C Rulon: Scientific Knowledge Devastates Many God Beliefs

By | May 11, 2011

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life Sciences
Long Beach City College

Physical evidence for God seemed everywhere

A few centuries ago, physical evidence for an all-powerful God seemed everywhere in the Western world. After all, how else could one explain the existence of our bounti­ful Earth at the center of an awe-inspiring cosmos, with planets and stars circling Earth in perfect God-like circles? How else could one explain lightning, thunder, earth­quakes and volcanoes? How else could one explain the exist­ence of all the myriad of beautifully designed species, in particular, us? How else could one explain weeping religious statues, miraculous cures, near death experi­ences, prayers answered and biblical prophesies coming true? Although all along there have been atheists and skeptics, still, all this apparent evidence for God’s existence was inescapable and compelling.

The Scientific Enlightenment

Then came modern science and over the last 400 years essentially all of the “proofs” for God’s existence turned out either to be false or to have quite natural explana­tions. All of the relevant scientific evi­dence—from astro­physics, to our evolu­tion, to the biochem­istry of life, strongly sup­ported the thesis that there never were any gods in the first place, at least not in any kind of manifestation that is of interest to the over­whelming majority of religious folk. Today, mostly as a result of these scien­tific discoveries, over 90% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences (the “hall of fame” for top scientists in the United States) have now declared them­selves to be non-theists (either athe­is­tic or agnostic).[i] For scientists in general, about 60% are now non-theists (although almost all theistic scientists do accept our evolution). Consider some of these scientific discoveries:

The Cosmos

Over the last 500 years our universe has gotten bigger and bigger. We’ve gone from an Earth-centered universe to a heliocentric one, to a galactocentric one, to there being billions of galaxies in a universe with no center, to there possibly being a multitude of universes.

a. Deep space: Contrary to the Bible, the heavens are not stretched out over a stationary Earth (Psalms 104:5; I Chron.16:30) like a canopy (Isaiah 40:22), with the stars so small and close to earth that they could fall to the ground (Rev.12:4) or fall from the sky in the End Times as pro­phe­sied by Jesus (Matt.24:29). Instead, our universe is incomprehen­sibly huge, with liter­ally billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. Our solar system, itself, is moving around the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, at 400,000 mph. Yet, even at this tremen­dous speed it will still take it about 200 million years to make one round trip. In addition, our galaxy is moving away from other galaxies at an estimated one million miles an hour.

b. Deep time: Contrary to a literal reading of Genesis-1 in which the sun, moon and stars were formed on the 4th day of creation, our universe is unfathomably old, hav­ing come into existence about 14 billion years ago. Our sun was formed about 5 billion years ago from the “dust” left over from ancient explo­d­ing stars that, themselves, were formed billions of years before our sun. Also, Earth was formed hundreds of millions of years after our sun. If the age of Earth were represented by the height of the world’s tallest build­ing, then all of human civili­zation, starting from the dawn of agri­cul­ture some 10,000 years ago, would represent only the thickness of the paint on its roof.

c. A violent universe: Our universe is far from a peace­ful back­drop for some god’s favorite planet. Stars explode. Black holes suck in entire star sys­tems. Gigantic explosions at the center of galaxies destroy millions of worlds.

d. Our solar system: Our own solar system show all signs of having been formed naturally from the “dust” of exploding stars about five billion years ago. Its structural details are sloppy from an engineer­ing perspec­tive, but just what one might expect if only the blind laws and forces of nature were involved.

e. Earth’s surface devastated: Planet Earth is far from a peace­ful setting for some god’s favorite species. Catastro­phic events (meteor impacts, gigantic volcanic eruptions, ice sheets cover­ing much of Earth, plate tectonic movements tearing apart entire continents) have devastated Earth’s surface, resulting in at least five major mass extinctions over the last 600 million years.

