Divine Lessons From Evolution

hand of godI had read books critical of Richard Dawkins’ best seller The God Delusion but not the book itself in case — terrible thought — it undermined my convictions. Courage gripped me and I bought and read it over Christmas. A fitting time, I thought, to ward off heresy. It is a longish book. I read every word and quickly. So I have to say that it is well written and entertaining. Thus I reread The Dawkins Delusion? (McGrath, 2007) as an immediate antidote.

One of the things that worries away at evolutionists like Dawkins is ‘why God?’. Why has every society since the apocryphal Adam thought fit to develop a view that something greater than themselves was pulling the strings. As Dawkins diplomatically and subtly puts it: “Though the details differ across the world, no known culture lacks some version of the time-consuming, wealth-consuming, hostility-provoking rituals, the anti-factual, counter-productive fantasies of religion.”

In the evolutionary world of random mutation and natural selection there would seem to be no utility in a god, gods or an afterlife. What possible survival purpose could it serve, therefore, to justify its development as part of the human condition?

The premise of the difficulty for Dawkins and his fellow travellers, of course, is that there is no god or afterlife of any description. It is a pure invention of human beings to which no other primate has developed an attachment. There is no evidence of great apes worshipping a King Kong-like idol. No, we are alone in our delusion. But why, that is the question.

If you are a Darwinian everything must have a purpose. As Dawkins puts it: “Nature cannot afford frivolous jeux d’spirit.” Survival is the name of the game and natural selection will favour those who don’t waste their time and energy in worshiping false idols. There must be a purpose to religion which aids survival. But what is it?

“Everybody has their own pet theory of where religion comes from and why all human cultures have it,” says Dawkins. Antonio Damasio in Looking for Spinoza suggests that religion may help people cope with anxiety caused by the tragedies and vicissitudes of life and thereby aid in survival. It’s a theory; though I, for one, can present a counter theory. Belief in God offers the distinct and worrying prospect of not winning the prize. Atheists, on the other hand, can take a carefree approach to transgressions in the sure and certain knowledge that the non-existent afterlife offers neither reward nor penalty. That sounds stress-relieving to me.

In any event, Dawkins doesn’t think the evidence is strong for this particular theory. He also doesn’t favour popular ‘group selection’ theories which suggest, for example, that societies – tribes – which had deities tended to form closer bonds and fight more fiercely than their godless opponents, who were duly reduced in number.

Dawkins favours a theory that religion is a by-product of something else. The something else is the need of children to trust their elders if they are to survive. Please read the book if you think I am making this up.

“Natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents tell them…But the flip side of trusting obedience is slavish gullibility. The inevitable by-product is vulnerability to infection by mind viruses.” You guessed it. Religion is such a virus. To which Dawkins and atheists generally are clearly immune.

I am not immune; I admit. Ergo, call me slavishly gullible if you like. Nevertheless, I am not so gullible as to swallow Dawkins’ imaginative theory. But it is a theory, and if you don’t like this one Darwinians have many others of varying complexities and intrigue. Occam’s razor comes to mind. Perish the thought that humans everywhere have always had religious beliefs simply as a result of there actually being God.

And, finally, I come to a point of existential import. We’d all better hope that atheists are wrong. Because if they are right there is a good chance that natural selection will ensure that those with strong religious beliefs will outpopulate – in one way or another — those whose beliefs are weakening or non-existent. No names no pack drill, but I heard one religious leader the other day express passing doubt in the existence of God, and it wasn’t the grand mufti of Egypt or that of Saudi Arabia, or the Ayatollah Khamenei, or the UK’s radical Islamic cleric Anjem Choudary, or anyone from the Religion of Peace™.

Maybe religious fervour itself offers no inevitable natural-selection key to survival and predominance. However, we should be under no (genuine) delusion that religious zealots, pound for pound, are likely to be bested by those whose faith is enervated, never mind by those believing that religion is a fairytale.

Churchill’s observation (The River War, 1899) might be apropos: “were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it (Islam) has vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.”

Even more replete as we are now with religious milksops and atheists we’d better invest in R&D and big walls just in case natural selection is in process of doing us in.

77 thoughts on “Divine Lessons From Evolution

  • jimmy.appleseed@me.com says:

    I was raised to believe in the God of the old and New Testament. As a young adult I had doubts so I decided to read both books and to see if I could come to some conclusions of my own.
    The mind cannot be forced to believe. My mind does not believe that those books are the word of a creator god. If my mind cannot believe I am damned as there is no way to heaven but through Christ. Is that a fault within me? Am I unworthy? Are Jews unworthy? Also the Religion of Peace may hold a stronger belief( or more numerous) but that has not enlightend their believers, procreation does not mean they have it right.

  • acarroll says:

    I can’t remember which philosopher it was, but he stated something quite rational for his “belief” in God, along the lines of, “The consequences in the after-life for not believing in God are dire. Since it costs nothing to believe in it in this life, and if its all non-sense after all, there’s no loss. So believing in God is the least risky option!”

    As they say, people who believe in nothing will believe in anything.

    Can the loss of flock from Christianity in the West can be directly accounted for as gains by the liberal left?

  • WeLoveLee says:

    Thankyou Peter – I will participate in the evolutionary destiny of my species (contributing to the survival or extinction of my Believer gene pool) by disseminating your eloquent piece.

  • ian.macdougall says:


    Since it costs nothing to believe in it in this life, and if its all non-sense after all, there’s no loss.

    Is that true? Some would say that filling your head with rubbish is just as bad as filling your stomach with junk food. Worse, arguably.

    Can the loss of flock from Christianity in the West can be directly accounted for as gains by the liberal left?

    I think that the jury is still out on that. But the Founder of Christianity was himself clearly a member of the liberal left of his day. Read his classic Sermon on the Mount (Mathew 5).

    • acarroll says:

      Well, empirically those who have had their head filled with rubbish dominate the global demographic landscape, and are reproducing with the highest birth rates. So I would say yes, it appears true.

      Propagation, protection of the next generation and instilling them with the tools to survive and reproduce is, after all, our only purpose.

      • Jody says:

        “Propagation, protection of the next generation and instilling them with the tools to survive and reproduce is, after all, our only purpose”.

