Blog Archives

Two Different Histories of Mankind

Watch the following two summaries of human history. Which one is more likely to be true? Which one do you want to be true? Which one is more inspirational?

 

Carl Sagan: A Universe Not Made For Us

There are a handful of people on this planet that will be missed forever. Carl Sagan is one of them, and here’s why:

His ability to captivate millions of people, to imbue in his audience a love of science, reason, and philosophy, and to explain the universe in simple, understandable terms is just magnificent. He is also the best person I know to have attended the University of Chicago.

Why The Religious Should Give Up

If there’s fifteen minutes of conversation that captures the common religious desperation to reconcile man-made fairy tales with objective scientific truths, it is the conversation PZ Myers had last week with Muslims in Dublin.

These are people who approached PZ at first with a vomiting of philosophical bullshit, using fuzzy First Cause arguments and nonsense like “occam’s razor must be uncaused, therefore it must be eternal.” And then, after being pressed for any kind of evidence for their theistic god, the Muslims turned to pseudoscientific embryology and a very odd understanding of why mountains exist, as detailed in the video above. After the event, the same group also talked to Richard Dawkins, and explained to him that evolution can’t be true because it is a “noncomplementary paradigm” with physics.

It is quite sad to see people so hopelessly devoted to their beliefs that they’ll twist and turn meaningless garble in religious books and claim that these words are in fact scientific truths that could have only come from revelation (like from some illiterate dude in a desert, for example). PZ is right that these same tricks are used by Christian and Jewish scholars. And PZ is even more right when he notes that comparing the Qur’an or other holy books to actual science is equating crude understandings of the universe with detailed and verifiable scientific evidence.

For example, how many times have Christians come up to you and said that the Genesis account is amazing because it predicted that the Universe had a beginning? It’s quite insulting to science, really. They purposely leave out one inconvenient truth: pretty much everything else in Genesis is completely wrong. Not just troubling or hard-to-read. Just dead wrong. It’s quite sad, therefore, that there’s another manufactured scientific controversy on Christianity Today. Apparently in Christian fairy-land, they still aren’t sure whether Adam or Eve actually existed, and that’s why there’s a scientific “search” for the historical Adam and Eve.

Give us a break, Christians. Just like there is no controversy about the fact that living things evolved or that the earth revolves around the sun, there is no controversy about this question of human origins either. It’s just another religious attempt to confuse people and to make it appear like their beliefs have a possibility of being true. UChicago’s Jerry Coyne delivers the point.

Genetic data show no evidence of any human bottleneck as small as two people: there are simply too many different kinds of genes around for that to be true.  There may have been a couple of “bottlenecks” (reduced population sizes) in the history of our species, but the smallest one not involving recent colonization is a bottleneck of roughly 10,000-15,000 individuals that occurred between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago.  That’s as small a population as our ancestors had, and—note—it’s not two individuals.

There’s a real parallel between these manufactured Christian controversies and the “embryological” Muslims. All are so convinced that their beliefs must be true and must be rooted in reality that they’ll go to any length, however intellectually dishonest, to gain temporary credibility. And when science actually does reach its limits and says, “there’s more to be discovered,” religion steps in and tries to fill in the gaps.

But notice the pattern. Religion, after initially attacking science by flinging false controversies and pseudoscience all over the place, then hijacks the later discoveries of science and claim them as its own. They’ll never win, of course, because they’ll always be followers and pirates and copycats, not leaders. As Isaac Asimov brilliantly said, science stands alone.

Don’t tell me, then, that those clever Eastern (Celtic, African, Greek, or even Biblical) sages have spoken of something that sounds like the big bang or like endless expansion. That’s idle speculation.

Show me where those sages worked out the isotropic radio wave background, or the red-shifts in galactic spectra, which alone support those conclusions on anything more than mere assertion.

You can’t. Science stands alone!

And so this post ends with the inspirational quote above, as well as the following advice: If I were a person of faith, I would just call it “faith” and not bother with science or evidence.

Telling the Truth about Science and Religion

Thank you PZ Myers for telling it as it is. Science is, on a fundamental level, as incompatible with religion as truth is with bullshit.

He destroys the common belief that science and religion can support each other. Myers has no respect for people who merely compartmentalize their conflicting beliefs.