f. Laws of nature: In the Bible, God made the clouds rise and sent the light­ning, rain and wind (Rev. 12:4; Isaiah 40:22). Yet today, scientific disco­ver­ies have replaced essentially all earlier supernat­ural explana­tions and events. Comets are no longer viewed as herald­­ing the birth of a new leader. Light­­ning, thun­der, earth­quakes, volcanic eruptions, eclipses and epidemics are no long­er seen as the wrath of an angry god. There is also no phy­sical evidence for a global flood several thousand years ago (Genesis 6), much less for the death of all life on Earth except those crammed on an ark. Science now has natural explanations for the exist­ence of the earth, sun, moon and stars. Ongoing hypotheses and experi­ments on the origin of our universe, its apparent fine-tuning and the origin of life continue to rapidly advance our knowledge.[ii]


a. All life evolved: All life on Earth evolved from earlier life forms going all the way back to an incompre­hen­sible 3.8 billion years ago. Our ances­tors about seven million years ago were ancient ape-like pri­mates. Our extremely ancient ancestors some 500 million years ago were a species of now-extinct fish.[iii] The millions of fossils dis­cover­ed in the thousands of different layers of sedimentary rock that spans hundreds of millions of years all but spell out the evolutionary history of life on our planet.

b. No ladder of progress: There is no so-called evolutionary tree with humans at the top. Instead, there is an extremely branchy evolutio­nary bush with over one billion twigs (species) which continuously grew (evolved) and then broke off (went extinct). If we look at this entire bush, no special branch destined to evolve inexo­rably toward humans becomes obvious. Instead, one sees only frequent changes in direc­tion, or no changes at all, or com­mon rever­sals, or extinctions.

c. No apparent goals: In addition, scientists have been unable to detect any genetic mechanism, or law of nature that could possibly direct evolution toward advanced, intel­ligent beings. In fact, accord­­ing to theorists, if we rewound the evol­utionary clock, the infinite contingencies (accidents, errors, lucky breaks, random genetic variations) of history would most certainly result in an entirely dif­ferent array of species. The evolution of advanced intelligence might not happen again. Thus, very few evolu­tion­­ary biologists since at least the 1950s have believed in any “progress­ive force” or “cosmic goal” of evolu­tion.

c. Natural selection: The entire his­tory of life’s evolution on Earth has been a story of random genetic errors followed by selection of the more fit and extermina­tion of the less fit. With this natu­ral selection pro­cess, all “design” we see in nature is NOT purposeful design, but instead came about over billions of years through a blind, no fore­sight, automatic sifting process. This pro­cess resulted in an “infinity” of dead ends, pain, suffer­ing, wide­spread star­vation, con­stant disease and plagues, flawed designs, violent deaths, a prodi­gious waste of life and ultimately extinc­tion for almost all species. Short­sighted self­ish­ness usually won out, no matter how much pain and loss it pro­duced in the long term. For centuries, arguments have been offer­ed by theologians to explain why so much evil and suffer­ing exists in a world supposedly created by an all-good god. But if only natural selection is at work, the mystery disappears.

d. Flawed & vestigial designs: Another predictable outcome of natural selec­tion is that the human body, like all species, is riddled with anatom­ical oddities, vesti­gial structures and flawed designs that disclose a history of trial-and-error tinkering: Nipples in males, an appendix, wisdom teeth, a retina install­ed back­wards, a birth canal that’s often too small, a miscar­riage rate of over 60%, a wind­pipe next to the esophagus so we can choke to death on a bite of food, lower back prob­lems, hemor­rhoids, varicose veins, a genome riddled with dupli­cate and discard­ed genes, a brain that can seriously mal­function in dozens of ways.…and on and on!

e. Parasites: Parasites make up the majority of species on Earth. So why would a bene­volent god create all of these parasites? Why would he create a para­site that blinds millions of people, or 10,000 differ­ent species of harm­ful tape­worms, or 2000 different species of disease-spread­ing biting lice? Why would he create dozens of species of mosquitoes that transmit malaria to over 300 million people every year, or bacteria that caused deadly plagues (like the Black Death of 1348 which wiped out over half the inhabitants of Europe), or the virus that caused the influ­enza pan­demic of 1918 which killed up to 50 million people? On the other hand, an abund­ance of parasites is just what one would expect if only natural selection is at work.

f. Extinctions: Natural selection, plus chance, the contin­gen­cies of history and cataclysmic events have sooner or later resulted in the extinct­ion of over 99% of the one billion or so species ever to have evolved on our planet. This extremely high extinction rate raises serious theo­logical questions, of course: If almost all of God’s crea­tions sooner or later go extinct, doesn’t that suggest a god that is inept, waste­ful, care­less, or uncon­cerned with the wel­fare of His cre­a­tions?

