Friday, May 16, 2008

Religion and Science

Today, I would like to delve into my second discussion about religion: how it relates to science.

I said yesterday that I have never thought religion and science need to be mutually exclusive. I suppose this probably originated from the fact that I grew up attending a fairly open-minded church. Were you ever taught the Big Bang theory in Sunday School? I was. Well, a more churchey version of it at least. "All of God's people and all of God's plants and animals and the sun and the moon and all of the stars were crunched up into a little ball, and then God made it explode, creating everything we see today." Certainly an interesting twist on the Adam and Eve story. But this serves as a perfect example of the co-existence of science and religion. Why can't the Big Bang Theory be taught in Sunday School?

Let's take a more classic example of this controversy: the Theory of Evolution.

(Whew. I didn't get zapped by lightning.)

I apologize in advance; I'm going to focus primarily on Christianity here because it is the religion with which I am most familiar. Any of you who belong to other faiths, I'm not trying to snub you; I just don't know enough to adequately discuss how science relates to your religion. So it goes like this: The Bible says that God created the world and all its creatures in six days, and on the seventh, he held a party or went to a rave or something; nobody is sure what. However, the Theory of Evolution says that all of the plants and animals emerged through hundreds of millions of years of incremental changes in their physiologies based on natural selection. And, if I remember elementary school math correctly, 6 is in fact less than 100,000,000. Clearly, this poses a problem.

But does it? Frankly, not even many churchgoing people take the Biblical creation story literally. Even the Catholic Church has stated that the Big Bang Theory is acceptable. Those few who take the Biblical account literally are called Creationists. In fact, they have somehow nailed down the date of creation to October 23, 4004 B.C., at 9:00 in the morning. That's a strange thought. I wonder what it would be like, to feel so certain of the exact age of the universe. Kinda creepy. Anyway, I'm not going to try to convince Creationists to accept science. That would be silly and I would probably fail.

Here's a thought that I like to tinker with: partial creationism. I personally don't take the Biblical creation story as fact, but couldn't it be partially correct? Couldn't it basically be a metaphor for what did happen, put in terms that people of the ancient world could understand? Let's take it one step at a time:
The first day, God created the Earth, but "darkness was over the surface of the deep", so God created the light and separated the light from the darkness. Now if you believe the Big Bang Theory (I'm only about 50% on that, but I'll talk about that another time), that is in fact the first thing that happened. The big bang occurred, releasing the Universe's matter, including the matter that makes up the Earth. However (and this is a lesser-known part of the theory), during the first few hundred million years, the universe was completely dark, except for the microwave background radiation. There was no visible light at all for a very, very long time, and in effect, "darkness was over the surface of the deep." Only when the clouds of gas that made up most of the early universe had a chance to coalesce into the first stars did nuclear fusion begin, and the first light was released.
The second day, God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. (Genesis 1:6-7) When you look at the history of the Earth, that is what happened next. After our sun coalesced and started nuclear fusion, our solar system was mostly a formless spinning gaseous dust cloud. Only when the cloud had a chance to coalesce into the planets, and the "water" of the Earth was separated from the "water" of the sky, was the Earth really born.
The third day, God separated the water from the land. Well, that's close enough for me. Most of the water most likely came from comets striking the earth, and the emergence of seas and land masses is what happened next. Then, God created the vegetation. And, well, plants did emerge before animals, albeit in single-cellular form.
The fourth day, God created the sun, moon, and stars. Yeah, that one is out of order. I never said that partial creationism was a perfect theory.
The fifth day, God created the sea creatures and the birds. This is partially in order. Sea creatures most likely came first, then land animals, then flying animals. Close, though.
The sixth day, God created land animals. This was probably a mistake. Keeping those things alive causes way too many headaches; endangered species regulations can be a bitch. However, there's no denying that animals are very, very tasty.
The seventh day, God created laziness. And partying. That's what I like to believe.

Anyway, let's get back to my main argument. If you're going to take the Biblical creation story as a metaphor or as simply a story instead of literal fact, what the heck is wrong with evolution? We all had to come from somewhere, right? It seems that some people think that evolution somehow negates God because it suggests that God didn't create us. However, I've never considered that to in any way be good reasoning. Can't you take the original thought of 'the creation story as a metaphor' just a tiny, minuscule, microscopic smidgen further and conclude that God invented evolution? What the hell is wrong with that? Seriously, if you're already going to conclude that God didn't literally snap his fingers (or tentacles or whatever he has) to create the world in six days why the hell would you get all up in arms whenever someone suggests he didn't snap his tentacles and create us in an instant either? Come on, people! Have a freaking independent thought in your head for once!

Sorry, that's kind of one of my pet peeves.

Also, about the whole evolution in school thing: I'll meet you half way on that. Evolution should absolutely be taught in school! But as a widely accepted theory, not as solidly proven fact. Because that's what it is. The theory of evolution. However, Creationism shouldn't be taught in schools, at least not in science class! A theology class, sure. You know why? Because it is a hypothesis. That goes for "intelligent design" as well; that is also just a hypothesis. There is a difference between theory and hypothesis. A theory is something that has been tested and is based on verifiable evidence, whereas a hypothesis is, at best, an educated guess that has yet to be tested. Basically, my point is this:

If you want to believe in and live by a religious faith, that's absolutely perfectly fine. But you need to come to terms with the fact that there is no solid evidence that you can present to others to prove that your faith is correct! If everyone simply accepted that, 90% of the wars in this world would end! Or, at least, they would be fought under different pretenses. Be nice to others, because they're just as sure that their faith is correct as you are that yours is! Neither of you can prove it, so stop squabbling already! Stop it! Stop! Right now! It's annoying!

Stop it!

Agnostics, you're alright in my book.

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3 comments:

Geoff said...

Being raised as a bible thumper and then getting a degree in philosophy has led me to have some really odd thoughts.
So here's my take:
I've viewed the Christian god as a programmer. If you read through the Bible, you'll notice that his direct intervention has become less and less apparent and less and less frequent. This is the process of Beta testing.
In the beginning, there was the alpha. There were many bugs in the code- so many in fact that the programmer didn't even bother compiling it. He was constantly and directly involved with the process of universe.exe. As his world became more and more robust, it became less necessary for him to be directly intervening on a regular basis.
Carry this on for a while and boom- you have a world where the undeniable act of a god is nonexistent.

I've oversimplified but you get the idea.
I still think we're in need of a new service pack but I don't think the world is in its beta stage any more.

Joe Space Tourist said...

Dood, that is the best summary of the Bible I have ever heard. It even beats "Part one: don't mess with God. Part two: be nice to people."
But yeah, I agree. It's about time for Service Pack 2. I hope God adds the "flying cars" feature and fixes the "can't breathe underwater" bug I've been hassling him about.

C said...

Obligatory xkcd reference:

http://xkcd.com/258/