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Friday, May 27, 2005

How to use Religion to be Stupid

While riding Jamal hard through the sagebrush of the internet(s), I stumbled upon the Good News Magazine. Wow, I thought, this is cool. A good source for information. Then I saw how they were going to "prove" that DNA dispelled the theory of evolution and "proved" that some intelligent force was behind the existence of mankind.

Now, this sort of thinking has a long history. If you remember, Galileo was actually put on trial for stating that the earth was not the center of the universe. Not only was he put on trial, but his ideas were called, "absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical". The basis of this statement? "because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures."

I'm sure there is someone out there who honestly believes that the earth is flat, the heavens are a vault full of "minor lights" called stars that God put up there to amuse mankind and show his might, and that God pulls out his galactic knitting needles and fastens every cell of a baby together in the womb individually. There are also people who think Hitler was a wonderful person, that the moon-landing was faked, and that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Not only that, but when I was seven, I actually believed the Devil had a pitchfork and would stab me in the butt a hundred times for every bad thing I ever did.

Well, I'm not seven anymore. Nor do I think like a seven year old anymore. I know the world is round, it revolves on its axis, it travels around the sun and the stars are always out there, but the sun is too bright for me to see them in the daytime. I also know that Hitler was a horrible person, there really are astronauts, and the only weapon of mass destruction in Iraq is the US Army. As far as the Devil is concerned, I'm sure he has better things to do than keep track of my failings.

I also know that no amount of investigation into DNA is going to prove that evolution cannot and has not happened. Why? Because it does, it did, and it will continue to happen. The only reason there is a debate at all is that, like the Church in Galileo's time, some people refuse to accept any evidence that threatens their conception of God. After all, the Bible says God created everything - what more proof does a believer need?

Plenty. Any faith that asks someone to turn off their God-given ability to think logically is, in my definition, a cult of stupidity. Stupidity does not make one more faithful, it makes one less so. One simply cannot deny reality as a way of being more faithful. You cannot deny your way into heaven.

I already posted about the idiocy of claiming that "evolution is just a theory". Another argument used to knock at evolution is that "it's never been seen". Actually, it has been seen. It has even been seen in both the laboratory and in natural observation.

Understand that the single step of evolution is the point where the descendants of a particular organism are no longer able to breed with their predecessors. This leads people to think there is somehow an abrupt change in biology between parent and child that precludes reproduction. That's just wrong thinking. Think of it this way: The female of a species gives birth to daughter that stands immediately to her left and proceeds to give birth to another daughter, who stands to her immediate left and does the same. Repeat this process until the last descendant is standing to the right of the original parent and chances are very likely that they will be biologically of a different species. This not only can happen, but does happen and is happening at this very moment. The concept is called a "ring species" and this article gives several examples.

Let's look at the example of the greenish warbler - a bird found in both western Siberia and in eastern Siberia. They are two distinct species and where there is a direct overlap of their territory, they do not interbreed. Yet, as you trace their presence back through the Tibetan Plateau, you find that these two species actually become more and more similar until they are actually exactly the same.

If you trace forwards from Tibet, you get the opposite effect - one species actually changes into two species that do not interbreed. Enough genetic differentiation exists between the species in Siberia that they are actually genetically unable to reproduce with each other. That, my friends, is evolution. It doesn't happen in one large step, but in many very small steps without ever clearly defining where the actual change has taken place. At the end, however, there has been a change.

That is undeniable. It is simply the truth. Guess what? It's never spoken of in the Bible. Big surprise - neither is electricity or nuclear energy or x-rays or practically none of what we consider to be essential to modern life.

You can claim that God is behind evolution - I have no problem with that idea. However, you simply cannot say that evolution does not take place. Nor can you say that God is actively steering evolution - there is neither scientific evidence of that nor mention of it in any scripture. Religion is a poor substitute for reality and much evil has been committed when it is forced to be one.

I would caution against someone claiming "God can be found in DNA". What happens to that belief if DNA is actually revealed to be easily explainable through scientific reason in the next hundred years? Has your God shrunken into nothing because you boxed him in with science? If so, you don't worship a God, but simply the unknown. That is why I won't say that "this type of high-level information has been found to originate only from an intelligent source". Tomorrow, scientists may actually find something upon which DNA is built and a theology that has to be re-built after every scientific discovery is too wishy-washy to build any sort of faith.

I do believe that God's WORK can be seen in DNA. It amazes me that all of the incredible variation of life can spring from such a tiny building block. The fact that something so small and simple and unchanging can result in life that is so vibrant, diverse, and constantly evolving is miraculous to me. If someone finds some sub-DNA, I'll marvel all the more.

I am perfectly content to let science wrestle with and discover the how and when and what of life. I'm even content to let science discover the mechanics of these questions. That is the purpose of science. In the realm of why and how and what to do with that world that I am given, I will turn towards my faith. That is the purpose of religion. Science can tell us how we got here, let religion tell us what to do now that we are.

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