Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A New Friend: Part II

Picking up where I left off in my last post, I had just talked to my friend about her beliefs and began reading through the bible that she lent me. My single motivation for doing this was because I wanted to understand her beliefs. She was (and still is) a close and dear friend to me, and I felt I should at least know about this aspect of her life that was so important to her. I read through the bible and other materials I read/saw online, I began constructing a list of my own observations and questions for her based on what I read.

About a week after our first talk, we decided to spend Saturday together going to a yoga class, getting lunch, and going for an afternoon walk/run. It was nice and we both had a lot of fun together like we usually do. We didn't talk about religion scarcely at all (I didn't want to and I don't think she wanted to either then), but during lunch she did ask me a sudden question. "Do you believe in evolution?". I was somewhat surprised, but I answered that yes, I did. (I can't remember clearly if she then asked me why I believe it, but if she did I'm sure I responded because all of the scientific evidence and studies have shown it to be true). Naturally I asked her the same question in response, and she said that no, she didn't. I inquired why not and she replied "Because it contradicts the bible". This was the second shock I received when talking to her about her beliefs. First she displays an absolute devotion to God, even if it means killing innocent children. Then she uses an ancient text which can not be verified by any means as true as her reason for rejecting a near universally accepted modern scientific theory. That's about the extent of our conversation about evolution that day (I wasn't going to debate her on it right then and there). Little did I know just how far down the rabbit hole would lead our talks from there.

After that day I did some research about Christian views on evolution. What I read lead me to believe that my friend was a young Earth creationist (YEC). I knew that many evangelical Christians held this view, but I would have never imagined that my friend was an evangelical nor that she would hold this opinion that the universe was created no later than 10,000 years ago. I had not confirmed that she was a YEC, but I was afraid that it was likely to be true. As an engineer and a science enthusiast, I know off-hand of many, many pieces of evidence for why our universe and the Earth are billions of years old (I'll devote separate blog posts about this later). I can't even imagine how one can live with a YEC view. So many books that I've read on ancient history, chemistry, genetics, and theoretical physics simply could not be true if our universe was this old. Yes, it is true in fact that YECs reject any evidence that shows our universe to be as old as the evidence suggests. From the wikipedia article on YEC:
YEC is normally characterized as opposing evolution, though it also opposes many claims and theories in the fields of physics and chemistry (especially absolute dating methods), geology, astronomy, cosmology, molecular biology, genomics, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology and any other fields of science that have developed theories or made claims incompatible with the Young Earth version of world history.
About a week later, we had our second talk. And I did confirm that she was a YEC, and further that she believed that man and dinosaur once lived on the Earth at the same time. To begin I had just general thoughts and questions for her, nothing too controversial. But one of the points I tried to hit home is "If the bible is literal and true as you believe it is, how can you believe God is good when he allows so much suffering and causes so much suffering directly himself in the bible?". I don't remember what her response was. Actually I can't remember how much we talked about this at all. She printed up copies of the questions I sent her and I later found out that several things I had asked in the online document that I shared with here were not in her printouts. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, it is certainly plausible that she printed out the document before I was finished with it (I was still adding questions to it just a few hours before our arranged meeting time). But I never got around to confirming with her if that was the case, or if she somehow felt the questions were inappropriate. Anyway, I won't go into every single question and response during this talk we had (although in my later blog posts I'll touch on specific examples from it). But I did want to share what was said about evolution.