        Exactly. I remember suggesting that to an ABC broadcaster in 1988 and he was shocked, since he’d separated from his wife and children long since. When I suggested that our children are the only tangible evidence most of us ever existed he was greatly disturbed, thinking the male ego would suffice as a reminder of human greatness into perpetuity.

  • isurveyor@vianet.net.au says:

    So it is argued without a shred of evidence that the Universe is populated with gods, goddesses, devils and angels. The streets and hills and every spot on earth is covered with the copulating couples of the “long dead humans.” You do not like the concept of great, great and until the nth great grandfather copulating with a grandmother of the same vintage. But then as the late Bernard Shaw pointed out heaven is a boring place(1) and what else have the old dears got to do.
    Of course in more enlightened times about 2500 years ago a tribe decided to concatenate the gods and goddesses into a single Super God. A little later the Super God became a Spaghetti Flying Monster with three heads(2). Even later came the greatest God of all, by name Allah complete with his own prophet Mohamed. As is well known the foot soldiers on earth of the God Allah conquered the greater part of the then known world. The followers of Jehovah and Jesus were no match. That is until Charles Martel came on the scene and turned the Islamic hordes at a battle near Tours in the year 732.
    God it was speculated was necessary to explain the origin of the Universe and even the Origin of life itself. An explanation that in my view has zero information content. For the various creation myths, do not explain the mechanics of creation or how God planned and executed his project. Nor do the creation stories explain the origins of God himself [except perhaps to provide him with a father and mother].
    Some say without God there can be no morality, no ethics – not so. By a process of learning and social experimentation members of a tribe learnt that if they are to live together in harmony; be able to protect themselves froth other marauding tribes of humans; it was necessary to develop agreed standards of behaviour.
    Today as we know biologists have speculated on the origins of life, while cosmologists on the origins of the Universe. I have no idea if any of their speculations are correct or not. In either case it is not in any way going to affect how I conduct my life. I will say this for biologists and cosmologists that they base their theories on the empirically discovered laws of physics and chemistry.
    Now theologians of all sorts speculate on similar matters. The differences are that the theories of theology have no foundations in empiricism. The consequences of theological speculation are never verified by objective measurement. I conclude that theology and with it all forms of religion have as much structural integrity as a house of cards.

    1 In “Man and Superman” a four act drama published about 1903 and thought suitable reading for sixth formers in years gone by.

    2 http://www.venganza.org/

  • ian.macdougall says:

    …Because if they are right there is a good chance that natural selection will ensure that those with strong religious beliefs will outpopulate – in one way or another — those whose beliefs are weakening or non-existent.

    On the face of it, this should mean that the civilization in which we find prevailing the strongest religious beliefs (my money would be on the Islamic one in that bout) should triumph over the more wishy-washy ones. Western civilization in that respect is amongst the wishiest and washiest.

    But Western civilization is also beating the Islamic one on every marker you might care to mention, except of course, rate of population increase. Muslims are multiplying faster than Christians, post-Christians, Buddhists, Hindus … the lot.
    Following the work of Emile Durkheim, it is clear that the main function of any religion is to act as a social glue, binding the group large or small, together. What is believed is not nearly as important as the fact that we believers all believe it together, and confirm it all the time to one another. The group worships itself.
    This creates a tendency towards mental collectivism: seen most clearly in Islam, particularly on one of those frequent occasions when streets in some ME city are jam-packed with chanting Muslims (men and women strictly separate) venting their indignation over some outrage or other: at the moment over the execution of the Saudi Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
    But scientific and intellectual progress relies on the opposite: mental individualism. Minds, particularly those of the young, have to be encouraged to roam where they please, and challenge anything and everything. This is not likely or possible when the clerics of some religion control the education system, and where the religion itself sets the intellectual, artistic and emotional boundaries.

    • prsmith14@gmail.com says:

      Yes Ian, but are intellectual and artistic achievements essential to the survival and spread of the host,mankind? The evidence suggests that population growth is not at all dependent on intellectual or artistic achievements and, in fact, is strongest where these achievements are weakest. Ergo we are doomed as natural selection weeds us out for having unnecessary characteristics and, moreover, because the particular characteristic of intellectual achievement contributes to prosperity which, in turn, lowers fertility below the replacement rate of 2.1. Peter

      • ian.macdougall says:

        Yes Ian, but are intellectual and artistic achievements essential to the survival and spread of the host,mankind?

        Yes Peter, they are, providing we include technology among intellectual and artistic achievements; and I don’t see how we could not.
        Without the most basic primate-level technology, including the ability to kindle fire, our species would have arguably been left standing on the blocks behind Homo erectus and would never have achieved the population levels and geographic spread of today. Think of that other ground-dwelling primate, the technology-short baboon, which fits into the savannah ecology of Africa somewhere well below the top of any food chain it is in.

        • acarroll says:

          Clearly Christendom (or its decaying husk) has the technology to destroy any of its demographic challengers but it refuses to use it decisively, so effectively those technological achievements are useless for survival.

          PS. Did you know that there are genes for individualism and they’re most strongly expressed/present in people who originated on the European continent? The West’s scientific over-achievement then perhaps has a genetic component.

        • prsmith14@gmail.com says:

          OK, but once you have fire,the wheel and primitive weapons how much more do you need? The point I am making is that eventually technological advancement leads to prosperity which leads, everywhere, to falling rates of fertility. Religious fervour in the case of Islam has led to relative poverty. In turn this inevitably produces high rates of fertility. It is a problem which is in process – potentially at least – of undoing us. Is it an example of natural selection? I don’t know. Maybe Dawkins could tell us. Peter

          • ian.macdougall says:

            That is an excellent point you make. The poverty of most Islamic countries is intimately bound up with their endemic sectarian wars, which inevitably generate refugees. This will only ‘undo us’ if the West abandons border controls, which despite Merkel and her Syrian policy, I don’t see happening.
            The Islamic migration to the West to date has generated an anti-Islamic reaction, with Geert Wilders and disputes over introduction of Sharia law into places like Bradford UK, being prominent in it. Australia has bipartisan support for border controls, and the crazy Greens policy of abandoning them has kept them in the electoral wilderness.
            But if push came to shove, I cannot see how the Islamic world (even if somehow united and with Russian support) could ever prevail over the West.

