We live in an amazing time. A time when we can increase our understanding of the cosmos by studying still-visible distant stars in the night sky. A time when we carry miniature computers in our pockets that are vastly more powerful than the ones which aided the 1969 lunar landing. We are presently able to understand bacteria and employ medicine to prevent the spread of horrific diseases. Yet, despite our scientific achievements, many people still refute the evidence and claim to know better than the scientists. Science and religion are increasingly at odds with one another – with science providing factual, peer-reviewed evidence, and religion offering nothing more than “faith” to support its claims, stubbornly persisting in its bronze age philosophy. The only time scientific advancement is controversial is when it contradicts the bible, and there is no valid reason that discoveries which benefit all of humankind should be met with such resistance.
As science continues to make new discoveries and bring us greater understanding of our world, it takes credibility away from the bible. It reveals the bible stories to be just that – stories: simple explanations for previously unexplainable phenomena. However, once an event has an explanation that is testable and found to be unfalsifiable, it is then a scientific theory and does not require a story to try and make sense of it. Science is not maliciously attacking the bible or its adherents; it is only showing that we have a better understanding of our environment than our ancestors who lived thousands of years ago.
In recent news of Hurricane Isaac, I have observed that there are still some commonplace superstitions today. I came across an article quoting a Katrina survivor named Margaret Thomas, “Isaac is the son of Abraham, it’s a special name that means ‘God will protect us’.” As if God had anything to do with naming the hurricane. The WMO (staffed by humans, for the record) maintains a set of six recurring lists of Atlantic tropical storm names, each containing 21 names alternating between masculine and feminine. In the event that a tropical storm reaches hurricane status it will keep the name (e.g. Tropical storm Isaac becomes Hurricane Isaac), and if that hurricane leaves extensive damage and/or deaths in its wake, then the name is retired and replaced with another beginning with the same letter. However, in the mindset of a believer isn’t God the one who is responsible for creating the hurricane? This contradicts Mrs. Thomas’s logic, meaning “God will protect us from God.”
Nature is indifferent to us, and does not care what we perceive as property damage or loss. Nature is nature, and will do what it does whether we are in its path or not.
NBC news shows a woman named Lisa Haywood leaving New Orleans because she doesn’t trust the $14.5-billion levee and drainage pump system built by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect the city from another flood: “I have faith in God, I don’t have faith in those walls.” (Video Clip, beginning at 1:55) Once again, in the believer’s mindset, isn’t God the one responsible for the hurricane in the first place? I personally find it a little rude that she would say she has faith in the one who could be said to have created the storm in the first place, but doesn’t have confidence in the system put in place to protect her and the rest of the city from said entity.
Through the science of meteorology we have gained an understanding of how weather works, and what we can do to prepare for it. Wind and cloud formations are monitored by satellite, and once a hurricane has been confirmed the data is used to create a computer model and predict the course it shall take. If we can place confidence in the science that warns us of an approaching storm, shouldn’t we also believe that same science when it explains how the storm began and what we can do to prepare for it? If the storm were indeed caused by this alleged ‘God’ fellow, it seems to me that such an all-powerful being ought to be able to target sinful individuals in need of a good smiting rather than groups, or at least protect the innocent from the punishment which is intended for their neighbors… and why is it that his punishments are only able to come in the form of natural weather patterns? Why not a hurricane in Alaska, or a hail storm in Ecuador? Maybe we could forgo the weather bit entirely and He could make a personal appearance to express his disapproval of humankind like a grown-up?
Denial of scientific evidence has been troubling many of our big thinkers these days, including Bill Nye who has attracted quite a bit of attention from a recent Big Think video, entitled “Creationism is Not Appropriate for Children”. At the time of this writing, the video has 4.4-million views and has attracted 155k comments, mostly from “experts” (i.e. common people who do not have a degree in science) claiming that he is stupid and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This is common; people of this ilk tend to proclaim indisputable knowledge to all of life’s mysteries based on an ancient document, despite scientific research and mounds of evidence to the contrary. For the record, a degree in Theology does not make a scientifically literate individual, and for a layman to contradict what an actual scientist is saying seems a bit like a first grader confidently arguing with his teacher that Q comes after S in the English alphabet, or like a junkie giving sound financial advice to Warren Buffett.
The beauty of these comments is that they are supporting the points that the Science Guy is making in his video.
The creationist’s alleged proof of evolution being falsified is insubstantial, and is merely denial passed on from their pastors and preachers. However, everything that we know about biology today hinges on, and supports the theory of evolution. There are only two reasons to deny this theory: 1) You don’t understand what evolution is or how it works, and 2) It contradicts an idea that you are emotionally attached to.
