Faces in the Crowd: A Darwinian Family Affair

Imagine a small crowd of people – a hundred or so – in a public place. A few minutes earlier they were all in transit to various other destinations, but a momentary spectacle has drawn them together. They do not, for the most part, know each other and in most cases they’ll never see each other again once they go their separate ways. They include representatives of every age group from infancy to dotage; there are people of various ethnic backgrounds, political and religious persuasions, socioeconomic status and states of mental and physical health. There is little consensus among them with respect to tastes or aspiration. Some are happier than others.

 

The people in this crowd have come to be together purely by accident, and it is the kind of accident that will never again draw this same crowd: the crowd has no identity, no “meaning.” Many people would be tempted to say of the people who make up that meaningless crowd, “They have nothing in common.”

 

But that sweeping statement, “They have nothing in common,” is not entirely true is it? They are all human, so they have that in common. Since they are all human, they are all the offspring of two biological parents, even if one of them merely traded his semen for cash at a sperm bank, or if in vitro fertilization was involved. And this makes it possible to list a great many other commonalities: they all have 23 pairs of chromosomes; they’re all bipeds; they’re all mammals; they’re all vertebrates; they’re all mortal; they’re all subject to the laws of physics and chemistry that make life possible, sets its limits, and so forth.

 

chromosomes
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Fundamentally Fundamental about the Fundamentals of Fundies: Facepalms of Biblical Proportions

Despite loose usage of the term and the tossing about of its diminutive form, “fundamentalist” is not a pejorative: the word was invented by conservative Christians for purposes of self-identification and bears an exact meaning that has only secondarily to do with attitude. I’m well acquainted with the history of this word because it is my interesting fortune to have been raised in one of the small, fractious, separatist, backwater Christian sects that coined it around the turn of the 20th century.

 

By the time I was born at mid-century, Missionary Baptist churches all over the U.S. South proudly touted their fundamentalist bona fides on the signs that identified them: “Independent – Bible-believing – Fundamental.” While dismissing the historic creeds as the inventions of fallen man, such churches showed not the least hesitation in publishing “statements of faith” (as though “creed” meant something different) sometimes disguised as “church covenants,” and those published statements always included an article such as “We believe the Bible to be the divinely-inspired and wholly inerrant Word of God.” Fundamentalists of the other monotheistic religions hold a similar attitude regarding their various “holy books.” Belief in the divine origin of a “sacred scripture” is essential to fundamentalists of all sects, because it’s the primary premise – often unspoken – in all of their arguments.

 

What I wish I could say to fundamentalists of all stripes (and wish they could hear me when I say it) is that their foundational premise is false. The Bible is most certainly not the Word of God: it has no more to do with the (alleged) creator of the universe than the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon or the Left Behind series.
Continue reading “Fundamentally Fundamental about the Fundamentals of Fundies: Facepalms of Biblical Proportions”

Just Foamin’ at the Mouth

Earlier this morning, occupied as I was by two projects of interest simultaneously (making my breakfast and writing this essay), I managed to burn my first attempt at the former on account of turning my attention full-bore to the latter. The result furnished me with an object lesson (as if I needed it) in the way things work in the natural world. If one were to inquire into the reasons why my first pancake went into the trash, thoroughly blackened on one side and filling my house with acrid smoke, two equally viable and meaningful answers would present themselves, one having to do with the nature of chemical changes and the other with human psychology.

 

The first of those answers simply has to do with molecular bonding, with the propensity of oxygen to bond with many other chemical elements in its never-ending pursuit of a lower energy state – which is something that everything in the universe seeks continually, and which drives everything from the fusion reactions in the cores of stars to the chemistry of life. The second answer has to do with our prioritizing of tasks – which is one of many things that we have in common with every other animal. It might be more difficult to distract a cheetah from its fixation on a gazelle than it is to distract a human from making his breakfast, but it most certainly can be done. Our priorities – the priorities of all animals, in fact – are flexible. This is one of the realities that lies behind the notion of “free will” – the appearance of which, pretty much everyone agrees, is far more pronounced in humans than in other animals. (The line of demarcation is not by any means so clearly drawn, however, as creationists imagine. And the very notion of “free will” is a fallacy anyway, as research in neuroscience may have demonstrated.)
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Reading the Myths Aright, Part III: On the Wrathful Dispersion of People and Tongues

