The Snarky’s Tin Ear: Beyond the Science v. Religion Debate, Part V

By Adam Frank | February 5, 2008 11:31 am

Adam FrankAdam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester who studies star formation and stellar death using supercomputers. His new book, “The Constant Fire, Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate,” has just been published. He will be joining Reality Base to post an ongoing discussion of science and religion—you can read his previous posts here, and find more of his thoughts on science and the human prospect at the Constant Fire blog.

Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?

—John Calvin

This was my favorite quote. I discovered it at age 16 in Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy, and have been using it in my Intro to Astronomy lectures for years. It seemed like the perfect embodiment of blind religion ignoring the fruits of understanding that scientific progress was willing to offer. Then, in writing my book on science and religion, I found a problem with Calvin’s words: He never said them.

The quote can traced to the 1899 work A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White, the first president of Cornell University. This book had enormous impact, setting attitudes for years within the scientific community about the proper attitude in the science v. religion debate. Now, a spate of literary sleuthing by historians leads them to conclude the quote must be considered suspect.

While White’s mistake is likely an honest one, the book has other flaws that point to the rigidity and inherited biases on the other side of the traditional science v. religion debate. Too often, scientists can seem so casually dismissive of the entire domain of human religious experience that it appears that not much study or scholarship lies behind the attitude. This approach we will call (thanks to the Occasional reporter) “The Snarky.”

The essence of Snarkydom in the domains of Science and Religion is the condescension of, “If only you were as smart as me, you wouldn’t have such a dumb view of things.” Along these lines, one also finds, “if only you were as intellectually strong as I was, you wouldn’t need any sense of religion to face the cold realities of this universe.”

Since I have already laid out the arguments against the Sullen and the Silly, I am hopeful I will catch a break here when I say that the alternative is not blind submission to dogma, or a starry-eyed rejection of critical thinking. My experience of people who are authentic in what they consider their spiritual lives (even if I disagree with their beliefs) has been marked by thoughtfulness and considerable courage in compassion.

Unfortunately, what appears to be the “Science” perspective in the science and religion debate often looks like it’s aimed at the Sullen, but then sweeps everything else into the same bag. What one hears is really an argument against one form of one religion taken to be an argument against all forms of religious life and experience. The Snarky attitude manifests as unwillingness to see religion, and its roots in mythologies, as a very broad, very human experience that speaks to something ancient and essential in us, and it goes beyond arguments of what words like “Sacred” or “Spiritual” do mean, or should mean, or are not allowed to mean.

When science appears in its snarky mode, it displays a fantastically tin ear for the rich, fecund, and very fertile encounter humans have at the boundary of the expressible and inexpressible. It also ignores a very rich field of scholarship by writers like William James, Mircea Eliade, and others.

The attitude of snarkydom is, I believe, very dangerous for science for many reasons. The first is that it is unlikely that religion is going away anytime soon, so telling everyone who might consider themselves to have a spiritual or religious dimension to their lives “You’re dumb” invites charges of arrogance, and provides the public with a reason to turn away.

More importantly, much more importantly, we scientists are in no position to make such sweeping statements about the full range of human experience. At the roots, our lives, like everyone else’s, are rounded with a sleep, and we do not know what, really, these dreams are made on. We need to respect the beauty and mystery at that boundary between the expressible and inexpressible. We need to respect the capacities of poetry and myth and the domains of the sacred.

That’s it for this week. My graduate students are getting angry at me, so I had better go read some referee reports. Next week, we try defining alternatives.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Science & Religion
MORE ABOUT: Adam frank, creationism

Comments (36)

  1. Jumblepudding

    When I lapse into “snarky” mode, it is always enjoyable, but I can’t help but feel like kind of a jerk. Thanks for calling out that mindset. Are you going to bring up the people that always bring up the crusades next? I hear way too much “People should be encouraged not to have a spiritual side because The Crusades” I mean, forget about recovering from 9/11 or even slavery if we, as a species, still find the Crusades a sensitive issue.

  2. I appreciate what you are saying for I know I can lapse into snarkyism too. Its can be easy and has a certain guilty pleasure but it usually doesn’t help much and can be an easy dodge from dealing with harder problems.

