Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The book of genesis?

I realized something this morning that for some reason struck me as funny. Skeptics of Christianity have often pointed out (quite rightly, mind you) that despite the fact that the world is full of people who claim to be Christians, it's surprisingly uncommon to find a Christian who has actually taken the time to read the Bible. How many of them know the Ten Commandments, which they claim to highly esteem? (Hey here's some fun a non-believer can have with an ignorant believer: convince them that there's something strange in the Ten Commandments. Remember, though, you've got to make it believable, so something like "Thou shalt not touch the flesh of the swine" or "Thou shalt not lie with man as with women." Your best chance is to lift a verse from elsewhere in the Bible and pretend it's in Exodus 20. Fun for you, hopefully educational for them.)

Let me be clear that I am not saying, as some have, that it's the "atheist Bible", but I was thinking about Darwin's Origin of Species, and wondered: how many people who believe in evolution have read that book?

Of course, the position that Origin of Species holds in the world of evolutionary science is not analogous in many ways to the position of the Bible. Really, the Bible is supposed to be the definitive book on Christianity, and while one can know a lot about Christianity and even be a Christian without ever having opened the book once, every book that there is on Christianity is in some way going to refer back to it. Origin of Species, on the other hand, while a book that was there in the beginning of evolutionary thinking, is far from required reading. Any reference work discussing evolution need not even give a simple nod to Darwin, but can formulate its own opinions on the meaning of fossil evidence and the like.

Still, a principle is there, hidden beneath the question of how many evolutionists have actually read Darwin's work. Just as one might wonder what sort of a Christian a non-Bible reading self-proclaimed Christian might be, isn't it fair to wonder about a believer in evolution who has never read a word on the subject, be it written by Darwin or not? I would say such a person has true "blind faith" in evolutionary theory, and even those who believe in evolution from a position of fuller knowledge ought to be worried by this sort of belief. Sure, most Christians can't name all Ten Commandments; how many people who would profess to believe in evolution can even define the word "evolution"? You might be surprised. (Try yourself: whatever you think the word means from a biological standpoint, jot it down, then check your answer against or something. You might be surprised! Wait, didn't I just write that?)

Now, I myself have not read the book, but I'd like to. I'd also like to encourage others to do so. While not a "holy book", Origin of Species is a book that probably ranks up there with the scriptures of various religions in importance. Just as my fellow Christians are often found saying "How can you reject the Bible when you've never read it?" I ask how they can reject Darwin without reading his work. Even if you're convinced it's 100% crap, all the more reason to open it up and see what's inside: to know what sort of crap it is and let people know. As a believer in many of the concepts of evolution (creationists, make sure you completed the dictionary exercise above before criticizing me for my position) I do have expectations as to what I will find in Darwin when I get around to him: a man with great powers of observation, keen insight, and a touch of laxity in his scientific methods. Very thought-provoking, I'm sure.

I hope it's not the first time I've urged this when it comes to this subject, as well as many others: both skepticism and faith have their place in obtaining full understanding, and one should not blindly accept nor reject any significant piece of information that comes one's way. Just as I tell people they should read about Christianity from the source and judge for themselves, so I believe that they should read about evolution in the same way.

Once I do manage to get around to it, I'm sure I'll be more than happy to share my views on it far beyond what anyone cares to listen, just like everything else.

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