David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Responses to "The Evolving Nature of Belief"

These letters to the the editor of the Brandon Sun were in response to my original column The Evolving Nature Of Belief, which was published in the Brandon Sun on November 14, 2009. These letters are reprinted by permission, Brandon Sun:

 

Church, schools no place for creationism theories

Letter to the the editor, Brandon Sun, November 16, 2009

Mr. McConkey’s article (The Evolving Nature Of Belief, Nov. 14) aimed at multiple targets, hitting a few, missing others.

To his main question, why is evolution not accepted in North America?, the answer is twofold: (i) the aversion to teaching religion in public schools and (ii) the aversion to the last 150 years of biblical scholarship in most churches.

In the U.K., Religious Studies follows an ‘Agreed Syllabus’ (by all the churches) and is a popular choice, by no means the soft option it used to be. Though broadly based on Christianity, it teaches the precepts of all main religions. Of the 473,000 pupils sitting the RS exam this summer, 65 per cent of them passed, eight per cent of them at ‘A’ grade (first-year university level).

Dr John Gay, director of the Culham Institute, said, “(The figures) show that through GCSE, two-thirds of the nation’s teenagers are exploring the importance of the religious and spiritual dimensions of life.”

Not only that, they now have two tried and trusted courses, complete with teachers’ notes and DVDs (I have a set), dealing specifically with science/evolution and religion — one for schools, the other at university level.

This is why creationism and its partner in disguise, Intelligent Design, have never gained more than a foothold in Britain (under 10 per cent). Its devotees are rising now, but that is solely due to the influx of Muslims, for whom it is a dogma. Its inability to stand up to “informed” teaching about the Bible is also why creationism should never be given what it craves — equal time —whether in classroom or church meeting. Defending the notion that Adam and Eve were the first humans — i.e. that the human race is founded on incest on an industrial scale — really is a time-waster.

The reason churches prefer literalism may be because they can keep better control of their flocks. As he says, science is fizzing with new theories, which are being challenged all the time because there is only one goal — the truth. In churches, by contrast, the central authority figure must never be questioned.

It was correct to say that Richard Dawkins is an atheist, but few realize that this only means he is against theism. Theism speaks of a God (of order) who reaches into this world (from the outside) to change things, like making cousin Angie better, altering the natural order and thus becoming a Lord of misrule. Many Christian theologians are battling with this one — few churches.

Also, Dawkins does not commend Darwin because he was “a very nice man,” but because he did very nice science, which has long been superseded by neo-Darwinism. The prospects of Mr. McConkey’s dream being realized are bleak, because there is no one to teach it. It needs a thorough knowledge of biblical critical scholarship, in-depth knowledge of biology, paleontology, cosmology and physics, and a more than nodding acquaintance with quantum theory. Is there any such person in the entire province?

REV. MICHAEL SKLIROS, Brandon

* * * *

Biggest obstacle evolution faces is ignorance, not belief

Letter to the the editor, Brandon Sun, November 17, 2009

As the closest thing the Brandon Sun has to a science writer (my column: Science Diction, is published every Thursday in the Community News), I read David McConkey’s Nov. 14 article, “The Evolving Nature of Belief,” with interest.

However, as Darwin’s Chihuahua (self-appointed), I feel I should protest.

The bumper sticker David mentioned (Evolution is a Theory. Creation is a Fact) pretty much sums it up: the problem is ignorance, not belief.

It’s certainly alarming to hear that 41 per cent of Canadians are agnostic as far as evolution is concerned.

But is evolution even taught in high schools? I myself never received such instruction, nor did any of the people I canvassed. I’m under the impression that in Manitoba, such decisions are left up to the biology teachers, who, to avoid their own mini-Scopes Monkey Trials, often just skip evolution altogether.

So the best solution to this lack of “belief” in evolution might be to actually teach evolution. Don’t force students to wait until university — reveal it as soon as possible.

The fact is that the evolution/creationism “controversy,” as David calls it, simply doesn’t exist outside the opulent walls of the Discovery Institute (a religious conservative think-tank that funds the intelligent design rabble). Get a group of biologists together; that is, men and women with PhDs in biology, and you’ll find not one of them rejects evolution.

Why? Because there is no controversy. No one who actually studies the subject rejects evolution. The evidence is simply too copious and too persuasive.

But what’s all this about evolution being “tied up with the life of Charles Darwin”?

My evolution text book (2007 edition) is exactly 791 pages long. A total of three pages are devoted to discussing Charles Darwin.

We’ve come a long way since Darwin, who had no idea, for example, about genetics (absolutely key to understanding evolution).

The term “Darwinian” is now more honorary than anything. It’s simply shorthand for “evolution by natural selection” or “descent with modification,” terms that hardly roll off the tongue.

Nonetheless, it’s unfortunate that creationists have to revert to personal attacks against Darwin. People who actually know about the man — for example his waiting some 20 years before publishing On the Origin of Species (he worried about upsetting religious types) and his obsession with barnacles — will be shocked to hear he was “a racist” and “a bigot.”

It’s bizarre what people will believe these days.

Finally, in order to stem the growing opposition to science in general (which David argues is occurring), I have but two suggestions.

One: start reading my column. Two: consult your common sense.

Oh, and three: read up on evolution. I have a used 791-page book on the subject if anyone wants it.

TONY DEMPSEY, Brandon

* * * *

Educators could follow British model

Letter to the the editor, Brandon Sun, November 20, 2009

I am writing in support of Michael Skliros’ letter in the Nov. 16 Sun.

I am a British-trained teacher who today enjoys the best teaching job I’ve ever had — teaching adults at Brandon Friendship Centre’s Adult Upgrading Program.

However, I taught for many years in the United Kingdom, where, indeed, religious education is part of the national curriculum.

In my experience, I can affirm that religious education in the U.K. is information, not indoctrination, and I have often wondered why educators and parents in Manitoba have tended to be so wary of including religious studies on the school curriculum.

It would seem that we have looked south of the border for reference; in fact, although British educators could learn much from their Canadian and American counterparts, this is one case where looking to the British model might be valuable.

I would like to mention that I am presently approaching community religious organizations, looking for representatives to take part in an upcoming WCGtv series of interviews (following on from one we produced in 2002) that will focus on religious beliefs and views in the Brandon area.

LYNDON BOURNON, Brandon

* * * *
 

Evolutionists have no evidence

Letter to the the editor, Brandon Sun, November 24, 2009

In reply to Tony Dempsey’s letter heading, Biggest Obstacle Evolution Faces is Ignorance, Not Belief (Nov. 17). No, the biggest obstacle evolution faces is lack of evidence. After 150 years of searching, evolutionists don’t have one photograph of a missing link to put in encyclopedias. Please check this out. There have been billions of fossils found. If evolution were true, there would be millions of missing links found by now. The debate would be over. Evolution would be true. Evolution therefore should be abandoned for lack of evidence.

Further, since mutations are supposed to be the mechanism to make evolution work, living things today would all show some evolution happening. Why don’t they? Why aren’t fins developing into legs, and legs turning into wings, etc.? Where are the in-between creatures? Why do animals and plants reproduce only after their kind, just as the Bible said they would? How can a theory that has never been seen to happen be science? Everywhere we look we can see evidence for a Designer/Creator God. Evolution has taken over scientific research, only because when creation- science/intelligent-design scientists are found to be such, they are often expelled from their jobs. It has nothing to do with their abilities. Evolution is exclusively presented in public schools and universities, as well as on CBC radio. Evolutionists give the excuse that they cannot allow the Divine in the door. What happens if the obvious happens, and creation and intelligent design turn out to be the truth? Don’t we live in a democracy? Isn’t education supposed to be about going wherever the truth leads you?

By allowing only one side of the origins issue, provincial governments and the education establishment are to blame for this educational tragedy.

Finally, it doesn’t matter how many governments, scientists and education establishments you throw at this issue. This debate rests on evidence. God has given to all mankind the evidence that He exists by the things He has made. Anybody can see that through intelligent design, colour and beauty around us that He is the Designer/Creator God of all things. An evolutionary, atheistic dictatorship is one thing we don’t need.

COLIN ATKINS, Souris

* * * *

There’s room for science and religion

Letter to the the editor, Brandon Sun, November 25, 2009

Science and religion just don’t seem to want to get along with each other and we have just seen a brief exchange that shows how far apart they can be.

It doesn’t make sense that reasonable people can’t see that there is room for both and a need for both in our society.

By coincidence, Rev. Michael Skliros is attempting to address this issue in his column in the religion page of the Brandon Sun on Saturdays.

HARVEY MORLEY, Brandon

* * * *

Ignorance the biggest obstacle creation faces

Letter to the the editor, Brandon Sun, November 25, 2009

That there is no controversy regarding evolution is simply not true. All the theories are continually being debated.

The main reason is that evolution cannot be proved experimentally. Most people don’t question it. Going to school we feel pressured by the weight of authority. Some scientists are after fame and a glittering prize. They have preconceived ideas and sometimes are not open-minded and don’t see mistakes.

This has happened with all the theories.

True science will probably tell you that the odds of the big bang coming true are like winning a million-dollar lottery a million times in a row.

The fact is there are many scientists and biologists who believe the evidence points to creation.

Some people, atheists and agnostics, believe in evolution sometimes because of false religion. The intolerance of their positions, taking both sides in a war. And false teachings such as hellfire are a problem. Also, teaching that the earth was created in six literal days and that the earth is only 6,000 years old is wrong.

What Tony Dempsey needs to do is perhaps read, with an open mind, “Life — How Did It Get Here? By Evolution Or Creation,” published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.

DELWIN CARLISLE, Brandon

* * * *

Confusion on display in debate

Letter to the the editor, Brandon Sun, December 2, 2009

“Ignorance,” “belief” and “no evidence” have all been mentioned in the recent correspondence about evolution and religious belief.

I would like to add “confusion.”

That there is total confusion about even the basic workings of evolution, particularly the timescales involved, was shown in Colin Atkins’ letter of Nov. 24 (No Evidence) — this in spite of Richard Dawkins’ book Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution being a best-seller for several months on both sides of the Atlantic, not least because of its sheer lucidity. All the old mantras, such as “only a theory” and “missing links,” are examined and shown to be without any substance. One of Mr Atkins’ complaints — “living things would show some evolution happening” — was explained only last Saturday in a Globe & Mail full-page spread (Witnessing Evolution With Their Own Eyes, Focus, pg. 4) as well as occupying pp.117-131 in The Greatest Show on Earth
Unfortunately, ignorance of the Bible and religion, as Delwyn Carlisle says in his letter on Nov. 25 (Ignorance The Biggest Obstacle) doesn’t wash, either. His Watchtower sources may give him comfort, but they rely on insider secrets not given to non-members, and on a selective literalism of English texts that has no respect among scholars steeped in the original Hindu, Babylonian, Greek and the two Genesis creation myths.

All theology graduates are thoroughly familiar with these myths and many, like myself, are both Darwinians and Christians.

We’re back to confusion. By coincidence, a scientific study of British creationist reasoning has just been published (Guardian, Nov 24), the verdict being “people too confused to be a movement.” It reveals: “About half of their interviewees were full-on young earth creationists, believing in the literal truth of the Bible, and hence of a 6,000-year-old earth: but the interesting thing about this is that much of their propaganda was directed not against the evil Darwinians, but against the backsliding old-earth creationists or, worse, ID-ers.”

So there is confusion among anti-evolutionists. There is among scientists as well.

Physicists and mathematicians are used to dealing with abstracts, such as the square root of minus one, and the eleventh dimension. Biologists are not.

“The laws [of physics] are highly mathematical but very mysterious; you cannot see or touch them,” says Cambridge scientist and Templeton prizewinner Prof. John Barrow.

“There are mysterious symmetries in the universe. It is no coincidence that biologists like Dawkins feel very uncomfortable with religion and unanswered questions because they are dealing with the messy complexities of nature. Physicists are used to dealing with uncertainty and being undogmatic. There is a real cultural difference between biologists and physicists.”

So in the present state of confusion, let us seek light rather than reach for ammunition. And all of us should read The Greatest Show on Earth before uttering further on the subject.

REV. MICHAEL SKLIROS, Brandon

* * * *

Time to find common ground

Letter to the the editor, Brandon Sun, December 9, 2009

I have been following with interest the ongoing discussion between creationists and evolutionists in the Brandon Sun.

Years ago while collecting fossils at Joggins, N.S., I collected fossils with a friend who is a creationist. After spending hours trying to convince each other of our perspective sides of this discussion, we decided to smile, shake hands and get on with helping each other collect fossils. Joggins is now closed to collectors as it has become a world heritage site.

The point is that neither side of this discussion can accept the alternative position. The creationists base their side of the discussion on faith. To accept evolution would mean that they would lose their connection with their creator/intelligent designer/God.

Evolutionists, upon accepting a creationist’s point of view, would have no way of organizing volumes of scientific observation, facts and would have to abandon logic.

What the discussion does promote is frustration and anger that divides people.

We can all agree that we are here. I think people can agree that climate change is occurring. November was a beautiful month I'm sure we all enjoyed. The polar bears are not enjoying the warmer weather — in fact, it is challenging their existence. Several thousand animals have been placed on the endangered list this year.

Some people are predicting complete environmental destruction. If environmental destruction occurs, we will have to place ourselves on the endangered list. At that point, the discussion between creationists and evolutionists about where we came from and how we got here will be meaningless.

It is time to focus on what we agree on and tackle real issues.

MURRAY R. SMITH, Brandon

* * * *

Creationist argument must evolve

Letter to the the editor, Brandon Sun, December 24, 2009

Pertaining to Mr. Colin Atkins’ letter in a recent edition of the Brandon Sun.

Mr. Atkins is obviously misinformed as to what, exactly, evolution is, and how the mechanisms that drive it work over millions and millions of years (most of the time) to change populations (not individuals). This is why we do not see human arms turning into wings over a few generations, even if such wings would be advantageous.

Mutations on a such a scale are the stuff of science fiction.

Evolution happens so very slowly (much like the building of a mountain) that is is almost never noticeable, except in the fossil record.

There are exceptions, though. A study showed that average beak size among finches changed in the population (recall again that only populations evolve, not individuals) changed over time in response to a food shortage. There were more large seeds than small seeds on the island, and thus birds with larger beaks were able to eat better, and have more large-beaked offspring. Evolution in action, and only over the course of a decade or so.

I don’t want to take up too much space countering Mr. Atkins’ every point, but I wonder what exact evidence he has to prove creationism, other than religious writings? There is a lot more evidence proving evolution than proving a magical man in the sky waved his hand and created butterflies.

I am not insulting Mr. Atkins’ intelligence, having never met the man, I have no idea the level of his education or how smart he might be, but the information he is basing his opinion on is very silly and very wrong. Although I am an atheist, I am not adamantly opposed to organized religion, or are religious figures adamantly opposed to the idea of evolution (the articles by Rev. Michael Skliros that appear on Saturdays in this very paper are evidence of that), but religion cannot be used against science, or compared to it. Apples and oranges, I’m afraid.

I suggest Mr. Atkins take a book out of his local library and brush up before he declares the debate over, or decides he has any authority in it. After all, I don’t ask an accountant to fix my car. Perhaps he will discover just what a simple and beautiful theory evolution is.

And I ask you this, Mr. Atkins: if the infallible and all-knowing God designed, say, the human eye, why do so many of us need glasses?

CHRIS GIBSON, Brandon

* * * *

Breaking down the arguments

Letter to the the editor, Brandon Sun, December 29, 2009

In response to Colin Atkins’ recent letter entitled “Evolutionists have no evidence,” this is exactly the ignorance Mr. Dempsey spoke of.

Let’s break down Mr. Atkins’ arguments:

•  Lack of evidence

Mr. Atkins says that there is no evidence of “missing links” in the “billions” of fossils that have been unearthed. This could not be further from the truth. Search Wikipedia for transitional fossils and you will find prime examples of intermediary forms of life. Take for example Ambulocetus or the “walking whale.” This species shows one step in the evolutionary series of present-day whales. See also Archaeopteryx and Tiktaalik. Dinosaurs didn’t give birth to small mammals and monkeys did not give birth to humans, which leads to your next argument.