  3. Mike Gottschalk

    I’ve had so much fun considering reality through concepts that science develops and I utilize them as I think theologically- I correct other christians when they try to use entropy to support the ‘evolution is impossible’ argument; then I show them how entropy is a key structure of order, and that order would be impossible without it. I even argue, that if we really understood this life and our place as humans in it, we would argue that, if there were ever such a thing as a judgement day, we would be judged on what we did in the face of entropy not morality; because in an entropic world, if we do nothing, we rot. So we have to do something that intrinsically, is creative- which changes the measurement from something moral to something generative.

    So if I ask, ‘are we making life together that feels generative’, doesn’t this engender a conversation beyond science vs. religion?

    Then, when I talk with my science friends, I might chide them with, ” sure the Big Bang gets talked about- thats because thats the easy part. What doesn’t get talked about is the Big Scrunch and the Big Swoosh; the compression of matter has to take place before the bang, (scrunch) and space has to exist for matter to have a place expand into (swoosh). I say this jokingly to make a couple of points:

    One, we always start our world views with something having always been in existence, whether it is God or matter, and energy. ( Btw, I never here scientists talk about the presence of logic or information at the beginning.) We fail to really understand the reality of nothing; empty space is still something. I don’t see any reason for life or God to exist.

    Two, knowing all that we know through science, doesn’t explain life; and what we do know, is in no way complete. Likewise for other christians, I argue that claiming inerrancy for a scriptural text is a waste of time because it too is incomplete; to argue otherwise, shrinks God to something smaller than we are.

    So if I suggest that we have cause to live our lives with humility, awe, and a lot of eros (constant fire?) born of deep gratitude, doesn’t this seem appropriate to our shared situation?

    Eros trumps nirvahna ….

  4. Robert Johnson
  5. Robert Johnson

    Sorry I got lost and stumbled on to my Enter key a bit early. Gottschalk, I have no idea what you are talking about. More power to you though.

    I appreciate the OP but I have to say that I find it a bit euphemistic, apologist almost. Considering what has already raged through the scientific community in the Darwin Wars (Dawkins v. Gould), and what Gould came up with when he settled this particular question with the idea of Non Overlapping Magisteria. Science and Religion do not have to be enemies, they don’t even have to compete.

    That said, the way that religious or spiritual people, whether they are middle of the road, or new age types or fundamentalists, are treated by people claiming to speak for the ‘scientific community,’ or for ‘logic and reason’ is not just snarky. It is often haughty, arrogant, and condscendending to the point of obnoxiousness. It is neither a winning method, a kind method, or guaranteed to close the sale, so to speak.

    And I wonder if the framing of the debate is even appropriate. Is there a conflict between science and religion at all? Or have the good and wonderful things that both have to offer been hijacked by extremists of both sides?

    Could there be only a conflict between polarized elements of both communities? Because it seems to me that the hotter side of the conflict is really between the extremists, who wish to show that the aboslute truth/new discovery of one, denies the legitimacy of the other.

    The polarized elements will continue to fight it out. But they do not represent science or religion on the whole. They have been allowed to misrepresent for far too long I would think.

  6. PeterS

    One of the reasons for the Snarky attitude (of the scientific community) is the blindly dogmatic certitude of religious teachings. This is compounded by the contradictions between the teachings of the world religions; they cannot possibly be all right.

    Science (with the possible exception of scientists who write about religion!!) does not deal in dogmatic certitude but rather in a progressively layered extension of human knowledge.

    This is a serious clash of world views; that a certain kind of knowledge is a given on the one hand and on the other hand that knowledge is acquired progressively by disciplined search.

    So is there a way out of this contradiction? There is if we step back from the fray, as a Martian might, and, looking objectively at humankind’s religious/spiritual experiences, we might conclude that something extraordinary is happening, worthy of careful, dispassionate examination.

    Rather than engaging religious dogma in ferocious winner-takes-all debates, a la Dawkins (a thoroughly unscientific process) we should make them the subject of the investigation. In this way we remain true to ourselves as scientists.
    We will certainly learn more, may even learn to respect the subject we study and possibly be ‘surprised by joy’ as was CS Lewis.
    see http://personal.bgsu.edu/~edwards/surprised.html

  7. Robert Johnson

    @ PeterS. I appreciate the tone of your post, but we reach a point with scientific investigation vis a vis religion where reason ends. Then as Aquinas said, we have to go with the feeling.

