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These are the closing paragraphs from the chapter (11) of Dr Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution on how the evidence of our evolution is written all throughout our anatomy.

 

“Williams goes on to quote another Australian colleague, who shares the national gift for chucking a bonzer phrase, on the Ichneumonid //that one is as odd to type as it is to pronounce// wasps, whose designer, if there were one, ‘must have been a sadistic bastard.’ Darwin, although he visited Australia as a young man, expressed the same sentiment in staider, less antipodean //yeah that one i had to look up–no im not posting the definition// terms: ‘I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.’ The legendary cruelty of ichneumon wasps (also the related digger wasps and tarantula wasps) is a leitmotif which will recur in the final two chapters of the book.

 

I find it hard to articulate what i am about so say, but it is something that I have been thinking for a while, and it came to a head during that memorable day of the dissection of the giraffe. When we look at animals from the outside, we are overwhelmingly impressed by he elegant illusion of design. A browsing giraffe, a soaring albatross, a diving swift, a swooping falcon, a leafy sea dragon invisible among the seaweed, a sprinting cheetah at full stretch after a swerving, pronking gazelle – the illusion of design makes so much intuitive sense that it becomes a positive effort to put critical thinking into gear and over come the seduction of naive intuition. thats when we look at animals from the outside. When we look inside, the impression is opposite. Admittedly, an impression of elegant design is conveyed by simplified diagrams in textbooks, neatly laid out and colour-coded like an engineer’s blueprint. but the reality that hits you when you see an animal opened up on a dissecting table is very different. i think it would be an instructive exercise to ask an engineer to draw an improved version of, say, the arteries leaving the heart. i imagine the result would be something like the exhaust manifold of a car, with neat line of pipes coming off in orderly array, instead of the haphazard mess that we actually see when we open a real chest.

 

My purpose in spending a day with the anatomists dissecting a giraffe was to study the recurrent laryngeal nerve as an example  of evolutionary imperfection. but i soon realized that, where imperfection is concerned, the recurrent laryngeal is just the tip of the iceberg. the fact that it takes such a long detour drives the point home with peculiar force. that is the aspect that would finally provoke a Helmholtz to send it back. bu the overwhelming impression you get from surveying any part of the innards of a large animal is that it is a mess! not only would a designer never have made a mistake like that nervous detour; a decent designer would never have perpetrated anything of the shambles that is the criss-crossing maze of arteries, veins, nerves, intestines, wads of fat and muscle, mesenteries and more. To quote the American biologist Colin Pittendrigh, the whole thing is nothing but a ‘patchwork of makeshifts pieced together, as it were, from what was available when opportunity knocked and accepted in the hindsight, not the foresight, of natural selection.’

 

theres so much more juicy stuff where that came from. please go buy it if you dont already have it, but do have at least an inkling of an interest in biology and anthropology.

The hypocritical oath

Posted: October 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

I often frequent a coffee shop not far from where I live. On one particular evening I managed to piss of a Christian by means of holding another Christian to their own supposed value system.

What led to this lady Christian (Ebony – not her real name) becoming irate with me was that I was in conversation with another lady friend of mine (Alyssa) who is engaged to one of my good friends (Tim). Alyssa has it in her mind that I need a lady companion to accompany me to her and Tim’s wedding. I made it quite clear that I would by no means hold Alyssa to finding someone for me. She decides that it is her fundamental mission to make sure that I have someone and that she is the key person to help me find someone. Well if theres one thing i’ve learned in life its a practice of futility to discourage someone from something when they’ve got their heart set on it.

So Alyssa sets me up with her friend Angie (Angela). We’re supposed to be perfect for each other. To quote Good Will Hunting, “You’re not perfect, sport, and let me save you the suspense: this girl you’ve met, she’s not perfect either. But the question is whether or not you’re perfect for each other.” Well I can save myself any suspense. Angela is not perfect for me, far from it. A fine woman with her share of quirks – not to be confused with quarks, heh.

However Alyssa kept pushing for me to ask Angela out. Pushing like a steam-roller. She introduced us, fine. That’s the furthest anyone has the right to go when its two other people. So to get Alyssa off my back I gave her two bits to chew on: 1) I made the drive personally down to Houston on my own time and my own dime. I live in Arlington. That’s North Texas for the geographically uneducated. The drive to Houston is round about 3-4 hours given traffic. 2) I told her I did ask her out, which I confess is a fib. Well, frankly thats your textbook white lie. And if you really want to cut the meat with that then I shall expose the fact that Alyssa lied to me about her and Tim’s engagement being entirely non-sexual. Personally I don’t care that I was lied to. I’m quite glad at the fact in all fairness. It’s simply not the most healthy habit to deny yourself sex especially if you’re already engaged to be married. Seriously? Get to bumping and grinding. Who are you trying to fool? If you don’t ensure sexual compatibility how can you be sure your marriage will be successful?

