Culture and Religion

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Attitudes in Science and Religion

Since I started the original web site in 2000, I have received a number of E-mails from people pushing a religious world view (both from those based on the Bible and on the Koran). God is all-knowing and all-powerful. God created life on this planet (creation, not evolution). Scientists will never know and understand the works of God. I see a different attitude in those with these strong religious beliefs than in those brought up with the concept of the scientific method.

I have received a number of E-mails condemning the theory of evolution. The claim is that God created life on this earth and any inconsistency found in the fossil records is considered proof of that act of creation. Only in the last few hundred years has our world society advanced to the point where many are trained in the fields of archeology, geology and anthropology. Darwin suggested his theory of evolution based on his experiences and knowledge base. In the many years since, there have been more discoveries and more advances in these fields. These scientists are attempting to reconstruct events of thousands and millions of years ago, based on the various artifacts being found. Darwin had suggested a slow evolutionary process. Since then, many have realized that the process is marked by periodic catastrophes, where many species die off while new species appear. Discoveries involving geological finds (possible meteorite impacts) are being considered in conjunction with these archeological fossil finds.

Against this ongoing educational process, involving many scientists in different disciplines, there are some wishing to condemn the endeavor. Different theories (old and new) and fossil finds (old and new) are presented as flawed or in conflict with others and therefore are invalid. The scientific process that is searching for explanations is put down as wrong. An alternative is presented, that God created life on earth so that is why such findings, that are in any way flawed, exist.

When considering the last 2000 years of human existence, much has changed in our culture. When people had little understanding of their physical surroundings (especially weather and human biology), it would be easy to conclude that this complex environment must have been created by God - a supernatural being that is behind all that is not understood.

However, along the way, we have begun to learn much of our physical surroundings. Although certainly not perfect, there is a much better understanding of weather. Hurricanes and blizzards can be predicted (to various degrees) so people can be warned of the pending dangers and they can take appropriate actions. I expect that most can appreciate these natural wonders are just that - a wonder that results from natural processes. A hurricane does not spring up in the middle of a high pressure system; it is part of a process (including winds, temperature and humidity contrasts, etc.). These events are now understood to the point that most intelligent people realize these are not 'acts of God' but instead they occur due to the conditions that can produce such events. While severe storms can be feared like the 'acts of God' of years ago, a religious reaction tends to occur among the victims only when there is a loss of life or tremendous damage. The religious world view suggests that if God is creating these storms to wreak havoc on humanity, He must be interfering with these natural processes to get the desired results (even though meteorologists do not detect this interference!) or there is no natural process present (i.e., everything that happens is God's action). I think that most intelligent people can grasp that snowflakes are unique due to their crystal forming process, rather than as a result of each being hand-crafted (but God has no hands!) individually.

The problem with the analysis of the fossil record is that this is not a scientific effort with current events. The rocks and their fossils have been buried for many years. It will take many (hundreds/thousands?) years for a complete fossil record to be analyzed. In a practical sense, this is probably never possible. With the growth of civilization (with its excavations and the like) and the weathering of exposed, undiscovered fossils, fossils are being destroyed.

In this context, scientists are continually adjusting their theories based on new findings. These new findings might fill in gaps of previous observations or they might conflict with previous theories or observations. However, each contributes to the overall understanding of the historical record of our planet. This is the scientific method - observe, theorize, test, revise, and continue.

This attitude of continuing scientific research has an opponent in the attitude sometimes found in one having a religious world view. That opposing view is often simply: Whatever is not understood must be the work of God.

The danger in this attitude that when God is behind these events then the respect for the human capability of learning is lost. The basic reasoning implied here: If an explanation is not immediately found, then God is the cause of the event. This attitude indicates there is no understanding that human knowledge is continuously developing. Much has been learned in the past few hundred years and certainly much remains to be learned. The opinion that a religious view is valid because a scientific research has not reached a conclusion denies that humans can achieve an understanding of natural processes.

The attitude that God created that which we do not yet understand harks back to the Dark Ages of Western civilization. The Church told its followers what to believe, and the lack of adequate education for most people prevented them from seeing the truth hidden from those teachings. In many cases, I feel those pushing the concept of Biblical creation seem to have a hidden agenda - the teaching of the Bible to the detriment of enlightening education. This intention reveals the ongoing effort to keep the teachers of the Bible stories in a position of influence, even though these teachings do not help their followers reach their intellectual potentials.

created - March 2003
last change - 03/09/2003
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