Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.

-C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

DARWIN

I don’t understand the motivation behind the people who put the Darwin walking fish decals on their cars. At least to my simple mind, if you’re sporting a decal in the shape of the Christian “Ichthus” symbol except with tiny little feet and “DARWIN” written inside it instead of “ICHTHUS,” it implies a natural opposition between the ideas that the symbols represent. It seems to presume that one “side” of the story is Christianity, and the other “side” is Darwinism, evolution, and, it would seem, science in general. Certainly, throughout the course of history, this has been largely the case, Galileo being the poster boy for such an opposition. But aren’t we sort of past that these days? My religious beliefs are not founded in pseudo-scientific fact, such that hearing news to the contrary is going to wash my faith out to sea. After all, if I believe that God created the universe, why should it matter to me how He did it? Or if it even seems like he did? To my mind, religion and science don’t and even can’t oppose one another simply because they’re not in competition. They’re functioning on different levels. One is an inquiry into a world we can perceive and the other is an inquiry into a world we can’t. But I see one of these decals and get to thinking that there is probably a good sized group of people that think faith and scientific inquiry are incompatible. Or, even worse than incompatible, in competition. Like I said before, I don’t think this is possible, but it saddens me to think of all those who seem proud of themselves for rejecting science, or religion, under the pretext of adopting the superior worldview.

While the pro-science adherents manifest their narrow view in the ridiculous “sump’n ta prove,” fish-with-feet, Darwin decal, the pro-religion guys display their shortsightedness by publicly “challenging” science. To start, let me make this perfectly clear. There are no “sides” to the “debate” over whether Darwin’s “theory” of evolution is indeed the manner in which intelligent life appeared on God’s good planet earth. In one camp, you have everyone who has ever engaged in a serious scientific inquiry on the subjects of archaeology, anthropology, biology, paleontology, botony, zoology, and a whole host of other “gy’s” and “ny’s.” And in the other camp, you have a small, misguided group of people trying to shoehorn world history into a crystallized belief system that, apparently, is in so much peril of crumbling into nothing, that it cannot withstand that even the slightest bit of dispassionate scientific scrutiny is taking place in their presence. There is no “debate” here. There is empirical evidence and the story it tells, and then there are the people who merely claim it not to be true. I could claim that gravity is only a theory, that no one has ever seen it, the men and women who study it still do not completely understand it, and that it hasn’t been conclusively proved. I could claim that faith magnets hidden in the center of the earth are the real cause of all the commotion. I could claim that electricity is only a theory, that no one has ever seen an electron, that even when we claim to know the electrical charge of one of those little suckers, we’re not sure even where it is, and ignore the fact that the electron theory has performed as expected 100% of the time, but I’m afraid large-scale willful ignorance does not make a “debate.”

In the anti-science elements present in some portions of modern day Christianity, there seems to be a need for magic of the hit-a-rock-and-water-comes-out variety. For these guys, if natural phenomena can somehow be explained scientifically, it somehow diminishes the experience. I would argue that mathematics alone can be enough to drop one to one’s knees in wonder and awe at God’s great world. But that’s just me. If a rose is red, does explaining that redness in terms of wavelength negate the beauty of the blossom? Does realizing that the petals are arranged according to mathematical principles cause one to suspect it may have been secretly assembled by robots in some non-denominational laboratory? If I had to hazard a guess (and even though I don’t have to, I will), the draw towards the miraculous and the magical is really just a nostalgia for the Old Testament. They don’t want to hear why anything might be happening, they just want to throw their staff to the ground, have it turn into a snake and slither away. And that’s it. And that’s fine, I guess. If you don’t feel like finding out why stuff happens, there’s really nothing wrong with that. It’s just the freaking out when someone else wants to know that confuses me.

Of course, in an ironic turn that so perfect that it makes me think fundamentalists will shout a collective “Just Kidding!” some April 1st many years hence, the biggest magic poof of them all, the Big Bang, is the one thing that freaks them out the most. I mean, it’s the one thing that, for the most part, scientists really are stumped as to how and why it happened. You’d think the fundies would latch on to the Big Bang theory and run all the way to Jerusalem with it. The hand of God! Something out of nothing! Let there be light! And that may very well be the case. But alas, the Big Bang is to fundamentalists what garlic is to vampires. Why? Because acknowledging the Big Bang would mean that the world is very very old and would contradict the literal truth of certain stories about a certain garden. And this gets at the heart of what a loaded word like Darwin actually opposes. Not faith, not Christianity (which after all isn’t a framework of history but a radical call to love selflessly), not religion even. In fact, the only piece of Christianity that Darwin actually opposes isn’t Christianity at all, just the blind adherence to the literal truth of certain stories. Of course, believing that Noah actually put 2 of every animal on his boat and sailed off while the world drowned, has about as much to do with walking in the footprints of Jesus as making sure your and His sandals are the same size. But that’s another post for another day. What I want to know is, as a science loving Catholic, which decal do I put on my car? I'd put the Ichthus, of course, but it'd be tough to get honked at by four-legged fish.

cabearie said...

Good post, Horatio!

Of course, you've hit on one of my biggest beefs: the perceived split between Christianity and Science.

To some extent, those of us not part of the Religious Reich deserve some heat for not calling their bullshit for what it is: bullshit. Most of them take an anatibiotic at the first sniffle.

Live long and prosper!

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with the general thrust of your argument that there should be no real conflict between religious faith and science because they do indeed deal with different means of obtaining "truth".

The real problem is that there is a certain subset of reliugious folks--specifically those fundamentalists that see the Bible as the inerrant word of God--whose faith is shaken by the theory of evolution. These are the people that are the problem in the debate.

Just a wored of correction for you. You don't really understand the theory of biological evolutioln. It has nothing to do with how life came to be on earth. That's a separate realm of inquiry called abiogenesis. The theory of biological evolution deals with who life evolved from the first common ancestor.

Horatio said...

Well, to me science describes a method of inquiry, while religion describes a lifestyle choice. I don't see why one couldn't live life according to a religion and ask questions in the spirit of science. I guess those two things could butt heads, but they certainly don't have to.

And I realize that evolution of life is different from the genesis of life on the planet. Reactions catalyzed by sunlight resulted in the formation of amino acids, the building block of life, a reaction which has been observed in laboratory tests. Doesn't mean that not how God wanted it.

Anonymous said...

My solution, if I were inclined to such things, would be to put the ICTHUS fish on one side, and the DARWIN fish on the other side... but then folks would probably think I was schizophrenic.

Julie

This blog is based on a true story.