Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Why did I start believing in evolution?

"Why are so many scientists, and especially biologists, convinced that evolution is true?"

This was a question I actually pondered occasionally back when I was a Christadelphian.

For the most part, I found myself satisfied with very dismissive and glib answers, such as that scientists just didn't want to accept God, or that they had all been deceived through the spread of cunning, humanistic ideas. At no point did I consider that scientists might have had a much deeper understanding of the natural world than I did, and might have been convinced by virtue of a wealth of evidence. I think perhaps one reason why I did not consider these possibilities is because in my mind, the Bible said God created everything, and since I believed it was absolutely the word of God, the idea that any human could somehow "know" something contrary to that just seemed impossible. Therefore evolution "must" have been false, because creation "must" have been true. I wonder if other believers still think this way.

In case the flaws in this line of reasoning are not immediately apparent, let me help you out. If human reasoning was so unreliable, how did Christadelphians (for example) reach the conclusion that the Bible was written by God? How do we determine whether anything is true, if not by human reasoning? It's all we really have. Further, even if the Bible was written by God, my interpretation of it still relied on human reasoning. And then there was the fact that if I assumed my beliefs about the Bible and its origins were true, ahead of time, then I had already abandoned any sense of impartiality or objectivity. I was, in essence, choosing the conclusion I wanted, and then forcing any evidence to fit. This method will not lead to truth. In fact it was worse than that. I rarely searched outside of creationist websites for evidence, because I had already decided that evolutionist websites were biased and untrustworthy.

But one day this started to change. I still don't remember exactly why, but I began to become more interested in the reasons why scientists found evolution compelling. Part of my motivation was to try to understand evolution from an evolutionist's perspective, in order to better argue against it. But just the idea of trying to properly understand something I disagreed with from another perspective was a big leap for me.

At first it was difficult. I scoffed at any mention of "millions of years", and in the back of my mind I kept thinking to myself, "of course their conclusions are wrong - because they started from a naturalistic foundation!". I imagined that if only they accepted the biblical foundation of creation, they would have arrived at a very different conclusion and would never have believed in evolution. At the time, I believed evolution was just a desperate attempt to try to explain God's creation without reference to God.

But then something interesting happened...

I discovered a lot of evidence for evolution, and very well-articulated reasons for belief in it. I also discovered answers to many of the rhetorical questions I had previously asked (to my creationist friends). And worse than all of that, it all started to make sense. The horror! I could no longer maintain that evolution was just an attempt to remove God from the equation. Scientists didn't refer to God when talking about the evidence for evolution. They simply showed the evidence and explained the most likely conclusions to be drawn from it.

It wasn't simply a matter of scientists starting from different assumptions either. Sure, some of the evidence could be explained this way, but not all of it. There were many pieces of evidence that just didn't fit with what I previously believed. So it wasn't the scientists whose views were based on the wrong prior assumptions, it was me. That was a painful realisation, and probably an involuntary one. Cognitive dissonance prevented me from ignoring it, and I was forced to reconcile the evidence with my beliefs. I was committed to intellectual honesty and truth, which meant I could not deny the evidence in front of me. So I had to question my prior beliefs instead.

So what evidence did I find?

That is the subject of my next article...