Saturday, May 19, 2012

Closets are Uncomfortable

I’ve got some great news to share with you, so I’ll get right to it:  I’m an atheist. Actually, it’s not news, as I definitively stopped believing in any type of deity about 4 years ago. However, being out of the atheist closet is certainly news, though, since this post is essentially me coming out. I’ve gotta be honest: it feels phenomenal.

I’ve thought about religion a lot. A lot. Therefore, I have a rather large number of thoughts to share on the subject, and if you’re also interested in the topic of religion I hope you read some of them. However, I realize that this is not a YouTube video of Antoine Dodson which means there are other things you’d rather spend your time on, so I’ll try to make these posts as meaningful as possible and limit the filler material as much as possible. Many books have already been written on religion, and I don’t intend to add to that number. Instead, my goal is to clearly explain to you, dear reader, why I’ve come to the conclusion that religion is complete and utter nonsense and a detriment to society and cause you to examine your own beliefs if you still believe in a god. I was a Christian for the first ~23 years of my life, and I absolutely understand why the majority of this country is still religious. I did not come to the conclusion that religion is bunk easily, and I would not have changed my mind on the most important question in life without very, very, very good reasons. As it turns out, those reasons exist.

To be clear, I’m not writing all this because I’m bitter; I’m writing because I want to clearly answer your question of “Why did you become an atheist?”  I’m writing because I’m big on the truth. I’m writing because the vast majority of the people in my life are religious, and religion can be a dangerous thing (as any kind of dogma can be dangerous). This doesn’t mean that I’m determined to convince you that you’re wrong if you’re religious, but it does mean that I hope you at least think about why you’re religious and whether that makes any sense. It’s entirely possible that you’ll read some of what I write and your faith will only be strengthened because you soundly refute my arguments (I’m not saying that’s likely, but, hey, it could happen).

I plan on writing a ton of posts about religion because there is a lot to be said on the subject. I don’t expect many people to actually read anything that I post after today, so I’m going to start with some important and interesting stuff.

A few quick things:
  • If you want to discuss any of this stuff over a cup of coffee or a beer, I’d love to. I’ll even buy you one. Seriously. I’ll even buy you tea or wine, if you prefer.
  • More conveniently, feel free to post comments on these posts or send me an email and I’ll get back to you.
  • I’m going to write pretty casually, which means I’m gonna do stuff like use the following: the impersonal “you,” the phrase “a lot,” words like “asshole,” the X-Men to make a point, and run-on sentences. It’s really easy to come off as a pretentious jerk when discussing atheism, so I’m gonna try to avoid that as much as possible. I may even cause you to smirk on occasion.
  • On a related note, my intention is not to make you mad. You might get offended if I describe aspects of your religion as ridiculous when you take it seriously, which means that I’m calling you ridiculous by association. You have every right to be offended and to make your point about why believing that when you take communion you are literally ingesting the body of Christ is not ridiculous. I will make a conscious effort to not act like a jackass.
  • Much of what I write is kinda obvious, and much of it has been said before, so I apologize in advance if any of what I write seems trite rather than bright, alright?  It’s not my intention to bore you; my intention is to cover as much as possible for the benefit of those who haven’t heard these points before. Also, I will keep the unnecessary rhyming to a minimum. Sorry about that.

With all that out of the way, let’s talk about God, shall we? Click on "Older Posts" below or pick one from the archive section on the right.  Enjoy!

Why This Blog Exists

So, after years of living somewhat-secretly as an atheist, why have I bothered to start a blog full of blunt and blasphemous material?  It’s a fair question, and one that deserves an answer. I didn’t really see any benefit to “coming out” for quite some time. My entire family and the majority of my friends are all Christians, and many of them are rather devout. I don’t typically enjoy pissing off the people that I care about, and I didn’t figure I would change many of their minds anyway, so I figured it wasn’t worth bringing up.

I suppose that the main reason that I’m ultimately bringing this up is this: I want the world to be a better place when I die, and religion is having the opposite effect. Most importantly, religion is a driving force behind much of the conflict in this world, and I genuinely fear that it will be responsible for a nuke going off in my lifetime. Jihad is religious in nature, and Muslims will not stop committing acts of violence in the name of Allah as long as they believe that Allah exists. The Koran is a scary book (“Slay them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you. Idolatry is worse than carnage...If they attack you put them to the sword. Thus shall the unbelievers be rewarded: but if they desist, God is forgiving and merciful. Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God’s religion reigns supreme. But if they desist, fight none except the evildoers.” (Koran 2:190-193)  This is but a sample of the Koran; there are many, many similar passages), and Islam is capable of being a scary religion (the Bible also contains passages about killing others, but luckily our culture has evolved enough to weed most of that out. It’s a danger with all religions, but it’s most prevalent in Islam).

