I’ve mentioned my fundamentalist friend Peter before, haven’t I? He comes to the door about once a month to talk to me. If no-one’s at home he leaves leaflets in the letterbox. As fundamentalists go he’s at the end of the spectrum where AK-47s are considered impolite: he’s a Jehovah’s Witness.
Last week we had a lively debate about the origins of life, the universe and everything*. He enjoyed it so much that he came back the next day with two more leaflets called ‘The Origin of Life’ and ‘Was Life Created?’
‘The Origin of Life’ starts off by explaining how improbably benign our planet is – perfect for the survival of the species of plants and animals that inhabit it, and their complex interactions. The conclusion is that only an intelligent, purposeful creator could have provided for us so perfectly.
The logical flaw in this is so blindingly obvious that I am half-afraid, when I explain it to Peter on his next visit, that his faith will be shattered. “Peter,” I shall say, “is it not possible that the plants and animals have evolved in such a way that they are able to survive in the conditions that happen to prevail on Earth?”
“What?” he will exclaim, his eyes wide, the blood draining from his face, “You mean, we’ve had it the wrong way round all the time? How could we have been so misled! This is surely the devil’s work!”
I will of course try to comfort him. “You are not alone,” I shall say. “Every day people are mistaking correlation for proof of causation, and assuming a direction of causation that suits their preconceived ideas. You are human. You are made in the image of God. God makes mistakes. So do you.”
Peter will be dumbstruck for the first time in his life.
“Let me give you an example,” I shall say, my voice and eyes expressing empathy. “Have you heard it said that men who do more housework get more sex?**”
“Well I say unto you, ‘Men who get more sex do more housework.’ Do you understand?”
“Not a word, but I believe you are a true prophet! May I touch the hem of your raiment?”
* This is a nod towards Douglas’ Adams’s brilliant work ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘, which I have also mentioned before.
** But there are different opinions. See here for the pro case and here for the anti.