It starts with nothing.

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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?

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33 thoughts on “It starts with nothing.

  1. …in the beginning the universe was all in one ultra-dense point of matter, perfectly balanced. Then some dude zapped in with his time machine and messed it all up.

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  2. XX what if that happened? What if someone took a time machine back to the beginning of time XX

    A time machine can’t go to a time before the machine was invented, because, logically, it would not have been invented, so it can’t exist.

    Foreward is possible (Well…..theoretically, in my view any way), because it has already been invented….see?

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  3. It is extremely hard to throw off the belief in a Supreme Being, especially if you are raised this way since birth as most of us have been. Me mum was a staunch Catholic and what cured me was I espcially enjoyed eating donuts and reading the Sunday paper after delivering the newspapers (a job I hated but did at her bidding) and I noticed the further you get away from religeon, the more you start to use your brain to figure things out. There are several species of humans here in southern California (Mosly goblin throwoffs) but I really enjoyed your column this evening. No evidence of evolution at work here either, let us know if you find any, I’ll migrate….

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    • Evolution in an individual. In the red dress photo she is holding what looks like a lump of liver. I hope that’s going into a frying pan with onions.

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  4. An excellent article well worth the reading and ending with proof timing is often deliberately funny which neither proves or disproves a conscious control of time. Republic have called in the administrators and here on this page there is an ad for… Republic.

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  5. Ever thought of writing screenplays, Mr. Iron? The reason the Scottish Play is supposed to be accompanied by theatrical disasters is because Mr. S. included (fragments of) some real spells. Now, there you are with your Grimoire and other stuff, writing real spells into your work. Interesting experiment, no?

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  6. LI, a lovely piece of philosophising to read first thing in the morning
    .Very thought provoking in a pleasant way.

    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

    Now I know why you drink so much whisky .

    I try to understand the principles behind such things and have studied them, however, I am very aware that if the right kind of mind reads such things unguarded,on the other side of the sigil the cogs may slowly begin to turn, and unfocussed energies not guided by will can go anywhere.
    A butterfly beats it’s wings?

    That said, I think fundamental truths can sometimes be found written in the pages of fiction. One phrase that hit me like a hammer many years ago is “Ritual takes the place of real need” which is why I have never since allowed myself the indulgence of Anger. : )

    On religion, I have spent far too long in the garden to have any vestiges of organised religion left. I think far too much and while the hands are busy with repetitive tasks, the mind is free to wander.

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    • XX That said, I think fundamental truths can sometimes be found written in the pages of fiction.XX

      Terry Pratchett, Granny Weatherwax, and the theory of headology, for example? Or “Small Gods”? :-) :-) :-)

      Says all you need to know about religion, really.

      “His theory of “Boots” is also spot on!

      Now, if dear Terry stood for Parliament he is one man that would be SURE to get my vote!!!

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      • Sorry, Just could not help.

        Again from Pratchett; Sam Vimes international diplomacy “Look pal, if your soldiers do not get their arses of MY patch PDQ, YOU personally are going home in an ambulance!” (Or words to that effect).

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      • DAMN! Now THAT would be an idea!

        Terry Pratchett as P.M, Leggy as health minister, any other takers?

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  7. For a nice appreciation of how magic might work, Charlie Stross in his “Laundry” series makes a good stab at it. Effectively, there are myriads of universes, and in a tiny proportion of these, there are strange, alien things that are listening very, very carefully. Most of these have a very hard time distinguishing between “Hello, we come in peace” and “Free buffet lunch, get it here!” and even fewer care; most are predators out looking for food. Magic consists of carefully manipulating such predators to make things happen, or mimicking other strange and peculiar behaviour in this universe.

    Below all of this is the underlying concept: DO NOT catch the attention of those greater than yourselves, as most of them don’t give a toss if they hurt you or not. This is a concept that a neighbourhood cat with a penchant for pissing in my back yard has yet to grasp, but enlightenment will surely follow here. There may even be vidoes. The same probably applies to gods; do not poke your Christian god with a pointy stick, or rattle his letterbox repeatedly, and especially don’t command his attention and whinge at him (which is what most Christian prayer boils down to; “We’ve been calling you lots of nice stuff, now do us a favour or we’ll keep on whinging at you”) or he might decide that the monkeys are too big a pain in the arse to keep alive. After all, we really don’t know what the dinosaurs said to him, do we?

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  8. Hi,LI,
    Just thought,but if the big bang is correct,there must be a massive void at the centre of the universe,and collisions such as those orchestrated in the LHC could not occur,(head on at twice the speed of light.) as everything should have been moving apart,or not.Andy M

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    • Ah but.
      The expansion isn’t necessarily uniform. The outer edge might be but inside that, things are whizzing about all over the place. Some might even bounce off the edge since nothing can leave.

      You have to get through at least a bottle to be able to think cosmologically. I should have been an astrophysicist, they must be permanently pissed.

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  9. Ahhh, what is ‘Truth’?

