I originally saw the below question on SecondLife’s forums and I started to formulate a reply. Of course, being longwinded and slow in thought, by the time I was ready to post this the topic had disappeared, so I’m just posting this to my blog.
I will take the side of a creationist as best as I can here, though I will admit that I am an atheist, but an atheist whose history degree focused on Near-East religions and physics degree focused on astronomy.
The question, which was directed towards Creationists, was: “Which is better, a universe arising from natural consequences dependant upon the laws of nature, or a universe that is antithetical to life where an intervention is needed to start it?” Of course there were several replies to this, most of which tended to deviate from the original question, especially given that no Creationist replied.
From a creationist’s standpoint the Bible is the true divine word of God and what is revealed there is literal. Faith being the foundation for belief in the Bible, to allow for something that contradicts the Bible’s literal statements is to allow for doubt at the root of one’s faith. Doubt can lead to the strengthening of one’s faith, but it’s also very dangerous because it can lead a person away from God which endangers one’s soul for salvation. And salvation is the goal in this life. With a literal interpretation, Satan is real and uses lies, tricks, etc., to lead the faithful astray. Only by standing firm in one’s beliefs and faith can that person succeed against Satan and his agents.
For those with faith, no matter the religion, it is not magic, at least not in the sense that the non-religious tend to imply. It is a state of being that is akin to a feeling, but also a thought. It is divine inspiration. For the Creationist, it is the knowledge of the teachings of the Bible, coupled with faith in God and Jesus Christ, which brings about a sense of peace, comfort, and belonging.
Resisting temptation, especially temptation that denies the validity of the Bible, is an affirming experience. This experience helps to prove to oneself, and God, that one’s belief and faith is strong. Speaking out about one’s faith may save others and bring them into the church, which is the one of the greatest things a person can do: save another’s soul.
Now, evolution is contradictory to the literal interpretation of the Bible (as are parts of geology and astronomy), so fighting it is a good fight, it becomes a fight to save people’s souls. If you take a moment and empathically step into the shoes of a Creationist, you can see their point (even if you don’t agree with it), and their point is that accepting evolution is leading you away from salvation, which is the single worst thing that can happen to a mortal soul.
Now to the question at hand: “Which is better, a universe arising from natural consequences dependant upon the laws of nature, or a universe that is antithetical to life where an intervention is needed to start it?”
From a creationist’s standpoint, the laws of nature are set by God. In addition, there was no “universe” before creation, and the Universe’s creation was divinely brought about. Because God is all powerful and all knowing, He is aware of His plan which includes humanity, and so there was never a Universe that was antithetical to life.
So there’s a basic Creationist Apology
Moving on. The question itself, “which is better”, lacks appropriate application to both religion and science. At their cores (not regarding any current public spokespersons) both religion and science don’t seek for a “better” explanation of the origins of everything, because the word “better” points towards a value system held by the speaker which may be wildly different than that of the listener/reader. Either “side”, religion or science, will inherently see their version as “better” because it is aligned with their beliefs or lack-there-of. A more relevant way to phrase the question would be to say, “which is more likely” or “which has more evidence”, however both questions are favorable to standard scientific inquiry, as for the strict Creationist, there is no doubt.
Religions tend to have a stated origin that can be taken literally, semi-literally, as an analogy or even as literature and stories. But the “creation” is set, and for better or for worse that description is taken as fact (whether fact of literal creation or fact of analogy is up to the individual believer).
In science, there is only a search for ways to describe the Universe as accurately as possible, then test those descriptions, modify them as appropriate and test again. Based on the data that has been collected in astronomy and geology, science generally agrees that the origin of our solar system is about 4.6 billion years old and the Universe itself around 13.7 billion years (give or take several hundreds of millions of years, of course). However, should something come along that produces contradictory evidence to those dates, science is such a system that it will adapt to the new findings. For example, if a rock is discovered on earth and dated to be 6 billion years old, then the Earth would have to be at least that old. And if something in the Universe, including a rock on Earth, be discovered that dates to 16 billion years old, then, assuming that the testing was done correctly, the Universe would have to be at least 16 billion years old. And neither date is better than the other, they are just estimated dates based on the evidence gathered.
Fundamentally, religion and science are two spheres of human experience that need not be exclusive of one another. Religion, philosophy, spirituality all help to explain reasons for being, existing, as a human individual along side other human individuals and the rest of the Universe. They propose “ways” to live, providing guidelines on how to interact with one another, in addition to offering understanding of the afterlife. Science seeks to explain and understand the natural world, which includes human biology, physiology and evolution.
Now, I will admit, if someone says they don’t believe in evolution the first thing that comes to my mind about them is “they’re an idiot.” But then, I figure, they are either just religious fundamentalists, in which case there is no reason to continue the conversation, or they are just ignorant to the data that has been collected that supports the theory that species change characteristics over generations often due to either environmental adaptations or, more rarely, to subtle changes within small sections of a species genetic code (mutations), that get passed along to future generations.
Now “theory” is an interesting word. Popularly it means an unproven idea or statement, the key here is “unproven”. Now, in the scientific community, a Theory is an explanation of the natural world that is backed by data. This data agrees with the predictions of the theory within a certain range of error that is acceptable. If data has been found that disagrees with the theory, and that data is confirmed with other tests by other sources, then the Theory is either modified or discarded as deemed fit. For example, gravity is a scientific theory. Most students in intro-science classes and physics labs, have tested this theory by measuring the acceleration of a falling object and finding that it agrees with the mathematical prediction of approximately 9.8 m/s^2. Usually the students get data that seems to vary wildly; 9.72, 9.91, 9.69, etc. But over all, the data is very close to 9.8 and the variations can be accounted for in inaccuracies of measurement, user error, etc. Now, if on every other Thursday the measurements all came out to be 11.2 everywhere in the world, well, the Theory of Gravity would have to be re-evaluated.
Why evolution is interesting is that is has continually stood up to the data that has been pulled up from the earth and observed in the various living species. In 1859 Darwin wrote his Origin of Species and it held up through the geological and biological discoveries of a hundred years until 1966 when the genetic code was cracked. And evolution still holds up. This means that for over nearly a hundred and fifty years the idea of evolution has been under attack, scrutinized, mulled over, played with, and challenged. And it’s still holding up.
Now, like I have said, for a fundamental Creationist, evolution cannot be true because ultimately, and despite the fact that the theory of evolution has lead the way to genetic manipulation and engineering that has become so wide spread, despite the geological records of wildly varying species with common skeletal structures in dated layers of the earth, it does not agree with a literal interpretation of the Bible.
So, in the end, to the Creationist I say; I mean you no harm, I wish you no ill will, I disagree with you about the origins of humanity – the Earth – and the Universe, if Intelligent Design did not have the theological overtones and undertones that it does then I wouldn’t have a problem with it being taught in public schools but it does so I do.