Subscribing to science, believing in God, practicing Christianity

This is a subject that evokes so much emotion, that I will try to keep my ideas and suggestions here brief.

I am sure most Americans are aware of the “debate” that took place recently between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on Creationism and Evolution. If you missed it, you can watch it here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/02/04/271648691/watch-the-creationism-vs-evolution-debate-bill-nye-and-ken-ham.

So, I don’t need to waste time recapitulating what was broadcast and can just express my own personal reaction to the confusion about this subject area.

science-on-a-sphere_visual-climate-center_croppedIt will probably come as no surprise that I subscribe, which is to say, endorse, support, employ, follow science and scientific methods in most aspects of my life.  That does not mean, however, that there is no place for spirituality, which is properly speaking metaphysics. Nonetheless, religion and science cannot be considered as equivalents, equals, or rivaling belief systems.  You can believe in religion, spirituality, philosophy, zeitgeist, world views, politics, social systems, etc., etc.  But, you cannot ‘believe’ in science.

Why not? Because you don’t need to!  Scientific knowledge or data are provable by empirical methods, largely based on the five physical senses and their enhancements (equipment).  In fact, some say all the senses are a form of touch, carried out with various bodily organs.  While we are at it, all sentient beings are scientists.  That is, all creatures with awareness use their senses to test and understand the physical universe.  So your cat and my bird and you and I, and the ants in our yard, and the plants in the Amazon are all scientists.  We use our senses to measure, assess, feel, perceive, estimate, test, and understand the ‘real’ world.

You don’t need to believe in that.  You  needn’t believe me or Bill Nye, or Einstein or Aristotle or any other sentient, reasoning creature in order to engage in scientific activities.  You do it naturally.  There is no belief or disbelief involved.

When it comes to God, or whatever word you want to use for the Prime Mover who instituted or created our Multiverse, then you can use the word belief.  Belief in God is something that often comes to us by inspiration or experience.  It is also often inculcated in us Godfrom our earliest memories by caregivers or our social unit, however that unit is composed.  In some cultures, it is the nuclear family of a mother, father and child(ren).  In others, it may be the father, paternal grandmother and uncles.  It is immaterial who hands down a belief system, because belief is something developed over time with or without external, scientific (sense-directed) verification or refutation.  Wikipedia defines the concept belief as follows “Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a conjecture or premise to be true.”

People have criticized Bill Nye for even engaging in this debate, the implication of which is that the two ideas ‘evolution’ and ‘creationism’, can be compared, put on an equal footing, considered as equivalents to be evaluated. I understand why Nye wanted to do this, because the ignorance and disinformation that some people with no idea of what science is, is so potentially destructive that the majority of thinking and educated people, the world over, want to halt its progress before it does any more damage.  Especially in schools, where young minds are sponges and easily influenced by false tenets and myths.

Evolution is not a theory, as I have stated before.  To misunderstand this, is to misconstrue the scientist’s use of the term ‘theory’.  I won’t reiterate everything I have said already on this topic, other than to sum it up by stating that scientists consider nothing to be finished, refinements to be ongoing and all understanding to rise to a higher and greater level with continued attention.  This is like Michaelangelo polishing The David.  We polish the David to this day, but it still remains a piece of objective art that knows no equal. Evolution, like gravity and electromagnetics, is a scientific masterpiece. An axiom or law, verified by systematically measured fact. There is no credible debate.

Philosophers and scientists define the world in different terms.  We do not need to keep revisiting Plato vs Aristotle.  That is the proper domain of the history of science, epistemology, logic, and the like.

Now, let’s talk about Christianity.  Historians like Josephus, tell us that Jesus Christ was an historical figure whose life has been st-peters-pietachronicled and whose acts are well known.  We can follow Christ’s message, attempt to emulate his behavior, be inspired by his message that he was a direct emissary to human beings from God.  As far as I am concerned, there is no better example to follow for a successful, worthwhile and exemplary life.  If every human being (especially those who profess to be “Christians”) were to actually study Christ’s message and example, this world would be a mundane paradise.  We can employ reasoning, inspiration, belief, and scientific experiment when following Christ.  And we would all do well to give it a sincere try, in my humble opinion.

But just as I would not expect to fish in an underwater basket-weaving course, I do not look to so-called religious scholars for my verifiable fact about the physical world.  It would be unproductive and foolish to do so.

Let’s accept the clear evidence that the earth is approximately 4.3 billion years old from the many, many scientists and researchers who have provided factual proof of its age.  We can look to other sources for our beliefs and definitions of the “good man”.

If the two intersect, well and good.  But they do not need to.  When I am in the kitchen, I do not use tire irons and wrenches because they would not be the right tools and I have better ones, designed for the tasks of food preparation. Likewise my hand mixer and mortar and pestle would be dysfunctional when repairing my bicycle or car.

Similarly, when I want to understand the physical origins and development of the planet earth, I am not going to turn to the Old Testament first, even though it contributes anecdotes about our written/oral historic past, in the form of lore.  It is a rich treasure trove of our cultural background and the way human beings have learned (or not) by trial and error.  But, it is the long way round to knowing this earth and its inhabitants from a detailed, factual and practical standpoint.

