The Skeptic's Guide to The Universe

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chapter Three; EVOLUTION AND RELIGION part ten

While many reasonable adherents do , to one level or another, believe in evolution. Why should evolution have any bearing on religion one way or the other? Some of these levels of belief range from belief in “micro-evolution” to accepting most of the concepts and ideas of cosmological and biological evolution, in view of an absent watchmaker. So, what scientific reason can evolution have with such a seemingly strong opposing view against it? After all, in March 2009, a Pontifical University on science recently said that evolution is compatible with the beliefs of The Catholic Church. [It only took them 150 years to believe this premise of biological science. Galileo Galilei had to wait 400 years for his statement that the Sun was at the center of the solar system to be accepted as fact.] The Catholic Church still has some issue with the point in evolution where God inserted the human soul. [How many problems are there with that statement?] I guess at that point we became people and prior to that we were just, well, humans without a soul.
The basic view is that with religion being a reality in life on Earth, it must be viewed through what purpose it serves evolutionarily. Since evolution is the basis of how life came to be , as we know it. I am not referring to abiogenesis. That is a different subject all together. I am referring to after life began, evolutionary processes through natural selection. So religion must fill a natural biological reason evolutionarily. The amino acids and RNA and DNA sequences duplicating themselves came through time and after billions of years, invented religion for some reason.
According to Darwin, natural selection drives species to adapt to best fit into their environments , according to natural factors that govern the needs of the species to reproduce, have food and water, and to avoid being a meal for other forms of life. These basic life needs drive the natural tendency to adapt. If a mammal needs to develop better hearing and flight in order to be able to meet their need to catch abundant amounts of flying incests. The process of natural selection will allow the best fit variations in the species in with this adaptation to survive and reproduce. The result with natural selection was to adapt the species to best fulfill it's biological needs. Eventually, bats came about.
Some Christians see this in what is called “micro-evolution” , as dogs and cats are bred into different breeds. Peppered moths and birds develop different adaptations as they live in areas where the environment puts pressure on the species to adapt. These changes can been seen in just a few decades. So, the concept of evolution is not a foreign one for religious adherents to a young Earth. Typically they say, “evolution is going on now that God has set up the Earth, but it is not how life became so diverse. There was a designer.” This statement is like getting all numbers of the lottery, but on the wrong date. Close, but no cigar. I would encourage the young Earthers, or as Richard Dawkins calls them, the history deniers, from appendix of Dawkins' book The Greatest Show on Earth The Evidence for Evolution.
With that said, what does evolution have to do with religion? Nothing. That is exactly the point. How can natural selection, the driving force of how living organisms behave and adapt let something as seemingly bizarre as religion occur? There has to be a biological answer. Religion is a result of natural selection. As much as I hate to admit it, religion must have filled a biological need in Homo sapians.
After all, the dance and song of particular birds and behavior of herds of all types of mammals serve a purpose all the way from bees and penguins and all sorts of animal and plants. Plus, the adaptation of plants serve a purpose biologically in their native environments. So what is the purpose of the naturally occurring concept of religion? One simple answer is that natural selection has no will. It doesn't act to reach a certain goal. There is no finished product that is produced with natural selection. There are just results of the process. Human beings are one of the millions of results of the process. It would be valid to say that the presence of religion in humans is a genetic mutation. Not a mutation of individual species but of the societal behavior of Homo sapians. Is religion a disease then? I guess no more than any other group behavior of other animals. The migration patterns of birds the unexplained and intentional beaching of whales and other bizarre behavior that goes on in nature.

The Eastern New Mexico University has a museum with this diorama of the strata where different human artifacts and ancient North American megafauna once lived and were hunted by the Clovis, Folsom and other Paleo-American people as far as 13,500 years ago. If man is looking for a purpose for life, he has been looking for a great deal of time indeed. Animals painted on the wall are not to scale as the cut out of the paleo-American human. [This is a composite photo.]

As a person that has spent much time and money in religion, I have some answers that fall in line with ideas from other skeptics, sociologists and scientists on this topic. I have heard many lecturers and read many articles on these topics over the years.

