A special cosmic status for humans and evolution still can’t be married – even if you think atheism is totes cringe

It seemed like there was a brief window where it was okay to get into debates about religion, God, and gods. Those who didn’t care just didn’t care, and those who did care were likely participants in the debates. Maybe this is just a reflection of the fact that I was a frequent participant during this window – perhaps 2003 to 2014 – and so I lacked an outsider’s perspective. Whatever the case, the anti-atheist memes have established a firm foothold in society: Those who argue God doesn’t exist are intellectual circle-jerkers with fedoras, and they should just let the religious live in peace; whatever clashes religious belief has with society at-large should be resolved without attacking the religious beliefs themselves. I suspect it really is the nature of memes that have led to this general view, but I also wonder if part of the reason has to do with the logical extension of common atheist arguments from that window. Specifically, we used to see a push for young Earth creationism in schools and textbooks, often hidden behind the disingenuous argument for ‘intelligent design’. Plenty of people, atheists and theists alike, could get on board with attacking those pushes, and even if the atheistic arguments took swings at all forms of creationism, such arguments weren’t really the focus. It’s easy to support ‘Keep religion out of public schools’ regardless of one’s more cosmic beliefs, but when was the last time that was a pressing issue? Bills occasionally pop up, but they’re usually defeated quickly. There’s no point in allying any longer.

I don’t know. That’s probably a stretch. Maybe we can point to the deep rifts in those on the left. One faction wants to get Woke with everything while the other side has stayed focused on the philosophy. (Which, as we all know, makes that other side a bunch of Nazis.) Unfortunately for the Woke, it isn’t honest to be an anti-theist when it comes to Christianity but not Islam or other religions. On the plus side for this group, however, is their utter control over Big Tech. Attacks on Christianity as an institution appear to still be allowed, but the fedora memes folder pops open once the underlying issue of faith is mentioned. We must be careful not to ensnare any (locally) non-dominant group in our criticisms.

Or perhaps it comes down to the fact that people have lost interest in organized religion while organized religions have, non-coincidentally, lost influence, all while people still profess a belief in a higher power. An attack on young Earth creationism may still be seen in a positive light because, well, dinosaurs and humans didn’t exist side-by-side, but an attack on the very idea of an almighty creator isn’t going to fly amongst those who hold such a belief.

Whatever the case, one should not be fooled into thinking arguments against a higher power that cares for humanity have faltered. What was true 10 years ago is true today, even if someone tweets out a totes fire ‘m’lady atheist’ meme. Creationism – whether young or old, whether specific or (intentionally) vague – cannot be married to evolution without a bunch of hand-waving and shoulder-shrugging.

Fundamentally, evolution has no intention, no goals, no predetermined outcomes. It may have statistically likely, frequent, common, and not-so-unusual outcomes (such as the eye or the stability given by 4 legs), but any re-run of the tape of life will yield different results. We’ve seen this in specific experiments (see Richard Lenski), but it is also plainly obvious. The exact genetic makeup of an offspring could be changed for thousands of reasons in any hypothetical re-run. From environmental factors to a chance mutation to two sexually-viable individuals having sex earlier or later to spontaneous abortion, a re-run of evolution will always produce extremely different results over time. Just imagine the asteroid that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs missed Earth or burned up or perhaps fully hit water. If dinosaurs never die off, mammals likely never rise. And if they do, it happens in a wildly different world that will put different pressures on natural selection. In short, no species is inevitable. Any belief that says otherwise is in conflict with evolutionary theory.

Now examine any form of creationism. They *all* declare that humans have some special cosmic status; they *all* say there is a creator who has seen fit to bring humans into existence. Yet the random chance of mutations make that impossible. The stochastic nature of natural selection tells us it can’t be true. It simply isn’t possible to believe in an intention-based view like creationism while also accepting a scientific theory that specifically lacks intention.

But we needn’t stop there. Let’s ask the creationist *exactly* when it was that the special status of humans began. That is, who was the first individual to be born with a soul?

(Apologies for the divided paragraph, but this is a necessary caveat: Of course, my question isn’t meant to be literal. Moreover, the word ‘soul’ is meant to encompass however one wishes to define ‘special status’. I say both of these things because 1) I’m interested in the very *idea* of what gives a special status to someone but not their parents and 2) the second words like ‘soul’ get introduced, the believer in an intentional higher power will start to play semantics.)

If humans have some special status in the Universe while other living things don’t, then there must have been a point where a mother gave birth to one or more offspring that were special in the eyes of a creator. This is important because evolution is continuum. A mother of one species doesn’t give birth to offspring of another species. With the grace of hundreds of thousands of years, we can say ‘This fossil belongs to this species, but this one belongs to a different species’, but that isn’t how it works on a generational scale. So the creationist is forced to reckon with how it is that a mother failed to achieve special human status while her offspring was give such an honor. Moving the line back and saying that, perhaps, all Great Apes have this special status briefly answers the matter, but, ultimately, our evolutionary tree is going to meet up with a common ancestor with other species. And then others. And others. And, eventually, the creationist will have to say that all living things hold some special status with a creator – a status we conventionally refer to as ‘having a soul’. But why stop there. What of the first primordial replicators? Or is DNA the specific factor needed for cosmic importance?

Now pause. Reflect on how *utterly ridiculous* those mental gymnastics are. Any effort to marry creationism and evolution requires such an exertion, yet we have a perfectly valid path which avoids all of that: Don’t be a creationist. Simply accept evolution for what it is. Accept that humans were never destined to exist. Accept that it isn’t possible to say, ‘Humanity began with this birth’. Accept that the idea of human importance – something which is fundamental to any form of creationism – cannot be married to evolutionary theory.

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