So, Buzzfeed ran an article, viewable here, that gave creationists not only faces, but voices. They asked the questions, and I felt compelled to answer them as best I could without writing a textbook for each one, without being untrue to my own spiritual leanings, and with complete honesty about what I know, what I think, and what I’m absolutely clueless about. Other people might write more knowledgeably about these things, but I felt the need to provide my take on, in some cases, some very interesting questions which range from biology to thermodynamics to philosophy. Enjoy.
1) I grew up with Bill Nye the Science Guy, and I am now a science-loving agnostic/panentheist Jew with leanings towards Celtic paganism, Vedanta, mystical Christianity, and ritual magick, so draw your own conclusion.
I can’t speak for Mr. Nye, but if he didn’t think he was doing right by encouraging kids – and adults – to be inquisitive, scientifically literate, and excited about new discoveries, I don’t think he would still be fighting that fight.
2) If he’s as powerful and judgmental as the Westboro Baptist Church’s version is, then yes! If s/he’s more on the order of, say, Brahma or Nuit or the Earth Mother, then no, certainly not. Assuming one exists.
3) It does seem to contradict the evidence, but it’s not illogical given a God who demands faith and wants to set traps for those who don’t accept arguments from authority and warm fuzzy feelings.
4) The so-called “higher” plants and animals seem to be evidence of more entropy, not less. It takes more energy, in the form of calories, to sustain a human than an ant, and more to sustain an ant than to keep an amoeba going, and so on.
5) Sunsets are caused by the apparent motion of the sun in the sky sinking below the horizon as the earth spins on its axis. The light from the sun has to pass through more and more of the atmosphere, creating the golden and red colors seen in the sky. We get warm fuzzy feelings from it because of a combination of brain hard-wiring and cultural conditioning. As we see the quality of the light shift, our brain releases melatonin, causing us to relax and get ready for sleep. And just because I have this insight into how it works, the world is no less beautiful, even if there is not a God, which, for the record, I regard as an open question.
6) See above regarding evolution and entropy. Again, we need to remember that just because our little corner of the universe as it is today is more hospitable to us does not mean that it is less entropic or more ordered. Thermodynamics does not debunk evolution. They seem to be happening quite happily together in the same universe.
7) If you have repeatable evidence for the proposed Divine Intelligence, or any form of Divinity at that, James Randi has one million dollars for you.
8) There may not be any. And I’m ok with that. If there is no objective meaning in life, that’s fine, I’m creative, I’ll make my own meaning up, and if that doesn’t suit me or gets me in trouble, I’ll deal with the consequences, and then I’ll make up something better.
9) Exactly. The elements, compounds, and energy responsible for life seem to be common throughout the Universe, and with that in mind, it is simply a matter of everything being in the right place at the right time in the right concentrations. It’s a slim chance in any one case, but in a big, diverse universe, there seems to be no shortage of testing grounds. So, firstly, we see self-replicating molecules like DNA floating in pools of water. It creates copies of itself using the free-floating nucleic acids, creates other proteins, and eventually encases itself in a double phospholipid membrane, forming a primal cell. It could be that only one in a billion little strands of DNA in Earth’s early oceans took that first step and made itself a useful membrane, but evolution doesn’t happen with one roll of the cosmic roulette wheel. For every successful adaptation, there are millions of dead ends, but even so, life still marches on, and you’re a part of it. Isn’t that wonderful?
10) I like that! One thing we don’t see enough of in these debates is a sense of humor.
11) Personally, I have met many people who entertain notions like panspermia (extraterrestrial seeding of life on Earth, deliberate or not), space-fungi, and ancient aliens, but very very few who actually believe them. I have no data for you on how many people in the general scientific community actually believe such things, though I doubt it’s high. Though I think people like these explanations because we like stories that tie everything up neatly. Science is always incomplete — there always seems to be a new corner of the sky and sea to explore, and there are lots of ragged edges on the frontiers of research even if we have most of the basics squared away, which is not comfortable for everyone. Compare that with the Bible. It gives not only a nice account of a benevolent Creator and his misbehaving creations, but it creates communities, often very nice ones, and gives a sense of purpose, comfort, and morality to millions. If someone wants to believe in aliens in that sense – to give them comfort in a rough-and-tumble Universe where rocks the size of city blocks are uncomfortably close and unpredictable, I say, let them.
12) Okay, if more complete skeletons are all you need, that’s good – I’ll let you know when we find them.
13) Good question! Despite Pokemon rather conflating the two concepts, I think that metamorphosis can illustrate evolution by giving us a glimpse of earlier life forms, for example, jellyfish that start off as polyps. But all the different adaptations we see in nature, including metamorphosis, show life changing over time to fit different environments – in a word, evolving.
14) If we had to teach children every theory of how the world came to be as it is today, we would be in school all our lives. Evolution is taught not out of some malice against religion but out of a respect for the facts as they appear to us. We can see its results clearly, from fossil beds to the Galapagos Islands. It is also value-neutral. Evolution alone does not say that there is no God, only that Genesis – and all other accounts of creation from different religions- did not unfold literally. Teaching the Bible or creationism or even intelligent design in public schools would mean teaching Christianity as a fact, which many people would find objectionable. However, if creationism were taught from, say, a Norse Heathen perspective, or a traditional Navajo perspective, I am willing to bet you wouldn’t be too happy about it.
15) Science is not a theory, science is a process, a method by which we make hypotheses, test them, observe the results, and repeat, repeat, repeat, until a pattern emerges and we can begin to propose a theory to explain the results. I don’t know where you got your definition of science, but as for the second part of your question, see above.
16) Another really meaty one! I don’t know! Maybe nobody knows – but that’s the wonderful thing about science – just because we don’t know everything doesn’t mean we’re not on the right track. And you can be sure that even if nobody in the world knows the answer to this, someone much more qualified than me is working on it right now.
17) Another question that I don’t have an answer to. And here’s the kicker – I find that fun. I find the search for meaning and indeed, the creation of meaning fun, but on a deeper level, I sometimes think that we’re all here for one another. For example, let’s say you want to save my soul. That’s beautiful. What compassion! I want to help you understand my mindset. And though we have never met in person, with advances in technology only reachable through generations of scientific endeavor, people that we have never met (the developers at Buzzfeed and WordPress, the inventors of the digital camera and the Internet, the people at our ISPs, etc.) have made it possible for me to get your message and respond to it. I find a purpose moment-to-moment in the amazing webs of life and communication that I am a part of, and that you are also a part of. That’s a beautiful thing, too, regardless of whether I have a soul to save.
18) First of all, not all skeletons become fossils. Secondly, in the time since Lucy, we have found many fascinating fragments of early humans in every step of the complex evolutionary tango that got us from the savannah into space, fragments which attest to many of the changes necessary for us to become what we are today. Thirdly, humans have been around for a comparatively tiny fraction of the history of life on earth. That is why we have ‘more than 1 of everything else.’
19) Interesting question. Leaving aside the plentiful raw data that points to the Big Bang, we can listen to the background radiation from the Big Bang as taken from radio telescopes, and then decoded and compressed into an audio file. The only faith I need is that the scientist who did the decoding and compressing is a trustworthy dude. But even if he is a shyster, with the right equipment and know-how, we could do it ourselves.
20) The world is amazing, and I’m glad we agree on that! I also like the idea that a big Someone thought of everything beforehand, but there is no proof, and my warm fuzzy feelings about a possible Creator have no bearing on whether S/he is real or not. Furthermore, and I’m speaking personally here, the wonder and awe of looking at the stars, or the breathtaking landscapes of Colorado, or hearing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony does not seem to tend me towards Christianity or its Bible any more than it tends me to the teachings of the Jewish scriptures, the Koran, the Rig Veda, the Heart Sutra, and so on. Rather, it lends itself to a state of open-hearted bliss, which could be the stirrings of an immortal soul, the biochemistry of a well-stimulated brain, or perhaps both at once.
21) The Big Bang refers not to the explosion of a star, but of a singularity. What is a singularity? Picture a point, something that has position but no size. It has all the matter of what will become our Universe inside of it, squeezed into no space at all. And then all of a sudden – though a cartoony sound effect cannot quite convey it – BANG. Space began to expand itself in all directions, taking matter with it. As to where it came from, we don’t know. But again, science is an ongoing process. Someday we might know. That might even be where God fits into the picture.
22) When the beings that gave rise to us came down from the trees, there were many species of tree-dwelling primates, many of which stayed in the trees. The same thing happens at most evolutionary branching-points: part of the population changes somehow – the part that evolves, while part of it stays in the same niche as before, and stays the same.