        • Jody says:

          LOL. These are great discussions to have; thank you all!!

          I was discussing Sleep Apnea with my eldest son and he retorted that snoring was life-threatening way back in the cave-man period. “Yes”, he said, “if the bear could hear you from outside the cave you were certainly going to be eaten”. It was either a preponderance of humans or a shortage of bears which permitted the species to survive.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    The argument that “God” is anything other than humanities first attempt at understanding the world around them is not empirically supported.

    I struggle with comprehending how one could believe otherwise but it seems that I too suffer from espousing beliefs from my own delusion, yet I take comfort in the fact that my delusion at least is not hampered by the empirically ethereal.

    To crouch an argument against atheist views in light of a specific sect of religious nut-baggery is a spurious correlation, better you focused on the wrongs inherent in religious dogma of all stripes in my view but that would be expected from one who bases his world view on evidence (or in the case of God, lack thereof).

    If it is so that we are to be “out-bred” by the followers of one religion then surely the answer is to argue against religious practice, argue for female emancipation and education, all proven vaccine against the mental disease of religiosity because to pick your team over another would seem to ensure pointless conflict akin to fighting over Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings as a guide to life’s journey.

  • ian.macdougall says:

    Some religions involve appeasement of a sky-ogre, but all IMHO are based on ancestor-worship. The Chinese, among a few others, really hit the religious nail on the head.

    • acarroll says:

      I agree that fundamentally ancestor worship makes the most sense. I think it’s rational and an emotional thanksgiving, as the worshippers are only alive due to the efforts of their ancestors and their spirit given to them via their seed.

      When you think of the Norse gods for example, Odin/Woden/Wotan/Gotan/Godin (=> God) was called “the all father”. The various Norse gods and goddesses had characters that served as exemplars/role-models and as warnings.

      Subsequently after conversion the All Father became, “Our father who art in heaven” in the lands of the old religion.

    • Rob Brighton says:

      That may be so, in Dawkins book the suggestion that religiosity is a meme or mental virus if you like that conferred some evolutionary benefit is not seriously proposed as the reason but only a possible one. Mr Dawkins is nothing if not a empiricist.

      With lots of subjects to choose from, it is both interesting and startling that Mr Smith selected this one to use as his sneering tool, still he never misses the opportunity to dismiss those who are not fellow travellers in his delusion.

      • Jody says:

        I actually very seldom get that impression from anything Mr. Smith writes about religion.

        Years ago at a funeral for a beloved 40 year old family friend, who had hung herself the week before, my industrially-deaf father leaned over to me in a cathedral and said (at the top of his voice), “why do people build edifices like this?” to which I replied as softly as I could, “because they are the only living species who know they are going to die and they don’t know what else to do about it”.

  • Lawrie Ayres says:

    I believe in God and I believe I am well educated, open minded and enjoy debate. I also note that Christianity is responsible for such things as common law and most of the rules that allow us to operate and relate in a way that allows people to rise according to their individual effort and to acquire and hold individual property. Many if not most of those benefits were unavailable to the majority prior to widespread acceptance of Christianity. Those benefits did not apply under communist (atheist) rule. The left thrive today thanks to the largesse of Christian based law which determines that individuals have free will and rights including the right to believe or not believe in God. I also feel that many of those atheists would be less comfortable under Islam than they are under Christianity although it seems they are more accepting of the former rather than the latter. It shows the left are incapable of thinking of consequences and thus will be seriously affected by the demise of their current existence which they are enthusiastically facilitating.

    • Rob Brighton says:

      How is religion responsible for common law? Just because something came into being whilst religion was the sole game in town?

      Correlation does not equal causation.

      • Rob Brighton says:

        If you are a trained theologian and you have millions of people who have been taught that the leadership was divine you would be a pretty poor tyrant if you didn’t use that pool of credulity to your advantage, which is exactly what Stalin did.

        Want some evidence? compare the inquisition and purges for one.

    • Roy Edmunds says:

      As an atheist I agree with your statements. I see historical links with Christian beliefs and some clearly
      good paths albeit along with some downright evil ones.
      Bishop Spong has an amusing talk on You-Tube titled ‘The Terrible Texts of The Bible’…
      Christianity has evolved and although Yeshua (more likely His actual name) would hardly recognize his
      teachings anywhere in the Christian world somewhere along the line some good came of using him as the Man.

      Arithmetic, the exponential curve of Islamic population growth, the inevitability of gradualness, the fact that human nature has not changed in thousands of years means we are all in deep doo doos.

      Whether God is or aint seems to matter less than how convinced you are that He is real to you.

      If a people are so convinced they are ready to die for their Gods cause it is a formidable enemy indeed.

      The right and wrongs of it are not clear.

      It is hard to kill an idea with a bullet.

      Eventually a better idea, and more bullets may win the day.

      At the moment the West has some bullets but they don’t have a better idea.

      The world has well and truly entered The Greater Depression.

      Nothing good has come from Great Depressions in the past.

      The West needs a better idea ….fast.

  • wse999 says:

    Mr Smith makes fun of Dawkins’s suggestion for the “evolutionary purpose” of religion? Thus: “Dawkins favours a theory that religion is a by-product of something else. The something else is the need of children to trust their elders if they are to survive..” Which seems to refer to Freud’s ideas?
    But a straw man argument here? Who cares if “Darwinians” can’t explain / agree on “evolutionary purpose” of religion?
    Who needs all the answers? It in no way invalidate criticism of religions, and their self-serving beliefs
    And then Mr Smith veers off: “We’d all better hope that atheists are wrong. Because if they are right there is a good chance that natural selection will ensure that those with strong religious beliefs will outpopulate.. those whose beliefs are weakening or non-existent.”
    Why a “good chance”? Who knows? We do know religious observance has generally been on the decline in more affluent societies?
    And then we reach a weird conclusion, that the best team for confronting one bunch of (as it happens violent) religious nutters, “zealots” (read Islamists), is not “those whose faith is enervated”, let alone atheists (“those believing that religion is a fairytale”), but presumably another bunch of religious nutters! (But who hopefully checked their guns at the door!) And who might just happen to be… Christians (easy crossword clue from Mr Churchill’s quote)!
    Amazing stuff.

