Dissonance Dawning… Paisley, Part 8

Two Standing Questions

My friends, I come now to the turn in the story which will, no doubt, lead to a good deal of seat shifting among you. However, before rounding that bend, I hope to briefly lay to rest two standing questions that have been put to us.

First, I hope that I have, by this point, answered the question of forgetting Paisley. There has been no forgetting. Three years later, it can moisten my eyes at a moment’s contemplation. The preceding account was written on straight recall and burning tears, though I did review my hospital notes afterward for any slippage on detail.

Second, I hope to have answered those whose theology mandates that my departure from the Christian faith must mean that I never actually believed. I sometimes reflect that Paisley’s song serves as a marker of sorts: an expression of the earnest and heartfelt view of God, of faith, and of prayer that I once had. To those who vacantly suggest that I must not have really believed, I can do no better than to offer Paisley’s song.

If You are Earnest

Some of you have been very earnest in your questions regarding Paisley, and I feel in your tears an honest desire to understand how we could leave the faith after what happened with her. Here we come to the unavoidable reality; seat shifting will follow.

If you wish to have an honest answer, it will require that I address the collision of two seemingly unconnected subjects: (1) Paisley’s crisis and (2) the science of evolutionary theory.

In preface to this discussion, I would like to allay some possible apprehensions. I will not here be itemizing the evidences for evolutionary theory. I will also not undertake any evaluation of the Genesis text. My discussion will be strictly limited to those aspects pertinent to Paisley, how they catalyzed my long research, and why I abandoned our standard faith-based dismissals of evolution.

Paisley’s crisis ran a collision course with evolutionary theory (of which I had been blind). You must understand this full-frontal impact, if you are to understand us. To those who indeed are earnest in their concerns and questions, I would ask that you read Section 4, both this part and the one that will follow. I would understand if you choose to go no further.

Pebble One

Paisley was seventeen months old when my grapple with upending faith questions began. The onset of the landslide, as described in my Journey pages, regarded human origins and evolutionary development.

The initiating pebble was a now un-locatable article written by Tim Keller, though I had not the slightest idea that it would connect to Paisley in any way. Keller seemed to suggest that we needed to do a better job as Christians in addressing the evolution question. His position essentially stated we should take evolution more seriously and give better answers. My forehead wrinkled quizzically at this, since Keller is a high-visibility pastor in our conservative Presbyterian denomination. In a word: he just seemed to me like the wrong person to say such a thing.

For 35 years, I had uniformly rejected evolutionary theory as patently false, as unbiblical, and as reprehensible to human worth and dignity. I know that many of you agree with this position. Like many of you, I was from childhood a Genesis man. I had read leading creationist and intelligent design authors, and my criticism of evolutionary concepts had always been vocal and readily offered.

Keller’s article touched off a self-inventory. I asked myself – what did I actually know about the subject? It proved deflating to recognize in myself one of those cardinal sins that we researchers eschew. I had studiously avoided reading anything directly from the proponents of evolution. My life had brimmed with discussion a-plenty, but all information had originated from the anti-evolution camp. The creationists had explained creationism; the creationists had also explained evolution. This show-trial, in which a single lawyer played both the prosecutor and defense attorney, had produced an unsurprising verdict. It was a structural problem, a classic illustration of Proverbs 18:17:

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

What if the other is never allowed to examine? One-sided knowledge is essentially no knowledge at all. This is a wisdom problem. A stupidity problem. I knew better.

What, you may ask, does this rabbit trail have to with Paisley? I have alluded to the labyrinth before, and this path too will wind back to her shortly.

A Single Book

Repentant and determined to do better, I hunted for a legitimate subject matter expert who was both pro-evolution and faith-friendly. Ironically, this asterisk on my quest illustrated the very problem – I would read from an evolution supporter, provided that he was the right sort. I now see this as a general pattern of how we, the religious, are prepared to interact with questions of fact. We establish a priori what facts we are willing to accept, and on what grounds, and from whom. I need not point out how short this attitude falls of a serious research mindset, but it was a start.

