You are currently viewing Modern Science vs Religion? Critical analysis of new atheist assertions concerning the interplay of science and religion popularized by viable memetic reproduction.

Modern Science vs Religion? Critical analysis of new atheist assertions concerning the interplay of science and religion popularized by viable memetic reproduction.

APA – Edmonds, N. (2021) Modern Science vs Religion? Critical analysis of new atheist assertions concerning the interplay of science and religion popularized by viable memetic reproduction. Cerebral Faith. (link)

Available – https://independent.academia.edu/NoahEdmonds

Key terms: memetics, theism, atheism, christianity, fundamentalism, meme spreading, meme replication, meme reproduction

Introduction

Hardly anyone living in 2021’s post-internet culture would be ignorant of what a meme is. Imprecisely, memes are comparable to inside jokes that span a given culture: ideas, behaviors, or styles which express meaning through symbols, gestures, etc., which are spread by means of communication of information between persons of said culture. (1) They are governed by the rules of natural selection (articulated via memetics, a growing subfield of anthropology), whereby popular memes adapt and endure as they “reproduce” by spreading from person to person and become more popular and widely known (or fail to and “die”). (1) In this manner, memes are often utilized in a religious or political sense, with the rapidity of spread and relatability of memes permitting ideological positions to be disseminated quickly among a large subset of individuals. The significance of this mode of communication and reproduction cannot be overstated (as Terrnace McKenna said, memes are to ideologies what genes are to biology). (2) Consequently, it is to be expected that many memes become popular, reproduce, and thrive successfully despite containing erroneous or inaccurate information due to the ease of conception and the rapidity of spread associated with memetic reproduction and popularization. Such errors would be less likely to be critically questioned by individuals who already believe the misinformation contained or are predisposed to be more likely to accept it. (3) (4) (5) This phenomenon can be well noted in a random sampling of anti-religious/anti-theist memes that exist spread across cyberspace, with such a sample having been compiled by Rebekah K. of the Curious Atheist blog. (6) This report addresses a “condensed meme”, a single meme (pictured below) that contains many of the points common to new atheist memes (6) that are in error as they relate to Christian beliefs and theology as though they are reliably established refutations.

1. Biology does not disprove Adam and Eve

It is assumed that this meme is referring to biology disproving the common fundamentalist or evangelical interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve, being that they were created from nothing, that they were the first two human beings to exist, that they lived between six and ten thousand years ago and gave rise to every human being that has ever existed (i.e., they were the first two human beings). (7) However, the meme refutes a certain image of Adam and Eve as an eisegetical construction, and not as they actually exist as depicted in mythology or human history.

First, the Biblical text does not necessitate the view that Adam and Eve were created ex nihilo. (8) Rather, it suggests that Adam and Eve were not created miraculously through divine fiat, with the description of Adam’s creation from the dust of the ground referring not to material creation but being a commentary on Adam and mankind as mortal (9), and Eve’s creation from his rib having been a prophetic/archetypal vision granted to Adam concerning his and his male descendent’s relation to women as their equals. (10) Second, Adam and Eve were not the first two human beings to exist. Genesis explicitly states that God first created men and women (plural, Gen. 1:26-27), and elected them as the Imago Dei (11, Genesis 1:26-28) to be his image bearers as he commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. The humans that were created/are discussed in Genesis 1:26-30 cannot be Adam and Eve, as not only are they described as plural (Footnote 1), but the events of Genesis 2 could not have fit into the timeline set by the text if this were the case (i.e., the events described in Genesis 2 did not take place during a 24 hour period), with Genesis 2 describing the events of Day 6 as having been completed prior to the creation of Adam and Eve. These distinctions make it clear that the identification of Adam and Eve as the first humans to exist with none preceding them (7) is not accurate from a purely textual standpoint, regardless of the relevant biological data. Third, from a biological/genetic standpoint, Adam and Eve do not have to be said to have existed 6k-10k years ago. Nowhere in the original mythology is it suggested that this is a reliable date for the existence of Adam and Eve, as such a date is only arrived at following the assumption that the genealogies from Adam throughout the rest of the Old Testament patriarchs are reliable parent/offspring records kept with precise ages in mind: which, they are not. Not only are the genealogies given in Genesis not complete (12) (13), but the ages given within those genealogies are not intended to be viewed as the ages of the individuals during their natural lives(14), making it impossible to use the included genealogies as a method by which to ascertain the “date of creation”. In regards to questions of whether or not Adam and Eve gave rise to the modern human population, through the tracing of molecular clocks and genetic maps, we know that every human being alive today can trace their genealogy back directly to two individuals that may have lived in the same geographical area between 100,000-150,000 years ago. (15) (16) (17) The reader may keep in mind that nowhere does Christianity dictate that Adam and Eve be the ancestors of every human being, but rather all of those alive antecedent to their existence needs be united by common genealogy/descent, which is demonstrable via the great age model that places Adam and Eve between 100kya-150kya, and even via models that give a much younger date for their existence. Joshua Swamidass, an associate professor at Washington University of St. Louis, has proposed a reliably defensible model of a recent Adam and Eve (with each figure existing around 10kya) that is consistent with traditional religious ideas concerning our alleged universal genealogical ancestors and the evolutionary and biological data on hand regarding the natural development of humans over the past several million years. (18) (19)