Images: smartplanet.com, bibleworth.com, saintpetersbasilica.org

paw2014-s

22 Comments on “Subscribing to science, believing in God, practicing Christianity

  1. Yep. Excellent summation. Apples and oranges that do not belong in the same fruit basket. You can’t ‘debate’ these things (well you can, as we saw, but WHAT IS THE POINT?). Cf. my recent rants about dialectic vs. debate.
    Great post, Beth!

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    • Thank you Cole. I suspected we were on the same approximate wavelength on this subject. It causes a furor here that is as much drawn along political as religious lines, unfortunately.

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  2. The problem is nothing new, Augustine wrote: “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learned from experience and the light of reason?”

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    • You (and St. Augustine) make a compelling case for careful adherence to the realms in which we each stand on solid or well substantiated ground. I do not know a great deal about St. A. but I should study him more. My favorite has always been St. Francis and the Pope that took his name is a kindred soul. Thank you for commenting Michael!

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  3. Excellent post, Beth. Let me see if I can state my own pov succinctly as a Christian. I don’t think science and Christianity is an either/or as we have made it out to be – that is, as both scientists and Christians have made it out to be.

    First, there are many scientists who see the complexity and intricacy of, say DNA or the human brain, and how this planet was formed and all the “coincidences” that went into its connections to make it habitable for human life, and have come to the conclusion that it cannot have been an “accident;” the design is such that there must have been a Designer.

    Second, many Christians are of the view that the six days of creation in Genesis are not 24 hour days; that we have no concept of the length or time frame of those “days,” nor do we understand if there was an “age” time gap between the first six days and the seventh day. Thus, ascribing 4000 years to the “age” of humanity, based on logical, scientific research must be incorrect.

    Third, attempting to prove or disprove the existence of God by using science is using the wrong tool. Science is the study of the physical universe – the study of the properties of time and space and matter. Since God created the physical universe and is outside of the universe, God Himself cannot effectively be studied by science.

    And thems my two cents! 😉

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    • I agree that the proofs should be appropriate to the areas in which they lie, so we are I think aligned in that regard. I do think the use of reason and logic can (and does, in my mind) point to the existence of God. I have not yet known an atheist who has demonstrated that God does not exist. I would above all look to Richard Feynman, about whom I am reading several books. He was an atheist, so I want to see if it is addressed in his writings, as he was one of the smartest men that ever lived. If he couldn’t disprove the existence of the divine, then I don’t know who could (at least to my satisfaction). Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful post, Susan.

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  4. 😏knowing God is not hindered by the knowledge we collect about the cosmos, about flora and fauna, about the workings of natural laws and our bodies. Knowledge of God is not learned from memorising text, knowledge of God comes from Himself, and is given to men and women of science as well as to less learned folk: neither does God rely on men and women to defend His cause, or to reveal Him, He is His own Revealer.
    A thoughtful post!

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    • I concur with all of that. We either receive that message or we don’t. It is a matter of faith and experience. I also think we can reach some conclusions about the likely origins of the world through science and logic, at least to the extent of understanding what composes its material, holds it together, causes it to change, etc. I am waiting for an atheist to explain to me how it started, unless there was a starter. I have not found that yet. Thank you for commenting! There is much to consider on this subject – actually a lifetime’s work. We are lucky if we are inspired to delve into it, in my opinion, as it is a fascinating topic, if not The fascinating topic.

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  5. It was kind of hard to follow with all the terms and such but here are my 2 cents for what its worth if any at all. I was born roman catholic but I don’t believe in the bible. Some guy wrote it. And before that dude wrote it their were cave men and they sure as hell did not have some book to say what was what. They learned to do things for themselves and that was it. Though I do believe in spirits because I have seen them. Same thing with Aliens I’ve seen stars move in the sky when they were not supposed to.Um the world is round and thats all I got for ya.

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    • Lana, you always cut to the heart of the matter, so directly and simply. I truly appreciate that quality in you. I was raised a Roman Catholic too and at one point it simply bored me, so I went out searching for something that touched me more directly, something less obscure, if you know what I mean. I studied a lot of traditions (Geoff, my husband introduced me to some when we met, too — more on that in a future post, since it is interesting what we found [and didn’t find] – both of us were raised RC). You are so right about cave men — now there were the original scientists! Trial and error, experiment meant success or failure — no fancy books, philosophies, written instructions. They were lucky if they had a ‘wise’ man or woman in their midst that kept them from danger and that was about it. I have never seen a spirit or alien and I am thankful for that! I would be frightened out of my wits. You are braver than I, lol!!!

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      • LOL. I saw what was a UFO in the sky a few summers ago as I was staring into the sky at the stars I noticed maybe 5 or so move. And I was sure it was not a plane. Though I’m not all that freaked out because if we think we are alone in space we are not LOL.

        I’m not scared of spirits well not the nice ones anyways LOL.

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        • Wow. Well, I have had several acquaintances tell me they saw UFOs. Thank heaven I have never seen one. I would rather not! And I don’t want to be contacted by any extra-terrestrials either. I read the book Communion in college and that was enough to swear me off this subject forever, lol.

