Darwin, Religion, Climate Change and Gay Marriage

How’s that for a post title, huh? That ought to lift my search rank for some fun terms, no doubt.

I was struck by the fact that I completely missed Darwin Day yesterday (Feb. 12, 2007) as this was Darwin’s actual birthday and this year represents the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work On The Origin of Species.

On the subject of Darwin there was a great article in yesterday’s New York Times – Believing Scripture but Playing by Science’s Rules – which tackles the subject of men and women of science and how their religious beliefs affect their scientific efforts. The crux of the article is one particular gentleman, Marcus R. Ross, and his adherence to a belief in “young earth creationism” despite writing his dissertation on marine fossils that, from a purely scientific perspective, are 65 million years old and which he believes are no more than 10,000 years old.

There’s a lot more there than just his story, though. The major theme of the article tackles that intersection of religious belief and scientific reason. For my part, I think there are many examples of people who are trained in a particular discipline – even one that requires the detached scientific method – who also hold strong beliefs that have no basis in fact, but merely faith.

But that’s only part of the whole argument. Can someone learn to “do science” while still wanting to proselytize or use that knowledge to further a religious agenda? Should an institution of higher learning lend credence to, by definition, unscientific pursuits and individuals? Is this religious discrimination or the logical separation of church and state?

For my part, I agree with F. Scott Fitzgerald on the subject:

The test of a first-fate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Which is not to say I think the entire discussion is over. Clearly, Mr. Ross had to do a certain amount of mental gymnastics and lying through omission to get his advanced degree. I’m not so sure whether or not he ever held many of the “ideas” of his scientific training or if he didn’t just parrot the style and substance of previous research to reach conclusions that he “believes” have some alternative “genesis” (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Did he say through his work what folks wanted to hear just so he could later contradict them using their own prior approval? Would you get work done on your car if you knew the mechanic had done his training but secretly (or not so secretly) believe that some divine force or supernatural power actually propelled your car? I’m just saying/asking.

Listen, I realize that many folks are simultaneously religious (or spiritual) but benefit from and practice science, that’s why I included the quote above. And honestly, we need to push our preconceived notions by questioning them, that’s why review is a key component of the scientific method (and not religion). But if your goal is to make a name for yourself or proselytize instead of searching for empirical, final truth and the kind of enlightenment that comes from real knowledge above both science and religion (think of Galileo’s contributions) than you wouldn’t use science in this way.

You can see the same thing going on with the “debate” on climate change which has basically boiled down in the new evolution. Basically, if you make fun of Al Gore or claim that politicization of science is ruining the process of true discovery and innovation, you’ll get your 15 minutes.

That’s all this is, after all. Science is still science. Religion is still religion. The intersection is still murky and the players swap sides all the time as we get a slightly better view.

The elephant in the room is that the 21st Century represents a time of less “knowing what we don’t know” than at any time in the previous history of man. Less to explore, less to discover makes for more fights over the fine details to the detriment of finding the final big answers. Why are we here? Where are we going?

I don’t know that science will give me the answers, but the process by which science and notably not religion change over time in the response to new knowledge and methods gives me more hope than the monolithic(theistic) approach of religion ever could. Religion’s answer is that every question should be answered with the hammer of faith, even if the question involves no nails.

Ok, so I’m ranting about a ton of bullshit and maybe it’s not at all related, but my final point (if I ever had even one point) is that you either have your own faith/religion or you have the desire/drive to learn. To me, faith and religion are the absence of some aspect of your own humanity in favor of hoping that answers will come. You have eyes to see and hands to do but you abdicate your humanity to led “god” sort it out.

What sort of scientist, what sort of person, doesn’t take responsibility? Not me.

So thanks, Darwin, for starting this fight not by virtue of your ‘Faith” but because you were honest in what you saw. A true scientist, a true journalist, letting the facts speak for themselves.

Rant over. Hope you (and I) survived.

Oh, and yesterday was also Freedom To Marry day. Keep it up.

3 thoughts on “Darwin, Religion, Climate Change and Gay Marriage

  1. I have to agree with the Fitzgerald quote. However, I have to disagree some of your assertions regarding religion. While faith can be antithetical to rational inquiry. It can rob one of one’s humanity but it doesn’t need to.

    Contrawise, modern science, as an academic dicipline is, like faith, prone to the failings of any human undertaking. Great ideas and avenues of investigation are often ignored or subsumed because of their popularity, their digestibility and the force of personality behind their supporters or detractors.

    Both faith and science are human institutions. I, for one, think it foolish to try to compare them as they have fundamentally different purposes. But, by being human human institutions, they are both open to perversion of purpose and miscasting of ideals.

    All that having been said, I still have to agree with the meat of your post.

    Big Muppet fan, I am. I did the Blog.

  2. Insightful comment, Thomas. Thanks.

    If faith and science are both human institutions, then I’d rather know one is based on the abilities and skills of the people that created it as opposed to the idea that some unseen intelligence outside our own can take care of things for us.

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