To conclude, claiming that biology “disproves” Adam and Eve not only assumes a particular erroneous fundamentalist assumption to be irrefutable reality, but ignores the veritable mountain of data concerning the question that exists surrounding Adam and Eve as both mythic, archetypal, and historical figures.

2. Cosmology does disprove a six day creation – and why this isn’t a problem

The idea of a “six day creationist” cosmogony (20) is a modern invention. (21) It is not endemic to theism or Christianity, nor has it ever been taught as doctrinal by the Church. (22) (Footnote 2) It is, in fact, explicitly contra-Scriptural, incompatible with the creation mythology and overarching themes of Genesis/the Bible as a whole and cannot be harmonized with either of them, much less cosmology. (23) (24) (25) As such, to cite the non-reality of a cosmological creation that took place over six 24 hour periods sometime in the recent past as a point against Christianity is absurd, since such a circumstance having actually occurred is not dictated or required by Christianity.

3. Does genetics disprove intelligent design? It depends on what’s being discussed

The imprecision of what is being alluded to here makes it slightly difficult to respond to the claim made in the meme. The moniker of “Intelligent Design” or “ID” is applied across a wide spectrum of scientific and philosophical dialogue. There are no inherent claims associated with the concept of Intelligent Design itself, as ID only examines the natural world in the context of its having possibly been designed by some sort of intelligence (ie, it makes no assertions as to how this may or may not have occurred, unlike creationism). (26) (27) Now, this does naturally carry a number of likely erroneous ideas that have been debunked wholesale by natural science, (28) and not genetics alone. Have ID advocates made scientifically inaccurate claims? Of course they have. Have anti-science or anti-evolution advocates used the moniker of ID to make their ideas seem more reputable or believable? Yes. (29) The current author would like to express that these observations do not arise out of sympathy for anti-evolutionary sentiments (as he holds abiogenesis and naturalistic evolution as the way  in which life arose and developed), but out of a desire to clarify terms, as there is no question to whether evolution was “designed”, (30) with the question concerning not if or if not it is designed, but whether this design is intelligently or un-intelligently present. Genetics absolutely disproves anti-evolutionary sentiments of ID advocates, but it does not demonstrate that there exists no intelligence behind natural systems. (Footnote 3)

4. Statistics does not disprove the “power of prayer”

The “power of prayer” referenced here appears to be in reference to “divine wish making”: i.e statistics proves that if you ask God for something often enough, you’ll eventually (statistically) hit a yes every now and then. Prayer is not, however, a game of divine wish making, chance, of yes/no/maybe so, hoping for the outcome you desire to just happen. Rather, prayer is the elevation of one’s thoughts to the things of God or the entreating of God of proper orientation/necessities in the world. (Footnote 4) This is done in a myriad of ways and is not limited to asking favors or wishes (though most people seemingly limit their prayer lives to this shallow end alone). When one looks at prayer for what it is, and doesn’t assume that modern evangelical fundamentalist “methods” of prayer are the only or objective use of the medium, it becomes apparent that statistics are in no way related to prayer or the “proving” of it. (31) (32) (33) (Footnote 7)

