Finally

28 09 2007

A bit of a minor note (which I’m also late to the game with) about science & the media concerning Ben Stein’s upcoming propaganda piece “edutainment” Expelled; the New York Times recently came out with an article about the movie and the deceit involved in obtaining interviews from anti-creationism figures, and the author Corneila Dean writes something I’ve been wanting to see for a while.

There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. And while individual scientists may embrace religious faith, the scientific enterprise looks to nature to answer questions about nature. As scientists at Iowa State University put it last year, supernatural explanations are “not within the scope or abilities of science.”

Part of the problem with science & media relations is that in many news outlets “objectivity” is placed in higher regard than actual understanding; if a new report comes out saying that there is new evidence showing global warming to be human-caused, for example, find someone from the other side to balance things out. Such journalistic tactics have their place and I don’t want to see science columns become dogmatic about legitimate controversies, but I don’t think there’s a need to “balance” established scientific reality with complaints from whomever can formulate a tenuous point of contention. Given such waffling on the part of many newspapers, I was glad to see a firmer stance taken in this article, although the last sentence didn’t quite sit right with me.

Although it doesn’t necessarily work in practice, the idea of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) as proposed by Gould is still a popular notion, many peacemakers saying that science and religion are mutually exclusive “ways of knowing” and science can’t tell us anything about religion. While I’m not suggesting that we should end civility while debating the intersection of science and religion, it is starkly apparent that science and religion do overlap, and nearly all religions make claims about the world that can, in fact, be refuted or confirmed by scientific study. We often think about this in terms of Christianity and the existence of God or of a soul, but let’s step back and examine a religion that I doubt many (if any) of my readers practice; Bakuba. The summation of the creation mythology associated with the religion, via Wikipedia, is as follows;

Originally, the Earth was nothing but water and darkness. Mbombo, the white giant ruled over this chaos. One day, he felt a terrible pain in his stomach, and vomited the sun, the moon, and the stars. The sun shone fiercely and water steamed up in clouds. Gradually, the dry hills appeared. Mbombo vomited again, this time the trees came out of his stomach, and animals, and people , and many other things: the first woman, the leopard, the eagle, the anvil, monkey Fumu, the first man, the firmament, medicine, and lighting. Nchienge, the woman of the waters, lived in the East. She had a son, Woto, and a daughter, Labama. Woto was the first king of the Bakuba.

Now, was anyone alive today present when the earth was formed to say that it wasn’t populated and given form by giant puke? Obviously the answer is no, but the evidence from geology, paleontology, chemistry, physics, history, etc. (and the absence of any evidence of a celestial giant with IBS) show that the events described above did not occur as they are described in Bakuba mythology. Bringing this back to the issue at hand, i.e. Young Earth Creationism from the Christian perspective, it has been long established that the two differing accounts of origins in Genesis are incorrect in terms of the origin of the earth and the life that inhabits it. I won’t get into the larger debate over whether the stories are allegory or what their origins are, but the Bible makes some specific claims about the way nature works that are inconsistent with the weight of evidence gleaned from nature.

I don’t intend to turn this post into a long treatise on the intersection of science and religion, but the idea that we can keep science and religion sequestered from each other, giving each an intellectual domain to “rule” over, doesn’t work in the long run. Perhaps it can be done, and in fact I know people who have professed that they have taken such a route, but it often requires the qualification of “I do not think about things I do not think about.” I should probably clarify my own intent for writing this article as well, and it is simply this; science and religion do conflict with each other, and although this may seem to be an obvious point, it is often glossed over or put aside for the sake of comfort. Is it possible to be religious and agree that modern scientific concepts are correct (or at least are the best approximations of reality as yet discovered)? Of course, and I know there are many readers here who blog about just that topic in order to better represent those standpoints. Those positions, however, often differ substantially from the viewpoints of other members of the same religion and conflict abound no matter where one falls on the scientific/religious spectrum. Still, what I am proposing is that those invested in this debate stop ignoring the conflict and deal with the strained relationship between religion and science in a more direct manner, as I think we can only benefit by dropping the tattered NOMA flag.


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3 responses

28 09 2007
Steve Martin

I agree with the intent (and tone) of this post. You are right … strict NOMA really doesn’t work that well. I would qualify the statement “science and religion do conflict with each other” to something like “scientific evidence conflicts with certain religious theological interpretations”. Unfortunately, many times the theological &/or scriptural interpretations that are demonstratively invalid are held tenaciously by a large majority. This, I think, is a problem with the specific interpretations themselves, & not with religion per se.

28 09 2007
laelaps

Thanks for the comment Steve; I do value your input on such topics. Again, this was an off-the-cuff post where I should have qualified what I was saying about “religion” because it’s a fairly ambiguous term that can be interpreted in any number of ways. I approached the more accurate view with the idea of a spectrum of interpretations towards the end (because, really, that’s what we’re dealing with much of the time, a conflict of interpretations of the same book), and I don’t think religion in the larger sense is without worth or virtue whatever. Although such writing might not be the best (and I don’t want to make it a habit) it definitely helps to get feedback from people like you so I can better organize my own thoughts and arguments. Thank you.

28 09 2007
Zach Miller

I loved “Bowfinger,” Steve.

(I’m sorry–I couldn’t help it)

Now, Bakuba sounds awesome, but I’m more of a Bokonanist, myself.

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