    Knowledge of scripture or dogma is one thing, but when reduced to a elementary component, religion, at least one which is faith based, isn’t (or shouldn’t) deal with knowing. ‘Faith’ and ‘Know’ aren’t compatible. Once you ‘know’ faith is unnessecery and ceases to exist. No one who truly understands their faith based religion should use the word know. Instead they should substitute ‘hope’, because proof thereof eliminates the need for or possibility of faith.

    In 1999 the National Academy of Science released a nifty little pamphlet on the topic of Science and Creationism, the preface of which ends “Scientists, like many others, are touched with awe at the order and complexity of nature. Indeed, many scientists are deeply religious. But science and religion occupy two separate realms of human experience. Demanding that they be combined detracts from the glory of each.”

    The best way to combine sceince and religion, is to not combine science and religion.

  8. I agree about not combining science and religion. They are not the same. The goal, which is both interesting and has some real urgency, is to find their appropriate relationship. Assuming both have worth and tell us something about ourselves and our context is there a way to see how each arises and functions relative to the other? As a scientist I am naturally a naturalist but I see the domains of human spirituality as a powerful articulation of those boundary regions of experience. No formula (or religious creed for that matter) will ever exhaust the content of that experience.

  9. Mike Gottschalk

    Robert’s response to my post exemplifies one of the main difficulties we’ll encounter as we enter into a dialogue together; each of us lacks the intellectual architecture to readily grasp the other’s ideas. This is no small thing. A word, compared to an integer, can excite in a person, pages of narrative detailing good and bad experiences accompanied by all available hormone signals etc.. This difficulty will take courage on our part; to open ourselves to ideas we’re unaccustomed to, is not easy to us. (I wonder if there’s something about conservation here.)

    I wasn’t trying to prove some point, I was describing some of my experience in conversing with people of each ilk, who share the same trait of reducing complexities by eliminating in some way, information that doesn’t readily fit their world view.

    Science has become more than a methodology in our culture. Science has been made into the paradigm of reality to the level of the catholic church’s paradigm in the middle ages. I thank “God” for the birth of science, and religiously speaking, can see this birth in history as a “saving event”.
    We’ll suffer though, if we ‘return’ to the Middle Ages differentiated only by our technology.

    In one manner, we separate science and religion because of the nature of our being human. We need to discover and understand how things work- and, we need to experience and make sense of our depths. Exploring our “depths” requires a different mind set and method than science; this requires methods found in something we might call the poetic. Maybe the religious. I don’t know yet. This is a complex consideration.

    If we fail to join science and religion at some appropriate level though, we don’t just separate disciplines out there in a society, we separate realities within ourselves.

    But this difficulty will on over come

  10. Steen

    Robert, I don’t see Faith as something “necessary,” nor something that must “go away” when science does its exploration. The only thing that goes away is the “God of the gaps” idea of creationists. We don’t have Faith because it is necessary. We have Faith because we believe, because we have faith. Faith is about the subjective, human experience, just like Science is about the objective human experience. They are synergistic, complementary, not substituting.

    Science can tell you the difference between raspberries and strawberries. It cannot tell you witch one you should like the best. The world of human experience is very rich beyond the merely objective experience of it.

  11. Robert Johnson

    @Prof. Frank- Right on.
    @Gottschalk – What? I can’t help it man. I don’t think we lack intellectual architecture. If Lederman and Hawking can write something deep and also legible, then the subject matter can’t be so esoteric. Why complicate things by being impossible to understand? I still have no clue what you are saying. No offense intended of course.

    @Steen -I don’t get where you are coming from. I think you are referencing this:

    “Once you ‘know’ faith is unnecessary and ceases to exist. ”

    I said faith is unnecessary in the face of knowing something. That pretty much stands by itself. And Faith is in fact necessary to believe something, especially without physical or empirical proof, it is the prime ingredient. One doesn’t have faith because they believe, one believes in something because they have faith, not vice-versa.

    Faith and knowing or believing and knowing, are not complimentary or synergistic. They are in this debate, inversely proportionate. Once we ‘know’ something, then faith that it is otherwise, flys away; or if we verify something that we believed anyway, then it’s verified, and no longer a matter of belief. Because then we know, and knowing is half the battle.

    Sometimes the objective truths of our existence “Gravity, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law” trump the subjective truths of our existence “I believe I can fly.” We all just have to suck that up and deal with it.

    None of this changes the fact that Science and Religion can exist or co-exist rather, quite peacefully, but it will take some adjustment.