In this essay I will continue to mine a vein that I have exposed over the past couple of installments in this blog: that of “species memory,” which might also be thought of as “cultural memory.” I believe there are echoes of watershed events in the human saga preserved in ancient texts such as the Bible, often reworked so extensively that it takes some “reading between the lines” to tease them out. It seems to me that in the Genesis myths alone we hear several such echoes. I think it might be useful at this point to spill a little metaphorical ink over the question of how the Bible came to be in the first place, before continuing with the story of the wrathful confusion of languages.

Around 1000 BCE, a bunch of quarreling Palestinian tribes were welded into a bona fide, if short-lived, kingdom by a warlord named David, who had clawed his way to power by toppling another chieftain named Saul. In order to accomplish this political coup and guarantee his hegemony, David used the time-honored means of treachery, brute force and propaganda. The propaganda took the form of stories that were crafted by the priests who supported the Davidic monarchy and profited from their loyalty.

Those priests were members of a tribe known as “Levites,” who had invented quite a few elaborate ceremonies guaranteed to strike awe into the hearts of onlookers and cow them into submission. Priests whose stories told of a miraculous deliverance from Egyptian bondage – an exodus led by a Levite who escorted God’s chosen people to the Promised Land, receiving God’s laws along the way. (It’s no accident that those priests were rewarded handsomely for their efforts: witness the lavish “inheritance” they wrote for themselves into God’s law, as outlined in the books of Numbers and Joshua. Even during hard times, the Levites ate well.) Those stories were filled with dire warnings and cautionary tales. They recounted the conquest of uncooperative Palestinian tribes by the victorious “armies of God,” led by such genocidal luminaries as Joshua. They included tales of David’s own rise to power. Those stories – pure fictions, all – were intended to cobble together previously fractious tribes into a band of brothers presided over by a single monarch. Serendipitously, they also came to form the core of what Christians revere as the Bible: all else is later encrustation.

The priests who concocted these accounts drew on a number of extant legends from the region; they also added a lot of tales from their own (mostly invented) experience. The stories of the Fall, the Flood and the Tower of Babel are all borrowed stories, reworked to fit the narrative that the Levites wished for the tribes of Palestine, thereafter to be known as “David’s kingdom,” to adopt as their sacred history.
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Reading the Myths Aright, Part II

In Part I of this essay, I left off my reading of Genesis 3 with verse 7. At that point, the Fall was a fait accompli as evidenced by a sudden flush of shame and an ineffectual attempt by our first parents to cover their nakedness; all that remains to tell of this story is the defense, the verdict, the sentencing and the dolorous postscript. As I take up the tale at verse 8, I try to see it through the eyes of a Bronze-Age agriculturalist/pastoralist. It’s useful to ask oneself from time to time, “If I were a Mesopotamian farmer living 4,000 years ago and hearing a tale like this from a recognized religious authority, what would it mean to me?”
 

(8) They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (9) But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
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Problems on the Forefront of Physics – Part 2: Dark Matter and Dark Energy

The question “What is the universe made of?” is one of the most fundamental questions one could ask about reality, yet the lack of answers leads to one of the biggest problems in modern astrophysics and cosmology. It would first appear that the observable universe is chiefly composed of matter and energy, right? Well, that’s actually not true at all. Everything we can see, the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, every star and every galaxy in the sky, every atom and every photon of energy, constitute roughly five percent of the entirety of the universe. What about the rest? What else is there? Roughly twenty-seven percent is dark matter, and a whopping sixty-eight percent is dark energy. Not a single human on this planet knows what dark matter and dark energy are, unless of course they haven’t told anyone. All we can do at the moment is measure the effects of what we call dark matter and dark energy on the physical universe, and apply these labels to the unknown.

Before we get into the history and details of dark matter, know that the term “dark matter” is a misnomer. We don’t know if what’s causing the observed effects that we call dark matter is actually made of matter (although popular hypotheses suggest that it could be baryonic matter or weakly interacting massive particles), we have no clue what it is. There are observations that we can’t explain, and we call them dark matter. That’s it. We’ll come back to this and go into more detail in just a bit.

