Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday Edition: The Church Hates Science

I have been posting on the last few Saturdays about why I am an Atheist. As I mentioned 
previously, there is not one single reason why I left Christianity and eventually became an atheist, but instead I thought a lot about religion and eventually came to my current positions. The entire process took around 10 years to my best estimations.

This week is a little different than the previous 2 weeks because I honestly don't think it is a good argument for atheism by itself. What do I mean by this? Suppose I am correct and the church is anti-science. Does that mean God does not exist? no. Does that mean Jesus didn't/doesn't exist? no. Does it mean you should leave the church? maybe. Does it mean you should question the church? Yes! That is really the point I want to make with this post. Am I an atheist because I perceive the church as anti-science? Not directly, not really, but it got me thinking and helped put me on a path that eventually led to me becoming an atheist. I saw the church be wrong in matters of science and thought to myself "what else does the church have wrong?"

As I was writing this post I felt the need to go back to the top and add a little disclaimer. What do I mean by "the church"? Well, sometimes I mean the church I grew up in, which in hindsight was a bit extremist. At other times I mean the catholic church, and in my final little story I am not even sure which church I am talking about. The point however is unchanged, I saw how these various churches clashed with science and it got me thinking.

I have 4 anecdotes to share about this which I will share in chronological order as they happened to me. The first happened when I was quite young, I'm going to guess around 5-6 years old. My dad had bought a book to read to me about dinosaurs that was apparently from a young earth creationist group. It held the position that dinosaurs and man must have walked side by side. There were dinosaurs around during bible time, it was just not an event worthy of note which is why it isn't explicitly stated anywhere (if you were writing the bible you wouldn't mention every plant and animal you came across). This is the conclusion that you must reach, I guess, if you believe in the genesis story and that the garden of Eden was literally true. At the time I was young enough that I didn't question it. I actually forgot about it for years, but sometime later (probably in high school) something sparked the memory and the whole thing seemed quite bizarre. 

My second story occurred while I was in 6th grade. We were watching a video in school (I'm almost positive it was voyage of the mimi) and there was a guy in the video who said he had proof of evolution. Basically there are pelvic bones in whales that don't serve any purpose, but make sense from an evolutionary perspective. I thought this was really cool and when my dad got home from work I told him all about it. He responded very strongly that this was incorrect and told me that evolution is a lie. I was pretty shocked, what was said in school seemed so reasonable and he just dismissed it out of hand. I accepted that evolution was false for a long time but everything about that experience bothered me for quite a while. (it actually still bothers me that my father is that indoctrinated)
The third thing I want to talk about here happened when I was in high school. I was in a freshman biology class and we learned the story of Mendel. Basically he made some pretty incredible discoveries in his lifetime that weren't accepted until long after his death. The church did not like his work and after he died the church even destroyed it. (the wikipedia page seems to be largely contested and this is not mentioned there, but I found a reference to it here)
Around this same time I learned about Galileo and his run in with the Catholic Church. I'm sure everyone knows this story already, but basically he was also brilliant and discovered many great things, unfortunately, some of those things went counter to the church and he was found "vehemently suspect of heresy" and put under house arrest for the remainder of his life. This is how the church treats new ideas, pretty disgusting. In my opinion this is exactly what is happening currently with evolution.

I have one final anecdote I want to share, it is amusing and also a little sad. I was in a history class in junior college. We were discussing the idea of social darwinism. Basically an old idea that no one really believes anymore, but it was a history class. The important thing here is that it is a concept with the word darwin in it. There were 4 students in the class who were so offended by "darwin" that they interrupted lecture to complain that we were learning it. The teacher tried to explain that she wasn't trying to convince them that it was true (in fact she didn't think it was true either). This did nothing to calm them down, the cried, left class and complained to the dean.

To me this last story is a perfect example of how the church sees science. If there is something that might shake your preconceptions, don't learn it. You are better off ignorant. It's what those students did, it is what the church did with mendel and Galileo, it's what my dad did when I brought home a story about evolution.

