Monday, August 15, 2005

God vs. Nothing, Part V: A Life with No Purpose

Speaking of the U.K., Guardian Unlimited columnist George Monbiot waxes eloquent and poetic and how wonderful it is to be an atheist in A life with no purpose.
Darwinism implies that the only eternal life we have is in the recycling of our atoms. I find that comforting.

All is not lost in America. When George Bush came out a couple of weeks ago in favour of teaching "intelligent design" - the new manifestation of creationism - the press gave him a tremendous kicking. The Christian Taliban have not yet won.

I hadn't heard the Christian Taliban one in a while. More ...
But they are gaining on us. So far there have been legislative attempts in 13 states to have intelligent design added to the school curriculum. In Kansas, Texas and Philadelphia, it already has a foot in the door. In April a new "museum of earth history" opened in Arkansas, which instructs visitors that "dinosaurs and humans did coexist", and that juvenile dinosaurs, though God forgot to mention it, hitched a ride on Noah's Ark. Similar museums are being built in Texas and Kentucky. Some 45% of Americans, according to a Gallup poll last year, believe that "human beings did not evolve, but instead were created by God ... essentially in their current form about 10,000 years ago".

... More ...
Darwinian evolution tells us that we are incipient compost: assemblages of complex molecules that - for no greater purpose than to secure sources of energy against competing claims - have developed the ability to speculate. After a few score years, the molecules disaggregate and return whence they came. Period.

As a gardener and ecologist, I find this oddly comforting. I like the idea of literal reincarnation: that the molecules of which I am composed will, once I have rotted, be incorporated into other organisms. Bits of me will be pushing through the growing tips of trees, will creep over them as caterpillars, will hunt those caterpillars as birds. When I die, I'd like to be buried in a fashion which ensures that no part of me is wasted. Then I can claim to have been of some use after all.

"Oddly comforting" ... ? Well, it's certainly odd. Seriously, this sounds like so much whistling through the graveyard. More ...
The controversy fascinates me, partly because of its similarity to the dispute about climate change. Like the climate-change deniers, advocates of intelligent design cherry-pick the data that appears to support their case. They ask for evidence, then ignore it when it's presented to them. They invoke a conspiracy to explain the scientific consensus, and are unembarrassed by their own scientific illiteracy. In an article published in the American Chronicle on Friday, the journalist Thomas Dawson asserted that "all of the vertebrate groups, from fish to mammals, appear [in the fossil record] at one time", and that if evolution "were true, there would be animal-life fossils of particular animals without vision and others with varying degrees of eye development ... Such fossils do not exist". (The first fish and the first mammals are in fact separated by some 300m years, and the fossil record has more eyes, in all stages of development, than the CIA)

But it also fascinates me because natural selection is such a barren field for the fundamentalists to till. For 146 years Darwinian evolution has seen off all comers. There is a massive accumulation of evidence - from the fossil record, to genetics, to direct observation - that appears to support it. Were they to concentrate instead on the questions now assailing big bang theory, or on the failure so far to reconcile gravity with quantum physics, or on the stubborn non-appearance of the Higgs boson and the abiding mystery of the phenomenon of mass, the Christian conservatives would be much harder to confront. Why pick on Darwin?

Again, we as Christians need to pray for our atheist friends and neighbors. What comfort is there in science? To put so much faith (and indeed the worship of science is most certainly a pagan religion) is to build your house on shifting sand. Were one to read a science book from the 40s, it would most likely read like a comic book. Scientists and their apologists somehow perceive this as a strength. To them, it seems, being wrong about absolutely everything and having all their beloved theories turned upside down every 100 years or so represents progress. Darwinism will not outlive the next 25 years. Then the science worshipers will move on to something else.