Belief

Moments ago, my wife and I were having a discussion about cleaning products. Since we’ve had kids, my wife’s idea of a household cleaner is vinegar mixed with water. Or, if it’s a really tough job, straight, uncut, Bolivian baking soda.

This is not a subject on which we always agree. While I think most modern cleaning products go overboard with the lavender-scented, angel-tear formulas, I also am not above using something that, well, actually works. For instance, bleach.

My wife leaned in close to my face and said, not unlike a pious woman from latter-day Salem, Massachusetts, “Bleach is evil.”

And then she walked away.

For the past ten years, I’ve been married to a rational woman. She and I share a belief system. We agree on almost every topic of major public debate. It’s rare for us to find something on which we disagree. It’s so rare, in fact, that I usually give up any debate within 30 seconds because the only way to change my wife’s mind about something she believes is show her that it’s provably wrong.

Five minutes later, my wife walked back in the room and and said, “If I die unexpectedly, the evil wolfman on (street name redacted) is the one who killed me.”

And then she walked out again. There are certain things better left without debate.

The discussions above actually interrupted me from reading about what appears to be new scientific evidence that a previously unknown relative of humans existed some 40,000 years ago and walked among Neanderthals and modern humans. All of this information has been divined from DNA found in one pinkie finger bone in a Siberian cave.

It’s these kinds of announcements that absolutely fascinate me. If proven to be true, scientists have uncovered something on Earth that directly speaks to our history as human beings, something that until now we couldn’t even have acknowledged, something that helps us further understand who we are and what we survived to make it this far.

I am actually the type of guy who finds as much or more value in looking back at our planet as I find in looking outward to space (although, this news kept me mentally babbling for an hour or so). That’s partially because I don’t believe I will live to experience any life-changing discoveries beyond our own atmosphere. However, I think there is a chance that within my lifetime we humans might have a much deeper understanding of our personal history.

The human experience, such as it is, is largely corrupted by the fact we don’t understand who we are, why we’re here, or where we came from. In fact, the mere misunderstanding and lack of agreement on human history is one of the most severe divisions in human dialog. Why? Well, in part, because there is a significant portion of the population (44% of American adults, if you’re to believe a 2008 Gallup poll) that believes that Earth is no more than 10,000 years old and that human life didn’t begin until then.

I don’t talk about religion with most people, and I certainly don’t discuss it in a forum like this. However, I think it’s telling that my interest, fascination, and belief in the mitochondrial DNA discovery sets me apart from nearly half the population of my country. That is, on any given day, up to 44% of the people with whom I might randomly interact directly oppose my belief in the basic structure and evolution of humankind. I think this is probably the reason “Arrested Development” didn’t survive on television.

I listened to an old Radio Lab yesterday that featured a guy bent on polling just about everybody he met on whether they believed humans would ever stop going to war. A majority of the people he’d asked over the past six or seven years had said they believed the end of war was impossible. The folks had their various opinions on why, but it was almost universal that people believed humans would be killing each other from now until the end of time.

It seemed so depressing, so fatalistic, so…understandable. Of course we’ll kill each other forever.

Even as an ostensibly enlightened society living in a modern age of advanced science, we cannot agree on the fundamental roots of our existence. It would be one thing if DNA scientists and Young Earth Creationists were fringe groups and wingnuts, the type who wear tennis shoes and purple jumpsuits while offing themselves in ritual suicide. But they are not. Our population is divided by huge groups of people who co-exist almost against their will. That they can agree on who should win American Idol but can’t agree if humans have lived for more than 10,000 years is probably the only evidence I’ll ever need that we are more screwed than any god or scientist had ever imagined.

I do not prosthelytize and I count on others to do me the same favor. Nonetheless, I do believe that science will help reveal some fundamental truths about our lives in the span of the next 50 or so years, and I will almost certainly find it fascinating and enlightening to the point that it will change my view of the world and myself. At that time, half the American population will probably still believe differently than me. In the easiest of scenarios, they will kill me quickly..