One final observation. What is the big sin that adam and eve committed to get kicked out of the garden of eden? They ate from the tree of knowledge. The fact that this is such a horrible thing says a lot to me.


  1. The Catholic church has gotten “better” and accepts evolution. I think they “learned” their lesson.. Even if they did spend 600 years murdering people who had different ideas than they did. I think a problem Christians have with evolution is that it contradicts the six day creation story. Man being made on one of those days. Even if we accept that evolution is compatible with the bible, you still have the problem of “when did our ancestors become Adam and Eve” (not to mention that Eve was created form his rib, but I'll just assume its a metaphor from here). When did they suddenly get a soul? And further, if this story is only an analogy, which at best, I think it is, what about original sin? If God sent his son down to die to fulfill a loophole he created himself to forgive this original sin and the reason comes from a metaphor, then the whole thing falls apart. Bad news bears. The bible also says some weird things about the way the world is.. (see genesis 1 and 2). The explanations of “the bible doesn't say anything definite about the universe” is kind of a sad joke..

    I often see straw man arguments from Christians about science, which if you believed (as the example above) that evolution taught that “monkeys birthed humans” or similarly ask “Why are there still monkeys?” Of course you wouldn't believe evolution. There is also an endemic of teachers that don't want to teach evolution because they are afraid of religious parents and school boards. Those that do often say that some students stop listening. I don't know if you saw expelled but the premise is falsely claimed that evolution accounts for the origin of life and that “lightning hit a rock and life suddenly appeared.” First, evolution only accounts for the diversity of life. The theories that have to deal with the origin of life are called abiogenisis, and they are pretty convincing just using basic chemistry. This is still more plausible than coming from mud. (Genesis 2:7) The evidence is overwhelming.. I should stop ranting.. It just makes me so mad when people are blocked from learning about the evidence. There is more evidence for evolution than for gravity. I think its the same reason the Church tries to make sure you don't read certain things. (I mean the Catholic Church as that's where I grew up.) I remember my parents telling me not to watch or read certain books because the church says you shouldn't.

  2. I did not realize that the catholic church accepts evolution. That is great to hear. I looked it up on wikipedia, it seems that it is the unofficial position of the church, but several popes have basically said evolution is fine. The article is very long though, I didn't read through all of it, but it is promising.

    As far as it contradicting the bible, the bible contradicts itself, so it seems strange to complain when it contradicts other things

    Your comment about teachers not wanting to teach evolution are sad but true. If I was in the position I am sure I would consider avoiding the whole thing. Especially if you have kids, you don't want to cause a local scandal and have them take the brunt of it.

  3. The contradiction between 1 and 2 Genesis was never pointed out to me until much later in life. It definitely was not while I was going to church and "reading" the bible. I put reading in parenthesis since I'm sure my church wasn't the only one reading picking and choosing what to read. When I was younger, I read chapter by chapter without really thinking about other parts of the bible. I just took for granted that the bible couldn't contradict itself since it was the word of god, so the idea never even came into my head.

    This was always one of my favorite political cartoons. This thing says the "IMG" tag isn't allowed, so I just put the link.

    I know this is kind of an "aside" but I was once in a debate with a Catholic friend of mine and he was going to school and studying scripture pretty intensively. It was kind of funny that he tried to discredit me since I hadn't studied it really myself as much as he did. I pointed out the hypocrisy in this statement. He was saying that you needed to be educated pretty fluently to believe it, yet most Christians haven't even read the bible outside of church. (based on numerous surveys, the numbers are overwhelming!) I also pointed out that I'm sure he didn't believe in any other God's or scripture from other religions to not believe it. Sometimes debating theology feels like fighting about minor things while just assuming unestablished "truths" in order to debate that topic. I like Dawkins' example of debating the size of Thor's hammer. Without having established that there is a God, then establishing that it is a christian God, then that the bible is true... et al. It just seems like we are presupposing that that stuff is true. I think this is what they call presuppositionalism. Debating these people is often fruitless. If something in science contradicts the bible, then that science is somehow wrong, or “God did it.”

