By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The widespread preference for God-based explanations over the empirical can be blamed on the emotional shortcomings of science, Wilson says. Science is bloodless. It lacks the poetry of affirmation woven into religion and fails to satiate the deep cravings for immortality and the transcendent.
Certainly there are theistic evolutionists. The Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, among other religious organizations, have issued statements acknowledging the evidence for evolution and its compatibility with faith.
Yet most of the religiously faithful, if polls are to be believed, seem to care not a whit for the mounting evidence supporting scientific explanations for the universe and the existence of varied life forms. According to a March 2007 Newsweek poll, 91 percent of Americans profess belief in God while a tiny 3 percent self-identify as atheist. Fully 48 percent of those polled reject evolutionary theory out of hand while 73 percent of evangelical Protestants, 39 percent of non-evangelical Protestants and 41 percent of Catholics do so, holding that God created humans in their present form less than 10,000 years ago.
"We're not hiding the fact that we think the biblical account is accurate," Heffner says. "But we hope to show the scientific evidence from secular sources [disproving evolution] that is buried...In fact [evolution] is so deeply entrenched that some suggest it's not going to die out until this generation of older scientists, that are swallowing it and pushing it, are gone."
Such widely held beliefs infuriate evangelical atheists. Sam Harris points out that the idea of such a young earth means it was created right around the time the Sumerians invented glue. "Our country now appears, as at no other time in her history, like a lumbering, bellicose, dim-witted giant," he writes in Letter to a Christian Nation.
Entering this thicket of agitated atheism is University of Colorado philosopher and physicist Victor Stenger, whose recent book God: The Failed Hypothesis has climbed the lower rungs of The New York Times' best-seller list. Stenger stresses that the central conflict is not between creationism and evolution. "It's between reason and superstition," he said in an interview just after the publication of his book.
Arguments such as Varghese's are eminently refutable, Stenger says. The physical laws governing the universe are not a framework sprung from a supernatural source. They are human inventions, mathematical models used to describe observations. "[T]he most fundamental laws of physics are not restrictions on the behavior of matter," he writes in God. "Rather they are restrictions on the way physicists may describe that behavior." Stenger believes scientific investigation will ultimately explain consciousness, free will, thought, self-awareness and the other phenomena Varghese attributes to infinite mind. "There is no reason that we can see now, from the study of the brain, that would require you to introduce any immaterial element," he says.
Stenger speculates free will may be nothing more than the brain interacting with radiation both from external cosmic rays and potassium in the blood. Self-consciousness may be an evolutionary coping mechanism whereby little stories are formulated in memory to help the human brain make sense of and digest the stream of step-by-step calculations it rapidly performs continuously.
Yet as much as these books construct logical arguments against the existence of God, they are also screeds against the texts that inform religious faith and the apparent ignorance among the faithful of what is actually written in these texts. Writes Dawkins: "The oldest of the three Abrahamic religions, and the clear ancestor of the other two, is Judaism: originally a tribal cult of a fiercely unpleasant God, morbidly obsessed with sexual restrictions, with the smell of charred flesh, with his own superiority over rival gods and with the exclusiveness of his own chosen desert tribe."
As a text for establishing moral rectitude, the Bible is an abysmal failure. The Old Testament God is a violent tyrant who repeatedly condones—even commands—pillaging, slavery and genocide. God demands a man be stoned to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. He seemingly turns a blind eye to aberrant behaviors among his faithful including incest, the seeding of offspring among family servants and the offering up of wives and daughters as sexual favors.
As a source of prophecy, the Bible is equally derelict, these books argue. The famous prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 foretelling the virgin birth of the messiah is widely accepted among Hebrew scholars as a mistranslation of the Hebrew word for young woman (almah) into the Greek word for virgin (parthenos). In essence, the Gospels were jury-rigged to fulfill a prophecy based on an error. Equally confounding, points out Dawkins at least, is the establishment in the New Testament of Joseph, Jesus' father, as a descendant of King David to fulfill Old Testament prophecy that the messiah would emerge from the line of David. If Mary was indeed a virgin, Joseph's ancestry is irrelevant to Jesus' genealogy. Dawkins' conclusion: The Bible contains no compelling truths to substantiate its legitimacy as a source of timeless moral principles or of special revelation.