Posted on 06 February 2010.
Last night I watched Creation, a film about the life of Charles Darwin and how he came to write On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. What I found especially moving was his own struggle against the authority of religion and the beliefs of his religious wife. With religion he had no qualms, but the fear of breaking his wife’s heart almost stopped him from finishing his book.
In one of the scenes, Darwin described to his friend, a reverend, how some caterpillars never become butterflies because parasitic wasps lay eggs into them. Once the egg hatches, the wasp larva will feed on the flesh of the caterpillar, leisurely devouring it from the inside, killing it slowly and painfully until all that is left is an empty shell. And then the larva will emerge as an adult wasp, ready to mate and repeat the cycle. When confronted with such cruelty in nature, the reverend simply said that it was really not for them to speculate on the mind of God.
How convenient it was for the reverend to say that they had no right to second-guess God’s reasons while religion has eternally claimed to have the ‘revealed’ word of God and stubbornly holds on to this ‘revelation’ amid contradicting evidence, insisting that it is the truth.
Ah, Truth. A word not to be taken lightly. How do we know the truth? That is a very hard question, but we can ask an easier one: How do we know if something is false? For starters, we could shed the light of science into claims asserted from behind the dark shroud of ‘authority’. If there is a God, he/she/it gave us eyes to see and minds to interpret what we see. Science isn’t asking us to believe anything; science is merely asking that we open our eyes.
Religion’s authority is derived solely from what they claim to be ‘divine revelation’. Who indeed would dare question an instruction or doubt a story if it was God Himself who said it? To answer that, one simply has to look at the deists’ definition of ‘revelation’:
Revelation: The act of revealing or of making known. In the religious sense, revelation usually means divine revelation. This is meaningless, since revelation can only be revelation in the first instance. For example, if God revealed something to me, that would be a divine revelation to me. If I then told someone else what God told me it would be mere hearsay to the person I tell. If that person believed what I said, they would not be putting their trust in God, but in me, believing what I told them was actually true.
Now the lack of credibility of this hearsay revelation is not as sinister as the supposed message from God. Religion is basically telling us that this life is infinitely less significant than the next. And because of this, a lot of people fail to live their lives fully in terms of time and freedom, and some don’t get to live a life at all. And for me that is the ultimate wrong.
If religion is this influential in the Information Age, just imagine how powerful it must have been at the time of Darwin when knowledge could only be found in a few books held by an elite few. One of this few is religion of course, and they even have their own brand of ‘knowledge’ which they gladly publish and distribute.
Fortunately, science is steadily keeping up. Religion has practically let go of the literal creation story, shifting to a metaphorical translation disguised as Intelligent Design, but this too is losing ground to natural selection. Then there is the question of the origin of life itself, to which abiogenesis, although not yet a scientific theory in the strict sense, is offering plausible explanations.
With these significant grounds being conquered by science, religion is desperately holding on to its last bastion of authority in its claim for holding the truth: the origin of the cosmos. And with this I remember what Richard Dawkins said in a debate with John Lennox:
“Cosmology is waiting for its Darwin.”