The way I see it, science and religion are at odds because science has removed the foundation that the House of God was built upon. We all know, and can agree that a house cannot levitate off the ground…so if the foundation suddenly disappears it will fall. Science’s impact on this foundation is like the old tablecloth trick being performed by an untrained showboat – the tablecloth will surely be removed, but it’s going to be a little messy. You don’t want to be in this house when it comes crashing down in the absence of its foundation, so my advice is to pack up your things and move into something a little more stable that will protect you for many more years to come. Oh, and get hurricane insurance if that new place happens to be on the coast.
In the beginning, man created God and religion. And the earth was without science, and void of understanding; and confusion was upon the faces of the people. And the idea of God moved in upon the minds of man.
And man said, let there be faith: and there was faith.
But it was not good.
Early man did not understand how the world around him worked. He invented a god to explain every natural phenomenon. There was a god who controlled the wind, a god to pull the sun down and one to hold the moon up; there was a god who made the rain fall, and another to make the wind blow. There was probably even a god who made them flatulent when they displeased him by eating beans; that god hates beans! They didn’t understand bacteria; when someone got sick it was because he had angered one of the gods and was being punished. Eventually, all these gods became too hard to keep track of and became a single God capable of doing everything. A jack of all trades, if you will… and a master of, well, everything! Or so the story goes.
In modern times, we have science. Men and women are making new discoveries everyday and furthering our understanding of the world around us, inside of us, and beyond the confines of our atmosphere. For each discovery that is made, there is another magical power taken away from this God fellow. Along with each new discovery comes a new argument to defend Him.
“Science has discovered blank because God created it to keep us busy. Idle hands are the Devil’s playthings, after all!”
“Science exists because God created science; therefore, science proves God!”
“Science will one day discover God, because he’s up there…it’s in the Bible!”
And of course, there’s everyone’s favorite, “It’s just a theory; it doesn’t prove anything!”
All of these are the sound of the pious digging in their heels and refusing to budge, clinging desperately to that last little shred of hope. Science is methodically filling in the gaps, leaving little room for God. The God that people worship today looks vastly different from the one they followed thousands of years ago. He used to live on Mount Sinai. Once we could easily reach the tops of mountains, he moved into the sky, then above the Earth. Now it is believed evidence of Him can be seen in the Last Scattering Surface as we gaze across the cosmos through powerful telescopes. None of that is in the Bible, of course, it’s only people defending Him and continually moving Him just barely out of reach.
I get that belief in God brings people together in a church, and being a part of this community makes people feel good inside, which releases dopamine, which is then misinterpreted as the feeling of God’s presence. The threat of losing this extended family to something as cold and uncaring as science/evolution triggers a defense mechanism. God is not required to be a part of a community of people who care about one another, but as I stated in my previous post – the church’s survival depends upon the beliefs of its members, so it will do whatever it can to grasp at every little thing before finally exhaling its dying breath.
The explanations and stories that are given in the Bible get so many things wrong and contradict themselves all over the place: biology, astronomy, climate, and many more subjects. I will give three examples here.
Rabbits chew cud? The Bible says they do, in Leviticus 11:6. Rabbits are incapable of regurgitation and lack multiple stomachs which are both prerequisites for chewing cud. Apologists will argue that perhaps this was mistaken to be so because the motion of the rabbit’s jaw looks much like the movement of an animal chewing cud. Or that rabbits practice refection, in which certain matter is passed in droppings and then eaten again. This is eating shit, not chewing cud. We don’t mistake dogs practicing shit-eating as a misinterpretation of chewing cud! If the Bible is the infallible word of God, and God created rabbits, then something is amiss. The apologists are grasping at straws and speculating so far off the beaten path that they’re not even practicing the same religion the Bible professes anymore.
Genesis 1:14 states that God affixed the sun and the moon to the firmament (sky) to divide the day from the night. Supposedly, the sun and moon are rotating around us in equal shifts. For now, I will overlook that he created plant life on the third day which would have shriveled up and died without the warmth and solar rays created on the fourth day, and instead focus solely on the error in orbits. Today we understand that the sun does not revolve around the Earth, and neither of these heavenly bodies are affixed to the atmosphere, thanks to contributions of individuals such as Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei. Their theories contradicted the Bible and were vehemently rejected as blasphemous, and caused them much trouble in their lives – yet these men turned out to be on the right path. For my blood pressure’s sake, I would rather not look into how the apologists are reconciling their beliefs with heliocentricity today. In simple terms: the universe created by God, and as described in the Bible, is geocentric, and we know this to be incorrect.
