Monday, January 03, 2005

Religion and Science

As I noted in my previous blog post entitled What Is Religion? most of my recent blog posts have focused on religion, specifically the nature of my Christian beliefs. In the above-referenced post, I narrated the fact that science and reason have emerged as the adversaries of religion in Modern Western Culture, and I attempted to demonstrate how I have reconciled my religious faith with my faith in science and reason. Simply put, once again, I am prepared to accept mysticism as the most daring and radical consequence of rationalism, but I am not prepared to accept religious explanations for natural phenomena. Nowhere is this principle more apt than when it comes to the Theory of Evolution.

I grew up in a home where the often adversarial relationship between science and religion was not readily apparent to me. It was not until I reached junior high school that I first encountered people who questioned the validity of the Theory of Evolution and pointed to the biblical story of creation in the book of Genesis as their preferred explanation for the origin of life on the planet Earth. It was years later before I made any serious attempt to reconcile these opposing viewpoints. When I did, it seemed pretty clear to me that people who believed in the story of creation found in the book of Genesis were deluding themselves, and I still find it very hard to believe that any person of reasonable intelligence can accept that story at face value.

Notwithstanding the amazing insight that science has given us into the origin of life on Earth, the puzzle still has many pieces missing. Even so, most scientists will tell you that life as we now know it first evolved on the Earth billions of years ago. As proof of this assertion, they will point to the Earth's fossil record and note that geology offers a very straightforward explanation as to how that fossil record was formed, a process that took billions of years. It is at this point that the story of creation found in the book of Genesis begins to lose its credibility with people like me, as that story provides a chronology that would make the Earth no more than 10,000 years old.

Rather than capitulate to the scientific evidence found in the fossil record regarding the antiquity of life on Earth, some very intelligent people still favor the story of creation found in the book of Genesis. With all due respect to the people who hold these views, I have yet to hear any reason why any book in the Bible should be accepted as an accurate source of historical information, much less any reason why the story of Genesis should be believed in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence tending to disprove its chronology of life on Earth. Rather, after very careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that people who accept the chronology of life on Earth as it appears in the book of Genesis do so because they perceive secular scientific inquiry as a threat to their moral values.

As I outlined in my previous post, referenced above, people in Modern Western Culture tend to conflate religion and morality. This gives rise to a false dichotomy wherein any assertion that brings religious beliefs into question is seen as an attack on the morality of the individual who holds those beliefs. In striking contrast, all advances in scientific thought are the result of someone challenging the status quo and exposing the flaws in scientific theories that were once widely accepted. In other words, the moral values of most people in Modern Western Culture are based on backward-looking religious views, and science (i.e., e.g., the Theory of Evolution) has become an inadvertent adversary of morality. Indeed, some very intelligent people have suggested to me that scientific inquiry is inherently immoral, citing biblical references to the Tree of Knowledge as the vehicle for mankind's original fall from grace. However, if thinking for oneself is a sin, then I will gladly withhold my worship from God and proudly walk through the gates of Hell, for:

"The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."
(John Milton, Paradise Lost.)

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