The Road to Rationalism part 5

On why it is a little bit silly to think we're God's (or gods', if you prefer) special creatures.

As I have already said, ad nauseum, in earlier R2R posts, all of the World's religions have stories of creation associated with them. I haven't read many of them, but no doubt ther're many charmingly spun tales of gods doing great deeds or accidentally finding all of creation whilst cleaning out their belly buttons, or even taking almost a whole week to do it (resting on the seventh day, and leaving a great deal of speculation as to what He did on the eighth, as Hitchens wryly noted).

Lovely stories, great to tell the kids, but lets not take them too seriously, shall we?

After all, now that we know so much about how all this 'creation' we see around us came to be like it is now, we need hardly believe that a book telling us that the whole of creation is considerably less than 10000 years old is actually literally true, right?

A recent estimate (by the CIA, no less!) puts the number of followers of the three monotheisms at 55.5% of the total world population. How many of these people take their version of the Genesis story literally is difficult to know, but I would put a fair bit of money on it being a significant majority.

This character, Yahweh, was a very regional god. He had no knowledge of, or showed no interest in, the rest of the world outside the desert domain of his 'chosen people' (its really the other way around, he was their chosen god) but none of this really matters, because in actual fact, its just a story, just like all the other creation stories - it didn't happen.

With the huge weight of scientific evidence bearing down on the thin tissue of lies that we all know these stories to be, most leading theologians, at least mainstream christian ones such as archbishops and popes, accept that this story, like so many others in the Bible, is just allegory. "Of course we know now that the Earth wasn't created on Sunday 23rd October 4004 BC, thats just an old story. Nobody believes in a white-haired, bearded old chap sitting on a thunder cloud any more. Ho-ho!" they may say, whilst simultaneously giving their minions in less literate countries a free license to teach their flock that, actually, its 100% true what it says in the Bible.

So if god (or gods) created the Universe, his/their role has been pushed further and further back in time, after all, god(s) can't be younger than the Universe!

Astronomers and Cosmologists tell us that the Universe is at least 13 billion years old. They know this because in the early 20th century they devised a way to calculate the actual distance between stars, as opposed to the relative distance between them, which had been calculated some time earlier. Later, radio-astronomers were able to detect a much wider range of frequencies of electromagnetic radiation than the narow band we are able to see with our own eyes, allowing us to 'see' further back in time, and farther away, than ever before. The farthest (and thus oldest) object yet detected is more than 13 billion light years away, which means that the radiation detected was emitted at least 13 billion years ago. That is a length of time of which it is impossible for us to conceive; suffice to say that it is a very, very, very long time indeed, and certainly just a wee bit longer than Bishop Ussher's 6000 or so years since god made everything.

13 billion light years is also a quite phenomenal distance. We know that light travels at a shade over 186,000 miles per second, which is pretty damn fast. Can you posibly imagine how far away something is if it takes light 13 billion years to travel the distance?

Estimates for the number of galaxies the Universe contains vary wildly, as we simply don't have enough information to give a reliable number, but the lowest accepted estimate is more than 100 billion. I know, its another impossible number, and they get bigger, but I'd just like for you to share with me for a moment the vastness and complexity of this Universe, and how our increasing scientifically obtained knowledge has pushed back the boundaries of our creation stories by many orders of magnitude.

Our own galaxy is considered to be a fairly normal sized one, and contains approximately 100 million stars. Just try to think, though it may be impossible as your mind becomes numb at the prospect, of 100 million stars each in 100 billion galaxies. My mind just turns to jelly when I try to think about that number.

Remember, then, that our Sun is a perfectly unremarkable little yellow star, about half way through a lifetime of some 10 billion years. We know this because astrophysicists have calculated how quickly different types of star use up their fuel, and since we know the mass of the sun, we know how much fuel it has burned and has remaining to it.

So at least 8 billion years passed before our own lovely little sun and our solar system were formed from the debris of an exploding star. We know this because we have calculated how much energy it takes to produce the elements heavier than iron that we have here on Earth, and only a supernova can produce such massive amounts of energy. We have also observed the aftermaths of supernovae with our telescopes, and have seen how new stars and thus planets are born.

About 4.5 billion years ago, our planet was fully formed, and began to cool. The oldest rocks we have so far found, and reliably dated, are more than 3 billion years old.

I'm not going to go through the story of life and evolution as I want to talk about all that in a separate post, but we know that our species, Homo sapiens, has existed for a mere 100,000 years. Yahweh was conceived of merely 6000 years ago.

The mainstream, you may say 'enlightened' (though I wouldn't) theologians of Christendom accept that all this scientific evidence is irrefutable, and though we may quibble over absolute dates (to a margin of thousands with human prehistory; tens of thousands to millions with the dates at which prehistoric species branched; tens of millions with the age of the Earth; hundreds of millions with the ages of stars etc) the fact cannot be ignored that the pentateuchal/biblical/koranic age of the universe is not just slightly wrong, but incredibly, ridiculously, laughably wrong.

We can forgive the story's writers, because they lived in a time of the most appalling ignorance. What excuse do we have today?

Enjoy this post? Then why not subscribe in a reader, or subscribe by email (top right of the page) for updates?

View blog reactions