When we began talking about it my initial question to her (IIRC) was that how can she say that its false when there is so much evidence to support her. Her answer was a man by the name of Carl Baugh, a YEC who runs a "Creationism Museum" here in Texas. I had snuck a peek at her answers prior to our meeting and since I had never heard of the man, I looked him up on Wikipedia. The consensus against him was damning. He claims to have evidence of man and dinosaur existing together, but all professional scientists and archaeologists who have visited him and viewed his evidence all came to the same conclusion: it is false. I won't go into the details, but read the wikipedia article about him and the associated links if you care to. I pointed this out to her and her initial defense of him was that I read Wikipedia "which anyone can edit to say whatever". I gave her that point, but later I did read many of the references in the wikipedia article (to external and professional websites) which said the same thing the article did. Big surprise. And what came out her mouth next saddened me greatly.
"But evolution is just a theory!"
Just a theory? Forget talking about evolution, my friend was failing to demonstrate that she understood the scientific method! (She's not a scientist, but she does have a bachelor's degree, graduated with high honors, and studied nutrition, which is at least based on science). I went into a long, passionate, spirited explanation about why I trust science and why I trust the conclusions of scientists. I explained that science isn't about trying to prove that your idea is right, but trying to prove it to yourself that it is wrong. And when you can't prove it wrong, you write down what you think, what you did to test it, and what you observed in your tests. You sent that paper to other scientists, who then also try to prove you wrong. If they are able to reproduce your results in their own experiments and not find any critical flaws in your method, then they keep scrutinizing it and looking for weaknesses (and every scientific does have weaknesses, including gravity). But even with the weaknesses if its still producing reliable and predictable results, thats when we accept it and say "this is true as far as we know and to all the lengths we went to try and disprove it". She didn't have a response for any of this that I recall, but I do remember the look on her face. Its very difficult for me to put her expression it into words, but the feeling I got from her was "she is understanding and acknowledging that what I am saying makes sense".

We concluded that night with deciding that we needed more time to talk. I suggested that perhaps next time she could ask me questions about what I think and what I believe, because it wasn't fair for me to keep asking her all the time. She expressed a great disinterest in doing so, to my disappointment. So instead I suggested that next time instead of me asking questions, we could watch some video clips together and discuss them. During my studies I came across a local TV show in Austin called The Atheist Experience, which has a lot of great dialog about atheists, religion, separation of church and state, science, beliefs, and related matters. Its also a call in show where people can talk about whatever is on their minds. Most of their 90 minute shows (and several minute clips from those shows) are hosted on Google Video. I'll share many of the best clips in my later posts.

Before she agreed to watch these videos with me, she asked if I would be willing to go to church with her. To which I said "Of course, I'd be happy to". So that was our deal. A couple of weeks passed before I attended church with her, and I don't think we ever hung out or did anything fun between the end of our second talk and me going to church. We did talk online almost everyday (we chat while we're both at work sometimes). I was feverishly researching and reading and learning new things during this period and I was getting rather anxious about it because I had accumulated so many things I wanted to ask her and talk with her about, but she's a pretty busy person and doesn't have a lot of time to spare. So I started talking to her about these things a little bit here and there online. She told me that she felt I was attacking her beliefs with some of my questions and I told her that I was not. I was merely asking critical questions (like I would of anything else) and letting her know how I felt and how I interpreted readings from her bible so that she could better know my position and thus it would hopefully be easier for her to explain her beliefs to me. So things were starting to get a little tense at this point.

Then came Sunday, and I went to church with her. I hadn't been to church in almost 10 years (and I had only been two times before that, both to Catholic churches). I went with an open mind (as I always do for everything). The sermon was about sex and marriage. There were a few parts that I agreed with, but many more parts that I disagreed with strongly. After the service I thought that we'd sit down and talk about it but she was too tired and had to work early in the morning. But she did ask me what I think, and I told her honestly and directly. She just kind of sat there with a curled lower lip and nodded her head, then told me she was happy that I went. The next day we were chatting over IM once again and we came on the subject again after talking for a couple hours. I went into more detail about what I disagreed with and why I disagreed with it. i also recalled a study on U.S. divorce rates for different faith groups (found here). I found this study well over two months ago while I was doing some curious investigation into divorce trends (note: this was before I even sent the e-mail to my friend discussing religion). I wanted to provide this evidence to support my stance, because any claim (I feel) should have this kind of support so that its not just an uneducated opinion, but a reinforced position on an issue. She got very upset at me when I pointed out that the divorce rate for atheists/agnostics (and all other religions and denominations of Christianity) had significantly lower divorce rates than fundamentalist non-denominational Christians. She then said she's through talking about this with me and logged offline before I could offer an explanation. Later that evening I wrote her an e-mail apologizing that I upset her, and explained why I did what I did. She responded by accepting my apology, but stood defiant about not talking to me about her beliefs any longer in any form. I responded and told her I would respect her wishes and never speak nor ask of them again unless she changed her mind.

