Tuesday, May 03, 2005

On Science and Religion

I find something fascinating about the religiously motivated scientific amateurs who attempt to dismiss evolution. I am constantly amazed when they, untrained and biased, feebly attempt to dismiss a scientific theory by using their limited understanding of scientific methods and information. Seems to me a little like someone skipping the inconvenient and time consuming task of attending medical school and simply calling themselves a surgeon. Of course the potential patients are not persuaded when the so called surgeon explains that he is qualified to do their heart surgery because he, all by his self, dissected a frog while in high school.

The reason for this religious repulsion to the scientific theory of evolution is simple. Evolution provides a theoretical explanation of mans appearance on this earth that does not allow part of the Bible to be taken as literally true. Since the literal interpretation of the Bible seems to be a necessary and unquestionable certainty to a segment of the religious community the offensive theory of evolution must be compromised and obfuscated.

A few weeks ago I was speaking with a minister who, since childhood, has loved finding and collecting fossils. Now as a 60 plus year old adult he has obtained fossils of all kinds that he has put on display throughout his home. While he was showing me and my family his impressive display he felt compelled to explain to us that even though people have been told by scientist that these dinosaur fossils were more then 65 million years old they, in actuality, could not be older then 65 hundred years. His reason for this huge disparity between these two approximations was simple enough to explain. If you share his current religious beliefs and you take the Bible to be literally true then - after summing up various time periods specified in the Bible - you find that the existence of everything was created about 65 hundred years ago.

Possibly because he knew that I had an education that went beyond high school the minister felt compelled to scientifically qualify this theory further. The theory, I might add, that quite conveniently allowed his life long love of fossils to coexist with his life work in religion. However, instead of using science to prove his 65 hundred year theory of everything he attempted to question current scientific methods that run contrary to the theory that he holds true. He did this by explaining to me how the science of carbon dating - the scientific method to approximate the age of once living fossils - is not scientifically based. I will not go into the details of this explanation because, to be honest, his unqualified scientific explanation of why carbon dating is not scientific seemed a bit like accepting the skills of that surgeon whose qualifications consisted of dissecting a frog in high school.

The real story here is the same one that has been playing out since the beginning of human religious history. When ones current religious beliefs encounter an obstacle to the reality that those beliefs create, and a reality that the believer feels comfortable with, that obstacle must be removed. Not so long ago the obstacles were more easily purged. The church would declare the speaker of such an abominations a heretic and off to jail, or away to his eternal punishment, that heretic would go. Today, in America, it is not so easy - although there are some who look on the past with nostalgia.

Apparently the long range plan by some in the literal religious community seems to be to discredit "objective science" by using "their science". Of course, as we all should remember, the tobacco industry once had "their science" that for years showed that cigarette smoking did not cause cancer.

Unlike others who would purposely compromise science for monetary gains the authentic literal religious community is not so motivated. What is driving them is the all to human desire to keep the earth and man at the center of Gods universe. Being human I can understand this reaction - as I suspect did Galileo.