  • ian.macdougall says:


    I also note that Christianity is responsible for such things as common law and most of the rules that allow us to operate and relate in a way that allows people to rise according to their individual effort and to acquire and hold individual property.

    Judaism, Hinduism and the other major religions of Asia also allow that, but commerce is restricted for whatever reason under Islam, though not prohibited.
    I think that Christianity’s big advantage is that it does not operate out of one holy book as the only source of guidance. And the books of the OT and NT speak with many voices and often contradict one another. Not only because of Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Blessed Virgin, Christianity is in fact a polytheistic religion, and a polytheism with its competing priesthoods, best guarantees individual freedom of thought. Thus 5th C BC polytheistic Greece, which went down the intellectual and artistic plughole after the Islamics overran and conquered it.

    • wse999 says:

      No, try the Macedonians. Ottomans arrved 14thC

      • ian.macdougall says:


        No, try the Macedonians. Ottomans arrived 14thC

        Classical (polytheist) Greece was occupied by polytheist Macedonians and then polytheist Romans. Both had great respect for classical ideas, culture and learning. (The Macedonians created ‘Hellenism’.)
        No priesthood had monopoly control in the mental sphere until the arrival of the fiercely monotheist Ottoman Muslims.
        Read your Koran. No group got more wrath from Mohammed than did the polytheists.

  • Homer Sapien says:

    Understanding Christianity might not be the forte of many readers?

    • Rob Brighton says:

      Oh I understand Christianity well enough.

    • acarroll says:

      Assuming one is of European stock, all one needs to know is this: it’s ours, has been with us for thousands of generations, and has played a very successful part in helping us make our nations the greatest in history.

      Throwing the baby out with the bath water is a consequence of the culture of critique (think Frankfurt school) and its acolytes who’ve captured all the important institutions of the West (media, academia, policy).

      Ultimately, who cares if a bunch of stuff in the bible is outdated (particularly in regard to the physical world), there’s plenty of law that is timeless. Clearly Christian law has co-existed with Pagan law for millennia as there’s consistency, since they’re elaborated by the same people: Indo Europeans.

  • Jody says:

    Here is my singular response to the argument that religion is a falsehood:


  • markhobart@people.net.au says:

    This is where I think our problem is, and if we faced up to it we would not be worried about “Islam”
    “In the place of the right order in human affairs, by which money or token wealth is subordinated to the production, distribution and exchange of material goods or real wealth, and the production of material goods is made to subserve family life and the development of human personality, the revolt against the Divine Plan has substituted the subordination of family life and human personality to the production of material goods and the domination of production by money.”
    – Rev Denis Fahey: from page vii of the preface to “The Mystical Body of Christ and the Reorganisation of Society”

  • ian.macdougall says:

    That Divine Plan includes just about anything believers want it to: conquest, slavery, racism and mal-distribution of wealth and power, etc, etc.
    It reminds me of a speech made by some American preacher years ago at the opening of some new house of worship: “This church is another million dollars in the fight against materialism.”
    Any religion – eg those in the Abrahamic tradition – that divides humanity into the Saved and the Damned, the Worthy and the Unworthy, the Insiders and the Outsiders, is likely to finish up sanctioning atrocity.
    One of the most terrible ironies of history: the Nazi adoption of the concept of The Chosen People led to the death camps of WW2, set up to exterminate… the original Chosen People.

    • acarroll says:

      You forget the precedent: the death camps (Gulags) in Eastern Europe that were set up and run by a preponderant number of the original chosen people.

  • Jack Richards says:

    I have been an atheist all my life. I cannot recall a moment when I believed what the good Sisters told me or any of the stuff my devout mother and grand-mother claimed to believe in.

    Despite my utter contempt for all religions and my deliberate non-practice of any their rituals I have never found it necessary or excusable to rape, rob, murder, or molest little children. There is absolutely no correlation between religious belief and being moral.

    I have read Dawkins, and Hitchens, and Harris and Barker and Dennett – and I have also read the Bible many times. How anyone can believe such a load of contradictory nonsense as is contained in the Bible is truly beyond my comprehension. IT has some interesting stories and some very memorable aphorism – but it is fiction and clearly so.

    Religion originated when homo sapiens were still living in caves and understood nothing. A clap of thunder, a bolt of lightning, a noise in the night had no explanation and was, compared to the total ignorance of tiny people, of such awe and magnitude that only a super-human being could cause it. That brilliant thing in the sky, so bright it hurts to look at it – well that could only be a God. In some prehistoric place it hadn’t rained for a while and the streams were drying up. One night the little tribe got together, lit a fire, and started to clap and sing and dance around the flickering flames. The next day it rained. Obviously doing that dance caused the rain. Perhaps other dances and rituals would make the hunt more successful or cure someone who was sick. Over the millennia story tellers told stories about events of the past. Like screen-writers today, they had vivid imaginations and gilded the lily to such an extent they created a whole collection of $6 million men and women who lived atop mountains or in the place no human could ever get to: in the sky!

    The roots of Christianity and Islam are so clearly derived from earlier pagan mythical heroes as to be beyond argument. Even our popular Christian festivals, like Christmas and Easter, are simply pagan rituals hi-jacked for Jesus.

    Most of the “Christians” I’ve ever met had never actually read the Bible. Indeed they couldn’t answer a few simple questions about either the Old Testament or the New. They just clung to this strange idea that they had a protector up in the sky – a big brother who could beat all the bullies at school.

    It’s easy to see how superstitions arise. Every gambler has his/her “lucky” shoes, or shirt or charm of some description. They often have rituals as well. They are trying to impose a pattern on the completely random and all they need is one win to convince them of the super-natural powers they can command by wearing a particular shirt. It’s all bunkum, of course.

    All religions are poison, just toxic nonsense. People want to believe; they want to think that Grand-pa has gone to heaven; that there really is a wonderful, caring and gentle bloke up there who will eternally care for their child who died under tragic circumstances. But there’s not. Given what we know about the universe it is inconceivable that any of our iron-age Gods are real.

