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Charles Darwin’s discovery was surely great. But let’s not dismiss all other thinkers – Aristotle or Socrates, say – who came before him

G G Simpson, quoted by Richard Dawkins, suggested that the great thinkers of antiquity are now worthless

By on Monday, 6 August 2012

A sculpture of Darwin outside Bradford Town Hall made out of sand (Photo: PA)

A sculpture of Darwin outside Bradford Town Hall made out of sand (Photo: PA)

This is the opening paragraph of Professor Richard Dawkins’s famous book The Selfish Gene, quoted in its entirety.


Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for its own existence. If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilisation, is: “Have they discovered evolution yet?” Living organisms had existed on earth, without ever knowing why, for over three thousand million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin. To be fair, others had had inklings of the truth, but it was Darwin who first put together a coherent and tenable account of why we exist. Darwin made it possible for us to give a sensible answer to the curious child whose question heads this chapter. We no longer have to resort to superstition when faced with the deep problems: Is there a meaning to life? What are we for? What is man? After posing the last of these questions, the eminent zoologist G G Simpson put it thus: “The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely.”

I said the other day that there was something about it that made me sit up and take notice.

Working out the reason for your own existence is certainly the mark of an advanced society or an advanced individual. This is what Socrates did – he reflected on his own existence, and he came to a remarkable degree of self-understanding. He was the one who remarked that the unexamined life was not worth living. Aristotle, too, believed that self-reflection, what he called phronesis, was the highest possible human activity. Aristotle was of course a biologist, and much of his life was spent in observing not just himself, but nature too.

But neither of these men knew of evolution, though they may have had inklings of the truth. In fact the Greeks, though very advanced in mathematics and philosophy, were at a practical level poor scientists. They did not even invent the arch, even though they could predict eclipses and study the planets (quite an achievement, considering they had no telescopes).

My point is that the Greeks, though ignorant of many scientific achievements of later generations, were not the sort of people that one should dismiss; yet that is exactly what the quotation from G G Simpson, within the quotation above, seems to do.

The year 1859 – the year of Darwin’s great scientific discovery – surely is an important year, even a watershed. But to dismiss all the centuries that come before seems mistaken. But it has to be said that this is a common mistake. Human beings love to see certain events as key, and somehow changing all that went before. Perhaps one can see the Darwinian moment as marking a paradigm shift (I have no problem with that), but should one see it as the greatest paradigm shift ever, which is clearly what Professor Dawkins believes?

All this reminds me of the way that his contemporaries reacted to Isaac Newton. Alexander Pope wrote:

Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.

This implies that Newton’s discoveries were more or less the most important thing since the creation of the world – though it is worth remembering that Pope was famous for his irony.

The problem I have with seeing Darwin as the inaugurator of a new age (though he undoubtedly was that in a sense) is the implication that everything that went before was gravely lacking. Not only are Aristotle and Socrates worth treasuring – they represent human achievements never bettered in certain important respects – but it is also true to say, surely, that Darwin did not come from nowhere, and that he, too, like all of us, was a product of his time. In other words, without the pre-history, without those who went before him, Darwin himself would not have been the man he was.

So, in reply to G G Simpson, one would have to say that what preceded the year 1859 simply cannot be ignored. Not even Darwin started from scratch. No one does.

  • karlf

     “Allegory in. Literalism out” for some, but too late to have had an influence Jesus’ audiences, don’t you think? Especially to perform such a drastic change of belief.

  • Lazarus

    Oh boy, you really are clutching at straws on this one!

    Look, I don’t quite get you. You said (I think) that you attend Anglican services (taking them as some sort of cultural experience) but you’re clearly unwilling to delve very deeply into the philosophy and theology of Christianity. And yet you’re spending an enormous amount of time on here trying to point score (successfully or not I’ll leave others to judge). Why? If you’re really interested in deeper exploration, comboxes aren’t really the way to do it, particularly in the way you’re using them. If you’re really so hostile to religion, then why hang around its liturgies (and websites)?

