Every time I mention evolution it starts a fight. Some people believe one thing, some people believe another thing. Neither thing can be definitively proven so it’s a fight that will never end.
I am a scientist and used to call myself ‘atheist’ before the rise of the fundamentalist atheists. As Furor and others have pointed out, a true atheist simply doesn’t believe and takes it no further. When you get Dawkinite fundamentalist atheists trying to ‘convert’ the religious to their own beliefs, that’s not atheism. That’s a new religion and I don’t want a religion. I don’t want to go to non-prayer meetings and not-sing hymns along with a raging band of “We are right and every other belief is wrong” fundamentalist loonies. If I did, I’d pop over to see the Westboro Baptist Church.
There are atheist meetings now. Seriously, what the hell is that all about? People having a meeting to talk about something none of them believe exist? I can’t even imagine a more monumental waste of time.
These days I call myself ‘apathist’. There might or might not be a God or gods, goddesses, pixies, fairies, goblins, devils and so on. I don’t care. Other people believe in some or all of those things. I don’t care. It doesn’t affect me that they believe those things and if we ever return to Spanish Inquisition days, I will pretend to believe in whatever the man with the gun wants me to believe, but I won’t really believe it. He’ll think he has won a convert but really all he’s done is saved the cost of a bullet.
There might or might not be a form of life after death. There’s only one way to find out and I’m in no hurry because when you do find out, there’s no way back if you don’t like it. So I don’t worry about it. There’s nothing I can do about it anyway.
I’ve never been comfortable with belief. I want to see the numbers and I want to check the calculations. Like almost everyone on the planet, I don’t have time to work my way up to a professorship in astrophysics and check the calculations that take the universe back to the Big Bang. Fortunately this has no effect on my own field of study so I don’t need to.
Likewise, religion/creation has no effect on my own field of study at all. I have met deeply religious scientists in my field and it doesn’t affect their work one jot. In bacterial/fungal/viral terms, evolution is of little relevance unless you specialise in microbial evolution. Day to day stuff, dealing with modern infections, does not require me to work out how far in the past Salmonella came into being. I just have to fix it in the here and now. There are those who have done such trackbacks through genetics and it’s all very interesting but it doesn’t help me find a way to make people totally resistant to this bug.
The development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria is not evolution. It’s mutation. Yes, it could lead to evolution but it hasn’t, not as far as I have seen. The rise of E. coli O157 is not evolution, it’s a mutation in E. coli that gives it a new property. It’s still the same species. It has not evolved. Evolution causes new species to appear that were not species before they changed. This isn’t it.
Darwin’s Galapagos finches were evidence of natural selection but not of evolution. The finches on one island had long thin beaks for picking insects out of bark, the finches on another had short thick beaks for cracking seeds. They had adapted to the local food source. If a finch was born on the seed island with a long thin beak, it was doomed. So the best-adapted variants survived. To create a new species, those two groups of finches should not have been able to interbreed (I don’t remember if Darwin checked). If they could interbreed they were variants of the same species, not different species. If they were the same species then they had adapted but not evolved.
The same is true of humans. We come in all shapes and sizes. I work with people I consider to be giants and others who are dwarves (and one goblin). There are all kinds of skin shades and hair colours and eye colours and some are thin and some are round… if I was visiting from another planet I might marvel at how so many obviously different species can work together. We are one species. The differences are adaptations, not evolution. Even the chubbiness is an adaptation towards food storage. When the food runs out, those with hyper-efficient storage metabolisms will last longer than those of us who can burn it off. Don’t laugh at the fatties, because when the food runs out and we’re on short rations, they’ll outlast you.
This is not to say that evolution doesn’t happen. I’ve only been here half a century and evolution takes a lot longer than that. So I haven’t seen it happen but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. I’ve never seen Belgium but it’s probably real. Lots of people have seen Belgium and lots of very intelligent people have studied evolution. Even with total scepticism of anything I can’t check for myself, on the balance of probabilities, there is likely to be some truth in there, even about Belgium. If I were to deny the reality of everything I hadn’t seen for myself, then most of the planet doesn’t exist and there are no more than a few hundred people in the world. Even logical scepticism can be taken to extremes.
Personally I can’t prove evolution. I think it’s right but can offer no evidence. Even if I had solid proof I still wouldn’t fight on the side of the Dawkinites because having proof is one thing, being a dick about it is quite another. If I had proof I’d put it out there and leave it to the individual to accept or reject it. I would not be interested in forcing anyone to ‘believe’.
Religion fascinates me. I am not restricted to Christianity on this. I have had long conversations with Buddhists and Muslims and Pagans and others. It’s not so much what they believe, but why they believe it that interests me. How can so many people be so deeply motivated by something they have absolutely no proof exists? Well, I could bring up second hand smoke at this point but that would lead to a really big digression so I’ll leave that alone for now.
I make extensive use of religion and associated mythology in my stories. if Asmodeus is real then he’s going to be waiting for me with spiked brass knuckles when my time comes because he’s had a particularly rough time in my tales. So far I’ve trapped his pet and banished his daughter and there’s more to come. I have several versions of the Bible here along with a lot of Crowley’s writings, a copy of the Voynich manuscript, the Key of Solomon, the Goetia, the Grimoire of Armadel and a lot more. In the interests of research. When I use a spell in a story, I haven’t just made it up, you know. I have some books on Necromonicon but that book is not, in itself, real and never has been. Neither is ‘Geometria ton Zoon’ or ‘Aritmetika ton Kosmon’ because I made those up. I didn’t want to re-use the overused Necronomicon.
