Religion was forced upon me when I was growing up. I guess this is deemed "normal" by our society since parents are partially judged by how well they raise their children and exposing children to religion is part of this process. My brother and I went to Catechism for a while and I absolutely hated it. We would end up missing the days that would have food or a special event so no pleasure was derived from going. This lack of reinforcement decreased the enjoyment of the school. Plus, how many kids enjoy going to school 5 days a week let alone enjoy giving up their Sunday morning to go to more school?
My understanding of why people chose to believe in a religion is that they are comfortable believing or they enjoy worshipping. This belief could introduce peace of mind to individuals because they don't have to think about where we came from or what happens when we die. One belief is that the spirits go to Heaven and "live" peacefully forever. In light of recent world events, another comfort is that individuals who commit violent crimes will be "judged" by God and get their eternal punishment. Also, the Greeks and Romans had many Gods that they used to explain worldly events that they could not otherwise account for (lightning, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc.) These explanations may be a sort of defense mechanism for individuals to deal with grief caused by such events. This sort of belief certainly does not give me any relaxation or enjoyment. By not questioning and dealing with events as they come, what good is it to live? I find life more enjoyable by living at the edge of the seat and not taking everything for granted.
While other people would find comfort in worshipping, I would try everything I could in order to avoid attending church. Sleeping-in would sometimes work except on occasion I would be awakened. When I met who is now my best friend, we would have sleepover parties frequently on the weekends. If they happened to be on Saturday night, I would either not be at my house the next morning to go to church or we would be asleep (sometimes we were still awake!). He also did not attend church too much. So, we started off with that in common. Anyway, we progressed so that it didn't matter what day of the weekend it was, we would still have a sleepover: Easter, Mother's Day, it didn't matter.
As we grew older, we read more about science and were presented with the concept of evolution in school. I am appalled by those who want this explanation taken out of school. Maybe something is fundamentally wrong with their religion so they fear exposure to this theory will cause children to question, and possibly reject, that religion. I nearly immediately accepted the concept of evolution not because I knew all about it but because intuitively it sounded more feasible. As I became more adamant about my belief, my family began to pick up on it. They didn't say anything for a while, but subtle comments were dropped occasionally. When I admitted my belief, I was firmly told that I was wrong. I actually found the conversations humorous since I wasn't bothered by the fact that others believed differently than I did. Others get upset by the fact that I believe different than they do and try to change my opinion. Maybe evolutionists do actively "recruit" people to believe the way they do, but I have not yet seen one of them doing such. However, I have often seen individuals from other religions visiting schools trying to convince students to believe the way they do.
I have read books about science and evolution. The book I am currently reading is called The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. I will come back to this book later. As a result of conducting my own research over the years, I am confident in my beliefs. I have also noticed just how many other people assume their religion is what those around them believe. I frequently went to dinner parties where an invocation preceded the meal. I was insulted at this and would look up and around to show my displeasure. In fact, if I was looking down already, I would make sure to look up so no one would get the idea that I was part of the rest of the believers.
Being scientifically minded, I often had conversations about evolution versus creation. They would never go anywhere. Proof for concepts is essential; I do not accept things on faith. Both evolution and creation have their share of proof. But creation is highly dependent on the Bible for events. While I'm not saying the Bible is a work of fiction, I believe it is no more than a generic history book merely listing the events of time as they happened. As for evolution, there are fossils, genetic similarities, scientific laws that govern the universe-all of which are physical proof (laws are proof in that they can be proven from what we have observed). You can hold a fossil in your hand or look at the printout of DNA comparison between species. In fact, if you deny that evolution occurs at all, you might as well stop reading here. As Dawkins states, "...anyone sceptical (sic) of the very possibility of a transition from single cell to man has only to contemplate his own foetal (sic) beginnings to have his doubts allayed." Evolution definitely does occur as humans have observed effects of evolution (a moth for one). The question is whether humans came about from an evolutionary process.
