Saturday, October 11, 2008

I might not believe, but I can still appreciate

My wife, her parents, and I visited Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind last weekend. Sterkfontein is famous for hominid fossils that have been excavated there; it is one of four sites in the world, all of which are in South Africa, where fossils of the hominid Australopithecus africanus have been found, and currently a full skeleton of a 3 million year old specimen, fondly named “Little Foot”, is being painstakingly removed from the wall of one of the chambers.

My wife and her parents are Christian. In fact, her parents are retired missionaries who worked in rural KwaZulu-Natal for many years. But all three are comfortable with evolutionary theory. I guess I’m quite lucky, as a person who believes in evolution, to have many Christian friends who don’t view evolution as a threat to their faith, and this always makes for interesting discussion! In fact, most of the Christians I currently know would consider themselves theistic evolutionists, albeit of differing persuasions.

While we were waiting for the cave tour to begin, Cori, her parents, and I had an interesting discussion revolving around the question of whether Christians, who don’t believe in evolution, can come to the caves and, despite not believing, still at least acknowledge the depth of work that palaeontologists have done, and have some appreciation of the importance and beauty of the site. After all, I – as an ex-Christian – can still visit St Paul’s cathedral and stand in awe at its splendour, and I can still appreciate the impact that Christianity has had on art, literature and culture. I guess the question we were grappling with was: can a person have appreciation for a site like this, despite the fact that they might not agree with what it teaches?

By the way, if any of you are around in the Johannesburg area, do yourself a favour, visit Sterkfontein, and take one of the cave tours. It is incredibly fascinating.


CyberKitten said...

Kevin asked: can a person have appreciation for a site like this, despite the fact that they might not agree with what it teaches?

Yes. I love visiting religious sites around the world and make a point of going to them whenever I'm in the area.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin ~

I recently found your blog by complete accident. I was hoping to find ex-Christian blogs were people were, at least, civil in their discussions about religion. Your blog is wonderful. Cori's is incredible, too.

Regarding your question: Yes, I believe they can, but think the number of those who Will do it is questionable. The more tightly we hold to our own ideas, the less likely I believe we're able to appreciate the world around us. It has been my experience that religious and/or anti-religious beliefs can bind the intellectual honesty people have running deep in their soul, therefore, our ability to appreciate any given idea/fact/thing gets minimized. The self imposed obligation to defend our mental territory binds us therefore, we don't allow ourselves to love questions. We don't live well with ignorance; sadly, in an attempt to calm our fear of the unknown we become narrow minded.

Bias has a hendering effect but when we stretch ourselves and try considering another ways of viewing life, I think that's when it's possible to appreciate things we'd otherwise cast aside.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Cyberkitten. And welcome Connie!

Connie wrote
The self imposed obligation to defend our mental territory binds us

This is an excellent remark, and I think this is the main cause why debates surrounding atheism/theism and creationism/evolution become so polarised. Each side views the other as a threat. Even on this blog I have been guilty of sometimes arguing with a aggressive tone, but I guess we all get passionate sometimes :-)

The aim, I guess, is to try and foster dialogue and debate rather than aggression and mud slinging. And as you say, we need to stretch ourselves and consider other ways of viewing life.

Thank you for your comment.

Anonymous said...


You wrote, "...but I guess we all get passionate sometimes"

...yes, and isn't it wonderful? I think passion reveals our deep down, gut level self. It's where our greatest strengths and weaknesses co-exist. As much as we wish we understood life, there's so much about it we don't know, still, the intensity to express ourselves must come out. Paul Auster wrote, "We all burn with the fires of our own existence."

To me, passion is like a language which speaks in us. Some folks listen to it and some folks squelch it. When I do, it's not long before I feel caged. I'm glad when people speak passionately; it helps broaden my scope.

Having just found your and Cori's blog I can't wait to read more of your former posts and keep up with the new ones. Agreeing on everything is never my focus, it's learning and experiencing others lives that's soul satisfying to me. ~thanks for your comment.