Six Confirmations & Evolution Confirmed - Again

(Via Jerry Brown)

"Six Confirmations"

Over the past several years I have become increasingly aware of the futility of promoting atheism as a worldview to the general public. This is, admittedly, an almost complete turnabout from my former position, but it has been necessitated by subsequent study, observation, and a desire not to be deceived.

In the past two weeks six events have strongly confirmed this opinion. Two were Skeptics meetings at Caltech, each attracting a full-house crowd (which paid a minimum of $5 per head.) One featured Richard Dawkins discussing his new book, An Ancestor's Tale, the other a talk on critical thinking and the graphic display of information. Last week at Santa Monica College there was an excellent talk on learning, early brain development, and how easy it is to be deceived. This one also to a packed house with people sitting in the aisles. That evening I went to a meeting of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which featured a dynamic talk on creationism vs. evolution in the educational system. Many in this group are atheists, but their objective is the very important one of keeping religion and government separate.

The next night at the Glendale Library I heard an impassioned speech detailing dangers in the policies of the current Administration, with special emphasis on their theocratic, corporate globalism aspects. Although in some of these talks there were hints of the absurdity and danger of religious belief, the word "atheism", to the best of my recollection, was never mentioned.

Finally, last night at a local discussion group the subject of origins came up. I said that in my opinion the least troublesome explanation is that the universe has always existed, and always will, having no beginning and no end. Another member, no fundamentalist, but a "spiritual" type, disagreed, saying she joined a church because she believes there has to be a "first cause." Ok, I said, if everything needs a cause, then what caused that "first cause" (i.e. God)? Silence all around.

And therein lies my point. The vast majority of humans simply cannot accept what all the evidence shows - that this life is all there is, that there's nothing beyond it, and that the ultimate questions as to why, when, and how everything came to be may never be answered. These people need an answer, so they turn to religion, which gives them one. Probably a wrong one, but that doesn't matter. It's something they can hang onto. Like my aunt who finally discovered why her son had so much bad luck. He was born on Friday the 13th! In her mind, that explained it, and she was relieved.

With highly educated scientists, after hundreds of years of painstaking investigation by their profession steadily pushing "God" further and further into the background, still believing in some form of godism, the conclusion is inescapable: religion is not going to go away. The need for it is hardwired into most human brains. I'm finally having to acknowledge, albeit grudgingly, the truth of a statement I once read in a psychology textbook: Man needs religion, but some have paid a high price for it.

They have indeed, and they will continue to. It's in their genes. Don't get me wrong. I'm just as strong and proud an atheist as ever. But I cannot continue deluding myself by expecting vast numbers of people to join me in this view. I should instead support efforts to keep the superstition steamroller from crunching our Constitution into rubble. I would encourage all atheists to do likewise. This effort has never been more needed. It is essential that we win. To do that, we must close ranks and set our sights in the right direction.

"Evolution Confirmed - Again"

Every time I get out on the roads I am impressed (not favorably) by the drivers who roar around me so they can jam on their brakes to stop at the upcoming red light. That way, they force me to stop also, whereas otherwise none of us might have to. Not to mention unnecessary tire and brake wear.

And for what? They got one car length ahead of me, and they won their little game of one-upmanship. What is it that causes presumably intelligent people to behave so illogically? The other day while observing this ridiculous behavior once gain, it suddenly dawned on me that I was seeing the truth of Dobzhansky's observation that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.

Here was a manifestation of the primitive survival drive in action: Those who get there first have the best chance at food and mates. Never mind that in the "civilized" life that we have made for ourselves many of these ancient, automatic actions are no longer appropriate and may be dangerous. They are programmed into our brains, most of which have not evolved sufficiently to override primitive instincts. Most people (at this basic level at least) seem to be running mindlessly on their limbic systems, oblivious to the problems they are creating for their fellows. Me first, and to hell with you!

This same explanation can account for many other troublesome aspects of human society. Why do we hoard? Why do we overeat? Why the exploitive excesses of economic systems? Why can't socialism work? Why are people who are "different", those who have disabilities, or whose sexual, philosophical, or other preferences set them apart from the mainstream shunned, denied equal access, and considered outcasts from society? Why do we humans behave so much like other animals? Because we ARE animals, and at the genetic level are not as different from what we like to call the "lower" ones as we would like to think. In fact, we are remarkably similar, carrying in our genes much of the same information. The main thing setting humans apart is that we have a brain more complex than any other creature we know of. This enables us to think about ourselves and, in principle at least, avoid being slaves to the "selfish gene."

Can we do it? My guess is that, claims about "free will" notwithstanding, we cannot, at least in the foreseeable future. The pathway from the primitive to the more modern part of the brain is much easier than in the other direction. Hence nurture has a hard time prevailing over nature.

Lest this sound too pessimistic, I think we must not give up. We must keep searching, questioning, learning all we can about how this amazing blob of protoplasm really works. The first step on that road is acceptance of the FACT of evolution, and the rejection of the ancient myth of creation. It would also help to acknowledge that there is no inherent plan or purpose to any of it, and that whatever meaning we want in our lives we must make for ourselves.

An important part of that meaning, it seems to me, should be to learn all we can about what we are and where we came from, and to make this life (the only one for which we have any evidence) the best we can for all sentient beings.

Nature doesn't care. We can, and we should.

1 comment:

Sarah Trachtenberg said...

If we don't promote atheism, what should we do? Should we not even say that we're atheists? Or if we do, respond to any follow-up questions with "no comment"?

Not My God