In any case, my lukewarm effort at outgrowing ignorance led to a book by Francisco Ayala, who presented the evidences for evolution in a faith-friendly manner. He did this with thoroughness and care, while steering well clear of the unbridled anti-religious salvos of Dawkins & Co. Ayala’s book changed my entire view. Or rather, it began the process of changing it.

Bluntly put, I have a scientific mind. I understand how to conduct investigations, how to weigh evidence, and what grounding is required to advance a theory. The problem is that I had never actually deployed my scientific mind to examine the case for evolution. I had no idea how much evidence they had amassed in support of evolutionary theory. I had no idea how uniformly biologists – including Christian biologists – supported evolution as true. In my own engineering research, I could only wish for such overwhelming data. Moreover, it became clear that the creationists and intelligent design authors had been playing fast and loose. What they omitted from their books was terrifying – nay, dishonest.

Thus, as an honest researcher, and as one who prizes fact and truth, I was confronted with a difficult problem. What if God actually had chosen to create in this way? What if God’s world, His creatures, and even my own body did give evidence of such development? What if? The haunt of those two little words had boomeranged back into view.

Yet none of this was actually the hard part.

Dead Stop

Just one quarter of the way through that book, my ship ran aground. Lurch-tossed from the deck, I found myself in frozen hover, arrested by an innocuous paragraph. Its prose was so benign and matter-of-fact that I suspect few would give it notice. Yet it flashed a certain constellation of words that had rattled me before:

When an individual receives an antibiotic that specifically kills the bacteria causing a disease—say, tuberculosis—the immense majority of the bacteria die, but one in several million may have a mutation that provides resistance to the antibiotic. These resistant bacteria will survive and multiply, and that antibiotic will no longer cure the disease. This is why modern medicine treats bacterial diseases with cocktails of antibiotics. If the incidence of a mutation conferring resistance for a given antibiotic is one in a million, the incidence of one bacterium carrying three mutations, each conferring resistance to one of three antibiotics, is one in a quintillion (one in a million million million); it is not likely, if not altogether impossible, for such bacteria to exist in any infected individual.

~ Ayala, Francisco. Darwin’s Gift: To Science and Religion. National Academies Press.

For you, these peppershaker keywords may flag nothing whatever, and that would be entirely normal. Yet the last time I had heard these words conjoined, Paisley lay under that dim hospital lamp, wired and tubed, and fighting for life. They had been uttered by Paisley’s infectious disease specialist as she described the treatment regimen that ultimately beat back the legion. My ship had run aground on the reef of that haunting hour.

I read the paragraph again. In the broader context, and in plain English, the author was stating that the antibiotic cocktail strategy employed by Paisley’s doctors was derived from evolutionary assumptions. Cocktails indeed: ampicillin, cefotaxime, vancomycin, etc. That terrible turn for the worse – the one that never came – had been preempted by the doctors in their treatment regimen. Turn for the worse was code-speak for evolutionary mutation. They triangulated a decimation of no-escape, which anticipated the evolutionary mutations of microorganisms, yet cutoff all escape routes. The doctors had transacted the war on her meningitis using a strategy. And it derived from evolutionary theory.

Ayala had already commanded my attention. Yet after this paragraph, be assured that I read very carefully indeed.

What if the good doctor Ayala was telling the truth? There was that haunting couplet of words again. With wrenching pressure, one way or the other, the question of evolutionary theory had ceased, for me and forever, to be academic.

General Who?

The scorched battle plains of Paisley’s crisis were hallowed ground. Yet now came a belated messenger, finally straggling back from the war, bearing a very credible after-action report. This communique disclosed that the good General Pasteur had not in fact acted alone – a certain General Darwin had also been a valorous strategist behind the battle victory. Picture, if you can, my revulsion and dissonance at such a suggestion.

A gnawing burden troubled my mind. I watched Paisley at play. Her vivacious personality. The light in her eyes. She was perfect. She was whole. I was inexpressibly thankful for her. I credited her survival to prayer and to advanced western medicine. And Darwin?

Yes, I had a problem.


[to be continued…]

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  1. archaeopteryx1 says:

    I had studiously avoided reading anything directly from the proponents of evolution.