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Reading the Myths Aright, Creation Through the Looking Glass Part 1

What’s the best way to read a myth? That depends on the myth, of course. Some myths are crafted for the purpose of teaching a lesson by means of a fanciful story and should be understood as products of the rich human imagination, somewhat akin to art. Some point to actual events, retold in a much-amplified way and should be understood as embellished accounts of watershed occasions in a culture’s history. Many afford valuable insights into human psychology and the human predicament. A few can be read on several levels. Neither the first nor the second of the categories I’ve suggested is exclusive of the third or fourth. All four approaches include critical thinking as foundational to the methodology.

 

What’s the worst way to read a myth? To read it as though it were an accurate historical record of a person or event; to treat it as though it were sacred – hence infallible – scripture. To do that is to miss the point of the myth entirely and to clutter one’s thinking with absurdities. Those who make this mistake are called “fundamentalists.”

 

The contrast between these two approaches to myth-reading is beautifully illustrated by two books published about three decades apart.

 

The first approach mentioned above can be seen in Noah’s Flood, published in 1998 by William Ryan and Walter Pitman. Working from data gathered by research vessels equipped with sonar, those authors were able to piece together a fascinating story of the inundation of the pluvial Black Sea Lake by Mediterranean salt water some 7,600 years ago, sending the denizens of a prosperous Neolithic society running for their lives and trying to rescue such livestock as they could from flood waters rising so fast that the lake was probably eating its own shoreline at the rate of a mile per day in every direction. (I’ll have you know there’s not a single grammatical error in that meandering, byzantine sentence you just slogged through.) Those whose lives were horribly disrupted and forever changed would have had no natural explanation available to them to account for the catastrophe: an angry god must have been responsible. That is the kind of story that would be told and retold throughout the generations until finally written down thousands of years later. In the Bible’s Flood story, as Ryan and Pitman intuited, we hear an echo of species memory.

KenHam

 

The other book I’m referring to is The Genesis Flood, published in 1961 by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb. Those authors proceeded on the basis of the approach mentioned in my second paragraph. They began with the assumption that the Bible is the Word of God, true in all of its details. The lead author, a hydrologist who should have known better, tried to support his contentions by a fanciful reading of his own science, invoking hydrologic sorting to account for the fossil record. (Last week I took a swing at Morris’s travesty.)The book is a sham and a scam, but half a century after its publication, millions of fundamentalist Christians continue to invoke it as settled science and a fatal blow to the theory of evolution. Ken Ham has made a fortune peddling that snake-oil to vulnerable, unthinking consumers.

 

But I offered the above as examples of the two different ways in which myths are read; the Genesis flood is not in my crosshairs today. I’m instead going to attempt a deconstruction of the story of the Fall.

 

The Fall is related in Genesis 3, but as it is set up by the preceding chapter, my examination of this myth must begin there. Chapter 2 really begins at verse 4; the first three verses belong to the preceding creation story, serving as a coda or postscript. Formally-speaking, the Second Creation Story commences as the first one had: with an introductory statement. (In Chapter 1, the often-quoted first verse is a general statement, the particulars of which follow in the remainder of the chapter; so also with the first half of verse 4 of Chapter 2.) I will quote a bit and intersperse commentary. All quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version published by Oxford University Press as The New Oxford Annotated Bible.

Creation_of_Adam

(4) These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, (5) when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; (6) but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground – (7) then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

 

Looking past the clumsy interpolation of verses 5b-6, it becomes apparent that in this Second Creation Story we have a completely different order of creation than in the First. In the second story, the first thing God creates is a man. On the author’s agriculturalist/pastoralist view, it would have been pointless for God to have begun the creation with anything other than man, because as the last part of verse 5 makes clear, the plants and herbs mentioned at the beginning of that same verse would have had no overseer to tend them. God hadn’t even caused it to rain yet: what would have been the point, with no plants to benefit from the rainfall? I’m not even sure why that artesian spring mentioned in verse 6 was considered necessary. The opening four verses of this creation story clearly point to agriculture as being the proper pursuit of humankind. This story was told by agriculturalists. It was their story of how they came to be as they were, the story of the origin of their pursuits. They could not have imagined their forebears’ Paleolithic condition nor their successors’ modern one. The story must be read through their eyes if one is to understand it aright. This, of course, is precisely what fundamentalists do not do.

