In the State of Georgia’s 10th congressional district, Republican Congressman Paul Broun ran unopposed, which, in and of itself, really isn’t news at all. Congressman Broun, though, gained a fair amount of notoriety in the weeks leading up to the election because of a video which surfaced online in which he – a sitting member on the House Committee on Science and Technology – called evolution, embryology and the big bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell.” Now, given the way in which the state was re-districted after the 2010 midterm elections, it wasn’t going to affect his campaign (especially since he had no Democratic opposition) in the same way in which comments about rape and abortion completely changed the senate races in Indiana and Missouri. Therefore it wasn’t really that big of a deal, politically – even if it did become a go-to punchline for satire and comedy.
Where this became fun, though, was when a “plant biology” professor (I’m not sure why this isn’t simply “botany,” but I guess it’s all the same) at the University of Georgia named Jim Leebens-Mack created a “Darwin for Congress” Facebook page. First off, as a nerd, and as a non-believer, I can’t tell you how happy something like this makes me, but, secondly, Dr. Leebens-Mack’s movement exploded (in a relative sense) and Charles Darwin received four thousand write-in votes, which, really, is a staggeringly high number for any write-in candidate not named Mickey Mouse. Darwin for Congress, at it’s most basic level, was really just meant to lampoon Congressman Broun for his laughable position on evolution and the big bang relative to his position on the House Committee on Science and Technology. It, instead, proved to be the perfect example of why church and state were meant to be separated in this country. Paul Broun’s positions were so ludicrous that instead of voting for the only candidate on the ballot, four thousand Georgians chose to vote for a scientist who died 130 years ago.
For anyone who knows me reasonably well, my bona fides as a non-believer are pretty well known (I’ve even touched on them here). As a non-believer, and, more importantly, as a nerd, it goes without saying, then, that I don’t just believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, but accept it as fact.
The nature of our world is such that confusion is an inevitability. There are so many questions that man cannot (yet) answer. The issue I have with religion – the reason why it’s impossible for me to be religious – is that the nature of scripture is such that it attempts to define our world in unambiguous terms – religion leaves no room for the confusion of man. The difference between religiosity and science, then, is that those strict adherents of scripture have simply given up on intellectual, existential and epistemological discourse and have (more or less) accepted, what amounts to, the modern day equivalent of mythology, while those who accept – or are at least willing to listen to – science are implicit in the pursuit of knowledge.
This isn’t meant to be a castigation of the religious, though. I actually, sort of, understand the faith that people have in their chosen God(s) (to the extent that your religion was chosen, given that it was likely something to into which you were indoctrinated as a child). I also, sort of, understand the need that people seem to have in believing that there is some form of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God in the universe. This is a confusing, and often times cruel, world, and a belief in this God provides flawed human beings with rationalizations for all of the crazy things this world has thrown at them. I (again), sort of, understand this – and I even envy others for their faith – but I just can’t buy into the abstract idea of a supreme being without being shown tangible evidence of Their existence, and, therefore, I cannot believe in a God in the same way that I cannot believe in the existence of an Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus or Bigfoot. If the case for God was a murder trial it would be thrown out for insufficient evidence. At this point it’s (almost) a waste of time even discussing His existence.
But I can’t stop.
If you couldn’t already tell from the murder trial simile, I just finished watching an episode of Law & Order and now I’m absolutely fixated on human fingerprints. Consider the fingerprint for a moment: the fingerprint may be the most simple, yet most confounding part of our entire existence. The conventional wisdom for the existence of fingerprints is that the ridges on our fingers and toes help us with our grip. That certainly makes sense – if our fingers were smooth where they are currently ridged, it would seem as if it would be more difficult to hold things, but certainly not impossible. But then, if – as this argument would suggest – this was an evolutionary development for us, as a species, why is it that, while some primates such as the gorilla (and even a marsupial like the koala bear) have fingerprints, our closest evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee, does not? And why, then, are our fingerprints each unique and exclusive to us? Why is it that the fingerprint is the most unique aspect of our individual existences? Identical twins are called identical twins because they are just that – identical. Why is it, then, that identical twins each have different sets of fingerprints?
The fingerprint has, in some ways, become an object of fascination for me. As someone who doesn’t believe in any particular God, I could never seem to understand the fingerprint and why it was such a perfect identifier for humans. The only thing I could ever think of – the only reason I could come up with for the fingerprint’s existence – is that our Creator wanted it to be this way. What other possibility could there be for every human being that has ever existed – Julius Caesar, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Catherine the Great, Carrot Top – to have their own unique fingerprint? It’s not as if one human being’s fingerprints give them any sort of Darwinian advantage over another’s, so why must they be unique?
It may sound silly, but as a believer in the big bang and in evolution, and as a non-believer in the existence of a God, the confounding nature of the fingerprint had always kept me fairly grounded as far as my atheism has been concerned. It’s one of the few aspects of human life that has kept me from dismissing God altogether – from becoming antitheistic like the late Richard Dawkins. When I started writing this piece I was expecting for my curiosity about fingerprints to lead me towards some sort of affirmation that there must have been a Creator even though there was still no tangible evidence of His existence. Instead, I found this (and for more the more layman, this).
Most people really don’t care about the fingerprint, but it has also been a part of our existence that no one has ever really understood – we’ve just taken it for granted. But some people do, and they’ve devoted portions of their life to understanding it. And that is, in a way, the most beautiful thing about human existence. Curiosity never ends, it only grows. And curiosity is what leads us to ask these evolutionary and existential questions. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that if we simply credit all of the ephemera of our existence to a God – if we accept scripture as fact – we’ll never truly understand this universe. It certainly hasn’t been lost on me that God, the big bang, and evolution are not mutually exclusive ideas. There’s a possibility that all three exist as fact, but the evidence overwhelmingly supports only those last two. I understand the need that some have for religion, and I understand the need that that some have for faith – religion, if used properly, can be a truly uplifting experience. But if your religion, or your belief in a God, affects your ability to accept basic truths, you’re not doing it right.