Monday, April 16, 2012

It's In our DNA

Back when I was in taking high school Biology in mid 1960’s, the discovery of the role of DNA in heredity had just been confirmed a scant few years previously in 1953. Over the previous century Darwin’s Theory of Biological Evolution was already well documented and accepted by the scientific community – a marvelous advance for its time based fundamentally on the morphology of animal species. So when I learned that every species has its own unique and identifiable genetic DNA signature, I confidently thought that the precise genetic trail of DNA lineage would drive the final nail into the coffin of Creationist beliefs. I was wrong!

Over the intervening years the specific order of genes (genome) for a huge number of species, including Homo sapiens, has been mapped. Even within our own species, we can delineate the relationship and ancestry of specific individuals beyond 99% reliability; certainly no surprise if you’ve ever had to prove paternity for child support.

DNA mapping has actually gone back and corrected errors made in the taxonomy of many plant and animal species previously classified through morphology. Beyond a doubt, DNA PROVES Biological Evolution!

Yet still today in backward countries such as Turkey, Afghanistan, Somalia and the United States of America, a large percentage of their populations still tenaciously cling to the creation stories of their assorted Holy Books; tales written back in eras when the causes of weather, disease and the movement of planets were woefully beyond the technology of humans to explain.

But it is incorrect to ascribe these archaic beliefs in a deistic cause for the origins of life to ignorance or illiteracy; some very smart and highly educated people continue to hold Creationist views, though their justifications tend to be more elaborate.

For example, Dr. Francis Collins, physician and geneticist, currently director of the National Institutes of Health and formerly head of the Human Genome Project, believes that DNA itself is proof of the existence of god. In his book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”, Collins asserts that the universe was created by god 14 million years ago specifically tuned to promote life on earth. Collins believes that the development of living organisms was part of god’s plan (through the divinely created mechanisms of DNA) and that humans are unique from all the other species in ways that defy evolutionary explanations.

I must give scholars such as Collins some credit for at least attempting to reconcile scientific evidence with their beliefs; most evangelical Christian, Jewish and Muslim believers are satisfied with merely dismissing DNA and Biological Evolution as a “lie”.

I spent some time a few years ago attempting to understand why some very smart and accomplished scientists hold biblical or deistic beliefs. My father-in-law, Melvin, for example, a highly published former university Horticulture professor, is among them. I have attended lectures, debates and read their works – but I find repeatedly that when I pare away the specific elements of their arguments, one underlying theme always seems to be revealed: these folks want very earnestly the reassurance and comfort one finds in belief.

Collins’ desire for there to be a god becomes quite evident in “The Language of God” and is typical of other scientists who I have heard or read. In his book Collins asserts that “God exists because we have an innate desire for him to exist". He goes on to explain: "A duck desires to swim, so water exists. A baby desires food so food exists".

The question comes to my mind: if I don’t have the desire for god, does he/she/it therefore not exist?

I began this post essentially acknowledging what a remarkable volume of human understanding about the workings of our world has accumulated during just my lifetime. In fact, far more knowledge has been discovered during my generation than in my father’s; exponentially even more his father’s. Within only the most recent decade we have acquired a tentative understanding of how this universe actually came to be and what was likely there before the Big Bang and it’s ultimate fate.

As a friend of mine once pointed out: Every day something new is added to the body of knowledge and our understanding of the workings and origins of our universe. Yet religion, for over two millennia, has added nothing.


“The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”, Book review by Robert Neary


Rubye Jack said...

It's a puzzle to me why people have such a need for God when it just doesn't make any sense. If there was God then it would not be so hard to find him because he'd show himself to us non-believers. :)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Rubye Well of course this has been argued for centuries; we need to have the concept of "free will", choice to follow and believe or not. This has to be based on faith, devoid of certainty of god's existence. If everyone KNEW beyond a shadow of doubt that god exists, we would have no choice but to believe, no free will.

Clever, huh!?

Cognitive Dissenter said...

Having come from a religious tradition that pervades every aspect of one's reality and even one's identity ... oh man ... I believe I could write a book about this topic.

First, I know people (my own father, for one) who are very intelligent yet cannot (will not?) think critically about their own and often absurd religious beliefs -- to the extent that they will reject their children rather than question their religious authorities. I believe there are many reasons for this, including but not limited to the comfort they find in a belief in god.

There is also a fundamental need to validate themselves and their own beliefs about reality. For example, it's easier to believe I'm a "child of God" and that my gender role is encompassed in a larger divine purpose, if I also believe that homosexuality is both evil and a choice.

This is why Glenn Beck, Rush LImbaugh, and Sean Hannity have a fan base -- comprised of non-thinkers who are seeking validation for their sense of personal identity and reality rather than facts.

Also, it's fascinating to watch Mormons in particular go through their own deconversion process. It involves rewiring the brain. They go from rejecting true facts and shunning "apostates" to shaking their heads in disbelief that the believers can be so blind to the truth and so fact-averse.

Someone with expertise in psychology should study this topic then publish their findings.

Kay Dennison said...

I have added this book to my list.

Infidel753 said...

I desire to have a million dollars in my bank account, therefore it exists.

OK, that was easy. I'm gonna go shopping.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dissenter If we acknowledge that it is easier for people to believe because knowing takes a lot more work, this does not explain the dissonance people are willing to accept when it comes to the emotions of tearing a family apart. This is more difficult to explain; how are people reconciling in their minds the separation of loyalties?