In the meantime, I have bleach and the wolfman to worry about. That’s probably enough for now anyway.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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9 Responses

  1. BadBlood says:

    Not everyone was born with the capability to understand complex subjects like astronomy and genetics. People get scared and cling to long-standing “truths” rather than admit that the universe is far more complex than even what the smartest humans can comprehend.

    That’s why the Earth was the center of the universe for quite some time, even while it was flat.

  2. Twhims says:

    Bleach is pretty darn evil. Time to get some Coors Light. And 44% of American adults are misguided.

    “If taken literally, the Biblical view of the beginning of life and Darwin’s scientific view would seem irreconcilable. In Genesis, the creation of the world, and Adam, the first human, took six days. Evolution’s process of genetic mutation and natural selection-the survival and proliferation of the fittest new species-has taken billions of years, according to scientists …” ~ Pope John Paul II (Addressing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 1996)

    In other words, evolution is spot on–with one exemption. He continues his address talking about the spiritual soul.

    “If the human body has its origin in living material which pre-exists it, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God.”
    ~ Pope John Paul II

  3. Astin says:

    “Don’t touch that please, your primitive intellect wouldn’t understand alloys and compositions and things with… molecular structures.”

    Science and religion can co-exist, but it requires believers to be rational in their beliefs. Accepting that most of the Old Testament is an attempt by primitive people to explain the world around them. Once you’re past those parts, the rules tend to be no different than the various warning labels found on products today. People didn’t understand things back then, so they made correlative connections and often ended up throwing out the baby with the bathwater. People get trichinosis? Don’t eat pork. Your wife is bleeding? Blood is unclean, therefore, stay away from her until she’s done. And burn the clothes, because detergent doesn’t exist.

    Once you start taking away the dogma, and concentrate on the message, science doesn’t conflict nearly as much. But it’s much easier for people to believe that a being in the sky snapped its fingers and created everything we know than to wrap one’s head around the concept of BILLIONS of years and VERY slow evolution. Even the concept of 100 years ago is difficult to grasp for many people, and they know that mankind hasn’t changed much in that time, so they can’t extrapolate to thousands, millions, and billions of years further back.

  4. CJ says:

    I don’t have all the answers… and I’m amused by those people who think they do!

    Science tells us the universe started with the Big Bang. I believe that to be true based on the evidence we have. However, it doesn’t seem like science can explain where this giant mass of energy came from.

    And if you believe that that energy mass that eventually exploded had just always been there… then you have a faith in something that can’t be proven. Which sounds a lot like God.

    It’s all very fascinating to me.

  5. Absinthe says:

    Look at a map, boyo. Your daily interactions with local humans carry a much greater chance of fundamental disagreement than 44%.

    It’s a terrible thing that you can’t tell someone they’re wrong without telling them they’re wrong.

  6. Random101 says:

    I find the “how” more interesting than the “what” people think on the faith versus science topic. If we suddenly discovered life elsewhere, would our belief systems become instantly void? If we heard a burning bush speak tomorrow morning, would we trash our dinosaur history DVD’s in the afternoon? I tend to wonder just how bleach became evil and if there is any chance at redemption.

  7. MGM says:

    If you’ve never taken a peek at it, you might find creation science interesting. Surely 56% of American adults don’t really believe that a big cosmic bang ushered in humanity in one big coincidental blast?

  8. Bam-Bam says:

    Having been on this big flying rock since well……. uh…. Caveman day’s I guess, I’d gladly field any questions you have.

    OH… except that whole “Mastodon” thing.
    No one ever believes those stories.

    😉

  9. Poker Shrink says:

    “Surely 56% of American adults don’t really believe that a big cosmic bang ushered in humanity in one big coincidental blast?”

    Surely 44% of American adults don’t really believe that a big bearded cloud guy ushered in humanity in one big bored yawn?

    Besides, a rousing 57% of the rest of humanity believes that deities with multiple arms, seated on moon thrones on sunken continents actually created the cosmos as we don’t know it. Creation stories or creation myths your choice, but my choice is as valid as yours.

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