By James Haught
Evolution is astounding. The mind boggles to realize that natural selection — driven by weak hydrogen bonds that let the long DNA molecule unzip and replicate itself — could produce the planet’s incredible array of millions of living species, including humans. It’s almost unbelievable. How could such amazing diversity come from a self-replicating molecule? How can an assemblage of amino acids and cells write symphonies or put manned space stations into orbit?
However, honest, intelligent people must accept scientific evidence that evolution produced all living things, because no other trustworthy explanation exists. There’s no evidence whatever — zilch — that a magical god created life.
Evolution is ruthless, heartless, killing off most creatures it spawns. Almost 99 percent of all species that ever lived became extinct — and humans nearly did. National Geographic genome expert Spencer Wells says the last Ice Age, perhaps coupled with a super-volcano in Sumatra, almost exterminated humans before they migrated from Africa. He wrote:
“While homo sapiens can be traced to around 200,000 years ago in the fossil record, it is remarkably difficult to find an archaeological record of our species between 80,000 and 50,000 years ago, and genetic data suggest that the population eventually dwindled to as few as 2,000 individuals. Yes, 2,000 — fewer than fit into many symphony halls. We were on the brink of extinction.”
That’s stunning. Despite our large brains and survival skills, we humans nearly vanished. We almost were lost like dinosaurs and other victims of cruel evolution. We narrowly pulled through.
But we survived and eventually dominated Planet Earth, manipulating nature to nourish ourselves. Humans are a bizarre mix of genius and inventive abilities, entangled with primitive superstitions and paranoid warmaking savagery. Evolution made us kind and cruel, intelligent and stupid, admirable and absurd.
A scholar who probes deeply into the puzzle of humanity is sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, who has written several deep books — repeatedly denouncing the human tendency to concoct imaginary gods, devils, heavens, hells, angels, demons, miracles and other supernatural figments.
In Consilience, analyzing how knowledge grows and becomes verified, he said there are two ways to look at reality: Empiricism, believing only what evidence reveals — and Transcendentalism, believing that a hidden order rules events. If any proof ever upholds the latter, he wrote, “the discovery would be quite simply the most consequential in human history.” But no proof ever emerged.
In a later book, The Meaning of Human Existence, Dr. Wilson lambastes religion mercilessly. He concludes that evolution caused humans to be tribalized, and to invent imaginary gods suited to their tribes. He says: “The best way to live in this real world is to free ourselves of demons and tribal gods.” (p. 158) Other observations:
“The great majority of people worldwide remain in the thrall of tribal organized religions, led by men who claim supernatural power in order to compete for obedience and resources of the faithful. We are addicted to tribal conflict, which is… deadly when expressed as real-world ethnic, religious and ideological struggles.” (p. 176)
“The principal driving force of mass murders… is tribalism, and the central rationale for lethal tribalism is sectarian religions — in particular the conflict between those faithful to different myths.” (p. 154)
”Demons and gods do not vie for our allegiance. Instead, we are self-made, independent, alone, and fragile, a biological species adapted to live in a biological world. What counts for our long-term survival is intelligent self-understanding.” (p. 26)
“We are not predestined to reach any goal, nor are we answerable to any power but our own. Only wisdom based on self-understanding, not piety, will save us. There will be no redemption or second chance vouchsafed to us from above.” (p. 15)
“The instinctual force of tribalism in the genesis of religiosity is far stronger than the yearning for spirituality…. It is tribalism, not the moral tenets and humanitarian thought of pure religion, that makes good people do bad things.” (p. 150)
In his final chapter, “Alone and Free in the Universe,” Dr. Wilson concludes that scientific understanding of evolution has become the bedrock of biology, and it explains why humans became tribalized, with tribal religions.
Evolution gave people large brains capable of imagining invisible gods — and it gave some people keener minds capable of seeing that imaginary gods are nonsense.
(from the United Coalition of Reason newsletter, January 2018)
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
About Canadian Atheist
Canadian Atheist is an independent blog with multiple contributors providing articles of interest to Canadian atheists, secularists, humanists, and freethinkers.
Canadian Atheist is not an organization — there is no membership and nothing to join — and we offer no professional services or products. It is a privately-owned publishing platform shared with our contributors, with a focus on topics relevant to Canadian atheists.
Canadian Atheist is not affiliated with any other organization or group. While our contributors may be individually be members of other organizations or groups, and may even speak in an official capacity for them, CA itself is independent.
For more information about Canadian Atheist, or to contact us for any other reason, see our contact page.
About Canadian Atheist Contributors
Canadian Atheist contributors are volunteers who provide content for CA. They receive no payment for their contributions from CA, though they may be sponsored by other means.
Our contributors are people who have both a passion for issues of interest to Canadian atheists, secularists, humanists, and freethinkers, and a demonstrated ability to communicate content and ideas of interest on those topics to our readers. Some are members of Canadian secularist, humanist, atheist, or freethought organizations, either at the national, provincial, regional, or local level. They come from all walks of life, and offer a diversity of perspectives and presentation styles.
CA merely provides our contributors with a platform with almost complete editorial freedom. Their opinions are their own, expressed as they see fit; they do not speak for Canadian Atheist, and Canadian Atheist does not speak for them.
For more information about Canadian Atheist’s contributors, or to get in contact with any of them, or if you are interested in becoming a contributor, see our contact page.
Image Credit: James Haught.