[Digression: you knew it had to happen. On one of the safety forms for work chemicals it states that the chemical suppresses 'pseudonoma' which tickled me no end. What they mean is that it suppresses the bacterium 'Pseudomonas' which can be nasty and above all, smells like old urine. It tickled me because their misspelling roughly means 'false name' which is wonderfully appropriate.]
When you get right down to it, when you look at it all from a distance, what do you have?
On one hand, you have religions which all state that everything was created out of nothing by a supreme being. On the other, you have science which states that everything was created out of nothing by itself. Then you have a big fight over time-scale but really the time-scale is of no real relevance to the basic argument. Where did it all come from, and why?
Religion (pretty much all of them) states that a god said ‘There’s nothing here, I’ll make a universe’ and bang, there it is. Science states that the universe was all in one ultra-dense point of matter and it went bang, and there it is. So far, no real argument. There was nothing and then there was an awful lot of stuff. How it came about is the only argument and it can never be proved either way.
Religion states that God is omnipresent. If God is outside the universe as he must be, since he wasn’t in the point of dense matter he set off, then he can see all of it. Science states that God isn’t there but can never find him even if he is, because he is outside the universe and we can’t even see all of the universe.
Further, if you were to build a time machine and set it to universe time zero, would you be able to go back and see what happened? No.
You and your machine are inside the universe. If you take it back to the time when the universe was a point of ultradense matter, when everything was just crushed into subatomic particles, then so would you be. Your machine would not let you see the Big Bang, it would put you inside it and smash you into quarks. You would have to get outside the universe before starting the machine and let’s be brutally honest here, neither science nor religion knows the way out.
[ Digression (yes again) Hmm... what if that happened? What if someone took a time machine back to the beginning of time and was pulped? That would explain why there was a skew between matter and antimatter when they should have both been created equally and mutually annihilated, and would lead to a wonderful story about how we created our own universe. File that one under 'mad ideas']
Neither can ever be proven, and neither can ever be disproven. Arguing about it is futile. It’s all belief and yes, the Big Bang might be based on numbers but it also relies on belief. All we really have is a tracking of the paths of galaxies back to one point which strongly suggests that the universe originated from a single ultradense point of matter.
All we are really arguing about is… who lit the fuse?
The whole 6000 years thing is of little interest. It’s not in the Bible which only starts with the rise of humanity on Earth and humans were not the first thing made, not even in the Bible. That number comes from the calculations of a mediaeval chap who added up the years of all the Bible folk and assumed Adam was counting years during the time he was in Eden – which had no seasons, no years to count and he was immortal at that time anyway. He could have been in there for millions of years. He only started to age after he was booted out. Outside Eden, dinosaurs could have come and gone, conveniently eradicated with a well-thrown asteroid before humans became their new ready meals.
Before the Earth, the Bible says nothing about the universe at all. Neither does any other religion. God could have spent millennia making stars and planets and galaxies before hitting on the idea of making a race of deranged idiots and seeing what they did. You realise, we could well be nothing more than the ultimate celestial sitcom? Perhaps when we die, we get a seat in the audience, but I already used that idea in a story so no digression here.
I do not edit or censor any argument on evolution vs. creation because I neither know nor care which is right. For me, the entire universe came into being just under 53 years ago and it was all put there to annoy me. As far as I know or care, it will all vanish when I die. Maybe I will have to face judgement by an authority I do not recognise as legitimate but hey, we have that here and now anyway. Maybe I will go to Hell but I doubt it, Satan isn’t smart enough to cope with the likes of me. I’d take over and he knows it. Heaven? That would be Hell because none of my friends will be there. Besides, I don’t like heights and even though I’m Welsh I can’t play the harp.
Yes, much of this is flippant and disrespectful but if you’ve been here more than a week you know what to expect. The thing is, why are so many people now fighting over things that really don’t matter? How old is the world? Who really gives a crap? What does it matter? 6000 years or infinity. Irrelevant. You have at most 120 years if you smoke and drink enough. You will not see evolution happen. You will not notice plate tectonics change the shape of continents. You might see the start or end of an ice age but you won’t see all of it and you won’t see it change back.
You have a short time to live. We are not giant sequoias, we are humans. Little beasties of no relevance to the planet. If some want to waste their time living other people’s lives instead of enjoying their own then I say let them. They lose in the end. They might accrue a lot of money but they’ll still die. What will they spend it all on then?
Don’t bother trying to persuade people to your way of thinking, whether it’s science or religion or anything else. If you are convinced you are right then that’s fine, just go with it and live to your own rules. Trying to force others to live by your rules is not just wrong, it’s immoral. And, dare I say it, evil.
We have a short time of life. I used to have a hamster called LHB (Little Hairy Bastard). He lived for three years which is good going for a hamster, especially since I didn’t know how old he was when I bought him. This little swine hated everyone and once took down a sheepdog who stuck his nose into the cage. LHB did handbrake turns in his hamster globe and ripped the flesh of everyone but me. He had a short life, as hamsters do, but dammit, he enjoyed every minute. Short is relative. Hamsters live a little time compared to us.
Compared to all these arguments covering thousands, millions, or billions of years, we have such a short time on Earth that we might as well not be here at all.
Do we really need to spend that short time fighting over northing?