Saturday, July 18, 2009

Why Fundamentalist Christians Hate Science. (Or, “Oh, dearie me. Whatever shall we do about all these pesky dinosaurs?”)

(Cross-posted from Barking Rabbits)

Not that this question is much of a mystery. The problem with science, and all logical thought processes for that matter, for Fundamentalist Christians is that the conclusions reached undercut some of the basic tenets upon which Christian dogma depends. This has been true for thousands of years, and will continue to be true. The problem, for Christians, is this. In their view of the universe, everything related to their faith is the Absolute Truth. The Absolute Truth can never change. It can never be wrong. It is inviolable. For them, if anything within their belief system is shown to be incorrect, then that, apparently, calls into question their entire belief system!

If the Absolute Truth happens to be written down, say, in a book called The Bible, then it becomes especially difficult to reconcile when facts start intruding upon The Truth. Written words are not as easily discounted and forgotten as verbal mythology. Therefore, in order for Fundamentalist Christians to avoid complete anarchy in their belief system, every single word in the Bible must be defended to the death, even when it means trying to explain away some very inconvenient and uncomfortable facts.

I find that kind of thinking incomprehensible. But yet, this kind of thinking leads people to declare such absurdities like the following:

- Dinosaurs lived at the same time as man, and were carried by Noah on the Ark.
- Dinosaurs are probably alive today, we just don’t know where to look for them. (Yes, I agree, they are. Look in your backyard. They’re called “birds”.)
- Carnivorous dinosaurs had long, sharp, curved teeth to strip bark off of trees, because all animals, including carnivorous dinosaurs, were vegetarians prior to Adam and Eve being tossed out of the Garden of Eden.

I do not understand the Fundamentalist Christians’ obsession of late with dinosaurs. I suppose they finally came to the realization that they could not ignore the overwhelming evidence that dinosaurs once lived but are not around now. They just can’t explain away all those huge skeletons in museums around the world, so they just did their best in incorporating the past existence of dinosaurs into the belief system, intact, such that they didn’t have any pesky contradictions or loose ends regarding dinosaurs lying around.

One big problem with this approach, however, is that there are now a lot more scientific facts that would cause any rational person to doubt these assertions. For one thing, all of the geologic evidence and the fossil record show that these assertions to be complete nonsense. However, given the huge investment the Fundamentalist Christians have in defending their belief system from any and all inconvenient facts, they do what they do best; attack the messengers and say that all facts which don’t coincide with their world view are incorrect.

What the Fundamentalist Christians are doing here is just as blatant as if they were refuting the existence of dinosaur fossils. The only difference is that a big honking T. Rex skeleton staring down at you is pretty hard to ignore. The geological record is easier to ignore than the T. Rex. It involves actually understanding the subject, doing research, and coming to logical conclusions based on empirical evidence. So, rather than try to incorporate the contradictory evidence presented by the geological record into the belief system, the Fundamentalist Christians just say that scientists are wrong. Their proof? Their initial, totally unsupported postulation that, because the Bible contains only the Absolute Truth, anything that contradicts it must be incorrect. Therefore, if their initial argument is already accepted as the Absolute Truth, then the geological record must be wrong. Pretty neat trick, eh? The flip side of this approach is, anything that you say in support of the Absolute Truth automatically becomes part of the Absolute Truth.

(As an aside, I would really like a Fundamentalist Christian to try to explain Neanderthals. There is overwhelming evidence that cannot be refuted that they existed in Europe and the Middle East for thousands of years. Another fact that cannot be refuted is that Neanderthals were not humans. They were certainly related to us, but the bone structure makes it obvious that they were not us. However, it is easier for Fundamentalist Christians to ignore their existence, and instead focus on hoaxes such as the Piltdown Man, so they can say what idiots all scientists are. And who proved the Piltdown Man was a hoax? Scientists. I’m just saying.)

This entire discussion reminds me so much of how the Church reacted to Galileo’s theory that the sun did not revolve around the Earth, and therefore, the Earth was not (as the Fundamentalist Christians’ view back in the 1600’s maintained) at the center of the Universe. This was heresy in the eyes of the Church. In the eyes of the powerful Church elders, if this were true, then everything else they believed in also comes into question.

It’s funny how a few hundred years change people’s perceptions and beliefs. Back then, what Galileo was proposing threatened to undermine the entire basis of Fundamentalist Christian teachings. Now, due to the overwhelming evidence supporting Galileo’s proposal, everyone accepts the fact that the Earth indeed revolves around the sun and is, in actuality, a very small speck in the fabric of the universe. Has this new adjustment in thinking changed how the Fundamentalist Christians view the Absolute Truth? No, it has not. It has been incorporated into their paradigm. If anyone happens to dwell too deeply on why God might be so fixated on goings-on that occur on the Earth in the vastness of the cosmos, they are quickly hushed. But the entire concept now presents no insurmountable obstacles that stand in the way of the literal interpretation of the Bible.

The most ironic thing I find about the logical contortions that the Fundamentalist Christians go through is that they feel, somehow, that scientists are trying to disprove the existence of God. I have seen this in print several times. In my mind, nothing can be further from the truth. The basic reason that scientists probe the unknown is to try to figure out how the universe, and everything that it contains, works. It has nothing at all to do with the existence or non-existence of God. Why galaxies exist, what is the nature of sub-atomics particles, what killed off the dinosaurs, is there a way to predict earthquakes, all are questions being probed by science in one way or another. If a belief system desires to postulate that a Supreme Being is responsible for the existence of the universe and that all events within the universe are predetermined, the very nature of that postulation cannot be shown to be true or false by scientific evidence. It is a purely a matter of belief and is therefore not subject to scientific scrutiny.