    If there’s an interest in finding out more, then go and read some serious books (which, in your present mood, you’re just dismissing as theological waffle). If you’re not interested, then why waste your own and others’ time?

    (And briefly on your points re Philo, I simply offer him as an example of the practice of hermeneutics in the Judaism of the time. (You’ve offered none.) At the least, he is a warning not to assume that ancient audiences necessarily adopted a primitive literalism. You might also want to deny that the pesher technique used at Qumran is also committed to a highly allegorical use of texts:

    ‘Scripture was seen as having two levels, the surface level known by the prophetic authors themselves and applicable to the readers; as well as a raz to be discovered and interpreted in a specific eschatological context. This cryptic message to be discovered had the two-fold agenda of contemporising the message of the prophets giving it a continuing, predictive function as well as validating the sectarian theology by eisegetically reading their own beliefs back into the authoritative texts.’

    As I said, I make no claims about my own knowledge of hermeneutics as practised in the Judaism of Jesus’ day. (And also as I’ve said, it is of limited relevance to the present question of what can legitimately be concluded from Jesus’ words.) But in a few minutes googling, I’ve come up with at least two schools, contemporary with Jesus, which adopted a highly allegorical method of interpretation. Why don’t you stop digging a hole for yourself?

  • Jonathan West

    Well, let’s establish first of all that there are other methods of enquiry. There is (eg) mathematics which doesn’t rest on theories developed by observation. There is literary criticism which again isn’t based on any obviously scientific methodology. And there is the sort of exchange which we are indulging in now which might be described (broadly) as philosophical. It’s very hard to imagine a world where science is the only way of rationally finding our way around; and certainly absolutely nothing I say should be seen as rejecting scientific enquiry: it is not an alternative to theology but a companion.

    Literary criticism is about opinions, not about facts, so we can set that aside. Mathematics is a closed system of formal logic, and so is not about making discoveries about the world around us.

    Science deals with understanding the world around us. It is in first place a description of that world. That is why observations triumph over theories. If you find that a map disagrees with the landscape you are travelling through, you say the map is inaccurate, not the landscape!

    So, in the context of God, are we trying to find out how God is or how you think he ought to be. If we are looking to discover what God is, then any theories about God need to be compared with observation.

    It seems to me that all the philosophising about God only happens because we are in fact really rather seriously short of observations of him. The very ides that we “believe” in God betrays this. We don’t have to believe that rain falls from clouds, we can see it happening.

    The fact that God’s purported interventions are occasional makes scientific enquiry more difficult, but not impossible in principle. You can use statistical techniques for instance to detect occasional or intermittent effects.

    As for “constant sustaining mode”, there is a difficulty with this. The problem is that ultimately, you are in essence saying “the world is as it is, therefore God exists” which is a claim which can be made whatever the world happens to look like. There is no prediction that you make that could be tested by observation to see whether your prediction is correct. A proposition can only be regarded as scientific if it is phrased in such a way that you can calculate the consequences of the hypothesis sufficient to be able to make a testable prediction from them. A general claim about a sustaining mode doesn’t pass that test.

    And furthermore, seeing miracles or other tangible interventions as evidence of God, and also seeing the constant sustaining mode as evidence of God means that whether there are miracles or not, it all seems to be evidence of God. This is called having your cake and eating it.

    All we can say at the moment regarding the constancy of the laws of physics is that we don’t know where they come from. It is a problem the physicists have not yet solved. Here is Prof David Deutsch on the subject of unsolved problems.

    the existence of an unsolved problem in physics is not evidence for a supernatural explanation any more than the existence of an unsolved crime is evidence that a ghost committed it.

    It may be that we can ultimately solve this problem. In biology, the problem has been solved, there is lots of detailed work to do clearing up the pieces, but the basic principles were established by Darwin, and it is clear that there is no need for God’s involvement in the explanation. The Catholic Church has taken the view that even though Darwin’s theory matches the facts, catholics should not conclude that God had no hand in the creation of life. This is akin to saying that while Newton’s law of gravitation is an adequate explanation for the motions of the planets, we should still believe that the planets are pulled in their orbits by teams of invisible intangible horses at just the speeds predicted by Newton’s laws.

