The Press Democrat (California)
on February 22nd carried an article originally published in the
Houston Chronicle (Houston
Chronicle
link not available) and also in the Canadian
Record
, “Study: Common ground for religion, science?” about
whether or not religion can work with science to explain the universe.  
The consensus was: Yes.
Heated disputes over evolution and the origin of the
universe might suggest an unbridgeable gap between scientists and people of
faith, but a new Rice University study shows that — on some issues — the
distance between the two world views may be narrowing.
Almost half of evangelical Protestants queried in the
study, presented Sunday at the American Association for the Advancement of
Science conference in Chicago, said they believe science and religion can work
together. 
“That’s in contrast to the fact that only 38 per
cent of Americans feel that science and religion can work in
collaboration,” said Rice sociology professor Elaine Ecklund.
In our culture, sodden as it is
with moral relativism and pragmatic ethics, this is not a surprising finding.
The article does not discuss why the 62% of Americans do not think science and
religion can work together.
Ecklund’s study, based on interviews with 10,000
people, also found 36 per cent of scientists had no doubt about God’s
existence, 18 per cent attended weekly religious services and 19 per cent
prayed several times a day.
Overall, 55 per cent of study participants expressed
emphatic belief in a divine being. Participants included Protestants,
Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and atheists.
“There’s a lot of room for collaboration,”
said Ecklund, director of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program. “The
story in the media is not one of radical collaboration, but of radical
conflict. But that 48 per cent of evangelicals said there could be
collaboration between science and religion, that just floored me. Perhaps just
putting the evolution issue aside, there is room for thoughtful dialogue.”
Yes, there is a lot of room for
collaboration, but only if one party is prepared to compromise its fealty to
reality. And that won’t be the religionists.
On the question of evolution, 43 per cent of
evangelical Protestants said they believed in creationism, as did 32 per cent
of scientists who shared their religious beliefs. Nine per cent of other
scientists expressed belief that God created the universe, the earth and all
life within the past 10,000 years.
Gary Moore, senior associate pastor at Houston’s
Second Baptist Church, said he found the study results unsurprising.
“Science and religion are looking at the same thing from two different
points of view,” he said. “Science has to do with how things were
done. Religion has to do with the why.”
Science has to do with what is.
Religion has to do with fantasizing why it came to be. But, when in doubt,
always ask a Christian minister.
The Rev. Evan McClanahan, pastor of First Evangelical
Lutheran Church, likened science and religion to two ships passing in the
night. “Each makes assumptions about what the other thinks,” he said,
“There’s no necessary reason for science and faith to be at odds.”
After all, everything’s
relative, like two ships passing in the night. Hard facts are an optical
illusion. Immanuel Kant was the first to say it in The Critique
of Pure Reason
.
The Rice study did reveal some sharp differences
between scientific and religious beliefs. Half of evangelical Protestants
doubted that science would eventually explain all phenomena. Forty-two per cent
of evangelicals favored teaching creationism in public schools; only 10 per
cent of non-evangelical scientists held that view. Sixty per cent of
evangelicals said scientists should “be open to considering miracles in
their theories or explanations.
So, scientists, who examine
cause and effect, should also consider non-causal effects, as well. I wonder
how many of them would wind up shilling for Obamanomics?  And it was a Belgian priest, Monseigneur Georges Henri Joseph
Édouard Lemaître,
looking for a “scientific” explanation for
Genesis, who first proposed the “Big Bang
theory.
Which brings us to some brief comments
about a book by Alan Jacobs, Original
Sin: A Cultural History.
Jacobs is an English professor at Wheaton College
in Illinois. He argues in favor of the concept of original sin. However, a
jocular, tongue-in-cheek tone permeates his history of original sin. This made
reading his book tiresome and, at times, painful for someone who never really
took God, religion, or sin, original or not, seriously. Moreover, he approves
of the concept of original sin, and believes it has a role in human existence.
However, the doctrine of original sin, as it
eventually developed, strikes deeper and challenges or even overturns our usual
notions of moral responsibility. Original sin is not mere fatality, the God who
oversees it is not the faceless Nemesis, and Adam and Eve do not buy death for
themselves only. (p. xi)
Much of Jacobs’s book dwells on
St. Augustine and St. Paul and their insistence on the validity and propriety
of original sin, and the clash between that doctrine and that of dissenting
Catholics in their own and later eras, and how theologicians and others have
read or misread their statements about original sin. He insinuates that the
ancient Greeks and Romans subscribed to a form of original sin. He cites
several prominent thinkers throughout history who protested the blatant
irrationality of holding an infant guilty of original sin, but dismisses them
because he agrees with others, such as G.K. Chesterton, that while the doctrine
flies in the face of rationality and even of morality, it is a central and indispensible doctrine of especially the
Christian faith.