    Belated message to your former self:

    “If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood, or persuaded of afterward, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it…the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.”
    — William Kingdon Clifford —

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “…I hunted for a legitimate subject matter expert who was both pro-evolution and faith-friendly. Ironically, this asterisk on my quest illustrated the very problem – I would read from an evolution supporter, provided that he was the right sort.”

    Yes, my own quest – though not scientific at the time – began this way. I wanted to seek what was correct at the heart of a matter, but I only wanted a specific kind of expert to tell me what was correct. Confirmation bias of a completely different sort.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was taught that all of Genesis is allegorical, and that we’re all Spiritual Ideas of God so none of this is real. A very different perspective, but still quite harmful. I would also like to echo Ruth’s sentiment, I was finally able to read this one dry-eyed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting. What were you taught as the meaning or interpretation of the allegory/allegories? And in what way(s) was it harmful to you, or in general?


      • I was raised as a Christian Scientist (the religion). We were taught that Genesis 1 – where man is made in God’s image and likeness is the true man, and Genesis 2 is where the “Adam dream” occurs and careful reading shows that Adam never wakes, so all of this existence is unreal (like the movie the Matrix, http://kindism.org/?s=matrix has a few posts relevant to that). It gets complicated from there. Basically if bad stuff happens to you it is your fault for letting “error” in, or you’re being influenced by “malicious animal magnetism.” Your job is to constantly “stand porter at the door of thought” and only let in “angel” messages from God. Sickness, disease, death, etc. are all unreal, and you should pray to align your thought with God to be healed (of course your material body is unreal anyway, so that gets complicated). When children are involved, parents are expected to Know the Truth — that their child is God’s Perfect Idea — and heal them (this does not always work, see http://childrenshealthcare.org/). It can be quite harmful because most Christian Scientists don’t visit doctors or get vaccinated, and if/when health problems do arise they are often quite far progressed before they seek medical aid (if at all) — see the case of http://lizheywoodwriter.blogspot.com/ who lost her leg due to an untreated infection. If/when the “healing” fails, it is not the fault of Christian Science, but the fault of the person for failing to demonstrate it properly. I’m sure a devout/still practicing Christian Scientist would disagree with what I’ve just said, and I admit to a fair bit of personal bias as I’ve left Christian Science and become an atheist.

        Liked by 2 people

        • archaeopteryx1 says:

          RE: “careful reading shows that Adam never wakes” – so a person holding that belief, would be forced to agree that as a consequence, neither of the First Family ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and subsequently, there IS no, nor never was, “original sin” —

          Liked by 1 person

          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            As long as it’s only a dream anyway, shouldn’t I be able to dream that I have a shot with Mariah Carey? Unless, of course, she’s dreaming I don’t – I’m really confused!

            Liked by 1 person

          • As far as I understand it, there is no “original sin” in Christian Science, now I’m not an expert, but I was raised in it for 25 years and regularly attended Sunday School (almost) every single Sunday — “original sin” wasn’t a huge focus — the weekly bible lesson topics were, as were the 10 commandments, beatitudes and Ms. Eddy’s assorted teachings. CS emphasizes that man is/was and always has been/will be a Perfect Idea of God immortal and perfect.

            Liked by 1 person

            • archaeopteryx1 says:

              According to that, then, Kat – there’d have been no need for Yeshua (Jesus) to die and the entire NT is irrelevant. Am I wrong?

              Liked by 1 person

              • It is my understanding that the dear JC — again allegorical — came to demonstrate the Christ Idea (highest ideal of man, etc.), and to demonstrate the unreality of death. CS claims to have discovered the “lost art” of healing through the methods Christ used. The NT is entirely relevant b/c Ms. Eddy is quite fond of Paul, and JC’s healing work. Without this she’s really got no Biblical basis for the religion being even remotely Christian, and instead it is just the liberal borrowing from P.P. Quimby (father of the New Thought movement) and some of his more interesting mind/distance healing methods. Again, a still-practicing CS would probably have a different perspective than I do. 😉

                Liked by 2 people

            • Janelle says:

              I remember thinking that Christian Science was “so crazy”. I thought the same of Mormonism. And Islam. It’s funny, now, it all looks like the same thing. The same thing with different twists.

              Liked by 2 people

        • Holy shit, that’s f’d up!

          Thanks for sharing.

          Liked by 1 person

        • archaeopteryx1 says:

          kat – still trying to wrap my head around this – if Adam (admittedly a fictitious character) never wakes, where did WE all come from? And if the answer is that we’re only dreaming that we’re here, we still have to be SOMEwhere, to at least exist, in order to HAVE that dream!

          And you’re saying that people actually BELIEVE this Cream of Crapola?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes. As for your questions, I’m afraid I can’t me too much help. The theology (and associated logic) is not given much time in Sunday School, we mostly talked about the Weekly Bible Lessons, and how important it is for us to demonstrate Christian Science and our ability to demonstrate supply, healing, etc. I’ll ask around in the x-CS support groups and see if anyone has a better answer.


            • archaeopteryx1 says:

              Really, kat, don’t go to any trouble, I get the premise – “Don’t worry about memorizing the manufacturing details or the safety features, just get out there and sell cars!”

              I’m guessing pretty much like that —
              (And please believe me, I’m not making fun of you for having been involved with it!)

              Liked by 1 person

              • From the x-CS group: “Isn’t CS Original Sin the whole mortal dream? As far as who’s dreaming what/where/when/why, think Matrix crossed with Inception. Hang on tight!” — so yeah, even those of us who were raised in it for years aren’t sure. We did agree asking these sorts of questions in Sunday School would’ve gotten us put in the corner to talk with the Sunday School Superintendent and that we’d then get to review the 10 commandments (again). I used to have them memorized forwards & backwards.

                I’m not offended, I’m aware Christian Science is a Special Kind of Crazy. 😉


                • archaeopteryx1 says:

                  It just amazes me how people like Eddy and Smith, and that basketcase who started “Scientology,” can find fruitcakes so eager to join. “What? Nomadic desert Jews built boats and sailed to America and god lives on the planet Kobol? Sign me up! When do I get my magic underwear?”

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • For a bit of context when Eddy started Christian Science drs. still thought cucumbers caused cholera, and “praying” about a problem was just as safe (if not safer) than seeing a doctor (germ theory was newly discovered & not widely accepted yet). The problem is, medicine has come a long way, while CS continues to cling to the “pray about it” (often at all costs) method. I also hold some amount of sympathy for the Mormons, although I’m pretty sure I’ve been blacklisted by the local group.


                    • archaeopteryx1 says:

                      I used to get visits from Jehova’s Witlesses, until I began explaining how Moses didn’t write the first five books of the Bible, and all four Gospels were written anonymously – they don’t come by anymore – I miss the “Watch Towers” —

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • They stopped after I warmly welcomed them & heartily thanked them for converting me to atheism — which is partially true, they did convince me to read the Bible more closely.

                      Liked by 1 person

              • Janelle says:

                Have you heard/seen Julia Sweeney talk about the Mormons visiting her? So funny.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Janelle says:

                I saw her on her DVD “Letting Go of God”. But, I found this clip from a TED Talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NluntGu1Tg

                Liked by 2 people

                • archaeopteryx1 says:

                  Hilarious! She does great stand-up!
                  On the “not so funny” side, have you heard about the Mountain Meadows Massacre? I have a friend whose great-uncle was involved.


                  • Janelle says:

                    Yeah, her “Letting Go of God” is great.

                    Yes, I have hear of it. Terrible. Is your friend Mormon?


                    • archaeopteryx1 says:

                      Ex. I met Blaine Levitt on thinkatheist.com – his great-uncle, Dudley Levitt, was a participant in the massacre. They killed women, children, made no difference, then tried to cover it up and blame it on Indians.


                    • Janelle says:

                      Whoa. That’s intense. And so sad.

                      I thought my family history was colorful….


  4. I started out reading John Shelby Spong . Anxiously awaiting the next chapter.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s interesting that you and I started our questioning from such completely different angles.

    I continue to read with great interest…

    Liked by 1 person

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