    So, if the origin of the laws of physics is ultimately discovered, and it turns out that (as in biology) there is no need to posit God’s involvement, would you still insist that metaphysics trumps physics?

  • karlf

    Like you I enjoy combox discussions Lazarus. But I find that if debates are over complicated the key issues become lost.
    So here is a simple question I’d be pleased if you’d answer:
    “How foolish you are, how slow you are to believe everything the prophets said!” Luke 24:25
    How is that allegorical, symbolism or metaphorical?

  • Daclamat

    I’m surprised, well I’m not really, that Lucie-Smith should hoist the flag for Socrates and Aristotle in view of events that have recently shaken the Catholic church.  Socrates was quite openly dotty about little boys.  Pederasty was quite the thing, and he dived in, headlong. I don’t have Aristotle to hand, but I seem to remember him citing with approval the Cretan practice of pederasty as a way of satisfy men’s overwhelming desires, thereby avoiding unwanted births. I wonder whether Socrates would have nodded understandingly at the scandal of compulsory celibates’ unbounded admiration for little boys. He called it pederasty, and approved. We call it paedophily, and think it disgusting. Thank God. Pius XII dipped his big toe into Darwinism.  John-Paul II was possitively exuberant, while Benedict is even more enthusiastic. Darwin was mistakenly associated with the the idea of the survival of the fittest.  Natural selection is his way of describing nature’s, including human nature’s, capacity to adapt to ecolological niches, and thrive. I’m not sure he knew about Mendel’s peas.

  • RomanEnvoy

    I’ve already made the point about ‘acquired characteristics’, which, as I said, doesn’t change the fact that the notion of evolution as descent with modification was already well known by Darwin’s time.

    Darwin only published his work because he got wind that Wallace had formulated the same ideas before him. So, as was the point, why is Darwin primarily acknowledged as the progenitor of this theory, when we know that he was, at best, the joint author of it, and which is completed, as Neo-Darwinism, through the work of an Augustinian friar by the name of Gregor Mendel…..?

  • RomanEnvoy

    Plus, you’re also wrong to suggest that Lamarck was mistaken in his concept of ‘acquired characteristics’. Scientists are beginning to find that ‘non-genetic variation acquired during the life of an organism can sometimes be passed on to offspring—a phenomenon known as epigenetic inheritance’.
    To learn more about this topic see this link: 

    A quote from that link:

    ‘With the advent of Mendelian genetics and the later discovery of DNA, Lamarck’s ideas fell out of favor entirely. Research on epigenetics, while yet to uncover anything as dramatic as Lamarck’s giraffes, does suggest that acquired traits can be heritable, and that Lamarck was not so wrong after all’.

  • Lazarus

    Putting aside the details of your descriptions of Aristotle and Socrates’ characters (eg it would be hard to argue from the texts that Socrates was straightforwardly a paedophile), what’s this got to do with their philosophies and, moreover, the value of pre-Darwinian thinking? Are you arguing that we shouldn’t read any philosophy or literature from any culture or writer unless we agree with all aspects of its ethics? (Given the apparent aversion of most of the atheists here to both reasoning and reading anything beyond the God Delusion, that wouldn’t surprise me.)

    Hard to regard this post as anything more than a trifling effort to link pederasty and Catholicism again. 

  • Julia

    Hard to regard this post as anything more than a trifling effort to link pederasty and Catholicism again.”

    But the RC Church has already done that!

  • Jonathan West

    And calling it fallacious doesn’t make it so. I have described how one aspect of God’s purported characteristics could be tested, you haven’t explained why the test would be invalid.

  • Julia

    “Indeed Max Planck nobel prize scientist declared science and religion needed a belief in God.”
    But not the same kind of God.

