Thursday, December 27, 2012

Religion vs. Science, the Vast Gulf Part Eleven: Was the World Made for Man?


It was on this day in 1831 that the Beagle voyage, on which the young Charles Darwin rode, began. No one, least of all Darwin, had any idea how significant this voyage would be—especially in terms of answering the question posed in the title.

This question of whether the world was made for man received its most famous answer from Mark Twain in a stunning and brilliant and humorous essay by that name. As I write this, I cannot find the essay online, and my copy is back in the office. Therefore all quotes are from memory. As I recall, Twain’s argument was that the world cannot have been made for man because of the vast period of prehistory to which man, “as impatient as the Creator undoubtedly was to see him and admire him,” was irrelevant. Twain ridiculed the idea that the vast periods of geological time were a preparation for man. Before God could make man, He had to prepare the world for him. “It was foreseen that man would need the oyster, and coal to cook it with,” so God spent millions of years making oceans with oysters and swamps that later became coal. “Now the oyster probably thought that the millions of years preceding him were meant as preparation for him—but that would be just like an oyster, which is the most conceited being that there is, except man.” And then there were the long dinosaur ages, with what Twain called dinosaurians and Arkansawrians. Lastly, Twain compared the time that man has been on the Earth to the coat of paint at the top of the (at the time new) Eiffel Tower. He supposed that the coat of paint was what the Eiffel Tower was made for, if the world was made for man.

Interestingly, Twain intended his essay as a response to Alfred Russel Wallace, friend of Charles Darwin and co-discoverer of evolution. Wallace saw the vast periods of evolutionary time as part of God’s great story which culminated in mankind. Wallace was a spiritualist, and probably made more money giving spiritualist speaking tours (mostly in California) than from his evolution writings. In other words, Twain was criticizing someone that modern ID proponents and creationists would consider an evolutionist.

But clearly the Biblical viewpoint is that the world (1) was designed (2) for man. Of course, Adam and Eve lived in a garden, and their descendants were hunters, gatherers, and small farmers. Genesis actually depicts the rise of cities, such as Babel, Sodom, and Gomorrah, as evil. But modern religious people mostly believe that God wants us to live in cities with advanced technology. They therefore think that the world (1) was designed (2) for man (3) to live as we live today (in terms of our economy and technology).

All three points are clearly wrong. The world was not designed at all, certainly not for humans. Our chromosomes are filled with dead genes and dead viruses, and horrible mutations from which natural selection has incompletely cleansed us. There are more parasites than the most creative human could have thought of. I have heard creationists claim that Satan created all parasites, because they are so acutely embarrassed of the problems that result from attributing them to a loving God. I and others have written much about this, and I must leave the point for now.

But clearly the world was not designed for us to live with modern technology. Today, this is most clearly demonstrated by the greenhouse effect causing global climate disruption. There are seven billion of us, with eighty million more each year, and the average person produces directly or indirectly more carbon dioxide every year than the last. The natural ecosystems of the Earth simply cannot process all of this extra carbon dioxide any better today than it could at the end of the Permian period, when a massive die-off occurred as a result of climate change caused by volcanic eruptions, or at the end of the Cretaceous period, when a massive die-off occurred as a result of fires caused by an asteroid. The ecosystems of the Earth have not evolved the ability to deal with massive fluxions of carbon dioxide that occurred at those times or that is occurring today. They did evolve the ability to deal with lesser perturbations.

Modern religion assumes God designed the world for us to live in it as we do today, with advanced technology and massive carbon emissions. In three ways, this assumption is proving wrong and, in the third case, dangerously wrong.

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