The standard liberal reaction to that last sentence is to worry that I’m an intolerant racist who unfairly blames the actions of a few extremists on the religion as a whole. There’s a problem with that reaction. Namely: not all viewpoints should be tolerated. Look, I wish we could “all just get along” as much as anyone else, and being tolerant of the differences of others certainly plays a part in that. However, when we don’t oppose the objectively detrimental behavior of others in the name of “tolerance,” we’re implicitly conceding that their behavior is acceptable. To say it a little more plainly: it’s stupid to allow people to act like jackasses just because we want to be accepting of everyone. I’ll get into more details in other posts, but when people are convinced that the afterlife is much more important than their lives on Earth, they use their beliefs as justification for doing terrible things. You know, like killing infidels and people who inhabit their “holy land.”  This is not acceptable behavior, and religion is at the root of it.

I’m aware that religious extremists and fundamentalists may only make up a small portion of any particular religious population, but the extremists are enabled by the moderates. There’s a reluctance to condemn any actions done in the name of religion as it’s considered taboo to demean anyone’s religious beliefs. Societies as a whole give religion a free pass because no one wants their own religious views ridiculed or called into question. So, we’ve all decided that everyone can believe whatever they want and act however they want in the name of religion. Whenever someone points to religion as the root cause of terrible actions, “moderates” throw a fit and defend their religion by claiming that they are not performing these actions so we can’t consider religion to be a motivating cause. The truth of the matter is that the “problem” with fundamentalists is that they don’t ignore certain tenets of their religion that the rest of society has deemed crazy. In other words, their problem is that they adhere too closely to their religion. Religion is the cause in many cases, but moderates forbid attacks on religion because they want to continue practicing their bastardized version of it.

Following your religion to its fullest extent would be fine if religion was harmless, but it’s not. It’s been the cause of way too many wars throughout history and is a driving force in the current “War on Terror.”  While I’m glad that we haven’t been the victims of any serious attacks since 9/11, I am most certainly not glad that this “war” continues to suck up so much of our country’s budget.

To put it succinctly, here’s the problem: our economy sucks and our national debt is preposterously high. Spending $700 billion a year on defense does not help. Who is going to pay off that debt?  Future taxpayers. I am a future taxpayer. Ergo, I am pissed.

Obviously, there’s more problems with the budget than just military spending (namely the fact that we spend over $1.5 trillion annually on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security). That doesn’t change the fact that we’ve more than doubled our spending on defense in the past decade. Ideally that number would be zero dollars annually if we could get the whole “world peace” thing figured out. That certainly won’t be happening anytime soon...but it will never happen as long as we continue to tolerate religious beliefs that encourage killing others.

My reasons for being anti-religious are not all selfish; I wish that terrorism was not a threat and I wish that I didn’t have to pay to fight it, but I also wish that the quality of life was better for everyone in the world. I wish that people would stop killing each other over Palestine. I wish that India and Pakistan would stop threatening to blow each other up. I wish women were not treated like property and could wear whatever they chose in Muslim countries. I wish that people would stop taking their own lives and the lives of others to earn a reward that will never come. I wish that we could freely distribute condoms in Africa to cut down on the AIDS epidemic. I wish that people would stop pretending that abstinence is a reasonable form of birth control. I wish that no one will ever be used to make a blood sacrifice again. I wish that people were not ostracized for refusing to believe in imaginary deities. I wish that gay people were treated like straight people. I wish that creepy old men would not molest innocent boys because they’re sexually repressed. I wish that stem cells could be used to relieve the suffering of people that actually exist rather than worrying about the imaginary souls of things that are incapable of thought. I wish that people would stop using the words of books that are thousands of years old to justify their behavior. I wish that people weren’t sent to jail for possessing plants that are harmless. In short, I wish that logic, reason, evidence, and knowledge took precedence over superstition and archaic beliefs.

All of those issues can be attributed to religion. People like to complain about atheists under the premise that religious beliefs are harmless. I strongly, strongly beg to differ, and that’s why I’ve bothered to “come out” and start this blog.

Why the Bible Undermines All of Christianity

The Bible is one of the most outlandish pieces of literature ever written. The only books still read today that provide any competition in terms of sheer ridiculosity are other religious books (the Torah, the Koran, etc.). The Koran will get its own post as it is capable of inspiring just as much fear as the thought of George W. Bush being the most powerful person in the world for eight years in a row. Since I was raised as a Christian and the majority of this country is Christian, I’m going to start with the Bible. Oh, what fun we shall have!

