We live in an amazing time. A time when we can increase our understanding of the cosmos by studying still-visible distant stars in the night sky. A time when we carry miniature computers in our pockets that are vastly more powerful than the ones which aided the 1969 lunar landing. We are presently able to understand bacteria and employ medicine to prevent the spread of horrific diseases. Yet, despite our scientific achievements, many people still refute the evidence and claim to know better than the scientists. Science and religion are increasingly at odds with one another – with science providing factual, peer-reviewed evidence, and religion offering nothing more than “faith” to support its claims, stubbornly persisting in its bronze age philosophy. The only time scientific advancement is controversial is when it contradicts the bible, and there is no valid reason that discoveries which benefit all of humankind should be met with such resistance.
As science continues to make new discoveries and bring us greater understanding of our world, it takes credibility away from the bible. It reveals the bible stories to be just that – stories: simple explanations for previously unexplainable phenomena. However, once an event has an explanation that is testable and found to be unfalsifiable, it is then a scientific theory and does not require a story to try and make sense of it. Science is not maliciously attacking the bible or its adherents; it is only showing that we have a better understanding of our environment than our ancestors who lived thousands of years ago.
In recent news of Hurricane Isaac, I have observed that there are still some commonplace superstitions today. I came across an article quoting a Katrina survivor named Margaret Thomas, “Isaac is the son of Abraham, it’s a special name that means ‘God will protect us’.” As if God had anything to do with naming the hurricane. The WMO (staffed by humans, for the record) maintains a set of six recurring lists of Atlantic tropical storm names, each containing 21 names alternating between masculine and feminine. In the event that a tropical storm reaches hurricane status it will keep the name (e.g. Tropical storm Isaac becomes Hurricane Isaac), and if that hurricane leaves extensive damage and/or deaths in its wake, then the name is retired and replaced with another beginning with the same letter. However, in the mindset of a believer isn’t God the one who is responsible for creating the hurricane? This contradicts Mrs. Thomas’s logic, meaning “God will protect us from God.”
Nature is indifferent to us, and does not care what we perceive as property damage or loss. Nature is nature, and will do what it does whether we are in its path or not.
NBC news shows a woman named Lisa Haywood leaving New Orleans because she doesn’t trust the $14.5-billion levee and drainage pump system built by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect the city from another flood: “I have faith in God, I don’t have faith in those walls.” (Video Clip, beginning at 1:55) Once again, in the believer’s mindset, isn’t God the one responsible for the hurricane in the first place? I personally find it a little rude that she would say she has faith in the one who could be said to have created the storm in the first place, but doesn’t have confidence in the system put in place to protect her and the rest of the city from said entity.
Through the science of meteorology we have gained an understanding of how weather works, and what we can do to prepare for it. Wind and cloud formations are monitored by satellite, and once a hurricane has been confirmed the data is used to create a computer model and predict the course it shall take. If we can place confidence in the science that warns us of an approaching storm, shouldn’t we also believe that same science when it explains how the storm began and what we can do to prepare for it? If the storm were indeed caused by this alleged ‘God’ fellow, it seems to me that such an all-powerful being ought to be able to target sinful individuals in need of a good smiting rather than groups, or at least protect the innocent from the punishment which is intended for their neighbors… and why is it that his punishments are only able to come in the form of natural weather patterns? Why not a hurricane in Alaska, or a hail storm in Ecuador? Maybe we could forgo the weather bit entirely and He could make a personal appearance to express his disapproval of humankind like a grown-up?
Denial of scientific evidence has been troubling many of our big thinkers these days, including Bill Nye who has attracted quite a bit of attention from a recent Big Think video, entitled “Creationism is Not Appropriate for Children”. At the time of this writing, the video has 4.4-million views and has attracted 155k comments, mostly from “experts” (i.e. common people who do not have a degree in science) claiming that he is stupid and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This is common; people of this ilk tend to proclaim indisputable knowledge to all of life’s mysteries based on an ancient document, despite scientific research and mounds of evidence to the contrary. For the record, a degree in Theology does not make a scientifically literate individual, and for a layman to contradict what an actual scientist is saying seems a bit like a first grader confidently arguing with his teacher that Q comes after S in the English alphabet, or like a junkie giving sound financial advice to Warren Buffett.
The beauty of these comments is that they are supporting the points that the Science Guy is making in his video.
The creationist’s alleged proof of evolution being falsified is insubstantial, and is merely denial passed on from their pastors and preachers. However, everything that we know about biology today hinges on, and supports the theory of evolution. There are only two reasons to deny this theory: 1) You don’t understand what evolution is or how it works, and 2) It contradicts an idea that you are emotionally attached to.
The way I see it, science and religion are at odds because science has removed the foundation that the House of God was built upon. We all know, and can agree that a house cannot levitate off the ground…so if the foundation suddenly disappears it will fall. Science’s impact on this foundation is like the old tablecloth trick being performed by an untrained showboat – the tablecloth will surely be removed, but it’s going to be a little messy. You don’t want to be in this house when it comes crashing down in the absence of its foundation, so my advice is to pack up your things and move into something a little more stable that will protect you for many more years to come. Oh, and get hurricane insurance if that new place happens to be on the coast.