 

(8) And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. (9) Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. [We will skip another interpolation – the confusing geography lesson in verses 10-14 – and continue the narrative at verse 15.]

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(15) The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (16) And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; (17) but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

 

With verse 17 the stage is almost set for the story of the Fall. The two remaining dramatic leads must be brought onstage in order to complete what is clearly a formal exposition.

 

(18) Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” (19) So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. [The serpent of Chapter 3 was, as we shall see, among them. – DG] (20) The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. (21) So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. (22) And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. [Skipping yet another interpolation – a famously lyrical one, and continuing…] (25) And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

 

With that, the three primaries are onstage, along with the appropriate set and properties (but no costumes as of yet). Let’s review. Chapter 2 tells us that man was created for agriculture not the other way around. It tells us that someone in charge is making rules, and the penalty for breaking them is severe. It tells us something about the status of the other animals vis-à-vis humans, as Bronze-Age pastoralists understood the natural order. And it tells us something important about what the men who made up this tale thought of women: the equation of women with domestic animals is hard to miss.

 

Like many good myths, the story of the Fall explains more than one thing: it is a true genesis story and would have been understood on multiple levels by those who passed it around and on. It explains why women occupy the status they do, and why so many of them die in childbirth. It explains why agriculture is such hard, onerous work, and why the crops so often fail despite all the toil that’s lavished on them. It raises forbidden questions only to squelch them with the threat of the death penalty for entertaining them. Those questions are philosophical in nature, and they are placed off-limits by the authors of this tale, who had an agenda. The Mesopotamian sky deity, like the mortal monarch in whose image he is made, gets to do the thinking for everyone.

 

I want to mention in passing that one of the pious interpolations I skipped over – the last one – does contain a poetic gem (“bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”) and a clue to the family structures of Bronze-Age societies in the Middle East (“Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife…”). I think the last part is important: with the rise of societies such as the one that gestated this story, the extended family structure of Paleolithic societies tended to fragment; with increasing population pressures people became more mobile, seeking new territory. (In connection with this last, keep in mind that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are really a prelude to the real story of “The First Book of Moses,” which begins in Chapter 12 with the call of Abraham and the promise of new territory: Genesis is the story of the origin of the Jewish people.)

 

Before proceeding, I think it’s important to say this up front: no intelligent person believes in a talking snake. Anyone who thinks the talking snake story is true is either still young enough to believe in Santa Claus also, or brain-damaged (in which case it would be wrong to hold the believer responsible), or nuts (which I suppose also places him out of reach of the charge of culpability). The same, of course, applies to people who imagine they hear – or that anyone else has ever heard – the voice of the LORD God. But such targets are too easy and it would be short-sighted to dismiss the myth out-of-hand as silly just because a bunch of stupid fundamentalists take it literally – almost as great a mistake, I think, as the fundamentalists are making. After all, a good story does not become a lie until it is taught to children as being true. It isn’t laughable unless people take it too seriously. And such a story may contain valuable clues to who we are and how we came to be that way. We ignore our myths to our detriment. To continue with Chapter 3:

Chappell_Island_tiger_snake

(1) Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (2) The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; (3) but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” (4) But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; (5) for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

 

There are times when it’s easy to spot the pious tropes in these early chapters of Genesis. They often take the form of structurally-obvious interpolations such as the three I’ve pointed out so far. Other times, they’re smuggled into the narrative structure in such a way as to slip them past the unwary reader. I suspect that the attribution of slyness to the Edenic reptile is such a trope: the priesthood couldn’t have the people thinking that the snake in this tale is actually the good guy, could they? But what has the snake brought to the woman’s attention? That there is a ruler who must be obeyed on penalty of death; that the crime that may bring down the death penalty is that of being able to decide for oneself what is right or wrong; that the distinction between right and wrong might be based on something other than the command of a ruler (perhaps on reason, or empathy). Such ideas are called “thought crimes.” Like many ancient texts, the Bible has a lot to say on this subject.