He agrees with me when I say that you either believe that evolution occurred as it is empirically observed–a natural process with no apparent direction and purpose–or you don’t. You don’t get to say that “Yahweh supervised it” or “Allah guided it,” or make any pseudoscientific and unfalsifiable assertion that somehow this process was directed to create homo sapiens in particular. Theistic evolution is a vulgar perversion of science.

There is to be no compromise on the part of science to accommodate the religious. Christians can pervert their religious beliefs, can change their interpretations of the Bible, can twist and change their positions in astronomy, geology, biology, medicine, etc. all they want. They can make Adam and Eve not literal people but metaphors for homo sapiens. They can say the flood was a myth. They can pervert their religion all they want to fit in with modern, secular science.

Scientists should never return the favor.

Why Darwin Matters

I finally got around to writing this:

Creationists do annoy us very much. But the idea of evolution by natural selection is not just incompatible with the idea of creation, it also is positively and absolutely irreconcilable with the Bible. I’m not impressed at all, therefore, when Christians tell me they believe in both theories.

It often surprises me that, after nearly a century of insisting that evolution is an evil, ridiculous idea, Christians are finally starting to catch up with the reality that has been described by ordinary, secular science for over a century. Now they insist that evolution and Christian theology make a harmonious whole.

Think of all that had to be established before Darwin could even conceive of his ideas. He not only had to fight against those who insisted in design and special creation and a young earth, but he also faced resistance in areas that we take for granted: extinction, for example, was widely seen as a dangerous, irreligious idea. After all, why would a perfect God (before the arrival of sinful man) create creatures that simply died out?

It’s a very fascinating question that relates to our contemporary understanding of the history of life on Earth. We now know that over 99.8% of the species that have ever lived are no longer in existence. This may or may not be problematic for the Christian apologist; I don’t know. But I do know they are more than willing to turn pretty much any concrete thing into a metaphor.

But what I’m arguing for is much more fundamental, and it strikes at the heart of Christianity, and it’s frankly what many of Darwin’s contemporaries realized: that his ideas didn’t just naturalize creation, they refuted Biblical theology. That’s the legacy of Darwin I want to explain, and that’s why Darwin matters.

1. The Problem of the Creation of the Soul

For Christians, there must have been a point when humans became human, when souls were breathed into our material bodies. But when exactly did those descendants of our ape-ancestor have souls, and when did they not, if there was only gradual evolutionary change and no single moment when we could say we were “human”?

This is very important because the Bible says that humans are supposed to be distinct from animals; we are made in God’s image and have dominion over other life forms on Earth. Evolution, on the other hand, says this distinction is vague and unclear, lies on a spectrum that barely changes over millions of years.

2. Hominids and the Soul

We also know that at least three different human-like species lived with us in our evolutionary past. Some of these creatures buried the dead, were able to make tools and glue, and probably had language and complex thoughts. Not only are these fascinating cousins of ours non-present in the Bible, but we are forced to speculate if they had souls (if they could go to Heaven).

3. Adam and Eve, Another Metaphor

It’s a very sensitive idea that few Christian apologists are willing to answer. Were there two people on Earth at some point in time, or is this whole thing another metaphor/myth? After all, evolution doesn’t completely rule Adam and Eve out, but the probability that the homo sapien population dwindled to only two (one male, one female) is practically zero, and even if it did, it would be incompatible with the idea that Adam and Eve were the first two humans on Earth.

4. The Evolutionary Timeline

The Bible’s history of life on Earth is a very peculiar one because it misses out on the overwhelming majority of the history of “creation”. The bulk of evolutionary history is of micro-organisms, which are so incredibly important to biology and medicine, and whose existence is not even mentioned in the Bible.

5. The Human Timeline

We know that our species has been around for over two hundred thousand years (human-like organisms have been around for much much longer). What the Bible implies is that through all of this time, through all this extinction and struggle for survival, through all the multiple human-like species that lived and died out, through all of their religions and false gods, Heaven didn’t do anything about this condition of human affairs for hundreds of thousands of year until a couple thousand years ago. Only then did it talk to prophets privately on mountain-tops and send a messenger to illiterate parts of the Middle East. And that’s the salvation of mankind. And what if you use your brain that evolution has given you to disbelieve Christian claims? You’ll be sorry after you die.

Well, believe what you will. I hope you had a happy Darwin Day yesterday.

Inspiration: