A few days back, in the comments to an article regarding the really piss-poor showing of Americans in their acceptance of evolution, someone argued about the poll question which delivered these results by pointing out that the concepts of god and evolution “are not mutually exclusive.” For instance, god could have created the Universe and/or Earth, and set in motion the evolutionary processes, then left it all alone.
Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this one; the view is held by a very large percentage of people, with innumerable variations on how and when and to what extent god acted – it is probably far more accurate to say that every religious person has their own personal view of how things are supposed to have occurred, rather than believing that people in any given sect all follow the same beliefs. Yet, allowing for broad categorizations, the idea that evolution and creation are not incompatible is supported by no small number of people. Which is scary it itself, because it says so much more than it appears on the face of it.
Should someone ask you about riding the bus while wearing scuba gear, you could honestly and accurately tell them that these were not incompatible. They would of course be delighted about this, because their scuba gear must fulfill some aberrant desire in their lives – otherwise, why would they even bother asking about such a wildly irrelevant and pointless pursuit? And that’s pretty much where we are with the ‘compatible creation and evolution’ viewpoints – or, indeed, any attempt to tie together religion and science. [Professor Ceiling Cat, under the pen name of “Jerry Coyne,” has a soon-to-be-released book that tackles this subject, and I’m curious to see how similar our approaches are.]
Let’s start with, science is a method of producing not just knowledge, but functionality as well – which, really, is the entire point of knowledge, isn’t it? When Darwin proposed descent with modification, it inferred that there would be a physical catalyst for this, a method of transferring biological information from parent to offspring – it predicted the presence of DNA. The Big Bang theory predicted the presence, right now, of residual energy from an event that occurred 13.8 billion years ago. Both of these were absolutely true. Moreover, our knowledge about them and how they react is able to be used – technological and medical advances, predicting further aspects, and so on. That’s why science is so beneficial.
Religion, on the other hand, does not, and cannot, serve in any such manner. If we are to believe that god started the evolutionary process, what does this provide? How does it change evolution? What does it predict will happen? How does this differ from the idea that evolution is only a function of physical laws? In other words, how does created evolution differ from ‘just happens’ evolution? Only one of them could be True™, so how do we determine which?
All right, that’s unfair of me, I admit it. Let’s start a little simpler: what evidence do we have that points to created evolution in the first place? There must be some reason why people would believe that not only a god exists, but it at least started this process. This book, you say? Okay, sit tight, let me see what it says. Hmmmmm. You know, I’m not seeing a goddamn thing about evolution in this book at all – did I miss something? I mean, I see some really weird shit in here about where species came from, but even allowing for poetic license or metaphorical usage I can’t even tie this in with natural selection in any coherent fashion.
I’m not going to apologize for the sarcasm, because it’s well deserved. I didn’t even specify which holy book was being used, because it doesn’t matter; they’re all ridiculously wrong about evolution – as well as, let’s be frank, virtually everything else about where the planet came from and what the sun and stars are. One cannot use religion in any form to generate knowledge or promote an understanding of our world. There are some rather telling aspects of this too, like how it took thousands of years to come up with evolution when we supposedly have this great explanatory text given to us. And how once we stumbled upon it by ignoring the preconceived notions and actually paid attention to bare reality, all the churches were soooo quick to accept it and hold it up as the evidence that their books were right all along…
Yeah, there’s that sarcasm again. Because we all know what’s really at work here. When science has demonstrated, through stacks and stacks of evidence, that such scripture is dead wrong, people are still desperate to find a way to retain their core concept of a sky daddy, and may adopt whatever bastardization works to try and cram them together (while others will openly deny stark reality, mostly because their holy men told them to and they remain too feeble-minded to think on their own, much less actually have any standards of evidence.) It does not come from the explanatory power. It does not come from the usefulness and functionality of ‘creation.’ It does not come from the accuracy of the predictions – most times, no predictions can be found at all. It only comes from self-indulgence, the desperation to hang onto this cherished worldview, in total disregard of how little it works for anything.
That’s not the ugly, ridiculous part. Because the very idea of this sky daddy comes from scripture (and to no small extent, social pressures.) But to consider creationism and evolution to be compatible in any form, significant portions of this very same scripture must be disregarded wholesale. In fact, I have yet to see any religious person, anywhere, who has not purposefully selected the portions of scripture that they want to hold up as the word of god, while treating other portions as irrelevant or poetic or just plain beneath notice. Isn’t that fascinating? It must be a special skill, being able to adjudicate the veracity of the holy books so effortlessly…
Also interesting is how often the demarcations are seen, where ‘moderate’ religious folk distance themselves from ‘fundamental’ religious folk, not wishing to be seen in the same room and often defining exactly what a proper religion is – again, these special interpretive skills over scripture. It is extremely easy to unite these folk, however, by using one’s own interpretive skills to declare the entirety of scripture as irrelevant and pointless. No matter how many different aspects have been ignored by the religious, no matter how selective or creative they are in interpretation, that conclusion is simply unacceptable.
We can’t ignore the frequent argument that religion and scripture serve a purpose in providing appeasement to people, giving them a worldview that they like – that’s really why this whole compatibility issue even arises. One must ask, however, how important this indulgence really is. First off, does it actually make sense to believe in something completely unprovable and wholly inapplicable to everything we can experience, and not just believing, but making decisions based on such beliefs? How many other fantasies should we be running our lives over – not to mention the lives of others? I always had the impression this was a bad thing. I also had the impression ‘personal choice’ was this thing that isn’t intended to affect anyone else. But more importantly, I myself would really, really like to take all of the people incapable of using driving lanes and turn signals properly, and run them right off the road into a ditch – it would make me feel so much better. So let me know how important self-indulgence is, because I have errands to run this afternoon.
Yet, no matter what religious folk tell me is okay by their example, I’m still going to go with what both experience and critical thought tells me is best, which is to see the world as it is, to follow the evidence, and to put my trust in something that has demonstrated its functionality and worthiness of that trust. There might be things that I would like to be the case – for instance, that the vast majority of people put emphasis on rational consideration – but believing it just because I desire it to be true is delusional. Our brains are capable of accomplishing a lot more than that.
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A few days back, the aforementioned Professor Ceiling Cat featured this video by Brian Dalton, otherwise known as Mr. Deity, and I figured I should go ahead and embed it here, because I couldn’t have said it any better myself, even though I have said quite a few aspects of this before. Anyway, here’s his take on being a ‘fundamentalist atheist.’
By the way, the tag, “The Way of the Mister,” has two meanings, one referring to his Mr. Deity skits, the other an obvious mockery of The Way of the Master, a series of inept religious apologist videos featuring Kirk Cameron and Ray “Bananas” Comfort. Interestingly, this mockery is somehow exponentially more intelligent and incisive than that which it mocks, and as a guy that grew up on Mad Magazine, I can appreciate this.
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8. When/Where did Jesus ascend back to heaven?
a. Jesus returns to heaven on the same day he arose, right after dinner, from a room in Jerusalem.
b. We don’t know exactly, but it’s at least 8 days after the resurrection, when the despondent apostles have gone back to being fishermen on the sea of Tiberias.
c. After his resurrection, Jesus spends at least 40 days of teaching his disciples in Jerusalem before ascending to heaven from the Mt. of Olives.
d. Jesus didn’t ascend into heaven; he met his disciples in the mountains of Galilee and told them he would be with them always.
e. We don’t really know; Luke is the only gospel writer who actually mentions the ascension.
Remember what I said about selectivity? Yeah…