Friday, May 2, 2014

Religion, Science, Awe, Wonder

From Bill Tammeus
[Physicist John Mather says] "We are discovering what the universe is really like, and it is totally magnificent, and one can only be inspired and awestruck by what we find. I think my proper response is complete amazement and awe at the universe that we are in, and how it works is just far more complicated than humans will ever properly understand." ...
In fact, that's precisely the attitude that religion -- of whatever tradition -- should be advocating. We humans are quite naturally curious about the world in which we live, and we should encourage one another to explore and draw conclusions about how things seem to work. But to imagine that we are capable of knowing the mind of God in some complete way is to turn the Benedictine virtue of humility on its head. 
My hope is that faith-based educational institutions will encourage open and honest scientific exploration and not agenda-driven science that tries to prove religious teachings. To devote one's scientific energies to proving that Earth is only a few thousand years old is to go about science backward. Good science looks at the evidence for this or that hypothesis and then draws conclusions rather than first drawing a conclusion and then hunting for proof of it. 
What religion can bring to the table is an openness to awe and wonder once scientists describe how they think things work.
Sadly, it isn't working.  From Religion News Service:
[A] new survey by The Associated Press found that religious identity -- particularly evangelical Protestant -- was one of the sharpest indicators of skepticism toward key issues in science. 
The survey presented a series of statements that several prize-winning scientists say are facts. However, the research shows that confidence in their correctness varies sharply among U.S. adults. It found: 
  • 51 percent of U.S. adults overall (including 77 percent of people who say they are born-again or evangelical) have little or no confidence that "the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang."
  • 42 percent overall (76 percent of evangelicals) doubt that "life on Earth, including human beings, evolved through a process of natural selection."
  • 37 percent overall (58 percent of evangelicals) doubt that the Earth's temperature is rising "mostly because of man-made heat-trapping greenhouse gases."
  • 36 percent overall (56 percent of evangelicals) doubt "the Earth is 4.5 billion years old."
 What is it about Evangelicals that make them so anti-intellectual?


Kevin K said...

While I am not opposed to science I think being skeptical about scientific facts can be healthy. Most of yesterday's scientific facts are present sources of amusement.

IT said...

You are entitled to be skeptical about scientific conclusions if you have observations or data that challenge them, but not just because.

For example, there is NO evidence that vaccines cause autism, but people who are "skeptical" of that fact are refusing to vaccinate their children which is leading to a resurgence in preventable disease and erosion of herd immunity.

Kevin K said...

I agree entirely on the issue of autism. This would also be a fact that seems well within the ability of science to understand. But it would not surprise me at all if my grandchildren are taught that the earth is six billion years old or three billion years old.