Discussions between evolution and creation sometimes remained on a higher level (i.e., they didn't resort to explaining where everything started). In these cases, if something was physically impossible with our current understanding (spirits leaving the earth or multi-ton rocks moved from the entrance of a cavern) it wasn't that the event was improbable or that it didn't happen because it was documented in the Bible. The conversation was always that science did not yet have a way to explain these events. That seems to me to be a copout of a losing argument.
But anyway, often the discussions were traced back to one event. The creationist would argue that somehow, something would have to be present in order for the evolution theory to work. This "something" would have to be some mass, light, or energy of some sort in order to get anywhere. They suggested that God (or equivalent) then produced this initial condition which made life possible. Aside from the fact that the Bible says God created the Earth, Adam, and Eve (not light in the vacuum of space), this is also unbelievable. Why can you allow yourself to assume that God has always been around? If God would be necessary to give the vacuum of space an initial condition, then where did God come from? Both sides of the conversation come down to a point where something must be given. God is usually assumed to have always just been "there." However, Dawkins says in his book, to "allow yourself that kind of lazy way out, you might as well just say 'DNA was always there,' or 'Life was always there,' and be done with it." Instead of accepting that God has always been here, imagine that the vacuum of space is not truly empty, that something is just "there."
According to Occam's Razor (see this article for more information), the simplest explanation for a scientific problem tends to be the correct one. This is especially true when working with unusual phenomenon. What is more simplistic here: That a superior being exists and is capable of constructing a human being or that a vacuum contains what is called zero point energy (see Philip Yam's article "Exploiting Zero-Point Energy" in the December 1997 issue of Scientific American for more information)? I'd bet on the latter. Laws of physics dictate that matter cannot be created nor destroyed (same for energy, charge, etc.). This is called conservation of mass, energy, charge, etc., and states that these quantities can only be converted between one another. Thus, random fluctuations in the vacuum of space can create two particles (one normal particle, one anti-particle) for a small portion of time. If these two particles are charged electrically opposite, an electric field will result between the two. An electric field necessarily stores energy. Since there is nothing else in existence between these two particles for which energy to be stored, mass is created. Einstein proved that with his equation E=mc2 showing the relationship between energy and mass.
Now, this mass that is created also has electrical and gravitational properties which store energy. In this way, mass can be created from the vacuum of space and transformed once again back into the vacuum. Simple particles can be created in this way in a certain portion of the universe. When many start accumulating that portion of the universe becomes gravitationally dense and attracts all surrounding matter. Eventually, this dense mass has attracted everything in existence and explodes. Energy is released in all forms. Matter fuses with other matter forming different particles and atoms. The purpose of this article is not to explain how life developed as there are other theories for that. However, I will comment on how such "impossible" events might have happened.
Every event that you can think of has a probability associated with its occurrence. Everything. Often events are deemed impossible because the probability of them happening is so small, but they do have a probability. Can you comprehend a million dollars? Probably; there are a lot of people who are millionaires. How about a billion? There are a few billionaires. But how about a billion years? Probably not (for international readers, I am referring to a billion as a thousand million). The earth is a few billion years old. The universe is several times that. But we are unable to determine the actual age as we have no way to know how many times the universe has expanded, contracted, and exploded. Maybe it has only happened once. Then the age is approximately 15 billion years.
Have you ever thought about a marble statue waving its arm at you? Impossible, right? This event is possible, although highly improbable. The marble is made of many atoms, none of which is completely still. They are moving very rapidly in fact, but the random motion of all the atoms together results in a solid statue that does not move. However, what if all the atoms suddenly moved in one direction at the same time and then reversed to their original position? The statue would have waved at you. Now the probability of this occurring would take longer to write out than our universe has been in existence; but it could happen.
Now, imagine a chemist (or scientist or whatever) searching for the cure for cancer. If he tried every single possible chemical combination, he's bound to find a cure, right? How long would this take? Forever as far as we're concerned. Much longer than humans have even existed on earth. But it could happen given enough time. Any event with any probability could happen given enough time. Time is relative. Ironically, we have evolved so that we cannot comprehend lengths of time longer than our life span. Why? There is no reproductive success associated with being able to do so. Shakespeare lived around 300 years ago. Can you comprehend how long that is? Not very easily. It is a long time, but more than that, it is difficult to imagine.
The chance of life developing by itself is indeed slim. Far to slim to be comprehensible by any human mind. But given the immeasurable amount of time that has elapsed in the universe, this event could have happened. Call it luck if you must, but we are here today for the very reason that we adapted to our environment. Some individuals say that the planets orbit the sun too perfectly to just have ended up here. But that is exactly what has happened. Everything that was not perfectly orbiting the sun either escaped the gravitational field or burned in the sun. The current planets just happened to be perfectly positioned so as not to be destroyed.
The same thing has happened with evolution. Starting from the simplest life form, the one that had a higher reproductive success (i.e. the one that adapted to a change in the environment) is the one which will live. Its genes will be spread more than the others in effect destroying the less perfect genetic aspect. Think about what this means. Evolution does not necessarily result from mutations. For example, humans are not all the same height. Imagine that there was an environmental advantage to being taller than your fellow humans. Then, those humans that were taller would live longer and probably procreate more than those who were shorter. Over time, the human race would evolve to be taller. It is fairly easy to imagine that the origin of the giraffe may have come about this way.
The book The Blind Watchmaker provides a detailed explanation countering various creationists' attacks. I won't cover too much of these as I doubt I can do them justice in a few paragraphs of what an entire book has been written about, but I will at least mention some. The most common proposal deals with how an eye could have evolved by simple, gradual changes for what use is half an eye? Dawkins refers to this as "The Argument from Personal Incredulity." The individual proposing the argument does not understand how such a structure could have evolved and thus argues that it cannot. The Bishop of Birmingham, Hugh Montefiore states in The Probability of God his difficulty of understanding the white color of polar bears:
- "As for camouflage, this is not always easily explicable on neo-Darwinian premises. If polar bears are dominant in the Arctic, then there would seem to have been no need for them to evolve a white-coloured form of camouflage."
What the Bishop failed to realize that that predators also benefit from camouflage. When stalking their prey, if they are seen in advance, the prey has time to escape. Dawkins states, "I suspect that, if he imagines a dark grizzly bear trying to stalk seals over the snow, the Bishop will immediately see the answer to his problem."
The simple answer to the problem with the eye is that half an eye is better than no eye at all. An eye is a complex structure, indeed, but the gradual steps of evolution occur because the "process was simple enough, relative to its predecessor, to have arisen by chance." I, as well as many other individuals, need corrective lenses to have good vision. When I remove them, it is true that I cannot see perfectly, but I can see at least a blurred image of the world. I can still function without them, although not optimally. It is possible that an ancestor of the human race saw no better than this. Many people see worse than I do. This vision may have been a predecessor to something with my vision. Through these successive approximations to good vision, it becomes clearer how an eye could have evolved. Imagine a creature that we evolved from a long time ago that had no eyes. Then, a few generations later, something develops that allows this creature to "see" some part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Clearly, this creature would have a genetic advantage over the other creatures. Although the creature may not be able to protect itself from predators very far away, it may avoid wandering over a predators den. Five percent vision may not seem very good to you or I but that is because we have learned to rely on our vision for nearly every task. Someone who is nearly blind does not rely on vision as much as other senses. But, that little bit of vision does allow a little observation of the world.
I hope that this article has provided a little insight into my beliefs, as this is what I sincerely believe. I invite you to question these statements as well as the postulates of your own chosen religion and believe what you want to, not necessarily what the rest of the world does. I would highly recommend anyone to read Richard Dawkins' book The Blind Watchmaker if you are to only read one such book on evolution. A quote that sums up my feelings comes from the great physicist Dr. Richard Feynmann: "But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me."
I thank you very much if you have read all of this and welcome any comments you may have. Please Note: Letters may be edited for length, but will include all of the author's intended message along with any necessary language to convey that point.)