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Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Fall of Faith

It's getting to the end of the year and I started thinking about something that has probably been realized by many others ahead of me. I started thinking about why organizations like Answers in Genesis (AIG), Institute for Creation Research (ICR), Reasons to Believe (RTB) and the Discovery Institute want to be viewed as scientific organizations. I thought about why science figures so prominently in their discussions and propaganda. All three of these organizations are really religious organizations so it seems strange that science should figure so prominently in their apologetics. Then, around 3 o'clock this morning it hit me.
Science has surpassed religion in society as a way of knowing things. Religion played such a central role in how people viewed their lives (giving them purpose and meaning) and now science is threatening that security. Science has shown that we are not at the center of the universe. Science showed us that the Sun and other planets don't revolve around us. While those discoveries happened long ago, religion was able to accommodate those findings by maintaining that we were still somehow special. The, along came Darwin and he showed us that we are just another in a long line of animals. Geologists showed us that the earth has a long history that extends back to 4.5 billion years. Paleontology discovered a wealth of animal life that existed prior to our rather recent occupation of the planet. All of these (especially evolution) obviously shook the foundations of religious folk who (in the beginning) refused to accept that we were not a forethought of some gods. Even with this knowledge, a number of religious organizations came to accept evolution as valid.
Now, astrophysics has shown us that we are a pale blue dot in a vast cosmos whose origins likely came from a quantum fluctuation. The more we learn about evolutionary science, the more we learn about the relationships we share with everything from the snail to the ape. These relationships help us discover our origins and the data are not pointing to formation of humans from dirt in a perfect garden just a few thousand years ago.

Of course some argue that all this knowledge without a god makes life meaningless and I suppose there is no arguing the point with them. I don't see why new knowledge about our place in the cosmos should do anything more than cause us to be astonished and amazed. The very fact that we are able to consider these things should give us pause and reason enough to keep on discovering and learning. For others, knowledge is not enough.

All of these observations are known to most people and none of it is a revelation to me. So, why do I even write this? It hit me over the head that the world is slowy realizing that science has replaced supernaturalism as the best way of knowing things. Everything that human kind ascribed to a benevolent (or not so benevolent), omniscient and omnipotent god is more easily described without the need for a supernatural explanation. So now some religious organizations have turned to science in order to validate their supernaturalism. In what might be called 'sleeping with the enemy', organizations like Reason to Believe, Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute have prostituted their faith in favor of science. They won't admit this of course, but read their pages, they are trying desperately trying to show that science can match up with their views of the bible. They are trying to force science to validate their own supernatural and sometime superstitious view of the cosmos. The fact that they can't agree on simple things like the age of the earth and the history of life on earth illustrates the failure of trying to marry supernaturalism to science. They know that if science can somehow be demonstrated to support their view, it will give them credibility in the eyes of their followers. Some have done this through out and out misrepresentations of science (AIG, ICR and DISCO) while others have attempted to marry modern discoveries to a broad reading of scripture (RTB). As someone once said to me when I questioned him about how the helium argument was being used by AIG and ICR:

"Whatever happened to faith"?

Indeed.


Cheers

Joe Meert

10 Comments:

At 2:21 PM, Anonymous jhud said...

You gotta stop eating pepperoni pizza before bed Joe.

Actually, the world is becoming more religious Joe, not less. The science community and segments of Europe are becoming more atheistic, but they are fading rather fast because atheists tend not to reproduce.

Indeed, it is the science community that is desperately trying to adopt a religious language so it might better inculcate the non-scientists with how they might be "astonished and amazed" by science. The recent Beyond Belief conference which hosted a number of scientists trying to answer religion offered up this:

Science provides an aesthetic view of the cosmos that could replace that provided by religion - a view that could even be celebrated by its own iconography, Porco added. Images of the natural world and cosmos, such as the Cassini photograph of Earth taken from beyond Saturn, Apollo 8's historic Earthrise or the Hubble Deep Field image, could offer a similar solace to religious artwork or icons.

The big challenge, according to Porco, will be dealing with awareness of our own mortality. The God-concept brings a sense of immortality, something science can't offer. Instead, she suggested highlighting the fact that our atoms came from stardust and would return to the cosmos - as mass or energy - after we die. "We should teach people to find comfort in that thought. We can find comfort in knowing that everyone who has ever lived on the Earth will some day adorn the heavens."