Evolution of morality

Conservative Christians insist that we need God and the Bible to be moral; that without God society collapses into immoral chaos. Yet, considerable scientific evi­dence has accumu­lated to support the theory that moral senti­ments in humans and moral principles in human groups evolved naturally over the last 100,000 years of living in a Paleolithic environ­ment. Morality evolved as a means of fostering pro-social in-group behavior and of defining and defending the boundaries of that group. Religions and their deities, a cultural development, came much later. [iv]

Darwin’s theory of natural selection (1859) pro­vided a scientific foundation and direction for future research in the study of ethics. Darwin wrote: “Our descent… is the origin of our evil passions!—The Devil under form of Baboon is our grand­father!” Darwin was convinced that it would be through the study of evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology, not through philosophy or religion, that we would discover new valuable truths and insights into our moral and immoral natures.

No paranormal or supernatural events have ever been proved

The possibility of divine souls and/or life after death would not seem so rationally implausible if para­normal or super­natural phe­­nom­ena (mind over mat­ter, psy­­chic read­ings, see­ing into the future, past-life regres­­sions, talking to the deceased, near-death experiences, weep­ing relig­ious statues, the ap­pearance of the Virgin Mary in one form or another) were actually known to exist. Yet, after over one hundred years of inten­sive inves­ti­gation scientists still have found no con­vin­cing evi­dence for (and much evi­dence against) the exist­ence of any such phe­nom­­ena. When all of the experi­mental vari­a­bles have been tightly con­trol­led (to elimi­nate chance, errors, bias, careless­ness and fraud), not a sin­gle person has yet been found to pos­sess para­normal pow­ers—not one![v] All such claims have turned out to be un­verifiable, scien­tifi­cally explain­­able, wish­ful think­ing, il­lus­ions, hal­lu­cina­tions, or fraudu­lent.[vi]

In addition, all processes studied in liv­ing orga­nisms (from ferti­lization to death) have been found to strictly obey the known laws of chemistry and physics. No paranormal or super­­natu­ral inputs have been found anywhere (or even seem neces­sary) for life to function and to evolve.

The same is true with all claimed super­natu­ral happen­ings or “miracles” (weeping religious statues, medi­cal miracles at Lourdes, intercessory prayer, Shroud of Turin, etc.). In fact, the biblical miracles of Jesus, including his bodily resur­rection, have now been even rejected by over 75 religion professors and biblical scholars composing the Jesus Seminar.[vii]

The human mind

Neuro-science informs us that our minds appear to be totally a function of the neuro-anatomy and phy­siology of our evolved brains. No link to some kind of “spirit” world has been found. There is just no scien­tific evidence for (and a stagger­ing amount of evidence against) any “ghost in the machine” that is separate from our physical brain and lives on after death. [viii]

The human brain has an extremely long evolutionary history. Our brain evolved from an ancient fish brain some 500 million years ago, up through an almost infinite line of ancestors by a process called natural selection. As a result, the human brain, with its many quirks and flaws accumu­lated over eons of time, has made it extremely difficult for us to truly come to grips with numerous aspects of both ourselves and our modern complex world.[ix]

The mental and emotional problems associated with our evolved brain now fill psychiatric textbooks. We tend to be xenophobic and to be attracted to charismatic leaders. We have delusions and fake memories. We can be easily seduced by long disproved para­normal, superstitious, and supernatural beliefs. We become completely locked into belief systems despite all contrary evidence.

As one outcome, our brains have created scores of religions, each one claiming to be the absolute word of this god or that god. In doing so, we’ve rejected centuries of our finest sci­ence and critical rational thought in favor of various “holy books” and super­natural forces.[x] Given our evolved brain and the cultures that sprang from that brain, entire societies have suppressed women, engaged in genocide, fought endless wars, destroyed their environmental life-support systems, and/or believed in apoca­lyptic theologies which threaten the very survival of the entire human species.

Additional arguments against the existence of the biblical god

a. Other gods and religions: Over the millennia humans have created thou­sands of different gods and religious belief systems. All of these different gods (speaking through their prophets, gurus, ayatollahs, shamans, mullahs, clerics, swamis, priests, ministers, rabbis, etc.) have given their follow­ers quite different moral laws and rules regarding just about everything. Logically they can’t all be right. Yet there’s no scientific way to deter­mine which ones are wrong, if not all of them. Thus, on what grounds is an outsider sup­posed to be able to choose between Islamic dogma, Catholic dogma, Bap­tist moral edicts, Hindu beliefs and so on? Indeed, how can theology be considered know­ledge at all when there’s no way to resolve differ­ences short of prayer, persecu­tion and drawing swords?