I went to Sunday School almost every week between the ages of 3-18. In 6th grade, I became a member of the youth group at church. When I got to high school, I also joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In college, I was a member of Campus Crusade and was in a small Bible study group. I also went to church in college and was even a Sunday School teacher for a year. When I was 20-21, I actually read the Bible in its entirety. Suffice to say, I spent way too much time with the Bible when I was younger.

And never seemed all that crazy to me when I was still a Christian. Looking back, this seems unbelievable to me. Reading some of the stuff in the Bible when not immersed in the indoctrination of Christianity is an eye-opening experience. When I was younger, I didn’t fully appreciate how preposterous this book is, because at the time I was willing to accept anything in the Bible under the premise that it was inspired by God and I needed to believe in it in order to go to Heaven. Faith will do some unbelievable stuff, as it turns out. It will allow you to read stuff that depicts God as a petty, vengeful, cruel, jealous, megalomaniacal asshole and pass it off by saying “Well, He is God. I guess He can act however He wants.”  Faith will allow you to read the Ten Commandments and think “Yep, that’s a pretty good list.”  Faith will allow you to think “Even though the fact that some people are homosexuals doesn’t affect me at all, God hates ‘em so we better not let ‘em get married.”

How is it that I allowed myself to get brainwashed into thinking the Bible was worthwhile?  Well, when you’re a kid, they mostly touch on fun stuff: Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, Adam and Eve, the parting of the Red Sea, Jonah and the whale, and the life of Jesus. These stories are all pretty ridiculous, of course, but compared to The Berenstain Bears and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers, Noah’s Ark seems kinda dull. His animals didn’t even talk!  Then again, I don’t think there were any Berenstain Bears stories about the near-extermination of every species on the planet, so Noah has that going for him.

As I got older, the focus seemed to shift mostly toward the New Testament, and with good reason--if you spend too much time reading the Old Testament, your chances of sticking with religion will be about as good as your chances of becoming a Power Ranger. “Bible study” groups like to cherry pick passages that they can derive a useful message out of (as opposed to actually “studying the Bible,” which should lead to either dismissing it entirely or becoming a fundamentalist kook and stoning people for working on the Sabbath. Sadly, many people who claim to live their lives by it don’t really know what’s in it.)  If you only focus on the stories listed above, the gospels, and Paul’s letters, Christianity might not seem insane. There’s still lots of wacky stuff, of course, but a rational person could stomach it if they accepted God’s ability to perform miracles. This is why Thomas Jefferson cut out select passages to create his own version of the Bible: he was a pretty rational guy for his time, and he realized that most of the Bible is batshit crazy.

For example: Leviticus. The entire book. If you’re having trouble controlling your hunger, I heartily recommend reading Leviticus. It’ll make your appetite disappear in a jiffy. It will tell you, in great detail, how to properly atone for your sins through the use of turtledoves: “The priest will take the bird to the altar, twist off its head, and burn the head on the altar. He must then let its blood drain out against the sides of the altar. The priest must remove the crop and the feathers and throw them to the east side of the altar among the ashes. Then, grasping the bird by its wings, the priest will tear the bird apart, though not completely. Then he will burn it on top of the wood fire on the altar. It is a whole burnt offering made by fire, very pleasing to the Lord.” (Leviticus 1:14-17)  Very pleasing, indeed!  I won’t bore you with the details of all the different types of offerings one can make, but the general idea is that the animal you sacrifice needs to be free from defects, you need to be particular about where you smear the blood, and the smell of burning goat flesh is to the Lord what the smell of apple pie is to you or me (“very pleasing”).

You may be wondering what sins require an offering. Well, for starters, it is made very clear that unintentional sins are just as bad as intentional sins. So even if you only accidentally touched a woman while she’s on her period, you are still guilty and need to find yourself a nice goat to go slaughter at the altar. Here’s a list of things that the Lord disapproves of:
  • Eating fat (7:24)
  • Putting coal in an incense burner (10:1)
  • Mourning by letting your hair down (10:6)
  • Eating bacon (or ham or pork) (11:7)
  • Eating shrimp (11:10)
  • Giving birth, particularly to girls (12:2, 5)
  • Ejaculating (15:16)
  • Menstruating (15:19)
  • Having sex with any of your father’s wives (18:8). Yes, this means polygamy is cool, just as long as your wives aren’t related to each other (18:18)
  • Being a homosexual (18:22)
  • Eating a three day old offering (19:8)
  • Harvesting the edges of fields (19:9)
  • Gossiping (19:16)
  • Wearing clothes from two different kinds of fabric (19:19)
  • Eating fruit from a field during the first four years you plant it (19:23)
  • Trimming your sideburns or beard (19:27)
  • Getting tattoos (19:28)
  • Working on Saturdays (19:30)

If you don’t atone for these sins, you will either be executed (if it was a capital offense) or God will: give you terrors, wasting diseases, and burning fevers; prevent your crops from growing; send animals to kill your children; send armies to get you; destroy your food; make you eat the flesh of your children; and cause you to flee to the land of your enemies where you will live in constant fear (chapter 26).