We are all born with an innate sense of fear as a survival mechanism. It is natural to feel fear when confronted with something we do not understand. When we were simpler creatures, we could live a bit longer by assuming something was dangerous and staying away, rather than assuming it was safe only to find it considered us tasty. Take for example a primitive ancestor out for a leisurely stroll in a nearby field one sunny afternoon, perhaps after a hearty lunch or a much needed nap. While walking through a patch of tall weeds he trips over an unexpected object and hears rustling in the grass. He doesn’t see what he stumbled over, but he knows large venomous snakes are common in the area. He chooses to run. He has only happened upon a dead branch in the weeds, but if he had just assumed this and it had been an actual snake, he would have been in trouble for sticking around. Fear is a natural reaction for any intelligent life-form with self-preservation in mind.
As we have evolved, we still carry this gut reaction. Rather than being a useful tool for our survival, it now acts as a hindrance to our lives. Living within any culture bedeviled with archaic beliefs and superstitions, we are often told that certain thoughts, emotions or objects are bad or evil by their very essence. We are given simple explanations as to why these things are believed to be iniquitous, and if it is an idea generally accepted by our peers we will often take it at face value. It is simpler to adopt a preconceived notion than to explore and discover new experiences for ourselves; this is often the path of least resistance when trying to fit in amongst peers. Other times we may draw our own conclusions that something is wicked simply because we don’t like it, or we don’t understand it fully – such as waking to an ominous sound in the middle of the night, or shadows moving suddenly as we walk home on a dreary winter evening. Whatever the case may be, we tend to irrationally label these as bad things and assign a degree of fear to them. Fear causes us to shun, rather than seek to understand.
As with many things that I ponder these days, I am taken back to an event from my childhood. One fall afternoon a few days before Halloween, I walked through the usual maze of back yards to my friend’s house. The neighbors never complained, and it cut a ten minute walk down to two. His parents always treated me as if I were one of their own, and today was no exception. Upon entering the house, his mother told me she was about to make some hot cocoa and asked if I would like some. “Yes, please,” – that sounded delightful. I went to my friend’s room where I found him practicing a game on his Atari 2600, one at which we were planning on mercilessly competing against one another in a short while. We decided to go hang out in the kitchen and eagerly await the tasty treat we were anticipating. I watched as his parents gathered the ingredients; a gallon of milk, a can of chocolate powder, a large mixing bowl and a wooden spoon. They poured the milk into the bowl and mixed in the chocolate, and then placed the bowl into the microwave oven.
Back in 1986, my family did not own a microwave oven. We had just barely acquired our first VCR. I had heard some grown-ups talking about microwave ovens before, quite sure that using radiation to cook food would be horrible for our health – why just look at the disaster caused by all that radiation in Chernobyl a few months back! I didn’t have any personal experience with microwaves, but if adults whom I trusted said they were bad, then certainly they must be bad. I was nervous about radioactive anything, since it was all over the news recently. I was paranoid about falling ill with any disease, and at the top of this list were AIDS and cancer. I knew in my heart of hearts that microwave radiation would maliciously and intentionally give me cancer. “I just remembered, I have to help my mom with some things around the house today. I’ve gotta go!” I said, as I backed my way towards the door, thanking them for the offer of hot cocoa. “Maybe another time!”
I was afraid of what that nuclear beverage would do to my insides, and didn’t have the heart to tell my friend or his family that it was going to kill them all. Rather than finding a way to express my fear and politely decline the offer only after seeing how it was prepared, I fled. Natural survival instincts had kicked in, and self-preservation was at stake! I spent the rest of the evening at home, bored, with nothing to do and no chores to help my mom with. All because I didn’t understand how a microwave oven worked, and had ranked it right alongside Hitler at the top of a list entitled ‘Things that are evil’.
The moral of the story is that we should always seek out the facts and put forth an effort to understand something before we blindly classify it as villainous and refuse any further mention or inquiry. We should ask ourselves how we know that this object or idea is bad, who has done the research, what was the outcome of this research, and just how awful is it? Is it little-scratch-bad, or bone-through-skin-bad? Is there any documented proof of this, have we seen it for ourselves, or are we taking it all on hearsay?
I encourage everyone to break out of their comfort zones: find a subject that you have condemned as abominable and fully reevaluate it. Why do you believe it to be bad? If it’s a lack of understanding, seek out information on the subject and educate yourself. Maybe it doesn’t suit your personal tastes, but is it actually harmful to yourself or to others? Is it something that your parents or peers have long believed to be bad because they were told this was the gospel truth? I am finding that my newfound inquisitive approach is allowing me to see things in new light. I frequently ask myself, “Is this just not my style, or is it truly bad for me or anyone else?”
In some cases, things are truly bad: heroin, crystal meth, drunk driving. These are harmful to people and contribute to many issues; poor health, hospitalization and termination of life. In some cases, things are alright: a homosexual relationship, pre-marital sex, legalizing marijuana. If the sex is consensual and safe, then whom is it hurting? If we legalize pot, I’m sure the same people smoking it now will continue, and those who don’t wont start; legality is hardly the issue. It doesn’t seem to have any lasting harmful effects, other than laziness and the munchies, and a stoned person is far less likely to be out in the world killing people or otherwise causing harm. Legalize it and regulate it, just like alcohol. Let people love whomever they choose, and let them express it however they want as long as they’re being safe and responsible, and all parties involved have given consent.
As I put forth effort to make sense of and understand things, I find that giving it rational thought leads me to see many things as acceptable, even if I don’t agree with them on a personal level. We don’t need to instinctually shun what we don’t understand when we are not in immediate danger anymore. We’ve evolved beyond the need; now we just need to try to ease out of the reaction.