5. Physics does disprove a young earth – and why this isn’t a problem

As we addressed in the above point #2 regarding a recent creative cosmogony taking place over a period of 168 hours, the same observations may be applied regarding a young earth – the Church has never claimed or put forward the idea that the age of the earth can be ascertained or is a tenant of the Christian faith, as, due to the fact that we noted above, such a hypothesis is not compatible with the Christian Scriptures or worldview. (21, 22, 23, 24, 25, Footnote 2) The idea of a “young earth” is fully incompatible with not only modern science (34) (35) (36) (37), but also with the Bible itself. (23) (38) (39) This acknowledgement is not limited to only those who accept evolutionary arguments but is recognized by those believers who hold to divine/special creation yet reject the theory of evolution as factual (particularly physicist Dr. Steve Ball [Footnote 5], removing from plausibility the idea that such an observation regarding the antiquity of the earth arises from evolutionary presuppositions or justifications). (40)

6. Does geology disprove Noah’s flood? It depends on what’s being discussed.

As this paper is wrapping up the final few points being addressed by the subject meme, it cannot go without saying that some areas of this paper may repeat like a broken record, due to the fact that assumptions regarding the veracity of fundamentalist speculation as the objective doctrine taught, with no deeper analysis necessary. As with point #3 above, those who would endorse or advocate for the claims made by this meme have made several low-resolution assumptions regarding the assertions of Christianity. Does geology disprove fundamentalist assumptions regarding the Noachian flood, to the extent that it is presented as a planet-wide event approximately 4kya with a Kingdom Animalia bottleneck of a boat full of a few thousand specimens? Yes, without question. (41) (42) (43) But is that how the Scripture describes the event? No. The Bible describes a local flood event that, while massive and devastating in its scope, did not turn the Earth into a water planet. (44) (45) (46) (47) (48) (49) The latter is a scenario for which geology speaks in testimony of, as an event that actually occurred in human history. This is where the confusion arises concerning the meme’s claims, as geology in no way disproves academic scenarios that depict Noah’s flood as an actual event that occurred in history, such as those discussed and defended by L. G. Collins in Reports of the National Center for Science Education (50), or the contemporary cumulative case put forward by Michael Jones of InspiringPhilosophy. (51)

7. Neurology does not disprove the soul

A common trope within new atheism (in line with the mindset that drove the creation of the meme being discussed) is to embody the fundamentalist ideal which they seek to critique. In this case, assumption of a material-body and an immaterial-soul is assumed within a materialistic framework, making the dismissal of a soul almost off hand and a defense being non-necessary. This is noted in part to explain the brevity of the response in this section, as a simple response is that neuroscience in no way “disproves” the soul. To repeat a similar theme of this report, neuroscience absolutely disproves the low-resolution idea of the “soul” just mentioned (a ghost in a shell, so to speak). However, overwhelming evidence from various fields of mind science and consciousness studies has revealed that not only is consciousness not a phenomenon that can be explained away as naturalistic or generated by the brain, (Footnote 6) but that the idea of a “soul” as “consciousness distinct from/not caused by brain chemistry” is wholly consistent with the academic literature. (52) (53) (54) (55) (Ibid., Fn. 6) At the very least, it is disingenuous to say that neuroscience “disproves the soul”, as such a statement is reflective of an ignorance of the current dialogue taking place in the mind-sciences concerning the nature and identity of the “soul”. (Ibid., 52-55, Fn. 6)

