To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Date: Wednesday, December 20, 2000 11:43 PM
Hello Cliff, I have written to you before with some questions, and this e-mail is for the same purpose.
I am a 16-year-old and I have been an atheist for quite some time. Recently I have come across some material that has caused me to question atheism. The ideas of Zecharia Sitchin seem to be quite convincing, here are some links:
But then after reviewing the information and grasping it, I decided its' authenticity should be very questionable since many questionable sources support it. The idea, in a nutshell, says that we were genetically engineered from a race that is very much like our race, yet from a different planet, that planet being planet X or Nibiru. I took all these ideas into consideration, and then began to think. This idea totally goes against the idea of evolution, something that I find to be most satisfying to my quest to find the truth. A discussion with a person online brought up some flaws in Darwin's theory of evolution:
<TheBurningDarkness> ok look....
<TheBurningDarkness> Darwin's theory is wrong because,,,
<TheBurningDarkness> if life on this planet began through a serioes of spontaneous chemical reactions....
<TheBurningDarkness> why does life on earth have only ONE single source?
<Atheist4Life> I don't know
<TheBurningDarkness> and why does all living matter on the planet contain too little of the chemical elements that abound on earth
<TheBurningDarkness> life was imported to earth from somewhere else
These points were brought up by another person online, I bet you can guess which person I am in the conversation. I have yet to disprove or prove any of these arguments against the theory of evolution. Are these arguments true, and if so are they relevant to disproving evolution? Have you heard anything about Sitchin's theory, and if so what are your arguments against it?
I noticed that when I first started to read the information regarding Sitchin's theory I began to feel enlightened, like I had just solved a mystery. But then I as I began to come to my senses I realized that this may as well be another religion, it seems just as far fetched as any religion. In his interview, Sitchin brings up some good points, I suggest reading it and learning more about the topic, unless of course you already have.
Off the main topic, but a topic that plagues Atheists, I have found it is a very hard thing to tell people that I am an Atheist. I find it very hard to blindly believe in something without evidence or proof. From what I have gathered, Religion is a manufactured idea, heaven and hell, both there to satisfy human's needs for explanation. We are constantly bashed, and ignored. Trying to argue with most religious persons, is like trying to argue with a 2 year-old I have found. Religious ideas and virtues seem to be counterproductive to man, why would someone embrace these ideas?
I thank you very much for your time, I hope that you can answer these questions. Your website is one of my favorite sites, your ideas, arguments are all worded so well.
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 04:02:58 -0800
First of all, "TheBurningDarkness" foisted a faulty premise on you by asking, "why does life on earth have only ONE single source?" Life on Earth appears to have come from a single common ancestor (DNA evidence), but this doesn't mean that life appeared here only once. It could have evolved and died off a number of times during those early times before the current system of life finally "took," or, more than one "strain" could have coexisted for a while (although we have no evidence either supporting or refuting one notion or the other: all we know is that DNA evidence makes a convincing case that all currently living life forms are related). This fallacy is called the Non Sequitur.
Also, even if life does have only one single source, this does not prove this person's case, and neither would a series of appearances disprove this person's case: this fallacy is called the hasty generalization.
Finally, I'm not sure about the claim that "all living matter on the planet contain too little of the chemical elements that abound on earth" considering that (last time I checked) we are composed mostly of sea water.
I am not familiar with this variation of the Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent Design model (ETID), but the same idea is put forth by proponents of the Raëlian religion, who are atheistic creationists. In fact, this person might be a Raëlian. (Understand that I consider the Raëlians to be allies in our very important struggle; I accept Raëlians as full-fledged fellow-atheists who disagree me on some extremely unimportant matters.) Raëlianism is big in Europe, and I notice these web sites being in Sweden and Norway. Then again, Raëlianism is popular enough to have spawned offshoots by now (for example, I heard that there are over a hundred different sects of Mormonism alone). And Raëlianism is not original with this idea: Timothy Leary, of all people, taught this idea while he was serving a 30-year prison sentence for possessing a roach of marijuana. This was also the gist of the pulp-science cult classic, Chariots of the Gods.
The Raëlians' problem is that they conveniently posit a steady-state universe (it's always been here) which does little to explain the origin of the "creator" species. In other words, they feel the need to explain our existence by saying that we've been created by a race of extra-terrestrials, but don't seem to be at all baffled by the existence of the "creator" species -- where did the ETs come from? If we feel that our existence is unlikely enough to require explaining (through creation), then we cannot stop there: and must address the origin of the origin, and so on.
The same problem exists with all forms of creationism which depend on complexity and then require that the complexity be explained: humans got here because God created us, but where did God come from?