1. Humans, like other primates, are social animals and coordination of activities help the group overall to form bonds for safety, food and desirable pools for reproduction. Persons that are able to lead, influence or mobilize a group are able to exert their will and power over the desires of the sub-members of the group.
2. Organizing and mobilizing a group can help all members reach goals that advance the scope and influence of the member group with non-member groups. EX: Just being an American has certain meaning to people around the world regardless of the actions you personally have taken.
3. A group in control of a sub-group can provide support or subjugate that group according to the will of the controlling group. (Or if they have institutionalized their will in a dogma or laws, they can act upon that will. EX: Puerto Ricans benefit from their relationship with the United States though they are not in a state itself.

If a group can control the natural human desires for sex, food, clothing and socialization, the followers will adhere to the group's will in order to get their natural biological needs fulfilled or, at least, to have some social standing within the mores of the group.
What do the followers of this system of action get for their willing or unwillingness of adherence? After all, they must be getting something in return.

1. People following the will of the leader or the institutionalized will of the group will have a social organization to accommodate their need for sex and food. (Not so much in modern developed areas, but in the smaller ancient populations, having access to food and water was vitally important.)
2. Sharing a set of beliefs can aid in the cohesiveness and uniformity of a given societal group. [Group one is better than group two.]
3. The group can be mobilized to work on projects that benefit the common good. [Group one is going to build a wall for protection.]
4. The group can also be used to aid in defense and war of the said group. [Group two is going to attack group one for building a wall.]
5. Can provide for members of the sub group to move up in the society. [John Doe in group two has a way to tear down walls really fast. He is rewarded.]

With my above points, it can be said that the evolutionary purpose of religion can be derived from humans being social animals, working together for a mutual benefit. From there, it all breaks down. Oddly enough, one of the results of natural selection is to actually reject natural selection as a reality and put a supernatural story in its place. After we have spent millions of years through hardships and catastrophe, we reach a point of sentience and decide that it was all so easy and give something else all the credit. It is much easier to make up a story that fits the facts than actually discover what the cause of the event really was. It seems like most answers, though, are ones where the deity was angry. Earthquakes, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, floods, drought, sickness, snowstorms, accidents and other naturally occurring themes leave mankind wanting answers. Religions create answers that seem to fit these events, to give the follows peace and trust in a divine order. A created story, that fits the events, seems to offer more comfort to adherents than the idea of, “We don't know.” The placement of certainty where doubt once was is one of the strongest motivations for a religion to form and for followers to believe in it. Not knowing tends to bring fear and misguided actions. But when you can have a story that answers the questions of “why” then you can dispel fear and take actions based upon your beliefs of how the world is.
These stories surely were around well before any religion came into a structure. At least religion in any sense of how we view it Today. Bu just as a child learns stories as it grows, it can be hard for a child to know if what stories adults say are true or false. Stories about the world around us surely came about early after humans began using language. Children are naturally designed to accept what they are told so stories are not questioned. There is the story the the day fire was discovered that night was the first bar-b-que. I would say that after the bar-b-que was the first tale tale. Of course this is just a funny analogy and not anything factual but it does point out that when people get together stories will be told and talking over meals is a natural as any behavior humans seem to display.
Here is Homo sapien with this big brain, really getting along nicely in this world they are living in. “Suddenly” you have more time than needed to keep your basic needs. While sitting at the fire, near the back of the hut or cave, a man or woman that is good at imagining things that have not occurred, tells a fantastic story. The thrilled listeners are amazed by the images this person can create with mere words. The story teller acquires an honored place in the group. The stories are passed down and build over time. One group has an identity that other groups do not and soon tribal bonds are made and divisions are formed based upon group identification.
This story telling leads to the ability of a person to lie, but it also allows the seemingly less dubious ability of creating stories. Telling stories leads people to believe the stories are true. Step by step, a religion is created, all based upon a seemingly innocent activity of an imaginative story teller.