 

The rise of monotheistic religion was concurrent with that of a ruling class whose dictates had to be obeyed: that is what it means to rule. One doesn’t rule territory or herds of cattle: one rules people, by telling them what to do, and what they may do. Monotheistic religion was formulated to legitimize that rule; to place the divine imprimatur on the prerogatives of the ruling class: as in heaven, so on Earth. Any monotheistic religion recognizes an absolute ruler, the structure of whose heavenly kingdom closely resembles (oddly enough) that of the monarch whose prerogatives the priesthood protects by the most powerful propaganda tool ever invented. If the king whom the priests serve is “a man after God’s own heart,” as David was said (by David and the priests) to be, his reign is legitimized. No one dares question it. Such questions are forbidden. The ruling class have never appreciated it when the commoners dared question their prerogatives. The snake is dangerous because he dares us to ask those questions. The snake is a rabble rouser, a social reformer, and probably an atheist.

 

As Madalyn Murray O’Hair observed, “An atheist is a person who questions every kind of authority. And this is the thing that is important, because if we can, without blinking an eye, question the ultimate authority – God, who must be obeyed – then we can question the authority of the state, we can question the authority of the university structure, we can question the authority of our employer, we can question anything.”

 

But the author of this tale is not cheering for the snake. To continue:

 

Lucas_Cranach_the_Elder_-_Adam_und_Eva_im_Paradies_(Sündenfall)_-_Google_Art_Project

(6) So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. (7) Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

 

In the first part of verse 6 the hedonic richness of “coming of age” (or “loss of innocence” as the clergy whose livelihood depends on their congregations’ sense of guilt would put it) is suggested along with the crucial equation of wisdom with discriminating between right and wrong. But according to this priestly narrative these things – hedonic enjoyment and wisdom – are not the prerogatives of the lower classes: Genesis 3 makes it clear that those are the domain of the ruler(s). The woman in this cautionary tale entertained a forbidden question, saw the injustice in denying her the gift of free agency (which after all depends on discrimination between alternatives, “right and wrong”), dared to think for herself, overreached her station in life and paid dearly.

 

I have so far confined my remarks to that dimension of the story that applies to whole cultures, stratified as they were, where a few ruled and many were ruled. The authors of this story are clearly concerned to send the message “Thou shalt not question the Dear Leader.” In fact, that’s pretty much what the whole Bible is about. It is a tool for keeping people in line, transparently so. But as I indicated earlier, the richest myths may be read in multiple ways, and I want to touch on one of the alternatives briefly.

 

In addition to being read as the story of a culture’s beginnings, the legend of the Fall can be read as a metaphor for something that happens to all individuals who survive early childhood. With gradual maturation, and especially at the onset of puberty, they “fall from grace.” Who among us has not experienced it? To cite just a few examples: do you remember that awful moment when you discovered that your parents were not perfect? That the authority figures in your life often lied to you? That you will someday die? That the Holocaust happened? Do you remember when you started growing hairs? When you first started obsessing over someone else’s anatomy? When you were ejected from the garden of childhood by the ravages of puberty and forced to join the lifelong contest for food, prestige and mates? Weren’t those the watersheds that defined and defiled your life? Looking back, don’t they seem like a “loss of innocence?” Let’s not forget that unforgettable equation of sadness and wisdom in the closing stanza of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” We have all been driven from Eden, and as the end of the biblical narrative makes plain, there’s no going back. (The worst single aspect of this story as related by the biblical author[s] is that the one who has “fallen from grace” is blamed for his loss.)

 

Speaking of the end of the narrative, this essay is fast becoming a TLDR (a literary form in which I excel, pronounced so as to rhyme with “builder”), so I will break off quoting Genesis at this point and will return to verse 8 next week for a continuation of the narrative and further commentary. I will close this installment by pointing out that in Genesis 3 we also hear, I believe, an echo of species memory. The legend of the Fall is a poetic retelling, in Bronze-Age agriculturalist/pastoralist language, of the story of the Agricultural Revolution. And the blame for that innovation is placed squarely on the woman. Let’s consider why:

 

In the Paleolithic condition, there is little if any social stratification such as one sees in late Neolithic societies: there is usually a chief, but he is not a person with special privileges (without granaries and refrigeration, how could one person hoard what others can enjoy only at his whim?); rather, he is more often vested with special responsibilities and is often elected by direct democracy. So long as he makes good decisions on behalf of the tribe, he is apt to keep his post; if he proves incompetent, he will be replaced. I have generalized, of course, but a cursory examination of extant hunter-gatherer societies confirms this general rule.

