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.

 

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 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…

 

Experts in make-believe

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As it is in the secular world, so in the Kingdom of Heaven. Entirely self-appointed experts abound in the religious sphere: priests, pastors, preachers, imams, rabbis. Some have degrees in theology; some have a degree of enlightenment (or so they claim) from personal encounters with the supernatural; some have learnt at the feet of the experts who have gone before them.

But what are religious experts expert in? Unlike our politicians who have at least a degree in a legitimate subject (even if not the one they now profess to know all about) the only thing religious experts are knowledgeable about is a collection of fantasy stories. That’s the Bible, of course, for Christian ‘experts’, with its supernatural beings, monsters, giants, magical incantations, transformations and resurrections.

If these experts were to encounter the same sort of fantastic notions in any other book, they would readily acknowledge that what they were dealing with was myth and legend. Not so their own ‘holy’ text! Oh no. This, of all the books of magic that exist, is, they say, the real deal because in amongst the far-fetched stories is some moralising about being extra-nice to fellow Jews and loving your enemies.

All that Christian experts are expert in is myth. That is their specialist subject. They’re not really interested in the injunctions about serving others; the mythical stuff they refuse to acknowledge as myth is much more to their liking: the eternal God-man, living forever, fantasy heaven, fantasy hell. The expertise of priests, pastors and preachers is in this smorgasbord of twaddle – and even then they frequently get it wrong. Those who offer their ‘spiritual’ experiences as demonstration of its veracity (‘I know it’s true because I commune with the eternal God-man’) add nothing of substance to their claims; all they’ve done is internalise myth, nothing more. Myth it remains. And just how useful is expertise in made-up stories in this day and age?

Like politicians who are skilled in one area but assume expertise in another, Christian experts also think that their knowledge of myth makes them experts about all sorts of other things: psychology, morality, the state of the world, politics, science, history and pre-history – even the future. They know all about these, they like to tell us, because by extrapolating from their book of myths and legends, they have an understanding that surpasses that of the real experts in these areas (we can exclude the future here; no-one in the real world claims to know with any certainty what the future holds. Naturally, Christians like to pretend they do).

You think this isn’t the case?

Because of what they think the Bible says:

Mike Pence, ‘evangelical Catholic’ and vice-President, thinks God will heal America only if ‘his people, who are called by his name, humble themselves and pray’ (quoting 2 Chronicles 7.14). He wants to end state-funded abortion rights into the bargain and disputes climate change;

Franklin Graham, who said prayers at the recent inauguration, insists that God himself engineered Donald Trump’s election;

Pastor Robert Jeffress, who provided a private church service for Trump prior to the inauguration, thinks so too, so that America can have ‘one more chance’.

Jim Bakker, ex-felon, televangelist and guest at the inauguration, claims he was responsible for Trump’s election because he ‘bound’ hell-spawned demons who opposed Trump.

Pastor Rick Wiles, meanwhile, is too busy enjoying being sprayed with the golden showers of God’s Grace that even now are ‘oozing’ from Heaven because of Trump;

Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist & Senior Counselor and one of the architects of the immigration ban, is pushing hard for a return to ‘Judeo-Christian traditionalism’ (which hasn’t stopped him from being married and divorced three times);

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s anti-gay Education Secretary, thinks schools should be used to build God’s Kingdom on Earth and wants Creationism taught alongside Evolution;

Ken Ham continues to influence people like Betsy, by teaching that the earth was created 6,000 years ago, Adam and Eve really existed and humans co-existed with dinosaurs;

Jerry Falwell jr, appointed by Trump to reform higher education, sees no contradiction between being a pro-life creationist and an arms advocate;

Religious Rights leaders are urging Trump to reverse the rights granted to LGBT people under President Obama, both in America and worldwide. At the time of writing it looks like he might;

Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s alabaster daughter, asks what the Bible has to say about the Women’s March in Washington last week and concludes that women who protest are ‘loud, undisciplined and without knowledge’;

Sandy Rios of the religious ‘American Family Association’, agrees, saying feminists are ‘people who live in filth’;

Steven Anderson thinks people in need are ‘lazy bums’, just like the Bible says (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and continues to call for LGBT people to be executed;

A million and one other preachers and pastors think they have your psychology all worked out – you’re nothing but a sinner in need of Jesus’ saving grace.

By any rational standard this is all lunatic stuff. These people know no more than you or I about any of the subjects they spout about. They think they do – and worse still others believe they do – because of what (they think) is in their collection of myths; ‘I know what I’m talking about because it’s in my magic book!’ And who are we to doubt such credentials?

It is all fallacy. Christian experts are experts only in the ephemeral, the unproven, the mythical. Yet they claim to know so much about everything else as a result. They claim they know how you should live your life and what, for you own good, you should be allowed to do and what you should not.

People such as these have now come to power in America.

 

The God of Reason

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The next three posts will look at the claim Christians make for their God being the God of Reason. The fact that he is, they say, demonstrates how inconsistent those who see no evidence for a deity are when we use his very attributes – reason, logic and rationality – to make a case against him. Here’s Dr Jason Lisle on Answers In Genesis:

…there is an absolute standard for reasoning; we are to pattern our thoughts after God’s. The laws of logic are a reflection of the way God thinks… Laws of logic are God’s standard for thinking. Since God is an unchanging, sovereign, immaterial Being, the laws of logic are abstract, universal, invariant entities. In other words, they are not made of matter—they apply everywhere and at all times. Laws of logic are contingent upon God’s unchanging nature. And they are necessary for logical reasoning. Thus, rational reasoning would be impossible without the biblical God.

The materialistic atheist can’t have laws of logic. He believes that everything that exists is material—part of the physical world. But laws of logic are not physical… The atheist’s view cannot be rational because he uses things (laws of logic) that cannot exist according to his (Godless viewpoint).

Similarly, Tim Keller in his book The Reason for God argues that the fact humans can reason is evidence both of God’s existence (because reason has to come from somewhere) and of our being made in his image.

According to Christians then, God is the only reason we can think rationally at all.

But then where did God’s rationality come from? Is he pure reason or is reason an attribute he acquired or evolved over time as we did? As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, the only reasoning intelligence we know of is our own, and it is the product of evolution. If God’s ability to reason also evolved – and we know of no other way it could have developed – then he must intially have been incomplete. He could not have been the supreme intelligence Christians claim he is now. If, on the other hand, God is and always has been pure reason, there should be plenty of evidence for it. Let’s take look:

We first encounter God in the opening chapters of Genesis, where he puts two naked humans in a garden and tells them not to eat the fruit of a tree labelled ‘The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’.* He sets this tree right where they can see it and then he leaves. The two people, who have no concept of right and wrong (that’s the point of the tree) each take a bite of its fruit. While taking his evening stroll in the garden, God discovers what they’ve done and is not best pleased. (I hope you’re getting just how logical all of this is.**)

This deity, who, according to Dr Lisle and Tim Keller is the epitome of logical reasoning, doesn’t then take the trouble to explain to his creations, ‘Look, I’m sorry I made you without a sense of right and wrong; I’ll put that right. But you’ve got to promise me you’ll do as I say from now on because you won’t like me when I’m angry.’ No, he doesn’t do this; instead he throws a hissy fit. He punishes the couple, who until they’d tried the fruit had no idea disobeying him was wrong, and, just for good measure, he trashes the rest of Creation too – forever. Because of a single act committed by two naive individuals who didn’t know any better, he ruins everything and then, irrationally, blames the humans for the mess he’s made. That’s his reasoned, reasonable and rational response to their upsetting him – which, if he was the omniscient being Christians tell us he is, he’d have known was going to happen anyway.

Of course the whole set up and God’s reactions are not rational, reasonable or logical at all. They’re not considered, proportionate or insightful either. The God of Reason, the God who is Reason according to Answers in Genesis and Tim Keller, scores on this, his first outing, zero points on the scale of reasoned, reasoning reasonableness.

Maybe though God was just having an off day and he improves later on, once his intelligence has evolved a bit more. We’ll find out next time.

 

* All my examples of God’s great thinking skills and ‘reasonableness’ are drawn from the Bible; there are, however, simply too many to reference throughout this series of posts. I would be happy to supply them to any who feel the need to see them.

** Yes, I’m aware it’s a myth but a) many Christians don’t and b) even as a myth the story seeks to address how humans became alienated from God, ironically by developing the capacity to think for themselves. 

 

Christianity: always winter but never Christmas

Spot the difference:Shore

Christians are hot on evidence.

There isn’t enough for evolution, they say, even though there’s an abundance.     

None, they claim, that the Earth is billions of years old, but only 6 thousand.

Not enough that climate change is man-made, when there’s considerable evidence it is.

None that there’s a genetic component to homosexuality when science reveals that there is.

But, as far as the resurrection of the body, judgement and eternal life in either Heaven or Hell are concerned, these they believe in, no evidence required.

I recently challenged Christians on Charisma magazine’s blog-site to provide or point me to evidence that any one of the 107 billion people who has ever lived who after they had died had gone on to enjoy either eternal life in Heaven or eternal punishment in Hell. Unfulfilled promises from magic books weren’t admissible, because a promise of something happening is not the same as it actually doing so. Jesus didn’t count either, as there are no eye-witness accounts of his bodily resurrection, only stories written decades after the supposed event. In any case he was half Vulcan or something, not an ordinary mortal.

Alas, my challenge went unanswered. You won’t find it on the Charisma site now because it has been removed by the moderator there. Expecting evidence from Christians for what they believe is patently unreasonable. After all, who needs evidence when you can exercise your licence to believe whatever you’re told?

Of course, there is no evidence of any resurrection nor of anyone who has gone on, post-mortem, to enjoy everlasting life. Have you noticed how everything about Christianity is either invisible – God, the Holy Spirit, Heaven, angels, demons – or lies permanently in the future; the Second Coming, the resurrection of the body, the Kingdom of God, judgement and eternal life? All of them always just that little bit further on. This year, next year, sometime, never. Just not now.

Yet Jesus, Paul, Revelation’s John and most other New Testament luminaries believed God’s Kingdom, the resurrection and judgement were coming within their own lifetimes.* Not one of them entertained the thought that 2000 years down the line none of these miraculous events would have materialised.

Small wonder then, that at the start of the second century, believers began to lose hope in the Second Coming, the Kingdom’s arrival and an earthly resurrection of the dead. Maybe, some of them began to think, eternal life would be not be here on Earth, as Jesus and Paul had promised, but in Heaven with God, which they most definitely hadn’t. This way, everything that hadn’t happened here on Earth would happen instead after death (we can see this transition taking place in the very late gospel of John). All of which was fortunate, because it dispensed with the need for confirmation and evidence; no-one could prove – apart from the fact nobody has ever survived their own extinction – that believers didn’t go to Heaven when they died. Equally, no-one could provide evidence they did.** How neat and convenient.

So if any Christians reading this would like to like to show us some evidence for the resurrection of the dead, post-mortem judgement, Heaven, Hell, God’s Kingdom on Earth – any of it – I’m sure we would all like to see it. Until then, I will go on regarding all of these assurances as empty promises – pie in the sky – that believers cling to desperately, while calling their desperation ‘faith’.

* See Matthew 16.27-28 & 24.27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21.27-28, 33-34; 1 Corinthians 15.51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17; 1 John 2:17-181; Peter 4.7; Revelation 1.1 & 21.2-4

** Psychics claim to commune with the dead, of course, or at least with their spirits; more hokum from the minds of the deluded. Even if it weren’t, this isn’t the kind of resurrection Christians envisage for themselves. They dismiss psychics’ ‘evidence’ of life-after-death as so much demonic deception.

The Stuff Christians Say… (part two)

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Atheists don’t behave as evolution says they should: This ridiculous accusation is often slung at atheists by Christians who seem to see it as some sort of stinging rebuke. Answers In Genesis is very fond of it; the Hamster’s drones and other Christians seem to believe – without ever thinking it through (plus ca change) that because those who acknowledge the veracity of evolution don’t behave according to its principles they are somehow inconsistent in their ‘beliefs’ – hypocritical even. They seriously propose that because natural selection and the survival of the fittest (not one of Darwin’s phrases) are cruel, uncaring processes, then that is how, for the sake of consistency, atheists ought to behave too. We shouldn’t care, they say, when a child develops cancer or someone dies. We shouldn’t attempt to cure illness or work to prevent suffering because these are nature’s way and part of the mechanism of evolution.

While it’s true they are, it’s been a long time since our behaviour, our existence and continued success as a species has been solely determined by what nature does. Humans regularly override its mechanisms, natural selection included; every time we use birth control, show compassion for the weak, heal the sick, develop medicines, engineer genes and preserve life. And so we should.

Christians seem unable to comprehend that evolution is not a pattern to be followed. It is not a set of instructions for living, a prescription or a set of (a)moral guidelines. It is the best explanation, supported by considerable amounts of evidence, of how life developed on the Earth. As such it makes no ethical claims nor does it demand that its principles be blindly followed (that’d be religion). Are Christians truly unable to detect this difference?

Atheists have no reason to be moral: I’ve looked at this ignorant claim before. Of course we have reason to behave morally. We’re human, we live in human society. Morals help us do so while doing the least damage to ourselves and others. They may also enable us to bring some happiness or comfort to those around us. Atheists don’t look to an imaginary God to tell us how to be good; our morals come from our culture, upbringing and education. Christians’ morals do too, whatever else they may claim. They certainly don’t get them from that most immoral of books, the Bible.

 

to be continued…