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.
It 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 from 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 chronicled 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