Monday, January 4, 2016

Considering the faith-based mind. What is science's sin?

I would suggest an argument could be made that at the core of much of the emotionality of Republican resistance to scientific understanding, and climate science in particular, is their submersion in the ego-centric Bible and the accompanying presumption that they are gifted enough to know ultimate truth.  

Don't get me wrong, it's not just the Bible, it's the entire Abrahamic Family of self-obsessive "holy" books.  That faith system may have worked great for humanity when it existed on an infinitely large planet, with scattered warring tribes running around - but, lordie, lordie is it a disaster in today's over crowded planet of diminishing resources, rising populations, anger and rapidly transitioning weather systems.

In younger decades I spent a lot of time wrestling with and thinking about god, evolution, my/our place in creation (that is, our wonderful planet and beyond) and such lofty musings.  That period culminated in three essays that I still feel good having written.  I want to share two (the third is ripe for a serious rewrite) before getting into trying to explain this Global Heat and Moisture Distribution Engine I keep going on about. 

This is important because good communication demands understanding your audience and tailoring your message to what they are capable of comprehending.  Thus we need to spend more time considering, and hopefully starting to understand, the mind of the faith-based reality denying beholder.
Here's some food for thought, no doubt with gaps and in need of improvement, have at it, make it yours.  I sure don't have any answers, I'm just wrestling with the problem and sharing my experiences.

Note: As for gaps in my essay I want to acknowledge two worthy comments.  In one Victor, in Germany, argues that this brand of self-induced Christian-blindness is unique to Americans and that internationally Christians are far more accepting of scientific observations and facts.  

The second one, from Kevin, exposes an important omission in my essay, he makes an argument that Fear more than religion itself is at the root of today's mass disconnect from our planet's physical reality.  I agree with him, but on the other hand, people have always framed their religions around their own expectations rather than some holy constant - their religions act as a justification and shield for their own innate attitudes. Still, Kevin is correct in shining the spotlight on our Fear of not being in control, Fear of losing what we have, Fear of our threatening unknown future.
Kevin writes: I think a better explanation than religion is laid out in Robert Altemeyer's The Authoritarians. Their brand of religion is more a symptom of their personality traits than a driving force. ...

What is Science's Sin?
August 2008

Recently, I discussed Creationism with a bright young student.  She challenged me with remarks about the Earth's "true" short age; Grand Canyon being evidence of Noah's Flood; even claimed evidence that coal can be produced in a matter of months.  She went on to explain God's plan included an imminent Armageddon - that is, destroying his own Creation.  When I countered with facts and observations debunking these notions she became defensive, saying that attacking someone's faith was a horrible thing to do.

It made me wonder:  Why do so many feel compelled to embrace willful ignorance? By this I mean willful ignoring masses of real, verifiable and available evidence simply because it conflicts with one's own preconceptions and challenges one's fears.
 How does it do the God time and creation any credit to believe the "truth" can only be found within a single book? 

What is science?  Scientists - especially the great ones - started out as kids totally amazed at the world they saw and discovered around themselves.  What's out there?  How it works?  Why it works the way it does?  What it all means?  At its core, science is this natural awe and curiosity at our surrounding creation us all grown up.

What is science's sin?  Establishing straight-forward rules and guidelines in order to organize our inborn desire to pursue an understanding of the fantastic world we witness around us?  These rules won't be bent for those who have convinced themselves they are gifted with superior insights.  If those "superior insights" can't pass the established scientific hurdles they are not allowed within the arena of science.  There are other realms those beliefs belong to, such as religion, philosophy, politics, art & music.

The best thing about science's rules, isn't what they reject, rather it's all they are open to.  Science's guidelines are organized in a way that any member of humanity, from any point on our globe, has the opportunity to participate in the global community, even to revolutionize long held beliefs.  As long as they are thoughtful enough to adhere to the clear and simple rules while presenting verifiable arguments and convincing evidence.  Observations and facts dictate the understanding we weave together.

Remember the Biblical admonition:  God surpasses all human understanding!  Not one of us has the justification, nor the authority, to tag God with certitude. 

Prof Alley gets passionate about the motivation of scientists.


Victor Venema said...

The problem is not religion, outside of the USA Christians are an activist force when it comes to climate change. Outside of the USA Christians listen to what Christ had to say and do not only read the Old Testament.

The problem is culture and this problematic cultural group in the USA likes to claim they are Christians and have the tradition of going to church to pledge their allegiance to their group. Unfortunately, another way they pledge allegiance the last 7 years is by claiming climate change is a hoax.

citizenschallenge said...

Good point.
And I am speaking of the world I'm familiar with, which hopefully does not represent the greater world.

You must understand I am in the middle of America, thus my awareness of the reality in the outside world is minimal.
I'm reminded of the three years (76/79) I spent imbedded within Germany and Swiss culture
(by virtue of speaking German and working in various establishments, as private citizen, not military service)

My biggest eye opener was how utterly insulated and unaware of the greater happenings in the world we Americans were,
and how much greater the European awareness of global affairs was, not to mention how much more mature and nuanced their interpretations were, compared to the achingly simplistic jingoism I'd been fed through our USA mass media.

I fear our base xenophobia and jingoism is much worse today than back then.

citizenschallenge said...

Victor thanks for linking to that article, Christians on Climate Consensus it was fascinating, optimistic even.

Also, I was not familiar with the Biologos movement (if I can call it that).
"BioLogos invites the church and the world
to see the harmony between science and biblical faith
as we present an evolutionary understanding of God's creation."

Seems fascinating, a younger me would have been all over that. But, my ever deepening understanding of evolution has pretty much eliminated my need for a personal god image. The Bible is just a special manmade collection of stories - perhaps helpful for understanding people and tribalism, but useless for understanding the God of Time and Creation. For me, I'm happy with God as an ineffable unknowable something embedded within the fabric of the cosmos.

I will however happily share that resource with others to help them along with their own spiritual journeys.

Thanks for looking in Victor.

Kevin O'Neill said...

I think a better explanation than religion is laid out in Robert Altemeyer's The Authoritarians. Their brand of religion is more a symptom of their personality traits than a driving force.

Nationalism, racism, and homophobia go hand-in-hand with their science denial. At the root of this appears to me to be FEAR. As Altemeyer writes, "High RWAs [right-wing authoritarians] are, in general, more afraid than most people are. They got a “2 for 1 Special Deal” on fear somehow." Fear was the central message in Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine." And FDR's famous speech, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," while specific to a different set of circumstances, should be drilled into their heads.

Unfortunately, their fear is misplaced and misguided. The actual calamities that threaten us aren't typically on their radar; instead they have imagined fears hyped and fueled by their media sources (FOX News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, WUWT, etc.). Actual outrages are either excused or ignored; like the dozens of unarmed black teenagers that have been gunned down and killed by the police.

One of my favorite bands, The Weakerthans, has a song lyric that goes - "The Mayor's out killing kids to keep taxes down ..." It's supposed to be funny. But like The Onion continually finds out, it's hard to top reality and so we find out the State of Michigan under its right-wing Republican governor has been poisoning the children of Flint with lead contaminated water; a decision based on budget savings.

The State I grew up in, Wisconsin, has a rich and long history of being progressive. I moved away for twenty years during the 80s and 90s only to return 15 years ago. But I no longer recognize my home state. It's now closer politically to Mississippi or Georgia than it is to the Wisconsin I grew up in.

I don't know the answer. And on most days I'm also not very optimistic.