More fairly random, half-formed thoughts on Evolution

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(Note to self: check the captions to this and last time’s pictures are the right way round.)

 

3. On God in Nature

God is revealed in nature! The bible says so (Romans 1.20) and you don’t even have to be a Creationist to see it – the evidence is there in plain sight.

But to suggest that, because aspects of nature are beautiful (or stunning or endearing) from a human perspective, the natural world can only have come from the hand of a loving Creator is merely to argue from a position of incredulity: “I can’t conceive how such beauty came to be; it must have been God.”

I live close to the countryside and although there is much that is impressively beautiful, the mercilessly cruel working of nature is also apparent: ruthless competition, even between plants and certainly among animal wildlife; waste on a vast scale; predation – young blue-tit (chickadee) chicks in my garden eaten a few weeks ago by magpies – death and sex.

The incredulous believer who refuses to see these aspects of nature and sees only beauty – and much of it is undeniably beautiful – is being disingenuous in their selection of evidence (confirmation bias in action). If God reveals himself in nature, then just as it is, he has to be callous, cruel and indifferent to suffering too.

“Ah, yes,” says the Christian, “but that’s because we live in a fallen world,” which is having it both ways: God is apparent in nature, except when he isn’t… because then it’s a fallen world.

Speaking of which –


4. On This Being a Fallen World

Creationists, such as those at Answers In Genesis, like to argue that genetic mutations in humans and animals fail to ‘increase the information’ and, further, that such errors would only lead to malfunction and the death of the organism. They’re right about the latter; significant mutation is almost always detrimental. However, according to Nature, ‘others have little or no detrimental effect. And sometimes, although very rarely, the change in DNA sequence may even turn out to be beneficial to the organism.’ A mutation that increases the chances an animal will survive and reproduce ensures that the particular mutation is passed on to its offspring.

The constant shuffling and recombining of genes in sexual reproduction also changes and ‘increases the information’ within the genome with the consequent effect on the phenotype (the genome’s physical expression). This is analogous with the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet producing new, unique sentences, paragraphs and texts every time they are recombined.

Creationists are wrong therefore to insist that mechanisms do not exist to change or add to genetic ‘information’. They are wrong too that variations caused by mutation cannot contribute to the evolution of an organism; while most born with such variance are likely to die before they can reproduce (natural selection in action) a minority are able to pass on the changes. Mutation and sexual recombination of genes are integral to evolution and the development of the organism.

I mention this because the bible presents quite a different scenario. In Genesis, the world and everything in it is created in a state of perfection. Then, because of human disobedience and sin, God feels compelled to curse his entire creation and the sudden or gradual – Christians are none to clear about which it is – transition to degradation, entropy and death begins.

It’s here that creationists’ objection to the role of mutation in evolution proves a stumbling block for their own scenario: a system designed to function in a particular way cannot continue to operate effectively after undergoing such a radical, brutal overhaul. We know of no other system that, having undergone such demolition, can continue to work in the way it was intended to, and certainly not as effectively as the ecosystem has for millennia. Look, for example, at how human activity has contributed recently to radical changes in climate.

Nature relies on those things that Christians say arose because of God’s curse on it: death, disease, waste, competition, cruelty. A system with such inherent ‘faults’, so far removed from how it was ‘designed’ to operate, would have failed long ago.

From this we can conclude that:

Nature/ecosystems/life were not ‘designed’ at all.

     They were never part of a ‘perfect’ creation.

         They were not cursed and are not now faulty components of a fallen,     malfunctioning world – nor could they be.

                       They could not operate any differently from the way they do.

                             They will not, despite what the bible says (Romans 8.20-21), be restored one day to a state of perfection they didn’t have in the first place.

 

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Some fairly random, half-formed thoughts on Evolution

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1. On Sex

‘Evolution is a Lie’ read the placard in the town centre the other day as Christian preachers took to ranting, again, about how everyone’s a sinner in need of Jesus.

I thought, if evolution is a lie then why is there sex? What would be the point of it in a world created by God?

