Thinking about science

The United States of America prepares to inaugurate an anti-science president who has filled his administration with like-minded individuals.

Devestation is not too strong a word to describe my own reaction to this.

A decade ago, I may not have cared at all.

Accepting science as a reliable way of knowing things about the world was a deeply personal, and at times, deeply painful process for me. I grew up believing that science was more a threat than anything else.

Like so many Pentecostal children, I was skeptical of doctors, because Jesus should be relied upon to heal our sickness. Like so many homeschooled children, I rejected evolution as an atheistic explanation for how life could come to be without God. Homosexuality was a choice and only a choice, and any genetic research that linked it to biologicial factors was just wrong at worst and incomplete at best. And climate change? I don’t think I even knew what the term meant until sometime in my twenties.

Fast forward ten years, and my views have changed dramatically. Just as happens to so many people, I was introduced to new information in college (and then in seminary) that forced me to reevaluate my views.

Evolution is, in fact, very well understood and very well attested – more so than even the theory of gravity, which is an undeniable fact of daily life. It is an overstatement to claim that sexual orientation is caused by biology exclusively, but biological factors are as undeniable as the theories of gravity and evolution, and my former position that it was purely choice was totally wrong. The Earth isn’t 10,000 years young; the question of when a fertilized egg becomes a human being is complicated not obviously simple; and etc., and etc.

We human beings are stubborn creatures. We don’t want to change our minds about much of anything, even when confronted with information that shows us we’re wrong.

There are lots of reasons why this is the case, but for me, the most powerful – and thus why I called the process painful – is that changing one’s mind often involves risking relationships.

Abandoning an idea – or even more dramatically, abandoning a way of approaching the process of forming ideas – often results in being on the opposite side of a debate than people you love dearly. Especially when it involves religious claims and belief, it’s hard for that to not get very personal.

All of that to say this: we are currently living in a time of great risk for humanity and the planet on which we live. That sounds like an exaggeration, but it isn’t. My generation risks damaging the planet and its environment in ways that can’t be undone (with current technology, at least) for generations.

And as the most powerful country in the world, we are divided on whether that threat is real or not largely on partisan lines. And as has become clear in the most recent Presidential election, those partisan lines are increasingly religious lines as well.

The question of whether or not to accept scientific consensus when forming public policy will not be easy to answer, because for so many of us, it isn’t just about public policy. It’s also about family, community, and deeply-held convictions and beliefs that are part and parcel of our religious faith.

But we will answer that question. Not answering the question is itself an answer. Either we will make proactive changes, or we will be passive, and each choice will have significant consequences.

So, especially to any religious person who may read this (now very much too long blog post), I want to do two things.

First, I want to acknowledge that these conversations are hard, and they are often divisive. I know that from experience, and I want to invite you to engage with me on these ideas – especially if you disagree.

Second, I want to attempt to take some of the emotional and personal charge out of some of these issues with by offering examples that aren’t emotionally charged, in an attempt to get at what I view to be some of the faulty reasoning that is driving the conversation.

So, more to come.


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