Oct 20, 2010

The Invisible Dragon In My Garage (Can evolution and religion co-exist?)

This post is a copy of an exchange between myself and an agnostic friend online.  I am posting it in hopes that it will help to shed light on what it is to be an atheist in contrast to an agnostic.  I have cleaned up some the grammar to make it more readable.

Agnostic friend:

Do you think [it is possible to] believe in god and evolution? or is [it] god OR evolution[?]

Galileo Galilei was finally 
pardoned by the catholic 
church in 1992 for the 
heretical claim that the earth 
revolves around the sun.
If there were a god, it would need to be compatible with evolution. Evolution does not disprove god in any sense. It simply disproves much of the book of genesis. Just because evolution disproves a chunk of the bible shouldn't make it stand out. Other theories such as the germ theory of disease and the heliocentric theory of the solar system do it as well, as do many other known natural phenomena.

None of these things disprove god, only scripture.  However, gods can be anything men can dream up, so of course they can be compatible.

That doesn't mean that gods are at all likely to exist however.

Agnostic friend:
Well, God is simply a higher, 'more powerful being', for most people after all. One does not have to be Christian or Buddhist, for example, to believe in God. Why can't one believe in evolution, and in God?
Evolution, after all, is pretty much the best thing we could lean on. Based on all the facts. Of course it's a theory, but it's a damn good one. but God can represent, for some people, a power in faith. for some people (even the most intellectual ones, who believe in the theory of evolution) God has to exist, simply because he may guide them. to a better life, or a sin-free life.
I, myself, believe in evolution, and not so much in God. But i don't deny God. even if i say that God is part of fiction, That would still be just an opinion. most religious people don't follow every single thing in the bible. And I'm sure a large chunk of religious people firmly believe in evolution too.

The invisible dragon that lives in my garage.
I would say most religious people believe in evolution to a certain extent. However, I would also say that the very large majority of people are intellectually lazy in that they never put any real effort into learning much about either evolution or religion.  For example, the scientific term theory is a term entirely independent of the word theory of common usage.  A scientific theory is the very highest level in the hierarchy of science.  It's not a guess, it's a fact.  Don't forget that gravity is also "just" a theory.

People have always been driven to explain the unexplained. That's what makes us so successful as a species. However, our minds are not structured to process "we don't yet know" as an answer. Instead, it squeezes in the seemingly most plausible explanation at the time. Why are there rainbows? God made them to show he would never again destroy the world with water. Where does disease come from? Gods vengeance smiting us for our sins. Why do various peoples speak different languages?  Because god needed a defense against the dangers of us building another tower of Babel to sneak into heaven... by climbing into the sky. The list goes on and on.

Other religions serve the same purpose. Talismans to ward off evil spirits that make us sick. Gods throwing down lightning and thunder from the heavens. People performing ritualistic dances to bring the rain.

That's just the way our minds work. Don't know how it happened? God did it. There! Patched that hole up quite nicely!

It serves also as a pacifier to help us deal with the devastating losses associated with death as well as the permanency thereof. Eternal life in paradise makes death easier to handle, especially historically when life was violent and people died young.

Religion also served secondarily as a means to band a group of people together. To create a stronger sense of community. This has many evolutionary advantages for a tribal society, but when you maintain this dynamic in a global society like we have today, what you end up with is airplanes flying into buildings and suicide bombers.

Religions of today can be traced through their history to reveal how they emerged and how they evolved. Religions intermingle and influence each other. The religions of today resemble very little of what they were 2000 years ago. We no longer sacrifice bulls at the alter on a wedding night or execute brides who are found not to be virgins. However this is demanded of us in the bible. There are dozens of gods that predate Jesus Christ whose mythology includes much, if not all of the following; was born on Dec 25th- of a virgin mother- in a manger or cave surrounded by animals- whose birth was attended by 3 wise men/shepherds/merchants who came following a new star to give gifts to the new "king" of their people- had 12 disciples- practiced the holy Eucharist of bread=body, wine=blood etc.- was executed- resurrected 3 days later- and will return some day to judge all mankind.

Dozens of previous gods. Dozens.

This specific example applies only to Christianity of course (and the passages in the Qu'ran that reference Jesus) however, all religions are no different in their tendency to borrow mythology from one another.

The very fact that there are so many different religions and that they all came from shared stories rather than real historical events goes to show that spirituality and superstition is an ancient function of the human mind evolved out of necessity. It's a vestigial remnant of tribalism.

There is no need for a god to explain all that is. It is an unnecessary step. Nearly all things can be, and have been, explained through rationality, logic, observation, and experimentation.

Is it possible that there is a god and that it is compatible with all natural phenomena? Yes, in the sense that it exists in an intangible plane and can therefore not be verified or detected. However, it is unnecessary and unlikely. It can be shown however that if there is a god (or gods), it has absolutely no influence on the universe or its inhabitants, or at least so little influence that it is undetectable. Either to us personally or throughout the entire course of observable natural history.

So yes, god is possible. Just unlikely. Exactly as unlikely as an invisible dragon living in my garage.

Logically we atheists must all call ourselves agnostics, because one cannot absolutely know with 100% certainty. However it would be misleading to brand ourselves with a word that indicates any significant amount uncertainty about the subject.

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