  12. Steen

    “””@Steen -I don’t get where you are coming from. I think you are referencing this:

    “Once you ‘know’ faith is unnecessary and ceases to exist. ”

    I said faith is unnecessary in the face of knowing something.”””

    And Faith is not there by necessity. Even if you know that 2=2=4, doesn’t mean that Faith goes away. Yes, the “faith” in 2+2=5 will go away, similar to God-of-the-gaps we see in creationism.

    “””That pretty much stands by itself. And Faith is in fact necessary to believe something, especially without physical or empirical proof, it is the prime ingredient. One doesn’t have faith because they believe, one believes in something because they have faith, not vice-versa. “””

    Sure, but unless your belief is tightly linked to what is empirically falsified, such as anything tied to an Old Man On A Cloud kind of primitive beliefs, then the Faith tied to the “WHY” of the world doesn’t suffer from knowing the “WHAT” and “WHY” of the world.

    “””Faith and knowing or believing and knowing, are not complimentary or synergistic. They are in this debate, inversely proportionate. Once we ‘know’ something, then faith that it is otherwise, flys away; or if we verify something that we believed anyway, then it’s verified, and no longer a matter of belief. Because then we know, and knowing is half the battle.”””

    I agree fully with that. This is God-of-the-gaps that so endlessly frustrates creationists and drives them to outright delusional claims. If your faith is based more the physical and objective existence of the “WHY,” then any Science is a threat to your faith.

    But then, that part really isn’t the “WHY,” but rather the “HOW” and “WHAT.” Some Christians have learned to view God as a physical existence (I read once, forgot the source, that the greatest threat to Christianity is Sunday School, because it teaches the subjective world in the understanding of the objective world.) When Noah’s Ark is taught as a physical, historical event, then evidence to the contrary becomes very threatening to those why see their faith tied to “evidence.” That’is not the fault of God, but rather the fault of “sunday school” Christianity.

    “””Sometimes the objective truths of our existence “Gravity, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law” trump the subjective truths of our existence “I believe I can fly.” We all just have to suck that up and deal with it. “””

    Agreed, but that again ties in with faith in the objective world rather than the subjective world. Jesus message of loving your neighbor is not threatened by scientific facts about gravity.

    “””None of this changes the fact that Science and Religion can exist or co-exist rather, quite peacefully, but it will take some adjustment.”””

    I agree. It requires a lot of Christians unlearning God as a physical rather than spiritual experience. It requires the fundamentalists, literalists and that ilk to accept the Bible as a message of “WHY” rather than a text book of “WHAT” or “HOW.” Once they actually learn that, then there is coexistence. That’s what I mean with synergy.

  13. Robert Johnson

    @Steen. OK. We are only talking about specific forms of faith. And you are mixing the general idea of faith with faith in a particular phenomena. I was addressing specific faith. The addition example you used is spot on. Once you know 2+2=4 you can no longer believe it, because you know. It is a bit of a stretch to say all faith dissapears. That’s pretty ridiculous. But faith that the earth is only about 6000 years old takes quite a beating once carbon dating is taken into account.

    @Everyone else. Would it be possible for us to stop using the words like “ilk”? and maybe also “synergy”? It’s just getting embarrassing. Maybe we could just say what we mean without the whole Professor Trelawny thing. If we were fabulous writers, we would be writing books, not blogs. Let’s drop the pretense.

    Back @ Steen. Yes Jesus message of Love thy neighbor is not affected by gravity. But the church (although they were wrong) felt that Jesus position as all knowing and all seeing was slightly threatened by the whole earth orbiting the sun thing. Evolution threatens the literal interpretation of the creation myth. There need to be adjustments.

    And on top of that, scientiscts who do not have a spiritual life need to stop being snarky to those who do. I think they might just be jealous.

  14. Steen

    Robert, you are correct. Certainly the “faith” expressed by creationists is utterly delusional in character. A delusion is a fixed belief system unaffected by logic and reality. There is little difference between a belief that the Earth is 6000 years old and a belief that the old bags and newspapers piled in 3 rooms of your house are really special, alien treasures. We call that “Crazy.”

    As for the Church, the inability to see the subjective experience as different that the objective experience will ultimately be the downfall of the literalists. They are the expansion of a “delusional disorder” into a “shared delusional disorder,” what used to be called “folie a deux,” just expanded into a group delusion.

    In that sense, there is no difference between “Answers in Genesis,” Jim Jones, he Heavens Gate cult, or the followers of Ron Hubb… (I’m leaving it incomplete to avoid the search engine of those nutties). They are void of reality or logic in their belief, which happens to be what a delusion is.

