Another Quick Thought

So I had more white noise (read: Strongly Christian documentary film propaganda) on in the background, and heard a few things that piqued my interest. The filmmaker interviewed a few PhDs and dropped several names, names of Nobel Prize winners who believe in God or believed, as the case may be, and during the interviews I really got the feeling that the message was “Look at all these smart people who believe in God! You want to be smart, too, don’t you?! Then you should believe in God.”

The problem I have is that argument misses any sort of coherent point, because what does a person’s personal belief have to do with their work?

If a person wins a Nobel Prize in Physics, or Chemistry, it is generally because the contribution they have made to their field is exceptional–and to get that far, you have to have had your work peer reviewed by hundreds of men and women. And for me, I have never asked what the religious conviction is when reading about a specific revolutionary scientific breakthrough. The person might secretly be a Neo-Nazi, might be a Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or atheist. Don’t care. I don’t care so much that it isn’t even a question I would ever ask.

There are brilliant men who are atheists, as there are brilliant men who are religious — but one thing you will never hear me say or imply is “You should be an atheist because Richard Dawkins is an atheist.”

Religion, in any form, is largely a personal venture and belief system. Oh yes, you can believe in your Church, or your Bible, but generally you have a say in those beliefs. You can decide whether your pastor is intelligent or whether he is a liar (or both, which is often the case). For me, I did not become an atheist because it was the cool thing to do, or because I thought Dawkins was just like… So dreamy, you guys, like Oh. Em. Gee. No, I read the Bible, I went to Church, I read Dawkins and Hitchens, I read a bit of Sam Harris, and I read some Reza Aslan. And by combining their ideas in my head, I came out the way I am.

So I think we can all agree name dropping for the sake of name dropping (as opposed, say, making a proper citation) is the most shallow mechanism for creating converts, and has no place in the modern discourse.

Building Cities

It is an odd thing, to cling to certain beliefs in opposition of strong evidence. I don’t mean the belief in a religion, as no evidence can take that from you, but belief in an inerrant Bible, completely free of contradictions? That is something of a puzzle, more difficult to understand from an outsider. What day was Jesus crucified? Well, the gospels are all a little askew about that. If you want to go even smaller, how many times did the cock crow to denounce Peter? Again, there is disagreement. How about whether the Old Testament Law still applies? Again, there are separate commandments.

Muslims have admitted that there are contradictions in the Qur’an, and they have accepted it and created rules around it. I like their approach; under the theory of progressive revelation (to which many Christians subscribe as well), they have decided that more recent revelations take precedence. Effectively, for a book that is a single revelation from a single point in time, the latter chapters obviously have the weight of religious law about them.

That being said, this is just a single example of people handling the evidence differently, and not really the point of this post.

The point of this post is about why people need to come up with beliefs in spite of opposing evidence, and for me it is all about building a city. Each belief rests upon a foundation of rock or sand (my Biblically minded readers should understand this), and the stability of it depends on what you chose to build it on.

This is not as easy as you think, nor as simple–science and religion can both be used as foundations, but honestly needn’t be; science can rest on a foundation of religion, as religion can rest on a foundation of science. I hope to clarify that some, and explain why I am writing this at all.

A strong foundation of religion is an incredibly solid rock built on a faultline; the foundation will never crack, but one day it may be gone completely. If you have built everything on this rock, you may find one day, when your belief is gone, that you are left with nothing. Something like this happened to me, when I was younger, but thankfully it was early enough for me to step back and assess my situation. Some time during my childhood, I don’t know exactly when, but I definitely realized it during my confirmation in Grade 7 (12 or 13 years old, I suppose I would have been)–I had stopped building. It was around then that I realized I was not nearly as sure of my foundation as I was told I should have been. I did not begin deconstructing or moving my city then, but certainly I stopped building.

A strong foundation of science is a bit of a different thing; science is moving, gaining understanding. Science is still a foundation of rock, but perhaps not so strong as religion. Occasionally cracks show, and we must go to repair them before we can continue building upon them. The strong religious among us may stand and watch as we repair the cracks, mocking us for the extra work we have gained for ourselves while they luxuriate in their peaceful cities, their strong beliefs… And some may go to their graves, never having had to change their beliefs…

Some, though… Some will suffer an earthquake, and their strong foundation will change to sand. If this happens when they are 40, what are they left to do? Stare at the rubble of their life or rebuild? Start a whole new city from the ground up, at a time when a solid foundation is much more difficult to find?

This situation assumes some sort of mutual exclusivity, that religion and science can’t co-exist. That is not the case, and I follow two wonderful bloggers who build their religious beliefs upon a rock solid foundation of science (that was an awful pun, as the two bloggers I am talking about are the GeoChristian and Age of Rocks). When scoping how to build their city, they did not listen to¬†religious salesmen (Evangelists)¬†who said “Ah, build it here, you will never go wrong, look how solid our rock is!” They are still very religious, and a quick read of their blog (and the comments, with some very interesting infighting) will show that they are every bit as sincere in their beliefs as any Evangelical, but they have built that upon science as a foundation–or perhaps even deeper, they use a two layer foundation, part science, part faith. I respect their stance, though, and the fact that they have seen the issues in their faith and not shied from them, but approached them head on with eyes open.

I think it all boils down to one definition, and the different ways people understand it.

Faith: Belief in something in the absence of evidence. Religion falls into this definition.

Faith is not belief in something in opposition of evidence. Biblical inerrancy falls under this heading.

Be careful how you build your city, you may find no errors for forty years… But that does not mean none are there. Make sure you constantly maintain your foundation, or you may find it has turned to sand when you go to check on it.