So I get a bit fed up with Alyssa being a hypocrite and an over-bearing individual. I tell as such to Angie. That Alyssa’s a bit invasive of Angela’s and my fledgling relationship; that she needs to back off and give us room to breath. Well then I become the bad guy. Alyssa decides to accuse me of both lying and “talking shit behind her back.” Right on one count. I’ll confess to a certain degree of dishonesty. I said Angela and I are an item, but indeed we both agreed upon a non-exclusive open relationship. She can see whom ever else she pleases and same for me. In what way is this any of Alyssa’s business? Short answer: it’s not.

Well back to the conversation I have with Alyssa that spawned my irritating Ebony. I decide to play the scapegoat for the sake of appeasing Alyssa, which unfortunately helped almost none. I asked her, wasn’t it Jesus who said to forgive others lest you be forgiven? Alyssa tried to bs me by saying she didn’t believe Christ would forgive her. Um, more bullshit.

Then why are you about to go pray to him for it?

Well I decided then to call her on her own hypocrisy and ask her whether she thought that my lie about the status of my relationship with Angela was worse than her lying to me about her and Tim’s sexual itinerary (again, no I didn’t care)? Apparently my lie was worse. She had no justification for how, but sure as Im writing this my lie was worse than hers. Whatever. So I decided she simply couldn’t be reasoned with – she’s religious, what was I thinking?

So I give a brief rundown of that conversation to Ebony emphasizing my point of transparency. You’re a Christian: forgive not and you shant be; forgive and you shall be rewarded. To further this I shall include the lord’s prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.

Ebony decided she really liked this. Why shouldn’t she, it is transparency at its best. Then as if an epiphany bitch-slapped her in the face she looks at me incredulously and asks, “Wait, aren’t you an atheist?”

“Yes indeed.”

She just about flips, “You’re not allowed to do that.”

Excuse me, why in the hell not? What does my being an atheist have to do with holding an individual’s living by standard xyz to that standard? Well Ebony had nothing to substantiate her claim. As far as she’s concerned atheists arent allowed to hold Christians to a standard they don’t themselves follow. As Gregory House said, “If you could reason with religious people they would cease to be religious people.”

I suppose I should begin a blog about my secularism (atheism) by delving into what turned me into your textbook heathen. I am a very young secularist: ~3 years. That said I can still so easily recall my life as a Christian. I was to the point where if I wasn’t at work or in school or in a dojo (karate school) I was in my church. I would volunteer for anything under the sun I could find. I found a decent niche in providing assistance to the youth groups – I suppose that infers I’ll always be a kid at heart.

Well my story essentially begins at Texas State University in San Marcos. I initially went there with the intent of studying history and German, get a teaching certification and teaching both subjects at either the high school or college level. Within my first month I was actively looking for youth groups and a church to enjoin myself. Well, wish granted. I quickly found a haven in a student Bible group. Made good friends with most of its members. I even took it a step further and followed my brother’s advice to me which was to join the ranks of a fraternity. I wasn’t a social butterfly in my grade-school years and he knew it. He made the mention that it would be one of the best ways for me to make new friends. He was absolutely right. My first two roommates were already pledging – what was I waiting for?

Well needless to say being a Christian in a university that doesn’t conform to the guise of a Christian school isn’t the easiest thing to do. I do not accredit the school for my transition into secularism. I thank my friend Hunter who was my big brother in our fraternity. Always ready for a good debate and even heavily encouraged it from me he was always skeptical of things I mentioned. Challenging my Biblical knowledge – or at the time the lack therein. I found not long after becoming an atheist that he does not subscribe to the Judeo-Christian god, but rather gnosticism.

I also thank my equally good friend Tristan. The first guy I met who straightened out my way of thinking with regard to spirituality. I was a Christian when I met him. We had quite a bit in common and agreed to play the roommate game and see where it got us. At the time the living arrangement was something more like me and another fellow Warren who is your typical bullying Christian. “Believe like I believe or I’ll pick on and belittle you.” So it was Warren, Tristan, a younger guy Nick – who is no longer amongst the living (suicide), and me. We were sharing a 4-bed apartment. Warren and I had convinced each other it was going to be a Biblical pad. At first I brought Tristan in as a means of bringing him to Christ. Wow, what a disillusionment. And as you might guess the reverse happened. He converted me. And it was quite a gradual process.

Initially it started when a very good friend of mine passed away. He had been battling cancer for a little while. I can tell you to this day I recall that I had requested numerous individuals to pray for this kid. Well he still passed on, but the cancer didn’t take him. He died from a freak fungal infection in his lungs he contracted whilst in the hospital. He was only 16. All the same, thats where I accredit the spark of my secularism to have originated. Now as I mentioned earlier I didn’t just wake up one day and decide cold-turkey I was an atheist. Absolutely not. It took about a year for my mind to wrap around the fact that there simply is no god, and how much easier life is when you come to accept that.