From: Beyond belief: In place of God

So science is just as reactionary as you claim these organizations are; and this is bad for science, because contrary to your post, science is actually a very useful tool when it is used properly within the limits for which it was intended, namely for explaining observable natural phenomena.

And of course there are very many important, indeed critical things science can't do at all. It can't provide the spiritual, emotional, social and psychological basis for building good human communities - for good marriages, parenting, and friendships.

It can't give an understanding of civil rights and organization of government that gives the best societies in existence their freedom and prosperity.

It can tell us how to build the most destructive weapons imaginable, but it can't tell us when or whether to use such weapons. Indeed, even as science warns us about phenomena such as global warming, it completely ignores it's on complicity in developing the very technologies that led to industrial processes that produced the phenomena.

So science is actually very limited, and we should no sooner contemplate replacing religion with science than we should contemplate replacing the Mona Lisa with a paintbrush.

 
At 2:43 PM, Blogger RBH said...

Let me comment on just one of jhud's remarks:

It [science] can't give an understanding of civil rights and organization of government that gives the best societies in existence their freedom and prosperity.

That's actually more true of most religions. The "understanding" of civil rights and organization of government" in the U.S. at least is a secular one. Theocracies, of whatever particular stripe, are not among the "best societies in existence". As we learn about the naturalistic roots of altruism and cooperation, we are in a better position to construct civil societies. Ignoring what we know and continue to learn about the evolution of morality and cooperation, and about human behavior in general, leads to unrealistic policies and official practices. Witness the current administration's fantasies about sex education and policies concerning contraception.

 
At 2:56 PM, Anonymous jhud said...

from rbh:
It [science] can't give an understanding of civil rights and organization of government that gives the best societies in existence their freedom and prosperity.

That's actually more true of most religions. The "understanding" of civil rights and organization of government" in the U.S. at least is a secular one. Theocracies, of whatever particular stripe, are not among the "best societies in existence". As we learn about the naturalistic roots of altruism and cooperation, we are in a better position to construct civil societies. Ignoring what we know and continue to learn about the evolution of morality and cooperation, and about human behavior in general, leads to unrealistic policies and official practices. Witness the current administration's fantasies about sex education and policies concerning contraception.


Well, in the US at least we hold that citizens are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"; of course these right are further enumerated and specified in the Bill of Rights. There are no 'natural' derivations for these rights. Indeed, in societies where the governments are overtly atheistic, little considerations is given to human rights, and for good reason; there is no natural reason to believe they exist.

 
At 6:18 PM, Blogger Joe Meert said...

Jhud says:

"Actually, the world is becoming more religious Joe, not less. The science community and segments of Europe are becoming more atheistic, but they are fading rather fast because atheists tend not to reproduce."

Yes, I would agree that the US seems to be learning more towards spirituality, but the interesting thing is how they are going about it. Conservative Christianity has realized that in order to convert more people to the flock, it must justify its (IMO) silliest claims with science. Young earth creationism, intelligent design etc are attempts by these Christian cults to pull more people into the flock using science. So, even if the numbers of 'faithful' are on the increase, the sales job is based on science and not theology.

Cheers

Joe Meert

 
At 3:36 AM, Anonymous jhud said...

Yes, I would agree that the US seems to be learning more towards spirituality, but the interesting thing is how they are going about it. Conservative Christianity has realized that in order to convert more people to the flock, it must justify its (IMO) silliest claims with science. Young earth creationism, intelligent design etc are attempts by these Christian cults to pull more people into the flock using science. So, even if the numbers of 'faithful' are on the increase, the sales job is based on science and not theology.

Well, 'young earth creationism' has been around since what - the 1900s? Hardly a new strategy. And most ID advocates aren't inclined to support YEC; so it would seem they are working a bit at odds. So much for the common cause and conspiracy.

But I would guess that the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians (even, yes, conservative ones) are little concerned about what science says about the subject and more interested in something science can't offer - meaning, purpose, and peace of mind.

 
At 10:03 AM, Blogger Joe said...

jhud says:

Well, 'young earth creationism' has been around since what - the 1900s? Hardly a new strategy. And most ID advocates aren't inclined to support YEC; so it would seem they are working a bit at odds. So much for the common cause and conspiracy.

