Christopher Hitchens cites some of the recent findings of science to demonstrate that our traditional belief in God, or rather a conventional Christian God is obsolete.
He writes: Would we have adopted monotheism in the first place if we had known,
(1) That our species is at most 200,000 years old, and very nearly joined the 98.9 percent of all other species on our planet by becoming extinct, in Africa, 60,000 years ago, when our numbers seemingly fell below 2,000 before we embarked on our true “exodus” from the savannah?
(2) That the universe, originally discovered by Edwin Hubble to be expanding away from itself in a flash of red light, is now known to be expanding away from itself even more rapidly, so that soon even the evidence of the original “big bang” will be unobservable?
(3) That the Andromeda galaxy is on a direct collision course with our own, the ominous but beautiful premonition of which can already be seen with a naked eye in the night sky?
These are very recent examples, post-Darwinian and post-Einsteinian, and they make pathetic nonsense of any idea that our presence on this planet, let alone in this of so many billion galaxies, is part of a plan. Which design, or designer, made so sure that absolutely nothing (see above) will come out of our fragile current “something”? What plan, or planner, determined that millions of humans would die without even a grave-marker, for our first 200,000 years of struggling and desperate existence, and that there would only then at last be a “revelation” to save us, about 3,000 years ago, but disclosed only to gaping peasants in remote and violent and illiterate areas of the Middle East?
But isn’t he beating a dead horse, or hasn’t he simply created a straw man opponent, easy to knock over or blow away?
For who among the educated peoples of the world has not revised his own conception of God and religion in response to the findings such as the three mentioned? Of course there are those who have not, as evidenced by the most recent debates in Iowa.
Perhaps the Iowa debaters are not ignorant themselves but just trying to get the votes of the ignorant, of whom there are many. However, given for whatever reason they saying, or not saying about God, evolution, and all the rest they really can’t be a part of our conversation. And we can only hope and “pray” that they don’t obtain by their efforts positions of power over the rest of us.
In any case previous conceptions of God as depicted in the Old Testament, the Koran, and probably in the writings accompanying most if not all the great religions of the world, given the dominant position of science and its discoveries in our, are greatly in need of serious revision.
And, in fact, when these traditional outlooks are not changed in response to the findings of science, well then Hitchens, and many others of similar persuasion, are certainly correct to ridicule those holding onto such clearly obsolete beliefs.
I myself tend to agree with the late Stephen Jay Gould who proposed that the worlds of science and religion commanded “non-overlapping magisteria.” So, yes, let’s keep God.
I along with Gould would allow religion and science to go their own separate ways, and hope that just as we don’t interfere with the freedom of thought and action of our fellows, that those who hold powerful positions in science and religion do not encroach upon the other’s legitimate spaces of thought and action.
However there is for me a much more interesting question than the one Hitchens and others tried to answer for the Templeton Foundation. My question would be, “Do the findings of science make recent history, or at least the way we look or make use of that history, obsolete?” Do we give to that history too much importance?
To both I would answer emphatically yes. I believe we should stop dwelling so exclusively on the history of the past 5 or 6 thousand years, let alone the history of modern Europe and America during the past 5 or 6 hundred years, and instead, we should make come alive, in our schools, and in our homes the much more significant history of man, of all men and women, on the earth, this history being one of some 200,000 years.
And we should give no less of our attention to the history of the earth, this one being some 5 billion years long, and, although not finally, the history of the universe, this one being even longer, some 12 to 15 billion years. “Not finally” because there may be multiuniverses out there, each one with a history.
To alleviate our present problems and, for many, sufferings, if not get over them entirely, we need desperately to see ourselves immersed in something much grander than the story of America, or even the story we uncover when we locate our own native American, European, African or other roots.
For this “something grander” has the best chance of freeing us from being the prisoners of the ideas and beliefs of the very recent past, many of these being the very stories and dogma accompanying religion, and many of these being the causes of our present troubles.
This something grander has the best chance of freeing us from being native American, European, African, Asiatic or something else, attached by mere chance to this or that place on the earth’s surface.
For after all we are, aren’t we, just one species (unlike, say the beetles of which there are some 400,000) with a history of some 200,000 years, of most of which we are still mostly ignorant. Shouldn’t that history be more on our minds, more of an influence on how we live, or don’t live together?
And most of all it is the findings of science that can and should put us into this much larger context. Our Aleut, Inuit, Tlingit, Haida, and other Alaskan cousins are just that, cousins, meaning that we have ancestors in common.
Hadn’t we ought to have the Aleuts, Inuits, Tlingit and others at the family table when we celebrate, and not push them away into some terribly remote and unfamiliar past? For our pasts if we go back just a few more years, as science has made evident, are the same.
Why do we continue to locate ourselves so much in the present? Perhaps it’s because we are a species or people still fearful of the “other.” A species that would stay close to home, to what we know, both in our thinking and in our feelings.
And isn’t this blind attachment to the present and recent past, this fact about who we are and how we live, more than any other that brings about the still abundant wars and killings that we never seem to cease to experience?
Isn’t it recent history, that which if not learn become acquainted with in our homes and schools, that most justifies these wars and killings? Witness present day Iraq, and in that country those very close cousins the Sunnis and the Shiites (not to mention the Israelis and the Palestinians) who go on killing one another. For what, mostly for their adherence to their own recent history.
Man’s history, all of it all together, is not obsolete, and since this history is only one, when we look back far enough we see that we share it with everyone else.
And this shared history, in fact our evolutionary history, if we would only let it, has the power to do away with our clinging attachments to our recent past, the events of which at the present time serve mostly to keep us apart, if not at war with one another.