X. What Religion Gets Wrong: (Part 1) Evolution

“Evolution is JUST a theory.”

This unfortunate statement has passed from the lips of believers time and time again. It’s such a simple sentence, and yet these 5 words in this particular combination have contributed to more ignorance about how the world works than I can even imagine. Let’s clear this up folks, once and for all.

From wikipedia.com:

The scientific definition of the word “theory” is different from the colloquial sense of the word. Colloquially or in the vernacular sense of the term, “theory” can refer to guesswork, a simple conjecture, an opinion, or a speculation that does not have to be based on facts and it need not be framed for making testable predictions. Scientific theories also contain speculation at first, but they develop over time and many are rejected as they are specifically crafted for the purpose or function of being testable. In this way, theories can be constructed using logic, models, or schemes for generating testable hypotheses with precision.

The “theory of evolution” is actually a network of theories that develop with the science over time. Since Darwin, evolution has developed into a well-supported body of interconnected statements that explains countless observations in the natural world. Evolutionary theories generate testable predictions about nature. Theories offer more general explanations of systems in nature than the hypotheses they generate, which are used to test specific instances or examples of the theory. Theoretical models are one of many kinds of scientific methods that can used to communicate accurate and precise depictions of systems, such as evolutionary systems, that are continually and repetitively investigated.

So the “theory of evolution” is a collection of hypotheses and models that have been proven to be true with the scientific method, modified with new evidence and capable of making accurate predictions time and time again. You would never say that the Theory of Gravity is “just a theory” or that Germ Theory is “just a guess” and should be taught to schoolchildren alongside ‘Plague Theory’ (which explains that people get sick not due to bacteria, viruses and other microbes, but rather by God’s wrath as punishment for wrongdoing, and that the appropriate cure is not medical attention, but prayer.)

Here is a fantastic video featuring Carl Sagan narrating the entire animated story of the evolution of life on earth, from the first cells all the way to modern humans, in 10 minutes:

What the Bible Says

I have chosen to discuss the main topics that religion gets wrong using the Holy Bible as a point of reference, not because I am trying to pick on Christianity, (remember, I believe that ALL religions are wrong and harmful), but because the Holy Bible is shared by the majority of the world’s religious believers. This process of looking at the data and analyzing the evidence can and should be applied to all of the world’s religions and holy texts, and I will most likely do just that in future posts after this series is concluded.

The Bible states quite plainly that God created the Heavens and the Earth, and that he did so in 6 days (with a well-deserved day of rest on the first Saturday). It goes on to say that he created all of the animals, as they exist in the forms we see today, all within a few days. It also describes how God created the first man, as he exists in the form we see today, (biblical scholars estimate this occurred anywhere around 6 to 12 thousand years ago, with some estimating slightly longer), and how the first woman was created from the rib bone of the first man. It would further have us believe that all the people of the world that ever existed descended from these 2 homo sapiens (this is called incest, which is forbidden elsewhere in the Bible). Then you have God killing off all of the world’s people in the Great Flood except for Noah and his family, who then repopulated the Earth. God apparently found mass murder and incest (once again) to be necessary. And perplexingly, if you look closely at the scriptures, the two different stories of Creation, told in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 respectively, contradict one another ever so slightly but ever so importantly. Interesting. And the story of the Tower of Babel explains to us, rather childishly (though quite colorfully), how the diversity in human language and culture came to be.

What the Evidence Says:

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Biological Evolution can be defined most simply and accurately as any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Charles Darwin was the first to formulate a compelling scientific argument in 1859 for a theory to explain the diversity of species of life on our planet. In his book “The Origin of Species”, Darwin described evolution by means of natural selection, the nonrandom process by which biological traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is this process, for instance, that led the tiny random mutation of a tail feather gene in a single male peacock that lived long ago to evolve large, colorful, showy plumage in an entire species over time, simply because he and his male offspring were more attractive to females. The subsequent offspring thus produced would have more of a genetic chance of having showy plumage, and thus more chance of passing it on to their offspring (this process in particular is called “sexual selection”). Over hundreds or even thousands of generations, the population eventually changes to the point that all of the surviving males express the genes for this plumage. This theory has grown to become one of the most well-supported and widely accepted ideas in all of science.

