For this week’s blog I’ll post two related video links, the first for an Australian television series called Compass, which interviewed me while I was in Sydney last summer, on “The Atheists.”
I think it is a well done show, fair and balanced, so to speak, but I do find the premise rather interesting in as much as they purport to be studying “us” like we’re some mysterious species recently discovered on a remote island. From the voice over: “What do they believe? And are they all the same?” Picture David Attenborough hanging from a cliff face, “and here, if you look closely, you’ll see amongst the vast forest of believers the rare spotted atheist, whose diet remains a mystery but whose mating habits produce far fewer offspring than believers, and so they nest precariously on face cliffs such as this one so as not to be devoured by their carnivorous neighbors…”
Here’s the show summary:
Compass talks to atheists of different stripes.Eminent philosopher John Gray; science writer and editor of Skeptic magazine Michael Shermer; historian and writer Inga Clendinnen and Australia’s best known atheist Phillip Adams, all explore the philosophical and practical consequences of being an atheist.
How does their atheism shape their attitudes to science and the big questions of our time such as war and global warming? Is conflict between atheists and believers inevitable and necessary? Or, is this debate generating more heat than light?
I happened upon this delightful video based on the Coda entitled “Genesis Revisited,” from my book, Why Darwin Matters, which I explained in the book: “To convey the logical absurdity of trying to squeeze the round peg of science into the square hole of religion, I penned the following scientific revision of the Genesis creation story. It is not intended as a sacrilege of the poetic beauty of Genesis; rather, it is a mere extension of what the creationists have already done to Genesis in their insistence that it be read not as mythic saga but as scientific prose. If Genesis were written in the language of modern science, it would read something like this.”
Genesis Revisited: A Scientific Creation Story
by Michael Shermer
In the beginning — specifically on October 23, 4004 B.C., at noon — out of quantum foam fluctuation God created the Big Bang, followed by cosmological inflation and an expanding universe. And darkness was upon the face of the deep, so He commanded hydrogen atoms (which He created from Quarks) to fuse and become helium atoms and in the process release energy in the form of light. And the light maker he called the sun, and the process He called fusion. And He saw the light was good because now He could see what He was doing, so He created Earth. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be lots of fusion light makers in the sky. Some of these fusion makers He grouped into collections He called galaxies, and these appeared to be millions and even billions of light years from Earth, which would mean that they were created before the first creation in 4004 B.C. This was confusing, so God created tired light, and the creation story was preserved. And created He many wondrous splendors such as Red Giants, White Dwarfs, Quasars, Pulsars, Supernova, Worm Holes, and even Black Holes out of which nothing can escape. But since God cannot be constrained by nothing, He created Hawking radiation through which information can escape from Black Holes. This made God even more tired than tired light, and the evening and the morning were the second day.
And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the continents drift apart by plate tectonics. He decreed sea floor spreading would create zones of emergence, and He caused subduction zones to build mountains and cause earthquakes. In weak points in the crust God created volcanic islands, where the next day He would place organisms that were similar to but different from their relatives on the continents, so that still later created creatures called humans would mistake them for evolved descendants created by adaptive radiation. And the evening and the morning were the third day. And God saw that the land was barren, so He created animals bearing their own kind, declaring Thou shalt not evolve into new species, and thy equilibrium shall not be punctuated. And God placed into the rocks, fossils that appeared older than 4004 B.C. that were similar to but different from living creatures. And the sequence resembled descent with modification. And the evening and morning were the fourth day.
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that hath life, the fishes. And God created great whales whose skeletal structure and physiology were homologous with the land mammals he would create later that day. God then brought forth abundantly all creatures, great and small, declaring that microevolution was permitted, but not macroevolution. And God said, “Natura non facit saltum” — Nature shall not make leaps. And the evening and morning were the fifth day.
And God created the pongidids and hominids with 98 percent genetic similarity, naming two of them Adam and Eve. In the book in which God explained how He did all this, in one chapter He said he created Adam and Eve together out of the dust at the same time, but in another chapter He said He created Adam first, then later created Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. This caused confusion in the valley of the shadow of doubt, so God created theologians to sort it out.
And in the ground placed He in abundance teeth, jaws, skulls, and pelvises of transitional fossils from pre-Adamite creatures. One chosen as his special creation He named Lucy, who could walk upright like a human but had a small brain like an ape. And God realized this too was confusing, so he created paleoanthropologists to figure it out.
Just as He was finishing up the loose ends of the creation God realized that Adam’s immediate descendants would not understand inflationary cosmology, global general relativity, quantum mechanics, astrophysics, biochemistry, paleontology, and evolutionary biology, so he created creation myths. But there were so many creation stories throughout the world God realized this too was confusing, so created He anthropologists and mythologists.
By now the valley of the shadow of doubt was overrunneth with skepticism, so God became angry, so angry that God lost His temper and cursed the first humans, telling them to go forth and multiply themselves (but not in those words). But the humans took God literally and now there are six billion of them. And the evening and morning were the sixth day.
By now God was tired, so He proclaimed, “Thank me its Friday,” and He made the weekend.
It was a good idea.