e + God Equals m Times c Squared
I Lost My Temper in the Comment Section of a Friend’s Blog
I have a friend from my early days as a Christian youth growing up in Hallock, Minnesota. I had looked to him as an extra-churchory adviser on matters related to prayer and integrating fun into the practice of everyday religion. I had lost touch with him after he graduated from high school. Alden and I both shared a love of sixties rock music, and he assured me that a Christian needn’t trap his ears in the Christian music aural ghetto. Mutually, our favorite secular band was The Guess Who, and I still remember late evenings singing the song “F-I-D-D-L-I-N-G” outside of a nearly-abandoned Baptist Church in Hallock.
It is a song that celebrates drinking and gambling.
Alden found me as the result of a blog post I wrote four years ago regarding the northern lights and their frequent appearances in northern Minnesota. I mentioned his name because he had bragged to a pair of missionaries from the Baptist church to Hallock, and he said that “The northern lights practically live here.” The funny part of the story was that in the two months that the missionaries spent in Hallock, the northern lights didn’t light.
Alden happened to be googling his name four years ago and found my post.
Over the years since then, Alden and I have traded friendly yet pointed barbs on each other’s blogs. When I needed help desperately last fall, Alden was among those who generously answered the call.
Here’s the main point of our disagreement. Alden is a strong Christian who thinks that modernism has had a disastrous effect on our culture and our individual abilities to determine the answers to important questions. As an atheist, I am unable to see where religious belief and faith yield any sort of objective understanding of the nature of life and origins. In his mind, I have succumbed to the prejudice of natural methodology, and in my mind, he is all too willing to accept the writings of anybody who displays a philosophical skepticism over the historical explanatory power of cosmology and evolution.
It may be that as the days stretched on without being able to blog at Tangled Up in Blue Guy, I was suffering withdrawal and was more likely to lash out at ludicrous and ill-informed attacks on the settled science of evolution. It may be that he didn’t correct one of his peanut gallery commenter’s inane statements that “evolution is scientists’ subconscious way to deny the Living God that they hate” and that evolution wasn’t necessary for understanding biology in the seventies and that Skell is right that it is still unimportant.
Steve, you just blew my irony meter.
How well do you then understand biology? Enough to get by?
What you both ignore is that the battle over evolution and religion was hashed out in the 19th century and evolution was unearthed and investigated by people who were creationists trying to prove the accuracy of the bible and the creation story. You should take the time to acquaint yourself with the full development of the theory before you start insulting the motives of people who have been unearthing nature’s secrets as some sort of justification for affirming their “hatred of the living god.”
It is just your sort of thinking and talking that drove me away from religion in the first place. If I have to suspend my disbelief in science so much so in order to practice religion, and if the things that religion teaches contradict what I can see with my own eyes, then religion loses out.
If Augustine wrote one thing that makes sense, then it is his statement that misstating the facts of the natural world in order to promote religion is a fool’s game.
Your continued denialism in the face of the evidence of evolution leads me to the conclusion that you will never be interested in anything that contradicts your “faith.” Instead you will continue to follow the lead of those who don’t understand that the process of science is a matter of investigation and not faith.
And Alden, I am still trying to figure out how a method of science that includes the supernatural is supposed to work in yielding objective information.
Finally, as to the accusation that scientists are only interested in protecting their money, power and authority; I would suggest that religion is lashing out on this issue because of its fear of losing hegemony.
I invite readers to to the full exchange over at Alden’s blog, because my intention is not to provide a rehash here at Quiche Moraine. In reference to Augustine, I had in mind this passage:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. (1 Timothy 1.7)
[Saint Augustine (A.D. 354–430) in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim) provided excellent advice for all Christians who are faced with the task of interpreting Scripture in the light of scientific knowledge. This translation is by J. H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41.]
Evolution is not what turned me against religion. I was able to reconcile evolution with my faith. Honestly, I didn’t give it a lot of thought, this contradiction between faith and evolution. I knew for dang sure that the literal belief in the 6,000-year-old creation was not to be taken seriously, but a form of “guided evolution” was something I could accept until I started thinking more deeply about the role death, disease and starvation play in the development of a diverse tangled bank.
No, this ancient Christian philosopher got at least one thing right if nothing else. It was an insistence that religion should have prima nocta over any understanding of nature that finally drove me away. If it came down to a dispute over whether or not tiktaalik was a transitional fossil (which I can plainly see to be the case) or a denial that evolution is a valid historical science that yields current insights into the modern study of biology based on the religious authorities’ insistence that I should deny evidence, I would have to discard religion.
The progenitors of intelligent design creationism have clearly not thought through the theological implications of teaching their stance. By inserting an insistence that there is more to evolution than can be learned through the scientific method, and then by deliberately misstating science in ways that can be easily fact-checked, they are setting up a situation through which students will learn to distrust religious authority. By drawing a direct relationship from the natural methodology used to study evolution to atheism they are paving a road towards atheism for kids who might not otherwise have even considered it.
For me, the value of inserting religion into science is that we can see we are inserting an extraneous variable into our statistics and our mathematical equations. The formula most beloved by people who are interested in science is the famous “e = mc².” It is useful in understanding the relationship between energy, mass and the conversion thereof. It has been tested and verified through the observation of matter and light in the labs and in astronomy’s galactic lenses.
My friend insists that through denying the role of faith in understanding, modern scientific practice has limited itself. By eliminating the role of the supernatural in science, modernism is unnecessarily stultifying my thinking and the thinking of those of us who are no longer open to a supernatural creator/designer.
When I look at the equation “e + God = mc²,” I see the same result as the equation “e = mc²,” and I don’t see the value of the extraneous variable “God” in explaining the relationship between energy and matter. With the insistence of inserting that variable, creationists of whatever stripe are making things worse for their cause when the thinkers of tomorrow consider the implications of their folly. They should leave science for science and stop meddling. As an atheist, I should be happy that they are weakening their argument better than I possibly could on my own.
For my friend’s sake, I am actually a bit saddened.
This entry was posted on Monday, March 2nd, 2009 at 5:54 am and is filed under Mike Haubrich, Science. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.