Posted by: Ticktock | April 10, 2012

On Kangaroos and Atheism

Australian animals are amazingly goofy looking creatures. I can totally understand how someone can look at a kangaroo and wonder whether a capricious god slapped together a deer and a bunny, or combined a duck and a beaver to make a platypus.

On the surface, these exotic animals seem so odd that they must be designed. How could an atheist like me dismiss the complexity and divinely intelligent assemblage of the natural world?

This was the question that was put to me as I wandered through an Australian-themed animal park. It was a fair question, which deserved a friendly response.

The answer to the question is that kangaroos are designed naturally by the hammer blows of natural selection. We can see the different adaptations develop as we follow the trail of evidence of the marsupial ancestors migrating from their earliest incarnations in (what is now) Alaska, down through (what is now) South America, through (what is now) Antarctica, and finally into Australia, where their traits were selected in isolation as the continent separated from it’s neighbors.

It just so happens that I was introduced to an expert on mammalian paleontology (via Rob and Laurie’s Louisville Science Cafe) on the very same day that I had this discussion about the beauty of the kangaroo. The paleontologist mentioned the sequence of marsupials migration that I noted in the previous paragraph, and it made me smile to think about my day of marsupials circling in upon itself.

To be fair, the question of the divine-inspiration of kangaroos was posed to me by someone who believes in evolution. She just thinks that evolution is part of the master plan, and that’s a position that I can accept as a possibility which can’t be proved or disproved. However, as I pointed out to her, if we accept that premise, we must also accept that God included the millions of bacteria, viruses, single-celled organisms, and all the inherently evil entities such as ichneumon wasps and the person who created Desperate Housewives. When it comes to kangaroos, God’s plan seems obvious, but when it comes to gang rapes in Somalia, he works in mysterious ways which we will never understand?

If we grant the overwhelming evidence of evolution then we must also grant the evidence for the age of the Earth. And, as we all know, the evidence for the age of the Earth invalidates the Bible and those who interpret it literally. More importantly, an ancient Earth, one in which humans have only enjoyed for only .0044 percent of it’s history, invalidates the idea that God cares about people. If he cared so much, why did he take billions of years to get us to the point where I could write about him in a blog post. Is it because he works in mysterious ways?

Not only is the immensity of time a challenge to overcome for the believer, but so is the immensity of space. When the bible was written, people thought that the stars were lights in the firmament of the world. They couldn’t have envisioned the swarms of galaxies that Hubble and other telescopes would discover by looking into the farthest regions of the known universe. If there’s a god, he wasted an awful lot of space to make us the center of attention.

And then the argument comes: how can we come from… nothing? And every atheist should be able to answer that with one counter-question: how can god come from nothing?

The faithful have no easy answers for the “how” of the universe other than “God did it.” Atheists do have answers that tell an indirect story… an expanding universe, fossilized bones, radio-carbon dating. These facts might not satisfy believers, but they are far better explanations than “God did it.”

Religious believers are posing the wrong challenge to atheists when they follow the path of “how” the complexity of the universe was created. The better challenge is “why” the world exists at all. Atheists can give their opinion (I certainly have mine), but this takes the atheist into a philosophical place to which there are no definitive answers. I’m not saying that the faithful will have the upper hand in the argument. I’m just saying that focusing on the “why” puts us on an even playing field.

I suppose I shouldn’t be offering advice on how to challenge an atheist, but I felt it was worth noting that there are some questions for which we don’t necessarily have an easy answer.

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Responses

  1. I disagree. You don’t know if there is a why, you do know there is a how. I don’t think philosophy will settle this matter, I prefer to live with the uncertainty and just say I don’t know, till more information is presented.

  2. “Why” doesn’t generally make sense to people without a little science background.

    Why?

    -Because it was an energetically favorable state. (response: blank look)

    -Because those traits were adaptive enough. (response: furrowed brow, foam at mouth developing)

  3. Why is always going to be a harder question to answer than how. Why gets into motives and prejudices and philosphy. How is usually a matter of physics and chemistry.

  4. Friend, How do explain the evolution by natural selection of complex mechanics like the bacterial flagellum that require dozens of working parts to come together simultaneously without knowledge of each other? If there are five, ten, twenty (or in the flagellum’s case, roughly 40), parts required for the system to work, any singular adaptation along the way (like a tail added without a driving/rotation mechanism that develops concurrently), natural selection would discard the item as it would not benefit the organism moving forward.

    Further, in the primordial sea, the only way you could have natural selection to begin with would be to already have the self-replicating blueprint of DNA. Without a replicating mechanism that pre-exists natural selection, there can be no natural selection.

    Regarding the space references, did you know the Bible referenced the bindings of the Pleides abd their anomaly of unified movement hundreds and hundreds of years before the first telescope?

    I believe any faith, if it is true, should be reinforced by science, not at odds with it.

    Respectfully, Chris


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