08/26/2003: "Appreciating God’s Handiwork"
A distinguishing characteristic of Big-C Conservatives is their distrust, hostility, and even active suppression of science. Is suppression too strong a word? There are significant areas of the country where teaching of biology as it is known to biologists is impossible due to the actions of Big-C Conservatives who mistakenly believe they are serving God by censoring long-established conclusions by entire generations of scientists. Why the Big-Cs do this is a topic for another day. Today let’s focus on why their belief is misguided. The basic disconnect is that Big-C Conservatives don’t really understand science. They believe that scientists start from an assumption of atheism and that science is the pursuit of arguments that God doesn’t exist. Scientists view things differently, as you might imagine. They believe that faith and science deal with entirely different issues, in totally different spheres. Science tells what can be known from what is already known, while faith tells us how we should act towards each other. There is no reason for these spheres to collide. Science can offer insight into the possible outcomes of a particular morality, but cannot say whether these outcomes are “good” or “bad.” These terms only have meaning when embraced by enough people with a common belief to become a societal norm. Similarly, history has shown that religious pronouncements in the sphere of science, the sphere of what can be proved or disproved from evidence and logic, have a very poor track record. Consider how the Church’s persecution of the great scientist Galileo remains an embarrassment to this very day. As with any highly charged subject, analogy can be a valuable tool. An analogy I am fond of using is to compare the universe to an art museum. I myself have spent a good deal of time in many of the great art museums of the world, so this analogy is personally meaningful. Picture yourself in a museum, watching the people going through the exhibit. The scientist is like the passionate aficionado who spends hours in front of a painting to understand how the artist achieved the effects that trigger the powerful emotions that great art generates. Contrast that to the dilettante who breezes through the museum, looking not at the paintings but at the placards beside them, and upon seeing a name he recognizes, exclaims to all that would hear “It’s a masterpiece!” Who is the real art appreciator? Relating this back to the universe we live in, the aficionado is the scientist who devotes his or her life to carefully studying God’s handiwork to know all that is knowable about His achievement. The dilettante is the small-minded bluenose who is daunted by the task of assimilating a world of tremendous complexity, and takes the easy – shall I say lazy? – way out by casting God as a frenetic puppeteer driving every detail of existence. While this attitude may be good for puffing up its holder that an omnipotent being is working tirelessly behind the scenes in his service, I wonder how much regard God Himself would have for this attitude? Who would an artist hold in highest regard, someone who had spent many hours actually looking at the paintings, or someone who merely parroted what they had been told about them?