While sex makes abundant sense in the context of evolution, it is difficult to explain in terms of Creationism. Why? Because sexual reproduction (as opposed of any other sort) exists specifically to ensure the shuffling and recombining of genes to produce variation in offspring. Why would a Creator (say the God of the bible, so beloved of Ken Ham and many other Christians) create the very mechanism that makes natural selection, and therefore evolution, possible? Why would he introduce a process that has no purpose but to serve as the engine of evolution? There wouldn’t be any need to, unless this deity specifically planned to develop life through evolution, or a process very like it.

But Christians like those street preachers and Answers in Genesis and its sycophants, reject the Darwinian model of evolution. So how do they explain sexual reproduction when it’s not only incongruous in a creationist scenario, but completely unnecessary? If not to drive evolution, why does sexual reproduction exist at all? It’s not, if I might pre-empt one possible response, because God thought we’d enjoy it; most living creatures reproduce sexually and ‘enjoyment’ is not part of their perfunctory copulation. Not to mention the fact that the Creator God of the bible spends most of his time objecting to and condemning sex.


2. On Life from Non-life

I’ve been told many times by Christians that, without God, life could not have got underway and subsequently evolved. Their argument goes like this: ‘inanimate chemicals are incapable of organising themselves into complex, self-replicating organisms,’ which makes me think, not of sex, but of viruses; non-living groups of chemicals that are highly organised self-replicators.

I’m not saying life necessarily developed from viruses, but they are evidence that inanimate chemicals are capable of acting as if alive, organising themselves to serve a collective purpose, namely self-perpetuation. The earliest viruses would not of course have been as complex as those today (viruses evolve too), but next time you have a viral infection, consider whether the difference between non-life and life is as great as it might seem. From what we do know, it wouldn’t need much, and certainly not a god, to turn one into the other.


More random thoughts on Evolution next time.

 

 

How the bible gets almost everything wrong: volume 3

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So there we have it. The bible is historically, scientifically, medically, morally, and psychologically inaccurate. It is a muddle of contradiction and confusion, written by pre-scientific, bronze-age tribesmen and religious zealots who made guesses about how the world worked. In almost every respect they got it wrong.

So what does this mean for the central premise of the book, its claim that the Creator of the universe, the Father of mankind speaks through it? Why should we suppose that when it gets everything else wrong, it manages to get this right?

We shouldn’t. The bible’s knowledge of God comes from the same source as the rest of its information: the wild imaginings of men who knew no better. The bible itself tell us so, many times. By its own admission, it is a catalogue of dreams, visions and inner ‘revelations’. In the New Testament alone there are at least twenty ‘meaningful’ fantasies of this sort, including the entirety of its final book, the aptly named ‘Revelation of St John’. The bible comes from an era when dreams and other subjective internal experiences were widely regarded to have significance as messages – revelations – from the gods, not the routine and not-so-routine workings of the human mind we now know them to be. Every era, before the scientific, regarded them in this way.

So Paul interpreted his psychotic episodes, depicted as a disembodied voice and bright light in Acts but far more dreamlike and hallucinatory in Paul’s own descriptions, as experiences of the risen Jesus himself (1 Corinthians 9.1 & Galatians 1.11-12) and of heaven (2 Corinthians 12.1-4). From these he built up all of his fanciful ideas of ‘the Christ’, not one of them based on anything demonstrable or real. All of them mere notions in his head, notions that others were all to willing to accept as the words of a god. After all, wasn’t that how the Almighty always communicated with mere mortals?

