Again, my friend Carl from Stainless Steal Droppings has inspired me to write another essay about religion. He and I are both disturbed by aggressive communication tactics taken by people on both sides of our philosophically polarized society. Carl and I agree that both liberals and conservatives go to extremes in attacking each other. Carl is a Christian and I am an atheist, and we’re working on ways to coexist philosophically. We’re not trying to convert each other to our own positions, but we are trying to find ways to have opposing ideas and still have friendly discussions. This is a real challenge.
Often in the editorial press and on the blogosphere you see writers trying to convince readers of their beliefs. For many aggressive writers trying to get notice their position is often: I’m right, you’re wrong, let me explain how you’re a dumb ass. One step up in politeness is: We’re right, they’re wrong, let’s have a good laugh. What I like to see is: I’m coming from this vantage point, you’re coming from that vantage point, how can we solve a problem together. Which probably explains why I’m not a popular writer because of my Pollyannaish thinking.
In my last essay on the subject, Faith, Carl posted a very good reply, but I particularly like what he said here:
I think you certainly got part of what I was referring to as ‘faith’ down. The other part is probably most accurately reflected in my feelings about evolution. I certainly believe in the type of evolution that involves adaptation. I believe species can adapt to surroundings, eventually developing new ways to cope with their environment, etc. In fact this kind of thinking most definitely falls in line with biblical ideas about how God’s creation works. I do not, however, believe that any one species evolved into another regardless of how long this ol’ earth may have been around. My own personal view of the ‘theory’ of evolution is that it is that, a ‘theory’, based on observations and calculations of scientists but mostly based on a type of ‘faith’. I don’t recall reading any ‘proof’ that my ancestors came from monkeys and it is certainly not an experiment that can be duplicated in a lab, tested, etc. so my ideas that there is ‘faith’ involved in science in large part comes from the way that a large part of the scientific community and humanity at large accepts the idea of evolution as science ‘fact’ rather than theory. That, in my mind, is no different than the faith I place in the existence of a real and loving and personable God. I know, your hackles are rising, but can you see what I am driving at?
Now this brings us to a very exact problem. I don’t want to make this an issue of which side is right. I’m not going to try and convince Carl how I think evolution is a good explanation biological reality. What I want to do is explore ways in which Carl can have his beliefs and I can have mine and we can develop a social structure that allows us to coexist and communicate.
Science describes a universe 13.7 billion years old. The Bible, by certain people’s measure, describes a universe that is just several thousand years old. This is a problem mainly for our public education system. It’s a problem being fought by school boards and state legislatures. One solution brought about by creationists, is the theory of intelligent design, an idea that scientists considers an insult to science. To describe the battle so far, some Christians feel that society went too far by excluding religion from schools. The original solution to the problem Carl and I are working on was to separate church and state, and that’s still the best solution in my mind. Evidently, there are conservatives that don’t like that idea, and they want to find ways to change the educational system.
But I don’t want to get into politics. What I want to explore is how we treat each other personally. Concurrent to my discussion with Carl, I’ve been discussing Christianity with a lady friend at work. I told her that even though I’m an atheist I like studying the Bible, and I’m willing to consider some religious teachings as philosophical explorations on down-to-Earth problems. She said Christianity is about accepting Christ, salvation and rebirth. I told her I couldn’t go that far.
In fact, while I was talking with her, I had a revelation of my own. I’ve always tried to imagine a metaphysical aspect to reality where religious people could be right. I’ve always tried to imagine some kind of wormhole to the spiritual dimensions. Theoretically, I wanted to give religious beliefs a possible loophole in space and time that could only be found in death where we might exist in some other dimensional realm. However, while talking with my friend, I realized that I no longer can imagine such a loophole existing.
Where does that leave me? I feel quite confident that all 6.7 billion of us living on planet Earth all share the same reality. Whether or not that reality is ruled by some unknown quantum physics that allows for thought to bend the fabric of reality so Christians can be right as well as Richard Dawkins, or Buddhists meditating in a temple in Tibet, is beyond what I can know. I do know that a couple billion of our 6.7 billion are Christians, and I think Muslims make up another billion or so. Whatever political and social system we have has to include everyone.
Does that mean that the religious of the Earth are like a more populous Amish, and we should just let them freeze knowledge at some pre-19th century level of discovery? Is it okay to just let a portion of the population deny Darwin? Maybe the answer lies in my discovery of how to handle climate deniers that I made last week.
Up until very recently I worried that climate deniers would keep humanity from doing something about global warming, and then I reached a critical mass of observations in the news. So many nations, states, companies, industries, scientists, educators and citizens are now working on the problem of global warming with the assumption that the theory is valid that it doesn’t matter if millions of people who are doing nothing, deny the concept. Sometime in the last year, I think a secret vote was taken, and it was decided this was a problem we had to deal with, and people went to work. A critical mass of scientists accepted the theory, and now the problem of global warming caused by man-made actions is now accepted as fact.
There are millions of people that don’t believe in the income tax, but that hasn’t stopped Uncle Sam from collecting our dough. The same is true about evolution. The scientific and academic world accepted evolution as fact a long time ago. I do not understand linear algebra, but this mathematical discipline can exist quite well without my awareness. The time to argue Darwin’s ideas was in the late 19th century. Botanists, zoologist, biologists, and all the people who use the science of evolution in their work took up the idea long ago and made it part of their routine because it worked.
It doesn’t matter that I believe Darwin, because my kind of belief is only a kind of faith. I’m just a fan at the Science Bowl rooting for the Science team. It doesn’t matter that Carl chooses not to accept the theory of evolution. As long as he doesn’t try to publish any papers on biology, his lack of belief will go unnoticed. Is me trying to convince Carl that evolution is right any different that me trying to convince him that the Beatles were a better band than The Rolling Stones?
I think too much of the polarized emotional heat in the press and the blogosphere are people fighting over opinions. Why should it matter to Christians that some people don’t believe? Why should it matter to atheists that some people do?
Carl and I love to discover great books. That’s what we do. That’s why we’re friends. I think we need to focus on what we do, and less on what we believe. In the old days, it was considered impolite to talk about politics and religion publicly. I think I’m going to take up that custom. It doesn’t matter if I “believe” in global warming, it only matters if I do something about it. I need to get away from writing essays about pure ideas and abstract beliefs. I need to get back to writing about science fiction books. Those are real.
JWH – 10-4-8