50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God (9 page)

BOOK: 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God
9.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

As bad as we can be, however, it is the immeasurable suffering of
nonhuman life that is even more of a problem for this claim that our
world is the beautiful result of a god's creation. Yes, there is great
beauty in nature. I know firsthand. On a black night I paddled a small
boat up the Momon River in the Amazon rain forest, where a symphony of creatures serenaded me. Soaring silently in a hot-air balloon
only a couple of hundred feet above Kenya's Masai Mara, I watched
giraffes stir beneath me as the morning sun rose. Inside a tiny submersible, I enjoyed observing unforgettable deep-water wonders.
Memorable as they may be, however, such encounters with beauty
could never cause me to ignore or deny nature's ugly side.

It is a fact that the daily routine of life on Earth is a continual
bloodbath of fear, suffering, and death. No Hollywood horror film
could ever begin to approach the grisly reality of a single minute's
activity in the animal kingdom. Every moment of every day, it is business as usual for animals to be eaten alive or even to have their internal
organs devoured from within by parasites. For example, some bugs
suffer that terrible fate when they are paralyzed by a particularly
creepy species of wasp. This wasp injects an egg into the victim's
body, converting it into an incubation chamber for their offspring. As
the larva develops, it slowly eats its living host from the inside out.
The larva is careful to save the most vital organs for last so the host
stays fresh and alive for as long as possible. I have seen a video of this
process. It's not pretty.

In Africa I saw two lion cubs gnawing on a zebra the older lions
of the pride had taken down. Their victim was still alive, even as they
worked to tear open its abdomen to devour the warm guts. It was difficult to watch an animal experience such misery. I will never forget
the blood-soaked faces and ghoulish excitement in the lion cubs' eyes.
But we cannot blame the parasitic wasp or the lion cub for such horrifying behavior. They are merely doing what nature demands of them. Or, as believers might say, they are merely doing what the god who
created them wanted them to do. The latter explanation is a bit more
difficult to understand, in my opinion.

Failure and pain is the norm for life on this planet, predation and
extinction the rule. Of all the species that have ever lived, scientists
estimate that more than 98 percent have gone extinct. If the daily routines of the animal kingdom in this "beautiful world" are the work of
a god, then I am confident almost any one of us could do far better if
we possessed magical powers. It could not be that hard to come up
with a system that is more humane-more beautiful-than the continual slaughter and constant failure that goes on day and night here on
the "Blue Marble." To begin with, we could base life on photosynthesis and chemosynthesis in order to avoid this predator-prey madness that stains our world with so much blood. Had a human with a
minimal sense of decency created this world, we might not have all
these mosquitoes that spread misery and death in developing nations
by delivering viruses into the bloodstream of millions of peopleincluding children. Then again, one could just leave lethal viruses out
of the creation recipe and not have to worry about mosquitoes, or that
terrible influenza germ that killed millions of people in the twentieth
century. Most species of bacteria do good work but there are a few we
might be better off without. In a world created with compassion in
mind, the populations of various species could be controlled by tinkering with fertility rates rather than disease and predation. Who
knows what this world would look like if you or I had created it? I am
confident, however, that it would be a lot more beautiful than the one
we have now, the one believers say their god is responsible for.

CHAPTER 8 BIBLIOGRAPHY AND
RECOMMENDED READING

"Causes of Poverty: Poverty Facts and Stats." Global Issues, 2007.
http://www.globalissues.org/TradeRelated/Facts.asp.

Leach, Susan Llewelyn. "Slavery Is Not Dead, Just Less Recognizable."
Christian Science Monitor, September 1, 2004.

"Military: World Wide Military Expenditures." Global Security.org, 2007.
http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/spending. htm.

State of the World's Children 2008. UNICEF report, January 2008.
http://www.unicef.org.

"Water Sanitation and Health: Health through Safe Drinking Water and Basic
Sanitation." World Health Organization (WHO). http://www.who
.int/water _sanitation_health/mdgl/en/index.html.

The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). https://www.cia
.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html.

Zimmer, Carl. Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures. New York: Free Press, 2000. Required reading for all
those who think nature is nothing more than sweet-smelling flowers and
pretty waterfalls.

 
aap&'r 9

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is
than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

-Carl Sagan

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does
knowledge. It is those who know little, and not those who
know much, who so positively assert that this or that
problem will never be solved by science.

-Charles Darwin

classic justification for believing in a god is simply the existence of the universe and everything in it. How can anything
other than a god, say believers, be responsible for trillions of planets
and stars spread across billions of light years of space? It is inconceivable that all of this just happened by itself, they say. How could life
have sprung up without a god, they ask.

This is a very appealing reason to believe for many people and it
is easy to see why. Any thoughtful person who looks up at the stars,
stares across the Grand Canyon, or simply watches a butterfly in flight
cannot help but wonder how it all came to be. The explanation, "my
god did it," is simple, convenient, and reassuring. The problem, of
course, is that there is absolutely nothing to justify crediting a god for the existence of the universe. Yes, it seems incomprehensibly large
and complex, and, yes, there are many questions that have stumped
scientists so far. Some mysteries of the universe may never be solved.
But this is ignorance, not evidence.

Unfortunately, the best scientific explanation we have today for
the origin of the universe can be difficult to understand for many
people and, for some, just too weird to believe. It's called the big bang
theory and the mere mention of it causes some believers to laugh.
They dismiss it as nonsense and refuse to consider the evidence for it.
Other believers, however, embrace the big bang as "proof' of their
god's creation. A sudden start like the big bang fits nicely with many
religious creation stories. But is the big bang the handiwork of a god?
Is there any reason, any hint that points to a divine being behind this
big event?

First, we need to understand a little bit about the big bang. Charles
Seife offers a fine account in his book Alpha and Omega:

At first glance, the history of the universe, as told by scientists, will
seem almost as farfetched as the stories told by Greek mystics or
African storytellers. However, unlike the ancient myths, every part
of the scientific narrative is backed up by hard scientific evidence.... And as strange as this tale may seem, scientists were
forced to accept it to explain their observations of the heavens. Like
many ancient myths, the beginning of the universe as seen by
modern science, begins with nothing at all. There is no space; there
is no time. There is not even a void. There is nothing.

In an instant, the nothing becomes something. In an enormous
flash of energy, the big bang creates space and time. Nobody knows
where the energy came from-perhaps it was just a random event, or
perhaps it was one of many similar big bangs. But within a tiny seed
of matter and energy is all the stuff of our current universe. For a fraction of a second the universe expands at an incredible rate; it is
inflated by an energy that scientists do not understand very well ...

Almost all the matter in the universe was born in the first few
minutes of creation. (Seife 2003, 63-89)

Wow, so these scientists are trying to tell us that everything-and they
mean everything-was compressed into a tiny space smaller than the
period at the end of this sentence. They claim that, for unknown reasons, all this compressed stuff suddenly started flying apart and the
result of that event was everything in the universe, eventually even us.
That is a spectacular and admittedly difficult-to-believe story. It
doesn't sound any more reasonable or likely than the numerous creation myths about a giant egg hatching the universe or gods simply
wishing the universe into existence. But there is something very different about the big bang. This story, unlike all the others, comes from
science and that means it must be supported by evidence. Unlike every
other explanation that our species has come up with for the creation of
the universe, this one has scientific observations and experiments that
back it up. This explanation for how the universe started is not a belief
and has no need for faith. However, it is not conclusive and remains
open to correction or rejection, just like everything else in science. It's
also important to understand that it doesn't even answer the question
of why the universe started. The big bang theory currently does not
explain what caused the sudden expansion of all that compressed
matter. It only describes the process once it began.

The big bang was not easy to accept for some scientists when it was
first proposed. It was more convenient when one simply could say that
the universe was infinite, with no beginning and no end. But science is
driven by evidence rather than convenience and the evidence points to
the big bang. Interestingly, some believers claim that the big bang is the
work of their god and go so far as to cite it as validation of their creation beliefs. (Note that it is always "their" god and never any other
gods who might have been behind the big bang.) But at this time there
is nothing to suggest that a god had anything to do with it. The big bang
is a big theory with many components. Cosmologists are still working
on it to see what holds up and what doesn't. As they make discoveries,
wrong ideas will be discarded and the theory will be improved. If too
much ends up being discarded, the entire theory would be tossed out.
This is why the big bang is superior to all creation stories from religions at this time. It is not an inflexible conclusion based on inflexible belief.
It is not a law written in stone that can never be changed-even if
someone shows that it is wrong. The big bang is an excellent partial
explanation for the beginning of our universe, but only for as long as
the evidence supports it and not a second more.

Believers who see the big bang theory as science finally catching
up to religion would do well to slow down and consider that science
is still totally silent about the existence of any gods, much less a god
being responsible for the big bang. Yes, some people try very hard to
make that connection but they are way out of line with the evidence
and do not represent the views of most cosmologists and astronomers.
To date, all claims that a god has been discovered are hollow and misleading. Cosmology has not unveiled any gods, despite the statements
sometimes printed on book covers and in magazine headlines. The
most believers can do at this time is point to unanswered questions
about the universe and attempt to plug in their god as the answer. But
understand that what may seem like magic or a god today often
becomes an elementary school science lesson tomorrow.

A final point about believers who see their god in the big bang is
that attributing the event to a super intelligent being does not necessarily have to mean it was their god who lit the fuse. It just as easily
could have been the god of a rival religion or even the god of a longextinct religion. Or maybe it was the result of an experiment conducted by technologically advanced scientists from another galaxy or
universe. There is no less evidence for this than there is for someone's
favored god doing it. Maybe our religions have it all wrong and it
really was aliens who gave our universe its start. Maybe they even
seeded the earth with life. How could we know the difference between
alien scientists and gods? I am not suggesting that we all start
believing in super-intelligent aliens as our creators. There is no evidence or convincing arguments for that either. I bring up the alien idea
only to show believers that one can fill in a mystery with pretty much
anything. It's better to simply admit that we don't know everything at
this time.

BOOK: 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God
9.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Muslim Mafia by Sperry, Paul
The Sacrifice by Mia McKimmy
Ground Money by Rex Burns
Blue Thirst by Lawrence Durrell
Full House by Stephen Jay Gould
Buchanan's Seige by Jonas Ward
Turbulence by Giles Foden