Wednesday, July 3, 2013

An impoverished worldview ...

Been watching some actual science shows on the science channel (Yes, they occasionally still show programs about science there!) and I was reminded of the wonderfully incomplete picture of the natural world that science can claim.  The fact is that science doesn't know all the answers and has never claimed that it does.  Science is well aware of its limitations.  Its professionals seek constantly to change the unknown into the known, on the basic of logic and evidence.  But one of the many things that appealed to me about becoming a scientist was that it was a job with no end.  There would never be a time, in my lifetime, or that of any of my descendants, when we know everything.  It's always a ground floor opportunity!  I'm very much proud of this perspective. 

Scientists are human, and subject to human failings.  Some scientists fall victim to hubris when they have a track record of success.  But this is rare.  Most of us delight in the simple fact that while we don't know everything, we have managed to accomplish a lot in the relatively short time since the Renaissance and Enlightenment, when science rose to unprecedented heights of achievement.  That we can even begin to understand the natural world is a source of great joy for many of us. 

The great works of science are contained in scientific journals and in textbooks.  But the content of those journals and books is constantly changing.  New ideas lead to new understanding all the time.  While by no means a straight line, we have a method of gauging our progress - we have answers to questions heretofore unanswered.  We can solve problems heretofore unsolvable.  We can do things we've heretofore been unable to do.  We can see deeper, farther, and more thoroughly than ever before.  And those achievements automatically lead to new ideas and new directions that will have unpredictable consequences that we now can't even imagine.

With that in mind, consider the position of the fundamentalist believer ... not all believers accept the following thoughts, but many do.  In their view, the world and all its inhabitants are ruled by an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful "skydaddy".  He is everywhere, watching all the time, pulling strings to make things happen according to a plan that, by his design, is incomprehensible to us.  He knows all, and can do anything, apparently including creating himself out of nothing.  He approves of slavery, genocide, misogyny, and a host of rules that reflect the content of an ancient book, written by many authors, that is claimed to be infallible but is subject to various interpretations and laced with contradictions, logical conundrums, and fake history.  If we're to accept this worldview, our future is either one of eternal bliss or eternal torment, both meted out by a deity who loves us so much that he made a blood sacrifice of his son (who actually was himself) to atone for our imperfections - imperfections that he evidently created within us.  This deity is capable of creating a universe but is awfully concerned (pathologically concerned, even) that we should worship him and no other deity.  There is only the one book, sacred in its eternal truths (despite its logical problems and contradictions).  The book can never be revised, superceded, updated, replaced by new information - it is forever static and unchanging because it is the work of the deity himself, through the medium of its late Bronze Age authors.  There is no place in this for reconsideration, for rethinking, for change - it demands only obedience and belief in the absence of tangible evidence or rational thinking.  All of the changes in our worldview as a result of science are simply blasphemy and lies, according to these implacable enemies of logic and evidence.  Our only chance for salvation is to suppress our doubts about religion and pledge an undying telepathic love for the "son" that was sacrificed to atone for our original sins that began with a woman convinced by a talking snake to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge.

If you choose to view your acceptance of religion in terms other than what is described in the bible of your faith, then you may be able to encompass both science and your faith.  But your faith is some sort of personal rationalization between two very different competing worldviews.  One is static and implacable in its calls for obedience and submission, requiring that you accept its claims as absolute truth without any credible evidence.  The other is constantly changing and only asks that you provide logic and evidence to support your claims.  I've made my choice.  Presumably, you've made yours.  You're free in this nation to believe whatever you wish, of course.  Please allow me to do the same, without pushing your beliefs into this secular nation's laws and traditions.  Get your god out of my country!