A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

As a ‘strong’ Atheist, I believe there are no gods. That is a belief that I am very comfortable, if not enthusiastic, to have challenged. The thing that irks me, however, is that those who try to challenge that belief almost never challenge it at all, but instead lay out a challenge to science. Now, I have an extremely eclectic resume but I am definitely not a scientist; as a matter of fact, at the time of this writing I make my living with a chef’s knife. What the hell could I possibly know about science that isn’t already published and open to criticism by anyone who actually cares to do so?

Why is it that my belief is so readily interpreted as a statement that I know how the universe came to be? I have absolutely no idea how the universe came to be and neither does science, as near as I can tell.

I realize that the distance between galaxies has been observed to be increasing at an accelerating rate, and that one can describe that behavior mathematically and then reverse the math to calculate that everything came from some singularity about 14 billion years ago – but that is where the current mathematical models break down, apparently. After that it’s really anybody’s guess.

Maybe the universe pulsates from singularity to some end point and back again, infinitely repeating. Maybe the singularity was actually a vortex from someplace else through which our universe got ‘sucked’ or ‘pushed’. Maybe the universe is just an attribute of a less finite context that itself is just an attribute of a less finite context and on and on infinitely. To be honest, I believe we will never know the complete picture.

The only people who have the audacity to claim knowledge of the complete picture seem to be those who claim that it’s a portrait of their invisible, imaginary friend. What a Kodak moment that must present – just keep shaking that Polaroid until the image clears up enough for me to take a look too, please. In the meantime, stop asking me where the universe came from.

Why is it that my belief is so readily interpreted as a statement that I know the details of abiogenesis and/or evolution? It really irks me when people ask me to explain these things, especially when they don’t even understand that they are different concepts. Abiogenesis really eludes me because it is based on such a large knowledge base of chemistry and still in such early phases of research.

Evolution can be even more difficult because so few people realize that it isn’t a fact at all, just an explanation that is supported by literally millions of facts that aren’t nearly as accessible to the layman as the cosmos. To make matters worse, although U.S. courts readily accept DNA evidence of two men being brothers as being rock solid enough to put a man to death, they won’t accept it as rock solid enough to establish the irrefutable relationship between humankind and the rest of the great apes. Fuckers.

Even if I were a scientist and had devoted my life to a field that fell within the bounds of one of the aforementioned scientific realms, that still wouldn’t give someone the right to demand free private lectures. These days I make my living in restaurants, and if you don’t believe that eggs and oil can be whisked into mayonnaise then you can go buy a fucking jar of Miracle Whip – it’s not my job to educate you and if you want my services then talk to your waiter. Furthermore, I have no idea how the absence of a conclusive scientific proof for anything serves as evidence to support the impossibly self-contradicting postulations made by Bronze Age holy books. For the most part those texts manage to completely disprove themselves without any need for science.

What I do know is that if you could pray to get shit done then people would pray and get shit done. If the god of Judaism existed then the Jews wouldn’t have spent their entire history getting their asses kicked all over the planet only to wind up back in the only part of the Middle East that doesn’t have any oil under it. If another god existed then I’m certain that the Jews, pragmatic people that they are, would have tossed their Torah and Talmud into the trash centuries ago and jumped on a bandwagon that actually had wheels. All I can say to deists is that I find their concept of god equivalent to fat-free, sugar-free, caramel syrup; if the word oxymoron didn’t just pop into your head then please look up the definitions of oxymoron, god, and syrup in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Prayer doesn’t work, science does, and you don’t need to be an egghead to figure that out. Go get a job at the Cadillac factory like Johny Cash and take a toodle around on your lunch break. The engineers aren’t dressed in ceremonial robes reading incantations in a dead language as they wave a big brass incense ball over plans scrawled on parchment – they are at computers, punching in numbers, and using instruments to take measurements. Science works.

Science is for the public and you don’t need anymore than bus fare to find that out. Hop on a bus, head to a local campus, and casually walk into a lecture hall with a bunch of students, inconspicuously taking a seat near the back. Quick note - it might be a good idea to leave the holy books at home for a day and instead carry a binder or laptop or something to give the impression that you are literate. Anyway, you can sit there and listen to them speak and you’ll quickly discover there is no fucking conspiracy going on. Everything that they are saying can be confirmed at the library – the public library. Science is public.

Science is international and you don’t need to travel the world or speak seven languages to confirm that. You can pick a subject, like the second law of thermodynamics (a favorite of so many holy rollers), look it up on Wikipedia, and you’ll find that it is available in at least 30 languages. For those that have had their nose in the holy books too long, feel free to scroll through the list of languages and select ‘simple English’. If you doubt that this information is available around the planet then all you need to do is sign up for a myspace account using a picture of a blonde woman on your profile. Within hours some guy with a name like Achmed from Egypt or Morocco will send you a message requesting a conversation by webcam. Now, tell him you will turn your webcam on after he reads the Wikipedia article to you, confirming the translation in his native language – a lot of them seem to speak French as well so you can have them check that too. Science is international.

So, I would like to ask, once and for all, that all holy rollers please stop asking me to give them free science lessons. Everything that I know about science is publicly available at a nearby college, local library, or on the internet. I’m an Atheist, not a scientist.

Views: 16

Comment by Jacob LeMaster on May 12, 2011 at 3:20am
Yeah.. Guilty I remember posting it in chat... lol
Comment by Derek on May 12, 2011 at 5:49am

Evolution can be even more difficult because so few people realize that it isn’t a fact at all,

 

Hmm, I would be careful with that one:  Evolution is theory and fact

 

Comment by Steph on May 12, 2011 at 6:08am

Love it - you are too funny! ;-) While I understand fundie thinking (because I was raised on religion and it's basic brainwashing, pure and simple), it still amazes me how most of them are completely ignorant of easily verifiable facts.

