03 May 2009

Does Religion Belong in Science and Politics?

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In my curmudgeonly post on the Miss California controversy–fired off after a few days of little sleep–I provoked cries for clarification from my readers. So at the risk of digging myself deeper, let me use this Sunday’s “religious post” to elaborate.

First off, I hate the very notion of the government having anything to do with marriage. If I wanted to be glib, I’d say, “I don’t want justices of the peace marrying homosexuals, but I don’t want them marrying heterosexuals either.”

But obviously this is a bit too simplistic. I’m trying to think of an analogy, so here goes: If government schools (aka “public schools”) didn’t allow homosexuals (or Vietnamese or left handed people etc.) I could definitely understand advocacy groups flipping out. And in that context, it would obviously be rather obnoxious for a libertarian to say, “Quit your whining, you don’t have any right to taxpayer dollars for your schooling. We should stop letting in straight WASPs too.”

So if that’s as far as we take the analogy, then yes, I don’t think the government should be singling out particular people as eligible for state-sanctioned marriage. It should go without saying–but I will say it anyway–that private organizations such as churches should still be able to do whatever they wanted, without fear of legal reprisal. But for the government to refuse to marry certain people, especially if that decision emanates from particular religious views, is a very dangerous thing. In that respect, it would be just as troubling as government schools refusing to admit an atheist or a Buddhist etc., and I think even most right-wing Bible thumpers might hesitate to go that far.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. If you are someone who takes the Christian Bible seriously, then the difficulty is that marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman. So to return to our analogy–and don’t flip out on me in the comments, please, but I need to make this point–what if someone wanted his poodle to go to 3rd grade to learn the times tables? We wouldn’t have a problem if school officials said no.

To take it closer to the actual controversy, suppose some spinster wants the justice of the peace to marry her and her favorite cat. Presumably we wouldn’t chalk it up to pure hatred and bigotry if the government officials said, “Uh, no, marriage is between two homo sapiens.”

So this whole issue is extremely complicated. I actually don’t think there is a resolution, save to get the government out of marriage altogether.


OK I also implied in the last post that the typical banishment of God from science is mistaken. What did I mean by that? Surely I don’t think particle physicists should be citing cyclotron data as well as Deuteronomy, right?

Of course they shouldn’t do that. And anyone who has read my formal journal articles would know that I “play the game” within the rules established by a scholarly group. I can write journal articles intended for mainstream game theorists without bringing up libertarianism–even though I believe in liberty very strongly–and by the same token a devout Christian who is a chemist doesn’t need to bring up the Bible in his professional work.

But that’s not the type of thing I’m talking about. I was referring to this desire by many atheists to reduce God to a harmless personal preference. So in this worldview, to say, “I believe in Jesus Christ” has just as much signifance and impact on your daily life as saying, “I like Disney movies.” Yes, you spend time in church on Sundays if you have the former preference, and you spend time in particular movie theaters if you have the latter. But your Disney tastes don’t affect your views on evolution or who would make a good president, and neither should your religious preferences. (So goes the typical view.)

But that’s crazy. Suppose for the sake of argument that a powerful being really did create the earth and designed all of its life forms. Well, that would be a physical fact and would have all sorts of implications that would influence the observations of the natural sciences.

I don’t have a good quote to illustrate the view, but some of the more extreme anti-Intelligent-Design arguments almost say, “Even if there were a God and even if he did invent all life forms, it would be unscientific to entertain this hypothesis so we should assume that’s not what happened.”

Now let me be clear: I AM NOT SAYING BIOLOGISTS SHOULD BRING UP GENESIS IN THEIR PAPERS OR CLASSROOM. By the same token, when I taught at Hillsdale I never brought up the Bible, except to use an analogy that I thought most of the students would understand. I didn’t bring it up because I was teaching economics, and economic science per se does not rely on the validity of the Bible.

Devout Christians are supremely confident that there is a God; in fact many of them have what they would describe as a personal relationship with Him. So they are in a position analogous to a researcher who was abducted by aliens and now is working on SETI (search for extraterrestrial life intelligence). Some of his colleagues might write scathing critiques saying, “We’ve been searching the cosmos for signs of intelligence for decades, and nothing. This is fruitless.”

In response, the guy who was abducted can’t say, “I know they exist! Look at this probe scar!” The reason he can’t say that is that it’s not a valid scientific argument; it is not reproducible (or at least we hope not). But the point is, the existence of aliens is itself something that can be approached with the tools of science.

So in particular, if there are non-believers in aliens who publish “proofs” of their nonexistence, this guy knows those papers CAN’T be right. And using the tools of science, he should be able to show what the flaws are. Through it all, he is guided of course by his personal experience, but he still needs to communicate with the commonly accepted tools of his colleagues.

In conclusion, it’s the same for Bible-thumping biologists. They KNOW that God ultimately designed all life forms. Now perhaps His design manifests itself through common descent. In fact it would be very elegant if God imparted the “information” stressed by Dembski in the lifeless environment, such that “random” mutation and natural selection “just so happened” to give rise to humans, and then eventually to the birth of Jesus Christ–and through it all, each individual atom obeys a very sparse set of physical laws. That is absolutely amazing to comprehend, if that’s how it played out.

Now some secular humanist biologists will tell you, “That’s fine, you can have whatever background story you want, the important thing is that you agree it was most likely common descent arising from mutation and natural selection.” But no that’s not really true. Most evolutionists will tell you that if you think evolution has a goal or a plan, or that humans are a higher form of life, THEN YOU ARE WRONG AND YOU HAVE MISUNDERSTOOD DARWIN’S THEORY.

See? Today’s Darwinists are not simply making claims about natural science. They are going further, and making (anti-)teleological claims about reality and the purpose of life. This is what scares those simplistic Christians who view Darwin as the devil.

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