The Inflationary Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution explain our origins quite nicely. In fact, both alternatives (theistic creationism and ETID) are not brought forth because of necessity (there is no lack of valid, realistic, simple, compelling explanations), but because of what apologists for both alternatives describe as personal, nonscientific revelation. (Without looking at either website, I strongly suspect that Sitchin has a similar "revelatory" imperative.) The theists point to an alleged Scripture and the Raëlians point to Raël's alleged contacts with ETs. It is easy to see why they'd want to try to make science fit preconceptions such as these. This is where fundamentalism comes from: they get their "knowledge" "revealed" to them from a source other than human reason and humankind's struggle to understand ourselves and our environment. Inevitably, this "knowledge" differs significantly from what we have discovered (and what we probably will discover).
Meanwhile, the Inflationary Big Bang Theory is most compelling, and it would take quite a bit to overthrow it at this point. Ditto for natural selection being an "unintelligent designer," as explained in the Theory of Evolution. What happened "before" the Big Bang we can only guess -- for now. Even if it's a "Big Oscillation" (bang, crunch, bang, crunch, ad infinitum), no "superior race of beings" could have been here forever. But the Inflationary Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution are each very well established by several branches of science.
Before delving too deeply into the "God is an ET" model (the Raëlians' language), I strongly recommend a basic overview of cosmology from a particle physics perspective. That can be had in the book, Not By Design: The Origin of the Universe (1988) by leading particle physicist Victor J. Stenger. I interviewed Professor Stenger about a year ago and posted it in our Interviews section. I have since chatted with him a few times, mostly about what he's up to lately (he moved to Colorado and is working on a new book due out in late 2001 or early 2002; look for the names of a few PAM Forum "regulars" in the Dedication). Before meeting him, I was in quite a fog when it came to origins, but after listening to him, I can see why the other propositions ("God"; ETs; steady-state) just don't cut it.
About the same time, I was reading Jonathan Rauch's concisely wonderful book The Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. In it, he attacks postmodernism and that brand of radical Liberalism which seeks to suppress the free flow of ideas in the interest of not offending minorities (Rauch himself is Jewish and gay). But in order to make his point, he puts forth the most accessible description of the liberal scientific method I've ever encountered. Science is an ongoing discussion whereby we submit our ideas to the public forum specifically so that others may scrutinize our propositions and try to disprove them.
In science, nobody has the final say on any claim to knowledge and nobody is more or less qualified to submit ideas to the public forum than any other. A patent clerk is just as qualified to overturn the entire branch of physics as Einstein was when he proposed the Theory of Relativity. A graduate student is just as qualified to make a major revision to the field of astronomy as Jocelyn Bell was when she discovered the pulsar. In fact, Einstein was a patent clerk when he submitted his ideas, and Bell was a graduate student when she discovered the pulsar!
So science has no mediators of "truth" other than the public forum. If others can independently verify your claims, your idea gains credibility. If others overturn your proposals, you submit to the judgement of the evidence (at minimum) and rejoice that someone has found yet another piece of the puzzle (a common reaction when a scientist's pet hypotheses is proven wrong by a younger scientist).
It will also help to study some of the methods with which certain people try to snow the public into accepting their propositions as fact. We have posted several fine articles on rhetorical fallacies. I incorporated most of the fallacies listed in these articles into our discussion called "Sophistry: Logical and Rhetorical Fallacies; Faulty Reasoning," which is part of our FAQ piece, "Introduction to Activistic Atheism."
If we keep abreast of what the leading scientists are saying (and aren't saying), and if we have a good foundation on liberal scientific method itself (how it works; what it is; what it is not), and if we are familiar with the ways in which the wiley ones try to gain power by amassing large groups of followers, then we have done all we can to protect ourselves from being taken in by clever fakes.
Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not calling Raël or Sitchin "clever fakes" at all: they may or may not be fakes or sincere or completely wrong (these are three separate axes). What I am saying is that if they are faking it, if they are wrong, you stand a much better chance at being able to detect their errors if you keep up on the recent findings of mainstream science, if you understand how scientific method works, and if you know the tricks of the rhetorical trade. With this background and this foundation, you'll be able to spot pseudoscience posing as science like a seasoned bank teller can instantly spot a phony bill just by how it feels: they handle real money all day long, and how it "feels" becomes second nature.
For a specific discussion of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent Design, check out Robert T. Pennock's 1999 book, Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism. Chapter 5, "Chariots of the Gods," focuses entirely on ETID, specifically the Raëlians (Pennock had never heard of this until after he began working on the book). The chapter raises several scientific questions that I have not raised here (and I have here raised a few philosophical questions that Pennock omits). The hardback is very spendy and was very hard to find when I needed to get my hands on a copy. After a long and grueling search, I finally found a used copy in San Francisco during the Kansas School Board flap, when the publisher couldn't keep up with the demand for this very timely book, but it's now in paperback for less than US$20.00.
Thanks for your question. I must reemphasize that it's more important to consider the Raëlians as allies than it is to bicker with them about origins. The only role they play at all in the discussion is that they utilize some of the same arguments that the theistic creationists use. Theistic creationists would be harmless were it not for their extremely persistent move to introduce religious instruction into the public schools via "scientific creationism" which is easily shown to be false science.
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