    Of course in the past the Church had a very large “footprint”. Its teaching were considered reasonable at the time (a result of very limited knowedge of the world, including Man).
    But this is no longer the case, and the Church is an intellectual backwater - admittedly with an impressive past in some ways – but also encumbered with a dark and evil history. 
    It is much of this history, about which the Church is reluctant to talk, that is responsible for the its survival. 

  • Lazarus

    Well, off the top of my head -never a good way to deal with scripture but still- it’s a straightforward observation about not believing what the prophets said about the coming of Christ and his passion and resurrection.

    Can’t see any problem there. (Catholics do accept the literal truth of that, you know!) If you see a problem, is it because you want to read it out of context, so that absolutely everything the prophets said (presumably including Isaiah’s unrecorded ‘Please pass the toast’) has to believed? (If that is your point, that sort of plodding literalness must cause considerable difficulties in everyday life.)

    So I don’t think it is either symbolic, allegorical or metaphorical, but a straightforward point to be read in context.

    On pesher, since it involves the interpretation of an authoritative figure -and the Teacher of Righteousness at Qumran is normally dated well before Christ- no, it’s not after Jesus (and nor is Philo). But I’m well beyond my reliable knowledge base here.

  • Julia

    An outrageous lie. He did NOT say that. (The 48 second clip is apparently all you need to suit your purposes).
    He was cut off in mid sentence – after the morally acceptable bit, he goes on to give his views on the “slippery slope” and its dangers, that the logical lack of moral objection could lead to.

  • Julia

    The claim that the NT is the original, uncorrupted, stable, absolute, eye-witness truth, verified by all historical research, most reliable…etc and that it has been shown (by modern science, no less) to be these things is utterly…………. .

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    The past of the Church is bright.

    And no, scientific advancements do not make Christianity obsolete. The questions answered by science and orthogonal to the questions answered by Faith.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Dismissing the great wisdom of the Ancient Greeks is preposterous.

    People should learn to respect their ancestors.

  • Tonymaloney

    Typical dishonest tactics

  • JabbaPapa

    Given that you appear to be hard of hearing :


    That is NOT a “scientific hypothesis”, because it fails completely to satisfy the requirements of the most basic rules of proper methodology.

    The suggestion is, just for starters, neither falsifiable nor verifiable, for a hundred or more blatantly obvious reasons that I’d frankly feel embarrassed to explain. Nor is it comparable with any relevant corpus of research. Nor does it define itself on the basis of any form of coherent theory, nor underlying scientifically established group of strongly interrelated hypotheses. Nor does it make any attempt, supposing this were the inauguration of an entirely new discipline, to establish any form of coherent hypothetical framework nor methods for
    the falsification or verification of that framework itself.

    I realise that you must be under the mistaken impression that it’s all terribly clever, except that it is, as I have already pointed out, and even before you posted this rubbish, a complete and utter parody of the most ordinary standards of scientific methodology.


    It is NOT a hypothesis, because it does not fulfill the necessary methodological criteria for the establishment of hypotheses.

    Let me make a simile —

    You ask Benny a hundred or a thousand times to jump through a hoop.

    Benny refrains from doing so.

    Can Benny jump through such a hoop, or can’t he ?

  • JabbaPapa

    You do a consistently good job of impersonating someone engaging in the systematically  willful misinterpretation of all comments about Christianity.

    A cognitive bias, maybe ?

  • JabbaPapa

    That is a (very good) statement about the analysis of hypotheses — you made a general statement about belief, presenting it falsely as a definition of Science.

    It is very clear to me now, given your posts over the preceding 48 hours or so, that your grasp of what constitutes a hypothesis is extremely weak.

    Can you possibly be in a state of confusion concerning the profound qualitative differences between scientifically admissible data, theory, and hypothesis ; and other forms of data and knowledge, that are subjected to scientific methodology in no way whatsoever ?

  • Acleron

    Blind chance and unguided randomness are inadequate’

    Whoever said that blind chance and unguided randomness were adequate?

    The whole idea of natural selection is that it ‘selects’.

  • JabbaPapa

    Literary criticism is about opinions, not about facts, so we can set that aside

    In fact, literary criticism and literary ana

  • JabbaPapa

    Your claim, repeated multiple times, that literal interpretations of the Bible can provide accurate understandings of the Christian religion is quite clearly an indoctrinated belief.

  • Daclamat

    .Socrates was as bent as a banana. If you really think it difficult to argue from the texts, I suggest you try reading them. Socrates took great pleasure in showing off his lover lad.  It has everything to do with dumming down on Darwin. I didn’t invent the link with pederasty within the Church.  iT HAS BEEN PROVEN THOUSANDS OF CASES.

  • Daclamat

    Don’t think Copernicus and Galileo would agree.

  • Daclamat

    When will you stop being nasty to people you disagree with? Not very Christian

  • Acleron

    If such an entity affects reality, then it is suitable for study.

    Just producing word salads that evade that issue doesn’t work.

    If such an entity doesn’t affect reality, then it is of no interest to anyone. It is purely a non-existent entity.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    I have watched the entire clip, and he said totally clearly: on strictly moral grounds, he supports infanticide for disabled babies.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

     Thank you for sharing.

  • ASimpleCatholic

    It seems that you have run out of arguments so the paedophile charge comes quite handy. Socrates/Plato, Aristotles are and will be taught in schools and universities and read by the educated, if you find the Ancient Greek culture so unacceptable perhaps you can start a campaign to forbid schoolboys from reading Ancient authors. Good luck to you.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Dawkins is already on the ‘slippery slope’.  I watched the entire clip and here’s what he said:

    ‘….suppose you take the argument in favour of abortion up until the baby was 1 year old, say, or 2 years old … and so if a baby was 1 year old and turned out to have some horrible, incurable disease, one that meant he was going to die in agony in later life, what about infanticide?  Morally I … strictly morally, I can see no objection to that at all.  I would be in favour of infanticide.  But I think I would worry about … uhm … but I think I would at least give consideration to the person who says where does it end.’

    Abortion up until a baby is 1 or 2 years old!  In favour of infanticide but prepared to consider where this might end!  That’s big of him.  Fr Lucie-Smith’s previous article quotes Dawkins as insisting that there is no meaning in the universe, only ‘blind, pitiless indifference.

    Perhaps there is only ‘blind and pitiless indifference’ in Richard Dawkins, which he is projecting onto the universe while using the theory of Evolution to justify himself.

  • ASimpleCatholic

    A Catholic says: I find Darwin uninteresting.

    Atheists chanting in chorus: Paedophile! Paedophile! Paedophile!

    Catholic: I don’t like the colour of Dawkin’s jacket he is wearing today.
    Atheists in chorus: Paedophile! Paedophile! Paedophile!Catholic: Hitichens wrote a quite unfair book on Mother Teresa.
    Atheists in chorus: Paedophile! Paedophile! Paedophile!Catholic: I think Darwin’s cousin is not a very nice person.
    Atheists in chorus: Paedophile! Paedophile! Paedophile!Catholic: I think condom is not very reliable against HIV.
    Atheists in chorus: Paedophile! Paedophile! Paedophile.

    and so on in every situation when a Catholic says something slightly uncomfortable to the ears of atheists.

    Conclusion: Atheists have nothing but paedophilia in mind and they are not capable of rational discussion. 

  • karlf

    Wrong. I wasn’t claiming that at all, but trying to get answers to my questions.

  • ASimpleCatholic

    Today’s New-atheists are dwarfs who think they were giants. 

  • ASimpleCatholic

    Dawkins will be too uneducated for the two. Renaissance science, music and philosophy are greatly influenced by Neoplatonism and stand in full legacy of Plato and Aristotle. Atheists are really culture-less savages. 

  • Lazarus

    My claim was that Socrates wasn’t ‘straightforwardly a paedophile. (I’d reject the idea that he was straightforwardly homosexual either: the projection of a modern sexual identity on Athenian males is highly anachronistic.)

    Finnis’ summary is: 

     ‘Socrates is portrayed by Plato (and by Xenophon) as having strong homosexual (as well as heterosexual) inclinations or interest, and as promoting an ideal of homosexual romance between men and youths, but at the same time as utterly rejecting homosexual conduct.  This is made clear in Sir Kenneth Dover’s book Greek Homosexuality; in Dover’s summarising words: “Xenophon’s Socrates lacks the
    sensibility and urbanity of the Platonic Socrates, but there is no doubt that both of them condemn homosexual copulation.”   It is also made clear by Gregory Vlastos in his last book, precisely on Socrates: In Socratic ero^s involving relationships of affection between men and boys or youths, intimacy is limited to mind- and eye-contact and “terminal
    gratification” is forbidden (and a fortiori in relationships between adult males, since virtually all Athenians regarded sex acts between adult males as intrinsically shameful)’  Vlastos thus makes it clear that Socrates forbids precisely what I have been calling homosexual conduct.’ PDF at 

    You might also try Alcibiades’ speech in the Symposium (eg):

    Well, after I had exchanged these words with him and, as it were, let fly my shafts, I fancied he felt the wound: so up I got, and without suffering the man to say a word more I wrapped my own coat about him—it was winter-time; drew myself under his cloak, so; [219c] wound my arms about this truly spiritual and miraculous creature; and lay thus all the night long. Here too, Socrates, you are unable to give me the lie. When I had done all this, he showed such superiority and contempt, laughing my youthful charms to scorn, and flouting the very thing on which I prided myself, gentlemen of the jury—for you are here to try Socrates for his lofty disdain: you may be sure, by gods—and goddesses—that when I arose I had in no more particular sense slept a night [219d] with Socrates than if it had been with my father or my elder brother.

    Certainly a same sex eroticism -but it’s precisely the difference between that and ‘being bent as a banana’ as you put it that is explored in the Symposium as a whole.

    You clearly have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

  • Lazarus

    ‘ A general claim about a sustaining mode doesn’t pass that test.’

    Yes, that’s right: that’s why it isn’t susceptible to scientific test. So either you’re ruling out in principle the possibility of non-scientific enquiry on a priori grounds (in which case by using an a priori argument you’ve already conceded that science is not the only basis for argument); or you are left having to examine the claimed proofs -which is where we left it.

  • theroadmaster

    So if natural selection “selects”, then we can only surmise that it is part of an ordered system that has a logical purpose behind it and cannot be simply a standalone mechanism that came about with no intelligence behind it  The neo-Darwinists expect us to believe that the ascent of man was down to unguided natural processes, but how do we explain the origins of Natural Selection, if there is a discriminating intelligence at work within it.

  • JabbaPapa

    You are simply assuming that positivist materialism is 100% correct.

    Can you please demonstrate that nothing immaterial exists.

  • diarmuidlee

    That old chestnut the Galileo thing is always guaranteed to turn up when some chaps want to fling a bit of mud at the Catholic Church and its alleged hostility  to science. It is revealing it is the only controversy they can get their teeth into. 
    But the truth has been twisted and the Protestant reformers have to take some blame for distracting the Catholic Church in the way they did.
    Galileo was repeating much of what a Polish minor cleric Copernicus had discovered some 80 years previously and which was accepted as good science by the Catholic Church.
    When Galileo stated much the same thing it coincided with times of
    Luther and the Protestant reformers who argued the literal truth of the biblical creation and whose followers still do to-day. The Catholic Church foolishly allowed
    itself to be put on the defensive by these reformers.
    Augustine of Hippo one of the Church Fathers formulated the doctrine of Accomodation to explain his findings about the haliocentric solar system circa 400AD.

  • JabbaPapa

    The Catholic Church has taken the view that even though Darwin’s theory matches the facts, catholics should not conclude that God had no hand in the creation of life. This is akin to saying that while Newton’s law of gravitation is an adequate explanation for the motions of the planets, we should still believe that the planets are pulled in their orbits by teams of invisible intangible horses at just the speeds predicted by Newton’s laws.

    What a perfectly ludicrous strawman argument !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    Your question (singular) is necessarily based on exactly that misconception, and your refusal to accept any contrary information is indicative that doctrine forms the basis of your approach.

  • karlf

    How can it be “based exactly that misconception”, when that is not what I believe or implied. You are a silly billy Jabs!
    You follow doctrine, and I am asking questions about it.

  • JabbaPapa

    I’m sure everyone would be far happier to read such lovely comments as :

    Oddie on speed. Does he really believe this guff.

    Does the Vatican really need more blinkered bigotry?

    I think you’re a dirty old man.

    You seem to have spent a lot of time looking around Ann Summers. Inadvertantly, of course. raunchy clothing;handcuffs you can also no doubt acquire in an Ann Summers emporium; sex-obsessed high tech here and now; goings on on his dining room table. I’m not sure whether to congratulate Dr Oddie for arousing our curiosity, let alone our baser instincts. Is this the place for a “leading journalist” on the Catholic Herald. Still, what with the convicted embezzler on your board of directors we should be prepared for anything.

    Wonder who wrote those ?

  • chartres

    ‘But not the same kind of God.’ ?? I think the Christian Trinity is the God of Catholics and Lutherans. Don’t you agree?

    I will ignore your other silly comments but I should point out that in spite of the sinful and fallen nature of all its members, the Catholic Church has endured for 2000 years and is not going away in spite of wishful thinking by others.

  • Daclamat

    Galileo didn’t fancy being roasted like a chestnut, old or otherwise. So he recanted. On the 12th March 2000 from the altar of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome JP II led Catholicism into unchartered territory by seeking forgiveness for sins committed against Jews,  heretics, women, Gypsies and native peoples.  Fighting through trembles and slurrings caused by Parkinson’s disease, the Pope electrified ranks of cardinals and bishops by pleading for a future that would not repeat the mistakes. “Never again,” he said

  • Acleron

    If you shake a flask of sand and find that the denser parts fall to the bottom, they are selected on the basis of their density. It may be logical but does not require any intelligence on behalf of the sand grains or from any other source.

    Natural selection allows those genes which confer an advantage, in the environment they are found, a higher probability of spreading through a population than other genes. The mutation of those genes is stochastic, the selection is based on their fitness to that particular environment. This does not make evolution or natural selection random. The process has been observed many times. Drug resistance in bacteria, evolution of HIV and even cancer cells have now been seen to evolve through natural selection. But change the environment and different genes will have an advantage. 

    So while the mutation is random, it can lead to very similar outcomes, such as convergent evolution. The result is not random and it certainly operates quite within the laws of physics as we know them, so no intelligence required.

    But it is interesting that you mention Homo sapiens. Evolution is not ascent, that is an egotistical fallacy. All existing organisms have evolved to the same extent according to their environment. But recent research has shown that we are less prone than many other species to accept simplistic interpretations. This could be an advantage in seeing deeper relationships and enable more efficient food gathering. Climbing over the valley wall to a deeper and lusher area, so to say. But taken too far this allows totally irrational belief systems. Purely anecdotally, I have often observed that alternative medicine fans argue their irrational belief systems just like ardent theists.

  • Acleron

    Poor attempt. Asking me to prove a nonsensical statement is just that, a nonsense. 

    Either something affects reality or it doesn’t. Squirming around with words does not affect that dichotomy.It may be that it only affects it a little, or perhaps even less than that. But it doesn’t matter, either it does or it doesn’t.If it does, we can investigate it. If it doesn’t then it is just in somebody’s mind.

  • Boanerges

     “Galileo didn’t fancy being roasted like a chestnut, old or otherwise.”

    Just as well, since it was never on the cards for him.

  • Jonathan West

    The sustaining mode is not susceptible to a scientific test not because there is anything special about the divine, but rather because the question is not framed in such a way as would allow a test to be  devised.

    So, we haven’t yet got very far in explaining why the divine requires special non-scientific treatment, and how you can establish the same degree of confidence in the answers provided by your non-scientific enquiry into the divine that science manages in its investigations into everything else.