So. That’s Leviticus. People think being gay is a sin because God said so in the same book He said eating bacon, masturbating, beard trimming, and wearing cotton/polyester blend shirts are sins (Paul also mentions homosexuality as a sin, but this is where the idea that being gay is “bad” originates). As Jesus would say: let he who is without sin cast the first stone, bitches.

Many people are aware of the Koran’s insistence that infidels need to die. However, while people like to think of Christianity as a kind and loving religion, the Bible also demands killing those that do not adhere to God’s rules. For example, check out chapter 13 of Deuteronomy. Seriously, go read that. Did you notice that it just told you to kill me?  Straight up. I am at this very moment trying to lead you astray from the Lord your God, and God was quite explicit in saying that you should stone me to death for this. Not only that, you should go ahead and kill all of the other heathens in my town that I’ve lead astray. Then you should kill our livestock while you’re at it. Then you should burn our town to the ground, and never rebuild it. This is what Deuteronomy says in chapter 13. It’s very straightforward, and while some of the Bible may be open to “interpretation,” I have a hard time seeing how this passage could be construed any differently.

Before you dismiss this by saying that Deuteronomy and Leviticus are really old books and maybe something got lost in translation or maybe that only applied when God was a vengeful asshole, keep in mind that these are the same books of the Bible that include the Ten Commandments (chapter 5 of Deuteronomy, chapter 19 of Leviticus) that people seem to think are significant even though an incredibly tiny percentage of people actually follow them. The Ten Commandments are so incredibly messed up that I’ve devoted an entire post to them (which you can read here), so I won’t dwell on them here. Suffice to say that within the same book of the Bible where we supposedly derive our morality there’s a chapter telling you to kill heathens...even though one of the commandments is “Do not murder.”  Yeah, good luck sorting out that contradiction.

(To be clear, I’m not asking that you execute me. I would strongly prefer that you didn’t, actually. Just take comfort in the knowledge that God will judge me and send me to Hell!)

Just for fun, here are a few other things Deuteronomy will tell you:
  • Don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk (14:21)
  • You should kill those that worship the moon (17:3)
  • You should not sacrifice your children as burnt offerings (18:10)
  • You can get out of fighting a war if you planted a vineyard but haven’t eaten any of its fruit yet (20:6)
  • If you can’t figure out who committed a murder, just kill a cow (21:4)
  • You need to give a larger inheritance to your firstborn son, even if you like the mother of your other son better (21:16)
  • You can stone your son to death if you think he’s a worthless drunkard (21:21)
  • God hates cross-dressers (22:5)
  • You can’t join the assembly of worship if anyone between you and your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather is a bastard (23:2)  (Maybe this explains why the rabbis were so pissed when Jesus showed up at their temples...)
  • God doesn’t want to see your shit, so cover it up when you’re done (23:14)
  • You must marry your brother’s wife if he dies. If you refuse, she must pull your sandal off and spit in your face (25:9)
  • Finally, what might be my favorite Bible verse ever: “If two Israelite men are fighting and the wife of one tries to rescue her husband by grabbing the testicles of the other man, her hand must be cut off without pity.” (25:11-12)  How awesome is that?!  This is the ancestor of warning labels that say things like “Do not stick hand in blender while operating.”  You know some broad interfered in a fight by yanking on some balls and Moses was like “that is NOT cool. I am totally forbidding that. Ugh. Women.”

I’m not going to waste too much more time going over how ridiculous the Bible is, but here’s a brief list of highlights off the top of my head: a woman being created from the rib of a man, the entire human race spawning from two people, a family not only building a boat large enough to carry two of every animal on Earth but also successfully gathering them all up (led by a guy who lived for 950 years), a woman giving birth even though she was a virgin, people being resurrected from the dead (including Jesus himself...after three days), people speaking in tongues, some dude living inside a large fish for three days, the Red Sea being parted so that people could walk through it on the floor, spontaneously combusting bushes, walls collapsing because some people shouted at them, and for good measure a book that approximates an early attempt at a trashy romance novel (written by a guy who had 700 wives AND 300 concubines, so you know he clearly valued relationships for more than just sex).

Oh, and I should give a shout out to the book of Revelation, which was written by a guy who may have been high on psychedelic drugs at the time. There is obviously no way to prove whether or not the author of a book written 1900 years ago was on mushrooms at the time or not, but it would certainly explain a lot. The mushroom known as “fly agaric” was all over the Northern Hemisphere, and some guy wrote an entire book exploring the theory that mushrooms may have been responsible for all kinds of “visions” throughout history. Again, there’s no way to prove that Moses or John or anyone else ever took any of these shrooms, but, again, it would certainly explain a lot.

