In this article I want to show why it is that as a geologist I cannot accept any concept of theism. I am an atheist of all theistic gods, whether they be Abrahamic (Christian, Muslim, Jewish) or other intervening deities.
Let’s start by defining the terms.
Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one deity exists (with subdivisions monotheism and polytheism). In a more specific sense, theism is commonly a monotheistic doctrine concerning the nature of a single deity, and that deity's relationship to the universe. Importantly for our discussion, theism, conceives of God as personal, present, intervening and active in the governance and organization of the earth and the universe. As such theism describes the classical conception of God that is found in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and some forms of Hinduism.
Deism is the belief that at least one deity exists and created the world, but that the creator(s) does/do not alter the original plan for the universe. The deistic concept contends that God, though transcendent and supreme, did not intervene in the natural world and could be known rationally but not via revelation. Deism typically rejects supernatural events (such as prophecies, miracles, and divine revelations) prominent in organized religion.
Creationism is the religious belief that life, the Earth, and the universe are the creation of a supernatural being. Critically important to understand is that if you are a theist, you will believe in some form of creation and if you have any sophistication your particular version or explanation of creation will attempt to incorporate the current scientific understanding of natural dynamic processes. Invariably theists who have this view are also proponents of Intelligent Design (ID).
At this point, I also want to lay a few ground rules before we continue. This article is not a debate as to whether the natural sciences are the most relevant explanations of the natural world as we observe it, so if you are a young earth creationist do not bother reading any further you are not going to like or comprehend the concepts I present. The audience I am focussing this article on, are the more sophisticated theists (ID proponents) who, like the overwhelming bulk of theists worldwide, accept and understand the natural sciences for what they are – the most valid explanations for the functioning of the natural world given the evidence, observations and testing we currently have at our disposal. Sophisticated theists (some of whom happen to be scientists as well) also understand that science/scientists are not engaged in a worldwide conspiracy to debunk certain ancient texts, and that science in fact does not concern itself with the existence or not of deities.
So with the definitions and ground rules out of the way let’s get to the crux of why I say theism is highly improbable given our current level of scientific knowledge.
Intelligent Design generally ascribes to the “anthropic principal”. The strong anthropic principle (SAP) states that the Universe is compelled, in some sense, for conscious life to eventually emerge. Critics of the SAP argue in favour of a weak anthropic principle (WAP) which states that the universe's ostensible fine tuning is the result of selection bias: i.e., only in a universe capable of eventually supporting life will there be living beings capable of observing any such fine tuning, while a universe less compatible with life will go unbeheld.
So in short sophisticated theists who support the concept (knowingly or not) of Intelligent Design, maintain that the evolution of life and more importantly intelligent life was inevitable and indeed planned and executed by a supernatural being in the past and at present. Humans are the Raison d'être for the very large scale and elaborate design of the universe, solar system and earth.
Now the geologic record has much to say about our being here. We know that approximately 99.9% of all species that ever existed are already extinct. It’s impossible to determine the precise reasons for each species going extinct suffice to say that they simply lost out in the ceaseless dynamic (ever-changing) natural system. Many millions of species disappeared in 5 well recorded mass extinction events as follows:
· 85% of species at the end of the Ordovician (~440 Ma);
· 80% of species at the end of the Devonian (~360 Ma);
· 96% of species at the end of the Permian (~250 Ma);
· 76% of species at the end of the Triassic (~210 Ma); and
· The most famous of all ~75% of all species at the end of the Cretaceous (~65 Ma)
Many hundreds of small scale extinction events some global and others local are also recorded in the geological record.
Some of the causes of the mass extinction events are not known and are the subject of some debate. So let’s consider the most famous and arguably best studied extinction event – the one that ended the 165 million year reign of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous, 65 Ma. It has now been fairly well established that an impact by a sizable projectile from space caused the abrupt end of the dinosaurs. Mammals co-existed with dinosaurs, but the removal of the dinosaurs from the ecological niches resulted in dramatic changes and the emergence and eventual dominance of mammals.
Now for the crux of the point I want to make. Suppose the projectile from space had missed earth instead of colliding with it? What would the earth be like today? Chances are that mammals would either be extinct or still eking out a precarious living on the fringes of a dinosaur dominated planet. Now ask yourself, has a deity ever been observed pushing minor projectiles around in the cosmos/solar system?
So this raises a profound question: how inevitable was the evolution of an intelligent mammalian life form, Homo Sapiens Sapiens? Humans are quite literally the product of a cosmic accident (the impact of the Cretaceous projectile) 65 million years ago, coupled with literally hundreds of other chance events before and after the impact over millions/billions of years. The long geological record of extinctions and mass extinctions tells us in no uncertain terms that in the grand scheme of things Homo Sapiens are not the centre of all things and that extinction can happen tomorrow to any species.
And so to get back to theism! In order to be a theist, someone who believes in an intervening, governing, organising deity, this is what you have to believe. You have to believe that 65 million years ago a deity steered on purpose, with full knowledge of 65 million years of evolution still ahead, a projectile of precisely the correct size, speed and energy, into precisely the correct spot on earth, at precisely the correct time in the evolutionary trajectory of species on earth, knowing that in doing so this would result in Christian, Islam, Hindu and thousands of other deities being worshiped by an intelligent mammalian species who would all “know” for sure their version of deity was the one who did the deed.
Now you need to apply your mind still further. Take the example above from the Cretaceous mass extinction and multiply that by the orders of magnitude of time 65 million years out of 4 500 million years of earth’s history (never mind the preceding 9 300 million years of universe history) and you will comprehend the staggering array and vastness of chance events that resulted in the existence of intelligent life on earth. To think that some deity (and it appears no one knows exactly which one) had a hand in this at every step of the intricate path is incomprehensible and nonsensical, even more so given the shear immensity of the universe with 200 billion plus stars in our own galaxy (Milky Way) and the billions of galaxies each with their billions of stars, most as it now transpires, with a multitude of orbiting planets where presumably the theist deity is helping things along, on a second by second basis.
Hence I am not a theist of any kind. I may still say however that I am an agnostic (simply don’t know although its highly improbable) when it comes to the concept of an all powerful deistic deity/being/force or what ever other term one may wish to give such an entity. The theist still has all their work ahead of them.
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