Science, the limits of human knowledge, atheism, and religion. Part II.
Yes, the last post was going somewhere. Or at least I thought when I wrote it, it was an extemporaneous post, so I’ll see if I can pick up on it. In the previous post I tried to make the case that the Universe we live in is vastly larger and more complicated than humans can really comprehend. That’s not to say scientists haven’t made great strides in understanding the Universe around us, on the contrary, our understanding of the broad strokes so to speak is breathtaking. It’s just that it’s clear that there is vastly more to learn, and the Universe is richer and more complicated than humans ever dreamt of until recently. In the mid nineteenth century scientists actually thought they were on the verge of figuring it all out so to speak, boy, were they wrong.
So that’s the science and limits of human knowledge part. Now we come to the atheism and religion part. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately in the Yahoo Answers Religion and Spirituality section. An experience I strongly advise against, it would be more aptly named Evangelical Trolls vs. Atheist Trolls. Leave it to people with no feelings, decency, and common sense … like professional bloggers for example. And I noted a common theme there among the science deniers, primarily Evolution and Big Bang deniers, but they usually generalize to all science. And the theme is this, they are constantly looking for gaps in scientific knowledge, and using same to claim that science doesn’t have all the answers. The implication being that if science can’t explain it, a supernatural agency must be the cause.
There’s two major problems with this line of reasoning. The first, as I laid out in my premise, is that there are always going to be gaps in scientific knowledge. The second problem is that because science doesn’t understand something, doesn’t mean there must be a supernatural explanation. As a long time student of science and the history of science, I can safely say that it’s almost unknown for a scientist to say “science can’t explain this, so God must have done it.” And in the past 400 years, as science has expanded its knowledge of our Universe, there’s always been some religious type claiming “Science doesn’t understand this!” Then when science does indeed understand it, the religious type just moves the goalpost to some new area that science hasn’t yet explored. And it goes on. At this point one would think that literal Bible defenders would long ago have realized that challenging science to explain some unknown aspect of reality is a lost cause. It’s clear now that the amazing Universe we live in is in fact internally self consistent, and that no invisible hand of God is required to make it work.
Which brings me to my thought, and the reason I am rambling on about this nonsense instead of pounding my forehead bloody on my keyboard parsing the Olympic class nonsense certain Republican candidates are espousing. My thought is, why the hell are Evangelicals so terrified of science? At this point huge numbers of religious people have accepted science for a century or more. The vast majority of my friends and relatives practise a religion to some degree, and they all have no problem with the scientific understanding of the Universe. Why do the Evangelicals reject the scientific understanding of the Universe? I used to think that it was because it contradicted Genesis, and they were threatened by anything that made out the Bible to be less than perfect, and reduced man’s central role in their ideology.
And, to a certain extent, that’s still true. I think there’s a deeper reason though. They are afraid of God. Or more on point, they are afraid of a God that makes their petulant, one dimensional, predictable, old testament God look like a loser. If God created the Universe with the Big Bang, which scientifically is the only viable God hypothesis remaining, it means God created a Universe that is almost infinitely grander than the fairy tale posited in Genesis. An entire Universe sprung from a single point, expanding and evolving and creating new stars and galaxies and forms of life for billions of years, with no end in sight. A Universe so magnificent and complex and perfect on so many levels that humans will never be able to completely understand and comprehend every aspect of it. A Universe where God is truly grander than the insignificant worms crawling around on a minor planet orbiting a minor star. A Universe where God expected people to think for themselves, not base their lives and morality on the pronouncements of a talking bush. A Universe where God is real, not just a fairy tale in an old book.
That’s what truly frightens Evangelicals and why they are still sticking their heads in the sand centuries after science showed that Genesis cannot literally be true. If they admit science is true, then they have to admit that the God of science is far greater and far more frightening than the Teddy Bear God they cling to so fiercely. A God that expects his creations to act like grown ups and think for themselves, not scared little children repeating their lessons. Evangelicals are like children telling ghost stories around a fire, terrified of the dark … and even more terrified to throw more wood on the fire to see what’s actually out there.
“But of the tree of the knowledge of science, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
(The above image as created by me, not God, using the tools of science. Credit and copyright: Doug Stych © 2012, all rights reserved. I used the image because it gives me pleasure. Tomorrow, back to ranting about something or other. )