I literally opened my Bible up to a random page in Revelation and picked a random paragraph: “The locusts looked like horses armed for battle. They had gold crowns on their heads, and they had human faces. Their hair was long like the hair of a woman, and their teeth were like the teeth of a lion. They wore armor made of iron, and their wings roared like an army of chariots rushing into battle. They had tails that stung like scorpions, with power to torture people. This power was given to them for five months. Their king is the angel from the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon--the Destroyer.” (9:7-11)  The rest of the book is just as crazy. It should be noted that this is the same book that makes people think that a “rapture” or “day of judgment” is going to occur sometime. Because, you know, clearly the man who wrote this book was sane.

So. That stuff all exists in the Bible. I did not make any of it up. It is clearly ridiculous...but for some reason people still love to quote it. People quote the shit out of the Bible!  Everyone wants to use the Bible to make a point, and they are not ridiculed for doing so. That people still put stock in the Bible (or any other holy text) is nothing short of ridiculous. To borrow a quote from Sam Harris:
 “Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.”
It is simply stupefying to me that people still have any shred of reverence whatsoever for a book written between 1600 and 3500 years ago. Even though Genesis covers events that supposedly took place as early as 6000 BC, it wasn’t written until sometime in the 1400’s BC. The gospels were all written 60 years or later after Jesus died, and none of the authors were disciples. It is full of contradictions (see this list for a bunch of examples, although I will freely admit that it would be a stretch to classify some of them as “contradictions”). There are a multitude of different translations of it. There are a multitude of different “interpretations” of it. Some people take it literally and some do not, and those that don’t cannot agree on what exactly is meant by those passages that cannot be taken literally.

At the time it was written, people thought we lived in the center of a relatively small universe, had no idea the Americas existed, didn’t know what germs were, found slavery to be a natural and acceptable practice, had multiple concubines, enjoyed stoning others, thought birthrights were the best way to determine leaders, and regularly made blood sacrifices. But we’re supposed to take this book seriously?  Really?  Really?!

There is simply no suitable rationalization for taking the Bible seriously. Much like the credibility of a witness in court is demolished when they are caught in a lie, the credibility of the Bible has been destroyed by time. Once you know a witness is willing to lie, you can’t trust anything he says. Once you realize that many parts of the Bible are complete bullshit (see above. Or, you know, just look around and realize that you’re living in a society that eats bacon), you can’t trust any of it. You can’t just throw out the parts of the Bible you don’t like and pretend that they don’t exist. The God of Abraham and the God of Jesus were the same guy, and Jesus studied the scriptures of the Old Testament like a good boy. In fact, Jesus was mad about supposed religious leaders that did not keep to the laws: “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the Scriptures. So practice and obey whatever they say to you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.” (Matthew 23:2-3) Furthermore, even though it’s largely disjointed and irrational, we’re told that it was all inspired by God: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)  Like it or not, the Bible is completely outdated and completely unsuitable for dictating how people live their lives.

If we take the logic a few steps further, we see a rather large problem. Christianity is built on the Bible. Without the Bible, there would be no Christianity. It is considered to be the “Word of God.”  However, it’s pretty clear that we cannot take this text seriously, at least not in a literal sense. In fact, most Christians will admit that those who do take the Bible literally are crazy and are offended when non-believers try to place “moderate” Christians in the same group. Admitting that we cannot take it literally and outright ignoring certain passages that do not fit with the modern world and our current moral and ethical code is an admission that the Bible is not perfect (and far from it). Yet, this is what the entire religion of Christianity is based on: a poorly written book full of contradictions and directives that we can all agree are irrational today.

The Bible has not stood up to the test of time, and this is not debatable. Why is it, then, that we’re still debating whether or not Christianity is a viable worldview when it’s entirely based on garbage?

“Intelligent” Design

We can’t discuss religion without discussing the whole “origin of life, the universe, and everything” issue. After all, it’s the main reason many people still believe in a god.

Some people think that science will never come up with an acceptable answer to the big question: how did we get here?  I freely admit that I used to be one of these people. I thought that life in general and humans in particular were much too complex to have come about by chance, and therefore we must have been created by a higher power. For most of my life, I was lazy enough to be satisfied with that. Ahh, to be young and naive...

(Disclaimer: much of this post is sourced from Richard Dawkins, who is an evolutionary biologist and writer. I highly recommend checking out one of his books for more detail on this subject from someone much more qualified than me.)

