Time and time again, God is given ample opportunity to show just how great, how powerful, how loving, and how knowledgeable he is. And he fails, time and time again. When something is resolved, something is discovered, something that appears miraculous occurs, theists always give to god credit he doesn’t seem to merit. If you look closely, most times you’ll find that it was an extraordinary human being who deserved the credit.
What I’m going to write about doesn’t rise to the level of miracles, but it is quite an accomplishment nonetheless. You’ll surely remember, right after 9/11, the great anthrax scare of 2001, when envelopes containing purely refined anthrax were mailed to Tom Brokaw, Senator Patrick Leahy and a few other prominent individuals, resulting eventually in 5 deaths, primarily among postal workers who were contaminated by the envelopes as they passed through the postal system. The result was a complete change in the way mail is handled, costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars.
This past week the FBI was about to announce that they’d solved this seven year old case, and were going to charge a research scientist working for the government for manufacturing and disseminating the anthrax. However, the process was halted when Bruce Ivins, the scientist who worked at an army lab, committed suicide. Apparently, it was other scientists who made a breakthrough that helped the FBI trace the strain of anthrax to Ivins’ lab.
The FBI recruited top genome researchers from across the country and encouraged them to do groundbreaking work to identify and isolate the type of anthrax in the attacks. At least $10 million was spent on the research in what the scientist called the FBI’s most expensive and scientifically compelling case to date.
Existing technology didn’t have the capability for tracing strains of anthrax to a point of origin, so genome scientists buckled down and created it specifically to assist the authorities in determining who was responsible. As usual, it was the hard work of investigators with the assistance of this breakthrough scientific technology that solved the puzzle (assuming it’s actually solved – the FBI does have a history of blundering and misidentifying suspects, even in this case, which seems to be based on circumstantial evidence anyway, though none of that detracts from the science). God had nothing to do with it.
Let’s step back a few steps. I’ll stay away from the obvious problem of a god who creates a substance deadly to his chosen creation, the species he created the entire universe for. I also won’t mention the clear problem of a god who allows an evil person with malicious intentions to use this substance to harm and kill other humans, despite that god being omnipotent and omniscient. What I’ll focus on is the fact that it was science, the scientific process created and harnessed by the human mind, and as used by human beings for the betterment of fellow human beings, that seems to deserve all the credit for solving this case, but you don’t hear too many people saying so.
We live our day to day lives relying on science, from preserving our food through refrigeration, to traveling to work in our automobiles and airplanes, to communicating with the world through the Internet, to extending our life spans through modern medicine and nutrition. Day in and day out it’s science that we implicitly thank for our standard of living. Not god. This case is just another example in a long, unbroken string of examples of humans solving human problems without the aid of the supernatural. Why? Because there is no such thing as the supernatural.
There used to be a series of TV ads when I was growing up espousing education for African Americans. The slogan I remember was “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” This is an excellent slogan for atheists too. While we have many great minds at work solving the problems of life, all within a scientific context, rarely do the people of this country stop praising their gods, and praise the men and women who really deserve credit – our scientists. Science is considered “nerdy”, and scientists are looked down upon as “geeks”. Anti-intellectualism runs rampant, to the point than many adolescents purposely avoid learning, despite having the ability to be successful in school. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
And yet we have churches filled to the brim with people who actively believe that the world was created in 6 days, 6000 years ago. They believe that this same god has nothing better to do than manipulate the outcomes of football games, cause his face and name to appear in extremely odd places, and is preoccupied, not with the mere fact that we humans reproduce, but how and where. These are the same people who believe that heaven, and even hell, actually exists, that ghosts are real, that Jesus was born to a virgin, etc., all ideas that have no place in reality.
The science of god has been an utter and complete failure. He has historically done nothing to advance human well-being, or to alleviate human suffering. Mankind, through its intellectual elite, is responsible for what we call Civilization. If anything, the concept of god, and religion in general, has impeded all advances to human betterment, choosing to keep people in a state of need, so that they are forced to look for the easy fixes that religion promises them, or else resign themselves to a sense of complacency, hoping that they will be better off in the next life - another empty and unproven promise of religion.
From the alternative point of view, if the FBI had relied on faith to solve this crime, we’d still be cleaning anthrax out of our postal system.
[And in other news, this is my 200th post. How many blog posts has god written?] 8)