  4. I never heard about the contradictions in genesis when I was a christian either, it was way later that someone pointed it out to me.

    debating religion with people can be very frustrating, but if you can get it going right it can be a lot of fun too. Did your friend have a response when you pointed out that most christians havn't read the bible?

    I think it is also ok to assume for the current argument big points to argue over a small point. That is fine, sometimes you need to clarify what you are assuming though. Actually, I'm going to say this is a big part of it, I know for myself, it wasn't a big thing that got me thinking, it was a bunch of small stuff. Small things that I could understand and see some minor contradiction and build on it. I spent years patching little holes until I decided to give the whole thing up. But I don't think it is realistic to expect someone to throw the whole thing away at the start.

    Besides, when you start talking and arguing about the big things is when the conversation can get heated and people can get angry. But if you talk about small things you can really get into people's brains and learn how their thought processes work. To me, this is where it is the most fun. Granted, sometimes you want to jump to the big topics, but the small topics are just as important if not moreso.

  5. You do have a good point. When I think about going back to when I was very religious, I probably wouldn't have listened to atheists to begin with. I didn't know any, but if someone told me that God didn't exist or probably didn't exist, I would have just discounted them in the first place.

    I have to try not to come across as proselytizing. You know when you really want someone to see some truth that you find amazing and you want to share it? That's the way I see it, but Christians also have that same attitude when preaching to others.

    The friend didn't really address that statement after I told him that if every believer that did not know much about the bible left the pews, churches would be pretty close to empty. He did say something to the affect of my "willful ignorance" which irked me, but at the same time made me want to chuckle.

    I like your analogy about patching up the little things. Eventually one can find so many holes to patch up that they can realize that they are on a sinking ship. At that point, its time to get out the lifeboat and find dry land.

    I spent a year living in Germany. In the German culture, they don't take differences in ideas so personally. That's one of the things I miss about it and wish it was the same way here. When you talk to a friend or even a stranger in a bar, you can get on the topic of politics for example, things can get real heated, but then you both go back to drinking. You can attack each other's ideas and vice versa without feeling like its an attack on the person. I know that when it comes to religion, its a big part of a person's identity and one must tread carefully.

  6. That sounds like a great situation in Germany. I wish we could do that here. I love a good debate, but it is hard to argue with people without them getting offended. I have found that often times people get offended when I am asking honest questions. Like they think I am trying to trick them or something. Or that when I ask a question for clarification they think I am saying I think they are wrong and I'm backing them into a corner or something. I have had some luck convincing people that I am just exploring ideas or whatever, but sometimes I can't even get that message through.

    I was thinking about this conversation some last night, and I was thinking about why we have these kind of conversations and really, why I have this blog at all. There are a number of reasons. One of them is, as you said, I want to share my ideas, and it would be great if I convinced someone I was right. Let's be honest, I think I'm right, and I would absolutely love it if a christian heard my arguments, thought about it, and became and atheist. It's probably not very realistic for the most part, but it is nice to think I might play a role in someone making such a change. (Also, just to make it clear, if I ever did play such a role I'm sure it would be a very small role)

    Another goal I have that I think is much more realistic is to convince people that Atheists are reasonable people. There are plenty of people out there who equate atheism with devil worship. Who think we are all evil, etc. If I can be thoughtful and show that I'm a regular person it might help to kill that idea in someone. This is something that I think is reasonable and hope to actually accomplish.

    Another goal is just to learn more about this stuff. I find this stuff really interesting and like to read about how people think. Just doing the blog for the short amount of time I have so far has encouraged me to read around the topic a lot more than I would have otherwise, so that is a benefit as well. It's fun.

  7. I think it is taken as an article of New atheism that the "Christian church" is anti-science. My personal experience has been quite contrary as I have conducted medical and genetic research with no apparent contradiction, and most of my christian friends are as intelligent and well read as my atheist ones. At the same time it must be noted there is quite an anti-intellectual streak clustered in denominations, such as fundamentalists or evangelicals (but I don't think it characterizes their best thinkers). Furthermore as you note the Catholic Church, the largest denomination which swamps evangelicals numerically, has no problem with evolution as the material cause of biological species. So might it be that just as the loudest proponents of christianity (the noisiest) suggest evolution is untrue and thus the loudest atheists declare christians anti-science, the truth is much more complicated than this?