To start with, it is incredibly short-sighted to think that the only two options are pure chance and Intelligent Design. Those are both terribly illogical explanations. They are both completely and totally irrational. We can all agree that life, the universe, and everything are incredibly complex (and 42 doesn’t provide much satisfaction as an answer). Humans alone are incredibly complex: we have eyes and ears and noses and hearts and kidneys and livers and legs and arms and hands and fingers and shoulders and bones and blood vessels and cells and DNA. There is no way that we could come about, as presently constructed, by pure chance, right?  That is right, actually. Some have used the analogy that humans coming about by chance is like a tornado flying through a junkyard and creating a fully-functional Boeing 747. I completely agree.

The lazy option is to stop thinking there and chalk life up to Intelligent Design. But what if you keep thinking?  “Humans are really, really complicated, so they must have been created by God. OK, that makes sense. God could decide that His planet will be populated with beings that have eyes and ears and everything else, and while he’s at it he’ll create a bunch of other species (which are themselves really complex) so that there’s some variety on Earth. But...if it requires a god to create everything on Earth, what would it take to create a god?  That being must be even more powerful than our God (who is already omnipotent) in order to have created Him so that He could create us, and someone would have had to create him, and someone had to create him, and someone had to create him...”  This is what Dawkins refers to as “the Ultimate 747.”  Our life is about as improbable as creating a 747 in a junkyard via tornado, which we can all agree is highly improbable. However, if we were intelligently designed, our creator is by definition even more improbable than we are, meaning that whatever created him would have to be even more improbable, ad infinitum.

OK, so we’ve established that Intelligent Design is incredibly improbable because, as improbable as it might be for there to exist a being so complex that it could design us, it would be even more improbable for there to exist a designer of this designer, as that designer would have to be even more complex than our designer. The real question is not whether or not there is a God that designed us (as we can be quite certain there is not), but this: why is there something instead of nothing?  That’s a good question, and a really difficult one to answer. Just because we don’t have a good explanation for that doesn’t mean that we should accept a bad explanation. Erroneously attributing the universe to God doesn’t solve any questions; in fact, that complicates things even further because it brings the question of God’s origin into play. We have knowledge about our own lives on Earth; we have no knowledge about the life of any god. We can’t just ignore the question of where God came from. Saying “He’s always been there” doesn’t solve anything. Furthermore, since there is nothing to suggest that a god created the universe, it makes us all look stupid and naive. So let’s stop that.

To my knowledge, cosmology hasn’t advanced far enough to provide a good answer for the universal “something instead of nothing” question. It’s a question that likely won’t be definitively answered in our lifetimes, and it’s entirely possible that it will never be answered. Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss both have theories (and I’m sure there will be many more to come), but it is such a ridiculously complicated problem that there’s really no way to prove what happened billions of years ago. If you’re thinking “Hey. Idiot. We already have an answer: God designed everything. He is infinite. He always was and always will be. He is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega and all that jazz,” allow me to respond. Simply put, that is a completely baseless argument. You can’t decide that the universe needs an origin but God does not. You can’t argue against all secular theories for the origin of the universe by saying “you can’t create something from nothing, therefore it must have been created by God,” because the existence of God Himself falls prey to the same argument. If the universe can’t come from nothing, then neither can God. Is it really harder to believe that a universe can come about more easily than a supernatural being capable of creating a universe?  If your head hurts thinking about this, it should. Saying that the universe has a creator only makes its origin more complex, not less.

ANYWAY, let’s stop going around in circles on that question as there is no way to prove any theories about the origin of the universe (unless, of course, there is a God and he finally decides to prove to humanity that He does, in fact, exist; strangely enough, this has never happened). However, even if we can’t answer the universal question, we should be able to answer the local question about the origins of life on this planet. While the universe is, to put it succinctly, freaking humungous, our own planet is finite in size and we’ve been here for quite a while, so that’s within our ability to explain. Luckily, we have an alternative explanation to random chance and Intelligent Design: natural selection.

It’s a common misconception to think of “natural selection” and “chance” as the same thing, which is why many people dismiss this theory. The general thinking goes something along the lines of “You’re telling me that humans evolved from single-celled organisms?  Random mutations caused those organisms to grow some limbs because that would be convenient? Whatever, nerd.”  This is an oversimplification of natural selection. In general, the theory states that, over a period of millions of years, those single-celled organisms very slowly and incrementally mutated. Miniscule, nearly imperceptible changes. If Organism A underwent a change that was beneficial to survival, and Organism B did not, naturally Organism A would not only have a better chance of surviving itself, but its descendants would also have a better chance of surviving. Eventually its descendants undergo another slight mutation that allows for better survival and procreation, and this process of evolution is endlessly repeated. Organisms that undergo detrimental mutations, on the other hand, naturally die off.