What is open to scrutiny is when religion makes assertions about the physical nature of the universe. Science can, and does, make inquiries into the validity of these assertions. In many cases, religious assertions about the nature of the universe to not stand up to the bright light of inspection. But here is where I disagree with the Fundamentalist Christians’ conclusions. By disproving certain religious assertions about the nature of the universe, science isnot attempting to disprove the spiritual assertions of a religion. That is not the point. I would disagree with any scientist who is asserting that is what he or she is trying to do. Spiritual matters are not the purview of science. No matter my particular feeling toward organized, strictly interpreted religions in general, I will state that is should not be the business of science to try to prove something which cannot be observed or measured directly, and therefore, is outside the normal bounds of scientific inquiry.

However, Fundamentalist Christians have arrived at the opposite conclusion. In their minds, any inquiry into the nature of things that might possibly arrive at a different conclusion than what their personal belief system subscribes to is automatically taken as an attack against that religious belief system. Therefore, they must attack back, because scientists are “attacking them first”. This is, to put it politely, an immense load of cow flop. Yet, it seems to be the one and only thing that is holding the Fundamentalist Christian thought processes together. Circle the wagons, fight back, and never ask any introspective questions or entertain a moment of self-doubt during a time when your survival is under attack from a group of outsiders.

I cannot fathom this kind of thinking that actively tries to subvert, invalidate or ignore scientific inquiry. That is one thing, among many, that makes us humans. We constantly question what is the nature of the universe and how, as human beings, do we relate to that universe. I, for one, am proud to live in a time where we understand the basic structure of the universe. We have sent a space probe through the rings of Saturn and dropped probes on Titan and multiple rovers on Mars. We have concrete evidence that water, lots of water, once flowed freely on Mars. Within the next few years, we should have pictures of Pluto and its’ moon/twin planetoid Charon. We are probing the nature of matter down to the subatomic level. The universe is a wild, wonderful, amazing place that constantly surprises us. New, amazing discoveries are being made in all branches of science every day. Why should anyone consciously decide to close their eyes and ears to this, just because they feel the need to adhere to an unquestioning belief in a very old and oft-edited book whose origins are, at best, unclear?

I just do not understand willful ignorance.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Codex Sinaiticus: The Sinai Bible, the world’s oldest known complete Bible.

That’s quite exciting. From purely a historical perspective, the oldest of anything is very interesting, for no other reason than for its oldness. But there are issues with this Bible. It is different than the one we are familiar with today. Why? How could this possibly be, given that the position of all fundamentalist Christians is that the Bible is inviolate. It is the strict word of God. Every single word of it is The Ultimate Truth. This position seems to be a little at odds with fact that there are “editions” of the Bible, such as “The King James edition” or the fact that the complete Bible wasn’t really collated until 315 A.D. by Athenasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, who identified the 27 Books which we recognize today as the canon of New Testament scripture.

(Check out the links here and here for a pretty comprehensive history of how the book that we have come to know as the Holy Bible came down to us from ancient times. This, to me, does not look like the path that the inviolate Word of God would take.)

There are a number of very interesting things about the Codex Sinaiticus. From Unreasonable Faith, via Alphaville:

Discovered in a monastery in the Sinai desert in Egypt more than 160 years ago, the handwritten Codex Sinaiticus includes two books that are not part of the official New Testament and at least seven books that are not in the Old Testament.

The New Testament books are in a different order, and include numerous handwritten corrections — some made as much as 800 years after the texts were written, according to scholars who worked on the project of putting the Bible online. The changes range from the alteration of a single letter to the insertion of whole sentences.

And some familiar — very important — passages are missing, including verses dealing with the resurrection of Jesus, they said….

The Codex also includes much of the Old Testament that was adopted by early Greek-speaking Christians.

That portion includes books not found in the Hebrew Bible and regarded in the Protestant tradition as apocryphal, such as 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, 1 & 4 Maccabees, Wisdom and Sirach.

The New Testament portion includes the Epistle of Barnabas and The Shepherd of Hermas.

This is obvious proof that the Bible, as we now it, as been edited many, many times over it’s long and mysterious history. But I find that part about this version of the Bible missing verses dealing with the resurrection of Jesus most interesting. Isn’t that the foundation upon which modern Christianity is built? If that part of the equation is removed, what does modern Christianity even mean?

My answer is that the Bible is part ancient history, written by a people who had little or no scientific knowledge by which unusual events could be explained. It is also part mythology, handed down (at first verbally and then in text), on par with ancient Roman, Greek, Eqyptian and Norse mythologies that were sustained for many centuries before eventually dying out.

If the original Bible did not include such a cornerstone of modern Christianity like the resurrection, then the obvious conclusion is that it was added much later. I believe that conclusion is rather staggering, if any Christians would truly stop and seriously consider the ramifications of the existence of this Bible for more than a moment.

I would be willing to bet that not more than 1 in 10 people in the U.S. who profess a belief in God and Jesus even know about the existence of the Codex Sinaiticus. If I were to start a discussion about this Bible with a true believer, I feel confident that they would find a way to dismiss it out of hand. Nothing is allowed which might upset one’s beliefs. It is, after all, a “matter of faith”, isn’t it? Facts are not allowed to interfere with faith. Those are the rules as set down by the Church.

It is my firm belief that God, if He/She exists, did not mean for rational human beings to turn off the one great advantage that humans have over the rest of the animals that inhabit the world; our intellect and ability to reason and solve problems.