    The world, that we as an individual perceive, might not really exist.

    Due to optical and oral illusions, what we perceive as reality may not be what actually is there.

    We are hard-wired to fill in the blanks in a manner that is often at odds with fact.

    Not to mention that we are often presented info in a manner that is meant to deceive.

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    • This was Crowley’s basis. ‘reality is an illusion but it is an illusion that is difficult to get rid of’.

      Maybe nothing is real. Maybe we don’t go to Hell, maybe we are already here. There are endless possibilities and to deny them leads to a life of no fun at all.

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  10. “Trying to force others to live by your rules is not just wrong, it’s immoral. And, dare I say it, evil”

    That takes care of most politicians and the EU buro’s!!!!

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    • If they stuck to enforcing laws we want them to enforce such as no stabbing, no puking on my dog etc. that would be fine. They insist on making up laws we clearly don’t want, and that will eventually end them. As it always has in that history they avoid teaching in schools.

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  11. what further proof of evolution would you require?

    other than the fossil record, carbon dating, predictable, traceable lineage, dna etc

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    • I know and accept that there is a lot of research in the subject. It does not impinge on my own area so I have not studied it at all. That’s my point. I am not going to ‘accept’ it but I will regard I as real enough because it’s well documented even if I have no time to work through all the documents myself.

      Besides, evolution, plate tectonics etc do not disprove religion. They are easily assimilated. All it screws up is the silly insistence on 6000 years and that can be blown out of the water by an analysis of Genesis. There is a book in this if I can ever get it all in the right order.

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  12. misquoting Douglas Adams;
    “I refuse to prove I exist says God – for proof denies faith and without faith I am nothing.
    Ah but what about the babelfish? – that’s a dead giveaway says man.
    oh bugger I hadn’t thought of that says God and promptly vanishes in a cloud of logic.”

    There is no babelfish outside of Douglas’ books..
    Dawkins is not all knowing.He is wrong to say God doesn’t exist.He can’t possibly know that.
    I find it hard to be objective about God.People of my age and older had biblical horror stories presented as gospel truth and rammed into our heads when our brains were very gullible.That shit sticks like glue.
    If I see a man in trouble,do I help him because my brain is firing off empathic/sympathetic neurons,or am I currying favour with God to get through the pearly gates?I don’t know – maybe I’m just being selfish,trying to stop the sympathetic pain in my head,but I’m helping him anyway.
    I try not to bother God and He tries not to bother me.On the rare occasion that I say ‘oh God’ or ‘Jesus Christ’,I immediately turn my eyes to the skies and say sorry mate – If They exist,they have more important things to worry about than whatever minor problem is making a northern oik curse.
    It’s impossible to know what went on in the desert 2000 years ago.Anyone with the power and political need revised the bible to suit their own ends.It comes down to faith,which has nothing to do with scientific proof.

    Some reference should also be made to that hypothesis about the universe having a 20% chance of being a computer program..

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    • Watch ‘Constantine’. If you help others because you think it will get you brownie points, it doesn’t count.

      There was a theory that all life is a hologram projected from the skin of the outer edge of the universe. If there was truth in that, we have no free will because we are only reflecting what has been done many light years in the past! Now that is scary.

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  13. Although brought up in the Church of Scotland I long ago gave up on religion though I like to think I still observe some of the good aspects. I am a bit uncertain about life after death, since childhood I have always believed that something of us goes on but not Heaven and Hell, angels etc. I don’t really know why but when me husband died I had some very strange experiences shortly before his accident and in the weeks after that still has me wondering. About half an hour before it happened he suddenly decided to call his sister, they never got on and in 35 years he had never phoned her at New Year, almost as if he knew at some level. On the day of his funeral in January, the whole garden was dormant but then suddenly a single yellow rosebud bloomed, I still have the picture. I lasted for one month and no one had ever seen anything like it. I have no explanation for any of it and I guess it doesn’t really matter, if there is something it will be interesting if not, well I won’t know anything about it. Has anyone read an old, 1956, book by Arthur C Clark called Childhood’s End? I found it interesting, often thought it would make a good Speilberg film.

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  14. Did a fight break out on the other thread after I posted what I wanted to say last night? Dare I go back and look?

    I think the truth is that honest people like you, Leggy, admit you don’t know and as a result, don’t get all agitated. Then there are the “atheists” who get all agitated because there is a conflict going on inside them. They don’t want to believe (for whatever reason), but they can’t help but believe and this manifests itself in strange ways and they can become quite disturbed and illogical.

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    • One thing religion does is to alleviate the natural fear of death. Maybe that is what it is for, I don’t pretend to know.

      When you face an end of life that is a Dawkinite oblivion, that is scary and it’s no surprise that people get tetchy about it. You have your heaven for eternity, they have a blank nothing to look forward to.

      Me? I’m not going anywhere. I am going to be the poltergeist other poltergeists complain about. You’ll find me in Wastemonster, losing expenses forms.

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