Friday, January 13, 2012

Devolving!

When I was growing up I spent a lot of time in church and Bible study and Bible camp. As very young kids, my fellow students and I never questioned openly things we were taught.

(You can pick your jaws up off the floor now.)

I grew older. I went to school and learned about science and history and how the world works. I learned about the origins of life itself. Like many others who were taught never to question their spiritual leaders, I felt a sense of cognitive dissonance. I understood that science is about those things that are tested and have hard evidence. Unfortunately it tended to be in conflict with what I learned in church.

The funny thing is that once I, along with other students feeling the same conflicts, actually spoke up and asked religious leaders how to reconcile these two ideas, they were very willing to do so. I heard all sorts of comforting and semi-rational explanations: God works mysteriously and maybe some things we aren’t meant to worry about; God’s time is not our time and 7 days to us might mean something completely different to God; Biblical creation stories could indeed be symbolic rather than literal. After all, Jesus spoke in parables.

I never had it in my head, nor knew anyone else who had the idea, that being a Christian required you to believe every word of Genesis as literal truth. I received that kind of reassurance from some pretty devout Christians and Catholics*. A liter was saved for the extremists – the snake handlers and tent revivalists.

Despite the acceptance of science, I noticed people treading lightly around the topic. I wondered why they were necessary, but they were always there.

For example I remember in tenth grade biology when we were about to start the chapter on genetics and evolution, the teacher said he was going to tell the class exactly what the priests in his Catholic school told him when they were about to teach the same subject: “It’s all true.” A Catholic priest can embrace two truths, so should a good student who might question how his faith holds up against science.

Years later I took a class in college called Genetics Evolution and Man. On the first day of class the Professor gave the class a disclaimer, saying that he considered himself a Christian and he was not teaching the class to mock anyone’s faith. He even read a piece with different postulations about the origins of life from the most atheistic viewpoint to the most religious. I wondered why science teachers should have to give a religious disclaimer to teach their subjects. It seemed silly.

Those disclaimers were nothing compared to what I see now.

Evolution has become a campaign issue. State governments are trying to force science teachers to teach creationism (and from what I understand, just one creation story).

How did our society go so backwards? I feel as if I’m living in the Scopes trial. This isn’t just about a bunch of backwoods extremist anymore. Intelligent, rational, college-educated** folks not only believe, but also want to force onto others the belief that:

• Geologists are way off about the age of the earth, and all the features we see are caused by Noah's flood.

• Paleontologists are wrong about how old the fossils are.

• Anthropologists are wrong about how old fossils are, and the cultures they study are demonic.

• Astronomers are way off about how old the cosmos are, and the "Big Bang" theory is crap.

• Biologists are wrong about evolution and genetics.

• Archaeologists are wrong when they find relics that don't line up with the Bible, and they're way off about how old a lot of this stuff is.

• Climatologists are wrong about climate change and paleoclimatology.

People completely unqualified to talk about science are trying to tell the rest of us who are unqualified to talk about science, that those who devote their lives to research and study and experimentation have no idea what they’re talking about.

The comeback is always that the creation story is in the Bible. The Bible is the only truth, incompatible with other truth, and that all beliefs must be dictated from the Bible.

So it’s the only truth because it’s in the Bible. Let’s take a look at the Bible for a minute.

The books of the Old Testament are thousands of years old. They were given to a culture of desert nomads trying to survive in a harsh world.

Slavery is a topic you’ll find in the Bible. I was having a discussion about this on an internet forum recently. If you believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, what’s your stance on slavery? After all, it was once a justification for slavery in the U.S. One participant in the discussion said that slavery has existed throughout the world in all cultures and was quite common at that time, so obviously the Bible will mention in. Yes, it was common at that time. In this day and age we find slavery morally repugnant. As the joke goes, we can’t own a Canadian. Slavery doesn’t apply to our culture now, does it?

Then there are the kosher rules. This one is often thrown in the face of fundamentalists as some form of hypocrisy (“Homosexuality is wrong, but shrimp aren’t?”) and there are some fundies out there who have decided to be more “Torah observant” to avoid the hypocrite label.

Rather than do that, let's look at the context of kosher rules. 

Clean animals were vertebrates of most kinds except for mammals. Only ruminant mammals were allowed. That makes sense. It’s very easy to keep goats, sheep, and cows in the desert because the sparse, scrub-like vegetation is easily digested by these animals. Rumination allows these animals to eat these inedible plants and derive nutrition from them. Those nutrients are passed on to humans through their meat and milk.

Pigs, on the other hand, are more omnivorous and share a digestive system similar to humans. They would be competitors for edible food. You would have to be a wealthy man if you wanted to indulge the unimaginable luxury of the sweet, rich, fatty meat (*drool* mmmm…pork…wait-was I going somewhere with this?). Kosher laws were a social equalizer in many ways. Just like slavery, they applied to an ancient culture living in the desert but aren’t quite as relevant now.

The Bible said the sun stood still. It always stands still, but the Bible implies it was moving and the earth stands still. Galileo suffered proving that wrong. Does anyone still insist that the sun revolves around the earth?

The Bible said a man shall not lie with another man. It also seems to frown on any non-procreative sex acts. Did anyone ever consider just how hard it was to give birth to and raise healthy children? In that environment you needed to have as many children as possible in order to survive to the next generation. Women died in childbirth. Children died of all kinds of diseases before their fifth birthday. They needed to make babies. Masturbation and homosexuality prevented the act of making more babies.

The Bible says to circumcise male children. There isn’t a lot of water in the desert. It’s harder to keep clean when you have a foreskin. Circumcision makes cleaning easier. Circumcision was a great way to prevent a stinky schmenke.

Maybe God gave His people a set of rules to help them make their living in the desert. Living was tough. People didn’t have time to worry about the origins of the earth. They were too busy trying not to starve. Maybe He understood that they needed a helpful set of rules along with a simple explanation of how things work. He created people with brains and the ability to figure things out for themselves. He gave them reason as well as curiosity.

Humans made it. They thrived. They began to develop art and science. They were able to indulge curiosity and question the universe.

Along came Jesus. At this point the Romans have spread civilization over much of the known world at this point. Mere survival was no longer an issue. So what was Jesus’ message straight from God? Be nice to each other. Practice forgiveness. Be generous. Don’t be judgmental. Really, that’s what He had to say. Jesus didn’t go around saying, “If you don’t believe in the first chapter of Genesis verbatim then you are rejecting God.” He didn’t say anything about that at all. It seems that the New Testament, the books that Christianity are supposed to be based on, says that it’s time to move beyond the Basic Rules for Survival 101 that the Old Testament gave humanity.

Obviously I’m just posing my own silly theories. It’s not as if I’m a believer. I just don’t see how anyone has to believe just one single point in the Bible or else they’re not a good Christian when we’re talking about a centuries-old text containing plenty of information that just isn’t going to apply to believers today.

Why can’t Christians believe that God created the “Big Bang” and set the creation of universe in motion? Did you read Angels and Demons? The Catholic priest/scientist believed the Big Bang happened and all but proved it could not have happened without a creator. What’s wrong with the idea that life sprang from the primordial soup? Scientists can’t tell us how that happened. Why not believe that God put the spark in the soup that caused life to generate? Why not say that the “seven days” corresponded with the geological epochs (something early nineteenth century scientists believed in order to reconcile their religious beliefs)? Why couldn’t God have created life’s ability to evolve into a creature who worshipped him? Why does it have to be all or nothing?

What scares me the most is that the all-or-nothing people are starting to win the battles. Even though these people know so little about science (including the meaning of the word “theory”) they want to make sure that school children are questioning science. It’s not that they are questioning science in favor of other theories with actual evidence. They want to swap science with religion, and not just religion but their form of religion. They want to force their beliefs at school, which is supposed to be a religion-neutral place.

The counter argument is that “you are trying to force your beliefs on us.” Science is not a belief. It’s not a religion. Are you forcing beliefs on someone when you teach him math or history? Why is it forcing beliefs to teach science? Science class doesn’t exist to mock religious beliefs. It exists to report the facts as we learn them. No one is telling you to stop believing what you believe. You are not required to believe it. You are simply required to know it. I can go to history class and never learn that George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, but I can still believe that it happened, even if my teacher tells me there is no proof of that fact.

I don’t like how this attitude of religious entitlement is seeping into society. What happens if they have their way in schools? So Christianity is now being taught in schools as science. What other ways will schools now have to kowtow to one religion? Will it expand beyond schools? In the 90s the religious right infiltrated the government by starting at school boards and working their way to up to local governments and beyond. Will we start having more local blue laws? Will women have to start wearing skirts below the knee every day in certain cities? How far will it expand? Alarmists talk of a “Christian Taliban” which seems rather ridiculous, but as long religion tries to worm its way into secular institutions, that fear will never go away.

Thanks goodness there are a few voices of reason who are willing to say that science and religion can be compatible. Let’s hope their voices continue to be heard.
Let’s keep science in the classroom and religion at home. If going to a science class shakes your faith that much, then your faith probably wasn’t all that strong to begin with!

*Yes, I know Catholics are Christians too, but I was referring to folks who identify as “saved” rather than anyone who practices a Jesus-centered religion.


**Then again, Sarah Palin and Glen Beck are hardly intelligent and rational and their college education is suspect.

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