Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design: Some Random Thoughts
M. Farhad Hussain
The human species has one advantage over other sentient species. We are advanced tool builders. The dexterity of our hands, the stereoscopic vision we enjoy, all evolved from our tree-climbing ancestors, has given us the means to develop a highly technical society. That’s why we are a dominant species in terms of our ability to alter the environment. That’s not god or gods’ given. That’s the luck of the evolutionary draw mixed in with time, climate influences and the good fortune that no asteroids or other catastrophic events have occurred during our short period of speciation on this planet.
It is a ridiculous argument to suggest that animals only are instinctive in their behaviours. Dogs, elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, and even marine mammals like dolphins exhibit compassion, understanding, comprehension, intuitiveness and an ability to learn way beyond what we believe is hard wired. That’s why an elephant can stand vigil outside a veterinarian hospital while a dog it has befriended is hospitalized. Or why a dolphin can come to the assistance of a child thrown overboard and push it back to the surface. Or why a gorilla can rear a kitten out of a curiosity and compassion that we usually reserve for our own species. We are not unique in this regard but we tend to be blind about our special position based on our own alpha characteristics as a species.
God or gods have nothing to do with us as a species, or with any other species of life. Humanity created god and gods to answer what humanity had no answers for. We have, through scientific discovery, learned the answers to some of those puzzling questions. We still have to learn more. So far as we peel back the layers of our lack of knowledge, no god or gods have peeked out and said, “Here I am. I’m the answer. Don’t ask anymore!”
The expression “good fortune” and “luck” are all about random events, unplanned circumstances. This is not about karma or predestination.
We are the sum of evolutionary processes through time. We are the results that come from a planetary history that has gone through major upheavals over geologic time with extinction events that have selected survivor gene pools and organisms to carry on.
The ability of organisms to endure, although remarkable, appears to be quite ordinary in the galactic scheme of things, in particular on this planet.
As we explore other solar system bodies and study exo-planets we may find just how ordinary living organisms are.
Technical societies that reach out into space may be rare. Considering the billions of galaxies that we can see, and the many billions of stars that encompass galaxies, planets exist everywhere in this universe. Where there are planets and the right constituent elements, as yet to be discovered life exists. When you add time, randomness, evolutionary forces, technical social animals capable of exploring their surrounding space are probably out there. It is only the immense distances and limits of physical laws in this universe that inhibit our ability to seek and find species as technical as humans.
But we are just starting on that voyage of discovery. Only 40 years ago we landed on a nearby Earth satellite. We have a long way to go and much to learn.
One thing for sure, we pushed out to the Moon and have sent our satellites on a Grand Tour of the inner planets of this Solar System. No one showed up behind a green curtain, pulling the strings. It seems the more we push our limits of discovery and knowledge, god or gods become more and more remote.
Two Versions of The Epicurean Riddle
God is all-powerful.
God is perfectly good.
If God exists, there would be no evil.
Therefore God does not exist.
–Epicurus (ca. 341-270 BCE)
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
–Epicurus (ca. 341-270 BCE)
“To rebel against a powerful political, economic, religious, or social establishment is very dangerous and very few people do it, except, perhaps, as part of a mob. To rebel against the “scientific” establishment, however, is the easiest thing in the world, and anyone can do it and feel enormously brave, without risking as much as a hangnail. Thus, the vast majority, who believe in astrology and think that the planets have nothing better to do than form a code that will tell them whether tomorrow is a good day to close a business deal or not, become all the more excited and enthusiastic about the bilge when a group of astronomers denounces it.”
— Isaac Asimov
“I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”
— Isaac Asimov
“I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and that by religious men, who are equally certain that they represent the Divine will. I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal His will to others, on a point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed that He would reveal it directly to me … These are not, however, the days of miracles…. I must study the plain, physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible, and learn what appears to be wise and right.”
— Abraham Lincoln
“Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”
— Bertrand Russell
“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
— Richard Dawkins
“But I own that I cannot see … evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created that a cat should play with mice.”
— Charles Darwin
“When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Cambrian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled.”
— Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
The above quotations are pretty awesome; I’m a quotations kind of guy.
Russell’s teapot underlines the demand that the theists make on the atheists to disprove their God(s); it’s really taken off in a comical variant: the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Dawkins’ talk of an indifferent world brings out the existentialism in me, mostly about the Absurd: the idea that there is no intrinsic meaning in the world and that whatever meaning we find “out there” is the meaning we give to it.
Since those who argue the God or gods premise as being necessary to what we perceive to be the state of the universe today, let me reiterate what poor observers we would all be if we didn’t understand the limits of our perceptions.
The human species has not been around very long. We are a social creature that requires hierarchical arrangements to order our lives.
But hierarchical social constructs are not the only observable arrangements in animal life on this planet. Lots of species are not social. And even socialization, like fish schooling, does not inherently require hierarchy to understand the behaviour.
The great intelligent design debate tends to focus on our perception. We look at our sight capability and marvel how the human eye could have originated through evolution rather than through a creator. Yet we can go through the evolutionary record of fossils, and look at other animal life on the planet and see the step-by-step development of vision from light-sensitive organs in flatworms to a wide range of eye types from compound in insects to lens-free eyes in raptors to the eyes of the octopus, the organ that most closely resembles ours. Take into consideration the range of visible light that some creatures see that we can only simulate with technology. Owls have incredible night vision. So do many nocturnal reptiles. This random variation should suggest to us that vision organs can be derived through experimentation with the reordering of chromosomal matter over time.
The evidence strongly suggests no intelligent design is required.
It seems to be a favourite activity of the religious to “cherry pick” quotes from their religious documents that may have some resemblance to scientific phenomena and say, “See, this was mentioned in our Holy book.” Quite a bit of acrobatics is often required to force the resemblance. For example, you mention God created the earth over six periods (instead of six days) which could each be several thousand years in length. Science tells us the earth is 4 billion years old! Countless species have arisen and died out in that time, continents have moved… the earth is still being created as we speak. Islands are sinking, oceans are rising, volcanoes are popping up everywhere. The Japanese island of Hokkaido is slowly moving towards Vancouver Island in Canada (okay, only a few centimetres per year). My point is that a creation story in some religious document cannot hope to explain the incredibly awesome universe we live in. Science is the only way to try to really understand what has happened and is happening.
Last, it is a favourite argument of the religious to say “you can’t prove God doesn’t exist.” But “That which is asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence too.”