b. The Bible: If the find­ings of the last sev­­er­al hundred years of scientific discoveries, plus the histori­cal, tex­tual and lin­guis­tic ana­ly­ses of the Bible using the latest sci­entific tools, plus the arch­­­­ae­o­lo­g­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies and com­­para­tive reli­gious stu­d­­ies are all put together and taken seriously, then the Bible appears (at least to those biblical scholars who employ the scientific method) to be a very human book, a book hav­ing no more claim to divine status than does any other book written by humans. It was written by people who lived long ago and who knew no more con­cer­n­ing the nature of the cosmos, the world, or life than did any­one else. It contains enough contradic­tions, ambiguities and incon­sis­tencies to fill books.[xi] As a result, thousands of different Christian sects have appeared over the centuries — sects which disa­gree with each other on just about every­thing — from how to get to heaven, to the time of ensoulment, to the morality of slavery, contra­cep­tion, suffrage, gay equality, abor­tion, and death with dignity, to women wearing long pants.

There’s still much to learn, but skepticism is high

Today, all of the relevant scientific evidence— from astrophysics, evolutionary biology and bio­chemistry, to the lack of any solid evidence for the existence of paranormal and supernatural events, to evidence from objective historical research into the Bible and other holy books — all this evidence has finally reached a critical mass which strongly supports the following powerful thesis: there never were any gods in the first place, at least in any kind of mani­festation that is of interest to the overwhelming majority of Christians, Muslims, Jews and other religious folk.[xii]

Of course, many scientific questions remain and always will. There are major questions surround­ing the origin of the uni­verse and what really are mass, space and time. There are questions on some “fine-tuning” aspects of our uni­verse, why its expan­sion is accelerating, and what are dark mass and dark energy. There are major questions regard­­ing the origin of life and the workings of the human brain.

Yet, of critical relevance, as scientific know­ledge continued to advance over the last 400 years, supernatural explanations for events con­tinued to retreat and retreat … and retreat. Many scientists faced with such a consistent trend have extrapo­lated and declared all of our earthly gods to be non-existent.

Scientists, of course, can only attempt to answer empiri­cally testable questions. Thus, some scientists who are also religious point out that just because a phenome­non can be explained naturally doesn’t mean that God had nothing to do with it. After all, perhaps it was God’s absolute­ly elegant plan for humans to evolve in the first place.

But, respond the non-theists, “God did it” answers don’t explain anything. No experiments or observations are suggest­ed. No outcomes are predicted. It’s just giving ignorance a name. Also, even if there is an “In­telligence” lurking behind all of na­ture, that still doesn’t mean by any stretch of logic that it’s the biblical God. After all, once supernatu­ral answers enter the picture, the possibilities are endless. For example, maybe Satan deceived hun­dreds of thousands of scien­tists over the centuries into thinking we evolved over the last 3.8 billion years. Or for that matter, maybe humans were merely evolved as future “fast food” for God’s truly chosen species which is now touring our galaxy.

Some closing thoughts

Religion is one of the most powerful social phe­nomena in the world. It has guided nations, wars, societies, even whole eras; it has catalyzed climactic moments in history. So, should our religions be open to criti­cal analysis and evaluation in our colleges and univer­sities? Should this be an ongoing assignment of anthropologists, sociolo­gists, archaeo­lo­gists, evo­lu­tion­ary psychologists, geneti­cists & others, all using the scientific method and aided by the recently developed powerful computer tools of statistical, textual and lin­guis­tic analysis? Or is such an undertaking way too dangerous, given who we are as a species? Should the domain of the sacred remain a shroud­ed enclave?

[i]See Larson, E. and Witham, L., 1999, “Scientists and Religion in America,” Scientific American, Sept., pp. 88-93. The specific question asked was: Do you believe in (1) “a God in intel­lectual and affective communication with man…to whom one may pray in expectation of receiving an answer” and (2) “personal immortality.”

[ii]Tanner Edis, The Ghost in the Machine (Prometheus Press, 2002). See also Free Inquiry, www.secularhumanism.org; The Skeptical Inquirer: The Magazine for Science and Reason,: www.csicop.org; Skeptic magazine, www.skeptic.com; Prometheus Books, www.prometheusbooks.com.

