Friday, March 15, 2013

Is God a Monkey?

About 6000 years ago in a place undefined by space, God was sitting in his lab pondering his next course of action. He had just created existence, but it needed time to cool off before he could do any experiments. God had grown weary of being alone and creating a universe for friends to live in seemed like the easiest solution. Turns out that making worlds was quite a chore, as very few of the heavenly bodies God created were capable of sustaining life.

God was not deterred. All he needed was one good planet for his friends. He made hundreds of interesting creatures to populate it but decided that someone made in his image would be best suited to rule over that world whenever he was busy.

He set out immediately to make these future kings. He broke out his trusty organism-making set and began picking the right chromosomes for the task. Being omnipotent is tough in the morning, so God had some coffee and a jelly donut to get his motor running. He was in a hurry, and some of the jelly filling got on his equipment. God quickly cleaned up the mess and carried on with his work without giving another thought to his sticky blunder.

After toiling for hours, God had assembled the perfect embryo, something that would grow into a mortal version of him. It would be his greatest triumph, and all it needed was a couple of days in his Easy-Life Oven. God inserted the embryo, set the timer, and went off to sculpt fake fossils.

When the timer sounded, God returned to see his new friend and was appalled at what he found. This creature had very little fur, stood completely upright, and made noises that seemed to be gibberish. Since God could use the company, he decided to keep this abomination around and took to calling it Adam.

Some time passed before God began noticing that Adam longed for a companion of his own. Being mortal, he had a natural desire to reproduce, and God saw no reason to deny him that urge. Unfortunately, he didn't know how exactly Adam was formed and would need to review the original process to find the error. As a bonus, God realized, finding his mistake would allow him to finally create his master species.

Later on while pouring over his notes, God had his "eureka" moment. Nothing in his work jumped out as an obvious flaw, but he remembered the jelly mishap from that day. Some chromosomes must have inadvertently been stuck together during the assembly process! God was amazed at how different two creatures could be because of such a small change.

With the problem identified, it wasn't long before God found the bothersome chromosomes and adjusted his notes accordingly. To create a female, he knew that some fundamental changes would be required, but the process would be similar. God went to work immediately, assembling the embryo for the creature he decided to call Eve. He then thoroughly cleaned his workstation and put together a male and female of the species he had initially sought. Luckily, his oven had room for four. He placed the three embryos on the rack and put in a pot pie for dinner.

While eating, God decided that when the creatures emerged from their incubation, the time would be right to send them to the planet he was calling Earth. He would miss having the company, but his time would be better spent observing what had become his grand experiment. God's only obstacle now was time.

The two days went by slowly. God's path was permanently carved into his floor from the pacing. The bell rang, and his creatures were ready. First from the oven came Eve, and she was a beautiful specimen. Adam was visibly pleased with the result. Next came the unknown quantities, those creatures God had set out to make as his mortal duplicates.

The destined rulers of Earth emerged, perfect in the eyes of their creator. God was awestruck at these beings that stood before him. He had faith in his methodology but was skeptical after his recent failure. God didn't feel right in giving them names, as he felt that such a high species should choose for themselves. 

Before he sent his four latest creations to Earth, God assigned terms to both pairs for reference in his notes. Adam and Eve were dubbed "humans", but he felt that his master species deserved a more distinguished title. From that point on, God would call these creatures "chimpanzees".

Who doesn't love Angel Food Cake or Alton Brown from Good Eats?

The Part of This in Which I'm Being Serious

I initially intended this story as a brief lead-in to my blog post. It kind of took off on me, so I apologize. Anyway, I've been thinking a lot on the influence that religious belief can have on scientific research. Generally, a scientist that considers religious dogma as part of his process will steer his results toward that outcome, and that is just backwards science.

I'll use my story as an example of similar bias. An impartial reader may notice some microscopic particles of science inside. However, an individual of the pious persuasion might not even read the whole story because of the frightening amount of heresy involved, unless they wanted fodder for the comments section.

I know I'm picking on religion right now, but it has been a major thorn in the paw of science for centuries. Unfortunately, God is just everyone's favorite whipping boy these days, and bad science is spawning from less apparent places. Hollywood is a major source, and I'm not even going to talk about movies.

It's pretty apparent that celebrities have been interjecting themselves into political issues since "celebrities" became a term, and science began grappling with politics when agendas were invented. As the breeding ground for these "celebrities", Hollywood has acted as an impediment to progress for some time now. It seems that several brilliant scientific and political minds chose to pursue their love of acting so they could use the resulting fame as a vessel to better deliver their ideas to humanity.

Two major issues come to mind when I think of meddling actors: fracking and GMO's. (For those that aren't in the know, that's genetically modified organisms. Apparently it's cool to modify people, but not food. I won't even get into preservatives and artificial flavors.)

I'm not overly concerned that fracking gets a bad rap, but I'm amused by Matt Damon's disdain for it, which he clearly demonstrated in Promised Land. (I know I said no movies, but this one is politically charged bad science. An op-ed piece in the New York Times paints a different picture regarding the science behind the fracking process and the threats it poses to nearby communities. (I'll leave readers to to form their own opinions. It's a right bestowed upon us by the big chimpanzee in the sky.

It turns out that GMO's are a much simpler issue. Science is doing battle with a populace that has an overpowering fear of the unknown. The idea of "playing God" in any context makes most people uneasy, especially when it involves something we consume. (Even atheists seem to ride this train. I guess they're cool with God as a euphemism.) This fear has resulted in a couple of notable events.

This past year, the state of California tried to pass a proposition requiring all foods containing GMO's to be labelled accordingly, but it was voted down( The latest cause comes from Whole Foods, a prominent North American grocery chain. They announced last week that by 2018, they won't sell any products containing GMO's unless their packaging meets the company's labelling standards( 

This move strikes me as a knee-jerk reaction intended to convince potential consumers that Whole Foods will be the best place to shop for the foreseeable future. (The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations posted a pair of articles on their site in 2003 detailing pros,, and cons,, of GMO's. As usual, nothing is black and white, unless you're playing chess.)

From my recent observations, I've come to believe that religion isn't the only reason for the persecution of science. It's also a fear of change and the necessary paradigm shift resulting from scientific discoveries. As far as Catholics were concerned, Galileo tried to make the earth travel in circles and Darwin made monkeys into our uncles. 

Religions have even taken aim at each other. When polytheism was prominent, Egyptians persecuted the Jews and Romans took up arms against Christianity. We all know how these both worked out.

To be painfully honest, I think that most of these problems stem from a fear of being wrong. If a single part of someone's belief structure is proven false, the remaining pieces tend to topple like dominoes. Fighting for what you believe as an individual or society isn't about the cause. It's about what defines you. Losing that fight takes away your identity and leaves you without purpose.

This is why I enjoy science. Research is based on the idea that you have to be wrong repeatedly until you find the solution. Even then, you've usually just found an answer that you couldn't disprove. What really makes science great is that the only way you can truly be wrong is if you ever believe you're right, and in order to succeed, the only thing you have to believe in is yourself.

Notes: For the sake of clarity, I'm agnostic. Being atheist seems like being religious without the deity. I've got better things to do than picking a side. Besides, religion can't be proven absolutely wrong or right, so neither argument merits my dedication.

I'll be off for the weekend, so no new posts for a little while. I should finish Written in Stone while I'm away, so there's that.

Yes, I intended the "Highway to Hell" video from my last post to foreshadow this one. That's all I've got. As always, feedback in the comments section or on Twitter is welcome!

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