I recently read Part One of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, and he raised some very interesting points in this essay. It is amazing how many of Paine’s observations and criticisms of Christianity are just as potent and relevant today, over 200 years later.
Paine began by explaining the nature of revelation. While most Christians today would hold the Holy Bible to be a revelation from God to man, Paine shows how this is a misuse of the term. Once an initial revelation has been made to a single person (Moses, or Paul, or whoever you think was the original author of any of the books), it ceases to be a revelation as the recipient of the revelation attempts to recount the message to others. It immediately becomes hearsay evidence. While anyone has good reason to believe what one has personally seen or heard in immediate experience, one does not have as good of a reason to believe what one has merely heard said by others. As the saying goes, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.
Given the number of lunatics and liars that have been a part of humanity since, well, about the time humanity started, I think it is reasonable to say that the odds that any given person is telling the truth when he or she claims to have received revelation from God is phenomenally low. There are more liars and lunatics than there are prophets (assuming, for the sake of the argument, that prophets are at least possible). This much, I would hope, we can all agree on, theist and nontheist alike. It is not too much to ask, I hope, that we assign a probablity of 1% to the number of people who claim to have receieved revelation who are actually telling the truth.
Now let us consider another scenario. Given the existence of the theistic God, what are the odds that God created the universe and everything in it? Pretty high, right? Most would say 100%, although certainly not all would agree. For our purposes here, though, I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of theists all believe that God created the universe, so let us go ahead and assign a probability of 100% that God created Earth.
With these probabilities in mind, why is it that so many believers disbelieve in the natural processes of the earth as discovered by science? Recent polls indicate that over 40% of Americans do not believe that evolution really happened. They choose to believe what their text of revelation says (or, more accurately, what the religious power-holders have told them the text says), which has only a 1% chance of being correct (and given the historical evidence concerning the authorship of the Bible, I’d say that is a rather generous probability assignment), rather than what the evidence of the earth has shown, when this planet can be said with 100% certainty to have been created by the very God they love.
What accounts for such awful reasoning? What rational explanation is there behind this massive deception? Is it that powers that be? Are they responsible? What could one possibly seek to gain by holding to an outdated explanation for the origin of cosmos and life on Earth? It couldn’t just be about control of the masses by moral manipulation. The entire account of creation in the Bible can be jettisoned without the least bit harm done to the moral framework set up by Christianity. The liberal and moderate Christians have already shown this to be so.
The reason for the opposition to evolutionary biology is something that I may never understand. Perhaps it is just the human tendency to avoid any and all kinds of change, however minor it may be in reality. It can’t be that simple, though. There are just too many factors that could be at work here.