    As an aside the differences in Genesis 1 and 2 perhaps are better employed to demonstrate to christian fundamentalists not that the bible is wrong, but rather than it is not meant to be read as literal history but rather allegorically, as many of the early church fathers did. That way you can convince them evolution is true without the need to try and destroy their faith. Then you can argue against God on other grounds but won them to a better apprehension of reality (namely that biological evolution is a feature of the material world)?

    Great discussion liking the blog!

  8. You are right, the new atheism movements are quite focused on the idea that the church is anti-science. I think the reason for that is mostly because those churches seem to be involved in politics and are trying to do things like remove evolution from schools, it is scary and I think the appropriate place for the movement to focus. But it is easy to forget that many Christians such as yourself are very pro-science and (I hope) are right there with us when it comes to teaching creationism in school. I shouldn't make this mistake anymore as one of my old roommates was a Christian who believed in evolution and we talked at length about all kinds of this stuff. But it is easy to get swept up, especially when some crazy news story hits. That's one of the reasons it is so important to keep talking to people with as many view points as possible.

    And I also agree with you about genesis 1 & 2, saying that means their religion is wrong won't work for sure but if you try to use it to convince them the bible shouldn't be taken literally it is only really unlikely to work :)

    Glad you like the blog, welcome aboard!

  9. Welcome to the blog anonymous! :) It's always good to have another point of view.

    While there is a degree of compartmentalization that goes on between people who are religious and agree with science, I'm glad to hear that there are people out there like you and your friends. I think you are right though about the loudest people. The Catholic Church for example is very strong in their anti birth control stance, but a lot of Catholic women still use it.

    I have to take exception with the Genesis accounts.. That would raise a lot of questions to the whole basis for Christianity. According to my upbringing, Jesus died to save us from original sin. This original sin was because of Adam and Eve. If Adam and Eve were a metaphor, then were we just "assigned" original sin? I'd be curious as to how somebody would respond to such an argument.

  10. I know this post is old now, but there are two other examples I forgot to use. When someone tells you that the church was what promoted science in it's early days, just call bullshit. It was lucky for Gallellio that he chose to recant his stuff and choose house arrest rather than face execution. During the dark ages, the clergy were the only one's who could read and write, and they were pretty set on keeping it that way. When it came to the printing press, the church was not exactly thrilled with the invention. William Tyndale was the first to translate the bible into english and publish it, taking advantage of the printing press to do so. “the popularity of Wycliffe's Bible in the 14th century resulted in a ban on the publication of the Bible in English; almost all vernacular Bibles were confiscated and burned. ...In 1535, Tyndale was arrested and jailed in the castle of Vilvoorde outside Brussels for over a year. He was tried for heresy, choked, impaled and burnt on a stake in 1536. “ The church was so opposed to people reading the bible for themselves. After reading it myself and following your blog, can you blame them? I personally feel if more people actually sat down and read the whole bible or their own holy books, there would be a lot less religion.

  11. That is a good find, really interesting. I have bookmarked the pages about the wycliffe bible. I want to read about it some more and try to get alternate sources for some of the facts, but I am really interested.

    It makes sense to me, but I'm afraid it fits in with my ideas a bit too well. I don't want to accept it as fact too soon :)

  12. The printing press info was just general info I found here and there on the net, but I couldn't really find anything solid. It was also interesting to find out that the church then used the printing press to print off their indulgences. I also heard that the church opposed the smallpox vaccine since its “against God's will” and when anesthesia came out, it opposed it on the basis that woman was supposed to suffer because of Adam and Eve's sins. But on the later two, I did a quick search and couldn't really come up with something solid. In my book, the jury is still out on those two points.

  13. It is easy to believe because they always seem to want to stall progress. Makes sense when you are in power. Disgusting.


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