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Letter to an evangelical

By Victor Webster, (retired surgeon), Sydney --

This is a genuine letter to an evangelical which, against all expectations, made him stop and re-consider:

My apologies for describing your writings as "gibberish".

Science does not purport to have the answers to everything. There are many things we just do not know, and many things humans will never know the answers to. What you are asking is the age-old question - "why is there something rather than nothing?" Scientists don't know the answer to that. Like all mammals, our brain power has its limits. For example, you could try to teach, say, a dog the principles of calculus for 5 years non-stop, at the end of which he would not understand any of it. Similarly, understanding why there is something and not nothing - that is the real question -or why the universe exists at all - may well be simply incomprehensible to the human brain - let's hope not.

To then say that some god or other must have done it is nonsense. The Vikings didn't know what caused thunder and lightning, so they came to the conclusion that Thor the god of thunder was throwing down lightning bolts. That was not an unreasonable theory in those days, as people had no other way to explain the nature of things. We still don't know it all, but science has uncovered a huge amount of knowledge, and it is now completely unreasonable to hold such views.

Evangelical preachers are not in a position to educate their flocks in such matters. They almost all have no scientific knowledge or training. As an ex-evangelical once said: at the heart of every evangelical preacher is a used car salesman.

We don't know how the first microbes came into existence, although there are several theories. But there is now no doubt at all that all forms of life gradually evolved over massive time scales from extremely simple beginnings. I believe this as I have been formally educated in and have a major interest in biology, and let me tell you that evolutionary biology is not a "theory" any more than it is just a "theory" that the earth revolves around the sun. The evidence for it is overwhelming, even before the discovery of DNA and the mapping out of entire genomes, which has confirmed Darwin's theory in spades. In Darwin's day (his earth-shattering book was published in 1858), it WAS just a theory, although a very strongly based one. The evidence now is irrefutable. I recommend that you consider reading "The Greatest Show on Earth - The Evidence for Evolution" by Richard Dawkins, a book written for intelligent non-scientists which I have no doubt you are. By the way, there is no "missing link" in the fossil record, as there was in Darwin's day. But even if there were no fossils at all, the DNA evidence for evolution, which completely validates Darwin's theory and then some, is staggering.

In Darwin's day, it (evolution) WAS just a theory, although a very strongly based one. The evidence now is irrefutable.Several early scientists were executed by the church for claiming that the earth revolved around the sun. Galileo missed out by the skin of his teeth. Giordano Bruno didn't - he was brutally tortured for several days, then dragged out and burned alive as recently as the year 1600.

I know how hard it is to chuck out a religion that one has been taught as absolute truth since infancy. I was brought up a devout catholic - altar-boy, confirmed and all the rest of it. It can be very psychologically disturbing to say the least. But having done it as a young man of 22 (I am now pushing 60), what I previously thought was a source of comfort and solace (esp. the thought that one doesn't REALLY die), was actually a source of much anxiety, even terror, at the thought of the possibility of an eternity of unspeakable torture in hell, or even just a few thousand years of it in 'purgatory". I mean, anyone can make a mistake e.g. break one of the church's "rules" and then get hit by a bus.

What actually happened when I finally had the guts to admit that it's a load of bullshit was like being released from a dungeon into the fresh air and sunlight! OK, so when we die that's the end for us, but is that really so bad? After all, as the great American writer Mark Twain said (I assume you are American), "before I was born I'd been dead for billions of years and it didn't hurt a bit!"

Let me finish off with a bit of light entertainment from South Park, which is just a cartoon version of an actual conversation between Richard Dawkins and an audience member.