    I just can’t understand how otherwise sane people can believe in an afterlife; that Jesus died for their sins (and the mathematical probability of him knowing about you 2000 years before you were born is so astronomical as to be effectively zero; that, for some strange reason, it is important that Mary was a virgin and so on and so forth.

    None of the Great Monotheism answer any questions at all. They give no guidance on morality or ethical behaviour and have always been the cause of wars, torture, inhumanity, oppression, slavery and eternal backwardness.

    All I can say is: God save us from the religious!

    • acarroll says:

      And yet with every mathematical model of the universe we make assumptions/axioms which are unprovable statements of faith.

      They are however, necessary if we are to try to understand the world around us.

      Therefore my view, as a scientist, is to not be critical to the point of spite for those who make axiomatic statements of faith. The vast majority of humanity doesn’t have the mental faculty to comprehend life without Gods.

    • markhobart@people.net.au says:

      I haven’t come across any satisfactory “scientific” explanation of life or the universe. As acarroll says they are based on “assumptions/axioms which are unprovable statements of faith”. So it all boils down to faith anyway. It doesn’t take a genius to work this out. Although we have made remarkable technological advances, “science” evolved into the religion of Scientism in the mid 19th century and gradually established its dogmas which are all antithetical to Christian beliefs i.e. Instead of a Creator we have steady state/big bang/multiverse, evolution of the physical universe by pure chance, evolution of life by pure chance, this world is not special, man is not special. Anyone who questions these dogmas is a heretic and excommunicated by the scientific establishment (sound familiar).
      Proponents of scientism angrily denounce “non-believers” (even while paradoxically blind to their own prejudices): “utter contempt for all religions” “it is fiction and clearly so” “How anyone can believe such a load of contradictory nonsense” “All religions are poison” “just toxic nonsense” and the most exquisitely ironic “God save us from the religious.”
      Take the log out of your own eye before you try to remove the speck in mine.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    Mark, satisfactory to whom? You? Your personal credulity towards the premise is no reason for rejection of scientific fact.

    Humanity just witnessed the expanding universe wizz past… evolution is supported by evidence in all science streams that come to mind, evolution is not by chance (try reading the selfish gene), we have found other planets in the goldilocks zone, man is just another branch of apes on the mammalian clade.

    These are facts with empirical evidence to support them, there is nothing, not a single jot of evidence to support your religion.

    In fact if Christianity is true then 5 billion of the worlds population is wrong, if Islam is true them 5.5 billion of the worlds population is wrong, if Hinduism is true then 6 billion people are wrong, if there is no god then 6 billion people are wrong. (not sure if those numbers are right, they only act to exhibit the argument).

    This is not a bandwagon argument; this is hard evidence that “divine revelation” or sincere belief is not a sufficient way to determine truth. Your truth is not the same as theirs except in one key point, none of you have a solitary iota of evidence to support the idea of “God”.

    Believe as you wish, your right to believe does not confer a responsibility for me to take you seriously. Oh and be sure that I do not write this to “remove a speck”, I do so in the hope that others may just take the time to read more and expand their mental faculties so they can live without this poisonous delusion.

    • acarroll says:

      While I agree with the thrust of your argument, expansion of ones mental faculties isn’t possible.

      We have potentials and drives that are coded in our genes. If you don’t have the drive or curiosity to pick up a book and read about something you’ve never encountered before, chances are you also do not have the potential to make anything of this newly acquired knowledge.

      It’s no accident that the majority of the scientific discoveries were made by Europeans in European nations.

      The potential for it is there in the genes.

    • markhobart@people.net.au says:

      Hi Rob,
      There never will be any empirical evidence to support something that is supernatural such as God. Try proving beauty or goodness for example (empirically).
      If evolution is true or if there is life on other planets that does not refute God’s existence.
      How many people believe in God or not is not an argument for or against God and if it were I would win easily.
      I don’t expect you to take me seriously. 25 years ago I remember telling anyone who was unfortunate enough to listen that “all religion is evil.”
      Keep an open mind, your eyes open and read widely as you say.

      • Rob Brighton says:

        You say “If evolution is true” of course it is, there is a mind blowing amount of data, fossils, geology etc to support it.

        I do not have to refute gods existence any more than I have to refute unicorns. He who makes the claim has to defend it and the bigger the claim the stronger the defense is required. A superannuated empirically ethereal personal god is about a big a claim as one can make.

        Your right on one point, the supernatural has no empirical evidence.

        Beauty has been described mathematically and in a wonderful juxtaposition mathematics when correct is often described as the beautiful truth, although I get this may not be what you mean.

        As for goodness and again accepting that the meaning of the word you had in your mind may not coincide with my own, have a snoop at Sam Harris talking about a moral landscape and how science can measure it.


        The problem faced by theist arguments of this stripe is the “god of the gaps” problem. As science and humanity understand a little more of this universe “god” gets smaller and smaller.

        • acarroll says:

          Science is all about explaining how things work. And when practised to the letter, works very well as we see around us every day.

          Taking it beyond that in to the realm of spirituality is pulling it into a place where it’s wholly unsuited.

          With every new discovery or attempted explanation of how the universe came to be, the concept of a creative agency (i.e. “God”) becomes more abstract and more grand.

          Take for example the “multiverse” hypothesis.

          The multiverse hypothesis is really quite pathetic as it’s a catch-all explanation with no explanatory power at all.

          If our universe is but one lucky one in a countably infinite number of universes, it still doesn’t answer the question, “If the multiverse hypothesis is indeed discovered to be a fact, why a multiverse?”.

          Often the conversation goes like this:

          Q: Why a multiverse?
          A: Because it just is. Accept it.
          Q: Isn’t there therefore a possibility of there (again) being a meta-explanation beyond the multiverse hypothesis? Could creative agency be one of those possibilities?

          ad infinitum, infinite recursion.

          God will always sit just outside our knowledge of the universe…

          • Rob Brighton says:

            There is a wonderful statement that is used in science, and that is “we don’t know”, personally I find it far more satisfactory than the theist alternative of “God did it”. That is a argument from ignorance.