Genesis 6:15 gives Noah the dimensions of the Ark he is to build of gopher wood. His Ark is 300 cubits long, 60 wide and 30 high. In US customary units, that works out to 450′ x 75′ x 45′. The Ark was three stories, which gives Noah a grand total of 101,250 square feet to work with. That’s 33,750 square feet per floor. 2.32 buoyant acres sounds like a good amount of space to work with, that’s a little over one and a half times the size of Bill Gates’ massive house in Medina, WA. To help put the size of the Ark into perspective, I’ll look to the largest aircraft carrier in the US Navy – the USS Enterprise (CVN 65). It is 1,123 feet long, 257′ wide and 250′ high, well over double the size of Noah’s Ark. Try imagining the world’s largest zoo fitting aboard this vessel. The San Diego Zoo spans across 435,600 square feet, and only holds about 4,000 animals. Genesis 7:2-3 instructs him to take 7 of all clean animals, and 2 of each unclean. So how many animals was he supposed to pack in there? Today, we estimate there are 8.7 million species of life on earth, give or take 1.3 million. Approximately 2.2 of those live in the ocean, so we don’t have to count them; they are excused from suffering the wrath when the humans displease their God. If we lowball the remaining 6.5 on the -1.3 margin, we’re left with 5.2 million species. That means that at least 51 species would have had to have shared each square foot on the Ark. Even if they were all infants stacked floor to ceiling this still wouldn’t have worked out. And let’s not forget the animals which have gone extinct over all this time. In the last 100 years alone we’ve lost numerous varieties, including the Arabian Ostrich, Caspian Tiger and Pyrenean Ibex. And let’s not forget that not all of the space could have been used for animals, as food would have to be packed for this 40 day journey. And then what of the waste? Did Noah and his sons work constantly to shovel it all overboard? Too many questions, and no valid answers.
These are only 3 examples of errors in the “inerrant” word of God. Divine words, or explanations and stories as told by the simple men of those days? Seems like the creator of everything should have been able to get everything right effortlessly. When it is so easy to see these glaring man-made errors, why do people still believe this stuff? I like to compare this to a shady car salesman – everyone knows we can put blind faith in anything they tell us, right? Suppose a teenage boy walks into a dealership with all the money from his summer job in his pocket and a head full of dreams about the personal freedoms a car will afford him. He doesn’t know the first thing about how cars work, but he knows it will change his life to own one. A salesman walks up and is eager to pair this kid up with his dream hot rod, or at least as close to his dream as his meager pocketful of cash can bring him. The kid falls in love with the first car the guy shows him, and curious, he asks how it works.
“Cars run on divine power, kid! You give the car-god a sacrifice of clean fuel, and if it pleases him, he will grant the car forward motion!”
“Wow, that’s awesome!” the kid says, gazing dreamily through the windshield, fantasizing about speeding down a desolate country road at midnight. “So how does the radio work?”
“There’s a magic stone in there, blessed by the gods of frequency and amplitude modulation. There are several such stones scattered throughout the land, and people build shrines around these stones, and then anything they say in those places can be heard through your radio!”
Young and naive, the kid believes it. Mostly because he doesn’t actually care, he just wants to drive this car home. After filling out the over-abundance of paperwork, he asks about maintenance. “Don’t worry about it, kid! Just remember to put only clean fuel in her, and she’ll keep on purring like a kitten! But if you use unclean fuel, like diesel, or if she gets dirty and you don’t clean her right away, well… the car god’s gonna be angry, and he’ll make her stop running!”
“But then what?” he asks, concerned about losing his car.
“Heaven forbid it should ever happen, but if it does, just bring her right back in here, and for a small sacrifice of cash money, we’ll have a holy man give her a blessing and she’ll be good as new!”
So a few years go by, and his car begins to sputter out. He notices a knocking sound for a couple of weeks and decides to see if something got in there and wants out, like a curious badger. Opening the hood, he studies the engine carefully. He goes to the library and checks out a book on mechanics. He now understands the combustion engine and realizes all the parts of the engine work together to turn the wheels as he presses his foot on the accelerator. He’s amused that he actually believed that the car moved on magic alone. But the radio, now that’s another story… That’s pure magic right there! Right? It has to be!
It would be foolish to believe that the radio is magic after realizing the engine was not. This car salesman would quickly lose all credibility with a story like that, and his other claims would quickly be dismissed as nonsense shortly thereafter. I realize this story is far-fetched and leaning heavily toward the outright ridiculous, but that’s the point. So why do some people continue to believe some parts of the bible when we can plainly see other parts of this ‘inerrant text’ are wrong?
This previous weekend, my wife and I went to see Edward Falzon (Author of “Being Gay is Disgusting“) speak, and he suggested that for an adult to lose their faith after a lifetime of belief is similar to an adult being told that his parents adopted him when he was a baby. One would be faced with the realization that he had been lied to his entire life. Not that the lies were malevolent or intended to hurt him, but I imagine for most this would be the beginning of the journey down the path of the Kübler-Ross model… Denial, and then anger. However, many people would not be allowed to reach acceptance due to their support system (i.e. church) standing strong in the third stage, bargaining. Their beliefs are reinforced and they are told that their faith is being tested, and they must remain strong and then everything will be alright.
