Faith and science

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When I was 16 years old and decided that I could no longer accept the religion of my upbringing, one of the issues that came to the forefront for me was evolution. I had been taught that the Genesis account of creation was literally true and that evolution was a hoax. By the time I was 16, I could no longer believe this. And this realization made me angry. Really angry.

I was interested in science at that point in my life, and I resented the way religion could be such a force for ignorance. One member of my family accused me of being bitter and resentful, like that was a bad thing or something. But the reality is that when religions that use faith as an excuse for promoting ignorance, there is something fundamentally wrong going on. Fundamentalist Christianity made me angry at 16, and for good reason.

What I know now, which I didn't know at age 16, was that faith itself does not require taking an intellectually indefensible stance on the subject of evolution. I had to escape from all that brainwashing of my youth to realize this.

Which brings me to the subject of a headline from yesterday's New York Times reads "A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash".

The article describes how a biology teacher in Florida has been trying to teach evolution to students who have been, effectively, brainwashed by evangelical churches into rejecting the science of evolution. The teacher has a difficult task; his job is not to bully his students into submission, because otherwise, he will "lose" them.

But I think that what bothers me about this headline is that the battle here is actually not between faith and science at all, but rather between ignorance and science. One can be a person of faith without being an idiot.

The article mentions that many of this teacher's students have been enlisted as soldiers in the army of the ignorant before they've even set foot in class. For example,

Some come armed with “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution,” a document circulated on the Internet that highlights supposed weaknesses in evolutionary theory. Others scrawl their opposition on homework assignment.
There is something funny about high school students going into the classroom without the intention of learning what the teacher has to teach them. But it gets worse. One local pastor has been deliberately trying to undermine science education by passing out a copy of an anti-evolution book to every graduating senior the previous year. This book has now been circulating among students.

The problem is also exacerbated by the fact that there are teachers in public schools who themselves are part of the problem and who actually teach their students not to believe in evolution. For example, one coworker of the teacher featured in the Times article
tells her students, but evolution alone can hardly account for the appearance of wholly different life forms. She leaves it up to them to draw their own conclusions. But when pressed, she tells them, “I think God did it.”
"I think God did it?" Wow, this is the God of Gaps rearing its ugly head, and this is the sort of thing that gives religion a bad name. But it really has nothing to do with religion per se. The fact is that being a person of faith has nothing to do with thinking this way. One can believe in science and also be a person of faith.

13 comments:

Margie's Musings said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margie's Musings said...

I came very close to the same place when I finally gave up the ignorant beliefs of my childhood. Then I discovered Process Theism and that saved me from being an agnostic.

Mystical Seeker said...

Margie,

Process theism is what allowed me to believe in God again, but I had to go through a period of atheism before that happened.

Luke said...

yay for Process!

i see no divide between science and religion, asking questions and being Christian, and believing in evolution and taking the bible seriously.

here’s some posts on this topic: http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2008/08/teach-controversy.html

http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2008/08/evolution-and-indoctrination.html

RAWK

Harry said...

I got a bit of a surprise recently while discussing ID on an Anglican discussion list.

The posters there were all proudly disdainful of intelligent design.

Yet there were all proponents in theistic evolution, in the sense that God guided evolution.

Isn't a God guided evolution the same thing as ID?

Luke said...

"Isn't a God guided evolution the same thing as ID?" -Harry

not even close. ID is creationism that allows a longer process than 10,000 years. there is still no acceptance of adaptation (the means by which evolution happens).

D said...

I used to be the kid who proudly refuted evolution "hoaxes" in science classes in middle and high schools.

I never had to go through a period of atheism to break out of that way of thinking, but it wasn't pleasant either. So, I totally get what you are saying here, that we need (as persons of some kind of faith or another) to know there are legitimate ways to hold faith and science as friends rather than enemies.

Now, though, I have come in something of a circle. I couldn't careless if someone doesn't think evolution is possible. In schools, science should be taught, but that doesn't mean everyone has to agree with science. And I think science teachers who disagree shouldn't blatantly hold forth on their ideas, but I also don't think we should muzzle them. I don't want to be a fundamentalist of a different strip.

All that to say, as evangelicals are showing us, not believing in evolution (and again there are many varying degrees of this) doesn't necessarily prevent progressive views on caring for the environment and helping out others, which I think are more important issues.

Maybe we should move the front lines of battle between faith and science to the negotiation tables; to develop ways of talking about things that encourage collaboration on important issues of energy, sustainability, etc.

Harry said...

Luke:

I think you misunderstand what intelligent design states. It is not rejecting adaption as such, it is the idea that random mutation and natural selection is a sufficiently powerful algorithm to have evolved the creatures we see in the time allotted.

It insists that intelligent input is needed (in some fashion). Isn't this similar to theistic evolution.

Harry said...

Luke:

Here is something you might find interesting:

http://www.discovery.org/a/1329

Mystical Seeker said...

D, I hear what you're saying about the importance of caring for the environment and helping others, but at the same time I don't think that this diminishes the importance of science and education are also important for society. We educate people for a purpose, and it defeats that purpose if legitimate science education is blunted by concerted efforts by religious yahoos who actively work to oppose evolutionary science. Yes, we need people who care for the environment and who help other people. And yes, we need a scientifically literate population. Can't we have both?

D said...

Yeah, I think we can have both. But I think there might be a difference between the "concerted efforts by religious yahoos who actively work to oppose evolutionary science," which definitely exist and should be resisted, and the every-day evangelicals who can't hold their faith and the science in tension. They aren't out to tear down good science, but are trying to eek out meaning where they register a lot of dissonance. I think the woman who deferred to God when asked point-blank about some things wasn't trying to subvert science education but was giving an honest, human answer. Maybe I'm naive, though.

I don't think, in a pluralistic society, they should have to keep silent when pressed what their views are. I certainly think science is one of many important factors for our society, but I question whether adherence to evolution by all, or even by most, is necessary to the problems we face and the innovations we seek. I am hesitant to replace one orthodoxical litmus test for another.

If I had to choose, I think I'd choose a compassion-literate society over a science-literate society.

Yes we can have both, but is forcing scientific literacy compassionate if it destroys someone's way of life or faith?

I don't know.

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