            The beginnings of the universe fall into that category, (as does abiogenisis) at the moment the expanding universe and the big bang has more followers than the multiverse from what I have read, at least the multiverse has some support in mathematical models, the same cannot be said for a personal god.

            They are all speculation, some with more evidence than others, none with the depth of evidence supporting evolution for example or the theories supporting combustion engines.

            There is no evidence, not a single solitary jot for a creative force outside of the material physical universe, where would it exist?

            To suggest god sits outside of our knowledge of the universe is to consign his ephemeralness to a ever shrinking space and I for one think that is only to the benefit of humanity.

        • markhobart@people.net.au says:

          Rob, give me your best evidence that proves evolution is true. Just one. I have yet to see it.

          • Rob Brighton says:

            Mark: Try reading the selfish gene, or look up ring speciation for evidence of evolution happening now.

            You may also try reading a book called “Why Evolution is True” cannot recall the author, sorry.

            Transitionary fossils, the fossil record itself and how it is distributed, distribution of animals, natural selection, I am sure there are more that I cannot recall just at this time. For each of the above there is literally mountains of evidence available.

            Its all there, for one to devour and learn.

          • Rob Brighton says:

            Hi Mark, I did a bit of googling for you, try having a read here, I am sure you will find it helpful as a start.


          • markhobart@people.net.au says:

            I am familiar with all those examples and can refute them all. Just give me what you consider the best single specific proof for evolution and I will try to refute it and then maybe you will not believe “of course it is” (true) so strongly.

          • Rob Brighton says:

            January 8, 2016 at 9:43 am
            I am familiar with all those examples and can refute them all. Just give me what you consider the best single specific proof for evolution and I will try to refute it and then maybe you will not believe “of course it is” (true) so strongly.

            Hmmm, ok, creationist or intelligent design arguments? Answers in genesis or the likes of Ken Ham is not a place to get your information and expect to be taken remotely seriously.

            Still I will bite, I tell you what, you pick one that you believe in the most and we shall see how the arguments stack up. More than happy to engage although I notice I was unable to reply to your challenge directly, perhaps the moderator has chosen to shut this discussion down? I am unsure quite how to find a common forum to discuss your statements. Happily do so where ever it suits you best.

          • markhobart@people.net.au says:

            Rob,I will say it again. Give me your best evidence that proves evolution is true. Just one. I have yet to see it.
            I am sure the moderator has not shut this discussion down if this comment is published

          • Rob Brighton says:

            If you want me to pick how about tiktaalik as a transitional fossil.

            Look forward to the refutation.

          • markhobart@people.net.au says:

            What can I say. A desperate attempt to fit the evolution story to a pretty ordinary fossil. However it was hailed as an important find a few years ago as fish that was developing legs and starting to walk on land. It did not last v ery long, especially when fossilised footprints were found in Poland which predated Tiktaalik by 20 million years:http://www.livescience.com/6004-legged-creature-footprints-force-evolution-rethink.html

            The artists impression looks very impressive (as usual) but the bones much less so (as usual). They are a jumbled mess. In fact they are a combination of two different specimens if you read this article: http://www.sci-news.com/paleontology/science-new-fossils-tiktaalik-roseae-01686.html. In any case we have a lobed finned fish alive today that was supposed to be extinct 66 million years ago, the Ceolacanth. It was thought to be a transitional form that was developing legs but since it was found alive, hey presto, its a living fossil and not a transitional form!

            “Transitional” fossils, in general, are only displayed after the artist has done his impression. When you look at the actual specimen (which is often hard to find) it is very much less impressive and one is left with the question “How on earth did the artist get THAT out of THAT?”

          • markhobart@people.net.au says:

            It looks like the moderator has stopped this discussion.

          • Rob Brighton says:

            They haven’t stopped the discussion, it just takes a little while to put together facts that are a little more complex than “I don’t understand therefore god”.
            Let’s start with independent verification.
            When evaluating data it is more likely to be true when support for that data comes from multiple sources.
            With each independent method of data collection providing a matching result the higher the probability of accuracy of the data. Let’s put this aside for a moment and we will come back to it later.
            When accessing relatedness there are certain diagnostic characteristics that organisms have, these typically show an evolutionary toy that has not been seen before.
            For example let’s look at invertebrates and the diagnostic characteristic of true tissues, for the most part only sponges lack them all other animals have them.
            Next we can consider germ layers only jellyfish have two, all other animals have 3.
            Next we can ask if the animal has a body cavity, worms lack them, all other animals have them.
            We now need to consider embryology and imagine sticking your thumb into a tennis ball, this dint is called a blasythore, in organisms like insects it forms the mouth, in star fish and other invertebrates it forms an anus. You will never find an insect where the blasythore forms the anus, or one without a body cavity, or one with two germ layers or one without true tissue.
            This idea forms the basis of the tree of life. It provides a hierarchical expression of life on earth. It is called the phylogenetic tree.
            This is decent with modification and is the poorly explained (on my part) basis of evolution. Using this structure is so effective it is the basis of identification of plants in the wild. This is based on all life sharing a common ancestor and each feature identified represents a fork in the evolutionary journey.
            We have now seen the argument for embryology pointing towards decent with modification now consider an entirely different field.
            Comparative anatomy. Evolution predicts that structures will change over time as life progresses as a result of pressures and opportunities. As such we should see patterns of similarities in body structure of animals that share a common ancestor. Please note you need to look a little deeper than the overall shape a shark is not related to a dolphin its pattern is not the same in detail despite its similar shape.
            Humans and monkeys would not be on the same clade if monkeys were cold blooded for example.
            All tetrapod limbs are made of the same number of bones and all spinoffs of the same basic design, one long bone attached to two long bones with a branching series of smaller bones on the end.
            This would apply to say whales, humans, lizards and birds.
            From this we can construct a phylogenetic tree as we did with invertebrates, (very much simplified for the sake of the proposition) tiktaalic is the common ancestor, with 2 branches, one mammalian the other reptiles.
            Each of those two branches has 2 more for the mammalian side, whales and humans on the reptile side lizard and birds.
            Now we have our theory we ought be able to extrapolate what we would find between tiktaalic and say humans.
            If we look at the organisms in the middle we should find these bones in the process of changing.
            Considering the jaws of mammals and reptiles one can see they are very different, we can see in reptiles two bones that develop into the lower jaw, those same bones in mammals develop into two bones in the middle ear. The reptilian middle ear only has one bone whilst the mammalian one has 3.
            So the two bones in the reptilian jaw were changed and adapted to form the additional bones in the mammalian middle ear.
            This can be confirmed by looking at the fossils at the start and end points. Pelycosar>therapsid>early mammal show this progression clearly.
            There is not just one fossil showing these changes there are dozens, all are dated to the correct age grouping.
            Accordingly we can see these structures changing over time and can construct a phylogenetic tree based solely on comparative anatomy.
            This can be done for the organism as a whole or it can be done for any single bone, nerve, vein, artery in the body.
            These phylogenetic trees overlap perfectly, perhaps you can see now why evolution if referred to as the unified theorem of biology because we have taken the jaw bones of animals related it to the phylogenetic tree, embryology and comparative anatomy.
            If evolution is correct we would expect to see life’s progression from simple to more complex as time goes on, we can predict we won’t find complex mammal life buried next to cretaceous amphibians or humans with dinosaurs, and that is exactly what we see, a clear pattern of common decent within the appropriate strata.
            Using this strata we can construct a phylogenetic tree based solely on the fossil records that mimics exactly the phylogenetic tree constructible from comparative anatomy, embryology and now the fossil record.
            So now we know from the fossil record, comparative anatomy and embryology that tetrapods arose from lobe finned fishes, that is fish that pushed themselves along the sea bed and that there were no tetrapods 390 MYA but they were there 360 MYA, Mr Shubin (The inner Fish) predicted that this transition must be between those two time scales.
            This is where Tiktaalic presents itself beautifully, he went searching for the appropriately aged strata and found that fossil.
            Tiktaalic had gills, scales and fins, it also had lungs, eyes and nostrils on the top of its head, additionally these fins have exactly the same bone arrangements predicted by comparative anatomy.
            Tiktaalics head is separate from its trunk and unlike any fish it has a neck.
            Accordingly researchers can go to a precise location in the world that has the appropriate strata and find transitional fossil with the exact features that evolution predicts.
            Taking a quick look at genetics and micro biology, we can construct a phylogenetic tree from these fields.
            From genetics alone we can look at the DNA and see how it has changed over time, every gene in every organism on earth can be assessed for it phylogeny and it matches perfectly the phylogeny of comparative anatomy, embryology and the fossil record. The same applies for micro biology all of the molecules in your body can have a phylogenetic tree made for it and they match with the ones processed from the other branches of science.
            There is more, stuff that is way past my level of understanding that all fall into the same methodology.
            In putting forward this argument I have plagiarised without remorse from those far better qualified than I. As a poorly educated man who spends an inordinate amount of my life reading I may not have this 100% right, I will leave it to others who know better than I to correct me, just don’t bother doing so from Creationist webshites or with ludicrous arguments from intelligent design as that will be dealt with rather firmly.
            Frankly if consistent references across multiple domains of science does not convince you then there is nothing I can do to help and for that I am sincerely sorry.

          • markhobart@people.net.au says:

            My refutation to Titaalik has been awaiting moderation for 2 hours and yet my subsequent comment “It looks like the moderator has stopped this discussion” was published as well as your subsequent long post. I don’t understand why. Perhaps the moderator can enlighten me?

          • markhobart@people.net.au says:

            Its now published

          • Rob Brighton says:

            I am quite familiar with the creationist argument that tiktaalik is not a transitional fossil because of a set of footprints, unfortunately it does no such thing. I strongly suspect, what you were trying to say is that Tiktaalik cannot be the direct common ancestor of extant tetrapods because of the 18 MY differential in footprints, then surprisingly you’d be quite right. But since no credible palaeontologist or evolutionary biologist ever claimed it was then your point is somewhat moot, isn’t it?
            The lack of understanding of this is based on the wrong impression that palaeontologists claim the transitional fossils are de facto direct ancestors of either other fossilized life forms or of living species.
            It’s exactly this fallacious misconception that pompous asshats at creationist webshites use as the basis for their ludicrously simple-minded arguments.
            In reality palaeontologists take pains to point out that such fossils are cousins, side-shoots in the tree of life, but nevertheless most likely reasonable representations of the actual common ancestors of the major evolutionary lineages.
            Creationist argument instead tries to muddy the waters by working on the simplistic and probably intentionally misleading assumption that the fossil record represents a lineage of direct descent rather than a phylogeny of both closely and distantly related cousins, and by discounting the well established concept of evolutionary stasis.
            These lobed finned fish were more than capable of living contemporaneously with tetrapods because both have evolved earlier from common stock.
            Tiktaalik therefore represents a lineage that remained stable while the tetrapod lineage continued to evolve to exploit the free ecological niches being offered by land. This is exactly why there are still coelacanths and lungfish alive today alongside all the tetrapods that descended from their common ancestor. It’s because we didn’t evolve from coelacanths. We evolved from a coelacanth-like species that lived and died over 400 million years ago.
            As Tiktaalik bears a distinct mosaic of characteristics of both fish and tetrapods as well as several intermediate features it is a reasonable approximation of that ancestor.
            As for your incredulity argument, Tiktaalik has been studied by the most the world’s most highly trained and respected palaeontologists and anatomists who have dedicated lifetimes to becoming leading experts in these fields.
            Just because you or your fellow travellers don’t understand what you are looking at does not mean they are wrong, I would assert the inverse applies.

        • markhobart@people.net.au says:

          HI Rob
          You said:
          “The lack of understanding of this is based on the wrong impression that palaeontologists claim the transitional fossils are de facto direct ancestors of either other fossilized life forms or of living species………..In reality palaeontologists take pains to point out that such fossils are cousins, side-shoots in the tree of life”
          If they are transitional fossils then surely they must give rise to the next stage in evolution of that “clade.” They are still transitional fossils even if their “cousin” did it aren’t they? Otherwise they are an evolutionary dead end. Are you saying that Titaalik is not a transitional fossil? I am confused.

          You also said
          “…pompous asshats at creationist webshites use as the basis for their ludicrously simple-minded…”
          If you want to swear then please feel free to use proper swear words.

