Tag Archive for science

What if ancestors had a better grasp of the natural world?

Science, not faith, determines how the real world operates” by Richard Juday is a letter to the editor that ran only in the print version of the Times-Call and is reproduced at FRL with Mr. Juday’s permission. – FRL

Letter to the editor of the Times Call from Peter Gifford reproduced by permission of the author.

Hunter gatherers

Would society be different if they understood the physical world more?

Richard Juday’s piece and its responses bring to mind a question I’ve asked myself: If I alone could go back in time — only once — and do anything I wanted, what would I do?

I could put myself just outside the door of Jesus’ tomb when the stone was moved, clarify the Second Amendment, kill Hitler, establish Israel in a way that didn’t enrage Muslims, prevent JFK’s assassination or stop the 9/11 attacks.

But I always return to this: I would somehow convince prehistoric humankind that the sun, moon, stars, weather, seasons, beasts, trees, mountains, rivers, oceans, even earthquakes and volcanos, are all natural phenomena and not caused by spirits.

Would we still have religion today? Almost certainly, in some form. It seems like the human genome includes an indelible sequence for self doubt. Many of us would still be unable to cope, just among each other, with random misfortune and disaster, evil in others, our own personal failings, the world’s ills, being the highest known form of life or the age-old question “why am I here?” They’d need something more.

Would we still have nations and wars? Probably, but perhaps only for land, water and riches, without crusades, inquisitions, genocide or jihad. Would we still have rich and poor, vice and virtue, crime and punishment? Undoubtedly, but perhaps without so much arrogance, prejudice and intolerance.

Would we still have wondrous art, music, science and charity? Absolutely. Innate human talent, genius and altruism will always insist on expressing itself, like a weed breaking through concrete, religion notwithstanding.

But if our prehistoric ancestors had devised an explanation for their world that relied on even an inkling of actual nature, rather than the metaphysical, we’d all be a whole lot better off today.

Peter Gifford

Science, not faith, determines how the real world operates

Composite by Doug WrayRecently, Leif Bilen wrote about a purported anti-Christian bias in the media. I’ll respond as a scientist and technologist.

Briefly: I am a realist in the sense that I am more likely to believe what’s observable and non-miraculous than the contrary. I have problems with some of Christianity’s influence on our society, and I think it healthy for the media to examine its role. We should found our society on what works within our psychology, our economy on what is useful and sells and our science on what is demonstrably true.

I’ll focus on tax exemption, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), evolution, intolerance, freedom of religion – well, OK, that’s not very focused. But I’ll try to make this locally significant and practical.

I don’t mind anyone’s religious view differing from mine so long as it remains private, I don’t have to support it and it does not work against social benefit. But I do object to being required to support others’ religious beliefs – especially those professing demonstrably false “facts” and influencing our kids.

Abuses of religious tolerance abound in our society. To gain tax-exempt status, an organization need only claim to be a religion, and then the resources of the community are marshaled to its support (think fire, police, streets, utilities, etc.).

The Religious Land Use and institutionalized Persons Act says that a civil authority may not challenge the organization’s self-determination as to what portions of its holdings are put to exempted use. We have seen this recently in Longmont, when LifeBridge said it would pay all required taxes (itself a pretty useless statement) but would not negotiate with the city to nail down exactly what that meant. Indeed, even before the annexation recall petition, we heard mention of the “sports ministry” that seemed to be leading the way to avoid taxes on a really valuable venue. I hope Firestone has been paying attention.

I know Christians who would like to see the Ten Commandments become law. But the first four are about religion’s sustaining itself. Only six codify behavior. We evolved as a family (tribal/ communal social animal, and it is as effective to follow Rodney King: Act so that we can all get along together. We don’t require divine inspiration to know how to behave.

It’s almost too easy a target. Christianity is associated now, and in the past, with serious fallacies, abuses of power and social misbehavior (crusades, inquisition, Copernican theory, Galileo, child abuse and cover up … ). A problem is that religion fosters closed social groups with god-given higher status, the right to look down on others as less worthy and exploitable. Even today, there are U.S. communities where one can’t be elected if non-Christian.

But a real problem of personal significance to me is an anti-science attitude. It seems narrowed to evolution, but an attack on evolution is an attack on all science, since the very method is called into question: observe, hypothesize, experiment. Rinse and repeat. Build a theory. Use it. It’s truly said that nothing in biology makes sense except in view of evolution.

Yet a loud (and well-funded) subset of Christians attacks evolution because it conflicts with their scientifically unsupportable – and actually demonstrably false – beliefs. I’ll put my faith in what’s read in the rocks, stellar spectra and genomes where it conflicts with what an agrarian society wrote a few thousand years ago.

Science determines how the world works. (If you must, science determines the rules God set up.) Then technology puts those laws to our use. However fervently the Brits might have prayed, building the Spitfire did more to win the Battle of Britain than all the praying did – I sure know which of them I would put my faith in.

Similarly, it is not seminarians, philosophers and English majors whose work underpins medicine at Longmont United Hospital and AMGEN, storage at Seagate, zymurgy at Left Hand Brewing. It’s the scientists and technologists.

If we’re to cease borrowing our way into temporary semblance of wealth, and if we are to make stuff to sell abroad to do that, then let’s not hamstring our youths’ education by filling their heads with mythology to the exclusion of facts. Even as the largest selling book, the Bible is not really an economic engine.

Richard Juday has resided in Longmont for nine years.