Apr. 23rd, 2012

shirenomad: (philosophical)
Cross-posted to Facebook and Livejournal:

Yesterday I talked about how Neil deGrasse Tyson gave ten minutes of evidence (describing the scientific brilliance of the Muslim Golden Age) that spoke against his final point (that believers have no place in science), proving that Tyson may be a great astrophysicist but he'd make a terrible lawyer. Today I'll talk about how, at least with some, the reflex of resisting believers is even more ingrained.

Perhaps I was foolish to assume that YouTube viewers would even care, especially those that would be watching Tyson's video in particular, but I made the following comment on the video:

"The issue is not that 15% of the scientific community accepts God. Tyson himself admits that Baghdad, at its scientific height, had people of all religions (certainly including both Muslims and Christians) present, and that Jews (who also believe in God) currently dominate science. It is when those who accept God believe the lie that this means science is false that we have problems. Muslim science did not crash and burn with Muhammad but with al-Ghazali."

I got a quick response: "youre right. science in no way goes against the idea of a god. but it also in no way goes along with the idea of a god. it does however go against the bible and most other religious ideas. so if you want to believe in a god. then by all means do it. but youre going to have to pick between science and the bible assuming you are a christian"

I should have left that one alone but I couldn't just let it hang there. I assumed (correctly) that the commenter was referring to the creation story, and the more recent, dare I say, heresy that it must be literal. But theologians throughout history have pointed out that the creation story in Genesis is likely allegorical, being written to establish not any detailed or scientific explanation of how God did it, but simply that He did. (In fact, Origen -- 3rd century -- argued that it must be allegorical, and that the original readers would have understood that. Why? Because if you treat it literally, you have the first evening and morning without a sun or a sky. You don't need a shred of scientific understanding to understand that this is no more literal than Psalm 23's description of the writer as a sheep.)

And I said so... and now the hordes truly descended. Some came at me with additional points where they felt the Bible contradicted science (including some that, given that I had just stipulated that Genesis 1 was not literal, were already not at issue; they were just moving through a checklist without listening). Others, despite admittedly not being Christian themselves, told me what a horrible Christian I was for not treating every word of scripture literally, as if they were authorities on its meaning. A few taunted me that one day science would contradict every last word of the Bible and I'd have to disavow it all. Our science is greater!

I see three possible intentions of these commenters (possibly all three were there):
1) They thought I, having admitted that the Bible was not literal in certain places, was on the verge of abandoning the entire thing, and they were trying to convert me to atheism.
2) They could not accept that I, as a believer, could also believe in science, and they were trying to get me to revert to their preferred stereotype.
3) They just wanted to punt the believer around.

Regardless, the result was the same: I thought, no wonder believers are abandoning science, if those in favor of it are telling us it's an exclusive club, no silly God-followers allowed. You're trying to chase us away. You're trying to keep us separated. These arguments are not the solution; they are part of the problem.

Here are my responses to atheists who get the urge to push the faithful away:
1) As I just said, you are part of the problem. If a Christian is forced to choose between God and science, odds are decent that he will choose God. And if he does the opposite, you have still widened the gap between the two groups. Feel lucky that some recognize it as a false choice.
2) As Tyson admitted before he forgot, great scientific minds can also believe in God. You are rejecting in advance the next al-Haytham (also a Muslim theologian), the next Newton (also a Christian theologian). You are also pushing away lesser brilliance who won't revolutionize the world but can still be part of the workforce that any solid scientific community needs. Why do you want to thin the numbers of science? Why not instead encourage us to pick science without abandoning faith, and grow in numbers?
3) You are bringing your own conclusions about what the Bible says to the table, when you have not studied it on more than a cursory level. Yes, you share these conclusions with some Christians who haven't thought about it either. But you do not share them with actual theologians, even ancient ones like Origen and Augustine. Nor do you share them with the modern Catholic church, who have been studying the Bible for 2000 years straight and, as I noted earlier, currently hold that it does not require anything in conflict with modern science. In short, you are fighting even those who are on your side because you have convinced yourself in advance that they aren't. You assume that the other side is 100% at war with you because a minority is making noise.

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April 2012

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