Science versus Religion, 1859 – 2014

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin (Wikipedia)

On November 24, 1859, scientist Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species wherein he explained the process of natural selection, in which the struggle for existence is self-regulated by survival of the fittest. The book is considered the basis of modern evolutionary theory.

On the same day in 1974, a fossil estimated to be 3.2 million years old was discovered in Ethopia. It was nicknamed Lucy and was found to belong to an extinct hominid species which was given the name of Australopithecus afarensis. This ancient primate is considered to be an ancestor or close relative to modern humans.

More recent scientific discoveries have proven there were several species of early humans living on Earth at the same time, and that they interbred.

In 2007 the Creation Museum opened in Petersburg, Kentucky. It promotes the literal interpretation of the Bible, including the belief that God created the Earth in six 24-hour days. One of its exhibits shows humans and dinosaurs coexisting on Earth in the past. In 2013 the museum’s administrators estimated that almost 1.9 million people had visited their facility, and claimed that yearly attendance has surpassed 250,000 in each year of its operation.

A 2014 Gallup poll showed that 22% of Americans still believe that the Bible is the literal word of God.

Ancient Human Species Interbred

religious painting of adam and eve
Adam & Eve, by Mabuse, c. 1510

During a recent conversation I mentioned that I’d used the Ancestry.com website to identify the first male ancestor with my last name to come to America. When I told the guy I was talking to that this ancestor had come from England he became visibly excited and said I was lucky.

I was curious why he thought the identification of an English ancestor was so important. He explained that the historical records in England are better than most places, so I could probably discover if the ancestor had taken part in the Crusades. If so, he said, there was a good chance that he’d married a local girl while he was in the Middle East. And if that had happened, he continued, I might be able to use the Bible to trace my ancestry all the way back to Adam and Eve.

He was obviously serious about this, so I politely hid my urge to laugh. It wasn’t difficult to do because I was baffled about how an intelligent person could believe that the creationist Bible story of Adam and Eve was literally true, especially considering the recent scientific discoveries that prove there were several species of early humans living on Earth at the same time, and that they interbred. Modern humans and Neanderthals, for example, coexisted for thousands of years, and scientists have found Neanderthal DNA in some of our species – Homo sapiens. Some of us also have DNA evidence that we interbred with another early human species called Denisovans.

Some people might admire the guy’s religious faith, but I found it troubling that a person as educated as he is could so easily believe in a story that’s obviously an allegory, and not a real historical event. It helps to explain why there’s so much religious violence in the world, and why ignorance is humanity’s greatest enemy

Belief in Creationism is Irrational

god
Does God look like a hairy old white man?

I am bewildered when I hear people say they believe in a supreme God, the creator of all things, because they think the natural world is too complex to be the result of evolution.

Physicists tell us the size of the observable universe is about 46 billion light-years in radius. They estimate there are at least 100 to 200 billion galaxies in our universe, and maybe as many as 500 billion, each with hundreds of billions of stars. And they estimate there are 100 billion habitable Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone. The number of habitable planets in our entire universe is estimated to be 50 sextillion. (I don’t know how many a sextillion is, but it’s a lot.) Furthermore, some scientists have speculated that our universe is just one of a set of parallel universes, collectively called the multiverse.

Considering that the Earth is a tiny part of all of this, I find it very difficult to believe there’s a supreme god who looks, thinks or acts like a male human. For a supreme being to exist it would have to know everything that’s happening all of the time and continuously make an infinite number of simultaneous and interrelated decisions – which would amount to no real decisions at all. It would have to be everywhere all of the time, an integral part of everything and everyone, completely incorporated into all of existence, and couldn’t be a separate consciousness.

People who believe in creationism, also called intelligent design, don’t seem to understand how physics and evolution work. The natural world is a place of constant variation and change. The self-regulating invisible hand of “survival of the fittest” determines which life forms successfully reproduce. The life forms that exist today are the ones that have succeeded. Yes, some species are amazingly unique. But that’s because they had to evolve that way, or they wouldn’t exist.

The process of evolution applies to planetary ecosystems too. Our planet is hospitable to life, but most of the planets in the cosmos aren’t, and there’s no guarantee the environment on Earth will continue to be favorable. Human caused climate change threatens our continued existence, and there’s no god that will fix it for us.

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