Monday, October 6, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 3

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
~Aldous Huxley

I think it must be easy to tell when I've been watching BBC specials on atheism and evolution for a week.

Note to creationists: creationism (or its identical twin with a face lift, "intelligent" design) is not science. Science is the sum total of facts and evidence gathered together, and the conclusions drawn from that indisputable data. There is no evidence and not a single piece of factual data that promotes the acceptance of the hypothesis that the Earth was created by anything intelligent. In fact, as a biologist, I would say that nothing intelligent would have ever created humanity with so many obvious design flaws (food and air sharing a tube is a very bad idea) and completely useless parts that can blow up (hello, appendix). So either this "creator" is a complete moron or we developed without a plan, directed only by which traits helped us survive in our environment at the time. And the evidence supports the latter.

Since I was in university, I have been collecting research papers from scientific journals that explain some of the tougher things about evolution. I have detailed data on the evolution of bacterial flagella, complex eyes, hind limb loss in marine mammals, hormone receptor complexity, and many other complex traits that creationists try to argue are "too complicated" to be attributed to the forces of nature. To paraphrase Randall Munroe (of xkcd fame), I say, "Evolution. It works, bitches." All the most complex traits humans have down to the cell walls of bacteria - it can all be explained by billions of years of slow changes and tough selection pressures. Who needs God? I can explain why I'm here and why my body works the way it does without needing to believe that some intelligent thing chose humans to be its favourites.

What a juvenile thing that belief is, really... it's so transparently due to a need to feel reassured that people are somehow special. Why else would it be so important to them to deny all the facts of evolution and insist on believing mythological nonsense that has been proven wrong again and again? Clearly they are insecure, and it's too bad, because the elegant simplicity of the natural selection concept makes the world seem more miraculous than any religious bedtime story ever could. I appreciate my existence because I know that the odds against me being here are astronomical. The fact that life is hardy enough to exist at all, and that human beings survived a near-extinction and thrived, and that my ancestors managed to remain healthy and safe long enough to reproduce without fail - those are real miracles.

I can't understand the fear and disgust at being labelled an animal, either. I'm an animal. I eat, drink, have sex, excrete waste, and someday I'll die. Sentience is, in a way, irrelevant. It hasn't freed us from the basic bodily functions every other animal has to perform, and in terms of evolution it was more or less a fluke. It's the byproduct of an evolutionary pressure to be innovative enough to survive in an incredibly hostile environment. In order to be creative enough to not starve to death, our frontal lobes had to develop. We lived in groups, so our social and communication skills had to be excellent in order for the whole tribe to work together to eke out a living. At some point, that became complex language, altruistic behaviour, and extreme creativity in the form of arts, and we became aware of ourselves like no animal ever had before. We were the first to wonder why we existed and ask how our world worked. Nothing designed us to be this way; being smart was a survival skill, and some part of that just went far enough to push us out of the rules all other animals live by. I'm not ashamed that I can think enough to write this sentence because of a quirk in our adaptation to our environment. It overwhelms me with how amazing it is.

Who wants to be a pawn in some spiteful god's game when the evidence tells us that we're some of the heirs to a genetic lineage that has lasted 3.8 billion years, and the only survivors that can comprehend the significance of that? What a waste of the brains we have to refuse to acknowledge that it was the pressures of nature that gave them to us.

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