A journey through religions and their cultures.
Rolling my sleeves up had a twofold effect, firstly it showed my Witnessing friend that I meant business, (although in a cartoon Popeye-esque fashion) and secondly, it revealed my Darwin tree of life tattoo, which differed not only with Genesis, but with Leviticus (19:28 – do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the LORD).
“So, do you believe in Evolution?” she confusedly spluttered, clearly bamboozled by me cracking my knuckles and stretching, which I agree was probably a little over the top.
Taking a deep breath, I tried to visualise how my answer would unfold. As someone who cares passionately about science and education I wanted to properly convey the elegance and beauty of evolution, natural selection and how we’re related to every single organism on this planet via distant common ancestors. Knowing that certain people have difficulty with being an animal, I wanted her to know that it’s something she should be proud of, to be able to see herself as connected with every organism on this planet is nothing short of a privilege. I could feel the Pagan bubbling up inside of me, eager to get out.
“It just seems mad to me, how can anyone really believe that?”
Evolution isn’t something you can really believe in or not, it’s simply a fact of biology. Mutations happen all the time; in fact you yourself are about 1.8% mutated from your parents, as they were from their parents. These small changes, if selected for, eventually add up. This is all evolution really is, “change over time”. Or as Chares Darwin puts it “descent with modification”.
With an ever increasing crowd enveloping us, I realised I was causing a bit of a scene. “Never mind”, I thought, “Church can always use a bit of excitement”.
“So, all of sudden, you think there was just life? Like from a rock or something?”
Ignoring the irony that my new friend had essentially tried to mock evolution by summarising Genesis, I explained this was a common misunderstanding. Evolution explains the diversity of life from the first self-replicating molecule, life from non-life (or organic from inorganic matter) was a process called abiogenesis. How exactly this happened we may never know, but we have found several ways it could have happened. The most famous of these would be the Miller-Urey experiment conducted in the 1950’s. Essentially they recreated what they thought were the early Earth conditions and introduced an energy source, namely electricity. The results were startling. They found several amino acids had formed, which are the building blocks of life and experiments since then which better replicate the early conditions have even found Adenine, one of the base acids in DNA.
Twenty minutes passed, in this time we had discussed everything from philosophy and ethics to cosmology and evolution. The crowd by this point had increased, I watched as their eyes followed the tantalisingly tenacious tennis match from side to side. During the dialogue I had tried to be as polite and open as possible. It suddenly struck me however, that my conversational colleague was becoming distressed. Not angry, but noticeably uncomfortable.
“The problem is that if what you’re saying is true, which it isn’t” she stressed “it means that God isn’t there”.
Personally, I still don’t believe in a God. I’ve enquired with interest into why others do, but for me the reasons don’t quite resonate with me. Whether this is because I simply don’t want to believe I will never know, the subconscious is a tricky mistress.
“Perhaps” I said, in attempt to offer a common ground on which we could both jump for joy “evolution is the way God did things. Maybe Genesis isn’t literal, but an allegory written for a time when evolution couldn’t be understood”.
Oh well, I tried.
Atheists have a reputation for being somewhat arrogant and strident, this reputation was not at all becoming of myself. The distress I was causing, even though I knew I was only telling the truth, was breaking my heart. It felt the equivalent to telling Joseph Merrick, after enquiring how he looked, that his appearance resembled that of a child’s first attempt at a plasticine model.
“So, what does evolution say will happen after we die, then?”
And then it hit me, and only thirty minutes too late. While I was talking about evolution and the like, my witnessing chum was talking about death, specifically hers. If I was right she didn’t only lose what was a minor debate, she had lost her immortality. The promise from God that she had spent her whole life earning, was nothing but an empty gesture
Also, while her impending demise had been pulled to the forefront of her thoughts, I could also sense a slight sadness she had for me too. Jehovah’s Witnesses travel door to door not to bother and annoy you, but to give you the chance to share their eternal happiness. There is no uncertainty within their belief, they know whole heartedly that heaven exists, and the way to get there is through Jesus Christ. With my apostate brain and lack of belief, I was for sure not going to be invited to the afterlife party. This seemed to be a problem for her.
I began to change my answering technique from talking, to staying relatively mute. With all the silence in the world however, my friend couldn’t stop. I’d excited an instinct in her, one of self-preservation which had all but gripped her, pushing her to leave no questions I raised untrampled.
“How does evolution explain love” She rhetorically cried, with a glistening of emotional mildew in her eyes.
Even though I had other smart arse answers for that, I chose to keep them to myself. While I still can’t understand why people believe in a God or Gods, I now understand why the move into disbelief is so hard. Not only does religion shape your current life, but it promises a second chance to see those you’ve lost, those you’ve never met and due to a finite life here on Earth, those who you would never have had the chance to meet.
I left with a slight tremor in my leg, unsure as to what had just happened. While the idea of dying isn’t particularly pleasant to me, death itself is something I don’t tend to worry about. While I made the short walk back to my front door I had Mark Twain echoing around my mind;
I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.