 

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There are, however, biologically-conferred divisions of labor among hunter-gatherers. Specifically, it is most often the men who are doing the hunting (gallivanting around in the woods, having a high old time) while the women are confined to the settlement because the latter alone are equipped by nature to rear the young to some degree of maturity. And given those circumstances, it is more likely the women who would have noticed what happens when a seed falls into a furrow: the women, confined to home and surrounded by a kind of natural laboratory, were the first scientists.

 

Sooner or later, the women would have thought it only fair that instead of running around in the woods all day whooping it up, maybe the men ought to put their hand to the plow, help out on the farm. And men resented the hell out of it. Look at Adam’s lament later in the chapter. Look at the war on women that’s been prosecuted for at least the last 7,000 years. It’s a war of revenge. Have we men gotten even or what?

Stay tuned.

Reference

Madalyn Murray O’Hair: https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DgLyvyQLlodc

Flood Geologist Henry Morris Discredited


The reality that so many Christians understand evolution as a fact, and accept it matter-of-factly, puts the lie to the notion that evolution equals atheism or that the former leads inexorably to the latter. My own atheism has little to do with my study of paleontology, geology, cosmology, or any of the other sciences. The fact that these sciences have made belief in a creative deity unnecessary in order to account for existence does not by any means rule out the possibility that a god exists, that the universe is permeated by the consciousness of that god, and that the presence of such a god imparts a special kind of meaning to the cosmos. (I am personally satisfied, however, that the fact that natural processes account for the natural phenomena we see all around us makes the existence of such a god unlikely in the extreme.)

Some atheists may find the foregoing language somewhat puzzling; nevertheless, pantheists understand full well what I’m talking about. So do the majority of Christians worldwide.

Christian fundamentalism, however, is a horse of a different color. There are several identifying marks of Christian fundamentalism, the most important of which (for purposes of this essay) is insistence on the literal truth of the Genesis account of creation. A verbatim reading of Genesis – even if informed by the Procrustean twists and turns of “gap theorists,” “day-age theorists” and “Flood geologists” – simply does not pass muster in light of what is now known about the composition and history of the Earth and the universe. Those who make the claim that Genesis 1 captures in rough outline the progression of life as revealed by paleontology don’t know what they’re talking about. To cite a single example, it has been understood for well over a century that plants do not predate animals in the fossil record as Genesis 1 would have us believe. Animals arrived on the scene a hundred million years before the evolution of anything we would recognize as plants.
Continue reading “Flood Geologist Henry Morris Discredited”

The Big Bang Model – A Timeline of Events Explained

The Big Bang, apart from being a popular TV sitcom, is a cosmological event describing the origin of the universe in scientific language. It is an attempt to marry the present observable properties of the universe with our fundamental understanding of the laws of physics and to work that backwards in time as far as possible. It tends to be flung around in discussions and debates as a popular buzz word and is met with harsh criticism by proponents of supernatural creationism for example, those who assert that God created the universe. The problem, I find, is that most people who are aware of the big bang theory are very much unaware of how it works. Furthermore and perhaps most troubling, they are unaware that people far more educated than themselves, who are experts in cosmology and astrophysics, have their own doubts and criticisms about the theory, which they are still trying to square with current observational data. Having said that, if you interpret this as an admission of how weak the theory is, you are dead wrong. The reality is precisely the opposite. It’s the continued rigor of scrutiny applied by the scientific community that has refined the big bang theory to the degree of accuracy that it holds today. It is necessarily incomplete because we lack a Grand Unification Theory as well as a way to account for much of the mass in the universe but it is still the best theory available and will continue to solidify into a complete model as we inevitably uncover the missing pieces of the puzzle, given sufficient time.
The Big Bang in a Nutshell
Continue reading “The Big Bang Model – A Timeline of Events Explained”