Sunday, October 7, 2012

Literal Truths Changing Literally All The Time

I've been thinking about the recent comments from Representative Paul Broun that "evolution is a lie from the pit of hell", the most recent in a long stream of attacks from the so called religious right against science, education and knowledge in general.  At first I wondered, as I always do, what is it that scares people so much about evolution since there's absolutely nothing in Darwin's theory of evolution that precludes the existence or creative powers of an omnipotent being.  I would like to ask Mr. Broun if he has some kind of mistaken idea about evolution.  Having never met him I can't say exactly what he believes, but from reading his comments he does appear to believe in a "literal" reading of the Bible, that God (as in the Jewish-Christian-Muslim one) created the universe in six 24 hour days about nine thousand years ago.  If this is the case then he must also believe that the sun revolves around the earth since the Bible is pretty clear about this.  If he truly reads the Bible literally then he must believe that everything Jesus spoke of has already come to pass since in Matthew 24, verses 33-34 he says that "This generation will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled".  Later in the Pauline epistles there are other references to the notion that those who are hearing Paul teach will see the second coming, and he speaks of "Those of us who alive will be caught up".  Surely if the words are to read literally then they clearly mean that the generation who was alive when they were spoken saw the coming of the kingdom of God, the second coming and other events foretold.  The Bible also says that believers will be able to handle dangerous serpents, so does Mr. Broun believe this as well?  My experience has been that every person who claims to read the Bible literally has to make exceptions and allow the beautiful metaphoric language to be interpreted by the reader.  Once you make that exception and say "What that really means is..." then you have to allow anyone else to do the same.
Returning to my original question as to why scientific discovery is so challenging for some people it appears that the problem is due primarily to people trying to use the religious, spiritual life lessons of the Bible as some kind of owners manual for the universe.  Personally I see no conflict between the Bible and science because I do not look to the Bible to explain the mysteries and wonders of the natural world and I do not study quantum physics to reflect on how to treat my fellow humans, or how to regard my mortality.  I don't consider myself to be especially wise, and I can't be the only one who understands this relatively simple concept.  To my mind using the Bible to explain science is like using the rules of baseball to explain astronomy.
After much thought the feeling I'm left with is a sadness that borders on anger.  I'm willing to accept and even support everyone's right to believe what they will.  I realize, however, that I have little to no patience for statements like those from Rep. Broun.  It is his position of power within The United States House of Representatives where he sits on the science committee that is especially obscene.  Again, I support polite discourse but there are limits.  I don't think it's an overstatement to say that if you have regard everyone's opinion on any subject equal time and consideration regardless of their capacity to craft a coherent argument then you do great disservice to learning and knowledge itself.  Mr. Broun's beliefs, along with creationism do not belong in schools under the guise of science.  If they belong in the public discussion at all it's in the realm of people's personal beliefs and they would be welcome to preach to any who would listen.  Hell and salvation are constructs, beliefs that cannot be proven or dis-proven by scientific method while evolution is something that has been proven by scientific study and so the two topics cannot really even be discussed together by an enlightened audience.

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