Friday, 14 September 2007

Ding ding round one

Latest exchange of emails with my local JW (JW in blue);

First a quick exchange;

Hi Xxx,
I got my copy of the book from Ebay and I'm quite a way through it. So the next time I go down Xxxxxxx Rd, I'll drop it in.
As I was reading it, Xxxx, I wondered whether you believe that humans came to be on this planet because of 'Natural Selection' (The survival of the fittest). And whether you agree with the philosophy of 'survival of the fittest'.
The question I'm asking is not a complicated one,
Sorry about that Xxxx, The previous email went to you before I'd finished it. I don't send emails often and I must have touched a button that sent it by accident before I'd completed it. What I was about to say was: the question I'm asking you is not a complicated one requiring an involved answer, I just want to know whether you agree with the philosophy of 'Survival of the fittest' or not.
Cheers, Xxxx.

Hi Xxxx,

Don't worry about the emails - no problem at all. To answer your two questions; ". . . I wondered whether you believe that humans came to be on this planet because of 'Natural Selection' (The survival of the fittest).", ". . . .whether you agree with the philosophy of 'Survival of the fittest' or not";

Yes to the first and no to the second.

Yes I think that there is a lot of evidence to suggest that natural selection is one of the driving forces behind evolution, although it is not the only one by a long way and I would be happy to explain this in a little more detail if you are curious. The others include variation, sexual selection and genetic drift.

No I don't think it is a way to live your life by, if that is what you meant by "agree with the philosophy of". I think that you can see the evidence for a scientific theory without trying to lead your life by it. For example, I also think that there is lots of evidence for quantum theory but no I don't think we should live our lives based on randomness, and despite the fact that electricity is quite well understood I don't think we should live our lives based on this either. Mind you I can probably guess that you might agree with these other scientific theories and their evidence because you don't think they contradict your holy book.

Do you think that some people do base their lives on any of these scientific "philosophies"?

I am happy to discuss morality with you although I find science more interesting.

I have previously been told that because I don't believe in god and/ or because I do believe in evolution therefore I don't have any morals.

I did some thinking about this and wrote a couple of short pieces on my blog;

Being good without god part 1, part 2.

Perhaps these will help you understand my opinion.

I do ask some questions about morality based on religion in those pieces and perhaps I can address one to you?

How do you decide which bits of the bible to follow literally and which not?

I must confess to not yet having made time to view your DVD but I intend to do it soon and I will come back to you with some feedback then.

Then a couple of larger emails;
There is a very reassuring saying that I heard when I was 25 years of age. It goes like this: The truth can stand the closest of examination. But if something is false, close examination will reveal the error. It was 48 years ago when I heard that, but ever since then I have believed it to be an excellent basis for a discussion.

In any debate, if the participants are intelligent enough to present their case coherently, and sufficiently intelligent to understand the other persons argument, providing they are both bound by the same rules, and providing they both argue honestly, and don't play 'the devils advocate', the discussion could be a learning experience for them both, providing of course that they are both interested in the other persons point of view. If we were to resort to insulting the person who has a view different from our own, or to talk down to him, this would not add weight to our argument, rather it would make the discussion pointless, so I will not resort to those tactics, Xxxx, and I trust that neither will you.

I'd never dream of saying that it was necessary to believe in the Bible to have good morals.
High moral principles are possessed by people of all races and religions (But in all races and religions we also find people who have very low moral principles). It seems that, unlike lower animals, people of every race have an inborn conscience. Everyone should be governed by the dictates of their conscience, this is why courts of law condemn criminals. Good parents try to instill unselfishness, honesty and fairness in their children, and I'm sure that is what you do Xxxx.

In answer to the question, how does one decide which of the instructions in the Bible apply to us in the 21st. Century and which do not apply. A careful study of the Bible reveals that the Mosaic law was given only to the nation of Israel. It was a bilateral covenant between Jehovah and the nation of Israel. The nation willingly entered into that covenant. See: Exodus 19:3. The laws were the most perfect any government has ever fashioned. And while ever the nation obeyed those laws, everyone in that nation benefited. These laws did not apply to any other of earths inhabitants. So they do not apply to us.

The Mosaic Law had fulfilled its purpose when the Messiah arrived and was put to death. At the moment Jesus Christ died, the Mosaic Law came to an end. So not even the Jews are under the Mosaic Law today. See: Colossians 2:13,14.

Christians today are under a different law. It is summed up in these words: Matthew 22: 35 And one of them, versed in the Law, asked, testing him 36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37 He (Jesus) said to him: "'You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 The second, like it, is this, 'You must love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets." In addition, any Law which was binding upon Jews and is also binding upon Christians was repeated in the Greek scriptures . (The New Testament)

It was clear to me after speaking with you for only a few minutes on your doorstep, that you wouldn't have agreed with the philosophy of survival of the fittest. Some of the things you said showed you to be a caring person. But after I starting to reading Dawkins' book I was puzzled. Because you recommended it so strongly, it seemed that you were endorsing what he says.

You said that you are happy to discuss morals, but you are more interested in science. I am happy to discuss either. But in order to establish a precedent so that I know what you mean when you refer to 'a scientific theory', which of the many definitions of the word 'theory' do you use in this connection and what do you mean when you refer to science? Is the following dictionary definition the one you mean? - 'Knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method'?

Do you agree, Xxxx, that both parties in a discussion should be bound by the same rules?
I look forward to your reply,

Hi xxxx,

I am happy to engage in civilised debate. If this isn't patronising then I must just say that you look very well at 73 years of age.

I am pleased to hear you don't agree with the insults often thrown at atheists/scientists about morals and the bible. I agree that there are bad and good people on all sides of this debate.

If you read those "being good without god" posts I previously linked to, you will find some references to examples of altruism and conscience in the "lower" animals. The loyalty of pets is another common example of this kind of thing. Vampire bats are another more startling example. Would you like to know more about it? I would be happy to try to explain this if you are curious.

Do you accept that such moral behaviour is not limited to human beings? If not then this would be an interesting topic to discuss further. I would be interested to get some feedback from you on those posts of mine.

It's fascinating what you say about mosaic law - have you got any links or references so I can read more about this? I know my bible knowledge is weak and I do find it very heavy going, so please point out any errors as I go along.

I suppose the main question in my mind about your interpretation is why so many other Christians don't share it? Presumably they are just as genuine and honest as yourself but they get a different answer. Presumably they get guidance through prayer, but they get a different answer. Why would this be so if there is a god?

What about the ten commandments (both versions)? Do these apply? Do you think that homosexuality is a sin? I think your younger colleagues said it was. Which bit of the bible tells you this?

With regard to blood transfusions being wrong - which bit of the bible tells you this?

Re Dawkins and evolution;

Can you see the distinction between acknowledging evidence for some feature of the natural world and not therefore living your life by those same rules? If you read the whole of Dawkins' book you will see that he does not endorse survival of the fittest as a philosophy of life - in fact he waxes lyrical about his humanist viewpoint and the need to "rise above it" and build a moral culture. I recommended "The Blind Watchmaker" as a good introduction to some of the science that you were denying and not as a philosophy of life.

Please remember why this topic (evolution) came up in the first place. Your doorstep "pitch" made some claims about the natural world which ignored hundreds of years of scientific research and you stated yourself that we have no idea how some things came about, in particular I remember pigeons, which is where Darwin came into the discussion because there are a couple of chapters on them in the "origin of species".

What do you think of the "god of the gaps" argument? I think that this is what your pamphlets were saying i.e. if there are some things we don't understand then that must be god. Do you agree? If not then why don't you think this particular cap fits?

In my experience it has been a common claim by creationists that people who do see the evidence for evolution are amoral and/or that the theory itself is somehow evil. Is this your view? You do imply this latter point when you state that I appear to be a caring person and yet you were surprised that I gave you a book on evolution, why would this surprise you? I am not aware of anyone "preaching" evolution and the survival of the fittest as a philosophy of life. Yet you seem to imply that this is what Dawkins' is doing. Perhaps you can explain why you think that (if you do).

Re scientific theory definitions. I am happy to go with common dictionary usage - but please use theory in the scientific sense if we are discussing science, and not in the non scientific "a bit of a guess" sense. Scientific observations produce facts (sometimes). Hypothesis are generated in an attempt to link and explain multiple facts and when hypothesis explain such observed facts and predict enough future observations then they get "promoted" to the status of "theory", like the "theory of gravity", or "Quantum Electro-Dynamic Theory". Theories are therefore based upon facts and they also managed to predict the results of some observations or measurements before they were known and so in some sense are "true". Of course science also has the wonderful habit of throwing theories out just as soon as more evidence comes in which contradicts them. In that sense nothing is 100% known as absolutely true and good scientists always follow the evidence. Do you think there is any evidence which contradicts evolution?

For what it is worth, this is a good one page summary of the "theory/fact" issue which I agree with;

Evolution is a fact and a theory

Let me know if there is anything on here you don't agree with or need clarification on.

Have you spoken to the two young chaps who called the week before we met? Have you discussed their claim to me that the bible specifically predicted world war one in 1914? I would be interested to hear what you think of this.

As ever I am curious and on the look out to learn new things. What would you say is your best bit of evidence for god?


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