    And as observed by the mental health field, fixed delusions don’t really change. In all my years on bulletin boards, discussion groups or Usenet, I have only run into 3 creationists who started to explore the data honestly. And they all turned away from the YEC delusion. ALL the others continue the same fixed arguments year after year. The “only a theory,” 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, “no new information,” all that stuff.

    Clearly it is a delusional belief system. But then their focus is not truth, but rather some sophist demonstration to god that they are “true” believers, so please God don’t send them to hell. Their focus has nothing to do with the real world, only on the “saved” and “eternal” afterlife.” Actually, when I think about it, not unlike the reported belief of the Muslim suicide bombers who can then enter the heaven with the 27 virgins or whatever it is. I’m not sure there is a lot of difference in the mindset and lack of reality between those groups and the creationists.

  15. Mike Gottschalk

    @ Robert, I don’t mean to insinuate that there’s something faulty in your architecture or mine; but, if I am out to describe something that I see in this reality of ours that may be unfamiliar, the onus is mine to find the means to communicate intelligibly. Such a task requires a fathoming of another’s “architecture” which is better accomplished in face to face dialogue- and in a pub rather than a blog site! I enjoy your feed back as it gives me orientation; and, I don’t feel any offense from you.

    I would offer at this point, that you share in more of Hawking’s architecture than you do mine. To you, I sound esoteric. I’m not trying to; I don’t see any value in substituting cleverness for intelligence. Like you, I’m trying to see what’s there and describe it as best I can. My shortfall in describing something to you however, doesn’t automatically translate into that particular something not existing. And to clarify a bit as to some of my architecture, I don’t have a fetished relationship to the bible; I don’t see it as having some power just because it’s “The Bible”. I measure it’s power if there is any, by its ability to illuminate something in reality that is important for us to see. I’m not trying to engender a conversation about biblical texts though. The conversation that I’m engaged in here, is not based on some religious dogma but on observing our shared reality; one, that is for the human being, both objective and subjective. And because our capacity to be subjective is so confounding and so marginalized by our quest to be “objective” trying to talk about it can indeed sound esoteric.

    Faith. This is sorely misunderstood. Faith and believing (the noun and verb denoting the same dynamic) are not concepts about knowing; they are concepts about acting, especially where there is an element of trust involved. Faith is not a justification for crappy thinking; crappy thinking, whether on the part of science or religion is crappy thinking. For a scientist to call me a “believer” while at the same time seeing himself as out side of such a category demonstrates confusion about the human dynamic that the word faith signifies. Let me illustrate:

    You’re at home and you get the munchies. Your cupboards are bare of anything enticing so you have to drive your car to the store. How can you know with certainty that you will return home successfully? You won’t be certain of it until you can report your trip historically. But you go to the store anyway. Why? Because you’re not agraphobic and you believe that you will return home without incident. If you didn’t have faith in this possibility, you wouldn’t get in the car. And if you didn’t trust in other drivers, you wouldn’t share the road. Faith gets you in the car and on the road but can’t make your return home true.

    When we don’t have the faith to drive to the store, it means that we perceive in the situation some lack of credibility; and we as humans, have to see an object of faith as credible. Faith is a means by which we are willing to act out our lives.

    You might believe that scientific method is the only way in which to know our lives. Your belief in this assertion doesn’t make it true or false; but the extent to which you organize your life around such an assertion is a measure of your faith in your assertion.

    Faith doesn’t share a continuum with knowledge. If it were to share a continuum with something it would be something in the category of something nihlistic- something connoting mindlessness- of going through the motions without engagement at a subjective level.

    The coffee shop’s closing- gotta go. I’ll continue this later.

  16. Robert Johnson

    @Steen. Whoa. I think this is what the man called snarky. I don’t think that creationists are “delusional.” I sure as heck wouldn’t say that they are the same as or comparable to suicide bombers. That is just way out of line actually.

    I think that they are caught between belief and what we can learn from science. Especially because of the parts that can be seen to contradict portions of the bible in it’s current iteration. And maybe I am being too soft here, but I understand the dilemma. I am a man of science, but I believe in God. To do so , you have to keep ‘em partially separated. It’s not easy for creationists. You are asking them to risk what they believe to be their eternal salvation. On something they are really only getting from another book. How much of the science that we take on academic good faith, have they actually experienced? aside from reading about it?