ne of the more recent imaginative stories I heard recently was at a debate between a creationist, Dr. Charles Jackson and Abby Smith, a Phd candidate researcher at The University of Oklahoma, in Yukon, OK. The creationist, Dr. Charles Jackson, was giving evidence for a worldwide deluge.
. He showed a power point slide that had a picture of continental North America with four arrows drawn across the continent from northeast to southwest. This was the visual example, to indicate his statement that the flood of the Bible was the force that created the Grand Canyon in just a few days, but let's give him several months, as it all happened about 4,000 years ago. Even giving the creationist the latitude, that there was a worldwide flood, there is no evidence that it formed the Grand Canyon or any other geological structure. The geology of the United States wouldn't allow for accumulation and diversion of so much water across the continental United States. Several “minor” inhibitors to the idea include the presence of the Appalachian Mountains, which run north to south along the eastern part of the United States. There is the massive Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi river valleys that make up a huge obstacle for water to flow East to West across the United States. Then, there is the problem of the Rocky Mountains. They clearly extend hundreds of miles east of the Grand Canyon, and include major geological area, such as: The Great Sand Dunes in San Luis Valley in Colorado and The White Sands National Monument in Southern New Mexico. These geological anomalies have been in place for hundreds of thousands of years, well in advance of the time tables set forth by the Diluvian adherents. Not to mention artifacts found in the Blackwater Draw archaeological site near Portales, New Mexico, that date back from 9,000 to 13,500 years ago. Then, after having to deal with all those natural geological formations continent-wide, no amount of water would be able to be diverted in the Colorado River Valley, that could cause the creation of the Grand Canyon in just a few months. The geologic strata shows the levels of erosion and the path of the river can be traced just like following a maze backward, from end to beginning. The conclusion is this, the natural geologic answers that are present in the Earth answer the questions about the formation of The Grand Canyon without the need to place a worldwide flood somewhere in the recent past. There are clear and discernible geologic clues as to what cased many of the features on the planet and not one is dependent on a supernatural intervention.
According to the book Evolution and Creationism, author Ben Sonder cites a paper printed in the creationist "peer" reviewed "science" journal Creation Research Society Quarterly, which spends most of it's space rehashing why evolution doesn't work, according to many disproved creationist's techniques than actually producing original first hand research based upon any models of their creation science. Sonder referred to a paper by Glen W. Wolfrom titled, “The 1993 Midwest Floods.” During this time, I was attending Kansas State University. Needless to say, I found this flooding event to be quite interesting and spent much time before, during and after the flooding, in the area. While the man-made dams and spillways did hold back much energy in the water, it was not an event of great geologic significance. But, Sonder vis-a-vis Wolfrom says: [xv]

The Midwest flood proved that erosion of the earth and rock can occur very rapidly. He cited several locations where large quantities of rushing water from Midwest floods had carved deep ruts in the Earth in a matter of days and deposited several layers of mud and silt.”