•  Spontaneous Evolution

This is another common misconception made by Creationists. The argument states that we should see evolution happening at a macro-scale. If evolution were true, we should see “fins evolving into legs,” or the Ray Comfort/Kirk Cameron “Crocoduck” (Google it, it’s hilarious). What Creationists don’t comprehend is the rate at which changes occur.

It is expected that drastic changes such as the ones Mr. Atkins describes should only take years to happen instead of the millions it actually takes. There are, however, examples of evolution occurring under the microscope. Richard Lenski’s E. coli long-term evolution experiment is a fitting example. In his experiment, Lenski has been tracking genetic changes in 12 nearly identical colonies of Escherichia coli over the last 20 plus years. Several evolutionary adaptations have been observed in the 12 colonies.

The most drastic of the adaptations is that some bacteria acquired the ability to metabolize citrate. The inability to use citric acid as a source of energy is one of the defining characteristics bacteriologists use to distinguish E. coli from other bacteria. In this case, Occam’s Razor argues that evolution is the simplest explanation and the rest should be cut away.

•  Evolution has taken over scientific research

Science defined is: the systemic knowledge of the physical and material world through observation and experimentation. By stating that “God has given to all mankind the evidence He exists” I have to ask, what evidence are you referring to? How can you test, measure and observe something that exists outside of the material world? Intelligent design (ID) is not falsifiable, dynamic or progressive. ID is pseudoscientific, i.e. made to look like science, but lacks the appropriate methodology.

I am sorry, Mr. Atkins — all you have done in your letter is reiterate Mr. Dempsey’s point that ignorance is the biggest problem facing evolution. The same tired arguments keep being brought up by Creationists, and they are continually corrected time after time as newer examples are found through scientific methods.

The modern theory of evolution changes as new evidence is brought forth. Intelligent design/creation science does not change with new evidence and it does not accept new information. It simply relies on a pre-established outcome and fancifully tries to explain how they arrive at that outcome.

CRAIG BAUMAN, Brandon

* * * *

Science won but the debate goes on

Letter to the the editor, Brandon Sun, January 4, 2010

I’d like to applaud Mr. Craig Bauman’s letter of Dec. 29, 2009. He did an excellent job of responding to Colin Atkins’ Nov. 24 pro-creationist/anti-rational thinking letter.

As for Delwin Carlisle’s suggestion (Brandon Sun, Nov. 25) that Tony Dempsey read “Life — How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or Creation?” by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, I’d say sure — as long as he’s in the mood for religious propaganda. It has all the scientific accuracy of a Warner Bros. cartoon.

Unfortunately, the creationist versus evolutionist debate won’t end any time soon. We, the scientifically-minded, are dealing with a group of people who, about 550 years ago would have been arguing vehemently in favour of a geocentric (Earth-centred, as opposed to heliocentric, or sun-centred) universe.

Having lost the geocentric versus heliocentric debate, however, they are determined to keep us in the metaphorical centre of the universe, at least.

Perhaps in another 550 years, we will look back at creationism as an interesting psychological phenomenon. Perhaps it is an adolescent phase that all intelligent denizens of the universe go through as they mature.

GEORGE BAKER, Virden 

* * * *

Can’t we keep an open mind, people?

Letter to the the editor, Brandon Sun, January 6, 2010

To begin, I consider myself an optimistic realist. I still can’t believe at this time of year and century people still tear down each other’s beliefs and non-beliefs.

I’m speaking about the past few letters to the editors. One from a fundamental creationist and the other from a hardened evolutionist atheist.

In my opinion, both persons should walk a mile in each other’s shoes. I for one know evolution is real and happened.

I also know and believe that a higher power allowed this to happen.

What I’m getting at is people should constructively criticize and keep an open mind. Sometimes I wonder if natural selection/God made the right choice and allowed humans to thrive.

Maybe the Neanderthals would have done a better job at getting along.

Peace.

THOMAS HINCH, Brandon 

* * * *

Go to the original column "The Evolving Nature Of Belief."

Go to the second column "Evolution Debate Important."

Go to letters to the editor in response to "Evolution Debate Important."

 

 



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