The "millions of years" point is one that cannot be stressed strongly enough--we’re talking about a time period so long that we can’t even comprehend it. While we have less than 10,000 years worth of history passed down from our ancestors (as language is required for this to happen), we know that this planet is billions of years old. For those who think this planet is roughly 6,000 years old: please stop being ridiculous. We have fossils older than that. Dinosaurs most certainly existed before that. The Bible may only go back to ~6,000 years ago but, again, a language is required to pass history on. If you are of the opinion that life began with Adam and Eve 6,000 years ago and they could speak then, I would love to hear your explanation of cavemen paintings that have been found that point to a non-existence of language at the time.

There are some points of this theory that are initially hard to accept from a common sense standpoint. For example, we know that human beings today are very complex. Even little bits of us are incredibly complex, such as the eye. How could we come to possess a pair of eyes through tiny, miniscule changes if each and every change has to improve our chances of survival?  Doesn’t it seem like the eye would have to come about in a fully-functioning form to be considered useful?  No, actually. There are plenty of examples of other species still around today that do not have sight that is as good as ours (as their means of sight evolved differently), but their ability to detect the world around them is beneficial, even if the picture is not as clear as the human eye’s. Anyone with bad eyesight can attest to this. When I’m not wearing my glasses, my vision is quite blurry, but I can still make out walls and doorways well enough to stumble my way to the toilet in the middle of the night. Without my glasses, I wouldn’t be able to recognize a person’s face from twenty feet away, but I could at least make out the shape of a person. With each step closer I take, I get more information about what I’m looking at. “That looks like a person” becomes “that looks like a person with long hair” becomes “that looks like a person with boobs” becomes “that looks like a woman who is clearly watching me approach” becomes “that looks like a woman who wants to get it on. Giggity giggity.”  Or, conversely, “that woman appears to be creeped out by me. I should stop approaching her if I don’t want a faceful of mace.”  Even something as simple as being able to detect the difference between light and dark has its benefits, and every step between light detection and complete visual clarity is more beneficial than the last.

Creationists have attempted to come up with counter arguments over the years based on some feature of humans or other species that cannot be explained by natural selection. They try to point to something, such as an eye or a wing, that they cannot envision existing in a lesser version. They argue that such things are useless unless they are in their present, beneficial state, and therefore could not have come about by tiny, incremental changes over time. This argument is known as Irreducible Complexity, which states something like “nothing less than a fully-functioning wing could help a fly survive. Having half of a wing, or a quarter of a wing, is not beneficial. Therefore, natural selection cannot explain the wing. Therefore, the fly must have been intelligently designed.”  However, evolutionary biologists have come up with an answer for every one of these arguments, proving them invalid (the wing is a really good example, actually. While part of a wing (say, 1/10 of a wing) would not enable flight, it would enable falling from a certain height without dying. 2/10 of a wing would enable falling from an even higher height, as would 3/10 and 4/10 and so on). Keep in mind that some initial changes may not necessarily be beneficial to survival, but those changes could still persist as long as they don’t decrease the odds of survival, especially if they eventually turn into something useful.

You may be thinking “Why don’t we see examples of these mutations today?  I don’t see the X-Men running around in the real world. According to your theory, evolution should be ongoing forever.”  While it’s true that the X-Men don’t exist in reality (although it would be awesome if they did), this is a pretty easy one to answer. Look at your parents. Look in the mirror. Do you look exactly like one of your parents?  Similar, yes. Identical, no. Do you think exactly like them?  Similarly, maybe. Identically, no. Therefore, a change has occurred between your parents and you. Trace those changes back through millions of years, and the idea of evolution doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Mutations do occur, and they have been observed not just in humans but in all species throughout the world in both laboratory and natural settings.

You may be thinking “Part of the theory of natural selection is what is known as ‘survival of the fittest,’ which states that inferior life forms are weeded out. How do you explain apes?  How do you explain the fact that detrimental mutations still exist?”  As for apes, they still exist because they have evolved enough to survive as they are (just like all the other species that still exist). While humans and apes likely share a common ancestor, that does not mean that humans evolved from apes, which in turn does not mean that the apes we see today are less-evolved humans--they are a different species. They have evolved to suit their environment, and we have evolved to adapt to ours. Just because an organism branches out in a new direction that doesn’t necessarily mean that the lineage that didn’t go in that direction will die out. Apes are doing just fine. So are spider monkeys. So are orangutans. They all still mate. The fact that apes still exist is actually an expected outcome of natural selection, not a surprise.

Some species are not so lucky and actually do die out. Many more would if it weren’t for the intervention of humans trying to preserve them. In fact, there are over 1,500 species currently considered “endangered” or worse, and the vast majority of species to have ever existed on Earth are already extinct. Even if you’re under the impression that this planet is a mere 6,000 years old, we have fossils of countless extinct species and many more are going extinct on a continuous basis.

