Dialogue with a Creationist

Here are some excerpts from a recent email dialogue I had with a believer in creationism. There isn’t much thought here that I haven’t already posted elsewhere on this webpage, but the format may prove interesting.

You indicate in one of your essays… that it is inappropriate for science to make factual statements about those things which are still theory. Do you believe that Evolution is now a fact? Or is it still a theory? In fact, wouldn’t it be true to call it an evolving theory?

I believe that evolution can be accepted as fact because there is so much objective evidence. It certainly has no competitors for explaining biology. There are still issues to be resolved and more to be learned, but if I could revisit this planet a thousand years from now I would be very surprised if evolutionary theory’s core assumptions hadn’t held up.

Objective reality does exist, and the rules directing the course of human events is as objective as the rules of physics and chemistry. They are nicely contained within a 1000 or so pages of a single book, and written by your creator, who, by the way, loves you very much.

My dear Mr. ____, the problem you and so many other people have in thinking objectively about reality is that you fail to distinguish between the two basic forms of reality. The biophysical world we inhabit and from which we sprung and are still a part, that is one kind of reality. That world does operate according to principles that we can consider as constituting objective reality, like the law of gravity and the speed of light.

The other form of reality is the universe that humans have concocted amongst themselves, using their unique (among animals) capacity for speech to construct ideas, patterns, theories, myths, religions, and whole cultures. Within this universe everything is relative; it approaches the absolute, or can be mistaken for the absolute, only when a given society says it is so and the individuals within that society believe it to be so. How can it be otherwise when this second universe is entirely the result of human conversation and mental agility? The God you recognize is nothing more than what you and millions of others say it is. Similarly, within the realm of the human mind there is no abstract standard of beauty or ethical behavior or any other value, other than what we say there is. Sorry, we’re all alone out here. It is a humbling, but liberating thought. It’s time, my friend, to throw away your security blanket and grow up.

Now we have each stated our basic position. I do not think the gap is bridgable. But at least we can be civil about it, and I am pleased at your tone. I’m glad you think your God loves me, and if I find that a bit patronising, well, I feel a bit paternalistic about your attitude also. You are where almost all of us were a hundred years ago. Keep on trucking, as they say, you’ll make it yet.

I challenge you to list the practical advantages of agnostic or athiestic thought.

Very well, time permitting, at your service. The practical advantages derive from the relative clarity with which you can observe, classify, and interrelate the data you are working with. Galileo was able to think clearly about the sun and the planets because he had disencumbered himself from the theistically approved notion that everything else revolved around the earth. Humans generally can think more clearly about who we are if we understand how we got here. Ascribing our presence to the intervention of some indescribable divinity adds less to that understanding than the enormous amount of data serious scientists have assembled pointing to an evolutionary origin. Furthermore the divine interpretation leads to alternate descriptions of divinity which leads to sectarianism and war. The evolutionary interpretation is not similarly susceptible to schisms.

Carl Coon

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