Science and religion in crisis:
Admit it.  Science and religion are going head to head.  There is no excuse for that.  The two depend on rules of evidence that are entirely different.  There is no reason for them to agree.  But churches and their agents seek to change the way science is understood.  Science seeks to change the way religion is understood.  Even those of us, and it is most of us, who don’t see any need for conflict get drawn in.

For instance I have a problem with a little grammatical issue called the “split infinitive.”  I didn’t even know it existed until I was a teenager.  We weren’t taught about it in school.  If you tell me, “I want you to comb your hair carefully,” I will take it under consideration.  If you tell me, “I want you to carefully comb your hair,” I will first think that the “carefully” does not go between “to” and “comb.”  That is a split infinitive.  It will take me a moment to figure out what I will do about the grammatical barbarism before I even think about personal tidiness.  The rule is rather arbitrary.  It was introduced by somebody with an axe to grind.  But careful writers honor it.  If I am reading and run into a split infinitive it brings me to a halt.  My next thought is whether I need to be reading this at all.  Often the answer is no.  A good writer does not want to risk losing me for nothing. 

Similarly the year is written with an AD or BC added to indicate which direction from 2009 years ago one ought to count.  I understand that one properly refers to the present year as AD 2009, although I have always seen it 2009AD.  The initials are arbitrary and are used for historical reasons.  In recent years, however, somebody decided that those historical reasons were offensive and now many writers whom I must read will say CE or BCE.  I react exactly the same way as I do to a split infinitive.  If the writer does not care to keep my attention, then I doubt the writer is going to be somebody I trust or continue to take an interest in.  It is hardly an offence to any faith I might have.  It is just an impediment to understanding. 

But if you look at the history behind it, and I don’t need to be reminded of that if I am reading for understanding, the C in “BC” means “Christ” and the C in CE means “common.”  It is not a recent invention, but whoever decided to drag it up is using a word that is … commonly … used in an offensive way.  It can mean “vulgar,” in a pejorative sense.

So the idea that CE and BCE are used to avoid offense simply does not wash.  And yes, it was among scientists that this casual slur first became … common.  Science strikes back.  In fact, I think science initiated hostilities. 

So why should any leader of any church take exception with anything of science, for instance evolution?  Yes, philosophically Darwin seems to favor promiscuity.  That has nothing to do with the science of the matter.  Why are they building museums of creationism?  If I am a preacher and the question of the validity of the religion I profess comes up, either I appeal to authority, which in principle science cannot, or if I am a Methodist I say, “You are aware of the presence of God in your heart.  Or at least you have been aware.  There is your proof.”  If a preacher is not comfortable with that as a proof, it can only be because the preacher is not aware of the presence of God.  Or else the preacher is in doubt over the validity of authority.  In either case, this is because of a spiritual crisis.  Look.  I come from a family that has produced a lot of preachers.  I know what a spiritual crisis is.  When I see efforts being made to justify religion say from the fossil record, my first reaction is compassion.  Then I get irritated.

So what is going on on the other side of the aisle?  The scientists or their spokespersons are on the attack, sometimes sly and sometimes frank.  When a scientist appeals to authority, even the authority of the consensus of scientists, rather than evidence I think “crisis.”  The crisis may be political, social, psychological, financial, or whatever, but it is a crisis.  Consensus is a very fine thing, but it is fallible.  New evidence can change it.  Just now I am thinking that the evidence supports the notion that a mating pool that is too big results in infertility.  I am flying in the face of consensus, but I stick to my evidence. 

When a scientist or spokesperson ventures into conflict with religion, I say think, “Spiritual crisis.”  Why bother getting into a conflict?  It is not going to win any votes for funding from the vast majority of people, who have some form of religious life, churched or unchurched.  From a scientific perspective religion is like golf.  It is just something people do.  The motivation is quite possibly that the person involved is having an awareness that could be interpreted as God.  In that case God is poking in at places where He is not wanted and shunning places where He is wanted.  Sounds like everything else I know about God.  With the scientists, I think most are wrong about something of vital concern.  I think the churches in this country, by and large, are terribly wrong, too.  I plan to go into that in a few weeks when I write about religious issues. 

For now, I say don’t trust the authorities either scientific or religious.  Go with the evidence.  Just maybe, if all those authorities would look honestly at their own preferred evidence they could get their spiritual lives in order. 

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