Posted by: Kevin | January 3, 2007

Updated: Science vs. God, Why Fight?

grand-canyon-41.jpg
Created by the Colorado River?  or Angel’s Tears?  You decide

Truly appreciating the forces of nature can be a scary, humbling experience.  Take the Grand Canyon for example.  The Colorado River has managed, over the course of millions of years, to carve an amazing natural wonder, a breath taking beauty to be appreciated by all.  Laid bare by the patient work of the Colorado River, is over 2 billion years of Earth’s history. 

If you are of the religious persuasion, you could take this as a stunning example of the patience of God’s work.  I often hear how God’s plan is larger than anything we could comprehend and that we should accept our place within that plan.  The formation of the Grand Canyon could be used (or misused depending on your perspective) as a powerful example of that.  Or you could just say, “Fuck that science bullshit!” 

Updated 1/17:  The PEER Quote after the fold has been shown to be complete bullshit.  Apparently, PEER has nothing to substantiate their claim that the Bush administration is putting pressure on our national parks.  Also, the Creationist book is sold in the “Inspiration” section of the Park’s store along with other myths and stories from Native American cultures.  I apologize to my readers (both of you) for buying this BS story and spreading it.  While I still hold to my central thesis that there is room in this universe for both science and religion, this is obviously a bogus example of the contrary view.

Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah’s flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

I’ll leave the slamming of Bush appointees to other, more talented writers and focus on the insanity of the religious argument.  What is so appalling about the idea of an ancient earth which is part of a larger universe?  What is it that their worldview requires the complete rejection of science the embrace of such embarrassing non-logic.  This wasn’t always the case with Christianity.

In the early middle ages, monasteries provided the only safe harbor for classical knowledge in Europe.  Copernicus’ work on Astronomy was funded by the Catholic Church, who wanted to reform the Julian calendar.  Isaac Newton’s Law of Gravity was hailed by religious authorities, as well as the scientific community, as a step closer to understanding God.  The Big Bang Theory was proposed and derived by a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre

I don’t want to whitewash the history of organized religion and its treatment of the sciences.  There have been many conflicts and much needless suffering caused by religious authorities refusing to accept the evidence of science.  Despite that, Christianity in general has been moving away from the literal interpretation of the scriptures and towards an accommodation with the fruits of scientific research. 

So what the hell is going on with Christians in America?  Why now, after 400 years of gradual, grudging and sometimes painful acceptance of the enlightenment, have they decided to change their mind?  Why is it all of a sudden necessary to turn back the clock?  Because if you’re going to throw out science at the Grand Canyon, you better be throwing it out everywhere.  In other words, I hope you took a horse drawn carriage to see the canyon today or better yet, walked.

One possible explanation is the pace of change.  Science is changing our lives faster now than it did in the infancy of the enlightenment 400 years ago.  Part of that change is caused by the widespread availability of information.  Copernicus’ work De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium was available to a relatively small number of educated elite.  Today, anyone with access to the internet can go online and research string theory or supergravity.

This has forced a larger and larger number of people to confront the impermanence of knowledge.  What I know to be true today might be proven false tomorrow.  More importantly, we’re forced to confront our own tiny role in the universe.  The Earth will go around the sun for billions of years after I die.  And if humankind somehow eradicates itself, the universe will carry on as before. 

Faced with an enormous universe and an ever shifting view of the truth, it’s not surprising that many people look for a permanent, unchanging piece of “Truth”.  Isn’t it better to believe the bible than to keep asking disturbing questions?  Isn’t it?  The problem comes when this desire to embrace “Truth” is combined with the drive to spread your beliefs.  This leads to the movement in some states to water down science curriculum.  It leads to attempts to introduce faith based “science” into classrooms and look for non-scientific ways to undermine theories like evolution.

That is what I object to.  Religion and faith have no place in a scientific discussion.  Attempts to introduce faith into science have always resulted in the weakening of faith.  At its best, science is a marketplace of ideas where only the most robust survive and the weak are discarded.  Why would religion ever want to play in that arena?  Faith is about the non-physical world, the spirit, the afterlife.  These are subjects that science will never be able to touch.  Isn’t that enough?

Links found at Donklephant and Balloon Juice.

Updated 1/17:  Link to eSkeptic also came from Balloon Juice.

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Responses

  1. Everyone who publishes opinion bites on a bogus story like that one time or another. The mark of character is how you own up to it. Some of the sites you quote in agreement with the original outrage still haven’t done that. That’s pitiful.

  2. Thanks, I’d rather call attention to PEER’s bullshit in this situation than ignore this. If I’m going to cry bullshit everytime I see something nutty from the right, I have to do the same for those on the left and center.


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