Seeing

(March 14, 2002)

 

Remember the line in the old American revival hymn "Amazing Grace" the one that goes "Once I was blind, but now I see"? This hymn was written by a New England sea captain who once had been a slave trader, but once he had began to understand what he was doing, repented of the evil he had done. Certainly he had seen, first hand with his own eyes, the misery of the human cargo he was carrying across the ocean from Africa, yet it was years before he really saw the moral depravity of his trade.

From this it is evident that to simply see with one's eyes is far from really grasping the truth. We know, for example, that physically speaking, sight comes from little energy particles, called "photons", registering on the retina of the eye which in turn causes nerve impulses to be transmitted via the optical nerve channels to the brain. But the picture we actually see in our mind is a construct of the brain itself, and what we think we "see" is largely determined by what we are used to seeing or even by what we think we ought to see. This is why sometimes certain people just don't see what seems obvious to others and why, sometimes, some people see things that others don't. As many prosecutors and judges can testify, even eyewitness evidence can prove to be highly subjective. Two witnesses can see the same event and come up with completely contradictory accounts. And yet, once we sift through all the evidence, we can generally manage to arrive at the truth.

If so, why then can't we do the same when we confront so many issues that are the occasion of such fierce debate, whether they be economic political, scientific, religious, or even just personal or within the family? Isn't because something else other than the objective truth is at stake?

For example, take the on-going debate between evolutionists and creationists. Die-hard evolutionists claim that the circumstantial evidence for evolution is so overwhelming that only the most stubborn (or stupid) observer could fail to see that evolution is all but proven scientific fact. Yet many of their opponents, on the other hand, no longer rely on a literal interpretation of the Bible but more on sophisticated arguments for "intelligent design". They point out that there still are large gaps in the supposed circumstantial evidence, and that if the evolutionists were true to their own scientific methodology (which demands replication under laboratory conditions in other words, eye-witness evidence), that at best evolution is a mere theory (a "likely story") which never can be proved.

But suppose for a moment we grant, for the time being, that both are at least partially right. Obviously, the existing circumstantial evidence would seem to indicate that evolution on a very large scale has occurred. Otherwise there is just too much in nature that is completely unexplainable, even (as I see it) in theological terms. On the other hand, some of the leaps or crossings of the evolutionary "thresholds" (like that from non-life to life) seem to remain statistically so improbable that it is hard not to see some kind of design or even "invisible hand" at work.

So then, why can't the two sides come to some sort of agreement? Might it not be that for some reason or other they, like the Yankee slave trader had for so many years, don't really want to see the whole picture or the full meaning of what is before their eyes?