Still today people surrender to these ‘revelations’; Paul’s theology built on out-of-body experiences, the disciples’ grief-induced visions, John’s hallucinogenic ‘bad trip’. These are the foundation of Christianity as we have it, providing all we know of God, Christ and salvation, and all of them without any basis in reality. Some believers even claim to have the same sort of ‘revelations’ themselves; God speaking to them, Christ bathing them in light, visions of Heaven. All of these, again, entirely within their heads and no more real than the occasional appearances of my long dead grandfather in my own dreams. However much Christians might insist on a rational basis for their beliefs, it is an inescapable fact that the faith has its origins in ancient people’s dreams and hallucinations. Rationalising after the fact doesn’t alter this.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in basing my life on others’ emotionally-induced inner visions, whether those of a Paul, or a Joseph Smith or a contemporary whack-job. I don’t want to learn about the world and life from people whose understanding and knowledge derive from their sub-conscious and hallucinatory fantasy life. Give me science any day, with its attempts to minimise subjective, human biases from its exploration of how things are. Give me its discoveries that have enhanced life, however imperfectly, in the here and now. Above all, give me honest rationality over sub-conscious imaginings and psychoses.

I have no interest in a god, or a saviour, constructed from other people’s dreams, visions or hallucinations, even, or especially, when they’re recorded in that most unreliable of sources, the bible.

 

How the bible gets almost everything wrong: volume 2

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The bible’s moral inconsistencies:

As we saw here and here, the bible’s morality is confused and frequently contradictory. Jesus himself adds to the confusion with pronouncements like:

You have heard it said (in Exodus 21.24), ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

and

You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5.27-28).

God’s ‘standards’ change depending on who thinks they’re channelling him:

In Joel 3.8 he advocates slavery but in Exodus 21.16 he forbids it.

In Matthew 6.1 Jesus insists good deeds should be done secretly forgetting he’s already said, in Matthew 5.1, that they should be done openly to impress others.

In Matthew 7.1-3 Jesus says judging others is to be avoided while in 1 Corinthians 6.2-4, Paul gives it the go-ahead; judging others is fine.

In Matthew 19.10-12 Jesus disparages marriage but the writer of Hebrews approves of it (13.4)

God allows divorce in Deuteronomy 21.10-14 but in Matthew 5.32 Jesus doesn’t.

And on and on. Like everyone else’s, Christians’ morality is socially determined. Unlike everyone else’s, their morality reflects the bible’s own confusion and inconsistencies. To accommodate its contradictions, Christians cherry-pick from it to bolster their pre-existing prejudices and biases. The rest of us are then measured – judged – against the resulting pick’n’mix morality and, boy, are we found lacking. ‘Biblical morality’ is nothing if not projectile.

 

The bible’s weak understanding of psychology:

Many of those who wrote the bible had a particularly bleak view of human beings. To these men we are totally depraved and our every thought is ‘continually evil’ (Genesis 6.5) Our ‘hearts’ are supremely deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17.9) and we’re under the control of the devil (Ephesians 2.1-3). We are incapable of doing good (Romans 3.10-13) and as Jesus himself puts it:

That which proceeds from a person, defiles that person. For from within, out of the heart, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile a person. (Mark 7.20-23).

I don’t recognise this as a description of myself and I’m sure you don’t of yourself. Of course human beings are capable of terrible acts (I’m writing this not long after a fanatical Muslim murdered 22 young, innocent people in a terrorist bombing in Manchester, here in the UK) and, on a more mundane level, we can behave in thoughtless or vindictive ways, entirely out of self-interest.

But we’re also capable of great kindness, compassion and concern. We are a complex mixture of these traits, the good and the bad. The biblical view that we are only ever hateful, devoid of any good, is jaundiced and unnecessarily negative. If parents were to spend their time telling a child he or she is only ever bad, wicked and evil, they would rapidly deprive the child of their self-worth, self-confidence and ability to relate in positive, loving ways to others. The description would become self-fulfilling. This is what the God of the bible does to his children.

Neither are we awash with sin. Sin is a religious idea, used to describe how humans fall short of the glory of God. It need not concern us here. There is no God to fall short of; sin therefore is a concept without any traction in the real world.

 

The bible’s fantasy perspective of the world:

Did you know this world is controlled by the devil and his demons? That powers and principalities of the air are at war with God and the powers of holiness all around us? In fact, the devil is always looking for ways to discredit the bible and is constantly trying to weaken Christians’ faith. He smuggles false doctrine into the church in order to mislead believers, and uses the hoax that is evolution to prevent unbelievers from accepting Christ as their saviour. He gives women ideas above their station, which God says is to be submissive, and has unleashed a wave of homosexual behaviour and gender confusion to blind people to God’s goodness and to kindle his wrath.