The gaps are quickly closing in on God, and clutching on to beliefs will only result in believers fighting to keep the gaps open. Human beings are animals, whether one chooses to accept this or reject it as an undesirable opinion, and when an animal feels threatened and backed into a corner, it will lash out in an effort of self preservation. With this in mind, I see it as pointless to jab and ridicule the believer. Instead, be kind and attempt to show them the errors in their beliefs. When a small child assembles a puzzle with the majority of the pieces in the wrong place with unfilled gaps everywhere, we don’t applaud them and say “Well done!” and we wouldn’t ridicule them and call them names over their mistake. We would show them the correct way to put the pieces together. We wouldn’t want to leave gaps in the middle of the puzzle, preventing all viewers from seeing the complete picture. Offer a helping hand, and together we can close the gaps in our lives the same way; we can put Elohim, El Shaddai, Yahweh, Jehovah, Jesus, Allah (whatever name He’s going by at the moment) to rest in the halls of mythology where he belongs, and move humanity forward.
One winter evening in December of 1981, I was sitting down to watch Frosty the Snowman with my mom. I was excited; I loved Christmas time and everything that came with it: the sense of family closeness, watching snow fall outside from the comfort of our cozy living room, the wonderful holiday television programs that were broadcast every year, and of course – the presents. I was so content in the moment, I wasn’t even aware that anything could change that. Then it happened… The Talk.
“So, you do realize Santa isn’t real, right?”
My mother’s words slammed into me with unimaginable force. It was that feeling of reality suddenly rushing in that gives the sensation of an unexpected punch to the nose – followed by the idea that one might not be present in the here and now. Perhaps this could be a dream state? The overwhelming shock dissipated as the imagined silence ringing in my ears gave way again to the sounds of my surroundings, and I could hear my mom saying my name, “Did you hear me?” Not a question of malice, but from her perspective it probably appeared that I simply did not hear what she had asked. Perhaps I didn’t turn as pale as I felt.
Everything felt to be in slow motion for the next several seconds as I contemplated what I had just heard. “That can’t be right,” I thought to myself, “I must have heard that wrong.” I turned to her, hoping my ears had deceived me and asked, “What?” She repeated, “You do know that Santa isn’t real, right?” and my only response this time was a full blown meltdown. I began crying and babbling incoherently, “No, he’s real, he has to be real! Why are you lying to me?” I wanted so badly for her to take it back; I wanted her to be wrong. I would have given anything for Santa to be real again.
I was devastated. I had so many thoughts whipping around in my young mind, so many questions: What does this do to Christmas? Does this mean the presents will stop? Does this mean we won’t be taking the annual trips to Grandma and Grandpa’s anymore? Do I have to go to school during Christmas Vacation now? No, it doesn’t mean any of these things. As it turned out, everything stayed about the same, including the decorations of Santa and his reindeer. The only real difference was that the presents in the stocking hung by the chimney with such care now said, “From Mom & Dad.” Oh yes, and now I was no longer obligated to save any of those delightful Christmas cookies for Santa.
I contemplate this memory now, imagining that this might be why religious people have such a hard time letting go of God. I only held the Santa belief for a handful of years, and the only real consequence to it being untrue was that a man in a red suit would no longer break into our house in the middle of the night to give me stuff. Yet it caused so much heartache to be told my precious myth wasn’t true. I can only imagine how much more difficult a belief held for 20 or more years would be to let go, especially when eternal paradise is at stake!
Even when presented with empirical evidence, the devout often find an irrational explanation to justify remaining in their comfort zone. Quite often, this explanation involves “God’s plan” or “The devil did it” – such as believing they had been born into a Catholic family rather than a Hindu family simply because God wanted them to be born of the ‘one true faith’; or that the divinity of Jesus closely resembles so many gods before him because Lucifer went back in time and placed false evidence to instill doubt in all of us. If we entertain the possibility that Satan actually does exist (he doesn’t), I would think that if he were capable of time travel he could use this power to inflict greater damage to God than simple mischief… but i suspect this notion would simply be irrationally dismissed with another explanation of God’s greater plan.
The mind of a believer wants to think that life does not have any meaning or purpose without God, and that therefore the fact they have meaning in their life proves the existence of God. This is like saying that the holiday of Christmas doesn’t exist without Santa. Your life has whatever meaning or purpose you assign it, whether you are career-oriented, want to raise a family, or contribute to world peace. I was upset by the loss of my imaginary gift-bringer, but the tradition of family cheer and gift giving went on without ol’ Saint Nick, just as a life full of beauty, wonder and meaning goes on after you kiss your God goodbye.