While Wolform is correct about the fast formation of the canyon,ii which I called Wildcat Canyon in honor of my University's mascot, his conclusion of this flood and geological event pointing to the cause of formation of the Grand Canyon , misses the scale and scope of the 288 mile Grand Canyon. The area effected by the most dramatic release of water was just about a mile in total. This dramatic damage did not take the few days as Wolform says but it took more than 40 years of work from the Corps of Engineers. The Corps began constructing the dam in the 1950s after periodic floods stuck Manhattan, Kansas and other downstream areas about every 20 years, or so. To help protect property downstream, the Corps created Tuttle Creek Lake and let the area behind the dam be flooded as a flood control lake. The first time the spillway gate had water reach them was in the 1970s. But the Corps didn't have to open the spillway to release the water. It went down naturally.
In 1993, Iowa was getting flooded . As the winter and spring rains continued, flooding occurred further upstream. Finally, the Army Corps of Engineers had the gates shut to help with the land downstream of Tuttle Creek Lake. The other upstream lakes filled up as well. Milford Lake, which is mentioned in the paper by Wolford, reached its spillway. It broke open, as it was designed to do. Milford Lake doesn't have a spillway with a gate. Then when Tuttle Creek Dam held back enough water for some levels to go down, the floodgates were opened and the water flowed out as it had been designed to do by the Army Corp of Engineers, about 40 years earlier. This was not a several day design to remove the geological structures in Tuttle Creek spillway. It had been designed more than 40 years earlier to do exactly what it did. It just took 40 plus years for the water to get that high. After it did, the water flowed into a river and lake area downstream, with the force of the water dissipating greatly in an area that became flooded downstream.
I am not familiar with Wolform's area of study as far as how he obtained his degree , but mine was in journalism. I am more of an observer of what is happening around me. So, when I drive around the country and see that the Continental Divide separates the water shed of the American continent between the Pacific and the Atlantic, I tend to look for clues of that.
One of the most obvious clues are prior to reaching that point. For the most part, I was going higher in elevation. After that, I was going down. Also, to the east in Great Plains, the drainage of the soil indicates a consistent erosion in the direction of the Mississippi. The Ozark, Wichita and Arbuckle Mountains That are running mostly east and west along the southern part of The United States are in conformity with the continual predictable erosion of the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains. Not to mention the numerous other geological features to bountiful to mention.
The southern half of Texas is a low lying plain that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. That plain is made of the continual drainage of dirt, rocks and soil from the higher elevations. If there were a great deluge that cause total global upheaval , then once it began to subside and cause the water to drain trans-continentally, the result could only be the Gulf of California would be much larger and the Gulf of Mexico would be much smaller. The Rocky Mountains would have to be a lower elevation than the Appalachian Mountains and the great plains should be evenly covered in a geologic depression, with the drainage ending in the Gulf of California. We see no evidence of this claim as Jackson presented.
With Dr. Charles Jackson's assertion that the Grand Canyon was formed after a 40 day planet wide deluge, the evidence from continental geology and personally observed flooding do not bear out his statement. Observation and inquiry can be a good guide to figure out the many things in nature. Often young “earthers” will try to use the similar stories of ancient floods in cultures all over the world to support the idea of the world wide deluge.
The train of thought seems to go this way. Look at the [insert remote ancient culture here] and in their history it talks about the world being destroyed in a flood and only a few people survived to start the whole world afterward. Oddly enough, all places on Earth with land are subjected to floods. Periodically, these places experience great floods. In addition, most of the time in human habitation, people would set up encampments and towns and villages in lower ares due to the presence of water and better hunting. Plus, it is much easier to walk on level areas than rocky and hilly areas. The river beds formed natural “roads” that are often still used to this day.
There are academic investigations on this subject and they deal more in depth with the processes over the period of geologic time and how flood control dams work. Again, I am touching on the application of the information I have learned and observed first hand. But I can say from personal investigation, that rocks are, for the most part, hardened sand and dirt. I’ve been to areas such as the Great Sand Dunes, White Sands National Monument and the Blackwater Draw National Archaeological Site, to the rock strata in the Lincoln National Forest to The Flint Hills, and many other mountains, valleys, caves, deserts, jungles, forest, plains, oceans, lakes and rivers I have seen over the years. It seems as simple as step one, two, three. The processes of rock formation take a lot of time and luck to happen. Not counting the formation of volcanic rock and glass, most rock takes thousands of years to form. For the evidence of this to be “in reality” only 6000 to 10,000 years old as the 'history deniers' would contend, would mean that the nature of the Universe we live in is totally a lie, and nothing that we encounter can be reliability tested. If you find a rock, well the same indescribable powers that formed the rock in 6,000 years should be able to turn it into a diamond or something else more valuable, assuming you can just tap into the “intelligence” that designed the apparent fraud of a World we must live in. Just pray for that supernatural fraudster to grant your wish. While you're at it, have that supernatural force turn your feces into gold with a prayer or two as well. Both ideas are equally valid.
[xv] Evolution and Creationism ©1999 Grolier Press p. 56

Coming next time GOD IN CHAOS: Chapter Four SOME THOUGHTS FROM THE GOD DELUSION part eleven

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Chapter Three; LOOKING DEEPER part eight & STILL SMALL VOICE part nine

While I was in the Army, stationed in The Republic of Panama, I started getting involved with hermeneutics. I was stationed there for 15 months and had a lot of free time to fill. I studied using The Amplified Bible that was given to me as a gift from a good friend of mine, in addition to other study books. Here is a quote from the web site of The Amplified Bible about why it was made; “It attempts to take both word meaning and context into account in order to accurately translate the original text from one language into another.”i
There were questions raised in my study of the Bible that I found out other people had written about. No one can walk into a Christian bookstore or any book store and find Bibles full of pictures of ancients places in the Mid East with the captions indicating the facts of scripture instead of the reality of archeology. I do, indeed, concede that there are many biblical archaeological sites. But none of these on there own merit indicate anything supernatural. There are numerous other books that will help put all the pieces in place for the devout believer, wishing to find the truth. I wish I could set down in this book the path to lead someone to reason and peace in their own life, apart from religion. But, just as each path to “God” is unique, the path leading out is also unique for each man and woman. I hope that this will at least show the path is out there and is worth finding. Sometimes it requires you to get deeper into your faith before you can come out. A short browse over the Christian literature will give you many options. One of the more popular of these questions are Lee Strobel's versions from his book, A Case For Christ:ii

Is there credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God?
How reliable is the New Testament?
Does evidence for Jesus exist outside the Bible?
Is there any reason to believe the resurrection was an actual event?

I am not going to deal with answering his questions one by one here, in depth. I will leave that for a later time. Besides, it would be something good for a person that wishes to research on there own to do. This way you can see the questions and find the answers yourself, without my or Strobel's influence. I will just briefly give my point of view to his questions and leave the in depth response to a later time.
I will though give my replies to these questions. These questions lead me to find facts about the story of Jesus that I had not learned in my Bible studies nor heard in church or Sunday school. The most important thing I think an atheist can tell an adherent to do about their religion is to STUDY it. Study the secular and church history origins. Study the dissidents of the religion and why they disagreed. Study the relationship to the church to other faiths that were around before their religion was established. Study the history and culture of the source of the religion. Above all, be willing to accept what their research reveals to them. Reading Strobel's book was really the first time I had addressed these issue and it came in valuable to me when I was later in Saudi Arabia and talking to the imams that were trying to convert us to Islam.
If most Christians were to honestly study their religion in depth, and all the other adherents to religions were to study their faith as well, then I would conclude that most would have to say they do not believe the supernatural aspect of them anymore. This may be why so many colleges begin as bible colleges or seminaries, but end up being a more expansive liberal arts and science school. It is also why many followers of a faith loose their fervor as they find more about the facts. Some people may find this “loss” to be an incredible price to pay for finding the truth. But would could make one more peaceful or content than to know how things really work and to behave accordingly.
Reading Strobel's book started an actual religious education. I had read about it and wanted to read the book prior to a visit that I was going to have with my Dad in a few months. I wanted to be able to talk to him about the reality of Jesus and help him to see that what I believed was based upon facts not emotional faith. One that made sense to me within the culture and context of the places the words originated in. This information is not hidden from the general public. It is just a matter of searching for it and reading the sources.
To answer each of Strobel's Questions for myself:
Question One: Is there credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God? No, none that is reliable, that I can think of. Several additional pagan Christs include Krishna, Osiris, Alexander The Great, Mithra, Adonis, Attis of Phrygia, Quetzalcoatl are among a few of the ancient names that have many similar life stories as Jesus, including things like a virgin birth; temptation in the desert; killed on a cross or tree; had twelve disciples; rose again from the dead, and several of the familiar ideas that are incorporated into the Jesus story. All of these predate the Jesus stories by many decades if not centuries.
Question Two: How reliable is the New Testament? This is a question dealing with the organization and the authorship of each of the sections of the New Testament. Each of the sections that are and are not part of the cannon of the New Testament. Some rely on stories of general ethics and morality. As the different movements of the Jesus Christ story began to grow, they all moved to get their particular version established as the legitimate stories. But gone are the books and stories that supported the view of the gnostics and other early churches. The fight to have one book or story included in the cannon was going on until the rudimentary edition that is mostly known today as the New Testament. Again many of these stories predate the time in which they are suppose to represent in their “corrected” text. Some researchers have actually said that it was Paul started the Christian faith and gathered other stories and people that would support his idea of a risen savior.
One would think that the most important text to be written in the history of the human race would be much more reliably written than what has happened with the New Testament. The oldest versions are scraps and the collection of the books that make up the New Testament didn't come together until AD325. So no one really even noticed Jesus outside his family and friends until he was about to be killed or the actions of his followers. No one outside his followers ever saw anything supernatural happen. Yet the stories of Jesus are very lacking in there cohesiveness and completeness. Given the time that the followers had prior to Jesus being killed, you would think that a few older manuscripts would have been made. I do bear in mind that the volume of copies of the text is not validity of the subject matter in it.
Question Three: Does evidence for Jesus exist outside the Bible? There are certainly a lot of books written about Jesus of Nazareth. To this, I cannot deny. But the question is not, “Do books written about Jesus support his existence?”, now is it? However that is how it tries to support itself that the volume of books are an indication of fact. There are two common extra biblical sources for Jesus existence. Theses two are the works of Josephus and Pliny the Younger. These two accounts address the stories of followers of one called Christ and deal very little on the evidence of this person. The reference in Josephus is viewed by historians and scholars as an injected text to the works of Josephus and the second reference is just a passing reference to James, "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ." The conclusion I reached, based upon additional evidence as well, was that there was more proof for the existence of Santa Claus than there was for Jesus. So at best I see a man that may have lived and been a good and moral teacher but by no means exhibited the powers that were later on ascribed to him later by his followers.
Question Four: Is there any reason to believe the resurrection was an actual event? It is a fact that crucifixions were very much an actual event. And they were used as capital punishment for crimes against the Roman Government and other governments since then. So it is quite possible that a 1st Century itinerant rabbi may have been picked to be crucified for his teachings if found to be subversive to the Roman Authority or to the Jewish religion, via the Roman Authorities. But what the question asks is if the resurrection real? Well, there really is no evidence for that outside the Bible. No human in recorded history has ever been dead two or three days then came back to life for an additional score of days just to vanish in a cloud. Or vanish in any other method as well.
The Arabs and Jews have contended from the very beginning of when the story was being told that Jesus wasn't crucified but he either got someone else to take his place or that he escaped at some time. But addressing Strolbel's question, No, there really is no good reason to believe that the resurrection was an actual event in human history.
I have read Strobel's book and found it to be very juvenile in dealing with what he would consider facts. Many of the confirmations that he uses are filled with logical fallacies and circular reasoning. He fails to take in consideration any actual opposition to the views he wishes to question. The questions themselves are good ones to begin with. But the questions only get you to the starting line. You must use your mind to find answers that you may not agree with. , there is really no reason to ask the questions to begin with.



To many people, if somewhere in the back of your mind you think that a god is real , then when a time of need or stress such as death or illness or job loss happen or the wholesale presentation of a religious dogma is presented, you are more likely to believe and follow that belief. The initial belief doesn't have to be a structured belief or a strongly held belief, just a vague concept of a God. However, if you think that we are just here for a short time [1 lifetime], one is more likely to try to improve the condition of humanity for ourselves and our posterity. Mutual goals and cooperation serve the needs of humanity and promote a higher quality of life. I see this behavior as the ongoing evolution of man. I can only imagine what we could have achieved if we worked for the common good instead of the suppression of ideas and the subjugation of other people.
I am sure there are many other stories like mine. Who knows , maybe the only place Bible stories will be told in the future are in kindergarten classes, where the little kids can be thrilled by the imagery, but the adults will not subject them to living to its horrible morals, traditions and dogma. On that day The Bible will find itself as a great work of mythology along many others, such as The Iliad and The Odyssey we have Today, that once were used in religion. To be honest, I see nothing wrong with old religions. They make for good movies and entertainment.

[Next posting: GOD IN CHAOS: Chapter Three; EVOLUTION AND RELIGION part ten]