Sinning against science?

10 05 2007

Brent and PZ have both posted on the topic of “Christianity’s Sins Against Science” and the responses have been very interesting and both have done a pretty good job in responding. Brent, in his post, points out that trying to name Christianity’s “sins” against science simply gets you mired in philosophical falsehoods and the question cannot be answered “as is.” While the title might be juicy it implies that science is on level-ground with religion and can be “sinned” against, and we know both assertions are wrong. Science is not and should not be a faith system (despite creationists yammering on that it is, in an attempt to give their own views credence), and it is not some free-floating entity like “Mother Nature” (Uncle Physics? Cousin Chemistry?) that can be wronged like you or me. Just as well, a religion is a set of guidelines but it is the people who engage in doing right or wrong, so trying to incorporate everyone in one category assumes that everyone agrees and everyone acts according to the same rules (which we know they don’t).

While I agree with Brent about the nature of the question, I think PZ (and his cadre of Pharyngulites) have done a wonderful job summing up why religious people have been opposed to science throughout the ages. It’s not about single events what the church did to Galileo or what books they banned; the root of the problem is that there is a continuing mindset which trades in rationality for feel-good spirituality. People to adhere to strict religious doctrine can rarely accept the idea they’re wrong because anyone who tries to confront them about their beliefs is seen as a persecutor and trying to test them (perhaps even being sent by the devil himself). Indeed, just about every religion has some passages relating to being persecuted for your beliefs or being told you’re wrong, but if you really believe you’re right, you must be right. While I think there is value in certain aspects of religion, I am appalled by the way it’s practiced today. As Gandhi once put it (ref: this great post at the Voltage Gate);

I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. The materialism of affluent Christian countries appears to contradict the claims of Jesus Christ that says it’s not possible to worship both Mammon and God at the same time.

Back to the point, belief and “faith” seem to trump knowledge and experience every time in the minds of some. We’re told that our eyes deceive us, that we can’t understand the world as it should be, that we can’t even really know God (even Moses wasn’t allowed to look directly at him in the Bible), and all the truth we’ll ever need lies in one book whose text has been mutating since the day the ink first hit the paper for the first verse of the first chapter of the first book. Christians are encouraged to have faith, to grow in their faith, but not to think; center your life around God and the church and get involved, but never have I heard a church leader encourage people to develop critical thinking skills or to be skeptical. Such skills, the same skills that we have such a dire need for today, are not seen as virtues but as curses. Like I mentioned above, PZ does a much better job at explicitly laying out the anti-virtues that proliferate because of religion, and I highly suggest you check out his analysis.

I should also mention that Andrew Dickson White’s A HISTORY OF THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE WITH THEOLOGY IN CHRISTENDOM is available online in its entirety. I’ll likely order the book version because I don’t like reading long passages on the computer (hurts my eyes), but based upon the cursory bit I read it should be required-reading for anyone concerned with the current debates between faith and science. [Hat-tip to quork]


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