were paying attention to false teachings such as those of “Balaam”, “Jezebel” the prophetess, … . We have no way of knowing what these teachings were… .”
page 196-197: “It must have been the vulnerability of Christians to charges of disloyalty that became apparent around the turn of the first century that so exercised John.
It is overreaction in any case, for literary analysis demonstrates a studied fascination with the torture and torment of martyrdom. The interlocking sevens are clearly a device for prolonging the descriptions of terror. A search for the source of John’s imagery turns up a veritable hodgepodge of ancient Near Eastern myths. From verse to verse the historian’s mind, in search of parallels, ricochets among myths of creation, sea dragons, holy wars, royal births, Egyptian depictions of the afterlife, Isis of the heavens, Horus and Seth, the divine court, wisdom at the throne of God, the plagues of exodus, angelic warriors, cosmic conflagrations, and so on. ….”
page 197 “John’s revelation is an example of cultivating the image of martyrdom as the major metaphor for making sense of a difficult set of circumstances….. He raised the metaphor of the myrtyrdom of Christians to mythic status solely in order to imagine the ultimate vindication for the truth of the Christian faith. In so doing, he shaped a literary legacy for Western Christian imagination that continues to haunt us.”
“(this writing) documents a shift in Christian thinking of great consequences for mythmaking during the next two centuries. The shift in thinking was occasioned by two changes in social-historical circumstance. Christian congregations surfaced as a social factor in full public view; and the Romans were toying with a cult of the emperor as divine, a cult to be used as a test of loyalty to the empire. The two features of the new social circumstances for Christians did not mix. And the result was the myth of martyrdom as the highest form of Christian confession. The term martyr was actually coined by Christians at this time. It comes from the Greek martyria, a word that means “witness”. It was the curious conflation of being on trial before the Romans and having to “witness” to one’s loyalty to Christ, with the consequences of being executed, understood as an imitation of Christ’s own martyrdom, that gave its peculiar Christian connotation. From that time onward, the true “confessor” of the Christian faith would be the martyr for Christ.”
Now, I am convinced that this may not change or have any effect on a Biblical literalist’s or Christian Fundamentalist’s “beliefs” as to their meaning of “The Revelation of John”. I, however, as an Atheist, agree with Burton knowing the history of early Christianity before the Holy Roman Catholic Church was established and their history afterwards, too.
Other fascinating books I read by Robin Lane Fox: “The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible” and “Pagans and Christians.” I won’t quote but leave it to you to check them out of your library and read. Self-education is always important.
Ehsan Butt, PhD
Looking at old writings e.g of French and English deists seems we can learn from them on this topic of Rational Faith
Advancing Rational faith Academy (ARFA) has collected pertinent quotes on its online reports.
Also there is a new investigation on
The Historicity of the Modern Day Religious Texts
I have been an avid science and sci-fi fan since I found Andre Norton in the '60's when I was in grammar school. My step-father is a scientist (he has the patent for Hewlett Packard on the mass spectrometer, which he said he found the solving clue for in a dream from God), has a 200+ IQ, and as an over-80-year-old, resides in Russia and teaches "pre-creationism" to Russian scientists. He also believes that God can create through the Big Bang and that a personal God we can know, at least in part, is not in opposition to the scientific method. I had an interesting childhood. Needless to say, I believe all things are possible, but by all means, Test the Theory!