You won’t hear me say this often, but I’m a Christian. I’m not ashamed of my beliefs, but I am pretty ashamed of the way other people represent that identity. I don’t talk about my spirituality very often because faith is what you do, not what you say, and the more you have to say about it the more you’re doing it wrong. I also believe that religion is something that everyone has to figure out for themselves.
I’m also a scientist, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who frequents the Alaska Commons. Contrary to popular belief, the two are far from incompatible.
During this last round of elections and over the last few weeks since, I have really been disconcerted with the attitudes that “Christian” politicians have taken towards their intellectual neighbors and the scientific community in general. In Georgia, thousands of people wrote in “Darwin” and various other science names in a House race that featured a prominent Republican who sits on the House Science Committee. During the election, Rep. Broun was quoted as saying that the Big Bang and theory of evolution were “lies straight from the pit of Hell.” Back in September, Rick Santorum remarked that “smart people will never be on our side.” More recently Marco Rubio, who is already being courted for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, was quoted as saying “I’m not a scientist, man…” when he was asked how old he believed the Earth to be. Sadly this grasp of science (or the lack thereof) isn’t limited to the Republican Party.
Politicians have been pitting religion against science ever since people like Galileo started questioning the world around them. The sad fact is that it’s completely unnecessary and it only helps further the political agendas of the corrupt wolves who masquerade as sheep.
A Spiritual Perspective
Nowhere in the Bible does it say how old the Earth is. That number was inferred or extrapolated using life spans and census observations running from the lineage of Jesus back to the Old Testament. More importantly, this debate ignores some very real things that Jesus Christ very clearly states in the New Testament. We are to show everyone the same level of respect we expect for ourselves (Luke 6:31).
Jesus made it abundantly clear what the ultimate sign of Christ like faith is. He told a young man “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor… Then come follow me” (Matthew 19:21). A few chapters later, while telling a parable about the second coming, he said:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matthew 25:35-36)
Jesus made it clear here that our very real actions against our very real neighbors have very real implications in our spiritual well-being (and surprise! All of those social interactions impact society too!). And you know what? This has a heck of a lot more to do with what’s going on in the world around us than the age of the Earth. It’s certainly far more important than picking a fight with science that doesn’t really amount to any real benefit to anyone.
Trying to discredit science with any religion doesn’t change the overwhelmingly positive impact that science and technology has in our lives. Ever try to microwave a burrito through prayer? No, because that’s silly. Science discovered the fundamental workings of electricity. Science figured out how to transport that energy through miles and miles of wire. Science figured out how to package microwave radiation into a small box so we could heat up frozen burritos. Science figured out how to mechanically assemble the burrito, freeze it, and ship it to your nearest convenience store.
That’s not to say that I think religion, especially Christianity, doesn’t have a role or place in society. Quite the opposite in fact, because I was raised by a Baptist preacher, one who actually does it right. Sure he doesn’t have a TV or radio show, his congregations never exceed the 100 mark, and they certainly can’t afford a 300 ft crucifix. But when there’s a need in the community, my dad is there helping fill it. Growing up, when our gardens did well, the elderly and disabled in the community had fresh vegetables to eat and store. When someone’s roof needed replacing and they couldn’t afford a carpenter, we pooled resources, showed up on a hot and humid Saturday morning, and got to work. When my dad saw a couple pulled over on the side of a four lane highway, he would pull two illegal u-turns to offer assistance (there were no cell phones in those days). In return, the church and the community have and continue to take care of our family in kind. It’s called being a good and caring neighbor, and it’s the single virtue that Christ commanded us to hold above all others. Being adversarial to our neighbors because they adhere to a scientific notion of the age of the Earth is not Christian behavior, period.
A Scientific Perspective
As for the age of the Earth question, it’s a simple matter of scientific literacy, one that is best left to scientists, not theologians or politicians. One of the most powerful aspects of science is that it provides a consistent means for comparison. One way it does this is through standardized scales of measurement.
We need to understand how old the Earth is through a scientific lens. It allows astronomers, geologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, paleontologists, evolutionary biologists, and endless other fields that deal with geologic time, the ability to communicate with each other. It allows them to place their own work in a greater global context. This kind of science isn’t just happening here, it’s happening worldwide and if we want our scientists to be credible and capable of communicating with the global scientific community, then we need to have some basic tools for scientific literacy. That’s not a political issue, except for when the public education system fails to teach that basic concept, and it’s not a religious matter, ever. Even Pat Robertson, who I rarely agree with, agrees…
If it turns out that things aren’t fitting on the scale, the scientific community can (and does) make necessary adjustments. A lot of this goes back to my previous article on Theory vs. Fact. We know the Earth is old, and we have ways of explaining how old the Earth is, and we test those assumptions as we try to place things in their proper geologic time sequence. Sometimes things fit nicely and sometimes it’s messy, so we pin a higher level of uncertainty on the date and we collect more data. Regardless, there is no way you can stack all of that evidence on top of each other without the Earth being incredibly old.
Mind and Soul
America needs to move past this imaginary conflict that doesn’t exist. Religion is a language of the soul. It’s the melody in our heart that makes us yearn for a better understanding of the world we live in, and it’s supposed to bind us together as a community so that we can weather the emotional storms of life. Science is a language of the mind. It’s the steady rhythm in our brain that provides us with a way of knowing and exploring the world in which we live. It helps us apply that knowledge to improve the human condition, so that we can weather greater storms together, without disrupting or destroying our daily lives. To survive we have to learn to blend the rhythm and the melody, the art and the science, in ways that give that knowledge a deeper meaning towards improving the human condition. It’s a fine balance, but the two can and should work together, not against each other. People who advocate picking a fight between the two, in my opinion, are just ignorant of the proper place of both, or they’re just corrupt.