As for “bad” mutations not being weeded out, the advances of society and technology are to blame when it comes to humans. 10,000 years ago, I probably would have had no chance of procreating since I have both auditory and visual deficiencies and hearing aids and glasses are relatively recent inventions. Not being able to hear or see predators would clearly put me at a disadvantage, and would likely result in a terribly sad and most unfortunate early death for me. Luckily, human society has evolved in such a way that I might have been able to survive 5,000 years ago as I would have had a family and a tribe of other humans to help protect me. My chances of finding a mate may have been decreased on account of being half-blind and half-deaf, though, so those genes may not have been likely to be passed on (although, given my charming personality and stunning intelligence, I may not have had anything to worry about. Then again, my mustache doesn’t connect to my beard, so it’s possible that the women of 3,000 B.C. would have laughed at me. Who knows?). Today, through the wonders of technology, I am neither half-blind nor half-deaf, and therefore my chances of mating and passing on those somewhat awesome, somewhat messed up genes are significantly increased (get excited, ladies!).

Furthermore, if we were intelligently designed, why are there so many design flaws?  Natural selection allows for imperfections and inconveniences to persist; its only requirement is the ability to survive and procreate at a higher rate than dying. If we were designed by someone with the ability to create us as they saw fit, there’s no reason for us to have even a single flaw, much less a slew of less-than-ideal features. We don’t have 360 degree vision. Our knees are notoriously unreliable. We suffer from countless diseases that we’re unable to fight off naturally. We have an organ, the appendix, that no longer serves a purpose other than to spontaneously decide to EXPLODE in an apparent attempt to kill us. While the vagina is great for sex, it’s rather ill-equipped for childbirth, which is something that is necessary for life to continue and yet is one of the most painful experiences in the world. It gets the job done, sure. But that is not something that any intelligent designer would consider an ideal way to give birth. Also, as a friend of mine so eloquently put it: what kind of designer puts a playground in the middle of a sewage plant?  Location, location, location.

Also, shit smells. Don’t tell me an intelligent designer would think it a good idea for us to naturally excrete some of the most awful-smelling emissions possible every single day. Farts are one of the most annoying things in the world. They smell awful, yet they’re unavoidable. They cause discomfort when you have to hold them in, but when you release them you have to deal with that terrible smell, and this happens all the time!  Even if you’re the only one that smells your farts it’s still not a victimless crime. Thankfully we live in an age of ceiling fans and air fresheners, so it’s possible to take a shit without gravely annoying anyone who has to pass in the proximity of bathrooms (and for the record, I manage such issues well as my mother taught me good manners), but just think about how annoying it was to take a shit for the majority of history. I mean, would you want to have to trek out to the outhouse in the middle of the winter every time you had to drop a deuce?  Your choice was either that or using a bedpan and stinking up the whole house. Forgive me for being crude if you’re offended by this discussion, but this is a serious point: an “intelligent” designer would not put all of humanity through all of this complete nonsense every freaking day. Why couldn’t He make farts smell like apples?  We know they had apples in the Garden of Eden, so that scent was available to Him. He had the whole digestive system thing worked out where we eat food, process what we need, and get rid of the rest, yet he for some reason decided that we should be eternally tormented by the scent of shit rather than apples?!  Why would He even make gas a byproduct of digestion to begin with?  It wasn’t enough to excrete solid and liquid waste, we had to include gas, too?  Intelligent my ass (I would add “pardon the pun” here, but I kinda liked that one. Also, my sense of humor sometimes coincides with that of a child).

Furthermore, why create so many species that are nothing but detrimental to humanity?  This includes mere annoyances such as flies and mosquitoes as well as legitimate threats to human life such as sharks and mountain lions. The Bible claims that God made man in His image and 99.9% of its contents are about humans, so if you buy into the Bible you must therefore buy into the idea that humans have a greater place in this world than the rest of the animal kingdom and that Earth was created specifically for humans. You can explain the existence of cows and sheep and goats and other livestock from a creationist point of view, but you can’t explain mosquitoes. Not only are they annoying to absolutely everyone who has ever walked on this planet, they’re deadly when they carry around malaria. Again--this is the product of an “intelligent” designer?

Anyway, If you still doubt the plausibility of natural selection, I recommend checking out some of Richard Dawkins’ works. He’s an evolutionary biologist who has spent pretty much his entire career advancing this theory, and some of the paragraphs above borrowed liberally from his writing. To my knowledge, he has an answer to all rebuttals of natural selection.

Clinging to Intelligent Design as your theory of choice when explaining life on Earth may have been acceptable before Darwin gave us an infinitely better answer (I say “infinitely” because we actually have evidence for evolution), but today it’s just a sign of ignorance.