I have to conclude that it comes down to their own "spiritual survival" and desire to preserve their selves. My father-in-law is sad that his daughter is not a believer; but he can do nothing about her choices, he can only assure himself that he will be with god when he dies.

There is also some evidence that behaviors that compel some to believe and others (like us) to reject and think for ourselves, is a trait we are born with. I tend to lean that way because I was always doubtful about my belief at a very young age.

Kay It will be interesting to hear what you think of the book.

Infidel Yes, see how easy that was! Isn't that comforting to know you will be taken care of?

Kay Dennison said...

Prolly not -- I never let religion get in the way of logic which is why I was always in the nuns' bad books for asking too many questions. That's why I call myself a renegade.

My priest laughs when I say that and says he needs more renegades.

Jono said...

So, if I believe in this god-thing everything is going to be great after I die? It does seem like a stretch to me now. When I was younger I sincerely tried to believe, but like many of us, saw no evidence for that belief other than someone told me to.

Anne said...

I think there's a difference between people who believe in DNA and God at the same time, and people who believe fantastical stories about how the world began and the nature of human beings. I don't find it necessary (or even desirable) to believe in a God and since I was a biologist of course I have some understanding of DNA. But I think if I wanted to I could go with God and DNA and the big bang. After all, since God is imaginary one could imagine anything one wanted to about him/her/it. Him/her/it could have instigated the big bang and DNA. Why not?

Robert the Skeptic said...

Kay I love the thought of you being a 'renegade'. Although, there was a time in history when another word for that was 'hereic'. Those poor individuals were dealt with much more harshly by the church!

Jono Actually I find the thought of "heaven" or any after-life kind of unsettling, in fact. I have blogged about this, what does one do, how does one spend their time, through eternity? It would become tedious after a while, particularly if you get fulfillment from making things better - can't do that in paradise, it's already perfect. Creepy.

Anne This is what believer philosophers (and professional debaters) like William Lane Craig posit; that if you can imagine a perfect being, logic dictates that it must exist. (The "ontological argument", if I recall correctly).

Unfortunately for them the body of science and understanding continues to plod on and explanations for the origins of the universe and pre-universe by people like Stephen Hawkings and Richard Krause keep chipping away at the unknowns.

billy pilgrim said...

when i was a kid we were told that god was floating above us on some beautiful cloud looking down us from his throne in heaven above. when we sent astronauts above all the clouds and into orbit above earth i expected there to be a great celebration; THERE IS NO MEAN SPIRITED VENGEFUL BEING UP THERE READY TO PUNISH US SEVERELY FOR MINOR TRANSGRESSIONS!

but no, the religion racket just kept racking up the profits and scaring the bejesus out of children the world over.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Billy Yeah, I had that vision as an adolescent as well, that god used his x-ray vision to watch me wanking in the bathroom to the swim suit catalog. God was kind of pervy I thought back even then.

Secret Agent Woman said...

Science is so amazing in itself - it baffles me that so many willfully dismiss it in favor of a cosmic puppeteer.

Robert the Skeptic said...

SecretAgent "cosmic puppeteer" I totally LOVE it!

Murr Brewster said...

It's like tapping your heels together and repeating "there's no place like home." You really have to want God to find one. I really don't care, but if there is a god, he's probably got a basement full of crap he never manages to throw away just like the rest of us.

alwaysinthebackrow said...

The family and friends who believe in a god have repeatedly told me "I just have faith" when I point out my non belief. In other words, they know it doesn't make sense logically, but it just has to be true in their mindset. Because what else would we do with all of the church buildings, bibles and crucifixes?

Robert the Skeptic said...

Murr God's basement... I'm pictured all these dusty 'failed' planets lying around; like one made of peanut butter or one with a Kool-Aid ocean.

BackRow I agree. I think many people just don't want to put much energy into thinking about it; like they don't want to end up being disappointed or something if they find out there's just a guy behind the curtain. What a let-down... take the easy way out, why even go there?

As they say, knowing is hard; believing is easy.

Antares Cryptos said...


Anonymous said...

For an atheist, you sure talk about god a lot. I'm just sayin'...

Robert the Skeptic said...

Anonymous Well, this blog is not devoted entirely to Atheist topics as many others are... but talking about belief, and more to the point, about non-belief, is something I wish more "believers" would do. That's probably why Atheists are often referred to as "Free Thinkers".

Anonymous said...

Robert the Skeptic - you suggested that God needs to not make himself known in order to permit free will. That is a reasonable suggestion, except that it conjures up the question for me about all the people in the Bible with whom he interacted. How or why would he be so accessible to many then and now not a peep?

Robert the Skeptic said...

Anonymous The question you pose assumes that the stories in the Bible are true, factual. They are not; the legal term is "hearsay" (someone told me that xyz happened). The Bible is not a credible source; the stories are not first-person testimony, they are anecdotes written decades after their supposed occurrence. But there is another weakness to various holy books: In the case of the "Book of Mormon", we actually know specifically who the author is. But the Book of Mormon, like the Bible, have no independent corroborating accounts to validate the story nor any historical (genuine) artifacts as evidence.

So the answer to why there is no peep from god today is that there wasn't a peep from him in the past - the accounts of his peeps are not credible.