8. The gods are human ideas that can be traced back to the cultures who invented them – and why this isn’t a problem

The main issue with this critique is that it is a truism that says nothing as to whether or not gods exist. (Footnote 8) Of course the gods are human ideas that are specific to certain peoples/cultures. This says nothing in regards to in what manner the gods exist or don’t exist, as it assumes that by dismissing them as “ideas”, they’re somehow not real. Which is rather peculiar, as one would be hard pressed to find someone to defend the idea that ideas or their manifestations aren’t real, in an objective sense. The gods, as we would understand them as historical phenomena, are psychological states of being that exist animated and independent of individuals and time. (56) This is why all mythologies tell virtually the same story, (57) (58) as humans were capable of identifying external philosophical and psychological states of being that seemingly acted on their own, summarizable within narrative structures that were logical and capable of being understood, and capable of compelling human behavior, overcoming reason, possessing people, etc. Comparative mythology demonstrates that these stories are not just fairy tales invented to tell children: these stories map over common themes and objective realities encountered by human beings throughout history. Whether it’s ancient Babylon, Egypt, the modern western world, etc. the stories are the same. (Ibid., 57, 58) (59) (60) (61) Eventually, the gods become “condensed” into meta-figures across time as cultures collide and mingle, an idea expressed by the Psalmist in ancient times. (Footnote 9) It isn’t an accident that monolateralist tendencies have been present about as long as humans have had the capacity for development of religious or psychological abstractions (62) (63) (64). In the context of this model it’s wholly wrong to state that, because the gods are created by human action they somehow don’t exist objectively. The question is not “Do the gods exist or not?”, but rather, “In what manner do the gods exist or not exist?” (65)

Conclusion

Notably, most of the objections to theism/Christianity that are expressed by the points contained in this meme are the result of low-resolution/low-information strawmen, which, while debunking fundamentalist assumptions in a heartbeat, do nothing to accurately critique the belief system that those similar low-resolution/low-information fundamentalist ideas spring from. This report serves to demonstrate that it is not fundamentalists/theists alone that are susceptible to bias and the spreading of inaccurate information (67), with a particular notice regarding rapid memetic spread as enabling the spread of false information from either side of the aisle.

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9. Ibid. 8, The Forming Account – Dust

10. Ibid. 8, The Forming Account – Rib

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Footnotes

Footnote 1. Genesis 1:26 – “…Let us make man in our image…” Strong’s OT #120 (adam – man, mankind), with the action of dominion possessing a plural translation (…and let them have dominion). Genesis 1:27 – “…male and female created he them.” We know that Adam and Eve not only were not created on the sixth day (see Gen. 2), but Eve was not created until sometime well after Adam. (Gen. 2:23) Genesis 1:28 – “…and God blessed them, and…said unto them…”, etc.

Footnote 2. The reader should note that the observation concerning the Church Fathers is referenced in order to address the doctrinal question at hand, and not to assert positive evidence for their holding of an old earth or evolutionary worldview. For example, St. Augustine could believe that the universe was created instantaneously as there exists no doctrine dictating that this is not how it occurred. Origen was able to speculate concerning the nature of the “days” of creation as there existed no doctrine dictating their length, etc. Simultaneously, it is incorrect to assert that belief in a young-earth or literal six-day creation period is a presupposition or prerequisite for Christian faith, as the Church makes no such doctrinal statement, and never has.

Footnote 3. It should be noted that observations concerning the “designed” nature of evolutionary processes is a purely naturalistic endeavor divorced from religious sentiments, as the question concerns not whether or not evolution actually occurs in nature (as creationists would object to), but how evolution occurs. (Fn3, 1) Process structuralist views on evolutionary processes propose that biological forms are not merely the result of adaptation in a purely random environment, but are dictated by biological laws such as those that dictate the formation of minerals, crystals, planets, stars, orbits, etc. (Fn3, 2-4) Such a view is not compatible with creationist assertions concerning the development of life, (Fn3, 5) as it “leaves no room for a creator”, accepts darwinian natural selection and associated processes as valid, and is not able to be harmonized with popular models of “creation science”. (Fn3, 5)