    It takes a big soul so to speak, to say, “well parts of this book are wrong apparently, but I believe in a higher power anyway.” And as the vitriol shines through and you compare them to suicide bombers, if that is the way that you ask them to drop or modify one set of ideas for another, I am frankly not surprised at all that you have convinced very few. I wouldn’t listen to you if you called me a suicide bomber, even if, especially if I suspected that you might be right. That’s human nature.

    @Gottschalk. Well done. I understand where you are coming from. And I do not live my spiritual life by the scientific method. Just so we are in the open. I believe in God and I hope, that I have a deeply personal relationship with my Creator. I am also a man of science and I hope that the Creator gave me eyes and ears and a brain etc, to see, hear, and reason with, and that same will be happy when I put those to use.

    I agree especially with what you say about faith, but it must be noted that faith and certainty are far too often conflated, especially at the polarities fo this debate. I’m going to lunch now.

  17. vel

    I find it amusing that what one would consider “snarky” to say to a modern Christian, for instance, it would be perfectly okay to say to a Bronze Age tribesman. Those are just “myths” right? Imagining a magical being in a rock or up in the sky or “all around us” are equally absurd, considering that *none* of those myths can be shown to be even slightly accurate.

    The author makes a common argument, if we don’t yet understand what makes man tick,”the inexpressible”, we never *ever* will and must assign what we don’t understand to God. Sorry, that argument is just one more attempt to create a god of the gaps and those gaps are getting smaller every day.

  18. Mike Gottschalk

    @ Robert. Thanks, let’s see how I do with this one. I’d ask you to see this as a rudimentary idea that needs fleshing out. But I think I may be onto something.

    @ Everybody. There is an irony to biblical literalism that is caused by the scientific culture that has permeated our culture at large. In our culture, fiction and myth have become words to identify things that are false. Yet one of the criteria of good fiction, is that it reveals truth to us that we might not see otherwise. The irony is that while literalists pride themselves in ‘not being of this world,’ they seamlessly synthesize our science based ‘world’ into their thinking as they drive to turn the Genesis Creation Myth into technical description. In a sense, literalist’s are merely caving into a peer pressure; truth that’s literal and numerical is considered hard while non-literal and non-numerical forms of truth are labeled with the derogatory moniker, soft. Who wants to be considered soft? To understand that the power of the Genesis creation story exists at a level of fiction and myth is lost by science’s misuse of these words and concepts. I’m not attributing maliciousness here- only noticing some of the effects. So let me share a different context for understanding the Creation Myth.

    A key distinction between the human being and the canada goose, is that for the goose, existence as a goose is automatic whereas for the human, being human is not so automatic. As humans we can be more human and less human, sliding back and forth on this continuum depending on our approach to our lives. Added to this continuum is another of that being a particular human; you being you and me being me also depends on some effort on our parts. It doesn’t happen automatically. In fact, this continuum nature of human life provides the lion’s share of our suffering; this is where existing as a full subjective being begins though. In this context, the Creation Myth, originating as an oral tradition thousands of years ago speaks powerfully and fresh today.

    For instance, I could wish for a return to the garden but this means I revert to existing more like my golden retriever Sam. The work of becoming fully human and fully ourselves is probably the most challenging thing we do in this life. At times, being human really does feel like banishment; somehow in this human experience, we can feel a sense of exile even while living among people and places that are familiar enough to call home. And if you think about it, becoming authentic selves entails “removing the fig leaves” with which we’ve armored ourselves, as we encounter our uniquely human challenge, that at times, looms larger than our felt abilities. But armor is heavy and lugging its weight tiring. It makes our movement together clumsy and awkward. The prospect of living free of armor feels both refreshing and terrifying at the same time.

    For all of our evolving since Adam and Eve, we still participate daily in something that remains unchanged- even by science. The task of becoming fully human is still an epic one that can’t be accomplished by just owning more and bigger things; this is just another way of putting on fig leaves. Further more, basing our stature on ownership is killing us-literally. The problem is that for someone who originates their self from the Consumer Myth, giving up their suv feels in a very real way, deadly. Something deep has to be transformed within this person before they’ll give up a symbol of their being- something deeper than morality or rationality.