Pardon that tangent – thought it was a necessary one. Well I was living in the apartment with Nick and Warren and Tristan. I was trying to secure jobs that would pay well enough. I finally was able to land a position at a local grocer. I began as a front end CSA: customer service assistant, which is very fancy politically correct way to refer to the bagger who organizes your groceries into the bags. Not my first rodeo with this type of job. Decent enough pay: $7/hr, but not decent enough for my rent. I quickly found an opening as an overnight grocer. That job was much tougher on me than I could have expected. What really grew tough was that two of my three roommates (the two Christians) kept pushing me for these midday Bible studies. Here I am trying to earn a living overnight and these two guys have no respect for my not-so-desire sleeping habits during the day.

So followed a series of very stimulating conversations between Tristan and me. Now let me make it as a plain and clear as I can. I do not wish to create any illusions. It had been my desire, initially, to bring him to Christ. He in no way was trying to bring me to secularism. But he was very righteous in speaking his mind about my ignorance towards atheism. He was not degrading or insulting or condescending of nor towards me. He saw my willingness to listen and learn. He simply explained his point of view. One thing he was quite quick to notice was that I really had begun to question this faith in which I’d been living. And with all my questions he finally decided to lend me some literature that made a profoundly huge difference in his life – he too had once been a Christian, which is why it was so easy for him to understand from where I’d been coming in my arguments.

So he lends me Dr Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I read the first few pages and was told that if I applied a critical mind to his book that I should undoubtedly become an atheist. This idea frightened me to almost no end. I simply wasn’t ready to give up this ideology I’d been harboring for so long in my life. It just sat in a corner for a few months collecting dust. I finally mentally muscled up and gave it a shot. I didn’t keep a Bible of any kind near-by, although as it so happened it would have been a good idea because Dawkins referred to the Bible quite a bit in refutation. Well needless to say I did finally begin reading it. I can tell you I didn’t get what I was expecting. I got, instead, loads and loads of very logical arguments and presentations of what is logically and reasonably and irreducibly wrong with the Bible and religion all together.

So I finally started referring to myself as an agnostic. I still wasn’t ready to quite give up on the probability of there being this almighty heavenly deity – I wasn’t far either (wink). Well I began noticing lots of other things in my social perception start to change also. Many of the friends I’d made as a Christian were suddenly not so friendly. They weren’t chastising, yet, but they certainly weren’t as accepting of me as the once had been. I wouldn’t learn for a few years the more accurate definition of acceptance. I still had a very vague notion of what that term meant.

One such occasion where a friend didn’t quite wish to maintain that relationship I was asked out to a coffee shop to meet up with a mutual friend of Warren’s and mine. Peter. This fellow was almost sickly devout. Dare I say that sports are the only other subject he has any interest in besides his own beliefs. I explained to him that I just wasn’t so strong in my faith any more. I was no longer convinced that Christ was the only way for me. I was truly hoping for him to be understanding and maybe offer some compassionate insight that Dawkins simply couldn’t see. Boy, was I wrong. Peter tried to use a metaphor, he actually used it in the improper context:

Imagine if you’d been captured in war and had been forced to live life in the enemy’s prison camp. The only bit of comfort you’re offered is a little teddy bear that you may keep on you at all times. You have to spend your days confined to a very small cell with just enough room to stand up straight and lie down straight. But a man comes along and offers you a way out. All you have to do is say yes. You tell the man the teddy bear is your comfort and that you dont need to be freed as long as you have teddy.

Well another friend of mine, JP who is himself also a secularist explained that Peter’s metaphor was used falsely in reverse. Actually the teddy bear is allegorical of Christ. That explanation actually made the argument far more sound and reasonable. More over Peter decides to end our meet up by calling me a failure and saying that no matter what accomplishments I attain in life that without Christ I’m nothing and a failure. Wow! Thanks. If anyone ever gave me a great reason to dislike them that would do it. So I haven’t spoken to him much since, as you can imagine.

Well time went on and I began growing as an atheist. One of the first things I had to learn with my new ideology was how to bring morality into it. I wasn’t sure how to reconcile morale and ethics with godlessness. To me God equaled ethics and goodness. Of course I was only a new testament Christian. Like most I had only read about the works of JC and his sermon on the mount routine.

I recall I asked Hunter once, “If there is no god why be good?” He gave me a great answer, “Self preservation.” Be good if for no other reason than because of the consequences reaped for being bad. I’ve come to term it as Darwinian selfishness. I shall commit another blog entry to morality as existing beyond the confines of any god(s)/goddess(es). Dawkins accurately terms it as relative morality.

Well so thats my story of how I came into atheism or secularism.

To quote the late, but colorful Douglas Adams, “Always know where your towel is.”