God and the Yangtze River Dolphin

You may have noticed I have a passing interest in the subject of religion. You may also have noticed I have a penchant for biology, especially evolutionary biology. Which got me to thinking...


I'm currently watching my way through Last Chance To See, a TV reprise of the 1990 book of the same name, starring Mark Carwardine and Stephen Fry. The aim of the series is to revisit some of the world's rarest and most endangered species, an audacious aim given that these reclusive and solitary species are down to tiny numbers of wild specimens. Much of the series has already been spent not finding the animals in the wild. It's kind of tragic, because we know human activity is the major reason for the decline of these species.


Which brings me to the point of the title. What in the world does "god" have to do with the Yangtze River Dolphin? Well, before we hit the theological entity, let me just explain about the  Dolphin.


Also known as the Baiji, the Yangtze River Dolphin was in decline due to human activity for much of the later 20th century, and was classified as endangered by Chinese Authorities in 1979. Decline continued until 1996 when it was declared critically endangered, right up to the last known sighting in 2004. In 2006 an expedition found no trace of the Baiji, and in 2007 the Baiji was declared functionally extinct, though it seems no official extinction will be recorded until 50 years after the last sighting, under IUCN rules.


Whither, then, god?


In my discussions with theists, it's often made abundantly clear, sometimes in aggressive terms, that I cannot disprove the existence of god, and this is just fine. The burden of proof is not on me, but on the theists, so I don't much care. But given that we can declare the Baiji extinct in 50 years with no sighting, how about we do the same with god? Humans have been searching for God for thousands of years, with a distinct lack of success. No-one's produced any genuine evidence for the existence of any god, as far as I know, beyond tortuous logical games, scriptural wrangling, emotional yearnings and a few poorly attested "miracles", for much more than the required fifty years. The age of miracles is well and truly over, if ever it existed. I, for one, think it's been quite long enough now.


We can't know for certain that the Baiji isn't out there, quietly carrying on in some isolated pocket of the Yangtze, safe from predation but critically low on genetic diversity. Likewise we can't know for sure that "god" isn't hiding behind a planet somewhere, laughing to himself about how the crazy humans can't find him. All we can know is we haven't seen either of them for quite some time now.


God, therefore, in my opinion, is extinct. Not merely missing, unsighted, but truly extinct. It's time to pack up the prayer books, lay off the priests and turn out the lights. We'll find a use for all those buildings, don't you worry - so not everything will have been wasted.


The money from the disposal of religious institutions could feed the world's hungry for several years with money left over to fund some truly spectacular scientific projects, so the extinction of god would have some tangible benefits . And perhaps, out of deference to the last sad believers, we could perhaps put up a plaque.


Either way, god, like the Baiji, the Dodo and the orders Saurischa and Ornithischia, is gone, and he's not coming back

posted @ Monday, October 19, 2009 11:21 PM

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