 

Well, I guess reading the bible means they only have to ever read one book, which requires less effort. Most of them have never even read the entire bible, anyway, so it's even easier to have a minister tell you what to believe every week. Plus you can give yourself a nice smug pat on the back for showing up to church.

 

Please most more like this one. You are very witty (on top of being right) and I do love a good laugh! :-) 

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 12, 2011 at 6:24am

@Derek

True indeed, it is a touchy one.

I won't entertain the 'just a theory' phrase because it suggests 'guess' rather than 'explanation'.

If someone said, 'evolution is just an explanation,' I would answer, 'and a damn solid one, supported by millions of facts.'

 

As for 'fact' though, I like the book analogy in the video.  Calling evolution 'a fact' is like calling a book 'a word'.  A book is not a 'word' it is a huge collection of 'words', written on paper and bound together.  Apply that to evolution:  Evolution is not a fact, it is a huge collection of facts, well documented and bound together.

 

Saying, "it isn't a fact at all," does push the boundaries on that though, I agree.  Perhaps, "it isn't actually a fact"?

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 12, 2011 at 6:45am

@Steph

 

Thanks.  I find it hilarious every time I see some fundy on YouTube with a fresh pack of lined paper drawing childish diagrams of holes they've found in scientific theories based on a quick read through of a Wikipedia page and no follow ups on the definitions, foundational principles, or related reading.  Here is one example for your entertainment (full rebuttal included): 

 

Comment by Derek on May 12, 2011 at 6:57am

"It isn't actually a fact"? Maybe. I would just be careful when using it to otherwise lay people who know zero about it, who might come away thinking that "evolution is just some guess" as in not fact = false.

I would explain to them the importance of the scientific sense of "theory". I.e. the theory of gravity is not a fact but a scientific theory, the heliocentric theory that we spin around the sun is not a fact and so on. It works on degrees of certainty. The theory of evolution is massively supported by tons and tons of evidence, more coming in every day, and none in contradiction. 

 

btw Isn't it strange then that we don’t see many people testing the theory of gravity by jumping off their roofs? Or we don’t see people protesting about the fact that we spin around the sun.

 

 

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 12, 2011 at 7:08am
Fully agreed on all points.  My position, though, is that I shouldn't be required to go through all of that, over and over and over, because I am not a scientist, university professor, high school teacher, "edu-tainer", or even well educated.  Personally I wouldn't care if alien beings showed up tomorrow and showed that every single thing we think we know about the universe is childish rubbish - all I want to know is how they want their steak done.  If they tell me that a god exists, then I want proof.
Comment by Derek on May 12, 2011 at 8:47am

"I shouldn't be required to go through all of that, over and over and over, because I am not a scientist"

 

I've gone into this on another discussion about the lack of clarity in science programmes, anyway that's for another day I suppose.

 

 

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on May 12, 2011 at 8:48am
Heather this is very good. I often find myself defending Science when debating Theists, especially those fundies that do not understand the basics. The debate gets switched from me saying I do not believe what you believe to trying to explain some point of science to them. Love the point about DNA and court cases.
This is from Dawkins book – The Greatest Show on Earth.
WHAT IS A THEORY? WHAT IS A FACT?
Only a theory? Let's look at what 'theory' means. The Oxford English Dictionary gives two meanings (actually more, but these are the two that matter here).
Theory, Sense 1: A scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed.
Theory, Sense 2: A hypothesis proposed as an explanation; hence, a mere hypothesis, speculation, conjecture; an idea or set of ideas about something; an individual view or notion. Obviously the two meanings are quite different from one another. And the short answer to my question about the theory of evolution is that the scientists are using Sense 1, while the creationists are - perhaps mischievously, perhaps sincerely - opting for Sense 2. A good example of Sense 1 is the Heliocentric Theory of the Solar System, the theory that Earth and the other planets orbit the sun. Evolution fits Sense 1 perfectly. Darwin's theory of evolution is indeed a 'scheme or system of ideas or statements'. It does account for a massive 'group of facts or phenomena'. It is 'a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment' and, by generally informed consent, it is 'a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed'. It is certainly very far from 'a mere hypothesis, speculation, conjecture'. Scientists and creationists are understanding the word 'theory' in two very different senses. Evolution is a theory in the same sense as the heliocentric theory. In neither case should the word 'only' be used, as in 'only a theory'.
As for the claim that evolution has never been 'proved', proof is a notion that scientists have been intimidated into mistrusting. Influential philosophers tell us we can't prove anything in science. Mathematicians can prove things - according to one strict view, they are the only people who can - but the best that scientists can do is fail to disprove things while pointing to how hard they tried. Even the undisputed theory that the moon is smaller than the sun cannot, to the satisfaction of a certain kind of philosopher, be proved in the way that, for example, the Pythagorean Theorem can be proved. But massive accretions of evidence support it so strongly that to deny it the status of 'fact' seems ridiculous to all but pedants. The same is true of evolution. Evolution is a fact in the same sense as it is a fact that Paris is in the Northern Hemisphere. Though logic-choppers rule the town, some theories are beyond sensible doubt, and we call them facts. The more energetically and thoroughly you try to disprove a theory, if it survives the assault, the more closely it approaches what common sense happily calls a fact.
Comment by Zombie Atheist on May 12, 2011 at 12:27pm
I appreciate this post very much. Reminds me of an argument I had on facebook where someone said science has failed and his evidence that science failed is the fact doctors haven't cured cancer and the like. I pointed out that without science, he wouldn't be sitting at his computer, on facebook, making that argument. I then told him that next time he gets sick, don't bother seeing a doctor if he felt that way.

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