    Because we are human being, we are inevitably linked to objective reality through fiction. Again, this not about something false or being inadequate in method; we actually conceive concepts about reality that we turn into narratives to be lived out and experienced. As we consider our propensity for fig leafs in various forms of luxury items, is our propensity better looked at through the fiction of Natural Selection or the fiction of the Creation Myth? I would argue that both are valuable and provide different insights.

    I’m beginning to see that the role that real religion could play in this shared venture, is to bring the rigorous thinking and imagination to the fictional side of our being human that science has brought to the nonfictional side.

  19. Robert Johnson

    @vel. Heh. Oh mi god. I am convinced. You called Christians silly. And your bitter little rant has convinced me. Good Job! Thanks. Wait. That was a typo. I was actually trying to spell Phbbbt. Or something along those lines. It is snarky to just tear into any person’s religious beliefs. If you don’t like what they believe, then leave them alone. As long as they aren’t hurting you then who are you to try and drag them out the cave? Plato says they will kill you for it, and no one asked you to play hero anyway. If you have something of value to say or write, which I doubt, then publish it, let it light the world. Otherwise get lost.

    I don’t think a bronze age tribesman would hesitate to skewer you with a bronze tipped spear. Modern Christians are far easier to deal with. The myths of Christianity or any other religions are and should be subject to some scrutiny. But the ultimate decision as to whether or not believe in God and or participate in religion rides with the individual. Science can’t tell us what to do with our knowledge. Steen said “Science can tell you the difference between raspberries and strawberries. It cannot tell you which one you should like the best.” It isn’t for that. And science and rhetoric and rationality cannot disprove God. They don’t need to in any case. There is a case for a spiritual side to life that has been made time and again, and when the book arrives, I will read it.

    @Gottschalk. I have no time to read this novel you wrote. My daughter needs to eat. Or as you would put it, my offspring requires sustenance, or succour, or something like that. But I like where you are going. I suspect I will like it when I have a few hours.

  20. Steen

    Roberts, as I see it, the creationists ARE delusional. They hold a fixed, unchangeable view not supported by reality. If you check that out, you will see that a good fit with the definition of a delusion.

    And note that I didn’t accuse them of being suicide bombers. What I said was that their focus on the “afterlife” rather than the current one, that is something they have in common.

    Finally, note that it is the literalists who have backed themselves into a corner, insisting that the Bible is accurate and specific in all details, micro-focusing on the words rather than the message.

    What is the message from Genesis 1? The “textbook” details, or is it establishment of God’s relevance in all things? If Genesis 1 is not 100% accurate and specific, then the Bible is wrong? That nutty idea comes from the creationists themselves, not from anywhere else. That’s the same idea of seeking the “evidence” of a tangible God, that made the Israelites build their golden calf. For creationists, it truly is all-or-nothing. If even a tiny thing changes, then it all fall apart, and their eternal salvation slips through the fingers. As such, they are willing to make any claim imaginable (or not imaginable), rather than admitting to any Science. Their view makes their claims absurd, hence, the fixed unrealistic belief system (i.e. a delusion).

    If, instead, you look at Genesis as the best understanding a bronze-age farmer could get of origin, rather than a textbook depiction, then it is astonishingly accurate. 2000 years before Darwin, a description like Genesis 1 could be described and written down despite lacking science and evidence for its description??? That’s amazing, isn’t it? In that sense, Genesis as a primitive, early attempt at explaining the background of the world is fantastic. Darwin himself may well have been started down the pathway of explaining the different observations as “ev olution” by the idea from Genesis of a progressive, ‘step-wise’ level of development. THAT’S the “miracle” of Genesis, a miracle the creationists utterly miss. Sad, actually.

  21. Mike Gottschalk

    @Robert- I know, I shuddered when I hit submit. Sorry for the language, I feel restricted by space as well as excited to convey as much as I can for this dialogue. Think of me as a kid in a candy store.

    @Robert, Steen and other scientists,

    I am grateful that you guys exist. I love learning about the results of your work, but I wouldn’t want to carry out your work; it’s too painstakingly tedious. Necessarily so. I guess I lack your kind of Ilk. :)

    So let me share with you a thought that stems from melding your work with mine as a theologian; one that captures part of a transformation that I’ve really been enjoying. It goes like this:

    Compared to the existence of water, Jesus walking on it, is only a parlor trick. Thanks, Mike.

