It’s very irritating to come to my blog and see the advertisement at top for a book proclaiming loudly ” GOD: The Failed Hypothesis. How science shows that God does not exist.” I haven’t clicked on the link, and won’t, because its very title indicates to me that it’s hogwash.
This bugs me on two levels. First, it sets off my bullshit-o-meter in a big way. God is not a scientific concept, and as such science cannot disprove the existence of God. Science has obviated the need for God or gods for many people, and science assuredly has disproven a lot of things people claim in the name of god (e.g. all of the absurdity claimed by creationists), but that’s different from disproving God itself.
On the second level: if you are a scienceblogger regular and you go to a site that may have interesting and enlightening material, but you read at the top “How the Scientific Establishment is Destroying America!!!!” in big letters, what would you think? You’d be turned off to the site from the very beginning, and would approach everything you read there with suspicion. And, perhaps rightly so. But do we really want people who are religious but also interested in and open to the full implications of modern scientific knowledge to be turned off from the get-go when they arrive at this site?
Yes, scienceblogs is a site generally overrun with atheists of one stripe or another; the debate is between the radical atheists who think that anybody religious is soft-headed, ignorant, intellectual dishonest, or confused, vs. the “Neville Chamberlain” atheists who subscribe to a “live and let live” philosophy, and have no problem with people of other religious views as long as they still support good science. So, here’s me, way out on a wing as being actually religious, not just tolerant of people of religion– and, yet, still considering myself a fairly hard-line supporter of good science.
I’m very thankful for the Neville Chamberlain atheists. I’m very grouchy about this “go away religious people, you have to accept atheism into your heart to be approved as a science supporter” attitude that the advertisement showing up at the top of the site right now is supporting.
But if you’re a science blogs regular, perhaps even a PZ sycophant, you may wonder: how the hell can Rob be so deluded as to think that he’s a hard-line science supporter while still being religious?
Well, first, I should point to a post I wrote some time ago at my blog’s former location, and avoid restating all of that. (I won’t be able to avoid restating some of it, of course.) That post is : “On Being a Scientist and Not an Atheist“.
Alas, the term “Christian” has been subverted by the religious right recently, so that when somebody comes out and claims to be Christian, people make all sorts of unfortunate assumptions. So let me get some things out in the open:
The whole notion of Biblical literalism is laughably absurd. It always surprises me that people who are intelligent and capable of thinking still manage to cleave to this notion. The Bible contradicts itself, for heaven’s sake. But the fact is that it was written in a pre-scientific age when people didn’t know about things like the roundness of the Earth, the near-Solar center of mass of our Solar System, the age of the Universe, biological Evolution, and so forth. All of the things we have learned make it clear that the creation stories in Genesis are just that– stories. This does not mean that they’re useless; you can find inspiration and enlightenment from reading stories that are fictional or mythological.
Many people also like to pull out quotations from St. Paul in the New Testament to support one position or another. But St. Paul contradicts himself. Anti-religious types sometimes argue that this invalidates the whole thing, which is just as stupid as thinking that every individual thing that St. Paul writes should be accepted uncritically. What’s really going on is that St. Paul’s own thinking and understanding is evolving. The message one should take away from that is that what he wrote should hardly be considered the last word in theological thought. Start from St. Paul, go through St. Augustine and Martin Luther and others, and it’s clear that the Christian religion is one that has a tradition of people who don’t always just accept the doctrine of the day, but see value in critical thought and intelligent consideration of the issues. It’s too bad that so many who call themselves “Christian” today have eschewed that tradition in favor of jingoistic adherence to obsolete and absurd doctrine.
I do not believe that Christians have exclusive access to theological truth. As I said in the previous post, I think that Christians and Wiccans and Hindus and Muslims are all searching after and talking about ultimately the same thing; they are just seeing it in different ways. Too often, religion comes with statements that “you must accept this doctrine or be damned;” you can find quotes from Jesus that are most directly interpreted that way in the Gospel of John. I think that’s a destructive notion, and has led to all the wars and other evil things that have made many today think that religion needs to be rejected altogether.
One does not need to be a Christian or otherwise religious to be moral and Good. I’ve known lots of atheists with a clear moral sense. I don’t view “is a Christian” as either an endorsement or a condemnation of anybody. Many Christians, alas, do; Politician X may have flaws, some say, but at least he’s a God-fearing Christian! Foo to that, I say. We should elect politicians and everybody else based on how well we think they’re going to do their job, not based on their own private views on religion.
Religion is not for explaining the processes of the natural world. Once upon a time it was. There is a natural drive for humans to be able to explain and understand the world around us; that’s why science is so popular! That’s why there’s value in sciences like astronomy that have no hope of ever producing some “useful” consumer good. In ages past, without the scientific tools to describe very much, people resorted to mythology to explain the natural world. In recent centuries, science has shown to be an amazing tool with a tremendous track record in explaining the processes of the natural world. It has completely supplanted religion in that arena, to the point that people who still try to use religion to explain the natural world (e.g. creationists) are missing the boat by more than a hundred years. Those who say that “science proves God doesn’t exist” are making the mistake of thinking that explaining the natural world is the only purpose of religion, just as assuredly as the religious who reject science based on their doctrine think that religion are making a serious mistake in thinking that religion still has any role to play in explaining the processes of the natural world.
What I just wrote begs a lot of questions. First of all, if religion isn’t for explaining the processes of the natural religion, then what the heck is it for? Why do I still see any value in religion in today, given that I recognize that science has hands down become the method whereby we can understand the natural world? Second, I go and say that I think all religions are talking about the same thing; do I think think that all religions are equally valid? And why do I call myself a Christian if I don’t think Christians have exclusive access to theological truth?
I won’t answer any of those right now; I’ll save them for future posts. I write them here to indicate that, yes, I’m aware that those are unanswered questions. If I didn’t, assuredly some commenter would post those questions with an annoyingly supercilious air as if they had just found a way to take all of the air out of everything that I’m saying. I eagerly look forward to intellectual engagement, but I have little patience for the radical atheists who are so convinced of their own position that they are unable to tell the difference between that and a childish, shallow insult.