[iii]In 1999, the National Academy of Sciences pub­lished the 2nd Edition of a booklet titled Science and Creat­ion­ism in which it stated (p. 28) that our evolution from more ancient life forms today is con­sidered a fact by scien­tists, because they no longer question whether or not it occurred since the evidence in support is so strong. In 2008 the NAS published its 3rd book, Science, Evolution, and Creationism in which it notes: “The disco­very and understanding of the process of evolution represent one of the most powerful achieve­ments in the history of science…Evolution successfully explains the diversity of life on Earth and has been confirmed repeatedly through obser­vation and experiment in a broad spectrum of scientific disciplines. Evolutionary science provides the foun­dation for modern biology.” See www.nap.edu. Also see the National Center for Sci­ence Education: www.natcenscied.org.

Today, most Christians still find evolution to be incompatible with their faith, not just because their theology is biblically based, but because they believe that a god who works through evolution is much too remote. Their theology requires a very personal God who is actively involved with individual human lives and who, there­fore, gives purpose to life.

[iv] See The Science of Good & Evil by Michael Shermer (Times Books – 2004). Also, see Teehan, J. “The Evolution of Religious Ethics,” Free Inquiry, June/July 2005, pp. 40-43.

[v] The National Acad­emy of Sciences states that 140 years of research had produced no scien­tific justi­fication for the exist­ence of any paranormal phenomena. In 1997, the James Randi Educational Foun­dation reported that anyone who could demon­strate any para­nor­mal, or psy­chic abil­ity under tightly controlled scien­tific conditions would be paid $1,000,000. Many have tried and so far no one’s col­lected a dime! For more information check the web site at (www.randi.org).

Also see Skeptics Society at (www.skeptic.com) and CSICOP/ The Skeptical Inquirer: The Magazine for Science and Reason: www.csicop.org

[vi]CSICOP/ The Skeptical Inquirer: The Magazine for Science and Reason: www.csicop.org

Skeptics Society/ Skeptic magazine: www.skeptic.com

Prometheus Books: www.prometheusbooks.com.

[vii]In 1985 the “Jesus Seminar” was orga­nized to deter­mine which, if any, of Jesus’ miracles could possibly have been authentic. Over 75 reli­gion pro­fessors and other schol­ars contributed. By 1993, these experts had rejected the vir­gin birth, all of Jesus’ mira­cles, and even his bodily resurrection. See: The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authen­tic Words of Jesus (Macmillan Press), 1993.

Price, R., 1998, “The Jesus Seminar: Historians or Believers?”, Free Inquiry, Winter, pp. 9-10.

See also: U.S. News & World Report, April 8, 1996. Newsweek, April 8, 1996. Time, April 8, 1996. Pub­lishers Weekly, May 13, 1996, pp. 36-7.

[viii]Zeman, A., 2003, Consciousness: A User’s Guide (Yale University Press). Zeman is a neurologist in Edinburgh; Fischbach, G., 1992, “Mind and Brain,” Scientific Ameri­can, September. Dr. Fischbach is a professor of neuro­biology and chairman of the department of neuro­biology at Harvard Medical School.; B. Hinrichs, “Brain Research and Folk Psy­cho­logy,” The Humanist, March/April 1997; T. Clark, “Materialism and Morality,” The Hum­anist, Nov./Dec. 1998, pp. 20-25. Also see books by Dr. John R. Searle.

[ix] A few relevant books include: On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not by Robert Burton, 2007; Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) by Carol Tavris and Eliot Aronson, 2007; A Mind of its Own by Cordelia Fine; The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation by Drew Westen, 2007.

[x] Gallup polls consistently reveal that an overwhel­m­ing majority of Ameri­cans continue to hold at least some beliefs that are viewed as non-rational, nonsci­en­­tific & nonsen­sical by the scientific community. For example, the National Science Foundation’s biennial report (2002) reported that 60% of adult Americans believe in ESP, 40% think that astrology is scientific and 70% accept magnetic therapy as scientific. In addition, a 2003 Harris Poll found that 84% of Americans believe in a soul that survives after death and in supernatural miracles.

[xi] As one example see Biblical Errancy, an 800 page reference guide by C. Dennis McKinsey. Also check out the Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties (476 pages).

[xii]As one key reference, read Victor J. Stenger’s book Has Science Found God? The Latest Results inthe Search for Purpose in the Universe (2003). Dr. Stenger is emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii. Also a must read is Tanner Edis’s book, The Ghost in the Universe (2002). Dr. Edis is assistant professor of physics at Truman State University Missouri.

Other relevant books include Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker (1987) and Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1991). See also the following web sites: www.skeptic.com; www.csicop.com; www.natcenscied .org.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *