Sunday, November 01, 2009

3 Silly Religious Beliefs Held By Non-Silly People

By Greta Christina, Greta Christina's Blog. Posted October 30, 2009.

Many of the beliefs held by religious moderates -- smart people who respect science and the separation of church and state -- are as untenable as the dogma of fundamentalists.

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More stories by Greta Christina

"You can't disprove religion."

I'm seeing this trope a lot these days. "You can't disprove religion. At least -- not my religion."

"Well, of course," the trope continues, "many outdated religious beliefs -- young-earth creationism, the universe revolving around the earth, the sun being drawn across the sky by Apollo's chariot -- have been shown by science to be mistaken. But modern progressive and moderate beliefs -- these, you can't disprove with science. These are simply matters of faith: things people reasonably choose to believe, based on their personal life experience."

Then there's the corollary to this trope: "Therefore, atheism is just as much a matter of faith as religion. And atheists who think atheism is better supported by evidence are just as dogmatic and close-minded as religious believers."

The usual atheist reply to this is to cry, "That's the God of the Gaps! Whatever phenomenon isn't currently explained by science, that's where you stick your God! What kind of sense does that make? Why should any given unexplained phenomenon be best explained by religion? Has there ever been a gap in our knowledge that's eventually been shown to be filled by God?"

Which is a pretty good reply, and one I make a lot myself. But today, I want to say something else.

Today, I want to point out that this is simply not the case.

The fact is that many modern progressive and moderate religions do make claims about the observable world. And many of those claims are unsupported by science... and, in fact, are in direct contradiction of it.

I want to talk today about three specific religious beliefs. Not obscure cults or rigid fundamentalist dogmas; not young-earth creationism, or the doctrine that communion wafers literally and physically transform into the human flesh of Christ somewhere in the digestive tract, or the belief that the human mind has been taken over by space aliens. I want to talk about three widely held beliefs of modern progressive and moderate believers: beliefs held by intelligent and educated believers who respect science and don't think religion should contradict it.

And I want to point out that even these beliefs are in direct contradiction of the vast preponderance of available evidence -- almost as much as the obscure cults and the rigid fundamentalist dogma.

So let's go! Today's beliefs on the chopping block are:

1: Evolution guided by God.

Also known as "theistic evolution." Among progressive and moderate believers, this is an extremely common position on evolution. They readily (and rightly) dismiss the claims of young-earth creationists that humanity and all the universe were created in one swell foop 6,000 years ago. They dismiss these claims as utterly contradicted by the evidence. Instead, they say that evolution proceeds exactly as the biologists say it does, but this process is guided by God, to bring humanity and the vast variety of life into being.

A belief that is almost as thoroughly contradicted by the evidence as young-earth creationism is.

Nowhere in anatomy, nowhere in genetics, nowhere in the fossil record or the geological record or any of the physical records of evolution, is there even the slightest piece of evidence for divine intervention.

Quite the contrary. If there had been a divine hand tinkering with the process, we would expect evolution to have proceeded radically differently than it has. We would expect to see, among the changes in anatomy from generation to generation, at least an occasional instance of the structure being tweaked in non-gradual ways. We would expect to see -- oh, say, just for a random example -- human knees and backs better designed for bipedal animals than quadrupeds. (She said bitterly, putting an ice pack on her bad knee.) We would expect to see the blind spot in the human eye done away with, perhaps replaced with the octopus design that doesn't have a blind spot. We would expect to see the vagus nerve re-routed so it doesn't wander all over hell and gone before getting where it's going. We would expect to see a major shift in the risk-benefit analysis that's wired into our brains, one that better suits a 70-year life expectancy than a 35-year one. We would expect to see... I could go on, and on, and on.

And it's not just humans. We'd expect to see whales with gills, pandas with real thumbs, ostriches without those stupid useless wings.

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Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.

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