Religions need us to be “bad.” After all, if everyone were exemplars
of what religions held up as the “good,” all churches, synagogues, temples,
and mosques would be superfluous and clerics of every stripe would have to find
other kinds of gainful employment.
The concept of original sin contradicts
a rational metaphysics because it ascribes a consequence to an unprovable
cause. The unprovable cause is God, and original sin is variously ascribed to
Adam’s sin of disobeying God and eating the fruit of knowledge (which suggests
he was not a robot, but a volitional being able to make conscious choices), or
original sin is ascribed to man’s intrinsic baseness, etc. Miracles also have
“causeless” causes, i.e., things that simply happen because God
willed them to happen. But if the existence of a supreme being is unprovable,
then miracles are also baseless.
The “search for God”
has been a search for a reason for man’s existence apart from the fact that he exists. Man’s existence must, the
searchers contend, have a meaning other than that he must strive to sustain his
life for his own reasons. His own reasons must be subsumed and governed by that
unknown supernatural reason; his own reasons are irrelevant. The searchers contend
that there is a higher plane of knowledge – where one can “really”
know God – thus man’s futile and interminable quest for that knowledge, unless
he concedes unqualified and unreserved faith.
“Faith” is that higher plane and the key to that knowledge and to
man’s salvation. Man must be salvaged from his state of original sin,
transmitted to him by Adam and Eve. Man’s baseness and guilt are punishment for
Adam and Eve having eaten the fruit of knowledge, and so disobeying God’s
command not to.
Possibly the question has been
asked in the past: Why would God forbid man knowledge, of the world, of
himself? If God were as benevolent as he is made out to be, would he not want
man to know the wonders of his creations? Why place knowledge off limits, and
promise death as punishment (the biblical premise is that Adam and Eve were
immortal) if man crossed the line? What was he afraid of? What was it he wanted
to keep Adam and Eve ignorant of?
Possibly the answer lies, not
in God’s motives – because God doesn’t exist – but in the motive of any
theologician, priest, minister, rabbi or layman, who does not question the
existence of God and the morality propounded by religion, a morality that
regards man as intrinsically evil or base or the heir of Adam’s “original”
sin of disobeying God.
I think the principal thrust of
this “search for God” or the search for “the meaning of
life” apart from the fact of existence – or the primacy of existence – is
to return man to a state of Garden of Eden ignorance. Today the certainty is
that this can be accomplished by allying religion and science, or faith with
science, with the proviso or concession that whatever man learns from science
is wholly dependent on God’s will; that is, he can change the laws of nature by
whim, e.g., to make water run uphill, or sideways, or make bubbles the cores of
atoms, or cause the Coalsack Nebula to become a giant sock puppet decorated
with party glitter.
Why has no one asked: What kind
of monster is God, or Allah, or Jehovah, or whatever name men have given this
supreme being, who would forbid man knowledge of the world under pain of death?
A better question is: What kind of monsters are men who would preach and
perpetuate such a notion? Are these men evil, or are they stricken with what
could be called ontological autism?
As I understand it, autism is a neurological
disorder caused by the brain’s synapses firing incorrectly or not at all. The
“search for God” or “the meaning of life” could be said to
be a symptom of that ontological autism. When faced with the prospect that existence
exists without the intercession of a deity, the searchers’ cognitive or
reasoning “synapses” fail to fire. Their minds simply cannot or will
not grasp the absolutism that A is A. They are looking for an extra-existential
reason for existence existing, of their own existence and that of man’s. Their
colleagues in the sciences can peer into the farthest reaches of the universe,
and examine the innermost structure of atoms, yet are reduced to the state of
Cargo Cult savages when they address the “meaning” or
“cause” of existence. They simply cannot conceive of existence
existing without someone being
responsible for it. Their minds seize up like faulty transmissions and stop functioning
rationally.
There are two types of
ontologically autistic minds: those who never questioned the existence of God, who
accepted the idea by cultural osmosis, and when faced with the question of his
existence, cannot resolve the question except to repeat what they have heard
others say (these can be brilliant scientists and average men); and those who want there to be an
“externalized” reason for existence, that is, a “first
cause.”  The idea of the primacy of
existence is an anathema to the latter. Why? The enemies of the primacy of
existence are many and varied, from Barack Obama to environmentalists to
collectivists of every stripe; their premise is the primacy of consciousness.