Did you know, though, that this fallen world and the ‘heavens’ above it are soon to be destroyed and replaced by a new earth and new heavens, where Jesus will reign over the select few God decides to raise from the dead? Despite Satan thinking he’s in control, it’s actually God who is. God only allows the devil to think he’s top-dog while he, God, is secretly pulling the strings.

If you do know these things, and if you believe them, then you have a ‘biblical worldview’. Or, to put it another way, you’ve bought into third-rate hokum that bears no relation to the world – the universe, even – as it is.

 

How the Bible gets almost everything wrong: volume 1

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Scripture is under attack! Yes, really. Answers in Genesis says so, so it must be true. The Enemy with a capital letter is out to undermine its authority. That Satan and his school-boy pranks! What will he think of next?

It doesn’t, though, need an all-powerful personification of evil to undermine the bible. It does it all by itself. In any aspect we might care to mention; scientific, medical, historical, moral, psychological – even how the universe operates- the bible is mistaken, confused and just plain wrong. The truth is not in it.

Let’s take look at some examples:

The bible’s scientific blunders

According to the bible:

the Earth was created before the sun (Genesis 1:9-16)

Stars are points of light in the canopy – ‘the firmament’ – that surrounds the Earth (Genesis 1:16-17)

Beyond this canopy is water (water comes for the sky doesn’t it? I guess the canopy leaks. God opens its ‘windows’ during Noah’s flood) (Genesis 1:6-7)

The sun moves, though it can be made to stop in its tracks with the right magic (Joshua 10:12-13)

Genetic characteristics can be changed by whatever animals look at while they’re copulating (Genesis 30:37-39)

Hares and coneys chew the cud (Leviticus 11:5-6) and flying insects sometimes have four legs (Leviticus 11:20-23)

The value of Pi is 3 (1 Kings 7:23-26)

More here if you can bear it: http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/science/long.html

The bible’s historical inaccuracies

The ‘history’ of the Old Testament is largely fabricated. Much of it is myth and legend, created centuries after the events it purports to describe. There is no evidence, for example, that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, wandered the wilderness for forty years and then invaded the land of Canaan. Historians are now fairly sure that the people who would later fashion themselves as the Israelites were rabble-rousers within Canaan and that set about eliminating, by one means or another, other populations that lived there. The ‘great kings’ of Judaism – David, Solomon – were no more than tribal leaders; think ‘Taliban commanders’ and you’ll have a pretty accurate picture of what they were really like.

There’s no evidence either for Noah’s ark and a global flood, the events of the tower of Babel, Joshua’s destruction of the walls of Jericho, Daniel’s adventures in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar… you name it. Each and everyone of these stories was created to make theological points, to aggrandise the people who created them.

There are similar problems when it comes to the historicity of Jesus’ life.

The bible’s medical ignorance

According to Jesus – God Incarnate, no less – many disabilities and diseases are caused by demons:

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech… Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” (Mark 9:17 & 25)

The way to cure illness therefore is to ‘drive out the unclean spirits’ that cause it. Jesus does so many times (Matthew 12.22 etc) and sends his chums out to have a go as well (Matt 10.1). Now, is this because God knows that sickness and disease really are caused by supernatural baddies, or is it because Jesus’ understanding of illness was as limited as that of any other first-century peasant? You got it – Jesus (and his later script-writers) merely reflect first-century ignorance about the causes of illness. However, if, as today’s Christians believe, Jesus was somehow God himself, then why don’t they opt for exorcism every time they’re ill? There are some nut-jobs who do, of course, but why don’t all of them trust their lord and saviour on the matter?

There’s equally ludicrous medical advice elsewhere in the New Testament: James 5.14-15 tells us that the cure for any ailment is prayer:

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.

Sure enough, some believers have taken this ridiculous advice seriously. Instead of medical treatment, they’ve done as the bible commands and prayed for their sick children, frequently with fatal consequences.

More next time…