What Darwin Didn’t Know:  But Darwin did not know about genes, nor did anyone else know until the early part of the previous century, HOW evolution actually mechanically works: that changes in physical traits are caused by random mutations (tiny errors in the copying of genetic material), and that these mutations are passed from generation to generation through an organism’s DNA. This is the same process that resulted in all of the varying breeds of dogs, cats and livestock through selective breeding by humans, a process known as artificial selection (as opposed to natural selection), over a few thousand years. The only difference is that humans did the selecting of desired traits with these animals instead of nature, which is why it has caused such variation in such a relatively short time. It is this same process of evolution that allows us to formulate new flu vaccines every year, and precisely why we have to- because the viruses are constantly evolving through mutations. And just to clarify, “survival of the fittest” (a term adopted but not coined by Darwin,) does NOT mean and NEVER meant “survival of the strongest“, rather it means that organisms that develop random mutations that allow them to be more suited to living in their environment (the intentional meaning of the word “fit”) will be more likely to survive and thus pass on these mutated genes. Biological evolution is a beautiful merger of the random and non-random.

For The Record: It is also this understanding of evolution that has led us to be able to map the human genome, and the genomes of countless plants and animals in the world. This has led to new advances in medical technology and advanced understanding of how the natural world works, as well as the inner workings of our bodies and minds. It has also clearly shown us how we are literally related to every living creature on the Earth, including bacteria and plants, and shows once again that most likely all life on Earth descended from a single common ancestor. The evident pattern of this change over time is also clearly laid out, just as we would predict if evolution were true, in the fossil record of the Earth’s history. It is this fossil record, along with DNA mapping, that has also proven, without a doubt, that humans and current apes evolved from a common ape-like ancestor, and that the first of our species, homo sapiens, migrated out of Africa sometime around 100,000 years ago to explore and populate the globe.

Here is a great video illustrating evolution and addressing some common misconceptions:

Proponents of Intelligent Design (which makes the supernatural claim that evolution is guided by an intelligent being and not purely by natural selection, and is not accepted by the scientific community because it does not adhere to the strict rules of scientific methods, data analysis, and peer review) make the invalid argument that there are far too many “gaps” in the fossil record to use evolution as an explanation. This is just false. First of all, it ignores the fact that we are extremely lucky to have any kind of fossil record at all. As it turns out, fossils that can last for millions and millions of years are extremely difficult to make (imagine that). That’s why every living creature that dies does not become a fossil, and why scientists have to search hard to find fossils. Secondly, we have collected so many fossils at this point that there are remarkably few “gaps” left at all, and we are looking even now to complete the collection (the transition is blatantly obvious, regardless).

Our evolutionary history has been proven time and time again, and has been proven and accepted across all scientific fields, including geology, archeology, biology, history, economics, psychology, genetics, physics, chemistry and medicine. What evolution via natural selection does NOT explain, nor is it or was it ever intended to explain, is how life originated on Earth in the first place. Or how the Universe came into being. There ARE, however, evidence-based scientific theories available to explain those particular phenomenon, which I will describe in my next few posts.

If you are a believer in the Abrahamic faiths, then you either believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, which in this case has been proven to be wrong, and therefore cannot be the literal explanation of creation from God to his people, or you believe that the stories of creation are simply metaphor, written by “divinely inspired” human hands. And if either is true, if the Bible is not the literal word of God, edited, altered, added to and subtracted from as it has been through the ages, and if it has caused so much damage to humanity already, it begs the question: why would an intelligent person such as yourself ever bother wasting your time trying to design your life around it, when there are so many other sources of knowledge available that are far more useful, comprehensible and reliable?

Prev: Why Religion Sucks (2 of 2)         Next: What Religion Gets Wrong: The Universe

~ by christhehumanist on January 12, 2012.

16 Responses to “X. What Religion Gets Wrong: (Part 1) Evolution”

  1. So ….you do not believe in a higher power ….understood ….period.

    why do you feel the need for others to agree with you ?

    why are you trying to convince me that your view point is the right and unquestioning one?

    how is humanity bettered by your belief system?

    ( DO NOT tell me that your belief system is more humane and makes for
    a better world … history offers proof that this is a false assumption and that every belief system has its own brand of tyrants )

    what world changes would such a belief birth?

    you don’t know do you because it is all speculatiion … so you cannot prove your points any more than I can prove mine …..I think that is where the word “faith” comes into play….you have faith in yours and I have faith in mine………….so what?

    which brings up the question : “why would an intelligent person such as yourself bother wasting your time trying to design your life ” around a thing no one can “prove” to anyone elses satisfaction…..what is your bottom line?
    Your bottom line is where truth lives.

    Namaste
    Lois

    • Thank you again for commenting Lois. I feel the need to ask others, not to agree with ME, but to look critically at the evidence. You are obviously very wise about the world and know a great deal. But many people have never been told the things I am saying. I do believe I’m right, but I am a scientist and therefore must update my beliefs as new proven evidence comes to light. That is far from unquestioning and unquestionable. I ask questions and question my own beliefs every single day, which is more than most religious people.

      It has been shown undeniably that religion is dangerous. If we don’t stop trying to run our countries and our lives according to 2,000 year old documents from the Bronze Age of human history, we are going to kill each other. Many countries that have nukes are waiting for a sign from God to pull the trigger on us. If our government can, it will respond, and there you have the death rattle of the human species (and many more species on this planet, for that matter).

      I don’t want that. I am a Humanist, which means that I believe in the power of the human race to do the right thing and make a better world. You’re right, the few misguided power-hungry atheist regimes that have tried to establish rule over the people in the past have failed, because they did not know what we know now, and most, though not all, had the worst of intentions to begin with.

      Please make no mistake, Lois, although I may speculate somewhat (that’s why it’s called a prediction) as to the effectiveness of my ideas about the future, they are all, as I will show, based on evidence and reason, and that is why I am convinced that my argument is better than yours or anyone who tries in vain to derive knowledge by faith. Faith is believing in something WITHOUT evidence. Faith, in my opinion, is a horrible mistake.

      I will be going over the philosophies and beliefs that I propose could change the world for the better in depth in later posts. First, in the next 2 posts, I will continue showing how religion is wrong and dangerous, again, based on evidence, reason, and plain fact and not speculation, opinion, or faith.

      The bottom line is I’m trying to help save the world by ridding it of bad ideas and educating people about what we do know. And I do hope that my argument, by the time I am finished with it, WILL be satisfying to you and everyone else. I’m counting on it. Because if we can all get on the same page with this, we CAN change the world and ALL of our lives for the better.

      Have a great weekend,

      ~Chris

  2. You are a hoot !! ……..
    more later
    Lo

  3. THERE DO EXIST ENQUIRING MINDS, which long for the truth of the heart, seek it, strive to solve the problems set by life, try to penetrate to the essence of things and phenomena and to penetrate into themselves. If a man reasons and thinks soundly, no matter which path he follows in solving these problems, he must inevitably arrive back at himself, and begin with the solution of the problem of what he is himself and what his place is in the world around him. For without this knowledge, he will have no focal point in his search. Socrates’ words, “Know thyself” remain for all those who seek true knowledge and being.

    G. I. Gurdjieff

  4. “Man is not plagued by countless thousands of insurmountable problems as it certainly appears, but by one core problem from which all others radiate. The world appears dark and murky and unknowable, so we falsely assume it is dark and murky and unknowagle, and we live our lives based on that unfounded assumption. Not nowing any better, we muddle along as best we can, fumbling blindly, trying to interpret the shadows and make sense of the darkness. We have some scholars, poets, artists … all striving to help us to make sense of the world, but they haven’t come up with much and it’s pretty clear they’re not going to.

    We do what we’ve been doing forever and it results in the world we have at present; a world which is in no meaningful way an improvement over the world as it has ever been, because man himself is in no meangful way improved.

    But here’s the good part.

    Man’s potential is not dark and murky and unknowable; it is consciousness and it is infinite. We can reclaim the infinite dimension from which we are presently severed by ego, by fear. We can gain re-entry into that from which we have been cast out; garden, paradise, heaven on earth. Any and everyone can do this, or so the theory goes. It’s not reserved for the elite or the intelligent or the devout any more than sunlight is reserved for the wealthy or worthy. It doesn’t take years or decades or lifetimes. It is proven, documented, irrefutable, consistently reproducible science. It is easy, cheap, and here right now. And what it means is that no one, no matter their circumstances, no matter how high or low, how sick or well, how rich or poor, is ever more than an hour away from the more popular but non-abiding version of Spiritual Enlightenment which is

    God consciousness.

    …..”When we trace all problems back to their single source, we find that the world appears dark and murky and unknowable not because it is … but because the lens through which it is projected/perceived is filthy. The lens is self and filth is ego. Clean the lens and the world resolves into crystal clarity and darkness and murkiness are forgotten as if they never were. eliminate the lens altogether and you’re enlightened.”

    Jed McKenna

    “That is why any true and complete spiritual teaching can be full expressed in a few words; wipe the lens, think for yourself, open your eyes, know thyself, ask Who am I? All the world’s spiritual systems are dedicated to making the most of the least but why make the most of the darkness when we can just turn on the lights?” ( McKenna )

    a few words from my hero … Lois

  5. consider:

    “Zen is consciousness unstructured by particular form or particular system, a transcultural, transreligious, transformed consciousness.”