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  6. I liked this quote from the Slate article I read yesterday about the “debate”: “There is more room for a god in science than there is for no god in religious faith.” This whole idea that science can somehow NOT coexist with religion is made up so that certain religious ideologies can keep the flock stupid and uneducated, IMHO. Even the proponents of this crap know it’s BS, they just push it on their followers so they will remain ignorant, afraid, and unquestioning.

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    • Thank you! That quote is a gem and really does sum up the issue, in terms of this trumped up duality. I have to admit, the fringe elements in both camps have no tolerance for the opposite or seemingly opposed view, so they become entrenched, stubborn and dysfunctional. I have seen some very bitter atheists go after innocent religious practices. I say, unless it is blood sacrifice and exorcisms, just let people believe what comforts them. Cosmology is so personal — I don’t begrudge a belief that keeps people from going crazy, unless it directly interferes with progress and intelligence. That is why concocting a philosophy and calling it ‘creationism’ is dangerous. Even Pat Robertson for whom I don’t have a lot of affection, to put it mildly, called it stupid, this week. Most Catholics do not believe in that aspect of the Judeo-Christian tradition, thankfully, so at least I will give them that. Now they have to eliminate and take responsibility for the pedophiles in their midst, and put women on equal footing with men in the Church, get real on birth control, and get rid of the financial excesses and politicization of the Vatican. Well, now that I say that, I am not likely to return to Catholicism anyway. Just sayin…

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  7. I hope for the day when all branches of human knowledge, including metaphysics and theology, unify. I may not live to see it, but it is still a pleasing future to contemplate.

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    • It has to happen. Einstein believed it would and so do I. After all, we live in this part of the Multiverse, whether we are science-minded or not. It is one world, so to speak, and it has a factual explanation that I truly believe is not mutually exclusive to let’s say, Christ’s message and explanation of our existence. We don’t have the ultimate key yet, but I believe we will. I am also pretty sure one can get close to understanding the overarching principle(s) through meditation. Sort of along the lines of St. Theresa (what was it Interior Castles? – something like that, I should look it up) and other true mystics throughout the ages. Buddha found it, so did Krishnamurti and Rumi, so can we. Thank you Michael – I appreciate your commenting on this. Feel free to say more, any time. I value your thoughts.

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    • Well, the love part I get. I have had that in my life, intensely and I am so grateful that I have. You have sparked my curiosity about transitions to another dimension. I would love to hear all about it (maybe you have it on your blog – I must go there and study your posts). I truly appreciate your taking the time to comment here. There is so much to learn, isn’t there? 🙂

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  8. Beth, you are probably the most well-rounded person I have come across – educated, intellectual, wise, gracious, spiritual, definitely one of God’s masterpieces. Beliefs are complicated; no one can prove or disprove a belief – we need to get there using what’s available to us.

    It always amazes me that people are willing to believe in ghosts, extra-terrestrials, ‘spirits’ but not God. That’s OK, God is used to being misunderstood. But he’s worth getting to know and I have committed to spending a lifetime doing so.

    I like the quote Mareymercy used in her comment 🙂

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  9. Those are very gracious and generous words, Vera, thank you. It took me a long time to come to any conclusions about these matters. Part of the problem is that spirituality and religion are often two different things. Catholicism as it is practiced in this country does not do a good job of conveying Christ’s message. Likewise, I have to say that evangelism does not seem to me to have produced a group of humane followers, if I look at, for example, the Tea Party who I am sure overwhelmingly self-identify as Christians yet espouse callous and divisive ideas. One has to come to find and know God on ones own and it should be a truly scientific journey combining all the actions that scientists engage in: observation, contemplation, experimentation, testing, analysis and inspiration. I truly believe there is no difference between what we all do every day as we find our way through life, what the scientist does in an organized manner, and what truly spiritual people do about perfecting their lives, hopefully following the example that God sent us.

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  10. You could have said this about me! (I’ve made a couple of adjustments):
    “I understand why [Mr. A] wanted to do this, because the ignorance and disinformation that some people with no idea of what science is, is so potentially destructive that the majority of thinking and educated people, the world over, want to halt its progress before it does any more damage. Especially [on Facebook], where minds are sponges and easily influenced by false tenets and myths.”

    You make some good points.

    There really is no need to have these two “systems” intersect. Forced intersection, eh, some feel they need to and some “believe” that the old, holy book they hold is scientific in nature.

    Hmmm.

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    • It is particularly dangerous to equate two systems in public education, imho. I want science taught in school as a method, and a historic discipline that helped humanity progress. If religion is taught there, it should be in the area of history and philosophy. They just don’t compete! I agree with you.

      We are failing to teach people what science means and how it is practiced as a formal discipline. Every creature on earth is a scientist, but not every creature is religious!

      I am sure you have a LOT to say on this. This comes from my pet peeve about the so-called debate being promoted by those exploiting flat-earthers. It is abuse of the simple and as such, cruel.

      Well, I guess I must have a dog in this, no? LOL!!

      Your thoughts welcome.

      Liked by 1 person

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