I have spoken to a lot of different people of a lot of different faiths and backgrounds (Christian and non-Christian) to get their opinions. I questioned if what I did was the right thing, because certainly at the time I didn't think it was wrong to share evidence of my claim with her, nor did I feel like I was attacking her belief. I was just demonstrating a constructive criticism and expressing my disapproval of it (particularly, I was speaking with regards to the idea of gender roles in a marriage, which was probably what I disagreed with most at the church sermon). In fact, I even called in to The Atheist Experience and told them this, and asked there opinion of it. The video clip is embedded below, watch it.

That's the end of this story (so far). Its been two weeks now. I called her once (and got her voice mail) and asked what her thoughts were about the future of our friendship. (Does she want to continue to be friends, or not?). She responded with a brief e-mail saying that she's been busy but will eventually respond to me. She's out of town for the next week so I won't hear back from her until she gets back I imagine. Next time I think I'll talk about what has happened to me as a result of this experience (both the good and the bad) and why I decided to start writing in my blog about it.

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Blogger Sean Leather said...

Wow, quite an emotional ride you had there! Sounds painful. I hope you are handling everything okay.

On a different note, I saw the Creation Evidence Museum from the outside. I went to Dinosaur Valley State Park with a friend, and the museum is right outside the park. So, I noticed it as being peculiar, but we didn't go in.

Oh, it was also interesting that we were coming back from hiking a trail, and this lady started talking to us. She said she went the park regularly. After talking to her for a bit (she seemed quite nice), the tone suddenly shifted when she asked us something about religion or evolution (I don't remember exactly). After a few more words, it immediately became obvious that she was talking to us, because she wanted to convert us to her beliefs. My friend didn't realize this, but I soon found excuses for departing.

I would say, after living in the Bible Belt and, though I didn't grow up in a church with a converting philosophy, I have seen enough of it, that I can now recognize it pretty well. I can't stand it. I would find it very difficult to have a friendship with somebody who did this.

Thanks for enlightening me with all of your research. I'm really enjoying this series of entries. Maybe I'm the only one. ;)

1:58 PM  
Blogger Tyler Olsen said...

I think there was only ever one time that anyone actively tried to convert me, and that was the story I shared while in high school. I've never been approached by a total stranger trying to influence their beliefs on me in terms of science or religion. Because my close friend never tried to convert me by any means we got along great. A part of me wishes that I would have found out about the particular beliefs that she holds that I strongly disagree with earlier rather than later. There is no way I can be attracted to a person who would kill innocent children, no matter the excuse. And its also hard for me to be attracted to someone who refutes scientific evidence with non-science. Honestly if she would have told me right from the start that she was a YEC, I would have never bothered to meet her. But I am glad that I did meet her.

Glad you're enjoying what I have to share! Its nice to know that someone actually reads my blog. :)

5:17 PM  
Blogger Owumi said...

Hi again - sorry for reading your blog like this, uninvited :)

I don't think Genesis 1 is meant to be taken literally, as in God created the earth in 6 or 7 days. There's a verse in scripture that says, 'a thousand years are like a day in His sight, and a day like a thousand years' or something similar. So I honestly don't think that Adam and Eve were dancing with the dinosaurs. A lot of the Old Testament is more figurative than literal.

I'm about to read a book now that goes more into detail about this... if I find it to be useful and trustworthy I'll come back and put it on here. Again, uninvited.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Tyler Olsen said...

The fact of the matter is that many fundamentalist Christians do take Genesis to be literal. Who is to say that their literal interpretation is wrong and your figurative interpretation is right, or vice versa? Of course, I'm far more likely to agree with theists who look at the evidence for the age of the Earth and try to match their scripture to it rather than deny that evidence outright and hold to their dogmatic literalism. But I still don't completely agree with matching the scripture to the evidence, because then you're basically changing what the scripture means to match what we understand.

No worries about being uninvited. This is an open blog, and I hope and welcome people to stop by randomly and offer their thoughts and comments on my writings. Although I will say that when someone writes a comment on a blog post that is several weeks old, its likely that I will not see it. I haven't found any sort of notification mechanism within Blogger regarding comments. If you know of any, let me know.

8:08 PM  
Blogger Owumi said...

The only notification I have found so far is checking the box asking blogger to email me follow up comments, when I make a comment. I don't think I've seen anything for notification for any comments like on Xanga. Will let you know if I do.

6:13 AM  

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