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  2. Van der Hammen, L. (1997) A structuralist theory of evolution reconsidered. Rivista di biologia, 90(3), 385-392. PMID: 9549404
  3. Goodwin, B. C. (1990) Structuralism in biology. Science Progress, 2(294), 227-243. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43423887
  4. Arciszewski, M. (2021, May 24) Process Structuralism (hub). PhilPapers. https://philpapers.org/browse/process-structuralism
  5. Thomas, B. (2013, September 18) Structuralism: A New Way to Avoid Creation. The Institute for Creation Research. https://www.icr.org/article/structuralism-new-way-avoid-creation

Footnote 4. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2558-2565) defines prayer as not limited to requesting good things from God, but as encompassing any act of raising of one’s mind or will to the things of God and habitually being in the presence of the Ideal and learning how to act that out through animation of the Logos. https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p4s1.htm

Footnote 5. Dr. Steve Ball’s professional profile: https://www.letu.edu/academics/arts-and-sciences/fac-bio-ball.html

Footnote 6. Michael Jones of InspiringPhilosophy has compiled an impressive set of data concerning the discussion surrounding the nature of the “soul” in relation to past and present models of consciousness, and the science that supports and debunks various claims in the attempt to positively identify what role, if any, the “soul” has in regards to the mind-sciences. The data is distributed amongst two series hosted on his YouTube channel of the same name. (Fn6, 1-7)

  1. Jones, M. [InspiringPhilosophy]. (2014, October 30) 1. The Case for the Soul (Neuroscience). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBsI_ay8K70
  2. Jones, M. [InspiringPhilosophy]. (2015, April 3) 2. The Case for the Soul: Refuting Physicalist Objections. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GB5TNrtu9Pk
  3. Jones, M. [InspiringPhilosophy]. (2015, July 17) 3. The Case for the Soul: Quantum Biology. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_xEraQWvgM
  4. Jones, M. [InspiringPhilosophy]. (2015, October 16) 4. The Case for the Soul (Near Death Experiences). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlBO0Y9GJhk
  5. Jones, M. [InspiringPhilosophy]. (2020, June 16) Neuroscientific Evidence: Irreducible Mind (Part 1). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOFGKhvWQ4M
  6. Jones, M. [InspiringPhilosophy]. (2020, July 10) Hard Problem of Consciousness: Irreducible Mind (Part 2). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PX1RuXU4_o
  7. Jones, M. [InspiringPhilosophy]. (2020, August 7) Physicalist Arguments Debunked: Irreducible Mind (Part 3). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIJiAhRd4jI&t=316s

Footnote 7. This is in harmony with the observable data regarding the reality of positive psychological effects associated with engaging in prayer and/or meditation, as it literally and not metaphorically has been demonstrated to bring one’s mind and body into alignment in goal pursuit. The “power of prayer” is not summed up via demonstrations of granted or withheld favors. (Fn7, 1-4)

  1. Formica, M. J. (2010, July 28) The Science, Psychology and Metaphysics of Prayer. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/enlightened-living/201007/the-science-psychology-and-metaphysics-prayer
  2. The Association for Psychological Science. (2020, May 20) The Science of Prayer. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/the-science-of-prayer-2.html
  3. Rad, M. R. (2013) The Positive Psychological Effects of Prayer. Huffpost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/prayer_b_3055127
  4. Rad, M. R. (2011) The Power of Prayer: Why Does it Work? Huffpost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/power-of-prayer_b_1015475

Footnote 8. This sentiment may be best summed up in the statement:“Whether the gods are inside or outside makes very little difference to whether there are gods.” (Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, professor of psychology, University of Toronto) To simply assert that the gods are psychological in nature or are created by human beings says nothing to their existence, or lack thereof.
Footnote 9. Psalm 82 identifies Yaweh as one such victor among the gods, depicting him as standing at the top of the hierarchy of gods and judging them from a seat of authority.

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Noah Edmonds

Psychology major interested in questions concerning symbolism, science, philosophy, and religion. Currently involved in research concerning the intersections of religious fundamentalism and natural science, along with the psychological significance of religious and mythological ideas.

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