Evolution

I don’t think that most people realise that Richard Dawkins’ claim about Evolution is that it allows one to be an ‘intellectually satisfied atheist’. He does not claim that evolution proves that there is no God. Unfortunately this is not the impression that is created by comments by new atheists. Additionally we find that so-called ‘creationist’ Christians insist that God made the world in literally 6 days as described at the start of the book of Genesis. It is no wonder that many people think that evolution is inconsistent with Christianity, and since evolution is amply demonstrated the (false) conclusion drawn is often that science and evolution have proved that God doesn’t exist.

I am a qualified engineer, trained and experienced in designing things, Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. In engineering we see evolutionary processes at work improving our designs. We test our designs against one another to find out which is best, select the best and then seek to improve it further. The ‘best’ design changes over time and our processes mean that our products change over time to adapt to the new environment; to seek the new ‘best’. Evolution is a necessary part of the design process, but it is not the complete design process. Evolution is the tool that ensures that the design always adapts to the requirements of the customer. I have no problem with a God who created and sustains the universe.

Christians should not be afraid of science, but should embrace it.  How better to appreciate the wonder of the universe and the stupendous ingenuity of the every living creature, from the amoeba to the human, from the mustard seed to the mightiest tree.  We can learn more about God and we can learn more about ourselves by studying the material world.

But we must not become deluded that science is all that there is. Science is about observation of the repeatable, the measurable. Some things are not repeatable (miracles for instance) and some things whilst measurable are not described by the measurement (love for instance). So for a full understanding we need to look beyond science. All religions try to do this, to help us live ‘good’ lives. Philosophy tries to make sense of our existence. It is good to explore what others say but we also need to consider the authority behind the claims as we decide which are true and which are false. And for me, the ultimate authority is Jesus. I listen to what he said, and try to understand and follow it. Why? As Jesus said, ‘believe me because of the miracles, the works that I do’, and because anyone who willingly allows themselves to be crucified has earned the right to be listened to. And I find that what he taught contains such wisdom that it is truly worth putting into practice.

About Minimalist Christian

Phil Hemsley is a graduate of the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the UK. He works for a multinational company in the power industry, has presented technical papers at international conferences and holds many patents. He has published two books, the most recent is "The Big Picture, an Honest Examination of God Science and Purpose". He has lived on both sides of the faith fence. He is married, with two daughters.
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25 Responses to Evolution

  1. Simple Theologian says:

    Great insight! As I’ve studied and researched the Creation account the thing most people miss by reading it in translation is that each day represents a period of time this is not the same way we consider a day.

    I also liked your analogy of evolution in relation to advancing technology.

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  2. Grundy says:

    It’s good that you accept evolution, but how do you pick which parts of the Bible to take literally and which to interpret symbolically? Even if the days in Genesis are long periods of time, the bit about Adam’s rib making Eve surely goes against evolution. If that’s not literal…then why are Jesus’ miracles literal? If Adam and Eve are symbolic, why’s original sin literal?

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    • Thanks for the questions. I have no reason to believe that the Genesis account was ever meant to be literal, and so I don’t believe Eve being made from Adams rib – if there were ever a literal Adam and Eve. I find good historical evidence to accept that the Gospel accounts of Jesus life and deeds are accurate. And I don’t find any benefit in the concept of original sin. My whole reading of the bible is careful and thoughtful, trying to understand what is trying to be communicated rather than whether something is a literal fact. It is not wise to take any parts as literal and simplistic lists of instructions, but to try to understand the whole context of God, the universe, what his hopes for us are, how we approach life etc…. Hopefully with further posts this will become clearer.

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      • Grundy says:

        What historical evidence for the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and deeds outside of the Bible do you find the most compelling?

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        • A slightly bizarre question, bordering on the ‘have you stopped beating your wife yet’ fallacy I feel as it seems to imply that one must disregard the gospel accounts. What evidence of the life of Anne Frank outside of her diaries do you consider the most convincing?

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  3. Grundy says:

    I only ask because you said “I find good historical evidence to accept that the Gospel accounts of Jesus life and deeds are accurate.” I’m curious what was the historical evidence you found. If you think that the Gospels are the historical evidence that the Gospels are true…your statement doesn’t make must sense.

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  4. Well, for example, the documents are referred to in other documents such as Eusebius of Caesarea (c. AD 263–339) was a Roman historian. In his ”Ecclesiastical History” he quotes from a five volume treatise called “An Exposition of the Lord’s Reports” by Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis in Phyrgia (ca 60-130):
    “And the presbyter would say this: Mark, who had indeed been Peter’s interpreter, accurately wrote as much as he remembered, yet not in order, about that which was either said or did by the Lord. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, Peter, who would make the teachings anecdotally but not exactly an arrangement of the Lord’s reports, so that Mark did not fail by writing certain things as he recalled. For he had one purpose, not to omit what he heard or falsify them.”
    Around 1900 a second major source for the gospels was proposed, called ‘Q’, and this has been considered a foundation for biblical schollarship. ‘Q’ was supposedly written in Greek. However, there is doubt about whether ‘Q’ actually existed as a specific document (under another name of course) as no manuscript or fragment has been found and such a document has not been referred to in any of the old documents or church ‘catalogues’. However, even if ‘Q’ never existed as a discrete document there is evidence in the Greek of the ‘Q’ material that it is been translated from Aramaic. Thus the real ‘Q’ material may have been an Aramaic document or have come from from an Aramaic oral tradition. The latter suggestion is supported by a further quotation from Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis where he states that:
    “Matthew compiled the logia [sayings] in the Hebrew [Aramaic] language, and each one translated as best he could”
    If you want to explore further then “The New Testament Documents, Are they Reliable” by F.F. Bruce is probably a good start, and there are of course lots of resources on the internet too.

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    • Arkenaten says:

      There is a belief among a minority of biblical scholars that Matthew was the first gospel to be written as was originally believed. This would neatly solve the Q issue.
      However, it still leaves some difficult questions regarding Mark, such as, why are the oldest manuscripts without the Resurrection?
      The majority of scholars still believe that the Resurrection story was added by a later Christian hand. Again, why?
      The gospels contain too many anomalies to be taken literally.
      As for Eusebius. He was an Arian, was on board when Constantine ordered the Council of Nicaea, was one of the “Inspired” who helped compile the bible and has been suspected of interpolation on a number of occasions, not least for altering the Testimonium Flavium.

      To believe in the historicity of Jesus based on the gospel accounts is one thing. To accept the divinity of Jesus based on the same accounts is somewhat silly.

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      • There are some who have questioned the historicity, so it’s good that we’ve established that, but I think your final sentence is a little presumptuous. We should not forget that the Christian religion has been continuous since Jesus walked this earth. It is not as if one were trying to establish Christianity as a new religion based simply on some historically well attested ancient documentary evidence. At the centre of Christianity is a God who interacts with humanity, that people encounter Jesus and have done so over the past two thousand years. The behaviour of people over the millennia is consistent with this happening, and with the events recorded in the NT documents. There is no ‘knock out’ proof of God (except perhaps a personal encounter – but a skeptic could still claim that they have been deluded), but the evidence is more than can lightly be dismissed.

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  5. I disagree with most of your post, but I really appreciate the fact that you wrote that Richard Dawkins does not claim evolution disproves God.

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  6. Arkenaten says:

    “There are some who have questioned the historicity, so it’s good that we’ve established that, but I think your final sentence is a little presumptuous. We should not forget that the Christian religion has been continuous since Jesus walked this earth.”

    This is not exactly accurate. Christology,maybe, but Christianity as most of humanity knows and generally understands it was established by Paul. The distinction may seem trivial but in context it had huge consequences.

    “It is not as if one were trying to establish Christianity as a new religion based simply on some historically well attested ancient documentary evidence. At the centre of Christianity is a God who interacts with humanity, that people encounter Jesus and have done so over the past two thousand years. The behaviour of people over the millennia is consistent with this happening, and with the events recorded in the NT documents. There is no ‘knock out’ proof of God (except perhaps a personal encounter – but a skeptic could still claim that they have been deluded), but the evidence is more than can lightly be dismissed.”

    There is NO secular evidence of a divine Jesus. Absolutely nothing to substantiate this claim. In fact, a large part of the Christian world dismissed the divinity claim from the onset. If you know your history then you will know the Trinity was written into law by the early church, thus opening the path to eradicate all heretical belief. Which was undertaken with somewhat over-the-top vigour.
    Again, neither you, nor anyone else can provide a shred of verifiable evidence for a divine Jesus.
    Although I would be fascinated if you were to make the attempt – I mean it.
    Even the bible does not make this claim. Oh yes, it has been interpreted as such, but that is all exegeses. If one can have many different interpretations of Genesis then there is no guarantee that any one interpretation is correct.
    As it stands, an historical Jesus is touch and go, no matter what the likes of Ehrman claim, but there is nothing – absolutely nothing at all – to indicate divinity in the biblical character of Jesus.
    This is simply faith, and faith based in no small part on inculcation.

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    • “There is NO secular evidence of a divine Jesus.” The definition of secular is “not connected with religious or spiritual matters” so by definition there cannot be. But “Absolutely nothing to substantiate this claim” is a non-sequitur. For example, a few years ago there was a short series by the BBC ‘The Miracles of Jesus’ presented by Rageh Omaar which described many reasons why it was clear to those at the time that Jesus was at least claiming to be divine. Of course it depends what one considers verifiable – if someone doesn’t want to believe it then there is always an element of uncertainty and the possibility of a conspiracy.

      There is an element of taking certain things on trust in faith, but taking things on trust is part of our everyday lives. We take on trust that the ‘laws of physics’ will last at least long enough to allow the plane that we are travelling in to land. Without the ability to decide without absolute proof we would be unable to do anything! But Christian faith is not ‘blind’ faith. It is a decision to commit oneself based on reason, evidence, and of course the pull of the heart – the things that make us human.

      Isn’t it a little ‘over the top’ to use phrases like “there is nothing – absolutely nothing at all” when clearly there is evidence and indication? It would be fair to say “nothing that has convince me” because that is personal opinion, but a bald assertion is simply incorrect. And perhaps it does the likes of Newton, Einstein, Faraday, Collins, Polkinghorne and many many more highly intelligent men and women something of an injustice to imply that their belief is based on ‘inculcation’.

      I’m sorry if this comes across as a little harsh, but as I mentioned elsewhere unless one is ready to consider with a really open mind the possibility of their being a God – which must therefore include ‘non-secular’ evidence – then it’s quite unlikely that we will find him. Indeed, Christian teaching says that it is the Holy Spirit who makes Christ known – so perhaps we need to be ready and willing to listen to the Holy Spirit and we can’t do that if we are dogmatic that there is no such thing as the Holy Spirit…

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      • arkenaten says:

        Everything you use to strengthen your argument can be found in the bible, or espoused by the Church Fathers and later by the champion of Christianity Saul/Paul
        Thus one has to establish the veracity of these documents if one is to proceed to an honest understanding.
        And here we come against the first, and probably the only unbreachable wall.
        Either the bible is inerrant or it is not. For if we accept that there may be analogy then where do we stop?
        Do we say, “Oh, well, its obvious the story of Jonah is analogy as it is biologically impossible for a man to survive inside such a beast as described in the bible.”
        How about the flood story?
        Any rational person will never accept this story as factual. Only die hard fundamentalists will consider it so.
        Therefore, why should any more credence be given to the claimed miracles?
        Or even the resurrection?
        This is the faith that you talk about. The faith that the whole of Christianity is built upon. The belief in Jesus that the Catholic Church is on record as saying as based on faith. Faith, not fact. Not even evidence.
        You either accept the Gospels as the inspired word of God or you don’t.
        Fundamentalists, for all their nonsensical idiosyncrasies realise this and have adopted the former approach. It makes them look like complete Wallies, but so be it. One has to admire their conviction.
        If you don’t …..
        To take on trust the divinity of a 2000 year literary character based on the unauthored writings of a few individuals whose knowledge of history is tenuous at best, laughable at worst is incredibly irresponsible. Luke’s description of Nazareth immediately comes to mind – Nazareth? What Nazareth?
        Couple this with church dogma which is inculcated in young children -Original Sin & Hell are two examples of warped Christian thinking – is tantamount to child abuse.

        I have no idea what caused your epiphany, but I have yet to encounter a reborn Christian who didn’t have at least a few emotional issues before “turning to the lord” .

        http://arkenaten.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/the-lighter-side-of-born-again-part-1-something-even-christians-will-smile-at-2/#comments

        Instead of commenting on the list of luminaries II would rather list Thomas Paine – you may Google him if you are remotely interested.

        “It is a decision to commit oneself based on reason, evidence, and of course the pull of the heart – the things that make us human.”

        Please, if you are willing, list the evidence that convinced you?
        I would truly like to understand what you know that I don’t. What you read, researched discovered that I have (up til now) been unable to do.

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        • Dear Pearce,
          I sense frustration in the way you write, and that probably leads to the unreasonably extreme and often fallacious comments. I will take it that you do have a genuine desire to understand. However, I suspect that what you actually want to understand is why so many intelligent people are Christians. Your stance seems to be ‘I don’t want to believe in God and so you must present me with irrefutable proof to make me change my opinion’. Neither I nor anyone else will ever do that. You are already aware of documentary evidence and you don’t find its provenance irrefutable – you never will.

          But let’s suppose for a moment that the claims of Christians, and those who wrote the bible are true, that there is a creator God who interacts with humans. One would not expect to be convinced of his existence through sifting through old manuscripts. But one might expect to be convinced through a personal encounter / experience of God. If one hasn’t had such an encounter oneself, is there an indication that other people have had such an encounter (if not, then a God who interacts with humans wouldn’t seem to be very likely). I have come across a number of strong personal testimonies of individuals who are convinced that they have experienced God (no I’m not going to list them). I have seen peoples character transformed following their decision to become Christians, and I have seen immense love and grace empowered by that transformation. But I’ve never seen transformation in anyone who is not willing to entertain the possibility that there might be a God, and that Jesus might have been who it is claimed that he was/is.

          So perhaps what I know that you don’t is how to look at the evidence on the basis that it might actually be right. Suppose the Apostles did actually see the miracles, and that what was written was their best endeavour to capture the truth. Suppose Paul did indeed encounter Christ on the road to Damascus. Suppose that what Brother Yoon describes in his book ‘The Heavenly Man’ is not all lies. Suppose that it were possible for you to have a personal experience of God – would that make a difference?

          Best regards
          Phil

          PS – your comments were trapped in the spam filter, I don’t think there’s anything new in the others so I’ll only reply here.

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  7. arkenaten says:

    Firstly, I would like you to list the fallacies that you claim are in my argument please.
    What you fail to understand is that Christianity comes with baggage – in fact, I have yet to come across anyone who didn’t bring baggage into it, but that may be a topic for another day.
    Christianity states emphatically that unless one accepts that Jesus is Savior/God one is doomed to Hell.
    This is such a ridiculous notion that if it wasn’t preached to children I would simply laugh at it.
    As it is, you have to accept this – along with the Tenets of the Nicene Creed otherwise you are not considered a Christian.

    You continue to assert that what you believe is true and “What if” etc.
    Well, what if you are wrong? (and the evidence at hand strongly suggests that you are -very, very wrong, in fact.)

    As for evidence? Unfortunately, like so many of your fellow Born again Christians,you are merely building a straw man argument to justify your belief.

    You have listed Einstein as a believer – I would have thought as an writer you would have checked thoroughly before using his name. May I suggest you go read up a bit more?

    The evidence available for scrutiny is the same for me as it is for theological/biblical experts.
    As nothing ‘new’ in this debate that could radically alter the general perception of Christianity in the believers favour has surfaced since this religion began then what could you or anyone else possibly offer to shed new light.?
    Aside from faith, not a thing.
    And I reiterate, faith in this case has nothing to do with fact, or evidence.
    And what can such faith offer anyone? Nothing.

    It is worth noting that the divinity of the Jesus character was disputed for hundreds of years after his supposed crucifixion. The Trinity (which does not feature anywhere in the Bible, nor is it alluded to) was a man-made construction.
    Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus state he is God -The interpretation of ‘I AM’ quote etc is merely that, a Christian interpretation.
    It seems unlikely that Jesus would cry out at the moment of death as to why his father had forsaken him if he, Jesus, was god incarnate.
    No doubt there is a Christian explanation for this too.

    As for character changes. You sound as if you are suggesting this is only possible if one converts to Christianity? My goodness! What about folk who convert to Buddhism and experience similar feelings? Do these not count because they are not derived from your god?
    Bit arrogant, wouldn’t you say?
    You might like to offer a silent ‘thanks’ to Constantine and co. for their part in ensuring that Arianism was declared a heresy along with other notables, like Marcion etc.
    If it wasn’t not for the Emperor’s timely intervention you might well not have a religion at all.

    You still have not stated the reason for your ‘conversion’ -I would be very interested to hear your story.

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    • OK, I’m now bored with this. Your general tone and style of commenting has unfortunately not become any more reasonable despite my best attempts to give you the benefit of the doubt as regard motives. You offer nothing about yourself or your own thoughts or beliefs but hide behind your anonymity and misconstrue, criticise or pour scorn on any attempt at reasonable discussion. If you are determined to treat any comment that I make as an opportunity for another rant then I can’t see any point in continuing. I had hoped for better, but it was not up to me.

      You ask about fallacies. To identify a few:
      “For if we accept that there may be analogy then where do we stop?” … slippery slope
      “Either the bible is inerrant or it is not. ” … false dichotomy – the Bible is a collection of many books
      “You either accept the Gospels as the inspired word of God or you don’t” … loaded question / false dichotomy combination
      “You sound as if you are suggesting this is only possible if one converts to Christianity? ” … straw man – I neither said nor meant such a thing, yet you then use your own statement as another opportunity for your ranting.
      “Christianity states emphatically that unless one accepts that Jesus is Savior/God one is doomed to Hell.” … Straw man – you have clearly created your own fixed and extreme view of what Christianity is and insist on fitting everyone you come across into that box and shouting abuse at them.

      Comments like “Original Sin & Hell are two examples of warped Christian thinking – is tantamount to child abuse.” probably don’t even count as logical fallacies as they are not even presenting an argument, but simply irrational abuse.

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  8. Pingback: God, miracles and the laws of physics. | Thoughts from a Minimalist Christian

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