  22. Sara R

    Those who insist that the “earth” is only 6000 years old misread the creation account, and really shouldn’t be calling themselves “creationists”. Even the very first verses of Genesis allow for the creation of the earth millions, even billions of years before the preparation of the earth for human inhabitants. After all, the Bible doesn’t mention dinosaurs, does it? Yet established scientific evidence points to their existance. Even the “days” mentioned in the creation account allow for longer periods of time than 24 hours; those that insist otherwise shove themselves into a dead end and show themselves ignorant of the definition of the word “day”. Careful readers of the account will realize that the Hebrew word for day (yohm) can mean different lengths of time, often long periods of time. Don’t we use ‘day’ often in the same way?

    Nothing in the Bible contradicts with Established Science, which means that the two don’t have have to be enemies. The shape of the earth and the basic workings of the water cycle were written in the Bible long before scientists were able to find those things out for themselves.

    Doesn’t it take the same level of “faith” to beleive in an intelligent designer that it does to beleive that everything we see around us came about by accident, or as a result of a process of spontaneous generation that has yet to be replicated by extremely determined scientists. Beautiful, well-stocked, well-designed houses don’t just pop up in wildernesses by accident, and neither do planets. One doesn’t have to be a scientist or theologian to grasp the logic in that one.

  23. Patrick

    Simple questions:

    Can God exist without religion?

    Can religion exist without God?

    Why do we feel the need to connect the two?

    It’s as if God told us to follow man’s word blindly and deemed it sacred.

    Does anyone of that persuasion ask, “why is it necessary?”, given the complexities of heredity and instinct. It seems a written book of morals is unnecessary when we could reasonably be encoded with morals.

    Skepticism and faith cannot coexist, which is precisely why science is rejected by creationists.

    It seems, given our present knowledge of physics, our creator could be very distant yet very close simultaneously, being nowhere to be seen yet evidenced everywhere.

    Religious sheeple find it necessary to have a personal relationship with God, which seems pretty arrogant. The entire premise of religion now is self-fulfillment, and contentment.

    Maybe, if more of the strong-minded Christians would advocate a philosophy of understanding and action, instead of guilt and undying patience, then the world could prosper inspite of “Satan.”

    But no, they are taught to tolerate the corruption because TWJWD.

    Believing the bible literally is akin to accepting the fantastic things Tolkein wrote of to be fact, only Tolkein stood on seemingly a much broader knowledge base when he authored his classic works of fantasy than the authors of the bible, and, more importantly, the editors.

    But, no, you don’t see many rational individuals who accept Tolkein’s words as gospel. Instead we see them as entertaining works of fiction based very loosely on some actual historical events, much in the mold of our Holy Bible.

    Nothing bad can be taken from studying the teachings of Jesus, but to believe in absolution seems to be a pagan philosophy. To think you will be rewarded in the “afterlife” for being a scumbag who’s willing to admit it in prayer is sickening.

    Even worse is the concept of eternal damnation. So, just because an individual is unwilling to follow blindly the word of man, he is doomed to a life of torture. Great! So, if I follow contemporary Christian teachings, am I supposed to repond “how high” when ordered by a PR representative to jump?

    I don’t buy it.

    Man is too easily corrupted by greed for me to follow any teaching whole-heartedly, unless it can be proven. Yet, to this day, there is not one account, other than those mentioned in the bible, of any sort of “miracle” that can’t be explained by science.

    I believe the many being fed by the few is symbolic of our mass dumbening by ancient superstition and modern-day subconscious conditioning. We have been spoonfed by those in control for so long, we no longer can differentiate between reality and illusion unless labeled non-fiction or fiction.

    Why people find it necessary to regurgitate famous

    Maybe I rant, but I have attempted to convey a point while excluding textbook snarkiness.

  24. Steen

    Patrick, Religion without God is called “Spirituality” in its generic form.

    What I see you arguing against seems to be Calvinistic dogma, which unfortunately is making a return, buoyed by conservative party politics that hasn’t left much room for the loving of your neighbor, when instead it pushes love of sin because it gives them sinners to hate, judge and persecute.

    What you are noticing is the very distasteful belief system that Paul introduced into the early Church, a politically useful line of reasoning, because it could be used for control in a way that Jesus’ love of the neighbor could not.

  25. I’m not snarky, I just want your nutty religious beliefs out of my life and my government.

    On the other hand, I welcome your nutty scientific beliefs with open arms and look forward to giving them the snark test of science, instead of the usual shit test of religious belief.

    Religious shit test : Fuck your God, your Messiah and you so called book.

    Pass or fail?

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