Jacobs paraphrases the
British/Roman theologician Pelagius and promptly dismisses him:
We live under no inherited curse that constrains and
breaks us….In fact, he claimed, many people have lived without sinning at all,
including people before Christ. To the counterclaim that death is the
punishment for sin, and our sinfulness is witnessed by our mortality, Pelagius
replied that morality is a condition of humanity, and Adam would have died, had
he never sinned. Moreover, what Adam did has no effect upon us except perhaps
as a bad example, which we are free to ignore. (p. 52)
Jacobs, however, ascribes the
choice to agree with Pelagius’s argument to a willful, guilty manifestation of free will. To him, we all carry that
Genesis gene. We are guilty at birth.
Victor J. Stenger is among many
atheists who have written refutations of the concept of a supreme being as the
author of all things temporal and spiritual. His God: The Failed Hypothesis** is a comprehensive set of proofs
against virtually every conceivable argument for the existence of God or of any
god. He writes in his Preface:
In the three monotheisms [Christianity, Judaism, and
Islam], God is viewed as a supreme, transcendent being – beyond matter, space,
and time – and yet the foundation of all that meets our senses that is
described in terms of matter, space, and time. Furthermore, this God is not the
god of deism, who created the world and then left it alone, or the god of
pantheism, who is equated with all of existence. The Judeo-Christian God [as
well as Allah, the Islamic one] is a nanosecond-by-nanosecond participant in
each event that takes place in every cubic nanometer of the universe, from the
interactions of quarks inside atomic nuclei to the evolution of stars in the
most distant galaxies. What is more, God listens to every thought and
participates in each action of his very special creation, a minute bit of
organized matter called humanity that moves around on the surface of a tiny
pebble in a vast universe. (p. 12, square brackets mine]
This description casts God in
the role of an obsessive-compulsive micromanager, or as a super computer that
governs everything. What it also underscores is the depiction of God in other
theological quarters as both omnipotent and omniscient at the same time,
attributes which don’t square with each other. Either he is a super
micromanager who is controlling everything – including us, born into original
sin, but we’re endowed with the attribute of “free will,” surely a
contradictory element in the role of omnipotence – or he knew everything that
would happen at the very beginning, including record methane rainfalls on Titan
and how you, as an original sin-burdened child, would color a cartoon character
on a Denny’s Restaurant placemat billions of years into the future, which also
isn’t compatible with the concept of free will. If God is omniscient, then he
can’t change a thing, which cancels out his omnipotence – and vice versa.
In his chapter, “The
Failures of Revelation,” in which he recounts many of the religious
explanations for the beginning of time, space, and matter, Spenger also
mentions Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître
and the Big Bang Theory:
Theists often bring up the fact that a Catholic priest…first
proposed the big bang theory in 1927. That’s true; but Lemaître was an eminent astronomer as well as a priest, and while the
notion of a divine creation was undoubtedly part of his thinking, his proposal
was based on good science rather than theology. As mentioned in chapter 4, he
strongly advised the pope not to make the big bang an infallible teaching of
the Church. (p. 175)
But this begs the question:
Would Lemaître have come up with his
theory had he not been a Catholic priest? I think Spenger is letting Lemaître
off too easily. Lemaître is a notable example of how science can “collaborate”
with faith and religion.
One reason I have dwelt on the doctrine
of original sin is that it is the foundation of its secular and collectivist
counterparts: “social justice,” “social responsibility,”
and etc. We are responsible for a criminal committing crimes, because of our
selfish desire to be left alone. Instead of being born with the sin of a crime
one hasn’t committed and would have no knowledge of until one was able to read,
the secular version of original sin is that we are born with an automatic
obligation to others, which, if we know about it but do not fulfill or meet it,
would make us responsible for the crimes others commit because of an
“inequality of income,” or “cultural imperialism,” and etc.
Instead of inheriting a sin of commission by a mythical being in the Garden of
Eden, we inherit a sin by way of omission for crimes committed in our own time.
The rich, the productive, the
self-made, and the proudly independent all “know” of this obligation,
but shirk it. And so they must be punished and robbed of their wealth, if not
their lives.
According to the secularist
version of original sin, we should all volunteer to become Big Brothers or Big
Sisters to serve as proxy fathers or mothers to troubled kids, or volunteer to
collect refuse from the sides of roads, or pay more taxes to the government so
it can raise children according to the teachings of those secular heirs of St.
Augustine and St. Paul, Marx and Roosevelt. That way, crime will be diminished.
We should all become, like Cain, each other’s keeper – before we are slain by
his ilk.
*Original Sin: A Cultural History, by
Alan Jacobs. New York: HarperOne, 2008.
**God: The Failed Hypothesis, by Victor J.
Stenger. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2007.