    Thomas Merton

    from Unci

  6. If the Big Bang Theroy is true Where did these so called particles come from. Can you explain the whale bones recently discovered well of the coast line? I can. The Great Flood.

    • Hey Josh, thank you so much for finding my blog and for taking the time to read and respond. As I have stated in this post, scientists don’t have all the answers, and it is perfectly normal for scientists to say, “We don’t know yet, but we’ll get back to you after we do more research.” There is a LOT to learn about our universe, and even now scientists are working hard to find the answers. In fact, many scientists through the ages have recognized that the advanced technology required to properly investigate their ideas will not even be developed in their lifetime, but they still pursue the methods that are available, in the promise of paving the road for future generations of explorers. There are several tentative explanations about how the Universe’s first particles arose, a few of which I will explore in a later blog post. Until then, I encourage you to research on your own, starting here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang .

      Regarding your question about marine fossils being found far from the ocean, this fact has been well documented and explored for hundreds of years. This occurs because the Earth’s seas and oceans are constantly advancing and receding in geologic time. This process occurs over millions of years, not 40 days and nights. Biblical Flood Geology has been proven wrong over and over, but again I encourage you to research on your own, starting here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flood_geology .

      I appreciate your questions and comments and find them very beneficial, because many people in the world have the very same concerns as you do. I am happy to aid you and anyone else in your personal search for Truth.

      Take care,
      ~Chris

  7. I appreciate the energy and research you are putting into your blog and the sincerity with which you are presenting your ideas. I can’t agree with most of your propositions and I wish I had a enough time and space to address each of them. But, I’ll just offer this as a response to your latest blog.

    First, let me say that, although I do not consider myself a scientist, I do find evolutionary theory to be a useful model for the mechanics of how life came to flourish on earth. It may well be the final answer. However, before evolutionary theory came about there were other models, and I have a feeling it will not be the last. Be that as it may, evolutionary theory is only one of several scientific disciplines, and I want to direct your thoughts to the question of science itself. And, I hope to show you that, even though you have been educated and informed by some powerful thinkers (Hitchens, et al), your polemic against religion in general and the Bible in particular based on your certitude that science disproves the Bible is misguided at best.

    So, what is science and why did humans invent it? Well, science is a collection of knowledge based on observation and experiment, and it was invented because humans are curious and they want to understand their world. So, humans invented rules by which they could try to satisfy their curiosity–rules such as objectivity, verifiable experiment, observation, and so forth–all in hopes that, in the process, they would come to a clear understanding of the nature of reality. However, the idea that science can satisfy human curiosity by being the final arbiter in the quest to define the nature of reality has a fatal flaw: science is limited to satisfying only one aspect of human curiosity. The rules of science have limited it to only answering fundamental mechanical questions about the how the world works. (How is used here as a category to include the other mechanical questions: what, when, and where, which is go say, process).

    But, humans are not only curious about the process or mechanical workings of the universe; humans are insatiably curious about why. (Why is used here to stand for the philosophical, the search for meaning. As such, it includes the other philosophical question, who, which implies mind and intellect). Because its rules (which are human inventions) inhibit it from seeking the answer to why, science can never completely satisfy all human curiosity. In fact, this fatal flaw throws science back on itself in an unending circular conundrum.

    Here is an example using evolutionary theory:

    It is true that human beings universally seek meaning for their existence as evidenced by the fact that religion is ubiquitous in every culture in the human race (for example, the Europeans who first came to the Americas discovered that all the natives had religious practices, some primitive and some highly developed as in the case of the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas). If it is legitimate to create a system to try and uncover the nature of reality (science) as to how the universe works, and if, as science posits, there is no answer to the question of why, that is, there is no reality to be discovered when it comes to the question of why, how is it that humans evolved to develop two curiosities: how and why if how is the only legitimate question? That is, why do humans ask why when there is no reality related to why? An analogy may be made using migratory birds as an example: Could migratory birds have developed an instinct for “South” if “South” did not exist? Why would they want to fly there if it was not there? Just so, how is it that humans developed a curiosity about a reality that does not exist? In other words, how did humans come to develop the God gene? Is it like wisdom teeth, a prehistoric relic from our distant past, or is it possible that there is a reality to which our curiosity about the nature of meaning points but that cannot be discovered by science?

    Perhaps this is a good time to take a different look at the first chapter of Genesis which you and the neo-atheists have disparaged as being so utterly upended by scientific discovery. Is it possible that the author of Genesis was not attempting to give us a scientific model of the world (which it couldn’t have done because science hadn’t yet been invented) but instead was trying to point us to that reality which our curiosity for meaning seeks?

    We don’t know exactly who wrote this first part of Genesis, but it is almost certain that he (or she) wrote it against the backdrop of Egyptian cosmology. After all, the Hebrew people had been (or were currently at the time of the writing of Genesis) slaves in Egypt. Egypt had a highly refined model for the universe: everything was imbued with a spiritual power. The sun was not a what; it was a who: Ra (the Greeks called him Apollo). The sky was not a what; it was a who: the goddess Nut. The Nile was a god. Crocodiles were gods. Everything had its own spiritual existence.

    Against this backdrop, against the most powerful culture in the ancient world, the Hebrew writer had the audacity to say that nothing in creation–neither the sun, moon, stars, fish, birds, animals, nor water or anything–has any spiritual power of itself. The universe is a unified whole. Everything is created. Nothing visible has any spiritual control over our lives. In fact, humans are made in the image of the Creator, and the Creator has given humans dominion over all creation. So, rather than having power over humans, humans have power over creation. And, this, my friend, was extremely liberating for a people who had been subject to a culture that believed that everything in the universe was to be feared and worshipped. In fact, the Genesis view of the nature of the world even makes science possible, because we could now view creation as existing for our benefit and we were now free to examine it objectively. After all, it is hard to dissect and study a god in biology class (the Egyptians even worshipped frogs).

    This was a radical view for 1500 B.C. It wan’t until Plato and Socrates that the Greeks began to come to the conclusion that the universe was a unified whole. The Greeks also concluded that it was held together by a singular voice, the Logos (or word) that gives coherence to all things. But, centuries earlier, long before Plato, Socrates, and Einstein, the Hebrews had already come to the conclusion that there was one Unifying Theory from which all things had emanated. But, theirs was not an attempt to explain how the universe came into being, rather why. That is, everything is not a spiritual reality, but there is a spiritual reality behind everything. And, that spiritual reality behind everything is why humans are curious.

    May the force be with you.–Yoda

    • Carson, thank you again so much for taking the time to read and comment. Again, I respect you, your education and your opinions to the utmost degree, and I am enjoying these dialogues very much.

      I am encouraged by the fact that you can talk about evolution as even being a plausible theory, much less most likely the correct one. You are clearly in the minority of the religious in America. According to a 2007 Gallup poll, about 43% of Americans believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” From this same poll, “Belief in creationism is inversely correlated to education; only 22% of those with post-graduate degrees believe in strict creationism.” This is why I believe that education, whether from institutions or blogs, is imperative.

      I agree that religion was a valid first attempt at explaining how the Universe works and why we are here. I am thankful for religious history, because it encouraged us to explore the world and provide standards on morality. We have moved past those first attempts, but they were necessary steps in the infant stages of our society. In some ways, I believe that the move to monotheism was a good thing, because after many people were unfortunately killed, this belief brought many different people together. I think in some ways, however, this move away from polytheism helped to usher in our detachment from the different spiritual aspects of the natural world. But in the end, I don’t believe that either view, whether it’s one God or many, is correct.

      You bring up an excellent point about the ever-important question of “why”. I will be addressing this in a future post. For now though, I would like to address your analogy about birds flying south. Scientists have done research showing that birds and butterflies and other migrating animals use the magnetic forces of the Earth’s poles and the angle of the sun to guide their way. Unlike God, these forces can be studied in the lab and verified. “South” wasn’t created, it was the result of many causal actions, such as the movement of electrons through the Earths’s mantle. Birds evolved to use these natural forces.

      The fact that we are able to ask the question of “why we are here” is not proof that there is a purpose. Just because we have the ability to wonder if the moon is made of cheese does not mean that it must be, nor is it proof that all celestial bodies are made in God’s kitchen from such ingredients. Further more, there simply does not need to be a spiritual reality for people to think about whether or not there is a spiritual reality. And the so-called “God Gene” is simply a tiny pump that emits monoamines, chemicals that are turned into feel-good chemicals, into your blood system. I can see how religion and ceremony was evolutionarily beneficial in some ways by increasing feelings of optimism and cohesion in groups by helping to stimulate meaningful spiritual experiences with this pump and similar bodily functions. But that is not proof that God exists. But again, I will go into this more later.

      May the force be with you as well.

  8. thank you Carson

  9. Thank you, Lois.

  10. Thank you Carson and Lois.

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