ID has been around at least as long. If you had some knowledge of history, you would realize that Paley articulated the same arguments put forth by the ID'ers today (though in different terms). Of course, ID goes back even beyond Paley (who was also a young earth creationist). Further, the ID folks want people 'under the big tent' and hence the term 'creationism lite' has been used to describe the ID movement. ID tried to distance itself from young earth creationism, but the use of "Panda's and People" (a young earth motivated tract) shows the link between ID and young earth creationism. So, you'll have to pardon me if I don't buy the distinction you're trying to sell!

Jhud goes on to say
But I would guess that the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians (even, yes, conservative ones) are little concerned about what science says about the subject and more interested in something science can't offer - meaning, purpose, and peace of mind.


You missed the point of this thread. Of course they whine and complain about science because they understand the explanatory superiority of science in discussions about the natural world. The argument I put forward is not about 'religion', but about faith. Most conservative CHristians, like it or not, are turning to science to bolster their faith. That seems very, very odd to me.

Cheers

Joe Meert

 
At 11:53 AM, Anonymous jhud said...

ID has been around at least as long. If you had some knowledge of history, you would realize that Paley articulated the same arguments put forth by the ID'ers today (though in different terms). Of course, ID goes back even beyond Paley (who was also a young earth creationist).

Sure, evolutionary ideas are as old as the Greeks as well; what has changed is the articulation of concepts like specified complexity and irreducible complexity, particularly when applied to our modern knowledge of the structures of the cell and to the genome, neither of which were known by Darwin or Paley.

As well, ID really is born in part our of information theory. Our own development of information systems gives us insight into the working of the genome, and the more we know, the more we see systems there that are similar (though more sophisticated) to our own information systems.

Further, the ID folks want people 'under the big tent' and hence the term 'creationism lite' has been used to describe the ID movement. ID tried to distance itself from young earth creationism, but the use of "Panda's and People" (a young earth motivated tract) shows the link between ID and young earth creationism. So, you'll have to pardon me if I don't buy the distinction you're trying to sell!

Well, yes, evolutionists like to draw that link because it's easier to combat a strawman than the actual arguments; particularly if one doesn't understand the actual arguments.

You missed the point of this thread. Of course they whine and complain about science because they understand the explanatory superiority of science in discussions about the natural world. The argument I put forward is not about 'religion', but about faith. Most conservative CHristians, like it or not, are turning to science to bolster their faith. That seems very, very odd to me.

My point was that you live in a a bit of a bubble Joe, whereby you deal with a very specific group of people; 'most' Christians, conservative or otherwise, think little of science at all.

 
At 5:36 PM, Blogger Joe Meert said...

Jhud says:

Well, yes, evolutionists like to draw that link because it's easier to combat a strawman than the actual arguments; particularly if one doesn't understand the actual arguments.

regarding my claim that ID is creationism lite. Because we face a threat from ID in florida, I started reading a book from the pro-ID folk here in Florida. the book is titled 'Darwinism under th microscope: How recent scientific evidence points to Divine Design" by Gillis and Woodward. Let's look in the book just a bit:

The first reviewer?
D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries

The acknowledgements:
In a book about creation and design, acknowledgement and appreciation naturally go to the mind of the Creator Himself. Too often we refuse to see the manifestation of God.....

The forward?

The evidence is stacked mightily against such a nihilistic conclusion (evolution). "In the beginning God created..." is not only good theology, but good science as well.

So, you'll have to excuse me if I take the writings of the intelligent design 'theorists' at their word. ID IS creationism lite despite your not-so valiant attempt to deny it.

Cheers

Joe Meert

 
At 8:39 PM, Anonymous jhud said...

So, you'll have to excuse me if I take the writings of the intelligent design 'theorists' at their word. ID IS creationism lite despite your not-so valiant attempt to deny it.

So, you picked a book published by the same company that publishes 'Charisma' magizine and is endorsed by Creationists as a representaive publication of intelligent design proponents?

Is it a book notably advocated by any of the folks who are spearheading the ID effort?

Does this mean that one should conclude that evolution advocates atheism because one of it's primary proponents (Dawkins) is an atheist?

Is this yet another of the famous Meert strawmen?

 
At 9:12 PM, Blogger Joe Meert said...

I think it's time to leave this comment and answer with a quote from Hamlet (Act 3, Scene 2) with a small gender change for Jhud:

"The gentleman doth protests too much, methinks."

 

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