          I enjoy debating you.

          • Rob Brighton says:

            Mark; I have already answered that claim in my earlier response, at the risk of repeating myself, these species have never been purported to be our direct ancestors, but rather representative cousins of those ancestors. You appear to have the impression that palaeontologists claim that transitional fossils are de facto direct ancestors of either other fossilized life forms or of extant species.
            This claim is not made and for good reason, it would not be correct.
            Tiktaalik remains a transitional fossil because it was never purported to be the basal ancestor of the tetrapod lineage, but because it bears a distinct mosaic of characters of both fish and tetrapods as well as several intermediate features, and as a result represents a reasonable approximation of that ancestor.
            Thanks for the permission to swear but I guess old habits die hard so I shall continue to keep my language as mild as I can when talking to someone quoting creotard rubbish.

            Here is some links that may help you understand what I am obviously struggling in getting across to you.


            This is a 7th grade science blog that has some good info as well of a more general nature on evolutionary theory.


            Really I would suggest you try reading My Inner Fish by Shubin, it is a wonderful journey.

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    Science bah! It hasn’t the answers either.

    It’s almost as mad as religion. Most of its hypothesis are based in the ‘facts’ we know/believe.

    A big bang? Why can’t the universe always have been and always will be. Why can’t their be an energy we don’t understand.

    I know why I’m here.

    I’m here to learn.

  • ian.macdougall says:


    A big bang? Why can’t the universe always have been and always will be. Why can’t their be an energy we don’t understand.

    I think it would be a very brave or foolhardy investigator who announced a final understanding of matter, energy, or for that matter, the Universe. But the Universe is constantly changing: and one of the ways it does so is by constant expansion – ie of galaxies moving apart from one another.
    That expansion apparently had a beginning, called the ‘Big Bang’, in which matter began, and also space, energy and time.
    The late astronomer Carl Sagan once said somewhere that if each star in the Universe were to be represented by a single grain of sand, then there are not enough sand grains on all the beaches in all the world to represent them.
    I have a model ‘Universe’ on my desk, or a small part part thereof, which I set up by buying a sachet of ‘100s and 1000s’ and pouring the lot into an empty jam jar. But using data off the Internet I worked out that to represent the whole Universe that way would require a ‘beach’ of sand grains or ‘100s and 1000s’ around 1 km wide, I km deep (surface to base) and around 80,000 km long. And this by no means represents their spread or arrangement into galaxies, star clusters etc.
    But estimates of the number of stars keep changing – upwards.

  • ian.macdougall says:

    “It’s no accident that the majority of the scientific discoveries were made by Europeans in European nations.”
    Please consider: http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/history/history-science-general-interest/series/science-and-civilisation-china

  • ian.macdougall says:

    Very good. Bookmarked.
    As I see history, it is bureaucracies, particularly military and religious ones, that are the main obstacle to scientific and cultural progress. Authoritarian personalities float to the top in them, and nothing gets up the nose of Authority more than people working on things beyond its comprehension or surveillance. Thus, as Ibn Warraq points out, the great achievements of Islamic civilisation occurred despite Islam and its clerics, not because of them.
    One of the most interesting periods and locations was the islands of the Aegean in the 6th C BC. Huge developments were made by a small but largely literate and numerate population.
    The uniqueness of European civilisation: every civilisation is unique.

    • acarroll says:

      “every civilisation is unique” — tautological and I get what you’re saying.

      All civilisations have specific characteristics not shared by others but it comes down to their importance.

      The author argues that the West has special characteristics that are shared by none of the others (unique!) and it is the influence of these that has led to the great divergence of the West from every other civilisation since the past 500 or so years, and were also influential at the times of the Greek Golden Age and Roman Civilisation before its decline.

  • wse999 says:

    Never ceases to amaze one, the elaborate exercises in intellectual gymnastics, the Herculean feats of articulate argument, anything to substantiate their chosen edifice of religious belief, repel the unbelievers at the door, the atheists, or the antagonistic proponents of one of countless other competing religious belief contraptions.
    Who cares if “Darwinians” can’t explain / agree on “evolutionary purpose” of religion? Irrelevant.
    Let alone the concluding fantasy here that the best team for confronting one bunch of religious fruitcakes (read Islamism) is another bunch of religious fruitcakes! Who are less trigger happy.
    The onus is on the Believers to justify, verify, substantiate their self-contrived, self-serving belief systems. Plucked from the aether by generations of agile minds.
    Why cannot modern Man simply stand on his own feet, toss away the God crutch.
    The world can be a beautiful place.
    Per Herr Schrodinger, like the scientists we should be comfortable with ignorance and uncertainty, an ever shifting knowledge context, not knowing all the answers.
    Instead of imposing some artificial but (however elaborate) delusory belief framework on our understanding of our collective predicament, seeking to corral the uncomfortable loose ends.

    • markhobart@people.net.au says:

      “Why cannot modern Man simply stand on his own feet, toss away the God crutch.”
      Prove it. I don’t trust most people especially anyone who has power over me.
      “The world can be a beautiful place.”
      It is very beautiful. Its people that stuff it up.

      Atheist revolutions that ended in disaster (that come to mind)
      French, Bolshevik, Chinese, Cambodian. Probably more

      • wse999 says:

        So Western liberal democracy, rule of law etc etc, are based on God? The Christian God?
        Luckily we now (after a long bloody struggle, including the 30 Years War) have the separation of church and state.
        The State does democracy etc. The church whatever it wants in its space.
        And blaming Robespierre, Lenin/Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot on ATHEISM, is like blaming them on being left handed or having red headed mothers or whatever other IRRELEVANT common trait you care to mention.
        It was not their “atheism” or “red headed mothers” they were inflicting, rather it was their own perverted ideologies, which, as many have observed, had nothing to do with atheism but were all quasi-religions because based on nonsensical self-serving belief systems.

        • markhobart@people.net.au says:

          The only common thread to that lot was atheism. Atheism = self worship
          As you imply: “Why cannot modern Man simply stand on his own feet, toss away the God crutch.
          The world can be a beautiful place.”

          As you say “the onus is on us Believers to justify” I say, prove it!

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